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What's the one thing you would change to improve your favorite theme park?

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Published: September 6, 2011 at 2:19 PM

What is one thing would you change if you were in charge of a theme park?

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Me? I would restore (or adopt!) the rule that costumes could not be taken off property. When I worked at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the only costumed cast members who could wear a costume off property were guest relations tour guides and the Ambassadors, who would wear their costumes when they were making public appearances on behalf of the resort or ferrying VIP guests to and from the Orlando International Airport.

Everyone else got 20 paid minutes at the end of their shifts, when they could change from their costumes and exchange them for a fresh, clean costume to wear the next day (which they'd keep in an assigned locker). That meant no Disney cast members ever would be seen in their costumes off property, and that the costumes would be professional laundered and cared for by Disney staff, on site.

This policy does three things: First, I think costumes remain in better shape when they're cared for by a professional costuming department, and not laundered at home. That allows the company to improve the show while saving money on costume repair and replacement. Second, keeping costumes at the work site improves show quality for visitors and potential visitors by ensuring that the "fourth wall" isn't broken by seeing park employees in costume "off stage" and in public.

Third, and most important in my opinion, the policy improves show quality because it creates a clear division between work and home for the employees themselves. Take your costume home, and you're just another low-wage hourly employee working a retail job in funny clothes. Keep the costume in the park's costuming department, and when you put it on, you're a cast member in a major show. That attitude adjustment is crucial in promoting high quality guest service in the park, and a huge reason why Disney insisted upon this policy for decades.

What's the one change you'd make at your favorite theme park? And please don't list some capital improvement, such as building a $100 million new dark ride. Let's restrict this to realistic operational improvements. So... what's your one thing?

Readers' Opinions

From José María Sandoval on September 6, 2011 at 2:44 PM
One fast pass for guest for stay.
From Anon Mouse on September 6, 2011 at 3:19 PM
Every decision has consequences. Despite the fact that management makes many mistakes, there are many reasons the operational rules exist. The background of such decisions are hidden from view. Maybe Disney got tired of the amount of support staff and money to manage the costumes. This is why I'm not in management and decided to just collect a paycheck.

I would love for Disney to show more compassion for their workers. I know the hourly workers really don't have much flexibility in their work rules. The rules intrude on the customer experience at times. They need to make the workers more responsive to customers. It is sort of like the workers follow a queue line to clock in and out and the customers go into their queue line for food, drink, and rides. Their tight operation made the customer experience equally tight.

From 98.208.250.41 on September 6, 2011 at 3:20 PM
I'd love to see a ban on strollers lol
From Michael Owen on September 6, 2011 at 3:35 PM
I'd like to see theme parks, particularly Disney, focus less on using the parks as a way in which to further promote their movie and television properties and create top quality attractions which don't need a brand theme.

Expedition Everest, with or without a fully operational Yeti, is one of the most richly themed attractions at any Disney park and doesn't have a major Disney brand as its main draw.

The same can be said for Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Soarin and a host of other attractions.

I'm not suggesting that attractions shouldn't use a Disney brand for a theme, but it should be restricted to those they know work as an attraction, rather than those that executives at the company want to push.

If there is a need to promote a brand in the park then it should at least be done properly - in other words avoid another Stitch's Great Escape.

From Daniel Etcheberry on September 6, 2011 at 4:09 PM
Install water fountains! Also install those water fountains that refills your own bottles. They are so greedy that they make you buy their expensive water.
From Anthony O'Neal on September 6, 2011 at 4:35 PM
Geez, how would I improve Busch Gardens Williamsburg? I can't think of anything!
From Nick Markham on September 6, 2011 at 4:41 PM
My home park is small, Lagoon, so I understand many of its flaws, but still, I would like to see their PR department get rolling and be more creative, perhaps a website for the new ride or at least some sort of teaser video early, like in August. Just look at Holiday World. It is a small family park, and really wouldn't be as successful as it is without its PR department.
From Matthew Blacker on September 6, 2011 at 4:43 PM
I wish Disney would simply renew its commitment to being the best. They have slipped and I'd like to see a return to being treated like a "guest" instead of merely a customer.
From Melissa Faulkner on September 6, 2011 at 5:12 PM
From Jorge Arnoldson on September 6, 2011 at 6:25 PM
I would improve Islands of Adventure by having a set idea for when Marvel gets the boot. For example, I would either choose Transformers, Mario, or Zelda.
From 99.138.94.15 on September 6, 2011 at 9:38 PM
Bring back a themed value driven entertainment approach to the industry as opposed to my coaster is bigger than your coaster and while you are here I want ALL of your money marketing approach. Value and service retains customers. Somebody will always have a bigger coaster next year.

