(UPDATE, 12/30/2010 – please see the end of this post for the response I’ve received from Disney)
Following is an email I’ve just sent to email@example.com, remarking on the highs and the lows of my recent trip to Walt Disney World. I will post more details and more specifics about our trip at a later time, but for now, this should give you an idea of some of the extremes from this recent trip:
A little over one week ago, I returned from my most recent trip to Walt Disney World. I would like to tell you about a few of the highs and, unfortunately, the lows, of my vacation. Because I would prefer to end this email on a positive note, I will start with the bad:
There were a few things that we weren’t happy about. The fact that the “Lights of Winter” display at Epcot has not yet returned, I find to be unacceptable. It was unacceptable last year when Disney took it away with the horribly insulting excuse that it was “obsolete technology”. Disney is still using technology from when the park opened 39 years ago in many places. Lights are not obsolete. They are still enjoyed, pretty much universally. For Disney to make that cost-cutting move is bad enough, but to then insult its guests with that faulty reasoning feels like a slap across the face. The fact that Fantasmic is still on a mind-bogglingly stupid twice-a-week schedule is just completely incomprehensible. We arrived at DHS on a Fantasmic evening with about 45 minutes until show time. The line to gain entrance to the theater extended allllll the way down Sunset Blvd up to Hollywood Blvd. This “line”, the definition of which is a stretch, was actually a mass of guests approximately 10-20 people wide. I cannot even begin to calculate the number of people trying to gain entrance to Fantasmic at this point. The line was so inconceivably long that people were still entering the theater looking for seats well after the show had begun. I can *almost* understand this phenomenon if we had been in WDW during the peak of summer. But this was on Thursday December 2. This was one of the *lowest* attendance days of the year. Add to that the fact that there were a variety of other entertainments happening concurrently – there was Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party happening at the Magic Kingdom. There was the Candlelight Processional happening at Epcot. There were even the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights happening right there in Hollywood Studios! And yet with all of this, the line to get in to Fantasmic was still this long? It is beyond comprehension to me that anyone in the Disney organization can find this acceptable. Indeed, I am of the firm belief that the executives who made the financial decision to cut back Fantasmic showings should be forced to stand in that line every single evening that Fantasmic is showing. I guarantee you that after one or two times, he or she would change the policy immediately.
Unfortunately, these were only the “mildly annoying” incidents. I would now like to call your attention to the three big problems we experienced during our trip:
Firstly, the bus transportation at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We encountered several problems with the buses’ promptness, or should I say the lack thereof. Disney says that buses run “approximately every 20 minutes”, yet on our very first day (Sunday, 11/28) we waited about 45 minutes for a bus from AKL to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In that time, we saw multiple buses to the same destination – two for Magic Kingdom, two for Downtown Disney, etc. What was far worse, however, was that we saw a bus for Epcot pull up while a bus for Epcot was currently loading! Inconceivably to all of us waiting for a bus, the 2nd Epcot bus proceeded to wait until the first had loaded and pulled out, then pulled up to the Epcot spot, did not (obviously) take anyone else on, and drove off. This, I find, unacceptable. I understand that due to quirks two or more buses might arrive at the same time, but when that happens, I feel that the bus driver should be empowered to report the incident back to dispatch, and receive new instructions – in this case “Pick up the guests waiting for Studios instead”. Dispatch should then reroute the next bus scheduled to pick up DHS guests at AKL to go to Epcot instead. Is that not the entire point of the buses’ “on-demand” type of scheduling? What possible benefit is served by having an empty bus proceed to Epcot, while guests stand waiting (becoming increasingly frustrated, I might add) for the Studios?
Our second problem with the transportation came on the evening of Thursday, 12/2. We were leaving DHS after Fantasmic and taking a bus to All Star Movies to check-in for the second half of our trip. The big bus stop posting listing all of the various resorts and their corresponding bus stops claimed that all three All Star Resorts were served by the same bus stop. When we got over to the first of the last three stops, we saw nothing but one gigantic mass of guests. It wasn’t possible to even *see* the second and third stop through the massive throng. So we got into what we believed to be the one line for all three All Stars. Only after waiting in line for 30 minutes and seeing one bus come to one of the three stops, specifically for All Star Music and nothing else, were we able to determine that the three stops were servicing the three different All Star resorts, and that we were very much in the wrong line. We moved ourselves to the right line, the final stop, which we eventually figured out was the real stop for All Star Movies. The lines for all three resorts were atrociously bad. There were no less than 4 *completely* packed buses (none of which arrived in the claimed “approximately 20 minutes” intervals) before we were finally able to board. I feel that Disney utterly failed to anticipate the need for increased frequency of buses needed upon closing time at Hollywood Studios. Even worse was that there was not a Cast Member in sight. No one to direct traffic, and help keep the three lines separate and orderly. Instead, mass confusion abounded.
