Accountineering, Disneyland Resort Attractions and Entertainment

Written by The Accountaneer. Posted in Accountaneering Disney

Published on May 30, 2013 at 4:00 am with 59 Comments

Hello readers!  I apologize for the long time between articles. Family comes first…now let’s get back to some Accountaneering!  I’m excited to share a story about a trip to WDI, in which I was able to ride a prototype attraction that I’ve never seen described online before.  But before we touch on that, let’s set some context.

The A&E Menu: this is the document that outlines all the capital spending for the Disneyland Resort over the next five years and beyond (A&E=Attractions & Entertainment).  As part of the Planning team, it was our job to populate the A&E Menu.  Generally, the major items on the A&E Menu were new attractions, entertainment spectaculars, and major refurbishments.

Now, any Disney fan would take that menu and populate it with new E-Tickets every year.  But just like any menu at a restaurant, you need some appetizers, entrees, and deserts at all price points.  A nice dinner consists of a balanced order across the menu…not just two of the most expensive entrees!

The financial planning process begins with the Five-Year Plan (5YP), where the Resort develops an all-in five-year financial model.  This model takes the base business, layers in known changes (labor rate increases, annualization of partial year impacts, removal of one-time events, etc), then adds on top new investments.  The A&E Menu at this point is often a bit aspirational.  This is when the business units “pitch” the ideal business plan up the ladder.  By “ideal” I’d like to emphasize that it is what’s financially feasible.  No theme park in the world (not even Tokyo Disneyland) can spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on new attractions. The depreciation on the income statement would bury the Resort.  What “ideal” translates to is a nice peppering of varied new offerings over the five year window.

In the years post 2001, Disneyland was in a rough spot.  We had just spent $1.4B on the Resort expansion (conversation around the content of that spending will come in a future article) and 9/11 hit.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the Resort, as a whole, operated at a loss for a few years after 2001.  Let that sink in for a moment…had Disneyland been a standalone business, it was in the red.  The last thing you can do in that situation is massively invest a boatload of new cash on expensive new A&E items.  This resulted in minor investments such as A Bugs Land and Luminaria.  Sure, it would have been great to go out and green light Cars Land but the Resort simply couldn’t afford it at the time.

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We submitted the 5YP to Parks & Resorts who then would consolidate/edit and submit to Corporate.  The Corporate Planners then crunch financial models and discuss with the Senior Leaders of the company.  The results would be new targets being sent back to Parks & Resorts.   Parks and Resorts then spit up the funding and handed new targets to Disneyland.

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So, as expected, those new targets would often be more aggressive than the originally submitted financial model.  This would put a squeeze on the entire business; it would push for more revenue, squeeze spending, and, most important to this conversation, reduce Capital spending.  We’d take that submitted A&E Menu and start editing to make the menu fit the new financial target.  It wasn’t always just cutting; sometimes it was just re-arranging.  Let’s say we had an E-Ticket placeholder in year four but the year four targets were tight, while year three had some breathing room (perhaps spending was re-directed to the Studios for a new blockbuster in year four or the Cruise Line had a new ship being built).  We’d potentially try to squeeze an extra D-Ticket into year three and push the E-Ticket out to year five, while year four relied on a parade.  It was an annual jigsaw puzzle of making the spend levels match the targets.

I’d like to take a small aside to talk about one aspect of the process that you never hear about online.  By reading all the blogs and forums online, it is obvious that Imagineering can do no wrong, while us Accountaneers destroy all the original concepts (I think the term DustySage used in the April MiceChat podcast was “slaughtered”).  Let’s look at the other side of the coin for a second.

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For argument’s sake, let’s say any of you have a set budget to repair and enhance your house and you have to plan those items over the next five years.  Your kitchen needs a major remodel (think the current Big Thunder rehab), while you’d like to put on an addition for your growing family.  Now let’s say that I tell you two things.  First, that you can only spend 80% of what you thought you needed.  Secondly, and most importantly, I tell you that the only contractor you can use is the best one around…and the most expensive.  Despite the fact that you know this contractor may be charging you a 30% premium, you can’t work with anyone else.  I hope you like your new kitchen because you just had to postpone your addition a few years.  Welcome to working with Imagineering.  Don’t get me wrong, the Disney fan in me loves WDI and (most) everything they do, but this is a very real part of financial equation. Let’s circle back and look at two specific examples…the first small and the second, well, much bigger!