Parks, especially Disney, have shifted much of their emphasis from ongoing high quality park experience to revenue maximization. Profit is the driver for business. However, the short-term revenue focus will devalue the parks over the long term. Potential triggers for the loss will eventually occur. The first few can be bought out with pricing. You can only buy your way out of one or two before the perceived value is lost.

While Disney is nowhere close to pulling a Six Flags, the first steps in the trend is there. Disney can survive this approach for many years but their size and operating costs are both their cash cow and vulnerability.

Contrary to this approach, parks such as Holiday World have demonstrated that generating customer love and value can turn one of the world's smaller and least accessible theme parks into a loved destination. Customer love guarantees repetitive success. Holiday World has earned it, Disney currently has it at the risk of the younger generation seeing it as a current hot attraction, Cedar Fair is losing it, and Six Flags has lost it.

RB

From Ray Schroeder on September 7, 2011 at 5:43 AM
I just wish Disney would stop nickle and dimeing the guests. I just read that at All Star Sports, beverage service is being computerized. They are putting sensors on the bottom of your beverage cup which will allow only 3 fills of the cup within a 2 hr period. You mug would be active for 1 week. How much can they be losing if someone is grabbing an extra soda? I've been using the same mug for years. Don't tell anyone.
From Flavio de Souza on September 7, 2011 at 5:47 AM
Free fast pass systems in all theme parks. It is simple, not so expensive and really improves the experience.

I would love to have one fast pass system in my home park, Hopi Hari. It would triple my visits to them.

From Mike Gallagher on September 7, 2011 at 6:44 AM
Daniel sorta beat me to the punch...I don't necessarily need MORE water fountains at Great Adventure and Dorney, which are my two closest full-blown amusement parks. But I'd love the ones they DO have to provide much colder water. Room temperature and warmer simply doesn't make it with me. Cedar Point, for example, has at least TWO extremely cold water fountains..an absolute oasis on a hot day in Sandusky. I will give GAdv props for the cold showers near the Ferris Wheel, El Toro, and the Log Flume, which I've made extensive use of this season.

I also want my Jersey Devil-themed, twin racing wood coaster over the river and through the woods behind Nitro. But let's focus on the water first :)

From Adam Dodds on September 7, 2011 at 6:52 AM
Robert, I don't think, by far, the majority of Castmembers wear their costumes out. I don't, and I never see my co-workers either. Also, I don't think most people launder their own costumes. However, my best reason for the current system is if I can find a costume that fits, I keep it. Disney is too cheap to keep enough mediums and large shirts for the locations I work that once I find one, I keep it until I can find another.

I understand your points, but I think overall the effects are minor.

What I do want to see is more "streetmosphere". I hear there used to be a bank robbery in Frontierland, there should be pirates or adventurers walking around Adventureland and the Maint St. Characters should be out all day.

From 74.166.169.84 on September 7, 2011 at 9:27 AM
I think every park needs a really good show. It really helps each park feel like a full-day experience and it's a great option to get out of the sun and watch some often spectacular entertainment.

Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are two parks that could definitely benefit, especially with all the Disney properties that would make great adaptations for the stage.

Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure could use good ones too.

From Anthony J on September 7, 2011 at 9:28 AM
I think every park needs a really good show. It really helps each park feel like a full-day experience and it's a great option to get out of the sun and watch some often spectacular entertainment.

Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are two parks that could definitely benefit, especially with all the Disney properties that would make great adaptations for the stage.

Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure could use good ones too.

From Jeff Elliott on September 7, 2011 at 9:38 AM
When I went to Orlando last October, I made a point of thanking every cast member I saw in the parking lot for a wonderful day. That actually led to a couple of memorable moments as we stopped to chat with various cast members.
From Bob Liebe on September 7, 2011 at 11:57 AM
The change that I would make is at Universal Studios. I would create a "Fast Pass" system just like Disney has at WDW for their rides. I know that Universal has Express Pass, but once you figure in the cost for the whole family and if you would like multiple days, the cost really adds up! As a consumer I'd much rather spend that extra money on souveneirs of other things in the park than a pass to the front of the lines. So to have a Fast Pass option would be great for people like me and would make us feel like we are really getting our moneys worth! I think that Disney did a great job allowing everyone to be able to get into the front of the line with the Fast Pass system. Great idea Disney!!!
From Tyler Stover on September 7, 2011 at 1:00 PM
I would differentiate the retail locations. Disneyland Resort has seen almost all of its merchandise stores become mini-Emporiums. Even if I had to keep the same number of SKUs, I'd sort by theme. Pirates and Nightmare Before Christmas stuff isn't found outside New Orleans Square. Indiana Jones and other jungle stuff won't be found outside Adventureland. Star Wars would be tomorrowland only. Maybe I'm wrong, but I figure giving guests a reason to look into every different shop might just help sales.
From 65.47.250.230 on September 7, 2011 at 1:28 PM
The prices for parking are getting ridiculous esspecially if the parking is a large flat lot with no shade and limited tram service. Also the rise in parking prices for structures that have already paid for themselves (i.e. Mickey & Friends at DLR, the parking structure at USH). I realize that this area has a higher profit margin because the overhead is smaller than the park itself but it's getting to be like Dodger Stadium parking ($20 the last time we were there for a 2 and a 1/2 hour game)we've stopped going and when we did go it was only with a carpool. I agree about the Street entertainment, that has kind of dried up at DLR, except on the weekends. Although I do commend them for keeping the "Laughing Stock" and Billy and the Hillbillys in Frontierland going daily. We make it a point to stop by for the shows every time we are at DLR. As my husband has said "I'll drink to that" (anyone who has seen Laughing Stock will understand)
From Stephen Tuday on September 7, 2011 at 2:20 PM
Theming is everything. Having just visited Six Flags over Texas, I have to admit their theming is excellent, including the well-kept landscaping. But there is inconsistency within the chain. My 'home' park of Six Flags over Georgia is too much of an iron park and lacks character. Immersive theming is just as important as the rides. As a bonus, maybe SFoG could add water sprinklers (a.k.a. showers) throughout the park like their Texas counterpart has. They are great to have on a hot day.
From David Sutter on September 7, 2011 at 4:16 PM
Robert want real Magic? Go to any Walmar Supercenter thats close to Property..ANd see all the castmembers shoping. Youd think you were in a Disney Reatil shop. I tend to agree with you the costumes nned to saty on porperty and not be seen outside of it. As a former csat member my best magical Moument was when someone who had taken my boay reconized me off porperty. And out of costume. That made my day. But even then I needed to be aware that I represented Disney and behaved accordingly.
From Zena Sharpe on September 8, 2011 at 4:57 AM
I def agree that the costumes need to stay on property. When I took my 5 year old last year to MK, I had to get a cast member to confirm to him that Mickey was real as he thought it was a man dressed up! Honestly, when you start to believe that, you may as well put disney holidays to bed.
This is why all cosutmes should stay at Disney so the child in us all can believe that these people are real - even down to the retail cast members. It's nice to know they are disney and it wouldn't feel right to see them walking around the local wallmart or publix
From Anon Mouse on September 8, 2011 at 7:53 AM
The magic of the parks cannot be hidden artificially. If you don't want your kid to figure out the costumed characters have actual people inside of them, don't take them to the parks as frequently as you do. Sooner or later, they will figure it out. I think its funny that many people here think Disney can hide reality for longer than they are capable of doing it.
From 99.120.19.72 on September 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM
