Archive for February, 2010

My Hospitality Review of Disney World

First, let me open with a solemn vow that this will be my final Disney post for all time! No, really.

Now, I have not visited a Disney resort since I was a child, nor had I ever been to Disney World (us West Coasters are more fixated on the easier-to-bite-off Disneyland).

Therefore, from a professional perspective, I was very curious to experience Walt Disney’s vaunted service, as the company is generally considered to be amongst the best when people talk about paragons of the hospitality industry. Perhaps my expectations were too high, because I was surprisingly disappointed on many fronts.

WHAT THEY DO REALLY WELL. They are good at what I call the mechanics of keeping the parks running. They move people in and out of rides well, the fast pass system is great, they keep everything spotless, all of the staff are well trained, and there are always people running around dusting and painting.

On a side note, the overly perky employees did drive my oldest a bit nuts, with Zoe saying, “Mom, if Disney is where your wishes come true, then I wish that these people would quit calling me ‘princess’ everywhere I go.”

WHERE THEY DROP THE BALL. We stayed at their top category hotel, in the park, on the monorail. Their rack rate pricing was comparable with other 5 star luxury hotels, and I would have expected an experience similar to what you would receive for a similar price at the Wynn Las Vegas, a Ritz Carlton, or a Four Seasons. Alas, the Grand Floridian was not even close. The myriad ways that Disney dropped the ball:

  1. We could make all of our dining reservations up to 6 months in advance, but their online system remained down and we had to do everything over the telephone.

  2. We were never able to access our zillion reservations online (each of them with their own 5000 digit confirmation code — ridiculous).

  3. They besprinkle their Web site with “WE ACCOMMODATE ALLERGIES.” Thus, we told the resort 3 months in advance that Zelda had nut allergies. Also, once we arrived, we called them again to remind them before our high tea. And, when we showed up for high tea, we reminded the waitress, who still plunked a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of Zelda. It took us four restaurant visits before we figured out that someone didn’t put our allergy information in the correct place in their pretty unimpressive computer system, which we finally got rectified. What I find unbelievable is that each time we had a problem, none of the Disney employees fixed the issue.

  4. We showed up for a meal having reserved months in advance, for 7 people. When we got there, we were told by the maître d’ that the restaurant couldn’t seat parties of 7. I asked them how their information system could possibly accept a reservation for that amount if the restaurant couldn’t seat us together? He had no good answer and decided to go with rude and unhelpful. In response, I got a little shirty, as I’m wont to do and said, “really, you can’t fit seven people together…can I take a look?” He let me in the room and, lo and behold, there was a banquette of seats against the wall with 3 small tables that could be pushed together. Utterly ridiculous.

  5. It was chilly there this winter, but there was really no functional heating…anywhere. It was usually colder inside than outside.

  6. They had no wireless Internet available for the rooms. You could connect, for a fee, via Cat5 cable, but even that only worked one of the nights out of seven. Disney outsources their Internet access, so no one who worked for the hotel could ever help or do anything to assist us. They kept referring us to their outside vendor, who was useless. It’s 2010, I’m paying a fortune for my room, I want functional Internet access.

WHERE THEY ARE GOING. As I talked about previously, Disney is in a tough place. They have eschewed really crazy thrill rides for experiential and animatronic rides. Unfortunately, technology is changing at such a pace that it’s hard for them to keep up. If they build a 3D movie experience, for instance, it is outdated within a year or two.

The way they seem to be dealing with this is to offer cool live shows. Hollywood Studios is a prime example. Another of the newer parks at Disney World, it was a family favorite. They had a few real thrill rides, like the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster that goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. But mostly, the park is built around live shows, like the Indiana Jones stunt show and the Lights, Motors Action car/motorcycle stunt show. Both were quite enjoyable.

Tom’s Chariot of Fire

The coolest thing about the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) theme park at Disney World was the opportunity to learn how to ride a Segway, and then take a tour around the park before it opened to the public. More on that later though…

First, let me discuss Epcot itself. Frankly, Tom and I found it to be pretty damn lame. It’s a bunch of poorly constructed plaster recreations of buildings from countries around the world. The Moroccan Pavilion was my favorite, and the most authentic because this African nation had its royal designers and tile artists do installations, thus lending it an amazing amount of authenticity — particularly in light of the mashed potato looking Chichen Itza pyramid they have in the Mexico Pavilion.

Honestly, there just isn’t that much to see in this park. Each “country” has some facades and a bunch of overpriced shops. It’s like a walk through tourist traps of the world…(I should be in marketing).

What was cool? The Segway tour. I have always wanted to ride one, and to answer the question everyone has, yes, they are as easy to ride as they appear. It is pretty incredible technology. Having said that, I enjoyed riding it less than I thought in the sense that if my body was going to be outside, upright, and exposed to the elements, I would rather be articulating my limbs and engaging my body in the task of moving myself wherever I wanted to go. We both got really stiff because we were just, well, standing around for hours!

And a big thank you to Aunt Chris for watching the Zs so Tom and I could go on this tour to begin with — Hugs!