In the early years of the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, the crowds easily exceeded all expectations!  I was working with the Operations team during those early years and we needed some stroller parking signs.  I got the call to swing out to the Mansion gate one morning, and one of the ops guys was so proud to show me the new digitally printed signs he had made.  They looked great with perfect colors and great design.  The best part was that the signs cost $10 apiece.  So, over the course of the 3 months they were being used, we could reprint and replace as often as needed.  It was a great solution to solve for an unbudgeted item that year…until WDI saw the signs.

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Apparently they didn’t take too well to the fact that Operations took the initiative to have these signs printed.  They came back a few days later with the demand that the Operations team pay $1,000+ (no joke) for a wooden sign with hand-carved lettering and painting.  Sure, their new sign looked great, but I can tell you I’d never think twice seeing the $10 digitally printed sign in the park.  Operations had to purchase the new sign (WDI had show quality authority).  This resulted in an extra $990+ that got spent on a sign that sat in storage nine months of the year.  That extra funding?  It had to be cut out of the budget elsewhere (I’m sure some of you complained about a greeter position that disappeared that holiday season or that Space had cut down on some rockets to save some labor).  While it sounds small in the grand scope of Disneyland, Operations just paid a 100x premium in the name of WDI show quality.

Now let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.  Again, I’m as big of a fan of a great WDI E-Ticket as the next person, but wouldn’t some price competition be welcome?  When we first placed the Tower of Terror on the DCA A&E Menu as an E-Ticket placeholder, we put it there as $100M.  That’s a lot of coin.  The attraction actually came in just above $115M.  Think about that for a moment: $115M.

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Now here’s a question: If you sent the Tower out to bid across a number of contractors, could it be built for less than $115M?  My gut tells me not only yes, but significantly less.  Working with WDI, and only WDI, to populate an A&E Menu is difficult at WDI prices.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a number of attraction vendors to put up against each other?  WDI “overhead” can crush any hope for responsible spending.  I know this is not a popular argument (see my first article…bad guy) but it’s a financial reality.  How many of you work for a company where all of your Capital spending is dictated by a single vendor?

People are going to point to Cars Land and say “See what happens when you give WDI an unlimited budget?!?!?”  Agreed!  I LOVE Cars Land!  BUT, anyone notice the dearth of new attractions at WDW the last few years?  The lack of a true E-Ticket in the New Fantasyland?  As much as people like to pit the TDO (Team Disney Orlando) versus TDA (Team Disney Anaheim), the reality is that it all comes out of the same budget…Parks & Resorts.  Now think about if WDI had some competition in bidding for those projects.  I’m not standing too far out on a limb to argue that an open bid process for Cars Land and New Fantasyland could result in enough funding being freed up to finally give Disneyland or Epcot that new E-Ticket (or a bunch of smaller attractions) they have been waiting for…all within the same budget.

Back to the original intent of this article (I think I broke my soapbox). After a rough couple years in the early 2000s, the funding for the A&E Menu started to open up a bit in the future years.  I got the call in 2004 to go with a small contingent of DLR executives to WDI and have them pitch some blue sky ideas.  Some of those ideas were merely concept drawings while others were actual functioning prototypes.

As we stepped through the front door of WDI…hold on a sec…let’s make this my first two-part article!

Coming next time: some concept art that many of you are VERY familiar with and a ride on a prototype that most people have neither seen nor heard about!  Until next time…keep your pencils sharp and your beans counted!!!

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.

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  • Ryan120420

    That sign story is just ridiculous. Wow.

    Great article!
    Only two articles in and you are already my favorite! Can’t wait to read more from you.

    • ttintagel

      Yeah, it seems to me like there could have been some middle ground that didn’t get explored.

  • LoveStallion

    Love these articles, and I’m so glad you wrote another one. I was worried that some Disney mafia silenced you after the first one. 🙂

    Perhaps I missed it, but can you explain the inclusion of picture of the fenced-off Goofy house? I’d love to know the financials behind why half of Toon Town doesn’t function as originally envisioned.

  • SueinSac

    Thank you, Accountaneer!!!

