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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
D-I-G [Disneyland Info Guide] Update 1/5/99 - Don't eat those hot dogs...

As you know, I’ve been on a bit of a rampage lately about problems affecting visitor safety at Disneyland. The following information provided to me I was able to confirm via several sources, and quite frankly it just sickened my stomach.

After the note below, I give some background to the Outdoor Vending department [ODV for short here] that should help give some perspective to how they operate, and some of the problems faced both internally under what seems lax oversight by the Pressler / Harriss regime. I wanted to make sure I could give you as much of an evenhanded description of what was going on, and how they function.

BTW - I was going to title this update Mr. Hankie’s Disneyland Christmas Visit [with all due respect to South Park] but I’ll let you decide what you think of this on your own. ;)

I don't know if people have found out about this already, but on Saturday, December 26, the ODV [outdoor vending] hot dog kitchen was experiencing problems with it's drainage system. Basically, any grease that comes from cooking the hot dogs, (which is done in the old Space Place kitchen) is washed directly down the drain, and it backed up.

As a result of this blockage, sewage began to leak onto the floor. While Facilities was notified, and was working on the problem all day long, the hot dog kitchen remained open for nearly the whole day. A very thin watery layer of something pure black blotted out the floor as it spread, something 1/8" high water based spills don't normally do. As Facilities worked on the system, the resulting sewage covered the floors, making it quite slippery, and it had to be frequently swept out the door. The resulting stench was pretty bad, but everyone was kept working anyway. Although the place is back to normal now, part of it still smells of sewage, according to what I'm told.

Probably the only thing more disgusting than the stench, was the fact that the kitchen remained open, even though the head management for red team knew about the problem. They instructed the inventory controller to keep churning out those hot dogs, because after all, it's the day after Christmas and a Saturday at that, and they didn't want to miss any sales.

Without regard to health laws, nor caring about what would happen to customer health as a result of the spillage, they willingly demanded that production continue. Because of the lack of drainage, the utensils used to cook the hot dogs could not be cleaned properly, and dirty dishes were often used and reused throughout the day; the ones that did get washed were not so clean themselves, due to the fact the sink wasn't draining.

It was only until later that night that something was done, when a supervisor from another team walked in to this mess, and was shocked to find production still in full swing. This supervisor, however, did care about customer safety, and immediately shut down the kitchen; all remaining hot dogs were thrown out.

So you know, apparently some of the employees who were there that day had tried unsuccessfully to do something about it, but didn't have the proper information to do so, and of course, the ODV department itself didn't seem to care. The hot dog kitchen re opened the next day, but the floor still looks like it needs to be washed, it has the appearance of being swept, but not cleaned.

This incident's timing came only a few weeks after a health inspection, where again, the red team was basically shut down. From mold growing on lemonade wagons, which to be fair is virtually harmless due to the fact the bin is covered, and steps have always been taken to control it and if any black specs are found in the bin, everything gets bleached immediately. To a maintenance problem on the cappuccino cart that had been ignored, cotton candy wagons without proper cleaning facilities (sinks), a tamale cart where the temperature of tamales had fallen below the legal level and a temperature log was not kept. Apparently ODV does work fast, as the next day, everything was back out as if nothing had happened.

I do not know if the ODV department complied with the health inspector's demands on the above, ignored them, or compromised with them. But after learning of the hot dog kitchen incident, I seem to doubt the department's capabilities in maintaining cooperation with health department.

Sadly, the only way to have things like this change is to make people aware of it. I can remember, pre-Pressler era, when something like this would never have even happened and other departments would have helped with production if need be, as we all worked together, not against each other.

Yet with Mr. Pressler, and now his underlings, running things, the quality and safety of the ODV operation has fallen leaps and bounds, to the point where many employees are transferring or quitting directly because of it. Do you think they will they ever learn?

As you can imagine, I cannot understand just how bad things can get sometimes. Especially with some of the heartbreaking events taking place at the park lately.

Now the following information will help you understand how ODV operates, and give you some background about the personalities involved - and maybe some insight to these people that somehow let something like the above happen. The stuff is pieced together from several sources other than the above, and do not reflect any one in particular. Items were cross-matched and verified with others who said the same thing.

I did take into account the possibility of any vendettas that disgruntled CMs may have against certain superiors, and found that the incident listed above was not sent to me as a result of that.

Kimi Rapada is the head manager of the "red team," she’s the supervisor that was probably behind the hot dog mess you e-mailed me about. She has been with that department for nearly three years, she came from the foods department where she worked for a longer period. A 'my way or no way' attitude is her philosophy – customers [unknowingly] and employees suffer equally under her.

The head manager for "blue team," Kellie Mudget, is another problem, she makes policies and goes home oblivious to the effect of them. Mostly when she’s involved, it’s about inefficiency and bad policies. She in particular is one of the people responsible for the flood of merchandise being piled on the ice cream carts (one cart for example sells beanies, a spinning toy, two types of lollipops, and oh yeah, ice cream, while others have ribbon wands and pin wheels).

She was also partly responsible for the move of beanies to blue team, which made her very popular with red team. She also eliminated the 'all time favorite' juice bar in favor of the 'made for kids 7 and under' Itzakadoozie [?] ice pop. Sales still haven’t recovered.

Mudget’s problem is that she does not realize what she is really doing, but every blue team worker knows what policies come from her, as they always seem to backfire when they make it out in the park. Things such as cutting production hours, and then having the night crew run out of stock as a result; incidents such as ice cream wagons onstage missing a wheel, etc. Basically she is a very nice person, but utterly clue-less.

Here’s a little background about how ODV functions for Disneyland, and how it breaks down. The department [as customers deal with it] consists of three teams:

"Red Team" deals with: Soda, Cotton Candy, Lemonade, Pedal Carts, Hot Dog locations

"Blue Team" handles: Glow, Ice Cream, Balloons, and now Beanie Babies

"Yellow Team" oversees: Churros, Popcorn, Pretzels, Stadium-type Vending, and now Funnel Cakes

[It’s important to note that ODV Management seems very concerned with making money, with any edge they can get.. i.e., putting up ALL items for display, doubling up locations (putting beanie babies together with a pushcart), etc.]

Red Team gets crazy because it's so messy and they have so many items, Blue team has an incredible amount of locations - in particular the Glow stuff, no one knows how they keep it all straight. Inherently, Yellow Team is the simplest and easiest to run, with the fewest locations, because of the fewest items.

Lisa Woods is the Operations Manager for all of ODV. She hardly ever has contact with the CMs out on the front line, let alone smiles. She spends a lot of time holed up in a very nice office on the phone. People are sure she has some contact with her managers, though it's not overtly apparent. A few have seen her in-park only twice, but to her credit, one of those appearances was last week [Christmas / New Year's]. She's almost a mysterious figure.

Kimi, on the other hand, is heavily involved on-stage and with all CMs, she always makes her presence known and always has some advice. At first she came across as negative to many, but some people have warmed up to her. She just has a lot of ideas. As you've noticed many prices have been increased recently, churros, cotton candy, Mickey Glow Ears (twice), she has LOTS of ideas. [BTW, one of the old Red Team Asst Managers, Wendi Fujimodo, really had her act together, but she moved to Main St. Restaurants. She knew how to talk to CMs, was very reasonable, etc.]

Honestly nothing observed from this end has been unsafe, however it is sometimes a huge burden on certain CMs to live through some of their cost-cutting efforts. One example that comes to mind is when, this summer in Adventureland, they had a Beanie Baby Cart, A Hot Dog Cart, and a Contour Pushcart all run by a single vendor. That's not only confusing, but also a huge strain on the vendor, and leaves carts more open to theft.

My one other comment about ODV: Their motto might very well be "Let someone else deal with it." They truly live in the moment. If they need a wagon pushed in, they'll grab any warm body that's nearby, even if that means delaying four other carts from operating for the next 1/2 hr. They're very inefficient, and because of this, sadly, they're only hurting themselves. As anyone will tell you, some folks sometimes make three full costume changes, plus walking back and forth from near Space Mountain to behind Haunted Mansion, eating up nearly 2 hours of their shifts. They're wasting their own time and money there.

