Weight Gain vs. Wait Loss

by David Koenig, contributing writer

Peter Pan’s Flight is entering the fifth and final week of a refurbishment centered on adding all-new vehicles, and rumors are flying that—like on "it’s a small world" a year ago—the change is to accommodate the expanding waistlines of guests.

The flying pirate ships outwardly resemble the old ones, but one witness detected a lighter color scheme. The lap bars have also been redesigned to prevent guests from wiggling free. But most significantly, the boats are wider than their predecessors.

“Depending who you talk to, it is because guests have gotten bigger, or the wish to increase the number that can be loaded into a boat to increase guest capacity,” shared the source. “But a lot of ride operators are saying this is a result from Small World—a trend to accommodate ever-bigger guests. WDI (Imagineering) has been keeping quiet.”

Likelier, however, was the desire to allow more families to ride together and reduce wait times at one of Fantasyland’s most popular attractions, since the new vehicles can accommodate four riders instead of the prior maximum of three.

The old Pan vehicles, explains a Fantasyland cast member, “were already among the largest in Fantasyland and could comfortably fit three good-sized adults. The problem we constantly had was that there would be a family of four with two lap sitters and, even though the boats could easily fit them with room to spare, we were only allowed three total, often causing upset guests and station backups leading to breakdowns. Hopefully this will resolve that issue.”

“Just like the Small World refurb really had nothing to do with Americans getting fatter—P.R. nightmare or not, that wasn’t the reason for our bottom-out boat problems, the larger boats for Pan have nothing to do with Americans getting fatter,” the employee continued.

Yet for the last two years, ride operators have been telling me that while guest girth didn’t cause the Small World redo, it did contribute to the new boat designs. Disney would unconvincingly brush off the contention as nonsense. So I asked the Fantasyland cast member to explain:

“The thing with bottom out boats (“BOBs”) is that they were loaded too heavily. This is not the guests’ fault. It is the grouper’s responsibility to determine how many people can fit into the boat and once you’ve been doing it for a while you can tell if a boat is loaded too heavily or not. Sure our capacity allows us three guests per row (not counting lap sitting), but it’s our job to look at that party of six and decide if they can fit in two rows or if we should give them three. If anything, larger guests decrease our efficiency (by not being able to load as many people into one boat); if the boat bottoms out, though, it’s the grouper's fault. 

“It’s also a matter of boat balancing. If, for example, we have a group of six large adults followed by a really small group of four, sure we can squeeze the six into rows 1 and 2 and put the group of four into rows 4 and 5 then find a group of two or three for row 3, but that boat will be front heavy and probably won’t make it very far. Even though it would mean fitting two or three more people into that boat than if you gave the six three rows, the resulting downtime from a BOB would more than kill any small gains made.

“Another problem that caused BOBs is pumps not working. This most often caused problems in the Hello room (and the one BOB I’ve dealt with post-rehab was there as well), but boats tend to get sluggish in Africa and occasionally in the South Seas as well. I’ve seen BOBs with an empty row and two small families occupying the remaining rows. That’s not typical, but it has happened and is due to non-working pumps and tight turns.

“And the new flume isn’t any deeper than the original. In fact, everything outside the show building is still original and you can see for yourself that the flume inside the building is exactly the same depth. I know they were saying stuff about fiberglass build-up and whatnot. I have no idea about all that, though I could see it being the case, especially in the tight turns as boat after fiberglass boat hits it incessantly. The old flume was also quite leaky and when you have leaks you have low water levels, which was another cause of BOBs.

“The point is, no matter how heavy the guests are, it’s our job to safely accommodate them onto our attraction. If this means giving a 500-pound person their own row, so be it. The fact that they’re riding is not going to bottom out the boat; it’s where we put them and how we distribute the rest of the weight in the boat. The long and short of it is it’s our job.

“And, interestingly enough, the new boats are actually smaller than the originals! Where the old ones could usually fit three good-sized adults fairly comfortably, I find myself more often splitting bigger groups of three into two rows just so they don’t have to scrunch together. And when we add boats from storage to open the north station, it’s a much farther reach to the boat from the edge of the flume than it used to be. So much so that we now have to use a boat hook to move it instead of just grabbing the handrails. If they were trying to make the boats bigger to accommodate larger guests, whoever designed them must have missed that memo! 

“Yes, the fact that people are bigger does affect us in that it decreases our efficiency. But bigger boats wouldn’t solve the bottoming out problem if we still load them too heavily. Much more important to fixing that problem than new boats were the new flume and new pumps.”

To accommodate the wider boats, Pan’s load/unload station has to be rebuilt. Cast members are hoping that the new station design includes a split at the exit for Guest Assistance groups and exiting guests, to increase efficiency. But we’ll all have to wait until the ride reopens June 8 to know just which of these rumors are true.

