Changes coming on who can and who can't ride
Restrictive new logs on Splash Mountain, with five defined seats instead of a long multi-person bench, have guests worrying that they may no longer be able to ride arguably the most popular ride at Disneyland. Ride operators are also trembling about the reaction they'll get from guests they must turn away for being too big.
"The issue at Splash isn't just with physically large people," says one cast member. "Anyone who may have trouble bending their knees and contorting their body into that bucket seat for any number of reasons won't be able to fit into the five-seat log.
"Fortunately, Disney has decided to intersperse four specially made four-seat logs among the fleet of five-seaters. The solution will allow certain people to ride, but won't necessarily eliminate all embarrassment. "Larger people simply can't fit in the five-seat logs anymore, and they are going to have to stand off to the side and wait for the four-seater log to come into the station before they can go," the employee relates. "Not fun, and a nightmare for the cast member at Group."
Rockwork rehab still underway on Splash May 5th
Ironically, smaller guests may be the ones who are no longer allowed aboard Splash Mountain. Until the current rehab, children at least 40 inches tall could ride. Kids typically would come of "riding age" at just 4 or 5, because in the old seating they basically sat in their parent's lap, like on the Matterhorn Bobsleds (height requirement: 35 inches). With the new logs, parents and children will sit in separate seats. So, says the cast member, "It is also looking like a very real possibility that Splash will see its height requirement raised before opening. 46 inches seems to be the magic number now."
The attraction with the most severe weight requirement is the Orange Stinger at Disney's California Adventure. Guests weighing more than 200 pounds are turned away from the Paradise Pier attraction—but that may also be changing. "We are about to get rid of the 200-pound limit for Orange Stinger, when Facilities installs new WDI-designed chains for the seats," reveals a DCA employee. "The 200-pound limit is how the ride came designed from the maker, but now that we've had it a while we can tinker with it without putting the manufacturer in legal jeopardy."
At least one attraction, though, may have more restrictive standards than one might think. Reader Wyatt notes:
A month ago I was taking my son who was 2 years and 8 months to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience. The lady handing out glasses asked how old he was. Thinking she was just curious, I said 2. She proceeded to give me only one pair of glasses for myself. I asked why, and she said he was too young to wear the glasses and must be 3. I referred to the Disneyland brochure that there is no restrictions on age to see this attraction and that he has seen the same show in Disney World with no permanent damage. She responded that he may view the attraction, but not use the glasses. The glasses can permanently damage children's eyes who are under 3. I told her that I would take full responsibility for my son's vision. She shook her head and refused to give me the glasses.
Giving her one more chance, I said to her that I made a mistake on my son's age, and that he was really 3, relieving her of any responsibility that she is going against some hidden rule that is buried deep in the Disney manual. Again, she shook her head. This lady was too much. Before I began to argue again, a lady that decided not to see the show was leaving and put her glasses on the counter next to me. I grabbed the extra pair and walked into the show… and the lady still called for me to return. I ignored her thinking she would probably call security to stop the show because a 2-year-old was wearing the glasses. She didn't.
After I got home, I looked on the Internet for any information that these glasses damage eyes. I couldn't find any. If it is so dangerous, why would the conscientious lawyers at Disney allow the attraction to continue? Has anyone heard of 3-D glasses damaging eyes?
An operator at the attraction responds:
Management strongly urges us to ask how old the child is. Although this cast member did overreact, our procedure is to ask how old the child is, if the child is under 3, then tell the parents or whomever that "we strongly recommend that children under 3 do not obtain the glasses."
When I first trained at HISTA, they told us to tell guests that it could impair the child's vision because their eyes were not fully developed. Since then we've been updated in that the new type of glasses we use are very easily breakable and once they do break are very sharp (trust me, it wouldn't be the first time I've cut myself on them). That is the reason we do not recommend them for children under 3, but if the parent is insistent and willing to take the chance of the child poking his/her eye out or cutting themselves, and there is another cast member outside to be our witness, we are then allowed to give the parent the glasses for the child.
