For those of you new to this blog, hello! I’m Debbie and I’m a UX (user experience) designer. I specialize in interaction design and information architecture, which means it’s normally my job to make websites, apps, and other user experiences better, easier, more user friendly, faster to learn and use, etc…
I’m a big Disney fan, mostly of Parks and Resorts. I just attended my third D23 Expo in Anaheim, and some of the poor organization is shocking. The event doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes either. In case anybody is listening, I wanted to offer my help and some ideas for the future.
The Anaheim Convention Ctr has 1.6 million sq ft of space and is adding more. If Dreamforce can operate in Moscone’s 2 million sq ft and have 130,000+ people attend, you should be able to do well with what you have in Anaheim and easily herd roughly 30,000 people.
The space isn’t well utilized. Key things people want to do are across the convention center from each other. Important things like StagePass and StorePass (I’ll get to those) are way on one side of the show floor. If you really want to maximise crowd control, perhaps those go somewhere else… upstairs? Or not at all? I’ll get to that.
There is a lot of lining up outside and you had no canopy or water. It was 92 degrees this weekend. People are lined up for hours in the SoCal sun without love. Workers didn’t seem to know where bathrooms were. They sent us to the Hilton Hotel, which the Hilton might not have liked.
Since you never do anything to gauge attendee interest in presentations, you seem to have no idea what size rooms to use. I was in the 11am Silly Symphonies presentation in a huge room that was half full. Well sure… everybody was downstairs lining up for StagePass.
Balance crowds across the three floors of the building. Put Archives back upstairs (and bring back the archives merch shop from 2011). What else can go upstairs? I wonder if the whole thing could be flipped. Big presentations downstairs in halls that can hold thousands and thousands of people; everything else on the top two floors since those pavilions, shops, and activities can be separated into themed ballrooms.
It looked like most people helping out here were Cast Members (workers) from Disneyland and Disney Stores. They seemed to be in people-pleasing mode rather than crowd-control, rule-enforcing mode, which meant that experiences were inconsistent. I saw one guy talk his way onto the StorePass line at one of the stores even though he had no StorePass. He didn’t think he should have had to wait considering everything else he had to wait for.
Yeah, we ALL feel that way. The lines here are unreasonable and poorly thought out. But these are the rules. The worker let him in. Things like that sucked. There are many stories surfacing from the event that are like this… workers moving people waiting on one line to another and then those people get let in later than they should have.
This is organization and communication. If your workers are going to be in people pleasing mode, then maybe hire the conference staffing people you can get for events. They won’t care what people think of things. They follow the rules. And then you won’t have Disney workers being mentioned by name in anger around social media. That’s bad for everybody.
The Rules and Strategies
The story of the guy who talked his way onto the line makes us ask did he know what to do and just didn’t like it? Or did he genuinely not know what he was supposed to do?
How is D23 messaging what you should do? Online “survival guides” said things like wear comfy shoes and bring water. But who is telling people how to plan the day, what passes you MUST get by when, etc… StorePasses were running out by 10:30am… and they only started giving them out at 10am. People were lining up since 9am.
How does D23 tell people how to play their game? How can messaging be clear but friendly? Nobody wants to read something that feels like terms and conditions. The first-timer friends I brought said if they didn’t have me strategizing, they’d have no idea what to do and be very angry about the things they would have misunderstood, not known, or just missed. PS: they don’t want to come to this event again. 🙁
I disliked this Expo so much that my first thought was, “I won’t buy a ticket to the next one until I read the rules and polices and make sure they changed for the better!” And then I remembered that rules and policies were broken or non-enforced everywhere, so those are meaningless.
The mobile app was very bad. I don’t think anybody worked on the UX team for that one. I think someone came up with ideas, programmers built it based on the ideas, nobody did UX, and a designer put some icons on it.
There are so many places it doesn’t work as expected. For example, you add friends to it by logging into Facebook. But then what can you do with those friends? You can’t see what they favorited, which is what people seemed to expect. When a friend wanted to message me through the app, it looked like it was going to send her to Facebook. Well, she already has Facebook for that.
App notifications weren’t going through to many people, which tell me that this wasn’t tested on all appropriate devices. I saw plenty of iPhone 4 models around. If you think everybody has a 6, they don’t. One woman told me she couldn’t see the third day of the schedule without putting her phone in landscape mode. Again, nobody must have tested an older, narrow iPhone to see this.
Every time I tried to zoom in to the map, my screen went white and the map seemed to completely reload. That’s a crappy user experience. And when I got really zoomed in, someone saved/scanned the map at bleh resolution. I couldn’t tell a 6 from an 8 on booth numbers. Type was very small.
I am offering free, unlimited UX help and QA for your next app. Let some pros work on this thing. It’s too embarrassing to put out what you did. Let me and my team take your feature dreams and give them the layout, flow, interactivity, and ease of use they deserve. Free. Don’t want me? Hire professionals with senior-level experience (or higher). Don’t give this to entry level juniors, please.
If D23 resources are tight, lean on fans. You’d be amazed what we know how to do and would do without charging.
StorePass and StagePass
The expo has a system for letting people get into certain presentations that interest them. You can’t book those ahead. Each morning of the three-day event, you go and wait on a line to get a StagePass. This lets you pick one presentation from the first half of the day. You get a ticket and the assurance that you can get into this presentation. In the morning, the line was short, but that’s because we lined up to get in 2 hours before doors opened. So we’ve already waited 2 hours to get a StagePass.
The Expo expects you to line up AGAIN at 12:30pm to get a StagePass for the one presentation you’d like to see in the second half of the day. Some people started lining up at 11:30am. The line extended across the entire trade show floor across multiple halls, right through the middle of everything. It looked like thousands of people were on the line. I might be on that line 2 hours.
