Tuesday, June 20, 2006

That's an Exit, Not an Entrance

Walt Disney’s disdain for the hard sell was a cornerstone philosophy in his creation of Disneyland. Guests of the Magic Kingdom wouldn’t have to deal with the sideshow barkers and pushy salesmen so common in carnivals and state fairs anymore. Their ability to move about the park unencumbered and make spending choices purely of their own volition was important to Disney when he debuted his new form of family entertainment. History has shown this respect for the paying customer pays off handsomely.

Examples of Walt’s kinder gentler retail ideology start on Main Street and continue throughout the park. Sounds, smells and sights gently lure guests into spaces that make the shopping experience an organic extension of their own unique adventure rather than one of high pressure. The intoxicating smell of fresh fudge wafting from the candy shop, the hiss and flare of the glass blower in New Orleans Square, the whimsical art of the window display begging for closer inspection; all of it cleverly designed to nudge guests into a spending comfort zone without degrading their sense of personal choice and freedom.

But in the last couple decades Disney Management has completely turned the tables on Walt’s soft sell / escapist sell paradigm. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the company’s current trend to assure that no new attraction debut unless guests are forcibly corralled through one or more shopping venues before they exit while other attractions are shape-shifted to conform to this new profit driven model.
In Florida alone the list of attractions cum tchotchke traps seems endless. Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Test Track, Stitch’s Great Escape, Winnie the Pooh, Maelstrom, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster and many more all demand guests exit through assaultive merchandising gauntlets before they’re allowed back on neutral ground. In California, where once you could hear the gentle tick-tock of Small World’s animated clock as you wandered from the exit, now the clatter of registers quickly overwhelms it as you’re briskly shepherded into a merchandising kiosk to the left of the attraction.

Often these pocketbook shakedowns are complimented by the ubiquitous flood of post-ride video screens begging you to take home yet another high-priced snapshot of your latest thrill ride climax. And even where the climax is questionable at best, as with DINOSAUR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom, you can bet Disney execs have found somewhere along the ride path to pop off yet another flash-bulb.

Selling souvenirs based on a theme park attraction is certainly an admirable service, especially when the attraction is as transporting and magical as, say, Pirates of the Caribbean. But back in 1967 Disney designers weren’t under the jurisdiction of profit addicted M.B.A.’s and still retained a deep respect for a guests free-will. 'Pirates Arcade Museum', the Pirates themed shop and arcade that opened concurrently with the attraction, was not only placed outside and to the right of the show’s exit, but was an organic addition to the New Orleans Square street scape. Guests could enter or exit at their free will, confident that if they made a purchase it was based on their own personal inspiration, not on a company’s shrill insistence.
This new trend to force guests into retail spaces whether they want to be there or not is damaging on several levels, not least of which is the degradation of the ‘theme’ in the very theme park Walt Disney pioneered. With the immediate onslaught of registers, photo video screens and endless racks of cotton tees immediately appearing after a trip to a 1930’s Hollywood Hotel or an enchanting Himalayan village guests are quickly ripped from the surrounding ambiance and thrown into the cynical here and now of profits and price-margins, any lasting glow from their magical adventure snuffed out, their buzz killed, with careless abandon.
Secondly, savvy guests can’t help but feel they’re being manipulated and pan-handled the moment they leave their ride vehicles, now caught in a retail web not of their own choosing. Where once they had free choice in whatever shopping venue they preferred, now it’s Disney Marketing that chooses for them whether they like it or not. The difference is far from subtle and deeply discouraging.

Lastly this whole retail trend at the parks is just transparently condescending. Rock n' Roller Coaster, it appears, is only an elaborate advertisement for the Aerosmith Mugs you’re pressured to purchase as you exit. Whether or not you’ve even enjoyed the last attraction you visited (Stitch’s Great Escape anyone?), the Disney Company is now shamelessly proclaiming that they don’t care. They just want your money.

And now.  


Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog this evening and I have to say I'm very impressed with the quality of writing. The article on the Swiss Family Robinson / Tarzan attraction was excellent, as was the one on the Tiki Room.

As someone who knows at least a little bit about Baudrillard and hyperreality, and as someone who lived within earshot of each night's fireworks in Anaheim - I think I have a crucial summary to many of the points you've made so far. Hyperreality is an important part of Disneyland, and while Baudrillard sometimes cautions against the schism from reality, it's the self-conscious & self-referential aspect of "synergistic" marketing that *really* ruins the experience.

And what is Disneyland but a massively designed and shared experience? Nothing. Disneyland needs to escape from anything self-conscious or self-referential. The exits that lead to shops that sell self-referentially-branded trinkets, the self-conscious and self-mocking comedy of the "New Management" Tiki Room - all these things kill the hyperreal.

What's worse is that it doesn't even return us to reality, but instead gets us closer to a distorted place where story and meaning have no referent - it just keeps on eating itself. And even if the hyperreal never existed, at least it served as an ideal alternative reality. The self-referential produces no new worthwhile experience. Or, maybe it's more accurate to say that it slam-dunks us right back into (our really crappy) reality - that place where we have no power, no voice and no control but as consumers. To be dunked right into a trinket shop destroys any possibility of feeling one's own, undigested memory of the experience of the hyperreal. The ready-made digestion of the ideal embedded in the hyperreal commodifys the relationship to the ideal. It subverts and supplants the intent of the ideal.

It's akin to Paul Revere passing out (or better yet, selling) stickers that say "Support our troops" instead of rallying common people to rise up against their colonial masters. It's the commodification of the intent of the ideal - that's what's at stake.

You were right, It's a Small World is a really dumb, bad idea (at least in today's market-driven ethic). The ride would never *ever* be approved in this climate. Who in their right mind nowadays would create an experience that is basically a meditation on both the uniqueness of world cultures and also the interdependency of those cultures? If anything could be more antithetical to our current "culture wars" or "clash of civilizations" it's that.

Dreamers dream, and for a damn good reason. The hyperreality of Disneyland is the vehicle of the ideal. The ideal is the gift of the artist - the gift that links us back with the eternal and allows us our humanity in face of ever-rapidly-changing modes of production.

Self-referential-ism can only lead to cynicism, the commodification of dissent & ever subtler modes of control and systemization.


Matt said...

There is a way to locate a shop at an attraction's exit and a way not to do so.

