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2013 in review

December 31, 2013 Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 30,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized

Firebrand

December 22, 2013 2 comments

My oldest son, W.K. Adams has started work on his third book, this one will be online at his blog and completely free. Please stop by, take a look and add your comments. And, if you get a chance, check out his first two books on Amazon.

Categories: Books

MagicBand Observations and Suggestions for Improvement

November 4, 2013 Leave a comment

IMG_1540

 MagicBands are finally rolling out in full at Walt Disney World. After a long testing process that started back in spring of this year, it looks like WDW and their guests will be getting these as an early Christmas present! If you’re not familiar with these, be sure to check out Disney’s page for the scoop. Basically, these are the result of the not-so secret project that Disney has been working on for the last few years under the broad project name “Next Generation Experience”. They’re RFID enabled bands designed to fit on your wrist and contain your park tickets, fastpass reservations, photopass id, and purchasing capabilities.

Update: 11/18/13 -  The Orlando Sentinel has reported that the project is behind schedule and being delayed for several months to resolve some of the issues found in testing. Not a lot of detail was provided on how the delay will effect guests. More information and the full article can be found here.

My family and I experienced the “magic” of using these recently, on our 19th trip to WDW in October. We arrived on Thursday, October 17th and checked in at POP century without any issues or real delay. Oddly, when we checked in, they also gave us the Key to the World cards, and told us they were to be used just in case the MagicBands failed. Fortunately, we didn’t need them, as the trip went without issue the entire time we were there. We were able to enter our rooms, make purchases, pay for meals, enter the parks and use them for fastpass reservations we had made online before arrival as well as photopass pictures. Overall, the experience of using the MagicBands was pleasant and uneventful, which made for a great vacation, but I can’t say they added anything spectacular to the trip.

Anecdotally, I found myself frequently looking at my band to see what time it was, in spite of the fact that I haven’t worn a watch in almost 7 years. It’s kind of ironic too, considering that I decided to stop wearing watches on a previous vacation to WDW and feeling like I was somewhat slave to the time and just wanted to enjoy myself and NOT worry about the time.

Now that I have my general review and comments out of the way, I would like to point out some observations, and suggestions of how I think Disney could improve MagicBands.

 Paypoint3Purchasing

We didn’t have any specific issues with making purchases using the bands, but something peculiar we found was in the authentication requirements. When making a purchase for less than $50, they require the guest to enter a PIN that was previously set, which makes sense. However, I found the over $50 requirement a little puzzling. As before, a PIN is required, but there is also a requirement to sign for the purchase. I understand the potential security risk here, and I think it’s a good idea to have a second step, but I think the signature requirement just feels a bit out-dated if not maybe pointless. Perhaps they’ve implemented it this way to verify authenticity if a purchase is questioned or maybe fraudulently made. Or, maybe it’s a hold over from the old way. Regardless, it just seems a bit more cumbersome especially in comparison to the way it used to work with the Key to the World (KTTW) cards or a credit card (one step), and I think there might be a better way.

Purchasing Improvement Suggestion: Instead of requiring a signature on purchases over $50, use a different PIN, or ask for the guest’s room number to be entered for verification.

Usage Tip: The scanner (pictured above) is actually removable. It sits on a magnetic stand and can be picked up by either the CM or the guest to be positioned better with the MB which might help reduce the awkward wrist twist that’s usually needed.

MagicBandGate2Park Entry & Fastpass Scan Points

During our short trip, we witnessed on several occasions, long lines at the entrance of the FastPass return queue. Several times these lines extended out into the normal flow of traffic in the area, creating a bit of congestion. The backups occurred on most all of what would be considered “E-ticket” or popular attractions like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road, etc. For the most part, the lines all moved pretty steadily, not fast, but at least steady. I attribute this issue mostly, but not entirely, to the newness of the Magicbands and guests adjusting to using them. I have no way to confirm, but, it also seems like may be a lot more people utilizing FP than before which could be adding to the longer lines.

I noticed that there are some scanners that you have to press the flat part of the band (with Mickey on it), directly up against the scanner, but others are a little different, and you just have to pass the band right in front, either that, or some may just be faster than others. Of course, this could also be a network communications issue where the network or servers were busy and it took longer.