To ODV's credit, they went to great efforts to get themselves into Holiday theme, it's also a good thing to have CMs change into land costumes before working in certain areas. They could just have EVERYONE wear Teals [uniforms] but at least this adds to the theming that is such an important part of Disneyland.

They actually treat CMs well from what I can see. Sometimes walking into the warehouse CM’s will find a dessert tray waiting for general consumption, or they'll hold a safety fair, where CMs learn about safety and get free BBQ, drinks, and ice cream. And they give people stuff for birthdays, publicize Mystery Guest hundred-percents or Guest Compliments. Plus, all ODV CMs get free fountain drinks at the CM cafeterias.

One time this summer they even had an 'Open House Forum" where people could confidentially write down what they did and did not like about the department, and get a free snow cone in the process. They had big poster boards, and CM’s could write anything they wanted on them without fear of them 'analyzing handwriting.'

Things like that show that they do extend an open hand when it comes to finding out what CMs want. Who knows if they actually took any of the suggestions, but they didn't have to ask for them. So it's not like ODV workers are treated like dirt, it’s just the department’s inefficiency that gets so frustrating sometimes for people.

I hope this gave you some insight as to how they operate.

Getting back to the first subject at hand, the Columbia accident, the exposed electrical box, now the hot dog problem listed above, you begin to wonder just who is in charge out at the park now don’t you? I sure hope we never have to hear about unsanitary conditions such as listed above ever again, although I have a feeling under the leadership of Michael Eisner, Judson Green, Paul Pressler, Cynthia Harriss, et. all - this may continue to be a business as usual situation.

How about re-educating the managers about NOT endangering the customer's health when it comes to meeting quotas, OK?

Personally I would just fire anyone who made employees work in sewage, and then sold their efforts out in the park. With these kinds of decisions being made, it seems Disneyland apparently cannot supervise themselves on their own any longer.

Just stay away from all hot dogs that are sold from carts, ok?

Before I forget, I spoke to some folks who deal with corporate at Disney, and heard some distressing news regarding the recent Columbia accident. It appears that if anything comes as a result of the accident, it's just that things may get worse rather than better. It seems the legal department has been advocating a "business as usual" situation - and has Eisner's among other's - ears on this.

The idea behind this rather skewed thinking, of course, is that the company would look worse legally if they returned to some of their older policies. As I understand it, the cutbacks that have created some of these problems will apparently continue, due to this line of thinking.

I was told to expect a speech or some kind of comment from Eisner in the near future stating "Safety is our primary focus" to try and diffuse things a bit, and make some folks feel better, but also expect NO major changes in what they are doing afterwards. I have no reason to believe the source is telling me anything else than the truth here.

Depressing isn't it?

[NOTE: There was a Special Report follow-up a few weeks later to the above archived item, you may wish to take a look at it.]

Back at the park, there are problems everywhere with staffing cut backs on attractions. In Space Mt’s unsupervised queue – [to quote another post from a.d.d.] "I constantly see kids and teenagers were climbing the walls by the garden. They should have a cast member posted there, these are lawsuits waiting to happen. (the City Hall CM was surprised when I mentioned this.)"

Over at Pirates, the cutbacks in staffing has made for boat overloading and problems with wheelchairs in particular. Without a greeter in front for example – folks just roll in wheelchairs to the front of the ride, when they are actually supposed to load from the exit. Wheelchairs can not return back if all the lines are being used on busy periods, so CMs literally have to haul the chair over the boats back to the exit side so these folks can get out. You can imagine how much one of those electric chairs with huge batteries, or special ones with many additions to them weigh.

Again, people who do NOT know how to run an attractions department, like Paul Yeargin, make stupid cutbacks like this and create big problems for the CMs stuck working there. Who else will get hurt due to this? Yeargin just does not care.

A few other quick notes:

Disney1Mom, the lovely and charming Beverly who I met for the first time this past week [and a REALLY nice person!] told me that her new favorite, Billy Hill no longer requires reservations to see. Basically the Golden Horseshoe is now on a continuous show schedule, with food served all day. The reason for this is that the restaurant makes a killing this way, just like in Walt Disney World by serving food all day. Unlike Walt Disney World we will probably not get an expanded entertainment schedule to fill up the time between the Billy Hill main shows though.

You all know about the price increases, that were snuck in on New Year’s Day, [now $39, up a buck for a day ticket] and the McDonalds rather unique Resident Salute promotion. The McD's tickets given on large drinks and fries come with one of either two dates, either Jan. 1st thru Mar. 4th OR Mar. 5th thru May 6th. I guess they wanted to split up the crowds it would probably pull that way.

Some focus groups were conducted for Annual Passholders. [Can you imagine Disneyland wanting to know what they think, at all? And pay you $75 to boot for your time? ;) ] It turns out they are investigating a "Platinum Pass" - a new higher level pass that will, in addition to the Premium offerings, give you one or two extra opportunities to buy something. Two things discussed were either a Club 33 dinner [bet the members love THAT idea] or a guaranteed Fantasmic Dessert Buffet seating. Of course, both would still cost you extra on top of what you already pay for that pass level.

Most people in the focus group I heard about didn't seem to impressed with what Disneyland was offering for the extra fee, and were looking more along the lines of better discounts or head of the line privileges. We'll see where this one goes. My guess here is that come June we'll still see three passes, but the $99 one will disappear, and this new Platinum Pass will be the new highest level pass. Let's hope the park listens to its customers and offers something unique that won't cost so darn much extra to take advantage of.

One bit of good news regarding the dining discount - seems they are listening to the complaints made about Redd Rockett's, and they will soon offer the AP discount there. One of the reasons this was done was because when Plaza Inn reopens in June, they will also have a similar serving system and they want to keep the pricing consistent.

The Tarzan Treehouse thing [where they move into the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse] appears more and more just a glorified character meet and greet. Nothing else. Each bedroom will be a photo op area it appears. Big deal.

How bad is it getting internally between departments at Disneyland? Let me tell you about the Fantasmic buffet battle. Seems that it requires two divisions to pull this very profitable and successful thing off. Merchandising staffs the Disney Gallery to keep it open that late, and Foods provides and caters the event, also collecting the cash it seems in the long run from it. Well, thanks to the way the park is run now - it seems that Merchandising doesn't want to accommodate the Foods folks anymore, since they feel they lose money from staffing the gallery. Foods of course won't help pay for the labor budget. What does this mean? Well if they continue feuding, it means the whole thing, as profitable as it may be, gets kiboshed.

It's like they don't want to make money they get so petty sometimes, isn't it? But wait, there's more about how territorial it's getting.

Backstage near an attractions locker room they have a "time tunnel" like display that has pictures and RARE artifacts from each year the park's been in operation, all the way until '88 when they stopped spending the money to update it. [ ;) ] Recently the lock broke on one of the cabinets, and a rare portrait of Walt was stolen. The broken lock was reported to Security, who informed everyone that it could be fixed, but that no one will pay for it, because no one "owns" the area. It's not costuming's area because there aren't lockers in the hallway, and its in the "Old Administration" building so it can't be billed to Administration because its their OLD building. So, the lock stays broken because no one will pay for it.

My question is what else do they want to see stolen here? Plenty of stuff for the next Disneyana convention I guess.

Now, finally, on to some information I found out about DCA [the new Disney's California Adventure park]. Someone was kind enough to offer the following info, which again only shows just how uninspiring this whole thing is turning out to be.

Again, I’ll utilize the Q&A format everyone likes so much - understand there are a lot of differing sources for this info, but it is presented as one here for your reading convenience.

Q. Any changes in the DCA schedule, or anything major about it from your last update?

A. It looks like DCA is soft opening Sept. 2000 [Al's note: If you remember my last update, I'd heard testing on rides was beginning as early as August]. There may NOT be a movie theater as Orange County has been / is getting so many new screens lately. Also Planet Hollywood is probably out. After a huge problem with the David Copperfield Magic Restaurant, where WDW put in money of there own to help open a 30-mil restaurant, which never happened, everyone is sore about Planet Hollywood. Theme restaurants will have to be a real business to go into DCA.

