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David Koenig
Behind the headlines at Disney & Universal

Cast members gab on rehabs, the VSP, a falling tree, and much, much more.

It's time to play catch up with some of my sources at Disneyland, DCA and Universal Studios–Hollywood…

How close did Disneyland come to receiving its target of 250 applicants for its Voluntary Separation Program?

"The 250 quota for the VSP was not reached, so there will be some more lay-offs."

"I was told that we almost made that quota, but the numbers were increased to around 500. So, on paper, we fell short."

When will / did the departures take place?

"Cast members who have taken the VSP are leaving at intervals, not all at one time. It appears layoffs are coming up, regardless the cast members who took the VSP. There are whispers going around that a round of layoffs will occur before July 4.

"Concerning the cast members who took the VSP, here is an interesting story (at this time unconfirmed, but comes from various sources): Orders from TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) or the honchos at Burbank came down that cast members who took the VSP were to leave the company quietly. No good-bye parties, cards or memos. If any news came out, it was to happen after their departure. So if you didn't know about someone leaving, it would appear they got erased off the face of the earth.

Why such secrecy? You got me. But I can tell you, there were parties and get-togethers for cast members."

Have the cutbacks had any effect on staffing yet?

"Everyone is awaiting the drop of the other shoe now that most of the voluntary separations have happened. The MRT (Maintenance Response Team) is on an overtime restriction, and with vacations, sick days, and holidays, they are running raggedly shorthanded. The number of serious downtimes is slightly higher already.

Just yesterday alone, Pirates almost had to be evacuated, Space Mountain had a more-serious-than-usual downtime, and Screamin' was down twice for brake problems, probably relatively minor ones since they came back up so quickly.

California Screamin at California Adventure
California Screamin' at California Adventure

"Half of the available DCA MRT are to 'stand-by' at Screamin' awaiting the next downtime (must be having lots of problems out there), while the rest of the crew are to cover all the rest of DCA. With summer approaching rapidly, and the Grad Nites under way, this should get very interesting!"

"Remember how we were told that the Facilities budget was reduced $14 million? The South Team offices were just completely remodeled! There are lots of new and expensive cubicles, and there is a new carpet on the floor, a deep pile with a custom Mickey design done in several colors. I would estimate that the cost of this carpet approaches $100 a yard, so what happened to the budget cuts?"

"The Western offices have had similar treatment. According to the management there, it was for asbestos abatement. North offices by Small World had already been done."

Fortunately, I haven't heard of any recent fires on the Rivers of America, but I understand there have been a few incidents.

"On June 4, the Columbia 'lost all forward power' around 1:30 p.m. just past the old Keel Boat dock. The ship had to back up, with only one of two propellers working, which made it slow going. At the same time, a guest became ill 'from the sun.' On June 5, the Columbia went 101 for the same reason."

Is Pirates still soaking guests (see "Splash Pirates")? I heard that some loaders are now warning guests that they might get a little wet.

"Yes. Just the other day, Pirates was flooded. There was so much water down below that most of the show lighting and effects in the battle scene were submerged and are still in process of repair. Much of the lighting and effects in the Bayou were also affected."

Wasn't the new drain that I discussed in the same article suspiciously close to the cork oak that toppled a few weeks ago onto a couple of dozen guests?

"Close enough to count!"

"Now a tree is attacking the guests? Believe me, a lot of us are scratching our heads about this one. Without revealing too much, let's just say the ODV (outdoor vending) popcorn wagon looks like a squashed Coke can after this.

"With all the mishaps going on, some cast members are wondering if this is a sign that the park is protesting in the way it is being treated. With the constant penny- pinching, and the neglect it is going through, many of us are saying that it is saying, 'I've had enough!'"

"Remember the popcorn cart the tree fell on? It must have had a bad karma day. Not only did the tree fall on it, but as it was being hauled to the rear for repairs, it fell off the truck hauling it. Then, after being placed in the breezeway of the maintenance building, an unexploded fireworks shell fell through a skylight and burst on it, burning it beyond repair. Other shop equipment was burned up also."

Any other "fall out" from the tree incident?

"Landscaping is going through the park and targeting trees for removal. About six have been selected; one will be the tree that is behind the Guest Relations Info Board in front of Plaza Pavilion. The tree is held up by two metal posts and the branches with guide wires."

Trees instantly disappear!
Trees instantly disappear!

"Two old trees disappeared on the morning of June 4 from the planters in front of the Plaza Pavilion. All part of the tree-cutting plan stemming from the incident in Frontierland. New trees will be planted to replace the old ones."

Due to its age, the Matterhorn typically requires the longest rehab of any attraction. But this year it seems to have been down even longer. Why the delays?

