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Monday Mouse Watch : Disney has trouble convincing guests to come make a "Magic Connection"

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Monday Mouse Watch : Disney has trouble convincing guests to come make a "Magic Connection"

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Well, the first field test of the Walt Disney World Resort's new "Magic Connection" system was completed late last week. And -- to be honest -- things didn't go quite as well as WDI R & D had hoped they would.

Don't get me wrong, folks. The problem wasn't with the technology. From what I hear, aside from a few minor GPS & battery-related issues, the "Disney Magic Connection" units worked great. In their exit interviews, guests who actually took part in last week's test just raved about these wireless devices. They loved all the real-time park info that they were able to get out of this Nintendo DS.

"So what was the problem?," you ask. Well, the Imagineers had originally hoped that they'd be able to recruit upwards of 60 families to take part in each day's field test. But on most days, WDI had to settle for less than half that number. Mostly because cast members had such a tough time convincing families to come try "Disney Magic Connection."

Which is understandable. When you consider that your typical family of tourists -- in order to spend a day at the Magic Kingdom -- must first ...

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

  1. Leave their hotel and get the kids loaded in the rental car
  2. Battle the traffic on I-4 & World Drive
  3. Pay $11.00 for the privilege of parking their car
  4. After parking, unload all of the kids, the bags and the stroller
  5. Hike on over to the tram waiting area in the Magic Kingdom parking lot
  6. Once the tram arrives, quickly find seats for the entire family
  7. Ride the tram over to the Ticket & Transportation Center
  8. Then stand in line to buy their theme park tickets
  9. Hike up the ramp at the Monorail loading platform
  10. Wait for, then get loaded onto the next available Monorail
  11. Hike down the ramp from the Magic Kingdom Monorail Station
  12. Get the entire family through Bag Check
  13. Wait in line to present their tickets at the turnstiles
  14. Finally hand over those tickets, then help all of the kids with that Finger Scan device

At this point, most people have already invested an hour of their precious vacation time just in getting to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. And to finally make it through the turnstiles and really be looking forward to that first ride ... And then have some clown with a clipboard accost you, asking you if you'd be interested in taking part in some pilot program, was more than most parents with small children could bear at that moment.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Another aspect of the "Disney Magic Connection" field test that allegedly turned off a lot of would-be participants was the security deposit. You see, before these folks could actually get their hands on that DS, they were asked for a credit card. Which (strictly as a precaution) Mickey then took an imprint of. So that -- in the event that these Magic Kingdom visitors accidentally left the theme park without first returning their test unit -- Mouse House officials could then charge them $300 for the missing device.

As one Imagineering insider explained it to me:

"Trying to recruit guests to try out these DS units right after they came through the turnstiles was a bad idea. After riding over to the park on a crowded Monorail or a packed Ferry, people don't want someone coming at them with a clipboard and then giving them a sales pitch. They just want to get inside and ride some rides.

And that $300 security deposit, asking people for an imprint of their credit card right after they've paid for their admission ... That was a mistake too. A lot of people just turned and walked away as soon as we mentioned that security deposit.

Next time, we'll do better. We'll be smarter about where we try & recruit people. We're now talking about putting cast members in the lobbies of the Grand Flo and the Poly. Do our pre-screening there.

 Copyright 199 Disney. All Rights Reserved

After all, people who stay in our high end resorts aren't going to squawk if we ask them for a $300 security deposit. Particularly if we tell them that it's only a precaution. That if they actually return the unit before they leave the park, they'll never ever be charged.

Plus by recruiting test subjects in a much more relaxed setting, we'll then be able to get guests who are genuinely interesting in testing a device like this. Rather than getting people who make some spur-of-the-moment decision as they enter the Magic Kingdom and then don't even use the unit while they're wandering around that park. Which is what a couple of families that we recruited last week actually did. They just used the device once or twice, then stuffed in a bag."

But even with a much smaller sampling than they had originally hoped for, the Imagineers were very pleased with the way the "Disney Magic Connection" field test went. They enjoyed hearing guests rave about how they were able to get real-time info on every ride, show and attraction in the park that had a wait time. Which made it so much easier to decide what to do next during their day at the Magic Kingdom.

