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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of September 24, 2001

Readers seemed to appreciate the article "Confronting the Threat" on the effect of September 11 terrorist incidents on Disney's theme parks.


Michael wrote:

I have just read your article on the recent security changes at Walt Disney World and the other parks. I also noticed that you said your trip this week was canceled. Given its close proximity in time to the recent events, that undoubtedly had a big role in your cancellation.

Our family is planning a trip (well, actually it has been set in stone for a while now) to Walt Disney World (WDW) October 18-27. We thought we had the perfect trip lined up for ourselves and our two children. Both my wife's and my own parents will be going as well. My brother, his wife and two children are also going. We have our share of character meals, even managing to get a PS for the elusive Cinderella's Royal Table breakfast our last day in WDW. We have our "Not So Scary Halloween Party" tickets in hand already, and we seemed to be all set for quite the vacation, until the world was turned upside down.

I must say, we are driving down and making the long trek from New Jersey to Orlando, but both my father, father-in-law and brother all work for the airlines, and all three work for airlines that were involved in the devastation. Flying safety is not a concern; even though we are driving, we had planned on that from the start. I would feel safe flying having so much "inside information," if you will, on the new security measures.

After reading what Disney is doing in terms of security, I feel a little better, but then reading about past incidents, I do have some uneasy feelings. My question to you is this: If you were in my position, planning to go on the days I had mentioned, would you cancel your trip? I really value your input. I honestly in my heart do not feel we would be in any type of danger in WDW, but part of me says that's what the people working in the World Trade Center felt every day they went to work. So I, like many others, am confused at the moment as to what to do. I do not want to disappoint my children, but their safety must come before their happiness. A tough thing to deny a child, I know, but safety is first. I appreciate and look forward to any insight you could share.

Thank you for writing.

If I were you, I would definitely keep my plans to go to Disney World.

My trip to Orlando was canceled due to postponement of events I was supposed to attend out there. If the events were still on, I wouldn't think twice about hopping on a plane today (Although I must say my wife is relieved that I won't be flying.)

I understand and admire your thinking first of your children's safety, but I think this is an ideal time to go (despite the overall somber mood the country is in) in that crowds should be very light. And with heightened security, flying as well as visiting a Disney park should be safer than ever.

Please enjoy yourself. I wish I could join you!

Bill Turner opined:

Maybe this falls into urban legend status, but I seem to recall that in the early days, airspace over Disneyland was restricted. Of course, in recent years I have seen plenty of planes and helicopters cruise overhead.

Wouldn't the company have a good case for asking the FAA to once again restrict the airspace over the parks?

A Disney Animation employee penned:

Great article today. Never heard about the sarin gas thing at Disneyland back in 1995. That's creepy stuff.

It's funny (well, weird funny) how I heard about last Tuesday's attacks. I got in my car here in Burbank to head to work, and my car radio was on a news station. I generally listen to KROQ, so I thought that was odd—who messed with my radio?

Then the news announcer said that all major league baseball games were canceled and Walt Disney World in Orlando was closed. What the?!?! Being the Disney geek that I am, I knew that no hurricanes were heading to Florida, and that's the one reason in darn near 30 years that the parks closed. (Which one was it? Floyd? Andrew? Back about two years ago.)

Needless to say, I knew something big was up. Then they said what had happened. Geesh.

When I finally spoke with my parents back East, my dad mentioned that he thought Walt Disney World would be a target. I said that I thought terrorists would love to see Cinderella's Castle in ruins, but things like the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House make much more visible targets; since Disney park's aren't public land, getting news crews inside the park would be difficult. Still, it's a symbol of America, for better or worse. Disney should do everything in its power to make sure the guests at their parks and resorts are safer than safe.

Anyway, great article today, I'll be sending many people your way to read about the potential threats on Disneyland. Oh, one last thing, pretty minor, but you said "a vocal minority griped, deprived of one day of riding roller coasters and buying T-shirts and taking pictures of a grown man in a mouse suit." Yeah, usually they're women in the Mickey suits. That's why, as a 25-year-old single guy I'm always clamoring for a photo with the big cheese.

