Saturday Six

SATURDAY SIX: 6 Examples of the “Disney Difference”

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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.

Epcot parking. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Disney Springs lime parking garage. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Sign outside Disney Springs parking garage indicates how many spots are available. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Exit of the parking garage at Disney Springs. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 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.

Pin set given to guests during Coronado Springs refurbishment.

# 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.

Vegan plate available during the Happily Ever After dessert party. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Make-Your-Own salad with Gardein chick’n chunks at Gasparilla Island Grill.
Some of the fabulous creations of the famous Chef TJ at Trail’s End. (photo by Melissa Kramer of
“Smoke cauliflower” at Victoria & Alberts. (photo by Emily Woesthoff.)

# 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.

Mickey meets Mickey.
Ariel meets another li’l mermaid.
Rapunzel does her best to teach TouringPlans’ own Laurel Stewart and Len Testa to hold a frying pan. Instead Laurel is doing her best impersonation of hitting a 5 iron during The Masters and we still have no idea what Len is doing with his hands. Apparently there were no pans in that Space Mountain kitchen.
Joy of Inside Out.

# 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.

Pop Century.
Fort Wilderness. (photo by Julia Mascardo)
Animal Kingdom Lodge.

# 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.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Happily Ever After. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Happily Ever After. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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).

It’s no good, but there is vegan pizza
at Pinocchio Village Haus in MK. I can
assure you there is no vegan pizza at
Fantastic 4 Cafe in IOA.

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:

6 Pieces of Disney Merchandise That Don’t Exists (But Totally Should)

6 Times The Simpsons Nailed Being A Theme Park Fan

Walt Disney World Locations Used in Hulk Hogan’s THUNDER IN PARADISE

SATURDAY SIX Looks At Ways Disney Can Introduce MARVEL Into The Parks

The SATURDAY SIX Uses Disney Villains To Explain Theme Park Blogging

6 Times Our Favorite TV Shows Went To Walt Disney World

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, 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!

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15 thoughts on “SATURDAY SIX: 6 Examples of the “Disney Difference”

  • Pre-comment: I am a huge Disney fan and it would take A LOT to deter me away.
    However, this past April my BF & I were staying at the Caribbean Beach for the Star Wars runDisney weekend. When it was time to check out, we grabbed our bags & headed for the concierge to drop our bags off then boarded a bus for Disney Springs. On the bus, I realized that I didn’t check a drawer before checking out and I had left jewelry in the drawer (several Alex & Ani Disney bracelets). I immediately called Lost & Found as we had only checked out within the last 45 mins. They said nothing was turned in and they would not go to the room. They told me to keep calling to see if anything was turned in. I called every day for a week & nothing. I don’t necessarily blame Disney if the guests after us didn’t turn in the jewelry but what did turn me off was that they wouldn’t send someone to the room or have mousekeeping go in and check even though it was still within an hour of us checking out. Lesson learned to me.

  • Several years ago, my Mom left her wallet at one of the Disney cash registers inside a gift shop. When she went back searching for it, they had it. While there, they took a photo of my Mom and Dad. When they got back to their hotel room, there was a Disney frame with their picture in it with some added Disney Magic in the picture.

    Another time, a friend of mine’s son threw away the box to one of those nighttime glow toys after he had taken the toy out. Well . . the batteries were in the box. So I was digging through the trash can . . . he was crying . . . a CM asked us what was wrong and I explained it. They said no problem, and just gave us a new one. The boy looked at me and said “that’s the Disney magic you are always telling us about isn’t it”!

    It makes a difference. All the “little” stuff is what keeps us going back every year.

  • We were walking across the park with our dole whips and lost my youngest. Turns out she had dropped her ice-cream and two cast members had stopped her and were talking about replacing it. They were willing to go all the way back to get another dole whip. We were happy with a mickey bar, but they were willing to send someone across the park for the right ice cream. My child was 10 so it was not a small child crying situation even.

  • Disney’s excellence in food allergies is one of the top reasons we keep coming back. Anytime we’re at a restaurant, quick service place, or vendor, all I’ve had to do is explain I have a food allergy, and within minutes I can check the ingredients, see a book with ingredients of each item in it, see an allergy menu, or talk to a chef. An example: Last year I ate at Via Napoli in Epcot on my birthday, and when the staff found out that the special birthday dessert they usually prepare was not safe for me, they prepared a special personalized dessert!!!! I almost cried. From chefs personally walking me around buffets, to the “food allergy” box you can check in the Disney world app when making dining reservations (so the restaurant knows of your allergy before you even get there!), to seeing park vendors carry Enjoy Life brand allergy free snacks, Disney goes the extra mile for food allergies every single time. The parks may be hot, crowded, and expensive, but the special difference in customer service makes it all worthwhile for someone with food allergies.

