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I've coined the term "Declining by Degrees" to capture the essence of the problem: little touches are being ignored, maintenance is being deferred, and details are being skipped over. There is a decline, in other words, but it's happening in such small degrees at a time that most visitors don't notice them individually. My idea is that they build up, perhaps subconsciously, and the "magic" of what makes Disney different is endangered… perhaps even removed… when the decline reaches a tipping point. Some may say that tipping point has been met or even surpassed.
A separate concept comes into play here: the lack of concern on the part of executives about these issues. It's as if they feel that their audience comes so infrequently, they won't notice. It's a line straight out of MuppetVision 3D's queue movie, so I've taken to call this attitude the "Rizzo Factor." Like Rizzo the Rat (dressed like Mickey Mouse) says, "they're tourists... what do they know?" The Muppets mean it ironically, but sadly it sometimes seems like the Team Disney Orlando executives actually believe it.
Note that it could be possible to include such things as price increases, decreased food portions, homogenized menus, fewer perks included with special event tickets (like free photos of your family during Not So Scary Halloween party), and so on. Often I use the term to apply just to maintenance and upkeep. The following lists are presented in alphabetical order.
Conclusion - the Broken Window Effect
My tracking of the declines began years ago with "small" items like burned-out lightbulbs or items needing a much better paintjob. The problem is partly that Disney set a high standard for itself that people expect - they are not shy about telling a story that bulbs used to be replaced when they reached 80% of the expected lifespan, so that visitors would never see a burned out light bulb. That was years ago; now the bulbs not only burn out, they stay dark for weeks at a time. The problem is further compounded by the premium pricing. Disney doesn't cost the "same" as other theme parks; it costs more.
The other main issue is the "broken window" effect. This theory became famous from the clean-up of New York City in the 1980s, where neighborhoods and officials stopped tolerating even one broken window. When the perception is that no one cares, vandalism and other crimes multiplied. When the perception shifted so that everyone cared, the problems failed to materialize.
Walt Disney understood the Broken Windows theory decades before it became famous. He instructed his workers at Disneyland to instantly pick up any trash on the ground, with the theory that a dirty street encourages everyone else to add to the mess, but a clean street brings out the responsible citizen in all of us, and visitors make a special effort to use trashcans rather than throw things on the ground.
Something similar is at play in theme park psychology, this time among the executives (and in reverse). When they give themselves permission to let a few lightbulbs be burned out, it's only a small hop, skip, and jump to turning a blind eye when key show elements are broken. It used to be that several robotic performers per ride were considered essential to the show, and if any one broke, the attraction was closed until repairs could be made. These days, there are no such show elements. If the ride functions safely, it will not be shut down, regardless of how lifeless the robotic performers are.
Thus, we need to remember that there ARE no "small" declines by degrees. A decline is a decline. The burned-out lightbulb is like a "gateway drug" that leads to other, more visible lapses in theme park upkeep. If the theme park executives recognize that people won't stand for burned out light bulbs, then they'll know that visitors definitely won't stomach bigger show problems.
After all, if we are silent, isn't that the same as granting tacit permission to the executives to turn a blind eye to upkeep, and allow declines to continue to pile up?
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