On a related note, we had a CM at the FP entry point of the queue at Kilimanjaro Safaris, tell us that only one member of our group needed to swipe our band for entry. No other FP queue CMs did this during our time.

Here’s a general list of things that seem to slow people down at FastPass return, some observed on my own, others were comments from a discussion thread on WDWMagic:

  1. Incorrect placement of the band on the receiver (Mickey Head). This could be adults who can’t seem to get it to align properly, or kids who can’t reach the receiver and need assistance.
  2. Slow response from receiver/system. Sometimes after reading your band the light will circle on the receiver (white) two or three times before turning green, indicating you’re FP time is within the window and you’re clear to proceed.
  3. Un-informed/trained guests who don’t understand how to use them. Some guests seem to think that just because they have a band, it means they automatically get to use the Fastpass entrance to the ride.
  4. Guests not wearing their bands on their wrist, or who don’t have them readily accessible for scanning.
  5. Family or group whose times don’t all align with each other, but they try to all enter together.
  6. Wrong times, or times that maybe shifted from what they were originally?

None of these issues are show-stoppers really, they just slow things down unnecessarily. Some of them are easily corrected by additional training and education for both CMs and guests, and some of these are just the newness of the bands and will ease over time. However, there are still a couple of areas here where I think they could improve.

One other comment I heard was that the paper Fastpass, while wasteful and problematic in itself sometimes, seemed like it was faster for both the guests and Cast members. A CM could quickly look at a bunch of FPs and see their times were all together or at least close enough and let them go in. But, with the electronic version, there is no visual, until each person swipes their bands, which takes a few seconds more. And, since the times are now being checked by a computer, it’s likely a bit more strict with early or late arrivers, although, this should be easily adjusted. Again, some of this is just the newness, and most of these issues will be worked out, but I have to wonder too if this might be a case where the old way could have a slight advantage. MyMagic -with-MagicBand-05-1024x681

Improvement Ideas for MagicBand and Fastpass efficiency:
1) As you can see in the picture above, the scanner/reader is at the the top of a 4 foot tall (estimated) pole that is usually themed to the area or attraction. Enhance the readers and expand the scanning zone. Instead of having a small scanning circle that is set at a fixed height, change the readers and use a vertical scanning sensor that runs from 18″ to the top of the pole.  So, no matter the guest’s height or how/where the guest holds their band, the sensor should be able to read it. Obviously, these should also be added at the front gates of the parks as well.

2) Replace the Mickey/circle head with a screen or digital display that would show the guest’s names, party size and FP return time in a way that is visible to both them and the CM.  Optionally, add an audio cue, either a voice or different sound that would identify the situation.

I think these changes, would greatly improve the situation as well as make it easier for both the CMs and guests in understanding and hopefully resolving some of the aforementioned problems that can happen.

I’ve heard there are kiosks around the parks where guests can swipe their bands and make or change FP times, but either I wasn’t looking for them, or they’re MIA in the parks. Regardless, it seems  there should be more of these scattered around and perhaps more visible.

IMG_1721  IMG_1724
Which of these looks easier?

 Room doors

Just look at my pictures above. I’m not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but… one of them might be easier for some people, like me.

General Improvement Suggestion: One thing that seemed pretty obvious in all of our usage of the bands, whether at purchasing, gate entrances, Fastpass or room entry was the very strict requirement of having to physically touch the Mickey head on the band to receiver. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have implemented, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. We use a system like this where I work, and it’s proximity based which doesn’t require physically touching. The reader and device can detect each others’ signal just by passing within close proximity, which is usually about an inch. If this were possible, it would make the system a bit more user-friendly and possibly even quicker.

If I can offer an honest critical review, I would say that overall, the MagicBand “experience” seems almost negligible. For the average guest staying on-property, the added benefit would seem almost insignificant, except for the added ability to pre-select or reserve fastpass times, which for some is huge. Admittedly this is a nice feature that is easy to use and comes in handy at times, but for me at least, it’s not a game changer. Aside from this new “feature”, I don’t really see a huge value for the guest, and it’s certainly not enough when comparing WDW to their competition.

I fully understand this is version 1, and there are going to be problems and adjustments that need to be made. By writing this, I’m hoping that someone at Disney will see it and consider some of my suggestions for improvement when the time comes. Perhaps you’ve used it and had your own ideas on how they can improve, if so, please add them.

