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David Koenig

Tourists Attack: Disneyland's hottest trend

When Tourists Attack

The hot summer sun isn't the only thing overheating guests these days at the Happiest Place on Earth. Increasingly, Disneyland visitors physically and verbally assault other guests and even unsuspecting cast members.

Often the instigator isn't a hoodlum, but a normal Joe who has paid $41 to stand in 90-degree heat and a 90-minute line for a 90-second ride÷which then breaks down. He just boils over.

"Attacks are more likely to happen during crowded, hot times for obvious reasons," reveals a sweeper, who knows a female custodian attacked as she approached a restroom to clean it. A woman inline, not realizing (despite the costume) that the girl was a cast member, grabbed her hair from behind and threw her to the ground. The woman thought she was cutting in line.

One Tomorrowland ride operator named three co-workers who were recently assaulted by guests: an Autopia hostess who was slapped, a Space Mountain hostess who was shoved against a wall, and a Rocket Rods host who was pushed out of the way.

Unbelievably, he fumes, "all of these guests got away with it! The one who shoved (the host) was so irate, the manager gave him three backdoor passes to make him happy. That man caused the Rocket Rods to break down, and the guests on the ride had to be evacuated. Even the Anaheim police showed up. Still, the manager rewarded the guest!"

As another manager told an irate tourist who attacked a ride operator: "Well, you are obviously having a bad day. Here's a pass to bypass the lines!"

During a recent hot, humid, crowded Saturday, Security recorded seven physical assaults inside the park. A uniformed guard explained: "My department is continuing to cut back on the number of officers patrolling the park. At one point, we only had one officer covering the entire West side of the park. I have voiced my concern over poor response times, and the lack of presence in the park. It's sad when you are keeping an eye on Snow White and a guest comments that you're the only security officer they've seen all day."

The typical summer day now has only two plainclothes officers to patrol the entire park.

Not that more Mickey Mouse patrolmen would help. The park's once powerful force has long been de-clawed. Four years ago, following accusations of overly aggressive tactics, the department was transformed into a kinder, gentler "guest service" encouraged to avoid conflict÷or be fired.

"Since Security got butchered in the local media a few years ago for being too harsh, they are pretty much useless now," a ride operator reveals. "They hate to get involved in conflicts, and they rarely do anything with the misbehaving guests. We generally don't call Security anymore, unless someone is physically attacked. Basically the leads and assistant managers try and take care of things on their own. Disneyland Security is fairly impotent nowadays."

In addition, officers who now wear powder blue, military style uniforms get new duds in the fall. "The new costumes will not have badges and will have a softer and friendlier look," a cast member says. "They purposely don't want them to look like policemen, which their current costumes emulate. I've seen sketches of the new costumes, and they sort of look like skycaps or flight attendants or something."

Unfortunately, a recent costume switch for security guards at Walt Disney World didn't pan out. Florida's officers quickly complained that, with the new uniforms, guests no longer recognized, let alone respected them.

The over-crowded FastPass distribution center at Splash Mt.
The crowded FastPass distribution center at Splash Mt.

Nevertheless, the main culprit for Disneyland's dramatic increase in violence and verbal assault has been its highly touted brainstorm, FastPass. The system increases congestion by tripling the number of lines: the attraction's traditional queue is split into two, with added lines to get a FastPass ticket in the first place.

The tickets allow guests to return to certain rides later in the day to wait in the quicker line. Many guests, though, opt for the regular "Standby" line, whether because they haven't heard about FastPass, don't understand it, don't want to return hours later or can't, because no times are left. And, inevitably, they feel cheated.

"I have lost count on how many cast members have been physically assaulted at the Splash (Mountain) FastPass location," says one Critter Country worker. "Around 10 or 12 now? And yelling and shouting happens almost every day. It all boils down to the guests who are stuck in the Standby line, while the FastPass guests breeze by and go to the head of the line."

On Splash Mountain, the Standby line directly parallels its FastPass line for about 40 yards. By early afternoon, the Standby line reaches at least 75 minutes, including 25 minutes spent standing watching FastPass guests zip right by.

"Often times we get complaints from FastPass guests because they were 'heckled' by the Standby guests as they walked quickly through the FastPass line that parallels Standby," the employee says. "We've even had fights break out between Standby guests and FastPass guests."

One afternoon, a sweet, petite woman with her young daughter entered the FastPass line, but turned back halfway through. "I can't do that! I just can't do that!" the terrified woman told an attendant. "They were yelling at us and sneering as we tried to walk by!" The host volunteered to escort them back through the line.