Of course, the beauty of that particular "Disney Magic Connection" feature is that it basically came free of charge. All the Imagineers had to do to make that happen was tie these wireless devices into the Magic Kingdom's Flick system. Which -- every three minutes -- sends out a message parkwide about what the current wait times are.

 Copyright 2004 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Another cost-effective aspect of the "Disney Magic Connection" project is that these handheld units actually make use of the 400+ sensors that were put in place in this theme park back in 2004 for the "Pal Mickey" project. Of course, because there were areas in the Magic Kingdom where WDI deliberately didn't put sensors (So that this interactive plush then wouldn't speak up and ruin the show for all of the other guests) ... The Imagineers had to install hundreds of additional sensors so that these Nintendo DS units would then tell the guests where they were. Which really drove up the start-up costs of this pilot program.

Speaking of costs ... Because "Disney Magic Connection" cost so much to develop and install, WDI opted to go with a very limited field test of these new wireless devices. Meaning that -- to date -- only the Magic Kingdom has been wired for DS use. So were you to smuggle one of these handheld units out of that theme park and then go walk around Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom ... It wouldn't work properly.

That said, the Imagineers remain supremely confident that they'll be able to recover the millions of dollars that they've already spent on the development of "Disney Magic Connection." Particularly since some of the special features that they expect to go live with with the next generation of these wireless devices are sure to be popular with WDW visitors.

"What sort of special features?," you query. Well picture this : You're sitting down to lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern with your family. And as your waitress goes off to get your drinks, you ask what attraction the family would like to ride next after they're done eating. And the kids immediately say "Space Mountain."

Copyright 1998 Disney. All Rights Reserved

So you pull out your handy dandy "Disney Magic Connnection." And you then check to see if there are any FastPasses left for that Tomorrowland attraction. And as it turns out, they are. So from your table right there in Liberty Square, you reserve FastPasses for your entire family to ride Space Mountain later that same afternoon.

And the beauty part of this proposed "Disney Magic Connection" feature is that you won't need any paper FastPass tickets. Once you arrive at the attraction that you've reserved FastPasses for, you just show your handheld unit to the cast member who's standing watch over the FastPass portion of the queue. Once he sees the virtual FastPass that's displayed on the screen of your Nintendo DS, he'll wave you and your family on through ... And then you're good to go.

It's that particular feature (i.e. Being able to book FastPasses in advance through this wireless device) that the Imagineers feel will compell many guests to rent "Disney Magic Connection" devices for use over the entire length of their WDW vacations.

And -- yes -- I did say "rent." As of right now, the Walt Disney Company has no plans to sell these handheld units. Nor will you be able to bring your own Nintendo DS into the park from home and then tap into Disney's wireless network.

 Copyright 2004 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Of course, let's remember that "Pal Mickey" started out as a rental-only device. And then -- due to guest demand -- that plan changed. So it's possible (provided that the Imagineers can agree on an appropriate price point) that these "Disney Magic Connection" devices could someday be available for purchase.

But as of right now ... That ain't in the cards. As of this moment, all WDI is interested in doing is reviewing all of the material that was collected last week. Once they dig through that data, they'll then decide what sort of changes need to be made to these "Disney Magic Connection" units before the next field test. Which could come as soon as March.

Your thoughts?

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  • Why does everything have to be so complicated?  Why can't you just go into the place, do what you want, and leave?  By the time we're done with these devices, everyone is going to need a utility belt like Batman to carry them all.

  • Raving?  I've taken those Disney surveys: "Would you say you enjoyed it? Really enjoyed it? or really really enjoyed it?"   These are the same surveys that show the suits that nobody notices the lack of maintenance in the parks, and everyone feels ticket price increases are fair and reasonable.

    I could think of many attractions that need a few mill for refurbishing. Tiki comes flying into my mind, and this year we'll need a new AA President in Liberty Square. Obviously on a spreadsheet, it looks better to invest the few mill into a fastpast rental program. It makes a few families spend $50 more during their trip, but they lose out on other families not making a trip at all.

