Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 3

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I’ll be picking up my wife and daughter at the airport this evening.  They wrapped up their marathon 9-day Disney vacation today and I’m sure they will have lots of stories to tell about all the things I missed.  Some I’ve already heard about, like the characters in the latest Castle Court show have mouths and eyes that move.  My daughter said it was “a little freaky”, but to me, adding animation to the typically static character costumes, makes them seem more expressive, more real, especially to the younger guests.   People like to talk about their experiences, both good and bad.  It’s the sharing of these experiences that can make or break a brand over time.  If people tend to talk negatively about their experience with you, you better listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly.  Disney Guests generally have very positive things to say and that reflects the fact that they are externally focused on the customer and their experience.

In this third and final note on my recent Disney experience is going to be a bit of a meandering catch-all, but hopefully you will like it.  The first topic on the agenda is:

Make It Easy For Me

disney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgThere is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney.  You are on the go from the minute you wake up (early if you going to that character breakfast at another resort), to the minute you crash following Extra Magic Hours.  Disney has been quite innovative at designing and implementing programs that make it easier for me to get the most out of my experience and gives Disney more opportunities to generate more revenue.  I already mentioned the Magical Express program which, when it works well, makes it really easy to get to and from Orlando airport and saves me lots of cash.  My 40 minutes on the bus each way also gives Disney the chance to market the cruise line or the vaction club to me (in an entertaining way, of course).   

fastpass2.jpgfastpass1.jpgDisney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever seen in an themepark.  If you aren’t familiar with , it is a system introduced in 1999, that allows guests to avoid long lines at Disney theme parks. At an attraction featuring FASTPASS, guests can use their park admission ticket to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (essentially a reservation) with a return time later that day (an hour-long window) printed on it. If the guest comes back to the attraction during the specified return times, the guest can wait in a special line called “FASTPASS Return” and be able to ride on the attraction with a much shorter wait time than normal queue.  This is a “win-win” for both you and Disney.  A guest standing in line is a guest not spending money in the giftshops or restaurants.  By giving me a reservation. I can go do other things, which Disney hopes will involve spending money.

The third Make It Easy For Me innovation is called PhotoPass.  If you’ve been to virtually any big theme park, you know about the gauntlet of park photographers that you have to get past to get into the park.  Disney wasn’t any different until a couple of years ago, as described by Deb Wills on her excellent AllEarsNet website:

Prior to December 2004, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn’t “magical.” Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait.

Theme Park Photo Pass MachineWith Disney’s PhotoPass system a Disney photographer gives you a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card — they’ll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go.  When you’re ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home.

These guys are really good and will often get you in creative poses.  While I enjoy taking my own pictures, we hardly ever get shots of the whole family.  PhotoPass makes it easy to get great family pictures.  The cost per print is a little high for me, but there is no obligation to buy any of them. 

I should point out that Disney has been listening to their customers and has made several significant improvements to the program over the last 2 years including integrating the system into the several major attractions like TestTrack.

No Negative Surprises

We experienced two of these on this trip.  First, we went to MGM Studios of Father’s Day because I am totally addicted to Rockin Rollercoaster.  I have been known to ride it back to back for hours on a slow day.  We came through security, ran our passes through the scanner and entered the park.  Once we were inside there was a sign posted saying that Rockin Rollercoaster would be closed all day…….  on Father’s Day……. when dads should be able to do what they want like ride Rockin Rollercoaster!  I later found out why it was closed, but they really picked the wrong day for it.  What’s worse is that they didn’t have the notice posted outside of the park.  I’m sure there were people who used up a day on their pass only to be disappointed.  The reason it was closed was that they were adding a single rider line.  I came back the next day and was able to ride it 6 times in an hour – w00t.

Second, Disney notified us the night before we left that they would not be able to honor our reservations for the second half of the week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Althought the reservations were made months ago, the construction of the new Vacation Club villas has closed parts of the resort.  Disney offered to put us in villa accomodations in the Downtown Disney area, but having a kitchen is not the same experience as having giraffes outside your balcony.  They eventually upgraded us to a better room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we didn’t have this resolved until the day we were supposed to move.

Be True To Your Brand

I was in the Magic Kingdom and had just watched a stage show at the castle.  All of these shows follow a similar formula:  The good guys vs. the bad guys with Mickey saving the day plus a princess or two thrown in for good measure.  Like the show format, the musical style for these productions hasn’t changed much from what was typical when Disneyland opened in 1955.  While there have been a number of attractions replaced or updated through the years, the feel is still the same.  Disney has built some pretty intense attractions in the other Disney World parks, but not in the Magic Kingdom.  Traditionally, the Disney brand begins to fall off for boys at about 9 or 10 years old and girls a bit older. This is a hole in Disney’s guest demographics that they would love to fill.   I was Twittering pretty much through the trip and posed the question:

Would putting a hyper-coaster in the magic kingdom make it more attractive for teens or would it be inconsistent with the park’s brand?

