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Celebration Vacations? No Thanks, Give Me Dreams

25 Sep

I just can’t get excited about Celebration Vacations, Disney’s 2009 marketing promotion. But I gotta tell ya, I bought 80 postcard stamps today.

Since about January, I’ve been sending in the postcard entries for Year of a Million Dreams. It’s strange how attached I’ve become to the daily ritual of hand-addressing my postcard and stopping by the mailbox.

I was actually about to give it up last week, after a third pair of Mickey Dream Ears had arrived in the mail. Because yes, I have indeed won some prizes in this sweepstakes. Two pairs of Dream Ears arrived on the day my son graduated from elementary school (a bigger day than I would have imagined), and this last pair arrived on a weary September afternoon, when perhaps I’d supervised one too many hours of homework.

I’ve also been lucky enough to win a few things in the Parks: A Dream Fast Pass at Disneyland, a couple trading pins, a couple of lanyards for my son and me at Magic Kingdom. And a bittersweet memory: The American Wishing Tale Dream, which we won just two days after my son had been through some unsettling medical tests (which, thank goodness, turned out just fine).

I know plenty of Disneyphiles are glad to see Year of a Million Dreams come to a close, after what will be more than two years and probably more than a couple million dreams. And I know a lot of people are frustrated that they didn’t win anything. Maybe it’s easy for me to like the promotion because I’ve won a number of prizes. But I’m not sure that’s the only reason I like the promotion. My favorite aspect of YOMD has not actually been the free lanyards, the Mickey Ears, or even the Mickey confetti on that table in the Liberty Inn. I feel the best part of the promotion has been the increased emphasis on Cast Member empowerment and responsibility to make a little extra magic here and there. At the start of this campaign, I wrote:

The success of the campaign over the long haul may depend in part on how well Disney continues to support its Cast Members in creating the magic, and in managing Guest expectations. Will the Cast Members burn out after month upon month of going beyond even their usual level of consistent cheerfulness? Have the Guests’ expectations been raised to an unreasonable level, and will there be backlash from those whose Dreams don’t come true? Already The Disney Blog has raised the question of whether low-level prizes are being awarded in a manner inconsistent with the rules (and perhaps in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act), and certainly plenty of Guests have been frustrated to be almost in the right place at the right time, as they watch Dreams awarded to others. But the casual, occasional Disney visitor probably isn’t paying enough attention to have their hopes raiesed as high, and it’s hard to imagine the Disney Faithful changing their park attendance patterns just because they didn’t get handed a free pin.

Year of a Million Dreams might well turn out to be a stroke of marketing genius, if Disney can keep it up. But the real heart of the Disney magic is the Cast Members who go above and beyond the call of duty to create those special moments for Guests. Our Segway-riding friend Chris didn’t need any special campaign backing him up to make our evening a little more magic, he just did. Let’s hope that Disney gives Chris and all his colleagues the support they need to keep that magic going.

As far as I’m concerned, that part of the YOMD doesn’t have to end.

So what about those stamps? Well, I honestly was starting to get sick of mailing the damn postcards. For the money I’ve spent on postcards and stamps, I surely could have bought myself three pairs of Mickey Ears, and gotten them embroidered to boot. But when I mentioned to my son that I wasn’t going to be sending the postcards anymore, he looked at me blankly, saying, “But Mom, you got us Mickey ears!”

Enough said.

Disney CMO Top 10

2 Mar

The top 10 Disney Chief Magic Official candidates are now online – go check it out and cast your vote!

I’d submitted an application myself, but am no longer in the race (I didn’t even make the first cut, actually). Mr Broke Hoedown tells me I should throw my endorsement behind a candidate . . . this is gonna be a tough call, I gotta say.

My Chief Magic Official Video Resume

28 Jan

Okay people, my Disney Chief Magic Official video is online. Good thing I don’t embarrass easily I have no idea whether the number of views of each video has any impact on selection of the first round of finalists . . . but I figure it couldn’t hurt to get some traffic, right?

