MiceAge contributor, Tim Grassy, shares an open letter to Disney today regarding concerns with MyMagic+. Read along and see if you agree.
The recent announcements of MyMagic+ and Fastpass+ have raised concerns in the fan community over Disney’s priorities. These concerns were shared by United States Representative Edward Markey, and led to a methodically crafted, yet somehow juvenile response from CEO Bob Iger. Now it seems that basic things like first impressions are being ignored in favor of operational efficiency and cost cutting. Most recently this included:
- Test Track 2.0: Upon opening after a seven month overhaul, significant show elements are not functioning properly. Most notably, the vehicles that guests design before boarding are not consistently syncing with the corresponding on-ride evaluation of these vehicles.
- Journey of the Little Mermaid: The attraction opened prior to the Flotsam and Jetsam animatronics working properly. They have remained switched off since then.
- DisneyWorld.com/MyDisneyExperience/MyMagic+: The new website and associated mobile applications went live despite major technical and security problems.
I applaud that some aspects of the parks and park experience are being addressed, but when these enhancements aren’t suited for public consumption, they should be delayed.
In the limited roll out of MyMagic+ and My Disney Experience, the most egregious issue has been problems with the new website. Many guests have reported seeing another family’s personal information. Reports have even stated that upon refreshing the website, a third family’s itinerary will appear. Guests are able to make changes to another family’s itinerary, potentially disrupting multiple vacations. On a smaller scale, dining reservations are not always syncing properly with a guest’s account and tech support has been unable to repair many of these issues.
Historically, the Disney website has always been difficult to navigate. Whether it’s trying to find an official refurbishment schedule, a valid dining menu, or disability information, Disney needs to do a better job of presenting this data online. Is it the company’s intent to mislead their guests? It seems that misdirection and intentional vagaries permeated Bob Iger’s response to Representative Markey, and that has carried over to lengthy opt out policies on the website as well as the aforementioned issues with navigation.
The investment in Next Gen is significant, and mobile applications like My Disney Experience are welcome additions. However, much of what these applications accomplish is already addressed more accurately with third party sites.
Perhaps the biggest concern amongst the fans is the loss of privacy and the transition to Fastpass+. Representative Markey asked pointed questions regarding how the collected data would be used, and if people that opted out of this data collection would see longer lines at attractions. These questions were not sufficiently answered, and the response to date has only been that guests will get a more convenient experience if they participate in MyMagic+.
It seems the recent trend is for Disney to turn every swatch of pavement into a profit center. Location specific merchandise has given way to more generic and cost effective “One Disney” offerings, and now it seems that MyMagic+ looks to turn the guests themselves into profit centers. Disney seeks out every penny they can from us while we’re on vacation. Now, through tracking our spending, it appears that Disney will sell the information on every penny spent to any and all interested companies.
The sale of personal information and spending habits is troubling to many individuals. Many people choose not to shop at establishments that require a membership or loyalty card. These companies can follow trends in spending to not only determine what products they can incentivize, but also use products purchased to establish if a woman is pregnant or a couple is recently married. I anticipate Disney and the companies that purchase this spending data will be able to learn far more about each and every MyMagic+ user than is ever disseminated publicly.
It appears that more often than not Disney is asking, “How do we stop this from happening?” without asking “Why is this happening?” The result has been band aid solutions to real problems while larger investments are allocated to lower priority issues. Reportedly, Next Gen has an ever expanding budget, while existing show quality and guest safety at the parks has deteriorated:
- Preventative maintenance was ignored at Splash Mountain resulting in a piece of the mountain falling into the load area. The band aid solution was to place a tarp over the load area until the current refurbishment.
- Preventative maintenance was ignored at The Tree of Life resulting in a branch of the tree falling. The band aid solution was to place netting along the Discovery Island Trails.
- Improper design has led to a Yeti animatronic that’s been stationary since 2007. The band aid solution was to pose the Yeti above the track.
I applaud the investment in infrastructure, but infrastructure has never been anything more than the cost of doing business. Infrastructure should never be considered a driver of attendance. More importantly, while the advantages of this new infrastructure can improve the guest experience, other infrastructure issues are being ignored. The monorail system has been abused and neglected to the point where necessary maintenance has limited its operation during Evening Extra Magic Hours. Routine attraction maintenance has been ignored, Evening Extra Magic Hours have been cut from three hours to two, and the attraction lineup during Extra Magic Hours was downgraded as well. This points to the inaccurate mentality within Disney that all attractions are created equal. Replacing Splash Mountain with The Enchanted Tiki Room during Evening Extra Magic Hours is not an even exchange. More importantly, it is speculated that Extra Magic Hours are not long for Walt Disney World, making the extent of the cuts more substantial than what has already occurred.
All guests are created equal under the current Fastpass system, but that is not the case with all attractions. Currently, all guests have equal access to the Fastpass system but the current system restricts Fastpass availability on an individual attraction basis contingent on demand for that attraction.
This has been reversed under the new Fastpass+ system. Fastpass+ divides a park’s offerings into one of two groups and limits the number of these selections to a total amount per day. More importantly, Fastpass+ will prioritize guests that opt to use the MagicBand and are willing and able to make Fastpass+ reservations prior to their arrival. These guests will have greater access to the higher demand attractions at the cost of other guests.
The highest demand attractions are typically family friendly attractions that have lower capacities like Peter Pan’s Flight, Soarin’ and Toy Story Midway Mania. These three attractions effectively use the current Fastpass system on a daily basis. Conversely, attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth have been added to the new lineup of Fastpass+ attractions. While all three have a high demand, they all have high capacity and would rarely require Fastpass usage.
