Remember the TV ads that featured Olympic Gold Medalists, Super Bowl stars, and World Series MVP’s responding to the question “What Now?” Their answer was always, “I’m going to Disney World!” Those ads made such an impression on me that I added Walt Disney World to my list of places to see before I die. When my niece’s choral group was chosen to perform at Disney last week, I decided the time was right to make good on my promise and began making arrangements.
The process was unbelievably frustrating. I Googled Walt Disney World and clicked on the site that indicated it was the “Official Site for all things Disney.” From the top navigation bar I chose “Parks” which took me to a second page where I had to choose “Walt Disney World” from the left nav bar, bringing me to yet another page that featured exploding fireworks, music, and a window titled “Price Your Dream Vacation.” I filled out the necessary information for ticket purchases and clicked on “Get Prices.” Then I waited. And waited some more. Nothing. The page just hung.
Back to Google to try one of the other links. But nothing I tried worked. When I finally resorted to calling the toll fee number for Disney World, I was directed to a web site that actually worked, but even then the multitude of ticket choices was confusing and poorly presented and the person on the phone could not adequately explain to me how the various passes worked. In fact, I NEVER got the correct information until I actually arrived at the park. I eventually opted for a two-day pass, hoping that it would be flexible enough to work with my niece’s performances, which had not yet been firmly nailed down as to time and location.
Next I needed directions to the park. When I finally found a page on the site that provided driving instructions from Tampa (it took at least half an hour to find this page and as of this writing I cannot find it again) it said something like “Drive east on I-4 until you get to the signs for Walt Disney World.” Big, big help. I know the park is in the Orlando area, but where in the Orlando area? Lake Buena Vista? Orlando proper? Kissimmee? I am trying to figure out what time I must leave Sarasota in order to meet my family at a prearranged hour. I resorted to mapquest. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work with just the name Walt Disney World and the parks are not shown on their maps. Back to the Disney site to look for a specific address with a city name. Can you guess what’s coming? There is no address for Walt Disney World shown anywhere on the website. Are they purposely trying to make this the most frustrating process I have ever been through?
The next morning I did as directed – headed east on I-4. A few miles west of Orlando the signs for Walt Disney World began appearing; each of five exits indicated it was the correct one for Walt Disney World. By the time I had passed the final Disney World exit on the way to my hotel, I finally got it – Walt Disney World refers to the whole complex of parks – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, etc. I always thought the term Walt Disney World referred to the place with Cinderella’s castle where all the Disney characters hung out. In my opinion, this is a classic case of marketers who are too close to their product. They assume that people know these things. Frankly, I think the entire site should be redesigned to provide basic information on the front page, the navigation should be made consistent and simple, and the plethora of domain names should all redirect to one website. Why in heaven’s name aren’t they using the domain name Disney.com? They obviously own the domain name, because if you type it into your browser, it redirects to disney.go.com. But I digress…
Once I arrived at the Magic Kingdom I figured my frustration would be behind me. How wrong I was. I parked, took the tram to the transport center, picked up my tickets at will call, and stepped on board the ferry to cross the lake to the main gate. The lines at the main entrance were not moving and I soon learned why. The park’s computer system had gone down and no one was being allowed in until the computers came back on line. Entry requires not only scanning of the barcode on each ticket, but also fingerprint scanning; lacking this, a guest could potentially use a two-day pass for three days. People groused and grumbled as we cooled our jets for half an hour while the park tried unsuccessfully to rectify the problem. Finally, everyone was allowed to enter, even though the computers were still not working.
By now, frazzled and frustrated, I just wanted to find my family. Of course, my grand entrance happened at the precise moment the mid-afternoon parade rolled down Main Street, so the street was roped off and people stood ten deep on the sidewalk. I battled my way down the parade route and finally spotted my niece’s choral group – thank goodness for the bright orange T-shirts they wore! With a few hours to kill before the evening parade, the school chaperones turned the students loose and I joined the adults on a few of the rides.
I wish I had better things to say about the rest of the day, but the truth is that most of the rides were lame (we all agreed that was the best word to describe them), and in some cases were a sorry attempt to use up space that would have otherwise gone to waste. Without exception, every ride ended in a store full of Disney merchandise, and in many cases the entrance to the rides wound through retail venues. Even though the “sets” are well designed and maintained, the entire experience was one of crass, in-your-face commercialism. Aside from the two parades, where Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and the other Disney characters appeared in several incarnations, I never saw a character in the park the entire day, and everyone we spoke to said the same thing. Frankly, the only really enjoyable event was the 9 p.m. fireworks show at the castle – it was truly spectacular.
Perhaps my trip through the “mine” on Tom Sawyer’s Island best sums up my impression of the Magic Kingdom. I was tentatively feeling my way through the downward-sloping, pitch black passageway, trying not to bump into the family in front of me. I couldn’t see a thing, but the conversation between the young boy and his parents was clear as a bell:
“Dad, what kind of a mine is this?”
“It’s a Disney mine, son,” the father replied.
A moment of silence before the mother piped up: “Yeah, they’re mining our money.”
Next up on my Disney tour: The Prince That Was Not So Charming