Disney and Universal
news, plus reader mail
A little good news, a little bad
news (but mostly good), as I sift through reader emails over
the past two weeks.
The aging watercraft on the Rivers of America (above) may soon get a
new addition. A cast member reveals: "A new raft has been sighted
on the river. It is larger (width and length) than the original rafts,
and the railings are much higher. It is hidden in a cove to the right of
the once-burning cabin. During park hours, it is covered with a
camouflage net so guests would not notice it. The name of this new raft
is the 'Huck Finn.'"
A Disneyland character manager reports that the Merchandise
department had been pressuring Entertainment to have face characters,
such as Belle and Alice in Wonderland, wear pin lanyards and trade pins
Although describing Merchandise as "the most powerful department
at Disneyland/DCA, thanks to Pressler's background in retail," she
says this is one battle Merchandise will not win.
More good news:
The comfy purple couches are back in the Animation building's central
Al beat me to it, reporting the bright yellow safety stripes that now
deface the steps leading up to the drinking fountains and bronze
statuette on the west side of the castle courtyard (below). Cast members
describe the striping as "tacky," "ugly," and
"The guests must be blind," huffed one ride operator.
"Or is that our managers?"
Soon after, the Mad Striper struck again -- leaving his mark at the
entrance of the Pioneer Mercantile in Frontierland.
I shudder to think what will happen if this guy finds his way over to
Tom Sawyer Island...
The Indiana Jones Adventure received a clean bill of health following
a surprise inspection last week by state safety inspectors.
"Disneyland was paid a visit by our good friends over at D.O.S.H.,"
an employee reports. "Among the lucky attractions to see them was
Indiana Jones. We were Code 100 (delayed open at park open) until just
after 11 a.m. They were inspecting all vehicles to make sure that in the
event of a seatbelt fault (a belt coming off or undone) the vehicle
would time-out in Zone 7 (The Chamber of Destiny)."
"They were pleased with what they saw, and asked that before
opening, the yellow and black stripping on the edge of the station
platform be cleaned, as over the months since that has been there, the
heavy foot traffic has turned it into a uniform black strip. Before
leaving the building, I overheard Theme Park One commenting that
'hopefully, they would be left alone.' One can only imagine the fun it
has been with D.O.S.H. popping in."
Promotional art © Disney
He continues, "Also, found out our station gates will be
installed, and Indy leads are faxing in show concerns left and right
hoping that some or all will be addressed. The gates will look like 'gas
cans stacked one on the other, with the gates being made out of
simulated bamboo.' At least a theme is still alive and well somewhere in
"I have heard that it will be a two-month rehab. This will be
the second that I know of, the first of which was when they raised the
belt check platform to be level with the jeeps. When all is said and
done, we will be loading wheelchairs on both sides instead of just the
north side of the station. Also effective yesterday, cast members will
no longer ask guests to 'try to stand up,' since D.O.S.H. is confident
in the new belt software. Many, if not ALL Indy cast members were more
than ecstatic when we got word from our leads."
More good news:
Below is a photo taken last Sunday by David Lane showing the
repainting/refurbishing of Gadget's Go Coaster in Toontown.
Even more good news:
Our fantasies of digging a few long-shuttered attractions may not be
thoroughly impossible. A cast member reports: "There are at least
four PeopleMover cars over by the entrance to TDA Casting! There are at
least two more floating around behind Toontown. There's also all of the
Sub Voyage stuff back there. It's right by Fantasyland/Toontown costume
issue! I saw it every time I went to work in one of those areas!"
Not that the vehicles will be put back into use any time soon, but at
least they still exist.
Good or bad news -- I'm not sure:
Universal Studios Hollywood's popular Rugrats show is set to close
September 2 to make way for the Shrek 4-D movie experience. "Just
in case you didn't get enough movie type attractions at Disney's
California Adventure. Or Terminator 2 3-D or Back to the Future at
Universal," jokes an USH employee.
"Shrek 4-D is planned for both Universal Studios Hollywood and
Universal Studios Florida, and will be a simulator ride like Star
Tours," says one insider. "The plan is to open it in both
parks at the same time to tie in to a national advertising campaign.
Universal senior management claims to want to open it next summer, but
middle management says that it would be impossible to design, build, and
open a simulator ride that soon."
Hopefully it will be a vast improvement over USH's latest offering,
the crass stage show "Spider-man Rocks!" Evidently, a primary
reason the Wild, Wild, Wild West show did not reopen this summer was
because all the money originally allocated for it was instead spent on
the Spider-man production.
The insider also expects no suitor to make a serious bid for the
Universal theme parks. "Even though Vivendi stock has now fallen
80% this year, the theme parks are still business as usual -- although
overtime is no longer authorized at USH," he says. "Barry
Diller has said that the theme parks will probably not be sold because
there are no buyers out there, because of the current economic climate.