One cast member was critical of Disneyland 's makeshift memorial service after the events. He related:

Friday, September 14, 2001, Disneyland went silent for one minute at noon. All around the park, people gathered in groups, cast members here, guests there, and the largest group was gathered around the flagpole at Town Square. The mood was somber, and some were openly expressing their grief.

I watched a couple with a 2- or 3-year-old. Mom was almost crying, Dad was stoic and silent, and Junior was looking puzzled as to why things had changed all of a sudden, looking to his parents for reassurance and comfort. Mom gave him a peanut butter sandwich to chew on.

Then, Disney had to ruin it. They invited all our guests to "join in as we sing 'God Bless America.'" I don't know where they found this particular arrangement of the tune, but it was inappropriate for a memorial service! It would have been the right version to play on VJ Day, a celebratory arrangement full of victory and triumph. It began with tremendous fanfare, full of orchestral frills, and proceeded to the opening verses, which most of us (me included) had likely never heard and didn't know. So much for singing along!

Then the piece ended, and silence resumed. People looked at each other as if to say, "Is that all there is?" Well, that's all there was. No announcements, no thank you, no Disneyland now resumes its normal operation. Nothing.

After about a minute more, the background music of the park began to turn on again, and gradually, Disneyland went back to the business of T-shirt and junk food sales.

I know that there was little time to make extensive plans, but Disney is capable of better than this!

Our dead deserved better.

Another cast member provided background on why (as reported in the DIG) two old trees (as seen below) were recently removed from Adventureland:

Blame the mad truck in Adventureland. On Saturday Sept. 15, the red Boudin Bakery truck (the same one that appears at DCA) was making a delivery in Disneyland before park opening. Apparently the driver was new (or extremely stupid) and wiped out the awning in front of the Adventureland Bazaar. If you go into Adventureland, you'll see two sets of construction walls. One in front of the Bazaar and the other in front of the Indiana Jones store. The two trees have been cut down. Story has it the truck was also responsible for damaging the trees, too. But I only heard of this, and could not verify this at the time of writing.

At the entrance of Country Bear Playhouse, one will find signs stating the bears are in "permanent hibernation." A little boy was overheard asking his father what that meant. The father told his son the bears were asleep. To which the son stated that if it was "permanent," they must be dead. Cast members have made fun of the signs saying the company bumped off the bears to save money, and that Eisner or Pressler's office will be getting a bearskin rug soon.

Fantasyland is awash in characters. This past Sunday, you could find Quasimodo & Esmerelda near Stromboli's Wagon, the Wicked Queen in front of the Villains Shop, and Alice, Hatter, White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee & Dum, and the Queen of Hearts on the patio near the entrance of Casey Jr. This is in addition to the Princesses in front of the Castle, and Merlin in the Sword in the Stone show. Why the sudden appearance of more characters? I have received at least several different answers. But it is nice to see them around, and they are supposed to be in the area until at least Christmas.

The article also alluded to a mob of pin traders who attacked an unsuspecting guest relations hostess. A co-worker provided additional details:

It all started when the Disneyland Resort Mystery Pin No. 15 was mistakenly issued to about 20 or so lanyards of cast members working the Disneyana Convention at the Disneyland Hotel. Those pins were removed and returned backstage as soon as the mistake had been noticed by managers, but the damage had already been done—pin traders had already seen the prize, recognized what it was, and sent word out along their networks. Within virtually an hour, the news had spread far and wide and pin traders flocked to Disneyland.

The mob first visited Disneyland. The bewildered cast members, aware that a Mystery Pin was due to be released, claimed the pin was available in the Paradise Pin area of Disney's California Adventure. Across they rushed to DCA and stormed the Pier, searching for their elusive prize. Alas, the pin was not to be found.

