Interview with Me

I occasionally get asked to do an interview and sometimes they use the results for a story and sometimes they don’t. I recently had a request for an interview that was really more of a list of questions for me to answer. If you’re interested in reading my direct response it’s below the cut. I’ll let you know if this results in a public story or not.

1. How did you first get involved with blogging about Walt Disney World?

I have kept a personal web log since 1998. I called it ‘iURL’ with a slogan of ‘you are your URL’. The term didn’t catch on, but blogging did. Around the same time I was working on a Disney website with my friend. Out of that came LaughingPlace.com, run excellently by Doobie Moseley. I still write for LP occasionally, but I decided to do The Disney Blog, so I could tap into what I saw as the emerging dominate conversation of the web. Walt Disney World is just one aspect of what I cover in The Disney Blog. I also try to cover the rest of the company, competing companies in the same industries, partners, fans, ex-employees, Disney family members, disneyana, collectibles, etc.

2. What topics have you seen the most interest in?

Most people will stop and look at an accident on the highway. It’s the same way with the information highway. A big controversy, accident or storm always brings the most visitors to the blog.

3. Is this a slower time of year, in terms of people participating on the blog?

It’s hard to tell if it’s slower or not. The High School Musical threads are pretty busy these days and the overall number of visitors continues to climb.

4. Can you give me any personal background information about yourself?

Born Sept 5 1969 in Portland Oregon. Loved the outdoors, boy scouts, performing arts, and Disney. Made yearly trips to Disneyland ages 1-18, frequently twice a year. Took a hiatus from Disneyland during my poor college student days. Upon graduating from college I moved to the Los Angeles area for a job, but also to be closer to Disneyland. Currently live in the Orlando, FL area (again to be closer to a Disney theme park and my friends who also enjoy Disney).

5. What is your connection to Walt Disney World?

My grandfather was an imagineer who helped build Disneyland and Walt Disney World. My mom and aunt both worked at Disneyland. So I guess you could say it’s in my blood. But there is no official connection to WDW or any other part of the Walt Disney Company. I’m just a fan with an unofficial weblog.

6. What type of person is the "average" blogger to the site?

Don’t understand the question.

7. Are the bloggers typically adults? College educated?

I don’t have the statistics. Try Technorati or Blogpulse.

8. Do you think people ever post/read messages from work?

Yes. All the time.

9. What do you think is the attraction to the site?

Walt Disney was a visionary in film, television, themed entertainment, new technologies, and, toward the end of his life, urban planning. He created a legacy that many people love to follow and have developed a passion for. Even though the Walt Disney Company is a mega-corporation now, I think people yearn for the old days of Walt and keep hoping that Disney will return to some of Walt’s ideals. That hope keeps people interested in the company right now even when some of the entertainment product offered is just mediocre (California Adventure, recent animated films, Disney Store, Disney Channel, etc.).

10. Do you think the people that post to the site have similar values or interests?

Not necessarily. A love of Disney is not tied to any particular demographic or belief. I know pagans, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, blacks, latinos, gays, straight, left and right who all enjoy the Disney product with great enthusiasm.

11. Do you have any income statistics on the average blogger?

No. But very very few many enough money to live on. I can tell you that with authority. It has to be done out of love for the subject matter.

12. When was your first visit to the WDW parks?

May 1997

13.What was your initial impression?

It was much bigger than Disneyland in both scale and acreage. I liked the Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island offerings and though Disneyland should have something similar (they do now). It was hard to do everything I wanted to do in the 5 days I had. Also, I stayed off property the first night to save money, but with All Stars and Pop Century, I don’t think I would do that again.

14. Why do you keep going back to WDW?

It’s a familiar, fun, entertaining, friendly, safe, and affordable place to be. My friends enjoy it, my family enjoys it, I enjoy it. It provides an escape and relaxation from the real world. The cast members, entertainment, and theming are the tops in class, so why would I want to go anywhere else?

15. What are some fond memories that come up for you while attending the parks?

At both parks Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom I like the individual performers, such as the Main Street Piano player and how they can really make a difference in a guest’s day at the park. At WDW a lot of memories surround the food, eating with friends at Ohana and Boma, and my first couple visits (including my Honeymoon). Now they’re largely about sharing Disney with my son. You don’t really see the parks until you see them through the eyes of a child. 

16. Is there anything about the parks that you do not like?

I find the parks only tolerant of people with disabilities. There have been some improvements in this area, but by and large you’re in for a long hot tough day if you’re in a wheelchair at the parks or pushing around someone in a wheelchair at the parks.

I think the parking situation could be improved. It’s not organized to be guest friendly and there are lots of potential safety hazards for guests and cast members alike. Increased staffing and some repainting would fix most problems. Some are just issues of distance.

Since I am at the parks more frequently than the average guest, I notice many more of the details, but I also notice how some of the details are not as well maintained. How the park is sometimes much dirtier than it should be. How some areas are not as well painted and maintained as they could be. In general this is not a big problem, but when it becomes endemic it can result in injury or death as happened at Disneyland with the Columbia and Big Thunder Mountain Incidents.

I do not like the cheap ‘off the shelf’ attractions that only receive light themeing and then area set into the parks. I prefer Expedition Everest over Primeval Whirl.

I think they should revamp the whole entertainment department and offer more indoor shows with better scripts, songs, and special effects. But that’s mostly a personal preference.

