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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of June 29, 2001

It's back to the mailbag…

Mailbag

First, with a response to Disney toying with the idea of retheming the Submarine Voyage to Atlantis, reader Darrin Earl pointed out:

I find amusing the whole question of what (if anything) will Disney do for an Atlantis ride tie in. Partly because so far they haven't done anything, meaning any ride (well any REAL ride) will be at least two years behind the theatrical release. But mainly because Disney is amusingly far behind the rest of the theme park world on this one.

Exhibit one: Caesar's Las Vegas' "Race for Atlantis." A surprisingly well themed (animatronic "barker" fountain show plus really cool queue) and technologically advanced (IMAX dome 3-D) ride. Excellent quality CGI movie, nifty bright colors, fun ride, and you even get to save Atlantis.

Exhibit two: SeaWorld Orlando's "Journey to Atlantis." Theming that is definitely third to Disney and Universal, but not bad for SeaWorld's first real theme park ride. Innovative ride system courtesy Mack of Germany (also used in an Atlantis-themed ride at Mack's own park, Europa Park). Journey to the newly risen City of Atlantis in a Greek fishing boat. See a golden seahorse several times. Fun ending. Best themed gift shop I've seen. Also quiet, suspenseful, and non disturbing to the animals (unlike Kraken, their more recent roller coaster ride). Plus you get credit for saving Atlantis.

Notice a trend here? Both East and West coasts have a major Atlantis ride. There is both a water ride, as well as a simulator ride.

As Atlantis continues sinking at the box office, all Disney has to offer is the Disney Cruise Lines' stop in Nassau, which the Disney Cruise Lines' stop in Nassau does offer the shore excursion option of seeing the famed Atlantis Resort and Casino (above), where you can water slide down a pyramid and through a shark tank (below).


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Miffed by Universal Studios poking fun at DCA during a summer kick-off party for employees, Kar2oonMan wrote:

How ironic that Universal would mock DCA's troubles from the set of a Waterworld attraction. People howl about DCA but yet Universal still has a show based on one of its biggest box office bombs YEARS after… and they wonder why people aren't spending more on souvenirs? I would remind Universal about people who live in glass houses…

I hadn't thought about that, but you're right, it is a little ironic. (Although I would argue that Waterworld the Attraction is a lot better than Waterworld the Movie, and better than most of what's in DCA.)

An Entertainment Division cast member wrote:

First let me say that I enjoyed your Mouse Tales books and the articles which appear online. I also want to assure you that I am in no way putting down your article or any of the things said in them. Okay, with that said let's get to my reason for writing.

I'm a Disneyland Resort cast member who's worked there for quite a long time. All my years have been spent in Entertainment so I've seen my share of ups and downs. The opening of Fantasmic, The Lion King Celebration, The Hunchback Festival of Fools are a few that lifted our hopes and swelled our heads.

Light Magic and Parade of the Stars sure did bring back some humility. I find it interesting how so many are quick to put down the Resort expansion so quickly. What theme park in history ever did well its first few years? I like DCA personally, there are some fantastic things put in there that could never have been done across the way. The Eureka Parade is an example. I think in time DCA will find it's niche and will swell into a true Disney park.

I also find it funny how other theme parks in the area take great pleasure in putting down all things Disney. The hangings at Knott's Halloween Haunt always poke fun at what is new at Disneyland and the Employee showing of Waterworld that you wrote about did the same. In all the time I've been at Disney there has never been a show or cast event that makes fun of any of the neighboring parks. I think all the attractions in Southern California help each other and should build a partnership of some kind to get more people to vacation here.

I'm sure it's kind of a 'bring down the big guy' mentality, but Disneyland Resort still is, and probably always will be, the Resort of choice in Southern California. That doesn't mean that families vacationing here only go to Disney. They take a day at Knott's and a day at Universal, and probably a day at Magic Mountain. The attractions feed off each other, so they should cooperate.

I just wanted to put my two cents in.

Thanks for the great note!

I couldn't agree more with all your points—unfortunately Disney, Knott's and Universal no longer seem to agree. It's funny, years ago Disney and the competition (especially Knott's) had a very close working relationship. They understood that they could benefit and boost each others' business rather than tear it down (the way Sea World and Universal Studios are joint-marketed in Florida).

Walter Knott attended the grand opening of Disneyland and gave gracious, glowing quotes to all the news reporters. In the off season Disneyland used to be closed Monday and Tuesday, and Knott's would close Wednesday and Thursday.

