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Mouse Tales
A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Big Crowds, Big Cutbacks

Space Mountain rockets / Merchandise woes /  Cost cutting / Attraction tidbits / A reader writes…


Despite chilly weather, spring break crowds have been huge at both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, and Disney has been just as busy behind the scenes. Look past the seemingly open-ended rehabs that drag on at Splash Mountain and other attractions, and there are some positive changes to report.

Reader Issac sent this photo of the new Space Mt. cars -interesting eh? Thanks Issac!
Reader Issac sent MousePlanet this photo of the new Space Mt. car Thanks again Issac!

Most interesting is the new prototype Space Mountain Rocket that cast members have noticed backstage. According to one ride operator, the new rocket "looks pretty good. Same basic design as the regular rockets, but purple, black and dark blue in color. The speakers are visibly lower than the current rockets' and the whole top of the rocket looks a little more sleek. I believe it's labeled rocket Number Five. Anyway, as I know things (which isn't always right), this new rocket will be on the track for a few weeks to test. I'm still not sure if they meant test with guests or test after hours, but I'm sure we will soon see. The trick now is to get the design complete and into production."

As for when a full fleet of redesigned rockets will appear, different cast members have different guesses, ranging from the end of this summer to the start of the 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2005.

The rocket looks neat, and I suspect that its new sound systems will be more dependable.


Over to Disneyland's stores, early last month saw the unveiling of several remerchandised shops. The former Princess Shoppe in Sleeping Beauty Castle, while retaining its pink decor, has been changed to "general merchandise," in particular baby and toddler clothing. Think the Pooh section at Sears.

The princess merchandise has been moved next door to the Tinker Bell Toy Shop. Except for a smattering of videos and the like in the "storytime" corner, all the merchandise is directed at little girls. At least initially, the Tinker Bell Toys sign remained, and there are no plans to change the now completely out-of-place Jolly Roger Bridge and Peter Pan mural across the back wall. It, too, says a merchandise cast member, "won't be changing its name or redecorating any time soon. The shop is overflowing with Princess merchandise—basically hangbars as far as the eyes can see. The managers say it's something called 'Destination Shopping' designed to—what else—increase guest spending." But, he emphasized, the park doesn't appear to be spending any money to achieve that goal.

A week later, the Villains Shop reopened sans the villains merchandise. Everything is now for little boys—a Peter Pan/Captain Hook section, a Woody/Buzz Lightyear section, miniature attraction vehicles, etc. Yet the Villains Lair signage, sinister background music and dungeon-like decor remain, guaranteeing many a confused guest.

Clerks at the shop say the villains merchandise is in storage and hopefully will resurface in another location, but nobody knows where or when. A hostess at another store says,

Villains merch(andise) is supposedly moving to New Orleans Square, and I have heard that the hot sauce and food items, as well as the Christmas shop will be gone. No plans to re-theme the shops themselves, I'm sure—the Le Gourmet sign has hung in front of Port de Orleans for two years anyway.

Hey, I'm all for changing shops around and keeping things fresh, it's something Disney Merchandise has always done. It's kinda neat to work in some shops and talk with your fellow cast and even guests about what the shop used to be called and what it used to carry. I just can't get a handle on keeping the old theme, yet changing the merchandise. It's just ridiculous!

Don't even get me started on poor Pioneer Mercantile. While it hasn't fallen victim to Destination Shopping yet, it's slowly evolved into a Disney Store-like house of cr*p. When the all-too-realistic rifles and pistols met their demise, apparently so did all of the other western merchandise. Everything they carry now, save the gem rock bags, can be found at the Emporium or most ODV glow carts. And yet they still insist on blaring Pocahontas and her 'Colors of the Wind'—even though it's been five years-plus since they had any Pocahontas merchandise. Sad.

Adds another cast member:

As far as other stores in the park changing like in Fantasyland, there has been a lot of whispering, but nothing concrete.

You may also want to take a look at Adrienne Vincent Phoenix's last MousePlanet column on the same subject.


One improvement at Disneyland's shops should be security. A security officer reports:

The Gag Factory is the first store in Disneyland to test a new anti-theft system. It's pretty much like the ones in use at stores. It uses a magnetic strip attached to the merchandise and sensors at the entrance of the stores.

If the test at the Gag Factory is successful, the rest of the stores in the resort will have them installed. The World of Disney at Downtown Disney was the first to have such a system. Shoplifting has become so bad, and there are no signs of letting up. This type of scum have become quite brave and brazen that it has become disgusting. Children, grownups, they steal right in front of the cast members, and when they are stopped, they accuse the cast members of picking on them because of their race.

