Disney's $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband
March 16, 2015 4:46 AM   Subscribe

 
I love Magic Bands, although, you have to be very savvy (thanks DISboards) to get the full advantages out of them, and some people are already cheating. People have unfortunately worked out ways to get double the amount of Fastpass+ reservations by fooling the system into believing that they are two different families.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:59 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


“It’s like magic!” a woman says to her family as they sit. "Awful, terrifying magic!"

Then she is turned into a frog.
posted by pompomtom at 5:16 AM on March 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Is it at all possible to just go to Disney World and have a good time without gaming the system? I had a lot of fun there as a kid, and have imagined it would be fun to go back with my partner, but it seems like they keep adding layers and layers of management on top of things. If I ever go, I want a vacation, not an optimization exercise.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:17 AM on March 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


If you go during a busy time, and you don't treat it as an optimization exercise, it will end up as a line-standing exercise.
posted by smackfu at 5:24 AM on March 16, 2015 [32 favorites]


Of course it is, but nerds will have a more "optimal" experience - it is possible to go to a store with no prior knowledge and buy a television or a laptop and be quite happy - but nerds will get a specific model that is better for us in every aspect. Nerds spend hours online researching ways to game a system, ordinary people spend hours in queues thinking they are just like everyone else - pick your poison.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:25 AM on March 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


“It lets people’s vacations unfold naturally,” Staggs says. “The ability to plan and personalize has given way to spontaneity.”

It has been my experience that the opposite has in fact happened. Vacations have gone from "what do you want to do today," to sitting at a computer asking your significant other, "what do you feel like having for dinner six months from Tuesday - keeping in mind that you will have been on a log flume an hour prior and may or may not still have a slightly upset stomach?"
posted by dances with hamsters at 5:34 AM on March 16, 2015 [14 favorites]


Go the 2nd week of November - you don't nee to worry about any of this shit. We did plan out or meals and which parks to visit which day, but once in a park we could just wander. i think the longest we stood in a line the entire week was maybe 15 minutes.
posted by COD at 5:38 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


We just got back from Disney World last week, and my wife has repeatedly told friends and family that my "insane-level" of preparation and strategy made the week amazing. We had lunch reservations at Be Our Guest for each day we spent at the Magic Kingdom (and yes, it was super-creepy how they found us with our lunch). We waited in line for more than 10 minutes only once (70 minutes for my son to meet Baymax - no FastPass available), and rode every ride we wanted (even the new hotness Seven Dwarves Mine Train) multiple times. I can't even imagine the experience of those families standing in line for 130 minutes to ride the Mine Train for 120 seconds. My six-year old son, bless his soul, even complained that the 5 minutes we were spending in the FastPass lines was unbearable.

For certain types of people (like me!), setting up plans and contingencies and alternates and optimal routes is super fun. And people like my wife get to reap the benefits without having to scrape through the bottomless pit of Disney message boards if they have a nerd in their party. The only problem is that now that we are back, I don't have a project to obsess over.
posted by joelhunt at 5:38 AM on March 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


Just consider how little anyone seems to mind now that the Google Maps app mines your Gmail... It’s delightful, and it took hold faster than the goosebumps could. The utility seems so obvious, your consent has simply been assumed.

I suppose I'm in a minority here but, yes, I do mind this. I do mind my consent being assumed.

Disneyland is a fun place and the magic bands sound kind of cool. But the idea that the real world should become more like Disneyland gives me the shivers. Disneyland is a totalitarian utopia where we willingly give up control in a limited way. The place is clean and tidy and sanitized without a hint of street beggars or poverty or politics or all that other unpleasantness that dirty up the real world.

I grew up in Southern California and went to Disneyland umpteen times as a kid. I remember we once went with some cousins who had grown up in a sketchy part of LA and were in streetgangs. So we were all riding the Skyway when one of my cousins leaned over and spit, aiming for someone's head. He shouldn't have done that of course. Disneyland noticed.

When we got off the ride there were two uniformed men waiting for us. As we exited, they asked us to go off to the side with them. We stood there - 8 year old kids - while they sternly told us that what we had done was not allowed in the park and to not do that again. There was an implied warning.

I'm thinking that with the Magic Band, they could have quickly added a sort of criminal record to our bands, making sure we could not go anywhere without being under greater watch. This is just one of the myriad problems with wanting reality to be more like Disneyland
posted by vacapinta at 5:39 AM on March 16, 2015 [23 favorites]


If you go during a busy time, and you don't treat it as an optimization exercise, it will end up as a line-standing exercise.

Part of me is sad this is true. Not everyone can deal with all the technology involved in doing this. My Aunt, for examples, who loves Disney and goes to Disney World a few times a year, is starting to feel like she can't keep up with this kind of stuff when she goes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:43 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Go the 2nd week of November - you don't nee to worry about any of this shit.

True. A lot of this is because people have kids and have to go when the kids are out of school, along with everyone else who has kids out of school. If you are going as an independent adult couple, you should be able to go at a less busy time.
posted by smackfu at 5:46 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've read a few Disney travelogues recently and haven't been in many years. Can someone explain why is it that seats at Be Our Guest are so sought-after?
posted by grouse at 5:47 AM on March 16, 2015


I just got back from a trip to Disney World with a group of 7. Having the Magicbands and Fastpass+ reservations plus a lot of research meant that we only had one wait that was longer than 20 minutes for a ride despite Spring Break and good weather crowds. We didn't have to worry about somebody losing a paper ticket (we lost four Express passes at Universal) or room key. Every one in our party got to do the things they most wanted to do. With Photopass, a Disney photographer could scan one of our Magicbands and we had pictures of everyone in our group on the internet the next day (including Mom - who is usually invisible since she's the one behind the camera).

We mapped out our general route so we had the least amount of walking possible (super important in a group with 4 kids under 12 and 3 adults with health and issues). We had a few hard deadlines (must make it to meet Anna & Elsa between 4:30 and 5:30) but having the Fastpasses for the biggest and most crowded attractions meant we could do the less busy rides, and hang around in the places we liked as the mood struck us.

We certainly could have just gone in and done what we felt like when we saw it, but we would have had a 2-1/2 hour long wait to meet the 5 year old's favorite princess & queen and 90 minutes to ride the 9 and 11 year old's #1 priorities, and who knows how much extra walking (and waiting in line to lost replace paper tickets and whatnot) would have been involved.

It's like going grocery shopping. You can go without a list or without paying attention to coupons, but you're probably going to spend more money and miss getting something you wanted. The technology is mind-blowing and mildly concerning, but I'm frankly a lot more alarmed by how google was able to alert me to what time I needed to leave for the airport for my flight home than about an electronic bracelet that I could have taken off at any time.
posted by Dojie at 5:48 AM on March 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've gone as an adult and during a low season and very minor research makes it fine. I'm sure if I did much MORE research, it would improve the trip (bearing in mind that I do not care to optimize for less walking, which is a typical thing planning guides do); this feels like diminishing marginal utility because I get sort of bored by the research. But it's pretty hard to do with no planning because you need to sign up for the passes in advance and they get filled early.

Be Our Guest is popular because it's got really awesome interiors and the food delivery system seems like magic.
posted by jeather at 5:51 AM on March 16, 2015


Can someone explain why is it that seats at Be Our Guest are so sought-after?
I have no idea. We had dinner there. The food and ambiance were good, but nothing spectacular, and they were clearly understaffed. Long line outside even when it was reservations only, empty tables everywhere, and it took us over an hour to get our food. Along with ridiculously expensive. It was the only spot of poor customer service we had during the entire trip. Maybe the quick service lunch is better, but it would not be on my list of things to do if I ever make it back.
posted by Dojie at 5:52 AM on March 16, 2015


Incidentally I went for lunch -- I thought the food was adequate but nothing great. Food came quickly and the tables were entirely filled (sat with strangers). I wouldn't go back unless they changed the menu significantly.
posted by jeather at 5:55 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


We went to Disney World in October and some parts of the magic band are genius. Love that it's waterproof and functions as a hotel room key. No losing it, or fumbling in your bag looking for it.

