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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of August 18, 2000

Thanks all who responded to my musings on the fate of Disney's California Adventure. I'm convinced that Disney won't let a $1.4 billion theme park, built on the most prime lot in Anaheim, fail. Reaction also continued to stream in on last week's article, "When Tourists Attack."

First, let's look at readers response on DCA:

DCA Mail for 8/18/00:
From Tony Moore:

I was very impressed with your latest article on MousePlanet.com. I've always enjoyed reading your work, because while you bring the negative to light, you don't blast the negative aspects at the reader. I agree with your arguments about Disney's California Adventure.

I don't believe people who are critical of DCA are taking into account MGM and the Animal Kingdom. Nor, do they take into account the general way Disney has been building theme parks since Euro Disneyland happened. DCA wasn't meant to be an awesome, ground-breaking theme park and an experience unto itself. It was meant to complement Disneyland, and keep people in the Disneyland hotels, purchasing Disney merchandise, and buying Disney food for another day.

I'm going to make a link from my site to the article. -

From ParrotHead:

What a depressing article! If your assumptions are correct and DCA is financially successful, then we can officially herald the end of an era. No longer will we be able to expect to see grand Disney theme parks in the traditional style—at least not in the United States. Thank goodness the Oriental Land Company still knows how to honor Walt's vision and build parks and attractions that are truly worthy of the Disney name. -

From Robert Johnson:

You made some very good points on DCA. From the start when I have spoken on DCA with others I have said DCA is its own weenie. When people come to Anaheim on vacation to partake in Disney's wonders DCA will be part of that draw.

Also you are right that DCA will become a more adult park. Here is a scenario: a family of four comes to Disneyland, the teens go to Disneyland and the parents go over to DCA for their fun. DCA will be a success for the first 2-5 years of existence. After that, unless Disney upgrades the park, it's anybody's guess. -

From Brad L.:

Just read your article on why DCA will be a (clumsy) success. While I begrudgingly agree with many of your points (I am one of those who hopes DCA will fail so that we get bigger and better for the future), I must draw attention to your closing remarks. If DCA does succeed we may have a more profitable park but we will never have any more better parks.

Please tell me, do you think this is a good thing? From the tone of your article it seems almost as if you are hoping DCA will be a success! While this is good for shareholders, for the average guest it will mean Six Flags banality from here on in!

As a theme park guest, I hope for the best possible experience for a fair price. That doesn't mean a less ambitious park can't be wildly profitable, especially one with all the intangibles that DCA has going for it.

In fact, I predict DCA will be vastly more profitable than would a second gate comparable, animatronic for animatronic, to Disneyland, with fewer shops and 60 attractions covering 80 acres, including a dozen state-of- the-art E-tickets. Is there a calculator big enough to estimate how many billions it would cost to recreate Disneyland from scratch? -

I did receive more suggestions as to why FastPass seems to cause more problems at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World:

FastPass Mail for 8/18/00:
From Sean Patrick Rouse:

Having experienced both FastPass in Orlando and Anaheim, I have a theory on why FastPass leads to so much less grief in Orlando: space.

Because the Florida parks are much more spacious, you don't see the bottleneck issues that you see in Disneyland. It's much easier to handle all of those folks who are not in line. In addition, it's much easier to put the FastPass distribution stations adjacent to the traditional entrances to attractions, thus encouraging more people to use them.

The space issue comes to the forefront in looking at FastPass at Disneyland's Splash Mountain. Considering that the entrance to the Splash Mountain queue is usually next to the Haunted Mansion, and not the actual barn, that would have been the logical location for Splash's FastPass machines. Unfortunately, the FastPass machines are even past the barn, so someone could join the standby line, and have no idea that they could use FastPass. In addition, because of the location of the FastPass machines and the compactness of Critter Country, it just gets crowded quickly. -

From Cindy Stephens:

When my husband and I were at WDW last November for our honeymoon, we did run into one problem with the FastPass system. We had waited in the regular queue for Test Track since we'd never been there before and wanted to see everything. As you probably remember, the queue takes you through this room that shows you how everything is put together and tested. You spend about an hour or two in that room before you make your way toward the loading area and the film, and on the way, you go right next to a side entrance. That's where the FastPass entrance is.

Well, as I'd said, we'd spent over an hour in the queue, and we had to wait while they stopped the line several times and let a fairly substantial number of FastPass holders into our line. We understood what was happening (again, we had chosen to wait in the line so we'd have the entire experience), but the family in front of us and quite a few people behind us did not understand and were getting angrier and angrier that so many people were let into line in front of us. The man in front of us actually gave the CM working the FastPass line a very difficult time, and I felt really sorry for her and annoyed at the man that he was refusing to listen to her even when she tried to explain.

I think the major problem with that situation is that the FastPass line cuts directly into the regular line rather than queueing in a different line. We did use the FastPass system for Rock N' Roller Coaster and Space Mountain, and there weren't the same problems there. -

From R.S.:

I go to both parks frequently and, despite being able to just walk on attractions (I work for Disney), often choose to wait in line to see how the experience is holding up.

I see little of the problems you mention, except that more people than I would have expected don't understand how the FastPass works, or how anyone can use it. Maybe the program and how it works needs to be made clearer. -

From Travis:

The mail response to your FastPass article seemed fairly diverse. Here's one more person's opinion.