    People who have never worked in Finance love to blame us when budgets get cut or stupid financial things happen. I love the way you describe the big picture and how it all fits together so anyone can understand it. We hate it when our dreams get slashed, too, but it’s almost always beyond our control. Management decisions happen, engineering bids happen, accidents happen, the economy happens. It’s not the financial analyst’s fault – we’re just analyzing and reporting on the situation. Blaming us is like killing the messenger for bringing in the news. We have input, but the big decisions aren’t made here, they happen much, much higher up.

    So many people need to have someone to blame when things don’t go their way, but let’s get rid of the “sharp pencil boys” comments. They’re just stupid, outdated, and sexist! Financial analysts are dedicated company employees who help make good things happen, too, but rarely get recognized for it. It’s easy to blame people you never see, but we certainly don’t deserve criticism for doing our jobs. We help keep the company in business – just like Roy did for Walt.

  • jcruise86

    Thank you, Accountantaneer! 🙂

    Interesting article, but I’d like more of a big picture view. In their first two years at Disney, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells almost doubled admission prices to Disneyland and Walt Disney World without hurting attendance. Where did that money go? Didn’t admission prices continue to outpace inflation in most of the years after that?

    And maybe the “can’t do an E-ticket every year” mentality led to attendance stagnation at Disney World, while the “if you build it they will come” mentality has dramatically increased the number of people visiting Universal Orlando during the same time when WDW’s #s were limp. Broken Yetis ought to be considered unacceptable by everyone at Disney.

    Could WDW afford EPCOT? Did Tokyo Disneyland have to make their Pooh attraction that elaborate? Did the new Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad really need to make their elevators into mini discos?

  • This is one of my favorite articles we’ve ever run. So much information here! Thank you Accountaneer! Keep ’em coming.

  • Razor Roman

    Great article. And it’s a tough balance to strike – because I could very easily see someone on a Disney message board saying “Look how cheap this sign looks – I think it was made in MS Publisher, we used to get ornate hand carved signs, it’s details like this that separate Disney from Six Flags”

  • almandot

    You mentioned the TDO vs TDA conception, and we always bicker about the perceived about the lack of funding for new stuff in Orlando.. Yes it’s a fair point that eventually as you go up the budget comes from the same place but are Parks and Resorts the ones making that call of “more $ in CA, cut cut cut in FL”? (And of course CA makes cuts too and FL has more parks to administer but that’s the conception by fans anyways). And are Parks and Resorts a studios entity or aren’t they based in Florida as a sort’ve umbrella division anyways? I’m sure FL gets money sent its way plenty but what gets on most people’s nerves is that even as the general public they can practically feel the budget minimizing on a regular basis and it always gets the impression of local decision makers trying to maximize the bottom line.

    Also, you talk about WDI and Haunted Mansion Holiday.. We’ve often been under the impression before that HM Holiday and Small World Holiday were special projects in that DIsneyland’s internal teams got to develop them rather than a full blown WDI project. During and afterwards WDI likely had creative control anyways but is that part of the story true and did that make a strong impact on being able to afford these layovers that they otherwise might not have been able to given what you’re talking about?

  • Eric Davis

    You dirty tease! Part II needs to be up now! lol Great article, I love reading them!

  • dland_lover

    I’m loving these articles! Thank you so much for sharing the other side of things… it truly is enlightening!

  • Monorail Man

    What a tease! Can’t wait for the second part of the article.

    I can totally understand the sign aspect of WDI. The internal struggle must be painful. As a guest, I do think that Show Quality is important for most things. I love what the signage department can do in a short time (always amazed how professional the ‘temporary’ signage looks), but I can understand WDI’s views as well.

    Another amazing, fascinating look at the ‘sharp pencil boys’. Thanks again!

    • almandot

      and on the other side, I’m sick of all the 2D easy-made signs everywhere these days.

      To be fair, I understand the need for temporary signs without killing a budget. But I really hate semi-permanent to permanent 2D signs that try to play off being themed with their oh so clever wordage.

      /And I reaaaalllly hate the walt quotes on every construction wall. “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible” for when they’re finally getting around to repainting some rails or doing pavement work for example. Walls around the 7 Dwarves coaster are great though.

