Our Most (and Least) Magical Moments: Trip Report, August 2007

3 Sep

Yes indeed, it was another fabulous trip to Walt Disney World, this time made extra-special by a free upgrade to Saratoga Springs Resort (we had booked Pop Century) and the “Free” Disney Dining Plan promotion (yes, I did the math . . . in our case we really did save money on paying rack rate in order to get “Free” dining).

Here are a few of the most, and least, Magical Moments from our 6-night stay:

Best Cast Member Pixie Dust: Eric from Illinois, at Disney-MGM Studios. Some Cast Members are so special, I just gotta let everyone know (including Disney management, who’ll receive a note from me shortly). The last night of our stay, my son lost a souvenir mug he’d just purchased at Pizza Planet. I cannot begin to tell you how traumatic this was . . . all the stresses and sadness of the vacation coming to an end somehow crystallized around this lost mug, and I was not sure how we could recover. Stopping by Guest Relations, we were greeted warmly by a Cast Member named Eric, from Illinois. Eric not only advised us on how to use the lost-and-found registry, and how to contact WDW Merchandise to try to purchase a replacement, but he took the time to walk with my son to Mickey’s of Hollywood, and let him pick out any mug he’d like. Eric’s kindness, care, and patience with my sad little boy were exactly the pixie dust we both needed.

And a strong runner-up: Michael from Florida, who chatted with us as we waited for a table at the Sci Fi Dine In. My son and I were particularly impressed at how patient and calm Michael was when confronted by an angry Guest who didn’t seem to understand how the Advanced Dining Reservation system works.

Best Fine Dining Experience: Le Cellier. This hot spot lived up to its reputation. The service was superb, the pretzel bread delicious, and the New York Strip Steak (aka the Scopa Special) cooked to perfection. The Cast Member serving our meal chatted amiably with us, and worked closely with my son to ensure that he had just the right food for his very particular tastes. I never would have booked a meal here without the Dining Plan, but now that I’ve tried it I’ll eat there again, even if I need to pay full price.

Also, a little tidbit of advice: If you’re hoping to get into Le Cellier and can’t get an Advance Dining Reservation (ADR), try dropping in right when they open for lunch (or dinner, but the odds aren’t as good). When we sat down at 11:50am for our noon ADR, only about 20% of the tables were occupied, despite the fact that Le Cellier is apparently fully booked until December. Cast Members told us that there are often tables available for walk-ins during the first 20 minutes or so after they first open, due to the high number of no-shows for those early slots.

Worst Fine Dining Experience: Coral Reef. We had the best of all possible tables, right up against the enormous aquarium. The food was reasonably good, and the wait staff understanding when my son had to send back an entree. But the noise was simply too much – the acoustics of the room seem to amplify the din you’d expect from any family dining establishment, and I’m sure we all complicated matters by shouting a bit in our attempt to be heard from the other side of the tiny little table. We won’t be back.

Best Character Interaction: Captain Jack Sparrow at the Pirate and Princess Party. Two tickets to the Pirate and Princess Party: $80. Wait in line to meet Jack: 45 minutes. Photopass pictures I ordered online today: $40, including shipping. The sparkle in my son’s eyes whenever he remembers giving Jack a set of “black pearl” beads, which Jack tenderly wrapped around his wrist? Priceless.

Worst Wait Times: Saratoga Springs bus service. I was warned, I gambled anyway, and I lost. The schedule clearly stated that buses ran every 20 minutes, but our average wait was at least that long. One particularly annoying example: On Magic Kingdom’s Extra Magic Hour morning we arrived at the bus stop at 7:10am, but no bus arrived for us until 8:15am, shortly after a uniformed Disney Transportation Cast Member arrived with a clipboard and a stern look.

My son had the good sense to start toting a book around for those long waits, and Pal Mickey and I just kept each other company the best we could (“Are you ready for a quick quiz?”).

Best View: From My Balcony, SSR 3723. Would I have appreciated it as much had I paid full price for the Saratoga Springs studio? I doubt it. But nonetheless there it was, a beautiful and relaxing vista right in my very own room. Every day during our afternoon break (thank you for the advice. Unofficial Guide!), I’d spend at least a few minutes sitting out on the balcony watching the fountain, watching for bunnies, and just plain enjoying what passes for privacy when you’re a parent traveling on a budget. I even caught a nice sunset or two.

Worst Scheduling Algorithm: Magical Express. (Be warned: I’m gonna get geeky for real here . . . I know just enough about computer programming and algorithms to be dangerous.) I hadn’t used the Magical Express (ME) before, and was always a bit put off by the fact that you’re required to board a bus to the airport three full hours before your scheduled flight. But I never realized that this rule was applied so haphazardly. Based on a conversation I had with another family on our same return flight (but staying at a different resort), we both boarded ME buses at 7:00am, but their bus made two stops en route to MCO – one of which was at our resort, 30 minutes after we had already been required to leave. And once again, since we were on the same exact flight, it seems to me that if they could depart Saratoga Springs at 7:30am, we could have been sitting right next to them instead of already being at MCO (since our bus was blissfully nonstop).