The fastpass stuff was hit or miss. It really requires someone to have a smartphone out to be checking times. If you just let your day unfold organically there was a good chance you'd miss a time. We did miss several of our fast pass windows.

The food reservations were also hit or miss. When we had reservations a lot of times they ended up being not what we'd choose, either time or place, but when we didn't have a reservation and couldn't get food that was worse.
posted by MadMadam at 5:56 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I ever go, I want a vacation, not an optimization exercise.

Ditto. I haven't been to the parks since high school and I can't imagine having to do it like this. Plus, with really small children for at least the next 5 or so years, I can't imagine running around to keep up with FastPass reservations would really be all that fun. Sometimes they'll want to stare at a fountain for 20 minutes, I want my vacation to have time for that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:00 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm working at various facilities, and I'll ask, "What companies do you most admire, and dream of becoming?" The answer is always, "Apple. Google."

Then I say, "Why don't we put a charging station here on a shelf, as a convenience for visitors?"

"And when they plug their devices in, we can download their contact lists and use those to self-promote, and to advertise, and to see who all they are working with."

The response to that latter suggestion is shock, and dismay, and even revulsion, that I would seriously suggest such a thing. For shame! Now let's get back to the business of emulating our heroes, Apple and Google.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:00 AM on March 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


For certain types of people (like me!), setting up plans and contingencies and alternates and optimal routes is super fun.

My wife is the same way. We're planning a trip to Scotland and she has this super detailed spreadsheet of attractions and places to stay and routes and stuff that, were it scrawled on the wall with a bit of colored string included, would put her in A Beautiful Mind territory.

I made the mistake of attempting my own research and pointed out some discount pass I found. Her eyes narrowed and turned a steely grey and she shouted through clenched teeth, "Did. You. Not. Read. The. Spreadsheet?. The. Attractions. In. ITALICS. Are. CLEARLY. Marked. With. A. FOOTNOTE. That. COVERS. That. PASS!" I then had to spend three hours chained to the Reeducation Chair studying the spreadsheet and still have to wear the barbed wire dunce cap for another week.

So I find it best to leave stuff like this to the planners.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:01 AM on March 16, 2015 [58 favorites]


We took our kids over Christmas. The Fastpass system definitely reduces waiting, though, it being Christmas, there were waits up to 30 mins at popular attractions, Fastpass or no Fastpass.

But I wouldn't say it feels like magic. It's still a theme park. You walk around from place to place and your feet get tired and you ride on large fast-moving physical contraptions.

And the hours you don't spend waiting in line, you spend in advance, gaming out your whole scenario. For some people I can see that's fun; for me it felt like work. And I sort of hated having to decide two months in advance what time we were going to want to eat and where they were going to need to be. That my kids want to ride the mine train and Splash Mountain is predictable; when they'll be hungry is not.
posted by escabeche at 6:03 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I shot the main image on the story and spent the day at Disney wandering around for Wired. One of the game-changing things Disney is doing with the bands is using them as a way for guests to que in a line while not actually being in a line. Several of the rides now have "experiences" that guests can take advantage of like an indoor air-conditioned playground while waiting for the Dumbo ride. No more standing in line for 45 mins in 100-degree heat in July to spend 3 min's on what amounts to a carnival ride. The kids get to run around and play while the parents get to collapse in a seat for 30 mins. As a parent who once stood in that line in July with an 8-year old I can tell you I would have gladly handed over every bit of personal metadata and a few $100 for a chair in the AC.

The "Be Our Guest" experience is underwhelming when you're a 40-year old man but judging by the number of 8-year olds running around smiling from ear-to-ear in princess dresses I think I'm not the target market. The fact that you sit down and your food magically shows up 20 mins later is pretty cool. I met several of the devs working on the magic band product and they're as excited as anyone I ever met at Microsoft or who worked for Apple about changing the user experience of multi-billion dollar company.
posted by photoslob at 6:16 AM on March 16, 2015 [26 favorites]


I suppose I'm in a minority here but, yes, I do mind this. I do mind my consent being assumed.

Yeah that was my thought - if I saw something like that I'd turn it off in a damn second. Even though they're presumably already got my data regardless. I haven't seen it though so I'm assuming it's a phone thing.

For something like Disney though it's kind of different because you can just decide to play along and take the wristband off when you leave.
posted by atoxyl at 6:20 AM on March 16, 2015


I think Be Our Guest is popular because the castle/restaurant is so well-themed. It is really quite something to look at. The hologram of the rose in the case is really neat, if difficult to photograph. One suggestion I would have for Disney would be for the darned portrait of the Prince to change into the Beast a lot more frequently. Standing there for five numbing minutes b/c your son saw it change and now your daughter won't leave until she does is NOT COOL, DISNEY.
posted by joelhunt at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Let me tell you about RFID. About 13 years ago, I worked for a company called Presto Technologies. We made a budget RFID reader in a mousepad form factor and software to help manage identity and accounts. It was a solution in search of a problem. We spoke with Steve Jobs to try to get the RFID reader mounted inside the monitor of the second gen iMacs. We had test accounts with a number of online retailers to test out making purchases with as little friction as possible (I ordered more steak from Omaha than you can imagine, but on a fake account).

Interestingly enough, many of the ideas and prototypes we built are now full-fledged products of some kind. I prototyped a system where you could get into an online game using a toy with an embedded RFID chip. We talked about systems where the RFID in the toy changes your game experience.

We also designed systems where RFID was used to improve your customer experience. For example, we had an RFID chip embedded in the bottom of a coffee mug. You walk into your favorite Starbucks, put the mug on the counter, it gets read and the barista greets you in accordance with your privacy settings, (from "Nice to see you again! Would you like your usual double mocha latte, Mr. Plinth?" down to "Your usual?"), I enter a pin and walk away with my paid coffee (highly theoretical since I won't drink coffee).

Hotels were especially interested in this. They wanted RFID on the room key so when you approached the concierge, they would be better prepared to help you. This kind of service is highly prized, I'm told, and anything to make it easier to do is important.

So no surprise that Disney is doing it. I recall vaguely that we talked to them about it too.
posted by plinth at 6:23 AM on March 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


My roommate actually had the best-of-all-worlds option: his sister's family sprang a "we're flying the whole family to DISNEY WORLD!" treat on everyone as a Christmas present, and in early January he met up with both his sisters' families, his nieces and nephews, and his parents. But as part of the planning, his sister had also arranged the bracelets for everyone, and mailed everyone their bracelets ahead of time, along with a dossier of whatever activities had been placed on it, and when.

So all he had to do was snap this thing on his wrist before he got on the plane, and as a result he was magically whisked from his landing gate direct to the resort (before anyone else in his family), where he could lay by the pool, and whenever there was any pre-planned family stuff he just waved his bracelet and got whisked there along with them, and whenever there was any "do what you want" time he waved his bracelet and everything was charged to his sister. It was all the benefits and none of the headaches, and he LOVED IT.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:39 AM on March 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Another big thing now is letting people skip the concierge entirely. If people already know their room number, and can use their phone to unlock the door using RFID, then you can get rid of an entire tedious customer service interaction. A win for the guests and the hotel.
posted by smackfu at 6:41 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm glad that the people describing their vacations there had such a good time, but honestly to me both the standing in line option and the months of planning option sound like different versions of the same hell.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:44 AM on March 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


Is it at all possible to just go to Disney World and have a good time without gaming the system?

Yes. There are a few things to remember.

There are a few hard to get dining reservations -- Be Our Guest in MK, La Celier at EC, California Grill at the Contemporary, and if you're really into fine dining, V&A at the Grand Flo. If you really want to eat that those, you have to get a reservation very early.

There are a few rides that if you don't fastpass, you'll wait. Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios. Seven Dwarf's Mine Train at MK. Soarin' and Test Track. If you don't have one, you can easily wait well over an hour in line on those (though Test Track does have a single rider line.)

