It took a month, but Team Disney Anaheim finally coughed up an apology to the roughly 200 cast members who were banished to the pitch dark Festival Arena for the June 28 Pirates of the Caribbean movie premiere at Disneyland (see Taken Prisoner).
Although it's become a reflex to doubt the sincerity of any Official Statement issued out of TDA, I'm glad to see management at least acknowledge that there was a problem. See what you think.
The following letter was sent July 25 to all cast members who worked the event:
Dear Disneyland Resort Cast Member:
The combined efforts of the Disneyland Resort Cast helped make the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl a huge success! Thank you for working on the day of the event and assisting with providing a great experience for all of our Guests!
While we tried to be as thorough as possible in planning for this event, we sincerely apologize that we did not provide a more pleasant and adequate waiting area for you while the film was being shown. Please know that we will make every effort to insure that this situation does not happen again.
Again, thank you for your support and we appreciate your understanding in this situation.
Senior Vice President
Resort Operations and Sales
Senior Vice President
Resort Support, Attractions, Services and Entertainment
After receiving the letter, one cast member commented:
To me, it really shows where their priorities are. Isn't taking care of the employees one of the most obvious things to plan, especially for an event like this? It just frustrates me to see this letter. It tells me, and probably most of the cast members that got it, that they really care very little about us. So they think that a letter will make it all better.
I'm sorry, but Walt would have never done anything like what they did to us at the Pirates premiere. He respected his employees. I know it's redundant to say that now, but it's pretty much par for the course. Now, I'm kind of leery about the 50th. I wonder what kind of planning they're doing for that.
Another employee reported hearing other cast member reaction to the letter:
This apology was not worth the paper it was written on. That's it? I am going to keep this and the next time they shaft us, I am going to send them back a copy to remind them. This apology was not good enough. I think management should apologize to us in person. But I know they don't have the guts to do it. Talk is cheap, especially for this company. I am not going to work any of these special events again.
Another cast member added:
I've been reading your columns for a very long time. Your recent Pirates article and mailbag (link) really struck a cord with me and made me think
I didn't work the Pirates premiere (thank God), but what happened that night doesn't surprise me at all. Disney used to treat its cast with deep respect, and tried to do everything possible to keep us working for the company. Management used to fight for us, and they usually won. Today, management has to cover their own behinds when making any decision, and the focus really seems to be on solving guest concerns, not supporting the cast.
I have believed for a long time that Disney breeds fanatics, not employees. Cast members either become deeply committed to Disneyto the point where they are willing to do anything for the good of the companyor they become quickly disillusioned by the system and quietly leave before two years have passed. If you see someone with a 5-year pin on their name tag, please be nice to them. Chances are they've put up with more than you'll ever know about, are grossly underpaid, have considered quitting at least once, and continue their employment with Disney not because they can't find a better job, but because they genuinely care about the company and its future.
Keep up the good work, David. Maybe if more people understand how things work backstage, they'll have more respect and appreciation for those of us who make the parks run every day.
A co-worker added:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your clear investigation of the events that took place that night with the treatment of my fellow cast members. I recently wrote a personal letter to Cynthia Harriss and sent copies to appropriate Directors and Managers.
Once again, David, thank you for your continuing efforts to share with the rest of the world the real Magic behind the Berm.
One cast member appreciated the letter. He commented:
I think it is a bold move to write something out like that, even if it is a solution that doesn't cost any money. It is hard for execs to admit in writing that what happened was wrong. The natural and taught tendency is to never admit things went wrong and never, ever do it in writing.
A longtime Disney Company Watcher wrote:
About the parks, I only go to Disneyland about three times a year, but even I was pretty shocked about what has been happening recently. Among other problems have you noticed the marked increase of gang graffiti? Take a good look at the men's bathroom sign at the entrance to Adventureland, or the Toontown park benches (especially the one which faces the fire house) or any number of men's urinals, or oh, I could go on and on.
The one good thing is that they didn't trash Tom Sawyer Island. It is still very much Lawsuitland, The Most Litigious Place On Earth! (Though they still need to fix the fort.) There is one major change that I hope you might be able to report on. Why did they encase the entire shore of the island in concrete? Before it was mostly dirt and reeds. I have a guess why but I'd like to find out what they claim.
Good questions. I asked the experts. A veteran Custodian weighed in on the graffiti:
There may be an increase in graffiti, but I haven't been scrutinizing the places this person cites.