BTW, did you know Downtown Disney gave some sites away free to get House of Blues, Puck's, Bongos? They thought they needed themed restaurants for visitors. Only Rainforest at Animal Kingdom does well, but it's the only sit down restaurant in the entire park. The Disney Co. has money in House of Blues. Basically the managers sold Eisner the deal about outside themed dining. The reason for all this is that every night there are 60,000 visitors at WDW with nothing to do. They go to Downtown Disney.

Q. What about Disney Quest?

A. People are complaining high and low that Disney Quest is hurting - and it isn't coming to Anaheim at all. Visitors won't pay $25 to go into arcade. It was pay for play, only Disney had used a point system that another company owned. They told them to stop using their system, and Disney did. Now it's Pay $25 for entire building, which of course people think is too high for an arcade. DQ has to prove itself in Chicago and Philadelphia before it can ever come to DCA.

Funny, Paul Pressler doesn't like the little businesses like Disney Quest and Club Disney, as a result, he may just kill them all off. Odd, Paul isn't an operator, yet that's his new job. It's his weakest area - witness the continuing problems at Disneyland.

Q. Speaking of pricing, I see more resistance coming along those lines also. I had no idea that here at DL so much of the admission is discounted for example. Without all those reductions, the gate would really be down.

A. Knott's has been much stronger than Disney thought. Magic Mt. is weak, Universal Studios is holding it's own. Knott's is up! DL is way down. Management projections were off by more than 10% for the year. That's Paul's doing. Add the loss up.

Once past a certain point, every guest walking in the door is profit. Profit is way down for the year, following last year with Light Magic, it's a very unhappy Magic Kingdom. Paul got DCA started, now it's up to others to build and operate it. Numbers for year-end are good. But it's will be a scorched earth if DL isn't packed this week. WDW was code red at MK and AK this week. NO ONE could go in.

[Al's note: Disneyland did have some stunning numbers, around 70k plus, many days from Christmas Eve to New Years, despite the accident.]

Q. Heard today that Cynthia Harriss may NOT have the lock on the job [President of Disneyland Resort] after all. Someone else told me Pollit turned it down.

A. Pollit knows his bounds, especially since managers will not listen to him, because he's a bean counter. If things change with Pressler, look for him at ABC or the studio. I believe the company will wait until after New Year to pick new president. There is a sense throughout the company that DL needs help. It's odd that WDW now has the spirit that DL used to have. WDW views other divisions they work with as partners, not as an enemy.

Q. Any news about the Columbia?

A. I think it is gone. The judgment on it is that it should be rebuilt. The park doesn't want to spend the money to do that, as they would for the Mark Twain. Don't forget that one manager suggested early this year to turn both into a floating fast food restaurants, build bridge to TS island and also build a Fantasmic clothing warehouse [for the show] on the island. They wanted to tear out playground. Can you imagine? A Tom Sawyer's Clothing warehouse attraction, with additional floating food court!

Q. I hope they leave our version of Fantasmic alone. I like what the one posting said about the WDW version, "it was way too "value engineered."" ;)

A. Yes, yes. Although viewers can sit at WDW version, show is long, boring. Too much film, little heart, and no magic of the area transforming for the show. It cost a ton though, and yet lacks magic.

BTW, on a recent Sunday the President of Feature Animation was at the Disney Gallery, wanting space on the balcony to see Fantasmic. He couldn't believe it wasn't running. He was with his party. Bet Paul, if not Michael, got a call Monday morning.

Q. So is Eisner busy or what, why does he seem out of the picture here?

A. Eisner is busy with ABC.

Q. Getting back to DCA, why they just wanted to duplicate what everyone else is doing with their off the shelf stuff, I don't understand at all.

A. The answer: It's cheap. By the way, did you know on that Space Shot it was found that there was a problem with safety? If the ride fails while cycling, the question became how do you get people down? Other off-the-shelf rides have similar problems. All of them are designed for parks with 180-day seasons, and shorter hours. DCA will wear the rides out with in 3 years.

Q. I wonder if the public will be tired of this park after one season?

A. Not really. DCA will cycle rides and end up replacing them within 3 years.

You know, the folks at WDI must provide rides to DL that must be available 95% of the time. When DL pushes to open early and cuts the budget, the result is Rocket Rods. Indy was done the right way. (There were down times when it first opened, but it ran, and still runs, as designed for the most part).

Q. The part of the park I most object to is the carny, pier section.

A. Sad thing is, Paradise Pier could have been magic if they recreated the turn of the century Luna Park, Dream Land, the antique look of parks of that era. The old forgotten rides, the bigger than life environments. Look at the old postcards, those old parks were magic places. The "Tattoo U" stand was the point where many gave up on Paradise Pier.

Q. Along with projecting Tattoos on you in the Suprestar Limo ride. ;) Why is the Hollywood end of the park looking so bare right now? I could tell things look rather bleak just from overlooking the site on the Monorail. Easier to power wash I guess? ;)

A. The Hollywood Backlot area has zero landscaping. Zero. Parks need green to soften the edges. Everyone feels the same way "These are parks, remember managers?" Hollywood Backlot is all big soundstages and hard edges. No green to be seen at all. Even the entire front of the big theater is a painted backdrop. Imagine a painted wall several stories high, with a doorway cut into the bottom. Paradise Pier also needs green, as does the shopping area, the Condor Flats area, and just about every area come to think of it. Only the mountain is planted.

Q. That IS cost saving. Now, isn't the Asia raft ride out at Animal Kingdom [AK] the same as the DCA one? Both even look the same as Knott's attraction from what I can see of them. Except for the drop I guess - and the whirlpool did get axed, right?

A. No, DCA mocked up their raft. They have a different layout. AK saw the mock up, and added the drop to their ride. They are different layouts. No whirlpool. A 10' drop, then a tunnel, then the 20' drop. Also the Asia raft ride isn't getting much interest, it just isn't very good, they have a short 20 foot drop at the end, and it's only one. Very typical stuff you find in other theme parks.

At DCA the rafts are the 6 seaters from AK, but management wanted an 8 seater. Their answer? Don't buy a bigger raft, just add 2 more seats! Riders will have to toss their legs over each other, there is not enough room. Put a couple larger sized people in the rafts, and then the ride capacity will drop way down. The plan looked good on paper though. As with most decisions at DL lately, it's penny wise, pound-foolish.

Q. Typical with every thing they've done so far. They shave bucks everywhere, then wonder why it costs so much in the long run. You'd think they'd learned from Light Magic. Any other observations about DCA?

A. DCA lacks being cut off from the world. There will just be a fence between you and the hotel. BTW, the hotel rooms are right next to the Wild Mouse coaster, imagine the noise! (A thanks to the customers for the $300 a night room price?)

Q. Ouch. The one coaster will hide the Pacific a bit right? But the rest of it will just overlook the rest of the neighborhood?

A. There's talk of themeing the DL Pacific Hotel to Paradise Pier and connecting them via bridge.

Q. Oooooo, how exciting, Circus Circus all over again? ;)

A. Oh, you saw the overlay design?

Q. No, didn't see it, but just imagined it from what you said. ;)

A. The hotel's big restaurant is on the ground floor to save money, with no view.

At WDW, the old Top of the World was just that, offering a great view of the Magic Kingdom's and Epcot's fireworks. Now it is the "California Grill" but with the same great view. That place is the WDW hang out. Management loves it. Portabello Grill at Pleasure Island used to be the spot.

Q. That's dumb. I love that restaurant at WDW. It was just terrific, both quality wise and via environment. I remember seeing Eisner and Ovitz there right after Ovitz started. I figured it was the hot spot. :)

A. The Wonder Wheel at 150' high will provide the greatest view - of guests and the real world. Keep your windows covered. That's an e ticket.

Q. So how is it all coming along? Bet everyone will end up doing all sorts of last minute stuff to fill it in.

A. I doubt that Downtown Disney [as they are calling the retail section] will be ready opening day, pieces may be ready, but not all, that's for sure. They are still designing the gateway connecting the two parks.

