Monday, September 13, 2004

Excess is not always good

Over the years, I have noticed that Disney can be slow to respond to popular items, then quickly crush them by over-responding. This was very evident with the whole "bean" craze in the late 1990's. They were popular and collectible because there weren't many of them. Disney, once they realized the popularity, started inundating the marketplace with new releases so numerous that oversupply killed the desire to have them. Eventually, you could find these in the stores for 50% off, on eBay for a huge discount IF they even sold at all, and even the secondary discount stores like Value City for a mere fraction of the original selling price. Collectors quickly sold off their holdings at losses and the craze evaporated.

Disney has done the same with other similar things over the years. The WDCC pieces went through a period where supply and variety quickly outstripped demand, frustrating many long-time collectors. Fortunately, a completely revamped program with fewer releases was instituted that may have saved the program. On the down side, Disney has been quietly moving more and more of the program to Enesco -- whom I believe is the actual manufacturer of the pieces.

The market for animation cels also went through a period like this. Disney flooded the market with options. I wonder if they truly understand that collectors collect things because they are limited, unique, or special. Sure, there are those that do so for sentimental reasons, but if you can see one almost anywhere you go, why buy one?

Another area where Disney almost killed a whole market is the Pin Collecting hobby. These are great ways to collect a bit of Disney at relatively low cost. The whole trading thing has encouraged people top talk to castmembers, meet each other at events, and created a whole social caste of collectors. However, when Disney realized the popularity, the flooded the market with new releases, limited editions, and so forth; almost killing the entire segment. Somewhere along the line, some smart executive must have said "wait". Then the releases slowed to a more manageable number and they pulled back from the brink of an implosion.

The latest interest to get this kind of over-attention from Disney is Scrapbooking. It used to be pretty cool to have a small selection of items, usually stickers, that allowed you to put together a neat scrapbook or album of your trip. It made it creative, unique and personal. Now, there are thousands of commercial items available -- too much if you ask me. It is not necessarily as creative as it once was and, interestingly enough, I see little interest from patrons while I am in the stores that carry such merchandise.

Friday, August 13, 2004

On Castmembers at Walt Disney World

Being married to an ex-castmember, I am a little biased towards them. But, I think that is justifiable. I have interacted thousands over the years and have rarely been disappointed. My visit in June 2004 was different though. The vast majority of castmembers I came across were either in the College Program or were from other countries. Let me comment on the College students first.

While there were many that fit the mold, there were also a large number that did not. Since my daughter was interested in the program, I often engaged the College Program members in conversation. I heard a lot of negativism about the program and about Disney mid-level management in general. There were also a fair number of comments about the "new boys network". I didn't think much of it until I heard it the umpteenth time and finally asked what it was. Evidently, there is a feeling that many of the gay managers give preference to other gay castmembers, over females and hetero males, in the same way that the "old boys network" often did in the sixties. I had heard about this from ex-castmembers, including some management-level people, but this was incredible hearing it from so many current College program members!

Also, I noted that the "customer service" attitude often wasn't there with these students. Sure, there were exceptions and they were absolutely great, but lets face it; you expect the exceptions and don't notice them as much as those that don't have it.

As for foreign-born staff, my experience was generally very positive. However, I did notice that it was an entirely different experience than I had had in the past. Other cultures don't put the emphasis on servicing the client as we do in the US, much less at Disney. It was very transparent in most cases and completely absent in others. I had one castmember at Downtown Disney who would not even engage in friendly chat ("How are you?", "Hope your day is going well.", etc.). She barely mumbled a thanks as she handed me the receipt. There was also no eye contact during the transaction.

All of this speaks to how the real world is encroaching on one of the last places on Earth that people go to escape it. Walt Disney World was once a place almost like the movie "Pleasantville". Staff always smiled, were pleasant, and no matter what the day was like you always felt better after talking to one. Where else could you drop $100 on stuff you'll never use again and walk away feeling good about the experience? Soon, I fear that this will go the way of the Dinosaur. Where will we go then?

Thursday, July 1, 2004

The Disney World Resort Experience

Over these many years, I have usually preferred to stay on property when visiting Disney World. The benefits were easy to enumerate; including transportation, quality, extra access to parks through early opening and e-ticket events, merchandise delivery, and the attention Disney gives to the little details of your stay. My few offsite experiences were certainly positive, but did not approach the wonderfulness of staying in a Disney Resort.

That has been changing.

I will say, with little doubt, that Disney's premium resorts are a true wonder. How do they compare to offsite facilities? Well, I think that most folks who stay in these resorts aren't too concerned about saving every last dollar; the expendable income is likely to be a little higher. However, I have noticed that offsite resorts are increasing the amenities and benefits they include while Disney seems to be cutting back.

Merchandise is no longer delivered to your room, but it is still sent to the resort. You usually have to go to a central location and pick it up. This works better when the castmember actually calls you as they are supposed to do.

Transportation has been going downhill overall. Premium resorts should provide premium service, not so with the buses though. I have consistently spent more and more time waiting for the correct bus to arrive and it is not unusual for it to be SRO or completely full.

Dining is great in the sit-down full-service restaurants. Not so great in the food courts. Overpriced for mediocre quality. Disney is not like this all over. At the Boardwalk you can get a great hotdog for $3.00 and I have even had one for $2.50 in the Magic Kingdom. But, $9.99 for what amounts to a few chicken fingers and frozen fries?

Accommodations are good, but they are good at most nicer hotels in the area. TV channels are a little limited and the amenities like ice, vending, and even elevators are typical for a nice resort. Not necessarily outstanding here. On my last trip, we experienced an ant infestation (on the 4th floor), a leaking kitchen sink (2 times), a non-working HVAC, and a refrigerator that would only make things cool -- not cold. Service appeared right away after each report, but it took a conversation with the housekeeping manager to make the fixes permanent.

Staff is an interesting area of comparison. Disney castmembers used to be the absolute best, all going out of the way to make you feel really welcome and comfortable. Many still do, but the hires of the last few years are a different breed. Perhaps it is a cultural shift due to adding a higher percentage of college program staff and immigrants, but the bright-smile and welcome just aren't as pervasive as it used to be. On the other hand, the quality of staff at offsite resorts is generally a step below that, making the experience just a notch lower on the happiness scale.