During a recent visit to Anaheim to present for the EFAM 2013 conference, this Examiner witnessed something unsettling outside Disneyland. Cast members, in full costume, were walking up and down the street, mingling with tourists, and otherwise disrupting the Disney magic.
In fairness to the cast members this Examiner saw, it is not their fault. What follows is an explanation of how Disney reached this disruptive state.
In the 1990s, Walt Disney World leadership was pressed with saving money during the first Gulf War and the subsequent slowdown in guest attendance. Later in the decade, a movie profit slowdown, the failures of Disney’s California Adventure and Euro Disneyland, and the aborted Wescot and Disney’s America projects added financial pressures.
One of the cost saving measures the company considered and adopted is eliminating walk time for cast members.
Walt Disney was insistent that cast members in Frontierland not be seen walking through Tomorrowland. He especially did not want cast members in costume pumping gas or shopping in the local grocery store. Walt wanted the magic to stay on property and the real world to stay out beyond the beam.
The solution was to make cast members change into costume once they came to work and then again change out of costume at the end of their shift. A large wardrobe department, with costumes in every possible size and many cast members working behind the counter, supported this costume changing need.
When this Examiner worked in Operations at Epcot, 1985-1990, we cast members could not receive more than one costume at a time. It was a disciplinary offense.
Changing into and out of costume took time. As a payback for that time, Disney provided a twenty-minute “walk time.” For a shift of 8:30 AM-4:00 PM, a cast member would actually leave work at 3:40 PM.
The labor cost of this twenty minutes, for every employee on every day, was immense. All these costumes had to be washed every day. Employees had to, additionally, provide costuming support.
Disney management, pressed for cost savings, realized that eliminating the twenty minute walk time would not only reduce labor hours, it would place the burden of washing costumes on the cat members. Once management crunched the numbers, they realized it was cheaper to give each cast member three costumes ad allow them to wash those costumes themselves.
There were, in spite of the savings, there were two troublesome ramifications. Cast members would now be seen at gas stations and in Walmart wearing Disney costumes. Additionally, the costumes became faded and wrinkled.
As mentioned at the start of this article, this Examiner sat in a restaurant outside Disneyland and, in an hours time, saw 25 cast members in full costume walking alongside guests exiting the park. Among the costumed cast members seen were a security host with his shirt unbuttoned and untucked, a Tower of Terror host in complete bellhop garb texting on his phone and a Haunted Mansion hostess eating an ice cream cone.
Walt would not approve. Do you?