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MousePlanet Mailbag for November 18, 2004

We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. Although we cannot publish them all, the following may be of interest to our readers. In today's Mailbag, we look at the insightful and thoughtful comments from our readers in response to David Koenig's latest article, “The Last Detail.”

Feedback for David Koenig

Cast Member Bill writes:

Thank you for your latest article “The Last Detail.” I agree with you completely on everything you mentioned in regards to the way everyone, Cast Members and Guests alike, are looking towards the future for the first time in decades. We are all able to overlook the seemingly minor inconveniences of today because we know they are only going to be to our benefit tomorrow.

It really is a little like seeing all the presents wrapped under the Christmas tree. You see them all lined up under wraps and all you can do is anticipate what they will be once you finally get a chance to open them up. That anticipation is more fun than annoying now than it was a few years ago because you know what is blossoming underneath is going to be more glorious and you will be able to savor it for years to come. Not just for one weekend or season because it's a quick fix scheme (i.e., X-Games Xperience).

You mention towards the end of your article how you are holding out for a Resort-wide Cast Member revival and how you think we, as in we Cast Members, are waiting to see if the recent changes are sincere. I think you couldn't be more right on the nose with that observation. I'm a veteran Disneyland Cast Member. I've seen the park go from the highest highs of the late 1990s to the lowest lows of the early 2000s. Today Cast Members are being reserved about giving Matt Ouimet and crew all-out praise because we've seen things change too much in too little time.

I think back over my many years and look at how many presidents (or vice presidents as they were called pre-Pressler) Disneyland has had. If I remember right, there have been five changes in leadership in the last 14 years, with three of them being in the last five years alone. Cast Members today crave continuity. We need to know there is a person in charge who isn't just using their position as a means of getting something more.

Matt seems to be the solid type of leader who isn't going to spruce things up then leave. I'm sure his standing in the eyes of The Walt Disney Company is going to be extremely high once the 50th gets into high gear. He'll always be known as the man who brought “Walt” back to Disneyland and the guy who wasn't afraid to face the money men. Remember, he went straight to the top and forced them to take a trip down Interstate 5 to show them directly why Disneyland needs money. If Matt can show his team of Cast Members that he's sincere and truly does believe in the Magic and is in it for the long haul then I think his Cast Members will reward him with all that he's hoping to find. Pride in ownership and the desire to relay his passion to the Guests. It's started already and will only get more evident as the Golden Anniversary nears.

Thanks again for the positive words in your article. I wish every Cast Member could read what you said, I think it would motivate them to continue rebuilding the Magic that was lost but is being reborn.


Keith writes:

David, that was a good (albeit brief) article today. I remember that in Traditions (Walt Disney World's orientation program) they made a point that in their letters and comments to the Company, guests cited Cast Members as being the most memorable and important part of the Disney experience—above cleanliness, above attraction quality, above everything. Yet the reality of working in the parks rarely reflected an understanding of how important we were. We were treated as interchangeable, expendable, and at best, a mechanical necessity to run the parks. What's more, wages reflected that.

After an extensive and formal Cast Survey, management claimed to be shocked that wages, working conditions, and morale were such concerns. If they truly didn't know, that's a serious issue right there. Regarding wages, they made a point of comparing our wages to those of other service industries, including fast food. How often do you go into McDonald's expecting to get the “Disney” experience or employees of the caliber expected at Disney? I've never had anything close—yet the wages were similar if not equal. I agree with you that “throwing money at” this issue isn't going to solve it overnight, but it could be a very significant component in returning to the standards of quality that Disney once exhibited.

You cite the ratio of applicants to positions being much smaller now—yet I am certain that if Disney paid better wages, there would be more applicants for each position and Disney could again afford to be more selective. I'm sure there are many people out there who would like to work for Disney, and who have the “Disney spirit,” yet they simply can't afford to work for Disney. What's more, people who feel that they are paid what they're worth will have more pride in their job and do a much better job.

It sounds like Matt Ouimet is beginning to cover some of the other concerns—now it's time to offer wages that reflect the quality of Cast Members that they're seeking.


Jon writes:

I appreciated your comments today about Disneyland. One sentence, though, caught my attention. You mentioned building new attractions, but did not go any further. While I am pleased as punch that maintenance and upkeep (as well as service) are finally being fully restored to white glove status, the ride capacity and restaurant offerings have a long way to go to reach 1995 levels. (I am conveniently ignoring the fact that an all-new park has sprung up in the parking lot since then.) Nevertheless, it would seem that upping ride capacity is years away at best. So what is behind your statement?

Jon – I was referring to New Management's attitude more than anything else. Whereas previous management seemed bothered by new attraction proposals, Team Ouimet is actively soliciting Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) for new attractions. They understand the importance of new rides in bringing people in the gate, keeping the park fresh, and improving park-wide capacity.

