It may not be immediately apparent, but changes are coming, big and small, to Disneyland. Some sharp-eyed visitors may have detected a few small alterations already, but most of the big stuff is playing out behind the scenes.
Riders on the Jungle Cruise over the last few weeks may have noticed a few unfortunate alterations. Toward the end of the summer, a tree fell over in the Jungle's opening scene, which featured three animatronic butterflies perched on a log resting atop a waterfall. The falling tree smashed two of the butterflies and damaged the tubing that supplied the misters.
There is a bulletin board for skippers that is briefly visible by guests right before their unload from the ride where photos were displayed of the tree being loaded into one of the boats and taken away, revealed one Jungle boat captain. Apparently, when maintenance came in to try and fix the misters, one of them stepped on the last remaining butterfly, crushing it. The misters still haven't been fixed. A flimsy piece of netting has been placed over the log where the butterflies rested, but it can be plainly seen where the wiring was for the butterflies.
The loss of the misters has taken from the skippers' arsenal two of their stock one-liners: Welcome to the rain forest, where it rains 365 days a year that's almost every day, and Don't mind the mist, that's just the monkeys in the trees. With no immediate plans to restore the misters, skippers typically must extend their welcome spiel to fill the gap.
Ironically, the mashed misters were just replaced during the last Jungle rehab, back in the spring. During the same rehab, maintenance removed the Third Lioness from the lion's den scene. Yet, left behind were the two lion cubs that played with the lioness' tail. Now that the tail is gone, relayed one skipper, I have come to work seeing them playing with a banana, a rock, and even an incredibly large tarantula. Sometimes the skippers take one of our fedoras and put it in between the cubs and make jokes about one of our not-so-lucky co-workers.
Another long-awaited change may finally be coming to the Jungle: a wheelchair-accessible boat. The modified vesselafter sitting out back of the Indy show building for going on two yearshas been getting a little after-hours action.
The center of the boat has a shiny metal mechanism that takes up about a third of the boat length, that can raise and extend out to load wheelchairs, said a cast member who spotted the craft one day while it was being tested in boat storage. Although the technology is cool, the day was spent making jokes about how the new Space Mountain cars were also amphibious.
A co-worker added: The SAP (special assistance pass) boat, as it is called amongst cast members, is constantly being tested on the main line after park hours. Just a couple of weeks ago, they staffed some cast members to work the attraction and had an park E.C.V. (electrical convenience vehicle) in the boat, with some weights placed on it. Facilities keeps toying around with it, getting rid of some kinks with the lift. No knowledge on whether or not it will be on full-time, when it will be on, or anything like that. Last I heard, there was a concern with guests being able to negotiate the wheelchair into the actual lift, but that issue may have already been addressed. The boat itself is stored in storage, and is often lifted out via an overhead crane, and taken away, only to appear the next day back in the water.
Another ride operator speculated: Word around the resort is that the folks upstairs have been dragging their feet on implementing the boat because of some provision in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that would basically force us to keep that boat either running on the river or standing by, ready to go, if a wheelchair party requested it. Something along the lines of not being able to have wheelchair accessibility and deny it to an interested party. Either way, the wheelchair boat would be, at the very least, a bit of a ding in the efficiency of the attraction. And since efficiency is so highly prized at the resort, I wouldn't expect to see that boat in service any time soon. I mean, it has been sitting in the same spot backstage, basically looking finished and ready to go, for at least 18 months.
Of course, change would be most welcome at Disneyland's futuristic ghost town, Tomorrowland, which has lost half of its attractions and more than half its capacity over the last 10 years. You'll have to be patient. Help is coming, but it won't begin arriving until 2005.
Space Mountain's complete rebuild is underway. The track has been almost completely removed, save for about 100 feet or so. In addition, the tiles have been taken off the ceiling.
Work has yet to begin on adding a new ride in the CircleVision theater/Rocket Rods queue, but demolition crews are warming up their jackhammers. Said one cast member: Construction for the Buzz Lightyear attraction will start some time in late October or early November. The Tomorrowland offices are to be out of the building by the end of this month. CircleVision is history as the film projectors have been taken out. The entrance of the attraction will be the one used for Rocket Rods and CircleVision. The FastPass machines will be set up where the NASA Experience is.
The prognosis is less optimistic for the Land's remaining center of activity. Tomorrowland is very desolate, except for one area, the Monorails. Since we only have one train, lines lately have been in excess of an hour to an hour and 45 minutes on uncrowded days at Tomorrowland station. When the crunch comes and operators try to move people from both stations it can get really ugly, really quick. And it's not as if this is only for stand-by guests. The wait can be up to 20 or 30 minutes for hotel guests if they just miss a train. Since we only have one train in operation when you miss a train you have to wait for it to go around twice each trip taking about 12 to 15 minutes, making your wait anywhere from 24 to 30 minutes at the fastest. And I have been told by numerous people that our one-train operation is indefinite at this point.
Although lightly visited Innoventions is also open, it too may go down pending approval of a 50th Anniversary exhibit. Nostalgic displays would fill the building's bottom level, with Innoventions scaled back to the upper level.
As for other 50th Anniversary entertainment, a cast member shared: The new parade is supposed to have every Disney character ever in it. And they have been testing a lot for that new fireworks show with a massive disco ball light effect, which sounds lame but looks pretty cool when you see it. The thing is really bright, and it can be seen from way outside the park when they test it.
No, that's not your imagination. Those are pirates and cowpokes on Main Street. What was once the cardinal sin of Bad Show has now become Standard Operating Procedure at parade time.
The parade has gone back to Land help staffing by not only our business partners, but the attractions as well, explained one staffer. So, as you've probably noticed, there are a lot different area costumes on the various areas of the parade route. Adventure/Frontier owns Town Square and Main Street, Critter Country has the Hub/Plaza, and Fantasyland keeps the Fantasyland and Tomorrowland areas of the Parade Route. Cast members will meet with a lead from the area about an hour before the parade and set up. Then, after the parade, go back to their attractions.
Ride operators have also been kept occupied with cross-training on other rides in their newly assigned Lands. Cast members had feared that being land locked (see previous article) would chain them to a single attraction. In fact, many cast members are learning more attractions throughout their area to provide them with sufficient hours.
In addition, ride operators are getting revised safety training. In response to the Big Thunder accident, every cast member is being update-trained on a new tagging system for ride vehicles. We have also been update-trained to pull a vehicle for any sounds that come from it as opposed to waiting.
Big Thunder itself is down indefinitely, as management awaits word on what type of modifications will have to be made to the transport units. In the meantime, Guest Relations hosts and hostesses are being stationed at the entrances to Big Thunder and the under-rehab Splash Mountain. With all three mountains down, these satellite City Halls are better trained to deal with the volume of complaints.
The reopening of the Haunted Mansion, with its crowd-pleasing holiday overlay, has relieved much of the pressure. Before the Mansion reopened, a cast member said, the effect of the closures was something that was more visible on a person-by-person basis. Guests were upset that so many major attractions were closed. I'm sure that just about all of them were aware of the circumstances behind Thunder's closure, so I didn't really see a lot of irate guests, but did hear the occasional comment, which is not difficult to understand. Since the Mansion has come back up, it is a far more tactile problem.
The flip side is that Haunted Mansion Holiday, coupled with a two-parks-for-one promotion for locals, has on days pushed attendance more than 25 percent above estimates. So even increases in capacity don't necessarily decrease the congestion. Get ready, overwhelmed cast members and guests. It could be a challenging winter.
(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.