2013 Food & Winefest

October 30, 2013 Leave a comment

 

 

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival has gotten out of hand. Too big and too popular for it’s own good, maybe? Kind of like the final days of Pleasure Island before Disney shut all the clubs down. I’m not advocating that Disney goes the same route as they did with PI for F&W, but I do think the time has come for them address the situation and what it has grown into.

My family and I (wife + 3 older teenagers) visited the Epcot Food & Wine festival, October 21st. In general, we prefer to visit WDW during times of the year when the Flower & Garden or the Food & Wine festivals because of the lower crowd levels, lower temps (sometimes), and the atmosphere that those two events offer for the events, not to mention the food! Plus, Epcot is one of our favorite Disney parks, so those events are just an added bonus. However, this year, our experience was far from enjoyable. Everything started out okay, as we arrived at the park around noon, and proceeded to the Canada pavilion where we had lunch reservations. Our meal at LeCellier was a bit pricey for lunch, but still enjoyable. After lunch, we took a break and walked over to the Beach Club where we relaxed for a while, enjoyed some ice cream at Beaches and Cream, and then made our way back to Epcot around mid-afternoon.

Upon our return, we headed toward France where we caught the balancing chair act of the "waiters", which is always entertaining. The crowds were pretty thick in the area, so we headed on around World Showcase, smelling the variety of foods, and really wanting to sample some, but were turned off due to the long lines at all the stands. And, if the long lines weren’t enough, some of the guests "on tour" were already getting pretty sloshed. While most kept to themselves and their group, some were confrontational and bordering unruly, at least in the sense of a normally family-friendly Disney park.

Now, neither my wife nor I drink too much these days, but we have in the past, even at Epcot enjoyed a Grand Marnier or other mixed drink, and normally others’ drinking doesn’t bother us. However, the masses at World Showcase on this day were too much! As we ventured further around, it just seemed that we kept running in to more and more people who were loud and unruly. After giving it a try in a couple of pavilions, we soon tired of the craziness and made out way thru the crowd back over to Future World, where it was somewhat quieter and less crowded.

While my wife and I were not really offended by the crowd, we did find it somewhat un-Disney like and out of character from what we’ve come to expect from past Disney trips. Mind you, not everyone there was inebriated, obnoxious or acting unruly, but as is the case for most things, it was a select few who just ruined it for our family. There seemed to be several large groups there who were on a quest or competition if you will to drink everything there and see who could survive and still walk out the park. We’ve made a mental note that for future visits during this event, we will avoid going on the weekend, however, it might be a good idea to at least inform guests who might be unaware of the crowds and their potential unruliness and the climate surrounding this event, especially on weekends.

I would like to add that after thinking about it for a week, we’ve come up with an idea that might offer a good solution for Disney that would allow F&W to continue. I would imagine that that the crowds that F&W draws is pleasing to Disney and their bottom line, especially in what would normally be a slower time of year for the park. And, I would hate to see them cancel the event, because we’ve really enjoyed it in the past. I just think there might be a better way to do it that would be enjoyable for all.

So, our suggestion (it was my wife’s actually) would be to only offer the wine and alcohol during the evening hours, maybe from 4 or 6pm onward. Or, better yet, during F&W, offer a special ticketed event for adults over 21 at World Showcase maybe one night of the week, then on both Friday and Saturday nights. I realize this would be somewhat unfair to families trying to come to the park as it wouldn’t allow them to tour and see Illuminations, but it might help to relieve the situation some. In the daytime, the stands could open around 11 or noon, and only offer food, and then maybe at 4pm, they could start serving wine and beer.

That’s my suggestion, I would love to hear yours. Again, I don’t want to see them kill off F&W, and I’m not really against people drinking and having a fun time. I just don’t think the large groups of drinkers touring World Showcase mixes well with families who are there with kids also trying to have a good time, but without the alcohol.

