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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of May 3, 2001

Lots of mail to catch up on. Less than overwhelming response to news of the return of the Electrical Parade. Updates on the Voluntary Severance Program and the reopening of Roger Rabbit's CarToon Spin. More wet guests on Pirates of the Caribbean. And a note from one of the renegade cast members determined to save the Country Bear Playhouse.

Catching Up

Erica Casasola wrote:

So my old favorite The Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP) returns, but not to my favorite place on earth. How sad is it that the people over at Disney are stumbling over themselves in order to patch a mistake, only to make an even bigger mistake.

I loved the MSEP since I was a child. Every summer I would go to Disneyland and stake my spot on the route in order to get a good view. Sadly, the parade left in 1996, but I know how Disney works… all good things must come to an end in order to make room for something better. To stand still is to loose ground, I understand that.

Nevertheless, it would seem that the higher-ups in Disney are taking one step forward for every two steps back. Am I going to make it a point to see the return of MSEP now that it is being moved to DCA? No! I think that DCA has nothing to offer to me, and I am actually making it a point to not go there. Was I going to give a chance? Maybe in the distant past, but I didn't want DCA, I wanted Westcot, the West Coast version of EPCOT. But, that turned out to be too expensive, and the penny pinchers over at Disney thought that it was more important to save a few bucks than to live up to their own reputation. DCA was a cop out, a product of committee and bean counter thinking.

But what can I expect? Those who hold the keys to the Magic Kingdom nowadays are more interested in their annual bonuses than the visitors that pay for that bonus. To me, Disneyland is still the amusement park Mecca, it's just that someone put a strip mall next to it. My next trip to Disneyland will determine whether I shall continue to get my annual pass and visit the park on a regular basis. If it doesn't live up to the old standards I'll still have Knott's Berry Farm to visit. Maybe I'll buy a ticket to Knott's and ride the bumper cars… they are way fun. Gee, I wonder why DCA doesn't have bumper cars? Maybe they cost too much. Oh well, Knott's, here I come.

Thanks for the note, Erica.

I'm not surprised that MSEP is returning, I just wish they would have updated it in some way. Remember, they admitted it was outdated five years ago. So now we get a slightly scaled-back parade but without the atmosphere of Main Street USA.

Something's not quite right here.

Gary wrote:

They must really be desperate about DCA's attendance. I wouldn't be so sure that it is going to make much difference. I don't see how MSEP is going to make the $43 admission ticket to DCA any easier to swallow. Are people going to twiddle their thumbs all evening waiting for the parade since they will have seen the whole park in a few daytime hours? Given the choices, I think people will still prefer to spend their $43 at Disneyland.

I think Disneyland management is fixing the wrong problem. I think the only beneficiaries are the 2-park passholders. Filling up DCA with passholders probably won't achieve the profits they're looking for. The passholders are too value conscious.

I suspect MSEP will bring bodies into DCA, at least short-term.

If nothing else, it should at least convince many hardcore Disneyland annual passholders to switch over to a two-park pass, since

(a) it's not that much to upgrade, and

(b) now DCA undeniably has some of the magic of Disneyland, albeit shoplifted.

Patrick Cooper wrote:

Thank you to you and your fellow columnists for your coverage over the last couple of years. I love Disneyland, and have used your page to plan my once-yearly visits. Please keep up the great work you are doing!

I did have one thing hit me a little strangely. I'm glad they are bringing the electric light parade back, but isn't a little ironic to be bringing it back to DCA? I mean, can you say, "Welcome to California, land of the Stage III power alerts, rolling black outs, conservation, now here is our Electric Light Parade, for all of you visiting from Northern California where they don't have lights all the time." (grin)

I know that Disney has a reliable source of power, so it's not like they will be running this parade during a park brown out, but for the rest of the state, it might not send exactly the same message as running the parade through Disneyland. Disneyland is a separate "land," it's not supposed to be California, so there is no joke. DCA on the other hand… I think you can see the joke here (even if Disney Resort directors can not).

Brian McClimans suggested:

How does Disney market the MSEP at DCA? Since DCA is a focus on California history and since Disney (and Disneyland) is a big part of it, you market this as a historical ode to Disneyland (along with the upgrade of Superstar Limo to Disney Superstars -not just Goofy, but a dark ride featuring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and the other main Disney characters). These two things are a significant upgrade to DCA.

