The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Episode 413 - Released Feb. 6th, 2023
Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, February 6, 2023.
ON THE SHOW TODAY
On the show today: News! Listener Questions! And Surveys, including Disneyland’s first-ever guest survey! Then in our main segment, Jim tells us about the time Disneyland switched to a 7-day-a-week operating schedule.
Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says that when you’re in a bad mood ask yourself “Is this a real problem, or do I just need to eat something with melted cheese?” It’s Mr. Jim Hill. Jim, how’s it going?
SHOW DEDICATION A quick shout-out to our friends Gary Zerelli, Jim Korkis, and Bioreconstruct, who are all on the mend. Jim and I hope y’all feel better soon. And in totally unrelated news, folks, porcupines make terrible house pets.
iTunes: Thanks to new subscribers Rhody Mary, Baron von Reed, and J Frelack, and long-time subscribers Daniel Bell, Kevin Hollywood, Mindy Whitco, and Rich Grafton. Jim, these are the Disney castmembers who manage the Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which, as you recall, is an actual, functioning hotel. They say that too much attention gets focused on the hotel’s balky elevators, which “can be temperamental sometimes”, and they hope Disney’s next advertising focuses on the Tower Hotel’s Frette bed linens and award-winning Sunday Brunch omelet bar. True story.
The Disney Dish News is brought to you by Storybook Destinations, trusted travel partner of Disney Dish. For a worry-free travel experience every time, book online at storybook destinations dot com.
Andrew sent in a Disney survey - by the way, Happy Monday to everyone listening at Consumer Insights - and Jim, while we’ve seen this question before, I was talking with some folks at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics about, you know, survey questions in general, and I mentioned this questions:
And the thing I wanted to know is “Why would Disney want to know this?” Because the question isn’t “How did you get to Walt Disney World?” - it’s “How did you get to Florida?” And it turns out that you can derive other information about household income based on mode of transportation.
By the way, the reason I was talking to the BLS was to get updated data on their Consumer Expenditures on Travel datasets. If anyone’s interested, I can talk about that in an upcoming show.
Jason Schultz (@ArchivistJason on Twitter) posted a new Disneyland poll. Well, it’s new to us, but it’s actually the first Guest satisfaction poll ever done at Disneyland.
Hello Jim and Len!
Our family sadly cannot join you on the star cruiser but our trip will be in the same timeframe as yours which leads me to this question.
This is our first trip during spring break and we thought with the increased attendance at the parks it might be a good idea to explore the Animal Kingdom Lodge where we are staying. I looked up activities online and it seems a few years ago there were a ton of things to enjoy there but based on what I am seeing many of these are not currently available.
Could you give me an idea on whether some of the savanna experiences and tours would be coming back, and what activities you might know of as alternatives?
Love the show thanks for the entertainment and information!
Len says: It’s probably not posted online because the events will vary with things like occupancy and, you know, weather, but you’ll find a ton of things to do around the resort:
Even during the pandemic they were offering things to do almost every hour:
Re: the survey question from Disney asking guests to estimate the total they spent on their trip - I think you and Jim forgot that, believe it or not, there are still people in the world who pay for things with cash. And don’t forget gift cards! When I go to Disney, I pay for almost all my food and merch with cash or gift cards that are not linked to MDE, meaning Disney would have no way of tracking that spending.
Just had to send you a note because I was yelling at the podcast as you guys puzzled over why Disney doesn’t already know exactly how much everyone spends
Listening to Christina’s story about tipping at Aulani and it’s absolutely true about refusing tips 3 times.
I worked at the world of Disney at Disney Springs and the coordinator would have me be a door greeter. I love doing this position because a DJ plays most nights on the stage in front of the story and I was notorious for wearing Mickey ears and shaking what my momma gave me in front of my ECV scooter. During Christmas, as I was busting a move, a man came up and put $60 in my hand. He ran off before I could refuse it. I told my manager who was actually dumbfounded that I actually willingly reported the cash. The managers huddled together and let me use that $60 to buy toys for our Toys for Tot drive from the store. Super neat experience.
We’re going to take a quick commercial break. When we return, Jim talks about the first time Disneyland went to a 7-day-a-week operating schedule. We’ll be right back.
Disneyland Seasonal Closing
This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.
John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.
Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.
Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”
If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.
What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.
Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”
It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.
Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.
So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.
Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.
Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.
What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.
Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).
And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.
Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.
Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”
That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.
Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:
While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.
(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.
So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.
Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.
Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:
This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.
So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:
Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.
Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?
What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.
It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”
And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.
And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).
That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.
Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.
It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sorts of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.
All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.
It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.
Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have n of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.
Back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” for a sec … The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions. The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictitious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track). Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
That’s going to do it for the show today. You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com, where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes. And we’ve just completed a two-part series on Walt Disney’s 300+-page FBI file.
ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: I’m riding TRON later today over at the Magic Kingdom, so we’ll talk all about it next week. And Jim gives us the up-and-down history of Disney trying to build rides out of robotic arms.
NOTE: You can find more of Jim at JimHillMedia.com, and more of me at TouringPlans.com.
iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be guest guitarist on the song “Cleanest Hands” during the release party for C-Level’s new album “Think for Yourself”, on Saturday, March 4 at the Grog Shop, on Euclid Heights Boulevard, in beautiful, downtown Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.
For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.