Now, I could tell myself that Disney’s just trying to trap you in MCO long enough to drop a few dollars in their stores there. Lord knows I did! But I think it’s really just a question of lazy scheduling. Because ME knows your itinerary (and in our case even provided flight check-in at the resort), certainly someone could easily design a scheduling algorithm that looks at the various Guest itineraries and optimizes ME departure times based on ensuring that all Guests scheduled for Flight XYZ arrive at MCO 2 hours in advance of Flight XYZ, rather than just a hard-and-fast rule requiring that all Guests have their butts in ME seats 3 hours before Flight XYZ departs. Had such an algorithm been in place, we might well have had time for one final round of Mickey Waffles, instead of having to be on the bus before Artist’s Palette opened for the day. Harumph.

Best Marketing Strategy: Continuation of the Year of a Million Dreams. I’m still sold on it, as surely as I was last October. Sure, in many ways it’s really more like the Year of a Million Free Lanyards, with a couple big prizes thrown in (many will enter, few will win), and I giggled this morning when I heard Scopa call it the Year of a Million Refurbishments. But those free lanyards feel more magical than they have any right to be, especially when you’ve spent too much of your morning waiting for a bus. And my son’s very proud of the Dream certificate he was awarded for throwing a basketball around with a few Cast Members one morning at Epcot.

Worst Wake-Up Call: The 5:00am call from Stitch and Mickey on the morning of our departure. Was it really time to go already? Couldn’t we just sneak in one more ride? “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least maybe I might be able console myself with a last few pin trades at the World of Disney store at MCO. Maybe Pal Mickey needs a couple new friends to keep him company on the long flight home. I wonder if Magical Express will get us there early enough?”

6 Responses to “Our Most (and Least) Magical Moments: Trip Report, August 2007”

  1. John from thedisneyblog.com September 3, 2007 at 10:35 pm #

    I can’t believe you opened the Pin Lanyards and destroyed the collectible value. :-)

    My feeling on YOAMD is that this is what we should be expecting from Disney on a base level of guest satisfaction. Not the giveaways, but the special certificates, moments, and cast member empowerment. The fact that they had to codify it in a promotion instead of just training for it everyday, is a sign of what’s wrong at WDW.

    I know, I see doom and gloom in what is otherwise a good promotion. But how about doing the good stuff and giving us something great as well!

    -John

  2. Kitty-chan September 4, 2007 at 7:27 am #

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, John!

    We couldn’t open those lanyards fast enough! We were *so* irritable after waiting for the bus that morning and missing half of the EMH. And actually, having a bus come on time, as promised in the resort schedule, would have been much better pixie dust than a free lanyard and a couple pins.

    Let’s hope that the CM empowerment lasts beyond YOMD. I’m still not clear on exactly how that empowerment has been codified . . . did CMs really get more power, or did the jargon just change?

    I’ve always been lucky enough to meet CMs like Michael and Eric (both described above), even before YOMD came to pass. And I’ve encountered plenty of grumpy CMs too; I can’t say I blame them, given the pressure they’re under.

  3. Biblioadonis aka George September 4, 2007 at 7:33 pm #

    Sounds like a great trip. I am glad to hear that you are rewarding the good cast members, as well.

    So…best ride? Worst ride? Crowds? Weather?

    What would you have done differently?

    Glad you’re back (even though you aren’t!) :)

  4. Kitty-chan September 5, 2007 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks for stopping by George!

    Good questions, lemme think. . .

    Best ride: Expedition Everest. I never get tired of that one! Runner up would be Test Track, as it’s the closest thing to a thrill ride that my son will go on.

    Worst ride: Jungle Cruise. I’m really not a fan, but my son likes the comedy.

    Crowds: Not as light as I’d hoped, nor as heavy as I feared. The worst was a mob scene one night at the Sci Fi Dine In.

    Weather: Hot, with daily thunderstorms. Fine if you bring a poncho everywhere and take a break in the afternoon.

    What I would have done differently. . . I gotta ponder that a bit more, because it’s all about Saratoga Springs transportation issues. Perhaps something I can ponder for a future blog post: “How to keep your sanity at SSR without a car.”

  5. Marlowe September 5, 2007 at 3:18 pm #

    Thanks for reminding me to check your report. It’s fun to be able to have this vicarious trip to DisneyWorld.

  6. Ashley September 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm #

    Somehow I stubled upon this blog and just wanted to respond to the comments about cast member empowerment….I am a former cast member and the magical moments, certificates, etc. are things that should always be expected with Disney, even without YOMD. I worked there before and during the celebration and the only difference to those little things is we were required to report them each day because there had to be AT MINIMUM 3 planned magical moments every hour, in every location, across every property. Before that, they were expected to happen, but it wasn’t necessary to report them all. Personally, before and after YOMD, I did my best to constantly create magic for all of my guests. That’s what made working at WDW so magical. Like everything, there are good cast members and some not-so-good cast members, but Disney does there best to instill their values and pixie dust in each and every one of them.

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