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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of January 3, 2000

Lots of reader e-mail to catch up on.
Here are the best of the bunch.

Ear-Mail: First off, let's talk Tiki

T2 wrote:

"Hey, I owe you a big Thank You for that Tiki Room story! That attraction was always my granddad's favorite, and my dad really enjoys it, too. The last time my dad visited the park we went to the Tiki Room, of course, and my Dad was just furious with the shape the show was in. It is clearly obvious to anyone who has visited the attraction in the past that it is in a terrible state of disrepair. Those pictures posted with the story are impressive in that they clearly show that the present state of the attraction is criminal, considering its importance to the company and the name of the man who still graces the entrance.

"I will be interested to hear how Disney makes good to Dole, and how the final chapter in this story will play out."

DisneyFreak96 wrote:

"Hi! I was reading your article on the sad shape of the Tiki Room and had a question. I went on that attraction with my sister the year they closed down the CircleVision. There was no mention of any Dole video ad—we would have remembered as we were bored silly waiting outside for the show to start. When was the video put in and where is it located?

"We complained to Dole then about the poor maintenance of the attraction. I am so glad to see they are doing something about it!"

The Dole Screen
The Dole Screen

The film (not video, shows you how old it is) has been there for years, probably since Dole took over sponsoring the attraction in January 1976. It is very easy to miss, though, since it is shown on a small rear-projection screen in an out-of-the-way corner of the Garden. The image is especially difficult to view in the daylight. Next time you enter the Garden, turn right; the screen is behind the Juice Bar.

Joe Dunn asked:

"Concerning the Tiki Room, has anyone else but me noticed that some of the birds are missing their feet?

Tiki birds are missing their feet
Tiki birds are missing their feet

One of your photos shows a bird with no feet. I noticed it the last time I was at Disneyland last May."

Michael Sweeney wrote:

"Just wanted to thank you for today's article on the Enchanted Tiki Room. I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad! When I visited last year, I noticed they had cut part of the show, which I suppose was a smart move, what with walk outs and all that. I wish they would either return the show to its splendor—and really, let's admit, it is beautiful to look at (or was)—or maybe try the New Management idea. I would hate to see the last place on earth where you can see the original Enchanted Tiki Room vanish, but something needs to be done. The new show in the Magic Kingdom is fun, moves quick, and maintains some of the old show's wonder.

"I would think Dole would be livid. And even if they dropped their sponsorship, maybe they could take the historical route, kind of like they did with the COP in the Magic Kingdom—but then again, we know how that is going.

"Do you know anything about the Tiki Room show in Tokyo Disneyland? Is it still a significant draw there that Disneyland might try the Tokyo show in CA? Or maybe the show really has had its day in the sun; did Disney put a Tiki Room in Paris? The old audio-animatronic show has become a thing of the past. They don't make shows like the Kitchen Kabaret and America Sings anymore. But they were fun, weren't they? I suppose we can just shed a tear for poor, frozen up Jose, and pray that Dole will do something!

"Thanks to everyone at MousePlanet for at least making the show's condition known."

Tokyo Disneyland updated its Tiki Room show a year ago, but attendance remains lackluster. Combined with the criticism of Disney World's irreverent update, it's no wonder Disneyland is hesitant to invest heavily in its Tiki Room. Disneyland Paris has no Tiki Room.

Feedback on "Survey Says"

Regarding "Survey Says," a few regular park visitors and cast members took issue with my likening survey takers to "parasites"…"who pounce on unsuspecting tourists" and, worst of all, to "telemarketers." For the record, Disney survey takers—unlike your typical telemarketer—have always been extremely polite to me.

Disneyland alumnus Jeffrey Schlichter wrote:

"I try to answer the guest surveys every time they approach me and never say I'm an annual passholder. I always give everything the worst rating possible to offset the people who 'dumb down' the survey.

"Just think, they have never done a survey to find out how they could improve the guest experience (though they always claim that is exactly what they are doing), it is simply to find out how much they can take away from the guest experience for the same or more money."