I do strongly apologize for the way Wyatt was treated, but unfortunately procedure is procedure and I do agree that in the Disney Guide it should be printed that children under 3 will not be given glasses. Once again on behalf of all HISTA cast members, I'm REALLY sorry!
A co-worker confirms:
I was trained when I first got there that any child under three should not get the goggles. I was told originally that it could hurt the child's eyes. We were later told not to say that. We then mentioned that it is a safety hazard.
Last summer, management wrote a note on our board (along with the note about not saying it hurts a child's eyes) that if a guest insists upon their child getting goggles under 3 years old then we should give it to them.
Of Bricks & Mailboxes…
Last Monday morning, Disneyland guest relations staff received the following email:
Subject: Looking for your Brick?
We have a new Pathstone Finder!!! Thanks to Rona Kay and Scott Phelps (Merch Special Projects), we have a notebook at the Brick Cart that will help us locate a Guest's Brick for them. One of the most frequent questions we get at the Brick Cart is, "Can you tell me where my Brick is?" Well, now we can do it! Great Guest Service solutions can be so simple! Thanks to everyone for the input on the need for it, and the implementation of our new Pathstone Finder!
Reader Frank writes:
Just had to drop you a line about your latest piece and the email about the stamp machine at DCA. I am a former Anaheim postal employee who worked closely with many old time Disney people throughout the '80s and early '90s. Disneyland once had those tiny, privately owned stamp machines that have historically ripped off the public, and City Hall used to get complaints about Disney selling stamps for their postcards at a profit. The postal service approached Disney and convinced them to evict the stamp vendor and install stamp machines which dispensed postage at face value in the park and the Disneyland Hotel.
These original machines were located in the Camera Shop, The Hospitality House and Tomorrowland. Disney Maintenance built themed shells for the postal machines so they would fit into the look of the park.
During the mid-'80s Disneyland wanted to place a turn-of-the-century post office on Main Street, and the postal service supplied them with antique post office boxes to incorporate into the design. Authentic turn-of-the-century collection boxes were also found and donated to Disneyland where they were installed on the lamp posts along Main Street for the convenience of guests mailing postcards. The office was going to be manned by a U.S. Postal Service employee, and many meetings were held to figure out the logistics of having a government facility on site. Unfortunately, the need for every square inch of space to make a buck in retail took precedence, and the idea was canned.
It was encouraging to read that DCA also has a stamp machine, but I am curious about it being out of order. There was always an agreement between the Park and the USPS that if there was ever a problem with any of the machines, one telephone call to the postmaster would get a technician sent out immediately to fix it. There is a whole new group of people at the Anaheim Post Office these past 10 years along with the new guard who've taken over at Disneyland. Perhaps the lines of communication aren't the same as before, but the Disneyland mailroom always had a close association with postal employees.
Thought you would like to hear a little more about this association between the USPS and Disney. Perhaps someone in the Postal Service or Disney will read this and look into it, but hopefully that machine in DCA operational by now.
Reacting to speculation about why cast members are tallying the number of guest interactions with each character, a hostess writes:
The characters do not have a quota to fulfill. When Mickey visits with guests in his house, the interactions are about quality, not quantity. Now, if he does take too long with guests every single time, I can understand where some might get upset. The Mouse is very popular, and there is almost always quite a line to see him. We do not like to take 45 minutes with every single guest, you can only imagine.
The counts, as far as my knowledge, are only to survey (a) the most popular places and times for character visits, (b) the most popular characters, and (c) the most popular times and places for each popular character to be. Why should Donald be hanging out in Town Square in the mid-afternoon visiting a few people who just happen to walk by, when he knows he'll be more appreciated at that moment in ToonTown? That's what these surveys pretty much are calculating. Placement and times for character greetings.
Your column regarding the counts made the counters seem rather obvious, as if they're huge digital scoreboards. However, the clickers are small and handheld. Only two guests have asked me about them (one joked, "Do you get paid by the picture?"); no one else seems to even notice.
