Even though I'm in the middle of a move to a new
residence today, I have a quick, single subject update for
you. Yes, it's that important, and the park's
customers (that's you out there) need to know about it.
We'll dispense with the breakfast nosh descriptions and get
right to it today. My special thanks by the way to the man
who with his trusty camera almost always seems to be in the
right place at the right time, David "Darkbeer" Michael.
Monday afternoon, as we were putting the finishing touches on
the latest update, word swept through Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) to
expect a big personnel change. Then on Tuesday morning the
formal announcement went out that Greg Emmer, Senior Vice
President, Disneyland Resort Operations was resigning. Regular
readers may find Emmer's name familiar, as he has been mentioned
here in the past, but many others might not understand the full
implications of Emmer's departure, and why it prompted a
concerned front page editor's note from me, along with this
In short, Emmer was the driving force behind many of the
positive changes seen by visitors around Disneyland in the last
four years. He was brought to Anaheim very quickly after Matt
Ouimet's own arrival in October, 2003. Prior to Ouimet and
Emmer's arrival, the TDA executive offices had been occupied for
years by Paul Pressler, Cynthia Harriss, and their gaggle of
hand picked senior executives who were actually proud of the
fact that they had absolutely no theme park experience prior to
their Disneyland assignments.
When Emmer was brought to Anaheim in late 2003 to clean up
the daily operation, while Ouimet tried to salvage the battered
ship and plot a new course for the 50th Anniversary, it began a
massive sea change for the Anaheim property and one that was
practically heralded as the second coming of Walt himself to
long time Disneyland managers.
Unlike his predecessors, Emmer was the ultimate Disneylander,
having started as a ride operator on the east side of the park
in 1968 while he was in college, and there was little about
Disney theme park operations that he didn't eventually tackle.
He jumped at the chance to head out to Walt Disney World to help
open that property as a front line supervisor in 1971, and the
native Californian made his home there and raised his family for
the next 32 years in Orlando.
He rose through the management ranks at Walt Disney World
through the 1970's and '80s, and by the 1990's he had become a
Vice President of the sprawling property. But all the while he
clung to the basic tenets of 1960's classic Disneyland operation
that he had learned as a young man, and had passed on to a new
generation of Cast Members in Florida in the 1970's and 80's.
Many of those 1960's ideals had been tossed away by previous
executives when Emmer came back to Anaheim in late 2003, but he
set out on a crash course to right the wrongs and re-focus
Disneyland's operation on the basics that Walt's own team had
laid out for him in the 60's.
Emmer was the guy that organized a key Anaheim visit in early
2004 by Bog Iger, who was then the second in command in Burbank
but the leading contender for Eisner's job. On a busy Friday, he
led Bob Iger around Disneyland pointing out all of the neglect
that was then visible, and all of the work that would need to be
tackled to get Disneyland back in pristine condition for the
50th. He even took Iger up the crowded Peter Pan ride exit that
afternoon, to show him how 21st century guests in big electric
scooters were clogging up narrow corridors and loading areas all
over the park that were never designed for such, making life
difficult for the Cast Members and the paying customers alike.
The plan to widen the Peter Pan exit never got off the
drawing board, after news that a major load-bearing wall in the
facility would need to be rebuilt at the cost of millions of
additional dollars, but that was the type of operating minutiae
that Emmer was willing to show Iger in his pitch for a bigger
budget to fix Disneyland.
After that tour, and a lot of other executive wrangling,
Emmer and Ouimet got the bigger budgets they had hoped for and
the plans to spruce up Disneyland before the 50th Anniversary
took on a dramatically more important role than they had been
budgeted for under their predecessors. Emmer took that money and
ran with it, eventually refurbishing nearly every façade at
Disneyland, as well as tackling a long list of much needed
refurbishments and TLC that had been on the wish list of every
Operations department for years.
Not only did he get the park looking almost new for the 50th
kickoff in May, 2005, but Emmer purposely set up a "50th
Refreshment Team" that kept up the park-wide painting and
maintenance all through calendar year 2005 and 2006. A version
of that Refreshment Team still exists to this day at his
insistence, which is why Disneyland has for the most part
continued to look its sparkling best long after the 50th
Anniversary celebration ended.
The physical condition of the park had always been important to
Emmer, but he was also known as a stickler for the service
standards the Cast Members offered the park visitors. Everything
from Custodial to Costuming was under his control, and details
like the placement of trashcans around the park or the length of
queue left up on a slow day were on his internal radar screen.
He constantly roamed the Anaheim property, and when something
didn't seem just right, an email or a phone call caused managers
to jump from Toontown to California Screamin'.
With such passion and success behind him, and years still
left until retirement age, why would Emmer suddenly resign? And
why would no successor yet be named? The answer appears to lie
not just in Anaheim, but in the other executive suites in
Orlando and Burbank. The word from TDA this past week is that he
has been very frustrated with the corporate structure for Disney
Parks as set up by Rasulo. The waste and bureaucracy along with
the misplaced priorities that are a hallmark of Rasulo's new
corporate structure are rumored to be what has finally pushed
Emmer out the door early.
