Pirates of the Caribbean warning sign
Two eerily similar accidents on
Pirates of the Caribbean within weeks of each other sparked a
number of questions and even input from the Dispatcher whose failure to
disengage the "No Rear Enable" switch contributed to the initial
January 1 accident.
Although the Dispatcher's version of events basically parallels those
related in the article, he tried to offer extenuating circumstances. He
claims that he did not take off the No Rear Enable switch because he
didn't see the wayward Front Unloader return from his sudden, unexcused
bathroom break. Then he says:
I received a call up at tower from the assistant manager, asking
me for an hourly count. Since this was a procedure I wasn't trained for,
I had him walk me through it (which took a minute). After I gave him the
counts, he asked me to call another extension (without letting me know
whom I was calling or why). I made the call. While I was handling this
call, I saw the green light out of the corner of my eye and pressed the
dispatch. Next thing I knew, the console lit up.
First I figured that this was one of the routine station stops
that has occurred before (the type where we had to remind someone to sit
down or stay behind the line). I tried to reset the stop and couldn't.
That's when I asked what was going on. Next thing I know, I have two
leads running up to tower and ask me what was going on. Seeing as that I
didn't exactly know myself, I couldn't tell them. That's when I found
out about the lady being injured. Just like people tend to do, first I
panicked, then I got flustered. Incident reports were filled out. I was
put on a one day suspension.
Trust me, it wasn't easy for me. The first night after, I had
nightmares. I still feel bad that I allowed it to happen. I even
volunteered to quit, which they said not to do. I know I could have done
a better job watching the boats (I had the first boat in my sight, but
not the second one, which is where the situation occurred). I wish I had
told (the assistant manager) to call back later. It's not easy to
monitor the boat activity while having to read a sheet and try to
conduct phone business with your super all at the same time.
As far as his termination, he
I wasn't asking permission to wear the parrot. I was attempting to
acquire information about this whole approval situation in general. See,
when I was first trained on Pirates, I was told that If I had anything
pirate themed that I could wear as part of the costume, I was encouraged
to do so. So, for the past month or so, I was wearing this Disney pirate
parrot beanie that was sold as part of the Disneyana convention from
March 2000. I also had these two skeleton key keychains (from Pirates
and Haunted Mansion) hanging from my beltloop.
Anyway, the week prior to the incident, there was a mystery guest
in the park. When all was said and done, Pirates was docked points
partly because of the beanie. This made me angry. What made me angrier
was the next morning after the scores came out, I was asked by the
assistant manager to not wear the parrot until this whole thing was
straightened out. The way I saw it, this whole thing shouldn't have
happened in the first place. First, I went to him and asked him who I
could complain to. He said I couldn't. This in itself is B.S. So, I was
went through the day in a bad mood.
Later on, I was in the tower when the assistant manager and four
leads were just outside the doorway to the tower. I tried to get his
attention (so I could once again beef about this whole B.S.), which
failed. So, making sure I had no boats moving in the dock (I didn't want
to make the same mistake as the prior incident), I got up out of my
chair to try again to get his attention. I didn't leave the tower, just
stood in the doorway. He asked who was watching the tower and I said
that it was me. They sent me to lunch. Then, when I returned, I was
asked to go fill out an incident report.
The rest, as they say, is history. I just wish that I had listened
to my lead when he suggested I ER for the day and go home to relax.
He says that his brief, turbulent tenure at the park
has soured me on the whole Disney thing. The only good thing to
come out of this whole situation was I made a few permanent friends.
Pirates of the Caribbean ride entry
A former cast member, who keeps in
touch with his Pirates brethren, tried to stick up for the AWOL unloader:
The cast member that left his station to use the restroom was a
little less at fault, I think, than your article would lead us to
believe. The Front Unloader had been repressing his need to use the
restroom for quite some time through his rotation and the lead was off
on break without having told anyone where she would be.
Now, if for any reason you should need to leave your station, a
cast member should contact his lead. The front guy knew this and wanted
to do this very thing. However, it is hard enough to contact the lead as
a new cast member let alone when they don't tell anyone where they will
be. I say that it's difficult to contact the lead as a new cast member,
because I can remember when I was brand newI wasn't introduced to
the leads, didn't know who any of them were for at least a full week,
and could never keep it straight in the beginning which lead was which.
