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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of August 8, 2001

Readers responded in force —and with force—to Disneyland and DCA's reduced fall hours and the long-shot possibility that the parks might close one day a week

Mailbag

Reader George Burnash volunteered:

Thanks for the great articles. Just wanted to let you know a bit about the September hours, since we've booked a three-day trip to the resort Saturday September 22 -Monday September 24.

The reservation desk, the phone info line, and the website all provided me the following schedule information for those days, so I'm guessing they should be fairly much in stone at this point (since it's only a month away).

Sat.: Disneyland 9 a.m.-Mid, DCA 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Sun.: DL 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., DCA 10 a.m. – 8 a.m.

Mon.: DL 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., DCA 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

So it doesn't look like 6 p.m. closes for Disneyland yet, at least not in September, but maybe down the road a bit.

The one thing I'm most irritated about, I guess, is after having this booked for a month I just found out we are arriving during Fantasmic's downtime. Arrgghhh. One of the top five things I wanted (if not the number one) and we'll miss it. Oh well.

A cast member confirmed:

I read your latest article, and it hits pretty close to the mark.

From my sources, Disneyland will close at 8 p.m. on the weekdays. Midnight on Saturday, and at 10 p.m. on Sunday.

Concerning DCA, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekdays, and the parks will NOT close one day out of the week. Although a lot of us would welcome this (it gives us all, and the park a needed rest, plus time to fix things), I doubt this will come true.

With the lower-than-expected profits for this quarter, this can all change. And don't forget the new round of layoffs coming up.

Josh grumbled:

Interesting article on MousePlanet today about the "dark days." As a two park annual passholder (AP) who lives in Burbank, I would/will be very upset if either or both of the parks close at 6 p.m. during the week. This means that I won't be able to get down there at all Monday through Thursday.

But your article raises an interesting point: we annual passholders have shorter visits to the parks and therefore spend less money. Not so sure about that. See, back before I had a pass when my family would visit a Disney park (most likely Disney World), we'd pack a lunch. If I have friends visiting now we pack a picnic. If people are paying $40 to get in, at least my people, they want to save money somewhere.

But if I'm there with AP holders, we eat and drink up a storm. It's the only money we're spending that day, why not go hog wild?

Very interesting point you raise on APers spending heavier because they're not repaying for admission. While I can see that happening a lot, I have yet to see a line forming outside Disneyland's Picnic Area. I'm sure that APers' average, per-visit spending is less, since their visits are so much shorter.

A once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime visitor typically buys lunch and dinner at the park; an APer might be there long enough to buy one meal, or might just arrive after dinner to catch, say, the parade or fireworks.

Michelle Smith wrote:

What time do Animal Kingdom, The Magic Kingdom, and Disney-MGM Studios close during the winter? Six. Since I can remember, and that's back to the mid-Eighties (Not Animal Kingdom, of course). Also, those parks charge fifty bucks per day, even more.

Epcot closes when Illumination starts, usually nine during the winter. Most definitely the exception, and can get packed from six to nine when the earlier day was deserted.

Tim McRaven piped up:

I really think that you are wrong about the origin of Disneyland moving to a 365-day operating schedule. I believe that it happened well before Michael Eisner's joining the company. And while I can't give you an exact date, I can give you the reason and background for the change.

When Walt Disney World opened in '72, the investment in the resort was so steep for the then relatively small Walt Disney Productions, that having off-season dark days was not an option. So, WDW had to learn to do their maintenance on a 365-day operating schedule. The knowledge was then transferred to Disneyland for two reasons: increased profitability and availability to traveling guests (many of whom showed up every Monday and Tuesday during the off-season).

But thanks anyway for going on and on about an option that you fairly early in your article characterized as remote.

David wrote:

I read your article about Disneyland and DCA having dark days—another harbinger of the '70s (and earlier). I do not believe that there would be any additional upkeep because of the dark days. Instead, it will be cheaper for them to delay some maintenance until a dark day. Maintenance could actually take longer under such conditions with this management.

Bartman offered:

This is my first time responding to one of your articles, but I just felt like I had to on this one. I definitely would understand Eisner closing the parks at 6 p.m. and keeping Downtown Disney open (what a surprise). As for closing down the park a day a week, not a chance. The Chicago Cubbies will win a World Series before that happens.

Bottom line at the Disney Company, unfortunately, is profit. If the Disney Company wants to start helping DCA and such they have to do some better maintenance on the current rides and not necessarily add on more E ticket rides, but some nice B+ rides, which would heighten attendance quite a bit. If you don't believe me, just check out Buzz Lightyear at the Magic Kingdom. Every time I go, there's a 20 minute wait on it or more. Keep up the good work.

Michael wrote:

I see nothing wrong with them closing Disneyland one day a week or even two, if they use those days for rehab and cleaning of the park. You must admit at the moment all their doing is running the park into the ground. It NEEDS repairs.

Interesting note -when Disneyland was closed on Monday and Tuesday for cleaning and whatever, Knott's would close on Wednesday, Thursday for their cleaning.

The only way I won't be for it if they closed it just to save money and have no repairs or cleaning done. Disney (really Eisner) just spent $5 billion for a network, you think he could spare at least $200 million to make Disneyland look like new.

I also like the idea, but I don't think they'd increase the maintenance budget going into an off-season with decreased operating hours. I'd be happy if they just stopped reducing the budget.

Bryan offered:

I've been listening to the progress around Disneyland, and I have to say that those dark days are desperately needed. Even if its only for a couple days as a "trial" run, it would be great to see that all the attractions be kept up once again. Over the past year, this site has reported problems with Space Mountain, Toontown, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Columbia, Fantasmic's Ursula Float, Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, etc.

