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Wednesday, June 6. 2018
This may come across as an ad, though it's not meant to be. It's a series of observations made while briefly visiting to Disneyworld this past weekend with my wife and extended family visiting from Ireland.
Despite my belief that Disney couldn't be so special, I learned Disneyworld really is a magical place. The magic, however, does not reside in what Disney does, how it is presented, or what it provides. That is all a manifestation of Disney’s corporate pursuit of perfection, a laudable and wonderful goal which its cast members manage to achieve daily. Before I explain the magic, I'd like to consider a few things Disney is capable of accomplishing each and every day.
Every morning, they restock and restore food and merchandise stocks to accommodate about 53,000 people. When you consider the average US town is about 20,000 residents, Disneyworld is a fairly large town (2 and a half times as large as the average US town). This town is renewed each day with new 'citizens' with a myriad of different tastes and desires. Many, if not all, share the love of Disney products of some kind, but there is no accounting for the plethora of other wants and needs that arrive daily. From the number of chicken fingers needed to the amount of spaghetti required, the slushies and ice cream served to mouse ears sold - Disney has quite a large number of items to prepare for each and every day. Yet Disney manages to fulfill its requirements in a more than adequate fashion. I'd go so far as to say they overachieve their goals each day, based on my experience.
When you arrive, you are met by a representative ("cast member") who smiles, welcomes you, checks your bags, checks your ticket, maybe one who gives you advice or information, another may direct you to food, or rides, or restrooms. Still another may direct you to the buses or monorails, and one even wishes you good night as you leave. All of them do their jobs with a smile or wave, I didn't see a single cast member looking dour or bothered. There are others who help you get on and off rides, buses and monorails and still others who manage the long lines. I shouldn't have to mention the security or the wait staff at the stores or resorts, or even the ride operators themselves. Point is, Disney works its ass off, so do their cast members, and they do it with a smile, a wave, and always with a caring and fun demeanor. Shirts are sold that say “Happiest Day Ever”. Meanwhile you can see many parents wear “Most Expensive Day Ever.” Both of these sentiment are likely true. But if it is expensive (yes, it really is, even if you are used to New York prices), you really do get what you pay for, and more. Nobody feels good parting with large sums of money. I have to say it pained me to pay for this trip...but I walked out with a completely satisfied feeling and a smile on my face.
It’s not just rides. It’s music, parades, light shows, character meetings and meals, fireworks and even movies (Cinderella’s castle becomes a giant movie screen, amazingly, in a multimedia late-night event). If it rains, it doesn’t matter. Smiling cast members arrive and parade about in umbrellas or on vehicles. They are singing in the rain and having a great time, so much so that you can’t help but enjoy it, too. They stop and hug adults and children, high-five them, dance with them. This is a non-stop party.
Beyond just the Magic Kingdom, it's amazing to see EPCOT and realize Walt had envisioned this in an era when people rarely traveled outside of the USA. It was his way of bringing the world to the citizens of the US, and helping them learn about other cultures and giving them the opportunity to see the world without having to go too far. Today, people can and do travel to these places regularly. Somehow, despite this, Walt managed to see this outcome, and EPCOT still provides a great way to enjoy the rest of the world even if you've been to the locales it features (and I have been to most of them). His forward-thinking vision and his commitment to excellence (a commitment which remains in place today throughout the park) has served him and his company well. Sure, it's a "Disneyfied" version of these countries, but I mentioned to my wife that we'd been to Bratislava only 2 years earlier and we found it incredibly enjoyable despite commenting that it seemed like a Disney version of a Central European city. Maybe Walt was on to something.
So far I've commented on what most people seem to think the 'magic' of Disney is. I really haven't even touched on that yet, though. Everything I mentioned is really just the setting and the mechanics which make the magic happen. Because the magic happens with each individual. The magic is what makes this the "happiest place on earth." The magic is the people. Not the cast members. The visitors themselves and the joy they bring.