It all depends on whether or not the shop (and the souvenir photos) make sense within the story and show.

One of the worst offenders is Splash Mountain at Disneyland where a flash bulb accompanies every log the falls down the final drop and where guests used to have to endure an owl hawking (pun intended) merchandise while guests were still aboard the vehicles. Those kinds of elements can destroy whatever positive experiences guests have with such attractions.

Also, Star Tours at Disneyland has a shop that could potentially have been made part of the spaceport terminal, but, instead, the location forces guests to not only walk through its gauntlet of random Lucasfilm merchandise but also through the rest of the Star Trader, which does not relate very well with the attraction, itself.

Some simple changes to these locations that preserve the good feelings people have about the attractions will probably lead to better merchandise sales because guests will feel as if shopping is truly an integral part of their overall experience.

Mellie Helen said...

"...guests are quickly ripped from the surrounding ambiance and thrown into the cynical here and now of profits and price-margins..."

...well, yes, there's that. Of course, when we walk off of any attraction, guests are quickly returned to the reality of the here and now -- we are no longer sailing through pirate-infested waters, for example. But that's okay: we know we were on an attraction, and even little kids whose rich imaginations allow them to fully immerse themselves in the fantasy are alright with coming back to "real life".

That being said, I have to acknowledge that the You Will Visit Our Attraction-Related Shop Or Else mentality instantly puts the kibosh on my purchasing impulse. Whenever I exit a ride via a forced trek through Purchaseland, I get a bad taste in my mouth, and all the merchandise -- deservedly or not -- takes on a dulled, cheapened lustre. Now, getting off the canoes and racing over to see whether Davy Crockett hats are available at the little store covered in a grassy knoll nearby? THAT adds to the "adventure" of the attraction.

Yeah, it's less convenient. But it's more adventure and more fun.

The Ghost Host said...

Hear hear!

One is often forced to wonder whether some attractions are created specifically as an advertisent for their merchendise, such as Winnie the Pooh or Stitch's Great Escape.

I think probably the worst case of such sell-sheparding would be in Disneyland's Tomorrowland:

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters - Store Command

Star Tours - Star Traders

Autopia - Autopia Winners Circle

Space Mountain - The Space Mountain Photo Location (I forget the exact name).

I believe, as a matter of fact, the Autopia shop is already stocking Nemo merchandise. And the Nemo themed attraction doesn't even open until next year!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I feel torn about this topic.

Sometimes I don't mind the carefully placed gift shops and then sometimes I do. I think it's a matter of fan base to said attraction. For me I would like to see the gift shops have better integration with the merchandise being sold on the shelves and the attraction itself. My favorite attraction has no real gift shop. They have a cleverly designed cart at WDW and a giftshop at DL that has been taken over by a holiday overlay.

I wouldn't mind spending my money in said shops if the souvenears where more meaningful, i.e. some of the limited edition items we see at special events. I don't need a 5 dollar haunted mansion writing pen but I do need the 4 stretching gallery prints and an actual size Mansion plaque...oh and maybe a set of the Rolly Crump candle sconces that was sold in the Disney Catalog. Something thats more tangible. Something that makes me feel as if I actually brought a piece of Disney magic home.

My parents remember a time when you could actually buy imported objects d'art on main street. I can't tell you how many Italian porcelain hand painted flowers are in our families formal living room that my mom purchased on our vacations to the kingdom. My mom would also bring one home for my grandmother, who loved how well the actually blended in with the ones she purchased in Italy. What can I say? I come from a family of drag queens.

When I went to DL for the first time and saw that they had an It's a Small World gift kiosk I almost died. I thought maybe they'll have some Mary Blair inspired work... maybe some ride figurines I could purchase for my 1 year niece. Alas all I found was childrens themed mattel toys that had nothing to do with the beautiful attraction that one of my favorite Imagineers helped bring to life.

I understand that the parks need to make money and souvenears are a source of revenue for the parks. I just think that if Disney is world class then so should everything else. Right down to the bloody souvenears!!!!

Cameron said...

Great post! My wife and I were just talking at the park the other day about how most of the rides have been turned into back entrances to shopping areas. I realize Disney is thinking profit 100% of the time, but I would like to at least be fooled into thinking I'm not at a place that is grabbing for my wallet all day.

Bartender Sam said...

There is another side to this coin, I've ridden Star Tours enough in my life where it's not really magical anymore but I dig checking out the gift shop. But.. and here's the rub, it's always way to congested with people coming off of the ride. Go figure, smooth move Disney.

Anonymous said...

i disagree. yes, it is an "in your face" type of store when you exit an attraction now, but it would be strange if those particular items were located somewhere else. it could be worse, they could have cast members waiting right by the exit waiting to haggle you until you buy something. if they did that, then i would be seriously upset. i hate sales people as it is, but for now, disney is safe with me

Anonymous said...

Great post. As a parent, this has been a nightmare to be endured on every ride you exit. And to be sure, you are ripped from the themed experience into the hard core sell/money driven world once more!

Anonymous said...

Interesting article.

I always dislike going through the maze of shelves to make my way out of the ride. What's worse, I need to keep avoiding and going around people who stop to look at the merchandise and kids swinging whatever big plastic toy they found. All while I have other people behind me who are also trying to exit the store after the ride.

I find myself going less and less into stores at Disney. I feel like I already spend time in them, even if it's just to exit an attraction, so I hardly ever bother going into a store to see what souvenir I'd like to take home.

Which brings me to another point, the generalization of merchandise. What happened to attraction-specific merchandise and themed stores? Except for a trinket or two, every store through every park has basically the same items for sale. Gone is the motivation to explore new stores. I see one, I've seen them all.

Anonymous said...

An excellent observation of the maximize per square foot profit approach of the last several years. However, I do not think that Maelstrom and Tower of Terror belong in that category. In both cases you can leave without entering the shops and, in the case of Tower of Terror, a hotel gift shop sort of fits in with the theme.

A more unfortunate effect of this maximizing per square foot profit is the bastardization of Main Street (although I realize this does not fit in to the Exit/Entrance theme of your blog). It used to be that there were some shops/attractions that did not rake in the most money, but added to the ambiance of a fantasized turn of the century town, such as the penny arcade and the Main Street Cinema. Even the mix of merchandise has undergone tremendous change so that everything is themed merchandise that could be sold anywhere. Gone is the Magic Shop and the Tobacconist (although I suspect something other than pure profit led to the latter's demise). Even the General Store has undergone this sea change.