Of course, that doesn't mean they'll be blessed with the funding from corporate or that new attractions will open from scratch overnight. It's a long process, but at least they're trying to solve the problem, not running away from it.

And, you're absolutely right about restaurants. They have been decimated over the last 10 years and, unlike the year(s) it would take to build new attractions, the infrastructure is there to restore the quantity and quality of dining options immediately.


Norm writes:

Your most recent MousePlanet article was simply, just, great (inspiring, moving, sentimental, dead on)! Reading the letter that O.A. Schuch wrote to his employees punctuated the point so clearly on the remaining ingredient left that would bring back true magic to Disneyland. It brought back so many vivid memories of childhood visits to Disneyland ('75-'89), and the stellar cast member service that existed during those visits. Thank you so much for an insightful piece. Here's to hoping Ouimet is on the right track.


A. writes:

It has been nice seeing the park sparkle as it once has. My only problem is the clothing of the cast members.

Does anyone but me notice that in the last couple of year some of the clothes the cast members wear should be put out to pasture? The clothes the cast members wear are either too tight or too big that the pants are so long that they are ripped at the bottom—what happened to the leaders of the departments for these people?

I am not saying that the entire cast members are dressed this way; some wear their clothes that say they are proud to be working at Resort. Maybe Mr. Ouimet should throw some money into wardrobe department as well.


Jeff writes:

Having just read your article “The Last Detail,” I just wanted to recount my experience as a main entrance cast member last summer.

My favorite part of the day was working closing after we've swung open the big gates in the middle. Our “job” is to make sure that no one comes back in, but the more important part was wishing everyone a goodnight and smiling at sleepy children. I wasn't wishing people good-night because it was a job requirement but because I honestly hoped in my heart that that each and every guest genuinely had a good night. Unfortunately many of my co-workers did not have the same attitude.

It maddens me every time I see a cast member with their cell phones out. Unlike many cast members I was embarrassed the day I had to wear white socks with long pants because all my black ones needed laundering.

But I also dislike seeing Haunted Mansion, or Frontierland cast member walking across the park with their backpack on before their shift, or wearing sunglasses or digital watches while working on Main Street or Frontierland. I wish it were possible for everyone to take pride in their work, but I don't blame the park. There are several policies that I just loved.

For example the unspoken policy at the main entrance is to never rush a guest to move the line faster, let the guests dictate the speed of interaction. The people in line can wait or move to one of the other 20+ entrance lines.

One policy that I didn't like, however, is that one of my leads would tell me not to dance. She said it was unprofessional, but guests loved seeing how excited I was to be there. But it was only one lead that had a problem with it. One lead even commended me for telling off (in a polite way) a guest after asking a racist question about whether we search “towelheads” more thoroughly.

People elsewhere always comment at how hard it must be to have to smile all the time, but when you're there you can't help but smile.

I'd love to go back, but it's not worth the commute from L.A. for a four-hour shift. The union-dictated administrative policies giving seniority as the only preference for scheduling sticks the new guys with 20-hour weeks, when we want to spend every waking hour there, but those who have been there and get the 40-hour weeks want to ER (“Early Release,” to be let off shift early) whenever possible. It certainly breaks their “enviromentality” policies, when someone who commutes from farther away still has to work five four-hour shifts rather than fewer longer shifts. So maybe it's the unions and not the management that keep incompetent unmotivated employees in their places.

I didn't intend to write this much, especially since I have no real comprehensive point, or any solutions to cast member morale, but it's nice to know that others at least recognize the cast members who do care.


Mat in Australia writes:

I just finished reading you latest article on the changes being made to Disneyland, where the new management is making an attempt to recapture the old magic days, and I had a few comments to make.

I've just returned from a trip to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL) and if anyone needs a reminder of how things used to work at Disneyland California, TDL is it. I don't speak a word of Japanese, but I couldn't help but be infected by the fun that all the cast members seemed to be having.

Two years ago I spent five days in the two California parks and went away thinking that my childhood memories of Disneyland must have been tainted. I was shocked by the morale of the staff, the poor repair of the park and the general “mood” of everyone around the place. It seemed more a generic theme park than a Magic Kingdom.

Tokyo on the other hand, is like a breath of fresh air. You can feel the excitement the moment you step inside the park boundaries. The cleanliness, the friendliness and the sheer enjoyment that each and every cast member exhibited made the trip well and truly worthwhile. To put it simply, TDL restored my faith in Disney parks. The magic is still there. Everyone from the character actors down to the maintenance personnel went out of their way to make sure you were enjoying your trip—the personal touch at every level.