      • Monorail Man

        I agree almandot. I hate how sometimes the temporary signs become permanent as well. The worst offender over here has to be the World of Color queue signage, which is pulled out every day and placed on the end of BVS. They just need to get something to put there that looks better. (But the $10 signs are easier than that).

        The Walt Quotes grind my gears too, but I think it’s a way to justify the sponsorship now.

  • ogso

    Finally an accountant get his turn. Sometimes in industry we are forced to use the gold plated pipe and wires when silver would do. It bolsters the budget and makes the project engineers look important… harumph… harumph I supervised a 10 million dollar project while you over saw a mere 9 million dollar project… harumph… harumph. I can see the same type of chest beating from the WDI boys! I have enjoyed both articles as they bring the other side of the story, but I want part II right now! Good job Accountaneer.

  • Mr Snappy

    As a Sourcing Professional and seasoned negotiator for a major telecom company, I completely agree with your point about a single-source or single vendor strategy…but I am a little confused. Tell me if I am wrong, but WDI is an “in-house” department or division, not an external vendor. If they tell you it’s going to be $115M for the attraction, that is the cost for providing the attraction up to their specs. Any excess “profit” from that seemingly high rate would go back to the bigger Disney Corp bucket. If you argument is that WDI had excessively high standards (such as with the sign story) that is not a result of single-source spending…that’s a result of corporate standards set by WDI and sanctioned by exec management. Not to say that I don’t get your point, I have had to deal with the “Cadillac” vs. “Chevy” models of building a telecom network. It all comes down to executive philosophy.

    • flynnibus

      Mr Snappy – it’s not about WDI Profit.. but about efficiency. WDI is notorious for burning through cash and spending…

      • StevenW

        WDI should be considered overhead. Their costs for employees should not count for the project. This is what happens when there is a set amount of employees that have to be paid and figuring out how the budget is allocated. My feeling is the $115 million for Tower of Terror is spread among the employees no matter how slight their contribution to the project.

      • MickeysImagination

        I work in the engineering department of a company that treats this department as a profit center; unlike most organizations that treat engineering as an operational cost. We sell nothing, but spend a lot of money, so the best we can hope for is to break even and still held accountable for all overruns.

        Also, like the Disney model, we are the sole point of engineering within the entire organization (that one vendor). Now we/I have the power to use outside contractors, but no one else does and we have the right of first refusal to any outside work, which in turn frustrates others. Now prior to my arrival here 13+ years back, there was a time when projects were sent out for bid and typically low bid won the project. I can tell you that our reputation (we are 115 years old) went down the toilet faster than you can “floosh” and are still digging out of those messes. So in many aspectsI will more often side with WDI, as the quality is high, but also have a healthy respect for the sharp pencil boys and girls.

        What it all boils down to is compromise. Easy to say. Hard to do.

        -Justin

    • KENfromOC

      Agreed. This article, while informative, is very confusing in that WDI acts as a Project Manager, not a “contractor”. I am sure WDI (Disney in general) does bid out the actual construction work, attraction vehicles, etc. But why would Disney seek an alternative to their in-house and world-renown design / R&D facility? Does Mercedes bid out the design of their next 500SL? Of course not (they may indeed hire a respected auto designer, but not another company).
      Sorry, but you do sound like a typical accountant here. We’ve seen what happens when Disney cheaps out, it ends up costing more in the long run. Quality and show first!

      • laurainwonderland

        I agree. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels DL is loosing it’s magic. Over the years the magic has dwindled away. I don’t believe it’s a lack of funds. Disney is making record breaking profits. There is no reason for a sad, pathetic Tomorrowland; a rusting, dirty facade on Small World; peeling paint in Toontown; ugly safety gates that take away from the whimsy; the horrible, smelly bathrooms that wreak all the way out to the walkways and same old Disney merchandise for sale throughout the park. Every year seems to get worse. It’s not that there is a lack of money, it’s a lack of spending the huge profits to please your customers. You wouldn’t have record breaking profits if it wasn’t for us. Now you want to charge us for the Christmas fireworks and parades that you’ve been offering as part of the ticket price for years? The greed is just so out of control and it ruins the magic. One more thing…I’d rather have the old, outdated, pastel Tomorrowland back than the empty, confusing space it is now.