RapidFill Mugs

September 14, 2013 Leave a comment
Rapid-FIll-Logo
Rolling out now across the resorts at Walt Disney World is an all new, technologically enhanced version of the sometimes popular resort mugs.
If you’ve been to WDW any time in the last 15 years, you’ve no doubt seen these in some form or another. And, if you’ve gotten the Dining plan any time in the last few years, you probably have a few of these lying around. So, what’s so “new” and “technologically enhanced” about them, you may ask?  Four letters, R-F-I-D, Radio Frequency IDentification which will allow Disney greater control over who gets soda and how much.
According to The Disney Food Blog – these have already been implemented at Disney’s All-Star Music and All-Star Movies food courts, and they’re continuing to be installed in the other resorts on property.
In general, I think these are great, although, the prices seem a bit on the high side, but I really like the fact that they’ll be usable at all resorts across property, not just the one you bought it at, like in the past. However, I would like to see Disney take this program a step (or two) further by allowing them to be used in the parks as well. (Nod your head if you agree). I believe this would make the cost of $17.99 for a four day or more mug a bit more palatable.
Aside from my wishing for the in park usage ability, I’ve come up with a few arguments for which I would like to expand upon to justify my wishful thinking in hopes that someone from Disney will see this and consider it.

Disney Resort MugsSome of my own personal collection of mugs

Cost Savings

While there’s a minimal savings to guests in allowing resort mug refills in the park, the potential savings for Disney is somewhat substantial if you consider the number of mugs used over time.

I think it’s safe to say that the use of paper cups in the parks has to generate a LOT of waste! So, if they offered refills property-wide, this would cut down on the amount of paper cups used and thrown away daily. I’m sure some of these get recycled, or I hope they do, but still if you figure on average there are 130,000 guests in the parks, and of those let’s just say they are buying at least 100,000 cups per day (just to make the math easy) if not more. If 5% of the guests brought their mugs into the parks, that would cut down on 5,000 paper cups a day being thrown away. Over the course of a year, that’s more than 1.8 million cups being thrown out, collected and recycled. It’s not much, but it does add up in that fewer cups would be used (cost), the trash has to be emptied a little less frequently (labor), as well as hauling, recycling is carrying a bit less (overhead). Oh, and if they have standalone fountains like at the resorts, it further reduces labor costs and even order fulfillment. Soda consumption would go up slightly, but using the new machines, they could actually put limits on that as well while at the parks. As they like to point out on Disney Channel, “A little can make a big difference”. Who’s to say what the actual numbers would be, but when you’re talking about 47 million people a year, little bits add up quite quickly.

Based on a foodservice.com post (popular industry forum), the cost breaks down something like this [1]:

Estimated costs for 16 oz cup of soda for Disney (Castmember fills cup):

  • $0.12 for soda
  • $0.03 water and CO2 to mix the soda + ice
  • $0.07 for the cup
  • $0.01 for the lid
  • $0.015 for the straw
  • $0.015 electricity estimate (fountain, ice, lighting)
  • $0.07 for the labor*, CM to fill cup (est. hourly wage $8.47)    
  • $0.07 for labor*, CM to empty trash

    Total: $.0.38 (estimated)

Estimated costs to refill cup/mug (self service)

  • $0.12 for soda
  • $0.03 water and CO2 to mix the soda + ice
  • $0.07 for the cup
  • $0.01 for the lid
  • $0.015 for the straw
  • $0.015 electricity estimate (fountain, ice, lighting)
  • $0.07 for the labor, CM to fill cup (est. hourly wage $8.47)
  • $0.07 for labor, CM to empty trash Total: $.18 (estimated)

Difference of $.20

So, if there is an estimated 130,000 (average) visitors at WDW daily, and 5% bring refillable mugs, that would equal 6,500 cups.

6,500 * 365 = 2,372,500 (paper cups saved) 

2,372,500 * $0.20 = $474,500.00 (estimated savings by WDW on filling a cup of soda in a year). That’s almost half a million dollars!

* Labor source: http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Disney-Salaries-E717.htm

Disclaimer: As always, I should state that these numbers are hypothetical, and may even be inaccurate. If you find errors in my math or the numbers I’ve used here, please let me know and I’ll be glad to correct it and give you credit!

Environmental Impact

Disposable paper cups – just how many of these things do you think Disney uses each day? And, how many of those get thrown in the trash or maybe even recycling? Then you have the added cost and labor to have someone handle all those cups/trash.  I’m guessing easily 50-75,000 per park per day, multiplied by 4 and you’re looking at 200 – 300,000 in a day! That’s over 73,000,000 PAPER cups tossed in the trash in a year.