By distributing three or four Fastpass+ reservations to guests on a daily basis, the higher demand attractions will be the first to run out of Fastpass+ availability. This will limit same day Fastpass+ availability for those attractions even further. By adding more attraction and entertainment options to Fastpass+, false demand is created for attractions that did not previously need it. Prior attempts to spread crowds using “Surprise Fastpasses” achieved only minimal success, and this new approach of adding Fastpass+ to more attractions is likely to suffer the same fate.
Through unnecessarily expanding the number of available Fastpass+ eligible attractions, Disney is artificially manipulating the system and intentionally deceiving guests. While each guest may have the same initial access to three or four Fastpass+ reservations per day, many uninformed guests will be sold on this perk without realizing that Fastpass it not needed for several of these attractions under the current system. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and The American Idol Experience are treated equally under the new Fastpass+ system. This deception is the equivalent of saying that dinner at Le Cellier is the same as dinner at Nine Dragons.
The problem I foresee with Fastpass+ is booking reservations days, weeks, or months in advance. This would place the Fastpass+ system in a similar model as the Disney Dining Plan. Guests are often persuaded into purchasing a dining plan, despite not knowing that they need to make reservations 180 days in advance at higher demand restaurants. The Disney Dining Plan has made casual reservations less available and arguably resulted in a decline in food quality as well. I foresee a similar fate for attraction availability with the change to Fastpass+ reservations. This could materialize through a decline in show quality as well as less “day of” Fastpass+ availability at higher demand attractions.
Many guests have feared that Fastpass+ will end any level of spontaneity associated with a day at Disney World. Defenders of Disney will argue that very little about a Disney vacation is truly spontaneous, but guests are forced to adapt their schedule multiple times per day for a variety of reasons. How often do guests book a dining reservation 180 days in advance, show up 20 minutes early, and still have to wait 30 minutes after the reservation time before they’re seated? This is often chalked up to “unforeseen circumstances”, i.e. other people not operating on the schedule Disney planned to turn over that table. With that in mind, a child’s bladder cannot be scheduled days in advance, nor can the rumbling of a stomach, or any other potential hindrances to a schedule. People have “unforeseen circumstances” at a much greater rate than Disney, yet we as guests are held to a higher standard than Disney is holding themselves. What happens when my dining reservation is delayed by 30 minutes and I miss my Fastpass+ reservation?
What’s more discouraging is that there are actual components of Fastpass+ and MyMagic+ that really interest me. I love the thought of walking into Epcot at 11 AM and heading straight for Spaceship Earth. While in line, I would use the mobile app to book a dinner reservation at Le Cellier for later that night, a Soarin’ Fastpass for mid afternoon and order food at Sunshine Seasons for lunch. It’s very intriguing to be able to do all of these things day of.
Alternatively, if a guest doesn’t have a smartphone, feel free to have them utilize the touch screens in the Spaceship Earth descent instead. Technically speaking they’re still planning their future…
All kidding aside, I fear with advanced reservations that Disney is eliminating the biggest advantage of this new infrastructure: the availability of same day access. What’s more likely with my 11 AM Epcot arrival, is an artificially inflated wait time at Spaceship Earth and all Soarin’ Fastpasses are distributed for the day. And unless you woke up at 6 AM 180 days ago, you can forget about Le Cellier.
Another issue with new technology is and always will be education. There are people that don’t understand the current Fastpass system, and the new system is more complex. The new system should be simplified to guests on the front end, despite any complexities behind the scenes. Additionally, it is expected that Extra Magic Hours will be eliminated in the future and resort guests will expect a comparable replacement. So with that said, here are my proposals that aim to blend the two systems as well as simplify the front end for the guests.
- Disney Vacation Club Members, Resort Guests and Annual Pass Holders can make one Advanced Fastpass+ reservation per day.
- Non-Resort Guests and Non-Annual Pass Holders will not be eligible for Advanced Fastpass+ reservations
- Disney Vacation Club Members and Resort Guests would be eligible to make all advanced Fastpass+ reservations for the length of their stay upon check in.
- Annual Pass holders would be eligible to make Fastpass+ reservations one day prior to entering the park and usage would be limited on a quarterly basis.
- All guests would have the same access to the day of Fastpass+ distribution.
- Advanced Fastpass+ reservations would be limited to 25% of an attraction’s available Fastpass+ distribution. If needed, this will make a minimum of 75% of an attraction’s daily Fastpass+ allocation available day of.
- An exception to the 25% limit would be preferred viewing locations for Parades and Fireworks, which can be distributed up to 100% in advance.
- Fastpass distribution for shows should be either eliminated or limited to preferred viewing.
- All attractions set up for Fastpass+ will be available for advanced reservations.
- Day of Fastpass+ reservations would only be available when wait times are expected to exceed 30 minutes for more than one hour of the day.
- Day of Fastpass+ distribution and availability will remain consistent with the current system and guests will not be allocated a set number per day.
- Return windows will increase based on popularity of the attraction. Higher demand attractions (return time greater than 3 hours in advance) will continue to have a one hour return window. Moderate demand attractions (return time 1-3 hours in advance) will have a 2 hour return window. Lower demand attractions (return time less than 1 hour in advance) will have a 3 hour window.
- The maximum elapsed time for the next available Fastpass will increase from two hours to three hours. The minimum will remain at 40 minutes.
Perhaps my biggest objection to the entire Next Gen project is the misallocation of funds. Reports have the investment at over $1 billion dollars to “fix” aspects of Walt Disney World that weren’t really broken. It’s an investment intended to repackage the existing offerings as opposed to building new ones. If given the choice I would much rather see the company return their focus to building quality attractions that drive attendance. After all, in the words of John Lasseter, “Quality is the best business plan.”
A Concerned Fan