The BLOG FLUME - The 50th Can't Come Quickly Enough

The Disneyland Resort has been having a horrible summer and the newest accident at Big Thunder Mountain certainly won't help matters.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: July 11, 2004 at 1:27 AM

MiceAge - Jul 6
Orlando Sentinel - Jul 9

I mentioned previously that California Adventure has gotten very little help from their new Tower of Terror. Well, things are getting worse and worse. DCA managed only 16,500 guests on July 4. Considering that was not only a Sunday but a huge holiday also, those numbers are pathetic.

And it just isn't DCA that's suffering. Disneyland, which has consistently managed to attract large crowds, got its first sub-40,000-guests Saturday in more than 20 years a few weeks ago. Then came the disastrous Independence Day weekend. Instead of the 70K average the park usually pulls in on the Fourth, DL barely dragged in 50K.

It's obvious that Southern Californians now expect Disney to offer discounts, and if they don't then people just stay away. In fact, it seems the only locals bothering with the parks are AP owners who cannot be discouraged from renewing their APs. Disney has recently raised AP prices and increased the number of blackout days so the number of APs would lower before the 50th Anniversary. Numbers have actually increased to more than 600K, which is a record for DLR.

One thing that may decrease numbers to DL is yet ANOTHER accident on Big Thunder Mountain. Disney mouthpieces are seriously downplaying the accident, but three people were injured, which makes this more serious than the previous two-train accident, which happened without riders.

Still, this makes three accidents in less than a year, with the first causing one death. People have not forgotten that one, and this accident will make it much harder for people to forget it. Many visitors already steer clear of the ride, and this accident will undoubtedly add more to the better-safe-than-sorry set. Even if most visitors haven't heard of either of the death-free accidents, they are still going to be suspicious of the ride being down yet again. Not to mention how suspicious people will be of Disney, which seems completely uncapable of running this ride without mishaps. Even though early reports have this as yet another operator error, people are starting to wonder why Disney puts so much responsibility in the hands of minimum-wage workers.

The entire Disneyland Resort is suffering, even as the new TDI regime is starting to fix it up. While the discounts and the excessive APs aren't helping, neither is Disney's slow attraction-building schedule. Disney should take this chance to immediately demolish BTMR and build a major new E-Ticket in the area. Buzz Lightyear and a not-so-new Space Mountain aren't going to keep the crowds coming back after the 50th, if they even show up for that.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert OGrosky on July 11, 2004 at 10:57 AM
While the accident on btmr is bad news for disney. escpeically that with it being down lines will be longer, i for noe wouldnt be afraid in the least to ride it. You are much more likely to be hurt or killed on the roadways of la/orange county than on any theme park ride.
From Scott Carter on July 11, 2004 at 10:58 AM

I am at issue with a few of the points you made in this article.

firstly,according to many people close to the attendance figures,DCA has seen a fairly big jump in attendance from last year due to TOT,and its pretty obvious when you see the crowds at the park.To say it barely helped is simply not true.Its helped very much.You also have to remember that DCA had a 13% increase last year,so its working against itself because that is a very high increase,to beat that will be hard (even with a great E ticket like TOT) but I think it will be done.
while Disney's competor (Universal)was down 12% last year and really anything is going to give them a boost.I doubt theyd go lower then 12% with a new ride,but they definatly have an advantage this year because of thier poor attendance last year.

secondly,I think there is more then just discounts that are keeping ppl away this year.I believe many factors play into it.For starters,Space Mnt (one of the most popular resort rides) is closed until 2005,and the word is definatly out.
also,many tourists probably realize that next year is a huge year promising new parades,fireworks,Space,Buzz etc and Im sure many many many ppl have postponed going to the resort until 2005 to expierence all of this,especially those out of towner (once in a lifetime) visitors who really have to maximize thier trips.
overall I think your article is overly doom and gloom,while I dont think things are perfect at the Disneyland Resort,I also dont think they are nearly as bad as made to seem in this opinion piece.

From Jason Herrera on July 11, 2004 at 11:35 AM
More power to you, O'Grosky. A lot of people do not have that type of outlook on a ride which has suffered the past year.

