Disney has recently begun testing refillable resort mugs containing RFID chips in order to limit guests’ use of free refills. Currently, the test is, according to Disney, in its “early stages.” At this time, the new mugs are refillable for 14 days and allow guests to fill their mugs for 1 minute every 5 minutes at the soda machines. The disposable cups are good for 2 hours. After those limits, cups will only be able to access ice and water from the automated machines. The trial of the new technology is currently underway at Disney’s All Star Sports resort, and is not presently being used in other locations. Disney spokespeople are emphasizing that the RFID technology is only in its early testing phase and that numerous adjustments and changes will no doubt be made as the process continues.
Those are the facts. But the response is another matter. Message boards and blogs have been humming in the wake of the announcement, and much of the feedback is decidedly negative. Many Disney guests are complaining about the new limitations, claiming that they are unfair, that Disney is nickel-and-diming guests, and that the new regulations unfairly penalize repeat visitors. Unquestionably, there is some truth to those accusations, but Disney, as a big corporation trying to manage millions of visitors every year and provide the best guest experience, while making enough money to keep providing that experience, is an easy target. Before the virulence spills too far, add a little rationality into the drink mix.
It’s not fair. Well, technically it is. The refillable mugs at Disney have specified that they were intended to provide free beverages for the length of your stay. Well, unless guests are staying more than two weeks, they will continue to provide exactly what was always advertised. Now, of course, if guests are trying to steal (I know, I know, it’s just soda, but technically, it’s stealing) beyond the range of their vacation, then the new rules are going to cause problems…but that’s the idea, isn’t it?
Disney is nickel-and-diming guests. The soda that is distributed through the machines at resorts is the syrup-mixture concoction used at most major venues, and no, it is in no way worth $2.50 a glass. That is a breathtakingly inflated price that brings in massive profit for Disney, movie theaters, and the thousands of other places that use a similar system. Is Disney so obsessed with making a profit that a few people getting extra refills makes them put in RFID tags. Really?
Well, it’s not quite that simple. Cast Members point out that it’s not “a few people getting extra refills.” Disney’s employees report seeing guests use condiment containers, popcorn boxes, and even their own cups from home to just help themselves to the beverages without ever bothering to purchase a refillable mug. They also have seen parties of 6-12 buy one mug, and then spend 15 minutes using the mug to fill their party’s cups and, in a few cases, large drink dispensing coolers. When you expand that behavior to a percentage of the 120,600,000 guests who came to Walt Disney World property in 2010, the new restrictions look less like nickel and dime. Furthermore, at least for me, there is a level of resentment when you have purchased a refillable mug, yet you can’t access the soda machine, or the beverage of your choice is empty due to people without mugs “stealing” beverages. That’s a bad customer experience, and one that can be prevented.
The regulations unfairly penalize repeat visitors. Yes, the way the system is being tested, they certainly do. Guests who visit more than once a year and annual pass holders are not going to be able to re-use the mugs they legitimately purchase. And Disney may simply ignore those guests. Unfortunately, management of Walt Disney World tends to treat Annual Passholders as a rather insignificant minority since the statistical majority of visitors to the Florida parks are vacationers and overseas guests. That bias is evident in the repeated response to seasonal changes, like the transplant of the California Nightmare Before Christmas retrofit of the Haunted Mansion. Disney has reiterated that closing the Florida attraction for the time required to make the change would disrupt too many vacationers’ experiences. In California, the statistical frequency of repeat guests makes the changes worthwhile to draw back annual passholders with a new version of an attraction. Simply, in Florida, Annual Passholders don’t count as much because there aren’t as many of us.
If, however, Disney does recognize that the new rules penalize their repeat customers, there is an easy solution to the dilemma. RFID tags’ usefulness lies in their unique, identifiable signature. Disney is already using that aspect of RFID to provide easy room entry and customized, interactive experiences on board their new cruise ships. How difficult would it then be to provide an extension option on the refillable mugs, discounted for those with annual passes? Certainly, a price like $18 for an annual passholder mug with unlimited refills for a year would not be unreasonable. And, personally, including a refillable mug as one of the perks for my premium annual pass would make me feel as though I were getting value (more than the stupid golf course. Really? You replaced Pleasure Island entry with golf?). Certainly RFID technology could easily accommodate those added options.
So, is the new RFID tagging of refillable mugs a testament to Disney’s maniacal corporate evil? Not really; it’s simply an enforcement of an existing rule. Based on Cast Members’ accounts, the abuse of the refill machines has gotten so bad that Disney needed to do something to ensure that those who did play by the rules got a good experience. That’s not corporate evil; that’s ensuring customer service. And the RFID option is far better than the complete removal of refillable mugs.
For now, I’ll hold my judgment. I’m hoping that Disney is smart enough to use the technology available to offer refill options – extensions, annual refills, etc – that allow guests to play by the rules and still have the chance to get what they’re paying for.