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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Leftovers for Leads

Your ticket to Disney's Catastrophic Appreciation party

It's been a rough year for the leads at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, having to deal with everything from short staffing to controversial new scheduling and breaking systems.

Hopefully, their lives may become a little easier over the next few weeks as computers begin arriving to administer the nightmarish Cast Deployment System rotational system. "A new version of the CDS software will be arriving at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail shortly, with a PC to run it and everything," promised a manager. "It will hopefully be expanded ride by ride at both DCA and Disneyland through Christmas."

In the meantime, resort management held an appreciation party last Thursday night to show the leads just how much they're appreciated. Apparently, not much.

"The Gone Hollywood Lead Event" was held at DCA's Hollywood Pictures Backlot. All 3000 working leads and general leads from every Operations department (Attractions, ODV, Foods, Merchandise, Security, etc.) were invited and told they could bring one guest. Management anticipated a crowd of 5000.

News of the party created quite a buzz among leads over the last few weeks, some anticipating, some dreading, but all curious. "We had known about it for a few weeks, yet nobody knew exactly what was going on," explained one lead. "I became wary when one of my fellow leads heard that there were not going to be any attractions, food locations or stores open for the event. I almost didn't go, but I thought, 'How bad can it be?' If I had only known!"

As the leads arrived at DCA, they were greeted by a group of managers who dressed up like goofy tourists to gawk and shout at the leads as they entered the park. The other managers gathered around a red carpet leading to the Backlot, cheering and shouting how the leads were all "superstars."

The welcoming reception was painful for everyone involved. "Honestly, it was horrible, and basically embarrassing to be a part of," admitted one manager. "All of those cheesy things the managers were doing were because that type of 'entertainment' is free. The managers were instructed to come as 'paparazzi' or 'stars' to this event to lend an air of 'Hollywood' to the night."

The Backlot was conspicuously devoid of any decorations or balloons—due to insufficient funds allotted for decorations or balloons. Most of the paltry party budget went for food or supplies that the organizers "couldn't beg, borrow or steal from around the resort."

The lush buffet consisted of hot dogs from a big grill set up in front of Superstar Limo, condiments pilfered from the Hollywood & Dine foodcourt, small bags of chips and popcorn, cans of Coke, bottles of Arrowhead water, and churros. End of menu.

Smirked one lead: "Whoa, careful there, big spenders! Don't serve anything you can't get from ODV!"

The evening's entertainment was even less impressive. As a favor, a Special Events cast member who moonlights as a DJ agreed to work the event at a discount rate. He stood on a small plywood box on the sidewalk near the Animation building, playing "non-controversial pop music that no one wanted to dance to." The hope was that the audience would dance in the street. No one did. Then again, few knew they were supposed to, since there was no dance floor, no disco lights, no anything whatsoever to signal the guests to "dance here."

Said one lead: "They were playing—very loudly—crappy pop music like Brittney Spears and Back Street Boys (I guess we're all 13 again or something!) and yelling at us over the microphone to party and have fun. Hint: When they have to tell you over and over to have fun, it isn't happening."

Publicity photo  Disney
Publicity photo Disney

Instead of letting leads sample the new Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-Play It! attraction (or any attraction, for that matter), attendees were treated to an agonizing recreation of the NBC game show The Weakest Link called The Weakest Lead.

"It sucked," a lead said. "No one was watching, playing or even listening. They didn't even let us play Who Wants To Be a Millionaire—Play It, which everyone thought was a sure thing since it's a new attraction and they always want feedback from us."

The one bright spot was when six high-ranking Disneyland Attractions managers (all male) performed a Village People medley dressed up in Village People costumes. The leads from Disneyland Attractions howled with laughter. But even then, noted a manager, "it meant very little to the other division's leads since they had no idea who they were. Again, it was something they could do that was free. If it hadn't been for that type of well-intentioned effort from many managers, the 'party' would have been even worse!"

The bash began at 9:00 p.m. and was scheduled to run until midnight. By 10:00, leads were streaming out the gates by the hundreds. A half hour or so later, the park basically was deserted.

Leads didn't mince words in their opinions of the party. Capsule reviews included "lame," "stupid," "sad," and much more colorful adjectives. Many girls were upset that they went to the trouble of going home to change and do their hair for the party.

"The one good thing," a lead admitted, "was that there were a lot of old friends to see and hang out with, but the music was so loud you had to shout to hear them. I thought to myself, okay, they'll at least have a free t-shirt or button or something to give us on the way out. Nope. Not a chance. I can't believe (and neither could anyone else I talked to) that I missed the season premiere of Friends for that!"

Leads shouldn't blame the middle managers who were forced to work the disastrous event. It was just as painful for them. "Being one of the managers there trying desperately to salvage the evening, I have to say that it was not really the average manager's fault," one confessed. "We did what we could with what we were given. And basically what we were given was nothing. No budget, and no real support from the executive team. If we had been given at least $10,000 or $15,000 to work with, we could have probably hosted a better party for the few thousand who showed up. But without any money, all you can do is beg for handouts and ask people to dress up in funny clothes."

Cynthia Harriss

He noted that although Cynthia Harriss did not attend, several vice presidents and the resort's senior vice president showed up. "To be honest," he said, "I hope they were embarrassed with what we were giving our Leads as an 'appreciation event.' These big execs are the types who regularly attend Disney dinners and executive parties in the private dining room at Napa Rose, the extremely fancy dinner parties inside the Haunted Mansion after park hours, etc. They should be ashamed that we would throw an appreciation party for our leads with hot dogs and packets of mustard on a paper plate with a can of Coke and a stale churro."

The manager speculated that leads from the Foods division likely "were the most underwhelmed, since most of them have worked on the elaborate after-hours parties thrown very recently in DCA and Disneyland for Microsoft, radio stations, etc. These are huge affairs, with giant balloon towers, dance floors with bands, professional entertainment, characters, big buffets of hot and cold gourmet party foods, open bars, attractions running, etc. And anyone who was around for the DCA pre-opening parties or any Disneyland press event knows what a 'real' Disney party is like. This Lead 'party' ended up really being just a slap in the face to most who attended, and very embarrassing for many of the managers who had to play host. Thankfully, many leads were able to enjoy just chatting with old friends and co-workers for a while, over the din of loud N'Sync singles."

He concluded, "It was just a bad night all around. It probably would have been better had we not tried to do any type of party at all. If it makes any of the leads feel any better, the Resort Management Christmas Parties (for middle managers) aren't that much better. It's been held at Dave & Buster's at The Block the past few years, and the menu is basically bar-burgers and tacos, bottles of Budweiser, and dry chocolate chip cookies for dessert. There is no gift given, no card or any little memento of the evening. The 'bonus' is that you are presented with a game card with a few dollars of credit on it so that you can play skeeball or video games after your cheeseburger. It is the type of event no one honestly looks forward to, but you have to go because your boss is there. It isn't until you get up to the director level and above that the annual dinners and appreciation events become noticeably posher and elaborate. Most large companies would be mortified at how Disney tries to thank its lower and middle managers at the Disneyland Resort, to obviously say nothing of the hourly leads."

A scant few leads refused to complain about the party. At least, they reasoned, Disney tried to do something nice. Did they?

Sighed one lead: "Management only showed us that they know morale is low and that we are underappreciated, but that Disney is too cheap to do anything about it. And why should they? Most of us will stick around working for peanuts anyway."

You can write to David atthis link..


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.


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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