Friday, October 18, 2013

Please Don't Conquer it's a small world

Every now and then an image makes the rounds on social media of Disney clothing or merchandise that just strikes a chord in a weird way.  Whether it's Swaggy Micky Mouse or skinny-fied villains sometimes trying too hard just shows.  This tee shirt is something I could do without for a few reasons.  

First and foremost, the use of the word "conquered" in reference to an attraction specifically built to promote world peace and brotherhood for the 1964 World's Fair in New York is disrespectful.  Think about any conquering of a country in history or present time and it brings to mind murder, war, sickness, rape, and other atrocities. There is absolutely no need to associate that word with a concept that was completely counter to any of those ideas.  With all the modifications it's a small world has endured over the years, the central theme of forgetting our differences and embracing our similarities has been chiseled away little by little.  The addition of Disney characters turned the ride into an Easter egg hunt instead of a relatable message.  I stand by the argument that it's a distraction since I can't ride it anymore without noticing my fellow passengers become absorbed in finding each character instead of taking in the big picture.  The modification, including an "American room" at the end, dominated with white settlers and cowboys and sprinkled with Native Americans here and there, takes away from our global happiness and reminds us before we exit that we are, in fact, different.  Now this shirt reads as another reminder that this attraction doesn't speak to its general audiences as it once did. 

This leads me into my second point, that I believe Disney should be extremely supportive of the lasting legacy Walt has left that continue to remain in the parks.  To imply that this historical ex-World's Fair exhibit is something that needs to be "conquered," or even survived to the extent that it invites being mocked it is just distasteful to me.  And I do understand that the song can be annoying to modern-day audiences without historical insight.  But it is also a song written by legendary songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, one of which is still alive and doesn't need to have his talent insulted outwardly by Disney.

The latter point is an opinion, of course, but I stand by my statement that using the word "conquered" is offensive in this instance.  I, perhaps naively, only wish those involved in Disney merchandise would think a little bit deeper about the messages some of their items put off, whether intentional or not, before trying to turn a dollar from them.  It's just unnecessary.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Disney's Disability Access Service - A Response to the Responses

The recent launch of Disney’s new disability system has caused a major discussion thread in the Disney community.  Certain individuals have more to say about the subject than others, and within these outspoken groups are both individuals who need the disability system and those who don’t.  Not having any experience whatsoever with the system and limited knowledge of the needs of those who might use the system, I feel like this is a subject that should be written about, but open to the voices of others with experience or insight.  Please comment if you would like to, and I gladly encourage respectful discussion.

From the Disney Parks Blog

The new system, Disability Access Service (DAS), can be obtained as a card from Guest Services.  With the lines and wait times I’ve heard reports of, this does seem to be a topic of displeasure.  I can understand this.  I can imagine that down the line the wait won’t be as bad, as the need to extensively explain the new procedures to guests may decrease.  But I can sympathize with the fact that they must wait to enjoy the parks rather than dive right in like non-disabled park-goers.  I’m not sure of a way to fix this but this is something Disney should keep its eye on to further improve.

Once the card is obtained they will check in with a Cast Member, either at a nearby kiosk or at the entrance of an attraction they want to ride.  The Cast Member will write down the time, current wait, and return time if the standby wait is longer than 10 minutes.  The guest can then return and go through the Fastpass line on or after the written time and take advantage of other park activities in the meantime, such as food, shorter wait-time attractions, or entertainment.  They cannot, however, get signed off on another attraction until they do the first one.

Guests with special needs will still be accommodated, as long as those needs are described to the Cast Members that can help.  In addition, it is recommended that guests use Fastpasses in conjunction with their DAS cards to get the most out of their experience and ride choices.  These details seem to ensure that Disney wants to continue assisting guests with disabilities.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that parents of disabled children face an extreme amount of difficulty when taking their children on vacation.  Disney has done much to make their parks physically accessible but there are many children with mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities, for which many places are a challenge to navigate, or even enjoy.  Autistic children have trouble with social interaction, communication, and view the world in a way that is not typical to most people.  One can imagine that tackling a Disney park as an autistic child and his or her parents would be an ordeal indeed.

However, it is worth mentioning and reminding that parenting a non-disabled kid is no walk in the park either.  Just sit and people-watch on a bench in Fantasyland and among the magical moments you’ll see countless meltdowns, tantrums, and crying children who need to be fed, changed, hate waiting, or whatever else is bothering them at that particular moment.  Most things about theme parks are, ironically, not kid-friendly, including long hours outside, waiting in lines, frightening characters, and crowds.  Combine that with the fact that many parents mistakenly believe kids have no problem being in the park from open to close.  The truth is, kids need breaks for naps, snacks, and recharging between activities.  They get over-stimulated and tired easily, and as a result they get cranky.  Parents of all types of children should be educated on what their children can handle at their particular developmental age and plan their Disney trip accordingly.

I don’t mean to reiterate this point to undermine the struggles of parents of disabled children.  I am in NO WAY implying that they shouldn’t be accommodated properly for their children’s specific disability.  And that seems to be what DAS is doing: helping those with disabilities enjoy the parks as best they can, while cutting out any abuse of the system.  Many parents are outraged because their autistic children don’t understand having to wait to do something they want to do right now, and to that I’d like to politely remind them that this is a characteristic of ALL children.  The DAS system gives the guests a time to come back so that those children don’t have to stand in the standby line for a long period of time, while the average park guests must tactically supervise and entertain their children in the longer lines.  And I do understand how that can be more difficult for a mentally or physically disabled child than a non-disabled child.  I hope that parents can appreciate the things that Disney can do to help make their odyssey of a trip easier, and if there are things lacking that they address Disney in a constructive manner.  

