Friday, August 30, 2013
Disney clearly puts an emphasis with their cast on customer service. What principles has Disney used when establishing their emphasis on guests and a magical experience? How can other companies learn from the Disney experience? These questions are answered in Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by the Disney Institute with Theodore Kinni.
Be Our Guest outlines for the business professional how Disney develops and implements the value of great customer service. The book emphasizes how Disney has attempted to understand what guests want. And then through the cast, setting, processes and integration they deliver those wants to the guest. The book stresses the need to build a culture, with numerous examples from both Disney and other companies showing how values must be built into corporate cultures, and the power of that culture when employees understand the values place in shared culture. Examples from throughout Disney Parks history are used when describing the principles discussed.
So, I will be honest. I read this book to get specifically information about Mickey’s Ten Commandments, which sadly for me was really only about 2 to 3 pages of information. The book itself is a business book, and is of most interest to those interested in customer service. The hard core Disney fan may understand the points better because of the Disney points. But honestly it lacks the Disney history that would keep the interest of most Between Books readers. So it may not be for every Disney fan.
Be Our Guest provides readers pointers on providing better customer service. The Disney Institute and Theodore Kinni provide Disney settings to make their points. But the text is really more Business than Disney.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by David Koenig provides an unofficial history of the Walt Disney World Resort from Walt Disney’s inception of the idea of an East Coast park up until the opening of the Animal Kingdom Park. The text flows forward chronically, not topically, as Koenig walks his readers through the building of the resort, the opening of the Magic Kingdom Park and the expansion into Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom. Koenig’s focus is on the less obvious bits of history such as accidents, lawsuits and backstage incidents. So Koenig’s writes for example not on the design of the Contemporary Hotel, but on the work theft and union troubles that surrounded its actual construction.
Like with Koenig’s other books, Realityland is highly enjoyable and easy to read. I would say this is more of a chronological history than a topic one. This volume has no chapter on the Walt Disney World version of the Jungle Cruise. The focuses here tend to be more related to what could have been found in a newspaper or police blotter than what could be gathered in an informal and unmonitored interview. Though his research does include those former cast member interviews. With that in mind, the text tends to be more familiar and duplicative of what can be found in other Walt Disney World history books. Though I did highly enjoy the construction accounts which were more off the record than other sections of the book in my mind.
It really was the construction details of the park that I enjoyed most. Koenig details the union troubles that Disney faced in the Florida construction. There was a lot of theft by workers, something that lead to cost overruns and over purchasing to deal with material losses. Additionally, the unions required their workers be present and paid when specialists were needed from outside. And with so many workers on site, there was Sopranos style corruption, such as non-existent workers on the books, that most would never associate with a Disney park.
The on property deaths and major accidents are also interesting. I would say that the most at risk are cast members, where the majority of documented deaths have occurred. But being a small child is also a risk! With such a large property, deaths will occur. But for some reason I do not believe that detailing of these events is up to the same level as Mouse Tales. But then I am quibbling over really good versus excellent.
Realityland is a must have for Between Books libraries focusing on the Walt Disney World Resort. Koenig is clear and helps shed life on the history of the parks that is rarely spoken of. But I still stand by Mouse Tales as my favorite Koenig book. But then it was also my first!
Friday, August 23, 2013
I live Between Disney. And in Betweenland there are some things that are just not going to happen. Though I will admit that I have lucked out and been able to schedule our family vacation to Disneyland over the last few years, so I ask for no fan pity. Some things are just pipe dreams for me. For example, I doubt I would ever be able to go to a D23 Studio Tour. I simply cannot imagine timing my vacation perfectly to match up with the schedule. But hey, I am still a lucky guy and having my schedule coincide with a D23 Expo once was probably as lucky as I was going to get.
But lightening struck again when D23 put out notice for sign-ups to attend Old Navy’s Mickey Through the Decades Collection at the Walt Disney Studios event. And best of all, it was scheduled for a day where the Between Family would not be going into Disneyland on a already scheduled vacation!
