A Great Big Broken Down Tomorrow

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Features, The 626, Walt Disney World

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Published on December 30, 2012 at 4:03 am with 71 Comments

For years now, there has been a definite decline in the maintenance and upkeep for show elements at Walt Disney World. One of the most noticeable, as fellow MiceChat columnist Kevin Yee has pointed out numerous times, are the animatronics on Splash Mountain. While I do have to give them credit for fixing some of that over the past year, maintenance is a problem which affects the entire property, from the Parks all the way to the resorts.

For guests that only go to the vacation kingdom of the world every few years, some of these things may be barely noticeable. However, for frequent guests, and for those with a keen eye for the rich details Disney puts into their shows, it’s incredibly obvious.

Disney used to put a lot of love and care into their attractions and show elements. If something wasn’t working correctly, they made sure they did their best to fix it right away, sometimes at the expense of an attraction’s closure until things were made right again.

There’s no denying that the Parks are falling apart, and something needs to be done about it.

Let’s take a look at the Carousel of Progress first.

Even before you get into the attraction, you can see it’s in a sad state. The rotating theater has scuff marks all over it from years of abuse and neglect.

The walk ways leading into the show are dirty and look like they haven’t been cleaned since the last Tomorrowland makeover. Paint is chipped away on almost every corner, and it just looks miserable.

Inside, it’s even worse. The seats are incredibly filthy and falling apart. Most are filled with holes, and some are half broken.

The carpet is in serious need of cleaning…or at least being ripped up and completely replaced.

And don’t even get me started on the show itself! While the animatronics are, in my opinion, in better working order than they were a year ago, they still aren’t at 100%.

Some of the movements are a bit jerky, and sometimes, depending on the show, Father looks like his inner workings are sticking out of his neck.

The last time I saw the show (November 2012), I noticed how noisy the attraction had become as well. During each scene, when the vignettes are being rotated to prepare for the next, the sound of the turntables moving is incredibly loud, and takes away from the show itself. In truth, the attraction may have always been like this, but I’m just noticing now because some of the audio in the scenes were unbalanced.

For some scenes, especially the last one, it seems like the audio is way too low, as if their speakers are in need of some serious repair work. This is most noticeable in the very last scene, where it seems like some family members are much louder than others. Some were very hard to hear!

For an attraction that is considered one of the defining moments of Disney’s history, it certainly deserves more love and care than it is getting. Without Carousel of Progress, we wouldn’t have some of the attractions we know and love today, as the technology created for the show lead to some bigger and better things further down the road. The crowds, while not massive, still come to see and enjoy the show. On my last viewing, even the younger kids seemed to have enjoyed themselves watching it. So, it’s still a crowd pleaser. It just needs a very careful refurbishment to bring it back to its former glory.

It’s not just major attraction elements that need a little love, either. Take a look at these buckets filled with candy going around your head in the Main Street Confectionery.

They are completely dirty, and look gross. Not exactly the type of thing you want to see in a candy-making shop, is it?

How about those nets that now lay above your head at such attractions as Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom and around the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom? I’m sure most of you know by now just WHY they are there, right?

To protect guests from falling debris.

Yes, that is correct. Pieces have begun to fall off both of these enormous structures, and these nets are to protect folks from getting hurt.

I’m not sure about you, but those nets, however strong they may be, don’t exactly make me feel safe. While there have (thankfully) been no injuries reported from such an event yet, I sure as hell don’t want a falling chunk of mountain to hit me in the head. It’s a little scary, don’t you think?

And the better question is WHY are these massive structures falling apart? Especially considering the Tree of Life really isn’t all that old to begin with, it’s pretty frightening to think that it’s beginning to deteriorate already, and could potentially harm someone.

While the nets are a good solution, they are only temporary. Something really needs to be done about this, not only for the show aspect, but for the safety of the guests as well.

I think the one that upsets me the most is Maelstrom over at EPCOT. No, I’m not just talking about the film at the end (though, that would be nice). I’m talking about the ride itself: it’s in terrible shape.