What I don’t agree with is people who use statements of how much money they spend or have spent at the Disney parks as (supposed) leverage to get the system to change back.  They think their minimal amount spent, in comparison to how much money Disney brings in altogether, is enough to make them get their own way.  We are all familiar with this tiresome sense of entitlement we all have experienced from those with more money than average.  Not only does this argument have childlike characteristics in and of itself, but also it is simply not effective and I would argue that it turns most people off to their plight.  If you casually throw around that you can afford to stay in exclusive suites each trip or eat at the most expensive restaurants, it alienates those of us who may have felt for your circumstances.  It also leaves us skeptical of you not being able to find other ways you can spend your spare time while waiting for your attraction time slot to arrive.  Surprisingly (or not) I have found in the customer service industry that it is more how you treat those who can help you than the amount of money you spend that influences how efficiently your problem is solved.

It’s very hard for me to judge the experiences of guests with disabilities, and I really do understand many of the concerns.  I urge my fellow Disney community members to try to put themselves in these guests’ shoes before they pass judgment on their frustration.  Most people, myself included, cannot even imagine how extremely tiresome the lives of people with disabilities, or parents with children with disabilities can be every single day.  They do deserve their share of the Disney magic.  

However, when the arguments start to become hostile and guests start threatening to stop taking their children to Disney parks because of these changes, I can’t help but wonder they can better express their concerns.  Guests should keep in mind that the system was revised for a reason.  People were abusing it, and so for Disney to not do something about it would be irresponsible.  This is the system that they have chosen to keep accommodating those who need the extra help while weeding out those who do not, and I am positive that they will continue to revise it to best help their all of their guests. 

Helpful links:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gay Days at Disneyland + A Trip Report

Last weekend my husband and I had the privilege of taking a much-needed trip to the Disneyland Resort for our first wedding anniversary.  We hadn't been since New Year's Eve of 2010 and we were anxious to see all the new offerings that both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure had added in recent years.  This included the new areas of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, and all of the Halloween decor.  We had the unique opportunity to see the Villains fireworks show, since it could not be presented during the ticketed Halloween Party event because of extreme winds.  Although at first I was disappointed to miss my favorite show "Remember, Dreams Come True," we did get to see it the following night instead.  We made some amazing memories riding the Lilly Belle car and meeting some great Twitter friends, while also taking time to just enjoy the parks and escape from reality.

Here are some photos I took during my trip: 

The beautiful and exclusive (yet attainable by the general public!!) Lilly Belle Car made for a memorable anniversary!

My husband and I had our first Dole Whips ever! I don't know how I ever passed this treat by, but I'm sure glad we finally did it.

We finally got to see the new(ish) Jolly Holiday Bakery, and had coffee there our last morning.  I thought it was very well done, with subtle tributes payed to one of my favorite Disney films, Mary Poppins.

The Red Car Trolley in DCA had all the charm of a Main Street vehicle, Railroad car, or any other relaxing transportation that may have once existed in Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.  We quite enjoyed the atmosphere it helped to create and the ride it gave us down Hollywood Land.

The Court of Angels in New Orleans Square, which was scheduled to close the previous weekend and miraculously did not, was thankfully still open on our visit.  This was actually the last photo I took inside of Disneyland on our last night, and the very next morning I was dismayed to read that it had finally been closed off to the public.  I don't know how I got so lucky as to have had the chance to say goodbye to this peaceful area but I will never take that opportunity for granted.  

My husband I actually did not go into this trip knowing that this weekend was the unofficial "Gay Days" of Anaheim, but after a few hours it was hard to miss!  It was absolutely the coolest experience to see so much pride in the Happiest Place on Earth, and seeing couples who could enjoy the parks with the ones they love.  While Gay Days is an unofficial event, NOT put on by the Disney Parks, it was definitely obvious that Disney was happy to cater to this audience.  The parks were a sea of red (the color they are encouraged to wear while there) all weekend.

We turned the corner by the Rivers of America just in time to see this awesome sight.  I left the photo un-cropped so you could see just how crowded it was, as well as the reactions of the crowd, all wanting a picture of the Mark Twain dressed in red!

The merchandise stores had racks set up near the front with the following merchandise, anticipating that those celebrating their pride would want to display it in all Disney glory.  Pins, antenna toppers, bracelets, and red shirts with rainbow Mickeys were happily scooped up by many a park-goer I saw displaying these items.  

The above photo was taken from the highly recommended Dateline Disneyland.  Head over there for more pictures and information about this event!

There were also plenty of food items like rainbow-colored sugar cookies in display cases, which was another sign that Disney is extremely supportive of this event.

Along with all the happiness and camaraderie we witnessed, there were also a few instances of fan-made shirts that were less than appropriate for such a family-oriented place as Disneyland.  While I am a full supporter of the LGBT community and do not consider myself to be a prude, I do think there is a time and a place for outspokenness of sexual acts or innuendos, and that is not in a Disney atmosphere.  Some examples of phrases we saw on clothing were:
-"Free (mustache symbol) rides" 
-Two women with different shirts, one saying "I like to eat candy" and the other "I'm candy"
-"I want the D (written in the ever-tacky Walt Disney font)"
-"Keep calm and get kinky"

Once again, I don't want to limit expression but I also do not see how overly sexual messages on clothing is beneficial for this type of event in this type of setting.

Back on a positive note, I say to anyone who might be hesitant about this event that we witnessed more rude and distasteful behavior from heterosexual guests than from same-sex visitors!  I can't wait to see how this event evolves over time as LGBT acceptance and support becomes more and more prominent.  

I'll conclude by reiterating how extremely lucky I feel after looking back at this trip.  We just had the absolute best time possible with the days we had, and I obviously can't wait until our next chance to do it all again!