December Sun – A Web Comic

October 13, 2010

Letter to Disney

Filed under: 3 — Tags: — admin @ 3:51 pm

Aging animatronics

To whom it may concern:

I recently traveled with my family to visit the Disney parks for a number of days, and while the experience was for the most part ok, there were a number of notable disappointments this time around, enough that I wanted to put this into a note. I was hoping for a little more to the experience this time, but there were enough things that I found bothersome that I wanted to put into a note. Here they are, in no particular order:

The rides

Granted, it’s been 20 years, and I’m a lot older since the last time I visited the park last, but I couldn’t help but notice that rides in parks like the Magic Kingdom are really starting to show their age, and even the newer “improved” rides like the Tiki Bird house really don’t seem all that much better.

Some of the examples that come to mind specifically:

- The “Country Bear Jamboree” features a stifling room and a very dusty-looking collection of animatronics. I couldn’t help but notice that for a few of these robots, there seem to be strange defects with the eyes – some of these robots have one eye strangely closed or erratically blinking, such as the lead bear at the Country Bear show. The audio was also terrible, and seated in the back row of the theater I could hardly understand the words of the bear’s dialog or lyrics.

- The “Jungle Cruise” additionally is showing its age, and many of the animatronics seem to be showing fading and wear from the water sun. For instance, some of the elephants have permanently-etched water-lines on their rubbery bodies. Some updates would really seem to make sense, or at least, some new coats of paint.

- “Pirates of the Caribbean” was, by far, the biggest disappointment of the bunch. The ride could easily be called “Captain Jack Sparrow of the Caribbean”, as the “Johnny Depp robot” has over-saturated (and subsequently ruined) what was once my favorite ride in the park. There is far too much Captain Jack in the ride, and this newer robot and newer technology doesn’t seem to blend with the rest of the ride (the final Captain Jack just seems wrongly-placed, and I really found myself missing the blackbearded pirate that used to be there, shooting a gun from a pile of loot.) Just because George Lucas does this sort of revamping thing with his films, doesn’t mean that you need to as well with the rides. This really was a let down.

- “Tiki Birds: Under new management” was another animatronic exhibit that, although aged, wasn’t greatly improved by new robotics. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that the red parrot bird (I can’t think of it’s name – from Alladin) really had a unbelievably fake quality to it, with Elmo-quality red fur, and oddly, metal robotic pipes clearly visible at the bottom of the bird’s body connecting it to the perch.

Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t some of the old nostalgia from rides like “Peter Pan” and the “People Mover”, but for the most part, I really encountered a lot of disappointment with so many of these rides. Equally frustrating was how Sep. 12-18 seemed to be “repair week” at the the Disney parks! A massive crane flanked Cinderella’s castle, several buildings were closed out for repair, and most frustrating was that “Its a Small World”, a ride we really wanted to share with the kids, was closed (also disappointing was that “Star Tours” was closed for us at EPCOT, and this was one of the few that I really wanted to try again.)

Some of the newer rides like “Philharmagic” and “Monsters Inc” were amusing and were a nice newer direction for the park, but just weren’t enough, in light of so many of the frustrations above. Another thing that we noticed particularly with the Hollywood studios park is that there are far too few rides, resulting in a MASSIVE back-log of people waiting for the few actual rides like the “Toy Story” ride (we even went past this ride right at closing [9:00ish on Sept. 15th]) and even 30 minutes before park closing time there was a 70 minute wait to get in! That’s ridiculous, and even the fastpass tickets were all gone for this one. As far as the Animal Park, other than a couple shows there was very little to have us go back to this ever again. Most everything of interest to the kids could just as easily be seen at the Houston zoo (with much shorter lines as well.)

Oh, and one other observation about wonky animation: in the American Pavillion of Epcot, after Ben Franklin and Mark Twain finish their show, when they move to shake hands their hands didn’t even connect.

The employees

In the past one of the things noteworthy about Disney was how everyone seemed to be genuinely happy to be there, or at least did a great job at maintaining a facade. This time, the pretense seemed to be gone, and I noted quite a few otherwise unhappy and frustrated-looking employees. I can distinctly remember one guy working at a food court near the Country Bears who I would almost guarantee was gritting his teeth behind his disingenuous smile. Two female employees in the Peter Pan gift shop seemed more interested in talking to one another than in working.
Ticket people, ride employees and merchants seemed to show a lot less friendliness that I remember years ago (to Disney’s credit, though, at “Starring Rolls” at Hollywood on Sept. 16th for lunch there was an exceptionally-kind black woman who, following a frustrating-long line for food, actually came by and talked with us and our kids. I can’t remember her name, but she was one of the few park employees who still had that genuine vestige of kindness and happiness that the parks are supposed to incorporate. I wish I could remember her name, because her extra-effort of hospitality was appreciated.)

The Dining

I really wasn’t impressed with the dining plan. The sit-down dining was fine for the most part (other than strange exceptions where you had to use double-dinner credits) but I really wasn’t blown away by the quick lunch options. Most of the selections seemed very generic and similar: mostly just burgers or chicken nuggets or salad, with dessert and soda. Maybe this is what most people want, but I started to find the selection a little bit dry after awhile and would have liked to see a little more variety.

The smoke

I know that there will be smokers at these parks, but I noticed that even though smoking is supposedly only allowed to take place in certain designated areas of the park, that didn’t stop people all over the place from smoking wherever they wanted. At Hollywood Studios, I recall that there was a bench near the “Starring Rolls” restaurant that had a constant stream of smokers camping there, even though the area was NOT a designated smoking area. So what’s the big deal? The smoke was all being puffed right downwind into the eating area of the “Starring Rolls”! Yet no park employees ever seem to be on the street to do anything about this. Designated areas exist for smoking, fine, but apparently it doesn’t matter because you can still do it anywhere you like. And I’m actually highly-sensitive to the smoke, where I’ll start sneezing after being around it for awhile, so little actual restriction of this was not appreciated.

The Marketing

It seems as if the marketing direction of Disney has gotten worse and worse at the theme parks, and more and more rides seem to be built around exiting you directly into stores and shops. I know it’s been like that in the past, but it seems to have progressively worsened – especially with plugs for the “Disney Vacation Club” all over the place! Come on – for the cost of getting into these parks there should not be infomercial booths camped out all over these parks. That wasn’t cool. Likewise the Magic Express bus ride back to the airport featured basically a 30+ minute stream of commercials for other Disney cruises and activities. No more Donald Duck cartoons like were played on the way IN – nope, when we’re on our way out, its nothing but commercials! NOT a nice final touch.

Park transportation

We stayed at one of the Disney resorts this time, and while EPCOT was an easy walk from the resort, travel to some of the other parks involved waiting for buses that were often delayed (we waited for over a half hour for a return bus from the Magic Kingdom park, and actually decided to take a bus to a different, adjacent resort in order to walk back from there around the boardwalk area.) The bus drivers were, for the most part, not very friendly or talkative, and one seemed genuinely testy with questions I needed to ask.

Finally, the Trip planning DVD

The format of this was just plain fruity: people walking around in the clouds, talking about their dreams of flying. Fruity. What I wanted to see, that would have been so much more helpful, would be practical video information about what the parks offer, new rides, old rides, changes, etc. Hearing a “touching” account of some employee talking to a kid was just pointless – I wanted more planning information and I didn’t get it – I needed a Birnbaums guide to get that.

It will probably be a long time before we go back again. For what was paid for this, I really hoped for a lot more. Maybe I’m just getting older, but the experience seems like it could have been much better.

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