Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Magic Kingdom Meltdown
Part 2

Already Full, Magic Kingdom Closes At 11:30 AM; Other WDW Parks Not Far Behind

So why have I never heard about this before? Does Disney so muffle the media about central Florida doings that nobody will report that this is apparently routine? I am told by virtually everyone working here in the Orlando area whom I have asked that beginning around Christmas and extending until Spring Break, Walt Disney World Parks close frequently due to over-crowding.

"It's chaos from now 'til Easter, and it's like this every year," my Mears bus driver told me as we waited, stopped in a long line of traffic trying to get into Animal Kingdom on our way back to the Hilton, "I never knew about it either until I got down here several years ago. Funny nobody gets the word out."

He had volunteered to take me and my three year old daughter back to the Hilton from the Magic Kingdom Ticket & Transportation Center (TTC) parking lot. We were stranded there because no Mears bus had appeared for 70 minutes, this despite the supposed 30-minute intervals between bus shuttles to the Hilton.

My calls to the Hilton asking where the buses were had been futile, and Disney prevents any free enterprise transport options from having access to the TTC, meaning no taxicabs or limos were available. We were utterly at the mercy of the Hilton shuttles, operated by Mears under contract, and they, like Disney, had suffered a meltdown from the over-crowding.

"Yeah, we have just 12 buses to serve 6 hotels to and from 4 Disney Parks, and, well, they just can't keep up this time of year," my bus driver confided. "We have guests waiting at all 10 locations to go somewhere. You were lucky I came along, I guess."

Meanwhile his radio crackled with reports from other drivers and from the Mears dispatcher about the meltdowns on the various highways and entry roads leading to every Disney Park. Many were asking for directions via alternate routes, but they, too, were reported saturated. Every driver reported "SRO, full to the white line; had to leave folks standing for the next bus."

Which might not be coming any time soon since the Magic Kingdom had already closed by 11:30 AM and Animal Kingdom was almost at capacity. There are a lot of disappointed "guests" out there today, and the majority of them are wide-eyed kids who have looked forward to their big trip to Disney World perhaps second only to a visit from Santa Claus.

I am incensed and outraged that Disney and the travel infrastructure that supports them seem so fixated on making money that they have disassociated their greed from the extreme personal disappointment of the young consumers of their services who come here by calling them "guests" instead of children. For example, when I called the Hilton the first time this morning, the shrewish concierge said she noted my disgruntlement but accused me of being naive. "You can't expect things to work like normal this time of year, sir, and you should have known that before you came," she said, acidly, "The buses cannot get there in this traffic, with all these people. You have to expect big delays."

I am supposed to KNOW THAT? How? I can't expect things to work like normal? Does that mean I am getting a great big discount for shoddy service, lies, and failed promises?

See what I mean? These people have become inured to the meltdowns, and they are insensitive to the heartbreak they cause in young children. This whole place only EXISTS because of the appeal to young children of its magical attractions. This is one of the few vacation places on earth that is built on making children happy, and is certainly the most famous.

And they are failing. The Magic Kingdom is melting down under the crush of crowds it has attracted.

Perhaps it's time for Disney and the entire travel infrastructure to institute some capacity controls. Not the crude one now in effect (i.e., too many people trying to get in? Well, just close it down, and don't let any more enter).

No, I mean like taking reservations for Park entry on certain dates and capping it at capacity. Airlines do it; so do hotels and rental car companies. None of those travel providers sell more than they can can statistically supply. Why shouldn't Disney?

And the others, too, for that matter. Even Sea World shut down yesterday after Disney visitors were turned away when 3 of its 4 WDW Parks closed due to over-crowding and tried to detour to Sea World instead.

This morning my daughter and I had to leave the Magic Kingdom at 9:30 because it was already too crowded to move or to get into the most popular rides and attractions. We had been there for just 2.5 hours, having taken advantage of the "Extra Magic Hours" 7:00 AM opening.

But it took us another 2.5 hours to get back to the Hilton because of the transportation meltdown that ensued from the crowds. It had taken us a mere 20 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom by bus at 6:15 AM.

My thesis is that Disney doesn't care if it sells more product than it can realistically provide. The tickets we purchased through our local AAA office cost $744, and they expire 14 days after first day of use. Disney doesn't care if you cannot get full use and enjoyment from them.

Which implies that Disney doesn't really care about keeping their promise to the kids who come here from all over the world with their open hearts, keen imaginations, and trusting spirits to experience the magic that Disney so shrewdly markets and advertises. No, Disney is selling the sizzle but not the steak any more, as the demand they have created has far outstripped supply.

Tell everyone you know: Don't come here. They will be disappointed.

19 Comments:

Blogger Robert Polivka said...