The day started with us renting a car and gulp driving through the LA area traffic. We left early to give ourselves plenty of time. This meant we had time to explore. We drove around Griffith Park, where Disneyland as an idea was germinated. And after we found the studio I searched the GPS for close by attractions and found the Hollywood Sign. With the sign adventure in our rear view mirror the Between Family was in full tourist mode when we checked in at the studio.
The event itself was somewhat of a free for all, with you choosing between several activities. There was one area where press photographed the three celebrities sporting Old Navy’s new Mickey Mouse tees. The three celebrities Jennifer Love Hewitt, Constance Marie and Brooke Burke mingled with the press, but really did not spend time with the other invitees. Though I did see some of their kids enjoying the offered activities. They took photos, answered press questions, but really did not interact with the fans. In fact I never saw anyone ask any of them for their autographs.
|Old Navy's Mickey Collection|
It was everyone else, like us, who got to have fun. The invited guests were given a voucher for a free t-shirt. Since Jeffrey and other staff pointed out there were plenty of t-shirts we skipped over the crowd of people at the Old Navy tent. Honestly, this may have been a mistake since there were a limited number of shirts in each style and the Between Family had to chose from the picked over remains. We instead went first to have our photo taken with Mickey, in a 50’s costume. He would be relieved by Minnie throughout the event with her 50’s themed dress also.
After our picture with the main mouse we jumped into the line to get a Disney artist to draw a custom Mickey sketch for us. You could get Mickey or Minnie. As I stood with the Between Kid, the artist asked him what picture was desired. The response was baby Mickey, which the child ahead of us had gotten. The artist instead described a Star Wars Mickey Mouse. The Between Kid said no, baby Mickey please. So the artist laughed and said let’s do baby Mickey for you but Luke Skywalker Mickey for dad! He saw the gleam in my eye! So of course I loved it and was thrilled to get my own custom Mickey/Star Wars mash-up. (Note, I did ask later a character artist in the park if they could make me an Agent Coulson Mickey. He stated currently Marvel is not included in what they can produce).
After the Between Kid got a Mickey temporary tattoo and grabbed some coloring sheets, we ate. And we ate in the Commissary! The food itself was burgers and hotdogs from a caterer. But it was super fun to be able to say that we were eating inside the Disney Commissary. And sitting inside away from the heat, we saw the Saving Mr. Banks trailer for the first time.
After eating, we went into a conference room to watch some of the new Mickey Mouse shorts. We were given popcorn, candy and bottled water. They were bragging that one of the shorts had not been seen yet. But I could not tell you which one since we had not seen around three of them.
Oh, and now the real fun began. When we left the Commissary building we noticed some guests walking around. So we tested our limits. We walked down to Pluto’s Corner and snapped some pictures. And since we made it that far, we took some pictures of the Animation Building. The Between Wife shook her head as I pointed out to the kids that this was the building that Walt Disney worked in. And then we walked a little further to get good pictures of the Team Disney Building. And since we were there we wandered around Legends Plaza, with me in full geek mode as I put my hand in the impressions left by Marc Davis, Roy E. Disney and others. So we may never be able to go on the official Disney tour. But it our unofficial self guided tour made the trip to Burbank.
|The Team Disney Building|
|Reaching Out to a Legend|
After we left the Studio and went to the beach. So it was an awesome day overall.
Yes I live Between Disney. But you never know what you may find Disney Adjacent until you open yourself up!
Monday, August 19, 2013
In 3500: An Autistic’s Boy’s Ten-year Romance with Snow White by Ron Miles, the author invites his reader to join him in recounting his son Ben’s relationship with Snow White. Miles tells of the story of his young family, beginning with his wife Sara delivering their son Ben on Christmas Day 1993. Overtime it became evident that developmentally there were concerns and Ben was diagnosed with Autism. The strain of being a young couple, work issues and parenting a child needing extraordinary care and support eventually led to the couple’s divorce. Noticing an affinity for Disney movies and merchandise, Ben’s parents decided to take him to Orlando to visit Walt Disney World in 2002. What they witnessed was their child making developmental strides that they had not witnessed at home in the Pacific Northwest. The two parents were so impressed on the impact that Walt Disney World had on their son, they picked up their households and moved Ben to Orlando so he could visit the park on a regular basis. Miles’ outlines the routine they followed within the park and how Ben became infatuated with Snow White’s Scary Adventures. The highlights of the book include accounts of Ben’s 1,000, 2,000 and final ride on the last day of the extinct attraction’s operation.
