Disneyland – a few reflections

We went to Disneyland for the first time last week. A few reflections –

(1) “Walt Disney Company” – you hear the company name in full in various shows. I found it amazing to think about the positive impact this company has had on so many people’s lives for so many decades. It is associated with happiness, stories, memories, and magic. Big corporations can become staid over time – and it is amazing to see Disney’s staying power.

(2) Life becomes better after 42 inches. We waited a few years to go to Disneyland as we wanted to have access to all the rides. Our youngest is just past 42 inches. And while this is true for the ride experience, I think it is also true for parenting. A good friend once told me that parenting becomes significantly more fun after your youngest turns 3. I’ve definitely found that to be true and it was solace during the early sleep-deprived years. :-)

(3) Disney’s imagineers are at their best when they create worlds. The “Cars world” is incredible. But the Star Wars land is something else. It isn’t just that the visual experience is spectacular. It is the complete sensory experience. Walk into a restroom and you’ll likely hear R2D2 beeping away.

Magic is a function of paying a disproportionate amount of attention to tiny details.

(4) Speaking of Star Wars, the newest ride called “The Rise of the Resistance” reimagines what a ride could be. It is effectively a 10ish minute movie experience. You travel in a spaceship, get abducted, and get summoned for interrogation. At this point, after a 70 minute wait, we were wondering if this ride was going to be worth it.

Then the finale – where we move at high speed escaping Kylo Ren and the First Order. Theme park rides will never be the same again.

(5) As “The Rise” is the best ride in Disneyland, there is no fast pass. It was hilarious to be part of the group sprinting towards the ride when the park opened. It was our second time and we knew better than to wait for queues to become shorter (they don’t). Even with the sprint, we waited 20 minutes. A perfect illustration of the refrain we went back to so many times during the experiences – “Good things happen to those who wait.” :-)

(6) One of the evening shows was called “Fantasmic” – a journey into Mickey Mouse’s creative mind as he relives many fun and nightmare-ish memories from the movies. Aside from the brilliant visual effects, the story had a wonderful lesson – dreams and nightmares are all part of our imagination. We might as well channel them positively.

(7) As we were stumbling about trying to find a good spot to watch the show and asking for help, a lovely manager got us a few spots in the reserved seating section. She explained that she gets to that every show and she’s on the lookout for nice people who could do with the help. That made our evening.

I’m not sure we did much to deserve it. But it was another great reminder of how kindness from strangers shapes our experiences.

(8) Many of the Disney shows were just light or water or firework shows. They’d be perfectly normal and similar to other such shows except for the music, visuals, and story. Events become experiences when you bring emotion to them.

(9) I thought the new version of Disney’s “Fastpass” called “Genie+” is a smart system. Most of the blockbuster rides have them, you can only book one at a time (or one every 2 hours – whichever is sooner). It lends itself to optimization opportunities and adds an extra level of gamification to the experience.

(10) We focused on the blockbuster rides – compiled from some quick research and conversations with strangers. It made for a great experience but it did involve an explicit trade-off with quantity. A good reminder that every strategy has trade-offs.

(11) Whenever you get to a new place, it takes time to get acclimatized. Sometimes, we get into a new experience and expect to hit the ground running. But we never do. I am reminded of this even when we go on vacation. It takes time to find our groove. Best to be kind to ourselves.

(12) You get a lot more done early in the morning. As in daily work, so in Disneyland. Practically, a schedule that involved going hard between 730-12pm followed by a nap and another run in the evening works particularly well.

(13) Disneyland is a completely “app native” experience. We practically lived on the app – looking for shorter wait times, Genie+ opportunities, mobile orders, and so on. The app, needless to say, brought to life so many possibilities to customize your experience. We’re 15 years into mobile apps and, even now, such experiences are few and far in between. It takes time for technology to be adopted.

(14) The “cast” (or staff) were incredibly well organized and always equipped with plan B. They also seemed… happy. A nod to the power of great systems and leadership running the show.

(15) Seeing other kids walking around with goodies from the theme shop led to the inevitable “I want that” conversation. We had set expectations around this however. Given the massive expense involved, this would be the only birthday gifts for 2023. So we were able to move past it quickly. So much of life is setting and managing expectations.

(16) It also led to that other profound question – are you sure what you want or wish for is what you need?

It was a question that worked as well for us adults as it did for the kids.