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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of October 6, 2000

Less time to tour: Universal cuts its hours, plus more reader mail

Starting this week, Universal Studios – Hollywood is now closing at 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. on weekdays. The park remains open until 7 p.m. on weekends except on the eight Halloween Horror Nights, when it will close at 6 then and reopen at 7 p.m.

The park still opens at 9 a.m. but, borrowing a page from Disneyland's staggered openings, the ONLY thing operating is the tram tour. The rest of the attractions open at 10 a.m.

"This way," admits an attractions host, "they can force everyone on that right away but also so save the rest of the park from having to open at 9. When I say rest, I mean rest. The first day the plan was the only thing to be open was the tour, no food places except the little cart in the tram area, no merchandise places, nothing. That changed, but not a lot. They will open up some food places and they are still figuring on the 'merch' places. Then at 9:45, they will drop the ropes to let people into the rest of the park, but still nothing will open till 10."

At the end of the day, especially for Halloween Horror Nights, Universal wants to do a "hard close" at 6 p.m., meaning that's when the last guest will exit the park. "For instance," explains a worker, "if ET has a 30 minute wait, they will take into consideration the time it takes to get up the Starway and the wait time and shut it down at, let's say, 5:15 so they can get the last guest out of the ride and out the front door by 6."

A few announcements over the park page system, plus an abbreviated show and ride schedules will help encourage guests to mill toward the exits early—but then I've never heard of Universal kicking a tourist out of a gift shop after closing time.

Although the details are still being tested, the schedule should be in effect for the rest of the year, except during the Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas peak season. "This is all to save money as we get closer to Vivendi taking over and DCA opening," says another employee. "Vivendi has indicated that the tour is spending way too much money, which makes it harder for them to resell it after the takeover."

The MTA public transportation strike has had some small impact on visitor attendance, but much greater effect on employee attendance. "Our line workforce really relies on public transportation," the employee explains. "Some days we are down 20% to 30% in staffing out in the park. The company seems to be happy to save the payroll dollars and doesn't seem to be concerned about the damage to the guest experience that happens when that many employees are missing."

And, for those still awaiting the fate of Universal's doomed landmark, as of the morning of Thursday October 5, the War Lord Tower was still standing. Unfortunately, its fate appears sealed.

As Sci-Fi-Fann reported:

"I'm glad there are people concerned over the War Lord Tower outside the studio. This tower has been slated to get torn down many times in the last 10 years, but as Universal gets sold so many times the tower gets a last minute reprieve as there is never any money to tear it down.

"This tower is pretty much on its last leg as far as structural soundness is concerned. The interior has been rehabbed several times as to allow pedestrian travel up and down the two flights of stairs. The merchandise employees are allowed to traverse with care to the second of three floors. Any traveling across the third floor let alone the roof might just find themselves on an expressway to the ground floor. The exterior around back is another sight. The entire tower has rotted wood and the only thing keeping the plaster from falling is the very extensive ivy growth that surrounds this building. I'm for the saving of this tower, but for this company (Universal) it's a matter of what they will spend to save it." -

As for Disneyland's revised training "guidelines" that may play a part in the investigation of the recent Roger Rabbit accident, reader Keith A. Cooper wrote:

"Your article on MousePlanet about Disneyland's replacement of their Standard Operating Procedures with more subjective "Location Operating Guidelines" manual caught my eye. As a former cast member of Walt Disney World, it's interesting to see how Disneyland is addressing SOP. In my experience, WDW had its own subjective implementation of SOP, and while their approach may not have given them quite the legal "wiggling room" that Disneyland's "LOG" presumably does, it did have the same effect of placing blame for incidents on cast members.

"Each attraction had a full SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) manual, but few Cast Members were even aware that it existed, let alone had any clue of its full contents. All that cast members typically saw--and were trained on--was a "SOP Study Guide," a highly condensed version of the SOP that omits many details and leaves much to the discretion (read, "the whim") of management. Cast members were further led (by omission, or by direct act) to believe that the "study guides" were indeed the SOP proper. What resulted were policy and procedure that could be--and were--changed on a whim.