Honestly, this book made me tear up a little. There are times I read it thinking, I’m a tough guy this stuff is not going to pull at me! But it does. Any parent reading the book and seeing the progress that Ben makes as he interacts with Walt Disney World is sure to have a emotional reaction. As Miles points out, his son is not “cured”, but observing Ben’s reactions is truly magical. And having worked in the Special Needs community in the past I found it easy to understand both the joy and pain of caring for someone with special needs.
This book may at times read like a detailed trip report, but it is not just about Snow White. It is also the story of coping. Miles discusses the pain of divorce, and finding ways to accommodate your former spouse. He details finding love again! Miles’ puts his reader on edge sharing about Ben’s trips to the hospital and the helplessness one can feel when your child is hurting and cannot communicate their needs. This is not a story about Walt Disney World. This is a story that occurs within Walt Disney World about people with real problems.
One aspect of the Disney Parks that jumps out to the reader is the cast members. Miles recounts the magic that the cast created for his family. The highlight is the effort to reach trip 3,500 before Snow White’s Scary Adventures closed, an achievement that required cast intervention. And the meetings between Ben and Snow White are priceless. The efforts that the cast took to help Ben transition as the ride closed are remarkable. The cast really is committed to making magic.
The hardcore Disney parks fan may not find the history and trivia they may be looking for in 3500. But this is a very human story. And it is story that one can more easily pitch to non-Disney fans for the human interest story. But you may want to grab a tissue as you reach the end of the book!
Friday, August 16, 2013
Who has jumped onto the Planes’ bandwagon? Anyone, anyone, Bueller? You better get on now, because before it even hit the theater, opening at $22.5 million (though the empty theater I watched it in makes me want to demand a recount, the sequel was pre-approved just like those credit cards they send you in the mail! If anything can be gleaned from last weekend, finishing third in front of the newest Percy Jackson movie probably sounds the closing bell for the demigod.
Here are my thoughts on this Disney offering of a Pixar universe:
- If You Liked: Cars you might like Planes. Can we just break this down. Cars has a red racecar with issues as its main character. Planes has an orange “race” plane with issues. That’s right kids, orange! I like orange. It reminds me of Aquaman. And it is not red! The main female character of Cars is a strong no nonsense blue Porsche. In Planes we have the strong, independent blue forklift named Dottie. The names do start with completely different letters! Both Lightening McQueen and Dusty Crophopper have an older mentor with a secret! It is not the same secret, so it is clearly different. And just to show there is no trend here. Lightening McQueen’s best friend is Mater, a larger vehicle who marches to the beat of his own drum. He sounds funny! Dusty does not have a plane best friend, instead he has Chug a larger vehicle, a fuel truck, who follows his own drum and sounds a little funny. But he is not really rusty so it is very different. I am now ready to write Boats, please call me. I’ve got this!
- Cliff: Planes is not a Pixar film, it is based on the World of Cars but is a Walt Disney Pictures release. It is specifically a DisneyToon Studios production, the people who brought you every Disney straight to home video sequel. And quality wise it stands beside the DisneyToon Studios better films, such as the Tinker Bell line. .....Wait, sorry I got distracted. So every Pixar movie has John Ratzenberger providing a voice. It is not hard to find Ratzenbergers’s audio cameo in this movie. I have had a lot of friends ask about Pixar’s Planes and how was it. I have to remind you that this is not a Pixar film, but it is easy to be confused with DisneyToon Studios pulling in this Pixar staple for a minor role. There is plenty of confusion out there about where this film came from.
- Product Placement: Well Synergy lives! Michael Eisner would be proud. American Airlines shows off its new plane design with Tripp, a Boeing 777. I cannot remember many animated product placements, but this one is very obvious thanks to the American Airlines commercial attached to the print of the film I saw. Disney is brilliant. American Airlines struck an exclusive deal to show Planes on their flights a month early. And for that they will always be in the movie. You cannot accuse Disney for not knowing how to make money. In fact, I am still convinced that they made a profit on John Carter.