I travel to Disney 3 times a year with my whole family. Out of the 9 of us 5 are disabled . It's very hard to make huge lines when we have family members with panic attacks, RA, chronic asthmatic, my mom can't walk. Our trip really becomes he'll from the stress there's no consideration for the disabled. Universal wants you to pay for fast pass which is expensive on a party of 9 which 5 live on disability checks and Disney has a couple of rides they have consideration but on most they don't. I will be visiting sept 19 - sept 26 n I truly am dreading it. I honestly am considering stop going or changing it to once every 3 years instead of 3 times a year. Medical condition worsen n neither parks have consideration .
Truly hurtful , Michelle
Linette157@hotmail.com
From Dan Barnes on September 9, 2011 at 1:11 PM
At Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the one thing I would change is that I would update the promotional videos shown in the queue lines throughout the year. For the last several years, when I'm standing in line for Griffon during Howl-O-Scream, I'm still watching the "coming this Spring" videos from opening weekend. After the new attractions open (Mach Tower notwithstanding), they need to switch over to a more generic "now open" promo for the new ride/show/restaurant. During Howl-O-Scream, they need to be selling Christmas Town. They also should, IMO, be promoting the Florida parks in October-December. Somewhere along the lines of "We may be closing for the winter, but if you can't wait until the end of March, come visit SeaWorld Orlando and/or Busch Gardens Tampa! It's free if you have a Platinum Pass!" It might sell a few more Platinums and get a few more folks through the Florida turnstiles.
From 69.249.252.182 on September 10, 2011 at 6:17 AM
More attractions should have "Single Rider Lines" - at all theme parks. Some of the rides that used to have them have discontinued them. I think it keeps the line moving and they can move people through faster. My son and I have been to WDW and US/IOA so many times that we don't need to sit next to each other a ride. Single Rider Lines allow us to ride many more rides than we would if we had to wait in line. In fact, if the wait is too long for a ride that doesn't have one, we usually skip it and figure we'll catch it another time.
From 72.201.39.42 on September 10, 2011 at 6:53 AM
Get rid of "Innovations" at Disneyland Park!!! It is not up to Disney standards to have such an obvious commercial in the park. The building can be used for something more to Disney's usual quality... the two shows before Innovations were great, but this one not only sucks, but is highly hippocritical, narrating to the guests how important it is to conserve energy then showing all these power hungry gadgets inside.
From 173.168.77.66 on September 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM
I live in Tampa and love going to the Orlando theme parks. I do enjoy Busch Gardens, however I do wish they would put in a few virual reality rides. If you are not in to the coasters there are not too many rides at the park to enjoy. I think people of all ages would benefit from this. Just a thought.
From 216.97.211.140 on September 12, 2011 at 5:02 AM
I would love to see Islands of Adventure have some creative food options to match the creative aesthetic of their park. Besides actually being able to eat Green Eggs & Ham in Seuss Landing, I just can't believe that a park this inventive has such boring, run of the mill food options, and virtually nothing for vegetarians to eat. Every single Disney restaurant has at least one creative vegetarian entree, and the chefs are always happy to come out to your table to talk to you about your food needs and create something unique for you, if need be. Disney kicks Universal's butt when it comes to the food, and since that's the only metric on which I feel Disney wins, I'd really like to see Universal catch up. I'm not talking about Citywalk, obviously, just inside the parks themselves.
From 76.79.172.160 on September 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM
I would change food and merchandise (I know that is two things). Ideally food and merchandise in Disneyland would function more like they do in Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where they reinforce the story, or the setting. Tomorrowland should have futuristic food, not just the same burgers and fries that are everywhere throughout the park. Merchandise should be the same way. The Tower of Terror gift shop, kind of does it, but what you can buy should be unique to the shop you bought it in and reinforce the sense of time and place (fictionally) rather than making it obvious that guests are in Disneyland as a whole.

In Wizarding World, the entire place operates as if it was actually Hogsmeade, including British food and Hogwarts merchandise. There is no sign of the outside world from inside Wizarding World.

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