The third and by far the worst incident – not only for this trip, but the worst incident I’ve EVER experienced in my 20+ WDW vacations – came later that same night, Thursday, 12/2. After finally arriving at our new hotel, I went to the check-in line. There were a total of 3 parties of guests in front of me. Right away I could tell there was something wrong, as none of the guests currently at the checkin desk seemed happy. From what I could overhear, there seemed to be problems with reservations, with room assignments, and with key cards. I point out again that I arrived in this line with only 3 parties ahead of me. It took *thirty minutes* for me to reach the front of the line. This in and of itself was unacceptable. I got to the check-in desk and proceeded to give the Cast Member my driver’s license and credit card. He typed in my name, and then told me that he couldn’t find my reservation. I gave him the reservation confirmation number, and told him that I had booked through Expedia. He went into the back room, and did not return for over 5 minutes. After the incident with the buses and the wait in the check-in line, I hope you understand when I say that my frustration was now mounting. When he returned, he exclaimed “I found your reservation!”, and then said it again when I didn’t reply. The clear implication was that he was expecting me to be grateful he did something he should have done when I first approached. As he continued to work on the computer, he then called over to someone I can only assume was a manager, who himself was also intently focused on his own computer, and who did not even acknowledge our CM, let alone reply and assist. Our CM called to him again and said “There’s no room assigned!”. Again, my frustration mounted. Again the CM disappeared into the back. This time he was gone for nearly 10 minutes. When he returned, he was smiling again. I said “Please tell me that smile means you’ve got our room assigned”. He replied “Well, yes, we’ve got you a room, but we’re going to have to move you to All Star Sports instead.” I said nothing, because I was sure that couldn’t be the end of his statement. I was sure that he was going to follow it up with “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience”. But he didn’t. No apology or sympathy of any kind. I asked him if he could at least print our room key cards here, so we didn’t have to wait in Sports’ check-in line all over again. Now, I know for a *FACT* that this is possible, because this happened to me on a previous trip, in December 2008, and the CM at that time was willing and able to give me my room key cards and room assignment before transferring us to the other resort. But on this occasion, the CM refused, saying “No you’re really better off having them do it down there.” I was becoming increasingly displeased with this Cast Member, as I hope you’ll agree was justified. During all this time, I had asked my friend to take our luggage receipt outside to the luggage services desk to retrieve our bags which we’d had transferred from Animal Kingdom Lodge that morning. She reported back that the luggage service desk was closed. So I gave the luggage receipt to the CM checking us in, asking how we were to retrieve our bags. He said that he would take care of it for us, and disappeared with our luggage receipt. While he was gone, another Cast Member appeared from the back, walked up to our terminal – without acknowledging us – and looked at the computer. She then looked at me and said “Is this you?”. I found that to be about the least friendly greeting I had ever received from a Disney CM. By this point, I was rather annoyed with pretty much everything, so I replied “Well how about you tell us who’s on there, since I can’t see the screen you’re looking at, and I’ll tell you if that’s me or not.” She rolled her eyes at me, and then said the name on the screen, which did indeed to turn out to be my name, and I told her as much. She then told us “You’re being upgraded to the Boardwalk.” Now, under any other circumstances, this announcement would have been cause for celebration, but after the experiences of the evening, I’d completely lost faith in Disney’s ability to do anything correctly, so I stared at her and said “Okay? Are you sure about that? Because the other Cast Member told us we’re being transferred to All Star Sports”. She responded rather haughtily, “I’m from Operations, you’re being moved to Boardwalk.” I was still unable to get my hopes up for this, so I didn’t respond immediately, and the CM followed up with “That’s a $300/night hotel!”, as though angry with me that I hadn’t yet thanked her profusely. I said “Okay, if that happens, great, but the other guy is getting our luggage and telling us we’re going to All Star Sports, so you two need to talk to each other!”. She then, incredibly, asked me where he was. Seeing as how I’m a guest and not allowed in backstage areas, I replied “That’s a great question, isn’t it?” She then disappeared to the back, presumably to find our original CM. While she was gone, our original CM returned, without any of our bags which we thought he was obtaining. He said “Okay, you’re all set to go to Sports!”. I almost laughed out loud at the incompetence on display this evening. I told him that another CM had just told us we were going to Boardwalk, and he needed to find her and talk to her. Into the back he disappeared as well. 5-10 minutes later, they both reappeared, and confirmed that yes, we were going to Boardwalk. The original CM placed a phone call with a taxi agency, and walked with us outside to get our bags. He disappeared into the luggage storage area, and returned a few minutes later with five bags on the cart. Except that two of them weren’t our bags. My friend exclaimed “You’re missing my big green duffel bag!”, and the CM, to my complete and utter shock, actually YELLED at us “It says FIVE BAGS here!” It took every ounce of restraint I had not to shout back at him “Yes, but we want OUR five bags, not just any old five bags!”. I pointed out to him which two of the five bags did not belong to us, and again he disappeared into the luggage storage area, reemerging 5 minutes later with the correct bags. Finally we were loaded into the taxi and on our way to the Boardwalk (far too late, btw, for us to have any sort of dinner, because of how long the entire process took).