Crowds mulling around FastPass entry points help jam up the area.
Crowds mulling around FastPass entry points, such as this one for Splash Mt.

By the time Standby guests reach the Splash Mountain loading station, they are very cranky. That's also where the fun begins. About five yards away from the loading area is the "Control Point," where the Standby and FastPass lines merge. Conversely, the Control Point on the first FastPass attraction, Space Mountain, was designed around a corner, so that the Control Point attendant could radio a second worker to hold back Standby guests until the FastPass holders had broken into the line. The Standby guests at Space Mountain couldn't see what was going on, so they weren't as upset when the line stopped.

But at Splash Mountain, the Control Point consists of a small gap in the queue near the loading area where an attendant blocks the Standby line with either her body or a rope connected to the hand railing, while collecting tickets from guests streaming down the adjacent FastPass line. She waits for a large gap in FastPass guests, then permits a limited number of Standby guests to move forward. But as soon as FastPass guests appear, she again blocks the path of the Standby guests.

The Control Point probably has caused more confrontations than anything else in the history of the park. Hostesses have been shoved and spit on. Another hostess had her long hair pulled until she was against a wall while the guests demanded to know why they were being discriminated against. A shy host was punched in the face because he couldn't quickly explain the hold up. Even the leads or assistant managers called on to resolve the situation have been assaulted. A few have been pushed against a wall as they tried to explain the FastPass process. A female assistant manager was slapped across the chest by an upset guest.

Profanity-laced diatribes are a constant. At one point last Tuesday night, irate Standby guests had three Splash Mountain hostesses in tears. "Any cast member who has worked the Splash Mountain Control Point for a week or two has been called every name in the book," admits one worker. "The yelling and screaming happens daily, and we're all pretty immune to that by now. But the physical stuff still shocks us."

Consequently, FastPass cast members have a high turnover rate. Last Christmas, many new cast members, hired just for the holiday season, were assigned to FastPass so they didn't have to be trained on an attraction. Several showed up for their first FastPass shift÷and never returned.

Another instant exodus occurred at the start of the summer since many new hires were assigned to work FastPass as their first "attraction." Some, to avoid confrontation, simply let the Standby guests stream forward and merge unimpeded, backing up the FastPass line.

Now, most of the FastPass shifts go to generally tough cast members who can handle irate guests. A few even enjoy stopping the Standby line to see how creative the insults can be.

The problem, of course, isn't just on Splash Mountain, since every FastPass attraction has at least one Control Point. On Indiana Jones, the Standby and FastPass lines parallel each other for a long stretch, with similarly ugly consequences. One day early this summer, Indy went down for about 20 minutes. When the ride restarted, employees immediately began admitting FastPass guests, nearly causing a riot to break out in the "Film Room."

When the system was first introduced last year, eight to nine attendants manned Space Mountain's FastPass line. Recent budget cuts have whittled the workforce to three. Eliminated not only were "greeters" and "floaters," who helped explain the system to confused guests, but also the position that held back the Standby line, leaving the task for the unfortunate Control Point person.

Roger Rabbit's CarToon Spin is now run the same way.

The crowds hanging around for Autopia increase when the nearby train station empties out more people into this crowded area
The crowds hanging around for Autopia increase when the nearby train station empties out passengers into this crowded area

Park management doesn't seem to be learning from its mistakes. On the newly remodeled Autopia, FastPass riders cut in front of the Standby riders twice, meaning two Control Points each typically manned by a single operator.

On Big Thunder, next on the Fastpass roster, the Standby and Fastpass queues run alongside each other for long stretches. While the Haunted Mansion, slated for Fastpass in early October, should have fairly separate queues, Pirates of the Caribbean (late October) likely won't. Since the Matterhorn (mid-November) has two separate tracks, its best option would be making one side Standby and one side FastPass ÷ but that would prevent one of the park's favorite labor-saving maneuvers: only running one side of the mountain.

At Disney's California Adventure, set to open February 8, FastPass is planned for every major attraction. Yet on the most anticipated ride, the hang glider simulator California Soarin', the Standby line parallels the FastPass line for about 30 yards. 

Future ride operators, you've been warned.


You can write to David atthis link..

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Don't understand how FastPass works? It's explained HERE on the Disneyland Information Guide, (D-I-G for short).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

You can contact David here.

LINKS

Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)

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