Most other shops use cumbersome "ink tags." A hostess explains:

An ink tag is a security device resembling an alarm tag placed on apparel. If anyone attempts to remove these tags without the proper tool, ink is released all over the garment, essentially ruining it. The ink or dye also contains a harmful chemical that can make you sick. Eventually, these will be replaced by alarm tags. I haven't heard about the magnetic strips, although I guess they're the same ones you see on CD's and movies at most retail stores. I hope we never get those.


On to restaurants and guest services, another cast member weighs in:

I was just wondering if you had noticed and/or been informed of some of the latest cost-cutting measures. One that came to my attention the other day is at the French Market restaurant. I went for a Monte Cristo fix and also had my regular mint julep. Well, the drinks are now self service. This cuts one cast member position, two if both sides of the buffeteria are open. Aside from that, no more sprigs of mint leaf or candied cherries for the mint juleps. Call me a die-hard, but it just isn't the same without mint and cherries.

The real reason of this note, however, is to let you know about the latest plot to reduce guest service and thereby reduce labor hours. Someone has decided that Lost & Found for DCA and Disneyland will be consolidated into one location occupying what used to be package express by the guest relations window on the DCA side of the esplanade.

As I understand it, Walt Disney World has a Central Lost & Found, as well. Okay, it must work great for them. But let us see what we have… In an effort to drive down budgets, guests will no longer have the convenient Lost & Found location at either park, but will need go outside the gates to make reports and such.


Disneyland's City Hall, last year after 9/11

I've been told that there will still be a place for day-of claims, but the current talk is having City Hall staffers handle that (Where would they do that? One of the brilliant suggestions was to use the annex where guests in wheelchairs must come through because City Hall is not accessible except via the ramp by the restrooms. One may also ask how City Hall staffers, already making due with as few cast members as possible will manage the time consumed by Lost & Found issues.).

Think about the poor attractions cast members who will have to ferry the articles across the esplanade—or if it's going to be Guest Relations' job now, to go pick up the items from the individual attractions. How about all of the multi-day guests who think, 'I'll stop by and check' on the next day for a lost article. Now they will either have to go out to the central location or have a Guest Relations cast member ferry the item to their location in either park.

Where, if I may ask, is the cost savings? I seriously doubt City Hall staffers will be able to handle the extra traffic associated with Lost & Found, thereby requiring probably an extra person. I doubt attractions cast members will want to take items out across the esplanade and, if they are required to, then there is wasted labor in paying them to do so (time away from the attraction or extra time to 'walk' when they get off). If someone from Guest Relations is going to go to each and every location for Lost & Found then, well, efficiency just flew out the window because that would be one seriously time-consuming job.

I keep limiting my comments to attractions, but if we consider the fact that foods, ODV, custodial, stores, etc. all have Lost & Found, too, well….. At any rate, there is at least one more person who is not going to lose a job by having the locations consolidate. And lastly, if a cast member is going to ferry items from the central repository to the guest in the park, where are the savings there?

I just do not get it sometimes. I am not some all-wise, all-knowing person. I'm not a manager. I don't have an MBA or even a BBA. But it really shouldn't take any of that to have common sense and spot a waste of time and money. It seems like the only way the park knows how to do anything is budget three times too much money: one-third to be spent 'fixing' the problem and two-thirds spent fixing the fix for something that wasn't broken to begin with. All the while, the things that are broken (lack of funding for new attractions, lack of available /decent entertainment, lack of regular maintenance/painting/repair, DCA in general, etc., etc., etc.) are not being addressed.


Yet another worker reports that the bottom line mentality is disintegrating employee relations. He notes:

The managers must be getting the thumbscrews out. It doesn't matter what department you're in, management is getting real anal. They will not hesitate to tell off a cast member onstage or threaten them to be disciplined. A ride operator was warned by an assistant manager that he was not smiling enough (even though this guy is one chipper person).

Merchandise managers are telling their cast members to hardsell the merchandise. If they don't, they get talked to. Management has been telling cast members to suggest to guests (during lunch and dinner times) where to eat even though they don't ask for it. It's like walking up to a guest around noon and suggesting they should go to the Plaza Inn for lunch (common courtesy is that you don't make suggestions unless you are asked by the guest).


