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David Koenig
Mailbag — Weeks of November 20 & 27, 2000
Mailbag — Week of November 27, 2000

Feedback on "Idiot-proofing the Parks" -Two

Readers continue to rage about Disneyland installing extra safety precautions (see "Idiot-proofing the Parks"), as park management and designers try to think of how guests will not think…
Former cast member Josh Schoenwald wrote:

Your article about 'Idiot-proofing the Parks' was excellent. I just have a comment about the proposed idea of installing laser beams to measure guests' heights. As a former Attractions cast member (Indiana Jones specifically, where this kind of confusion and unrest was commonplace), I do not feel that this will make any difference.

First of all, let's get to the root of the problem: it's NOT that the cast member has to make the decision about whether or not the child is tall enough, and it never has been. On every attraction with a height requirement, there's some sort of measuring device, whether it be a red line on a signpost, or the bottom of a sign under which the person's head must fit. A laser beam is no different, it just computerizes the mechanism. The cast member must still be the one who says, "The computer says no, so I'm sorry but your child cannot ride" (as opposed to saying, "The signpost says no, so I'm sorry but your child cannot ride.").

The issue here is guests standing on their tip-toes, guests wearing Mad Hatter hats, guests with large hairdos, parents who lift their children so they're tall enough, etc., etc. Installing a laser beam does not eliminate ANY of these problems, and in fact it introduces new problems, because the guests can say something like "My child is taller than 46 inches because I measured him before I came here!! That computer must be wrong!" What does Disney do in this case? You guessed it, they bring out the meter stick; which is exactly what they have in place right now. (Well, not exactly, but what they have now is closer to a meter stick than a laser beam.)

"Having worked in this exact situation many, many times, I can tell you it is not fun. Telling a family that their child may not ride is not a happy occasion, and what's even sadder is that the guests who get angry about it don't realize that it's only for their safety. (Imagine telling this to a family whose short child was spotted not in line, but at the vehicle board area, seconds before getting on the ride? That is not a pretty sight, let me tell you!!!)

But even though it's not fun, and it angers the guests, we must remember that it is not the cast member making the actual decision; that's what the rulers and signposts are for. The cast member's job is merely to make sure the guests abide by the signs. Therefore, the only way to eliminate this problem is to install some system by which a computer decides who is and is not tall enough (with PERFECT accuracy) that requires no cast member supervision. People won't argue with a computer. That is the only way to take the cast member out of the equation.

I just don't think that spending millions to install laser beams across the park is going to produce for Disney the result it is looking for. And I don't know if there is any definitive answer. Do you think perhaps Disney is fooling themselves into thinking this problem has an absolute solution?  

Thanks again for an informative read.

Thanks for the great note, Josh.

I do agree that unless the laser system makes some sort of alert that the kid is tall enough or too short, the problem will remain because it will still be up to the cast member to say, "Sorry."

I don't think Disney is fooling themselves, I think they're trying to find a solution to a problem they've never addressed before. My guess is they'll install it on Splash Mountain, then wait and see if it cures the problem before expanding it to other attractions. -

Reader Todd Swanson wrote:

You said two thing that just don't seem to add up in your last article.

1. The Gates on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad could possibly take one entire crew member to maintain??? I honestly don't see how this could be. Many, many, many amusement parks have those things, and they are very little maintenance. Heck, a small little amusement park in my home state of Oregon has them on its rides.

You might want to check your sources on this one.

Big Thunder's gates
Big Thunder's gates

2. You mentioned that restraints could not be added to the Splash Mountain ride. This is not true, they can. Jurassic Park ride at USH and Islands of Adventure both have them. True that log flume rides cannot have restraints for the very reason that you mentioned, turning over. However at Walt Disney World guests sit side by side. It really isn't a true log ride. They can add restraints just like the Universal Studios' rides.

Excellent points, Todd.

