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A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Adventureland is OPEN!

Disney World decides against delayed openings, plus reader mail.

Good news: Walt Disney World management has decided, for the time being, against opening Adventureland an hour after the rest of the Magic Kingdom opens. Apparently, planning for the "delayed open" had become "too much of a logistics nightmare." In addition, it wasn't shaping up to save as many labor dollars as originally anticipated, and deemed not worth the damage it would cause upsetting both guests and cast members.

As one Magic Kingdom cast member explained:

Closing Adventureland posed many potential problems. First of all, cast members would have to be stationed at various positions in order to direct guests away from that section of the park. One cast member would have to be stationed at the Adventureland bridge, another at the restroom "breezeway" near Diamond Horseshoe, one at the "breezeway" near Country Bears, and another at the Caribbean Plaza which leads to Splash Mountain from our area.

These shifts would be considered "opening" shifts, so senior cast members would get them. And it would be absolutely no fun to work them—either from a cast or a guest viewpoint. Have you ever worked greeter for an attraction that's in rehab? Well, working a position to tell guests that Adventureland is closed would be even worse. I believe that management actually got a clue this time, realizing that there would be as many cast complaints as guest complaints.

Secondly, cast members who are scheduled for opening shifts in their attractions would receive at least an hour's pay lost. For example, a senior opening shift for Jungle is 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Usually, senior cast members work their mornings at their attraction and then end their shift working audience control for day parade. Well, their opening shift time would change to 8:15 a.m., and they would still be needed for parade, so their end time would remain 4 p.m. They would lose an hour's pay, and this would cause massive fall-out for management.

Needless to say, news of the planned Adventureland closures had generated negative reactions from all camps. Reader Michael Parker wrote:

I both loved the inside info, and hated the content (lol) of your article on Adventureland opening late in WDW. We are planning a trip to WDW from October 18-27. One thing I noticed in your article that alarmed me was where you stated that the TimeKeeper ride was called back into commission because "other nearby attractions were in rehab." I have not seen on the Disney website nor on MousePlanet, any rides that were currently closed, or being rehab'ed in Tomorrowland, or in WDW in general. Do you have any further information on which of these attractions might not be open during October?

Also, I believe you said Adventureland is roped off? So if someone wanted to head to Pirates of the Caribbean first thing, you would have to go into Liberty Square and walk around to the attraction that way?

TimeKeeper was reopened specifically because of the rehab of Astro Orbiter. WDW needed a place to reassign the regular Astro Orbiter crew.

I used the term "roped off" figuratively. Cast members would have redirected guests around the land. But heading to Pirates wouldn't have helped you. Pirates, being in Adventureland at WDW, also wouldn't open until 10 a.m.

A Magic Kingdom cast member wrote:

I realize that Mickey's Toontown Fair doesn't open until 10 a.m. But that sort of makes sense. Many guests don't reach that faraway land until later in the morning anyway. They are too busy hitting their favorite rides before they get too crowded. I also know that the Asia area of Animal Kingdom has recently changed to a 10 a.m. opening. But once again, it takes a little while for guests to get back there. Adventureland, however, is right up front. I know that most guests go to Space, Pooh, Dumbo, Splash, or Thunder first thing. But many of them are now utilizing FastPass—they need other attractions to be open, so that they have something to do while waiting for their FastPass to come into effect.

In the mornings, many guests head to either Splash or Thunder. But they come back to Adventureland, because it's close by, and they would rather ride Jungle or Pirates than see the Country Bears. Jungle and Pirates are still E-ticket attractions by most standards as well as nostalgic favorites, so guests always come to Adventureland after they ride Splash or Thunder.

When Adventureland cast members find out, it should cause quite a riff. Mostly due to the fact that it is another hour of pay gone (our most senior cast members only make around $11 an hour—that's the "top-out" rate—which is quite low when compared to employees with comparable seniority who work for other large corporations). Some will have to work the various entrances to Adventureland from 9 to 10 a.m., turning guests away from our area. We already take a lot of heat from early entry guests on Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, because they expect us to be open at those times, too.