Plus, I know y’all really need to see my attempt at deadpan comedy, right? So go ahead click here to see my PowerPoint, office-jargon-spewing skillz in action.

Disney Chief Magic Official Entries Due Today

27 Jan

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done! And I’ll bet I’m not the only one around here who learned how to use non-linear video editing software over the last couple weeks, preparing a video resume for the Disney Chief Magic Official contest. Entries are due today, January 27.

I’m not entirely clear whether the contest rules allow me to upload my video to YouTube, so for the moment at least I can’t post it for you. (Suffice it to say I look rather fetching in Mickey ears with my business suit, and that I gotz mad PowerPoint skillz.) The rules say that “All Online Entries become the sole property of the Sponsor,” which seems to imply that I no longer have any intellectual property rights over my entry, so I’m playing it safe.

I actually uploaded my video resume a couple days ago (thank you, hotel wireless network!), and it hasn’t appeared yet on the Disney CMO “watch videos” section, which makes me think that page just reflects a random sample. Plus, for the moment at least they’re not making it easy to link to individual videos, so it would seem they’re hoping none of these videos will go viral yet. I bet that’ll change once we get into the “Top 10” round, where online voting counts.

I know my chances of winning are very small. Many will enter, few will win, yadda yadda. But it was a lot of fun making the video! My best wishes to all of you who are entering the contest too.

Shameless Plug: MGW Podcast on YOMD

16 Sep

Today’s MouseGuest Weekly Podcast features a segment my BFF Lisa and I recorded live this week with Dan and Eric, commenting at length on various criticisms we’ve heard of the Year of a Million Dreams. Per usual we also take a few tangents, like poking a bit of fun at other Disney podcasters, and taking inventory of my Pal Mickey’s rapidly-expanding custom wardrobe.

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?”

A Million More Dreams: Fairy Tale Weddings Open to Same-Sex Couples

5 Apr

Reuters reports that Disney has opened its Fairy Tale Weddings to same-sex couples:

The Walt Disney Co. has changed its policy to allow same-sex couples to participate in a popular Fairy Tale Wedding program it runs mainly at its two U.S. resorts and cruise line, a Disney spokesman said on Thursday.

Disney previously had allowed gay couples to organize their own weddings or commitment ceremonies at rented meeting rooms at the resorts, but had barred them from purchasing its Fairy Tale Wedding package and holding the event at locations at Disneyland and Walt Disney World that are set aside specifically for weddings.

The article mentions the excellent article in March which brought this issue to so many people’s attention. The conversations within Disney must have been very interesting even before the article, given the number of Cast Members and Disney management who likely opposed the former policy.

I read some of my favorite message boards tonight, and I see the couples overjoyed to know they can start planning their dream wedding at Walt Disney World. As one poster said, this is truly the Year of a Million Dreams now.

Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through
No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
the dream that you wish will come true

Give Kids the World . . . So Many Ways to Help!

3 Apr

Many times in this blog, I’ve mentioned the fabulous trip my dear son and I had to Walt Disney World in October, 2006. It was a special surprise, piggybacked onto Mr Broke Hoedown’s business trip to Orlando. We were especially lucky to win the American Wishing Tale Dream, along with my Best Friend Forever Lisa; my son still beams when he talks about it, and I cherish the Magical Moments certificate we brought home.

Dreaming a little dream

But I’ve never written about what our lives looked like earlier that same week. About 48 hours before this picture was taken, I was sitting in my living room removing electrodes from my son’s scalp, at the end of a 48-hour ambulatory EEG. This was his second EEG of the year (and while we didn’t know it at the time, there was one more to come). We’d also had an MRI, a CT scan, and countless visits with neurologists of various stripes over many months. This trip was more than just a regular vacation for us; it was a diversion from an endless stream of medical fears and uncertainties. For a few days, we were able to forget, and stop worrying about what the next test result might bring.

I am tremendously relieved to report that my son is fine. He has a chronic condition that will always require management, and we’re fortunate to have access to excellent health care. But some kids face much tougher odds, and they need a little magic even more than we did. So do their parents.