- Second Team: I am sorry, Planes in many ways does feel like a direct to video production to me, regardless of how much money they have put into marketing the film. And here is just one example of why, where is the short? There is no short paired with Planes. All Pixar films get a short. Wreck-It-Ralph got a short. Where’s the short? You have trained me Disney. If you want me to take your film seriously, I need a short! It also does not help that Pixar did not produce this film. And knowing the history of DisneyToon’s studios past releases, it really does feel to me as a direct to video, the original plan. I like that Disney is trying to push their abilities to produce theatrical quality animated films. But I really do worry that many will see this as a 90 minute toy commercial that will soon be forgotten. Of course, that is me talking about the release and not the actual movie.
- Baa Baa Black Sheep: The Between Kid loves planes. So it was nice to see a variety of planes, many of which I will be able to buy for pretend play. As someone who has studied World War II I did get a little thrill with the introduction of Skipper a World War II era Corsair. I really enjoyed the story of Pappy Boyington on Baa Baa Black Sheep as a kid and I really enjoy seeing an animated Corsair. Hey, did you catch that World War II happened in the World of Cars. Now that is a movie I want to see as Fords battle Toyotas in the Pacific Theater. Speaking of the military, I did really enjoy the Top Gun cameos. Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards voice a pair of F/A-18E Super Hornets. Now that is a great tribute to a non-Disney yet classic film.
For me, and from other reviews I have seen Planes fell flat for me and those like me, adults. But unlike Up, or cough cough Pixar films, I do not feel like Planes was written for an all ages audience. It was produced for kids and both of the Between Family minors really enjoyed the film. And I will be purchasing it when it finally arrives in its intended home release.
So 2014, Planes: Fire & Rescue kids. I wonder how they will turn the three minute “Rescue Squad Mater” into a 90 minute film!
Monday, August 12, 2013
Sewell recounts two stints as a Disney cast member at the Walt Disney World Resort, starting her story in 2010. The first tour was under the CareerStart program, no longer active, which allowed the applicants to submit their materials while still in high school. During her CareerStart program, Sewell worked at the Electric Umbrella in Epcot. With her return to the park, Sewell was part of the Disney College Program and worked in merchandise at Epcot. Sewell outlines how one applies and what they can expect in the interview process. She then discusses the training program that cast members go through and how living arrangements are setup. And she discusses in the depth the life of a cast member both at work and play. She also goes into depth about the disillusionment of young cast members as the magic wears off during their programs.
Honestly, I could let the Between Tween read this book. I cannot say that about all Walt Disney World memoirs, with many of them seeming to stress the party and alcohol atmosphere that exists everywhere young people gather. This is closer to my own college experience, one where parties with alcohol and intoxicated people existed, but where most of the social gatherings were largely innocent and silly. I think it helps underscore the point that every cast member is not a party girl/boy, an impression that other memoirs can give. Instead those highlighted in the book are people that are more like my history than other memoirs show. Of course, that could be because both Sewell and I are introverts. And the fact that Sewell and I have both written for Celebrations makes it easy for me to relate to her.
I think the aspect of the book that many young people may be interested in is the “how to” aspect of the book. Sewell walks readers through her application, interview, housing and training experiences. This would be a great and easy to read primer for those interested in the Disney College Program. Yes results may vary, but Amber Earns Her Ears provides a good baseline expectation of the process end to end while still allowing the unexpected to happen. And it may help parents feel more comfortable in allowing their young college aged adults venture to Orlando.
It is interesting though that like more cynical memoirs Sewell shares the disillusionment of working Disney experience. It becomes clear that despite one’s level of fandom, working for the Mouse is a taste that not everyone acquires. And when comparing Sewell’s two experiences it becomes clear that even working in the same park can lead to a very different experience. Like all jobs, perhaps it is about the people you work with!
The book itself is very easy to read. Sewell’s writing flows well and one can read it as a vacation book, like I did. The chapters read like edited blog posts, which is the origin of many of them. In fact the second half of the book reads like it is real time instead of a historical account.
