Despite nearly half a century of visits to the Sunshine State and fifteen years of parenthood – and the recurring plaintive cries of three children ceaselessly bemoaning their status as the only kids on the planet not to have visited the Magic Kingdom – until this past spring break, this Fleming family had never set foot in Walt Disney World, Florida, USA.
Yes, hard to believe, but the mystical pull of Mickey and his troops had eluded both my wife and me for all our days, and, much to the disappointment of our children (15, 13 and 11), them as well. Year after year, vacation after vacation, despite our children’s pleas and arguments made that most friends had made the Orlando pilgrimage more than once, we did not bite.Until this year.
And so it was, through a confluence of events, this March was to be our Disney debut.[i]
For the first-timers, beholding Disney is an epic, unforgettable experience. At 47 square miles, the place dwarfs the City of Wilmington in size (17 sq. miles), and it has nearly as many employees (60,000+) as does Wilmington residents. On an average day, more than 130,000 people will visit the four official Disney parks (that doesn’t include other nearby venues including Universal Studios etc).
Among the many remarkable traits of this iconic American adventureland, a few were particularly impressive:
Customer Service – Every day is opening day at Disney. Employees are incredibly friendly and helpful, eagerly opening doors, quick to make eye contact and ask if they can give you a steer. Guests are made to feel like they are the first people to visit – certainly, every staff member we encountered were trained to treat us as if this was the most important vacation of our lives. Brilliantly, Disney has mastered the most elemental deliverable of any successful business: smile, be cheerful and treat your customers like kings.
Marketing – Disney is Ground Zero of American commercialism. A marketing extravaganza – no, a marketing orgy. It is a land of brand. And that is somehow both queerly compelling and revolting. Every ride conveniently and coincidentally deposits you in a gift shop stocked with toys, tchotchkes, gewgags, knickknacks, stuffed animals and other easily-broken plastic stuff hosting the images of hundreds of familiar Disney brands competing for children’s eyes and your wallet. Yay!
Logistics – Forget FedEx, no one knows logistics like Disney. Buses, mono-rails, trams, orderly “fast pass” lines etc. Thousands and thousands of potentially anxious, irritated and distracted tourists coming and going in a million directions are organized and transported with alacrity and aplomb. These people know how to move people.
Cleanliness – This place is clean. I mean really tidy. Not an errant piece of trash in sight. No spilled soda cans or tossed candy wrappers. No stains on the sidewalks. Spotless busses and hotels. The bathrooms aren’t disgusting. And thanks to an intricate network of underground tunnels, guests never even encounter the trash guys hauling away tons of smelly refuse. Brilliant.
Diversity – The crowd at this most American of resorts was about as diverse as it could be – geographically, demographically and culturally. I spoke with people from Alabama, California, Minnesota, France (yes, France), Argentina, Morocco – and that was just the staff. And there was no shortage of Floridians themselves, as locals benefit from cheap seasonal passes.
Adults are welcomed– This place isn’t just for kids. With the possible exception of the original “Magic Kingdom” park, it was clear that those over 21 have a lot to keep them occupied: namely a wide variety of adult beverages they are free to consume – and do so avidly – while roaming the grounds “on property.”
Anyone know CPR?– My fellow Americans, I am here to report on the state of our union: we have a lot of seriously overweight neighbors. My goodness. The percentage of our fellow Disney-ites who were dangerously obese (many of whom had to use those little scooters) was striking.
Joy – I will give Disney this: never before have I seen more children with more smiles or stars in their eyes. That is fun (but it ain’t cheap).
We have no plans to head back anytime soon, but there’s no doubt that Disney does it right.
[i] This is a fairly uninteresting story that largely revolves (how did this happen?) around my daughter’s increasingly complex schedule.
[ii] My grandfather was an executive with General Electric who worked with the great man in the late 1930s