Saturday, April 30, 2011

Guest Service - Or, Another Why We Go To Disney Post

Our son John with his favorite Cast Member, Agnes from Via Napoli
There have been books written about it.  Companies send employees to study it and implement it.  Trainers use it as an example (yes, I was one of those that did) and basis to teach it.  Guests come to expect it.  Disney has the reputation for doing it better that perhaps anyone.  It is Guest (Customer) service and it is another reason why I return to Disney.

Defining “it” can be difficult because when done right, this level of service envelopes you in your visit.  It is made up of little moments and big, some barely noticeable and others as grand as it can get.  I think the best way for me to describe it is to share a story demonstrating it – as good as it gets.

We live in Houston, TX and were in September, 2008 we were in the direct path of Hurricane Ike.  On September 16, after a few days without power and with schools closed for at least a few more days, we decided to pack up escape the real world, find some air conditioning and ice.  What better place to do that than Disney World?

We drove through the night, making our resort reservations along the way.  After checking in, we started to have car troubles and our car had to be towed to the Disney Car Care Center for an evaluation.    Additionally, I broke a filling off my tooth during the drive.   Not a great start to a vacation.

The next morning, still a bit tired, we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  While waiting to visit our favorite attraction, The Animator’s Studio, we received a phone call telling us that our Generator had been stolen from our house.  Then another call informed us that repairs on our car would cost $1140.  Feeling and looking somewhat defeated, a cast member named Richard overheard us talking and asked what was wrong.  My wife told Richard of our less than magical few days and he was kind enough to listen. 

That is really what we needed, someone to just vent to and understand.  Richard, however, did more than listen.  He asked which character we wished to draw in the studio that day.  We picked Stitch and he arranged for that to happen.  This brightened our day but as we found out soon, Richard had done a bit more than we knew.
Our Gift of Stitch - Still Hanging in the House

After finishing our drawings of Stitch, we went to thank Richard and were greeted by two wonderful cast members, Jansen and Melissa from the Dream Squad.  (This was during the Year of a Million Dreams Promotion).  We were given the opportunity to meet the artist who drew Stitch and take home his drawing as a souvenir.  That made our day, but there was more.  The Dream Squad of Melissa and Jansen were just getting started.

For  the next three hours we became VIPs of the park thanks to our own “personal dream squad.”  My son, wife  and I were escorted through the park, given fast pass entrance to any ride we choose,  given trading pins and ice cream as well as preferred seating for The Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Fantasmic that night.

Our favorite moment was during the Block Party Bash.  Not normally parade people, we were encouraged by Jansen to see this show.  Before long, he had us singing and dancing along with the show.  My wife remarked later on that we became the family that Disney always shows in their commercials…smiling, dancing, becoming children once again.  This was, in my opinion, Walt Disney’s dream when he opened Disney Land, and we were living it.

The magic did not quite end there.  The next morning we needed to pick up our vehicle at the Car Care Center.  Not exactly sure how to get there, we asked cast member Sabash, from Disney Transportation, who was stationed at the bus stop at Saratoga Springs.  Sabash made some friendly small talk with us and then called for a bus.  That bus took us directly to the Car Care Center.  That is the absolute perfect description of Guest Service.

Now, it is not reasonable to expect a personal dream squad on everyone’s visit.  We were fortunate.  However, what we do expect, and what is reasonable for you to expect , is to find cast members who will listen to you, smile and give you another reason to forget that real world and want to come back again.  We have that Stitch drawing hanging in our house to always remember our favorite Disney trip and memory. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Disney?

It’s a question, asked in different forms, that I get on a regular basis.  Why are you going to Disney again?  Weren’t you just there?  Aren’t you bored of the place?

While most of those who visit Disney World are first time visitors, there are still a large number of repeat visitors you will run into on each trip.  Their reasons for returning are as varied as the hometowns the hail from.  One thing does hold true, there is a draw in returning.  So what is it?

Perhaps the reason people, myself included, come back again and again is Disney World is ever-changing while at the same time very familiar.  Classic Disney meets with contemporary entertainment.  New attractions regularly replace older ones while true classics remain to be enjoyed by generation after generation.  Attractions advance with the technology of today as imagineers constantly plan the future.  However , the feel of home, that comfort of childhood never leaves.  This I believe was one of Walt Disney’s visions for the Florida project (as it was called in planning), tradition marching forward with progress.

Maybe the reason is because each trip can truly be unique.  Some have their favorites – resort (even room), restaurant, attraction, snack and like to relive that.  I can understand that.  However, with so many different places to stay  (resorts varied in type, theming, from motel to hotel to luxury),  so many places to eat (cuisines of all types), and so much to do (not just rides but shows, shopping, sports, recreation, etc) one can truly make each visit truly unique.  I have been to the World over 20 times but could plan a weeklong visit tomorrow and stay somewhere I never have before and eat at restaurants each day I have never visited in the past.  This ability to always see something new makes return trips as fresh and new as the guest wants them to be.

I think the biggest reason I like returning time and time again is when you cross under the Walt Disney World rainbow arch, you are leaving the real world behind.  You become immersed in a place where you can forget what is going on at home or work or in the world and not have to pick it up again while there.  It is not a coincidence that Disney is much like a different country with its own borders, road signs, transportation and government.  This is by design (both business and recreational) to make you truly feel like you have gone further than Central Florida.

Going to this world,  brings out the kid in the guest by either bringing it back through vivid memories of childhood visits or allowing one to experience them again through eyes of your kids.  You are allowed, actually encouraged, to be a child again.  Explore the unknown, seek comfort in the familiar and live out those fantasies of what you want to be when you grow up – astronaut, explorer, pirate, princess, world traveler, artist, star of the show.  This is what you can do when you truly let your guard down.

