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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of November 15, 2001

Design Your Own Coaster!
And more reader mail on the Carrousel, costuming, etc.

Mailbag

A "confused Tomorrowland cast member" inquired:

There is a mysterious vehicle that has shown up behind Innoventions. It is under a tarp and it invites all the cast members passing by to look under it. Here is the description.

1. It's not an obvious vehicle for or from any ride in Disneyland or DCA.

2. It is on roller coaster rails. It can't be for Space Mountain since they have the purple rockets for that I've seen. But it has a set-up like a roller coaster.

3. It is a gold/silver (basic Tomorrowland colors) vehicle that sits about two to four people.

4. It had pull-down lap bars like a roller coaster.

5. It has "Imagineering" on the front and "put Disney logo here" on a piece of paper on the seats.

6. It had a big back area for an engine or something.

Could it be something to go on the Rocket Rods tracks or new Mulholland Madness cars?

The "mystery vehicle" is actually a new Innoventions exhibit for a build-your-own- rollercoaster software package titled "Ultimate Ride" from Disney Interactive. It was expected to be installed by today, November 15, in the Disney exhibit area.

Cover Art
Click to Buy from Amazon

The car looks like an ultra-modern, Star Trek-inspired coaster vehicle with a screen in front of the seated guest who plays the software demo.

The software is already available at retailers such as Amazon (click on the graphic above), Circuit City, Best Buy, and, yes, the 20th Century Music Company on Disneyland's Main Street.

The Carrousel retrofit ("Circular Reasoning") sparked more impassioned debate. Rich Robertson wrote:

The subject of wheelchair accessibility at Disneyland is an interesting issue. My wife and I use three wheel electric scooters due to various physical disabilities. At Disneyland the Train and Small World are so-called wheelchair accessible rides, but neither of these allows our scooters on board. We have to transfer to a manual wheelchair to ride these attractions.

Disneyland also rents four-wheel electric scooters for disabled guests; these are not allowed on either of the attractions either.

So the question comes down to what is meant by wheelchair accessibility at Disneyland?

Good point, Rich. I hadn't thought about degrees of accessibility. But I am behind making as many attractions available to as many people as possible.

Rich added:

FYI an electric scooter weighs between 100 and 200 lbs. empty and an electric wheelchair I think comes in about 200 lbs. Add a rider and 400 lbs is not an unreasonable number.

One suggestion I have made several times to Disneyland and they have done nothing about is to mark the curbs where a chair can exit to the street with lights or paint so it is easy to see where to navigate at night. WDW did this several years ago, but I guess it is too expensive for Disneyland!

A merchandising employee wrote:

I just read your article today and I have to say I agree with you 100 percent. As a cast member, I say, the more the merrier on the King Arthur Carrousel. Walt wanted as many people as possible to enjoy the wonders of his park.

Still, I hope the structure itself can take all the added weight.

Another thing I hope they do to the carrousel during this rehab is paint the roof. Have you seen it lately? Every time I go through the castle, I can't help but stare at it! The paint is peeling and faded and it just looks terrible. Maybe there's money in the budget for that?

A Disneyland worker argued:

I sorta agree on your case about the conversion of the King Arthur Carrousel. However, my hostility is the way it will be done. Do you honestly believe, as stated in the last letter, that the company will do a quality job on this? The park is in bad shape, with maintenance poor, and the company WILL NOT do a quality job. All they care about is how cheaply it can be done.

When the new Tomorowland was under construction, I witnessed an Imagineer and a manager shouting at each other. The argument was about the railing for the queue for Rocket Rods. The Imagineer designed the railing to last, and fit in the queue. The manager overruled him and bought a cheaper version. Well, it didn't work. The cheaper railing did not fit, and had to be ripped out, and the original design used. This snafu increased the cost of the construction of the attraction's queue.

While I agree with you about the happy wheelchair-bound guests on the Carrousel, I do not have confidence that the work will be done correctly.

Josh noted:

Very interesting discussion going on here. One question: I'm not a Disneyland park historian, but wasn't the whole carousel MOVED during the Fantasyland renovation in 1982 or 1983? Tony Baxter was involved … the black light rides were lengthened … ?

