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October 25, 2013

Disney Developments

My name is Dawn, and I am a Disney addict. I am also a Disney fan, critic, former Cast Member, DVC member and annual passholder. My first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort was in November of 1988, when I was twelve years old, and visiting Florida from Texas. Since then, I can't even begin to estimate how many times I have been to the various aspects of the overall WDW Resort. I've gone to Magic Kingdom just for a hot dog at Casey's, or strolled into the Contemporary to buy shampoo, so you can understand that it's hard to keep up with my visit count. Before I mount my soap box here, let me be clear... I LOVE DISNEY! Obviously, I would not invest the money that I do in this company if I didn't enjoy my time there. There will always be something about WDW that just oozes magic for me, but I have to be careful to avoid wearing mouse-shaped glasses that blind me to the negative. I understand it is a business, and a business is out for profit. I don't begrudge them that, and I really don't have much of a monetary complaint to make regarding Disney. My concerns are more rooted in quality. The overall standard of customer service/ satisfaction, the dedication to excellence... Walt Disney's perfect dream... just keeps getting shoved to the wayside. It's a blatant effort motivated in greed of Scrooge McDuck proportions, and the ego associated with the mindset that "we don't have to even try anymore... we're Disney".


I, for one, am having exceptional difficulty finding the Disney magic lately here at the parks. We locals learn little tricks early on to avoid the worst of the tourist traffic. No offense, but when the visitors start to swarm, WOW! If we can go any day, it's not a big deal to utilize some trial and error. Show up and find chaos amidst a near capacity crowd, 90 minute queues and 110 degree heat? No worries - try again later tonight, tomorrow, or next weekend. Frankly, the summer was so miserable this year that I've been desperately anxious for Autumn. September - November are the BEST times to visit WDW by a local standard. Well... it used to be. Not sure what's going on this year. Actually, I do have a theory - FastPass+.

I'll start off by saying that I'm premature in my judgment of the FastPass+ system from the first-person perspective. It may be a modern marvel to those utilizing it. Right now, it's on a test run, and only available to guests staying on-site. By year's end, it is set to be in use by annual passholders as well. I'm considering a resort stay soon to jump the gun. I'm not known for my patience. Besides, being on the outside of the program is quickly souring my opinion of it. So far, all I've been able to notice from it is the inability of non-Fastpass+ graced guests to access attractions in a fair and timely manner. 

I suppose I should explain what Fastpass+ is. By now, most everyone is familiar with the Fastpass system. Fastpass+ is the evolution of its predecessor. Fastpass offered 28 attractions - Fastpass+ offers 60. Fastpass is an on-site service that "reserves" a spot for guests in a shorter line for selected attractions they want to visit that day. Fastpass+ allows visitors to reserve rides up to 60 days in advance online, through an app or at kiosks located throughout the theme parks. Once the new system is fully launched, resort guests and passholders will use "MagicBands" worn on the wrist for a variety of resort-wide functions, including hotel room access, park entry, food and merchandise charging, PhotoPass storage and ordering, and of course - Fastpass+ reservations.

MagicBands are RFID-equipped ,waterproof bracelets, available in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, grey and pink. If you book your stay ten days or more in advance, your bands will be personalized and mailed to your home. Otherwise, they will await you at your resort. Of course, Disney never misses an opportunity for a profit, so there are loads of accessories available to personalize and decorate your MagicBand. 

Being that the Fastpass+ program is still being tested, the system has been undergoing tweaks along the way, with more to come, I'm sure. As it stands now, some of the restrictions and procedures of Fastpass+:
  • Limited to 1 park/day and 3-4 individual attractions/day, with one being a "headliner". 
  • Currently not available for multiple uses on same attraction.
  • Reservations can be changed/rescheduled up to the last minute.
  • Fastpass+ will also be offered to reserve seating for some shows, parades and dining.