Next, DCA must add some more unique thrill adventures (think Universal's Islands of Adventure in Florida). DCA is lacking the Disney luster and the thrills that So. Cal. residents come to expect (Six Flags Magic Mountain is the biggest coaster park in the world now).

Of course… I already have an idea what the new park in 2010 will be like (again, think IOA… Disney style).

"Disney's Electrical Parade" will have a "preamble" tying this "California original" to DCA's California theme.

A Disney-style coaster park sounds exciting, but I think, especially after DCA, they want to find a concept with as wide appeal as possible. And for how expensive IOA was to build, I'm positive Disney won't do a Disney version.

Regarding Disney's call for volunteers to resign, Robert Meyer suggested:

It seems to me that Disney doesn't really need to layoff people. Even at 4,000 people to layoff, Disney has such a high rate of attrition, most of that would be before the new fiscal year anyway. It would seem to be possible to shift a majority of those positions (though the highest attrition is not in management, yet) so the impact of 4,000 jobs being terminated could be avoided.

I realize Disney is not looking to terminate 4,000 people, they would like to find a better way, but still announcing a huge number like that is not going to help the stock. If anything it should raise more doubts about Disney Management.

Unfortunately, this layoff is targeted at the employees who have been with the company for years, are making the biggest bucks, and therefore are least likely to quit on their own. The cast members Disney does NOT want to lose are the hordes of underpaid hourlies who are most likely to quit on a whim.

Pat Conner wrote:

I started visiting Disneyland in 1955… 'nough said.

I read your "Get in Line to Resign" with fascination. Has anyone ever given a copy of Dilbert to Eisner? If so, then the only thing he has learned is how to use the company-destroying tactics of the pointy-haired one precisely and to great harm. Too bad he did not learn that company-destroying tactics are… um… company destroying.

Any way anyone can make any waves anywhere to help anything? I'd be glad to help. I grew up in the '60s. There were two effective ways to change corporate behavior in those days, boycott and strike. Labor laws prohibit outsiders from organizing, I believe, but Disney employees could begin to discuss that dreaded word, UNION. Of course, there have been a lot of negatives to this in the past, but now… why not?

On the outside, a core of truly interested Disney consumers can boycott Disney parks and products now, in protest of the status quo, in hopes that things will either change after a little economic buffeting and the promise or more to come, or go to crisis and be changed by a renewal of leadership demanded by stockholders. (Actually, why would anyone want to go to DCA anyway, so that part is not much of a sacrifice.)

Therefore, I and my family will not purchase any Disney products, nor go to any of the parks, from this time until the official Disney statement "a financially strong company makes a creatively strong company" changes to "a creatively strong company makes a financially strong company," which would be signaled by a positive change in leadership at the highest levels.

Might work… you can never tell… depends on how many others feel this way.

Mike Clifford wrote:

Just read your column on the layoff at Disney and Disneyland specifically.

I don't know what the big deal. Every sector of business in this country is laying off people. Now, it is a big deal for Disney to be laying off 4,000 people, being the most they've laid off at one time. But the way they are going about it (giving people the opportunity to leave on their own along with a generous severance package) is a much better way of doing it. Disney, or any company for that matter, could just as easily not offer the severance package at all and pick 4,000 people at random and fire them, along with a measly 3 weeks pay.

This way, the people who were thinking of leaving anyway now have a golden opportunity to do so. If only half of the 4000 cast members actually take Disney up on this offer, that's still 2000 CMs that didn't have to be ripped from a job they enjoy. This is the way most companies have been laying off people for years now

You mentioned not giving going away parties, no membership in the Golden Ears club, this is termination. Of course, it is. It's a layoff. That's what a layoff is. At the very least, if someone is thinking of leaving anyway, they'll get a whole lot more money for it. If they don't take Disney up on the offer, they know they could be terminated anyway. Scary? Of course it is, but welcome to working in the private sector. No one's job is secure, anywhere.

The part I do agree with you on is Michael Eisner getting a huge bonus on a very lackluster performance year. Reminds me very much of the power company in California that just filed for bankruptcy but gave its execs over $50 million in bonuses the day before they filed.

Mike, I don't disagree that mass layoffs are uncommon in the business world, but they are at Disney.