And to top it all off, the delayed opening for Adventureland should be in effect on October 1, the same day the WDW resort begins its 100 Years of Magic celebration. Such irony! Walt didn't personally work on Asia, Mickey's Toontown Fair, Splash, or Thunder. But on his 100th birthday, two of his own personal favorites, Jungle (his love for True-Life Adventures) and Pirates (the last attraction he officially supervised past concept stage), will not open with the rest of his "dream" park.

Kevin of the U.K. wrote:

I have never written to you before, but I note with interest your comments on early closures. We have just returned from WDW. We were there from August 16-30. I did notice quite a few attractions opening late and closing sooner than the parks closed. On this occasion we purchased premium annual passes (to save money next year), so I do not feel too badly ripped off. But the parks don't just open for me, they open for many thousands of other people. I wonder if Disney tickets are any cheaper when visiting "off season"? I doubt it very much.

Not only do attractions have shorter hours, but they do not have as many shows. For the two weeks we were there, there wasn't one show on at the Castle nor at the Galaxy Theatre. I do not feel this is very fair to Disney's paying guests. If the ticket prices are the same all year round, why should there be any difference in operating hours or live shows? Whilst we were there the Magic Kingdom also changed its closing time from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m.; that's three whole hours lost and no fireworks show.

This was my sixth trip to WDW, and I do believe that standards are being lowered. No longer is the show important but the money they can save is important to Disney. During our first week this time at WDW, the Speedway in the Magic Kingdom was using all four lanes and was quite a lengthy line, we always said we'd go on it later, probably in our second week. But in our second week, to keep the lines up, they reduced the ride to only two lanes, so we never got to go on it in the end.

My visit was also during the last two weeks of our school holidays so there were many U.K. visitors in the parks. If this was their first time I can't help thinking they have been short-measured, big time.

Bill wrote:

I just returned from a week at WDW and ran smack into the budget crunching. Prior to my vacation, I made lists, grouped by park, of attractions and restaurants I wanted to try. After a morning and afternoon at Animal Kingdom—where I was turned away from the Lion King show because their wheelchair area (for my mom) was full—we headed to the Magic Kingdom at about 7 p.m. for a light dinner and to hit up some of the attractions not available at Disneyland. We headed straight to the Tiki Room: Under New Management. Closed. Over to Hall of Presidents. Either closed or maybe we just missed a show because the doors were closed and no host in sight. A couple of the restaurants I had marked were available only for character meals at inflated prices (Crystal Palace, Liberty Tree Tavern) or closed.

We did get into the original Country Bear Jamboree after going up the wrong ramp near the entrance, the host refusing to open the rope to let us through forcing us to go down, around and up another ramp to the other side of the rope. My fault, I suppose, but still annoying.

By the end of the show, we were hungry. Checking my list, the only nearby restaurant was the Pirate and the Parrot. Closed. I threw away the list. I really didn't want another hamburger, hot dog or fried anything. Giving up, we made our way through a pre-parade crowd to Tony's for an overpriced, but tasty meal. Tony's was not on my list. We emerged in time for the fireworks. Later I realized I should have tried Cinderella's Royal Table, which was on my list. Oh, well.

Although everything turned out okay, and everyone lived happily ever after, it was a very frustrating first day in the Magic Kingdom due to all the early closures.

Thanks for sharing your frustrations. The Magic Kingdom can't keep temperatures and humidity under 100. They can't prevent big crowds or long lines by locking the front gates every day at noon.

But they can avoid irritating their guests by keeping their facilities open. Closed attractions, restaurants and shops turn huge patches of the parks into lifeless ghost towns—and suck the Magic from the Kingdom.