Eavesdropping cast members also provided the following attractions tid-bits (Warning: sounds like tentative planning in the early stages, consume at your own risk!):

…Story going around is that our Monorails will be replaced with brand new ones in about six years. It appears the company plans to link all the parks (including the unplanned third park) with the Monorail.

…The Buzz Lightyear attraction for Tomorrowland has been given the green light, the reopening of Splash Mountain might be delayed until the Pooh ride opens next year, and CDS (Cast Deployment System) will start for merchandise cast members before summer.

…* On the King Arthur Carrousel, don't count on it opening until after summer. The amount of wood damage is far greater than expected (you're looking at something that has not been touched since it opened) and the roof is in big trouble. It appears the roof is the original, and that maintenance is afraid of touching it for fear that it would either collapse, or they have no idea how to take it apart. Either way, there are holes in it (apparently, an unexploded shell from a past fireworks show ripped open a hole).


Finally, a few frustrating anecdotes from reader Mike:

I was just given More Mouse Tales as an early birthday gift today and I couldn't put it down. Tore through the entire book in the matter of a couple of hours. I think that your last chapter especially says it all. I only hope that someone on the board of Disney actually reads your book (I'm not even sure who would have the power to matter any more!). Very well written… I enjoyed it as much as the first… perhaps even more since quite a few of the incidents you mentioned I was there for!

Your efforts are admirable and I feel compelled to offer some of my own anecdotes and frustrations to further inspire you in your cause. After all, your book was published back in 1999… I figure it is time for Volume 3 which, like the Anaheim property, should be retitled for the entire Disneyland Resort! Perhaps even add a slant to it by including Guest observations. After all, the Disney Company isn't really interested.

Here are just a few teasers of the exceptional "service" I've received over the last few months:

1. We bought a brick outside the gate. Went to find it and had misplaced the location. Asked Guest Relations for help and they directed us to a pay phone and told us to call an 800 number. Thanks for the help, Disney!

2. How about the logic that they were closing the Downtown Disney shops (namely World of Disney) BEFORE Disneyland closed (11 p.m. or later)! While I'm not a fan of the current merchandising tactics, it really is a poor calculation. If I don't find it in the park, then I would think that Downtown Disney would be my last resort now.

On top of that, do I really want to spend my prime park time waiting in the understaffed Emporium for assistance? Of course, you pointed out in your book that once you've seen a couple of the stores, you've seen it all!

Side bar: An interesting note… shortly after the Eisner announcement of the Disney Store redesign into the two separate "concepts," all of the housewares merchandise has been eliminated at World of Disney. Just more hats and shirts and snow globes… yippee! I wonder where all that houseware merchandise is going to appear… Disney At Home, perhaps?

Better yet, I asked a couple of cast members in the shop about it and they offered up the excuse that it was their first day on the job. Where's their Earning My Ears ribbons?!?!?!? I guess after a few hours on the job, they are tenured now. I really don't take them at their word any more.

3. Did you know that DCA sells postcards… they even have a mailbox to send them… but they do NOT sell postage stamps? I just found that one out the hard way the other day. Their answer was go across the street to Disneyland! Can you believe it? For all their MBAs and purported experience in operations, they certainly do miss out on the obvious things.

Also, try to find something healthy to eat in that park without having to trek all the way back to Bountiful Valley's fruit cart! That bake shop is enough to give even the sweetest tooth a cavity.

4. Spotted Eisner in the park at the beginning of December on Main Street with a group of what appeared to be "ordinary people." However, at the same time he was completely unapproachable. The usual crowd control folks around to maintain his environment. To make matters worse, he proceeds to take this group of people backstage of the fire station to what I am going to assume was a personal tour of Walt's apartment.

Why do I think that? Well, a week prior I attended a special event at which we were given an exclusive peek at it. We were told that this unique opportunity would not be commoditized as they wish to respect the dignity of Walt's Apartment (no flash photography, please). I can't help but wonder though if we were the test group to begin marketing it as part of the Footsteps tour or some other tour perk.

For years, I've been a consumer of the Disney Company. I agree with you about the fact that they have lost touch with their consumers. The parks seem to be like big shopping malls, and when I was there a couple of weeks ago, I got to experience Rehab-land first hand! I don't know about everyone else, but we're of the mind that perhaps the Disney CEO title should be like the U.S. Presidency and have term limits set on the position. At least then we'd have some hope of fresh ideas.


You can write to David atthis link..

Big Crowds, Big Cutbacks

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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