I used to love to stroll down Main Street, stopping in virtually all stores, not necessarily to buy something, but to absorb a little of the fantasy they were offering. Now I just run past the stores, as they no longer emote an air of 1900. Where they once were a part of the story, they are now a serious detraction from it.

yensid98 said...

I couldn't agree more. Many times after exiting say, Tower of Terror I have thought to myself, "ok here it comes, the dreaded mob in the shop. I'm just going to get out of here as quickly as possible and wait for my friends outside." Tacking these retail spaces on the ends of attractions is highly distasteful and it does chip away at the transporting effect of the attraction. I don't think many people notice this at first, but when so many attractions have these shops, it begins to leave the impression that the only reason there are attractions is there is to sell junk. Surely, that's not the reaction management is looking for.


Amen!!! Doesn't Disney's marketing just make you want to barf.

And they're probably still scratching their heads as to why The Disney Stores died.

Anonymous said...

As a further point, the art of carefully displaying items in the Disney parks stores to compliment their respective themes has given way to the modern merchandizing display "jumble". Everything is scattered about in an attempt to impede your progress through the stores and forces you to look at the merchandise. It's another example of the hard sell.

Someday, I would love to walk through the Main Street Emporium and have it accurately represent a respectable store from the late 1800's, rather than a modern "themed" store I can find at the local mall.

BTW, the first comment on this blog post is an exceptional, (if not a bit cryptic), summary of what has been discussed here. Thanks for trying to pull all this together.


Anonymous said...

I think that I could make a case for both sides of this issue. Having children makes one truly despise the exit shops as it adds huge amounts of stress as you try and convince the kids that they probably don't need the latest prize, and knowing that if you give in, that you will get to carry said prize for the rest of the day. It brings the escapism of the ride crashing back down to earth.

But having said all that, the gift shop at Tower of Terror was the source for what still is my 10 year old's favorite shirt, it's all we can do to get it off him. He came off ToT very scared but trying very hard not to show it, especially in front of his older brother. When it was suggested that he could select something from the gift shop as a testament to his fortitude he latched onto that shirt and still wears months later it almost daily.

I guess that sometimes evil can be a good thing.

herc said...

I half agree with your article. What I agree with is the sad thinking that all good attractions must immerse you into a somewhat themed retail experience. I don't really need to be treated to so many products at the same time while more and more guests are exiting behind me. I know in Disney/MGM Studios, the Star Traders at the exit of Star Tours is very small and has one aisle for all the exiting guests that take you right by a cash register that usually has many other guests in line. It's downright unsafe. I also must agree with another poster that having a Small World Kiosk at the end of the attraction is there just to hawk Mattel products. Not any Mary Blaire collectibles, which would probably do very well.

The dumbing-down retail approach , I feel, is starting to take its toll. Main Street on both coasts used to be a happy-go-lucky street filled with unique shops that catered to different tastes: glass blowing, sillouette cutting, jewelry, handmade foods,and the like. Tomorrowland features contemporary and futuristic items. Frontierland carried all sorts of western gear. Attraction specific items were found in shops in the lands they reside in. It was the thrill of the hunt to get specific items from specific shops.

Now, unfortunately, pirates merchandise can be found in Fantasyland, Buzz Lightyear stuff can be found in Frontierland, and anything and everything can be found on Main Street, just in case you missed something before you leave the park. At every pin kiosk or station, there is a multitude of pins that don't match that area's theme. Not that pins match any area, but that is just preference.

Now for the half I disagree with. I think that some of the themed retail exits at attractions do work. The hotel shop at the end of the Tower of Terror at Disney/MGM Studios is a great example of proper theming. It looks like a hotel shop. It sells hotel type items. And it carries the Twilight Zone theme with other items. AND it is a huge area where guests are not fumbling over one another. Another shop that works is the Rock N Roller Coaster exit. Now I know that most of the merchandise is not Disney related, but it matches the theme of the attraction, a rock concert. With my limited experience going to actual concerts, the ones I did attend had many retail stands hawking CDs, DVDs, shirts, etc.

I guess that I take many of these areas for granted now and don't really notice them. Maybe Disney should think of the best of both worlds, an aisle into the shop and a direct exit. It would be interesting to find out which one get the bigger traffic flow.

brkgnews said...

I can't think of any cohesive way to connect the points I want to make, so here they are in random order...

+ The only "forced gift shop" exit that really bothers me is Maelstrom. Especially since you have to go so far out of the way to get to the exit. The ride has already dumped you into a bullpen to wait to see a show (and even wait if you want to bypass the show). Then, you have to walk right past the rightful exit (FastPass distribution area). You can see the outside but can't get there. Then you have to go through no less than two or three other blocked doors to get out of the final exit way the heck at the other end of the pavilion. Furthermore, you have to go through the perfume shop -- that nearly gave my mom (with severe allergies) an asthma attack the last time she went.

+ I'll admit that having the exit funnel into a gift shop does serve at least one valid purpose -- it keeps more people from wandering into the ride exit. Audience flow is important, and it takes work to make the exit inconspicuous enough to keep people from wandering up the exit ramps. Seeing the "do not enter" section of the gift shop makes you think it just goes to a storeroom.

+ I also have to agree, with one condition, to having on-ride photos on some rides which don't seem to otherwise need them. The condition is that, for the purposes of this argument, we need to accept that thrill rides are going to have on-ride photos. Having accepted that, I can condone an on-ride photo on a "boring" ride like Buzz Lightyear. Think of little Timmy -- he has seen big brother and big sister, mom, and dad, all get their photo from Tower of Terror. He's already feeling left out because he couldn't ride -- now he's not in the family photo. Having photos on the kids rides helps him feel included. Do I think this is the primary reason Disney does it? Heck no -- income is. But I'm sure it's part of the reason.

Sorry about the randomness, but those are three points that I felt should be made. Thanks for the continued hard work on a great blog!

Merlin Jones said...

>>Maybe Disney should think of the best of both worlds, an aisle into the shop and a direct exit. It would be interesting to find out which one get the bigger traffic flow.<<

Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland has that choice available, out to the store or follow the hallway to exit closer to the entrance. It's nice to at least have the option.