The source of the information of the first item is directly involved with the system—so they should know what they are talking about—and stands by the claims. The system is brand new, though, and the prediction was provided several days before the ride actually reopened, so I wonder if once the gates are actually put into use, if there may not be as much maintenance required as feared.

As for the second item, "I" did not say that restraints cannot be added to Splash Mountain. It was "speculation" from a reader; he even admits that he isn't 100% sure. He is, though, a cast member at Disneyland NOT Disney World and may be unaware that their Splash seating arrangements are different.

Do you know, though, if true log rides are prohibited from having restraints?

Todd promptly replied:

I think that you're right in that the initial few weeks /months of operation of those cattle gate things on Big Thunder may require some additional work, but I still really think that the maintenance staff will get the hang of these things.

I don't think that Disney and other parks have added restraints to their flume-type rides, because with the depth that a traditional flume-type ride sits in, the water could possibly cause it to fill with water from the sides. Should the ride become so waterlogged that this occurred, restraints on smaller passengers would quickly become a drowning hazard. I sent an e-mail questioning this info to Hopkins Rides, the company that originally supplied Disneyland with parts for its custom-designed flume type ride, Splash Mountain, and I will forward their response to you as soon as I get one.

By the way Walt Disney World does have a safety contact person listed below—at least she is the person that is listed as their contact with the ride safety commission:

Ann M. VanVolkinburg
Walt Disney World
5121 Log Wagon Rd.
Ocoee, Fl. 34761-8118
(407) 296-2601, Fax (407)824-5779

Reader Debbie Smith offered:

I do not understand why people are so ignorant in regards to safety. Aside from the occasional accident, Disneyland and Disney World have been providing fun family entertainment for generations. The worst thing that ever happened to me at Disneyland was when a woman spilled hot coffee on me in August (ouch!).

I have never felt like I was safer than when I am in a theme park like these ones. I also rode my bike and roller skated without any helmet or pads. I guess common sense goes a long way.

Finally, reader Michael Donoghue might have the perfect solution… Idiot Insurance. Mike vented:

I don't really have much to say, but this whole safety at parks thing ROYALLY ticks me off. People these days are too eager to blame someone for their own stupidity. I think that buying a ticket to an amusement park is like signing a waiver. The REASON that you are going there is to enjoy the thrill… if there was no excitement, why not sit home where it is at least partially safe?

I especially hate it when it happens to Disney. It's like they are held to a much higher standard (as if they owe us all something for providing us with years of entertainment). An accident at Disney is rare (even more rare if it is Disney's fault), but when there is an accident it's blown up a thousand times. Up here in the San Francisco Bay where I live, Great America has accidents like every week (guest stupidity, I'm not raggin' on the big G.A.), but do people in L.A. or Florida ever hear about it? NO WAY!!! But on the front page here I can read about a man dying on Splash Mountain across the country, 'cause it's Disney.

The point is that a person can be smart, but PEOPLE are dumb as rocks and need to take more responsibility for themselves (I'm only 22 and I know this). Maybe what should happen is that when buying a ticket to an amusement park you should have the OPTION of buying Insurance (maybe like an extra $10), and if anything happens you're covered (within reason). Who knows, it could work. Then again that may make people feel more invincible.

Mailbag — Week of November 20, 2000

Feedback on "Idiot-proofing the Parks" -One

In my last article ("Idiot-proofing the Parks"), I suggested that the only foolproof method for protecting guests from themselves might be locking them in cages.

But as a Disneyland cast member noted…

I'm not sure guest cages would actually work. Remember the Skyway jumper? He managed to get the bars spread enough to reach the latch, which was supposed to be designed to prevent such actions.

There are some things being done about "improving" guest safety. The gates at Big Thunder are actually a mandate from Legal. I'm told that Florida's Big Thunder has had gates for a while, therefore should someone get hurt at Disneyland and we DIDN'T have gates there, this would put Disney in a weak defensive position. Ergo, they spent something like $1 million dollars (Thank you, Dr. Evil!) putting these in.

