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Paul Pressler Pervades
Back at the Disneyland Resort, Paul Pressler was making changes that were not going over so well with some cast member and enthusiasts, who expressed their displeasure publicly, particularly via websites and online discussions. There were changes in operating hours within the park, changes in cast member costuming, changes in the restaurants and shops that caused some grumbling. Changes in park operations and facilities management prompted many veteran park managers and front-line cast members to leave.
The Indiana Jones Adventure survived to open, but it was the last "expansion" addition to Disneyland Park. The closing of the Disneyland Skyway without a replacement was a precursor to how the park was going to be operated from then on.
The "Main Street Electrical Parade" was marketed well for it's "farewell season", drawing unheard of crowds to the park in the "off season". For the price of extending hours, the park was reaping free publicity and increases in ticket, food, and merchandise sales.
When 1997 rolled around, the new nighttime spectacular, Light Magic, failed to endear itself to enough guests, it never returned for another season.
Next year, the long-overdue Tomorrowland renovation underwhelmed too many park guests. The signature new attraction, the Rocket Rods, never realized its full potential. It was costly to maintain, and without a sponsor (rumored to have gotten cold feet after a bad experience with an Epcot pavilion), the moderate-capacity attraction didn't last long. Three attractions had been closed for the sake of Rocket Rods (if you include Submarine Voyage), and soon there would be nothing to show for it. Transplants from Epcot - Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, and Innoventions - didn't capture the hearts of enough guests in their Left Coast incarnations.
A Crimson Mark on the Spotless Record
Then, on Christmas Eve 1998, Disneyland Park's safety record received an unprecedented stain. For over forty-three years, no Disneyland park attraction had killed anyone known to be properly behaving, but that record came to an end with an accident that would prove fatal and would seriously injure two others and psychologically scar dozens of park guests and cast members who witnessed the accident and its aftermath. It was an easily preventable accident that some blamed on changes in operating procedures, some blamed on changes in maintenance procedures, and still others blamed on a combination of both. There were probably a few people that maintained it was an unavoidable freak accident - the case never went to trial, so the underlying cause is a matter of opinion.
The fact is, though, that this was the first time a Disneyland Park guest had been killed while simply minding their own business. Based on the Anaheim police reports, the State of California report, and the Resorts own admissions, this past September's accident on Big Thunder Mountain appears to be the second case in less than five years in which a guest died under such circumstances.
Figuring that one fatal accident could have been a fluke or a wake-up call, but that a second one is too much, some longtime park enthusiasts are now questioning safety. Even if they need not worry, the point is that they are.
Perception is largely what the Company relies on, and perceptions were changed.
A New Breed of Theme Park
"The timidity of your investments in our theme park business. At Disney's California Adventure, Paris and now in Hong Kong, you have tried to build parks 'on the cheap' and they show it and the attendance figures reflect it..."
Backtracking a bit to the Resort expansion, Disney's earlier ambitious plans for southern California had been scaled back and replaced with a park unlike any other Disney had built. Indiana Jones Adventure had been the last major ride-through "E" ticket attraction built at the Resort as Disney looked towards opening a whole new park.
When presented with the concept and some of the details of Disney's California Adventure park, some park enthusiasts were unimpressed. Some changed their minds once the park was open; others felt like their reservations were confirmed. Those satisfied with the plans for the new park compared it to the size and offerings of Disneyland Park, though Disneyland Park was the really the first park of its nature and opened in 1955, an entirely different era than 2001, when Disney had established experience and reputation in opening six previous major theme parks.
Attendance for the park was slow after it opened to the general public. The company officially cited weather, a bad economy, and, later, terrorist fears as the reasons for the attendance numbers. Some company insiders and enthusiasts, however, blasted the park for the attraction mix and even for the basic concept. Two prominent operating participants pulled out of the park, and it became the butt of two unnecessary, stinging jabs in the popular nationally televised prime-time series The Simpsons, the only theme park to be hammered by name - twice, no less. One of the occurrences was even repeated ad nauseam all week as a teaser for the episode. This was a sign that it was more than just nutty Disney fans who thought the park left something to be desired. The perception of the general public was that it wasn't up to par.
Disneyland Paris also received a "second gate" - Disney Studios Paris - which some insiders, enthusiasts, and investors found to be under par. The same people are hesitant about the plans under development for a park in Hong Kong. Those with concerns have been quick to compare the new parks to the second gate at Tokyo Disneyland (funded, owned, and operated by the Oriental Land Company). Tokyo Disney Seas is a much more ambitious park with unique and elaborate new attractions, but then the average guest to the Japanese Disney parks spends much more than the average guest to the Disney-owned parks, so a larger predicted return warrants a larger investment. Still, the guest is judging based on what is offered to them.