There is more of course.  Outstanding service (more on that in a future post) meeting guests and cast members from around the world, art, music, festivals.  What it all works out to is never having to be bored with what is there, because either through design or through imagination, it is ever changing while keeping its heart close to home.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rainy Days at Disney (Never) Get Me Down

OK, maybe it’s not quite Karen Carpenter-esq, but it’s the truth for me and it should be for you.  If it starts to rain at Disney, the day is far from lost.  In fact, you might be able to do more.  Sounds strange, so let me explain.

It is the rarest of occasions for Disney to shut down a theme park due to weather (think hurricane), so rain, thunderstorms, etc. do not close the turnstiles.  Some outdoor attractions may temporarily close until the weather passes, but most stay open. 

While the turnstiles stay open to allow guests in during the rain, they really get a workout letting guests out.  Many quests run for the exits when the rain starts, either unwilling to get a little wet, not wanting to look unfashionable in a rain poncho or figuring the attractions will close down.  When this happens, my advice to you is don your disposable poncho (more on that below), stay in the park and enjoy the low wait times.  You will be able to accomplish more, see more in less time or accomplish what you want at a more leisurely pace.  Either way, you win.

Arrive in Florida Prepared.  Before leaving on your vacation, stop into your local dollar store and pick up some “disposable rain ponchos.”  They are usually sold in packs of two and while you could certainly try and fold them up after the rain dissipates and reuse them later, at fifty cents each, it’s not really worth time or effort (those suckers are hold to fold!)  When the rain stops, just dispose of the poncho and keep on enjoying the park.  I usually pack one per person per day of the trip and always have plenty.

Keep an eye on the forecast each day.  If rain is predicted for most of the day, you may want to bring an extra poncho as well as some dry socks and a hand towel in your backpack.  Wear shoes that dry quickly in and plan a lunch time visit back to the resort to change shoes. 

In the summer months (June into September), you can bet on a thundershower each afternoon, usually between 2 and 4 PM.  The rain usually doesn’t last long but can be heavy at times; driving many unprepared guests from the parks and temporarily closing some outdoor attractions (think Dumbo or Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom).  Take this time to enjoy the many indoor attractions at the parks – more than once I have ducked in to enjoy the Carousel of Progress during a downpour and exited the attraction to find the Florida sun shining down again.    Tommorowland in the Magic Kingdom has a great selection of indoor attractions all within a close walk of each other.  Ellen’s Energy Adventure and Innoventions are great choices at Epcot as are the Animator’s Studio and Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios and Dinosaur or It’s Tough to Be a Bug 3D at Animal Kingdom,

Outside of enjoying the lower wait times, what else can you do during the famous (or is it infamous, you know, more than famous) Florida rain?

Shop.   Face it, you are at Disney and gifts shops are more common than suburban Starbucks.  This is a great time to duck in, dry off and see how the Mouse can adequately separate you from your wallet.  Plus, if you forgot your handy dandy dollar store poncho, displays of ponchos will magically appear as the rain stops.  (Unfortunately, this magic appearance comes at a price a few steps above $1.)

Eat.  Grab a snack or a drink at one the counter service restaurants.  If you are anywhere but the Magic Kingdom, enjoy a cocktail while watching the rain fall – the Rose and Crown at Epcot, the Dawa Bar at Animal Kingdom or 50’s Prime Time at the Studios are great choices.  A hidden gem during the rain is the Writer’s Shop at the Studios, great place to grab a coffee or latte and a carrot cake cookie and relax while the animals line up two by two outside.

You can also visit the arcade in Tomorrowland or many of the stage shows, or simply be a kid and jump in the puddles.  The key is the rain doesn’t need to stop your vacation, or even slow it down. 

What are your favorite in the rain activities at Disney? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Welcome to Disney Travel Dude

The title pretty much sums up what this blog will be about…traveling and Disney World and mostly traveling to Disney World.  As a veteran of Disney travel, I decided to write about my experiences at Disney and traveling in general with the hopes of maybe informing, helping or possibly even entertaining a few readers.

First, let me share a little bit about my travel experience to Disney World.  Like many, my first visit to Disney World came on a family trip, mine would be in 1983.  We were fortunate enough to travel to Disney again as a family two years later.  My next visit would not be until 2001 when I decided to take my then five year old son for what I thought would be a one-time visit. 

Ten years later, I know count over twenty visits to “the world”, staying at several of the resorts (both on and off site) and eaten at many of the Disney restaurants (might be my favorite activity).  I met my wife at Disney, got engaged in front of Cinderella’s Castle just before wishes and honeymooned at Disney World.  My wife and I are Disney Vacation Club owners and annual pass holders since 2006.  I guess you can say the Disney bug bit me in 2001 and I have had the infection ever since. 

I have experience traveling with young children (my youngest son John made his first visit last summer at 6 months old), teenagers, family gatherings, grown up trips, romantic trips and even solo trips.  Having visited Disney world in every season, I have been fortunate enough to experience many of the festivals and special events and have a good feel of when to go and when not to head to the parks.

Common Sense and Disney World travel don’t often collide in the same sentence.  However, I think if you apply some to a Disney Vacation you will find it to be much more enjoyable and much more affordable than you first believed.  Hopefully, as I add posts to this blog, this common sense approach to travel will demonstrate this.

I enjoy to write and wanted to write on a topic I have both knowledge about and a passion for.  More than that, I enjoy helping people.  As more and more friends have turned to me for advice on planning a trip to Disney, I thought blogging some information now and then might help more people.  If anyone reading has any specific questions, I am always glad to try and answer, just contact me.

Sharing some experience, knowledge and hopefully helping out along the way.  That is what I hope to accomplish here.  Thanks for reading.