Just thought I'd throw those ideas out in the open, so everyone doesn't think it's to completely cut out characters from guests' experiences. The characters, unlike other entertainment, are here to stay!
Another employee confirms:
First of all, I have never heard of any character cast member being punished for not meeting a specific quota. I was told that the counts were merely for budget allocation. From what I understand, management is attempting to determine which characters are in high demand at specific times during the day.
However, when the counting began, many cast members felt slightly pressured to ensure high guest interaction counts. At no time, however, were the characters required to meet a specific number. Almost every character takes his or her time with guests, especially children, to ensure that everyone has a good experience.
Lost in Space
Several readers—including two Imagineers and a Berkeley engineering student—caught inaccuracies in a recent quote by a Disneyland Facilities crewman complaining that the Space Mountain track was weakening due to the frequent welding necessary to repair cracks.
First, the Space Mountain track and rails are made from low carbon steel pipe and tube, not stainless steel. "Stainless steel pipe would be a very wrong choice for such a track design; soft, expensive, and with the wrong modulus of elasticity," says WDI's chief mechanical engineer, who helped build the coaster 25 years ago.
Second, as engineering student Mike explains, "no metal or alloy shrinks when it is heated. Due to the first law of thermodynamics, things expand when you heat them. Water is one of the few materials that shrinks when it is heated. All metals expand when heated."
The shrinkage, which may contribute to stress cracks, comes from the cooling that follows the welding.
Meltdowns & Cast Member Abuse
On the subject of tantrums and mistreated cast members, reader Kelly writes:
I am 43 years old. There has always been a tendency for people to think the "olden" days were better.
I happen to have been around in the '60s and '70s, and I know that kids were no more well behaved then, than they are now. They had meltdowns just as often. Some parents back then handled problems very well, and some were just hopeless.
Kids and parents today get a bad rap; children are no worse now than they ever were, and most parents I see today handle meltdowns and tantrums very, very well. If anything, parents today seem better educated about parenting.
I think the problem here, is that so many older people forget what age-appropriate behavior actually is. (My in-laws, for example, expect their 2-year-old grandchildren to behave like 12-year-olds, and it just isn't possible!)
Also, as people age, they seem to get a little less tolerant of typical child behavior, and they also have a tendency to see the past through rose-colored glasses. People just simply forget the day-to-day drudgery and difficulties in raising a family, and remember the good times. Consequently, they believe their precious children were so much better behaved than children of today. But it's just not true.
Conversely, a cast member argues:
There are a few things I have noticed. One was that in the '60s and '70s people treated their trips a whole lot differently. They showed us video clips in a training class, one of those things the decide to do every so often. It showed adults and children dressed as if they were going to church on Sunday. They treated it like it was a very special occasion, which it definitely should be.
Another thing, parents brought up children differently. Parents today spend less time with children and teaching them how to behave and what is right and wrong. They tend to expect everyone else to look after them but themselves, which cast members don't have the time to do. We can't babysit everybody's children. People tend to have a mentality that they should get something for nothing.
Lastly, most people don't listen, no matter how hard you try. I have heard some really hilarious stories of what has happened when people don't listen --but then I may have a bit of a twisted sense of humor…
Scott McKenna writes:
In one of your recent columns, a writer espoused the view (I'm paraphrasing) that since her child was of the age at which tantrums are "normal," she did not feel the need to be apologetic about any such tantrums he threw.
I would like to both (1) express disagreement with this view; and (2) add another comment regarding the general issue of the "proper" age at which children can really enjoy a theme park. The two items are related.
If indeed it is true that tantrum-throwing is "normal" for a child of 4 years of age, maybe 4 years of age is a bit too young to be subjecting a child to a day of trudging around a theme park. Since there is no law or other requirement stating that a child must be taken to Disneyland or WDW as soon as they are ambulatory, perhaps the solution is just not to take your kids to such a place unless and until they have passed the tantrum phase.