Emmer is well known on his daily park walks for calling a
restaurant manager and complaining if he sees two busboys
standing and talking instead of working independently, as the
effective use of labor is one of his guiding principles as a
shrewd businessman. There are still many projects and
opportunities inside the parks needing money that would directly
improve the visitor and Cast Member experience, and yet those
issues get short changed by the wasteful practices inside TDA.
If Emmer will immediately call a manager over two chatty
busboys at the Plaza Inn, you can imagine how maddening it must
be to see the swelling ranks of bureaucrats and managers working
on bizarrely out-of-touch projects that will never positively
impact the park experience. And with Rasulo's new "global"
restructure, not only is there a growing headcount of white
collar workers wasting money and energy on superficial projects,
but they are now routinely flying back and forth between Orlando
and Anaheim to get all that wasteful work done. In the average
week there can now be up to 200 different people flying back and
forth, staying in hotels, and eating on expense accounts, only
to attend meetings on the opposite coast about topics that were
once handled locally.
And with this swelling bureaucracy, and all of this expensive
business travel to fill seats at the endless series of meetings,
has come not a sharpening of the parks experience but instead a
dulling down of the individuality between Anaheim and Orlando.
Certainly there is something to be said for sharing good ideas
between the two properties, as there are similarities between
some of the park facilities themselves. But the overall
properties couldn't be more different when it comes to customer
demographics or purpose, and the sprawling and massive Walt
Disney World property has very little in common operationally
with the compact and tidy Disneyland complex.
So much is being spent maintaining this new corporate
structure that has bound Anaheim and Orlando together, that
plenty of things needed inside the parks for paying visitors are
no longer affordable. For instance, for decades Disneyland had
operated its monorail system with four trains; a maximum of
three trains operating at one time on the beam, while the fourth
remained back in the roundhouse either being refurbished or
waiting in reserve on a busy day in case of a maintenance
problem with one of the other three trains. So when it finally
came time to upgrade Disneyland's aging fleet, WDI had just
assumed that four new trains would be approved and purchased.
Then of course, a bi-coastal team of executives and managers
decided that they could manage things down to only three new
trains, with the fourth train only being approved at some
unknown later date if funding somehow became available. But with
so many Business Class airline tickets to buy, and so many Club
Level hotel rooms to book at the Anaheim Hilton to get to that
final decision, that fourth train looks pretty unlikely about
now. (By the way, it appears that new Mark VII train has been
having problems with some of the clearances around the very tight
Disneyland track layout. It may end up pushing back the planned
Presidents Day Weekend debut of the new train. More on this in
a future update.)
Unfortunately, often times these types of decisions end up
directly impacting the visitor experience, usually (thanks to
Murphy's Law) on busy weekend afternoons. Let's take, oh... the
Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island as an example.
Up until the '90s, Disneyland had operated with four separate
rafts; the Huck Finn, the Tom Sawyer, the Becky Thatcher, and
the Injun Joe. Having four meant that one could always be pulled
out for maintenance or refurbishment, while three sat ready to
use for paying customers at any time. And during busy times of
the year, Disneyland would actually operate all four rafts from
two separate docks to increase the ride capacity and cut down on
wait times. Having those extra rafts also meant a nice insurance
policy against a nightmare scenario where multiple rafts break
down at once, potentially stranding people on the island.
When it came time recently for Disneyland to replace the
fleet of rafts that had long passed their retirement age, a
series of meetings led to the decision to only purchase two
replacement rafts for Disneyland. The thought was that if one
raft broke down, you would immediately stop letting people over
to the island, and would use the one remaining raft to take
people back to the mainland. Disneyland kept one of the old
rafts, the Injun Joe, which was in the best shape to use as a
utility raft, mainly for nightly Fantasmic preparation and
maintenance work around the island. So, in a span of just a few
years, Disneyland went from having four working rafts to having
just two, while park attendance grew and Imagineering (WDI)
poured millions into the island's new Pirate's Lair makeover.
With the big overlay this past summer turning Tom Sawyer
Island into Pirate's Lair, the two new rafts were rechristened
the Anne Bonney and the Blackbeard, while the creaky old Injun
Joe work raft was renamed the Captain Kidd and decreed off
limits to park visitors. And with no additional raft to spare
for visitor use, the Anne Bonney and the Blackbeard have really
gotten a strenuous workout lately with the popularity of the
Pirate's Lair additions.
Finally this past Sunday, the Anne Bonney raft gave up after
having continually struggled with engine issues for the past
month. The unfortunate thing was that the Anne Bonney stalled
and wouldn't restart right as it headed out across the river
with a full load of Disneyland afternoon visitors. The raft
began to drift just as the Columbia was leaving the Frontierland
dock, and a string of canoes came up from behind. The Columbia
was brought to a stop in front of the raft, the canoes backed
up, the Mark Twain then arrived in Frontierland which boxed the
canoes in, and the Anne Bonney continued to drift helplessly out
in the middle of the river making for the Rivers of America
version of a four-lane SigAlert.
The 405, or
the Rivers of America?
After several minutes of radio calls, and with a group of
fifty park visitors on the drifting raft who were growing
increasingly worried about how this drama would play out, two
managers brought the Captain Kidd work raft from up the river to
skillfully tow the Anne Bonney towards the island dock.