Give Kids the World fulfills the wishes of terminally ill children who would like to vacation with their families in Central Florida. There are a tremendous number of ways to support these efforts, ranging from direct contributions, to booking your Staybridge hotel stay through a link on their web site, to bidding on eBay auctions that donate a percentage to this important work. Please visit their site and consider how you might want to help.

More Concern About Year of a Million Dreams

8 Mar

In late February, many travel agents received emails about a special sweepstakes, for one lucky travel agent to win a night in Cinderella’s Castle, as part of the Year of a Million Dreams.

The problem with this? The thing that’s got some of us cynical and irritable? Well, the winner must take their night in the castle on June 2, 2007. And it just so happens that Magic Kingdom is “park of the day” for Gay Days at Walt Disney World.

Co-incidence? Maybe, maybe not. But for those of us feeling a little twitchy about not seeing any families headed by same-sex couples winning the big photo-op YOMD prizes, well, it makes us even a little more so. Is Disney trying to avoid awarding a night in Cinderella Castle to participants at Gay Day? I wish I could give them the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m still too sad about the fact that same-sex couples can’t use Disney wedding services to think that there’s not something amiss here.

Year of a Million Dreams: Who’s Eligible?

26 Jan

Anybody who reads this blog regularly knows that I have taken a long, deep drink of the Year of a Million Dreams Kool-Aid. But I do still wonder sometimes about whether all the prizes are awarded in a truly random fashion.

John Frost once again raises the question of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act is being violated when Dreams are awarded on rides that are inaccessible to those with disabilities. I’m not sure about that . . . if the attraction on which to award the Dream is chosen at random, that may well take care of the issue. After all, if Dreams were only awarded on non-thrill rides, then statistically Disney might be favoring those who either can’t or don’t choose to ride them. I’d have to do the math to really be confident here, and I’m hoping that Price Waterhouse Coopers has taken care of that. Hoping, hoping.

But I get a deeper, nagging little feeling in my gut sometimes. John Frost ponders, “I want to know how Disney always seems to “randomly” choose those suburban caucasian nuclear families to enjoy the free giveaways.” And here’s where I’m really with John. When will we start seeing the families of color, the single-parent families, the two Dads, the kids and parents with visible disabilities? Disney Guests are a microcosm of America, a little melting pot, definitely a bit skewed by financial considerations (not everybody can afford a Disney vacation), but with plenty of diversity that we’re not seeing reflected in the big photo-op winners, at least not yet.

The Castle Dream is a major case in point. Yesterday, as has been heavily reported, the Fouch family was the first family to randomly win a night in Cinderella Castle. And actually, the marketing got me a bit confused . . . wasn’t the first family to stay in the Castle going to be chosen not at random, but through the Good Morning America essay competition? I’m not real clear on the timeline, but yes Good Morning America awarded the very first Castle Stay to the wonderful, deserving Davis family, with once again those same demographics.

I’m glad for the Fouch family that they got such an awesome surprise, and I’m especially glad for the Davis family that they were given such a beautiful reunion. I just wish I could shake that nagging feeling in my gut, though. I never got the impression that a heavily-tattooed, obviously quirky and queer family like mine would be Good Morning America’s pick for a widely-publicized night in Cinderella Castle. Especially since my husband probably wouldn’t go with us (not a Disney fan), leaving us looking to all the world like a family headed by a single queer mom. (Hooray to us for being who we are!)

Mom, Kid, and Castle

I still find the Kool-Aid very sweet. I’ve enjoyed a Dream FastPass (awarded while existing Space Mountain, sorry John!), a pair of pins with one to give away (awarded by a Cast Member on janitorial duty, when I was with my son), and the American Wishing Tale (awarded in line at the Liberty Inn, again when I was with my son). My friend Lisa’s afraid that I’m hogging so many Dreams that there won’t be any left for the rest, but I’ve also enjoyed watching plenty of other Guests receiving Dreams as well.

I do hope that as more of the big photo-op Dreams continue, we start to see the diversity of Disney Guests better reflected in these contest winners, so I can put that nagging little feeling in my gut to rest, and be sure that “random” really means random.

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