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Disneyland to Thin Crowds by Reducing Free Passes

Employees of the “The Happiest Place on Earth” are heading into the new year plenty grumpy after discovering Disneyland management has clamped down on their beloved admission privileges.

Workers historically have been able to gain free admission for themselves and up to three guests on any day of the year except Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.

But for 1997, park management has set up 44 blackout dates in which employees’ friends and family are denied free admission--including all Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the prime months of July and August. Employees themselves can still get in free of charge any day except July 4 and Dec. 31.

Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato says the tremendous popularity of the park over the last few years has led to complaints from guests about overcrowding. Indeed, the park attracted an estimated 15 million visitors in 1996, record attendance that resulted in near gridlock on the busiest days. Additionally, the Walt Disney Co.'s acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC has resulted in 95,000 Disney employees nationwide, all of whom now are entitled to complimentary admission for themselves and a certain number of guests.

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“Our domestic work force has become so large . . . and overcrowding such an issue that we had to do something,” Brocato said. “We’re simply trying to balance the needs of our guests with those of our cast members.”

But some Disneyland employees view the blackout dates as an uncompensated giveback, not to mention a violation of a tradition dating to Walt Disney’s tenure at the park.

With employees already fuming about ousted Disney President Michael Ovitz getting $90 million in severance pay, the cutbacks couldn’t come at a worse time. “I guess Disney had to get that $90 million from somewhere,” one disgruntled employee said. “Looks like it’s out of our hides.”

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Marla Dickerson covers tourism for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-5670 and at marla.dickerson@latimes.com


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