The past 10 days has been a trying time for Disneyland, with an embarrassing $230,000 fine from DOSH for the injury of an outside contractor cleaning the Space Mountain roof last year, the sudden closures of some of the Resort’s most popular E Ticket attractions on a Saturday morning, and a ham-fisted response by TDA executives that left almost everyone in the dark about what was going on. In this update we’ll give you some context behind just what DOSH said should happen versus what Disney executives did all on their own, and why the exact same safety issues in cloned attractions in Florida don’t seem to matter. We’ll also fill you in on the upcoming Monstrous Summer marketing campaign and it’s 24 Hour Party kickoff at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, plus what the new Disneyland Resort president Michael Colglazier will and won’t be saying in his “Salaried Business Update” in the Hyperion Theater tomorrow.
Got that Mtn Dew Kickstart chilled and ready? Is the Hot-Pocket a nice golden brown? Then let’s explore the latest from a frantic Disneyland Resort . . .
A Tale of Two Standards
For the past 10 years the Disneyland Resort, along with all other permanent amusement parks in California, has been subject to inspection and thorough review by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). The DOSH inspections of every theme park ride in Anaheim occur twice annually, and cover everything from training paperwork to overnight maintenance procedures to the way a Cast Member extends their hand to help disembarking passengers from a Jungle Cruise boat. There are a few Anaheim attractions that don’t qualify for DOSH inspections, most notably all the theater attractions and autonomous vehicles like the Horseless Carriages on Main Street or the Davy Crockett Canoes in Critter Country. But there are over 50 attractions in Anaheim that do qualify for oversight from DOSH, and each one has at least two inspections per calendar year, one that is planned a year in advance and one that is a “surprise inspection” and that happens randomly without warning. In addition, any time a park guest is injured on an attraction enough to warrant a visit to a hospital, the DOSH inspectors arrive and inspect the paperwork collected from the incident and then go out to the attraction and re-inspect the situation that led to the injury, even though it almost always involves a guest who slipped on their own, wasn’t watching what they were doing, or had a pre-existing condition and didn’t heed the safety signage.
The result is that there are DOSH inspectors on Disneyland Resort property examining attractions nearly every business day of the year (government workers don’t do weekends or holidays, remember). And over the years the relationship between those DOSH inspectors and the Anaheim management has become quite friendly and comfortable. But business is business, and when an outside contractor cleaning the Space Mountain roof last November fell and injured himself, the investigation was thorough and a big fine was in order. But what happened next is where the normal, rational system of safety checks and balances seemed to go off the rails.
During the investigation of the Space Mountain incident, it quickly became apparent that a new safety standard applied to new construction in California wasn’t being met by many of Disneyland’s older rides and facilities. That new standard as applied by DOSH states that any walkway that has more than a 30 inch drop off one side must have either double handrails at 42 inches high, or a walkway more than six feet wide, or an approved safety harness system for anyone traveling along that walkway. The one exception to that rule is if the drop leads to water that is less than four feet deep, then the water is considered adequate fall protection and a narrow walkway is exempt from that standard (which is exactly why Pirates of the Caribbean and Grizzly River Run have been allowed to remain operational).
But Disneyland’s own safety engineering department had spent the last few months compiling a short list of attractions that likely didn’t meet that new safety standard, most of which were the Resort’s big coasters plus a few unique ride systems like Soarin’ Over California and the Submarine Voyage. And last Friday when DOSH issued their findings from the November accident and slapped Disneyland with a $230,000 fine, TDA’s safety team swung into action and quickly identified which attractions must be closed immediately to perform in-house inspections and assessments. The result was that on Saturday morning, Cast Members arrived to open up their rides only to find the locations locked down and off limits. Even the opening park managers were left scratching their heads as there had been no warning from TDA and no communication to the park guests pouring in on a busy Saturday morning.
