Tour Guides Under Fire

by David Koenig, staff writer
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When I first mentioned that Kevin Yee and I would be leading a "Magical History Tour" of Florida's Magic Kingdom Sunday August 11, the first response I received wasn't one of excitement… but rather one of warning. Are you sure you want to be doing this after what happened to you the last time you gave an unauthorized tour of Disneyland?

Here's the background: Back in 2005, to promote the Golden Anniversary edition of Mouse Tales, I offered an hour-long tour of the Disneyland of 1955 to anyone who attended my book signing at Compass Books in Downtown Disney. Unfortunately, a few weeks before my heavily advertised appearance, blogger Jim Hill was bounced by park security after a mix-up during his unofficial, paid tours of Disneyland. I decided to proceed with my promised signing and tour, but to no longer promote it. That kept my tour party down to nine guests—although we quickly became the target of harrassment by Disneyland security, guest relations, and one persistent assistant general manager. Not until they were finally convinced that no one had paid for my tour were we allowed to continue (Jim Hill wrote about the incident here).

If nothing else, the incident did provide nice publicity for my book and Jim's blog, and convinced Budget Travel to hire us to provide print versions of the tours for their magazine.

All that said, there are several reasons why Kevin and my upcoming tour should proceed without a hitch:

  • Our tour will be free, won't be disruptive, and won't contain stories or secrets shared on any of the official Disney tours.
  • Our tour won't be at Disneyland, but at the larger, looser Magic Kingdom in Florida, where Kevin and I have both given numerous free tours over the years without incident.
  • Finally, there's legal precedent—in the case of private tour guide Dolores Patrick, in which Disney management testified in court that they don't have a problem with private tours—if they don't cross the line. Patrick, evidently, crossed that line.

Here's what happened: Patrick is a former cast member who, after leaving the park, started her own business, offering private tours of Disneyland to foreign visitors and celebrities, as well as arranging their transportation and purchase of tickets.

During one visit, on June 22, 2011, she unknowingly dropped her purse as she passed through the Main Gate turnstiles. A moment later, the ticket taker noticed the bag, but—because she was not authorized to leave her area—couldn't go running after Patrick. Instead, the cast member contacted her supervisor.

Supervisor Gabriel Fuentes arrived and, in hopes of contacting the owner of the purse, "inventoried" its contents in the presence of the ticket taker. The first thing he discovered was Patrick's business card, which featured a photo of her wearing a Disneyland tour guide vest. On the back of the card was a picture of Mickey Mouse and Sleeping Beauty Castle, with the tagline "Making Magic More Magical."

Also in the purse the supervisor discovered blank attraction readmission passes and Guest Assistance Cards, which provide the holder with special ride access and other privileges. Disneyland never distributes such passes without agents first filling in the date and guest name, and authorizing them with their signature.

Security tracked down Patrick in the park and returned her purse—after pointing out what they'd discovered inside. She said she'd never seen the front-of-the-line passes before, denied having them in her possession, and theorized that they must have been "planted" in her purse to justify kicking her out of the park, because Disney didn't like her giving private tours.

Disney didn't just kick her out of the park—they revoked her annual pass.

Such a penalty would be a tough pill for any Disney fan to swallow, but even more so for Patrick. Her livelihood depended on entering the park again and again, week after week. So, to continue her business, she now had to buy separate day passes (at $80 a shot) and parking (at $15 per visit). The added costs quickly began cutting into her profits. Desperate, Patrick filed suit against Disneyland, to try to recoup her losses from being refused an annual pass. She demanded $4,112.00.

Her case went to trial last year. During the proceedings, Disney management testified that they had no problem with her actual business and her providing private tours of the park. Their problem—and what violated the terms of her AP—was the cast member photo on her business card (implying she was a Disneyland employee or that her business was affiliated with or endorsed by Disneyland), the Mickey and castle images on her card (violating the company's trademarks), and her possession of the pilfered special-acces passes.

Patrick denied the accusations and said the park revoked her AP without good cause. She claimed she was being targeted because of her business.

"I'm a private tour guide, and they are treated with respect for their contributions to the resort," Patrick testified. "I have been harassed."

The judge ruled for Disney. And Patrick remained blackballed from purchasing another annual pass.

The moral of the story?

Without fear of security stalking you, you can join Kevin Yee, MiceChat columnist and author of Walt Disney World Hidden History and numerous other Disney books, and myself, author of Realityland: True Life Adventures at Walt Disney World, as we spend an hour uncovering the secrets and stories of the Magic Kingdom on Sunday August 11. We'll leave at 11:00 a.m. from the old Swan Boat dock beyond the gardens on the east (Tomorrowland) side of the Plaza. Reservations for the "Magical History Tour" are not required, but we'd appreciate receiving an email here to gauge interest.

And for those of you who will be on the West Coast that weekend, please visit me at the D23 convention at the Anaheim Convention Center Friday afternoon August 9 and all day Saturday August 10. I'll give you a tour of the spacious MousePlanet booth. Absolutely for free, officer. I swear.

Comments

  1. By Jimbo996

    It seems like Disney does have a problem with private tours despite what they told the court. Even though you said "Our tour will be free, won't be disruptive, and won't contain stories or secrets shared on any of the official Disney tours.", theoritically, they shouldn't harrass you for having a private tour even if you were paid for it if you keep a low profile.

    Nonetheless, have you noticed that many foreign tours have an actual tour guide. They are obvious in that the tour guides use flags so their customers will follow the leader. I am sure they are not doing Disneyland tours, but traveling tours. Is there a difference? I would say probably slightly different in emphasis, but not a whole lot different. They will know a bit more stuff about Disneyland than most tourists and probably some history, but not deep knowledge.

  2. By olegc

    See you on Friday David!

  3. By Belgarion42

    Thank you for this article, David. I've been considering offering unofficial tours in connection with my book (including as an incentive with the Kickstarter campaign I'll be running soon), but wasn't sure how much I could safely do. Of course, Disney would only say that they have many official tours that guests can take. I knew I would be keeping groups small--no more than 6 people plus myself--but didn't know if I could advertise it, charge for it, etc. I know this article isn't legal advice, nor is it intended to be, but it gives me a much better idea of what parameters I can work in.

    By the way, is this case part of the public record? I'd like to be able to read the testimony and see exactly what Disney said was (and was not) OK in more detail if I can.

  4. By schnebs

    Interesting article as always, David. I've been interested about this topic for a while, since I love taking my non-Disney dweeb friends on free private tours of the Park (like you, Kevin, and Jim, I love to share the stories that the Company doesn't like to tell), and I've always worried that one day I'll be doing that and wind up being escorted out by Disney Security.

    I'd be inclined to take Disney's statements about private tours with a grain of salt, statements in court not withstanding. I suspect that Disney's lawyers realized that if they said they didn't allow private tours or allowed such tours only after vetting the content, a smart lawyer on the other side would quickly point out that Disney allows the foreign tour groups in the Park and that they don't monitor their content, blowing a hole in their case; instead, they went with the "we kicked her out because of the blank GAPs and for misrepresenting herself" tack instead. If the Mouse felt that private tours were significantly impacting the money they're making from their official tours, they'd probably have no problem stopping them.

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