"Many times, conflicting procedures were required by two different leads simultaneously (during shift changeover, leads' shifts sometimes overlapped by as much as an hour). These policy changes were often haphazardly--if at all--communicated to cast members, who were expected to keep abreast of the dizzying array of conflicting and changing procedures. When a "policy du jour" as I called them--or the lack of training to official SOP policy and procedure--resulted in injury or property damage, management pulled out the written SOP--again, a mystery to the average cast member--and cited specific infractions.

"These approaches are grievous and unfair to hard-working, grossly underpaid cast members, who do their best to maintain proper and safe standards. What worse, though, is the potential impact on the public--when cast members are left without clear procedures, and often without adequate training to make their own decisions in the "gray areas" created by "LOGs" and "SOP Study Guides." Disney may be trying to put a legal monster to rest, while in fact creating a much larger one."

Susan Schaar wrote:

"While I lament the suits at Disneyland relaxing standards and qualifications for its attraction operators, as well as the removal of cast members at the attraction exits, I take exception to your comment re: the Roger Rabbit incident: "One thing's for sure, Disney won't take the blame."

"The clear implication here is that Disney is pulling fast legal maneuvers to duck blame for what happened in ToonTown, but that Disney IS at fault. I would have agreed with that assessment as applied to the Columbia incident, but that is plain and simple not the case here. Disney is NOT responsible for guests jumping out of ride vehicles, no matter what kind of restraint system they use.

"I was at Disneyland when the accident happened, although I did not learn about it until the morning news the next day. My first comment when the TV report concluded: "Where were that kid's PARENTS?" Right there, as it turned out. The lap bar may not have tightened up against a 4- year-old's waist, but his mother should have had a grip on him, particularly in a ride that spins. I have been taking my kids to Disneyland once a year since they were 2 and 4. They are now 7 and 9, and I STILL have my arms on them at ALL times on EVERY ride.

"I feel for the mother. I'm sure she feels horrible and responsible for what happened. I'm sure Disney feels bad about it too. I would rather not assess blame or fault, since it would have to fall on the parent in the vehicle and she has enough guilt on her already. But holding Disney morally or FINANCIALLY accountable for something which is CLEARLY not their fault is just going after someone for sport. Disney should be held accountable for the Columbia incident, as there were clearly multiple failures by the park which led to that tragedy. What happened on Roger Rabbit, while equally tragic, was an unforeseeable ACCIDENT. Kids do things like that, because they don't know better. And that is why they have parents to protect them."

(I responded that typically such accidents are caused by not one but an unfortunate combination of factors. While the primary cause in this case may have been the boy standing or purposely leaving the vehicle, certainly a contributing factor was that a 4-year- old was allowed to sit, next to his 6-year-old brother, and apart from his mother. Disneyland knows its attractions better than we do, and I think it has some obligation to do everything it can to protect its guests--especially small children--from themselves.)

Susan wrote back:

"Having read a clarification of your position, I believe we are actually in agreement. I had not really considered how a simple "policy" change in having smaller/younger passengers board first, and in keeping them seated directly next to an adult, would be a fast, simple and, of course, cost-effective method of added insurance against such accidents."
-

Finally, regarding the possibility that Disneyland's Rocket Rods might be relocated to Orlando, one reader earlier suggested that a good location might be Epcot, which has few thrill rides and lots of land cleared for an upcoming Mission: Space attraction.

But, as the vigilant ParrotHead now volunteers:

"Oh, for the love of…

"Tell your reader Wade Newer that Epcot most certainly does NOT need more thrill rides. I can only assume that he has no concept of what Epcot is really about. I actually enjoy Test Track, but I question its placement in Epcot's Future World. If Mr. Newer is so anxious to ride thrill rides, I suggest he visit his local coaster park.

"And as for Rocket Rods coming down here to go into Mission: SPACE, well, that's about the strangest thing I've heard in a long time. It makes absolutely no sense based on the descriptions I've read of what this new attraction will be."

(Well, at least it's been two weeks since someone complained about FastPass…)

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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