Many old time Imagineers upon seeing the plans for the new park dubbed it the "Universal Berry Farm"
Many old time Imagineers upon seeing the plans for the new park dubbed it the "Universal Berry Farm"

Starting in the 1970s, though, they started going after each other's business more intensely, trying to build similar types of attractions. And, soon after, the jabs started coming. Jokes about Disneyland tourists in Knott's stage show or the mouse ears floating in the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios–Hollywood (USH). Disney, being top dog, doesn't have to jab the competition in public, but it did take the biggest competitive swipe in purposely designing DCA to counter the strengths of Knott's (the West) and USH (Hollywood).

Before DCA, I held out hope that the parks could once again return to working together for the betterment of the industry and the audience. DCA may have created too much overlap. The various parks may no longer be unique enough to "get along."

Bill Crawford wrote:

Since people are concerned that bringing back the MSEP in the middle of the power shortage and blackouts will send a wrong message, Disney should get a sponsor like Duracell or have the Energizer Bunny lead the parade to tell people that most of the lights are run off of batteries.

Steve Farrell wrote:

My family and myself who are die-hard Disneyland fans and annual passholders for the last six years went to DCA on March 14. I have to say before I go on, I am one the Disney fan's who was very skeptical of the new park, however after going there I was pleasantly surprised, it wasn't as bad as I thought, it's by no means in the same class as Disneyland at this point, but I don't think that it needs to measure up to Disneyland at this time point.

I think the price is too much for the amount of rides that it has. They should offer a combined price around $60 and let people go between parks. The park at this point has a couple of very good rides (California Screamin' and Soarin' over California, and a deceiving Ferris wheel).

If the suits get out of the way the park has potential. Right now there are too many restaurants and shops for the price they are charging. At this point I am glad that I didn't covert my Disney annual pass to include DCA, too many additional blackout days (from 65 to 160 ).

I'd like to add in closing, the attendance for day we went was one of their best for DCA, I think it had to do more with the weather than anything else, it was one of the first days in a month that we had a sunny day.

Puppy wrote:

As a Disney two-park premium passholder I have gone to DCA a half a dozen times, If I go back it will only be for the Electric Parade.

But this is what I expect to happen.

Passholders will be most of the crowds lining the route.

Day guests will arrive late morning/early to mid afternoon to see the park and stay for the parade and leave after the parade.

Flexpass holders will spend the day at Disneyland then flow over to DCA for the parade then flow back to Disneyland for the rest of the night.

Passholders will most likely do this as well.

Once word gets out about the floats having half the number of lights on them ( Budget cutbacks )and Disney trying to find a use for the hundreds of miles of fiberoptic cables from light magic (and more budget cutbacks). This will give Disney a reason to cancel the parade once again.

Disney, stop trying to put a band-aid on DCA. Give us a quality parade in a quality park.

As far as the layoffs and ensuing reorganization at the Disneyland Resort, a cast member wrote:

With the news of the layoffs at the resort, sources tell me that if things do not pan out for DCA for the summer, the next round of layoffs could come as early as fall.

Concerning the third park Disney wants to build in Anaheim, should it be built, two sources in the parking lot have told me that KCML (Katella Cast Member Lot) will become a guest lot.

Today's Register on the lower admission prices for DCA is a scream. Do you smell desperation? If Pressler and Eisner were not so damn arrogant and cheap, all this could have been avoided. It's now going to cost us more to fix the park. What was that saying? "You get what you pay for."

While Tokyo DisneySeas looks and sounds fantastic (it will open Sept. 4), we're stuck with a poor excuse for a Disney park. Cast members have given some new meanings to DCA: Disney's Carny Adventure, and Don't Come Again.

The Team Disney Anaheim Building
The Team Disney Anaheim Building

An Attractions cast member added:

Black Tuesday came and went, and it was almost exclusively lower management and clerical. Lots of clerical, in fact.

The big guys all kept their spots, and an entire new "make work" department within Attractions was created to hold them. It's amazing, but many of them should see the writing on the wall there. Cynthia issued a letter stating that "this current phase of the workforce reduction has been completed." This "current phase"??? The reliable rumor is that there is more to come later in summer, maybe August.

Paul Yeargin, the Disneyland Director of Attractions from the Disney Store that never deemed it necessary to be trained on ANY attraction, is now the Director of Guest Relations. The old DCA Attractions Director (John Storbeck) is now the Director of Attractions for the entire Resort, both Parks. He's a guy who started as an hourly Attractions host 20 years ago and has worked his way up from there, and it's a very popular choice.

That's about the gist of it. But the basic story is that anyone at or above middle management kept their job. The ranks of secretaries and assistants are drastically thinner, and some salaried lower management was walked out. All the big players in TDA are still there, of course.