However, all the control boxes are easily within reach of any guest, and the control for the gate is easily read, so unless Disney decides to increase staffing at Big Thunder, this all will be for nothing.

Also, these gates are a maintenance nightmare! They require constant care, the gates open position adjustments HAVE to be specifically 93 degrees from the closed position or they have problems (according to the contractor who installed them!), and the machinists tell me that these gates would be a full time job for one man. As they are already shorthanded from staff transfers to DCA, and they can't seem to hire competent help, this means that something else will lose attention.

The Roger Rabbit changes include reprogramming the ride control system. The latest plan is to dispatch a vehicle into the next zone to allow loading the next one, playing a 'remain seated…' spiel, then restarting the vehicle. This would be the least expensive way of 'fixing' the Roger problems.

As for the Florida Splash Mountain death, I'm told that federal boating safety regulations apply to Splash, something about the water depth being about 18 inches. This means that ANY guest restraint becomes a hazard should the logs ever turn over. Short of supplying life jackets, I really don't see how safety can be 'guest-proofed' at any flume ride.

We will still have to trust that the riders have some intelligence. I cannot blame Disney for that man's death in any way.

Reader Gregory Wright wrote:

As an AVID amusement park fiend and a member of ACE, you'd think I would be the last person to have an incident at Disneyland on a coaster. I myself once almost stepped into a moving Space Mountain vehicle as it was leaving the station. This, despite a cast member telling me to stand behind the yellow line. If this cast member hadn't been paying attention, I'd have fallen into the moving car, onto the track and been severely injured. The cast member stopped me just in time. Kudos to him.

I do think that putting in the safety gates is a good idea. They may not be pretty, but if I can find myself making an error in boarding when I know better, having ridden thousands of times, what chance does an 8-year-old who doesn't speak English have?

Reader T. wrote:

Just wanted to drop a line to tell you how much I enjoyed your article. It's a very rare thing when a guest gets injured after following all safety guidelines and suggestions. Unfortunately, most people seem to think their admission media entitles them to invulnerability. I'm sure most of these accidents (and I hesitate to even call them that) could be easily remedied by a short intelligence test at the front gate. Ah, in a perfect world…

Anyway, great article. I'm now a MousePlanet junkie thanks to you. Keep it up!

Reader Cal Jabour wrote:

Great articles (and I have enjoyed your books, as well). Just wondering if Disney has any common sense to think about what they themselves are doing. By that I mean all the staff reductions and budgets cuts that everyone reads about. I have read that they have reduced staff at Storybook Land so that there are not enough cast members to help guests into the boats.

I wonder if that is what happened at Big Thunder when that little boy lost part of his foot--would it have happened if they had had enough staff to oversee guest safety? If only Michael Eisner and Paul Pressler could get some sense knocked into them. Here's hoping.

Evidently staffing was not an issue in the Big Thunder accident. The car stopped at the beginning of the station and the boy, thinking the ride was over, set his foot out of the car. When the car restarted, his foot was crushed.

A cast member noted:

In response to the kid who lost his foot at Big Thunder, the running boards on the cars are now mounted about 2 inches higher on one train as a test. This is supposed to make it less likely that anyone could get their foot caught. The way it looks to me, this would only make sure that the ANKLE becomes severed. Is this easier to fix in surgery or something? Also, guests WILL trip over them. I've already done it, and I am supposed to know my way around there!

Reader Brad Lauzon wrote:

Just read your article re: Idiot proofing the parks. Gotta tell you, I work with the public and I have (unfortunately) learned the mantra, 'Expect Stupidity.'

It is really that simple.

Keep up the great articles!!!

P.S. Are you any relation to Walter Koenig, the actor who played Chekov in "Star Trek"? Sorry if it is a dumb question but, hey, remember my mantra!

Although we're not related, Walter Koenig is a noted Disneyana collector, frequent Disneyana show visitor and "Mouse Tales" reader!


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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