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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Behind the headlines at Disney & Universal

It's time to play catch up again with some of my sources at Disneyland and Universal Studios-Hollywood

Now It's Time To Say Good-bye

Disneyland's latest, long-dreaded round of layoffs Tuesday and Wednesday affected both salaried and hourly employees. The hourlies were herded to a conference room at the Grand Californian and given their walking papers. Some were called in on their day off, unaware of the reception that awaited them.

"Pretty dirty way the company handled it," said a cast member who survived the cut. "Well, it seems par for the course. As related from a studio cast member, around last year the studio laid off animators in a similar fashion. The studio had a barbecue party and during the festivities, a manager read off a list of names and asked them to meet him on the side. He then told them they were laid off. Yeah, I just feel the love."

The Team Disney Anaheim Building
The Team Disney Anaheim Building

As far as salaried employees, one reported, "Yesterday was Doomsday for a whole lot of people. Security lined up early at Team Disney Anaheim (TDA), limited access to the building to a select few, and walked out those whose time had come. Once these were gone, hired movers went in to clear out all the non-sensitive materials, and to sort out company property from personal. It was all over by noon. As predicted, clerical was hit hard. There were some management people who left as well."

Merchandise/Shops saw their share of layoffs too. Managers and assistants huddled in stockrooms Tuesday, waiting to see who would be "next." One long timer commented: "The Fantasyland shops, to name just one area, lost two managers. One manager had just earned his 20-year pin. There was a meeting Tuesday afternoon, at which the new organization of the stores was discussed. It looks like the Fantasyland shops will be merged into one unit again, with a new manager. One of the stores might be closed, and no one is sure what's happening to the current manager."

By mid-afternoon, some CMs were calling store to store to learn the latest news. One CM said "It was a bloodbath—we lost the person who held this area together." Another said, "We had CMs crying on-stage, which was really good show." On Tuesday night one lone lead was all the supervision available for all of Fantasyland stores. Collectibles also lost someone who had just reached their 20th anniversary.

Noted the friend of a highly regarded, 20-year veteran who was let go: "To say the least, he was like many before him in chastising the park and how they play with peoples lives. He says that he was handled very poorly in his dismissal, but he expected it, the dismissal, and the way he was treated."

Down With the Ship

Al Lutz's Disneyland Information Guide recently reported that an empty Pirates boat sunk Sunday night. Most of the ride operators I contacted had yet to hear about the accident, including those who worked earlier that evening as well as the following morning. As a witness explained, "The incident did occur just a couple minutes before closing, when most people had already left, and I, too, found most cast members unaware of the breakdown."

Pirates of the Caribbean
Pirates of the Caribbean

Yet repairmen and other witnesses confirmed the report and added details. One reason so many managers responded to the call was that ride evacuations "are a big deal, and at that time of night there is hardly any (hourly) cast members left, let alone any to spare to evacuate the whole ride. Luckily, there were only about 100 guests downstairs and they all got out quickly, and one very nice family who was stuck on the lift for about 20 minutes. They were just the nicest people, family of four all in matching Disneyland sweatshirts that looked like they stepped out of a cereal commercial. They were on a two-day pass, so they were comped lunch at DCA for the following day and given a backdoor pass for Soarin' since they were stuck on that incline for 20 minutes in the middle of the night."

Another cast member said, "I've never seen a boat do that before, the whole bow just went down into the water and the damn thing sunk! Very lucky that the boat was tagged to be pulled off and wasn't full of guests, because there could have been a real panic if it had passengers in it when it sunk like that."

Added a Facilities crewman: "The boat appears to have been punctured by a two-inch pipe, on the right side at about the third row, just at the water line. No one yet knows what caused the puncture. There are also signs on some of the boats of frame damage at about the fourth row, and the sides of all the boats are showing serious scarring from something rough and abrasive."

A former Pirates ride operator says, "For at least a couple of years now, Facilities has stopped any real repairs on the boats. I'm not one to say if this is budget related or has to do with lack of people to perform maintenance, but the problems just mount. You see, the brakes at the top of drop one and two and the pre-lift brake at the bottom of the lift hill keep punching holes in the boats. It's sort of like the Morse code effect that people say sank the Titanic (interesting parallel, no?)."

In Space No One Can Hear

In the same edition of the D-I-G, a reader claimed that he was told by a Space Mountain ride operator that repairs are being deferred because all the rockets are "going to be replaced in about a month."

