Wednesday, August 10, 2005

When The Magic Disappears

Back in a former life, I worked at Disneyland. I was one of those guys who told dumb jokes on the Jungle Cruise and told you to pull your safety bars down on Big Thunder Mountain.

It'll sound corny, but I kinda bought into the whole "Disney magic" thing. I believed in the "onstage/backstage" concept. You were an entertainer. Your job was to deliver a great experience for every person that came through the gates. And there were experience you had working there that reinforced it. Some of my favorite memories are from times when I helped out in the parade area right before the fireworks. We'd get to stand (or sit) in the off-limits grass areas while the fireworks went off. The lights would dim and Tinkerbell would do her flight from the Matterhorn to her landing tower behind Big Thunder Mountain. And when she took off, it was like 20,000 people were socked in the gut at the same time. A sudden gasp and the "oohs" and "aahs", especially those of the kids, and you were seeing the magic happen.

This weekend, my wife and I decided to take our 2 1/2-year-old to Disneyland. I wanted her to start to experience that magic, and perhaps selfishly, wanted to experience myself through her. Unfortunately, the magic seems to have faded.

When Walt was asked why he wanted to create an amusement park, he made references to creating a place he could take his daughters, some place clean and family friendly.

This picture of the water in the moat at the base of Sleeping Beauty Castle is an example of what passes for "clean" nowadays. Scum from the bottom of the moat has floated up and is present throughout. The water doesn't flow, creating stagnant conditions. This scum is detritus that has accumulated, and through decomposition, created gases that cause it to float back up. We used to see this on the Jungle Cruise, but since the water moved, it was eventually sucked up into the pumps and filters.

It used to be the image of an employee with a "Disney Vacuum Cleaner" was prevalent, and the park prided itself on cleanliness. Spills were quickly cleaned up. Not so anymore. Walkways were strewn with trash, spilled popcorn, and the general evidence of crowds.

Remember the double-decker bus and horse drawn trolleys that ran up and down Main Street? Good. Because that's all we found were memories - no buses or trolleys to be seen.

We went to get lunch. We had a plate of fried chicken, a plate of pasta, a Cobb salad, and two side salads. Add in two sodas to wash it down. Cost? $56. We're not talking gourmet fare here. And this was in a cafeteria-style restaurant (Plaza Inn), where there isn't even anyone to help you find a seat.

Speaking of price, it was a damned good thing my brother had extra passes. To duplicate what he gave us (three "park-hopper" passes for adults) would have cost us nearly $240.

At the restaurant, my wife asked for a fat-free dressing. The first person spoke not one word of English. This was the person up front, dealing with guests as they walked in the door. After nearly five minutes of this, a second person came up. My wife again asked what fat-free dressings were available. This person spoke English, but had no clue. Her answer? Just get all of them out and lay them on the counter and let my wife choose.

This lack of attention to detail was all over. Shows were lackluster, with performers looking like they were just marking time. And finding someone to ask a simple question was nearly impossible. Employees spent more time talking to each other than guests.

I can't convey my disappointment strongly enough. I have literally thousands of memories, great memories of what the park should be like. I want my family to have those as well. But corporate expediency, budgetary cuts, and a blind focus on the bottom line have robbed me of these. Maybe it'll come back. I hope so. But for now, the magic seems to have disappeared.

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