New President at Walt Disney World

George Kalogridis, currently in charge of Disneyland, will move to take the top spot at Walt Disney World on February 1. Michael Colglazier, currently the vice-president in charge of DAK, will become President of Disneyland in turn. Meg Crofton is sticking around in a post that supervises all the theme parks (though one never knows if this is a true elevation of power for Meg, or a promotion into irrelevance and a position with no real authority. The press release won’t say that kind of information).

George has been good for Disneyland, so I’m optimistic his arrival can turn some things around in Orlando. The rest of today’s article was written before the announcement of the management shuffle, but here’s hoping George can prevent FUTURE articles like this being necessary.

Stagnation at DisneyQuest

There’s a lot to like about DisneyQuest. It’s a five story arcade that lets you play games all day for one price. Even if you paid full price ($46) it could end up being a bargain if you’re the sort of person who could play video games–and other interactive experiences and simulators–all day long. I’m that kind of person, so I like the idea of DisneyQuest. More people end up here because it’s included with the “Water Parks & More” add-on to the base park tickets. Since they “paid” for it, many people figure they might as well drop by and experience it.

One assumes they don’t have a super high level of expectation. After all, most of them didn’t shell out money specifically for this admission. By the time they arrive, many consider it a “bonus” (even though they did, in fact, pay for it. This is the magic of all-encompassing vacations and pre-paid vacations) and as such probably won’t get too indignant if the experience doesn’t measure up.

For the most part, the experience DOES measure up. There are actually five floors of games and experiences. Everything is included in the cost. The games are routinely cycled out and replaced by new ones. They have somewhat new four person air hockey here (though not the divinely fun Pac Man Smash Air Hockey I saw at IAAPA this year, which apparently is elsewhere on Disney property for people who pay for each game). The vintage games section is supposed to be vintage, and it’s fine. The modern games section really does have mostly modern games. And it really is possible to spend a long afternoon here, or even the entire day.

Scratch at the surface a little bit, though, and it’s not hard to see that the “magic” here has some rough edges. Some of the signage is peeling, and the laminate covering is pulling away. This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight–it must have been a long time building up. When I worked in restaurants at Disneyland a couple decades ago, this would have gotten someone in big trouble. Let’s think about this for a second. What are the various ways this could have come to still be on display for the paying public to see?

Was there a radiation leak, do you think?
It’s slipping down, too.
Looks a bit mangled.
Have a close look at that Z
The “N” is missing a chunk as well.

Either (1) no one has reported it or (2) it’s not being fixed because of budget. The budget part could be because there is no money for new signs–it just gets deferred to the next refurb–or because there are not enough maintenance workers at night to fix all the problems (which would still be a budget thing). I don’t know which it is, and at some level I don’t care. What matters is the final outcome and what the paying public is seeing.

There are beaten up walls, scratches and dings all over. Some of this is unavoidable. It is, after all, a working facility pummeled by hundreds of visitors a day. But even given that extra latitude, it’s hard to reconcile the reality of what’s on the walls with the image of pristine environments that used to be the hallmark of Disney parks and attractions. It’s just so much. Individually it’s easy to explain away dings and scratches, but on a cumulative level they just add up to imply, subtly but firmly, that the place is run-down.

Have you heard of the Broken Windows theory? It’s from criminologists who wrote a theory in 1982 that the existence of deteriorated conditions would lead to more crime. “It’s already broken,” people ostensibly say to each other, so they hesitate less in deciding to break more windows. The theory was part of the push to clean up New York City in the 1990s (though the theory has been contested and criticized on this issue). The application to DisneyQuest is straightforward: if people see a rundown establishment, with dings and scratches all over, they don’t take any particular care of the walls and infrastructure around them. Wouldn’t you be less likely to lean against a wall and bend your knee so that your foot rests on the wall if the wall looks freshly painted?