Etched graffiti is much more likely to stay around than ink/sticker graffiti. Usually, a custodian can remove ink graffiti in mere seconds. Stickers take a little longer. Etching is a whole 'nother matter. Custodians will often replace etched restroom items, such as mirrors, themselves. They don't bother to call Facilities for the easier-to-replace items, because Facilities is often overwhelmed.
Benches can go a while because it takes someone to notice and then pull the bench (if we're talking mobile benches) out of the area leaving no bench in the area.
Disney used to take a hard line on graffiti, documenting it with pictures just before promptly taking care of it. Security would take the pictures. Then, if anyone was caught doing it, they were charged with the repair work for any graffiti that matched theirs from previous incidents around the park.
As you know, neither Facilities nor Security are what they used to be. If it isn't related to anti-terrorism efforts or an AMBER Alert, Security is more likely to live and let live. Custodial has slipped somewhat, too, because Disney simply does not want to pay for decent workers. There are still decent workers being hired, to be sure, but the duds used to be the rare exception, and now they make up more and more of the workforce. This is the real reason Disney keeps lightening up on appearance guidelines.
So it is possible that there has been an increase in graffiti, or at least an increase in how long it is visible.
Another Disneylander elaborated:
First, on the increase of gang graffiti. There has been an increase in graffiti going on in the park. Talking to a custodial cast member about this, she said the reports of etched mirrors, windows, and other vandalism is increasing to the point that Facilities can barely keep up with the repairs. It's like as soon as a sign is repainted, it is marked up the next day. This is very frustrating to cast members. As one commented, It shows the low-class guests we are letting in.
On the concrete edge which surrounds Tom Sawyer Island. This was put in to prevent erosion of the Island into the Rivers of America. In the last couple of years before the Island was rehabbed, whole sections of the Island were eroding and sliding into the water. This erosion was caused by the wake produced by the Mark Twain and the Columbia. One of the worst areas was the section opposite the Hungry Bear Restaurant.
A Facilities old-timer answered:
I have not heard anything about the graffiti, but it seems to be there all the time and will not go away. The sign shop personnel is out in the park until park opening (8 a.m.), so it's not like they are not trying to do their job, they are working as fast as they can but some things take time. When summer is over they will have more time in the park with the later park opening.
As to the shoreline question, they simply need a way to keep the shoreline. The new concrete shoreline keeps the dirt on the shore and not in the bottom of the river, perhaps it's not as natural, but the plantings will be easier to maintain. The higher shoreline also has decreased the number of birds that can nest as they have to jump up on the higher shoreline. Not all the river got the new shoreline so the birds still have a chance.
As to the new features on the island, I personally think they turned out great and kids are enjoying it. Hope there will be a Phase 2. As to the fort, the regimental headquarters is now a break room for Fantasmic, locked up during the day so no one else can use it. At least the bathrooms are still in use for lowly cast members such as myself. They put a cool nighttime lighting effect in the fort that looks like a fire in the middle of the fort (not on fire). Very cool.
And, finally, the original reader replied
Regarding Facilities' efforts to quash graffiti:
I am glad to hear it but will hold judgment until my second trip of the year which will be in a few weeks. I am very aware of the problems during Summer, but have noticed a marked increase in graffiti this year than in the past. It could be due to the unusual Summer discount for locals.
Please share this with facilities (they'll know what I mean): My favorite indicator of graffiti are the arm rests on the fixed chairs in front of the China Closet on Main Street. The arm rests are designed to be easily removed (via Phillips screws) and replaced with new ones since they always seem to get graffiti'ed the fastest. (Though Facilities must have their favorites as well.)
...And, regarding the erosion and improvements on Tom Sawyer Island:
As reported in our July 7 issue of Park Update: Disneyland Resort, Disney's idea of an acceptable replacement of the fire effect on the cabin in Fort Wilderness may no longer pose any fire hazard, but it also looks more like fire alarm lights than anything resembling fire. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
That's exactly what I thought. You might remember this one tree (on the West side of the island near the fort), which was slowly sinking into the river and had been propped up for years by an anchored stump.
I too, think it turned out great (though the color of the new trash can tops are mismatched). But with up to three cast members on the island couldn't we have had full-time balancing-rock supervision (instead of the too-old Huck & Tom)?
Yes, the fire effect is nice, but as Al Lutz has pointed out on his site, the lights are in plain view. (The addition of the bell tower outside of the fort on the East side is especially strange for so many reasons.)
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.