It's easy to criticize most Americans anytime, anywhere. That's true at Disneyworld, too. It's a cross-section of every American stereotype you can imagine. I'd go into detail, but I don't feel that is necessary or even justifiable. These people don't show up to have some urban elite-type make fun of them. That's too easy to do and it's unfair to them. They're just there to have a good time with their families and friends. That's where the magic starts. But the magic is deeper than this. Looking around, your first impression may be (because mine was) "wow, this is one helluva cult." You really can't help but think that with the mouse ears, shirts and overwhelming amount of paraphenalia. You can think cult all you want, but when you find yourself singing along to the music of "Heffalumps and Woozles" during the late night movie on the castle, you stop talking about the behavior you earlier may have derided.
So looking past all the work Disney does - what is the magic, exactly? The magic is the smile on a child's face when he/she is hugging their favorite character or princess. It's the number of young girls dressed as a Snow White or Cinderella or the little boys dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. All indulging themselves because they are finally part of the movies they love so much. What's more enjoyable than the squeal of laughter while a child plays tag with Pluto or Goofy?
There's deeper magic than this, though. It's found in the depth of love which is displayed on many shirts, or in the behavior of many parents. Shirts that read something like "Cancer diagnosed. Chemo starts. Marrow replacement a success. 1/1/2018 Cancer beaten. 6/2/2018 Jenny celebrates at Disneyworld." Seeing a young girl with a disfigured face in a stroller that was clearly made by her father to look EXACTLY LIKE Cinderella's carriage just so she could BE A PRINCESS. Then seeing dad take Cinderella out of the carriage to dance with her in front of Cinderella's castle while a band plays.
Disneyworld is fun for a person my age, sure. I have to admit it was my first visit (at age 56), and I'd really had no incentive to ever go before. I had fun (we met family from Ireland who were coming over for their first time, too), and it's not really my cup of tea. I might go again when I have grandkids, but it's not a place I want to vacation regularly. Despite this, I really was able to love this place and think it a worthwhile investment of time and money. It was enjoyable not because of the fun I had, but seeing the magic that everyone talks about. Seeing young children being wheeled out at 10pm, dead asleep in their strollers with smiles on their faces, after the fireworks.
If you're not on board with it, if you don't see it, if you're the kind of person who thinks this is just a means of separating you from your money, you lack humanity. I really believe that. I'd waved this trip off for years because I'm not a Disney-type person. I had no desire to give them any money. But I'd forgotten there is a part of myself in all this. I'd grown up on these films, and the memories all came rushing back when I saw how much those children enjoyed them. Sure it's a corporation and of course they are in it for the money. But this is Capitalism at its VERY BEST. Value for money, getting what you pay for, and loving every second.
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Disney has managed the art of separating you from your money as painlessly as possible, with an excellent perception of value given for the amount paid.
That said - it's just too crowded for me any more. Last time we went, spent some Extra Magic Hours at night in the MK. It was indeed magical without all the crowds from earlier. I may never go back, but I'll always remember it...
I have to take exception to the beginning of that last paragraph because for the whole prior part of the essay that's exactly what I was thinking was the real magic of Disney, which is to say the magic of capitalism. As Adam Smith put it, it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
It's truly amazingly incredible what you can get people to do for you when there's a profit to be made. Just look at your earlier comparison of Disneyworld to a good-sized town and understand that Disney pulls this off because it pays them to do so while our humble public servants altruistically working solely for the common good (insert exaggerated eye-roll here) rarely if ever reach this level of service. That's not by accident, it's not magic, it's because capitalism works.
Say what you like about the Disney venues and their growing corporate greed; but, I have long said that the U.S. should establish an umbrella contract with them to provide municipal services and public security to which cities could subscribe.
I go one step further and suggest that United Services Auto Association (USAA) be contracted to manage government finances. I don't think anyone does better.
It seems to me that people misunderstand capitalism.
Capitalism isn't greed. It plays a role, but that's not what it is. If it was, nobody would engage in exchange at all.
Capitalism is providing value exchanges in which both sides benefit.
You can say that Disney has found as many ways to separate you from your money because of corporate greed, that's fine, but it's just your personal opinion. It ignores what I pointed out - that there is a REAL REASON for this place.