So, what's my problem with all of this? Well, that's simple. Those of us not on it yet are suffering extensively! We often check wait times soon after opening on the days we plan to go by the parks to help us gauge which park to visit. I used to complain when Fastpass displays gave return times that were two hours or more later than the present time. The way I see it - I'm here now. I have no clue where I'll be then or if I'll be willing or able to return. Since Fastpasses are limited, I usually opt out of using them rather than potentially waste passes that others could have used. Now that people are going advance-reservation happy with the "plus" program, within a half hour of opening, Fastpass return times are set for 5:00-6:00 in the evening! Within two hours, all Fastpasses and Fastpass+es (??) are distributed and those left out of the advance planning option or urge are stuck with no alternative to lengthy lines for everything. One has to wonder how many people pre-plan, but get diverted and fail to cancel well in advance, if at all. We also have t take a moment to mourn the spontaneity of the Disney visit, as this system is solely for the benefit of the true OCD types. (Speaking of spontaneity - Fastpass+ is also available for character greetings. Yeah... Mickey just walking up to your little princess in the middle of Main Street only happens in the commercials. That's been a thing of the past for some time now. Parents just couldn't handle teaching their kids to act like civilized creatures, so they had to be corralled like cattle in yet more queue lines.) I also just love the referenced benefit of using Fastpass+ for parades and shows - that it helps plus-graced guests avoid the hassles of scoping out a sidewalk square to sit on two hours in advance of a performance. So, there's just no denying that it's acceptable to leave many guests with the miserable task of spending a large chunk of their day sitting on a sidewalk hoping to catch a glimpse of a firework through the mob that envelops them? How's about lowering park capacity a touch instead? If they were trying to help the lines, they failed. How is it that Busch Gardens, Sea World and Universal Studios have figured it out more successfully? Yes, you have to pay for their express line services, but they work - so it's worth it. Even on the other side of the experience (not using the express services), I have not particularly felt denied or cheapened. For once, Disney is the one who should take a lesson from the competition! We're already experiencing loss of elbow room at Disney restaurants as more and more tables are being stuffed into every dining room. Must we truly be SO herded at every single turn? Yet ticket prices consistently go up as time spent actually enjoying the parks just as steadily decreases. I don't even bother with shows, fireworks or parades anymore. More frustrating than enjoyable. I personally don't enjoy my nose being shoved into the armpit of a smelly neighbor, and Cast Members only encourage an absolute shun of the slightest hint of breathing room. Pack 'em in!



Another new addition to the WDW resort is the Glow With the Show Ear Hat. Ok... these are cool! They're much like the standard Mickey Ear hats we all know and love, but the interior is well padded and cozy, and the ears house special magic-infused LED lights. When activated, the lights blink and change color, interacting with the attractions around them. They were recently unveiled at a showing of Disney Studios' Fantasmic...


Pretty darn nifty, eh? I agree, but at just under $25 each, I don't see the bulk of the crowd buying them, as we see in this video above. I think the demonstration in this video is just spectacular, but will it be as stellar when it's just a few random blinkers during the show... when Disney isn't handing them out on a "promo run"... or will it be a seizure-inducing nuisance? Remains to be seen, I suppose. Very fun idea, though! I may have to add these to my growing ear collection!



My final groan of the moment comes as no surprise to anyone following my Twitter account. Starbucks... REALLY? I can almost (almost) tolerate the Fountain View to Starbucks makeover at Epcot, but they crossed the line when they brought it to Main Street. I understand that Starbucks is a commercial institution... even if for the life of me I cannot see the appeal, I have to accept that it's the "in" thing of the moment. Much like Wal-Mart or McDonald's (which flopped at Disney, by the way), popularity does not make quality. All of this would send poor Walt through the roof! Profit does not require commercial sell-out. I have learned to deal with the loss of Main Street's Penny Arcade, but give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. What's next, Disney? This photo I found on mousejunkies.com really sums it up well...












Anywho... that's my dose of relevant Disney news for the moment. Do with it as you will. My opinion is but one of many. I reserve the right to review my Fastpass+ opinions when I don't feel that I am stuck on the losing end of it. Coming soon... more news and reviews from Scooter, Food and Wine revisited, updates on progress at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and a BIG announcement regarding the Website and an exciting new service we'll soon be offering! Stay tuned!