Welcome to Accountaneering Disney

Written by The Accountaneer. Posted in Accountaneering Disney, Disney History

Tagged: ,


Published on April 10, 2013 at 4:01 am with 72 Comments

It doesn’t take much effort to search Micechat and find the many references to me and my former co-workers…”Accountaneers,” “sharp pencil boys,” “bean counters”…the list goes on and on. Unfortunately those shout-outs are not typically followed by pleasantries or thanks. As a wise man (with freakishly large hands) once said: “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

Hello Micechat…I’m the site’s newest columnist. Call me The Accountaneer. Over a series of articles I’m hoping to share with you some stories from my time pushing pencils and slashing budgets. I know that sounds incredibly dry and boring but I think you’ll enjoy the angle I can bring to the conversation. You see, there are all types of Accountaneers. Some fall squarely into the stereotype that is fostered online. One such example is a co-worker that once pointed to a park map in my office and asked “what’s in that building?” I’m sad to say he was pointing at Space Mountain. Most Accountaneers were not that far to the clueless extreme. I’d characterize most of my co-workers as incredibly smart financially, generally knowledgeable about the parks, and good intentioned.

I, on the other hand, fall into the opposite extreme of our Space Mountain friend. I was a long time Disney theme park nut from a young age who literally dreamt of working for the parks. I was lucky enough to start my professional career at Disneyland. Over the span of my career with Disney, I was fortunate to work in many departments, most of which called for a financial flare. For this Disney geek it was truly a dream job. And unlike my clueless Space Mountain co-worker, my passion earned me significant respect with the operations teams. I could not only talk the talk, but could also walk the walk.

My hope is that my stories will provide some historical context and enjoyment for the fan community.

Going back to being the bad guy…while I can characterize myself as a Disney Geek, I was still working with people who were shaving the greeter position from Space Mountain. Proposing we get by with one less open ticket booth to save the labor dollars despite making the lines slightly longer. And who put The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on the menu at “only” $40M rather than the $100M+ necessary to build Pooh’s Honey Hunt from Tokyo.

What I’m hoping to do over the course of my articles is to share with you the real stories behind some of these decisions. No decision was black or white…we were constantly balancing the art of driving profitability for the resort (despite what many of us believe, Disneyland DOES need to turn a profit) while trying to maintain what’s “right” from a Guest perspective. I fully expect that many of you will not agree with decisions made, I know I didn’t agree with many of them either. I just hope the articles provide some inside perspective that is not typically seen online.

In addition to the pure Finance/Business topics, I also want to share some fun stories from behind the curtain. For example, WDI’s Kuka arm project back in the early 2000s vs. an entire land called Carsland…I guess I won’t spoil the ending by sharing which project was picked. . . and why.

Speaking of sharing something new, I’ll tack a mini article to the end of this introduction with some pictures that I know you’ll find stunning:

What two words get Disneyland fans talking with a mix of anger, despair, frustration, and confusion? That’s right…”Rocket Rods.” I’m not going to go into the history that brought us this flop, it has been covered extensively online. I’m not going into details around the challenges in operating the attraction either (considerable). Most Disneyland fans know that it is a story of sky-high maintenance costs (side note: it is true that Disney had Goodyear design custom tires for the attraction since it was burning through tires at an alarming rate), woefully poor hourly capacity, and a ride experience that never lived up to Guest expectations (especially after waiting two hours to board).

The pictures I’m going to share relate to what happened AFTER Rocket Rods closed. You see, it was quickly decided in TDA that the attraction was unsalvageable. Despite the sign out front touting that it would re-open in Spring 2001, no one could justify the dollars needed to make it happen…especially given the massive capital outlay across the Esplanade and the subsequent emergency funding needed to fix DCA (more on that in a future article).

So, Disney was left with a bunch of useless ride vehicles that were too expensive to store anywhere and, believe it or not, had some pretty sophisticated/proprietary electronics onboard. While one vehicle was dropped off as a prop over in the back of Hollywood Pictures Backlot at DCA, it was time for the rest of the fleet to disappear. So the vehicles were taken to field far away from Disneyland and cut up for scrap and recycling. It’s shocking yet fascinating that practically new ride vehicles were destroyed like this. Despite the disdain for the attraction, the vehicles were unique and cool. I apologize for the poor quality…these were taken by a friend with a then-cutting-edge Sony Mavica and saved to a floppy disk. My how digital photography as evolved.

Next time we’ll jump into a larger topic. I’ll look forward to your feedback and/or questions! Until then, I’ve got pencils to sharpen and numbers to crunch.

About The Accountaneer

The Accountaneer grew up going Disney parks and was quickly hooked on the pixie dust. He soon found himself sharpening pencils and counting beans for the world's favorite mouse. He hopes to share with readers a little insight on how decisions are made in the Happiest Place On Earth.

Browse Archived Articles by

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    This is great, thanks! I’ve very much looking forward to hearing more stories!