        Disneyland wants my money, right? Show me that you want my money. Show me that you want me to spend my money in your park instead of Universal or Knotts.

  • Princess Victoria

    Great article. It’s defnitely interesting to hear the flipside of the coin. It’s easy to lose sight of all the components that make the engine work, and you become more appreciative of those other aspects. Thank you!

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    Great article!

  • dl3000

    Thanks Acountineer, another great article. Working for an engineering firm, I certainly know the benefit of bidding out projects, thanks for the perspective on WDI. I’d certainly love to see their financials. Sounds like a lot of what they charge for a project is to recoup R&D and blue sky for the previous year or so since I’m sure WDI would not last long if corporate just viewed it as a cost sink.

  • StevenW

    I read that WDI was gutted in a major reorganization. Many expensive old timers have retired although the highly priced executive still remain. I wonder what the overhead costs are in this new environment. It can’t possibly be very high.

    I also thought it was strange that WDI can still dictate the park operations. I thought once the ride was turned over to the park, the park can decide things. Thus, the controversial window displays in DCA’s Buena Vista Street were revised after merchandising took over.

    • RenMan

      Yeah, I’m curious about that too. I was surprised (and somewhat pleased) to read that WDI has at least some sway after the thing is built rather than entirely handing it over to Operations.

    • MickeysImagination

      Oh they have SWAY! There is the Show Quality Standards department (aka SQS) who have offices right at the parks. These Imagineer’s keep an eye open for things they don’t like and monitor things they want to plus.It is my understanding that heads butt frequently between park operations and SQS.

      -Justin

  • Sifferz

    You have been writing my favorite articles on this site, right from the first one. The perspective that you have on the company is just so interesting to hear! Keep ’em coming 🙂

  • Soulquarian

    Wow, what an interesting perspective! I’ve fallen victim to the one sided story approach to what does and doesn’t get budgeted for the Parks, and I find these articles quite refreshing and enlightening! Great read.

  • David Hollenbeck

    Hehehe, spit up the funding, yeah! That’s just how the easily the accountineers give up any money for fun stuff…LOL.

    I’d love to see photos of both of the signs just to judge for myself which was a better choice. Obviously, from a purely artistic standpoint, the WDI sign was probably better aesthetically, but was it truly overkill for what it was? Hard to say. I think the notion of it being in storage for 9 months, in this realm, is immaterial – if you’re going all in on the overlay, it should extend to this when necessary. Regardless of how well it was designed, maybe a paper sign really was that small item that took a guest out of the story for a moment because it looked like a cheap paper sign for something mundane amongst all the other cool, intentional well-done details around it. I think of it as a mental speed bump, but have heard it called visual tension, a distraction among others, but basically something that draws attention to itself for the wrong reason. It’s one of those things most guests might not be able to articulate specifically, but is a reason it seems the experience is a little less special.

    I don’t want to seem like I’m all for WDI because it seems like there was probably a satisfactory answer that was significantly less than $1000, but really needed to be something more than printed paper. I think this is an microcosm of where the friction gets more apparent between those focused on show and those focused on making sure it remains financially viable. The true tension is that there is rarely time to find that happy medium – especially, as the case seems here, when there doesn’t seem to be a great mechanism for finding where what the accountants and WDI find acceptable overlap. I mean, that number didn’t come from nowhere, could you have worked with a bean counter there to figure it out? I know it may have been moot given the time frame.

    Also, I’m curious, who chooses the construction company? Is that all part of the WDI proposal or is it bid separately? I’m just wondering if the WDI cost is just for design and supervision or if it’s the muscle work as well. I assume it’s included as part of WDI, but who knows? The Accountineer does!

    Dave

  • choco choco

    No no, WDI can definitely do wrong. We’ve been slaying them for their gargantuan budgets for years.

    We criticized them heavily for the Little Mermaid ride, how that thing cost $100 million is one of the fundamental mysteries of the universe.

    • LoveStallion

      I’d love to know how much of the $1.4B went to Superstar Limo.

  • Conncr

    My understanding is that each department/division of the company is expected to show a profit, even WDI. The number I have heard for Disney is 20% profit (ROI) each fiscal year. I have worked in a department similar to WDI at another company where we only served internal customers and we were their only vendor. We also charged overhead (10%) on each job we did. This is a cost accounting type system where the project costs are passed on to the department who requested the project.