I do not like the fact that they closed down the animation department at Disney-MGM Studios.

I think the food reservation system is tipped in favor of the out of town guests. Locals don’t decide to eat 180 days in advance, so some slots should be reserved for the last couple days for locals.

I think the fast pass system is largely a marketing gimmick and provides little or no benefit to the average guests when all the waiting and extra crowding issues are considered.

I could go on-and-on nit-picking the parks. But that’s mostly because I love them dearly and want to see even the tiniest improvement so that the next guest has a better experience than the last.

Which reminds me of a good Walt Story. At the end of the day, Walt used to sit on the porch on Main Street at Disneyland and count the smiles on the faces of guests as they left the park. If there were too many frowns or angry faces he knew something was wrong in the park and he would make sure it was fixed.

17. What are your thoughts on the cost to attend the parks and do you think it is a value for what you are receiving?

I think the new ticketing system is a steal if you’re planning on staying 5 days or longer and a bit rough if you only plan to visit 1 park for 1 day. But its still a good deal when compared to what they offer versus concerts, sporting events, and the like that only last 3 hours and cost nearly as much if not more.

18. Why do people say it is magical while you are there?

Because I’m so damn special… just kidding. I think you meant, what makes the park so magical. Primarily it’s two things working in concert, but it’s also all the little details that make up the show (hard to list, but if they weren’t there you’d notice it). First, the show – Walt Disney’s concept of a theme park was unique when he built Disneyland so the Disney Company has a lead on other parks around the world. They still do it the best, although the gap is narrowing. To keep the show in ship shape requires the second thing – amazing cast members. From Imagineering to engineering to the front line cast members it is their efforts and direct interaction with the guests that provides the most magic for the buck, as far as I’m concerned. Disney could spend more on training CMs and improve the experience three-fold for far less money that it takes to build one new roller coaster, which will only be experienced by a 20,000 guests or so each day.

19. How do the cast members add or detract from the WDW experience?

See above answer.

20. Is there any difference to staying onsite at a WDW resort verses offsite?

Aside from the benefits of the extra magic hours, the free transportation, the great food, etc… there is something special about never leaving the magic envelope that is Walt Disney World.

21. How has Michael Eisner added value to WDW?

Eisner’s no longer with the company… plus this could make a good subject for a whole book, let alone a term paper. When Eisner joined Disney, EPCOT was pretty much finalized. He made a few small tweaks here and there, but the concept was from before his time. Instead I’d look at Disney-MGM Studios (to compete with Universal), Animal Kingdom (to compete with Seaworld and Busch Gardens), and Downtown Disney and the water parks (both built to keep guests on property at all times). Also of interest was Eisner’s foray into The Disney Institute.

22. Has Michael Eisner kept up with Walt’s original vision of the parks?

You save the tough questions for last, don’t you. First, what was Walt’s vision of the parks. The simple answer is “A place where families, young and old, can play and enjoy together while escaping the pressures of the outside world.” With the exception of a few attractions, Eisner did a pretty good job of that.

The longer answer relates to the Florida Project, Project X, or EPCOT as it was known at various times. Walt originally wanted Walt Disney World to be a shining example for the world of new urbanism. EPCOT was to be a real city with real residents, industry, and as many modern technologies to make life easier that they could squeeze in. Before he died Walt realized that this vision was still too far ahead of his time and he laid out a new vision of WDW that is pretty close to the way Eisner developed it.

I think Walt would have done some things differently. Among them: more technology to make the guest’s day easier, an improved EPCOT with more frequently updated attractions, better ties with the world’s industrial companies, classier hotel service at more affordable prices (Think Polynesian service at Pop Century) prices, and he would have built a light rail system from the airport to the parks (along with other transportation improvements). There would have been greater ties between the parks and the studios and major industrial companies. The parks would have kept more of a ‘storybook’ feel to them instead of the ‘artificial reality’ that we get at Disney-MGM studios and Animal Kingdom (I like it at Animal Kingdom, but not so much at the Disney-MGM studios.

Another Waltism was “Disneyland will never remain unchanged as long as there is imagination in the world.” At first glance, Eisner was also on the ball there. Plenty of changes abounded.

So why was a there huge movement to oust Eisner at Disney? Because nearly all those decisions were made early-Eisner, before his infamous promise of “20% growth each year even if we have to cut to do it” and putting stock holder value ahead of show. The expression of Walt’s I most love is ‘Quality will out’. Meaning that if you build a product that you love and know is the best you can do, the public will come and they’ll appreciate it for what it is. If you go cheap and pass on the quality control, then the public will see that too and your reputation and eventually your bottom line will suffer. Early Eisner was known for excellence, late Eisner was known for cheapness.

This is a problem because when the question is “how cheap can we do this for” instead of “how can we do this the best” you’re never going to get an excellent product. California Adventure at Disneyland Resort is a prime example, before that we had Dino-land at Animal Kingdom, and the cheap-quels for Disney’s animated films. The net effect of these decisions was to lower the bar of standards for the whole Disney Company because when you provide sub-quality product to the public, suddenly that’s what they expect from you (and all they’re willing to pay for too – see The Disney Stores as a prime example of that). Eisner damaged Disney’s reputation as a company whose entertainment product was always top notch. Recovering that is likely to take a long long time.

Hope I answered your questions accurately enough for you. Sorry for the delay.

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