Eric Warren wrote:

"Your latest article coincided with an eye-opening trip to the Disney store this weekend. I will be the first to admit that my family has never chosen a good time to visit Disneyland. We live out of state, and if we're lucky, we get to the park once a year. Our past visits occurred during the final weekends of the Main Street Electrical Parade, the opening of the new Tommorowland, and now, the opening of DCA. Needless to say, our visits have been during some of the most crowded events. It's not that we plan to be there for the event, it just happens that vacation happened to fall during that time period, and such is the case for our next trip on February 8th. My family has no desire to visit DCA, and intended to spend both of our days (the 8th and 9th) at Disneyland, with a third day at either Knott's or Universal Studios.

"We stopped by a Disney Store this past Saturday to buy three-day flex passports. We expected a high price, but we were told that because our visit falls on DCA's opening day, a single three-day flex passport would be $111. By my reckoning, that is at least a $20 increase from just a year ago! We will save just over $10 by buying a flex passport instead of three single day passports. We did not pay anything, and are now scrambling to change flights so we may be able to go either earlier in the week, or even the week prior to DCA's opening. A final option is to not go at all.

Surveyed!
Surveyed!

"In your article, you stated that guests are now being pounced upon by surveyors asking about value. What about people like my family? Our voice will not be heard by inquisitors asking about our value if we choose not to go because of the price. We love going to Disneyland, not just because of the atmosphere and rides, but it's family time, a chance for us to enjoy each other's company in a place where we enjoy being. Unfortunately, there is a price for it.

"Incidentally, just over a month ago, CNN's Moneyline interviewed Michael Eisner. Disney's stock had dropped a bit that week, and Eisner was there to discuss it. Among the topics discussed was the latest price increase. Eisner stated that he felt Disneyland offered a much better value for its price than, say, a basketball or football game. His reasoning was justified by the following logic: at a sports venue, you get two or three hours of entertainment, while, for a comparable price, you get a full day's worth of attractions and entertainment at Disneyland.

"To me, while the logic works, it still seems wrong. What will it take for the money counters to realize the adverse effect of their high prices and low value? I cannot offer any answers, aside from suggesting, much to my dismay, that boycotting the park and high prices might be in order. But I doubt such a tactic would work, just drive prices higher to replace lost revenue. I fear that the Happiest Place on Earth may become the Most Expensive Place on Earth.

"Thank you for your time. I know that you must be awfully busy between your work, this site, and your family responsibilities. I thoroughly enjoy your books. They have a special place on my bookshelf. If you follow up on the Survey article, could you please share information with us readers as to a 'City Hall' outside of Disneyland where our concerns would be voiced with the park?"

-I, too, worry about the escalating prices and not just for the sake of my own pocketbook. The brunt is taken on by out-of-towners, who have to pay the highest prices because they usually can't take advantage of cheap annual passes or off-season discounts for locals, yet they're forced to endure the overwhelming crowds caused by such promotions.

See below for where to address complaints—er, I mean "concerns."

P.S. I noticed Eisner mentioned that Disneyland is a better value than football or basketball, but said nothing about baseball or hockey!

Mark Schemmer wrote:
"I took my family (wife and six kids) to Disneyland on Saturday, December 16. I was appalled at the huge crowds and the long lines. I would like to write a letter to Disneyland management. Who would I address this letter to?

"Thanks, Dave. I have enjoyed your books."

Mark, Disney won't provide a name or an e-mail address, only to send "concerns" to:

Disneyland
c/o Guest Communications
P.O. Box 3232
Anaheim, Ca. 92803

Feedback on "Idiot-proofing the Parks" — Three

Finally, let's revisit "Idiot-proofing the Parks."

Patricia Hartman wrote:

"Unfortunately, many people now seem to think that if something bad happens to them, someone else should pay for it. In any conversation when someone is telling about a misfortune, whether an injury from a fall, a dented fender, or a truly major catastrophe, someone is bound to ask, 'Are you gonna sue?'