    WDI does has creative control over everything in the parks: I see that as a good thing because it is a necessity that someone has that control. In Construction Management terms, WDI is the Owner’s Representative overseeing the design and construction of projects for the “owner” Disneyland. One would hope that WDI is being cost effective and using competitive bidding in all aspects of that design and construction. (Disneyland has its own sign shop for example. Why would WDI need to “buy” a sign when they could have it made in-house to their specs?)

    However, I have heard from contractors doing work for WDI that there are too many Project Manager people telling a contractor what to do; sometimes requiring multiple and costly changes from the original design specs without allowing for change orders. Because WDI is difficult to work for, some contractors are charging WDI more upfront to cover those change costs.

    conncr

  • Disneykin Kid

    Love your writing style! You explain it so regular people can understand, it’s entertaining, engrossing, and you even have a cliff hanger!

  • scarymouse

    Great article can’t wait for part two, These articles make me think twice about what all goes into these big projects. There are a lot of hands in the pie all trying to get a slice of that pie, But that said its the details that separate Disney from all the rest although Universal is getting smarter and paying attention to details and getting it done.Very interesting to say the least.

  • Puck2DaHead

    Thank you sooo much for your articles!! I agree with DustySage that your articles are probably some of the most interesting I’ve read anywhere and rich with detail. Please please please keep them coming! You have so much to offer us in terms of varying perspective.

    I can actually see both sides of the argument regarding ‘stroller parking’ signs. I can picture a Monday or Friday post or one of MiceAge’s large articles showing a picture of a ‘cheap’ sign followed by some comment about the lack of show; however, if a cheaper sign means an extra greeter or more ride vehicles (which would equal a smaller wait time), I’m all for the cheaper sign.

    I feel like I am in the minority when I’ve always said that Disneyland is still a business, and the details that you provide in your articles support many of the ideas and opinions that I’ve had. At the end of the day, parks and resorts is a business, and if they are not operating in profit (or even at cost), then there is no way that expansion and growth can occur. That much I understand, and your articles definitely help me with that understanding.

    Thank you again! I also love your writing style!

  • cal4iri

    I freakin love these articles!
    Thank you

  • goofymon

    I believe this helps explain why Disneyland is doing some extra hard ticketed events, these events do help raise money for the parks. A lot of that money being raised may be helping offset the cost of attractions such as CarsLand and other new future attractions. There was an article awhile back on miceage on how a good chunk of the 50th anniversary rehab was paid for through increase in parking fees.

  • Tielo

    Thank you for coming back for another peek inside the financial world of Disney theme parks.
    I hope you family is doing great and you absent wasn’t due to some horrible stuff.

    The whole thing about the temporary sign must have been disharting for the Operations team and not good for the relation ship between groups inside this company.
    Why does Disney need to choose only one supplier, why not go the other way? They still can and should be in charge to see the end result will be up to specs but if it can be done cheaper it would be good practice to do so. This company exists, above all, to make money for it’s investors.

  • jediblueman

    This is all interesting, but one thing I’ve never understood about accounting between departments within a large company, is that in the end isn’t it all just the same company moving money from one pocket to another pocket?
    In this case, using WDI as your only contractor, isn’t it also important to note that they are internal and part of the Walt Disney Company? And then WDI itself contracts out aspects of their work, and I’m sure that gets bidded around? What I’m saying is, if parks and resorts is forced to spend $100 million on something through WDI, but WDI is able to do it as cost effectively as possible, saving WDI money, in the long run amount to the same thing?
    This importance of cost between one department to another has always confused me. In the end shouldn’t it just be the true cost of building that matters?

  • terp79

    Great article. I would like to see these signs to compare, as a designer and a lover of typography (especially disney environmental signage) I know I would prefer a beautiful hand carved sign. I get that it will stay in storage until needed, was this sign one that could be )or has been) used again since WDI made the upgrade? What is/was the life expectancy of the sign?

    I’ve seen some of these quick fix signs throughout the parks and you can tell some are slap dash! I get this sign issue isn’t all that important to your over all post but you have me intrigued. Designers take their craft seriously and the mentality of anyone can be a designer as long as they have photoshop makes us cringe.