Amber Earns Her Ears by Amber Sewell is a pleasant and easy to read memoir about working at the Walt Disney World Resort. It adds to the Between Books library by outlining the Disney College Program experience. And it is a memoir that a parent can feel good about letting a minor read as they dream about their own future.
Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press
Friday, August 9, 2013
|Happy Hans Plays On the Matterhorn|
I have heard a lot of folks express their opinions on podcasts and blogs about Disney Parks’ Limited Time Magic promotion this year. But I was holding off making an opinion until I experienced it myself. In fact, I was kind of excited that during my summer vacation at the Disneyland Resort there would be some new entertainment that I had not planned for. But would it hold up as I experienced three offerings of Limited Time Magic?
- 4th of July All Week: The Between Family hit the park on the last day of this offering. We were promised 4th of July fireworks, merchandise and food. I never saw food. None of the merchandise was for me. And the fireworks were fireworks, though it was very nice to see a new fireworks show since I have only seen “Magical” at Disneyland. So in the end the fireworks were a value add, but that was the only bonus to my one day of this offering.
- Alpine Music on the Matterhorn: For the majority of days in the park the promotion was Happy Hans and his son Eric joining the Matterhorn climbers on this park icon. I could see a little yellow spot from various locations on the park, but it was not until the last day of the promotion that I actually heard the duo play. The music was good, I heard an Alpine remix of “it’s a small world” but sadly the very loud music drummed out the audio from the Walking in Walt’s Footsteps tour. The other bonus was the Matterhorn Macaroon at Edelwiess Snacks. Now I love this snack, and the Between Kid could eat them like Dole Whip! We ate a few of the macaroons on this trip. But they were all purchased at the Jolly Holiday Bakery. So sadly, this promotion had little to no impact on my touring.
- The Dapper Dans Sing: So we were also in the park for one day of the Dapper Dans singing boy band songs. This is a repeat offering. I saw the Dapper Dans once with a gathering of 50 or so guests around them from the other side of Main Street. I could not hear them singing, had places to go and could not stop to listen to their take on the Backstreet Boys! So it did not impact my vacation.
In my opinion, Limited Time Magic added little to my vacation. It could have been Limited Time Meh. The offerings, unlike the return of the Golden Horseshoe Review, created no excitement in the Between Family. I am very glad we did not take Limited Time Magic into account in our vacation planning. We honestly could not be bothered by the offerings to stop our walks to attractions we were excited about. After being in the park during the Year of a Million Dreams, I was very disappointed as there was no excitement around this year’s marketing promotion. Maybe in 2014, they will do better!
Monday, August 5, 2013
I was lucky on my last vacation to the Disneyland Resort to find out more about another way to bring the Disney magic home, Disney Infinity.
I just happened to be in Anaheim for the first day of the “Summer of Endless Fun” tour which allowed Disney Interactive to show off their latest game at Downtown Disney, Disney Infinity. I attended the July 7th session in Downtown Disney. The tour spot included a tent, under which they showcased the game on a number of different platforms. Those waiting to try out Disney Infinity were entertained with music by Radio Disney. We were also given the chance to pre-order the game while standing in line!
It was a popular event. I got to the tent within the first hour of it opening and had to wait at least 45 minutes for my chance to play. While waiting I was given a Disney Infinity bag, button and place mat shaped handout with game specs. The crowd seemed to be a mix of folks looking for free stuff with little knowledge of the game and people who wanted to know more about the game but who had heard of it. I knew of the game, but honestly I did not fully have a grasp of what the game would entail. I had already pre-ordered, and the sales representative making the pitch to me told me my bonuses were better than they were offering that day.
Once in the tent, I got about 4 minutes of game play. I got to play as Mater driving around Radiator Springs. The console I was using was not one that I have at home, we were not given choices. So it took me longer than I wanted to learn the controls. Basically my big achievement during this time was snagging cars with Mater’s hook and giving them a toss across the landscape. The representative assigned to me asked me questions about what I liked and wanted the game to do to help keep the conversation going. And we discussed what I had pre-ordered and what I would need to make what I have alright purchased work in more than the Toy Box mode. I also found out about the Power Disc sets, $4.99 for a random pack, which could be a big collectible along with giving your game cool features. When I was finished, I was given t-shirts for the Between Kids. For it being such a short time I did walk away with a decent amount of stuff and increased knowledge about the game.