USH is projecting low paid attendance through next spring -- so look for
some more of those season pass deals to be offered after Labor
Finally, mostly grumpy news
-- in the guise of letters addressing "Tom
|Former ride operator David
Bess speaks up:
I was a cast member during 2001 and found truth in the
comment that guests should be "bubble wrapped." I
worked most of the attractions in Fantasyland (known to cast
members as the routes), including Matterhorn. It was not unusual
to see a guest risk injury by doing something they would never
do in the "real" world.
One incident that stays with me occurred while I was
working dispatch on Mr. Toad. This ride in particular can be
stressful to operate due to the short distance between load and
unload. It is necessary to work quickly to avoid a shutdown due
to a "cascade;" that is when more cars are coming in
before the cars ahead are dispatched.
Being a trainee on the ride and working dispatch for the
first time alone, a guest decided that she and her daughter did
not wish to ride. She proceeded to walk into the track load area
between the track and queue fence. This required that I initiate
a station stop to keep her and her child from being caught
between the car and the fence. She appeared oblivious to the
It is very sad that Disneyland has to bubble wrap such
attractions as Tom Sawyer Island. I, too, carry many wonderful
memories of a place that truly allowed a child's imagination to
run free. A skinned knee was merely a mark of bravery for having
faced the danger of Injun' Joe's Cave. Today, that same skinned
knee would result in managers, security, a nurse and sadly, a
While I believe that safety is paramount, personal
responsibility is of equal importance. My sadness is for the
boys and girls who will never enjoy the opportunity to receive
the "skinned knee of bravery."
|A cast member writes:
About those barriers around the Treehouse on the Island, I
heard that a hole had opened up along the path. Because Indian
Hill (that is the name of the hill the Treehouse rests on) is
artificial, and Injun Joe's Cave is underneath it, part of the
underlying concrete had collapsed. This happened about a week
Partitions prevent guests from going behind the Tree House
On your disappointed guest quoting about the park's Legal
Department, there is a sign when you get off the rafts on the
island dock for parents to "watch their children."
Overall, the park is afraid of telling parents to take
some responsibility and watch over their children. As one
manager was heard to say, "It would be rude to tell parents
to watch over their kids." Of course, this came from
someone who never had to face a parent who allowed their
3-year-old son to wander off before the parade.
Recently, it seems Disney believes that islands are not
the "in" thing. In my past trips to Walt Disney World,
my favorite place was ALWAYS Discovery Island. A place, like Tom
Sawyer Island, a boy could run around and explore. Unlike Tom
Sawyer Island, animals ran around freely and the cast were
always available for questions.
Now, they moved Discovery Island to Animal Kingdom, where
it isn't really an island at all. And the animals do not run
freely, and the trails are not dirt but asphalt. Now Tom
Sawyer Island is going by the wayside.
Another disappointment for the faltering Adventureland/Frontierland
area. My cousins and I have memories of running up and down
those trails while my parents and grandparents relaxed in the
shade with a cool Lemonade. It was more than just a place to be
a boy, it was a place for a boy to feel like a man. To explore
unknown territory, to shoot guns, to misbehave. It was great.
But of course, whatever is great needs to be improved so it
could possibly be even better (which it rarely is).
I've even read in other places that the new Pirates of the
Caribbean movie will also lead to changes of the ride. All I can
say, God help us. Except for Splash Mountain and Thunder
Mountain, the left side of the park will be empty. What will
they do then? Redesign it? Close half the park and put in roller
coasters? What a disappointment.
|A reader writes:
I find it somewhat sad to hear about the Safety Nazi's
overhaul of T.S.I. It has needed a major, major refurbishment
for quite some time (since about 1980). I'm sure you're aware of
this, but the way Disney got around building codes back in 1954
was he had them constructed as "temporary buildings"
(not because he was cheap, but because he had limited cash and
Roy was not convinced that Disneyland would be successful) which
according to the state laws at that time only had to withstand
11 years of use.
A fair portion of the Temp buildings have been slowly
replaced over the years, but to my knowledge Sleeping Beauty's
Castle, the fort and shops in Frontierland, and most of Main
Street (I am unsure of the status of the two main buildings on
either side as you enter Tomorrowland, but I suspect they) are
all still made primarily of wood and fiberglass and have
remained relatively unchanged since 1966, 36 years after their
building permits should have expired. It is something the Disney
company should have addressed years ago.
As for trying to "idiot-proof" the park, there
is no way they can ever achieve such a thing. Never
underestimate the ingenuity of idiots. The truly gifted ones
seem to be able to worm their way into management.
Sign at the Rafts loading dock warns of decreased activities on
Tom Sawyer Island
You hit the nail on the head with this comment:
"Unfortunately, it's a place for a more innocent time when
a kid who ran and twisted his ankle didn't file a lawsuit."