  • RenMan

    As everyone is saying: wonderful article and please keep them coming! I appreciate the clarity of your writing style and your choice of analogies – you’re clearly a good educator. And like the others, I’d love to see a photo comparison of the two signs, just to see what you’re talking about.

    It’s fascinating to see this insight into the inner workings of the Disney company. I, too, marvel that the divisions within the co. seem adversarial. I can understand the friction of checks and balances – that seems healthy – but at the end of the day they’re divisions within the same company and you have to wonder about the health of the corporate culture if the politics result in bad decisions.

    I wonder if the requirement to use WDI solely is actually written down somewhere or if it’s just understood.

  • Big D

    Great article. I’d love to hear more about using WDI as the sole contractor. Are you talking about both the design and construction of the ride, or just purely the construction? For example, would WDI design the ride, create the blueprints, and then an outside company would just build the ride following the blueprints exactly (which I actually thought was how things are done today) including buying the materials from the specific companies that WDI specifies, or would the outside company design the ride (within certain parameters). If it’s the former, then I say let the bidding war commence, but if it’s the latter, then I agree 100% with Disney’s decision to only ever use WDI. There is only one ride that I’ve ever seen outside of a Disney park that is every bit as good as Disney and that’s Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Orlando. I don’t know if Universal hired an outside company to design and build it, but unless Disney can get those people, there is no one else who comes even remotely close to the quality and immersion of a Disney ride.

  • robbiem

    Great article

    It’s interesting to see how similar Disney is to where I work – closed supply chains, cost inflation & big costs for everyday things like signs.

    It always amazes me when other parts of the same business make money from each other in this way rather than working together for the collective good

  • Dizzey

    This is quite the interesting article. I don’t blame the author for feeling under-appreciated, when in fact, none of our favorite Disney environments could have been built without someone figuring out how to pay for it. As an earlier commentor said – without Roy, Walt likely wouldn’t have realized half of his dreams.

    I would also say, though, that the Imagineers have a pretty good handle on their audience and our demand for immersion. We don’t like cheap-looking ANYTHING. Don’t give us a standard screen door on a castle – it kills our fantasy. The attention to detail and quality is the real reason that we cough up a crazy amount of cash to hit Disney for a few days. Our decision to spend so much is as irrational as using the most expensive contractor, but, perhaps unfortunately, we notice the difference in the workmanship that comes with the expensive worker, and for these few days, are willing to pay for it.

  • psa928

    Remember, going to outside firms and taking the lowest bidder is how the “other” parks do business. So if you want to end up with something like you’d find at Knott’s or Six Flags, that approach is just fine.

    What WDI has that other parks don’t is a history of experience. Is it worth the 30% premium that they charge? Maybe. Maybe not. Keep in mind that the premium goes to pay for intangible items like blue sky design, reference libraries, R&D, and all the other parts of Imagineering that don’t sell anything or make their own profits but are important parts of what WDI does. Someone has to pay to keep the “magical” work environment humming along.

    Sure, you can buy 6 Hondas for the price of a Rolls Royce. But if your customer is expecting the luxury/performance/entertainment of a Rolls, even a handful of Hondas won’t be an acceptable substitute.

    I’m not trying to justify the obvious bloat that WDI can often add to a project (the Haunted Mansion sign is a great example), but so often we talk about the seamless theme park environment that Disney provides — there is a very real cost required to provide it.

  • Weekly-Visitor

    You’re on for about 80% of that but you omitted 20% of the puzzle and as a result the article makes it appear that TDA is a decision maker with it’s hands tied when really they’re mostly out of the puzzle.

    Step out to the P&R level – today, while cars land was under development and you see a couple things that are different.

    1) Parks and Resorts is in charge and sets the budgets for all P&R entities which include all the parks (except Tokyo’s) and WDI and the Cruise line.