Reader Andrew wrote:

Thanks for answering my question about the Space Mountain soundtrack. I love the Space Mountain soundtrack and enjoy its heart-pounding thrills.

I need clarification on what you wrote. Are they trying to fix the rockets again, or are they just buying time until they slowly bring a new fleet in?

What is the buzz about the new rockets (if any)?

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

You need clarification because the article was unclear—because I have conflicting sources.

The word going around ride operators is that new rockets are coming. But the people in Facilities (who should be better informed than Attractions on this) swear that the plan to buy new rockets was scrapped a couple of months ago.

The current rockets and soundtrack SHOULD be repaired, but Facilities lacks the money, time, experience and replacement parts to do that. It's inexcusable. Would they keep running Star Tours without the video? If Space Mountain is silent during my next trip, I'm heading for City Hall. (On the other hand, if the soundtrack on Small World was silent…)

From Thomas, "aka a really really sad guest":

I have to say that growing up in Southern California (mainly Orange County) I have always held a special place in my heart for Disneyland. I can remember a time when cast members actually used to smile, which was quickly returned by happy guests and good PR for Disney.

What happened? This bureaucracy that has all but crippled the "Old Disney Way" will continue to change one of the worlds greatest family theme parks into a worthless, money-hungry shopping mall with rides.

Reading your articles has given me a clear picture of what's happening. I was beginning to wonder if my age was opening my eyes to just how much Disneyland has sunken into disrepair. Not just the peeling paint and tattered props, but the loss of "Magic" that used to permeate the air like the smell of cookies on Main Street. Someone in charge must not have read the plaques around the park.

Peeling paint on the Carrousel roof has still not been fixed
Peeling paint on the Carrousel roof has still not been fixed

I am a very happy person and tend to be easily pleased. I don't expect that cast members treat me special in any way. I would just like to feel as if they are happy for me to be there. But knowing the working conditions and increases in mismanagement, not to mention Disney-sizing (I mean downsizing), I don't want to blame the cast members. But what has happened to the pride that used to be worn by most if not all on stage cast members? Could it be the bloodsucking pariah that we all fear? Unhappy boys and girls that never knew what Disneyland was finally in control and taking out their un-nurtured childhoods on one of the most sacred temples of youth?

I could go on and on and on and on, but for your sake I just wanted to let you know that us long time Disneyland lovers, not to mention annual passholders, are quickly seeing the pixie dust fade. From the apparent overwhelming merchandising, to the rape and pillage pricing of food and water, Disneyland might as well change its name to "Knott's 2" At least there you know that your going to get rude employees, run down scenery, and sub-par entertainment for your admission price.

In closing, I must say that in preparation for crossing the threshold of parenthood, I wish for only one thing. It's big (and God knows pretty much impossible), but simple. Disneyland was opened not just to make money (although why else build a theme park), but as "a happy place where parents and children can have fun together."

Thanks for hearing the rants, I know you must get a lot of them. Your columns may help to shine a light of hope on what has become a dark spot in Anaheim.

Along the same lines, K.S. wrote:

Dave, I am really baffled by all of this.

I realize the need that the Disney parks and all areas included in such be profitable as any other retail operation that exist today. But I am coming to the quick conclusion that Disney has lost all interest in trying to provide an ongoing unique experience to their guest here in the US. I keep reading all of this gossip, etc. about what is going on but I recently got to experience it first hand in Florida.

The trip to Walt Disney World (WDW) was to visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The hotel was fabulous and first rate. The hotel experience delivered everything exactly as promised by all of Disney's PR. But outside the hotel seemed to be a different story.

The Magic Kingdom's newest attraction "Flying Carpets" whatever looked like nothing more than a quick cheap attempt to throw something new into that area of the park. It looked like something that I would find as a local state fair. I realize the idea was a take off on the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland, but this just doesn't seem to fit in. The Dumbo ride is a classic Disney touch, the effort to copy it just seemed to me as a complete waste. It really struck me as a very cheap rip off of something else there that most would consider a classic. And trust me when I say, the people riding it didn't look like they were having fun as they went round and round.

The other thing that struck me as being really strange is this tremendous Sorcerer's hat being built at the studio park. It might be interesting in its own right as an icon piece but the placement of it truly destroys the re-creation of Mann's theater there. It is huge, it is gaudy as hell and sticks out like a really sore thumb. Of course, I get the idea that some very important people at Disney seem to think that most guests won't notice all of these cheesy things they are doing right now.