Aside from not knowing who/where my lead was, I'd have had no idea how
to contact any other lead or area manager those first couple of days /
So, in desperation, the guy in front let the person in back know
he had to use the restroom, the person at the rear position came
forward, a No Rear Enable was set and things went on. The cast member
came back from the restroom (which is down just across from the West
Side Diner), resumed his position, and everyone went back about their
businessexcept that the moron on the personal call in the tower was
still on his call and had forgotten to disable the No Rear Unload
The Front Unloader received only a minor reprimand because it was
found that he had done everything he had known to do by (a) waiting as
long as possible for his lead to return, (b) informing his co-cast
members what he was doing, and (c) returning to his position as soon as
As for the second accident, again, this accident revolves around
training and experience issues. The cast member that allowed the guest
to begin disembarking should have known to ask them to remain seated
because the boat was not at the appropriate location. Honestly, I was
trained under the current two-day method and found it satisfactory --
however, I saw many cast members for whom this amount of time should
have been increased to at least a week of supervision.
The problem with training as I see it, is not the amount of time
for the training itself (after all, it doesn't take long to figure out
which buttons to press), but rather the lack of supervision each new
person gets after they are trained. The recent accidents on Pirates had
less to do with training and more to do with experience.
To pee or not to pee? That is the
question. I asked a veteran cast member for the answer:
The bathrooms are near the Westside Diner cafeteria under the Blue
Bayou, but he was not seen simply passing through. He was leaning up
against the Coke machine at the back wall of the cafeteria talking to a
girl for several minutes. He did not run to the bathroom and run back to
his position. He spent at least a few minutes during his 10 minute
absence to walk into the cafeteria and chat with a girl.
Breaks are fewer and far between now at Attractions, but you still
can't leave a safety position. And if it's an emergency and you do leave
your position for some odd reason, you better high tail it back to your
spot instead of mingling in the cafeteria. But to leave a position
unmanned, without even attempting to tell someone, is inexcusable.
(The front unloader) was recently terminated. He received a
suspension for a safety violation in response to his actions during the
earlier Pirates incident, and then returned to work for a while. His
termination came after he racked up several points for no-show's, sick
calls, and tardies. He was still in his probationary period, and a
serious safety violation and a growing list of points on his attendance
record did him in quickly, even in this day and age. It was his
attendance points however that caused his termination several weeks
after the incident and his suspension.
As for the second accident, reader Scott claims to have some inside
Just writing you to let you know a little something about the
accident. Now I am not the exact source on this but my wife works in
Long Beach and one of her fellow teachers is cousin to the woman who got
hurt. Now taking all that into consideration here is the story I got.
She didn't know exactly what caused the accident but she was
getting out of the boat and turned around to pick up her younger
daughter to carry her out as she was turning around to get out the boat
lurched forward she fell back and her head/neck landed on the bar
where people hang on, on the back of the seats. She tried to keep her
daughter in front of her and wasn't able to take any of the weight of
the fall with her hands. Luckily there was a paramedic or EMT in line
and was able to assist her.
The worst part of the situation is that the cast member asked them
if they could move so they could load/unload more people. Can you
believe that? Again this is what the cousin of the woman said so you may
want to confirm.
Unfortunately, by press time, I was unable to get a confirmation from
the fellow's wife's co-worker's cousin.
The Skipper, an anonymous West Side
cast member, had a few questions about this second accident:
First, under the new Cast Deployment system, the very longest we
are permitted to go without a break is two hours and 15 minutes. After
that, union grievances may be filed, to which they must pay us overtime
for every minute past 2:15 that we work without a break. Also, if we
were denied a break/lunch period during a shift, we are to be
compensated for one hour's pay at the regular rate.
The discrepancy with what you said in your article relates to the
amount of time we spend in each position between bumps/breaks. In your
average, non-threatening position (greeter, tower), we can stay in one
position for a maximum of 45 minutes without being rotated to another.
In high stress/spieling positions (grouper, unloader), that time is
cut to 30 minutes. This is to prevent over exhaustion and monotony for
us, or so they tell us. So, the girl in Tower couldn't have possibly
been there longer than 30 to 45 minutes.