Now, before I go any further, please understand that I realize Disney’s final solution to the issues of the evening was great – the Boardwalk is an amazing hotel, and to receive a free upgrade there from a Value resort is quite literally a Disney Fantasy of mine. So I’m not complaining about the resolution. I am, however, indescribably upset at the incident itself, and more importantly at the attitude of the Cast Members involved. I don’t know if Disney was having computer system problems that evening, or if all of the CMs staffing ASMo were on their first week of work, or what the problem was. But I do know that throughout the entire process, from the time I arrived at the hotel until the time I left, not a SINGLE ONE OF THEM showed even the smallest amount of apology or even sympathy. On the contrary, they all acted as though we, the guests, were the problem. That we were an inconvenience to them. I find this beyond difficult to accept. This is the Walt Disney Company. Guest Services is *what you do*. It is why I and my family and friends continue to return time and time again. To encounter this level of unfriendliness coupled with incompetence is simply not acceptable. My friend has already stated flat out that she refuses to return to All Star Movies ever again due to this incident, and if the choice ever comes down to staying at the All Stars vs not making the WDW trip at all, we will seriously consider simply not making the trip.
With all the negatives all out of the way, I would now like to tell you about the positive aspects of our trip to Disney World this month. They all take the form of a Cast Member who we felt went above and beyond, and who exemplify what being in Disney means to us (in other words, they are the exact opposite of the CMs we encountered at All Star Movies on 12/2):
On Sunday, November 29, at roughly 5pm, we dined at Le Cellier in Epcot. We each ordered the Fillet Mignon. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that it was the best steak we have ever had. It was cooked to perfection, exactly as we’d each ordered. It was so tender that it felt to almost melt in our mouths. It was delicious. I cannot say enough good things about this meal. I wish to literally extend my compliments to the chef and his/her staff, and to thank them profusely for such a fantastic meal.
On Wednesday, December 1, we dined at Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our server’s name was Jeff. He was fantastic. He was prompt with our drink refills and courteous and polite throughout the meal. When we were done eating, we invited him to actually have a seat with us and “tell us a story” about working at Disney. Jeff took the time to get to know us, and told us some truly wonderful stories about his many years with the company, working there at Boma as well as at the Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge. We both resolved to visit Whispering Canyon on our next trip, just from his descriptions alone. While I think the food at Boma is terrific, it was Jeff who made the dining experience what it was.
On Thursday, December 2, after the unpleasantness with the DHS bus stops and the horrible mess at the All Star Movies check-in, we finally arrived at the Boardwalk. We were checked in by a delightful Cast Member named Rose. When we approached the check-in desk, I wearily said to her, “Rose, after the night we’ve had, this needs to go really really smoothly.” Rose lived up to that and better. She effortlessly checked us in, gave us a terrific room, and explained everything going on at the Boardwalk. Sensing our frustration with the events of the evening, *she* apologized to us and expressed sympathy for what we had gone through – something NO ONE at the All Stars had done. At no point did she seem frustrated or make light of our unhappiness with the evening. She restored our sense of what the “Disney magic” is all about.
