This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at 6 examples of the “Disney Difference!” We all have our reasons for why we love theme parks. Many like the thrilling rides, others enjoy the fact they can share experiences with several generations of their family, while some – like us at the SATURDAY SIX headquarters – love that desserts at the resort seem to be getting bigger and bigger with the ultimate goal of sending us straight into a diabetic coma. Of all the theme parks, the one which guests connect to the most is Walt Disney World. There are many reasons for that, and today we are going to look at some examples of the “Disney Difference.” These are things that Disney does that put them in a league of their own. While WDW is at a huge advantage over others due to it’s “blessing of size,” they also show they can be heads and tails above anyone in areas that all Florida parks have in common. Let’s kickoff the countdown with…
# 6 – Parking
While we’ve all had our moments of frustration driving to the Disney parks, it’s only when you go to places outside of The World when you realize what a fine tuned machine Disney has on property. Even with an amount of guests that can sometimes border on obscene, parking at the Disney parks, hotels, and Disney Springs is almost always a breeze. At the parks there are always plenty of Cast Members around guiding you where to go, along with a liberal use of orange cones to make sure you don’t go into the places you’re not supposed to. With plenty of trams going, it is never a long wait between leaving your car and walking to the front gate of the park. Now, no one loves Universal as much as me, but more times than not when I go to park in their parking garage it feels like it is the first day any Team Member there has been on parking duty. Whether the parks are a “2” or a “9” on the crowd scale, it is almost always chaos when arriving at the park. With a lack of Team Members around, cars cut each other off, and later have to wait as pedestrians pass by because no one is controlling them. While not glamorous, the parking experience is the first impression we all have of a theme park, and Universal immediately digs themselves a hole while Disney makes it as pain free as possible.
The parking situation at Disney Springs is now the E-Ticket of parking in Orlando. Themed garages with signs outside letting you know how many spots are available on each level, but then signs inside the garage telling you how many spots are open in each row. Then you actually have a light above each spot, which will be red when a car is in the spot, or green when it is empty. This lets you know immediately where you need to go rather than driving 1 mph up and down each row, rubbernecking to try and find an empty spot, only to blow your stack when you see an “empty” spot and it ends up having a motorcycle or compact car in it.
# 5 – Guest Recovery
Customer service is a major element in all business, but in the theme park world it can be the difference between losing a customer and making them a lifelong guest. Disney empowers all its Cast Members to make a situation better for guests. Little things go a long way, and things like a CM handing out free ice cream to guests at the back of a long food line, or a custodian getting a new box of popcorn for a guest that just spilled theirs. Last year, a child in my family lost a Disney croc shoe on the monorail. When we got off at the Grand Floridian stop, the Cast Member working the monorail radio’d someone and told us to go downstairs to the front desk. There they gave us a $50 merchandise credit. The Disney crocs cost $45, and the CM said to use the extra $5 for a treat for the kid who lost the shoe. This past summer we stayed at Coronado Springs, and had to drive by a lot of construction to get to our room. Inside our room was a cute pin set featuring the Three Caballeros for the inconvenience. Immediately I wasn’t thinking about the construction I had passed, but instead was grateful for a pin set that I couldn’t buy in any Disney gift shop.
# 4 – Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian & Vegan Dining
If you have food allergies, or are a vegetarian/vegan going out to eat at one of Disney competitors, all I can say is “good luck.” All of us who have dined at Disney have been spoiled by a company that goes way above and beyond in catering to dietary restrictions. Any time you go to a Disney sit down restaurant and say you have a food allergy, a chef will come to your table and discuss with you the options available. My family travels with a strict vegan, and many times the chefs end up making an off-menu plate for them. This past summer we went and did the Happily Ever After dessert party at the Magic Kingdom, and even though there were plenty of fruits available to vegans in the spread that were out for everyone, they brought out a special plate of vegan goodies along with an entire pint of vegan friendly ice cream. A lot of us take for granted that cupcakes are literally everywhere at WDW, but for many guests the only baked snacks they can eat are at Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC in Disney Springs (where all items do not include gluten, soy, wheat or refined sugar.) While Universal is certainly getting better when it comes to this regard, they are still not within a country mile of touching Walt Disney World in this area of dining.
Here’s one story that combines two examples of the Disney Difference in one. Last year my girlfriend and I went to eat at The Fountain in the Walt Disney World Dolphin. One of the items we got was the vegetarian burger. We made sure several times when ordering it that it wasn’t to have cheese on top. We were assured by the server there would be no cheese. Once the burger arrived we discovered there was cheese inside the burger. Not on top, but inside the actual burger patty. We paid the check and left. We then went to bluezoo in the same hotel. The bar was open, but the actual restaurant wasn’t. We ordered drinks and asked the server if there was anything vegan the cooks could make, explaining the experience we just had. A nice plate of vegetables was brought out not long after, and when we got back to the room there was a receipt refunding the money I had paid The Fountain earlier, along with a bottle of champagne and a note of apology. That’s how you keep people coming back for years.
# 3 – Meet and Greets
For many families, meet and greets have become just an important part of the theme park experience as rides. With the use of autograph books and other items, getting the John Hancock of Disney characters is sort of like a theme park scavenger hunt. Not only are you getting the autographs for a memento, but many times you can have a great group or one-on-one interaction with a character that can create a life lasting memory. In recent years Disney has gone all out with elaborate backdrops for many of the characters, including Mickey Mouse at the Town Square Theater, Ariel’s grotto, Merida’s area in the Magic Kingdom, and the control room for Inside Out’s Joy and Sadness.
# 2 – Breadth of Resort Types
The amount of unique resorts Disney has on property is staggering, all with unique themes that are worth checking out even if you’re not staying there. Whether it is seeing animals on the savannah from your room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, experiencing the Tri-Circle-D Ranch or Hoop Dee Doo Revue at Fort Wilderness, or watching the Fire Rock Geyser blow at Wilderness Lodge, you’ll find the Disney hotels to be incredibly wide ranging in themes. From a scaled down version of Radiator Springs at Art of Animation to the elegance of the Grand Floridan, there is something for everyone at Disney’s incredible 26 on-site resorts.
# 1 – Nighttime Spectaculars
Disney brings out the “wow factor” in nighttime spectaculars like no one else can. Because all of their competitors are located in areas close to residential areas, there is only so much they can do. Meanwhile, the Disney parks are only constrained by common sense, and during times like July 4th they even throw that out the window! When Disney does fireworks, such as the ones for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, the fireworks themselves are generally better than any celebration that an American town will provide (let alone the music and story.) With its best in the business use of projection mapping, Disney can transform a show like Happily Ever After into something that can truly connect with a guest in a way no other theme park can compete with. Watching a nighttime spectacular at Disney is going to send you home with a smile on your face and a story to tell your friends and family back home.
So there you have it: Six Examples of the Disney Difference! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, Double T Travis Terrell, Melissa Kramer of VeganDisneyWorld.com, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!