  • What's the battery life on these things?  Will I lose my virtual FP due to a low battery?

  • I think the virtual FP would be on a different system than any being tested in the near future. So it wouldn't be something like the DS which, frankly, you might need a car charger for if the kids are playing in the car rides and lines on top of using it for WDW info. I think it's probably an easier platform for testing right now, though, because it is a more common platform than the multitude of cellphone options and upgrades.

    So I'm guessing this official in-park devices would come fully charged when you got 'em... Also, there are solar battery chargers out there as well.

  • I love the idea - the reduction in paper makes my inner tree-hugger happy [not to mention actually keeps to those "green" messages from Animal Kingdom and Epcot] - but the "rental" issue bothers me.  For guests how already have a Nintendo DS, it is unlikely that they'll want to carry around two devices through the parks.  If they don't own one, it makes sense - no need to buy a new system just for a Disney vacation.  For those that HAVE the DS already, I would love to see Disney come out with a something you can plug in to an existing system, much like how you would plug in a  cartridge to play a game.  I would pay $30 for a Fastpass cartridge that I can use on all of my future vacations.... so long as the Fastpass itself is free and available in the usual fashion.

  • When these units were first announced, the first thing that came to mind was "profiling".  Personally I was curious to see whether or not the recommendations made by the device would change based upon whether or not you were staying on park property, and if you were, which property were you staying at, and the ages of people in your party.  At dinner time, when you told it you wanted to eat, would it recommend a counter service to people staying at the All Stars, and a sit-down to people staying at the Poly?  Crystal Palace for people with kids, and Tony's for people without?  Would this be the advent of the rumored upcoming changes to the Fastpass system where the more you spent on a hotel, the shorter your wait time for Fastpasses?  That sort of thing.

    So I have to admit that I said to myself "yeah, I knew it" when they said that they were changing the plan to roll these test units out at the Poly and the GF instead of in the parks, under the theory that those with the cash wouldn't balk at the deposit.  I think Disney is really off with this theory, as the door swings both ways.  Many people with plenty of cash stay at a lower-end resort so that they can stay longer; for example, my family stays at the All Stars or the mid-grades so that we can stay for two weeks for essentially the price of one.  In the end we likely pay the same or more than someone staying four or five days on the monorail.  We bring plenty of disposable cash and if we were approached in the lobby would not really have to think too terribly hard about whether or not we'd hand over our card.  Alternatively we know that a lot of people who stay at the deluxes scrimp and save to be able to stay in one, and they wouldn't have the possibly disposable deposit.

    By rolling this out at the deluxes only, Disney is only going to shoot themselves in the foot by hitting one demographic: the people who go to Disney and drop a lot of money in a short period of time without leaving the House of Mouse.  One very obvious way this would be reflected is that (I'm quite positive, if someone has alternate numbers please feel free to correct me) that in general those who spend more on their hotel spend less time in the parks as they would be more apt to try to get their money's worth.  Also since they chose two monorail properties, this would also make for an easy hop back for a swim.  Not to mention tourists on property tend to behave much differently from those who are off property when it comes to park time, as they can move around much more readily.  A person on the monorail could (and often does) hit the MK in the morning, leave for lunch and a swim at the hotel, and then hit Epcot, lets say, in the afternoon.  Thus their readers would show a half day in the park, which would be pretty easy to misread.

    Poor move on Disney's part.  While offering it in hotel lobbies is a good idea, they should rotate the hotels and also offer CM's at the TTC as well for the driving crowd.

  • The more I read these stories, the more I come to the conclusion that the folks running things at WDW are the most clueless bunch of dolts on the planet.

    Gee, let's spend millions of dollars on some new techno-gadget before we know if anyone wants one. Field tests go badly?? Oh hell, it's not that it's a bad idea ... we just field tested it wrong! It couldn't possibly be that people don't want these things! We're Imagineering! We know everything!! We know what people want more than they do ... so if at first they don't want it, we'll just cram it down the throats of someone else who might!