It’s important to realize that these closures were not mandated by DOSH, as the older facilities are grandfathered in to the previous walkway standards. But in Disney’s new “safety culture” that is the height of fashion with trendy executives, it was considered gutsy and bold to close other attractions that don’t meet the modern standard, even though DOSH had been inspecting those facilities for years and had cleared them for daily operation. What wasn’t considered at all was the timing of these closures and the impact it would have on paying customers arriving in the morning. But once the call had been made late Friday night to shut the rides down it became politically incorrect to back off that decision made in the name of safety, and Soarin’, Space Mountain and the Matterhorn all remained closed for the weekend (with the Matterhorn reopening one half of the attraction on Sunday), while several other E Ticket attractions were delayed in opening by hours as their inspections wrapped up on Saturday morning.
Also included in the Friday night mandate was that all ladders in use at the Resort must have double hand-rails and traditional a-frame ladders are now forbidden. The Custodial team was hit hard by that one, and dozens of new ladders had to be rush-ordered while the ladder tasks of cleaning light fixtures or big windows were suspended. And the entertainment team was suddenly forbidden from using the custom-built ladder with one handrail that is used to get Aladdin up onto the big rolling elephant for his triumphant ride through the Hyperion Theater in that popular show. And so for the next week burned out light bulbs went unchanged, cleaning anything more than five feet off the ground was halted, and entertainment shows were altered or had entire scenes cut.
Confusion reigned both Onstage and Backstage last weekend, as the TDA suits refused to offer any real information to the lower park managers, and paying guests arrived to find over a half dozen popular attractions suddenly closed and they took their frustration out on the confused front line CM’s.
While they kept the park CM’s and the paying guests in the dark, TDA executives at least knew this was a big deal and were holding a series of conference calls while Parks chief Meg Crofton flew out from Florida on Saturday to personally tour the closed rides and their fall protection measures. The most glaring issues were with emergency evacuation walkways at Space Mountain and Matterhorn, and the catwalks used at Soarin’ Over California to perform routine maintenance on the brake assemblies on the flying theater’s uppermost seating carriages. The Matterhorn was the first to get clearance to reopen, when it was decided that for the time being Cast Members would no longer walk the entire length of track when opening the ride each morning, but instead would stand in safe zones and simply do a visual check down the track into the areas with improper walkways (where CM’s have been walking daily since 1959, and where DOSH inspectors have been walking alongside those CM’s annually for a decade).
Soarin’ Over California was trickier, since the brake assemblies that keep the massive pivoting arms locked in place during the film must be serviced and inspected each night. There was a basic catwalk and harness process in place for that work up near the theater ceiling, but the walkways only had one handrail or simply didn’t meet the new standard. And again, DOSH inspectors had been shadowing and observing that exact overnight maintenance work in those areas during their annual inspections for the past decade.
A rushed installation of new equipment allowed Soarin’ to only be closed for a week, but the real story here is the fact that the other version of Soarin’ cloned and installed at Epcot back in 2005 uses the exact same access procedures to those upper brake assemblies. And yet the Epcot version of Soarin’ remained in daily operation throughout the DCA closure, even though Florida executives from Meg Crofton on down were aware of the similarities between the cloned attractions. The answer there is simple; Florida’s state government doesn’t have any regulated oversight of Walt Disney World’s theme park attractions, and no state regulator from Tallahassee will ever get a chance to inspect Epcot’s Soarin’ attraction without a major injury accident.
The other factor in closing DCA’s Soarin’ while Epcot’s clone was allowed to operate is the issue of park ride capacity. All of WDW’s theme parks have razor thin margins for error when it comes to park ride capacity, after several decades of closing more attractions than they open and instead running the theme parks until the wee hours of the morning in the guise of “Extra Magic Hours”, all in order to carve out more daily ride capacity without the expense of building new rides. While the DCA version of Soarin’ has each theater closed at least a week once per year for screen cleaning and cosmetic maintenance, the Epcot version of Soarin’ goes year after year without a major refurbishment because they simply can’t afford to close even one theater at a time in that park with precious few rides. In Anaheim, however, as upsetting as it was to have several E Tickets closed suddenly on a Saturday, the parks got by and still raked in decent daily ride capacity with all the 60+ other operating attractions. It may have been uncomfortable for the paying customers and the CM’s in Anaheim, but it still looked acceptable on a spreadsheet Monday morning. The executive “safety culture” only extends so far, and closing Soarin’ at Epcot would require major planning and considerable cost to minimize that lost ride capacity even if it was planned far in advance, much less without warning on a sunny Saturday morning.