Mold and water damage adorns the ceiling in the loading area, along with the rest of the ride. Take a look at those air vents…nasty, right?

“But Jeff,” you might say, “I never look up there, so who cares? The ride still works, right?”

Well, yes, it does. But it still looks terrible.

The polar bears are in serious need of a cleaning as well. They are dirty and probably filled with the same dust that fell on them on the attraction’s opening day.

Take a look at some of the paint peeled and chipped away on these show scenes.

These types of things are VERY noticeable in places.

It’s right in front of the guest’s eyes!

The sorriest state of affairs in the ride are these photos.

Yes, you are seeing that correctly. The rock work in front of this polar bear is completely missing. Everything is exposed, and you can see the polar bear right through it.

HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?!

Short answer: it’s not. In fact, this is exactly the type of thing that Disney World continues to get away with because not enough people take the time to complain about it. Disney figures that if no one says anything, then why bother fixing it, right? This is the type of mindset that exists throughout the entire resort these days, and it’s just not acceptable.

The few items I mention are just a small portion of the things broken at Walt Disney World. But if no one stands up and says anything, that list is just going to get longer.

I need to say that I am absolutely NOT bashing the maintenance department at the Parks. These wonderful folks are out there night after night, fixing the things we love, making sure that they are running for people to enjoy. They go where they are told, and they do their jobs wonderfully. This isn’t a front lines, lower level problem…this is the fault of upper management of the Parks.

I get that there are a lot of things to do and fix at Walt Disney World. I also get that it costs money to repair these things. It even affects crowd control when attractions are down for refurbishment. But things that are in such a noticeable state of disrepair as some of the attractions above are in is simply unacceptable. It’s not only “bad show,” but it also seems like those little details that Disney used to care so much about before are now not even on their radar.

Which is why I am asking for a call to arms on this, guys and gals. If you see something wrong, if a show element is not working, if something needs repair…say something. Go to Guest Relations and let them know what you’re unhappy about. Let them know what needs to be fixed. In addition to that, it really helps if you voice your opinion publicly, such as here on MiceChat. Go to the forums and make a post about it. Tweet your feelings on Twitter. Make yourself heard.

Nothing will ever get fixed unless we voice our opinions on it.

Walt Disney World is a place I grew up loving, and still do to this day. I’m not pointing out these flaws to be mean and just to complain about something…I’m doing it because I genuinely CARE. No one wants to see something they love fall into such a sorry state. That’s why we need to open our mouths now, before it gets even worse.

We’re not looking to bash Disney, so make sure you voice your opinion in the most respectful way possible. It’s a place we all love, and we just want it to get better. We’re not out to get anyone…we’re out to help fix something that holds a special place in our hearts.

It wasn’t too long ago that Disneyland was in a similar state. But thanks to people being vocal about it, consistently and respectfully, it forced them to make a change for the better. They spent a significant amount of time and money to try to bring Disneyland back to a better working condition. And when they did that, the entire future of the resort moved in a direction that changed its prospects for the better. Look at it now! Disneyland has made major strides, looked toward its future, as well as maintained the legacy of its past, and have been breaking records for both attendance and profits.

If we Walt Disney World fans want to have a higher quality product on the East Coast again, we need to stop being afraid to speak our minds. Too much has been scaled back, too much has been left broken, and too much has been left unsaid. We’re slowly losing the magic that once made this place so wonderful. We need to get it back. So, please…help me up here on this soap box. There’s room for everyone. We just need to start being heard. The space in the comments section below would be a great start.

A big thank you to fellow MiceChat contributor King Eric for the use of his photos and his vigilant eye when it comes to these things!


by Jeff Heimbuch

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

You can read past columns of The 626 by clicking here!

Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.

Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!