Another hot topic at both Disney World and Disneyland is the Cast Deployment breaking system (CDS). A "saddened, once proud, former cast member" in Anaheim wrote:

I have to share a story about CDS to you. I am a former cast member, who had the now rare qualities of actually working out in the park BEFORE getting a position in TDA. With that said, I was interviewing for a position in the Attractions line of business, and the manager (another external person, with no park experience) was discussing how the position was going to focus on labor efficiencies, and how the new CDS was going to be the answer. I immediately stopped him and told him it won't work. Then I drew a diagram on the white board in his office, showing how efficient a rotation is at Haunted Mansion, which uses a "backwards" rotation that gets a person on a break before everyone gets to their next position in the rotation. The bottom line: you should have seen the "deer in the headlights" look I received! Needless to say, I didn't get the job, but I wouldn't have accepted it anyway because it was the wrong system to implement.

The reason labor has become inefficient is because they went to a centralized scheduling system, taking schedulers out of the areas, and sticking them into one location. And it took away control from the managers running the attractions! I could go on forever, but what a joke CDS is and always will be. Attractions ran great for how many years, and many lessons were learned to incorporate the most efficient rotations and use of labor hours for each attraction. And each attraction is DIFFERENT! It's sad that all the years of learning and experience have been thrown out the window for political reasons. Very sad.

An Orlando cast member rejoiced:

Thank God I no longer work in Attractions. There's no way to implement CDS or GEMS into my new division. No rotations, and a full time scheduling clerk make things possible.

CDS was the reason I left Attractions to pursue a better position within the company. CDS would ALWAYS run behind schedule, and at the time I depended on friend and family for transportation to and from work. A lot of times, it would bump me off the clock upwards of an hour after my shift ended. I would be stuck in the Magic Kingdom with no ride home and a few times forced to spend the night in the tunnel.

Finally, last year, Casting called me and offered me a transfer. This was while I was at work. Needless to say I was ecstatic. When CDS was late in bumping me off the clock, I said to heck with it and left. I called in sick for the next two weeks and when I returned I started my new training.

What's sad is that one month after leaving Attractions for good, my old area called me to ask to do some overtime. Needless to say, I declined. I left CDS and have never looked back since.

Regarding the GEMS computerized scheduling system also borrowed from WDW by Disneyland, former cast member Robert wrote:

I was working at Disneyland when GEMS what first being used at DCA, and for DCA at the time it was wonderful … because everyone at DCA had the same seniority date.

I remember vividly a scheduler said to me, "Yeah, GEMS is great. You don't have to check for holes and seniority." At the time I thought nothing of it, but now with your article it makes sense.

A Disneyland employee groaned:

CDS and GEMS are doing heavy damage to the ranks at the park. In one division, they have fewer than 120 qualified, trained cast members to handle the attractions in one certain Land. Many of the Casual Regulars and Casual Temporaries left before the season was over, citing the two systems kept screwing them over. Morale could not sink lower.

The latest story going around is the hours for DCA. Because the park will be open from 10 to 6 during the weekdays in the off-season, there is talk going around that cast members will have the option of working 10-hour days. This will cut down on the number of cast members working an attraction. The ride operator will open, operate and close the attraction on his/her shift. This 4/10 plan is not confirmed, but one of the rumors going around the resort.

It is not maintenance's fault for the condition of the park. That small division has to worry about both parks, and with cutbacks and people quitting, it will only get worse. Many cast members have said it is becoming increasingly difficult to share and keep Walt's Dream. To put it simply, David, THE PARK IS DYING!!!! We have got to get rid of Eisner, Pressler, and Cynthia to save it (plus a dozen managers and vice presidents in the process).

Randy McClintick echoed:

I'm 42 years old, grew up in Long Beach, and still cherish great memories of my once a year trips to Disneyland. (Even rode by bike from home down Katella when I was 13 or so. Didn't tell my Mom until a year or so ago!)

I, like you and your readers, am saddened and frustrated by the way the park is currently being managed and neglected. Hard for me to share the enthusiasm I had as a kid with my own 8-and 5-year-old. I'm reluctant to visit, which isn't fair to them, but feel that by purchasing tickets, food and merchandise we're implicitly approving management's actions (or lack of it).