Otherwise? Do what I do.

Book breakfast and dinner, if you don't want to do quick service. Having those as anchors makes the day easier.

Get to a park at rope drop. Spend from then to about, oh, noon. You'll know when the peak is hitting, because there will be lots and lots of people.

Go back to the hotel, relax. Hotels have pools and often pool bars. Get some quality resort time.

Go to a park in the evening, maybe catch a couple of rides, then see the fireworks.

I'll book the key FP a few days before, but that's it. Having breakfast and dinner booked means I don't worry about those, and the rest is easy.

Indeed, I feel for the min-maxers. Yeah, you got more fast passes? So what? I've gotten on all the rides I want to and I'm not having to juggle multiple accounts to do so (and, if you screw up ones, they get linked and all your work goes to waste.)

For something like Disney though it's kind of different because you can just decide to play along and take the wristband off when you leave.

If you don't want to deal with the long distance stuff, you can ask for a card, rather than a magic band. It'll work for fast passes, paying for things, park tickets, etc., but doesn't have the long range trigger they're using for "magical moments" like ride photos, etc.

Also -- if your kids have magic bands and you lose the kids, Disney can find them *very* quickly -- that was a key requirement. Magic band are waterproof, but they don't float. If you lose them at the bottom of the pool, they'll retrieve them, scan them, and then get them back to you.

So no surprise that Disney is doing it. I recall vaguely that we talked to them about it too.

Note that we have short distance RFID -- the "tap your card" thing -- and long distance RFID. The possibilities, and privacy implications, are bigger with increasing range.

This is one reason you have a PIN on your account if you have charging privileges -- and the account info is linked to the short-distance RFID code, not the long distance one. The long distance one, BTW, is why they have a battery in Magicbands, the short distances ones are powered by the reader.

In terms of Disney Hotels, the new thing (which I, alas, got the text message for just as I was about to get the room number from the desk) is true online checkin. You check in, make sure you have payment and a PIN on file, and when your room is ready, they'll text/email you the room number. You walk into the hotel, go straight to the room, and the Magicband they sent you opens the door. It was kind of funny when I told the desk clerk what my room number was just before she wrote it down, because I'd just gotten the text. FIVE MINUTES FASTER NEXT TIME, MICKEY. JUST FIVE MINUTES!

On the other hand, one problem is they're not set up for frequent visitors to the hotels. How many magic bands does eriko have? Let me go count....12. A solid dozen. One is the one they sent me for the AP, one is an Olaf special, the other 10 are from hotel stays.

Now, do you know what happens when there are 10 active magic bands on the account? LILO chokes. What's LILO*? LILO is the resort reservations system. So, until I deactivated a bunch of them, they couldn't link my account to my room, which meant I couldn't get it.

(They figured it out, I helped them with the bug report, and they gave me a big credit for waiting an hour while they doped this out. Thanks, Disney Castmembers!)

The one thing I keep saying, and I'm not the only one, is we need a system to say "No, have all the magic bands, please stop sending them..." but they're not there yet. Truth be told, I'm a four sigma outlier. Most people visit once a year, if that, many people visit once. Multiple stays per year is an edge case.

A big reason why old time Disney people are obsessed with mini-maxing is they had basically become masters of the old system, which let them do things that the "general public" couldn't. With FP+/MDX, suddenly, the Great Unwashed were able to get the good dining reservations and fast passes, and they got pissed, because they weren't as special. They're learning tricks, though, to become "better" again, but Disney is closing a lot of them.

Forex. If you have an AP, you can make a FP reservation 7 days out. If you're staying on property? 45 days (IIRC. May be 30.) So, what they'll do is stay off property, but get a single "room night" at the Wilderness Campgrounds, which is the cheapest place to stay on property (because, well, you're bringing your own room.) This lets them get FP+ 45 days out.

I suspect this is about to get closed, because the point of the 45 day window is "Stay on the more expensive Disney property and you get..." The simple fix is obvious -- you bought one day, so that day, you can book 45 days out. The next day? Back to 7 days.

The other big trick supposedly involves having your tickets on one account and your hotel on another, which lets you get 45 day FP+ with your hotel account *and* 7 days with your ticket account, but I'm not sure how this works, because you have to have a valid ticket to get a FP reservation. My last trip, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get fast passes on the 9th (no big deal, I was leaving that day) until I went into EC on the 7th and the cast member told me my AP was expiring on the 8th. Ohhh, yeah....let's go fix that.

But yeah, they're finding holes. Disney is either plugging them or deciding it's not worth plugging them, but for the first couple of years, it was very much staying ahead of the bug train that was the priority.

* Yes, it's named after Lilo. Yes, all caps. Yes, just like the LInux LOader.
posted by eriko at 6:44 AM on March 16, 2015 [40 favorites]


the barista greets you in accordance with your privacy settings

I appreciate taking the user's feelings on privacy into account, but this is kind of creepy: you are essentially choosing whether the person serving you should pretend to know you, and how friendly they should pretend to be.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:45 AM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


We also designed systems where RFID was used to improve your customer experience. For example, we had an RFID chip embedded in the bottom of a coffee mug. You walk into your favorite Starbucks, put the mug on the counter, it gets read and the barista greets you in accordance with your privacy settings

Panera have been piloting a system similar to this. In several of their locations, they're using it to provide table-service. When you place your order, the normal-looking pager that they hand you actually contains an RFID reader, which determines which table you sat down at (the tables all have a bunch of RFID tags embedded underneath the surface), and signals the kitchen to tell the waitstaff where you're sitting.

It seems ridiculously overengineered, but it finally explained why their restaurants with table-service are always really good about knowing where to bring the food. The coolest part (IMO) is that the entire thing is completely transparent to the customer.
posted by schmod at 6:50 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


A big reason why old time Disney people are obsessed with mini-maxing is they had basically become masters of the old system, which let them do things that the "general public" couldn't. With FP+/MDX, suddenly, the Great Unwashed were able to get the good dining reservations and fast passes, and they got pissed, because they weren't as special. They're learning tricks, though, to become "better" again, but Disney is closing a lot of them.

The problem everyone has with these (and FastPass before it) is they feel like they have to game the system. Disney's trying like hell to make sure that gaming the system isn't actually worth it. That coming to the resort, staying on the resort, gets you a memorable vacation. You can overplan, or under plan, you're still going to be able to have a good time. Everyone measuring themselves against the min-maxxers AND the hordes of people trying to figure out the best path, etc just sucks some of the magic out of it all. I think the fact that Disney's spending billions trying to make the park a better experience is a good thing.

I just wish they didn't make the profit margins climb at the same time. If people felt like they'd take the long view, instead of the quarterly report view, it'd feel less frightening.
posted by DigDoug at 6:52 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


They have similar wristbands at Center Parcs holiday village in the UK. You can buy beer with them while you're in your swimming costume, and that opens up a whole new world I can tell you.
posted by colie at 6:53 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to try to optimize this stuff but I found a way to make my trips much simpler:

1. Go to Mexico in Epcot
2. Drink tequila
3. Ride the Donald Duck boat ride around the volcano
4. Go to step 2
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:53 AM on March 16, 2015 [35 favorites]


You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card

Well, I've got a big hate-on for Disney, always have (bogus fake idyllic, selling fairytale bullshit to kids, relentless marketing to kids etc etc). But I have to admit it is a neat scenario from a tech standpoint. However, it all boils down to "how can we extract more money from the customer" (with, technically, an implied "and give them a better experience" .. )

And of course, they learned from cruise ships and casinos one great way to extract more dollars is to abstract away the spending.. hah.

