Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Disney FAILED to be the Happiest Place on Earth

I was recently down in Anaheim for the ATX West trade show. I took the opportunity to bring my husband along and go to Disneyland. It had been decades for both of us since we last visited and he had been bugging me to go for a while, so I figured it made good sense to take advantage of us being in the area.

Prior to going, I spoke with several friends with kids who tried to teach me how to maximize my Disneyland experience.  I purchased my tickets online. Disney is great at collecting data and tries every way possible to get you to stay multiple days and “upgrade” your experience. Of course, all these options cost you more. In preparation, I loaded the apps and waited with anticipation for the big day.

On the morning of our visit, during breakfast, my phone came alive. The Disney app fired up welcoming me to the park and helping us get prepared for our visit. WOW! I thought, that's pretty impressive. Great use of customer data. Score one for Disney!

We then boarded the shuttle to the park with great anticipation. Upon reaching the security entrance, we were greeted with a handmade sign listing all of the rides closed for the day. Huh? More than half of these attractions were FastPass rides (the most popular rides). I was now not so happy that I ponied up $125 per person for an incomplete experience. I had bought my park tickets only days before our visit. I find it hard to believe that Disney had no knowledge that they would be servicing some of these rides. I would have appreciated that knowledge at the time of purchase. Maybe Disney could have adjusted the price of park tickets for the day? Sounds fair to me.

Once inside the park, we looked at the app then headed into California Adventure for Soarin' Over California. We stood in line (what you do more of than anything else in Disneyland) and after a 20 minute wait, enjoyed our 4 minute and 51 second experience. Well OK, glad I didn't wait any longer for that experience.

We soon learned it is all about collecting FastPass tickets. Unfortunately, Disney provides little education as to how this system works. While you may think these passes would be handed out at the ride, no, you are wrong. Kiosks are located at random locations, usually in another area of the park.

We strolled through the park and took in the special show for Chinese Lunar New Year. It was a nice added touch and I tweeted it out. Minutes later, I got a response back from Disney. Ah… so the Disney team is listening. Good to know.

My trusty app showed the wait time for the Cars ride – Radiator Springs Racers was growing quickly. We decided to bite the bullet and stand in line. When we got to the entrance, the sign stated it was a 45 minute wait. The app stated it was a 75 minute wait. I asked the attendant if the posted wait time was correct. He promptly chided me that Disneyland wait times are extremely accurate. So, being a fool, I believed him and we headed into the line for the ride.

Tick tock, we waited, 45 minutes passed, and the ride was still nowhere in sight. Now 75 minutes passed and yup, you got it, we are still waiting. It was interesting that as I watched everyone else waiting, the vast majority were praying to their mobile devices. Wow, I thought, Disney has a captive audience, bored, waiting in line and yet they don’t do anything with that opportunity. Now 90 minutes passed; we can at least kinda sort of see the end of the line. So Disney’s accuracy in wait time isn't really all that accurate after all. But why isn't it? Many apps predict accurate traffic times, why isn't Disney using that same technology to keep the masses informed and happy?

Then what every Disney visitor dreads… the Cars ride broke down. Does Disney provide any actual data? Nope. Instead, the information provided is as vague as possible, making the decision to stay in line or leave a total gamble on the visitor's part. So, like idiots, we waited another 30 minutes. Finally, I had had enough and I pushed up to the front of the line to speak with another not so happy attendant.

“So can you give me a ballpark estimate of when the ride will resume?” With complete disdain the attendant replied, “Ma’am, I cannot give out any information.” I felt like I was on a jury stand. “Sir, I can neither deny nor confirm that statement.” Oh come on!

After pleading I would never ever hold him accountable for any information that would pass from his lips to my ears, I finally got him to admit that the current riders had not even been “evacuated” from the ride and that maintenance had yet to show up. Plus, once maintenance did show up, it took at least 45 minutes "on average" to get a ride going again. Gotcha! So Disney does have data. Liars, liars pants on fire!

Meanwhile, back in Twitterland, my tweet asking for information must have drifted into a black hole. Silence was my only response. Oh yeah, I asked the attendant if Disney provided passes for those who had waited (now more than two hours) to get priority once the ride was back up. I was informed that was not a Disney policy. Hum, I am now REALLY not happy with my $125 ticket per person. So then, crazy me asks, “Do you tweet or at least post to your app when the ride is fixed?” Blank stare, chirping crickets, and he then says, “Ma’am, we don’t do that here.”

Needless to say, the rest of our day did not go much better. Several more rides broke down and it was not often reflected on their app, and several were rides we were on (which stopped working repeatedly). It was not a happy experience and I have to say I will most likely never return.

Companies cannot use BI/BD (business intelligence/big data) to only get more money. Especially if you are in the business of providing an experience that is labeled as being, “The happiest place on earth."  Whether Disney will actually respond to this blog is doubtful but they should. They have the opportunity to lead the world in their use of BI/BD and the creation of a world-class experience. Yet instead their viewpoint is myopic and self-centered. Disney, you just created an epic FAIL of an experience in my book.

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