Anonymous said...

Like many other people reading this, I have decided that I am rather split on the issue. And I have never gotten to go to Dineyland, so all of my examples are from WDW.

I find that the exit shops are some of my least favorite places to shop most times. They can seem very crowded and hard to get out of. And it does seem like so many of them have been added the the end of almost every recent attraction. Sometimes they seem to make big stores at the end of the attractions and just "fill" them up. For example, at the Star Tours shop in MGM you can find a lot of products such as the DVDS, toy lightsabers, and shirts that are also at your local Target or Wal-Mart. I have always disliked seeing those types of displays.

On the other hand, there are some examples where I do like the stores at the end. At the same Star Tours shop I got a Jedi Mickey plush that I absolutely LOVE! If that store wasn't at the end of the ride, then I might not have gone in and gotten it. Granted, I know that is what the purpose of putting the shops at the end of attractions is, but I really do love that Jedi Mickey, and am really glad that I saw it. Another reason that I like the shops is that some shops have legitimate and worthwile merchandise that has every right to be in a store in the park. If the store wasn't directly beside the attraction wouldn't make as much sense. For example, if the Star Tours Shop was on the other side of the pathway, it would be beside "Sounds Dangerous". Also having the attraction and the ride toghether keeps the atmosphere of the setting together more than if the shop were anywhere else.

But, ultimately I think that the exit shops are good in some cases and not so much in others. As with many things in life, they are good in moderation.

Anonymous said...

It's very frustrating to have to drag my 4-year-old through the shops at the attraction exits, especially since he has no concept of "overpriced plastic crap."

Fortunately, the explanation "we don't go on rides at Target and we don't buy toys at Disneyland" seems to work pretty well.

Anonymous said...

I have come to loathe being forced to exit a great attraction through a market place. For me it actually works in reverse, if I were given the choice to visit the market, I would, but being dumped into aisles of plush toys and other souvenirs doesnt work for me. Dont get me wrong, I buy my share of souvenirs when I visit, but I will choose to shop at my convenience.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea that will sell even more stuff---

Why not have the queue lines at the entrances to all attractions lined with merchandise! Think of it---a captive, slow-moving audience forced to weave up and down every aisle in the waiting-area-store.

Management take note!

Anonymous said...

I agree, especially after your comment about the Pirates shop. It's on the way as you exit so you can choose to go in and purchase something or look around if you want, but you're not FORCED to. I LOVE the Star Tours/Star Wars merchandise, but I'd rather not be funneled into the store as the end of the ride. It would make sense to locate the gift shops right near the end of the ride. Can't fault them for that. But they should be separate experiences. It does make you feel ripped out of the lull of the ride. True, whenever you leave a ride and come back into the world of the park you finish the world of the ride, but with Disney the park is still fantastical and comfortable. Gift shops are neither.

Scott said...

A technicality note: Countdown to Extinction is now known as Dinosaur.

Katherine said...

My husband showed me this blog this evening. We just returned from a vacation at Disney World with our 4 1/2 month old daughter. I was disappointed with how little WDW is infant-friendly. But, back on topic. My husband and I did the switch pass to go on Everest. As I was waiting for him to exit the ride pushing a stroller and holding my daughter, I found it impossible to wait at the ride exit for him. The store was so crammed with guests trying to get photos from the ride and merchandise piled around, I had to go outside and around the corner. My husband had a hard time finding us after he got off. While I was waiting for him, one woman approached me and asked where the ride exited. She could not tell where the exit was but once I said it was behind me through the store, she said, "of course." It has become a running joke that Disney will now always force the guest to pass through the store to get anywhere.

When I was growing up in the 80s, Disney was like a household word that always relayed a sense of community, family and value. Over the past decade or so it has become painfully obvious that Disney has become more obsessed with $$$ than anything else. The resorts now nickel and dime you like only New York City can. The stores practically attack you and it is pathetic how they must have cut the budgets on rides like the revamped Imagination (look at the black wall!) and Winnie the Pooh (I could draw cardboard pages from a book.)

I have to agree with the pervious person about Main Street USA as well....what ever happened to the penny arcade? :(

Anonymous said...

I COMPLETELY agree with the posters complaining about all the junk stores, that used to carry unique merchandise.
BUT at least at DLand, most of the newer attractions don't have stores at their exits, Indiana Jones, Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear (is has a store, but you don't have to exit through it), Space Mtn, etc.
I think that the store at the exit is partially a function of space and/or location. In the case of Star Tours, the attraction is set VERY far back and NOT putting a store there would be a waste of space. You either exit through a store or an alley.
In the case of Small World Toys, I COMPLETELY agree. It is a BAD location and SHOULDN'T be there.
However, in almost all of the cases where there is a store, it provides bad traffic flow and causes traffic jams.
I think that Buzz in DLand is the better compromise with 2 paths, one into the store and one to bypass it.

Anonymous said...

Someone posted a comment on the Pirates Gift shop, and it reminded me of something: Last time I was at WDW, in late 2004, a family member was purchasing an item at the Pirates gift shop. Normally, the check-out cast member is a very annoyed twenty-something that looks like they would rather be doing something else. Well, ours was completely different- and completely better. It was a man, in his mid fifties. He has a patch on his eye, and a bandana on, as well as plenty of other Pirate gear. As we walked up, it wasn't "good afternoon", it was "Ahoy matey" and "What be ye purchase" 'That be 9. 95$, give me your doubloons!'

He was absolutely perfect! That is was Disney needs to keep.

Mau said...

How about the people that do want to buy something? (in a less intrusive way of course).
I visited Disneyland last month after 10 years and expected to find some interesting items to purchase in the obligatory stores outside the rides. To my surprise the stores had almost the same items everywhere. We could be in Fantasyland or Tomorrowland and the same hooded sweatshirt was there.

I really wanted to find items that would be different at every shop and also that would make my purchase special since I would buy it AT Disneyland and not online. I didn't find things that would commemorate the trip and that I couldn't find outside the park. Make us feel special for visiting the park and getting "park only" items. I didn't buy anything there since I could get it elswhere for less. No special Mickey watch for me.

keith - SuPeR K! said...