I have three hopes for Disneyland in California:

1. That the park is restored to its “magic” look and feel—which seems to be well on its way. I was shocked by the rundown feeling I got from California. Everything from rides in rehab to the paint peeling from Toontown walls. It all just felt neglected. Mind you, this was two years ago before the recent rehab work.

2. That the cast members stop feeling like they are 'working' and start enjoying the experience of making someone's day. I can't tell you the number of times we were waved at on a train, or had a character make special notice of our boat and smile. We literally had 20 Cast Members manning the Gondola ride at DisneySea with less than 15 people riding the attraction—-and not one was standing around waiting for something to do. They were singing, dancing, smiling, waving and having a blast! It turned a low-key ride into one of the best experiences of our trip!

3. That the shops in Main Street and around the park return to the heyday of actually offering different products. In TDL there is a clock store that only sells clocks and watches, a glass store with only glassware and each of the various stores around a land are themed accordingly. The thing that sickened me most about California was the feeling that you were overwhelmed with the same lame stuffed toys at EVERY store in the park—no matter if you were in Main St or Tomorrowland.

To me, these three simple things would make Disneyland into the place it used to be. The magic of my childhood could return so easily—all it takes is a quick trip to TDL to see how it should be done. I don't know a single person who wouldn't be infected by the enthusiasm those parks represent.


Dennis writes:

An excellent statement, reflecting, I think, what most people expect to see when they arrive at Disneyland. Sure, I enjoy the rides, and I enjoy watching my children enjoy the rides. But as a long-time attendee, I now go for the magical interaction experience, sometime more so than the rides. Sitting on a bench, in any given land, and just watching what goes on around me, can be a fascinating event. I am pleased to say that, as an observer, it does seems morale is at a much higher level than in years past. I can see it in the faces of the cast members, as well as the guests. We might not see a letter on the level of Mr. Schuch's this year, but I predict that, as we get closer to the 50th, and people begin to see what is unfolding around them within the park, we may be pleasantly surprised.


Pam writes:

I think you latest column about rejuvenated cast members is very accurate. My nephew and I take a yearly trip in December. When we went in December 2002, the cast members were very rude and short. My nephew asked for Maynard at the Haunted Mansion and was told, “I am not Maynard's keeper.” It just seemed like everyone was grouchy.

When we went in December 2003, things were much different. We didn't encounter one rude cast member. They were all so nice. They sincerely engaged us in conversation, asking where we were from, how our stay was, what rides we enjoyed most. They were so much more relaxed and they seemed to enjoy their jobs much more. It was my thought that with Cynthia's departure, a heavy air had lifted from the park and people were excited about Matt Ouimet. The cast members feelings about their job made a huge difference in our enjoyment level as guests. They are truly the greatest asset.


Jeri writes:

I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say in your article. Having visited Disneyland regularly since I was a child in the 1960s, I can only say that I have noticed over the last 15 years as I brought my own children that the park and the employees have become indistinguishable from any other entertainment venue I frequent. This would include activities such as movie theatres, carnivals and other theme parks. Gone seem to be the days of the while uniformed man with the dustpan making the park sparkle inconspicuously as you wander about being amazed by the attractions.

I visited both WDW and Disneyland/California Adventure this past year during February and March, and while we did have a good time, I did think that both parks were in need of more careful attention and more helpful employees. I found it disappointing that all the parks seem run down and not particularly well cared for. I am happy to see from your article that this is changing. I would love my children to have the same amazing experiences that I did as a child at Disney!


Mike writes:

My family and I are Arizonans who visit Disneyland/California Adventure two to three times per year, and we too have noticed the changes. Besides the obvious physical/operational improvements, the general vibe in the parks is more positive and uplifting; cast members are much more apt to chat, and we've noticed numerous individual efforts by cast members to make our visit more special. It's not that in the past few years it has been total doom & gloom, but the outlook of cast members have definitely improved.

We also have somewhat of an inside perspective as my wife is an O.C. native, and worked at Disneyland for six years during the late '80s and early '90s; first on Main Street at the food carts, and ending as a lead at the Inn-Between. Every trip she sees old cast member friends, and their outlook has noticeably improved.


Matthew writes:

I recently visited the Disneyland Resort to celebrate my birthday. Though I was sad that my favorite ride, the Matterhorn, was undergoing its annual refurbishment, I noticed new, subtle improvements. First, Fantasyland looked like new with a great layer of fresh paint. I never realized how vibrant the colors around the Alice in Wonderland queue were. It was great. Second, I saw more characters walking around than I could ever remember. The Disneyland marching band and street performers were out in full force, unlike in recent years. Finally, the castle looks great with its 50th anniversary makeover.