FastPass is nice for those of us who know how to use it, but let's face the reality. Many guests just don't take the time to read their park map or ask a cast member questions. I myself know the agony of the uninformed—my first "FastPass educational experience" was at WDW last summer. It is frustratingly painful to stand in the hot sun watching others prance on by and not know what the heck they did to earn the right to cut in front of you. Several others behind us, also unaware of the new system, grumbled their frustrations, as well. Even when we figured out what it was and used it several times (to our delight, I should add; when it works, it works), other times it simply wasn't convenient to come back at the FastPass return time (four and a half hours later). We found ourselves again "grinning and bearing" as we stood in a painfully slow standby queue while FastPassers passed (and let's be real—standby lines are much slower after their conversion to FastPass than in their pre-FastPass days). Perhaps we could have taken a FastPass at 1:00 and returned at 5:30, but this would have eliminated our option to get a FastPass from another attraction, thereby forcing us to wait in the second attraction's standby line. Either way, we wait in at least one long standby line.

In response to Berrett Maynard's letter to you, I agree that we all have a "choice" whether or not to use FastPass. But this is more an ideal setup that Disney management is telling its stockholders, rather than the reality of the situation. It's really not a choice for those who don't know they have one.

And once you become aware of the "choice," you realize it is often a rather limited one. And once you take responsibility for making that choice, you realize you are just as frustrated either way. -

From Shannon Tennison:

I have the sad feeling that people in Orlando just have better manners than those of us in California. I think the ratio of out of town visitors in DL is a lot lower than WDW, and most people in California consider Disneyland as their own Therefore, you get more people with local ties, who think they have a certain type of entitlement.

Either that, or all the smog has fried the center of our brains that controls our actions. -

From Kevin Remington:

As a former Attractions Host, the FastPass system sounds like a recipe for disaster. Though I have yet to experience it firsthand, it seems that FastPass was created so that Disney could justify admitting significantly more guests per day than they should.

In the old days, even during the busiest season, there was a limit to admissions that was determined not only by physical restrictions, but also by a "quality of guest experience" standard. By all other evidence lately, it looks like FastPass is another "raise revenue/ignore guest experience" strategy.

Apparently they don't understand the concept of "lifetime customer value." Short sighted as usual, and makes me want to avoid the place altogether on an upcoming trip to California. Sad, sad, sad. -

From DisneyFreak:

I had to go out of my way to understand FastPass the first time and my sister still doesn't get it. First, we heard it printed out the time we would have been on the ride if we stood on the regular line, and now I'm hearing different. This system is not well explained and if you aren't a Disneyland Freak like me, I doubt you will understand it easily. I really don't consider FastPass something you should have to read in your Disneyland brochure. Let's be honest here, if it were so easy, why are we hearing so many cries of "What is FastPass?" and "How does it work?" on BBS and newsgroups on the Internet from recent visitors?

A point on Security: the lack of them makes me sick. I always felt safe when I walk by the uniform in the park. Now I don't. Half of security work is the presence of officers… and that is not the case anymore. -

From Jason Cartwright:

I have not yet experienced FastPass at Disneyland, but it works fabulously at Walt Disney World. I was a cast member there during Spring Semester, and I visited the parks as often as possible. Sometimes two to three times a week. I took advantage of FastPass almost every time.

The reaction I saw from people in the standby line usually was not too extremely negative. Most guests are still learning about the system. If people felt it was unfair then they usually asked a cast member or even somebody in the FastPass line, "Why is that line moving so much faster than this one?" Once they understood the process, they made the decision to use FastPass on other rides. If people in the standby line still had a negative attitude, I felt no guilt whatsoever. It's their own fault for not taking advantage of the system.

I think FastPass is a great way to save time standing in line. I believe that FastPass will not cause nearly as many problems with guests once all the bugs are worked out with managing the lines and once the majority of guests are familiar with it. -

From David L.:

I have used FastPass at quite a few WDW rides, including Kilimanjaro Safaris, in which the FastPass and standby lines run along side each other the nearly the entire time. Nobody in the standby line seemed to be bothered. One thing that may have helped was there were about 5 CMs in the front of the queue, explaining to everyone. It seems to be working pretty well.

Your new section on MousePlanet is really great. Thank you very much for writing the article! I have your first book, and even though I have never been to Disneyland (hopefully will visit sometime), it was awesome to read! Do you have any plans to write a book based on Walt Disney World? Please do, I'm sure there are tons of people who'd love to read it!! -

From Ken Coates:

Soon after FastPass was announced, I read about another type of system on the ScreamScape.com site from a park in the U.K. In that system you couldn't get in line if the line was longer than 20-30 minutes. Instead you got a pass to come back within a 10 minute window. A display told you what time the current window was if you got a pass. I don't recall if you could get more than one of these, but in any case, I think this type of system would solve the attacking tourist problem since everyone is in the same line. I think it would be cheaper for Disney too:

(1) Only one line to maintain (less personnel). People don't get mad about others cutting in front.

(2) Shorter queues required (less space to maintain). With the current FastPass system, the standby line can be as long as before FastPass.

My two cents.

P.S. I loved your "Mouse Tales" books and I hope you get to write your third one in the trilogy. Apparently this will have to wait for the current management to move on!

Ken is probably referring to quotes in the press that I'd like to write a third "Mouse Tales," if the condition and operation of the park drastically improves. I'm holding out for a happy ending.

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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