(that said, it was here on MF that someone said "you know you're being taken to the cleaners by Disney, but they make the experience so damn nice, you don't mind the mugging")

edit to add:

People are min-maxing, because you have to spend so bleeping much money to get there, stay there, buy the tickets etc. It is a natural reaction to someone that's blowing 4 months of mortgage payments for a 5-day/1-week vacation to think "I'm gonna ride this mother@#$%$#er till the wheels fall off" and min/max it to the fullest extent.
posted by k5.user at 6:57 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


We went to Disney World last August in crushing crowds and heat that made me think a vacation on Venus would have been preferable. I have two ideas about Magic Bands:
  1. The excessive prep work -- yes, months in advance -- saved a lot of the "what do you want to do? What do you want to do?" conversations that start fights when held on a crowded sidewalk at 2:00PM in humid 96F sunshine. Even better, that planning also got us every possible thing we wanted: breakfast inside Cinderella's Castle, two lunches at Be Our Guest, a chance to (queue heavenly chorus) meet Anna & Elsa, and multiple rides on every damn ride/attraction we wanted. Each evening after the kids were in bed, my wife and I would pull out an iPad to look over the next day's Fast Passes and rough plan, and then adjust them to suit the weather or interests or whatever. This took less than half an hour, and then we could relax -- and to repeat, it avoided several conversations per day of trying to decide what to do.
  2. I had expected the Magic Bands to be creepy, but they were simply friction-erasers. For example, we did the Memory Maker photo plan, and my kids could have photographer take their picture and then scan their band to add it to our set of 800 pictures. Or we could get into the parks without digging out paper ticket, photo ID, etc., etc. My employer is a college, and I came back really fired up about how we might roll out a similar thing to make students' experiences better.
A coworker is headed down in April and has said that they want to just go naturally and see what they can see. I told him to make some plans, if only to have a place to start from: to arrive without any Fast Passes or show reservations will just kind of suck, and probably be a huuuge waste of money.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:03 AM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


the barista greets you in accordance with your privacy settings

I can't wait to get a mocha latte under my birth name Baron Von Shitcock.
posted by dr_dank at 7:04 AM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Several of the rides now have "experiences" that guests can take advantage of like an indoor air-conditioned playground while waiting for the Dumbo ride.

There's been a bit of a backlash with this. Kids are playing in the air conditioned playground, the beeper goes off, and the kids don't want to go on Dumbo, they're having too much fun!

One of the big problem with WDW now? It's too popular. There used to be very profound differences between busy times and not-busy times, and they are much less so now. Fundamentally, the parks are slammed almost year round.

They're expanding Animal Kingdom, actually adding capacity to rides (Soarin' is getting a third theatre, and Toy Story Midway Mania is getting two more tracks) and what is now Hollywood Studios is on the verge of a seriously retheme/rebuild.*

Once those are done, it may be time for a 5th gate. Disney really want to build a third gate at the Disneyland Resort as well.


* Ahh, Disney's Hollywood Studios. Originally Disney MGM Studios. What was it? It was a real studio. Seriously. Disney, at the time, had four ancient soundstages in Burbank. Eisner (and it should be noted, Universal had the same idea) decided they needed to expand and have modern soundstages, and if they built them in Florida, it would be cheaper.

So, Disney-MGM opens. (Old timers still call it MGM Studios.) The only ride is The Great Movie Ride. The only other attraction is the backlot tour. There's no ambient music, because this is a studio. Things are being shot.

Problems occur almost immediately. One, there are these glass tubes in the back of several of the soundstage. "What are those for?" production companies ask. "Oh, those are for the tours!" "Tours? You're not sending tours through when *we* are shooting!"

Second, turns out that while Florida is cheaper, flying all the people back and forth from LA isn't cheaper. So, quickly, both Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios...are awfully empty.

Oh, but the Disney one? It's still drawing people, because Disney. So, they build another ride. Tower of Terror. You know, the one with the doors opening in the tall building and the people screaming? That makes filming worse.

Eventually, both basically give up. MGM becomes Hollywood Studios, and Universal becomes a coaster park. Universal is now two parks, with a rumored third gate. Hollywood Studio, currently, is in a holding state. Even the name is going to change. We'll find out a little later.

One big rumors is a big Pixar area (one problem with DHS is there's one ride that small kids can ride -- Toy Story. That's one reason waits are 30 minutes in California and 90 minutes in Florida.)

The other is the Death Star in the room -- Star Wars. Disney is all in on it. Where are they going to do the big thing? DHS is the obvious candidate. Indeed, there were apparently already designs, but with the new movie in the works, they were held up for a bit to allow material from that movie to be incorporated.

So, in the next few years, big, big changes there. Magic Kingdom finished up the Fantasyland Expansion last year. Animal Kingdom is currently Disney's Construction Kingdom, with Avatarland and the new evening Rivers of Light (think DCA's Worlds of Color) being installed, which will also make AK an evening park. (They can't do fireworks there, for obvious reasons.)

The one park we really don't know about is Epcot, which needs basically a complete rethink, esp. of Future World. The problem with the "near future" concept of Future world is you have to update it year by year. Many old time WDW nuts decry the loss of "Walt's Vision", except that they're full of it. Epcot, as we see it, was built well after Walt Disney died, and Walt's vision of Epcot was it was a city, with real people living in it. It didn't talk about the future, it *was* the future. Epcot was also, fundamentally, a bigger failure than DCA was -- people went once, were bored, didn't come back. The idea that people wanted to learn while on vacation? Not so much.

But Epcot does need work. I think planning is happening, but until AK and HS are back in form, I don't see anything major happening at EC. The Elsa Ride is just a quick covert of an old ride in Norway, but really, between that and the added theatre to Soarin', that's all that's happening.

(The reason that Flower & Garden and Food & Wine happen? To attract people to times when the parks were historically not crowded. The reason for Epcot hosting them? To attract people to the park they didn't go to!)
posted by eriko at 7:09 AM on March 16, 2015 [19 favorites]


3. Ride the Donald Duck boat ride around the volcano

We have the stars to guide us
Guitars here beside us
To play as we go!

We drink and we samba!
We shout ¡Ay Caramba!
(What means Ay Caramba?)
(Oh yes..I don't know!)
posted by eriko at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


You don’t need to carry cash, because the MagicBand is linked to your credit card

This was my roommate's favorite part, because his MagicBand was linked to his sister's card. Not that he went nuts, but he definitely made a couple small splurges he otherwise wouldn't have because it was all "oh tra la la I can pay for this just by waving my hand like magic wheeee!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on March 16, 2015


Kids are playing in the air conditioned playground, the beeper goes off, and the kids don't want to go on Dumbo, they're having too much fun!

Well no kidding- the playground looks awesome!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem everyone has with these (and FastPass before it) is they feel like they have to game the system. Disney's trying like hell to make sure that gaming the system isn't actually worth it. That coming to the resort, staying on the resort, gets you a memorable vacation. You can overplan, or under plan, you're still going to be able to have a good time. Everyone measuring themselves against the min-maxxers AND the hordes of people trying to figure out the best path, etc just sucks some of the magic out of it all. I think the fact that Disney's spending billions trying to make the park a better experience is a good thing.

Agree with you highly.

Someone said "Why the hell does X have fastpass?" The answer is this: If your 5 year old *really wants to do X", you can make sure that happens. For the longest time, Dumbo was like this.

Right now, forex, if you want to meet Anna and Elsa, you either fastpass or you wait 4 hours. This is not in any way an exaggeration. Disney is still trying to keep up with that movie.

Well no kidding- the playground looks awesome!

And they added another one. I call them Dueling Dumbos. But yeah, Disney is trying to make it so that if you have to wait, it's better than standing in a line. They're putting "Line Rides" in -- basically, things to do while you're waiting in line. The Dueling Dumbo playground is a line ride taken to the limit.

And for parents? There are seats. Your kid is playing, they can't run away, there's WiFi, and it's air conditioned. It's a midday break in everything but name.
posted by eriko at 7:20 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


the barista greets you in accordance with your privacy settings

This example skeeved me right out before the trip…but then when I saw the new talking Mickey Mouse greet a guy by name, I almost wet my pants. And I really wished I had toggled the setting to allow them to use my personal details. *sigh*
posted by wenestvedt at 7:23 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The coolest part (IMO) is that the entire thing is completely transparent to the customer.