I like how after riding Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters at Disneyland Park you can email yourself your photo for free. Even if it is to promote the online game, it's still a step up from paying $15 for your photo!

Anonymous said...

I wonder when the tipping-point occurred - the day that the Diney empire transformed from a place of wonder and excitement to one designed to extract as much cash as possible from our wallets. When did the Disney empire "jump the shark?"

I wonder if in fact the company would be more profitable if it let the parks be parks, and sold all the merchandise at places like Target or WalMart.

It is infinitely sad to me that the Disney name is now associated with the sale of cheap junk in theme parks.

In a world paved with WalMart, the disease has invaded the happiest place on earth. When will the corporate chemotherapy begin?

Anonymous said...

Ha! That mug is so friggin' bad it's almost good. Again, the picture speaks a thousand words. Great post. I need to hurry up and take my daughter to Disneyland. It's like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. I need to see the Frontier before it's completley overtaken. It's vanishing folks. In a few years it may all be gone!

yensid98 said...

"In a world paved with WalMart, the disease has invaded the happiest place on earth. When will the corporate chemotherapy begin?"
- BratStarMan

What a perfect way to put it. Corprate chemotherapy is my new buzz word.

Anonymous said...

I'm hearing alot here that people wouldn't mind buying gifts so much if the presentation was handled better and the stuff they sold was actually related to "taking home a piece of the magic". I've worked for years now replicate some of the special effects in my home that are found in the rides. My house has wisteria trees that are lit with colored (L.E.D. based)back-lighting and has Electric flameless flickeing-candle lanterns hanging from them just like in Blue-Bayou. And Flickering wall sconces and chandeliers as well as flowers I've designed like flowers from varoius rides. I'm sure if I found the right venue I could make a mint if I sold them. Why doesn't Disney Imagineering design these type of "keepsakes" to sell in stores? It would keep Them in a job between Park Projects? Again--you guys are right though. Don't force people through the store just theme the store well and set it off to the side. People will walk in just to prevent themselves from feeling like they walked out of the experience they just had.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder when the tipping-point occurred - the day that the Disney empire transformed from a place of wonder and excitement to one designed to extract as much cash as possible from our wallets. When did the Disney empire "jump the shark?" "

Everyone's thinking it, and I'm just saying it- Eisner.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, and one I can heartily agree with.

My own (negative) experiences along these lines happened at the Florida (Orlando) park. I found it disturbing, at best, that every single ride exit led straight through a gift shop themed to the specific ride. Neither my wife nor I dignified this kind of intrusive 'in-your-face' huckstering with so much as a backward glance.

Worse, though, I found this type of exit modification to be downright dangerous. My wife is legally blind, and depends on me much of the time as her eyes. When we exit a ride, we both expect to have a clear, straight, SAFE passage out. This should NOT include dodging a bunch of looky-loos that can (and often do) make sudden collision-provoking moves at the last moment, to say nothing of being forced to make our way through corridors so crammed with merchandise that it takes single-file to get through.

It seems that Disney has thrown guest safety (of their disabled guests at least) right out the window, along with Walt's old philosophies.

I've always found it significant that our one (and only!) trip to the Orlando park had only two high points, neither of which had anything to do with the rides or merchandise. One was watching a kid take a moment to pet one of the local squirrels, and noting that the squirrel had not the slightest objection to such contact.

The other was watching the operator of a radio-controlled trash can harass (all in good fun, of course) other guests via the one-way voice link built into the thing. Hearing an automated trash can ask someone in a power chair to "keep it under fifty-five, OK?" was almost worth the trip.

Keep the peace(es).

Klark Kent 007 said...

I must say I am rarely "attracted" to a shopping "experience"...

...I would much rather "Experience the Attraction"

Digital Jedi said...

Man, you really struck a nerve this time! I've never seen this many posts in such a short time!

What I could possibly say that hasn't been said already?

"The intoxicating smell of fresh fudge wafting from the candy shop..."

I can't believe I forgot about this. Yes, I remember the smell of the fresh fudge. And being the oddball child and person that I am, I really didn't like chocolate all that much. But that smell of fresh fudge was like that proverbial pie in the window. Even a weird kid like me was drawn to it like a floating cartoon character on an invisible wave of aroma.

"...the hiss and flare of the glass blower in New Orleans Square..."

You know, I was one of those kids who couldn't sit still for too long in a Theme Park. I wanted to move along and get to the next ride or show. I wasn't into watching live entertainment, much less watch a guy sitting around all day long crafting. But for some reason, I could watch this guy/girl all day. My parents usually had to drag me away. But I couldn't help but be transfixed by this mysterious art form. It made no sense to me how such elegance could be sculpted from melted glass. To this day I don't think I truly grasp the concept, but back then, to me, it was magical.

"...the whimsical art of the window display begging for closer inspection..."

Every year, I keep forgetting that they don't do the wonderful Main Street window dioramas they used to do when I was young, much to my chagrin. I remember this awesome display of Pinocchio and the whale that sent chills up my young spine. It fueled my imagination like nothing else and propelled me further along the park as I ran from window to window. I'm not even sure if there were stores behind those diorama, I just remember wanting to go inside. Of the many things I lament the passing of, these dioramas are the one thing that could easily be reinstituted and are significantly more elaborate and awe inspiring then some of the static displays they have in attractions like Pooh or Tarzan.

I'll be honest with you. My first experience with the store-as-an-exit thematic was Star Tours. Naturally I was already biased on all things Star Wars and I proclaimed the concept "Sheer Genius". I bought two beanie baby-type Star Wars collectables ( a plush Padme' and a plush Darth Maul) since I was collecting the actual Ty Star Wars Beanie babies and found this a wonderful addition for my collection. I’m still proud of having these rare collectables, as have many here mentioned the rarities they also prize.

But that was then. My viewpoint on placing a gift shop at the only exit of an attraction has radically changed. Back then I simply taken in by the huge amount of Start Wars merchandise that I couldn't get anywhere else. It was also less obtrusive at that time, as only a one or two stores did this in after the unload. The pimping wasn't anywhere near as obvious. Now I can only feel assaulted by most disembarkations. One or more posters said that there is a right way and a wrong way to place the gift shops here. Most definitely. And there is also a right and wrong way to place and produce merchandise to begin with.