On Friday, December 3, we took the Yuletide Fantasy tour. It was led by a Disney Institute CM named Walt. Walt was an excellent tourguide. He talked to us all as though we’d been friends for years, telling us stories about himself, his time with the company, even about his family. The information he provided on the tour was excellent. It was very informative, and very well presented. I will strongly recommend this tour to anyone planning a trip around the holidays.
During the aforementioned tour, we made a stop in the American Adventure pavilion and over to the Hanukkah display. Coincidentally, we arrived just in time to hear the Hanukkah storyteller give her performance. It was breathtaking. I of course already knew the basics of the story of Hanukkah, but the way she told it with such emotion and fervor, was truly something to behold. Although our tourgroup was leaving immediately after her presentation, my friend and I made sure to hang back a moment so that we could thank her and wish her a Happy Hanukkah as well.
On Saturday, December 4, we went shopping at Downtown Disney, and stopped for lunch at Rainforest Café. I know that the employees of RC do not work for Disney, but I want to let you know how wonderful our server Wendel was anyway. She was polite, friendly, energetic, and in all other ways a great waitress. If Disney ever has an opportunity to hire her as a Cast Member, I enthusiastically suggest you do so.
Finally, later in the evening on Dec 4, I went to Magic Kingdom. As I got off the bus, and saw the Fort Wilderness boat arriving, I succumbed to a whim and boarded the boat, with the intention of dining at Trail’s End, even though I had no reservation. When the boat docked and I arrived at the restaurant, I was told it would be about a 45 minute wait. I took my pager and went to sit at the bar at Crocket’s Tavern to wait. The bartender’s name was Barb. Throughout my wait, I observed her doing the work of three CMs. Not only was she tending the bar, she was also taking the orders at the Tavern’s small seating area, as well as staffing the outside window. While dealing with rude (and more than a little inebriated) guests and their children outside her window, she never once got angry or rude in reply. Instead, I saw her mentally “count to ten” and put on the happy face for everyone around her. Then to top everything off, about 10-15 minutes into my 45 minute wait, she asked me if I was waiting for another guest or if I was alone. I told her I was there myself that evening, and she replied telling me to return my pager and go ahead and help myself to the buffet, and eat at the bar. This was a wonderful gesture on her part, and one for which I was very grateful. She continued to serve all three of her bar-related areas, as well as deal with getting me silverware and drink refills. When I left the Tavern, I made it back to the boat dock and back to the Magic Kingdom and through the turnstiles literally just as the fireworks show was beginning. If not for Barb, I would have missed the fireworks, which were in fact the original point of my trip to the Magic Kingdom that evening.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we left Disney World on 12/5 very satisfied and happy. I am thrilled to report that the majority of the cast members still have that Disney magic flowing through them. I can only hope that the incident at All Star Movies was an anomaly that will not be seen ever again. I hope appropriate actions are taken – both in making sure the systems do not experience similar problems, and in re-training the Cast Members there how to properly interact with guests – so that no future guests have to experience the nightmare scenarios we did that evening.
I thank you very much for your time, and for reading this entire email, lengthy though it was.
I got a phone call from Disney today at about 4pm. A very nice and friendly cast member named Jessica had about a 10 minute conversation with me. She said that my email had been received, and she apologized for all the problems we had, especially the transportation and the All Star Movies check-in. She confirmed that they were having a system upgrade that night which took their systems down unexpectedly, and that many guests were affected. She let me know that my email had been forwarded on to all the relevant departments – All Star Movies front desk, Transportation department, and DHS’s front gate and entertainment divisions. Jessica said that the problems with Fantasmic and the bus service to AKL are known problems and that they’re working on making them better.
Throughout the entire conversation, both Jessica and I were talking very cordially and friendly, and I felt as though she was very sincere in everything she was saying. She then told me that even though I was satisfied with the final resolution to the ASMo problem, she wanted to offer me compensation anyway. She will be giving me three free nights at a Value resort of my choice, with no time-limit restriction. She’s putting a letter in the mail tomorrow or early next week with all the details and the phone number to call. I find this to be WAY above and beyond the call of normal guest relation’s responsibility. I made it clear both in my original email and while talking to her that I was not expecting or requesting any compensation, but Disney obviously felt that they had done wrong and wanted to make up for it. I strongly applaud them for that. Overall, this is WAY more than I was expecting – really, all I was expecting was an emailed response acknowledging the problems. To receive a personalized phone call PLUS the additional compensation is truly the mark of wonderful guest service, and it simply reminds me why I’m so in love with Walt Disney World to begin with.