Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Defeated (Happily) By the Mouse

Part of my internal resistance to the structure of a cruise had to do with participating in activities en masse: I prefer to think of myself as special, as in having weird tastes in art and music; Whatever; I bore myself sometimes.

I just returned from a Disney cruise and I am still detoxing. I imagine people who attend Burning Man feel the same way. Not sure which experience is more surreal. At least on the Disney cruise everyone on deck was wearing pants (there was no poop deck, those of you snickering in the back).

The food was good, plenty of activities for the kids, sunshine, pool, luxury, everything as promised. Perhaps the biggest thrill, apart from being able to turn my kids loose without concern, was experiencing what the best corporate minds could cook up for me and the family. 

From bag handling to how to wrangle the extra tray for the kid at the buffet, the staff had it dialed in. The younger kid had a sensor strapped to his wrist, the older one carried a Wave phone, a cordless phone for communication on the ship. This is what I wanted, someone else to know what I needed before I could articulate the thought. 

Perhaps the best example of how Disney kills with kindness and excellent service occurs in the restaurants. Each group had a table that is served by the same team of server, assistant server, and head server. When we switched restaurants the team came with us. We became great friends of the server and assistant server, both young men from Turkey and Indonesia respectively. Sedat, from Turkey, was a criminally cheerful wiseacre who never appeared to be having a bad day; Sudi, from Indonesia, elevated attentive beverage service to an exquisite art, apologizing every time he needed our attention. He did his best to learn our drink preference from meal to meal.

The shows were spectacular productions, reminding us that Disney is primarily an entertainment company. Shows with A-level singers and dancers with stage production out of this world occurred nightly. The content was, as one might expect, from Disney movies, but even I, a crusty middle-aged guy, was worn down by the sheer exuberance of it all. (Note: the giant head of Bob Iger did appear in a show to offer support to the emcee.) You don’t put yourself in such an environment to be cynical, so submit to the Mouse. 

Perhaps a stronger man could have maintained composure. Under cross examination I confessed to happily being a napkin head.
Yes, submit I did! Our special character breakfast had our servers tying napkins around our heads so we, too, might resemble Disney characters. 

Perhaps the single best luxury was when I realized that whatever problem occurred, a staff member would help me in a courteous and professional manner. Even in the tedious Guest Services line, where staff most likely answered the same questions ad infinitum, there was cheer and competence. 

Whatever problems I had with the experience have to do with my own inner demons – Disney defeated any desire to eat moderately or exercise, things I usually do okay with. But then what’s the point of a luxury cruise if you spend all your time running laps and eating salad?  

Grandma had exposure to the grandchildren; we ate well and enjoyed ourselves; an excellent time was had by all, even if it was trademarked and copyrighted. Ideology out the window. I’m back in Portland now ready to ride my bike in the cold and wet, while ruminating on the usual. No, I won’t sing Hakuna Matata in the shower, but I do feel that the cruise was a unique experience made better by Disney’s deep understanding of these issues.

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