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About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • Zeathos51

    I’ve never been to Disney World but I really hope to go someday. You are completely right. I am studying film, television and animation where constructive critisism is essential to a better outcome. The philosophy I follow in my work is “It’s great, now lets make it better.” The theme park industry is apart of an artistic form and a damand for constant maintanance is needed to keep the art and show looking believable.
    I appreciate the maintanance crews as well (I used to work DCA custodial) and the decisions come from management who will make the decision if the guests demand it. That is why the guest can appreciate the attraction but must always be ever vigialant and able to voice concern and critisism if one feels obligated.
    One example I can recall was the last D23 convention. I enjoyed it but the overselling was an issue and must be adressed through the the voice of the attendee. The Expo was great, but it is up to us to ask for an even better one.

    Thanks and I’ll be watching the next communicore weekly.

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      Fellow film majors unite! Haha

      But I agree, constructive criticism is the way to go.

      Thanks for reading!

  • SLUSHIE

    Really I don’t think most of these are all that bad. We are still in a seriously busy time of the year and so running these in their current condition is better than closing them.

    Some of these things I’m sure management really isn’t too aware of. Like the things in the candy shop. The people that work there probably know about these things, but it’s not their daily in their daily routine to deal with them, so they don’t.

    Maelstrom has looked like that for a long time. It’s pretty much a laugh of an attraction anymore. Honestly I don’t think it needs an overhaul, it needs to be replaced with something else. In the mean time though the least they could do is hang a picture or put a trashcan in front of that hole.

    • Goofyernmost

      The problem with what appears to be parts ready to stick out of the Fathers neck in CoP is not new. It has been that way for years now. They want CoP dead and my guess is that you can write until your arm falls off, nothing is going to get done to that attraction. In fact, and this is not a vote against writing, it will give them the opportunity to say, it’s too expensive to fix and there aren’t enough visitors to it to justify more investment. Level it, will be their response.

      • iillini24

        I agree. If attractions were regularly maintained, we know they aren’t on the chopping block. There are attractions that always look nice as they are those that have been invested for the future.
        I can see Carousel (CoP) and Maelstrom leaving us soon to make way for a new attraction. I’ve always liked both attractions. CoP lets me remember the old days and how nice we have it now. I agree that the 4th scene needs to be redone. I wish they would have an 80s scene. That would be great!!
        They could solve this by having previous scenes on video during the pre-show outside and change two of them inside (along with the chair coverings and carpet).
        I’ve always like The Maelstrom. I think the problem with EPCOT and the countries is a lack of rides. That is why I tend to venture to the left to Mexico and Norway first for their rides. (I can watch movies at home: Canada, France, China). I wish they would invest in other attractions/rides or newer movies in the countries. Can’t countries like Norway sponsor a better movie showing “the spirit of Norway.”

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      It’s not a seasonal thing, and most of these issues are not new. They’ve been around a LONG Time, and they just continue to get worse. Of course, with more crowds, more people are apt to notice.

      I’m not asking them to close these things during their busy seasons, but at the very least, give them the love they need during the down times.

      Pictures don’t do this stuff justice.

    • BC_DisneyGeek

      Talk about making excuses for WDW management…

    • iillini24

      I think the staff is aware of the issues, but managers do not have enough staff (and hours) to clean things in the ceiling. Managers might also think that is the job of 3rd shift to clean items that cannot be cleaned while “on stage” during the day with guests.
      At Sleepy Hollow, we had one piece of glass that was shattered that showed the ice cream. It must have been 3rd shift as we noticed it at 10am and I guess they never told anyone or left a note for the manager regarding replacement.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I’m actually worried about the safety of guests at WDW. Limbs falling off the Tree of Life (ironic) and rocks falling from Splash Mountain into the queue are signs of great concern.

    The last time we saw signs such as this were when folks started to be seriously injured and killed at Disneyland due to reduced Maintenance under the Paul Pressler administration in the 90′s. It may very well be that the conditions are not yet as bad at WDW, but it is sure starting to look that way from a guest perspective.

    Serious and immediate reform is needed at WDW, not just to improve show conditions but to protect guests from crumbling attractions.