As for the being more likely to be hurt or killed on the LA/Orange County freeways comment.

Tell that to the families of people injured and/or killed aboard amusement attractions! They'd be glad to hear it. :-/

From Kenny Hitt on July 11, 2004 at 5:20 PM
Kev, I have to say (from a former CM point of view) that your "minimum wage" comment rubbed me the wrong way.

Cast Members at the Florida property are paid the same as their Anaheim counterparts, often have to work longer hours with larger crowds in more uncomfortable conditions and till manage to maintain a safety record that is second-to-none.

It has nothing to do with what they are paid. Eisner, Pressler and Harriss immasculated the budgets for maintenence and operations to the point where training that once took place over a week or more now has been condensed into two days...a two-day Traditions seminar is now down to 4 hours.

Employees who are adequately trained and prepared for emergency situations will do their jobs well, regardless of how much they are paid. I'm not concerned so much that they hire high-school and college kids to run these rides. I'm concerned that the ride has crashed a third time after the DOSH has TWICE mandated that the staff be retrained. I'm concerned that after the two previous crashes, only the staff who were working those nights required retraining, rather than the entire crew.

I'm concerned that Ouimet and Emmer have not yet reinstated older, better methods of training. Although i can only assume this would mean having to go to Rasulo for more funding, which would mean a fruitless battle against Eisner.

From Robert OGrosky on July 11, 2004 at 6:37 PM
Its not might fault if some people can handle the truth. Im sure if he look at the death/injury rate of la/ornage county freeways it will far supass those who are hurt on rides at disney theme parks, yet alone parks all over the US.
From Joe Lane on July 11, 2004 at 7:26 PM
Comparing the accident rate of BTMRR to freeway deaths is an arguement that has been done to death since the first BTMRR accident back in September. It does NOT work and I'll tell you why:

There are a lot of factors involved in freeway deaths--factors that can vary every time you get on the road: weather, road conditions, vehicle conditons, a driver's own awareness, not to mention the performance of driver's around him/her. The average automobile is designed for practical use as a transport, and can therefore be piloted just about anywhere depending on the make. There are no tracks to keep your vehicle in place--whomever is behind the wheel is in constant control at every moment.

On the other hand, a coaster is designed not to be practical, but to be entertaining. It is desgined to be "death-defying" to appease the human psyche of doing incredible things while still maintaining a level of acceptable safety. Scientific design is used to assure its performance is consistant despite factors such as weight of the riders or weather conditions. The train also runs on a track and multiple safety devices are installed to make sure said coaster doesn't do anything that could potentially threaten the occupants. Beyond the lift hill, the coaster is at the mercy of physics--there are no brakes until the train reaches the brake station and no one person in the coaster can control the train. If an accident is to be avoided, it must be done by ride ops before the coaster leaves the station or lift hill.

BTMRR at DL opened in 1979 and has been operating ever since. With the exception of an accident involving a young boy whose foot was crushed as it entered the loading station (guest fault), there have been THREE accidents in LESS THAN a year, two which can be attributed to operator failure and one due to poor maintainence. Whether you want to accept it or not, something is wrong when an attraction can go TWENTY-FOUR YEARS without an accident, yet have THREE reported accidents and a death all in a matter of months.

What happens on the freeway is out of Disney's hands--everybody must take responsiblity for themselves. But what happens on a Disney attraction is the responsibility of the company. It's ludicrous to think otherwise. It's all apples and oranges, or in this cause, cars and coasters.

From Robert Niles on July 11, 2004 at 8:12 PM
To Kenny's point: that's why I say you have to look toward area management -- and the training that *they* have in Disney theme park operations. Previous area managers were able to assemble and direct maintenance and operations teams that kept their attractions operating without this frequency of incidents. Many of those folks are still around, and could be lured back to the company with enough cash in an offer.

As for the differences (or lack thereof) in pay between Orlando and Anaheim, let's keep in mind that if you earn $7.00 an hour in Kissimmee, Fla., you'd have to earn $9.40 an hour in Anaheim to maintain the same standard of living (according to the salary calculator).