Not to say that I'm condoning Cast Deployment whatsoever. With
Cast Deployment, the leads are able to combine the FastPass and inside
rotations, to make one big rotation. This means that people who were
scheduled FastPass for that day can also work inside. This creates
enormous problems. Cast members tend to get sent out front to the
beginning of this giant rotation when they come on, come back from
break, or an "optimized task" (the biggest waste of labor
hours you could imagineride throughs, re-arranging strollers,
fetching water for the break room
basically, doing tasks that we
would have done while on breaks under the old style rotation anyway).
Well, being that it takes so darn long between bumps (it used to
take us 15-30 minutes between positions, depending if our co-workers
took their lunch or just a break), by the time we get to an inside
position, we're up for a break. So, this means that some people (usually
the leads' buddies) spend their day working grouper and tower, while the
rest work the outside positions and the unload positions, which are
unanimously the most demanding to work.
I don't even want to get started on Jungle Cruise's system (boat,
dock, boat, dock
ad nauseam, until the lead bumps you out to a
break)! So, on the memos that come to us from TDA that tell us that Cast
Deployment "is better for you, because it allows you to work a
variety of positions, thus keeping you happier and more alert" is a
load of crap.
The Pirates treasure room inside the
Oh, and the other thing I wanted to mention about your article,
the lead working the day of the accident this week wasn't really
"struggling with the new Cast Deployment system." In fact,
it's quite simple once you figure out how it works. And when she's the
lead, she keeps the FastPass people outside, and the scheduled ride
operators inside. The problem is Cast Deployment itself. It may be
tolerable on places like Mansion and Pirates, but if you talk to anybody
on Thunder, Jungle Cruise or another high stress, spieling work
location, you will hear the exact opposite of what the suits in TDA will
On our upcoming contract negotiations (March 2002), our demands
will be simple: 9% pay raise and the removal of the Cast Deployment
system. Although the system may not necessarily directly affect these
recent accidents, they most certainly do cause them indirectly. On
Pirates, we have two leads (FastPass and inside) for the day, and two
for the night. On a weekday with a 1,000-2,000 operation, that's four
leads on between noon and 5 p.m. Why wasn't one of them in tower when
the accidents happened? Probably because they were "deploying"
someone, rather than watching the operation of the attraction from the
tower like they used to.
When I wrote that the highly experienced lead was
"struggling" with Cast Deployment, I didn't mean that it was
confusing her, but rather that it required a lot of her time and
I again turn to a veteran cast member to ask: Were the cast members
really at their positions for up to two hours? He said,
Normally the Deployment at Pirates allows for people changing
spots every 30 to 40 minutes. The day in question had several no-shows
out on FastPass, and the Deployment was basically frozen. That's why the
lead was not in the station, she was out front helping with FastPass and
trying to arrange for scheduled breaks once Scheduling could send over
more cast members.
A questionable workforce has been a
problem at Disney World for even longer. A longtime Magic Kingdom cast
I applaud your article about the recent Pirate's accident at
Disneyland! It's a real shame that these accidents are starting to occur
more frequently, but that's what Disney's bean counters are ultimately
doing to the Disney record and reputation in their unrelenting quest for
record profit margins.
I've become absolutely fed up with the declining quality of cast
members coming through Disney's revolving doors. With a turnover rate of
around 90%, the quality of employees has become a real crisis at WDW,
and judging by your article, at Disneyland, too.
It seems that upper management is extremely "out of
touch" with front-line operations; they seem to have as much
knowledge of our complex ride systems as the guests do! They seem to
think that all we do is "push the button when the green light comes
on," totally oblivious to the scale and scope of ride knowledge
that separates experienced cast members from inexperienced cast members.
Cast Deployment is extremely demoralizing to the cast, leaving us
essentially "mindless, lobotomized automatons" who travel
without purpose with a printed receipt in hand from one ride position to
another. The latest version is extremely nit-picking; if you are just
one minute late from re-deploying after your break, you are
"orange-flagged" in the computer. Longer delays leave you
"red-flagged," and you had better have a good excuse why.
There are some OSHA ergonomic "Repetitive Stress Injury" or
"RSI" concerns when the blasted computer has us repeating the
same job over and over again.
We half-jokingly kid management that the next version will have
GPS chips tattooed to our ass-cheeks, watching our every move, every
minute of the day, recorded for record-keeping to piece together
"the scene of the crime." Not too far-fetched, is it? It's as
if George Orwell's Big Brother has finally come to fruition.