I got a couple of responses with opinions on both sides, but in general, the feeling was that it would fundamentally change the park and that would not be a good thing (can you say “New Coke”).  As Tim Siedell pointed out, “Universal caters to that age and crowd (thrill coasters) and the Magic Kingdom pounds them in attendance.” 

So a couple of takaways from this final post on Disney World:

  1. Look for opportunities to make it easier for your customers to enjoy their experience.  Don’t assume these will add costs to you operation.  As Disney has shown, “Make It Easy” innovations can be win-wins.
  2. While Surprise and Delight is good, Negative Surprises are not.  Be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential negative surprises before the customer encounters them and when they do happen, have alternatives and solutions ready that will meet or exceed the customers needs.
  3. Be careful about introducing changes that fundamentally change your brand.  You may be able to attract some new customers, but you may also lose some of what makes your experience special in the first place.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Walt Disney World is a great case study for people passionate about customer experience design.  I’d love to hear your thought on Disney World.

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8 comments so far

  1. Tara on

    Doug- Just managed to set aside time to read all three Disney posts as a whole. Excellent series! You really tied a lot of different points together nicely, and as an avid WDW-goer, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout each post.

    OOOH! I was just thinking about ways Disney has improved experience in just the last 2 years and had an idea. What if you could text to find out where characters were? Like “text ‘Goofy’ to xxxxx” and find out where he was at that time? Or when you check in but your room isn’t ready, they could notify you when it’s ready via text so you don’t have to keep calling and checking in…

  2. [...] Part 3 of this series is here. [...]

  3. Lee on

    While I now live in the Chicagoland area, my father taught at UF so I grew up in Gainesville and began visiting the Mouse in 1972. My sister currently lives in Orlando and over the years had been a ‘seasonal’ castmember prior to teaching school full time.

    Since April, I have stayed ‘on property’ 7 times. By my math, that’s 7 visits in 7 months. In 5 of those 7 visits, I would say it was Tragic–not Magic–that we experienced. In fact, 5 visits to ‘Deluxe’ resorts resulted in difficulties/frustrations, while the one visit to a ‘Moderate’ and one visit to a ‘Deluxe’ resort proved pleasant. This past weekend, for instance, our room type was not held, we were lied to by management about the room location THREE times before heading to the assigned room (I’m sure he assumed we’d just stay put), our bill was neither provided at the door nor correct upon check out morning. We were told at reception–get this–that we’d have to walk over to Epcot ourselves to correct a $600 erroneous Park-hopper ticket charge to our bill (even though it was obvious that our room was booked on/at the Annual Passholder’s rate). These were just a few of the joys this past weekend. The aforementioned manager later told us he “didn’t know” how many floors there were at the resort (we’d been assured by him that our assigned room was top floor. Again, not once, but 3 times.) Shouldn’t that be a problem for Disney–if a manager doesn’t know how many floors exist at his resort? At best, he irritates guests. At worst, let’s talk fire safety, etc.

    Beyond that, in the past year, we’ve noticed great changes in the parks. At last year’s Food & Wine Festival, for instance, we witnessed college age girls flashing their breasts in America, yet no security ever appeared. We’re no prudes–we attend Mardi Gras in New Orleans every year. But this is Disney! Beyond that, good luck getting service in Epcot if the cast member is a young man and the guest in front of you is again some college aged cutie. We’ve actually witnessed castmembers ‘hitting on’ guests and asking for phone numbers. Ten years ago, this would have never flown.

    Where there seem obvious opportunities lost (why isn’t there a hotdog cart in America? A pizza-by-the-slice kiosk in Italy year ’round??), at other turns Disney unabashedly grabs guests by the you-know-whats and proceeds to squeeze to the point of pain.

    This past weekend, we mentioned to a front desk clerk that the ‘Magic’ is gone. She told us she hears that “alot these days”. So why is nothing being done? What a shame.

    As for us, we’ll probably resort (literally) back to Marriott or Hyatt. They WANT and NEED my business, and it shows.

  4. David on

    Passholders 08/09 have been to WDW sep/oct/dec 08.
    stayed at Contemp did not know we would not be in the main building @300 a night, next was Coronado nice but had to drive to get to the pool 1/2 mile,last was at Carribbean @195.00 not worth it and food court was shutting down at 9:30 unable
    to get a good steak, the next night we went to rain forrest spent 200 on dinner but weel worth it..thinking we will stay at off disney 5 star hotel to get better service @200/300 a night I dont mind paying that much but do exspect first class service

  5. DisneyWorld Dude on

    I can’t beleive they tried to move you from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Downtown Disney. I’m glad to hear you stuck to your guns and got the room you were promised.

    Great series of Disney information. Thank you for putting this together.

  6. Johna on

    yes I agree with you that there is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney. You are on the go from the minute you wake up. I would rather lay on a beach.

  7. gloria on

    You should have went with your wife and daughter. Family time is so important.
    Disney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever used in the theme park.

  8. High Pressure Cleaner : on

    i always like to stay on 5 star hotels because the ameneties and the ambiance is always great “


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