Why can’t I line up once per day and get two StagePasses? There’s no risk associated with letting me do that. If I don’t show up and the presentation is popular, there is a standby line of people who will HAPPILY take my spot. That spot won’t be wasted, so there’s no risk.
Even more bizarre is that if you line up for StorePass, the ticket to a shorter line to go into shopping areas, you can get up to three StorePasses each day. We waited about 40 minutes on the StorePass line but were able to get passes for two stores. Why can I get multiple StorePasses for one day but not multiple StagePasses?
And while we’re on this topic, why can’t I choose StagePasses and StorePasses from the app? Let the app check for location to make someone is at the convention center (or on the CC wifi, which also makes it likely I’m here). Let me pick 2 StagePasses for the day, first come to the app, first served. Let me get on a waitlist, which helps me NOT sit on a standby line if there seems to be no chance of me getting in without a StagePass. Sitting on a standby line with no chance of getting in is a huge waste of time at an event already seriously wasting people’s time.
I saw another good idea on a Facebook page. Someone said that when we register for the event and pay to attend, let us pick three presentations that we want to be guaranteed to get into (while supplies last). That way, even if you don’t feel like waiting on all those lines, you KNOW you are hearing three presentations.
Same could be done for StorePass. Let me get it when I register or from the app. Don’t make me wait on a line to get a ticket that lets me wait on another line later.
D23 might think hey, these are Disney fans. They’re used to waiting on long lines! Yes, but you’re forgetting one thing when comparing this to the UX of FastPass in the parks. It takes me 30 seconds to get a FastPass for Soarin’. It took me HOURS to get StagePasses and StorePasses.
The Problem With Waiting On Lines
When I am waiting, I am not doing. Not experiencing. This was made clear when I had breakfast in Disneyland the day before the Expo. We waited nearly an hour for breakfast after ordering. Evidently the waffle machine went down. The waiter didn’t just apologize; he gave us FastPasses to ANY ride we wanted.
He understood that while waiting for food, we missed a chance to be on rides in the park. We missed a chance to be sharing pictures of us doing cool things. The Expo needs to understand the same thing.
“I can’t wait to stand on a 2+ hour line to then wait on a 40-minute line to get a ticket that lets me later wait on a 40-minute line,” said no-one ever.
Do you want us doing things, buying things, and plugging Disney to our social media worlds? Or do you want us on lines for endless hours and experiencing the negative emotions that brings?
It’s about the payoff. When I was a kid, we went to Disney World during Christmas week when we were off from school. We waited 60-90 minutes for a 5-minute ride, and it felt like a good payoff. I remember disliking lines but feeling it was worth it to go on the ride.
The payoff feelings at the D23 Expo are few and far between for attendees… unless you’re a Sorcerer…
Sorcerers. People hate them. These are attendees who paid $2000 for a ticket for the priviledge to have early access to a few things, their own lounge, and to never wait on a line. They can waltz into anything. I think I paid under $150 per ticket. For $2000, I can have a week in Disney World, so it’s not worth it.
If you’re going to give Sorcerers early/extra access to merchandise, then please make enough merchandise so that other people can buy it too. I know D23 is about getting limited edition stuff. But if you are letting 20K, 30K, or more people into the Expo, make more stuff. We want to buy stuff. NOBODY will refuse to buy stuff because you made 10,000 of them and the edition isn’t limited enough.
“This limited edition isn’t limited enough,” said no-one ever other than the guy buying it to sell it on eBay before the day has ended.
Make stuff. Make it easy for non-Sorcerers to buy stuff.
D23 is a club. This is our once-every-two-years event. You can buy a ticket if you’re not a member. You’re not guaranteed to get in since members are let in first.
Wait… what? You can buy a ticket and then not get in? Is this some sort of shitty oversold flight? Can’t we do better?
If you want to limit it, then be smart. Say it’s for members only, who can bring up to 5 guests who are not members. Members can’t buy tickets. No NON member line. If you want to buy a ticket, go with a friend or become a member. That might drive membership… if you want more members.
As a member, which costs under $100/yr and has other perks, I would be happy if non-members couldn’t buy tickets. That’s thousands of people who won’t bitch me out on long lines where tempers run short.
Rebrand This And Focus On The Consumer Relationship
If this is just Disney’s ComicCon, then stop calling it D23. It’s Disney’s Fan-Whatever. Fan-Tasia. 🙂 Put Disney resources on it full time and blow people’s minds. Fire your event planners. They are not serving you or your customers well. They’ve proven over the 3 expos I attended that they can’t handle this.
Considering it’s a 100% marketing event plugging Disney stuff we can all buy, put more resources on this. Hire full-time Imagineer geniuses to event plan the heck out of this, build a KILLER app, and make this event the one nobody can miss. Build a cross-functional Expo team that combines all the business units, Disney Meetings (these guys and gals are event pros), marketing, ambassadors, UX, app devs, etc… This is a no brainer.
Your outsourced event people just aren’t cutting it and you’ve given them more than enough chances to prove themselves. “More people came this year” may feel like a success metric, but there are other KPIs. Look at the sentiment being expressed. The fighting. What’s on social media. Look at no-shows. I had local friends buy Saturday tickets months ago but then decide to not come once they saw the pandemonium on TV and I warned them to stay away.
If you want to sort people for the purposes of an expo, then look at DVC membership (people you make the most money on), people with annual passes (people you make the next most money on, sorted by level of pass), and then something like D23 fan club membership. Maybe you also look at Disney Movies Anywhere membership at that point… or whether someone ones a Disney Infinity set. Somewhere in there might be shareholders. I heard a few people complaining they “they’re shareholders and can you believe” [complaint complaint complaint].
You know who you make the most money on. I’m guessing it’s DVC members. But use the data you have and focus this event on those target audiences primarily. Recognise people for their relationship(s) to you, Disney. Play into that. Start playing this event to the people who spend the most money with you year after year.
