Monday, April 28, 2008

The Happiest Place on EARTH!

Yeah, so I took the family to Disneyland this weekend (again). The kids had no school on Monday for some teacher prep day or something - so we thought it would be a great idea to go down on Saturday night, spend the night, go to the park on Sunday and leave on Monday morning.

Also, rather than staying at one of the happiest-place-on-earth-hotels-for-$500-per-night rooms - we decided to stay about a mile away at a Marriott Suites. It was much less expensive, and they had a shuttle-thingie that would take us from the hotel to the park and we could avoid the parking expense and hassles.

Sounds great in theory.

So, the hotel was nice enough - not too fancy - not too shabby - just about right. The lobby was nice, the rooms were nice with a separate bedroom and living room (think Embassy Suites) - and it would work great for our needs.

It was a bit warm (like 95 degrees) Saturday afternoon - so the kids hit the pool, while I hit the supermarket down the street for snacks and some wine. I also got the 411 on the "shuttle", where to buy the tickets (kiosk outside), what time it left (6:20 and every 20 minutes after that), whether I could renew my annual pass at the hotel (no), etc.

Since we were going to get up early (the park opened at 8:00 am!) and it was going to be hot - we decided to get room service for breakfast.

It showed up right on time, was what we ordered - and we got dressed, sunscreened up and headed out. The tickets were easy to buy, the shuttle was right on time - and we got to the park in an efficient, uneventful way.

I told the family to go on in - and I would renew my pass, and would join them momentarily (the kids had been dying to get in there - and were all excited). I stepped up to the window and I told the nice lady that I wanted to renew my pass. She pulled up all the information, confirmed my address, processed payment in about 1 minute. Very nice.

Then she went to print my new "annual passport" on a plastic card - and things just went wrong.

It seems that this was a new printer, and it wasn't printing. Apologetic, thanks for your patiences, etc. You know how the old "won't print" thing goes - everyone and their uncle drops whatever they're doing - convinced they know how to hit or jiggle the cord better than everyone else.

After that failed - they called a supervisor. This person also hit the printer and giggled the cord - to no avail. Now REALLY apologetic, thanks for your patience. We're calling the "tech guy"... he'll be here in a minute. All in all I'd been there less than 10 minutes.

Apparently in the Magic Kingdom a 10 minute wait to get your printed pass is very embarrassing. Then - they did something that was totally unexpected. The cashier lady pulled out a little book of what looked like gift certificates - and told me that she was giving me a front-of-the-line pass for whatever ride I wanted.


So, apparently, you can get this pass - go in the exit - hand it to the guy and you're on the ride. SWEET!

So, the tech guy comes, sets the target printer to the correct one (in 5 seconds), and prints not only my badge but the other 5 for the other people who were waiting. Since this took another 3 minutes - they gave me a SECOND front-of-the-line pass.

Well. Maybe this IS the happiest place on earth! Even though it was just a minor inconvenience - they took it to heart - gave me something that didn't cost them anything, but something that was going to be very valuable to me and my family. That's a lesson that I wish more companies did (including mine!). Food for thought...

So we're in, it's hotter than hell (101 degrees), pretty crowded (forget about "Finding Nemo" - that damn line was 45 minutes long at 8:01 am!), but we managed to grab "fast passes" to all the major rides and had a ball.

The "Fast Pass" concept is that you scan your ticket for a ride that is really popular - and it tells you that you can come back any time within a one hour period (based on length of the line, etc). It is usually anywhere from 1 to 2 hours in the future. It's a pretty ingenious system - have the computer wait in line for you. I like it.

The other thing a Fast Pass does is give you more time to walk around and spend money while you wait for your "window" to get back on the ride... pretty smart.

So basically we went on all the rides we really wanted to, and we were supposed to meet up with some friends at about 2:00 or so. We had the bright idea to take a quick shuttle back to the hotel, have the kids rest for about and hour and head back - so they wouldn't turn into any of the other 1,000 screaming, tired, unruley beasts... I mean children... that we were starting to witness all over the park.

We go outside by our appointed pickup number - and wait for the shuttle. No shuttle. Then there is one that is not going anywhere near our hotel - but I ask them what the deal is - and if they can call to let the dispatcher know we were waiting.

Here's where things fell down again. The nice driver told me that it's lunch time. For everyone. And ZERO shuttles were going to run again until 1:55 pm. It was now 12:55 pm.

To give some credit to the bus driver - she was asking the dispatcher for permission to take her group of 4 people back to their hotel. She was negotiating the fact that she would be taking lunch 1/2 later and wanted to come back to duty 1/2 later. Then, she asked if she could take us to our hotel as well.

Here's a terrific place to shine - just like this morning. But, unfortunately, the shuttle was a city-run enterprise, and not a Magic Kingdom-run enterprise.

So the city employee mentality (very similar to a postal worker mentality) is lunch break first, customers second. Her boss (the dispatcher) denied her request to take us to our hotel, and grudgingly "allowed" her to modify the apparently-all-important-lunch-break.

So, we are in the heat, with tired, grumpy kids, we want to go back to our hotel for some rest, we bought the "unlimited all day" passes - and we were SOL.

I was a "smidge" unhappy.

We decided right then and there - we would never take the tram - or any other form of public transportation in Anaheim - again. Ever. Yet another lesson that I wanted to take back to the team on Monday - have some compassion. Have a soul. Don't be in the service industry if you don't plan on serving your customers.

So we trudged on - and the kids did their best to not bitch and complain - and we actually had a terrific time for the rest of the day. Then about 9:00 pm I was done. Done as in stick-a-fork-in-me. Done.

But people had been lining up around the lagoon where Tom Sawyer's island is - for the past 3 hours. There was going to be some kind of show. So, we decided to stay and see what's up.

WOW. That's really about all I can say.

It turned out to be a homage to Fantasia - the original animated piece that Walt Disney meant to be used to stretch his animators and the technology of the day. Well, they had little barges with all the "princess" characters dancing, music blaring, brilliant lighting, and then something that I've never seen anywhere before.

They had Mickey appear on the island, then they projected moving animation on a fan of water spray about 40 feet high.

It showed the classic Fantasia scenes where Mickey used magic to make brooms carry the water for him - but as the water in the animation rushed and roared - the REAL water would foam and so the 2D projected animation would seem to become 3D.

When the evil witch appeared and in the animation set the water on fire - the whole lagoon was filled with REAL fire on the water!

Wow! It was one of the coolest shows I'd ever seen.

Oh yeah, then they had the fireworks show right after that (sponsored by Honda)... one word: FABULOUS!

We left the Magic Kingdom that night weary, bone tired, sore footed - and again, the magic halted just outside the Disney gates. Our we-thought-it-was-a-good-idea-at-the-time tram was late, crowded, smelly, and stopped at 4 places before we could get off... but we made it back. The kids slept in until 8:30 (usually up at 6:30) and we went on with our daily lives.

All-in-all I really learned a lot about business from that trip:
  • If you screw up (even though it's not even your fault) - throw the customer a bone
  • If you're in the service industry - put yourself into your customer's shoes - and consider their needs first
  • Re-use and re-purpose and re-package EVERYTHING you've ever done in the last 50 years to make something new
  • Delight your customers (even long time customers) with something that is both familiar (see "re purposing above") and something totally new
  • If you do something like a fireworks show - re purpose songs to evoke emotions and then back that up by having big, loud, bright and "cool" fireworks - in other words - GO BIG
  • ALWAYS take your own car - public transportation just sucks

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