Some months back, a Disneyland Update on MousePlanet broke the news about Disneyland toning down the Mad Tea Party. Gradually, everyone from the Los Angeles Times to People magazine picked up the story. Naturally, several MP readers, who helped fuel the coverage, wanted to know why we didn't run regular updates on the controversy.
For one thing, there was little to update. Disneyland refused to acknowledge there was a problem; they figured their stonewalling would help the hoopla to eventually die down.
For another, I personally am able to write only about one story a month for MousePlanet, which makes it difficult to keep on top of the all the Magic Kingdom's countless mini-melodramas. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to occasionally look back and catch up on some of the unfinished business discussed in past articles over the last four years.
The Central Plaza Opens in the March 29, 2004 Disneyland Update noted the removal of the Hub's eight 125-year-old olive trees to allow a better view of Sleeping Beauty Castle for the 50th anniversary celebration.
Two of the trees were relocated to other areas of the park, two were transplanted to Imagineer Tony Baxter's house, and the rest ended up as mulch.
As for decorating the castle, on Friday June 4, Imagineering began experimenting. The castle's west-most tower was topped with a jeweled gold crown and painted in bright colors.
WDI [Walt Disney Imagineering] was conducting a test to see how the castle would look with the new elements for the 50th anniversary, said one eyewitness. It was only visible if you were on the west path from Plaza Gardens to the Castle. I thought it was tacky. The extremely bright colorsbright pinks, blues, lots of goldreminded some of the birthday cake castle at WDW (for the Magic Kingdom's 25th anniversary). Some Imagineers were heard to say that they wanted to paint the bricks on the lower half of the Castle gold. The majority of the comments I heard were negative.
One onlooker reportedly said it would make the castle look like a cheaply made toy. Another thought it lacked the class and dignity deserving of such a milestone.
News from the Frontier in the January 19, 2004 Disneyland Update mentioned that Attractions was considering running the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island with a single operator, as is done at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
On Memorial Day weekend, Disneyland officially switched to the one-man raft operation. All the raft ride operators were retrained, and they do not like it, said a source. Despite the heavier workloadthey have to load and unload the guests, watch for river traffic, and secure the 'new' safety features on the rafts, Attractions management bowed down to Matt Ouimet's insistence to run the attraction 'like Walt Disney World.' The cast members feel that they are compromising safety and efficiency to save a buck. But the most stupid thing is that the attendance per hour has dropped sharply. This does not make sense when everything is dictated by the spin of a turnstile.
The change typifies the resort's current catch phrase: global utilization. He explained, There is a push to have all operations procedures to run the parks to be identical to that of Walt Disney World. It does not matter that some things are uniquely different in each park, corporate wants everything to be the same.
A future article will follow on the good and the bad of forcing WDW's procedures on Disneyland.
Tom Smaller Island (August 13, 2002) detailed the safety-proofing of Tom Sawyer Island, including the possible dismantling of the decrepit Fort Wilderness.
The fort remains, but continues to show its age. Fort Wilderness is going to rot away, shared one cast member. In order to save money, Attractions has pawned off the Island. It is no longer considered an 'attraction.' The rafts are, but not the Island. It has been reclassified as a walkway, or like a planter in the Hub. Plans to have the Fort rebuilt have evaporated, and there is no hope, unless guests speak up.
Winding Down the West (December 20, 2001) announced the closure of Universal Studios Hollywood's famous Wild West stunt show. USH swore the downtime was just temporary; my sources were doubtful.
Fast forward to today. According to a USH insider, Sadly, the theater is still empty, with no plans to reopen (strictly economics in keeping shows out of it). The line employees are told that the theater is closed because of termite damage, but it is actually a steel and stucco structure, and perfectly safe. Some of the stuntmen from the show now work the cowboy stunt show down at Knott's. Three of the stuntmen were in the recent History Channel series Wild West Tech.
Adventureland Is OPEN (September 7, 2001) and Adventureland Is CLOSED (August 24, 2001) exposed Walt Disney World's plan to open the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland an hour after the rest of the park. Two weeks later, WDW changed its mind.
Three years later, WDW changed its mind again. This spring, Adventureland finally began having later 10 a.m. openings.
Dark Days Ahead? (August 3, 2001) evaluated management's proposal to close down the parks one or two days a week during the off-season.
Instead, management decided to turn up the discounts. Attendance is recovering, but a month ago the company decided to lock the gates at Disneyland for a single day--May 4, 2005, the day before the 50th anniversary festivities kick off.
When I first filled in a park manager on the proposal, he scoffed. Certainly any final preparations could be done in off-hours, he reasoned. Well, Disney has since announced the one-day closure.
My guess, it's as much a publicity stunt as anything else. It will be Disneyland's first scheduled day off in roughly 30 years.
Finally, a bit of sad news. Recently, Disneyland lost two popular old-timers. Anne Salisbury, the Flower Lady, who spent years peddling plastic flowers on Center Street and was an original member of the Golden Ears retiree club, died May 11.
Rick Sowder, who worked at the park from 1955 to 1965, passed away April 27 at age 72.
And now about those Tea Cups
(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.