The smartest way to go is to cater to DVC members primarily, other memberships secondarily or tertiarily. Put real Disney people on this full time. These people do nothing but plan the Expo even if it’s every other year. You make people feel at home and feel the Disney magic. You help people feel cared for, listened to, and catered to.
Disney knows how to do that better than anyone. That’s why the Expo is so hugely disappointing for people feeling frustration. It’s not like a bunch of jerks planned a crappy event because they are jerks. This is DISNEY. We expect a LOT. And I just had my third Expo be frustrating, exhausting, and disappointing.
I know you can do better. Someone has to decide it’s worth the time and money to do it. Create the joy we fans know you can.
And For Fun
I will be a 3D-printed, face-scanned Mouseketeer.
Responding To Responses
Editing this to include some responses I got to this blog post.
What else can you expect with 45,000 passionate people?
I can expect a lot though at this point, my expectations are pretty low. I am basing my expectations on business events I have been to like Dreamforce. They have 130,000+ people in one convention center annually. It is pretty smooth! They even pack most of those people into a last-night party. The one I was at a few years ago had Metallica playing and free alcohol.
If Dreamforce can make wrangling 130K people look good, why should this event be so messy with 1/3 the attendance?
The event would have been better if more event planners had headsets/walkie talkies.
I’ve done some event planning. I own a set of six (expensive) walkie talkies with earpieces. Most of my concerns wouldn’t be solved by more walkie talkies. To name a few, the flawed used of event space, the agonizing process to get StagePasses, and an app that was poorly designed, built, and tested aren’t fixed by more headsets.
From time to time, I see articles and posts furious at how much it costs to spend a day at Disneyland in California. The article usually mentions that Walt wouldn’t have wanted prices to be so high “people” can’t afford it. I recently saw another article claiming that Disney has “abandoned the middle class.” This appears to imply that Disney is only for the 1% or headed in that direction.
Not only is this untrue, impossible, and bizarre but I can’t even figure out what is the intention of writing such things. Are you hoping people will be so upset by your opinion that they refuse to plan a Disney vacation? Do you think you will bully the company with the highest park attendance on the planet into lowering prices? What’s the point of writing these things and bringing out people’s grumpiness?
There are lots of logical fallacies here, so let’s break down the claims about how much it costs to go to Disneyland.
First, some real data. In 1956, Disneyland’s second year of operations, it cost $3 for an adult to get in. You then had to pay per ride using tickets. That $3 got you 8 rides. If you wanted more, you had to buy more tickets. So it’s possible that many families were buying extra tickets and not going with just the $3 ticket book.
Today, if you buy a one-day ticket to Disneyland, you have a lot of options. Do you want one park or both parks? Hey that’s new since 1955… only one park then. So let’s say we just want one park. One day in 2015 is $99 plus tax, unlimited rides.
That’s an increase of 33x. People are claiming that these vacations are not affordable and Walt’s rolling in his grave. But let’s take a look at unemotional facts.
1. Disney has always been a for-profit corporation.
Walt wouldn’t have been happy with things losing money, especially since that would have meant the money wasn’t there for upkeep and improvements. He wanted things always improving.
If Disney stopped building new things then maybe they could keep prices down. But Walt’s idea and mandate were to always keep improving. That means new rides, new lands, new performances, new parades, new light shows, new costumes and uniforms, lots of new things every time you go. That costs money.
If I remember correctly, Walt made WW2 propaganda films to make money. I don’t think the guy was against making money. I don’t think of him as a socialist.
He wanted the parks available to anybody, and they are. All ethnicities, dietary needs, disabilities, and religions are welcome. LGBT very welcome.
2. Cost to run Disneyland.
Costs have gone up over time. What do metals, plastics, labour, workers, costumes, custom written music, and paint cost? Electricity, water, utilities. Building permits. What do those cost? Have those gone up more than inflation since 1955? Probably.
3. Lots of things have skyrocketed in price since the 1950’s.
I grew up hearing stories about how a hamburger was a nickel around 1950. There are yucky, suspicious burgers nowadays for $1. But a similar burger might be $5 now. That’s a 100x increase in nearly the same amount of time as that chart. Even a cheapy $2.50 burger (who sells that?) is a 50x increase.
Disney’s ticket price hasn’t gone up 100x. It’s gone from $3 for a limit of 8 rides (plus possible extra ride tickets) to $105 for unlimited rides. That’s 35x. That’s a lot. But would Walt spin in his grave?
Gas was 23 cents a gallon in 1955. Now it’s easily $3.80 around here. That’s a 16x increase.
Postage stamps have gone from 3 cents to 49 cents. Also about a 16x increase.
Many things in our day to day lives are getting cost increases way over what inflation would translate them to now. That 23 cent gas would now be about $2 per gallon if it were just 23 cents in 1955 dollars translated to 2015 dollars.
The average annual income in 1955 was about $4200. That would be around $36,000 in today’s dollars. Maybe there’s the problem. That is a realistic average income for many middle class workers… yet so many other things have increased prices way more than simple inflation. And that’s not Walt’s fault. If people were making an average of 16x that 1955 income (over $67K), a day at Disney wouldn’t look forbidding.
4. A ticket today to Six Flags Magic Mountain in southern Cali is $73.
This makes Disney’s $105 not look so weird. It’s certainly more, but they are different parks with different themes, attractions, and history. With restaurants, shopping, and attached hotels, Disneyland for some will be a bit more of a destination than other area theme parks.
5. Disney has discounted tickets for locals or people who go frequently.
If you walk up to Disney and buy one ticket for one day, you will pay the most. Like many products and services, the discounts are in bulk purchases. A small jar of mayonnaise in the supermarket costs way more per ounce than the vat of it you can buy at Costco. Same thing applies here.