Q. I keep hearing wonderful things about Tokyo Disney Seas.

A. That park will look great! Everything you heard about it is true.

Anyway, Eisner and family visited Rock 'n Roll roller coaster the other night at D/MGM at WDW. Heard he "loved it." He now wants to run ads showing the track, since likes the design. It will really surprise visitors, come up from behind them. ;)

D-I-G [Disneyland Info Guide] Update 12/29/98 - What's so wrong at the park lately?

CORRECTION 12/30/98: Paul Yeargin's job title is actually director of all attractions - not just of the Westside area. He will also be in charge of all the new DCA park attractions also.

Well gang, after no updates for the last few months, this is now the third one in just two weeks. But it’s another important one I’m sad to say, with a unhappy focus on what seems to be a major decline in upkeep and, yes safety issues, in the park.

As you’ve read in the last update about the accident on the Columbia dock - it seems that thanks to policies implemented by current management due to fiscal pressures placed on them, we’ve had more than a few problems creep up lately in how the park is run. You’d think that with that horrific accident Christmas Eve they’d be aiming for more safety, right?

Well, sadly, you’d be wrong. Take a look at something I found on my walk though of the park last Sunday morning - [I want to thank Jason Schultz for having his digital camera at the ready and hosting these shots on his wonderful site. You can return to this site and keep reading by using your back button on your browser when done.]

Folks, this electrical box - with its plainly exposed wires - wasn’t hidden away from the public, nor did we crawl behind a fence to take a picture of it. It was plainly visible and accessible in the planter surrounding the Innoventions building, directly across from the Rocket Rods loading platform / new Disney Radio studios.

The panel itself was less than six inches away from a railing, easily reachable from behind, [as I saw a CM later futzing with it] and obviously had been tampered with at some time [the previous evening?] before we spotted it that morning. Note the lemonade cup sitting on it - as you know, most lemonade is sold in the park during daytime hours only, it could have been sitting like that for most of the previous day for all I know.

Needless to say, I ran to get a CM, she got a manager, and he started looking at it on the spot to my relief. [Thankfully!] Later on that day, Jason went back and took another picture of what they had done. It’s a little harder to see here in this shot, but basically they just covered up the electrical stuff with cardboard and packing tape. How safe that solution was, I shudder to think, what if someone spilled a soda on it?

Now folks, it’s pretty clear here. Visitors to the park, such as myself, shouldn’t be doing a walk though the park and doing this work for Disneyland should we? Whatever happened to the regular inspections of the lands by tech and operations personnel before the park is opened to the public? It’s important to note that we spotted this at about 9:15 AM or so, the park had been opened from 8 AM on.

Has Disneyland now decided that safety is not cost effective? You bet I asked myself that question Sunday morning, only reinforced by what happened on Christmas Eve.

This problem seems to support what I keep hearing over and over again from people working at the park – that budgets have been cut so far back in key areas such as maintenance and ride operations that these situations are becoming more common each and every day. And they only get worse when you have a week of attendance approaching 70,000 plus daily.

But mind you - they still find money in the budget to fund a full time plain clothes security guard on the McDonalds fry wagon instead of maintaining these things! [Even though the infamous Ebola Man was supposed to have been arrested. More on this later in this update.]

Budgets apparently get cut by people working in the park now who do not understand the operational needs that Disneyland has due to lack of knowledge, and worse yet, these cutbacks seem to be implemented by people whose only goal is the fiscal one.

Through all of this, I keep hearing other two names [besides Pressler] responsible for many of the problems we’ve all been seeing. Cynthia Harriss seems to be hell-bent on pushing decisions through without thinking of the ramifications [or hoping they won’t be very big]. Witness her handling of the early close / late opens of the attractions a few weeks ago. Her statements to CMs, especially where she comes right out and claims that "we fully intended to change things back if the uproar was too much" show she does know what is wrong and right here.

But the other name really seems to come up even more – an attractions manager named Paul Yeargin that seems to not care a whit about any previous operational procedures when they get in the way of his implementing his staffing cuts. He is the guy in charge of all attractions right now, which will include the new park also when it opens up.

Now you can spot them to ask questions.
Here’s a photo of the "execs responsible for owning Christmas" taken back in Nov. just after the park had just been decorated for the holidays. [Thanks Sue!] The man on the top left in the tan shirt is Paul Yeargin, the blonde woman in the middle front with the low cut jacket is Cynthia Harris. Why not ask when you spot them why they are cutting back budgets so much, and why safety issues seem hit so hard?

I’d been hearing about Yeargin for a long time from people over at the Disney stores, and as he has taken over more and more of the attraction operations at the park it seems that more and more gaffes keep coming. Many of the complaints back then are the same as about what he’s doing now. I keep hearing "we have someone with the wrong goals in mind - someone that quite frankly places important things, like properly staffing attractions on a back burner and frankly does not care what anyone tells him."

Let me share with you something I just got about his previous stint in the Disney stores:

I heard about the accident at DL last week, and read the info about Paul Yeargin on your site. I wanted to respond and support the people who talked to you. I realize that I have no way to prove the following information, but believe me, it happened - Paul Yeargin was my supervisor.

I was an Assistant Manager at two Disney Stores, Paul Yeargin was assigned to our district in Spring one year. The general impression of him was that he was very aloof and was only concerned with furthering his own career - he obviously didn't care about Disney, it's cast members, company history, etc. His attitude was confirmed early on when he took several of the managers out to breakfast and told them outright that he didn't like Mickey Mouse, he was there to "get the job done" (paraphrased).

[Al’s note: This jives with something I just found out - unlike Harriss, Yeargin did NOT want to spend time as a costumed CM doing some of the jobs around the park to learn them. I was told he considered it degrading, and he knew "how to get the job done" without such "silly" things.]

Over the next year Paul made our lives a living hell. I was constantly degraded by him and made to feel as though I didn't know my job (I could have been a better manager, but my loyalty to the company and it's objectives was very genuine - besides he didn't offer solutions, only criticism). His constant negative attitude and ability to belittle managers and cast members affected my health and caused at least two other managers (all in different stores) to have serious stomach ulcers. Within a year, most of the original management team under Paul transferred to another district or left the company - I left altogether and moved somewhere else to finish school.

I've re-read this e-mail several times hoping that it is objective and not just "venting" about a man I truly believe is "evil." It's unfortunate that the company has continued to take the direction that allows people like Paul Yeargin (and Cynthia Harris) to be in positions that affect so many people (cast members and guests). Maybe this incident will finally cause someone in Burbank to "open their eyes" to what's really happening in the Parks.

Thank you for letting me get this off my chest - I've told many people about this man, but up until now no one outside of the company believed me.

[If you're wondering just why I don't have any specific park notes here, it's because I'm still awaiting confirmation on them. There will be more in future updates.]

What was so sad about the above note was that it was only one of many I’ve been gathering now for the past few months. I picked this one since it seemed to more concisely detail the past problems Yeargin has in his management skills and style, he now seems to be bringing his blatant disregard for operating conventions to Disneyland. I’ve been told by people at all levels, [not just CMs,] that he seems to think cutting scheduling back is needed, and anyone who objects to his dictates just doesn’t understand "he’s there to get the job done."

An example? In the past, Disneyland used to routinely overstaff the attractions – calling in more workers than needed, then once everyone showed up, and the day’s attendance has proven they may need less, they send folks home. Many CMs didn’t mind since there were a lot of students and part timers, and it was considered a given for working at the park. This policy always insured attractions were properly staffed, no matter what problems individual CMs may have had coming in, it put safety first to put it plainly.

Now they not only don’t do this anymore, but under Paul and Cynthia’s "creative management attention" [an exec’s term, not mine] they have even cut back the bare minimum attraction staffing.

Next time you go to ride the Matterhorn you’ll see it – the position of sled loader is now gone and the ride is pretty much self-service getting on. What this does is slow down the line – since cars are not optimally loaded – and if the CMs are untrained [many are new with all the turmoil Mr. Yeargin has apparently been responsible for] or busy with other things – many times seat belts and such are NOT checked. I know this for a fact because it’s happened more than a few times on recent rides to me.

What complicates things is having ride supervisors that are not trained nor know about the attractions themselves, having been recurited from a GAP or Disney store before coming into the park. Without training, these folks think they know better than established procedures put in place the last forty years and change things just for the sake of change, without understanding how the attraction was designed in the first place. They don’t have a clue about how departments such as WDI [for example] and past operational crews planned staffing situations for maximum safety.