I will not mourn the loss of Tom Sawyer Island. I mourn
the loss of those innocent times. Today "someone" (the
"not me" syndrome) has to be responsible for every
accident that befalls one, and "someone" must be made
to pay. I don't fault Disney for protecting themselves. Rocks
and trees can be climbed elsewhere for a lot less than $45.
|Alan Taylor answers my article's question:
"What will remain left to do on the Island is anyone's
Say, howdy folks!
Set yerself right down and enjoy a Rip-Roarin' game of
Jes' be mindful and don't put those pieces in yer mouths,
And keep matches and firecrackers far, far away from that
board, ya hear?
I too have found memories of the "old" island. I
can even recall being slightly injured while climbing the rocks.
Instead of my parents filing a lawsuit, I got one heck of a
spanking for being so unsafe.
Oh well, times have changed. I do hope they keep some of
the attractions that will live on in my memory.
|A Disney employee writes:
The first time I went to Disneyland as an adult in 1997 I
was amazed that Tom Sawyer Island was even allowed to be open,
knowing how closely Disney watches dangerous conditions in the
My cousin's friend (also an adult) banged his head in one
of those caves. We all almost tripped and fell several times. I
think we even said, "This damn island is a lawyer's dream
I do hate to see Disney theme park attractions disappear
(disappear! disappear! ... sorry, the trolls from Norway just
got stuck in my head) but on the other hand, why have a safety
issue when you don't need it?
Sure, I'd love to see them do something really, really
cool with the island -- a new attraction, something combining
memories with new technology -- something with the Country Bears
or the mine car ride through Nature's Wonderland -- something
new and fun but respectful of Disneyland's past. I know that
won't ever happen under this regime, but it WOULD be nice.
After recently convincing my best friend to buy an annual
pass, he was greatly disappointed to find Tom Sawyer Island in
its current state. We both remember being kids (well, young kids
-- we're 22) and playing hide-and-seek in the caves.
The suspension bridge has been ignored for years
So my question to you is this: Given the current state of
the island (bad) and the current legal climate (worse), what
would you do in Disney's place? Would you rather have a Redwood
Creek Challenge-style play area put in? Since they're not about
to build another new E-ticket in the near future, should they
leave the island abandoned?
As far as what to do with Tom Sawyer
Island, I'm honestly glad that I don't have to be the one to make
that decision. I don't fault Disney for going overboard in trying
to protect guests from themselves, but it is irritating and
frustrating. In the end, I'd probably make changes that were
improvements rather than just boarding things up -- all the while
regretting that things had to come to this.
|Frank Doll shares:
Enjoyed your latest concerning the problems Tom Sawyer
Island is experiencing. Your childhood memories reminded me of
my one and only experience there in '59. I was 13 and we lived
in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by farms, streams, woods and a
major river within a two-mile radius.
Our first visit to Disneyland took place that year when we
visited relatives in California and spent one very long day in
the park. The Matterhorn, Submarines and Monorail were the hot
new attractions that summer, and we did them all but also
managed to find time during the heat of the day to take a raft
over to the Island. It was a delightful respite from the crowds
and even though I had the "real" thing in my own
backyard, my sister, cousin and I found it to be a wonderful
experience. We loved the caves, rock climbing and bridges and
played in the fort without amputating a finger.
Ft. Wilderness in an earlier
file photo by Bruce Bergman
It's amazing that us baby boomers managed to survive our
childhood without all the protection and safety devices that are
abundant today. Thanks to overly protective and greedy parents
AND the army of hungry attorneys who walk arm in arm with them
we'll probably see a New & Improved Tom Sawyer Island for
the New Millennium. Guests will be ferried to the island on
rafts while tethered to benches with seat belts. Once on the
island guests will be required to sign release forms before
being issued safety goggles, helmets and aluminum walkers
(themed to appear they are made from branches from young trees)
and then embark on their tour of the Island accompanied by their
Scout Leader Cast Member who will be appropriately costumed but
not barefooted. Thanks for exposing some of the madness!
P.S. I just remembered taking the Mule Train into the back
country that same day. My mule must've been having a really bad
day since it continually tried turning its head to bite my legs.
Imagine allowing that attraction to exist in the Disneyland of
|Kevin Eiden writes:
It is a sad thing when the park has to take the
responsibility of being the parent. In a recent trip to the
park, my 4-year-old son had a great time in what is left of Tom
Sawyer Island. Yes, he did fall a couple of times, but that is
being a kid, we wiped away the blood and that was it. As parents
we made sure that he didn't go into places he shouldn't and that
he was safe in what he was doing, that is a parent's
I also remember my childhood at the park and it is pretty
sad that my 4-year-old will not be able to remember Disneyland
the why I do.
|Ken Coates notes:
Thanks for the article about Tom Sawyer Island. We
recently visited Disneyland with our 5-year-old twins, and we
didn't bother going over there since so much was off limits. It
is really a shame how they have let it deteriorate.