    One should wonder why Splash and the Tree of Life weren’t under full refurbishment behind scaffolds within days of their recent accidents. This is a sign of grave concern for me, and many others who watch the industry. If a theme park operation can no longer be trusted to put safety first, then guest safety can not be assured (this should be the Disney Company’s number one concern above all others, including profit). And we can’t look to the state of Florida for assistance in forcing Disney to do its job, as Florida doesn’t really give a crap (a prime example of why you don’t want industry to have undo influence over government).

    Disney is at the real risk of irreparably damaging its brand over reduced quality and safety at WDW. For all that they do right, it is the worst that happens which guests will remember:
    Damaged attractions
    Perceived unsafe conditions
    Being forced to stand in buses without safety restraints
    Being overcharged for inferior services

    They can keep building new attractions (though they do precious little of that at WDW these days) but it won’t matter if guests continue to be bombarded with the signs of decay everywhere they turn.

    WDW needs its Matt Ouimet moment. It’s time for someone who cares to ride in on a white horse and fix the resort. Nothing which is currently wrong with Walt Disney World can’t be fixed with a mentality change and new leadership. We’ll all know when that moment comes. Until then, we simply must be vocal about what’s broken, or it will NEVER get fixed!

    • Goofyernmost

      I’m not particularly worried about it. I see it as a precautionary move at best. With the gaggle of lawyers that currently call most of the operational shots, they wouldn’t risk massive lawsuits if they even felt for a minute that more of the structure of Splash were about to let go. They are very conscience of those things. As for the Tree…because it isn’t very old, I’m more inclined to believe that it was an oddball occurrence brought on by a defect in a specific spot then an overall structural problem. Again, the lawyers would be all over that. This is the one time when lawyers have a usefulness. :-)

      • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

        Unfortunately, this is the very attitude which has allowed WDW to become such a mess in the first place. If guests are going to make excuses for Disney World’s significant failures, then why fix it? Sadly, WDW just sinks lower and lower as a result of its own fans being unwilling to take a stand against a shoddy product.

    • weaselwrangler

      They have already damaged the brand. We haven’t been to WDW since 1996 and the poor maintenance is the reason. We live in the SF area, so why would we travel that far to see run down parks when DL is an hour flight away?

      The last time we went to WDW (in ’96) was my (now) wife’s first time at a Disney park and I wasn’t sure she was going to enjoy it. She did enjoy it though, and our plan at the time was we would go back every 4 or 5 years. But because of the poor condition of the resort we haven’t been back in 16 years.

      And it’s safe to say we are the kind of guests Disney wants. We stay in the premium hotels, we eat at the good restaurants (Victoria and Albert’s) and we ship home boxes of merchandise. We pretty much always pay full fare.

      So they are losing business at WDW because of the poor condition of the place. But there’s no business reason to track people who don’t come back when you are doing OK business anyway.

  • Malin

    Jeff, thank you.

    I think we all see WDW has a problem. Unfortunately the biggest and most influential WDW websites out there refuse and chose to ignore them. Speaking out against Disney will result in them being left off the Guests list at the next WDW Media Event. Sell out might be a strong term but thats what it is and you have no hope of changing this pattern. So its left for the Fans and the few sites like MiceAge/Chat to speak out against these continued issues.

    I do feel its time for the Fan Community to speak up. And hopely after reading your article today and seeing Eric’s pictures this will wake people up. This is not acceptable under any circumstances.

    • Internitty

      I agree, everyone needs to stand up and say something or they will do nothing until someone is seriously injured or worse. If they do the customer satisfaction surveys like Disneyland does regulars need to make sure they do the surveys and sensibly comment on the issues, at least it would be a start

    • ChrisFL

      “Speaking out against Disney will result in them being left off the Guests list at the next WDW Media Event. Sell out might be a strong term but thats what it is and you have no hope of changing this pattern”

      …or left out of the latest Spiderman comic

      • Jeff Heimbuch

        Zing!

        Though, I will say, in all fairness, that was a friend doing a shout out to another friend, and not really the work of the Disney Company

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      Thanks man, I appreciate it! And thanks for posting the column around the web like I saw you doing! :)

  • mratigan

    Thet really need George Kalogrdis,but someone with great leadership here at DL
    Thanks Jeff

  • pannyc

    Where can we post constructive respectful critiques that will be seen by WDW management?