Of course, those criminologists could have just looked to Walt Disney himself for inspiration. Official Disney books are not shy about relaying a story about Walt’s attitude toward trash on the ground. He wanted loads of sweepers, because he believed that if people saw trash on the ground, they’d be more likely to litter themselves. But if the ground was spotless, they’d make an effort to find a trashcan. Of course, Walt was decades ahead of his time, as always, and he was exactly right.

It seems that the modern-day company that bears his name has forgotten this particular principle. Or perhaps there are individuals reporting the problems, but there just isn’t budget to fix them. That would be a crisis of leadership.

But the problem of staleness goes beyond upkeep. It’s true that they update games, but the other “experiences” never update. They are the same, by and large, as when they debuted in 1998. That’s fifteen years of identical simulator type games… and the graphics are fifteen years old. That makes them early-version vector graphics that don’t look anywhere close to cutting edge to today’s gamers. In fact, they look old school and contribute mightily to the sense that this facility is standing still, a time traveler from 1998 that would be more at home in a Stephen King novel than the world’s premiere vacation destination.

Stale? We’re not stale! We have PAL available, you know!!

But even aside from THAT, there is still more reason to bemoan those non-arcade and virtual reality experiences: they are dying out. Over time, some have been removed and just not replaced.

  • The “Cybrolator” elevator ride with an animated Genie from Aladdin doing many antics was discontinued in 2011, and the elevators are now unthemed.
  • The other elevators in the facility used to have maps inside each elevator; now the elevators are plain and undecorated, and the maps are outside each door.
  • The Treasure of the Incas remote-controlled cars in the flooring was removed in 2007
  • Magic Mirrors (with face-editing software) in the Create zone was removed in 2005
  • Cave of Wonders slide from the 3rd floor to the 1st was removed in the first year of operation. I never saw this one. Was it operationally unsafe?

So in a real sense, you now get less for your money than you did when the facility was brand new. Plus in those days they actually used all four of the Ride the Comix “vehicles”. These days two of them just sit there unused and empty. More “broken windows.”

Ignore that blacked-out sign there. It’s only been there a few years.
Another blacked-out sign to ignore. These things take time to fix. You know, more than three years!

At least we can take comfort in the fact that as the experience is diminished, the admission price has been dropping proportionally. What used to cost $25 in 2002 (about $33 adjusted for inflation) is fortunately much cheaper… oh wait. Admission is NOT $33 now. It’s $46. I guess the price has gone up, after all.

There used to be two Cheesecake Factory eateries here, right next to each other. I always thought the placement was a little weird, but whatever. In 2008, their contract expired, and Disney took over FoodQuest. Well, one of the locations, anyway. The other one was left alone, and covered by a glittering curtain (hey, it beats a bunch of nets or a disco ball, right?) For almost five years, this facility has just sat here, unused, behind the curtain.

The bottom line is that DisneyQuest is still fun. People who feel like their admission is “free” (even though it isn’t) probably don’t feel ripped off, which is why there hasn’t been too big an outcry from the public about this stagnant facility. But part of me is sad to see a Disney “park” fade like this. It’s not like everything went to pot in one day. This has been a long time in developing; it’s a classic Decline by Degrees.

Top Tips for Visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort

If you’ve got a “yen” to visit the Disney parks that still look pristine (no Declining by Degrees here!) then you’ll want to head to Tokyo. My revised travel book, now titled Top Tips for Visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort, has been available on Kindle for a few weeks (remember you can get a free Kindle reader for your PC or your Mac)… now it’s available as a paperback on Amazon as well! It costs a much-reduced $8.99 now, and has 176 pages.

SeaWorld Just for Kids concerts

SeaWorld’s promotion for early 2013 is aimed at kids–free concerts in the indoor Nautilus theater (three times a day). The lineup reads like a Disney Channel brochure!

Saturday, January 12    Imagination Movers
Saturday, January 19     Laurie Berkner – Solo Performance
Saturday, January 26    Choo-Choo Soul with Genevieve
Saturday, February 4     Kratt Brothers Live featuring the stars of Wild Kratts

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations: