Saturday, June 20, 2009

DISNEYLAND: The Happiest Place on Earth...or is it?


Main Street after the fireworks chaos June 18, 2009

My friends Loretta and Robert and I went on an adventure last week to what Disney bills as "The Happiest Place on Earth." Unfortunately, there were a few major glitches culminating in the most awful last night I have ever experienced in the Disneyland Park after going there for the last 20 years almost yearly. Saturday the 13th was our first day into the park, and while crowded, we did manage to do quite a bit. From there it got progressively worse...Sunday there were 60,000 people in the park (this from an employee of the park). Monday the park was closed at one point as it was over full. Tuesday was horrific for crowds so we started asking around to find out WHAT on earth was going on. Well, several people explained that Disneyland apparently was selling passes to Southern California residents at a monthly rate (16. - 20. dollars I was quoted) that is affordable for most and that their passes were expiring midweek and everyone was trying to get their last days in. Unfortunately they coincided with our FULL priced passes and the result was locals, tourists and chaos. Thursday we went in for early morning at 7 am and the park was pleasant. The crowds and lines were minimal and we went back to the hotel for a pool break around lunch time quite confidant that now that the Southern Cali passes were done, the park would be more manageable. Boy were we in for a nasty surprise. We had been sent to the large Mickey and Friends parking structure for early morning. The signage is poor and we went in in a round about way which was quite confusing for us in our rental car. We hoped this was just an early morning thing and that when we went back later in the afternoon we would be parked in a location that is easier to negotiate and not so confusing especially as by the time we planned on leaving it would be dark. We were also advised that the park would not be open regular hours. California Adventure was closing at 6:00 and Disneyland main park at 9. Disneyland was closed for "Grad night" and I was told California Adventure had been booked by something for the LA Lakers. They would be lighting the fireworks off at 8:45 before closing. While not happy of this and also not being told this when we purchased the passes, we figured we would make the most of our last night anyways. We went back to the park late afternoon and were once again directed to Mickey and Friends parking structure. At this point we figured perhaps this was because of the grad event later that night and perhaps they were using the other many parking lots for the grads. So, we parked and made our way into the park. We had a photo pass from the Disney photographers and this would be the last chance we would have to view the pictures their photographers had taken and get prints right away. (online service is available after you leave the park but of course you do not receive the prints right away). So, we went through the gate and Main Street was roped off here and there for the parade that was too be happening soon. There were a LOT of people already in place but we did manage to make our way to the photo pass place and view and buy our photos. Then we exitted and made our way to view a few of our favorite things. We waited for the train in New Orleans, two were full and they said the next would be by in 5 minutes. It wasn't...nor was it there in 10 or longer minutes so we gave up and took off on foot. By now the park is crowded everywhere. We made it to Tomorrowland which was another area in chaos and then proceeded to Main Street for the fireworks. By now it is dark. The crowds from everywhere in the park were now on Main Street as Fantasmic was cancelled for grad and there was really no incentive for anyone to be anywhere else except for the fireworks on Main Street. I have no idea of the total attendance that afternoon but am guessing there were in excesss of 40,000 people crammed into that one small area. The cast members were trying their best to keep everyone moving in the small walkways but it was an impossible thing to do with a mob that large. Being stuck in the middle of all those people, strollers, wheelchairs and scooters forced two of us into a state of panic and there was just no place to go. We finally fought our way to Adventureland to try and wait out the fireworks. Employees kept telling us to go further and furth into the area but all we wanted to do was to get out of the park and there was no way out. I have never in all my years of going there seen that many people jammed into one place. There were no diversions anywhere else in the park to divert anyone so everyone was in the same place. When the fireworks ended it was an absolute nightmare to negotiate and pretty near impossible to leave. We stood off for a long time in the hopes the crowd would thin but it didn't. Finally we managed to edge ourselves to the edge of the mob and made it to the Coke corner. It was now about 20 minutes after the parks official closing. Eventually they opened a door into a cast area and escorted a large group of us off of Main Street that way. Here are not often seen photo's of Main Street back stage....
But we still couldn't get out of the park as we were led out of the area back stage to an area near the Main Street Firehouse.. We managed to squeeze into an area near the washrooms by City Hall to wait for the crowds to thin. All the while thinking and remembering the trams to the ONLY parking structure open would only run for an hour after the official park close. Now all of this just begs the question....Where was the fire marshal? How can it possibly be legal to have so many people crowed into one area so small and so crowded a toothpick could not be inserted between them? And what would happen if there was an emergency? A fire? An earthquake or even an injury? There was no way to get into the middle of this mess and assist anyone injured and if a disaster had occurred, how many would have died? I am guessing a lot.

Now, back to the exiting of the park....we did eventually have to join the crowd and gingerly creep our way into the crowd to get out of the park but when we did another nightmare awaited us. There was only ONE parking place opened for everyone there and only one tram area to get the trams to get to the parking structure. Again, the people who left the park were are congregated into one area of Downtown Disney....who watches these people? What are the laws regarding public masses and crowd control? We again hovered around the edges and then realized we were at the hour after the park closing time and the trams were about to come to a screeching halt....we were fortunate enough to get on what was probably the last tram to the parking structure but Downtown Disney was still packed so a lot possibly did not. When we hit the tram parking at the garage, you can imagine our surprise to hear the thousands of grads being contained in an area of the parking garage awaiting entry and for us to see the big buses bringing more of them to the park into the same parking area the rest of us were in. Now what was the point of closing all the other parking lots that day I ask? Why would they not have spread all these people into the many parking lots and then they could be going into different sections so as not to have chaos? I guess only they know the answer to that one but stupidity jumps into my mind.
The grad buses rolling into the parking area...
OK, now before anyone reacts, I do get it. This is a recession and they are creatively marketing. Grad night is a tradition of Southern California and I imagine it is a really big deal for the lucky kids who are invited to attend the 11 pm to 6 am event but really....shouldn't we the tourists be advised when we book our passes that we may not be able to get in? Also, shouldn't it be in big letters across Disney's website that Southern California Passes are being mass marketed at bargain basement prices to residents and out of state and country tourists should expect monumental crowds, should expect to have their safety compromised, and maybe would be better visiting at a time when all this does not occur? Not only that, I learned from Park employees that the grad night tickets are costly, so in addition to all the money they took off of us tourists for the days admission and then cutting down the hours we were allowed into the park, they collected admissions for the second time that same day from approximately (according to Disney employees and hotel staff) 20,000 grad students. Now is this tough economic measures or pure greed? I will think carefully about returning after this experience and balance out whether the Disney experience is worth the safety risk. Smarten up cannot have it all ways, this last week you have managed to make a very large number of tourists who paid a lot of money to come to your park mad. Not to mention the fact this is their vacation and they paid for things like hotels, airfare, shuttle buses, food etc to get to you folks who let us all down so badly. Let the tourists know before they plan to come these things are now the norm so they can make informed choices of if and when they want to come to your attraction.


Loretta said...

It truly was a week to remember! I don't think I'll be going back at all. I cannot handle the crowds; and it definitely isn't pleasant!

Write 2 The Point said...

Gosh Linda--I bet you are so happy you didn't bring the grandkids. That sounds like an absolute nightmare