    • Side note: Some guests with food allergies actually have to avoid Erin Mckenna’s bakery, because the gluten free flour they use has possible cross contamination with tree nuts (last time I checked, it may have changed). So it is not always the “food allergy paradise” they tend to market themselves as. Irony!!!
      Also, universal has great customer service (one trip, the ride we were on broke down, and they gave us a ticket to let us in the express line (once) at any ride! same trip, a member of our party got sick and had to leave, universal gave all of us another day of admission and gave us a ticket to left us in the express line (once) on any ride, plus they have replaced wands for us if they were damaged), but their food allergy department is lacking. Everything at the leaky cauldron and honeydukes is on shared equipment with tree nuts (so we can’t eat there), and it can be like talking to a brick sometimes with their quick service and vendors. For years I couldn’t even have butter beer because we couldn’t get a straight answer on whether or not it was safe! Universal is miles away from Disney in the food allergy departmentwhich makes Disney seem all the that much better!

      • Ava,

        Thanks for the heads-up about Universal. We are planning to visit it for the first time during our next trip, and I didn’t know what to expect. Sad to hear it’s going to be a pain. When it becomes clear someone doesn’t understand food allergies, ( I once had a server hand me a basket of white bread, telling me she removed the wheat bread!) I head for the door.

  • We are fans of all the reason’s listed, but number 4 is a big one for us. Myself and my kids have multiple allergies, but my son’s are the most restrictive, wheat, dairy, and corn. It’s hard to explain to a younger child why they can’t have the treats everyone else is enjoying, but at Disney he never has to settle. That means a lot to us.
    Going out to eat with allergies is usually stressful and frustrating, and I’m so tired of being told a restaurant has gluten free options that turn out to be … a salad. I almost cried at Liberty Tree Tavern when the chef arrived with gf df stuffing.

  • Definitely why we keep coming back year after year. Plus, there are enough new things added to want to see or try them balanced with a lot of old favorites that just have nostalgia like an old friend. On our most recent trip, our room was upgraded and my daughter was so upset. Now of course an upgrade is awesome, but there was a specific bed she wanted in the original room. I felt bad because an upgrade is amazing, but we went to the front desk to complain because this was my daughter’s birthday trip. There was nothing they could do to change our room, but when we returned later, there was a Donald Duck mug, Donald Duck stuffed animal, a signed photo of Donald and Daisy Duck, some magic bandits and some special buttons waiting for us. The room turned out to be phenomenal, but the “extra” magic definitely made it much easier for my daughter to warm up to the idea. They definitely didn’t have to provide us with anything after the amazing upgrade, but it sure was nice.

  • Parking is not Disney Magical. Especially if they keep moving people further and further away just to charge exorbitant prices to be up close. It’s unnecessarily controlling and expensive. But way better than a Disney bus.

    Parking lot tram, though, is my favorite ride.

    Also, special needs are not really met unless you’re with a state issued handicapped sticker or placard or plate.

    If part of your party can’t really ride the tram, it’s very far off.

    And forget TTC … WAITING lots of time just to get out of the MK IS NOT magical.

  • #3 and 6 are 2 of the reasons we keep coming back to DisneyWorld over other places. The other reasons are also in the mix, but I can’t tell you how many times a CM turned a frown or something lousy into an awesome memory! Just 2 to highlight— we had a wdw stroller malfunction at he back of AK… did we have to go back all the way to the front- no a cast member came back within a few minutes w a new one. We were doing the Rapunzel light photospot and my husband left w/o letting my daughter do one of the poses….. we were halfway across the park w a lot of crying.. we decided to go back… told the CM the situation… did we have to stand in line again for an hour (hat was our first time thru)… no… we went right to the front where the CM nicely asked the next person in line if we could go… and then the lifetime magic happened… not the photo but the kindness shown to my kid and by the next person in line!

  • I like to summarize the WDW experience as “Premium Service for a Premium Price”. I never quibble about the price and in turn I have never had an unsatisfactory experience that was not corrected by a Disney cast member.

    As an example, at a character breakfast one of the characters accidentally broke my son’s Mickey pen while signing an autograph. My son was heartbroken. Within minutes, and without us having to make a request, the character reappear with a brand new pen and wrote an apology in the autograph book.

    Fifteen years later, my son still has that autograph book.

  • My Son lost a wand at Universal, the next day we went to guest services, and although they didn’t have it told us to keep checking, they have a good track record of finding them. 2 days later we had his wand back.

  • Absolutely! To add to the parking, if a guest can not find their car and has no clue where they are parked at one of the theme parks, if they can tell the cast member what time they arrived, the CM will be able to tell them where they were parked. There is a rhyme and reason to the madness, and meticulous times are kept on parking lot diagrams to help gusts out!

    • This depends on perspective. They give you a general location but you still got to wander around looking for your car.

      Or you could wait until 2 hours after the Park closed after getting super …… at Downtown Disney.

  • Yup! Excellent article! It’s why we still keep going back year after year!


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