The distressed railings at small world
The distressed railings at small world

Although I feel bad for the workers who depend on seven-day schedules to support their families, I think it would be a great idea for the parks to close on certain days. Unfortunately, I'm not a California resident so I may not realize the inconvenience this causes to tourism, but that is just my opinion.

I agree dark days, even just once a week for a couple of months, could help the park and save more money than they would "cost" the company in lost revenue. And, as long as they don't close both parks on the same day, there'd always be at least one park for someone to visit.

Jeff groused:

You and Al just don't know when to quit, do you? You guys act like the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule is a horrific blow-off of the public and is in response to horrible hours.

David, I used to live in Garden Grove right next door to Anaheim, had an annual pass for eight years. And in the past four when I haven't had a pass, I visited regularly. During the off-season, Disneyland has ALWAYS had the 10 a.m. -6 p.m. hours. Always. I remember well because the park was empty and there were never lines; I would leave college about 3 p.m., go to the park for like two hours, get on Indy and Space or whatever, and it would close. 10-6 is standard, always has been. Why should it be any different for DCA? Or why should fewer DCA hours than that be unacceptable?

David, I've read your two books, love them, and normally think you are a great writer. But you and Al have to stop taking normal operating procedures and twist them to make Disney look like a money-bleeding dragon.

What in the world did I write that gave you the impression that 10-6 is "a horrific blow-off of the public"? I think it's a great idea. If I were in charge of Disneyland, I might do it myself.

But Number 2, it IS a change of policy in response to expected lighter attendance and a soft economy. You're right, DL's normal off-season hours were (approximately) 10-6, until the fall of '96, when DL extended hours to provide additional "final" performances of the Electrical Parade. Then in the fall of (I think) '98 the decision was made to run longer hours for most of the year. So for at least three years, DL has been running extended hours.

And fewer hours at DCA is not only acceptable, but logical and preferred as long as the park continues to clear out early. Disney's parks in Florida have staggered opening and closing times. I think DL and DCA should, too, especially when park-hopper passes become more widely used so during slower hours they'd have a nice crowd at one park instead of thin crowds at two. Maybe DCA could open an hour earlier and push breakfasts, and DL could stay open a little later because of Fantasmic and the fireworks. An occasional dark day might have the same benefit.

I did quote a few cast members who are unhappy with some of the proposed changes, but as a (somewhat) impartial observer, I think they make perfect sense.

Al's note: I'll take the blame on that one David -seems any time I do complain about cutbacks or reductions in my updates someone sends me an angry (and usually long) e-mail trying to explain or justify them.

Some Disney customers are rather unique I think (and I'm not singling out reader Jeff here) as they happily will accept anything the company does, even if it is some kind of cutback or reduction in what is being offered.

As a consumer of just about anything in this world my primary concern has always been in how the vendor can increase the value in what they offer for what I pay. If admission and food/merchandise prices continue to go up—I would at least expect the parks to be maintained and operated at the levels they used to be.

Unfortunately the prices keep going up, and the upkeep and service keeps declining. (And now maybe, the hours the park will be available to me.) Usually, a reduction in the quality or quantity of a product means a reduction of the price. At Disney though, it just seems the opposite lately.

I guess that for some folks in this world I'm just always asking for too much?  ;)

Justin Hunsley predicted:

I think if they decided to close the park one day a week they would end up having problems with APs. If they started this, I would be one of the first to call for a partial refund on my AP because I wouldn't be able to get into the park for "365 days of the year" and I doubt they really want to give money back to thousands of people.

Steve Mizera revealed:

Just read David Koenig's article "Dark Days Ahead?" It pretty much is what I said they might consider last May in the attached email. It's sad that those suits over there are getting so predictable.

But now the solution to the screaming passholders is apparent. They will just issue tickets for the APs to bring in friends as they had done at California Adventure. (rather than the "trinket" approach I thought they might use.)

Also the energy situation in California is not viewed as dire as it was in May, so they probably won't play that angle.

Here's Steve's prophetic email from May 23:

The most un-popular proposal

Okay, so I am completely avoiding the park, the stores, and I really don't think they've noticed the loss of my contributions. This proposal is intended as a "tongue in cheek" view, but too many ideas like this end up getting implemented…

Here is an idea of my own creation, that Disney is bound to consider (independently of any discussion here) that could help with several of their current issues:

1. Poor attendance over at DCA

2. Narrow maintenance timeframes

3. Continued cost pressures

And the proposal is…

Close Disneyland (DL) one day a week this fall!

If DL were closed on Tuesdays, for a month or two, it would obviously save considerably on operations and salaries. The closure would allow contractors to have a longer timeframe to perform maintenance tasks, without having to pay for the extra labor to put up the "pardon our dust" barriers.

Who would scream the loudest? Probably the AP holders who have already paid to have access to DL on those days. How could they be compensated? Allow the DL AP passes to be used at DCA on the "Dark Tuesdays." (This would cause a minor uproar among those who have paid for both parks, but I'm sure some type of trinket would be offered.)

How could they sell the idea?

To the General Public: Disneyland is doing it's part to save electricity during this critical time in California by closing down one day each week. (This would explain why to do this in California and not in Florida)

To the Cast members/Park Fans: Disneyland needs some focused attention on maintenance, the Tuesday closings will allow maintenance staff and contractors a longer uninterrupted period each week to proceed with upgrades to the park.

To Pressler and Company: Massive cost savings at DL, while forcing up the numbers at DCA.

(They could even close DCA on one day each week to give the contractors enough time for a 40-50 hour work week, but DCA is so new, the maintenance story might be a little thin.)

With all the potential upside, how could they not be considering this??

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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