Carts Under Wraps

Even though summer is just a few short weeks away, there are plenty more of the typically-off-season construction walls to be found throughout the resort. In addition to ride refurbishments and repaving projects, last month Disneyland began digging up areas around certain Outdoor Vending carts to install plumbing, electrical and telephone lines. First came the lemonade stand in front of the old Fantasyland Skyway station, others are now following.

“The new electrical/telephone lines are for cash registers. The new lines will be added so guests will be able to use their credit cards instead of paying only in cash. Not all locations will have the plumbing. By state law, a sink is required when certain food items are sold. Like the lemonade stand in Fantasyland, there is a small sink there. That is the reason why the Westward Ho shop in Frontierland switched from selling candy and fudge to pins. It would have cost too much to put the plumbing into the shop.”

Another cast member had different suspicions as to why more cash registers are popping up at ODV carts. “With the kind of folks they hire these days, it’s probably a loss prevention issue. Who knows what can go on in those cash aprons? Have you taken a good look at our outdoor vendors? They do not appear to be up to the old Disney standards. I guess I’m a snob in that area, since I hired in when it was hard to get a job here, and (Disneyland’s) appearance and personality guidelines were pretty high.”

Marble Mystery Solved

How long does it take to refurbish a ball?

So far, six weeks and counting. Construction walls have surrounded Tomorrowland’s former maze of water jets known as Cosmic Waves since mid-April. Contractors have ripped out the old plumbing and will install a circular planter around the marble ball.

Although obviously not a huge upgrade, the new set-up should better blend the ball into its surroundings—and make it harder to remember that the ball actually used to have a purpose.

The Comeback Kids

Several cast members who were laid off earlier this spring have been spotted returning to work.

“It seems that TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) got carried away with the layoffs and is now asking some former cast members to come back,” reported one co-worker. “Under what conditions I do not know. One returning cast member said he got a phone call asking if he would be interested in coming back.  But you will not be hearing this officially from Disney.”

So far, the returnees spotted have been hourlies, but the source has been told that “a few salaried will be coming back.”

In addition, Team Disney Anaheim has restarted its previously-on-hold “TSA” management training program, meaning the park is ready to begin filling open management positions created by the layoffs. 

Normally hourly employees might prefer fewer managers, but particularly hard-hit departments, such as Store Operations, are aching for more support. “We are suffering through; none of the stores are getting their desired allocations of merch(andise),” one clerk noted after the latest round of cuts. “In fact, in the shop where I work, we are running out of all the essentials. They have quite literally, sabotaged themselves into a hole, and, unless someone gets on the ball, we will have nothing to sell to our guests.”

While admitting that the stores have been trying to maintain minimal inventories “for a few years,” she said, “I stock my shop everyday, and our stockroom is totally empty, save for a few odds and ends. It is basically a storage room for supplies these days. We did lose a key buyer and another guy who we went too who made sure he passed our needs (the guests', actually) on to the upper echelon in TDA. We have no one to communicate with now.”

Not Quite As Perky

One of the perks of being a Disneyland cast member is that twice a year they’d receive a special gift in the mail—an allotment of uniquely designed, complimentary park passes. The perk will continue, but it may not seem quite as special. To cut costs, employees must now print out their own tickets from “The Hub,” the company’s cast member Web site.

Holiday Horror II

A source in New Orleans Square has confirmed the financially successful but aesthetically questionable Christmas merchandise location will return to the Court of Angels this holiday season with some “improvements.” Not sure if the ones who view them as improvements will be the guests or the accountants.

Political Payback

Despite donating more than a quarter of a million dollars to support California’s ballot measures, Disneyland did not mourn when the propositions went down to defeat last week. In fact, they probably cheered.

The ugliest of the propositions, 1A, would have extended a temporary sales tax hike another two years, something that only works against retail businesses like the resort’s shops and restaurants. So why did Disney donate all that money?

Payback, I presume. The temporary tax hike did not contain a key component that Governor Schwarzenegger had been pushing for: extending that 9.25% sales tax for the first time to theme park and sporting event tickets. Consider some of the other big backers of Prop. 1A: The L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, San Francisco Giants, and San Jose Sharks.

Disney spokespersons declined comment to the Orange County Register. Similarly my questions were, after being tossed among three departments between Anaheim and Burbank, never answered.

Skip Down To Fullerton

This Sunday night May 31 at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, California, is the latest installment of the Skipper Stand Up Show, a comedy extravaganza featuring current and former Jungle Cruise skippers. Featured will be a new video from Trevor Kelly and Joey McGee, the evil geniuses behind The Five Myths of Disneyland and The Year of Extremely Reasonable Dreams. As advertised at their Web site (link): “Tickets still just $10, take that recession.”