D23 Expo- Day 1: Into Every Expo A Little Rain Must Fall

Things were going so well that something had to go wrong. While it wasn’t catastrophic it was rough for a bit, but it ultimately becomes a tale of Disney customer service.

We’d finished up at Mickey’s of Glendale shortly before 1pm. We decided to head down to Hall E to see if we could line up for the Feature Animation/Pixar presentation. As previously mentioned many times Busy Bumble is an animation geek so this was the one thing she really wanted to do the entire expo. I was prepared for some disappointment, but lo and behold they let us in and set us up in line for Section A! No luck with Gold Member seating, but that didn’t matter. We’re going to our first big presentation!

Spoiler alert: The sections refer to seating sections, not who gets to go in first. 

There were people there who had obviously camped out for this and many like us with bags of purchases ready for what promised to be an incredible event (pun intended for Pixar fans). We sat for a while chatting with our neighbors who included a freelance journalist from San Diego, some older ladies from the Midwest, and some younger Bay Area girls. We were all excited and eager to see what Disney and Pixar has planned for the next two years.

In the front of Hall E (which is the basement) there were television screens showing Disney films. Occasionally a staff leader would come out and lay down the ground rules and give us a status update. Among the rules: everyone in your party must be present to get in, strollers can’t go in so they need to be left with staff to park them, and nothing that can possibly record can be brought into the presentation. Staff went around with sealing bags (like the kind you mail items in, with a permanent seal). We were told that we would not need to surrender our devices but would need to show that we had sealed them in the bags. This was an improvement over past years where they did a device valet of sorts, which made the seating process a long, protracted ordeal.

Partway through our wait we were informed that some guests standing the sections labeled for Sections B and C might not get in. Since we were in Section A we were all relieved. Unfortunately the folks in the overflow queue were told they wouldn’t get in, so they filed out dejectedly.

As time for seating arrived, we all stood up and prepared to file in. After a few minutes it became clear something was wrong: no one seemed to be moving in our group. After a few more minutes the lead came back on the P.A.: the presentation seating was full. What?! It turns out that some staff thought the sections were for how we’d file in, but they were actually for seating sections. While we’d been piling into Section A, there had been room in Sections B and C, albeit not enough considering there were a fair number of people left behind there too. As we spoke amongst ourselves we also theorized that they may have miscounted the number of bodies in the room since the morning presentation would have people spread out with overnight supplies. We had probably twice as many people in the same space since we were standing or sitting without mattresses or lawn chairs.

The lead let us know that he’d check to see if anyone else could go in, but a wildfire had already started: people who had waited for hours had been told to wait in one section and had seen latecomers lined up in another get in while they were left behind. I did not envy the staff as hundreds of guests grew angrier and angrier. Guests who were leaving were screaming at staff and yelling at the group as a whole that waiting was a moot point: the presentation had already started. Why had this happened? Didn’t they plan for these presentations? How could they not know how many people could get in and why hadn’t they informed us sooner that we would not be able to attend? I wouldn’t have been so upset if they hadn’t assured us that we would definitely be getting in. By this point Busy Bumble was in tears and when I concerns my sister I go off. I was furious.

Busy Bumble needed some time to gather herself, so we stayed put and said our goodbyes to our temporary neighbors. A few minutes later the manager in charge of Disney Resort Events came out. He was contrite and diplomatic, saying he wanted to help us all out but he needed some clearance from management to proceed. If we could just wait a few more minutes he’d inform us as soon as he got word. Busy Bumble was still teary but accepting of the events. She said she wouldn’t have been so upset if they hadn’t built up her hopes and expectations, which I totally agreed with. In my opinion this was a result of two organizations trying to pitch in and run this operation: Disney and the convention vendor. This was pure disorganization and a great case for Disney to suck it up and form their own convention branch to run things themselves.

After a few more minutes the manager came out and gave us a classic service solution: while he could not get us into the ongoing presentation (taunting us with the sounds of cheering above us) and could not get a video link for us to watch from Hall E (which is what some had hoped for), he could get us reserved seating to either the Live Action Film or Theme Park presentations tomorrow. All we would need to do is have a wristband (which they would give us in a moment) and arrive at least an hour before the presentation. We all exchanged looks and decided this was a satisfying solution. I give mad props to the manager and team who worked very quickly to find us an agreeable solution. They owned up that this was their fault and they were going to help us. I also appreciate the other guests who waited around with us. Rather than forming a mob with metaphorical torches and pitchforks they expressed patience and gratitude that management was trying to help us.

Lines formed on either side of Hall E: one for Live Action Film and the other for Theme Parks. Guests received wristbands of different colors so staff the next day knew which panel they were seated in.
Management helping the single day guests. I don’t know what they got but I didn’t hear anything about it on the show floor afterwards. Either they left right after this or they were satisfied with their compensation.

For Busy Bumble she was still sad about missing out on the one thing she wanted to do, but she said if she couldn’t have Pixar she’d settled for Lucasfilm. We got in line for a Live Action Film wristband. Considering the chaos shortly before the distribution of wristbands was surprisingly calm and organized. I think we all had enough time to calm down and accept the circumstances. I only felt bad that so many of our neighbors had up and left without knowing that this would happen. Without any way to track down who had left only those who stayed behind got to take advantage of this offer. The manager also pulled aside those guests who had single day passes, since they would not be able to come back for the next day’s presentations. I don’t know what they received as compensation, but I imagine management was willing to entertain a few suggestions.

This wristband was worth gold after our debacle. Staff members made sure that wristbands were stuck on guests so no one could try to sell these on the show floor, which some guests had contemplated.

In the end as we made our way back to the show floor Busy Bumble and I agreed that this might have been for the best. We had a large duffel that might have been a problem in the seating area. We now had guaranteed seats for the morning presentation, which meant we wouldn’t need to wait in line overnight as we’d considered. We could also check out some of the other smaller panels and presentations since we wouldn’t be in the big one. As it sunk in that we actually had a good deal out of a bad mess I felt relief and a sense of pride in the Disney commitment to customer service.

Anywhere else we would have been told that it was unfortunate but there was nothing they could do, maybe even been made to feel it was our faults for even showing up. Disney’s people went to the C part of the S.E.R.V.I.C.E. model: C = Create Service Solutions. They said, “Look, these people are among our biggest fans. Goodwill is priceless. Once it’s lost it takes ten times as much effort to get it back. We run this show. Let’s see if not only can we make these people happy again but get back some of that goodwill right now.”

When I was a Cast Member creating service solutions happened every day. If someone couldn’t sit in the row they wanted you asked if they could wait for another vehicle. If the ride broke down you offered FastPasses good on any other attraction to those who had been stuck onboard. If a family had been having a bad day and complained to you they got their own boat and a Cast Member to give them a mini tour of the ride. It was all about the guest and it was gratifying to see that Disney did not forget that at D23 Expo.

In our next installment: I’m Really Glad We Missed Out on the Feature Animation/Pixar Presentation! Seriously!

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