And they wonder why the Animal Kingdom is losing on the attendance numbers. Any fool could have figured that from day one. Why did Disney ever want to get into the zoo business period??? Even though they are adding some things in the Dino area of the park, I just really feel the overall corporate heads could really care less at this time. I get the impression that if they can save a nickel on anything they will at this point. Obviously, Disney has lost their focus for the moment on their American parks. To me it just looks like the budget figures and bottom line is all that matters. I just hope they figure it out before the overall public does.

But for all of my complaining I must say the Animal Kingdom Lodge is most impressive, so I find my feelings to be somewhat crossed in terms of this note. My trip left me with the thought that Disney is working on very different levels, depending on your aspect of interest. I just hope someone realizes that very soon. I have plans made now to revisit the AKL in November, but I don't expect the service to be as high as I just experienced. Sorry for all the rant ,but it was something I needed to do.

Your perceptions are accurate.

Disney continues to churn out first- rate, well-themed hotels because, they think, you have a choice of where to stay. If they want to get $200 or $300 or $whatever from you, they have to give you quality lodging. But as far as expanding the theme parks, they figure that once they've got you on property and collected your $50 a head, they no longer have to work as hard to impress you.

They can get away with that, to some extent, at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot or Disneyland, because the reputation is firmly in place. Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion and IllumiNations aren't going away. But Animal Kingdom and DCA are showing them that if there's no substance, the word will get out and people may not come back.

Hopefully they'll learn their lesson —though I'm sure it will take a while.

Michael Sweeney echoed a familiar refrain:

Just got finished reading your mailbag and the last letter prompted me to write.

The Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room are falling apart, the Country Bears are on their way out, injuries are on the rise, fires are occurring on the Rivers of America, the park still does not have a nighttime parade—what are the loyal Disneyland fans to do?

The sailing ship Columbia
The sailing ship Columbia

While I am aware that some of these problems are more complicated than others, some of them are simple upkeep problems. I was so excited about the opportunity to finally ride the Columbia (since I usually visit the park off-season, I don't get the chance to ride it), but if Al is reporting fires, maybe I should bypass this. I don't want my trip to Disneyland this summer, and my girlfriend's first trip to the park, to be depressing.

And yet, I will go—out of loyalty to my memories, to the company (hey, I am loyal to the brand), or out of my loyalty to Walt Disney and what I conceive to be his personal presence there. But I have thoughts recently about what happens when it is all gone, because for the first time I see the company ramming this nearly fifty year old institution into the ground. DCA has a lot to do with that. Yes, I understand that it takes awhile for a good theme park to develop (take the Disney-MGM Studios, which I think is finally a place where you can spend a day), but DCA was a bad idea from the beginning.

Part of the problem is that I know what it used to be like—even after Walt Disney was gone. (Remember the wonderful stories about Walt putting his money back into the company so that even greater things could continue to come -- I don't know if that is true or not, but I think it is.) There was a commitment to excellence and quality. For awhile I could sit back and say, "well, this is just a small problem, it will get better." But my hope is fading!

So do we (Disneyland fans) take the advise of another letter writer and boycott the company demanding better quality. I don't see that working. I used to think you could turn to Roy E. Disney for help, but his power and knowledge is limited. So what do you, David, see as the answer—no matter how wild it my sound, I would be interested in your thoughts.

You can only show so many pictures of malfunctioning Tikis before you either give up or do something about it.

Anyway, I apologize for my tirade. I would be interested in your thoughts about what we can do about this situation. For now I guess I will put on my Main Street music, dream of days gone by, and hope for the best!

Michael, thanks for sharing your heartfelt concerns.

My hope, too, is fading. I'm not sure how many times Disney has to make the same mistake before it realizes the importance of quality, experience and loyalty. These are what made the company great, and these are the illusions that the company uses today to sell inferior products.

Personally, I don't think a formal boycott would do much good (the line in the letter column saying one "might work" should have been attributed to the letter writer, not to me), but I don't blame anyone for trying any sane, legal means to get Disney's attention. Disney would have to both suffer substantial financial impairment, as well as be able to conclusively link that impairment to a boycott. That said, I'd like to think that if no one bought a particular product or visited a particular theme park, that the manufacturer would be discouraged from making another.

I wish I had a better suggestion. I'd be happy to get behind a positive movement to encourage Disney to return to its roots. I'm convinced that imagination and creativity still reside at WDI, Disney's animation studios and theme parks—it's just hard to hear them sometimes over the din of the calculators and cash registers.

(Oh, and, last of all, no, I am not related to Walter Koenig.)

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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