What bothers me about this kind of stuff is that clearly here the visitor is on a back burner now, goals have been so twisted within the company that managers such as this are encouraged and promoted on up the ladder. While, of course, the many complaints and problems are ignored, since he apparently delivers the results desired by his managers and dictated by Eisner.

Here’s another response by a former CM who really helps put this all in perspective:

I feel terrible for the family of the man that was killed in the Columbia mishap. As a former Columbia cast member, I feel a certain connection to the ship and what becomes of her.

When I was on the Columbia last time, about a year ago, I noticed the ship to be in terrible repair. I talked to a cast member on board - he said numerous pleas for repairs were ignored - "This is just a Fantasmic prop to them now", he said.

I filed a brief complaint at City Hall - the cast member taking the form actually smirked when she read it. She asked if my day "was ruined" by the condition of the Columbia. Of course, it was not, but her attitude reminded me of the nuisance us guests have become to Pressler, et. al.

They would like us to shut up - eat McDonalds fries - gladly go shopping for three hours when attractions close early - praise the Rocket Rods as something special - pay for the Candlelight Procession - ignore the state of disrepair - etc. I can't believe its gotten to this point, I can't believe someone died in such a terrible manner, I can't believe that anyone can so efficiently destroy Disneyland as the current management.

Well sadly I can’t understand this either. But it seems to be sanctioned right from the top, and the board that Eisner reports to doesn’t seem to see or care about what is going on.

What more will it take is my question. It’s now much more than lights burned out and paint peeling. It seems to be about putting visitor safety behind profit goals. And I would like to be proven wrong here. I get no joy from writing this stuff up trust me.

A few final notes from someone kind enough to ask around for me, thank you, you know who you are:

Talked to a CM close to some people involved in the Columbia incident Sunday night. Its possible this was echoed this to you already. In brief...

- The lead was called away on a CFA [central first aid] run, leaving the untrained CM to do the opening. It was an opening of the Columbia that day. In hindsight, she should have been sent instead of the lead.

- The man officially announced dead this weekend was dead on the dock.... he was revived, and remained on life support brain dead... either he was kept alive for purposes of organ harvesting or for a relative / family problem.

- The CM hurt was having another foot reconstruction surgery this Monday.

Along with what you have, remains a very ugly situation. I think most other incidents in the Park's history were the result of one persons self-mistake.. seems like everyone here was a victim of the reduced staffing, training, and possibly maintenance. Sigh.

Echo that sigh here.

Several folks who have seen the boat for the company since the incident have written me the following:

Internally it is felt that the boat is basically sound – and that sad accident is truly an operational error. All of the rides are designed and built to withstand worst case situations and the Columbia and the dock it comes up to is no exception. As they expected, after re-inspection, the cleat in it's current condition could withstand 3 or 4 times the boats weight at normal speeds.

Attraction designers know that anytime a situation comes up like this, the park will instantly want to blame either the design, the manufacture, and / or the maintenance involved. [The dock was re-built within the last 10 years, apparently during a past Fantasmic rehab.] When the attraction is opened, the designers give the park the best possible schedules needed to keep that ride running in top, safe condition. But they understand that Disneyland may cut corners and they do design the rides keeping that in mind.

Now, on to other things that are happening at or about the park.

It seems that Tarzan will NOT be moving into the Jungle Cruise after all, but next door instead. Yep, they plan to evict the Swiss Family Robinson and move in Tarzan and Jane by next summer. Area CMs were asked to start thinking about queue management, and it should be interesting to see how with three major lines in one area they will handle it. [We all remember what happened in Tomorrowland with lines being all bunched together for Honey and Space Mt.]

I myself have concerns about pushing that many people through this attraction – I can only hope that with all the cutbacks lately a good inspection and overhauling of this older structure will be considered. In a way though I am glad to hear it will not be turned into another plush stand.

I still can’t confirm if they will also do a parade or show too for Tarzan – they may need some kind of daytime parade since Mulan will go back to nights come late Spring. Although a faction at the park now believes the park could save money on a reduced entertainment schedule like has been in effect this holiday season.

Over in ToonTown they have busted their chops repaving the little Toon Park section [near the entrance, next to the Slushy stand and Goofy’s Bounce House]. It also appears like they installed an electrical outlet and an umbrella stand, and you know what that means, even MORE outdoor vending. Sigh. You can’t get them to paint the place, but put in a cash register and they fall all over themselves.

A few of you have asked about the themed phones being put all over the park, one is in front of Indy, another on the second floor of Innoventions, and a set of them over in ToonTown in the Goofy Gas Station. Basically they break Disneyland’s old rule about keeping pay phones unobtrusive, and the design, although creative, doesn’t break any new bounds. When you pick up the reciever it will start up a spiel, the Tomorrowland one is very creative using an old attraction track, and buttons down below allow you to add sound effects to your call while making it. Fun? Maybe. Needed, or could be better worked into the park? Not really, and YES.

I hear complaints are though the roof at the Disneyland Hotel about the renovations – it seems few people were told when making reservations that the whole Marina would be shut down just as the holidays started. Many also were angry that the Christmas Buffet was canceled too. The park itself is hearing many complaints about lack of nighttime entertainment at the same time, the shutting down of Fantasmic the weekend before Thanksgiving was very unpopular. Long lines at City Hall a lot of nights.

The Country Bears appear to be getting the same fate as the subs – a long-term closure until they finally get around to putting in the Pooh replacement. What’s new under this management, right? Also the changes being made to Autopia in Fantasyland appear to be putting the kibosh on getting in any kind of Atlantis attraction where the subs were – although they are building a new pump house just outside the berm for that part of the lagoon. Sadly the pump house is being built above ground to save money – which also serves to block the view out from the monorail as it comes back into the park.

The Tour Guide Garden adjacent to City Hall is now history - AAA is moving in with an information stand, like in WDW. What's lost here is that the garden was popular [in the old days as the park was being built] with Walt and the designers of Disneyland to work in. It's not that big a deal to lose it, but every little bit does make you take notice.

Someone was kind enough to tell me about Ebola Man’s recent arrest, apparently "you don’t mess with the mouse!" ;) I was told with a smile. Apparently the cops may have come in with guns out and arrested the kid at home on the spot. The name I got was Nathan Smith, and they plan to use the website [Disneyland Underground Intellegence] as evidence against him. No word yet on if he really worked at the park, or what is now happening with him. You’d think they can call off that 24 hr security guard off the fry wagon now and use the money to staff attractions properly... ;)

Is there more to tell you? Well, yes. ;) But it’s time for me to get some sleep here and then later on this week finish the January and February operating schedules for the site, among many other things.

Let’s hope the higher ups at Disney are listening and are working to do something about all this. Nothing would make a better holiday gift to us customers, than knowing that the high standards Disneyland has come to represent to all of us in past years are again being maintained.

D-I-G [Disneyland Info Guide] Update 12/25/98 - Special Report: Columbia accident

Folks, most time when I write up an update, it’s usually an overview with a focus on park upkeep problems, plus any things I’ve noticed, or someone has been kind enough to forward me some information that my readers may find of use.

Today my brief update is about a very sad accident at the park, one that as I began to look into it more, seemed to be a symptom more of just how poorly the park has been run lately rather than just a quirk of fate.

Imagine my dismay when I got the following e-mail [edited only to keep the source anonymous] in my e-mail box last night:

Hello there, sorry to have to start an email at this holiday time of year this way, but here goes....

Walking past the river dock on my way to NOS I immediately noticed that things weren't right. A LOT of Paramedics and CM's on the dock huddled around three separate people. Walked up to a manager I knew standing near the petrified tree who had been called to keep guests away and asked "What the Hell is happening?!"

The manager told me that another manager on the Columbia had thrown the bowline on the bow cleat when the boat was coming in too fast, and that the bowline snapped and it did a lot of damage to her lower leg and foot.

Worse however, was the fact that the cleat (it's big and heavy, about a foot long) and a small chunk of wood were pulled out of the hull and flew thru the air hitting two guests in the head who were waiting on the dock behind the picket fence. Those were the two taken to UCI in critical condition that were referenced in the news reports today. Apparently they sustained major head trauma.

