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Mouse Tales
A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Are you ready to tumble? Staying safe on Star Tours

Disneyland's Star Tours entryway
Disneyland's Star Tours entryway

Guests on Disneyland's Star Tours feel as if they've been sent hurtling through space, nearly averting catastrophe at every turn. But in several instances over the last two months, such simulations have almost become realities.

The attraction consists of four cabins, called StarSpeeders. Though themed as commercial passenger crafts, they are actually military-style flight simulators. A system of mechanical lifts whip, jerk and shake the cabins to imitate a poorly navigated trip through outer space.

Considering the heights the cabins reach, here's a warning: if you're ever on Star Tours when it breaks down, stay seated. During one trip in late August, one of the cabins' emergency-stopped. Suddenly stranded, one guest inside panicked and tried to pry open the doors to escape. What he didn't realize was the lifts hadn't yet been lowered. The guest would have fallen eight to 12 feet into the dark.

Fortunately, a repairman from Facilities' Maintenance Response Team persuaded the guest to back off long enough for one of the lifts to be lowered. Once released, the guest ran out of the building as fast as he could. Said one cast member: "The sad part is he almost succeeded in getting the door open."

What could have happened that day did happen soon after Star Tours first opened in 1987. A maintenance man was taking a short cut through a cabin only to discover that the other door was closed. Rather than reverse his steps, he used the emergency latch to open the door and fell forward into the dark, landing on his head about eight feet below. The worker fractured his skull, but returned to work in a week.

Sure enough, about three weeks after the August incident, a Star Tours cabin again stalled, at its maximum elevation. This time, one of Cabin One's lifts got hung up at the ceiling. Fortunately, the guests were safely evacuated, although the cabin remained stranded. The Maintenance Response Team left it for the graveyard shift to rescue. But when the third shift machinists arrived, they discovered that the highest manlift they could get into Star Tours—at 24 feet high—was about 12 feet too short. Management had to call a rental agent to send a taller, 36-foot unit immediately. Immediately proved to be 9:15 the next morning, after the park had opened.

C3PO greets visitors in the queue to Star Tours
C3PO greets visitors in the queue to Star Tours

A closer call occurred soon after when contractors came to replace power equipment on the attraction. They first had to make sure of the motor's voltage, so they used the aforementioned 24-foot manlift to reach the air conditioning system's chilled water lines that run along the ceiling. Then, they perilously walked along the water lines to get into position to check the voltage.

"Had they fallen," says one insider, "the company would have skated out of court. They've been trained NOT to do that! Some people just don't quite understand what they risk when they do things like this."

Now comes word that even people who don't do anything stupid may be in danger. Due to Star Tours' turbulent nature, cabins Two, Three and Four are all cracked. Cracks run from the forward lower corner and angle up towards the back. Although the cracks have been inspected, their severity is still being determined.

With tighter maintenance budgets, crewman are increasingly pessimistic. "I hear the tops of the cabins are the only thing keeping the fronts from falling off," says one. "Workmen wonder how long they will last--or do we have another Columbia brewing?"

In reader mail today, A quick stop at Disneyland before checking out reaction to the latest rumblings at Universal Studios–Hollywood…

Maybe Disneyland management is finally starting to take advice from MousePlanet! In the 10-13 Mailbag, reader Miles Ketchum suggested that the park could remedy the current staffing shortfall by asking former cast members to return to work part-time.

Soon after, an alum sent me this note:

Hey, I got my letter today from Disneyland to all Golden Ears members that they need employees and want us to come back. I may be mistaken, but haven't they been trying to get rid of all of us 'old-timers' the last few years? Now they want us back? Give me a break.

Reader Tim Brown demands to know:

Without wanting to sound too picky (but I am), what's with all the USH stuff? I know MousePlanet's trying to branch out from just being a Disneyland site, but please…. if I wanted info on Universal Studios-Hollywood, I'd be looking at a USH website.

Dave, I loved all three of your books and got signed copies of the last two, and it's that kind of insider poop on Disneyland or even WDW that I'm personally interested in. Sorry, but USH just doesn't do it for me.

Although Disneyland will always be my first love, I also enjoy visiting and writing about USH. Although they are two very different parks, they face many of the same issues regarding operation, ride design, entertainment, promotions, staffing, etc.

MousePlanet as a whole aims to cover Disney as well as competing parks. Certainly, with the regular contributions of Al, Fab, Kevin Yee, et al., the Mouse will always receive the lion's share of our coverage. That allows me to spread my net a little wider.

So please bear with me. No matter how often I visit Universal, I'll never forsake Disneyland. -

That said, let's talk about Universal! Several readers brought up interesting sidenotes to the article on USH's infamous Barney Parade.

Robert Meyer writes:

I was struck at the number of similarities between Universal's Barney fiasco and Disney's Light Magic. Both would trap pedestrians in remote areas of the parks. Both played to very young children. And in both cases the parks end up blaming the customers. It seems a shame that poor planning and that overpowering push for revenue never get the blame. Visitors should not be expected to enjoy something because it enhances a company's stock value.

It seems Universal, like Disney, feels that if a show, parade or display makes money, then all of their customers should like it. Obviously, I feel entertainment should primarily entertain the majority of the audience and make money as a secondary function. Well, there goes my shot at an MBA.

Very perceptive, Robert, as an Entertainment employee confirms:

Everybody at USH loved your the article on the infamous Barney Parade. Whenever I'm in meetings regarding future promotions someone always says at the end of the pitch: 'Make sure this doesn't become another Barney Parade.' It will always be our Light Magic in Universal lore.

Although the Barney Parade was Universal's only true parade, the park has staged less formal, smaller scale processions, as Sci-Fi-Fann points out:

Another monstrosity you may have forgotten to mention was the Christmas parade that began in CityWalk and ended in the USH park about two years ago when USH had that $5 Christmas light exhibit after the park closed at 7 o'clock.

P.S. That was a confetti nightmare.

An Attractions employee provided more details:

No, the Christmas parade was not a real parade. Really, it was just a small 'walking parade,' for lack of a better word, down CityWalk in through the main gate to the fountain in the courtyard to the Christmas tree. So it really didn't get into Universal at all.

I am sure you will also get e-mail regarding another type of parade during HHN (Halloween Horror Nights). This was closer to a parade, but really it was just a huge mess. They had the 'scare actors' walking behind a jeep from 'Small Soldiers' kind of walking around the park.

The first night they did it we had no idea. The Entertainment Department came up with it and threw it out for us to try and manage. Again, in the eyes of some, I am sure they will call that a parade but it was really just a bad walking tour of the 'scare actors' of the park. It seems for holiday season events they throw out anything they think they can do.

A USH manager added:

As of October 12, HHN was 95% sold out on six of the eight dates (only the lone Sunday October 29 and Tuesday October 31 are moving a little slower than the rest). Everyone is trying to figure out how Universal will show they lost money so that they can get out of the HHN business.

Finally, as promised, Chris Murray kindly provided the final photographs of Universal's first theme park landmark, the War Lord Tower.

According to Chris, the top photo shows: "The last swipe of the back hoe knocking down the doorway." Below: "Reduced down to rubble, and being hauled off."

You can write to David atthis link..


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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