Aha. I was just at Panera yesterday and was wondering how that worked. I think the only thing that stops it from being completely transparent is that the outside metal tables specify a particular place on the top you need to place your tag, probably because the metal interferes with the signal.
posted by smackfu at 7:23 AM on March 16, 2015


Just a point of clarification about charging with the bands. Unless you are staying in a hotel, you can't. The charges go onto the room account. They originally wanted to be able to charge directly to the guest's card, but the banks started to grumble out Disney moving into their territory.

I am a local now, but we used to come out every few years, and my wife was a super planner, listing out initeraries for each day. She did not appreciate when I asked her if we could pencil in some time for sponteneity. Now we live here and have annual passes. Practically every trip is rather spontaneous. Open the app, see what FP you could get, and go. Some days we don't even ride anything. We still have to do the same six month out dance to get dining reservations, but we generally aren't constrained by having to get it all in during a specific time window.
posted by Badgermann at 7:31 AM on March 16, 2015


The nice thing about being local is that you don't feel the same need to do all the E-ticket rides back-to-back since you are only there for such a short time. Since those are the ones with huge lines, it makes the whole experience much more relaxing.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on March 16, 2015


Meanwhile, the parks continue to be understaffed by skeleton crews of ridiculously underpaid workers; resorts are increasingly staffed by temps from independent contractors; half the figures on Splash Mountain are non-functional on any given day; headliner attractions are constantly breaking down (as a cost-saving measure, they no longer keep spare parts on hand for quick repairs, but special order them as needed, so the choice is either to close the attraction or run it with poor show quality) while there are fewer A-to-D-ticket rides to absorb the overflow; restaurants and pavilions sit empty while foot traffic is ground to a halt by the proliferance of vending carts; and maintenance, including cleaning as well as cosmetic repairs, is shoddy because of the aforementioned short-staffing.

Don’t get me wrong – I still loves my Disney parks. And they’ve taken steps in the last few of years to repair the decay caused by the extreme cheapskatery of the Paul Pressler era. And the whole NextGen movement is a fascinating use of technology. But that money would have been much better spent on things that would reduce overall crowding and wait times instead of micromanaging guests to adapt to what’s there.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:52 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problem with the "near future" concept of Future world is you have to update it year by year. Many old time WDW nuts decry the loss of "Walt's Vision", except that they're full of it.

Oh, come on. Even the cheesiness of the Future World that was there in the '90s was much better than the "we must add characters to everything" view that's dominated the past decade of attraction revamps (especially at Epcot, but not just there).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:54 AM on March 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


maintenance, including cleaning as well as cosmetic repairs, is shoddy because of the aforementioned short-staffing.

We stayed in a Disney hotel at Disneyland Paris and there were mice running around the reception area.
posted by colie at 7:57 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


But that money would have been much better spent on things that would reduce overall crowding and wait times instead of micromanaging guests to adapt to what’s there.

At its heart, Disney is the ur-marketing company. And the key of marketing is exactly what you said they shouldn't do: making people adapt. I'm guessing it's cheaper, long run, to make guests do all this planning and darting hither-and-yon work while making them think they're getting an awesome Thing with the Fastpasses than it is to e.g. restrict numbers entering the park, pay staff more, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:58 AM on March 16, 2015


It's very interesting to me that Disney has decided to make the optimal park experience based upon how well and aggressively one can plan and utilize the technology, whereas, for example, Six Flags has made it a matter of extremely simple price tiers. $25 to wait in line for 30-90 minutes per ride. $50 for one ride every 30 to 90 minutes but you don't have to stand in line. $75 for one ride every 10-40 minutes. $100 for ride whenever / wherever.
posted by MattD at 7:59 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


And they’ve taken steps in the last few of years to repair the decay caused by the extreme cheapskatery of the Paul Pressler era.

Although, only seven of the nineteen Magic Kingdom attractions closed since 1994 have been replaced with other attractions. Others were replaced with shops or character greeting areas, or not replaced at all.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:03 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


At its heart, Disney is the ur-marketing company. And the key of marketing is exactly what you said they shouldn't do: making people adapt. I'm guessing it's cheaper, long run, to make guests do all this planning and darting hither-and-yon work while making them think they're getting an awesome Thing with the Fastpasses than it is to e.g. restrict numbers entering the park, pay staff more, etc.

There was a time when it was considered possible to do amazing marketing AND provide the best quality product.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:05 AM on March 16, 2015


That's more expensive than just doing the marketing, though.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:08 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the parks continue to be understaffed by skeleton crews of ridiculously underpaid workers; resorts are increasingly staffed by temps from independent contractors; half the figures on Splash Mountain are non-functional on any given day; headliner attractions are constantly breaking down (as a cost-saving measure, they no longer keep spare parts on hand for quick repairs, but special order them as needed, so the choice is either to close the attraction or run it with poor show quality) while there are fewer A-to-D-ticket rides to absorb the overflow; restaurants and pavilions sit empty while foot traffic is ground to a halt by the proliferance of vending carts; and maintenance, including cleaning as well as cosmetic repairs, is shoddy because of the aforementioned short-staffing.

Wow! That was so not my experience at Disney World last week. I don't know how well they were paid, but there were cast members EVERYWHERE. Be Our Guest was clearly short-staffed, but everywhere else, there were multitudes of cast members just standing around available to answer questions and help people with whatever. There was one quick service restaurant where the crew seemed a bit stressed and terse, but everyone else we ran across seemed like they were perfectly happy to stop whatever they were doing to help us, pay attention to our kids, or just shoot the breeze. We only ran across one ride that was shut down, and that was only for 20 minutes or so, and in fact, one ride that was supposed to be closed for revamping while we were there reopened early. Every restaurant we went to was crowded (although at Be Our Guest the crowds were waiting to get in), but there were plenty of vending carts with no lines at all. And everything was perfectly clean. Restrooms fully stocked, etc. The biggest adjustment back to reality on our return for me is going back to normal levels of customer service which now seem completely substandard and unpleasant.
posted by Dojie at 8:09 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting to see this stuff finally in the public. I can tell you right now that it and the talking Mickey stuff have both been in various stages of creation, teardown, reformulation, R&D, etc for nearly 20 years, so that billion $$ figure? Way underselling the cost.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:10 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't have anything to compare our experience to though. I've never been there before, and this is likely to be my only trip for years, if not for a lifetime. Which is yet another reason it made perfect sense to do as much advance planning as possible. If we were going back in a few months or a year, it would not be a big deal if we missed something. But we had one shot to get as much out of our trip as possible. And it was amazing and fully worth the trouble of planning ahead. I loved that the tools were available to let us do that.
posted by Dojie at 8:13 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many extra table turns you get by having people pre-order their food instead of looking at menus.
posted by smackfu at 8:18 AM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Every new "optimization" of Disney parks makes me want to go there a little less. My kid has never asked to go; he's never been a fan of Disney stuff. I went once to Disneyworld as a teen. It was fine, but not life-changing. I don't really get the obsessive people who go every year, but people obsess over lots of things I don't get.

So basically, I'll probably never go again, and I used to wonder if I should feel bad about that, but now I don't. So thanks for that, Disney?
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


They were wrong about our robot overlords. They thought it would be tic-tac-toe and armies of killer metal. It ended up being a system that was too convenient to fail. Sitting with a smile while the humming waiter strains to hit the high bars of "Be Our Guest", everyone hoping to God that there isn't a Custumer Experiences Fault tonight.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:23 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a fairly long comment written out of how I wanted someone to do the planning for me based on my preferences and then realised I had reinvented the travel agent. Does that exist for Disney because project managing my holiday isn't fun for me.

On another note, whilst Myers-Briggs is obviously a massive over-simplification, that some people enjoy optimising their holiday is strong evidence for P vs J. I really enjoy the stern admonishments above that you can choose not to plan and wait in line for 2 hours. As if that choice is actually about the visitor and not as described above a way for Disney to maximise profit while putting the effort onto you in the name of personalisation and improved experience.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 8:47 AM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Slackermagee -- I'll be worried when Disney starts saying "Have we got a vacation for you!"
posted by k5.user at 8:51 AM on March 16, 2015


We stayed in a Disney hotel at Disneyland Paris and there were mice running around the reception area.