I won't even get into the whole debate/discussion, I can really see both sides. But instead of changing a perfectly fine ride, I just wish that WDI would do something about Tomorrowland …

You're right. It used to be closer to the drawbridge, and Tea Cups were basically where Carrousel is now.

Tom wrote:

I say, "let the handicapped kids ride." Of all the attractions that a kid in a wheelchair should be able to experience at Disneyland, I'd say the Carrousel is one of them. Additionally, they should modify a Dumbo car to allow the same. While I realize that the Carrousel is an antique, the Facilities worker is certainly generating some bad karma by being so opposed to the move of refurbishing it to accommodate other riders. I'd hate to be around him when the karma comes back at him (in full force, no doubt). It's not that Disney is doing a "politically correct" thing, or even a federally mandated ADA thing, they're simply doing the "right thing."

Additionally, by you trying to showcase this issue so much, I think you're trying to agitate things a bit more than necessary. I mean, really, is this issue of that much importance that people are really going to care and protest in front of City Hall on Main Street? It's not like they're going to replace the whole carrousel with a new one containing half horses and half wheelchair spaces. Also, how much does a chair really weigh, come on. The Facilities worker should be more concerned about obese kids riding the thing as opposed to wheelchair restrictive riders.

As for some horses being taken away, I say rotate the "victimized" horses out with the next Carrousel rehab. Have Disney say that the old ones were "given a rest" while making space for wheelchair guests. Who knows, with Disney merchandising prowess and Disneyphiles' love for this crap, they can create an event around the "temporary retiring of the horses," and then welcome them back two years later.

Really, David, we have bigger fish to fry here these days. The theme park revenues are in the toilet, and quality attractions are just not being installed into Disney's American parks these days.

Regarding the possibility of an extended hiatus for Fantasmic, Mark wrote:

When I talked to some cast members about Fantasmic not returning for the Holidays, it seemed to be a dual answer. Yes, it is expensive to run, and they would save greatly by not bringing it back until next summer. But the other reason seems to be that they didn't want it as a distraction to LuminAria.

With so much of Christmas happening at the Disneyland, there was concern over just how many guests would come back over to DCA in the evening, given that there is the Believe in Holiday Magic show and a night-time Christmas Fantasy parade.

It seems that they didn't want 20,000 people sitting in Frontierland when they could be spending money in DCA.

Oh, and by the way, the followspots that normally dot the parade route (dwindling every year, I know) were eliminated completely for this year, The first time since there was a Christmas parade.

So, what's a "followspot"? An Entertainment employee explained:

A followspot is the manned spot lights that dot the tops of Main Street and along the Parade Route on scaffolds. They usually use them for the Christmas Parade only. They do use three of them for Tinker Belle in the fireworks show every night too. I hadn't heard they cut those. I do know they were incredibly annoying to the character performers and float drivers because when the light would hit the screen they see through it would render them completely blind. I don't think it will take away from the parade at all.

Also, to clear a couple things up in your latest article: First, someone mentioned that the Homecoming Unit has been cut from "A Christmas Fantasy Parade." That is true, the unit as a whole has been taken out of the parade. But that wasn't for budget reasons totally. Every year the director of the parade likes to keep it fresh by changing things here and there. Otherwise it would get pretty boring for repeat viewers (and repeat performers and staff).

The Parade is budgeted for a certain amount of performer hours. When they cut the Homecoming Unit they were able to beef up other units with those unused people. Make sense? With the absence of a large unit like that they could do things like add a couple of Snowflakes and Snowpeople, and add some Elves. Things like that. It also freed up all those Classic Characters to put them elsewhere in the Parade. I think it's a good idea to reevaluate things every year and try something new.

Also someone talked about how they "cannibalized" the Fantasmic! pyro barges for LuminAria. They did borrow some of the water craft and transfer barges for the initial set up of the show, but LuminAria is able to run without the use of Fantasmic's barges. They were just using them for the time being since they weren't being used anywhere else.

It's not as bad as the doomsayers seem to think it is.

Finally, more reaction to the new serve-yourself Costume Shopping program for Disney cast members.