I'm auctioning off my old collection of Disney News magazines on E-bay this week. The editions are from 1969 -1979. While going through them, I came across an article about the after hours upkeep the park used to pride itself on. "In the summer, armed with spray cans or paint brushes, these men retouch the walls, benches or surfaces which may have become chipped, scratched or worn. It's necessary to cover the handrails with quick drying paint each night".

The director of Maintenance was Ted Crowell. "We find that cleanliness breeds cleanliness. For example, each lavatory is checked every 20 minutes or so for supplies, operation and cleanliness."

If you don't have this magazine, I'd like to send to you as a gift. I know you'll appreciate it.

Keep up the good work; it's very much appreciated!

I haven't seen that particular article, but it sounds similar to the press materials and newspaper articles that used to regularly appear until the 1980s. In fact, I used many of these eight or so years ago in writing about the park after hours for my first book, Mouse Tales.

I agree that we should not support inferior products. The only problem with Disney is that when they take shortcuts and provide lesser quality entertainment, customers notice and don't spend as much on the entertainment. Disney then uses lower sales to justify further shortcuts!

Yet another change Disneyland is copying from WDW is spinning off FastPass into its own division. A Disney World worker warned:

FastPass already has become its own department at WDW, and I have not seen any positives regarding this move. Before this shift, Attractions coordinators were responsible for inputting FastPass info into a computer terminal. They could take care of things right away. Now they have to radio a FastPass coordinator just to do something simple like change the stand-by wait time. Attractions coordinators are less empowered to run their own attractions.

Also, FastPass cast members do not know anything about the attraction they are working, nor are they in that attraction's costume. We have lost an element of Show by putting a FastPass cast member at merge point near the front doors of Mansion when they are dressed in a costume to resemble Outdoor Foods (khaki pants and a beige shirt).

And no offense to the FastPass cast members, but they do not "perform their role" according to the attraction they are stationed at. FastPass West takes care of Splash, Thunder, and Jungle. FastPass North takes care of Pooh, Pan, and Mansion.

It's kind of hard to be in character when you are bouncing between different lands. Even though I have never agreed with the idea of FastPass from the beginning and do not particularly like working the positions, I have to admit that I would rather have Attractions people doing FastPass than some generic type of department.

As for the rumored possibility of closing Disneyland and/or DCA one day a week during the off-season, former cast member Mark Zimmer wrote:

Great columns! It is a joy to visit MousePlanet and read all the news about the parks. It keeps those of us who have moved from Orange County to other parts of the country well informed.

Just a quick comment about closing the parks. I worked attractions at Disneyland from '69 to '79. When the park was closed on Monday and Tuesday all the hosts and hostesses had the same days off. To those of us who continue to enjoy the reunion party every five years at the Disneyland Hotel, we wondered why most alumni club members who attend worked the park from 1955 to about 1975. The reason: we all had the same days off, and we did so much together on those days off.

The Disneyland Recreation Club members centered the events around Monday and Tuesday. Long-term relationships were formed—and that continues to this day for those who had the joy of working those 5 days. So, not only did the park get the best maintenance, the hosts and hostesses became friends, and that made for happier attitudes toward the guests.

I cannot get over the terrible condition of lengthy work times mentioned in your columns. There were rare times when we might get "stuck" at a position for an extended lunch rotation—but for that to be an everyday event would be so frustrating—and that frustration gets taken out on the guests under some circumstances.

The only solution will be for a new CEO to take over who understands these problems. When money takes center stage, the guests get a bad show.

God bless you and your family. I hope you get to enjoy DisneySea in the near future.

An Adventureland cast member added:

You are so on the mark about Dark Days. If Disney management makes any changes to anything it will be to save money. Repairs and upkeep are the last things on anyone's mind.

As a current cast member, I can vouch for that. My area is in such a state of disrepair it brings tears to my eyes. If Dark Days are added, it will be because management wants a day when they will not have to use any labor.