Over the last few years, Disney (at least at Disneyland) has been systematically eliminating higher- paid employees through involuntary terminations, which has resulted in widespread ill will and a large number of lawsuits. Most of the plaintiffs claim "age discrimination" since workers over 40 are more likely to have the higher salaries the company wants to eliminate.

My guess is that the VSP is a way to avoid this.

Mike replied back:

You are very correct that VSP is being used to avoid litigation down the road, but I kind of got the feeling that you are putting this out there as a "Disney only" solution to the layoffs they are currently experiencing.

As I said before, most companies are handling their layoffs in the exact same way. I guess the argument can be made that the companies are paying a lot now to avoid paying much more down the road in the form of lawsuits.

I just didn't want this to be characterized as an idea that Mssrs. Eisner/Pressler/Harris came up with on their own (personally, I don't think they could if they wanted to anyway).

An old-timer wrote:

From what I hear only the people that have been there a short time (less than one year) and those that are about 60 – 61 are taking it. I know of two of each. The taking away of the silver pass and not being able to find another job are the main concerns.

A cast member revealed:

Concerning the VSP (Voluntary Separation Program), many cast members who received these think the package is a big joke. Not even comparable to other packages offered in the industry. Some think it is a ploy to get rid of the senior, experienced managers (the ones who really know the operation of the park) and not to bother paying them retirement benefits.

An outgoing member of management told a source that the (staff) reductions aren't only going to be the old guard. It seems that it is deemed a good time to get rid of a bunch of low-performers who haven't yet reached five years service. There is still some buzz about something happening May 15, though this is undefined. The voluntary departures will all happen by June 1, and the involuntary remainder will be gone by July 1.

Also, I saw the new modifications on the Roger cars. They really look good, at least from the outside. Hope to get a better look tomorrow. Machinists report the increased weight should result in more slippage as drive wheels wear down. This has already been a problem from the beginning, but should happen more often now.

I didn't get to see much, as it was dark, and the car was moved to Roger before I could see it in the light, but there is a black colored "skirt" that fills in the gaps under the body. From what I can see, this skirt is intended to push objects it encounters up and aside. It's quite stiff, and feels strong, so it should take a lot of abuse. I was told that the seat backs are higher (I didn't even notice!) and that there are doors now (I was on the other side). I think that the engineers did well with the parameters the art and show people gave them. It really looks good, and I'm a tough critic.

The intended date of opening is the first summer weekend, which is the Friday after the last Grad Nite. As I don't know what date that is, it usually is mid-June.

Although the drenchings on Pirates of the Caribbean aren't as severe, another employee said:

Pirates is still experiencing problems with the flumes and the gates at the load dock. It is a daily occurrence that the attraction is going down for these reasons.

A Pirates ride operator confirmed:

Yesterday (one day last week) we were down five times. We were open a total of two hours all day. The Imagineers came in and said it wasn't their fault that we have had nothing but problems since rehab. And it's not Facilities' fault. I wish they'd just admit they did a (poor) job of remodeling the drop.

Reader Mark wrote:

It was amusing to read your article this morning because I've been the victim of water coming into a boat on Pirates on two occasions, a little over a year ago. Now I know it wasn't a freak occurrence!

Hopefully, New Orleans Square won't have to add a cart to sell yellow Mickey ponchos.

Finally, a Country Bear Playhouse attraction operator wrote:

It is true that there have been rumors about the Bears going down for a Winnie the Pooh ride for quite some time, but now we have been given a date. It's true that cast members are not always the most reliable sources of information but when the higher-ups tell us that the Bears are going down by the end of the year, we will try to do something about it.

I applaud the fact that many guest have gone to City Hall to complain. This gives me shivers! I have been one of the ones that have mentioned in my spiels that this is the last season for the Bears. So far no one has mentioned anything to me about it. Until then I will keep doing so. I love the Bears—it's by far my favorite attraction and I would deplore the idea of it going down!

Again, all I can go by is what I have heard! And I will be working eventually to gather signatures from people in my neighborhood to counter this horrible idea. I think Disney would be wise to settle this once and for all: what exactly are they going to do with the Playhouse by the end of the year. I have talked with another cast member, and he said that he has seen the plans for the destruction of the Playhouse!

Mailbag

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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