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"Magical Express" a dream for tourists, potential nightmare for Orlando area workers

Jim Hill

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"Magical Express" a dream for tourists, potential nightmare for Orlando area workers

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I don't know how many of you have already heard about Disney's "Magical Express" program. So -- just in case you missed last week's announcement -- let me share the press release that MH was nice enough to pass along to me:

Walt Disney World Resort has announced an innovative new service called Disney's Magical Express which offers complimentary airport shuttle, luggage delivery and airline check in for Disney hotel guests*.

Beginning May 5, Disney's Magical Express will allow guests to check their bags at their hometown airport, bypass baggage claim at Orlando International Airport (OIA) and board luxury motor coaches to the Walt Disney World® Resort - as their bags "magically" appear in their room upon check in. The round-trip service, which is available and complimentary during Disney's Happiest Celebration on Earth event (which also begins May 5, 2005), is patterned after the successful Disney Cruise Line model and designed to give Disney hotel guests the stress-free vacation they want.

Disney's Magical Express service makes guests' return to OIA hassle-free as well. This convenient system lets guests avoid airport check-in lines by enabling passengers on domestic flights** to check their luggage and receive a boarding pass before departing their Disney hotel. Guests with flight departures later in the day no longer have to worry about their luggage after they check out of their hotel. They can simply check their luggage at the Resort Airline Check-in Desk and then enjoy the last day of their stay.

In addition to partners at OIA, Walt Disney World developed this innovative service in conjunction with private and public sector leaders including: the Mears Transportation Group, the largest provider of ground transportation to the Walt Disney World Resort; BAGS Inc., the provider and innovator in off-airport passenger check-in services for the hotel, convention, cruise and airline industries; ARINC Incorporated, a leader in transportation communications and systems engineering; the Transportation Security Administration; and airline

*Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel, the seven hotels on and near Hotel Plaza Boulevard, and Shades of Green are not included.

**Participating airlines include American, Continental, Delta, Song, United and Ted. Walt Disney World hopes to add other air carriers to the Resort Airline Check-In service in the near future.

Now, I know that -- if you're a tourist who'll soon be heading to Central Florida -- Disney's "Magical Express" might sound like a godsend. The very idea that you will no longer have to rent a car in order to transport yourself or your family over to Disney World, that soon you'll be able to check your bags and pick up your boarding slip prior to heading back to the airport ... That sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it?

Unless -- of course -- you happen to be a baggage handler at Orlando International Airport and/or someone who works at one of the many rental car companies that service OIA. To these folks, Disney's "Magical Express" program is an absolute nightmare. One where money flows out of their pockets and goes straight into Mickey's.

This is why Disney's "Magical Express" program -- coupled with WDW's brand new ticket pricing structure (Where -- according to Disney World's new marketing campaign -- "The longer you stay, the less you pay") -- has some Orlando area residents concerned. Particularly those folks who work for Disney's direct competition: Universal Studios, Sea World and Busch Gardens Tampa.

Said one un-named Universal employee:

It's like Disney World is becoming the new Hotel California. Where "you can always check out but you can never leave."

This is just flat-out greedy on Disney's part. They can claim that this new bus program and the change in ticket pricing is all about making things easier & more cost-effective for their resort guests. But the fact of the matter is Disney doesn't like having its guests wandering off-property and taking their wallets with them. They'd much prefer it if those same tourists stayed on property and just spend, spend, spend until it was time to go back home.

You know, there used to be a time (Not so long ago, in fact. Just 20 years ago) when the Walt Disney Company prided itself on being a good neighbor in Orlando. I remember hearing stories about how *** Nunis -- the then-head of the Walt Disney World Resort -- actually discouraged the construction of new on-property hotels. The way I hear it, Nunis thought that the Mouse was already making enough money off of the theme parks and the resorts that Disney had in Central Florida. That there was no need for Disney to go head-to-head with every hotel & motel on 192 in an effort to grab every possible tourist dollar. That there was more than enough money here for everyone.

Well, these days, that's clearly no longer the mindset at the Mouse House. With programs now in place like Disney PhotoPass (Which allows the Walt Disney Company to radically prolong the period that it can try & sell you souvenir photos of your vacation) and Ticket Tag (Which effectively prevents you from reselling and/or giving your ticket to someone else so that they can use the unused portion on your ticket), Mickey wants to maximize the profit that the company makes off of its Disney World resort. More importantly, to make sure that the Mouse -- and NOT Disney's competition -- gets the lion's share of all that tourism dough that flows into Central Florida these days.

Now don't get me wrong, folks. I'm not actually against the idea of the Walt Disney Company making money. But when I see the Mouse starting up programs like "Magical Express," PhotoPass and Ticket Tag, while -- at the same time -- Disney is cutting back on the number of full time employees that it hires to work at its Central Florida resort (Why for? Because you don't have to pay for health benefits and/or fund the retirement of part-time employees) ... I can't help but think that Disney's priorities are now seriously out of whack. That -- in the company's never-ending pursuit to improve its bottom line -- the Mouse has become a bad neighbor in Orlando as well as a really lousy employer.

Which is why -- the next time I go down to Florida -- I think that I'll be taking a pass on Disney's "Magical Express." Sure, it'll be a pain to have to go rent a car and then schlep my own luggage back to the hotel. But "Magical Express" 's hidden costs (I.E. Potentially costing non-Disney employees their jobs) just come at too high a price for me.

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