If any of you have a child who is sick, dying, desperate for engagement with their dreams because every day is a struggle, are you suggesting that providing an outlet in which, for at least one day, that child feels wonderful is wrong? Are you suggesting that this outlet should be provided free of charge?
I loved watching these family events unfold. What did my heart wonders - and I don't often speak of heart, or feelings, because they don't play a role in policy making, which I'm usually concerned about - was that I saw true humanity taking place all around me. Multiple examples of family love, shared caring.
If you want to focus on the cost and say "yeah, they paid a fortune for it and greedy Disney benefited", my point of view is that is a shallow and cynical way of looking at it. Seeing a child with a disfigured face dancing with her father and feeling like a princess had to be one of the most heart-rending things I've seen in my life.
Disney may make money doing this. But the value exchange is terrific. I'm not a Disney person, but I know I got my money's worth just seeing that. When I add that to the great service, the fun rides, and the chance to spend time with others in my family who are big Disney fans, I feel I came out ahead.
If you go to Disney and don't see multiple examples of what I discussed here, and I only mentioned a few of those which I saw, and not feel good, then like feeblemind said, you really are a black-hearted villain.
If you feel the real magic is seeing capitalism play out, that's a good thing too. As I said, capitalism is a win-win exchange and I saw a lot of winning all over the place.
I don't see corporate greed. I see a company that realized, just like ANY OTHER, that you provide a great product, and a great experience and you can make money doing it, because people aren't stupid. They know that it's a great experience, and they love it.
I can name a million other examples of corporate greed, like tobacco companies or pharma companies which contract with the government to hide their dangers and jack up rates by controlling markets. Disney is not a company which I'd put in that same category. Every company is designed to (properly, and justifiably) earn a profit. If they do, consistently, while providing great service and great products, then they are not greedy. They are just good at what they do.
Hey Bulldog -
I think you convinced me that I have been right (for me, at least) to have managed to avoid that place thus far. Grandparents took my kids though. Never heard much about it, except lines.
I can only tolerate fakeness (say, at a play or a movie) for so long. I know the place is meant to be an interactional fantasy, but I find the idea creepy. I'd rather interact with a grouchy pizza man in Brooklyn than with those stoner Disney greeters who hate their jobs.
Maybe I am a curmudgeon but I dislike canned, manufactured cheeriness. I do love 4th of July fireworks in our village though.
Carl Hiasson did a great book about Disneyworld, altho he did not call it that. I forget which book.
Bulldog. I used the term "corporate greed" when it would have been more accurate to have said "perceived corporate greed". I have no problem with corporations charging fair market value for their product--and fmv is ideally, if not always, determined by the consumer. It is in the entertainment market place.
I do think Disney overcharges for entertainment; and I think they have begun to reach their tentacles into areas that have nothing to do with their core. But, it is what it is. As I said, I greatly admire their competence in presenting their theme park product in a clean, pleasant, and safe environment. Much could be learned.
Forgot to include that I think the grandparents took my kids there because they had the cultural impression that it is what grandparents are supposed to do.
Anyway, canned "fun" has never been my thing. Which is why I love our urban hikes into reality.
I agree with you, I'm not a 'canned' fun person, either.
I didn't get to Disney until I was 56, after all. I'd resisted more than just not decided to go. I'd had opportunities, but passed them up.
But a number of events flowed together and I figured "I may as well go for it and see why my friends all think it's so great."
I think it IS great. But not for the reasons they do. Crowds? Yes. Long lines? Yes. Expensive? Yes.
But the exchange, depending on what you're looking for, is fair and I don't think they overcharge at all (except, perhaps, for things like Mouse Ears which cost $5 to make and sell for $25).
My meals weren't more expensive than a reasonable NYC meal. And they were just as good, to my great surprise.
I found the people working there to be pleasant and helpful and always trying to keep the smile on my face or the face of the kids.
The one reason I wouldn't return is because it's canned fun. It's fake. But I have to admit, the place is great at opening things up. I saw huge chunks of my childhood played out in front of me. I loved watching families enjoy time with each other. You might say you can see that at a beach, a boardwalk, or any one of a million other places. I'd argue it's a question of scale. I didn't see anyone who was unhappy, which isn't the case in most other places.
