When The Magic Disappears | SeaWorld

  • When the Magic Disappears

    No biggie: Things usually don’t go wrong at the Walt Disney World Resort.

    No real surprise, either: But perhaps you yourself wonder:

    Why does the magic work so often?

    A major reason:

    Disney preps and prepares so well that issues are usually avoided with ease.

    So what if things do go wrong?

    And what can you do if that happens?

    Actually, during that admittedly rare event, there are a lot of things you can do to make it right.

    But first, consider two things:

    1. Disney and Universal and other Orlando theme parks are far from the few disaster-prone parks of the past (elsewhere, of course) that occasionally did had serious issues. And:
    2. Things don’t go wrong very often for a lot of reasons, including Disney’s everyday practices and cast training…which has become a model that spread throughout the industry.

    That earlier mentioned No. 1 could mean at least a couple of theme parks.

    But the best example anywhere might have been Action Park.

    You may have heard of it

    It was in New Jersey. And acquired the names “Class Action” and “Traction Park.”

    For good reasons…while it lasted for about eight turbulent years.

    Newspaper accounts recorded it:

    There were six deaths there.

    Countless injuries.

    Criminal charges related to an insurance fraud scheme.

    Numerous lawsuits.

    Finally (mercifully): closure: In 1996.

    “The place was as packed with urban legends as it was with lawsuits: Some — snakes in the rapids ride — were most likely fiction; others — tales of the owner bribing employees with cash to test drive some of the rides for safety or starting his own insurance company — were real,” said a newspaper account.

    Not just a handful of bruises but more serious stuff

    One report claimed that in 1987, five to 10 people per day were being brought into the emergency room from the park. The New Jersey Herald reported the park actually bought the town of Vernon additional ambulances to keep up with demand

    Of course, a lot of people liked the old park.

    But it wasn’t until an online documentary about the old Action Park — titled “The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever” — went viral that the owners realized: Not only do people remember the old park, which drew a million visitors annually at its prime; they miss it.

    To be fair here, and up to date, the park came back as winter resort Mountain Creek’s Terrain Parks.

    And with a new emphasis on safety.

    Says the new park’s web site:

    Everyone knows that getting hurt is no FUN, that's why when it comes to Park Safety, we take things very seriously.  We want every skier and rider who enter our parks to be prepared and know the rules of the road.  That's why we require everyone entering the Terrain Park at South to complete and pass our Park Pass educational quiz.  If you're new to freestyle skiing or riding, we also recommend that you consider taking a lesson.  Our professional Switch Academy Instructors will get you up and progressing quickly and safely.  However you choose to use our parks...Be Safe! Have FUN!”

    Safe, safe and more safe

    So don’t let this scare you at Disney (and for that matter, other Orlando parks).

    Which brings us to our second point:

    Why has Disney been so safe with rare accidents despite thrilling roller coasters and dramatic pyrotechnics?

    “Most guests don’t realize the engineering that goes into making these adventures not only thrilling but also safe,” said a report in a recent engineering magazine, Engineering Institute.

    That story quoted Glenn Birket, who has been behind many theme park control systems at Disney and Universal theme parks.

    Since 1955, Disney has been at the forefront of developing standards for making roller coasters, show equipment, and basically any machinery that interacts with people in its parks safe, notes Birket.

    But their efforts have also been bolstered by national and even international safety standards.

    While most visitors don’t think twice about the risks involved with riding a roller coaster, watching fireworks, or attending a stage show, Birket and those who design the control systems do.

    Without getting into a lot of technical details, Birket says this:

    “As entertainment control system engineers, our duty to public safety is especially high, higher than for the transportation systems that bring guests to the theme park. Control systems must fail safely or, as we in the industry say, be ‘fail-safe.’ If any one thing or multiple things go wrong, the system must react in a way that is safe: No one gets hurt, and the equipment is not destroyed.”

    Training also helps

    Another factor in why things go right is obviously Disney’s training.

    Without going into a lot of detail on that (for another report), let’s just recall when a friend of ours spent three months of his vacation in Orlando and Tampa Bay. Both are desirable vacation locations with a lot of attractions.

    Both areas have upscale and well-maintained hotels (though Tampa Bay has the advantage of proximity to the nearby ocean). Both have popular visitor activities.

    But his experience was that service levels in general are often higher in Orlando than Tampa. Probably because of the Disney influence.

    We could cite several examples, but let’s leave it at one.

    Tampa Bay hotel managers when asked questions by guests had the same smiles found at Disney. But they often responded that they did not know the answer to questions such as “Where’s the nearest Catholic Church near here?” and “What’s the best time to see the sunset over the ocean?”

    Nothing wrong with not knowing. And saying so.

    But in Orlando, the response was far more like this: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

    And that’s what they did: find the answer for the guest (of course, the ocean question was not relevant in Orlando but you understand the principle here).