From John Franklin on July 11, 2004 at 8:40 PM
As a former Cast Member of Disneyland, I can tell you that the average attendance of Disneyland during the summer normally get up to 60,000 or more per day and this was back in the 70's. with attendance on a major holiday being up to 80,000 or more.
Some of the factors that might be affecting attendance, might include:
1)High Gas Prices,
2) Lack of new attractions,
3) A dead Tomorrowland (aka Deadland),
4) Many reports of a run-down park,
5) Too many accidents,
and 6) Too high admission prices.
As far as Big Thunder is concern, too many accidents means something is wrong BIG TIME. It's time to get rid of it.
So, what do you think?
From Jason Herrera on July 11, 2004 at 10:27 PM
Mr. Robert O'Grosky writes: "Its not might fault if some people can handle the truth. Im sure if he look at the death/injury rate of la/ornage county freeways it will far supass those who are hurt on rides at disney theme parks, yet alone parks all over the US."

That's a crock. The truth is that when we merge onto the freeway we know there's a possiblity that we may skid off the road, get cut off, have a tire pop, etc...

When a family boards an amusement ride they shouldn't have to worry about any of those factors! They're there for a fun time, not to worry about derailing, not braking, etc.. Now that's truth!

From Kenny Hitt on July 12, 2004 at 5:26 AM
Excellent point, Jason.

My first day of in-park training, our coordinator said something to us that has always stuck with me...he said that people come into these parks to escape reality. Once they enter the gates of the park, it's the cast member's responsibility to make sure that reality does not intrude on the guest experience.

Guess what, Eisner...DEATH AND INJURY are big, cold, wet bitchslaps of reality intruding on these folk's experience.

From James Adams on July 12, 2004 at 7:58 AM
Also, this is not about probability and one's chance of being killed. This is about Disney's possible incompetencee and negligencee to maintain their rides and those who operate them. We know that Disney has been cutting costs in maintence and trtaining. This is evidence that something internally is wrong. Disney needs to wake up and realize that you cannot run a theme park on a minimum budget. I get sick and tired of theme parks moaning about low attendance. It happens, the market ebs and flows. It CANNOT maintain maximum capacity at all times. They need to be prepared for slow times and yet still have funds to grow and maintain their business. This "we'll maintain the park when times are good" philosophy is rediculous. If theme park owners and, better yet, stock holders do not understand this fact, then they need to get out of the business.

(simple minded business tirade over)

From Robert OGrosky on July 12, 2004 at 10:53 AM
Does DL need to improve on the training/supervision they are giving the ride-ops at BTMR, yes!!!!!
But it makes no sense at all to call for the removal of the ride or even with the 3 accidents that have happened recently to have the ride removed or for someone to be scared to ride it.
And cars arent produced to be death machines, yet many thousands of people die on the roadways and millions are injured, so with some thinking here we should be too afraid to drive in a car.
In real life accidents will happen, machinery will break down and people will get hurt, but that doesnt hide the fact that one is much more likely to get hurt or killed in a car than on any theme park attraction, and neither are made to inflic injury/death on the riders.
If anyone thinks there is no chance of anyone getting hurt or killed on a ride, be it due to operator error/machine failure/rider misconduct then they are simply naive and maybe have consumed way too much pixie dust, accidents will happy anywhere and cant be legislate out of existence!!!
From Jason Herrera on July 12, 2004 at 11:36 AM
"In real life accidents will happen, machinery will break down and people will get hurt, but that doesnt hide the fact that one is much more likely to get hurt or killed in a car than on any theme park attraction, and neither are made to inflic injury/death on the riders.
If anyone thinks there is no chance of anyone getting hurt or killed on a ride, be it due to operator error/machine failure/rider misconduct then they are simply naive and maybe have consumed way too much pixie dust, accidents will happy anywhere.

Thank you Captain Obvious. You're clueless as to what myself and, Mr. Hitt are trying to get across. That's okay though. It's understanding that makes it possible for people like us to deal with responses like yours.

