Changes in the Park: What Would Walt Say?


I have a friend at Disneyland. He is a fellow pin trader and I have known him through that shared hobby for several years. He is a very nice guy and one heck of a trader but, if given the chance, he will talk till your ear falls off. For years he has been saying that the changes in the way the Disney company operates will add up. Small things like a change in signage. A different fabric used for merchandising products. A prescribed limit on certain eateries and controlling portion sizes. Small things that, individually, are nearly meaningless. But when taken as a whole, they add up to a change in the face of Disney. Not one, necessarily, for the better. As my pin trader friend put it, “They are taking the Walt out of Disney.”

A stark example: Disneyland is ending a 58-year tradition of offering coffee refills and instead is bringing another Starbucks into the park (one already exists in California Adventure). The company stated that it would be adding six Starbucks locations in the Florida and Anaheim theme parks. Market House, the coffee shop on Main Street, USA, will be closed April 14 to begin expansion and renovations to become one of those six locations. This will end the tradition established when the park opened in 1955 that any park guest who buys a cup of coffee at Market House can save their receipt and return any time during the day for free refills.

It may seem small. It may seem trivial. But a tradition that started when Walt Disney opened the park and has continued until now is being killed because the marketing geniuses at Disney creative thought it necessary for guests to have a $7 caramel Frappuccino®.

Honestly, it’s not about the coffee. Starbucks coffee is great, and I love the Starbucks they installed over in the new Fiddler, Fifer and Practical café in Disney California Adventure. But it didn’t rip out a time honored and beloved tradition. It’s like you love looking at a sleek Lamborghini, but not if it just ran over your grandmother, in a wheelchair, carrying a basket of kittens. You would be mad at the shiny Lamborghini and every time you saw that car, you would be reminded of what it destroyed, despite how cool it looks.

Going in to get a free refill cup of coffee just made the land theming better, too. It’s the old town charm and hospitality of the friendly employee who now knows you because you were in earlier, getting you a nice, free cup of coffee and the guest not having to fish out another $2.79. It goes along with the 1901 theme of the town, and the glad times that are had there. Having a Starbucks will harken back to the long ago days of the 1990s, when boy bands roamed the Earth and cellphones were the size of Gameboys.

Small things are being changed, too. Perhaps as a former Disney employee and a lifelong Disney enthusiast and expert, I’m more sensitive – but perhaps not.

For example, changing the sign that reads “Main Str. Cinema” to “Main St. Cinema.” It’s the attention to detail, like using the antiquated abbreviation, which makes all the difference. That sign was something Walt was specific about; the design for it was on display at a Disney archives exhibit in 2011. Walt’s handwriting could be seen instructing the change to “Str.” After it was recently changed, my pin trader friend got up in arms about it, saying it was a sign of the downfall of the park. It was changing things. While many thought he was being dramatic, he makes sense now. It hasn’t completely happened yet, but these small changes are adding up. Just think – what would Walt say if he saw what was happening now?

The magic Disney touch is leaving the company. They make a great game series with Mickey that is both creative and fun, so Disney shuts down production on a third game. A guest wants a few onions with their sauce and is given two. Ticket prices have skyrocketed and the annual pass prices have almost doubled in the last five years. This is not what we, the mouse ear wearing Disney nuts, want to see happening to our favorite place. It’s not just a park or a company or a mouse – for many, it’s a way of life.

There is an online campaign at Facebook, headed by passionate Disney fans that don’t want to see Walt’s dream die, to save the refills. It is becoming a symbol of all the changes that are happening and the desire for them to stop. Hopefully the company will listen to what the fans have to say. Maybe we’ll get a free refill of a cup of Starbucks coffee. But if not, a lot of people may be upset. And offended. And just plain hurt that the company that is so well loved would do this.

Bring Walt back to Disney. Visit the movement on Facebook and make your voice heard. Let his dream survive, a dream for all who come to this happy place to feel welcome (to paraphrase).

Disneyland is the people’s land, where fond memories of the past can be relived and youth can savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland represents a place dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America.

Walt’s dream is simple: let Disneyland be “a source of joy and inspiration for all the world.”

One Response to "Changes in the Park: What Would Walt Say?"

  1. Saralyn Kismann   April 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Many, many years ago, we were driving thru but do not even remember the name of the town or state we were in, I think it was Missouri. We were on a state highway, in our motor home, early in the morning when we noticed we were
    running out of gas. We turned off into a small town, and as we entered noticed several Disney characters. As we drove into the only gas station around, our California license plates drew a lot of attention. So early in the morning before 6:00 we did not expect anyone to be hardly up, but people came from all over and were anxious to inform us that this was Walt Disney’s town. This is where he grew up. His teachers were always frustrated with Walt as he was always drawing sketches of different characters, so they would take them away, tear them up and throw them away. He was a very bad student, spending time drawing instead of doing his homework, they said if only they had kept some of them, then they suggested we go down the road to his small park that he had built for them. His dream was that he wanted to have a theme park that everyone could enjoy within the price range of all. Now look at the enormous prices just to get into his theme park. I don’t think he would approve of it at all. Anyway that was a big highlight of our trip that year.

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