Whipped to a frenzy, the mob of some 30 next went to the Guest Relations booth to demand answers from the outnumbered one in plaid. The mob began assailing the cast member with insults and vulgarities unbefitting of a family park as they attempted to find their Holy Grail of a pin. Professionally, the Guest Relations cast member tried calling around to find it, but the Mystery Pin remained a mystery.

As the defenseless cast member attempted to explain what had gone wrong, a stocky thug with a dark beard and convention name tag grabbed her by the upper arm and pulled her across the booth's counter yelling, "Listen, (bleep), if you don't get me a (bleep)ing answer pretty soon, this will cost you!" As her feet touched ground again, a few more words were exchanged.

Remarkably enough, the assaulted Guest Relations cast member at DCA's information booth was relatively unharmed. Except for the bruises, the damage was more emotional than physical.

Eventually, they did shuffle off to the Guest Relations lobby to terrorize more cast members with, among other things, threats of destruction to Disney property. So what did these Disneyana Convention-Ears and pin traders do besides assault a female cast member? They harassed the Guest Relations lobby staff enough to warrant a security detachment be sent, they reduced a pins program manager almost to tears, and they single-handedly marred the spirit of the convention and of pin traders in general.

Over what did these individuals work themselves into a shark-like feeding frenzy? An inexpensive, virtually worthless from a materials standpoint, trinket. They did not start their mob to address world hunger; they didn't curse and swear about the oppressed workers in the third world that may manufacture trading pins; they didn't gang-up on a drug dealer to help clean up our streets. No, they assaulted and cursed another human being because she wasn't able satisfy their demand for a $10 or $15 pin.

All but about 15 of the pins were unaccounted for when the rest of the lot of 1,200 was melted down. The pin could already be found on ebay as of Friday evening. It's actually a very non-descript pin; nothing special as far as I'm concerned. It is a large "M" in the center of the field with (ironically) the words "friendly," "reliable," and "worry-free" along the edge.

I'm not sure if it is related, but the Anaheim Police Department (APD) told us the next day that two arrests of pin traders had been made that evening.

It was an ugly side of pin-trading. What really concerns me however, is how the resort just doesn't understand that the guest isn't always right and placating them just seems to make things worse down the road. I would have hoped an example of these buffoons could have been made, but it will go down in the Disney legends as another guest who can't control himself and is then rewarded for it.

Slowing attendance may have increased the possibility of a "Dark Day" at DCA or Disneyland. But, the "Stampede Lead" protested:

Having an early closing would NOT affect maintenance in any manner whatsoever. Take it from someone who is very much deep inside the theme park industry (well, the Six Flags theme park industry); if/when the park decides to close Monday and Tuesday, they are not going to offset for the operational savings by paying mechanics and painters to come in to improve the park.

They have painters that work around the clock after the park closes. An additional two days or one day will not make a difference. They are only allowed X  amount of financing to do their painting, whether they like it or not. If they absorb X amount painting various teacups, nothing else will be painted that day/night.

Their budget wouldn't be increased beyond X  if the park did NOT open on Monday, thus meaning that you the park guest would not notice ANY increase in park upkeep from having the park closed for two days UNLESS the park allotted for the money they saved by increasing the budgets for maintenance (which they WON'T). This is why I would be AGAINST closing the park for two days or even one day!

Actually, I think maintenance COULD improve slightly.

Certainly the maintenance budget would not increase (I'd be happy if they just didn't DEcrease it), but one day off a week would:

a-reduce wear and tear on the facilities by as much as one-seventh

b-provide Facilities with greater access than they would have

c-allow some jobs, especially repainting, to be done during daylight

d-and, although the manhours devoted to maintenance wouldn't increase, what would increase would be the time per week that those manhours could be spread out over. Workmen wouldn't get in each other's way as much.

Again, I agree that park maintenance will not markedly improve unless the Facilities budget is increased, but an occasional Dark Day could provide minor relief.

John wrote:

We held off till after DCA opened to renew our annual passes. Disney put the freeze on, so I held off and still have never renewed my annual passes.