From alex morehouse on July 12, 2004 at 11:55 AM
Whenever I went on, BTMR's cars were always brought together by just ropes and a hook. I think that the cars need to be better put together, by being attached by nails and steel poles, like how Califonia Screamin' is. If not, well, there could always be room for a water coaster. After all, the wild west has some pretty interesting stories to tell, so why not?
From Kenny Hitt on July 12, 2004 at 12:58 PM
"ropes and hooks"? OK, you must assume that we don't know anything about these rides. They are not held together by ROPES, you schmuck.
From A E on July 12, 2004 at 2:29 PM
Mr. Herra and Mr. Hitt - is it possible for the two of you to have an adult discussion without name-calling? Both of you are arguing the same point, but the immautrity of your posts detracts from your statements.

I understand what both sides are trying to say here, and both are correct in their own way.

Three accidents in a year is a definate indicator that there are severe problems SOMEWHERE - reinforcing what many of us have heard/seen for quite some time about the deterioration of rides and training at DL. It is likely a combination of issues that lead the ride to this place - that's up to OSHA to say.

It is clear that if these things were a higher priority at DL, as they should be, these accidents would not be as likely to happen.

The poster you have been bashing is also correct - you cannot legislate accidents out of existance - accidents are a fact of life. You can prepare for and attempt to prevent them, but there will never ever be a "100% safe" ride. Heck, a light could fall on your head while riding the Haunted Mansion, for example.

HOWEVER, in this case, it seems as if Disneyland may have not done the proper maintainance, repair, and training to keep these risk levels low.

You are all right, as I said, in your own way - but perhaps rational discussion is better than throwing playground insults around. Just a thought.

From Kenny Hitt on July 12, 2004 at 2:59 PM
I only used namecalling in regards to the comment made by Mr. Morehouse that the rade was held together by frigging ROPE. It's gotta be quite possibly the dumbest, uninformed non-response I've ever read.
From A E on July 12, 2004 at 3:41 PM
Mr Hitt : Thank you very much for your "No, I cannot" answer to my inquiry as to your ability to have a discussion without name-calling.
From Kenny Hitt on July 12, 2004 at 7:00 PM
We WERE having an adult discussion until morehouse dragged it through the muck of stupidity.
From Joe Lane on July 12, 2004 at 7:37 PM
Chill out, Kenny. It's one thing to point out ones comments as uninformed or ignorant--but it's another to do so in such a harsh, abrasive manner.

I can't speak for Alex, but I think he may be thinking of cables, not rope, significantly strong enough. As a standard, Alex, all coasters in general are built with solid, steel connections, designed to allow each coaster portion to take the hills, curves or inversions smoothly as possible.

From Kevin Baxter on July 13, 2004 at 4:21 AM
Scott, did you bother to read the MiceAge article I based my attendance comments on? There are actual numbers there and those numbers prove that ToT has NOT improved attendance. If you are seeing people in the park, it's mostly the APs doing a few rides on a Disneyland break. And just because you see a lot of people around ToT, that doesn't mean there are a lot of people watching Aladdin, or in the Bug's Land area, or over in the Pier area. ToT has been a complete failure in what it was supposed to do.

As for the lame LA freeways argument... Considering MILLIONS of people use those freeways every day, can they even be compared? BTMR gets about 2000 an hour, so maybe 20K riders ride it in a day. It would take about a year's worth of rides to even be able to compare it to one day on the LA freeway system.

But like someone else said, we don't drive the freeways without understanding that something may go wrong. We don't go to theme parks for that feeling, and to just ACCEPT accidents, no matter how occasional they may be, makes it even more likely for these accidents to occur. If we don't have outrage for these rides, and if we just continue to ride extremely problematic ones, then theme parks like Disneyland won't bother to make rides as safe as possible. Do you want theme parks to become like the car industry? Where future payoffs are preferable to expensive safety measures?

From TH Creative on July 13, 2004 at 8:09 AM
I believe the attendance numbers. Any further predictions on when we can expect the stock price to "drop into the teens?"
From alex morehouse on July 13, 2004 at 10:48 AM
Who the HELL called me a F@&%ing schmuck?
From Kenny Hitt on July 13, 2004 at 12:02 PM
I did.
From Robert Niles on July 13, 2004 at 4:21 PM
Chill on the insults, or face site banishment. No more warnings. And, by the way, the BTM cars are held together by steel couplings.
From Carey Lynn Holtsclaw on July 13, 2004 at 4:57 PM
You guys are overreacting. There's no chance in Hell Disney is going to tear down BTMRR. Evan if it has got allot of bad PR lately, it's still one of the most popular rides in the park (I'm sure it would be one of the top 5 in terms of annual ridership if such information were available). The public has a short-term memory, as was proven when the ride re-opened last March.