"Theme park operators are just highly visible and (supposedly) easy targets. Of course, when there is actual neglect involved, such as a spill being ignored, or a condition that is obviously unsafe, for example a missing piece on a restraint, then the operator should be held responsible for not correcting the situation. But to hold Disney responsible for an injury that resulted from standing on a ride that was never intended to be ridden standing up is ridiculous! I've never seen WDW's version of Splash Mountain, but judging by Splash Mountain at Disneyland, I would think that a reasonable person would conclude that it is dangerous to stand while riding.

"While the idea of 'idiot insurance' is an interesting one, I doubt that this would help. If anything, it would make some people *more* careless, and invite others to try their hand at insurance fraud!"

Scott Price wrote:

"I agree with many points made in the article. I just wonder why it has taken Disney this long to react to something that is certainly not a recent problem. Entrance gates are not a new innovation to the theme park industry, and most major parks have had them installed on roller coasters for many years.

Gates at Big Thunder
Gates at Big Thunder

"Also, a reader responded with a comment about how accessible the gate switch is to guests at Big Thunder Mountain; however, most roller coasters have the gate controls through the ride control system. The gates are not allowed to open unless a train is in the station and the brake are closed. The train is also not allowed to be dispatched with the gates open."

Bruce Roberts wrote:

"Okay, let me see if I have this straight. Over the last couple of months, I remember reading/hearing about the following accidents at Disneyland or Walt Disney World:

"1. A stupid kid dangles his foot over the side of the Big Thunder train as it is pulling into the station. His mother is sitting right next to him and does nothing. The kid gets his foot mangled between the train and the load platform. You could hear him screaming all the way over in Adventureland. This is the park's fault?

"2. A 4-year-old falls out/gets out/jumps out (we will never know) of a Roger Rabbit ride vehicle, and gets caught under the car following and suffers serious injury. Again, this is the park's fault?

"3. In Florida, a grown man gets out of a moving log on Splash Mountain, falls in the river and is killed after being struck by the ride vehicle. Again, the park's fault?

"And now, to correct these problems (all of which were caused by guest stupidity AND occurred inside the ride), Disneyland is spending thousands of dollars to install pressure gates at the entrances to rides with moving vehicles at the station load area. And this… does… What??? How do you cure what happens inside a ride, by putting gates up at the entrance? This just not make any sense to me. I have never heard of injury or death because someone was sooo stupid as to try to get into a moving ride vehicle before it came to a stop in the station.

"I mean really, I know the uninformed park guests checks their brains at the entrance to the park, but there are cast members present all over the load area to prevent stupidity from killing someone. And I think they do a damned good job. It is a very hard and thankless task, and I always make sure I know that any cast member I come across on rides (and even the cleanup people in white) are thanked and made to know that at least someone appreciates what they do. I have made so many friends this way, that the few seconds of time it takes to say, 'Thank you, I appreciate what you do,' gives back rewards ten- fold.

"Thanks for listening. And a big thank you to all cast members who are reading this. You do a great job, and we park fanatics love you for it."

Bruce, as you know, most of the accidents at Disneyland are caused by the guests themselves. That doesn't diminish Disney's desire to minimize the number of accidents nor their legal exposure. That's why the Big Thunder gates are there—to keep people from falling onto the track or from entering the vehicles too early (rare instances, but it has happened before), and to show Disney is doing everything it can to protect its guests.

The three accidents you cite illustrate three very different causes, not solely stupidity.

The poor fellow on Splash Mountain apparently was entirely at fault. If they sued, his family would be hard-pressed to win in court, because there was nothing else Disney could have done to protect him.

On the other hand, the 5-year-old boy who lost part of his foot on Big Thunder was not stupid nor was he dangling his foot. His car stopped at the beginning of the station and, being 5 and being anxious, he moved his foot toward the car opening to exit when the car suddenly restarted, smashing / tearing his foot. Although his family did not sue, they obviously could have argued that unsafe conditions contributed to the accident.

As far as the 4-year-old on Roger Rabbit, we'll probably never know if the boy fell or climbed out. I have always maintained (and the just-released OSHA report confirms) that the main contributing factor was that the boy was allowed to sit near the vehicle opening, next to his brother, not his mother. New seating requirements should eliminate this condition in the future.

Our next batch of Ear Mail will cover reaction to Disneyland's new "virtual lead" program.

Talking Tiki

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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