There were about a hundred guests waiting on the dock (the Park was very busy today) and the person said that when they arrived from Pirates a few minutes later the rest of the guests had "lost it" with a lot of screaming, crying, pushing, etc. There was apparently a lot of blood and tissue strewn about, and I could see some of it even from the petrified tree.

I could also clearly see where the cleat and part of the hull had been ripped off of the boat. The manager was just in complete shock and now so was I, so we consoled each other and I left the Park in a bit of a daze. I have never been so pissed at those hovering news helicopters in my entire life, and how the hell did they get there so fast?

Okay, now I will vent a bit.

The bowline is designed to snap if too much pressure is put on it, but that damn cleat is supposed to be completely anchored to the hull. That's assuming of course that the hull is not rotten.

So you know, bowlines snap every once in awhile, about every two years. A spare line is kept on the dock just in case of that sort of thing. When the bowline is put on, the CM is supposed to be trained to immediately walk behind the wood box next to the dock's anchor pole to protect them in case the bowline fails. It's happened before, ('96 I believe) and the only result is a very loud noise and much embarrassment. That cleat though is supposed to hold!

What is also not supposed to happen is for an assistant manager, who has yet to be trained on the attraction because training hours were cut, to be filling in for a CM because staffing for the attraction was cut during it's first hour of operation. And that assistant manager should not be throwing a bowline on the boat when it's coming in too fast.

Up until about a year ago there would have been five CM's assigned to work the Columbia when it was the only ship being used on the river that day. But now, thanks to Paul Yeargin, Cynthia Harriss and their budget cuts and complete lack of knowledge about how theme park attractions operate, the Columbia only has four CM's assigned to work there, and during the first hour there are only three CM's there.

Since those types of cuts have been made assistant managers have been filling in for those missing CM positions at certain times of the day. However, the assistant managers are not given full training anymore, only brief "overviews."

This particular assistant manager that was hurt had not received her Columbia overview yet because they would have had to use training hours for a trainer to give her the overview. She had picked up some things by just being around the dock, but obviously proper judgment about when the boat is coming in too fast to stop it was not one of them.

The sad result? A skeleton crew and officially untrained assistant manager tries to shakily operate a boat that may also be suffering from wood rot and neglect. The assistant manager makes a bad judgment call (bowline operations should be thoroughly covered in training) and puts the bowline on when the boat is moving too fast.

The assistant manager is standing in the wrong spot on the dock right next to the bowline and when it snaps, as it's designed to do under extreme pressure, it breaks bones in her leg and foot. The cleat that is attached to the hull is pried out of the wood planking that is questionable and turns into a missile, hitting two guests in the head waiting behind the white picket fence on the dock.

With today’s modern medicine and the resources of the Walt Disney Company the CM will be just fine in a few months. I've said a quick prayer for the two guests at UCI. Enough said.

I want to thank the person who took the time to update me on this, it was important to see just what was behind this problem. [As of this update of this page on 12/29/98, the man has been pronounced dead, further details are in the update preceeding this one above.]

As far as I can see as an outsider - it appears that the company continues to shortchange established operating procedures to make budgetary goals. In other words, the bottom line has become more important than properly staffing or training the people required to run something as large and complex as the Columbia safely.

And the sad thing is that apparently the Columbia is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems such as this - I understand that there are similar situations with the Monorails for example and other attractions too. Inexperienced managers who do NOT have a background running these things are making staffing [among other] decisions based on budgetary concerns as opposed to past operating procedures.

Changes are also being made in break schedules for attraction operators for example, that fly in the face of over 40 years of established procedures that helped insure one of the better safety records in the industry. Now the savings in staffing hours appear to be the primary goal, instead of reinforcing the safety standards that have worked so well in the past.

Is there a solution to this apparent problem? Well, yes there is, and it’s a pretty simple one. I’ll outline what I think should be done as quickly as possible to gain back control of this situation to help get the park back on track.

First - inexperienced people such as Paul Yeargin and Cynthia Harris [and their cadre of managers] now at the park should have their operational roles reduced. While they may still work to try and achieve savings and increase revenues within the division, they should do so with NO ability whatsoever to alter or change established operational procedures that have established such an outstanding safety record. If four people in the past were required to safely operate the Columbia for example, they may NOT alter or change that number to achieve their profit goals.

Second - seasoned management from the parks past should be brought back to re-train all managers and leads in proper operating procedures that were established BEFORE Paul Pressler came in four years ago and started changing things around. Yes, that means asking people like Jack Lindquist back for a couple of years to restore the operational and management structure that was in place back then. And to have these people actively build a staff that knows park operations inside and out, and can overrule people like Yeargen and Harris when it comes to the all important matter of visitor safety.

Third - I’d like to see Eisner establish a new focus for his managers company-wide, and not just in the parks. He needs to separate his operational people from his financial managers and have both work together to insure both realistic profits and safe environments for his customer base. The culture he has been increasingly focused on seems to value the profit end of things only it appears.

Do I have any hope they’d do something like this? It depends I guess. If Eisner can actually see just what the problem really is, well maybe he will realize he has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

But that’s a lot of hoping that he will get his head out of the blue sky stuff he’s so focused on now [like commissioning symphonies] - instead of the need to better oversee such everyday, mundane things such as proper operation of the parks. [So that profit goals don’t overwhelm the safety issues.]

Let’s hope the woman that was injured on the Columbia, as well as the child who fell off the Carrousel that same day, make a complete recovery and that Disneyland understands that visitors should expect to feel safe with the properly trained staff to guide them through their day.

D-I-G [Disneyland Info Guide] Update 12/16/98

Yes, I know it's been a long time - too long - but events have conspired to put me behind yet again with updating the site. Hopefully this edition will fill you in on what's up at the park, and should hold until the New Year, when things should be less hectic for me around here.

I'd received a LOT of positive feedback about the one or two times I've structured the update in a question and answer format, so I'll again adopt it for this latest installment. Most of the questions below are the ones you've been asking me via e-mail or at the park.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge the Fabulous Disney Babe's help in putting this update together, she has been kind enough to dig up some scoops on her own, and help jell some of the info I had to give you a more complete picture. As you know Fab first broke the news about "Operation Tiger" [Disney's reach into China] and in this update she breaks the news about "Project: Gateway."

Q. Al, I've heard about Paul Pressler "getting promoted." What's happened, and do we know who's replacing him? I can't believe they are rewarding him like this after all the problems at the park the last few years.

A. I did a LOT of digging around on this [as did Fab] - and it appears that the actual story is quite different from what the press releases imply. [What's new at Disney, right? ;) ]  If "Light Magic" went on hiatus, even though it was eliminated, you can then ask here, "Was it really a promotion?" Or was it a way of working things so as to avoid problems all around and benefit the company in the long run?

From what can be found out, it appears that Paul Pressler has essentially been moved into a holding position, whereupon in eighteen months or so, he will move yet again into another spot, probably closer to the studio side of things where he really wanted to go in the first place. It was noted by several folks that final say for the divisions he's supposed to watch over will still reside with Eisner and the newly promoted Judson Green.

Green, who was "given Nunis job, but now with the full power that should have been a part of it originally" has been asked to help out in harboring Pressler, to help make this a positive change and not a negative one. Apparently he was assured this was a short term situation and to be patient with these temporary arrangements until the next set of moves will be made.

The reasoning behind all this is that it is felt Pressler can still be of great value to the company [for example the Disney Quest and Club Disney projects are considered in house to be like the Disney Stores in a manner], and his success in the past will only help in these areas in the future.

But essentially (and this is a quote from one of the sources I talked to) "Eisner has understood now for some time that Pressler does not have the leadership skills required" and that means that "his future lies somewhere else within the company, most probably in a function that would utilize his skills to a greater good." Several sources using the exact same words confirmed that this is corporate maneuvering "to avoid an unpleasant Ovitz / Katzenburg type of situation." Any characterization as Pressler being "put into place to someday succeed Eisner" is "simply not accurate." [Later on I'll mention who is supposed to be in that key spot, as they appear to have a plan in place now.]