An annual pass to Disneyland with blackout dates costs $550. You can go 315 days of the year on that. If you only went one day a month, that would come out to about $45 per day. They have cheaper passes with more blackout dates. If you’re going often, you’re paying relatively little to get in.
6. These angry-at-Disneyland-pricing articles NEVER talk about Disney World in Florida.
It’s always California. Yeah, I do think CA is a bit overpriced especially since it’s so small. Disney World in Florida is priced very differently. They really focus on the annual or multi-day pass there since most people are coming for a week or are locals going a lot. I know someone going this summer for two weeks. He’s just going to buy the annual pass.
Take a look at this sliding scale. The per day gets quite low if you are coming to FL and staying a while. This is the price assuming you only want to get into one park per day. There’s an added fee on your ticket if you want to “park hop.”
Going to Disney World for 10 days? Each day is cheaper than one day at Disneyland in 1955, accounting for inflation. Plus you get unlimited rides.
Vacations Can Be Expensive
No matter where you go, vacations can be expensive. It’s easy to spend a lot once you have flights, hotel rooms, park tickets, and food. This will never be thought of as “cheap” by 99% of America.
Being profitable doesn’t go against anything I ever heard attributed to Walt. He built Disneyland so that kids and parents can have fun together. This is contrasted against his experiences taking his kids to amusement parks where they went on rides and every parent sat on benches waiting for them. He achieved that.
He wanted people to go. They do. They Disney parks win awards every year for being THE most visited parks on the planet. It’s not cheap. A week in either Disney in the USA will set a family back $$$$. Many families save weekly or monthly for 1-2 years to enjoy a week at Disney. But they are GOING in droves.
Here are some screens from the 2013 AECOM.com report on worldwide theme park attendance. The first screen ranks by group (rather than individual park). The second screen ranks by individual park. Disney has 9 of the top 12.
The next time you hear that Walt would have hated what Disney parks cost now, please find me a direct quote from Walt that says that he wanted Disney parks to be cheap entertainment that every family can afford any day they feel like going. I don’t think he said anything close to that.
And when they claim that a Disney park ticket has risen insanely since 1955, ask those people to compare how other things have risen. Ask those people to take into account what it takes to run a park of that size and how those costs have gone up exponentially. Ask those people to explain what they think a day at Disney SHOULD cost, given wages, materials, electricity, and other things it takes to make that run well. $3.50 in 1955 might be under $40 today, but I remember paying $36 for Six Flags probably 20 years ago. That’s just not what amusement parks cost.
I believe these articles are junk science made to appease the unhappiness some people feel that a Disney trip is financially out of reach. And I’m sorry! I wish most people could experience that fun and magic. Walt isn’t rolling in his grave. He’s probably rather pleased at the stock price!
If you know me, then you know I’m a big fan of Walt Disney World in Florida. Disney recently introduced a new vacation account to help save for a trip. The average family saves for over a year for a 1-week Disney vacation. So planning and saving make sense, and a Disney tool to help also makes sense.
Let’s estimate out budget! After clicking that, it asked what type of trip I wanted to save for. I chose Walt Disney World in Florida. Other choices include Disneyland in California or a Disney Cruise.
This is the next screen I was shown:
I am immediately reminded of the old, “If I could walk that way…” joke. If I KNOW what these things cost, I don’t really need this tool. I imagined that this tool would help someone who doesn’t have Disney pricing memorized calculate what things cost.
Instead, the links take you completely out of the flow and experience. They open existing Disney booking tools in a new window. Exploring resorts takes you here:
We know you wanted to estimate a total travel budget, but please stop and consider our 31 hotels.
This seems like a poor UX choice. Now is not the time to try to get people (especially those newer to WDW) to try to figure out exactly which hotel they’ll want to stay in 18 months from now. Disney instead could create an easy step-by-step wizard that will let people make more general choices.
Pricing is organized (usually) into 4 or 5 seasons in a year. Step 1: Ask the user when the family is likely to travel. Now you know the season.
Disney’s 31 Florida hotels are organized into 5 categories. Usually, hotels in the same category cost about the same. Disney could pick the higher end of the pricing so people can be sure they’ve saved enough. Step 2: Briefly explain the differences between the levels, and let the user pick one or more that interest them. Remember, we ONLY have to tell the user the MOST they might pay so they don’t under-save.
Pricing is also affected by room type and view. Step 3: Ask the user if they require a special room or would like to upgrade (*cough cough extra price*) to a room with a special view. Good time to ask how many rooms they need that might be special or have views.
Step 4: Show them the output. You picked this level/these levels of hotel, you need this many rooms of these types, and you plan to come this time of year. You should save $XXXX for your hotel.
You could then show three buttons… something implying that the budget is lower and I need to change my choices… keep this selection… and something implying I’m willing to splash out more and show me something nicer.
Then you’d be back at the summary page snapped above with the dollar amount filled in.
Do the same for the other estimation fields.
The estimation on food takes you to the page where you can explore EVERY eatery Disney has on their entire property. That’s 314 restaurants. There is no WAY someone should be going through every restaurant and price range.
The target audience for this program is probably someone newer to Disney. People newer to Disney often do one of the dining plans just because it helps you stick to a budget. Here, Disney can give people a little wizard about dining plans. Messaging might be like, “Most families visiting WDW opt for our dining plans. Take the guesswork out of your food budget by choosing one of our plans.”
Then you show the dining plans. There are three main ones. Compare and contrast, and make sure they are explained well. Every time I go to WDW, at nearly EVERY meal, I am on line behind people who do NOT understand how to use the dining plan. Plant seeds now on how the darn thing works.
Let people pick the plan they want, how many adults, and how many kids. Now they know their dining budget to add to their savings plan.
Same for part tickets, etc…
This is a missed opportunity to hold the hand of the target audience.
Users don’t like when the website basically says, “WE have the information you need. Please go find it.” Don’t make users go find it. Bring it right to them in a way that matches their needs in that moment.
