The Disney Experience

The Disney Experience

Earlier this year, a friend of mine won a Disney cruise for her whole family (herself, her husband and their two young boys). When she returned, she commented to me that the most memorable part of the cruise was the help she received from the staff to accommodate her young children, from the day-care to the waitstaff. Everyone, she told me, was happy to be there, no matter what their position on the ship. My experience with Disney (my husband and I stayed on-resort during our Honeymoon) aligned perfectly with her observation; even the people who work regular retail in the Disney gift-shops are thrilled as heck to be there.

So you can imagine my shock when the same friend and I stood outside a Disney park for an hour and received no help what-so-ever from the staff at their ticket counter.

I’ll rewind. At the end of my recent visit with my family, the aforementioned friend offered to drive me home. I thought we’d be turning north for a week-long road trip including places such as Niagra and Toronto, but instead she turned the car south. She planed and paid for an entire Disney vacation. Needless to say, I didn’t mind being so kidnapped.

She purchased our Disney tickets through a third-party vendor which allowed her to use her husband’s military discount. Despite the expiration date on the back, she was assured the Disney park-passes would work for four days as long as they were activated BEFORE the expiration date.

Sadly, that was not the case. Nothing is more devastating than believing you have a week-long vacation in Disney (the place where dreams come true), then showing up to find you have only half the time you paid for. So began the frantic phone calls and requests to speak to managers. To make matters worse, it was a Saturday, so the third-party vendor wasn’t even available until Monday. The Disney employees handed us a pamphlet which clearly stated the tickets wouldn’t work beyond the expiration date listed on the back of the card. The problem was, the people who provided us with the tickets assured us otherwise, and my friend never saw this paperwork until the man at the park handed it to her.

We went through four Disney employees (two of them managers) and never at any point did they offer to help us with our situation. There was nothing they could do. Flat out nothing. They weren’t even willing to talk options. Never mind that my friend paid for four days at their park – money which they got whether or not she got her vacation. Never mind that her husband is an active member of the armed forces. Never mind that we stood in the blazing hot Florida sun for an hour trying to figure this out while my friend fought to hold herself together.

This was apathy on a level neither of us had ever seen from a Disney park. That shocked us more than anything. Yes, a third party misinformed us. Yes, perhaps, Disney isn’t responsible for that. But this is the place they bill as the land where dreams come true, not the place where dreams are crushed beneath the feet of people who only care about money.

We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, worked out a back-up plan that would save our vacation without costing an arm and a leg from each of us and bravely soldiered onward to the ticket counter for a third time. The young lady who activated our tickets was a star. We’re both gravely upset neither of us thought to make note of her name. She listened with sympathy to the story of our morning. And though she couldn’t do anything about our tickets, she offered us “I’m Celebrating” buttons to soothe our frantic nerves.

And then she told us to go to Guest Relations. “They might be able to help you,” she said. “It’s worth a shot.”

Why, we wondered, didn’t any of the four people we spoke to before point us in that direction? There are even guest relations buildings OUTSIDE the parks. Anyone of the four people we spoke to – especially the two managers – could have pointed in the direction of guest relations and said “I can’t help you, but they may be able to.”

That was all we wanted! The number one thing you’re taught in any customer service position – and believe me, I’ve worked in that area – is to sympathize with the issue your customer has whether or not it’s in your power to make the problem go away. Both of us would have been satisfied with our treatment at the ticket counter if it had come with a side of sympathy. We might not have been happy; our vacation was in tatters, but we’d have been satisfied.

So awesome Disney Rock Star we sadly cannot name gave us our first shred of sympathy, the hope of a smile, and sent us on our way. As we stood in line for Guest Relations we agreed; it didn’t matter if they gave us anything, they needed to know about our horrible customer service experience. No one wants to drive fourteen hours to Disney to be told, “There’s nothing we can do.”

We were greeted by an older gentleman named Myles (I made sure to glance at his name-tag). He asked what he could help us ladies with. My friend began to speak but was quickly overcome by emotion. She hadn’t been treated well that morning; she’s the wife of a Navy Officer. She has two kids. She endures long weeks of her husband’s absence with little to no help with her two children while he’s gone. She picks up her life and moves it every couple of years, leaving behind any support system she manages to cobble together during the brief periods she lives in each place. All she wanted was a chance to spend a week with one of her best friends in the place of dreams.

Not to mention she had to fetch that friend from Canada to make it happen.

Not to mention she had to drive fourteen hours in one day to get from her home to the Disney resort.

Not to mention she paid for a four day vacation and no one warned her this might happen.

And so we explained to Myles as best we could that we understood he might not be able to help us, that we weren’t looking for anything by being here (not even to take a chunk out of his hide, because we never raised our voices), but that we felt he needed to know about our treatment at the ticket counter.

Myles never hesitated. “Fill out these forms,” he said. “Sit down here for a moment, I just need to get to a ticket machine,” he told us. “I’m going to make a one-time exception for the two of you because,” and he looked at my friend, “your husband is in the military. And when you get home I want you to thank him for his service.”

That was all my friend wanted to hear all morning – thank you for the sacrifices you and your family make on behalf of the rest of us. If he’d given us only those words and not two-day park vouchers, he’d still have made her one of the happiest people in the park. But he gave us the park vouchers too; because that’s the spirit of Disney. Not the soulless corporation that viciously hangs on to copyrights so that they can continue to make money long past when a concept should have fallen into public domain, but the people who smile at you when you walk through the park entrance. The people who stand outside in 100+ degree weather wearing a black costume with a stuffy head covering to make little children smile. The people who probably get yelled at all day by disgruntled people who don’t realize they’re in frekin’ Disney World and yet still smile at my best friend and say thank you for your sacrifice.

And so Myles single-handedly not only saved our vacation, but restored our faith in the spirit of Disney. And aside from that one little hiccup on our first morning outside the gates of Epcot, we had a fabulous time.

So if you ever find yourself in Disney World, greeted by an older gentleman named Myles, smile at him and thank him for being a truly awesome individual.

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