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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
Perks for Passholders, sound returns to Space, and more!
It's no secret that many cast members don't hold annual passholders in high regard. Employees dislike how passholders "take ownership" of the park. How some APs act like they deserve special treatment because of their $99-a-year investment. Or how APs are more likely to complain about seemingly trivial matters.
Ask the cast members themselves. Says one: "A really good thing NOT to do to make people actually take you seriously and not blow you off is to not mention that you are an annual passholder. Nobody takes what APs have to say seriouslycast members totally despise almost all of them. Bragging about it won't help, but rather hurt what you are saying."
Adds a co-worker: "Cast members generally have a dim view of annual passholders. They are considered rude, demanding, psychologically sick, no-life smartasses. While only a small percentage are the troublemakers, it's those that we remember."
In the past, management didn't seem to care about the rank and file's poor image of annual passholdersbecause they held the same opinion themselves. They saw APs as an easy sale; a one-time gift at the gate, and a daily drain on the resources. Management thought that all they got was grief every time they went out of their way for APssuch as organizing special events like the ill-fated preview of Light Magic.
What changed everything was the general public's chilly reception last year to Disney's California Adventure. Disney was so sure the new park would draw in full-fare-paying guests that it suspended sales of annual passes to both parks. By the end of the year, Disney realized that the once-shunned class of APs might be their only way to get warm bodies inside the new park on a daily basis. Annual pass prices were slashed and Disneyland-only annual passes eliminated. The number of annual passholders skyrocketed higher into the hundreds of thousands.
APs are now seen as crucial to guaranteeing a base number of guests throughout the resort, throughout the year. First, management would have to change its own attitude toward APs. Several months ago, the resort created a new position, Manager of Annual Passholder Programs. His job is to coordinate various perks and bonuses for the AP demographic, and spearhead new AP initiatives.
"It's still very early in the game, but eventually his work should be seen out in the parks," says another manager. "Perhaps an AP lounge? A more cohesive discount program, and a program that doesn't take a slide rule and a notebook to figure out. How about something like '15% off all buffeteria restaurants, and 10% off all table service restaurants'? I know he is looking at streamlining the entire perk and discount process."
In Florida, Epcot and Animal Kingdom Disney is currently testing private lounges, where passholders can kick back away from the crowds, enjoying free drinks. Disneyland, though, has many, many more APs than Disney World. How private is a private lounge that half the guests in the park are eligible to visit? Maybe Anaheim could restrict such a lounge to premium passholders. Then, of course, you're excluding not rewarding the majority of APs.
The next objective is changing the average cast member's perceptions of APs. During a recent daily management briefing ("Mickey's Roll Call"), a duty manager (now called "Theme Park 1") addressed the topic of better appreciating annual passholders. He reminded his charges that on slower days as much as 70% of the park's attendance can be APs. He implored them to value passholders, not view them as a nuisance. After all, he summarized, referring to our own notorious nit-picker: "Not every passholder is Al Lutz."
The challenge is how, in practice, can the average hourly better treat APs? Says one cast member: "It has been beaten into us to treat ALL guests the same regardless of if they are an AP or not. Honestly, I can't tell who 99% of the APs are other then the ones with the pin trading lanyards. So how am I supposed to treat them better?"
"As far as I know," says another, "no passholder has been mistreated just because they are such. There are some weirdoes out there, but they're few and far between. I think management is just trying to change our general opinions about the APs."
Another cast member admits, "Unfortunately, the 'AP' does have negative connotations for many cast members because of a few bad apples, and it could be an uphill battle if this (an AP appreciation) campaign were to be launched on a resort-wide scale."
As a ride operator concluded: "I agree with both sides of the coinAPs are not appreciated enough by a cast who would have far fewer hours if not be out of work entirely during the off season if not for the vast number of annual pass holders; and there is certainly a small number of APs that need to be evaluated for annual pass eligibility."
Sounds From Space
After hours this week, maintenance planned to begin late-night testing of the soundtrack on the Space Mountain rockets. Management hoped to have the music system fully operational by week's end for a possible restart as early as this weekend.
By late last summer, the soundtrack had become so unreliable on so many rockets, that it was turned off completely on all rockets.
"We get tons and tons and tons of complaints at City Hall daily about the music, so its about time they finally did it," says a source. "It's the same music. They reinstalled some of the music equipment in a lot of the rockets. They want to make sure it works often enough on all the rockets to ensure that they can turn the music back on. Also the testing allows for any fine tuning that needs to be done."
No sign, though, of the newly designed purple rockets
In front of the Space Mountain entrance, Cosmic Waves' ring of fruit trees announced here some time ago finally appeared at the end of May. The planters are situated along the perimeter of the newly replaced rubber flooring, encouraging some guests to walk aroundrather than across -- the now dry fountain.
"Kinda cheesy and out of place," sighs one ride operator. "Oh well."
The way I see it, the potted orchard, along with the new flooring and increasingly scratched-up ball, just bring more attention to the fact that the fountain no longer works. They're like a frame with no picture.
Gadget Goes Down
Gadget's Go-Coaster in Mickey's Toontown is set to go down for rehab July 17. According to a ride operator, "The state has mandated that it gets safety gates by October 1 or the whole area goes down. I saw the plans recently, and they are pretty much going to change the entire station. The gates are in a domino design. They are adding a second podium (looks like an eraser). Designing it to be a one-person operation on slower days so it will be a bit longer wait."
To capitalize on the success of the Spiderman movie, Universal StudiosHollywood recently added a Spiderman Rocks stage show (above). Yet a few weeks ago, Spidey made an unscheduled appearance at Disneyland.
On Sunday May 19, Security received a call that a guest dressed in a full Spiderman costume was cavorting near the Casey Jr. Railroad Station in Fantasyland. The guest likely put the costume on after entering the park, since Disneyland forbids guests from wearing costumes. A team of officers chased the "web-slinger" into Tomorrowland, where he vanished.
Ride operators who overheard the exchange joked that the officers "should have checked the walls of the buildings" in the area.
FastPass Takes One Step Back
Last year, Disney spun off FastPass from Attractions into its own business unit. Ever since, many cast members (especially old-timers who dislike FastPass) have speculated that FastPass would never last as a stand-alone division. Rumors really took off following an all-day meeting last month presided over by the executives in charge of FastPass.
Evidently, a timeline was proposed for phasing out the department and returning FastPass to its respective attractionswith the exception that there would still be FastPass general leads and managers "to handle the theoretical side of FastPass." The biggest operational change would be the elimination of the FastPass working lead position. Splash Mountain, which at the time was still mired in rehab, was targeted as "the first attraction to retake custody of FastPass."
According to a cast member, "the reason cited for the change is 'cast member [job] satisfaction.' In other words, mismanagement of the business unit and lack of training budgets forced cast member burn-out, retention problems, and ill-will."
He notes the timetable anticipated the changeover could begin as early as June 2, but the business unit ended up getting budgeted through at least June 29. "After that," he says, "we'll find out what will happen."
Finally, to calm the nerves of his "big-boned" brethren, annual passholder Shon Christy reports:
Thanks for reading. Next time, we'll get to a final batch of letters on the Stroller Controversy.
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.
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