August 31, 2010

Disneyland taboos are still important

Over at Jungle is 101, the terrific blog written by friend and fellow former Cast Member Mike, is a report of a recent Disneyland guest experience. Unfortunately, as he tells it, what should have been the simple purchase of a Dole Whip during a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room turned into a complicated ordeal and a visit to City Hall after employees displayed anything but Disney courtesy. A number of comments to Mike's post reported disturbingly similar employee behavior on other trips.

It seems like it might be past time to dust off the original handbook given to Walt's new hires back in 1955. I received a reprint of this manual for creating happiness when I joined the Cast in 1983, and I still use the lessons that it taught today. Here's the text of one of the most important sections, which seems particularly appropriate in light of Mike's Adventureland incident:

Just as every land has certain taboos, we have ours at Disneyland. A taboo is something that is never done under any circumstances. Our taboos are few, but we must all abide by them at all times.

One taboo prohibits drinking by hosts and hostesses within Disneyland, or having the odor of liquor on your breath while at work.

Smoking, drinking of coffee or other beverages, or eating while at our work station is also taboo at any time.

Loud or profane language used within the hearing of guests is prohibited.

Gambling, fighting, or arguing in loud tones also ruin the magic of a Magic Kingdom and are taboo at all times.

Remember...these taboos apply to all of us, at all times. A taboo means there is no second chance.

I know that the stress of working with high numbers of sometimes rude people in Anaheim's August heat can make anyone feel irritable. I've done it, and I've felt it. A Disneyland Cast Member, however, isn't just anyone. He or she is—or should be—a people professional. It is highly disciplined work that is all service to others.

It's not a job that everyone can do, and Walt knew that. Once, for example, he noticed a Disneyland railroad conductor treating guests curtly and told an assistant, "See if your can't give that fellow a better understanding of the business we're in. Try to cheer him up. If you can't, then he shouldn't be working here. We're selling happiness."

Sadly, it sounds like all the people working the tiki juice bar were selling on Mike's recent trip was Dole Whips. If that.

Tangaroa not happy.

August 22, 2010

Around the bend

Summer heat was somehow hotter when you worked in Frontierland. Maybe it was the rugged old West setting that seemed to make temperatures feel like they exceeded those in other parts of Disneyland. It might also have been the fact that Frontierland's location was almost exactly centered between the two Cast Member cafeterias. Other than those two refreshment spots, that side of the Park was pretty short of break areas for those of us in Outdoor Vending.

The Inn Between is the backstage half of the Plaza Inn. A great place to go on break, but you had to be close enough to get there, get served, and get back before your fifteen minutes were up. If you were starting from Frontierland, that could be a challenge on a busy summer day. The Pit was your west-side cafeteria alternative. Buried in the corridors beneath Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a cool respite and a bit closer than crossing the Hub. Even so, it took up time when all you really wanted was just to sit down out of the sun for about ten.

Fortunately, there was one spot that you could count on during those summer months back in the Eighties. The Wheelhouse was a small window located between the Stage Door Cafe and the River Belle Terrace. It was meant for guests, but it's small size often left it unnoticed. You could step quickly up to the window and be on your way with a enormous swirl of soft-serve cone in moments. I remember that it cost about a buck.

I enjoyed quite a few of those cones back behind the buildings facing the Rivers of America. You could usually find a packing crate or pallet to serve as an impromptu bench. Once I took my cone up to an unused conference room in what I think was the Frontierland office. There was nothing better.

Unless you happened to be my good friend "Captain" Mike Schwartz in the photo above. Mike had maybe the only job in Disneyland where it was possible to walk an ice-cream cone back to your work location and have it right there onstage. He spent over ten years as an attractions host and used to take a tall vanilla soft-serve with him back to his own wheelhouse on the top deck of the Mark Twain. As he "steered" the gleaming sternwheeler, he'd wave to guests with one hand while holding a sugar cone in the other. He kept it out of sight to preserve the Show. In an amazing combination of ingenuity, respect, and defiance of authority, however, he figured out a unique way to create happiness for others and enjoy himself a little bit more at the same time.

Once the ship had churned safely past Fowler's Harbor, Mike would sit back and dig in—usually listening to an Angels game on the transistor radio in his pocket. As Vista Advertising's marketing for the Magic Kingdom used to say, "It could only happen at Disneyland!"