This leads me to another observation regarding the age of children and their attendance at theme parks in general. I'm a fairly regular visitor to the Disney theme parks. I go to Disneyland at least once a year and manage to get to Walt Disney World about every other year. Each time I visit, I am amazed at the sheer number of stroller-bound children who are either highly cranky or conked out entirely by dusk. This is entirely understandable (on the part of the children), as marching around a theme park for hours is tiring business for the young ones. What I just don't get is "why" the parents subject their children to such an activity when their children clearly aren't physically ready to fully enjoy a theme park (and all of the attendant walking) for a full day.
I believe it does a disservice both to the children and to other guests when parents insist on visiting a theme park before their children are ready to take on a full day's activity. Every time I get a stroller rammed into my heels, shins or ankles, I find myself thinking, "Wouldn't this situation be better for all concerned if you waited until your child was about 7, and they could really get a full day's enjoyment out of the parks without the need for a stroller?"
Alumnus Keven writes:
Just a thought from when I used to be a cast member: Yes, they are guests, and should be treated as such. But, cast members are also hosts and hostesses and should be treated as such.
Good point, Keven. But just like at home, it is possible to treat a host or hostess badly—it just makes you a lousy guest.
A ride operator writes:
I really want to thank you and the staff of MousePlanet for your attention to the problems of the resort. But most importantly, to thank you for your defense of cast members like myself who are left to the front lines, taking the brunt of our company's shortcomings on a daily basis.
I understand that Mr. Nash's letter was most likely trying to voice a simple question about a cast member's costume, but the letter came across to me as a bit strange. The guest had a very matter-of-fact tone and frankly annoyed me. He says he only visits the park a few times from out of state and cracks on a general lead because he thinks he knows more about Disneyland costumes than the general lead does. If this guest knew as much as he thought he did, he'd have realized that strange shirt (which my guess was a flannel red or blue shirt) was the area costume for Critter Country.
Some might still ask why that costume would be out in front of the Haunted Mansion, seeming possibly out of theme. The answer isn't really that complicated: Critter Country attractions and New Orleans Square attractions are in the same business unit and therefore run by the same management team. (Known as Critter Country attractions, the unit covers Splash, Canoes, Mansion, Pirates and others.) I can understand the guest concern if the general lead was inside the Mansion in rotation, but he wasn't. He was outside in his area interacting with guests. His outfit interfered with no part of the show itself. If you wanted to get technical, you'd have seen a lot of "Critter folk" around the rivers of old New Orleans. Critter Country greeters, whose sole purpose is guest interaction, roam the area daily helping guests. I understand that little things like this do raise an eyebrow from our guests from time to time. But some things are the way they are for a reason. We're not dumb. And MousePlanet helps show that side of it.
Great work guys, keep it up.
A co-worker continues:
First, on the cast members' costumes. When we are low on staffing, we can use help from other rides with cast members who have the certain ride knowledge for breaks and lunches. The cast member in question was most likely a manager. The attractions are broken up into business units. Mansion is part of the Critter Country unit. All of New Orleans and Critter Country are considered Critter Country. Just like ToonTown is part of the Fantasyland business unit. Hell, Main Street and Adventureland are part of Frontierland unit. Anyway, the managers of the business units are supposed to wear any costume from their respective unit.
So don't be surprised if one day you see a ToonTown cast member be your guide on Storybook. Bad Show, yes, they even know it. But some times it gets so bad, that any help is welcomed. But trust me, they get us to do costume changes whenever possible. The only time that happens is when it's temporary help.
Next, regarding evacuating disabled passengers from Indiana Jones: Okay, I don't work on Indy, but here's how we do it on Roger Rabbit and some of the Fantasyland Dark Rides. If a guest with a disability is stuck on the ride and can't make the walk, we have to evacuate the ride and then power up in a Maintenance Mode, so the cars run a little differently. A cast member has to ride with the guest to makes sure everything is okay, and when the guest is safely off, we have to shut the ride down again and power up in the normal show mode. It takes a little longer, but whatever it takes to get the guest out safely.