When you are building a linear process, be careful of sending people away from it. They might forget what they’re doing. Someone exploring 31 hotels might get pretty lost. Disney might think that through hotel discovery, they will make people more excited. But 31 hotels is a lot to make sense of. Plus, someone who clicked on the Disney Vacation Account, answered the first few questions, and GOT to this screen is probably already mostly sold on this. Just make the process easier.
I’m working on a plan to visit Disneyland Paris (DLP) with my British friend. That plan is not coming together as easily as it should be, especially knowing how well the website behaves when I try to plan a visit to Disney World in Florida.
The website aimed at North America for DLP won’t let me book the month I want to visit. It’s all crossed out. Forbidden.
I tried Expedia. It shows no Disney hotels in Paris. My only choices are other neighbouring hotels. No, I think I really want the Disney experience. Just to see what that is in Paris. Collect them all!
I went to Kayak. They show the Disney hotels available for my dates, but for like $700 per night. No, that seems a bit out of wack.
I went to the UK Disneyland Paris site. DLP caters heavily to the UK folks. So my dates are available! Disney hotels are available. And in fact, there is a package deal where for the equivalent of about $800 (US Dollars), I can get 3 nights of Disney hotel, park tickets, and breakfast each morning. Well, that seems like a good deal. Let’s book it!
I went through the whole booking process only to get to the last page, which asked for my credit card and address. The country for the address said UNITED KINGDOM and could not be changed. So I can’t book it. My British friend can!
Evidently DLP wants us there if SHE books it but not if I book it. Why? What’s the difference? Our money is good.
I wanted to call to ask what’s up, but they’re only open regular business hours, France time. Ugh.
This whole thing was very frustrating and not at all the Disney magic I’m used to. But I’m determined to go. If my friend’s name has to go on it and her card hit, so be it. We’ll sort that out between us.
But why put barriers in front of someone who wants to be your customer? And I have to pre-pay, which means cash flow for you now.
Visiting WDW sounds easy enough! But especially if it’s your first time, I have some tips for you. I’ve been going roughly every few years since I was about 6, and I’m about to turn 42. So I’ve got some experience.
There’s Way More to WDW Than A Castle And A Giant Golf Ball
Some adults wonder why go to Disney. They won’t like it. They don’t care about Mickey or princesses. They’re not sure what they’ll do all day in these parks. Don’t worry. Unlike the California park, Disney in Florida offers a mountain of stuff to do.
Most Disney resorts (and don’t stay anywhere else) have pools. Many also have bike rentals and surrey bike rentals (those family bikes). Some have watercraft rentals. Some have gyms. You could sit around at the pool all day if you like trips like that.
Disney has a number of spas. Many have services for kids. Book a spa half day!
There are the four main parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). Two water parks. Mini golf courses. Downtown Disney has dining, shopping, and a Cirque du Soleil. It also has Disney Quest, a multi floor gaming arcade. ESPN Sports Zone has some minor league games and other sporting events. All on Disney’s grounds.
And There Are Tours
Want to learn more about Disney’s hydroponic and sustainable farming? Want to do an off road Segway tour of Disney’s campground? What about a few hours behind the scenes of the Magic Kingdom? Disney offers lots of tours for an extra fee. I’ve done a few and the fun and memories are worth it. Budget it for it!
The new Disney Experience website and app want you to schedule everything you can do. Every meal you can eat. Every FastPass ride you might go on. Honestly, you don’t have to. You can play things by ear. Other than tours and…
But Do Make Dining Reservations Months In Advance
OK, you don’t want to overschedule, but you do need to know that most of the better eateries are booked MONTHS in advance for dinner. Some for lunch. Not everything in WDW takes reservations. And not everything needs reservations. If you are looking for chicken fingers, you will find them. But if you want to sit down and eat in one of the parks or hotels for dinner, make reservations in advance. You can do this online or by calling the dining line.
Budget For Souvenirs
It’s easy to plan a trip and say OK, we have to buy flights. Disney will pick us up and drop us off at the airport for free (Magic Express). And Disney will sell us a package that has the room, park tickets, and tax. Disney will sell us a dining plan too if we want to prepay for meals.
But remember souvenirs, especially if you have kids. I go alone and I buy t-shirts. They are not overpriced. A t-shirt is $20 and up for adults. A track jacket for adults might be $70.
But there is one souvenir people forget to work into their budget. $150 for what’s now called Memory Maker. This is you buying a copy of every photo Disney staff take of you. And trust me, you will want these. Their photogs are great, and capture lots of fun moments. They are all around every park, and I’ve even found them as I clumsily splashed off the end of a fast water ride at one of Disney’s 2 water parks.
You can easily end up with 100 cool pics, so the price isn’t that bad for high quality downloads. But work it into the budget because you should get it! It’s $149 if you buy it in advance of your trip through the Disney Experience website.
Dress For Waiting In Line
Flip flops are cute, but are they still cute when you are waiting 1-2 hours for a 5 minute ride? EPCOT alone is 300 acres. That’s nearly twice the size of the whole California Disneyland. EPCOT is mostly in a circle, and I think walking around it is around 2 miles. The parking lot at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida is larger than California Disneyland.
WDW is around 48 square miles. That’s about the size of San Francisco. Bigger than Manhattan. Sure, they have transportation to get you between parks and hotels. But get your legs, back, and feet ready.
If you’re not waiting, you’re walking. Forget the cute shoes. Wear the most comfy things you have, which might be your workout trainers or something like that. You are basically running a marathon in slow motion. Dress for it!
Bring snacks if you need them. Disney is OK with you bringing some snacks and beverages in last I checked. So if you have kids, maybe have some granola bars and juice boxes. Disney has endless food everywhere, but if you’re on a 2-hour line, it might be good to have something quick someone can have as a snack if they are losing their mind.