This year it was ALB-MCO 12/19-12/26.My
wife and three daughters did all 4 parks on 12/21 with free passes. I played golf. Over 20 years ago we entered the Disney compound for a day. I have not since then, and will not ever again, set foot on Disney property.

12/29/2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I could have told you years ago to stay away from Disney's parks. They have gone downhill. Last time I was there, they did not make any effort whatsoever to enforce their no smoking areas..and this in a Children's facility! The "no effort" rating is the absolute lowest rating I give. It means that they make no effort even when requested to. They used to be a decent outfit...in my opinion, not anymore.

12/29/2006 5:10 AM  
Blogger jme said...

I agree Disney has gone downhill.There is much that could be improved. Reading the blog, however, I just thought "Oh, no," when I saw you had chosen The Hilton. The biggest mistake when visiting Disney, especially at a very crowded time, is to stay in a non-Disney property. You must avoid, at any time of year,taking a bus, in particular those running not to Disney properties but to places like the Hilton. One of the biggest advantages to staying at some of the Disney properties, such as The Grand Floridian or The Polynesian is that you are on the monorail line.It arrives frequently and regularly and is miles more convenient and faster than the bus. You can also catch a boat from the docks over to River Country. If you stay at The Yacht or Beach Club, you can walk to Epcot and take a boat to MGM. I know the properties can be overpriced and it shouldn't have to be this way but if you are going to go, it is the way to avoid so much of the hassle. I have been to disney many many times,with children and without and at many different times of the year. We have stayed in condos off site, upscale Disney properties, budget Disney properties, the Hilton (the worst and never ever again) etc.While there are some choices we clearly prefer over others, I have always, including very recently at the Grand Floridian, found the Disney properties clean, the service friendly and accomodating and the staff knowledgable. The extra money for an on site property is worth it. Finally, we stopped years ago trying to do Disney without a car. It is just way too big and crowded to wholly depend on public transport of any kind.

12/29/2006 10:38 AM  
Blogger Joshua Katt said...

Good God, Will, I hope things can turn around for a few days so your kids can enjoy it... You hit it right on the head, its all about greed, and they don't even attempt to hide it at all - from the overpriced food/gift shops to the ticket schemes that take a PHD to understand. I've taken my kids 4 times, always at 'off peak' times, only as a add-on to business trips when someone else is paying for the car/hotel. And the parks / infastruture seemed to be nearing capacity then (May/Sept), I can't imagine the nightmare you are going through during this holiday.

I always tell a story of our last visit to MGM Studios and the Fantasia show one Saturday night. It was "Gay Day" in the park, no big deal with all the red shirted folks running around with me & my small children. As we walked up to the show, it was announced that only Standing Room was available, very, very far from the stage and certainally not viewable by the kids. The Red Shirts got reserved seating but on cue, rudely got up and departed en mass 1/2 way through the show - perhaps a bus to catch. I went to seat my family in the vacated seats but was intercepted by "Cast Members" forbidding us to sit in the "reserved seats" for the balance of the show. Needless to say, that was our final visit to the "Magic".

Do try to enjoy the remaining days...

12/29/2006 11:47 AM  
Blogger anneeasterling said...

It's really unfortunate that you traveled to one of the most popular travel destinations during the busiest week of the year without any preparation. I'm a newbie to your blog, but it looks like you're a seaoned traveler. I'm wondering why you weren't prepared for this trip, so I'll offer a few tips.

Tip #1: Birnbaum is published by the Disney Company. Buy and read - in advance, next time! - a travel guide published by a third party.

Tip #2: If you travel to Disney World during peak season, stay at a Disney-owned hotel (not the Hilton). Disney hotel guests get priority for admission to the parks.

Tip #3: Have realistic expectations. Don't plan to visit Disney World at Christmas as a "once in a lifetime" vacation. Our family has spent Christmas at Disney World, even visited the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day, and had a wonderful vacation. We were prepared! In fact, we leave Sunday morning to spend next week (the first week of January) there.

One more point: There are many alternative sources for realistic information about Disney World. You would have found plenty of information if you had taken the time to do a Google Search. If you're still onsite now, you still have time to do some research and make the best of your remaining days.

Happy day,
Anne

12/29/2006 11:55 AM  
Blogger Joshua Katt said...

While I agree with your comments Anne about proper preparing/planning, how ridiculous is it that you need a PHD in Disney just to simply enjoy a vacation - a vacation that costs top dollar (for broken service) no less.

There are many unpublished nuanses that you cannot discover or realize until you are in the midst of it. Disney knows exact what it is doing - confuse, baffle, overwhelme with options, give entry tickets many different names with add-ons, options and then change the rules/names later on, etc. They just count on people to give in and throw money at the problem given the expense of getting there and trying not to disappoint the kids in tow.