I have been going to Disneyland now for 20 years and I am ecstatic over the improvements they have been making over the past year. Oh, and the addition of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror vastly improves the overall experience and appeal of Disney's California Adventure, that up until now was lack luster and attracted a small audience. I look forward to improvements in the future, and to reading about upcoming events.

Oh, one last thing, someone should write an article about what they are exactly doing to Space Mountain. With is being closed for over two years, I am anxious and curious to see what Disney has done.

Matthew – When Space Mountain reopens in about a year, the track layout will be exactly the same. The main differences will be new rockets, a launch at the beginning instead of a chain ramp, and new scenery (Milky Way, stars, etc.).


Eric writes:

“Waiting in lines also became less burdened due to his controversial crack-down on the abused Special Assistance Pass system. The gutsy move showed that he was willing to do what was right, even if it wasn't politically correct and hurt a few feelings.”

I had not heard of the above. Our son has Down's Syndrome and its been a great help to say the least in the past, as he has low muscle tone and sometimes standing/walking a lot completely wipes him out. Anecdotally, I have noticed increasing abuse of the system through recent years. But I would hope this does not mean it completely taken away. Please provide more details. FYI—we visited this last summer and brought proof of our son's diagnosis (as we always do) and had no problem getting the pass.

Eric – The change occurred late last year. (If you run a search on MousePlanet, you can probably find some articles and passionate arguments both pro and con.)

The system had become so abused, that anyone who walked in and asked for a pass—even without medical evidence—got one. Management thought turning anyone away for any reason wasn't nice. Unfortunately, a vast minority of those receiving passes were truly needy. And lines at every attraction would come to a halt to accommodate dozens and dozens of SAP holders. So new management came in and made the rules much tougher.


Paul writes:

I was just wondering if you realized that you contradicted yourself in your last article. While the gist of the article was based on the improvement or reinstatement of customer service via content employees, I feel that you were way off the mark with your comment about special assistance passes being “PC” and that some people may get their feelings hurt.

The truth of the matter is that several guests were physically hurt (including my wife) when the passes were pulled. I will concede that the passes were abused by many who should have never had them. For this reason, I am working with Senator Mitchell and Garth Steevers to improve the system. The system is mandated by law (ADA) and therefore should not be placed in the “PC” bin along with the other things that a certain person or group consider offensive. It is very difficult to provide assistance to those who truly need it, without the system being wide open to those who would abuse it.

We are to the point now of having people provide proof of their condition before being issued a pass. Why don't we all shift our anger to those sad individuals who would abuse the system, instead of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. I just don't get the rationale that someone who is mentally or physically impaired should be less able to enjoy a day at the parks with their siblings, children, or grandchildren, or that some people would become so upset after standing in line for an hour to wait for one more minute so that someone a little slower can load into a ride vehicle. Has society really become that selfish? Once upon a time Walt himself would give a parent a break, and push a wheelchair for them.

Paul – I don't find any contradiction at all.

I have no problem with helping out those who absolutely need it. But over the last 10 years, the Special Assistance Pass (SAP) system had become so abused at Disneyland, that the majority of users didn't physically require them, and lines at rides like Splash Mountain would come to a complete stop to accommodate dozens and dozens of the Fake Disabled. Wait times were significantly impacted by the huge number of people cheating the system (not by the relative minority that required special assistance).

The cause was political correctness and spinelessness. Disneyland so did not want to offend anyone, that no one—including apparently able-bodied teenagers—would be asked to show or prove they required special assistance.

The change was not aimed to punish the needy. It was to improve the Disney Experience for all guests by weeding out those who abused the system. Of course, any time you draw a line in the sand you're still going to have some injustice, but I have no doubt Disney's intentions are in the right place.


Josh writes:

I just read your books “Mouse Tales” and “More Mouse Tales.” At the end of the latter, it was depressing what was happening with Disneyland. Boy, it is nice to see that Matt Ouimet didn't just talk about improvements to Walt's Magic Kingdom, he's actually doing something about it.

About 14 years ago, when Jack Lindquist was Disneyland President, I worked for a day camp; one of the girls, who was 12, told me that Disneyland wasn't as clean and nice as it had been a couple of years back. This was 1990. I just dismissed it, but then I noticed later that year that Tomorrowland was really outdated and looking forward to an update of the land, especially since the America Sings building was empty and said, “We're Imagineering a New Attraction.” Inside the Disney Gallery, they showed this revamped Carousel building and it looked really awesome. I was wondering if you know what attraction that was.

Josh – There have been a couple of different proposals for the America Sings building over the years. About the timeframe you're referring to, the most promising proposal on the table was “Plectu's Fantastic Galactic Revue,” with singing, dancing animatronic aliens, somewhat inspired by the cantina scene in Star Wars.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact David here.

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