On the other hand, I think that if they put some money
into it, they could make a safe place where kids could have fun
running, jumping and playing hide and seek. Our kids had a great
time at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at DCA.
|Leonard Bottleman offers:
I too remember the Tom Sawyer Island of the early to late
'60s and lament its passing.
As far as the half hearted rehab, it appears to fit in
with the thinking for every other project at Disney right now.
Indeed anyone who has watched Disney flounder over the
past few years will have little difficulty concluding that the
current Disney financial strategy is "The less we spend on
a project, the less we'll lose when it fails."
|Greg Ottinger wonders:
Is Tom Sawyer Island any more dangerous than the pseudo
park/play areas that are now in almost every shopping mall and
fast food outlet? From what I've seen, kids go wild in these
areas and when they hurt themselves I wonder if a lawsuit is
immediately filed or the area is shut down or revamped. Indeed,
the age of personal responsibility has long since passed.
Whatever happened to the days when the folks at Disneyland
used to keep everything sparkling new?
It's sad to hear about the fate of Tom Sawyer Island.
Unfortunately, not only is common sense gone from many people's
minds when they go to Disneyland (or Disney World) but also
their brains automatically tell them when something goes wrong,
The area surrounding Teeter Totter Rock is marked for drastic
In this day and age where anybody can get a lawyer and
waste their valuable time and money on something that was there
responsibility in the first place, it sickens me that the
excitement of attractions of this caliber have to be neutered.
Your parody of the teeter totter rock was funny yet disturbing
at the same time, for the reasons that they probably will stick
a cast member out there.
You just can't have fun anymore. Next time I head to
Disney World, I'll make sure to make a trip to old Tom and
Huck's stomping grounds, before they neuter that too.
|Richard A. Harris, Ride
Safety Expert, submits:
From a safety expert's point of view, I think the lawyers
are going way too far on this issue. What it looks like to me is
they are trying to account for their job. What they should do is
just leave it the way it was and always has been.
I'm for safety, but there comes a point where the legal
eagles should leave things alone. As for the rehab, Disney
should have done this a long time ago.
|And, Susan Schaar weighs in:
I just read your article about the present and possible
future state of Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland, and am left
struck yet again by the complete incompetence of the
suits-in-charge. I probably shouldn't continue to be so amazed
after their incredibly stupid knee-jerk over-reaction to the
girl who caught her finger in a Fort Wilderness gun trigger;
removing all the guns was a permanent, stupid response to a
singular, isolated incident. I should be tipped off by now, and
yet here I am again, sitting with my jaw agape at the precarious
position of Tom Sawyer Island.
What impresses me most is how the park bean-counters
manage to continuously ignore that maintenance is a cost-SAVING
measure that is ESSENTIAL to a long-term operation like a theme
park. Accounting is a matter of simple mathematics, and yet no
one in management seems to grasp the concept that it costs less
to correct a problem at its onset than it does to wait until
that initial problem has manifested into a hundred more that
could have been avoided with prompt attention in the first
place. Disney management policy is to ignore the little problems
while they can, until they turn into great big problems that
they can't. Most people with even a basic understanding of the
cost of living realize that it is cheaper to replace a light
bulb than to buy a new lamp.
The neglected entrance to the suspension bridge
The bottom line is -- and it's always about the bottom
line -- the suits do not see Tom Sawyer Island as having any
intrinsic value to Disneyland because it does not generate any
revenue. And because they are so myopic, they do not even
appreciate that compared with all the electronic and mechanical
attractions in the park, the upkeep -- if it was done -- on TSI
is minimal. Moreover, the time guests spend on TSI is time they
do not spend waiting in line for other attractions (happier
guests) or riding other attractions (less wear and tear on
Indiana Jones, etc.).
And if money is ALL that matters -- and we know that it is
-- the idiots in charge continue to squander yet another
legitimate opportunity to increase sales revenue. It's HOT on
Tom Sawyer Island; lemonades would FLY off the carts. What
better place for a snack bar/lemonade stand/souvenir
"post" than in and around Fort Wilderness, and what
better time to extract money from guests than when they are
"stranded" on an island? What better place for one of
those professional Disneyland photo stations than on arguably
the most picturesque location in the park?
Tom Sawyer Island is ageless, in part because it is based
on an ageless piece of truly great American literature that
we've all read and remember fondly, but perhaps in greater part
because kids will always be kids, and Tom Sawyer Island even
appeals to the kids in us adults. And, gee, wasn't that Walt
Disney's whole original idea in the first place?
My heart is breaking.
Send your comments to David here.
Tom Sawyer Island
photos (except where noted) by David Koenig (8/13/02)
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.)