Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Designing the Disney Experience

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 23, 2007

disneyphotoimage11-small.jpg Apologies to all of my readers for the less-frequent posting; I have been traveling quite a bit the last few weeks!  Things are getting back to normal now. 

I was at one of my favorite places recently, Disneyland!  As always, customer service was impeccable, and marketing and branding were perfectly executed in every detail of the park.

It amazes me how differently my kids look at Disneyland and its adjoining park, Disney’s California Adventure.  I love the original Disneyland park, as it brings back memories of going there as a child.  I envisioned where all the rides used to be (Adventure Through Inner Space and America Sings were two of my favorites!).  I took my kids on timeless favorites (Pirates of the Caribbean, Small World).  The Disneyland experience is designed for just this very thing – memories, both old and new.

disneyphotoimage5-small.jpg Yet, my kids (ages 11 and 13) couldn’t wait to get to Disney’s California Adventure!  They love the thrill rides there at Paradise Pier, which is similar to an old fashioned boardwalk (like in Santa Cruz, California) with rides and games.  Disney has also created areas similar to other various parts of California: San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey and the wharf, Napa Valley vineyards, Hollywood (complete with a mini-street that fades in the distance into a backdrop painting – very cool), and the redwoods.

We went back and forth between the two parks all day, along with Downtown Disney (a retail district just outside the parks). 

Here are my thoughts on a few things that Disney has done as they have thought out the experience from their guest’s point of view, along with a few ideas on improvements that could be made.

Time Savers


  • Disney’s FastPass: This brilliant service allows you to “reserve” a window of time for going on some of the most popular rides.   You get a piece of paper, branded with a logo for each ride, which tells you when you can get it in the special FastPass queue.  This queue puts you on the ride with little to no wait (even if the lines are normally very long!).  This is great not only for a family’s sanity but also for Disney to use in managing their crowds and lines.  I don’t know why other places have not picked this up yet!  (Note: The FastPass tracks your ticket, and you can only have one FastPass at a time in each park, with a few exceptions.  The ticket you see in the photo on the left is one that printed out when we already had a FastPass.)
  • Disney’s PhotoPass: A convenient service which has Disney photographers taking pictures of you/your family all over the parks.  Rather than a piece of paper with a number to look up at the end of the day (at lots of other people doing the same), you get a barcoded card which stores the link to your photos.  You can either have them printed out/put on a CD at the park or access them via the internet when you get home.  The photos of my son and I in this post are from the CD we bought and took home (it was his birthday).



  • Birthday Recognition: You can see from the photo of my son above (with me, in front of the “Golden Gate Bridge”) that he is wearing a badge saying Happy Birthday along with his name.   If you mention to anyone at ticketing or in the Town Hall that you are there for a birthday, they will give you this button to wear.  Everywhere you go at the park, you are wished a Happy Birthday by Disney cast members!  They almost always use your name, and it makes it feel like you have 1000 friends who remembered your birthday.  I have seen this done for people of all ages (we did it for my sister last year), and some cast members do little special things for birthday guests (special dessert, song, seat on the boat).
  • Hidden Mickeys: Disney afficionados have been so many times to the park that they have memorized every line spoken by every audio-animatronic figure.  What to do to keep them excited?  Hide Mickeys!   Disney Imagineers often “hide” images of Mickey (most often the silouette of the famous ears) as they finalize a ride, providing much fodder for guests as they look for them throughout the many Disney parks.  It helps make Disney fanatics feel like part of the “inside team” when they find them and point them out to the uninitiated.
  • Theming: Disney has even put thought into how one traverses through Disneyland itself.  Each “land” has a different surface underfoot, so you can actually feel the transition from one area to another through your feet!  California Adventure doesn’t do this to the same extent, but one can easily see the transition from one part of California to another by looking at the theming on the trash cans (which are everywhere).  


  • Helping Hands on Rides: This has to be the one area that I love the most about going on Disney rides!  On most of the rides where things could easily fall out (rollercoaster and thrill-type rides), Disney has provided pouches on the back of each seat.  The pouches (which close with Velcro for the coaster that goes upside-down!) are large enough to hold a small purse or shopping bag.  No more “could you please hold this for me?” or worrying about what will happen to your bag if left on the side of the ride.  At one ride at California Adventure, the Orange Stinger, shoes could easily fly off, so Disney provides bins around the edges of the ride to store them pre-flight.  I love the idea of pouches and containers for belongings because it really takes the guest’s point of view into account!  Nothing is worse than losing something on a ride or trying to hold it throughout the adventure.