    2) The 5YR plan is not the dictating plan, usually the 10YR plan dictates

    3) Deals create jobs

    P&R always allocates the funding to all the properties including WDI. That means they SET the WDI budget and oversee all the costs that go into designing, producing, and developing a new attraction. When TDA gets say in what happens, it’s usually pretty small. They’re told when they get new lands and new rides – it’s P&R that makes those decisions. Then WDI sits down with P&R and they discuss what type/level/cost. WDI usually submits a few ideas (or P&R says make Avatar land and then they submit narrower ideas) and P&R chooses them. TDA’s level of involvement comes in on the operations end after those bigger decisions are made. They end up making more managerial/operational decisions (how many CM’s does it take to operate, whats the operating cost, what’s the maintenance requirements and cost, how many guests per hour etc etc). While TDA can “kill” or change an idea- they’re rarely the ones going “New A Ticket Please!” and they’re certainly are never sitting down at a table and saying “We can’t afford that”.

    • dl3000

      Well, with P&R setting budgets, I wish they would dumping more cash in some E tickets instead of NextGen.

  • 4Apples4Disney

    Great article! I really enjoy this new addition to Micechat. It’s interesting to hear about the reality of how things work behind the scenes. I also find it interesting that it’s competition that truly breeds a more excellent product. It’s something that for the last few decades America seems to be losing. One can only imagine if bids were opened up, how much could be done and how much money could be directed to other projects that still sit on drawing room tables. Well done, can’t wait for the next article.

  • toonaspie

    I feel for ya man but honestly I don’t know how Disney thought that they could cover an entire resort wide expansion including 1 new park, 1 new hotel, new parking structures and a Downtown Disney with only $1.4 billion (which would now be $1.8 billion). That is just too many projects to spread thin on a limited budget. (And that still wouldn’t be half of what OLC spent to build Tokyo Disneysea).

    I get that overbudgeting happens. But sometimes the ideas that are put forth to compensate for the budget just fall flat…like creating a bunch of on-the-cheap rides that nobody’s going to really care for and justify it by saying maybe the customer won’t care either. That is just a money-waster. And I think TDA learned the hard way you can’t just slap anything with a Disney label and expect it to make money. As far as budget is concerned, you get a better return investment on making a few E-tickets than using that same money to create a bunch of minor rides that guests will eventually lose interest in.

  • jasmineray

    That was such an awesome read. Can’t wait for the next one!

  • JediPrincess

    I love your articles!

  • jt7

    Greetings Accountineer….this is by far the best way to get into the financial minds of Disney…and the way you explain it, bascially the other side of the story is great!!! I was wondering, you talked about how Disneyland caculates the age for admission….Well..how does Disneyland or Walt Disney Company calculate admission prices? With admission so high, what goes into the calculations? If it was explained why it is what it is, maybe the admission shock wouldn’t be as painful….

  • DobbysCloset

    Wow, great stuff for grown-ups! And to think it all started with a mouse! Fortunately I can revert to my inner eight-year-old when visiting the park and ignore all the hard work and money behind the illusions…

  • Spacepainter

    I can’t get enough of Accountineering!!!

  • nunz

    Once again..fascinating. Thanks!

  • MiklCraw4d

    So much to say.

    First, the reason that Disneyland took a financial hit “after 9/11” is that they were paying operational costs for an entire extra theme park that was only pulling 8,000 people a day. Why? Because they took the cheap way out and built a horrible park that no one wanted to go to. It was empty from day one but Disney still had to pay people to staff empty rides, shows and restaurants. THAT is why they were bleeding red ink.

    Second, Disneyland does not operate in a vacuum. It is part of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that, if necessary, can move the money around to make things happen. Management change brought the authorization to spend money to fix DCA and that is why attendance has gone up and that is why Disneyland is turning more of a profit.

    Third, digitally printed signs look terrible.

  • PecosBill

    I like the analogy of WDI to a General Contractor.

    However a General Contractor only makes money when they Sell/Build a project. Where does all the money come from to support all of the overhead in Glendale where there isn’t a project to be sold/built for their limited customer base?

    Does the A&E budget cover the WDI Overhead and R&D even when they aren’t providing a product/service to one of the Parks?

  • QPerth

    Oh that ending is cruel! What a tease!!
    I am loving the articles in this column. Keep them coming when possible, they are terrific for showing the other side of the harsh reality coin. Thankyou!

  • Mondo Mouse

    Thank you for the insight!
    It’s great to get “the other side of the story” and gain some understanding as to the way things come about in the parks. Thanks!

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