As I pointed out, watching the children was the most fun, particularly the handicapped ones. This was THEIR moment, and they were loving it.
I'll go back when I have grandkids, because I want to see them enjoy it. In a way, I'm sorry I never got to see my kids smile when they interacted with their favorite characters. I told both my boys to try and get there before they are 56. One visit is enough for most people.
I just happen to know many people who go every year. Not my thing, but whatever floats your boat. I always thought people like that were strange. Now I get it. Good for them.
My husband is a retired attorney. He worked for Disney for 4 months parking cars and driving trams and smiling which he didn’t do much as an attorney. He said it was the best job he ever had. He had to quit because the job started interfering with retirement, hunting trips, hockey games, etc.
He’d go back in a heartbeat.
I've had several trips to Disneyworld. The "canned fun" part - the Magic Kingdom - is, to me, only actual fun with children in tow. Epcot is another matter. I can enjoy that w/o the benefit of children.
I don't need to go to Disney to enjoy witnessing the joy of families and friends doing things together which is, as mentioned, magical. I'm lucky that way.
Once had one of Walt's top guys as the instructor in some management workshop, perhaps about conducting effective meetings. It was long ago, but I remember the key point - do not, ever, allow pissing and moaning in meetings. I used to have a bunch of little pins with "PM" and the red circle and slash over it. Gave them all away, slowly but surely.
I don't see that Disney is a good example of a town at all. They don't sell hammers or thread or groceries or gas or any of the hundreds of thousands of other items sold in any town or city. They sell a very limited number of items that are fast and easy to restock and sell quickly. There are no streets being repaved during business hours, no garbage trucks blocking traffic, no traffic tickets and no busybody politicians. Busch Gardens is where the fun is and without all the fake everything that is Disney.
I'll go to Disney world/land when they fire the foreign workers and hire American back.
I have to disagree with "stoner greeters who hate their jobs." I'm on the West Coast and know quite a few people who work at Disneyland. None of them hates her job. Friend #1: divorced, re-entry student, used to work at Walmart. She hated that job. Started at D-land as a survey-taker at the gate, now basically a behind the scenes gofer in costuming. Does not hate the Disney job. Plus, she likes singing in the mass choir for the holidays. Mother and adult daughter: Mom was hired as entry level cashier (and boy did her feet hurt). Very quickly was promoted to new-hire trainer because she had experience managing people from a different job years earlier, and because she's good at it. Daughter, just out of college, applied to bus tables because she loves to cook and knew she'd have to start at the bottom. But the interviewers realized that she has a genuinely friendly, helpful personality and sent her to load guests onto rides instead. She did that for a year or two and then transferred to do prep in one of the park's restaurant kitchens. She now has a career path to do what she really wants to do. A few more years in a Disney kitchen plus the food service college classes she took, and she'll be able to get a good job in a good restaurant anywhere. Another friend, with an animal-science degree, started off taking care of the Main Street carriage horses. Then, being petite, she spent some time as Minnie Mouse before getting injured (I don't think it was mouse related but I'm not sure). After she was medically cleared, they put her on as a Jungle Cruise Skipper. She has loved all three jobs. Disney takes a lot of trouble to pick people with the right personality and outlook, and then to place them where they will be a good fit. The surly and the stoners (did I mention the pre employment drug test?) and the foot draggers won't make the cut. It is certainly not effortless to keep the Disney-pleasant demeanor in place, but it's not fake. They were like that before they were hired and acquired the Disney polish. And since Disney makes an effort to hire friendly people, they mostly like their co-workers, and that's a good thing in a job too.
It sounds as if Disney does a good job of matching employees' skills to jobs that best utilize those skills.
I haven't been to Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom part of Disneyworld. But I have been to what's known as Adult Disneyworld, their Main Street area. There is no admission fee. One parks fairly close. There is booze. I asked one of the Disney cops, "Can I walk around with a drink?" He snorted. "Of course."
Everything was reasonably priced. Food was reasonable. The shops were reasonable. One could purchase a very fancy, expensive shave in the fancy razor shop. There are bars with entertainment. All in all, a nice evening and I would have spent more money in downtown Minneapolis.