I bet there were rats in the kitchen too!
posted by Daily Alice at 8:52 AM on March 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


I always thought that the process of becoming Old would be gradual, that one day I'd wake up and realize that I was already Old and wonder when and how it happened. But I think while I read this article is when I crossed that line. Everything about it made me grumpy and tired.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:53 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's touringplans.com if you want to just follow someone else's plan.
posted by smackfu at 8:53 AM on March 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


Disney.* are magical places, and for me they maintain two very important attributes that magical places must have: 1) that they be very far away; consequently 2) they keep the sort of people who find these places magical far away from where I might interact with them. I mean, if you want to ride cattle-cars around fibreglass-wrapped terrain, eat lowest-tender-bidder commodity food at top-dollar prices and wave at furries all day, go nuts; just do it over there ...
posted by scruss at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Thanks smackfu - that's a huge step towards what I'd like!
posted by eyeofthetiger at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2015


To keep things simple, you can avoid a lot of line-standing if you just get to the park when the gates open. You'll be ahead of all of the folks who sleep in, have leisurely breakfasts, and show up around 10am.
posted by Fleebnork at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The biggest adjustment back to reality on our return for me is going back to normal levels of customer service which now seem completely substandard and unpleasant.

Oh, make no mistake - it's still better than the real world. But it's not what it was or could still be.

Disney World Has a Homeless Problem
Disney World Is the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’… But Not for Its Homeless Employees
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:04 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


eyeofthetiger: Does [a Disney travel agent] exist for Disney because project managing my holiday isn't fun for me.

Yes, there are folks who get some sort of certification as Disney Planners. AAA offices always have one, and just last week my wife mentioned that a friend-of-a-friend in our town did it so she could set up her own trip and then help other people in town.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:39 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have little interest in Disney and less in going to Disney World, and my favoured Magic Band refuses to play a strawberry on the drums, but I am fascinated by the systems. Are the employees tracked as well? Does Disney do anything with the data post-visit? What happens if you hack or jam it? (RF is lots of things, including open to mischief).
posted by Devonian at 9:41 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


smackfu: I wonder how many extra table turns you get by having people pre-order their food instead of looking at menus.

This is the core issue: Disney gets more people onto rides (whether it's the ride the guest really wanted to be on -- but hey, they had a Fast Pass to use) and more people through their restaurants (whether it's the ride restaurant the guest really wanted to be on -- but hey, they had a Fast Pass Dining Plan credit to use) and more tickets+meals+merch when they can manage the load better.

First smooth it out and make sure every ride/restaurant/show/shop is full with the current guest levels, and then see how many more bodies you can t into the parks. Did you hear that the Walt Disney World Speedway is closing for good to expand the parking?

I do love me some Disney World, but with four kids our visit was a once-in-a-lifetime thing as a family. I loved it but the whole time I was well aware that my kids were leveraged used to open my wallet. I did so willingly, because I am childish enough to have fun there, too, but they aren't very subtle about it.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:41 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the back story of a BioShock level set after everything goes horribly, horribly wrong?
posted by sexyrobot at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I first heard of this I was immediately reminded of the Ira Levin book This Perfect Day.

"Everyone wears a permanent identifying bracelet which interfaces with access points that act as scanners which tell the "Family members" where they are allowed to go and what they are allowed to do."
posted by Splunge at 10:45 AM on March 16, 2015


This thread is a goldmine of illustrations of why "lived experience" is important but gets crushed under the wheel of statistics.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 10:59 AM on March 16, 2015


I thought the food was adequate but nothing great.

I love going to Disney theme parks, even though we don't have kids. But anyone who is judging a Disney meal on the quality of the food is missing the point (or at least not the target audience). I don't think I've ever had a meal on Disney property that I'd call great. Possibly Napa Rose, but I haven't been there for several years. And Carthay Circle has come close. The food at Club 33 is ok. But none of those except maybe Napa Rose are places I'd go for the food quality alone. I wish they could do a better job at this, but it just isn't their strong suit.
posted by primethyme at 11:04 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think I've ever had a meal on Disney property that I'd call great.

I've been to Disney World way, way too many times. I think the only restaurant I've eaten at on-property that I'd consider a really good meal was Sanaa, at Animal Kingdom, which does African/Indian cuisine that was pretty impressive (particularly by Disney standards). Otherwise, yeah, it's mostly a range from "decent" to "bleh", particularly for savory options (there's decent sweets/bakery options in various places).

As for Magic Bands ... I was in the park whey they were in beta, and it was kind of a nightmare. I've been back once since and it was OK. I have not had it in me to try to optimize the hell out of a trip yet, though, and I suspect my parents never will either.
posted by tocts at 12:03 PM on March 16, 2015


Reading this thread AFTER the drowning Miami thread is certainly interesting.

As for me, I went to DisneyWorld once as a teen and was more fascinated by the Florida thunderstorms and geckos than any of the attractions. I live in fear of the day that my girls are old enough to want to go.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:25 PM on March 16, 2015


I've been watching these bands with great interest. Back in 2005 or so, when I was in an MBA night school program, we were asked to come up with ideas for new developments existing companies could put out, and my group suggested that Disney do bands pretty close to identical to this. (Our main difference: the children's bands would only be removable by special equipment/in a special location--cutting them off or removing them elsewhere would set off an immediate alarm; we had this as a Code Adam kind of thing. Also as part of this, your group's bands were all linked so that there had to be an adult with a band linked to the child's present before they'd remove the child's band and let them leave the park.)

We went this past July--the heat and humidity were bad, but bearable, and it was the only time we could make our schedule work. We did not have the bands and really did only minimal planning--we used the app to schedule a photo with Mickey and maybe 2-3 other FastPasses, that was about it. We just walked around, picking out rides that our 7-year old wanted to go on and that didn't have too-long lines. Anything he saw that he really wanted to go on but had a long line, we'd grab a FastPass at that time.

The two developments that really impressed us were things like the playground in the middle of the Dumbo line, and these adventures that guided you around the park. At the end of our first day, in the Magic Kingdom, we discovered they had a game you could play with a deck of cards that sent you to various screens in different locations and the kid fell in love with it. Animal Kingdom had a book of merit badge stamps (stickers?) you could earn in various places--again, the kid loved it. EPCOT had smartphone-like device you could check out that would send you on "missions" to various world pavilions--he was a bit young to be interested in most of the pavilions, so this one fizzled a bit for us; he instead asked to go back to the Magic Kingdom so he could do more with the card game.
posted by Four Ds at 12:32 PM on March 16, 2015


The technology in general was astounding to me - far beyond the Magicbands. As Four Ds mentioned, the interactive games are very cool. We used the cell phone for Agent P's Adventures to cause Perry the Platypus to pop up at various locations in Epcot and do things like set off an underwater explosion, and held up spell cards toward a screen in Sorceror's of the Magic Kingdom to cast those spells in a video. Universal had something similar with their interactive wands in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but they were buggy and difficult to get the motions just right. The things that really blew me away though were the interactive animated shows. Audience members could interact in real time with Crush the Turtle or the Monsters at the Laugh Floor. The animation and voice acting were instantaneous and flawless. I was not expecting anything like that. Maybe it wasn't anything that phenomenal for someone who knows how these things work, but it sure seemed like some amazing tech to me.
posted by Dojie at 12:59 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wish they could do a better job at this, but it just isn't their strong suit.

You need to get to the Florida side. Artiste Point at the Wilderness Lodge, the California Grill at the Contemporary and Citrico's at the Grand Floridian all beat Carthy Circle, and Victoria and Albert's beats them all.

A big part of this is the very different attendance patterns. California is mostly locals, being in the 2nd largest urban area in the US. WDW is mostly travelers, a good number of them staying on property.
posted by eriko at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2015


-I don't think I've ever had a meal on Disney property that I'd call great.