    And wow, those pictures of the Rocket Rods, all cut up and beat to hell, are amazing! They couldn’t get rid of those things fast enough, eh?

    • The Accountaneer

      Cut up and beat to hell for sure! I remember the first day I saw those pics 10+ years ago and my jaw hit the floor! I knew we were sending them to the scrapheap but had no idea it would be in such a messed up way!

  • davidrusk

    Loved the article and pics. I’m looking forward to reading more, thanks for contributing a perspective I never thought I would see!

    • The Accountaneer

      Can’t wait to write more…unfortunately I don’t have any more never-before-seen photos but I think the stories will stand on their own!

  • Eric Davis

    Incredible article! I really cannot wait to hear more! I look forward to these accounting stories!

  • Ju-osh

    This sounds GREAT! You can sign me up as a regular reader right now!

  • A huge thanks to the Accountaneer. These are the sorts of inside stories that we just never hear about. We all know what happened with so many stories over the years, we just don’t know why. Really looking forward to seeing some of our favorite stories retold from the other side of the pencil.

    • The Accountaneer

      Technically it would be the other side of Excel but I digress… Thanks for the warm welcome everyone! Can’t wait to share more.

  • Kevin Yee

    Welcome! I apologize for lumping all Accountanteers into one category in the past :)

    • The Accountaneer

      That’s OK Kevin, I knew what I was signing up for! Many in TDA lump all bloggers into one category so I think we’re even! ;-)

      • red014

        Well I hope you realize now you’re both. You’re blogging about how you used to be a bean counter! :)

  • RosevilleDisfan

    Welcome aboard! I am looking forward to reading your stories. It will be very interesting to hear some business perspectives on the decisions that Disney makes. (I am a business student, so it’s kind of right up my alley)

  • StevenW

    ” I’m not going to go into the history that brought us this flop, it has been covered extensively online.”

    So the online reviews are telling the truth? I never would have guessed.

  • Bill

    Quite good.

  • nunz

    Love this!! Super interesting and wow..those poor Rocket Rod vehicles..looking forward to many more articles:)

    • wedwaypm

      “Poor Rocket Rods”? If it wasn’t for that screw-up ride, we might still have our PeopleMover! Heck, we would probably have had multiple PM stations set up throughout Tomorrowland by now!
      Besides, we all knew we couldn’t trust TDA when they said that the RR cars were going to a place filled with ‘Lollypops, Unicorns, and Gumdrops’!

  • SpectroMan

    Great inside article; can’t wait for more.
    The scrapping of the vehicles is yet another misstep in my opinion: These could have easily been sold off without the proprietary electronics installed. Everyone wants a piece of Disney and some have deep enough pockets for these types of things.
    They do it with parade floats, too. Whereas in the past, the past was preserved, at least for a while, now, they can’t wait to do away with anything – Light Magic floats, Blue Fairy from MSEP, et al. Shame, but what can we do.

    • The Accountaneer

      I understand this perspective, but I believe there is a significant difference between selling off beloved pieces of Disney history and this situation. A few thoughts:
      - There was no love for the Rods. It is a perfect situation of wanting to simply put a mis-step behind you and move on (granted, moving on is leaving an empty rotting track but that’s a story for another time). The last thing you’d want is those vehicles out “in the wild” with no control over how they are used or displayed. If one landed up on display somewhere the plaque would not describe it in the greatest light! There is only downside from a public perception perspective. I can only imagine the mock YouTube video we’d have today of people sitting in a stationary vehicle and complaining how it broke down again!
      - We needed to take a financial write-off on the Rods. They had not yet reached the end of their useful life and once the decision was made, a one time write down had to be recorded on the books. It was much cleaner to simply write them off rather than trying to record the difference between the value of the asset and the sale value. That gets into all sorts of questions around the true “value” of the vehicles. Something like a MSEP light bulb, the original Disneyland sign, or a ride vehicle from Toad are already fully depreciated.

      Painful to see, no doubt…but probably the right thing to do.

      • DifrntDrmr

        Plus you can’t tell the fans that the ride is reopening at the same time that you are selling them the ride vehicles.

    • DisWedWay

      Witness to quite a few Disney ride vehicles and show props being sent to the Death Star for scraping and De-construction over the years, I find your article and writing style top notch. I really was hoping maybe I could drive a Rocket Rod over on the Cars Land track one day, which may be possible with the 1 still in existence. Just a few thoughts as I write on my clip board inside my Matterhorn version 1 Bob Sled. Keep them coming. PD

      • DisWedWay

        PS I bought several of those MSEP light bulbs that supposedly came out of the actual floats, but more likely off the shelf.

  • Big Picture

    Thanks for the great perspective – glad to hear the story from another angle!

  • George Taylor

    Welcome to the family!

    There’s no turning back now…

  • JLindley2003

    This perspective and knowledge is a very welcome addition. Thanks to all for making this happen.

  • margerforce

    Awesome! Can’t wait to read more and find out more about behind the scenes. This would be a dream job for me. ºoº