  • chesirecat

    The tarps on Splash Mountain are supposedly there to block out the sun as the loading area can get as hot as Sahara during summer with the light pouring in. The same thing has happened at Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, so after the refurb of WDW’s Splash, they may become permanent.

    CoP’s floor doesn’t look that awful, yes, there is a stain, but it is hard to keep carpets clean in a busy theme park, there were a couple stains on the chairs, so maybe they need to increase the steam cleanings. The door also doesn’t look that bad, after you painted anything in the parks, it inevitably gets scuffed up in short order.

    The biggest offender obviously, from these photos, is Maelstrom. I love the polar bear scene, and the bears have always had that yellow color which I believe is to make them look realistic. What is unexcusable, IMHO, is the mold in the tiles! That is a public health issue, all it takes is one call to the public health department I would guess. Obviously, they are doing work on the animatronic baby polar bear, don’t see why they couldn’t have put a little blue tarp over this area. Maelstrom should get a refurbishment.

    The candy baskets do look bad, more regular cleaning is needed.

    The Tree of Life incident could have been prevented, IMHO, if they had done regular maintenance on the tree, which would mean covering it in scaffolds and checking for rust/water damage, and painting it to maintain the structural integrity by keeping water out. I haven’t seen Tree of Life ever get such a refurb, so I think the company is responsible for this one.

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      Unfortunately, the tarps were put up immediately after the facade of Splash had a serious incident, it was NOT because of sun, even if that’s what Disney wants us to think. CoP is a freakin’ mess and anyone who rides it can see that. Florida mostly lets Disney police itself, so no one from the state is going to ride to our rescue. Disney must be shamed into making the changes, because that’s all that seems to work with them these days.

  • airick75

    I was at WDW this summer and I have no doubt that all of these concerns are true and valid. I’m just concerned these pictures don’t do it justice. I’ve noted a few readers saying “It doesn’t look that bad,” and, truth be told, in many of those pictures, I was wondering, “What am I looking for?” But having been there, I know, it looks rough in spots. It’s just hard to show it in pictures.

    In the mid-nineties, I worked at The Disney Store, and once a week we had to get up on the ledges around the store to dust the “animation” statues. If they’re not doing that in the Candy Shop, of all places, there are serious concerns.

    I also don’t recall seeing street sweepers in WDW, while at Disneyland, I’m practically tripping over them. They’re everywhere!

    • ChrisFL

      Well, examples like Maelstrom, most of it is much darker than the photos show, but that isn’t an excuse, nor is the fact that you pass by the polar bears relatively quickly.

    • airick75

      Of course, that said, some of the pictures do show obvious, unacceptable conditions. I am speaking more of the CoP pics and the candy store, maybe a few others. But, yes, that Maelstrom situation is a travesty (relative to theme park problems, obviously not world problems).

      • ChrisFL

        Well the confectionary conveyor belt hasnt’ worked in ages, which is part of the problem. It just sits there, year after year with nothing being done (I know because I was a CM there seasonally for the past few years)

    • Zeathos51

      Oh ya. At DCA, I got tired of sweeping because they always wanted us on stage. I liked cleaning up, but when I was assigned to Condor Flats, it took 5 minutes to clean in a six hour shift. I’d have to go through Soarin just to keep from going mad. But, it does brought results. The DL resort is really on top of safety and cleanliness.

  • SFDave

    Seems WDW is spending too much money on new attactions and areas, and not enough on existing ones. If they green light RSR for DHS the problems might get worse, before they get any better.

  • Seahorse

    Thank you for your article Jeff. I live on the west coast and haven’t been to WDW since 2003. It’s sad to see the ceiling tiles in Maelstrom making the attraction look as if it’s in a second rate amusement park rather than a first rate Disney resort theme park. Your final point I think is a valid one. Disneyland has had a magnificent turn around in attendance and profit because of what the resort has invested into itself. I still think WDW is a great place but the bottom line is that it takes money to make money. New Fantasyland is a wonderful start but perhaps those higher up the ladder with control of the budget need to release a few more bucks into the system if they want guests to feel that the hundreds if not thousands of dollars their spending on their vacation is worth the visit.

  • Malin

    I just contacted Walt Disney World over the problems shown in Jeff’s article. Here is the official response….

    Thank you for contacting the Walt Disney World® Resort.
    >
    > We do sincerely appreciate your concern for your upcoming visit to the
    > Walt Disney World® Resort. We can assure you that, each attraction in
    > the Walt Disney World® theme parks undergoes a thorough refurbishment
    > each year. These refurbishments are done for numerous reasons. First
    > and foremost is our concern for safety, and the work completed ensures a
    > safe operation for the year. We can assure you, with all confidence,
    > that safety is our primary concern. It has been proven year after year,
    > with a superb safety record of which we are very proud. Please be
    > assured that an attraction would not be operated unless we were
    > completely confident of its safety.
    >
    > Walt Disney World® Resorts have a world famous reputation for looking
    > just as clean & fresh as they day they opened. We constantly refresh,
    > repaint & restore our facilities to make sure everything is ‘neat &
    > pretty’ when you visit. As part of that commitment there may be times
    > when you see work being done on the Resort, however any refurbishment
    > that is expected to have an impact on the guest experience will be
    > communicated by the Resort in advance.

    • waymire01

      A form letter that does not even address the issue in question, not comforting.

  • jediblueman

    I completely agree that theme park maintenance at Walt Disney World, compared to Disneyland, is severely lacking. While there are exceptions and we’ve seen some great strides (for example, the recent refurbishment of Main Street has been fantastic), it seems like the maintenance teams are spread too thin, and due to lower attraction counts at each park, Disney lets attractions go longer and longer with no closures for refurbishments.

    I recommend all who want their voices heard to email Disney Guest communications. The email address is [email protected]

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      Thanks for your comment and for posting the email address for others!

  • Ciciwoowoo

    Wonderfully said!

    I remember visiting the parks when they were painting constantly; not one chip in the paint was acceptable. My husband was part of the clean up crew in the early 70′s. He tells all sorts of stories of cleaning up Frontierland and Adventureland. Things were so pristine then! Never one light bulb burned out. No cobwebs to be found.

    Disney was capable of this once…why can’t they do it again? The prices are higher than ever. They should be able to maintain the same level of excellence that once was a requirement for the Theme Parks and Resorts.

    Lets face it…if you don’t love Disney, you aren’t reading these websites. We do read because we love it. We want our beloved Disney World restored to its former glory. We aren’t Disney haters.

  • lighttragic

    I want to go to disneyworld I really do but I want to be able to experience it safely and also as the response Malin got says “World famous reputation for looking
    just as clean & fresh as they day they opened” I am sorry but what happened to the days for getting the old paint brush at night and freshening up any areas that needed help. This is why I will not pay for an expensive vacation to disneyworld . I rather spend my money at Disneyland or go back to Tokyo Disney resort or taking a Disney Cruise. My last visit to disneyworld was 1998 . Until Disneyworld gets a charge similar to Disneyland did for its 50th and gets the place sparkling. I will not be returning.

  • Westsider

    Great article, but just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the Maelstrom pun). None of this is acceptable, and it’s amazing as a Disneylander to see Disney World fans excuse it or ignore it.

    Some Anaheim managers just went out to Florida for two months to help them open their New Fantasyland, and they have returned with horror stories of how their area management runs attractions with known Show concerns and cosmetic problems and they don’t care. They don’t have Leads out there (just “Coordinators” who are responsible for lunches and queues) and the hierarchy is set up so that the managers know they can’t close a ride for Show concerns. The ride capacity is far more important than the ride Show, so the rides keep running and Show work order requests are ignored or simply never created.

    It’s a very different world in Florida, and not in a good way. They have lost all perspective of what Walt called “the Disneyland Show”.