Bring Your Charging Cable and External Battery Pack
If you plan to take lots of pics from your phone, use your phone a lot, or social media a lot, you will probably burn your battery down pretty fast. And then what.
One year, I went to WDW with someone who burned his iPhone down before lunch. He had his charging cable and plug with him (great!) but it’s not like Disney is full of outlets. He found outlets outside a men’s room. He stood there for an hour waiting for his phone to charge up. He looked like he was trying to turn tricks standing outside the men’s room like that.
I have a small battery pack that’s 6x my phone battery. This is where understanding your phone’s battery helps. If you have a 2100mAh battery, and you go buy a 1500mAh external charging pack, you will barely double your phone’s time. That’s why I own two 20,000mAh battery packs. Yeah, you read that right. I’m a “be prepared” kind of gal. I don’t want to get stuck looking for outlets. I keep myself charged with my battery packs.
Bonus Tip: Go When American Kids Are In School
If you have kids, you might not be able to try this tip. Though I know some people will take their kids out of school for a week to go to Disney in a quieter season. Quieter seasons are not only more fun, but they are cheaper. Supply and demand. Disney hotel prices drop during their “value” seasons. Park tickets are the same. Flights might be cheaper since who’s going to Orlando for a week when every kid is in school.
Yes, we associate Disney with long lines. I remember going Xmas week when I was a teen, and waiting 90 minutes to get on Spaceship Earth (the giant golf ball). Ninety freaking minutes. Feels like most of your day gone.
As an adult (with no kids), I go to Disney when every American child has school. Sometimes that was late September. Sometimes early February. Either way, school is in session. Most of the kids there were from other countries. And by going during these times, I can walk right on Spaceship Earth with literally zero line.
So if you can go early January to mid-Feb or September into early October, those are hands down the best times. Usually good weather, not blazing hot. And the lines are way way way shorter. Especially lines for the bus back to your hotel. After 12 hours of walking, it can suck to have to wait for many transport buses to cycle through before you can get on one.
I love Disney World, even as an adult, and am heading there on my bi-annual pilgrimage in a few weeks. Have a question about hitting WDW? Happy to help!
There’s a lot of buzz about Disney’s new MagicBands at Disney World in Florida. In the old days, when you stayed and played, you got a card with a swipe strip. This was your hotel room key, room charge card, park tickets, and how you got your FastPasses (that let you dodge long line rides by coming back later).
MagicBands replace the cards. You wear a wrist band with an RFID chip and tiny battery. This wrist band gets waved all over the place to open your hotel room door, charge things to your room, get into parks, and get FastPasses. You can also associate pictures Disney staff and rides take of you with your PhotoPass account.
Since they’re using RFID, some people are getting nervous. They’re concerned that Disney will track their movements around the park. And think of the children! They might track children, and isn’t that a breach of privacy!!!
I don’t see it that way.
Thing 1, Disney World is a public place. What is my expectation of privacy in a public place? Not much when in theory, a marketing person could follow me ALL DAY and write down everything I do, eat, buy, ride, etc…
Thing 2, I’m sure before MagicBands tracked people, there were plenty of other ways to track people. The old card system knew where I was, what I was buying, where I stayed, and what FastPasses I got. Cameras can watch me everywhere. Experts track people’s movement through parks and shops. Disney even has/had a manual system that helps them know how long a ride wait is. They’d give someone entering the line something they had to give to the staffer who seats you on the ride. They then know how long that wait was.
We’re kidding ourselves if we think Disney weren’t the masters of tracking, understanding, and catering to human behaviour, even before RFID got involved.
Thing 3, I don’t remember a giant outcry when Disney World sold “Pal Mickey.” He was a stuffed plush Mickey that told you stories, asked trivia questions, and tried to keep you occupied when waiting on lines. But he also reminded you when parades were, and he told you when certain characters were near you. This means he had RFID or something in him that knew where you were.
Thing 4, let’s say Disney is using some long range tracking around the parks to see who’s moving around where and how. Let’s say your child is lost in EPCOT, which is a 300 acre park. And they don’t make announcements over speakers for lost children like it’s Walmart. Would you be happy that MagicBands saw your kid at The Land pavilion 7 minutes ago, helping you find your lost child more quickly?
Does that mean I’m for this? Well, it’s a vacation experience with a company known for forward-thinking technology. And you can opt out. They’ll give you the old card if you don’t want the wrist band. And I also believe Disney will keep the data for themselves and their use to improve the parks, guest experiences, and get people to spend more and stay longer.
I also think the data Disney collects is nearly useless to anybody else. What can Procter and Gamble do knowing how long the average woman is in a Disney bathroom? What can Coca Cola do knowing what the average guest spends on souvenirs? What can Siemens do knowing the average guest eats chicken fingers for lunch and then rides the carousel?
So I don’t feel particularly afraid of the data or how it will be used. It seems like a very specific application to me. I guess I can’t really find the problem here. This info won’t come up when you Google me. Nobody is going to call my house or mail me flyers. Pictures of children won’t be on the internet (more than Moms and Dads post them now).
So I’m not sure what the problem REALLY is. MagicBands are a more efficient way for Disney to do what they were already doing in a public place.
In August 2013, I went to the D23 Expo. It’s a sort of fan event thrown by Disney. It part Comic Con with cosplay and part “let us show you what’s coming up for Disney in the world of travel, parks, hotels, consumer products, toys, movies, music, and more.” I’m a big Disney fan. No I’m not into Princesses. I’m mostly into parks, hotels, technology, and innovation. I travel to Walt Disney World Florida roughly every other year. It’s my second home. 🙂
One of the displays at D23 2013 was for the upcoming Disney movie, “Tomorrowland.” The premise is that Disney staff recently found a box labelled 1952, and it had all kinds of mysterious things in it. I don’t know if that’s real or just a device to be a backstory to the movie. I just don’t. And I don’t know if the movie will be any good or not. I certainly hope it will be!