Not to mention how much it would actually cost to tear down that massive concrete structure. You know they don't just throw away money like that. Plus, Disney would actually have to have a replacement attraction ready to go into immediate construction. No use having a giant hole where a major, 100-ft tall E-Ticket use to stand.

The incident last April with trains colliding was caused by cast members (Not the ride itself) who didn't reset the ride properly, and failed to identify the location of all the trains. This last one however, seems more like a computer glitch.

All it needs is a new operating system (if that), and for Disney to step up in maintenance

Now, if it was an old, forgotten attraction in a dark corner of the park, it might be different. But this is a ride that Disneyland is known for... (that cost them a pretty penny to build back in the 70s as well.) It still has another decade left in it, and I'm sure Disney would wrather leave it than spending the money to demolish it and building something new and expensive.

I'm sure in a few months it will bounce right back, and by next summer it will be like nothing happened from the public's viewpoint...

From Marco Sierra on July 14, 2004 at 4:44 PM
Nobody is overreacting. 3 accidents in 1 year, plus when I got on BTMR (just a month before the fatal accident) my car fell about 5 to 10 feet backwards when we were going up the first chain lift. Disney needs to tear down BTMR, and burn it to hell. In anycase they will probably not end up doing that because idiots will complain if they do tear it down. Personally if you're dumb enough to get on BTMR after all these accidents, you deserve to get seriously hurt.
From alex morehouse on July 14, 2004 at 5:19 PM
Sorry I cursed, Robert. I admit I'm just not good at sticking to the topic because ever since I entered this site, I've become so obsessed with ways to help DCA and Disneyland. What am I saying ? That's been the topic over these past few months! Anyway, I was just giving you my own two cents on what I saw, and I didn't read this whole article. Kenny, can we forget that this whole thing happend? And Robert, do you accept my apology?
From PM 24-7 on July 14, 2004 at 7:29 PM
I love Disneyland. No other park puts the attention to detail into attractions that DL does and I appreciate that. I have visited DL once a year for years and am not planning a trip this year because of Space Mountain being refurbished. This is a major omission from the line-up of attractions and should have been a higher priority to get back on line than it has been...It seems like this ride has been out of the picture forever (it was just starting to be refurbished during our trip last year). The Tower of Terror is a definite draw, but, with Space Mountain down, I just don't feel like I'm getting my moneys worth when I'm spending $98 for a 2 day hopper pass (even though they're in separate parks). I am not saying that the park isn't worth it at those prices, it's just like buying the first release of a DVD for $15 knowing that there is a Special Edition coming out in a month for the same $15. Why not wait?

Bottom line, the park attendence issue (assuming that the numbers posted are correct) are more likely an issue of people waiting for their favorite rides to come back than it is a safety concern. Considering the fact that DL has gotten rid of arguably their most popular attraction and still pulled in a number of guests that any other park would be happy to get, shows that the popularity is still there.

PS-Thanks for the confirmation on the Buzz Lightyear ride coming to DL! This ride was great in Orlando and I can't wait to see it added to the DL arsenal!

PSS- Thanks to Ms. Holtsclaw for putting things into prospective on her posting.

PSSS- Anyone heard anything about 2 tracks being put into Space Mountain in DL (like Space Mountain in Orlando)?

From Robert Niles on July 14, 2004 at 7:45 PM
Alex, we're cool. Thanks.

But, Marco, and everyone else reading this, grow up. No one, repeat no one deserves to get hurt on a theme park ride. How many times have I written this before?

I want this site to be open to everyone and to all points of view, but my patience with inarticulate, immature roller coaster junkies who have little personal experience in either theme parks or society in general is wearing very, very thin.