This is all very unnecessary and insulting to people who actually have to use their intellect for business and other pursuits trying to take advantage of limited vacation/free time.

Good luck Wil, look forward to more reports. Hope it gets better. I took me 4 visits before I was smart enough to throw in the towel. And I still have 4 "Park Hopper" tickets with unused days left on them...

12/29/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

To all of you who posted comments, my sincere thanks! Actually, I am laughing at myself for being so incredibly stupid as to have come here at this time of year. All your comments make valid and valuable points, and are much appreciated.

I have adjusted to the madding crowds, and today had a great time because we ad-libbed the day at Animal Kingdom after arriving at 7am. Result: We enjoyed the day and got out alive, despite crowds so thick we at times could not move.

Our kids are enjoying it despite everything, and they have not heard a peep from me about the complaints you read on the blog. I want them to have fun, and they are!

Thanks again to all of you. I have many more direct emails, and all are valuable. For someone who knows the world as well as I do, this entire experience is full of delicious irony for me! Orlando-area attractions are a black hole in my experience--or were until now.

12/29/2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

I'm sorry you had a negative experience, but am glad to hear you're turning it around. I'm not someone who will claim that every moment spent at Disney is magical and perfect and full of pixie dust, but you really seem to have made things hard on yourself. I can hardly count the bits of incorrect information in your 2 entries on WDW and it's obvious that for a 'seasoned traveler' you made the surprising decision to do little to no research on your destination. You don't need exhaustive information, even for WDW, but 15 minutes of surfing free websites would have given you what you needed to avoid almost every headache you encountered.

12/30/2006 9:34 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Already Full, Magic Kingdom Closes At 11:30 AM; Other WDW Parks Not Far Behind

So why have I never heard about this before? Does Disney so muffle the media about central Florida doings that nobody will report that this is apparently routine? I am told by virtually everyone working here in the Orlando area whom I have asked that beginning around Christmas and extending until Spring Break, Walt Disney World Parks close frequently due to over-crowding.

"It's chaos from now 'til Easter, and it's like this every year," my Mears bus driver told me as we waited, stopped in a long line of traffic trying to get into Animal Kingdom on our way back to the Hilton, "I never knew about it either until I got down here several years ago. Funny nobody gets the word out."


Well, there is a reason that a seasoned traveler does destination research, and it's to avoid being taken by surprise by their vacation experience. Oh, and please take what the bus drivers say with a grain of salt. They will tell you anything and are not a reliable source of info.

WDW is crazy from Christmas week until just after New Year's. Then, it settles down until just after Valentine's Day. The weekend of the Marathon in January is a bit busier, but overall, it's a nice time to go.

12/30/2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Disney prevents any free enterprise transport options from having access to the TTC, meaning no taxicabs or limos were available.

Well, not immediately available, but you could have called a cab and they would have been allowed to pick you up.

12/30/2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I am incensed and outraged that Disney and the travel infrastructure that supports them seem so fixated on making money that they have disassociated their greed from the extreme personal disappointment of the young consumers of their services who come here by calling them "guests" instead of children. For example, when I called the Hilton the first time this morning, the shrewish concierge said she noted my disgruntlement but accused me of being naive. "You can't expect things to work like normal this time of year, sir, and you should have known that before you came," she said, acidly, "The buses cannot get there in this traffic, with all these people. You have to expect big delays."

I am supposed to KNOW THAT? How? I can't expect things to work like normal? Does that mean I am getting a great big discount for shoddy service, lies, and failed promises?


I personally am shocked and outraged that you can feel yourself as being totally devoid of responsibility to know details about your travel destinations. I swear, check out the internet's multiple free options of information on the destination, buy a book, or something.

12/30/2006 10:12 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Perhaps it's time for Disney and the entire travel infrastructure to institute some capacity controls. Not the crude one now in effect (i.e., too many people trying to get in? Well, just close it down, and don't let any more enter).

No, I mean like taking reservations for Park entry on certain dates and capping it at capacity. Airlines do it; so do hotels and rental car companies. None of those travel providers sell more than they can can statistically supply. Why shouldn't Disney?


There are capacity controls in place. I sincerely doubt that your proposal would work. Think of it like this, if there are thousands of "yous" out there that didn't do their research, wouldn't you feel cheated that you didn't know that you had to make a reservation to visit during certain hours? Not happening.

Children only know what you tell them about WDW. I get ticked off when people set their kids up for disappointment by telling them too much. Don't tell Suzy that she will get to wake up Tinker Bell at her shop in the morning. Take Suzy to the shop and see if you can be there first and surprise her with the experience. That way, if she isn't the one chosen, she can still enjoy the day without the disappointment. Yes, we would all like to see that children are spoiled rotten and that the magic lives, but it's not good to set the kids up for a fall. Parents do the magic breaking more than they do the magic making.