But it’s Disneyland’s Space Mountain that faces the biggest challenges in this mess. The walkways and stairwells inside the dome that access the various brake zones and evacuation platforms were all newly built in 2004 when that attraction was closed for its complete rebuild from April, 2003 to July, 2005. However, the new track was an exact duplicate of the 1977 track, and most of those rebuilt walkways and platforms still use the original 1970’s dimensions. And those simply don’t meet the new codes, as TDA now insists on living up to. But after a week of consultation, TDA is realizing getting the 1977 track up to snuff would require rebuilding the track entirely and changing the angle and location of twists and turns in the track itself, which means an entirely new Space Mountain would have to be designed and built from scratch, a project that would take years and millions of dollars. So instead, TDA is taking a similar approach to the way they handled the Matterhorn, and are now trying to determine if temporary safety rails and a different way of resetting all the brake zones each morning or after a routine downtime could allow the coaster to reopen this spring.
As if all that weren’t enough of a headache, last Thursday the DOSH inspectors arrived at TDA and announced they had just received a complaint from an Anaheim Cast Member who felt the evacuation zones on California Screamin’ were unsafe, even though Screamin’ had been inspected by TDA’s engineers the week before and was delayed in opening on Saturday morning. The DOSH inspectors were escorted over to California Screamin’, and at 1:45 P.M. the coaster was shut down for the night and a thorough inspection of the trackside walkways began. The focus was in a few key areas, specifically the narrow walkway along the waterside launch, as well as the most notorious of brake zones, Brake Zone Six, located on a very narrow catwalk above the boardwalk rooftops.
Attractions Cast Members routinely go to those areas to reset brake zones and open the attraction each day. DOSH found that those areas don’t technically meet the new standard, but they agreed with TDA that a series of small fixes and retraining of all CM’s would satisfy the grandfathered status of California Screamin’. After a rushed “Update Training” was rolled out the next morning to all CM’s trained on California Screamin’, the big coaster was allowed to reopen Friday afternoon. And yet again, these types of evacuation platforms and narrow trackside walkways exist at many other coasters in the Disney empire, but only the facilities in California are being considered for immediate updates and changes to their operation for now. The sudden closures imposed by executives, new safety equipment, and rushed retraining are politically correct in California, but not to be spoken of in Florida it seems. It’s as if Meg Crofton and her TDA executives don’t realize that many maintenance and operations CM’s travel or work between the two properties and know intimately that the same issues in California exist in even greater number in Florida.
The Colglazier Show
Amidst all those headaches, most of it self-imposed by a small group of executives, Michael Colglazier will finally be hosting his formal debut to the salaried ranks in Anaheim. Tomorrow, Michael will host two sessions of his Salaried Business Update, a sort of annual “State of the Resort” speech in the Hyperion Theater that we’d told you about in the last update. He’ll likely have to acknowledge the recent ride closures and explain away (or ignore) the inconsistencies between the two coasts in a flurry of trendy corporate buzzwords while subtly bragging about the “safety culture” at Disney Parks & Resorts. But the rest of his Salaried Business Update will focus on two things, hyping the skyrocketing visitor spending and satisfaction ratings the Disneyland Resort has been getting since Cars Land opened, and doing a bit of soft selling of his genuinely warm personality and his leadership goals for the Resort during his short 3 year stay in Anaheim. Michael will also allow Anaheim’s Entertainment Department to give an overview of the new Mickey & The Magical Lamp stage show coming next month to the Fantasyland Theater. Throw in mandatory mentions of how fabulous the SoCal climate is compared to Florida and how “honored” or “humbled” he is to work in the original park that Walt built, and that about sums up Michael’s key talking points for his presentation tomorrow.
