Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Disney Difference

This will be the first post in a series of posts documenting our Disney vacation this month.  We left on Sunday, January 6th and flew home on Sunday, January 20th.

A lot of people wonder why we love Disney so much.  In our social circles especially, Disney is not exactly popular, and I sometimes feel awkward explaining what I sell on Etsy or where we go on vacation.

Sure, Disney makes great movies.  Sure, the rides in the theme parks are fun.  But those aren't really the reasons we go.  To put it really simply, we go for the customer service.  What a boring answer, though!  So let me try to illustrate how fantastic their customer service is.

In the two full weeks we were at Disney, I didn't see a single unhappy Disney employee (cast member, or CM for short).  On the contrary, virtually every cast member was cheerful and perfectly happy to engage in any length conversation I wanted.  They answered every question I asked, and if they didn't know off the top of their heads, they found out the answer for me, instead of shunting me off to someone else.

We chatted with several people who were from Massachusetts - CMs wear badges that list their names and where they're from.  Most CMs who had more than passing contact with us asked where we were from and made an effort to connect with Massachusetts in some way.  I had long conversations with people who I had virtually nothing in common with - like on the cold and windy day in Epcot, I chatted at length with the woman selling beads made in Africa.  She's from Chicago and we talked about wind and children and social networking and the program Water for Life.

On our journeys around the park, we saw cast members going out of their way to connect with guests.  A woman was driving a scooter extremely slowly and a CM gently teased her, telling her she was going way over the speed limit and to please slow down.  On the way out, the security guards and other CMs joked with everyone that passed by.  When we screwed up and showed up at Hollywood Studios an hour and a half before opening, a CM got us checked into the park early and gave the kids tons of stickers to play with - and not just the standard Mickey stickers you get everywhere, but Jasmine and Belle stickers that I didn't see anywhere else.  Cast members comment on the kids' clothing or toys that they've brought along.  Even when we're just passing by, they'll shout out, "Hey, love the Flynn Rider shirt!"

A few times, I stopped to get food when I had the double stroller and the littles, while Doug was off doing something with the bigger kids.  One woman working behind the counter gave us free cupcakes for the kids. At every restaurant, the CMs insisted on carrying my tray for me, despite my assurances that I could manage it.  At table service restaurants, the waitstaff was always willing to help us get the most value out of our dining plan.  This happened once or twice at our resort's food court as well - because we got refillable mugs, when we got an adult quick service meal that comes with a drink, they occasionally let us get an extra snack in place of the drink we didn't need.

At Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin, a CM overheard me talking to Lachlann about his perfect score - talk about pixie dust!  She decorated an "I'm Celebrating!" button for him with "2013; Galactic Hero; 999,999".  He was thrilled!

On our last day, the kids did some last minute shopping at our resort.  The man who checked us out was very friendly and chatty - he gave the kids boatloads of stickers (again, some less common ones, too) and Mardi Gras beads.

These are all things that cast members don't have to do.  They could still do their jobs competently without going above and beyond - but we saw more times than not was a willingness to do everything in their power to add a little magic to our day.

The thing that I really love about Disney is how it changes me, though.  I'm not normally one to chat with strangers.  When I fly, my biggest fear is that I'll sit next to someone who wants to talk all through the flight (well, now I always sit next to someone like that, since we fly with our kids).  I find small talk with strangers in the grocery store awkward.  But at Disney, that all goes out the window.  I greet everyone with a big "Hello!" and tell people to "Have a Magical Day!" when we leave.  If I see someone with a "Happy Birthday" button, I wish them a happy birthday.  I'll happily chat with anyone - and they chat right back.  Even our fellow guests are happier and more friendly than regular people are on a daily basis.  I'm just comfortable at Disney.  It feels like home.