12/30/2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

My thesis is that Disney doesn't care if it sells more product than it can realistically provide. The tickets we purchased through our local AAA office cost $744, and they expire 14 days after first day of use. Disney doesn't care if you cannot get full use and enjoyment from them.

Disney does care. However, they are not responsible for the lack of planning on your part. They are not responsible for your choice to buy straight one day/on park admission tickets....it's called Magic YOUR Way for a reason. You are responsible for this entire mess dude. PLANNING.....look into it.

12/30/2006 10:25 AM  
Blogger jimmiej said...

We've been to WDW nine times since 1990. After our first trip (which we enjoyed, but stood in long lines), I discovered "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World." I enjoyed reading it, plus it opened my eyes to the neccessity of planning ahead for a trip to the most popular vacation destination in the world. We've enjoyed many trips to WDW since then and plan to continue indefinitely.

12/30/2006 2:15 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

While I can understand your frustration at having to endure the crowds and lack of buses, I don't understand how this is Disney's fault. You were willing to spend a lot of money on a park that is geared towards families during a major break in the school year without doing any kind of research. I don't care what kind of vacation I am taking, if I am spending my hard earned money I do at least a little research to get my monies worth. I have gone to WDW three times since 2001 and only once have I gone during peak season. But I knew what I was getting myself into. Please don't blame Disney for families going to the park and filling it before YOU have a chance to get there.

12/30/2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

To Maggie and Amanda: Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated. (Maggie, I also left a reply to your comments on the "Part 1" post.) Mea culpa, Maggie and Amanda! I have posted a "Disney,Part 3" which should close the experience with some beneficial outcomes for me, and your comments are part of those benefits. I learned from you: Thanks, and Happy New Year!

12/30/2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger Alan De Smet said...

Christ, Maggie, what's your problem? Here in reality when someone pays a great deal of money and gets crappy service in return, they're certainly entitled to complain. Indeed, for all of your insistance that it's all Allen's fault you're overlooking that to do research a prepared traveller needs sites that report the good and the bad; a service that Allen has admirably provided. And, as previous posters have pointed out, you shouldn't need a PhD in Disney to enjoy your trip. For the sort of money Disney got from him, they could provide guidelines and suggestions. Sending people who buy tickets a small pamphlet would cost almost nothing and dramatically improve the quality of people's experience. Ticket reservations locked to days and hard limits would solve the overcrowding and turned-away problem instantly. Working to provide better local transit would help people who cannot afford the extra expense of Disney's hotels. Disney isn't doing these things. Disney is turning away hordes of people and leaving people with lots of little frustrations in the way. They can dramatically improve the average person's experience and they have chosen not to. Instead they've chosen to leave the situation a zoo. Ultimately, "Magic YOUR Way" shouldn't mean "Do 40 hours of research." A trip to a high end hotel in Vegas is easier. Backpacking across Europe is easier. Why should one of the most pre-packaged experiences in the world require so much preparation?

Bah. I'd been slightly tempted to give Disneyworld a whirl, but Allen has successfully warned me off. I've got better things to do that devote so much of my life to planning a non-relaxing vacation. I've had extremely successful vacations for less money and less planning. Is the Magic Kingdom really so amazing as to justify so much prep? No.

12/31/2006 1:12 AM  
Blogger Terry Wrist said...

Hey Alan de Smet, Maggie is absolutely right.

It's clear that Allen did no planning of any kind. None! If he read a single travel guide, he would have known that Disney is a madhouse at Christmas. And wouldn't a supposed 30 year veteran of travel in any case know that the holidays are a peak travel season.

And many of Allen's complaints make no sense. For example, he claims that Pirates of the Caribbean doesn't use Fastpass because it's "too popular." Um... no. It doesn't use it because it's a high capacity ride that wouldn't benefit from it.

Allen's been caught with his pants down, trying to blame Disney for his own lack of planning, and then making unsupported assertions to try to back himself up. Basically, he's destroyed what little credibility that he ever had.

And as for you, if you think you can visit Vegas or backback across Europe - or take any vacation that requires an outlay of $$$$ - and have a smooth and pleasant time without preparation, you're a bigger fool than Allen is.

12/31/2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Ah, the hidden Mr. "Terry Wrist" again, giving us scholarly corrections on what Disney personnel in Adventureland told us about the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride ("It doesn't use [FastPast] because it's a high capacity ride that wouldn't benefit from it.").

For someone who claims not to be a Disney employee or even care much about the place, you certainly are an expert.

And so full of bile and vituperation and determined self-righteousness. Yet you won't even tell us who you really are. You know, it erodes your credbility.

1/01/2007 2:30 PM  

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