Happy Anniversary, Walt Disney World. You were very influential during my childhood and influence me even today. I consider you my third home.
I’m here now for one of your Disney Institute courses. But I’m having an experience that makes me want to get someone’s attention and see if I can create change.
First, Some Backstory.
I came here a lot as a kid. We stayed at the Contemporary on the Disney property mostly because it was the only option. Our last family trip was when I was 14. My parents went cheap and stayed in the neighboring town of Kissimmee and got a rental car. The Disney hotel was too much and in 1986, there were few options.
In the late 90s, I was 25 years old and I started coming to WDW again. I was being cheap so I stayed in All Star Music, one of Disney’s “Value” resorts (aka nothing cheaper on the Disney property unless you are staying in a tent at their campground). I stayed there I think 3 times and it was fine, but I started to wonder what the experience would be like one step up.
I started staying at Caribbean Beach Resort, of the Disney “Moderate” resorts and it was a HUGE step up. After a few times there, I started “renting” DVC points (aka paying someone in the Disney timeshare system to make a reservation for me using their timeshare points). And eventually bought my own DVC points.
That’s a Cinderella Story!
All Star Music wasn’t bad just before and after the year 2000 but I was curious about what was a step up. I’m at All Star Sports, the sister resort, right now. I’m out of points, I needed to be here for biz, and I didn’t want to overspend on a room I wouldn’t see much.
I miss the Hampton Inn near Disney Springs I just checked out of.
That shouldn’t happen. Going from a higher level of Disney hotel back to a lower one shouldn’t be this disappointing. I expected a lot of people. I expected a simpler room. I expected a cafeteria instead of a nice restaurant. But I didn’t expect what I’m experiencing.
What’s Going Wrong?
There are a few key problems I’ve seen in just over a day here.
- The front desk isn’t being managed correctly. The concierge line and separate check in/check out/info lines are long. This hotel attracts many newbies so each Cast Member (what Disney calls their workers) is spending a large amount of time with people to explain things, help them choose things, etc. These aren’t quick transactions. There are 2 people working each post. If they spend an average of 15 min checking in a guest and answering questions, the front desk is helping 6 people an hour. I want them to spend time with guests but that’s not efficient.
Get more workers at the desk. And having waited an hour to check in yesterday, I can tell you it wasn’t efficient. It felt disrespectful of my time. Especially watching workers and a manager on the other side of the lobby not look at us. One woman from the concierge desk said she can only help people checking out who don’t need paper receipts. That’s very specific. And I’m going to need a paper receipt. How many hours will I wait for one when I check out?
- The workers here aren’t smiling. Don’t look friendly. I interacted with 5 people in the cafeteria today at 11am. Nobody smiled. It’s surreal to talk to a Disney worker who isn’t smiling back at you at least a little. Constant smiling looks not quite right. But some sort of glance of human connection or empathy is what I’m used to from Disney workers. Just because this is Disney’s lowest level of hotel doesn’t mean we should hire the lowest level of service worker.
- I have no idea when I will get packages I had shipped here. This hotel handles so many people they had to use another building to sort packages. They can’t associate the package with my name and told me they needed my tracking numbers. I had to log into a bunch of sites and find my shipped orders. I gave them 6 tracking numbers and I have 4 packages so far. This is inefficient and frustrating, especially since I paid for upgraded shipping on some of these. I paid to get them faster and they are sitting in some other building while someone tries to sort through them.
- Before my trip, I called the hotel to ask how long they will hold a package for me. I got the answer. But nobody proactively said, “AND by the way, we will charge you $5 per package AND you will have to wait a day or sometimes more for us to find your package and put it in your room.” I would have had EVERYTHING shipped to the Hampton Inn. I’m about to pay $30 to have received packages plus what I paid to vendors for upgraded, faster shipping. I could have had the Hampton Inn receive them, taken a round-trip Lyft there, and still saved money.
All Star Resorts Are A Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
They’re minimal and they are viable but are they valuable? Will people leave here asking themselves how do they level up next time? Or will they feel like, “Oh, THIS is Disney hotel service? I guess we’ll just stay off property next time.”
There are more hotels than ever just down the road from Disney. My Hampton Inn was a $10 Lyft (including tip) each way to Disney Springs. It had free breakfast. That means it would cost me about the same as staying at All Star Sports, where transportation is free but breakfast is far from it.
What Could Disney Do?
Disney might not care. Why invest in All Star when they have little trouble filling or nearly filling it? There’s an endless sea of return guests and mostly newbies who want to go cheap. Why try harder?
Because trying harder is what the Disney brand is all about. I’m about to spend 5 days listening to Disney train an audience about it. But this is a case where I feel they need to eat their own dog food more. Take everything you’re about to tell us in this 5-day workshop and go apply it to All Stars. Because Disney shouldn’t have a weak link. Everything should be strong and unique, uniquely Disney.
Disney will need to change who is hired, how they are trained, and how many staff work which hours. They will need to rethink this off-site package handling. They need to rethink how package handling is communicated to guests. I didn’t know about the $5 charge or the mysterious amount of time it takes for a package to get to me. Figure out a way to cross-reference guest names and their rooms. Don’t make me supply you with every tracking number. Make this seamless and transparent for guests.
Convert WDW Fans Into Disney Hotel Fans
And set up a kiosk at All Star Resorts not to plug DVC. Plug moderate resorts. Plug the two Port Orleans ones. Those seem rarely booked up. Try to get people to level up. You’ll always be able to put guests looking to save money into an All Star. But can you really convert them to be Disney hotel fans and get them to level up? Consider the rippling out of this conversion to friends, social media from visitors, and future generations.
When you take a look at what Disney has recently built and is building now, it appears to all be Disney Vacation Club (timeshare) rooms and a new (rumored) moderate resort, the Riviera. They’re not building another All Star. Somebody knows.
The middle of the bell curve is where the most money is likely made. That doesn’t mean we let the low end of the bell curve rot a bit.
Make this stand out from the Hampton Inn or Best Western I could have stayed out. What can you do that tells people yes, this is the Disney service you’ve come to expect. The service you’ve heard about. The service you’ll get from our bus drivers and parks employees. Right now it’s inconsistent and I bet Disney is going to tell us this week we need to consistently provide amazing service.
Unless All Star wants to charge way less than neighboring off-site hotels, it should step up its game. And as long as it has the Disney name on it, it should step up its game.