I don't want to just mimic what everyone else said, because they largely expressed the same sentiments I have. But at the risk of doing so: Merch should be location specific. There should be pirate stuff at the Pirate's store. Not Pooh dolls. There should be an assortment of sphere inspired merch and futuristic apparel at the Future World gift shop. Not the same overpriced sweat shirt that I can also buy at the Gas Station in MGM Studios. There should be an assortment of pins, shot glasses and mugs that fit the thematic of their environ and allow a person who didn’t come to the parks with much money, a chance to purchase something a wee bit more practical then the $30 snow globe with a random Disney Princess standing in it (and a cheap flat plastic one at that).

Merchandising is a tricky business and one that Walt seemed to understand. You know, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why Walt is the only guy (who could do anything about it) who seemed to grasp these concepts. Seamless integration of your merchandising. It's another crucial element that the parks are missing, and that they desperately need to get back. What good does it do anyone, businessmen or consumer, for Disney to become a merchandising joke and jab? The decisions made to put plush, pins, plastics and pictures in every single location imaginable were foolish ones, that even a laymen like me can see was bad idea. Once again, where is the quality? It’s not in the products or store fronts. Once again, where is the thematic? It’s not in the location of the stores or the choice of products they sell. Once again, where is the concern for the consumer? I only feel your concern for my wallet.

Isn’t it amazing how the same simple principles that we discuss in every single post also fit the concept of merchandising? Why are we the only ones who understand this? It is my belief that the greedier you are, the more errors you make trying to obtain your wealth. It’s like being hungry and eating the everything in site. Sure, your going to get full, but your quality of life is going to seriously degrade if you don’t eat smart. The parks are suffering because the gift shops are gluttonous. And what’s worse, is that people walk through so disgusted by that gluttony that nobody wants to feed them.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours last night. On the way back to my car, I rode the monorail to the Transportation & Ticket Center and in the area between the monorail and the trams, there was a single outdoor vending cart selling all the usual light up toys that they sell in the evenings all over every park.

What an obvious, desperate and shameful attempt to get the last $2 out of guests.

Anonymous said...

The WORST part of all the crap sold at Disneyland these days is that you can buy virtually ALL of it at your local strip mall. Who wants to have that shit crammed in your face when you're at Disneyland when you're trying to ESCAPE that?

Anonymous said...

This blog goes right to the heart of what is wrong with DCA Design. With the Whole park having only a few rides (mostly "unthemed"), the rest of the park isn't filled with Gardens, or rest areas but Shops,shops, and more shops. It seems like the Shop-to-attraction ratio is 10:1. Why would disney expect for people to pay $50+ for the rare privaledge of... you guessed it SHOPPING! Especially when the junk that's sold is (as has already been said) the same junk you can buy at any strip-Mall. Disneyland has started to look that way a bit too. The Resteraunts are headed that way. Lower quality -Higher price-. I ate a steak at Blue-bayou a few months ago and almost barfed from the high-fat low grade cut which I would NEVER have expected from DISNEY.What's with $3.50 for an apple? And weaving in-and-out of kiosk after kiosk of lighted necklaces (which I don't see many people wearing by the way.)to get to where i'M headed.

Anonymous said...

I hate feeling "nicked and dimed" to death. Constantly reminding me of how much money this is costing me is the BEST way I can think of to kill the "MAGIC" and get me thinking of other vacation destinations.

Andrew McFerrin said...

The condition is that, for the purposes of this argument, we need to accept that thrill rides are going to have on-ride photos. Having accepted that, I can condone an on-ride photo on a "boring" ride like Buzz Lightyear.

Back up a moment - why should we accept that? Do people really need to plunk down $10 for a picture of themselves riding some thrill ride or other so all their family and friends can see what they look like when the entire fat content of their upper body drifts gently skyward in response to negative-gee forces?

I don't think so.

However appropriate this stuff might be for your run-of-the-mill carny trap, I have trouble believing that Walt would've wanted it this way.

Back in my youth (no, not the late Pleistocene Epoch - the 1980's) when my family wanted to get pictures of what we looked like while having fun at Disney World, we got together as a family and took a photo. The result of which, naturally, is that we have whole albums full of family snapshots relating to Disney World. Didn't cost a dime.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree wholeheartedly with this post. Greedy Disney executives have to realize Walt's vision. Visitors to the park need to be able to make their own decisions. At the same time, I have to say the store immediately following Pirates of the Caribbean is pretty cool. It covers all my needs for neat Pirate gear. I wouldn't gotten this picture of my brother if it wasn't for the PotC store.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with the sentiments of this article!

And I have a suggestion for all of us to force Disney to lay off this practice.

1. Visit the parks
2. Go on the attractions.
3. Everytime Disney FORCES you to go through a store exiting the ride, "accidentally" knock a significant amount of merchanidise off the shelves as you exit.

If one or two of us do it, it won't work. If it happens frequently (one out of every 1000 - 2000 people), they will change their practice.

PS: First time making a comment here at this blog spot. Why in the world do you make it so difficult for me to e-mail the author? I can't find his e-mail address anywhere! I much rather would have wanted to e-mail him directly than posting this, but I could not find his e-mail address!

Mr Banks said...

Above anonymous: As author of the last post and moderator of the site I apologize for not having a public e-mail address. I already get enough spam as it is and am not fond of getting more. This site has a somewhat political edge to it too, so I'd prefer protecting some level of my privacy. Thanks for understanding.

Adam Villani said...

When my wife and I were at Disneyland recently, we really enjoyed the Buzz Lightyear ride. And after seeing so many images of the cute little three-eyed martians, my wife wanted one at the end of the ride. Well, that's what the store's for, isn't it? No such luck! Just a bunch of Buzz Lightyear stuff and laser guns. Why have a store at the end of the ride when they don't even sell the cuddly little creatures one sees throughout said ride?

Even when they do send you through a store, they don't do it right and give you an opportunity to buy something special.

Anonymous said...


#4--EFFICIENCY (which includes those extra bucks)

These were hammered into all new Cast Members' heads over and over during the old 3-day Traditions orientation (which, by the way, I've heard has been whittled away to 1/2 day of location-specific area awareness).

All decisions in the parks, no matter who you were or where you worked, were to be based upon these four priorities, IN THIS ORDER.

Just a little extra perspective to figure into the discussion...