Also the Orlando Sentinel interview with Nunis, where he talks about the reorganization of Disney's attractions division and says "[it] was designed to allow Michael Eisner to spend more time running the ABC Television Network, which Disney acquired in 1995 and has suffered from low ratings. As our company gets bigger, Michael can't have that many people reporting to him," does hold quite a bit of truth. Judson will take over more of the day to day problems with the parks while Eisner gets the triage out for ABC.

Mighty Alweg [who posts on a.d.d.] mentioned that these changes were originally supposed to happen in April of next year, which I was able to confirm from a few other folks. From what I could find out, the announcement was rushed because "Disney's hand was apparently forced by a reporter who was ready to run with a story on that same day."

Q. So why has Pressler been placed over Imagineering then, if he's just moving on later?

A. "To teach them a lesson. It's a slap on the wrist for all the problems they've given Eisner lately, what with problematic attractions and the rampant leaks that make everyone look bad. They've been renegades." After the next set of moves [when Pressler moves on] "it will be back to business as usual, hopefully this time with everyone cooperating as they should, although Green will have a larger say day to day over them than before." It was noted that Pressler will be expected to utilize some of his cost cutting skills at WDI in the meantime. But he will be kept out of creative.

Q. Where does that leave Disneyland - who succeeds Pressler? What about the customers?

A. It looks like Cynthia "It's not about the Magic anymore, it's about the money" Harris will succeed Pressler. Apparently this is because Eisner really does not see much difference between running a Disney Store and running the park. I found it interesting that "she has been asked to take a few hits on the chin for Paul" over a few of the latest problems, and this is a "reward" for her doing so.

Harris started her job under Pressler impressively, showing real concern about the key details that helped make the park so unique. It was said that she then [according to one soul] "turned to the dark side." To quote someone here:

When she first came on board, she was real upbeat and excited about working with WDI, getting some good merchandise in the park and was going to help get some new, unique costumes in the park. It was felt that she seemed to be sincere at that time.

People may have been wrong, but there was thinking that maybe her proximity to those mind-altering forces in the TDA building had a negative effect on her. People are hoping that, if she does take over, she may recover her senses since Pressler won't be there to influence her. Since she will be trying to put her imprint on the park, the best way to do that would be to start doing everything right. It shouldn't really be that hard, and the profits that would come pouring in would more than offset the costs involved. This may be idealistic, but the idea should be thrown out there. Maybe it makes no sense, but people can always hope (since that's about all they have left).

Can she ever recover from the mess with the attraction schedules [among other mistakes] and become the type of leader that would be a credit to the company AND impress the customers? We'll all have to wait and see I guess. I sure would hate to have to establish another "Promote" site - that's for sure - no matter how successful it's been in the past... ;)

Q. Any news about the other Disneyland departments?

It looks like the responsibility for major Entertainment events may be moved back to the studios for both Anaheim and Orlando, with the parks only being responsible for atmosphere music as a typical example. Shows, parades, any type of major event, such as the new electrical parade may originate from Burbank for a more consistent [and more controlled, both creatively and with cost] product. This would complete the dismantling that started with Michael "Light Magic" Maines leaving. There's no concrete info about Mike Davis the current head of the department. "But Animazement hurt, while Mulan was seen as an outside project."

Q. How will all this affect California Adventure - just what is going on over there?

In a long series of meetings for Lead and Manager Training programs, the following info was given out to CMs about the new park:

By early August 1999 several of the attractions for Paradise Pier will be up and testing! These will be the basic amusement rides that Disney is buying off the shelf and having installed. They won't have their "overlays" and themeing put on yet, but once they are installed the companies that build them will test them immediately.

Then in October the first batch of CM's will be sent over to DCA to start testing the other Paradise Pier rides as they have their WDI themeing installed. The first big group of CM's at DCA in the fall of '99 will be hourly attractions CM's, with a few Leads and several dozen CM's! The salaried positions won't start at DCA until January, 2000. Then by early '00, there will be a lot more CM's testing and cycling the rides in the other DCA districts. All found that surprising. Many CMs don't want to jeopardize their jobs by saying no when they may be asked to move over to the new park.

At least for the first phase of DCA the [then current] Vice President of Disneyland Attractions and Merchandise (Cynthia Harriss's old job) and the Director of Attractions (Paul Yeargin) will still retain their positions for both parks. DCA will just be handled like a giant extension of Disneyland, without a duplicate executive structure set up for DCA. Only when DCA opens it's phase two will it separate from the Disneyland Park power structure and gain it's own vice presidents and independent execs.

Phase two will be started "almost immediately after DCA opens" and probably be completed in the fourth quarter of 2002 or first quarter of 2003. This info is subject to change, but that's what they were saying.

They also mentioned that the Downtown Disney development will be "mostly lessees" and not Disney operated, and that most of the advancement opportunities would be in DCA. Big surprise.

[I've heard Disney Quest is no longer coming in at the start - but maybe later - because of too many problems with profitability it seems, and Planet Hollywood is now history too. Virgin Megastore and Lego are also in now it appears.]

The third theme park "on the strawberry field around 2008" was mentioned many times also. MANY times. The year 2008 was used a few times, or else they just said "about a decade from now."

Cutbacks continue on DCA infrastructure - the parking garage has lost its underground levels, and an underpass originally planned for the trams coming over from the parking across West St. has also been canceled due to costs. I guess that means more collisions between trams and cars in the future, just to save a few bucks now. Sigh.

A flood of complaints about the DCA preview center out in front of Disneyland only being open from 9 to 5 have prompted a change in the schedule - it is now open early and also late most evenings. Feedback continues to be mixed from visitors, and still, no advance merchandise is being offered for sale, dumb if you ask me.

Q. So the next major Disney park will be in the Anaheim Strawberry Field?

This is where the lovely Fab gets to break some really big news here:

The next new park will probably be in the middle of the country somewhere, and may be a seasonal offering. 'Project: Gateway' as it's known, is basically 'Disney's America' combined with some kind of factory or business type of plant tour concept. Eisner was hot on this "plant / factory" concept for DCA, and feels that it can succeed somewhere in the middle of the country, maybe near the Chicago area. GM has expressed interest in being a major sponsor, [once of course they can be assured that Test Track will not be the norm for WDI] and Barry Braverman [who headed up DCA] will also head up this project .

I don't know if you will "learn to feel like a slave" like you were supposed to in one of the original Disney's America concepts, but you may end up "feeling like a laborer" instead...  ;) ...this project may come before any other new park expansion in Anaheim.

BTW, they just spent thousands and thousands of dollars installing new signage at Animal Kingdom. It seems one of their greatest complaints from visitors is that you can see the Tree of Life, but you can't find it! This huge level of frustration has apparently signaled an end to this type of park layout, and they have decided all new parks will continue with the original hub design that was pioneered at Disneyland.

Q. Back to Disneyland, are things getting any better?

First, here's some good news, working Leads and general area Leads will blanket the park by late winter. All in addition to the full complement of managers that have been beefed up recently. Trust me, that's good news.

Merchandise continues to improve, I'm broke that's for sure thanks to it! The toy Monorail set was a huge hit, [as was a stunning stainless steel Fossil Monorail watch that has sold out] and we're supposed to see Disneyland specific toy monorails in April. Computer screen savers are now available - but still they haven't brought over the mouse pads and desk blotters with a DL attraction map design on them from the Disney Gallery store over in Santa Ana yet.

The new classic attraction poster-style t-shirts sold in the Disneyana shop at $20 are terrific. There are now Disneyland specific "castle" and "small world holiday" cards available, plus park specific ornaments too. What a change from just a year ago when everything in the park was so Disney Store generic. Kudos to the folks in merchandising responding to this demand.

On the upkeep side, thirty painters, carpenters and plasterers have been brought in because it was realized that exteriors were getting so bad. They have been systematically working through the park, painting and repairing facades, fences and walkways.

