Given my brief studies in engineering (I burned all my electives on Thermodynamics, Calc III and the like in order to graduate on time), I love to try to figure out how things work. Sometimes the magic eludes me and sometimes the promise eludes the execution.
In the latter case, I’ve used the Be Our Guest experience at the Magic Kingdom as an example of “magic” in action. Clarke’s third law that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic is very much practice at Disney. The Magic Bands really do make it so that once I step off the plane in Orlando, I barely have to think while I’m on the resort. That being said, Be Our Guest was a disaster.
Like any technology, scale matters a lot. It’s easier to automate one dining experience than several. And Be Our Guest has long since expanded beyond several concurrent dining experiences. Further, automation works until it doesn’t. The smallest variation can have massive consequences.
You can read the article for the intended experience, but ours differed … slightly. As we walked across the bridge to the castle, we were greeted not by a server waiting to take us to our table (we did have a reservation, because everything in Disney is scripted) but by the general crowd you’d expect outside your neighborhood Applebee’s on a weekend in graduation season. Automation fail 1, people need to stay on schedule to keep making tables available … and Disney visitors are on no one’s timetable except that of their next FastPass.
Once we were seated, we were presented a menu with a selection of options, including some for various dietary preferences and restrictions. I get why this changed since your appetite might be different than six months earlier when you made your reservation.
The whole system collapsed, however, because there were no Vegan options for children. Our reservation noted my niece’s preference and all other restaurants had been prepared. Not only could the kitchen not accommodate our need, but they initially wouldn’t even compromise and make a “half-portion” of the adult vegan dish.
It took 20 minutes of the poor waiter trying to convince my brother-in-law to essentially opt his daughter out of being Vegan for convenience sake before someone with power granted our him permission to halve an adult portion of the Vegan dish.
While the our other table’s experience went smoothly, they had to sit for 90 extra minutes while we worked through the issue with the waiter, waited on all of our food to be specially prepped and then finish our dinner. It took us almost two hours just to be served … with four children under the age of 7 … after eight hours already in the park with no naps. I know you’re asking why we didn’t just leave: Disney’s dining reservation system makes eating impromptu in the park very difficult.
Honestly, the aesthetics were very impressive and the experience under normal circumstances is likely serviceable. The inability to control human behavior at scale combined with the hype around that “ideal experience” ruined the “magic”.
Given 2.5 hours desperately seeking an outlet for my frustration, I had the opportunity to wander the restaurant and see the beast a half dozen times with my daughters. We got great pictures. It was easy with time to see how Disney made it all work and why for all the promise, a little interference could easily stall out the entire process. Magic, it turns out, is hard to sustain.
Compare that to a slightly different experience at Universal. For the record, even with a tour guide, I could not figure out/get them to divulge all of the “magic” in the Wizarding World. It was the most immersive experience of my life and unlike anything I’ve seen since. My efforts to recreate butterbeer have been especially flawed.
The worst I can say about Universal is that their rationale for Ollivander’s is inspired, but similarly prone to error. As a surprise to no one, your likelihood of being “chosen” to be fitted for a wand is directly proportional to your likelihood of buying said “premium” wand. The wands are awesome and we lost a lot of time trying to unlock all the spells in the “land” (not all of which are marked). But parents generally will make their kids split a wand because it’s plastic and it doesn’t work outside the park. So Universal (allegedly) tries to avoid picking kids for the show as picking siblings halves the purchase opportunity. They look for young couples because they are likely sentimental, likely superfans (if they go to Wizarding World with their SO) and thus more likely to buy the wands that chose them because they were destined to be paired. The show is engaging even for someone like me who at that time had not read a book or seen a movie.
But the best part was when my brother-in-law and future sister-in-law were chosen for the romantic wand performance.
Small problem, I have two brother-in-laws and they happened to be standing next to the wrong person when they were chosen. Take that corporate merchandising!
It’s been a much better story than Be Our Guest bring up at family gatherings.