The Jazzman riffed:

I have been visiting the site and reading your columns, enjoying them immensely, for some time now. I'm a former Disney Stores cast member, and I appreciate the opportunity to find out what is really going on "behind the curtain" at the company since I left. So far I haven't been compelled to write, but while reading through the last mailbag, I was struck by some of the things cast members from Disneyland were saying regarding breaks, rotations, and so on.

While I do understand their frustration completely, as I had to put up with "Disney management" myself (and yes, of course, though TDS is a store in the mall and considerably smaller in scope than the parks, the management is still the same throughout), it bothers me that they have let it blind them to the single most important thing about their jobs. They work at Disneyland. That fact in itself changes the whole picture. They are not working the drive through in a fast food place, pumping gas at a station, delivering news papers, or anything along those lines where it is just a job. They have a job in the Happiest Place on Earth! If they were working in a fast food place, I can see grumbling about not getting breaks promptly or their job being mundane and boring. But they're not. They're working attractions in the park that Walt built.

Granted, while standing there loading guests, it may seem like 90 minutes is too long to wait for a break, but think about it. Ninety minutes? I currently work in a job where I work eight hours before my break (which means going home). Ninety minutes would be a dream. Even if 90 minutes were a standard, again this isn't just a standard job, it's Disneyland. There are countless thousands, including most TDS cast members I've known, who would give up a break altogether for the chance to work in the park where Walt himself once roamed.

I wonder if, perhaps, the majority of cast members complaining have forgotten about that. I'm not proposing that everyone should skip around the park whistling "Zip A Dee Doo Dah" and pretending that everything is perfect. Lord knows it's not. The company as a whole has sadly lost touch with its roots, and there are, as MousePlanet attests to, a lot of things happening that just shouldn't be. But those things should never cloud the cast members' minds and make them forget why they're there in the first place. When they applied to work there, breaks every 90 minutes, rotations to "better" attractions, etc. weren't on their minds. They were only thinking of one thing: working at the Magic Kingdom. I know this because I do know a few park cast members, former and current, who tell me that. They shouldn't lose sight of that idea, because it's that idea in their head that gives the park its magic. Yeah, Autopia may be hot, boring, and strenuous, Toon Town may be a shadeless, faded pit, and Jungle may be over scrutinized by "undercover" managers wearing shiny shoes, but that shouldn't interfere with cast members' ability, and desire, to create magic for their guests, and also for themselves.

Even when I was frustrated beyond belief with snooty nincompoop stage managers, SOPs from the seventh layer of H#ll, and clueless guests demanding Bugs Bunny boxers, I always reminded myself where I was, and that timeless adage, the show must go on. I did my best, regardless of how irritated at the company I was, to give my guests the magic moments they expected from Disney, and keep the struggles and annoyances backstage, away from them, because I was, after all, a Disney cast member. I only really quit in the end because I needed to make more money for college. I would have gladly stuck through all the BS, but couldn't afford to financially.

So, even though it does all sound horribly idealistic, I urge those Disneyland cast members who are upset about working a whole two hours in a row, at an attraction they hate, to remember why they got that job in the first place. Because it's two whole hours at a real attraction in Disneyland! And, it's not the attraction that makes Disneyland special, memorable or magical anyway. It's the Cast. They're the magic, plain and simple, and when it leaves them, its gone for good.

Bravo! I agree that cast members should preserve a positive face at all times on stage.

However, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't complain offstage about poor or potentially dangerous working conditions. And, as covered with pixie dust as Space Mountain and Pirates may be, it's unsafe for guests to have cast members standing in the same position for two or three hours. Accidents have already happened because of this.

I hope the matter is solved quickly, and agree that it should never boil over on-stage.

Another reader asked:

Whatever happened to the magic within the cast members? Cast member morale has been low for the past six to seven years and has been noticed by many. What has the company done about this big problem? Do they care? What could it be? What is going wrong?

Good questions, which I've been trying to answer for the last six to seven years…

See you all this weekend at the Bears' Farewell Performance!


You can write to David atthis link..

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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