"They keep finding things that won't wait anymore. The elevator install hasn't even been started as of the last time I checked in over there. I wouldn't expect to see it back in service before the start of summer."

Actually, a sign has been posted on the construction fences saying the ride will reopen by the end of June. Considering how common delays have become, isn't it risky to publicize exact reopening dates?

"This is how we USED to do it!!! I can remember the big Matterhorn Ride Control rehab back in 1980-2, when the completion date was posted on the walls just like now. Only thing different is the planning back then was done by people who knew how the work was done, not by some snot-nosed MBA wannabe who never lifted a tool heavier than a VCR remote."

Rumors are that time and money constraints may prevent the Matterhorn from getting safety gates and FastPass during this rehab. Any truth here?

"Legal will insist that the gates be in before the ride opens.

Matterhorn loading area before the rehab
Matterhorn loading area before the rehab

Not having FastPass is a possibility. They have no good way of running the CAT 5 wiring necessary for the stations, no place to put the server, and no connection to the fiber backbone. These issues will be dealt with 'later.'"

Has retraining of ride operators started on Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin?

"Roger Rabbit testing is still not going well, mostly due to the confused situation everyone has to deal with over there. The various project managers are still planning things like they are the only ones involved. Cooperation only happens among those actually doing real work over there.

"Some of the confusion involves equipment used to control the animation and show doors having to be replaced due the manufacturer no longer making or supporting the equipment. Keeping this equipment in use places Disney in the front row at Liability Court, so it has been decreed from On High that all of this will be replaced.

Our engineers, overloaded with work as they are, will probably get it all done in time, but their families won't remember them!"

Anything new on the East side of the park, besides the Atlantis Meet and Greet?

"A new Buzz Lightyear show will be taking place at Tomorrowland Terrace. It will mark the appearance of Zurg. But he will only be appearing in the show, and not be walking around like Buzz (and spared from the autograph hounds)."

Is business finally picking up at Disney's California Adventure?

"We had a good day at DCA yesterday—the line for Screamin' went around TWO turns of the queue!"

Is the Main Street—I mean Disney's Electrical Parade still on schedule for a July 4 premiere at DCA?

"Electrical parade floats are coming along. Tents had to be raised along Katella behind Screamin' to store them all. 'To Honor America' is back, and will likely be the parade's finale float again.

Event Services has a hiring freeze in place, so all existing crew are having to work 14-hour days six days a week to cover."

And, how's business at Universal Studios-Hollywood?

"Attendance is booming at USH thanks to all the local business that we are finally getting. All the season passes, supermarket promotions, Citywalk expansion, etc., etc., along with the failure of DCA as an attendance drain factor has made for huge spring crowds.

"DCA sure is advertising itself as a kids park now —I don't think anybody is falling for this, though. I talk to our out of town guests everyday and many have come from DCA the day or two before; a major complaint is not enough attractions and not enough for kids."

So Disney's had minimal effect on USH this year?

"Disney did ask us to drop the 'Temple of Doom' phrase at our Mummy Maze (the signage now says 'Walk Thru Haunted Movie Sets') and to drop the verbal references to Disney from our Shrek kids show.

The Mummy Maze
The Mummy Maze

"The Mummy maze is a walk-thru past the props and sets from the movie. Every so often the guests will encounter live mummies and other characters from the movie. The maze is in the exact location the Grinch was located in during last Christmas peak season. Prior to Grinch this was the building that housed the Marvel Mania restaurant (and before that-the Victoria Station restaurant)."

What else is new?

Animal Planet show at Universal Studios
Animal Planet show at Universal Studios

"The new Animal Planet show is doing well. It is directly tied in with the cable channel, and the live on-set animals share time with taped segments on video monitors. AP is running this show and it's still a work in progress, but the guest seem to be enjoying it."

"The reworked Jaws attraction is now open. I haven't seen Jaws since it reopened, but a police diver is supposed to be attacked and more flames have been added.

"The Lucy Tribute has some new displays and a remodeled floor plan. The River Princess snack bar is now remodeled as the Flintstone's Drive-In and actually looks pretty good. It's still a theme park snack bar with an unchanged menu, but the facade looks really nice and themes up well with the two live action movies. Nothing like Disney-MGM's SciFi place.

"Carleon & Sons will reopen in June as Frank 'n' Stein. Carleon & Sons was a upscale Italian snack bar just inside the park after you enter (and passed the retail store on the left). No word yet on the menu (which will probably be small to medium in size) for the new place, but the Frank 'n' Stein name is kind of neat.

At the end of the Studio Center is Cinemagic
At the end of the Studio Center is Cinemagic

"The only negative is Cinemagic—it is now open weekends only until summer in order to save money."

Thank you all!


You can write to David atthis link..

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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