A veteran employee writes:
Having been a cast member at Disneyland for nearly 12 years, I do agree that 90% of us are not interested in change. We operated for 40 years on a principle of people coming to our park to enjoy all aspects of it, and not to be attacked by sales people as soon as they walk in a shop. We had just that: Souvenir Shops, not Disney Stores.
During the last seven years, we have now changed our operation to one of stress. We no longer operate under a lead (who, in the past, was an experienced and respected cast member), but three or four managers watching over us like hawks. It is hard to smile and be happy when we are treated like 2-year-olds, who need someone to tell them when to straighten a shelf, or pick up a discarded paper cup.
Is it any wonder why morale is so low? Just a thought.
A reader writes:
In your three-part formula you suggest "making as much money as possible." Well, to see the front lines of the Disney experience, I think protocol would have it that Walt's apartment would not be on a tour spot anymore, neither should it be open to let. Or, if they really had cajones they could force the Disney Brass to camp out for a couple of weeks in the fire of the thousands of guests they count money from.
I think the best case scenario would be this: sell the TDA building as commercial real estate, sell the hotels as a franchise to Marriott or some hotel firm, and lower the cost of admission to $30 for adults into Disneyland, and $20 for DCA. Then, cut the management and suit numbers by half, and leave the hourlies and the salary cast members to their own business. Strengthen the unions, decrease the annual passporters, and no more freebies/discounts. See where that leaves them.
Glen Halstrom writes:
I recently made a trip to California with my wife (April 19-May 2), and we decided before we left that, from what we've read from you and others at MousePlanet, that a trip to Disneyland was NOT on our itinerary and we'd wait until at least MOST of the attractions were up and running (even if it took a few years—no, I'm not holding my breath). We went to Universal instead and had a wonderful time. I find that sad, thinking about it.
Hey, I got a suggestion to Eisner, Harriss, etc. The next new park they should open up should be—Disneyland! That's right, raze the place and start over, only get the people in Tokyo to build and run it. That way Walt's vision will be preserved and the guests (and cast members) will once again have a place to be proud of. I can hear them now:
Management: Tear it down and rebuild it? What would Walt say?
Walt (from the Great Beyond): It's about time!
Yours would certainly be a novel approach. But can you imagine the sight of thousands of annual passholders chaining themselves to the Main Gate to block the bulldozers?
Richard A. Harris, ride safety expert, speaks up:
I have to respond to the person who said he could run Disneyland. There is no real approach, but it seems to me that Vincent S. Randall thinks he could run it better. That can't be.
A. You can't base salaries on park attendance due to the fact that it varies daily, weekly, as well as monthly on attendance. People come to Disneyland due to the fact that it has been in business for almost 50 years and the reputation is there and has been there. This is called branding. This is what has kept Disney in business all these years.
B. We all realize that there are politics in any major corporation in America. To pay these employees in management could never be based on a sliding scale. As to the fact you have to many middle managers and upper managers, Payroll would have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
C. Disney old management style was the best. The old Disney magic was the old management that either (a) has retired or (b) was let go from their position.
D. As for deducting money from the pay of each cast member who gets a guest complaint for using profane language, you can't do this in the state of California. The labor laws are designed to protect employees. If they would have monies taken from their checks this would benefit the company and not the employee. This would show on their bottom line for financial gain on the corporation's part. The best solution to this problem is to suspend this cast member for three days without pay and after that offense fire the person for using profane language on stage, as Disney says.
Finally, reader Jeff Sjoquist applauds:
I had to write in about Don Shields' letter in today's update. Don, my hat's off to you. Not many people today would go back and "make it right." It is even more impressive because it was such a small item. I'm sure the reason the cast members were so eager to let it slide was they were so caught off guard and probably didn't know what to do. I think it's safe to say you are a very honest person who has a great respect for other people, their property and, of course, Disneyland. Wish there were more people like you!!!
You can write to David atthis link..