At D23, they had an exhibit of what was in this 1952 box. Some were early drawings of audio animatronics, which is what Disney calls their robots that walk, talk, etc… And across two pages of these drawings, it said:
What will people in Iowa understand?
In all caps.
It seemed like a UX moment to me. Like hey, we can build these robots, but “will it play in Peoria?” What do these need to do, be, and look like to be believable to everybody in this country, no matter who they are or where they’re from.
I know Iowa can be on the crap end of a lot of jokes, especially since they recently voted to allow gun permits for legally blind people (say wha?). I wasn’t there to know if the person who wrote that meant it as a joke or insult.
Teams and companies need to think about their personas, their audience. What will they understand? Believe? What do they need? How do we solve their problems or create something that delights them?
For those who don’t know, Disneyland (and other Disney Parks) have a service where you can hire Disney-trained tour guides. These are Disney employees, which Disney called “cast members.” Since everything is a “show,” Disneyland is referred to as a “stage.” And tour guides know an insane amount about the parks, and will take you around for a few hours, a whole day, or multiple days.
Nowadays, this service costs hundreds of dollars an hour. If you heard the story of the rich Manhattan moms hiring disabled people to take their families around Disney so they could avoid lines, those one-percenters COULD have hired the Disney tour guides. They WILL take you through secret areas and back entrances to get you right on and right off lines. Rich people don’t have to hire disabled people to post as family members… they’re just being cheap. But I digress.
In 1959, Disney put out a handbook on being a tour guide. This blog post shows all the pages scanned from that guide (awesome!). But I want to point out one particular page. Click to enlarge:
Here, the Disney company outlines the eight types of people who they feel are likely to hire tour guides. I like that the page indicates that this is based on real research they did. These eight mini-personas are:
People who are frazzled after a long drive (probably from other states) to get to Disneyland.
People who feel overwhelmed by a 70-acre amusement park, and want a human map.
Foreigners who will want someone speaking their native language.
People who don’t want to miss “any charming bit” of Disneyland.
Old people who might be “hesitant” in “new surroundings.”
Those in a hurry. I like the way they explain this as someone who might have a helicopter waiting for them. This might mean “celebrity.”
Large families who might want a tour guide to keep people from getting lost from the group.
“Habitual tour takers.” People who always like being shown around.
I would love to see if anybody knows of an earlier example of mini-personas created due to user research. This is the earliest example I have seen.
I’m a major Disney geek… mostly Walt Disney World in Florida more than Disneyland or the movies. I feel like I grew up in WDW, and going there is like going home PLUS mountains of fun and great food.
Right now, when you visit Disney, you get a key card. This opens your hotel door. If you bought park tickets, it’s your park ticket. If you are approved for room charges, you can use it to eat, buy souvenirs, etc… all over the whole of WDW (parks, hotels, shopping). Want a FastPass for a ride? Your key card does that too.
Disney is finally and slowly releasing a new technology they started announcing last year. Magic Bands. Does everything the key card does but in a wrist band. The wrist band has RFID, so some people are concerned about what data Disney will have and how they will use it. I’m not concerned because Disney won’t have my social security number, bank account number, or anything really personal. It’s not like Disney will use what they learn about my behaviour to lobby the government to take away my rights.
Magic Bands will also combine Disney’s PhotoPass. This is a bar coded pass you get when Disney photographers take pics of you. You can use this card to see your pics as various kiosks or online. Disney then wants to sell you those pics individually or as a package burned onto a CD. I’ve bought the CD at least 3 times. Now, I won’t have to carry my key card AND my PhotoPass since the Magic Band will cover both.
But they will know every move I make around their property.
Disney will know how long I waited for Soarin, and they will do that without handing me that red card (the way they do now). This means wait times are literally crowd-sourced and will be more accurate. They will know how often I go to the bathroom and which ones.
They’ll figure out I’m wild about retro EPCOT souvenirs. They’ll know I have to eat one Mickey ice cream bar per trip. And one meal in the Morocco restaurant per trip. They’ll know I never wait for or watch a parade.
They will know more about their customers than possibly any other company on the planet.
And then I hope they use this to improve the experience for me and everybody else.
If Disney can then tie this say to my cell phone via texting or an app, they can tell me where to get the best retro EPCOT stuff. They’ll know which are my fave rides, so maybe they can tell me when the waits are shortest. They’ll know I don’t have kids and can travel any time I can get the time off. Maybe they can make me a special offer to come when they know they’ll be slower than more peak times.
They’ll see me ordering gluten free things, and maybe can suggest other places to eat with good choices that match my diet.
I’m saying maybe things can be personalised. Yes, there’s a time on your vacation to just have fun and go with the flow. In my dream world, you opt in or out to their personalised suggestions. But for someone like me who is at Disney even for a day or two every year or two, I might want them to help me efficiently cover my fave things.
Disney are also the masters of making you want stuff.
A boring grey Magic Band will be given to you for free when you check in. But you can buy upgraded bands… character designs… personal etching on the back of the band. I think many families will buy the upgraded ones. You’re on vacation! Kids will want the pirate and princess ones!
Disney has played with RFID before.
I’ve seen two examples of Disney playing with RFID before, and I liked both.
One was Pal Mickey. Anybody remember him? He was a stuffed animal plush Mickey. You could buy different outfits for him. But no matter what he wore, he was your park guide. He reminded you when parades were happening. He told you when you were close to a character photo/autograph opportunity. He asked you trivia questions while you waited on line. OK that last one wasn’t RFID but the other two were. I thought it was darn clever.
The other was in the new Beauty and the Beast restaurant in the new Fantasyland in WDW Florida. You got this wacky looking plastic thing they said was a rose. You attach your order to it via a computerised ordering system, and then you sit the rose on the table you pick. They know where you’re sitting, and deliver food to you. Clearly that’s RFID too.
