What Disney Does That I Really Love

I just returned from a trip to Orlando where I had the opportunity to visit Disney and other parks with my extended family. I like going to Orlando each year with my family because we span three generations and yet none of us are ever at a loss of things to do. In addition to spending quality time with family, it is also a great opportunity to see what the top players in the amusement park market are doing.

Please don’t tell my wife I was secretly working the entire trip.

For those that have met me, you know I am a work-a-holic. You will also know that I like to share those things I find most relevant from my expereince.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned:

1) Personalize the experience. My soon-to-be-three-year-old son was so excited to meet Mickey Mouse that he wore his mouse ears around for most of the week. When we got to the park, I was surprised to find that the characters were not as accessible as they had once been. As a child, Mickey seemed to be everywhere including the airport. We didn’t meet Mickey, but at Universal we met Cat in the Hat and other Seussian characters. When my son approached and reached out his favorite toy car (Lightning McQueen from Disney PIXAR’s Cars, a competitor to Universal), the Cat character got down on his hands and knees and pushed the car back and forth with my son. I am certain my son will talk about the experience for years to come. Thanks Cat for reading my son and spending a few extra moments playing cars with him… it made his trip and built a life long fan.

Are there ways you could further personalize your tour experience so that it would be more memorable for each individual?

2) Know when too much business is bad business and have a plan to handle it. The much acclaimed Harry Potter experience at Universal Studios combined brillant set construction with amusing rides and special effects, but Universal’s inability to manage the long lines was disatorous. For me, the best part of the Potter experience was leaving and heading for another section of the park. The real disappointment was that had the experience been properly managed, it would likely have been one of the highlights of my trip, despite lengthy wait times. I will not try to describe the chaos that ensued, but I will apologize to all of the people who my family of ten was ushered in front of by a park employee who acknowledged that most of the people in the line needed not be waiting, . Disney’s FastPass system (which is essentially a first-come-first-serve reservation) proved a very reasonable solution. In fairness, Universal has a different pay to bypass system, but it did not handle the overextended lines which turned the Village of Hogsmeade into a chaotic mess.

Are there situations where too much business has damaged your brand? What guidelines and systems do you have in place to handle situations where too much is just too much?

3) Turn your weakness in to a strength. I have always been impressed with Disney’s ability to make waiting in line interesting. In fact, my enjoyment reviewing interesting (often quirky) displays and set, build-up for the attraction, and special effects while waiting in line often surpassed the actual attraction.

Analyze your operation. Are there changes you could make that would turn your weakness in to an asset?

4) Experiences are worth more than events. What I loved about both Disney and Universal was that they have done a world-class job of building brands and experiences that transcend the event. While we were only in Orlando for five days, my son has been talking about the trip for weeks and I am certain he will keep sharing stories with us and his friends for weeks to come. In fact, I think he delights more in the opportunity to share his story and talk about the experience than he did in riding the rides and meeting the characters.

Are you developing your business around an event or experience? What can you do to extend your experience and grow your brand?

5) Know your core business. When I ask most zip line operators to define their core business, they often tell me simply “it is zip lines”. While the Disney and Universal Studios both had thrilling rides, the rides were a means of reinforcing their brand and not the core business.

Michael Smith

As the President of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, LLC, Michael is dedicated to providing novel, adventure experiences to individuals, small groups, and communities that foster an appreciation for the n...

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