(--Oh, and regarding that proposal about "forcing Disney" to change by knocking merchandise off shelves? Please don't. I've been there. That already keeps the merchandise CM's busy all day, and it always has. Your extra messes will only figure into the job description, add extra stress to the underpaid college kid working the shop, and erode an already difficult commitment to Principle #2.)

It's all about keeping the magic, right?

Anonymous said...

Everytime Disney FORCES you to go through a store exiting the ride, "accidentally" knock a significant amount of merchanidise off the shelves as you exit.

Nah, as 7YearsInPlaid said, no need to give the CM's more grief than they're already getting. Better to stick your nose in the air, don't buy anything, book it out of the store as fast as you can, and drop a nasty note at City Hall. If angry guest complaints can change lecherous Pirates into gluttons, maybe they can also get some attraction exits relocated.

April said...

More applause for the inimitable Mr. Banks. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the irony of your pseudonym?

Now for my 2 tuppence...

As soon as I read the first paragraph of your post, I thought, "That God damned 'It's a Small World' shop!" Five years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) and I went to Disneyland together for the first time. I dragged him onto IaSW. Despite his tough manly exterior, I could tell as we exited the boat that he had enjoyed himself.

Then... the shop.

Oh, I don't know if I have ever seen him get that PO'ed in my life. And we have a small child now! (Lot's of fodder for losing one's temper) He could not believe the crassness and cheapness that Disney corporate displayed in forcing us to go through that shop as we left the ride area. Needless to say, we didn't spend any of our money in there. I think he griped about that well into the middle of Frontierland.

And I haven't been able to convince him to go on IaSW with me since.

Damn you, Eisner

I hope Lasseter and crew can help Iger and the rest see beyond the noses on their faces.


Epcot82 said...

Like one of the anonymous commenters, I, too, remember the days of buying truly knockout stuff at Disneyland.

My parents have a beautiful brass door knocker that they bought at Disneyland circa 1975. Thirty years later, it still hangs proudly on the front door. There is no Mickey Mouse on it anywhere; it was created by artisans and purchased by Disney retail buyers because its aesthetic beauty fit perfectly into New Orleans Square.

I remember when we used to go to Disneyland back in the days of "general admission" -- when you could buy an inexpensive ticket if you just wanted to go shopping, relax and dine not not actually go on any of the rides -- my mother would choose that option while my siblings and my father and I spent our days enjoying the attractions. It was perfect. She loved to shop, and bought dresses, hats, vases, even china and beautiful little trinkets. And guess what? None if it had Disney branding, characters or logos.

The shops were filled with items that belonged perfectly to that realm. You could buy island prints and exotic wares in Adventureland; hand-made artistic wares in New Orleans Square; turn-of-the-century styled watches, toys and wares on Main Street. In Tomorrowland, my sister once purchased one of those groovy lamps that were made of transparent plastic filled with colorful designs; when it was plugged in, the plastic would spin and fill the room with trippy colors.

That was the stuff that made a trip to Disneyland so much fun. We could discover things in shops, take our time meandering, and not feel the need to go on every single ride.

These days, almost every shop is filled with the same products. Heck, you can even go to Disneyland Paris and find THE SAME STUFF you can buy at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. (Where, sadly, even many of the stores at World Showcase are stocking more and more run-of-the-mill Disney junk.)

The fact that Disney forces you to go to these stores is bad enough. The fact that they all carry the same crap is even worse. It seems like the people who once ran the parks used to REVEL in the idea of giving guests something utterly different than they could find anywhere else, even when it came to the stores. Now, it's just about "retail-tainment," and, frankly, it's boring and uninspired.

Imagine ... there was actually a time when there was an ORGAN dealer on Main Street! And that glass blower in New Orleans Square. Thank goodness the Silhouette Shop remains -- oops, I'd better not say that too loudly, they've probably overlooked it!

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a mid-west theme park tour and was shocked to find Disney merchandise in small Disney Stores located at two Six Flags Parks! What is happening? The local mall stores were bad enough. The accessibility of Disney merch has cheapened the brand and the experience. It was nice to buy exclusive items that you could only get at Disneyland in specific lands at special stores.

I still enjoy the Disney experience, but do not visit the parks much anymore compared to the five times a year I used to spend. This is the best way I feel to change things at Disney. I dont give them my money. Instead I've found magic in other places like Holiday World and Dollywood. These places don't offer the same experiences, but I leave with a content feeling that I just don't get from Disney anymore. I think the most important part of the Disney experience is what you take home in your heart, not your Disney bag.

Anonymous said...

Upon exiting Norway I saw the myriad of shops I'd be forced to go through, and then saw a small rope separating me from the fastpass machines and the freedom of the midway. I decided to spare myself 10 minutes of trying to squeeze through shoppers and instead just squeeze under the rope, and I was actually yelled at by a cast member and told that I HAD to go through the shops to exit. Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

My family and I went to WDW and Epcot in 2004 and to my surprise at Epcot, we had a photographer follow us asking to take our picture. The next day at the Magic Kingdom, we saw the same situation going on in Town Square and detoured through the Emporium to avoid them. I don't know if they are still doing that sort of thing and I hope not, but it came as a shock, because that isn't somethng we are use to. Very pathetic in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I was also yelled at by a cast member for tring to go out the fast pass area and not the store in Norway.


In response to EPCOT82- your brass door knocker.
A couple of years ago I spent Christmas with my friends parents and while decorating the tree I noticed these beautiful hand made ornaments, very tiny and detailed. When I inquired as to where she purchased them, whe perked up and said "At It's A Small World back when the kids were little". That was over thirty years ago. How sad I was because you just can't find things like that there anymore, everything has a stupid copyrighted logo plastered across it and is made in China.

Anonymous said...

This comment is slightly off topic but related to forced commercialism.

Yesterday I went to Typhoon Lagoon for a couple of hours with a friend and while we were enjoying the lazy river we arrived to a spot where there were two cast members next to each other armed with water-proof cameras snapping pictures of people without asking. They would snap the picture and then hand the unsuspecting guest a bracelet that contained the picture ID so that they could later look at it and buy it if they wished.

I'm guessing, or hoping, that these were two overzealous cast members who decided to ambush relaxing guests because I have never seen anything like that before.