    Look, this is a stupid idea. Pal Mickey tanked. They wasted millions on that piece of crap, so what do they do?? They come up with some new piece of crap to waste millions on! And why? Because they think that, unlike a new ride or attraction, they might actually "recoup their expenses" for this thing (that's corporate lingo for, "Make a ridiculous profit by overcharging people for something they don't want in the first place."). It's a DUMB IDEA! People don't WANT to be lugging some other piece of hardware along with them on their vacations!!

    So in the end, because of nothing more than arrogance, they're going to end up wasting probably tens of millions of dollars that could have been put to good use elsewhere in the parks (read that as, "on a GOOD new attraction") on something that no one wants anyway.

    Really ... it's astounding to me that these people can make money. They make it in spite of themselves. If the place was run by anyone with a clue, they could be doing ten times as well.

    I'm really starting to doubt that Iger is the right guy to run this ship. Every time I turn around I see them wasting money on stuff that's virtually guaranteed to flop.

  • I actually like this idea. Especially the virtual FP's. But I would only get it if they sold a cartridge. No way would I rent a special DS - I already own two.

  • I get a guidemap and fold it up in my pocket because I don't like to carry a lot in the parks. So, I would take a pass on this, but if I did use the service I'd prefer for it to be on my own device(cell phone or whatever). Not one I'd have to rent.

  • For those who are opposeded to this device, I would urge you to take a look around at what's happening culturally and technologically. The current generation of young people are incredibly connected electronically via text messaging, cell phones, IM, video games, etc. This new generation loves technology so much, you might could say they are addicts, hence the term "Crackberry" for the Blackberry. So, I see Disney as trying to be ahead of the curve, or at least trying to be in tune.

    Personally, I liked Pal Mickey, and bought one for myself, and probably enjoy it more than my kids. He's somewhat corny in his jokes, but occasionally he points out something interesting and he's fun to have while waiting in lines. So, this kind of device obviously appeals to me as well. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

  • I get that Disney's trying to be innovative here, and I understand that if their idea takes off, it could be great, although it's no replacement for maintaining and upgrading the existing attractions.  I'm personally not interested in walking around the parks with my nose buried in an electronic device, but I understand my opinion is not necessarily that of the majority.  

    But did anyone else consider that $300 is a pretty steep deposit for a device that could be too-easily dropped, lost, soaked, or otherwise damaged during a day of heavy usage, especially since the kids will no doubt want to play with it, too?  Sorry man, but I wouldn't want to risk it.

  • My 2 cents:

    I realize that today's culture is largely technology dependant. I'm not naive enough to think anyone can change that. I think there are pro's and cons to this way of life.

    My question is this: Just because people want something, does that make it the best thing to give them?

    I'm sure most people wanted McDonald's french fries while at the Magic Kingdom... and now we have to change the boats on IASW so they don't bottom out when all the fat people get onboard.

    I'm sure people wanted to get on rides faster and without waiting, so they gave them FastPass... and now the regular line is twice as slow AND the FP'ers miss the majority of the theming in the queues.

    Heck, I'm sure some people thought Disneyland was too cute and cuddley and wanted something more hip and adult... and they got DCA!!!

    So I admit to be worried that people are desiring more technology to aid them in their attempt to get maximum enjoyment out of the parks... and they give them something that pulls their focus from the park and onto a computer screen.

  • for me - what is entertaining in an ironic was is the depiction of the family scene for digital fastpass. Sitting at a meal, asking for a ride, then getting fastpasses. c'mon.  I go to DLR a lot and the notion there is once you get a fastpass you know when the next window is to get another one. Then, by the end of the day, you might have a your choice of attractions because you saved all of your fastpasses. IF they decided to enforce the time window on fastpasses once the digital system went in, then great it works. However, if the policy of use it whenever is still in place, look for fastpasses to go faster than they do today.

    Oh, and I hope their security measures are up to snuff on that one. Can you imagine the denial of service attacks that might be attempted on getting fastpasses for Space?  interesting dilemma.

  • Why can't people just go and enjoy the park? Why do they have to always be planning their next move? Fastpass destroyed some of the magic of just strolling leisurely around the park and now this is going to finish it off.

    All that aside, this is ony going to turn into a big nightmare for the guest relations department if they don't function the way a guest wants or the way a guest expects them to work.

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