I'm glad that I was there when it did.

August 8, 2010

Trip report — Summer 1978

It's August 1978. I'll become a Cast Member in five years. Today, I'm a guest, staying with my mom in the Disneyland Hotel. The Mark III monorail has just glided us into the Tomorrowland station. A great day in the Magic Kingdom is ahead!

The entertainment calendar in our guide tells us that we can look forward to two parades: one for Mickey's 50th and the Main Street Electrical Parade plus Fantasy in the Sky tonight. Maybe we'll even hit the Space Stage and dance to "The Magnificent Music & Motion Machine." As we wander through the Park, we'll hear the Dapper Dans, Main Street Maniacs, Royal Street Bachelors, Pearly Band, All-American College Marching Band, and Bowdie Mountain Express, "a quartet of down-to-earth Blue Grass performers in Bear Country."

Of course, we've also got a long list of adventures and attractions, including still-new Space Mountain! Since we're already in Tomorrowland, let's go! There's the speedramp, just past the gantry elevator up to the Rocket Jets!

Wow! We conquered Space Mountain! Let's come back down to earth and start the rest of our day the traditional way with a walk up Main Street. We can hop aboard the Disneyland Railroad for a quick trip through the Grand Canyon and Primeval World.

Fantasyland next! Let's visit the Matterhorn, our old favorite mountain.

We'll catch our breath walking over to the Frontierland side of the Park. No Big Thunder to take the "wildest ride in the wilderness" yet, but we were still having the best time. I was having so much fun that I forgot to take more photos! A cruise on the Mark Twain around the Rivers of America gave me a chance to snap a shot of the burning settler's cabin, but my Kodak Instamatic X-15 didn't get much use after that.

We were there until Jack Wagner told us that Disneyland had ended its normal operating day. Exhausted, we had one more experience ahead that made this visit the best we'd had. As a sea of guests funneled toward Town Square, our monorail pulled out. Laden with our paper bags filled with things from the Character Shop, Main Street Magic, Tropical Imports, and Tinkerbell's Toy Store, it zipped us through the darkness across the parking lot. Kids in back seats looked up as we glided overhead, part of one last moment of a perfect Disneyland day.

We checked out the next morning and wandered through the hotel shops, adding a few more souvenirs here and there. I don't know where nearly any of it is today, but I've still got that August 1978 trip. Thanks for coming along to relive it. And thanks, mom, for everything.

August 2, 2010

Monorail 78 on hotel dispatch

We checked out August 2, 1978, thirty-two years ago today. I had waited all year for the trip. The first time that my mom and I stayed in the Disneyland Hotel. We never made it back, but the two days we were there couldn't be improved.

We were the first aboard the Mark III monorail as it emerged across Katella Avenue on that morning's run across Disneyland's 115-acre parking lot ("or 'Freeway Retreat,' as many of you have called it.")

Like travelers striding up to a Pan Am China Clipper, we stepped into the cabin, then dashed straight to the bubble—completely bursting any air of sophistication we had. We're talking about the bubble, after all! We skimmed across West Street (not Disneyland Drive) and played in the early morning Park (not Resort). We conquered Space Mountain, then just about a year old, and made it to all of our favorites until we had to come back and check into our Bonita tower room. It cost about $185.00 adjusted for inflation. Parking would have been around $6.50 in today's dollars.

In this modern world of mega-hotels and second gates, it might be hard to understand what an overnight stay in the old official hotel of the Magic Kingdom meant to a kid who came to Anaheim maybe once a year, maybe more if someone else's parents were taking them. Quite simply, it was the best possible trip I could imagine, an almost incomprehensible luxury—actually staying overnight at Disneyland!

Once the overnight bags were dropped off, we skipped back up the stairs to the old hotel station platform—remember those hexagon cut-outs in the steel beams? We were back in the Magic Kingdom in minutes and there long into the night. Unlike all our past trips to Disneyland, there was no sleeping in the back seat on the way home to the San Fernando Valley.

I don't have many of the photos that I snapped with my Kodak Instamatic X-15 on that visit, but I'll post what I've got in a special vintage trip report from 1978 this weekend. We'll ride the beam as it bends right and we accelerate toward Tomorrowland and back to a summer memory that I cherish. Thanks for coming along.