The Magic Bands can now do these things too, especially if Disney ties them to your phone for info and updates. I think that’ll happen at some point (or even a readout on the band, who knows). But they could know where I’m sitting in the dining room by having each table read the bands sitting at it.
I’m excited about this. I hope to try this out maybe even later this year.
In February 2012, I took myself to Walt Disney World, Florida (as I sometimes do) for my 40th birthday. I spent a few days alone and a few days with Best Female Pal Katie.
WDW’s Hollywood Studios park runs an American Idol style competition daily… on a set that’s built to look exactly like the American Idol stage. The theatre holds 1000, and the audience votes. It’s also broadcast on the Jumbotron outside the theatre. The whole thing is really cool and very professional. I decided hey, they have no age maximum, I love singing, I should do this for fun. I don’t care if I win or lose, especially since I can’t use the Grand Prize, so let’s have fun.
You start by picking a song off a list of songs. Not a long list. I had just jokingly done Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” at karaoke here in SF, so I picked that. You go into a small office and sing it a cappella until they stop you. They called Katie my “manager.” They play a pre-taped Ryan Seacrest telling you you’ve moving on! You go to another office room and sing again for another person, this time into a microphone. She has another pre-tape of Ryan telling you you’re going to be in a show.
If you get that far, they schedule you in one of their competition shows, which run roughly hourly. You get there early so they can do hair and makeup. I was in one of my many retro EPCOT shirt, jeans shorts, and Zcoil shoes. As usual. Pony tail, glasses. They just did makeup on me. Not worth doing my hair. It was a light day at Disney as it was the Saturday before Superbowl Sunday. I was singing “against” two high school girls, ages 16 and 17. I remember Karla from some tiny town far from anything in Texas. She had 200 kids from her high school on a trip with her. Since this was audience voting, I figured whether she sang well or not, she’d win, and it would be a fun day. They even had us rehearse on the stage, and had us wear something on our heads so the spotlight follows us automatically. We got to rehearse our song on the stage. Someone makes stage movement suggestions. Wow! I know I have terrible stage movement.
You get out there and sing your 90-second version karaoke song. You sing the same song at each audition. That’s your song for the day, and nobody else can sing it. Long story short, I won my show. Kids came up to me afterwards saying they go to school with Karla… she’s real nice!… but we voted for you!!! but she’s real nice! After the winner is announced, the host and judges mingle with the contestants on stage. Host is next to me. I’m the person who’s not 16. 🙂 Click to enlarge.
Once you win, you go on to the finals. Every day, the winners of all the day’s shows compete against each other in the finals just before the park closes. The prize is a Golden Ticket that lets you move to the front of any line at a REAL American Idol audition. Well, I’m not auditioning for American Idol plus I’m too old, so this was purely for fun. I didn’t expect to win.
We all got backstage and I met the other contestants. 18 year old guy I think from Utah who did a lot of theatre in school. Young 20-something from the south who had a new baby. Sang a Christian rock song. Some other girl I didn’t really talk to. And then this really skinny Asian girl who was so excited about everything. She wanted to know how to work at Disney. She thought she’d made a great Mulan meeting kids in the parks. She probably would! She was maybe 14 or 15 years old. She was sure she was going to be an entertainer.
I remember her mother. She was by her side and so supportive. But not a stage mom. Real down to earth, kind woman just beaming with love. I remember thinking the Mom had a NY accent, but I’m not sure now. Everybody backstage was just lovely. I was happy to lose to any of these people. We were all just park guests at Disney… dressed as park guests. They don’t dress you up. They want it to look like anybody could be up here singing.
They put me up first, and I have only one regret about my performance. I really wanted to tell the crowd to please vote for other people. I couldn’t use the Grand Prize and wasn’t up there to win. I was there to say, “I did this for my 40th birthday!” Which I still do. But they don’t give you time to chat with the audience, and in the rush of the show, I forgot to say that. Not that it mattered. I didn’t win.
The singers were strong and the show was great. At the end, the march us all back out to hear who won, based on audience voting. This is a terrible picture of all of us making our way to our spots on the stage, but it’s the best one I have. Click to enlarge.
Yes, a crap picture of all of us. And not surprisingly, the skinny teen next to me won. She was great! She did “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” and really got the audience into it. Moved around the stage really well. She seemed genuinely excited and proud to have won. I won’t post that picture since you can barely see her through all the confetti. I thanked the judges for a GREAT 40th birthday adventure. I tell people about that day all the time.
Last night, I dragged my boyfriend to karaoke. He surprised me by actually singing! He cheesed the HELL out of The Love Boat theme. It was brilliant. I cheesed out a few tunes myself.
The bar always has TVs on, typically muted. From where I was sitting, I glanced over. The Voice was on. I can’t hear it, but there is a skinny, pretty Asian teen about to audition. They seem to be telling her story. I grab my boyfriend, and I explain to him and the KJ (karaoke DJ) that I recognise that girl. Almost 14 months ago, we shared the American Idol stage at Walt Disney World, and she won in the finals. And she was great! Here she is on TV. Who the heck is she! WOW, how totally random.
This morning I Googled her. Leah Lewis. Holy cats, she’s done acting and singing, and is in all sorts of productions. I had no idea. She seemed like just another park guest, a local to Disney, who really wanted to be an entertainer. Well now that I’ve Googled her, super kudos to her parents for raising a talented but HUMBLE and cool kid. She didn’t read us her acting resume or show us her head shots. I thought she was just another Florida kid who wanted to play Mulan around Disney parks and be a singer someday.
Keep going, Leah. You’ll get there. And based on the closed-captioning I read in the bar, The Voice judges agree. I won’t say I knew you when since I didn’t know you. But I’m glad I got to meet you and your Mom.