There are many other areas that would merit a mention as well; please add those you have enjoyed in the comments!

Improvement Areas

No one is perfect, and when there are crowds especially, areas needing improvement stand out.  Here are a few places where Disney could do better.

  • Clear reasoning on rules: Over in California Adventure, there is a Challenge Trail with a lot of cool areas where kids can climb, run, and jump.  All ages will love this, and my boys were ready to rumble!  The best part seemed to be a mini-zip line for kids.  We were told it was only for kids ages 12 and younger, so my 11 year old went and loved it.  My 13 year old was very upset (especially when the cast member let my younger son keep going on it over and over again, as there was no line).  When we asked the cast member if it was due to a weight limit, a height limit, or what, she just said the rules stated 12 and younger only.  Suggestion: I understand the need for strict rules (safety) and the need to follow them, but a little more explanation would have helped my son feel better.  Disney is usually very good about explaining things and helping kids feel good about a disappointment, but that was not the case on this attraction.
  • Crowds: Again, I understand that busy seasons are difficult.  However, if there are any parades or fireworks shows going on, it can be nearly impossible to get around the park (especially if you don’t want to see them!).  Disney ropes off certain areas in order to manage the crowd flows, and getting from point A to point B can feel like a mouse in a maze.  Suggestion: When Disney hands out show guides, it would be great if they could put out a little map along with it, showing how to maneuver around the park during these times.  It would great assist some of its most valuable customers, its season ticket holders, who may have seen these show many times and want to take advantage of smaller ride queues.

What other ideas do you have for how Disney can improve its experience?  Let me know!

More Disney Analysis
Doug Meacham asked the above question in June after sharing his Disney vacation tale and had some interesting comments with ideas (I especially liked the one which takes advantage of text messaging to find Disney characters!).   I also agree that Disney could do more for teens.

CB Whittemore had some great insights from attending the Disney Institute in Florida (CB, I am so jealous!!), including a peak behind the scenes and a great explanation of some of the carefully crafted Disney experiences (like red sidewalks).

The blog Passport to Dreams has a wonderful pictorial post on Walt Disney World and how they have created an anti-food court restaurant.  She includes detailed explanations of how the experience differs depending on which window you are near, which entrance you come in, and which part of the park you came from.  A great post!

Finally, in case you missed it, Drew McLellan had a series of posts about Disney and marketing which he put into an eBook back in January of this year called Marketing Lessons from Walt (be sure and go to Drew’s site to download it!).  I like his section on Customer Expectations.


7 Responses to “Designing the Disney Experience”

  1. Great post, Becky! I agree on the crowds. My one visit to Disneyland was a very crowded experience — simply providing some suggested routes or site flows (like one would do with a website) would be a great start.

  2. Becky, wonderful post filled with great insights. Love it that the Mouse appears in unexpected places. I’ve certainly found him in unusual ones! The 11 and under rule means I have a few more years, but not too many, before needing to take my daughter. Thanks!

  3. Becky,

    I am not a fan of amusement parks, especially one as popular as Disney’s. However, from a marketing and customer experience point of view, they do a great job and seem always looking for ways to improve the experience.

  4. Hi Gavin!

    You need to plan to come to Disneyland in the off-season (which should work for you, as your summer and ours are 180 degrees apart!). In the meantime, a crowd navigation map sure would help. You could have one for those wanting to see fireworks/other shows/parades, and a different on for those trying to get to rides during the busy times.

    Thanks for your comment, my friend! 🙂

  5. Thanks for your compliment! I play the “find the hidden Mickeys” game with my kids, and they find new things each time we go. My favorite one is the dinner plates on the table in the dining room scene at Haunted Mansion. They are in the shape of a Mickey!

  6. Lewis, Disney is indeed always making improvements. It is more an experience than an amusement park, and most times of the year it is not nearly as crowded as it is during holidays and school vacations.

  7. […] Designing the Disney Experience […]

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