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One Brit’s View of the Magic Kingdom

Looking for trip reports I stumbled across this interesting look at Magic Kingdom. It appears to be from from a British tourist who is a first time visitor to the Magic Kingdom. Although in cyberspace nobody knows if you’re a dog, we’ll take this guy at his word. There are a lot of insightful lessons to be learned from reading this trip report. So let’s take a look.

Stuart begins his trip with a taxi ride to the Ticket and Transportation Center. Probably not the cheapest method of travel, but he didn’t mention if his hotel featured shuttle bus access. Still I often wonder why Disney’s transportation system doesn’t start at the resort borders (or at off property hubs) with Disney branded service. That extra $15-20 spent on a taxi could go to Disney’s coffers.

It was late January, and the enormous car parks surrounding the
monorail were almost empty – I was quite glad of this, as it would mean
smaller queues on the park. The monorail ride was impressive, along the
way it was possible to view the Disney lake, and in the distance
Cinderella’s Castle – the WDW icon.

I’m a bit surprised he doesn’t mention the ride through the Contemporary Hotel, that always seems like a big set piece for first time visitors to the park. I guess he wasn’t impressed. Maybe it’s showing its age. Also interesting how Stuart gets caught calling the "WDW icon" Cinderella’s Castle instead of Cinderella Castle. A common mistake.

Stuart’s next encounter is with the seemingly superfluous bag check before the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. He makes good point that they weren’t very good at keeping out Banksy at Disneyland, so why are they there if not for security theater?

having high profile security checks is all part of a process to
reassure the visiting public that WDW is a safe place to be. At this
point I hasten to add that the car park by the mono rail, as well as
the station and the mono rail train itself had a minimal security
presence so the real security effectiveness of these bag checks is
quite minimal. After all, a terrorist attack anywhere in the 47 square
miles of the complex would cause a media frenzy, and have a huge impact
upon visitor numbers…

This is true and there is nothing Disney can do except rely on the good police work of those who strive to keep attacks from occurring on our shores. Which does make me wonder what all the security theater at the parks is for. If the terrorist makes it that far, we’ve already lost that battle.

After the bag check came the biometric finger scan device. Stuart complains about having his finger print scanned. He has encountered two deliberate obfuscations by Disney here. First, they’re scanning your finger print, but only storing a limited amount of data (basically the a formula that measures a few points on your finger and the depth of the ridges then they store the resulting number on the magnetic strip on your card). Second, as long as you have signed your admission media (or have your name printed on it by Disney), you can bypass the scanning devices by showing a photo id to the Disney cast member. Sure this takes a moment or two longer, but it is an option for those who don’t like the idea of biometrics, no matter how innocuous. Disney does not advertise this option.

Stuart then goes on to say

As a revenue protection mechanism fingerprinting does make sense, but after undergoing the same process at the airport upon entering the USA, it did leave me feeling a little paranoid that my movements stateside were being tracked…especially in light of the fact that according to Eliot (2003) in his book Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, Walt Disney himself spied for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI – one cannot help but wonder if there remains a long lasting relationship between the Disney Corporation and the US government.

Please, don’t anyone else take Eliot’s Dark Prince book as anything other than poorly researched conjecture. Ugh. That said, it is general knowledge that Disney’s biometric scanning is being watched by the Government to see how well the public takes to the concept of finger scanning for access to public/ticketed venues.

Finally, Stuart makes it onto Main Street U.S.A. What does he see?

As I wandered down the street I realised that just about every building
was a concession of one sort or another, including gift shops,
bakeries, restaurants, tea rooms, and fast food outlets. In each
concession there were people in costumes (known as cast members). To be
truthful I didn’t find this much of an attraction – in essence it
seemed to be spending money to enter a theme park to spend more
money….no thank you.

Just about every building? Try every building. I guess I’ve grown accustomed to bypassing the stores (actually, I usually just walk through them preferring to enjoy the air conditioning as I make my way to the rest of the park), it’s easy to forget how a first timer might be turned off by this lack of show on Disney’s part. There used to be at least a few show elements (a theater, a barber shop, etc) along the way. Those are all gone to make more room for mountains of plush and princess product.

Once to the end of Main Street, Stuart encounters one of Disney’s famed parades.

I headed towards the train station to visit Frontierland, and en route I witnessed a trademark Disney parade – which in all fairness was no better than something that the majorettes could put have on. I was already beginning to feel a big Disney disappointment was on the cards. The reality did not seem to be as impressive as the hype that had brought me to the Magic Kingdom.

He includes a video of this parade and I can see why he considered it pathetic. It was just the Family Fun Day Parade. One of those ‘Year Of A Million Dreams’ promotions fulfilling the dreams of any guests who have always wanted to be a parade performer. Stuart missed the bigger parade that plays later in the day. I wonder how many guests leave the MK having this exact same experience? "Man that was a tiny parade. Disney’s standards have certainly fallen."

Stuart continues his adventure and eventually ends up at the Fantasyland Train Station. Of course, there is no Fantasyland Train Station. Just the ToonTown Fair one, but it’s another common mistake made by guests. This is one of Disney World’s least inspiring lands and I can see why it leaves Stuart uninspired. It’s also totally bizzare how there is no train stop for Tomorrowland. The MK would be greatly served by moving the ToonTown Fair station to somewhere closer to the real Fantasyland and adding a stop in Tomorrowland. Perhaps with a show building in between.

On leaving the park Stuart encounters one of Disney’s friendly looking cast members sporting big Mickey Mouse gloves directing him out an exit turnstile. When Stuart trys to follow a wheelchair out a non-turnstile gate, he’s rebuffed. This serves Disney’s needs to keep track of the number of guests inside the gates at anyone time, but leaves a bad taste in Stuart’s mouth as his last remembrance of the park. There has to be some way for Disney to avoid this. Put some people in a room and don’t let them come out until they have a solution folks.

Stuart now has to make it to Downtown Disney where he runs into another trap. There is no direct route from a themepark to Downtown Disney. Again, this is a convenience for Disney who wants to cut down on the number of people parking for free at DTD and visiting the parks for the day. But it’s a massive inconvenience for all the regular day guests who are just trying to get around. Either bring back the bus that goes from the TTC to Downtown Disney or extend the Monorail from Epcot to DTD (and perhaps to Disney-MGM Studios). But stop screwing with the average guest experience to stop a few scofflaws.

I think that if more Disney managers periodically experienced the park as a regular day guest would, some of the big pet peeves of many visitors, difficulty park hopping, transportation to and from off site hotels, dining without a reservation, having the same merchandise everywhere, and more would stand out like a sore thumb and solutions would be found. Stuart isn’t alone in his experiences. My guess is they’re fairly common. What they show is that there are a lot of opportunity to provide better show and guest satisfaction across the whole resort. I hope Disney is listening.