I felt their this was inappropriate and in complete disregard to the enjoyment of paying guests.

Anonymous said...

As much as some of the exit shops can be obtrusive, the Kodak photographers make me not want to visit a Disney theme park ever again.

They also have made me boycott Kodak cameras and film.

My last digital camera was Kodak, but, when I replaced it, I specifically avoided the brand because of the rude Kodak people in Disneyland and D.C.A.

Anonymous said...

This Picture thing is, unfortunately, NOT an isolated instance.

The Photographers wandering around waiting to "catch" you seem to be at EVERY Disney park and this is the same problem as the Shops bieng put up. Walt's ideas of asthetics were great. There were little areas all over the place where one could "pose" for a picture with a scenic Icon behind you. A family could just walk up to that area, step aside from the crowd, and take the picture. Now almost every one of those spaces has been allocated as a place where these photographers stand, almost FORCING you to let THEM be the one the photograph the family. Or else the area gets setup as a Character meet-N-Greet area where you still have to pay` to get your Pic taken many times.

Anonymous said...

Even the Jungle Cruise makes fun of that. Part of the spiel, which I've heard several times makes fun of Disney forcing guests to exit rides through stores. Come on, if your cast members are making fun of that, and the guests laugh knowingly, maybe you do have a PR problem in your hard.

Today it too me a long time to exit Pooh at the Magic Kingdom. Why? Lots of guests and their children were in the way looking at miscellaneous merchandise and blocking every pathway out of the store and back into the park. Merchandise that can be found at any other store through all the parks.

ChristianZ said...

Is current Disneyland management going to address the issues being brought up in this blog?

I, too, remember when merchandise was not shoved in your face at Disneyland and you were not herded like sheep towards it.

Ever so slightly off topic, but I actually purchased a picture one time from the log ride at Knott's. It was such a funny picture that fifteen years later I don't regret having paid $5 for it. That's the only time I ever bought one of the ride photos.

Anonymous said...

First I have to admit that I do like shopping in the stores at the theme parks – when there is something truly unique to buy. And I'm a big fan of on-ride photos. I can’t tell you how many of them that I own. It was so disappointing when Superstar Limo was open at DCA that a picture was taken during the ride, but there was no where to purchase it. But we have our California Screamin’ photo, so I guess I can be happy with that. When an on-ride photo is taken at the right time, it won't take away from the overall experience.

I was also on the opening team for Countdown to Extinction (now Dinosaur) at Animal Kingdom. When we opened all we had for sale at the exit were the on-ride photos. Do you know what one of our top complaints from Guests was? That they had to walk down a short path to get to the Chester and Hester’s gift shop. The Imagineers tried to get away without having a gift shop at the exit, but it didn't last. Now you will find merchandise in an area that was not designed for it.

I was incredibly disappointed that there wasn't a gift shop when Soarin' opened at Epcot. Besides a couple of pins there wasn't any merchandise in the park for Soarin’ at all. When we were at DCA there was a shop right across from the exit to the ride and we bought just about everything with Soarin' Over California on it.

There are some shops at the exit to attractions that were really well thought out and, I think, add to the experience. Expedition Everest, Test Track and Mission: Space come to mind. And originally Mission: Space wasn't supposed to have a shop - just a merchandise cart outside – and that store does an amazing amount of sales.

The exit for the Journey Into Imagination with Figment ride is a complete nightmare. First you have to go through the confusing play area and then through a very cramped shop. This space was NOT thought out very well. It is the poster child of how not to do a ride exit.

And I have to agree with the statements about having more “themed” merchandise in each of the stores they do have. I was very impressed with the amount of attraction themed merchandise at Pirates of the Caribbean when it recently re-opened. I was expecting just merchandise based on the movies, but there was a lot of new merchandise based directly on the ride. We must have spent a good twenty to thirty minutes just looking through all they had to offer.

Anonymous said...

Tried to post this logged in, but it didn't work. Bruce Lane writing...

The trend described of forcing guests through gift shops at the ride exits is not only annoying, it can be downright dangerous.

Nowhere was this point rammed home more strongly for me than when my wife (who is legally blind) and I visited the Orlando park. We both found the gift shop-loaded exits annoying enough, but my wife was nearly injured several times by near-collisions with other guests. There were also too many merchandise racks with hooks and support arms, jutting too far out into the walking spaces for comfort.

We knew that this would be our one and only visit, so we didn't bother trying to file any sort of complaint. After reading the latest blog entry, though, I'm wondering if that was a mistake.

Profit trumping respect for the guests is bad enough. When it starts to become more important than guest safety, at least where a physical challenge like blindness exists, then it becomes unacceptable in any context.

Keep the peace(es).

Anonymous said...

I greatly enjoy wasting my money on frivolous diseny merchandise, so it's hard for me to have a problem with gift shop exits. I really enjoy them, especially if they're themed.

What I hate is if the ride sucks and gives me the feeling that I just stood in a vaguely themed line in order to have the chance to buy something (Stitch's Great Escape).

Give me a ride that enchants me and rewards my wait in line, and that I want to remember well after my visit, and I have no problem with you tacking on further exit theme in the form of a shop at all. Heck, I'll probably even spend money there.

Anonymous said...

When I get dumped into yet another gift shop, I just let my kids tear the place apart then walk out without buying anything. Why should I? It's the same set of crap that's sold at MouseGear and every other shop on the whole property. It's so rare to find something remotely unique that I don't even bother looking anymore.

I have to say that the new PhotoPass photographers didn't strike me as agressive at all and often had a line of people waiting for them. They'd often volunteer to take the same shot with people's own cameras as well.

T-Shirt Fort said...

I totally agree, but you forgot to mention one thing. If you miss buying anything it will appear a few months later at one of those temporary Disney outlet stores in your local mall, and it will cost a lot less than if you bought it on your original visit.

Greg said...

I find myself in agreement with most of your posts, but in this case I don't feel the same way. As a kid I remember unloading out of Star Tours for the first time directly into the store. As a kid who was pretty excited about the idea of getting some Star Wars merchandise, the store was a positive part of the experience.

Another attraction where you are forced through the store, but it makes a positive contribution to the theme, is the Mexico pavilion. There, you must enter and exit through the store. Since the store is imaginatively set up as a Mexican street market, it's part of the experience even if you don't buy anything.