--I've been to Disney World way, way too many times. I think the only restaurant I've eaten at on-property that I'd consider a really good meal was Sanaa, at Animal Kingdom, which does African/Indian cuisine that was pretty impressive (particularly by Disney standards). Otherwise, yeah, it's mostly a range from "decent" to "bleh", particularly for savory options (there's decent sweets/bakery options in various places).


I love breakfast at the Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort.

But yeah, even most of the nicer restaurants are more about location than food.

Have you ever been to the Brown Derby at DHS? Worth it?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:10 PM on March 16, 2015


I love breakfast at the Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort.

TONGA TOAST, HO!

(Forgot to mention Jiko's at the Animal Kingdom. That's really good as well. Haven't been over to Kidani for Sanaa yet.)
posted by eriko at 1:11 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you ever been to the Brown Derby at DHS? Worth it?

God, no.
posted by jeather at 1:26 PM on March 16, 2015


I mean, the food is pretty good -- though I've always been fine with their food (their desserts and pastries are only rarely on the level of okay or better and usually significantly subpar compared with anything I can make) -- but it feels like expensive food in this loud, public place.
posted by jeather at 1:27 PM on March 16, 2015


but it feels like expensive food in this loud, public place.

With jeather on this one, at least, for the Brown Derby. By and large, food at the deluxe resorts is both better and has better ambiance than the restaurants in the parks.

Also, that's Jiko's at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, not the Construction Kingdom theme park.

V&A, again, has the very best food on property, but it also has a dress code that they enforce. But if you want to be away from the kids and don't mind a $500 meal for two (with wine, etc.) then there you go. Top food and service, if it wasn't owned by Disney, it would be a Michelin 2 Star restaurant. I've taken hardcore foodie friends and they love it.

I'm a little disturbed by having to bring a suit to the happiest place on Earth, but whatever.
posted by eriko at 1:32 PM on March 16, 2015


That "Turtle Talk with Crush" show blew my damn mind: the animation, the motion, the interaction… Wow.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:35 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


For adults who think Disneyworld sounds awful, but really want something strange and wonderful, I recommend The House on the Rock in Wisconsin. It has a lot of the insanity and larger than life craziness while being much more relaxed and real. I spent something like 8 hours walking around that place. Part 2 was the best by far. That's where the indoor 3 story tall whale vs kraken diorama is. It's not an amusement park. It's more like a wonderful visit to the mind of an obsessive genius.
posted by HappyEngineer at 1:44 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I recommend The House on the Rock in Wisconsin

I did a road trip with my wife a few years back, and one of the stops was The House on the Rock. Holy crap. That place is really impressive. We didn't know going in what we were getting into, and had thought we'd be there like 2 or 3 hours. We ended up being there almost 6 hours, and frankly I want to go back.
posted by tocts at 1:50 PM on March 16, 2015


Side question for Disney people: Joffrey's Coffee: any good? I think it wasn't fully rolled out last I was in the park, and lord knows the traditional Nescafe was like drinking re-hydrated bio-waste, so Disney World has always been a horrible coffee wasteland to me. (The Starbucks incursion doesn't count, as I prefer my coffee black and not burnt all to shit)
posted by tocts at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2015


Joffrey's is fine. When they started rolling in the Charbucks, I was worried, but nope, there's going to be one per park (they're building the AK one right now.)

And, I'll be honest. The 'buck ain't my thing -- but it's packed. It's clearly many other people's thing. And anyone saying that "It's not right that an outside company is selling stuff on Main Street" needs to go back to the opening of Disneyland and take a look at who was selling what.
posted by eriko at 2:03 PM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that some of the Epcot restaurants are supposed to be really good -- Le Cellier, maybe the French one? And I guess eating in Cinderella Castle is probably worth it if you have children, though I have no idea what the food is like.

Joffrey's is reasonably okay.
posted by jeather at 2:05 PM on March 16, 2015


That "Turtle Talk with Crush" show blew my damn mind: the animation, the motion, the interaction… Wow.

It's actually quite simple.

First, you teach a cast member to speak proper turtle. One you have that righteous dude, you put some dots on their face and point a camera at them*, which does real time motion capture of their face and maps that. Then you give him a control that lets them "swim" Crush to the right part of the screen, and you give them a monitor hooked up to a camera that lets their Crushness see the crowd, and DUDE! RIGHTEOUS! FIN! NOGGIN! DUUUDE!

The mind bending version of this is "Meet Mickey" at the Magic Kingdom, just inside the park to the right, right next to "Meet Tinkerbell." You walk in, and there's Mickey. Standing in front of you. Not on a screen. Mickey. Right there. Mouse is like 6' tall, in a tux no less.

Then he says hi. And his eyes work. And his *mouth is saying the words.*

And, well, kid, don't ask me to prove that wasn't Mickey, because...I can't. That was Mickey. I had a friend bring his four year old to the parks and go see Mickey, and he texted me "I was not prepared for Mickey to speak. That was a total mind fuck."

Because, yeah.

Storytime with Belle also has a hell of an effect, where the mirror on the mantel grows, and grows, and grows, and turns into a door, and opens, and you walk through it, and....damn, Disney.


* Doesn't matter what sex you are or what you look like. If you can sound like Crush and work with the motion capture system, you can do this.
posted by eriko at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


"This example skeeved me right out before the trip…but then when I saw the new talking Mickey Mouse greet a guy by name" -wenestvedt

If you'd like, I do a pretty damn good Mickey Mouse. If it would make you happy, I'd be more than willing to record a personalized message for you. For example, "ha-ha Pluto! Help me find a good place to hide the body."
posted by plinth at 5:29 PM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that some of the Epcot restaurants are supposed to be really good -- Le Cellier, maybe the French one?

Le Celllier. The hardest res to get at EC, and I have no idea why. They do a decent steak, which is good, because they're a steakhouse.

But there are two vastly better steakhouses on property, and they're walking distance from LeC.

The 2nd best is Shula's at the Swolphin. Yes, a chain, but good steaks. But by far the best is the Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club.

Seriously. Go there, get the New York Strip, NOM.

I haven't been to Monsieur Paul's yet, but I've heard good things. The sushi at Tokyo Dining is quite good. Not the best I've had, but far from the worst. Some friends and I are quite fond of the Biergarten, but that's more about the Maßkrugs and less about the food, but the food ain't bad.
posted by eriko at 5:30 PM on March 16, 2015


For the latest Epcot Centre news, make sure you follow the EpcotCentre Twitter account.
posted by grouse at 7:29 PM on March 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


All of this talk about differences in Disney restaurants really surprises me. I'd have assumed (wrongly, it seems!) that they'd centralize and standardize as much of the operation as possible.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:02 AM on March 17, 2015


I'd have assumed (wrongly, it seems!) that they'd centralize and standardize as much of the operation as possible.

They do, and they don't.

I'm going to assume Eriko can answer a lot more authoritatively :) But, in general, quick service places and buffets do have a lot of standardization throughout the parks and hotels. However, there's often a handful of items on the menu that are specific to a given location (e.g. the place poolside at Animal Kingdom Lodge has some expected stuff like chicken fingers and fries, but also a tamarind barbecue chicken pizza, and if I recall correctly a lentils and rice dish of some sort).

Once you get into the more "sit down" type restaurants, the differences grow. You see a lot of similar base ingredients (e.g. you'll see the same type of fish mentioned on lots of different menus), but prepared very differently.

Also, there's a number of decent options at Downtown Disney, where much of the food isn't run by Disney themselves. Not OMG AMAZING, but a welcome respite from the offerings in the parks/hotels (e.g. Wolfgang Puck/Wolfgang Puck Express, Earl of Sandwich, etc).
posted by tocts at 8:16 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


All of this talk about differences in Disney restaurants really surprises me. I'd have assumed (wrongly, it seems!) that they'd centralize and standardize as much of the operation as possible.