The “Summer of Endless Fun” tour honestly made me more excited about Disney Infinity. I told myself if I did not enjoy it I was going to cancel my pre-order. Instead I walked away thinking about what else I wanted to order! Disney Infinity will clearly help bring the magic home in the between months ahead!
Friday, August 2, 2013
For me my Between Book obsession started with Disney War. And it is also a book that helped open my eyes to the story behind the story within Disney. In the end, Disney is a business no matter how much we want to vilify or glorify the magic. The following are just a few of the insights I have picked up on my reading of the Eisner era:
- It’s Never Just Business: When reviewing the business choices made by Disney Board Members, staff and stockholders it becomes clear that emotions are an equation that has to be taken into consideration. I think one incident that brought this forward to me is Roy E. Disney’s agreement to return to the Board after his first resignation if Card Walker was moved off of the Executive Committee of the Board. Walker, a Walt man, was someone who had criticized Disney in the past behind his back and had marginalized him. As part of the agreement to bring the Roy side of the family back to the Board, Disney agreed but required that Walker’s influence would be lessened. The idiot nephew had a hard time forgetting the mockery of the past. And so this business decision was made exclusively on emotion not business needs. This is just one of the many decisions during the Eisner era based on emotions not logic. Another great example would be Michael Eisner’s refusal to not pay Jeffrey Katzenberg his bonus instead of settling for a much lower price.
- Team of Rivals: Disney’s success during the Eisner ear was not built on the backs of one man but several. Michael Eisner may have been a creative genius, but he needed a Frank Wells to provide business know how. And despite any faults he may have displayed, Eisner needed Katzenberg to push and harass the studio staff to complete quality productions. Katzenberg was a force of nature that no one fully replaced at the Studio. And it took Roy E. Disney to help preserve animation as a unit within the company in the face of new leaders who did not see the business sense to retain animation. Much like the Allied high command during World War II, a group that distrusted each other but mostly retained their posts during the war, the Disney team was one based on tension, genius and stability. And once the stability was rocked by Wells’ death the tension increased and the genius evaporated. Disney was very lucky that during half of the Eisner era they had a hard working smart leadership who did not self-destruct sooner because all of the ingredients were needed to move the company forward.
- Pointing Fingers: Everyone was to blame, and I mean everyone. There is a tendency to paint Wells as a saint. But it is his lack of documentation that lead to the debacle of the Katzenberg law suit. Likewise as prickly a personality as Katzenberg could be, Eisner was unclear and failed to provide proper praise to his Studio head (a tendency Katzenberg also shared). I grew up seeing Uncle Mike as a hero. I did not see the Eisner, until now, who ruined a friendship with Michael Ovitz through poor communication and lack of purpose. Now I realize that he was human and should be both praised and criticized for the decisions he made.
- Fingerprints: Eisner’s fingerprints are all over the company today. Before the Eisner/Wells era the company was seen as a family studio with some theme parks. During the Eisner era movie production was expanded, new theme parks were built in the United States and abroad, property management became a key business, and the first acquisitions were added in companies like ABC. The Disney that we have today that is strong and diverse must be attributed to the foundational leadership of Micheal Eisner.
- Teammates: Disney leadership works best when there is a strong creative leader and a strong business leader. This is the model that Walt and Roy O. established. And Disney’s renaissance during the Eisner Era, even with their failures, was kicked off again by the partnership of Eisner and Wells. I ask myself if we are there today and if the model has changed with Bob Iger as the business leader and John Lasseter, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kevin Fiege as creative leaders?
For me the Michael Eisner Era is still a special time in Disney history. I never had Uncle Walt! But Eisner did fill that role for my generation. I am not ready, even reading about all of his warts, to jettison Eisner’s place in Disney history. Instead, I think I will continue to enjoy the advancements Michael Eisner brought to Disney, while attempting to avoid as much as possible the mistakes he made.
Nobody is perfect after all!