There's some good, of course. You can see your schedule for last
week, this week and next week, and how many hours you are due on your
paycheck. Not a bad thing. You can pro-actively solve pay issues before
With our next contract talks starting this month, for the April
28th vote, many of us feel that full-timers are being poisoned out of
the Disney workforce through hostile management directives, poor working
conditions caused by unforgiving Cast Deployment computers, and negative
wage growth to eliminate full-time jobs.
I'm a veteran ride operator from Universal Studios, and I find the
details of your story on the Pirates of the Caribbean accident horrific,
to say the least. So far now, I've been reading details on how the cast
members all over the park are most likely going to be changing their
routine regarding breaks, duties, etc. And it brings back memories of my
working conditions on the Back to the Future: The Ride attraction at
I worked on this ride during the summers of 1994 and 1995. Things
may certainly have changed since then, but "back in MY day" we
ride-ops didn't receive hourly breaks. Our breaks were our lunches. You
work four hours, take an hour lunch, work another four hours, then go
home. I can imagine asking for a break would have been akin to Oliver
Twist asking for "more." "You want a BREAK???"
As far as rotations go
every 15 minutes? No no, sir. Not for
BTTF! WE rotated every HOUR. Honestly, 15 minutes would have been SWEET,
but, alas, it never happened.
Back to the Future ride at Universal
I mention all this not to appear as the old geezer, complaining
about the young whipper-snappers. Rather, I want to show another side
of the eminent problems involving cast members and their apparent lack
of quality work. Despite the differences in amusement parks, our jobs
are surprisingly similar. We both have to work very close to large,
heavy, dangerous equipment. We both have to keep our wits about us to
prevent serious accidents. And, we both have to be TEAM members while on
the job! And, what do you know
we at BTTF managed to pull it off
BEAUTIFULLY year after year, INCIDENT FREE, with fewer breaks and
rotations than they do at Disneyland.
Basically, I find it offensive that Disneyland would let a cast
member on the "front lines" who has so little regard for his
or her fellow teammates that they would leave their posts like that! I
know you can't predict everyone's behavior, especially with the number
of people they have in their employment at any one time. But I can't
help but feel this type of behavior has at least something to do with
the lack of proper screening during the hiring process and/or proper
training of those chosen to be hired. Let's face it, you just simply CAN
NOT put someone with that little regard for their fellow cast members in
such an important position. And, frankly, I think this applies to both
the rear loader and the person in the tower!
Aside from the lack of regard for their fellow cast members, let's
consider the lack of regard for the guest! Do some cast members actually
have such lack of regard for safety around such equipment? I know from
my experience that, just to keep YOURSELF from being injured, you have
to be very alert! This only tells me that he had VERY LITTLE regard for
his own well-being! Do I want someone like that in control of equipment
that could potentially EASILY harm me or my family? No, I don't think
So I put very little stock in the changing of their rotation
schedule causing problems, except in the fact that it now distracts the
higher-up cast members from keeping a closer eye on the attraction for
having to focus on keeping the new schedule correct. Frankly, if any of
us can do a similar job without ANY breaks (not counting lunch), then
certainly they can keep alert enough with the new schedule to prevent
something like this from happening again. I only thank God that the more
experienced front loader that day had his wits about him enough to
perform his job the best he could!
Well, it looks like the soapbox has a permanent indention of my
shoeprints from standing on it so long, so I'll leave it at that for
now. In the meantime, keep up the great columns! I look forward to each
and every one!
What will it take to convince Disney
to turn things around? Here's a note from Chris Kice, a 30-year-old
"nearly former Disney nut":
Let me start by saying a big "Thanks" for shining a
light on Disney's darkest time yet. I have been a Disney theme park
freak since I was a kid. For the past 15 years, I have made the journey
to Walt Disney World about every 18 months. As we live in Chicago, this
is a pricey venture but was always worth it.
Well, based on your site (and others, like WDW Blues), my wife and
I have canceled our trip this year. Given the poor state of the parks,
the visitor-unfriendly attitudes among the Executeers, the layoffs of
Imagineers, and so on, and so on, Disney has lost its luster. We're
saving our money for a possible trip to Tokyo DisneySeas. This summer,
we're going to go to Las Vegas instead. They have better rides than DCA
and they know how to change light bulbs!
Thanks again for trying to turn the tide of bureaucracy and penny-
pinchers. Perhaps they will get the clue (and my money) sometime in the
Part One: Sacre
bleu, it's deja vu
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.)