It’s been said before, but Michael was promoted from the least visited theme park in WDW with the most notorious state of affairs when it comes to questionable maintenance and declining showmanship standards. He’ll really need to prove to the Hyperion audience that he’s up to the task of maintaining Anaheim’s superior showmanship and won’t try to lead Anaheim down its previously-travelled path of reduced maintenance and lowered standards.
There’s a few things Michael likely won’t be able to announce on Wednesday, simply because they won’t be rolled out until Thursday at a media event in Orlando. Most notable is the Thursday morning announcement of this summer’s Monstrous Summer marketing campaign that we’ve told you about previously. The big kickoff is the 24 hour party coming Memorial Day weekend, and it’s being labeled the Monstrous Summer All Nighter. The overnight party May 24th and 25th will be co-branded as part of the Limited Time Magic campaign for 2013, while Monstrous Summer is simply the summer campaign meant to help the floundering Limited Time Magic concept. At least it makes sense to the marketing folks.
In WDW, the overnight event will be held at the Magic Kingdom Park only. But in Anaheim the event will be held from 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M. at both Disneyland and DCA, in order to prevent the overcrowding and near-riot that happened late at night during the poorly planned One More Disney Day event last February. 105,000 people got into the two parks in Anaheim during the last 24 hour party, with tens of thousands of additional people who were stuck on gridlocked streets and backed up freeways giving up before they could park their cars. For this latest event they are planning on 125,000 people showing up. The parking and transportation logistics will be the most critical part of this event, and CM’s will be asked to park overnight at Anaheim Stadium and be bussed in (if the buses don’t get stuck in the gridlock on Katella for hours, like several CM shuttles did last year).
Michael might be able to hint at a few smaller things coming as part of the Monstrous Summer campaign, like the reworked Monsters Inc. float unit in DCA’s Pixar Play Parade, themed to Monsters University from the new film. A new pop-up merchandise location themed to Monsters University will also be installed for the summer near the Monsters Inc. dark ride in DCA. But Michael won’t be breathing a word of the longer-term plan we’d told you about to recreate Monstropolis in that corner of DCA, with a Door Coaster thrill ride being built where MuppetVision and Stage 17 are now, with the monorail zipping through the new Monstropolis skyline.
A Whole New Depp
Michael probably also won’t be able to announce the big movie premiere coming to DCA in June for the new Lone Ranger movie from the Walt Disney Studios. It’s no secret that the Burbank bosses love to debut big-budget summer movies at Disneyland, after the Anaheim park successfully hosted four different premieres for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise over the last decade. Now it will be DCA’s turn at the premiere party scene, since that park’s fortunes have made a noticeable 180 degree turnaround in the last year.
The Lone Ranger movie premiere will be held more traditionally in the 2,000 seat Hyperion Theater, instead of outdoors like the Pirates premieres. But the event will be just as lavish and star-studded as the Pirates premieres were, and DCA’s fabulous new Buena Vista Street will be able to host its first red-carpet celebrity arrival perfectly themed to the golden age of Hollywood. And you can bet that MuppetVision will be turned into a temporary preview center for the new film this June. They really do need to put that old 3-D attraction out of its misery. Let’s hope the overall Monstropolis plan to turn the existing Hollywood & Dine building into a “flex space” allows them a more neutral facility to host these temporary movie attractions, plus the indoor game room for the latest dance party.
Oh-kay – that should do it for today. We look forward to hearing your thoughts about the great race to reopen Space and the planned activities for the Monstrous Summer. After the last all night party on Leap Day, would you be up to do it all over again on Memorial Day Weekend?
See you at Disneyland!