The new ride photo system shows the Space Mt. cars
The new ride photo system shows the Space Mt. cars

I'd heard the same rumor, such as from this cast member: "They are supposed to be getting new rockets soon. I do not believe it will be the entire fleet for some time, but they are supposed to get a test rocket with a new sound system 'similar to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.' The backs are supposed to be lower like the rockets were prior to the sound system installation. They should be getting the new test rocket next month or perhaps August."

With the Facilities budget cut so severely? Sounded very far fetched to me, so I asked a Facilities mechanic.

He agreed, "It IS very far fetched! The new body project at Space got put on indefinite hold (some time ago). Initially, the hold was because the design staff was assigned to Screamin' (truly a sound system designed by a committee!), then fiscal issues were cited as being the reason. There were problems with weight, center of gravity, speaker placement, mounting of the sound system equipment, etc. As these problems were not easily solved without a mass infusion of cash, and DCA was only a year away from opening, the design group was disbanded. Thus, there are NO active plans to alter the Space bodies. In fact, a couple are in the process of being rehabbed for return to the ride—in the current configuration.

"The main reason the sound system is in the shape it is, even with the old bodies, is (the mechanics') lack of experience with audio equipment. As the equipment needing repair started to pile up, they mangled the repairs, succeeding only in adding to the work load. Eventually, there weren't enough working pieces to keep it running. The ride operators didn't like the system anyway, so they would shut it all off once ANY unit began malfunctioning.

"And, since the former manager of the Coaster Team (now manager of North Team—Fantasyland/ToonTown) was such a tightwad, this just meant that he didn't have to 'waste' his budget on it anymore. Bottom line on Space Audio: no one cares, and the hell with the guests!"

Unfortunately, maintenance spent a lot of its time at Space Mountain last week cleaning up damage to the inside queue from a Grad Nite. Evidently, the vandals "punched two or three holes in the drywall and used the drywall fragments as chalk for graffiti. It was a real mess. It took a couple of work days to repair. I don't know if this is true as I was unable to make sense of the graffiti myself, but apparently, some of the grads wrote their school's names and such. I've been told that several schools have been banned from Grad Nite participation for several years because of the damage."

Bobsleds Almost Back

The Matterhorn should reopen in about a week, but, according to a cast member, "the FastPass system and the safety gates will not be installed in this rehab. The mountain will have another rehab in September, and this is when they will be put in."

Cutbacks Prove Contagious

A Universal tram on the back lot
A Universal tram on the back lot

Meanwhile cutbacks continue at Universal Studios-Hollywood (USH), as well. Reportedly, last Sunday were the final performances of the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein show. "Strictly economics figured in this decision," confessed an Entertainment Department employee. "The show was really popular with the kids and always had big crowds, but the company is looking for ways to save money."

Ironically, he continues, "we passed the 300,000 mark in season passes sold last week—which has meant huge crowds every day, but senior management has told us the guests are not spending enough money on food, drinks and souvenirs." Consequently, he adds, "Vivendi has told us to expect a voluntary retirement program similar to Disney's to be put in before the end of the year."

(MousePlanet's news page today also has an item from the Orlando Sentinel detailing other layoffs at Universal Orlando.)

Universal Digs Disney

As noted last time, Disney insisted that USH change its Mummy Maze from the "Temple of Doom" and remove Disney references from its Shrek stage show. "The Mummy Maze is now using the term 'Chamber of Doom,'" a source elaborates. "About the Shrek show Disney references, Disney asked us to drop the "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go…" phrase—as it is copyrighted. Disney also asked us to drop any references to their characters, but as you know many of the characters are in the public domain. Our legal team felt Disney was just trying to bluff us on that one."

Waterworld at Universal Studios Hollywood
Waterworld at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal saved its best digs at the competition for an employee-only, revamped version of its popular Waterworld show. A Universal employee relates: "Our annual employee summer kickoff party last week was at Waterworld (renamed the Disney Catastrophic Adventure!). A character named "Michael Eisner" is killed in the show, the bad guys wore mouse ears, even the hovercraft had huge mouse ears attached to it. There were knocks on Downtown Disney, the small crowds at DCA, and the good guy (played in the show by USH President Larry Kurzwiel) mentions that USH doesn't drop oak trees on our guests.

"I missed the party and show but it sounded wild—and the first time I remember USH ever talking about the Disney parks to the line employees (over 2,000 at the show)."


You can write to David atthis link..

Catching Up!

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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