Benefits/Ease & Convenience for guests

While it’s nice sometimes to be handed a tray from a Quick Service restaurant with your drinks already filled, some guests like to do it themselves. I think where this comes in handy the most, would be with refills. Overall, it’s more of a preference or convenience than anything else. But, if this is what guests want, then maybe it’s a win for Disney as well. They could really plus this by adding the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines where you can mix drinks and flavorings.

A few other options for consideration

  • Lower the price. Have just one price for the mugs, then an option to add extra days at 99 cents each. Maybe sell them for $9.99, and make the first 24 hours free to use as many times as you like, but then sell additional days for 99 cents. If you were staying for 5 days, your price would be $13.95 (9.99 + (4 *.99)), 7 days would $15.93. Doing it this way, they could also sell them to guests who are not staying on property.
  • Option to Re-charge/re-activate mug on next trip. Allowing this might save me some cabinet space, but it’s also kind of an environmental consideration as well.
  • Along these lines, a frequent visitor option for DVC, Annual Pass holders or anybody who just wants to use it for a longer period of time. From what I understand, Seaworld has a similar program where you can purchase any mug or drinkware and get it refilled for just 99 cents.

Prior to publishing this wishlist, I sent Disney an email regarding my thoughts on the mugs, this is what I sent them.

I read recently in the Orlando Sentinel that Walt Disney World will be upgrading the soda fountains across the property to RFID-enabled systems with chips embedded in the cups.

http://www.orlandoparksnews.com/2013/07/rapid-fill-mugs-coming-to-walt-disney.html

As someone who has visited multiple times, and taken advantage of the refillable mugs both free with dining packages as well as paid for, I would like to make a couple of suggestions regarding them and the upcoming changes.

I don’t have a problem necessarily with the new system that is being installed, however, my issue with it and the mugs in general is the fact that I already have far too many mugs from past trips sitting on shelves or in boxes in my house collecting dust. In the past, I have donated some to charity, others I just threw away, but I would like to suggest that you come up with an exchange/recycling/re-use program for old mugs, if for nothing else to help the environment. Alternatively, it would be a nice reward for guests who return an old mug to receive a discount if they brought an old mug in for exchange on a new one.

Aside from the waste issue noted above, I’m curious if the new mugs will be usable in the parks now or in the future? Again, having this as an option would help the environment and reduce the amount of paper cups collected and recycled from the parks daily.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you as well as seeing you (Mickey) soon,


And, this was their response:

This will acknowledge, with thanks, your email to us regarding your idea for our Resort, which you have indicated might be of interest to Disney.  Your communication was forwarded to the Legal Department here at the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort as it is our responsibility to respond to such correspondence.  We appreciate your interest in Disney and taking the time to write to us.
Unfortunately, our company’s long-established policy does not allow us to accept for review or consideration any ideas, suggestions, or creative materials not specifically solicited by us.  Our intention is to avoid misunderstandings when projects or programs are created internally which might be similar to submissions made to us from outside the company.

We recognize that this policy is sometimes a difficult one as when someone like you, with all the best intentions, would simply like us to consider their own creative idea.  Experience has taught us, though, that if we abandon our policy for one person, we will soon have no policy at all.  Therefore, as required, we must delete your correspondence, without retaining any copies.

We hope that you understand.  Please be assured of our sincere thanks and of our best wishes for success with your ventures.

Sincerely, 

Legal Department

Walt Disney World Resort

I’m not sure how to react. I guess I should be flattered though, because it means they at least read it and recognized it as an improvement idea, but then passed it around until it made its way to legal. Regardless, they still didn’t answer my question though as to whether they would be allowed in the parks.

After this nice formal rejection letter, I sent another note to Disney, this time just asking if RapidFill would be implemented in the parks to which I received an actual phone call that was a pleasant response telling me “No, at this time RapidFill is only planned for the resorts”.

So, what do you think? Should Disney expand the RapidFill program to to allow guests to refill their mugs in the parks? Or, do you have other ideas about how they could make this program even better than what I’ve suggested?

If you’re looking for more information, be sure to check out a great review with lots of photos by at MouseSteps.

keystothekingdombook

Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

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Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

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Thoughts and extras from the author of the Sentience series

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