    It was the going the extra mile touch that you often find at a Disney property hotel where if they don’t know the answer, they will find it. And be sure you get a response.

    So what if you have a problem?

    Let’s get to the complaints issue.

    An important consideration here is being able to attribute a problem to Disney or another theme park or whether this is a case where no one is at fault.

    Surveys show one of the biggest problems with visitors is simply this: getting sick.

    No one can really prepare you for that, but parks have emergency medical aid…though don’t expect major solutions to problems much beyond aspirin for headaches or soothing cream for sun burn.

    A second major complaint from surveys is the weather.

    Not really a factor in Orlando but it does rain. So bring your rain gear instead of complaining (complaints do come up but certainly not from someone like you who knows better).

    Hotels/motels are a common source of unhappiness in most places. And it does happen here at times.

    You rent a room at the standard rate at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

    You know there are wild animals running around out there but your room overlooks a parking lot.

    No tigers or lions roaming around the SUV’s there.

    So do you complain?

    When not to complain

    If you wanted a view, sorry, you should have asked for it (and accepted that you might have to pay more for it).

    So in making a complaint, first make sure you have a real issue.

    Let’s assume you have a valid one.

    That is actually the first step: make sure you need help of some kind. Find the problem and be able to explain it clearly.

    If it’s minor, such as room service going three minutes past their deadline delivery, consider just dropping it.

    But if your irritation is real, consider what you want from it. What is the hotel’s solution? What should they do about it?

    Be realistic, of course (don’t expect a presidential suite if you were not told you had to pay extra for wi-fi, for example).

    Skip the e-mail or telephone. Approach the manager in person.

    Remain calm and logical. No whining or excessive repetition of the problem.

    Have some patience.  

    Don’t leave the park without some resolution.              

    Three other pieces of advice on room issues:

    1. 1.Always keep in mind that room requests are only that: requests. Not guarantees. But if you pay for an upgraded room such as one to see the lions and tigers, ala Animal Kingdom, you should never be shy about getting what you paid for. Do keep a printed copy of your reservation to quickly prove your case.
    2. 2.If a room is not clean or you have some mechanical issue such as a non-working TV -- and this is rare though it does happen -- simply call the front desk to bring it to their attention. They will almost certainly solve the issue at that level by sending someone to fix it.
    3. 3.If you do have to ask for a room change, and none is available during particularly busy times, do consider asking for another hotel. Hotel people do not particularly like this request but it is not unreasonable.              

    Here’s something similar that does happen at times that raises another issue:

    Seriously stuck

    Does a theme park owe you anything if you're left stuck on its rides?

    There have been lawsuits over this issue, with one man getting reimbursed by Disney because he was stuck for only 30 minutes.

    He said it took him a half hour for rescuers to get him off “It’s a Small World.”

    That meant 30 minutes of hearing “It’s a Small World.”

    This particular rider was disabled and used a wheelchair.

    His attorney said it took him three days to stabilize. He cited panic attacks and high blood pressure.

    He settled for $8,000 for “pain and suffering,” but also for violating the federal disability law (much of that settlement went to the attorney initiating the lawsuit).

    We have had this experience personally: stuck on Small World.

    The worst part was hearing the song, which is fine for a short time, but not when it’s heard over and over.

    But we are not disabled, of course, and the delay did not extend beyond a few minutes.

    We didn’t expect $8,000. And neither should you, in this case.

    We accepted it. Shrugged it off and went on with the day.        

    Sometimes, the best advice is to forget it

    Let’s look at a half dozen items of general advice for actually avoiding any potential problems:

    1. 1.Check your reservation details before you leave home. Far easier to correct errors before you get there.
    2. 2.Don’t delay bringing up a problem. It should be obvious to you that Disney and other parks can fix things while you’re there but can’t help much after you have left.            
    3. 3.While we’re always recommending that you have serious complaints before raising them as issues, at the same time, don’t hesitate to ask a cast member for the nearest first aid station if you need quick help, such as band-aids for blisters.
    4. 4.You can complain to anyone who happens to be nearby. But the best results may involve a supervisor. If the initial issue is not solved, ask for higher help. If you don’t know where to go, you can always go to the guest services desk near the front of the park.
    5. 5.Make sure you keep a record of who was contacted.             
    6. 6.Only use this latter option as a last resort in cases where you have serious issues. Why? Your time spent here is valuable to you (and costly as well). So if a ride attendant happens to be rude, for example, is it really worth your time to go all the way to the front of the park and possibly stand in line at guest services to make a complaint? Consider that this might be a case where you can write a letter later in your hotel or back home.        

    Finally, a good general suggestion is that if you have made arrangements through a travel agent, don’t hesitate to contact him or her. That’s their job.      

    And chances are they will help.

    And one more footnote:            

    While you might want to get in on the nostalgic deal of those who loved Action Park despite its drawbacks and have bought the new “I Survived Action Park” T-shirts, be grateful that those days are over. ###