Monday, January 18, 2016

A Week with Disney - a consultant's review

Last week, my family and I (Figure 1) embarked on a full week of the Disney experience. This included 3 days in Walt Disney World and a 4-day cruise aboard the Disney Dream liner. Much has been written and said about the Disney experience in general. Let’s get beyond the obvious (it’s great for families; it’s expensive; it’s “magical”) and note the 3 best things and 3 not-so-great things about the experience.

The 3 Best Things

The staff

For decades now, Disney has been renowned for it’s impeccable service. Well, in 2016 it can’t be overstated how consistently good the staff is. Every employee from the captain of the Disney Dream to the room attendants at the Beach Club was as friendly and personable as the most gregarious bartender at your local watering hole or touristy pub in a major city. Everyone seems to hit that sweet spot of being friendly and professional without being annoying or insincere. No offstage business was conducted in front of customers.


Normally, the state of cleanliness and sanitation is one of those things you don’t take note of unless something is wrong. At Disney World and on the Disney Dream, things are so tidy that you start wondering if there are any flaws in this area. Run you finger on a surface in a dark corner of the Tower of Terror attraction and find no dust. Note the man in the Magic Kingdom carefully wiping morning dew off of the garbage containers. See the person polishing the chrome on a junction box in the corner of a deck on the Disney Dream. Look hard and fail to any quality issues or inconsistency in the presentation of the 100-foot long breakfast buffet over 4 mornings. It all adds up to total confidence in the sanitation and, particularly on the cruise ship, safety.

Impeccable processes

As consultants we know that consistency at the scale of Disney resorts is the result of highly refined processes and quality programs. With no specific knowledge of their practices in this area, the very absence of problems, even forgivable ones, attests to the work they do in this area. With a family of four in one room, I never ran out of towels, struggled to find a light switch, or found anything in need of maintenance. Amid swimming pools and rainy days aboard a cruise ship, I never encountered a puddle, a slippery floor, or a wet lounge chair. And, while there are more than a few crying children around, I never saw any adults upset or angry with anything in Disney’s control.

Figure 1. Happy Disney Family. Disney offers so much to make families happy, from wonderful employees to impeccable processes that never distract from the magic.

3 Areas for Improvement


Make no mistake. Disney has technology that benefits users. The wrist bands they issue prior to your visit are spectacularly effective, as they help you to easily enter parks, get into your hotel room, and charge things to your room. However, there is room for improvement, particularly on the cruise. The Disney Cruise app is not as useful as one would hope. The wrist band is swapped out for an unweildy card, which you need for everything. There is obviously no 3G/4G at sea, yet the Wifi is slow and expensive ($80 for 4 days?!?!)
Recommendation: As a Disney Cruise guest, I need easy access to the level of technology I expect in 2016, so that I don’t get aggravated with lack of same. Prioritize an investment in the development of more modern technology.

Partner relations

In consideration fo the end-to-end experience, things change dramatically (shall I say become much less “magical”?) once you are put into the hands of non-Disney entities. A sub-contracted bus service takes runners to and from the runDisney Health and Fitness Expo. Gone is the Disney TV and music content, in favor of, in one case, conservative talk radio. Instead of the driver making helpful and exquisitely timed and worded announcements, you have drivers getting lost and instigating arguments with Disney staff at the pick-up spots. The snorkeling excursion off of Nassau put us on a rickety and dirty 3rd party boat. The TSA process at Orlando International Airport (Figure 2), as it has every time I’ve ever used it, was horrendously slow and aggravating, putting one in mind of the refugee camp we see at the beginning of Scarface.
Recommendation: As a Disney guest, I need the entire experience between arriving and departing Florida to have the same groove as my experience under the care of Disney employees, so I maintain good will throughout the trip. Use Disney buses for the Expo; manage the excursions; and dare I say, build a major international airport at Disney World.

Figure 2. MCO. It’s not the refugee camp we see at the beginning of Scarface. It’s the start of a typically sweaty and aggravating 35-minute experience at the TSA security checkpoint at Orlando International Airport, Hey Disney, shake these people and build your own airport.


OK, maybe this isn’t quite fair. Above I gush about the employees, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. I don’t need to have every person carrying a broom to ask me how I’m enjoying my vacation. I don’t need the Cruise Director to ask the audience to cheer or scream 8 times before the curtain goes up a live show. And I don’t need to have a cheery 3-minute conversation with the (otherwise wonderful) room attendant about what/how I am doing every time I go near my stateroom.
Recommendation: As a Disney guest, I need the employees to strike the right balance in their interactions, so that I can relax. This is a tough one. I trust that Disney has carefully honed the type of employee personas they want based on what makes their typical guests happy. It’s too much for me, sometimes. Maybe they need to teach their employees to better adapt their approach with guests of different dispositions.


Heavy rains delay our connecting flight home from Richmond to Boston. The best things about Disney become starkly clear in contrast. Suddenly problems appear at every turn. An obviously stressed-out agent at a gate counter becomes borderline abusive to a customer. My chicken wings are lukewarm and have no celery sticks. The pizza place is out of pizza. Oh look, the register at the bar can’t accept credit cards. There’s piss all over the floor beneath the urinals.

Now I wonder. Is the Richmond Airport any worse than any other airport, or is it just following a tough act to follow?

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