We live 25 minutes from the front gate in Southern Orange County. We loved going to Disneyland just for a portion of the day. We went (a year ago) 36 times just in the first six months and I can tell you from my checkbook that I spent at least $100 in food and gifts each trip (yup, that is over $3600). I never spent $3600 going to Disneyland once or twice a year before we bought the passes.

Just as one previous email noted, if I did not have to spend $200 for 5 of us to get in I was okay with spending a $100 for food and gifts. Many times we bought gifts for friends and family who could not make it to Disneyland for the year. It was a fun thing to do.

So I am holding off on the passes. We have not been there since attending the pre-opening of DCA. We go to Downtown Disney once every few months but that is it.

I am one of those people who will wait and see what Michael Eisner decides is important. Short-term monetary needs or long-term relationships with his customers.

A now-former cast member wrote:

I am a teacher. I also worked as a Casual Temporary for three summers, two winter breaks, two spring breaks and a Thanksgiving. I was poised to work a fourth summer, but I came to the realization that Disneyland was no longer fun to work.

I used to enjoy going to costuming, changing in the locker room with a permanent locker. I didn't have to worry about getting a hat and belt that fit, I could keep one in my locker. I used to work many Guest Control shifts on Indy. It was great to be outside. The crossovers were my favorite. You could do lots of "people watching" on those shifts. That first summer I did many Fantasmic! shows. My goodness, I can see the whole show in my head because I worked it so many times.

Of course, over the years the park began to change. First, I lost my locker. Then costuming started losing pieces of costumes. The shuttles ran slower and slower, and parking became very scarce.

I worked spring break this year. I did two days. I called in sick for the rest. Why? I hate CDS (Cast Deployment)! Now, I didn't have time to adjust to it like the Casual Regulars. I was thrown into this bizarre system that didn't make any sense to me. Luckily, I had a friend who was the Lead those two days. He kept me out of rotation to keep him company.

Don't get me wrong, I loved working FastPass, unlike most cast members, but I couldn't understand or fathom why I would bump in one place and then be sent on a ride-through 15 minutes later. What nonsense.  

I ended up quitting before I was to report back to work for the summer. I would have given two weeks notice, but I was furious at Scheduling. I would call every day and leave messages, but no one ever bothered to return my calls. I just considered that rude. I know that people are busy, but geez, isn't this the Happiest Place on Earth?

I got a letter from Disney asking me to call them on a special 800 number to give them insight as to why I left. I still can't make the call. I'm too upset.

I still love Disneyland, even though there is something cancerous in the Park. I will continue to see the movies. But, I'll be damned before I ever return to work there.

Keith Whipple, "former sub commander," surfaced to say:

What a pleasure it was to buy and read your book Mouse Tales back in 1994. My wife and I, former Disneyland Attractions cast members from 1980 to 1985, felt we were reading about our own lives. Yes, we are (were) the prototypical Disneyland couple: In college in Southern California while working during the summers in Tomorrowland, meeting, dating, getting married, then quitting when we needed to begin our real lives.

CLICK HERE to buy from MouseShoppe

Those years were very special to us and significant in the annals of Disneyland (the '84 labor dispute, the leveraged buyout attempts, the installation of Eisner, for instance.). They were the golden years, too, when Tomorrowland cast members still wore polyester, the subs actually ran (and the sub cast members wore denim, not those Thurston Howell yacht club costumes of later years) and only cute blond girls in short skirts were allowed to work Storybook.

What a thrill reading about those years, seeing old friends and co-workers quoted, laughing at the ridiculous things we'd do to fend off boredom. Your book prompted years of memories to come flooding back. The book has had a revered spot in the "library" since.

Your sequel was more informative than personal for us, since it picked up after our tenure there. A lot at Disneyland has changed, and based on your recent articles at this web site, it is changing even more. From all accounts, its not for the best.

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More Mouse Tales

Again, thanks to you for your dedication to this, admittedly, odd fascination with Disney so many of us share. I look forward to more of your excellent reporting.

Confronting the Threat


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.


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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