According to a cast member in Toontown, which began using Costume Shopping a few months earlier:

I would like to respond to your article on the Costume Shop program. At first, I thought what the hell are they doing?!?! I hated the program from day one. It took forever to find my size and when they didn't have any of my sizes, things got more confusing. I had to get to work a little early just to find my costume.

Jump forward to today and I love Costume Shopping! I know where my costume pieces are, exactly, and there is no line anymore to get a costume. It's actually faster now. Get your costume, scan it out, and your ready to go. The friendly costume cast members in Toontown are more then eager to help, and very quickly. When I walk backstage to main costume issue, I can't believe I see people waiting in line to get a costume. To me, the idea of waiting seems positively primeval.

Many of the comments I read from other cast members were the exact thoughts that many of us Fantasyland/Toontown cast members thought of the program, but I'm sure once they get used to it, they'll see it's a better way to a costume.

I hope it works out. Do you see the design of the main costume building or the increased number of people needing costumes from there preventing Costume Shopping from working like it does for Fantasyland / Toontown?

The Toontown tipster responded:

To answer you question bluntly, yes. If you've ever seen the two, they are EXTREMELY different. Our costuming in Toontown is very small in comparison, and there is no "conveyer belt" (lack of better wording) type of contraption. The highest row only takes a step stool to reach. And the increased number of cast members that need main costume issue will make it a bit more of a hassle.

The first two or three months of Costume Shopping in main costuming are going to be chaotic. It took a good month and a half of complaining in Toontown before we grew accustomed to it and preferred it over waiting. I'm sure that when all the kinks are flattened out, Costume Shopping will work as well as it does in Toontown. It will take time, longer time then it did in Toontown, but I feel it will be preferred.

Flippy added:

I was reading through your article about costuming and sometimes I would rather go back behind the counters and get my costume myself. When I hired in, Costuming was still getting use to the new buildings. Lines were long and tempers often flew. This is why Costuming is the butt of many jokes of cast members. Throughout the year they got the hang of where everything was and service was slowly getting faster, I would be able to show up 20 minutes before my shift and still have time to spare after going through Costuming.

Now they have tossed in Costume Shopping for which they have re-arranged the costumes in there again. So again, the lines are beginning to grow. Lost cast members are walking around looking for clothes, just like when they first got there. I hope they figure out what they are doing before the busy season hits. I do not see it a reason to come to work an HOUR early just to get from K-Lot to Harbor Pointe and then wait in line for my costume just to wait another 15 minutes for them to figure out where a bow tie is. So if Costume Shopping means I get my costume now, then I wouldn't mind.

Sometimes I felt it better if I got my own costume. On Wednesdays, when Costuming was closed, they would have us walk with them to retrieve our costume. And I didn't mind since I was able to pick a shirt that actually had buttons, get pants with no holes, and a hat that wasn't ripped. So I'm not sure about Costume Shopping: with the wait times growing, cast members who complain of just jumping over the counter to get their own costume may soon be able to do just that.

A ride operator continued:

Hello, David. I haven't had the chance to read your book yet, but have heard many cast members refer to it as a must- read.

Moving along now to costuming, I'm torn between the two sides. I have in the past dealt with some of the nicest costuming cast members in the world, but at the same time, there are a few bad apples that seem to pride themselves on taking their time getting my costume.

Having said that, I think the idea of "costume shopping" is just so utterly dumb. If anything, it will only add to the delay that cast members face when we go to costume shop.

Bottom line: expect this to last only a few months until manager musical chairs begins again, and someone new decides to go back to the current, sometimes flawed, but okay system we know (as has been the case with CDS which at my attraction, seems to be phasing itself out before it has really started, per management).

"B" wrote:

I just wanted to put in a quick two cents about this whole Costuming debate. I work in Entertainment and work very closely with Entertainment Costuming (which is a separate department from Operational Costuming). Let me tell you most of the cast members in Entertainment Costuming do a fantastic job! They work their butts off to get our shows dressed and on stage. The costumers are always working one on one with the performers helping to get things just how the performer wants it, and believe me some of these performers can be prima donnas.

Anyway, I just wanted to let it be known that Entertainment Costuming, at least, works hard WITH everyone for the common goal of getting any show or parade out for our guests.