Here are some of the things fixed over the past few months:

  • East Main Street facades (compare east to west next time you are there, you will see a real difference!)
  • Innoventions top gold handrail
  • Toontown facades (not the hills, but the stuff up close that people touch and get grubby) Goofy's fence and box/crates, Daisy Diner, Interactive Island, the Toontown train station
  • Pirates lower queue
  • Mansion front pillars
  • Slurry painting on the ground in Critter Country, New Orleans and in front of Matterhorn.
  • New Orleans Crystal Shop (extensive water damage had caused the paint to bubble up, and the wood beneath to crack)
  • Frontierland / Bonanza Outfitters
  • TL Autopia [railings redone]
  • Slurry-ground painting brown in Frontierland
  • Big Thunder had the Load building, queue line rockwork and adjacent Mine Town [Rainbow Ridge] painted.

I was told that people should keep in mind "touch up" is a term that makes any good architectural painter wince. The problem with "touch up" is that the touched up surface is so painfully obvious. It is better, and just as fast, to sand the whole surface down, prepare it properly, paint the primer-coat properly, then the top coat. Touching up or daubing just makes it worse, and that will no longer be done. The park is going as fast as it can, but when it is cold and wet at night it gets slowed down.

Of particular note is a new bench next to Goofy statue in the hub that is a new style and type, using less expensive and more easily refurbished fiberglass than the older wood benches. This will be the norm now as benches are replaced thoughout the park, and it looks much better too.

It's terrific to see the efforts being made here, along with all the new brickwork on Main St. and the brand new wheelchair ramp that was installed at the Plaza Pavilion in the past few weeks. I was told more brickwork or stone-like paving is planned for the rest of the park now - the eventual goal is to eliminate what is called the "slurry" or asphalt walking surfaces that suffer so much wear and tear. WDI is thrilled that the originally tepid response with Tomorrowland's paving has given way to embracing this type of treatment in the future as I understand.

Plaza Inn will be turned into a "scatter service" food location this winter, just like Redd Rockett's. They will keep much of the decor [Walt picked it for the most part] intact, with only the serving area getting the major overhaul. The new menu will include three types of food groupings, one fried chicken, another pasta, and a third either salads or sandwiches.

Now for some bad news, quotes overheard around the park:

The Canoes appear to be history. They were one of the only attractions to never lose their Lead in the first place, and it was said " one knows what is going to happen with the labor intensive Canoes. The Keelboats may be a possible replacement. There is a WDI proposal to turn the Canoe landing into a "Smugglers Cove" area, sort of a shady hollow where "river pirates" would hang out. The keelboats could return and be launched from that rethemed area, with a third keelboat built to increase capacity. The new keelboat setup would be able to handle more riders per hour using fewer CM's than the Canoes, and the River could regain some of it's pep and vigor. TDA is supposed to be "seriously considering the plan." Who knows!?

Speaking of the River, there is some kind of "Tree of Life" proposal floating around for the former Cascade Peak area. This would take it's cue from the Animal Kingdom tree, but without anything inside. The exterior would showcase animals of the Wild West era, and a new trail would take you around the tree along the river.

Apparently they are sticking to their guns with early closings and late opens on the minor attractions. Which means of course that Cynthia Harriss lied to everyone about returning schedules back to the norm.

The one early closing that still generates the most complaints of course is ToonTown. There are two culprits here on this from what I was told, 1] no staffing is available [they are STILL running orientation tours for new hires as of last weekend] and 2] smaller than expected profits even though attendance has been high thanks to the Christmas promotions. [Universal seems to be suffering though - a recent Friday night, even with their huge holiday light setup, was still deserted.]

Mike Berry [V.P. of Foods - now of the park] is enshrining himself on the Culprits page with his latest brainstorms - in how he finds ways to increase prices in the most dishonorable way possible.

How does he do that? First he reduced the size of the sodas sold in cups by two oz., with no price cut on Nov. 1st. [He did this as they phased in the new 'small world Christmas' holiday cups.]

Then he pulled a really sneaky change, most burger [and other] combo meals got their prices cut by $1.50 this past week - but guess what, the soda is no longer included! [You just get the burger or sandwich and fries.] Buying the drink [at 1.99] now in effect raises the combo price by .50 or more, and to boot gives you a smaller drink. Thanks to Bogie and PJ for alerting me to that one.

This is almost as bad as only having cheeseburgers available, which forces you to order them without cheese at the same price, instead of having a lower priced burger without it, which Cindy found out at Hungry Bear the other day.

Q. What about Candlelight, what the heck happened, did you get to see the show?

As you've all read, or seen on the local TV news, Disneyland blundered yet again and was overwhelmed with negative press when it came to ticket distribution for Candlelight this year, thanks to its move away from Town Square to under the WonderBra theater tent. People got stampeded, more than a few were hurt, and everyone who was angry over how it was handled gave the poor CMs who were trying to function under this insane policy just pure hell the whole time.

This has been a hallmark of Pressler's regime at Disneyland - no one in charge seems to take the time to sit down and ask themselves just what might happen with these kinds of situations, and then plan for it.

Constantly the excuse from the park is "well we never did this before, and we are learning." I'm sorry, but this does NOT wash - the park has been operating for over forty years now and they should have taken every precaution possible to avoid this mess. This is just stupidity at the highest levels.

How hard would it have been, for example, to have offered tickets at the Group Sales window outside the park, to create an orderly line early in the morning instead of a mad dash, and then have CMs outside take ticket counts from people. They could then cut off the line when they knew they would reach their ticket capacity reducing the amount of angered folks.

I guess when you come from a Disney Store [like many in the upper levels of management now] and are not a true park professional,  this sort of thing continues to repeat itself. It certainly tarnished this very special event.

Anyway, enough about that, several of the a.d.d. folks were kind enough to secure enough tickets for a good sized group to get together to see the second show Sunday night, and since it has been reviewed more than a few times here online, I'll just touch on the things I saw worth noting.

For the most part, viewing the show in the WonderBra theater is an improvement. You no longer have to stake out a spot hours before [if you can get a ticket that is] and you get to see everything clearly. They handed out a nice little program listing the choirs involved and some of the key people.

The tent was a disaster acoustically - though they got much better sound for this event rather than the poor sound we'd heard with Animazement here before. But overall it still sounds muffled and flat. Trust me it's hard to make a live orchestra sound like tape, but they managed it this time around.

There were several minor, yet in a way rather key show losses that hurt the ceremony. The trumpeters that formerly sat up so impressively on the roof of the train station now were just on the side of the stage. Musically, they are supposed to be the voices of the Angels, and should have been up on the catwalks or on scaffolding on the sides of the theater at least. Even Paul Pressler was commenting on that as he was overheard chatting with Tony Baxter before Saturday night's performance, before he got beeped away. He wanted them up high also.

The living Christmas Tree was gone - replaced by just a triangle of choir members in green robes. They need to install some kind of ramped overlay on the bleachers that would allow a tree shape group of people to stand out from the massed choir.

The overall decor under the tent was just way too kitschy - I know we all tend to like this kind of excess on the holidays, but this was a real mis-mash this time. For what taste they didn't have, they tried to make up for in quantity. Too much K-Mart and not enough Martha Stewart was my comment. A few more selective choices here and there would have added a bit more elegance to the environment.

The conducting was less precise than last year's shows - the former conductor, Fred Block, passed away earlier this year and was replaced by Nancy Sulahian. Maybe they had fewer rehearsals?

Edward James Olmos amply demonstrated why many actors should NOT ad-lib from their scripts. He thanked Walt Disney at one point [I'd hate to be the one to tell him the guy is dead!] and generally made a point of demonstrating he was either slightly dyslexic or he had a wee bit too much of the spiked egg nog that night. By the time at the end of the show where he was thanking Buddhists and Latinos around the world we all wanted some of that same stuff. The looks people were giving each other were priceless. ;)  I missed Joseph Campanella from last year, but Olmos was in a dead tie with Mary Hart from the year before.

Overall, yes, the event does suffer somewhat from not having the nostalgic Main St. setting. But IF they can get their act together about tickets, and expand the performance schedule [from what I had heard weekends running Thanksgiving to Christmas, including dining packages], it would be worth continuing in this new venue.


1/5/99 Update - Don't eat those hot dogs

12/29/98 Update - What's so wrong at the park lately?

12/25/98 Update - Columbia accident update

12/16/98 Update

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