Oh, a lot of it *is* centralized and standardized. The first example that springs to mind is that all the restaurants in Frontierland and Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom share a central kitchen, and it's being expanded right now to serve a new table-service restaurant being built in Adventureland.

I hang out on a lot of park forums, and the eating public seems to be divided into "MY GOD I'M SICK OF EATING THE SAME THING AT EVERY MEAL WHY CAN'T THERE BE MORE VARIETY" people and "MY GOD WHY CAN'T WE GET CHICKEN NUGGETS AND PIZZA AT EVERY SINGLE EATERY INCLUDING FANCY SIGNATURE RESTAURANTS DOES DISNEY WANT MY CHILDREN TO LITERALLY STARVE TO DEATH" people.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:18 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


To be fair, that's basically the eating public everywhere.

And yeah I'd figured the QSR-type places would be like QSR everywhere. I guess I'm surprised at the sheer number that aren't quite QSR.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:24 AM on March 17, 2015


I'd have assumed (wrongly, it seems!) that they'd centralize and standardize as much of the operation as possible.

Yeah, there are two levels, which can roughly be separated into "they bring you the food" and "they don't". The first is not that standardized, exactly, and the second is pretty much standardized with a few themed items.

All the restaurant menus are online if you are curious, and the ones that should be particularly distinctive are signature dining. This one can separate out the quick service from the normal restaurant from the super special restaurants; you'll probably also notice more standardization in the parks (and especially at character dining) than out.

Snack carts also have this -- you can get the 100% standard turkey leg/Mickey ice cream or you can find the only place there that sells one specific thing.

They can't make everything too same-y, because it will bore a lot of adults and children, but they don't want every meal to be an unexpected adventure because especially for some children who are hungry they want to avoid complete meltdowns over the Weird Food. I guess they probably hit the right balance since people complain about both levels.
posted by jeather at 8:34 AM on March 17, 2015


I'm going to assume Eriko can answer a lot more authoritatively :)

They do and they don't. :-)

Quick service locations will often have centralized recipes -- a burger is a burger, a turkey leg is a turkey leg. Anything larger than a shack will have kitchen facilities to make them with, but if there's a couple of quick service places near each other in a park, they'll have the same kitchen. This is as much a function of footprint as it is cost savings. In Disneyland Proper, almost nothing has it's own kitchen, they just can't afford the space.

Most of the sit down restaurants have their own kitchens, though sometimes they'll be shared if there are two nearby -- but this is shared in the sense of "shared space" not "same food." Bar food is usually made by whatever kitchen is nearest, forex, Martha's Vineyard uses the Cape May Cafe kitchen.

The drink menus is standard resort wide with an additional page for the drinks you can get only there -- like the Sazerac at POFQ/POR. (Upcoming Exception: Trader Sam's Grog Grotto will basically have its own menu.) All packaged baked good are made in the central bakery -- they are baked fresh, just not right there on the Boardwalk or Main Street. That smell? It's an Odorinator from D.E.I.

Pastries and baked goods in the top tier of restaurants are generally baked at that restaurant -- the big exception there is french bread. They bake that at the central bakery because they have the right oven there, with steam injection, to bake french bread.

In general, if it's packaged, it's made centrally. If not, it's made nearby. If it's a signature restaurant, it's made in that restaurant's kitchen. If it's in a shack, it's made elsewhere, because where would the kitchen be?

Finally, Victoria and Alberts almost completely self sources and makes their food, about the only thing they use from WDW supplies are bottle liquors and if needed for the menu that day, the french bread. Then again, V&A writes their menu daily. V&A is very clearly a completely different level of dining than anything else on property. I personally think it's worth it, and I wouldn't have gone except it was my foodie friend's birthday and that's what she wanted. It is stellar food in a lovely environment.

You can think of dining in basically six tiers.

1) V&A.
2) Signature: Jiko, Flying Fish, Cali Grill, Citricos, Narcoosee's, Le Cellier and Yachtsman Steakhouses, Monsieur Paul, and Artist Pointe.
3) Table service. Arguably, you could split this further by adding
3a) Buffet service.
4) Good quick service (like the Garden Grille in Epcot.)
5) Regular quick service.
6) Füd -- turkey legs, Mickey bars, etc.

My good friends tend to bring in food for breakfast and graze a bit for dinner. I book breakfast and dinner. It all depends on what you want to do.

If you dine frequently at the WDW restaurants, get the Tables In Wonderland card. The deal is quite simple. Bill (including booze) is cut by 20%. An 18% tip is automatically added. And that's it. Cast members love this card, the moment they see it or hear the name, they know they're not getting stiffed tip-wise. There are other bennies, but really, it's all about the food. $125 if you're not an AP/DVC member, $100 if you are.

Finally: Disney is *really good* about allergies. Just click the box when you make the reservation or tell the wait staff, and a chef will come out and explain what's in the food, the sauces, everything, and if they need too, they can come up with something if none of the sides on the menu are safe for you. You do have to let them know it's an issue, but if it is, they can work with you.


I hang out on a lot of park forums, and the eating public seems to be divided into "MY GOD I'M SICK OF EATING THE SAME THING AT EVERY MEAL WHY CAN'T THERE BE MORE VARIETY" people and "MY GOD WHY CAN'T WE GET CHICKEN NUGGETS AND PIZZA AT EVERY SINGLE EATERY INCLUDING FANCY SIGNATURE RESTAURANTS DOES DISNEY WANT MY CHILDREN TO LITERALLY STARVE TO DEATH" people.

These are the same people who will say "WHY WON'T THEY BUILD A NEW ATTRACTION" and then when they do "HOW DARE YOU CHANGE MY PARK." :-)

If I ran a Disney Parks Forum, there would be one ironclad rule. The moment you say "I'm never going again," the Banhammer falls. But I'm not bitter. Much.

But yeah. There are almost 18 million visitors to MK every year, and 10 million to the other three parks. There is *no way* to make everybody happy with one answer. There will always be burgers, fries and chicken nuggets because a lot of people want those. There's also better, in case you want that. They can't please everybody, but they're trying hard to please most.
posted by eriko at 5:19 AM on March 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


eriko: My good friends tend to bring in food for breakfast and graze a bit for dinner. I book breakfast and dinner. It all depends on what you want to do.

We drafted a budget for food, said "Hell, no," and put a box of Cheerios, six bags of Trader Joe's bagels, and a toaster into our checked luggage. Viola!: breakfast the way the kids are used to, a earlier start each morning, and hundreds of dollars that we saved could spend elsewhere in the parks.

YMMV, natch.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:50 AM on March 18, 2015


My good friends tend to bring in food for breakfast and graze a bit for dinner.

Yeah, I generally throw a couple of granola bars in my bag and have breakfast on the way to the park. Except, of course, on the day when I book breakfast at the Kona Café (worth it for the coffee alone - the Kona Press Pot is the best brew on property.) I like to have the big sit-down meal of the day at lunch, to rest up for the afternoon.

EPCOT's Garden Grill is cool, because they serve the produce you see growing in the Living with the Land greenhouse tour ride.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:08 AM on March 18, 2015


Viola!: breakfast the way the kids are used to, a earlier start each morning, and hundreds of dollars that we saved could spend elsewhere in the parks.

Yep, makes perfect sense. As to myself, I'm usually there alone or with one friend, so the breakfast budget, even for crazy things like Cape May Cafe (with Characters, natch) isn't that big a hit. If anything, it's the beer bill at EPCOT that gets me....

Oh, and correcting. Garden Grille is the sit down buffet restaurant in the Land pavilion at Epcot. Seasons is the (very) good quick service there.

I like to have the big sit-down meal of the day at lunch, to rest up for the afternoon.

My usual plan is big breakfast, parks from rope drop until 12:00-13:00, depending on crowd, back to the resort for nap/pool/pool bar time, then to dinner and a park for fireworks. Repeat until sad bus comes to take you back to MCO.

But the right answer, really, is what works for you.
posted by eriko at 11:41 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


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