People don't communicate enough of the positive things about Disney, especially lately. But that's pretty much how it is everywhere, isn't it? It's easier to point out the bad instead of the good.

The costumers on both Eureka! Parade and Disney's Electrical Parade work their tails off getting things as good as they possibly can to make the parades look the way they do. They have a million things working against them but they still do their best. And what's even better is they are all good people. Fun to work with.

I don't have any direct contact with Main Issue so I honestly don't know if any of the concerns people have are true, but I know back in the Parade Building the costuming crew is the best crew you could ask for.

Another cast member wrote:

You said: "I agree wholeheartedly that many who look down on Costuming cast members have no idea how difficult your jobs are. They're about to find out."

I am one cast member who HAS found out. For some time now I have been retrieving my own costume from the racks. A good number of my fellow cast members in my department do the same. We find that this is much easier than dealing with Costuming cast members and their lack of memorization skills and quick service. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there are a few shining stars in that department, but on the whole, that's how things are.

From this experience I have learned that finding costume pieces isn't that hard, difficult or draining. But one of the problems I've had is that there is a serious lack of organization on the racks. For example, the shirts are supposed to be arranged by size, yet almost every single time I go to get a shirt the sizes are completely mixed up. I then have to go through at least five to seven shirts before I find one that's my size, and this is when we're just dealing with small, medium, large, etc.

Then when I do find clothes in my size I usually have to pick "the lesser of two evils." Do I want a stained shirt or one with tears? Yes, it's been a long time since I've found a shirt that looked clean or was in good condition. Calling attention to rips and stains in clothes is usually ignored by Costuming cast members.

But at least we now have enough clothing to go around. Recently there was a shortage and we had to wear a different costume piece to replace the one that was currently unavailable.

One of your readers wrote: "This sounds like a lot of whining. I'm sure this is not the biggest problem that Disneyland cast members have. Holding on to their jobs and not losing too many work hours would seem to me to be higher priority."

Sure it sounds like a lot of whining, but Disney seems to be slowly deteriorating. One little thing leads to another and that's really scary. Just using this Costuming example:

At first Disney provided and maintained the costumes and they never left Disney property which helped preserve the magic. You could obtain a fresh clean costume before or after your shift.

Then came FastTrack and cast members in costume could be seen on Harbor Blvd., at Denny's, on the bus, etc. This perhaps lessened the special qualities and magic of costumes and the cast members wearing them because you'd see them in "UnDisney" situations like eating, smoking, drinking, cussing, etc.

Then some costume locations closed on certain days. This has most likely resulted in cast members having to wear not-so-fresh costumes, soiled costumes, incomplete costumes, etc., either by their own fault or something happening during their shift.

Coming soon, this Costume Shopping business, which may add more unpaid "prep time" for the cast members before their shift. Also, all the negative aspects which a number have addressed already.

How long before we are issued two or three costumes that we have to launder and maintain ourselves? We'd have to spend even more unpaid "prep time." How long before they ask us to furnish some costume pieces such as black or white pants in addition to shoes and such we already provide? That can lead to lack of quality and standards with the different styles and fabrics. How long before we have to purchase our own Costume pieces?

You might think that the above hypothetical situations are impossible, but think about this: If you were to go back in time about 10 years and talked to cast members back then, I'm sure they couldn't comprehend FastTrack, Costume Shopping and other things currently in place or about to become reality. They would say it's impossible!

But all it takes are little steps to drastically change show quality, standards, etc. And that is why some people are "whining." We don't see an end to this nonsense.

David added:

Just a quick addition to all this costume craziness. You know everything is downright horrible if you go to any random store in Orange County and you see Disneyland cast member. Well, that happens all the time. But how about if this cast member was fully dressed in her costume (Tomorrowland)?

Maybe not fully dressed because everything was untucked, wrinkled and probably not clean. No how about if I told you that this cast member still had her nametag on? Well, it had to be the worst sight I have seen in regards to costuming and it drives me insane that this is happening.

When I was back in ODV a few years back, people who were caught wearing any piece of their costume off park property were reported and usually fired. What has it come to? Do they actually allow people to wear their costumes and shop wherever they want? I sure hope not…

Promo art  Disney
Promo art Disney

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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