From Kevin Baxter on July 15, 2004 at 5:08 AM
Thank you. See that word there? "You" Three letters. Not a lowercase "u", which is NOT cool. In fact, it is seriously lame. "Cute" little misspellings are one of the major signs that "u" aren't adding much "2" the conversation.
From Ben Mills on July 15, 2004 at 1:05 PM
Man, I love this site.
From Ben Mills on July 15, 2004 at 1:10 PM
Anyway, I always thought that the BTM trains were held together by the last remaining strands of Pressler's dignity?
From alex morehouse on July 15, 2004 at 2:35 PM
From Ben Mills on July 16, 2004 at 2:10 PM
And the crowd say bo selecta...
From alex morehouse on July 18, 2004 at 10:12 AM
16,500 people walked through DCA's gates? Boy, that IS not a good sign. Unless they have the balls to spend money on proper maintenance training for it's cast memebers OR get some proper food, or original attractions, I don't see how DCA can get better instead of worse. But let's get to The BTMRR issue. I think that if the cast members can't handle the cars properly, they should be fired, scolded at, or be forced to go back to training for a huge sum of time.
From Kevin Baxter on July 19, 2004 at 3:13 AM
Fact is, I don't buy the whole operator error thing. Roller coasters all over the country have sensors and computer programs that will override an operator's mistakes. How many times has anyone heard about Six Flags or Cedar Fair coasters running into each other. Sure, they'll stop in places they aren't supposed to, but they don't run into each other. And if they ever do, which I have certainly never heard of, those trains don't enter the station at nearly the speed the BTMR trains do. Is it really that necessary for those trains to FLY into the station? How much time is that saving?

It seems to me that Disney is refusing to pay for the cost of a new program or sensors or whatever is needed to remove operator error from the equation. As I see it, they either completely redo the whole safety system or they destroy it. If they can completely gut Space Mountain, they can do the same for BTMR.

From Robert Niles on July 19, 2004 at 10:39 AM
In normal operation, that would be correct. But when you power up a ride, or bring trains on or off the track, systems give operators varying levels of autonomy to carry out certain tasks. And if they screw up, or do things out of sequence, they can defeat or confuse the system, allowing a shut down (in the best case) or a crash.

The proper response following such a situation is to reprogram the software to further "idiot-proof" it, given the "bug" the clueless operator discovered, and to remove or retrain the operator.

From alex morehouse on July 19, 2004 at 6:10 PM
"Idiot proof." Good one, Robert!
From Kevin Baxter on July 20, 2004 at 1:42 AM
Exactly, Robert. Longtime CMs are claiming Big Thunder has a history of trains "bumping" each other since it opened. WHY HAS THIS NEVER BEEN FIXED? This is utterly ridiculous.
From alex morehouse on July 20, 2004 at 11:34 AM
Hey, Kev, I didn't know BTMRR had a history of it's cars bumping into each other. Hmmmmm.... I just got one question: WHAT THE HECK IS EISNER THINKING (OR WHOEVER IS IN CHARGE OF DISNEYLAND) BY NOT FIXING THE TRACK OR THE CARS?! Unless they get a new ride track or stronger steel couplings or better sensors or idiot-proof maintenance, I'm not going to BTMRR when I move home this summer!
From Zach Hoffman on July 23, 2004 at 11:42 AM
Personally, I think that one of the main reasons for the crashes on Thunder Mountain is that the ride has been used too much. Also, when you look at Disney's safety record, it is actually pretty good, in terms of the number of accidents. Each of the bigger attractions in Disneyland almost always has a wait of more than 50 minutes to get on to the ride itself, meaning that more people go on these rides than rides at most other theme or amusement parks, and these crowds certainly don't make it much easier on the ride workers or the ride altogether.

I do have to agree that Disney is having at least a few problems with its parks, though. We just got back from Disneyland, and its unbelievable how much is closed down. Space Mountain isn't reopening until next year, and Thunder Mountain is down for the time being. Also, the castle is closed, and it seems like they took the higher towers off of it, the Tommorrowland Arcade is closed, and they were doing something with a few of the shops on Main Street.

And as for "idiot-proofing" the rides, maybe they should make it so that the ride can fix itself, and only when there is a bigger problem would the ride operators do anything. At least it would solve the problem of clueless operators.