We hold hands tightly as the paper lanterns rise on the castle, we smile and laugh as the children around us sing along loudly with Let it Go, and then, when the final segment starts, we shed a tear or two of joy as Pocahontas’s defiant look turns into Carl’s balloon-attached house rising into the air.
For almost three months in 2014, I worried about Elyssa’s health and future. I watched as she struggled to learn to walk (and run) again. On our wedding day, I was so happy that she’d made it that far. It wasn’t until the first night of our honeymoon, though,–when we were standing on Main Street and Celebrate the Magic started–that I finally felt like things were really going to be okay. Even if you didn’t connect with the show itself, just think of some moment in your life that has come to represent something special; that’s what Celebrate the Magic is for us.
I’m glad Elyssa and I were already planning to be down here to say goodbye to one of our favorite shows. Because of our connection with it, it was the list of things we would have had to drive down to see one last time before it ended. Now, we get one more night to celebrate the memories that Celebrate the Magic has given us.
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a new navigation option pop up in the menu a few days ago. That was a “soft launch”, but today we’re officially launching a new feature on the site: Everyday Carry – John’s Disney Bag. People who know me are aware of the extent that I iterate over every aspect of my Disney plans, always trying to refine each and every detail. As you might expect, that refinement extends to the bag that I bring with me to the parks pretty much every day.
One of the early interviews I conducted on this site was with Brian Perkins, who helped create a set of Disney Podcast awards. I like Brian, so I "reached out" via Twitter when this year's slate of nominees was released under the same banner he used previously. It was not really surprising when he informed me that he did not participate in this year's nomination process, since this year's slate of nomineees clearly was not up to the quality of previous years.
Let me start by saying that I appreciate anyone who is trying to spread the word about Disney podcasts, but I think there is some level of responsibility to do that well. I've tried to do that on this site, and am currently in the process of creating a new version of that directory. As part of that effort, I conducted a survey here on the site (which has more entries than the "panel of 30 people" that apparently did the listing of nominees for this year's "awards"). Though I haven't finished my updated directory, I have reviewed all the submissions, read reviews, etc… and based on my research (which is admittedly influenced by you, my readers), this list of nominees is not reflective of shows that people are currently listening to and enjoying. (In the world of Twitter-dot-COM, I referred to this nominee slate as "hot garbage". As I also said in a follow-up tweet, I am not commenting on any of the specific shows listed in the nominations, I have a problem with the composition of the nominees itself.)
Here is my biggest complaint (and why I can't take this year's awards seriously): I have a mound of data in front of me, where people listed out up to 5 of their favorite podcasts, and 3 of the 4 most popular entries ARE NOT MENTIONED ANYWHERE ON ON THIS SLATE OF NOMINEES. These shows, which clearly be included in any alleged "Best Of" listing are:
There are additional problems I have with the listing ("Modern" Men of Mouse?, Len Testa is a host on WDW Today?), but the main problem I have–as indicated by the data I described above–is that I don't think the shows listed reflect current Disney podcast listening trends. For example, shows that were popular on similar lists in previous years such as WDW Radio and WDW Today received hardly any mentions in this me survey. To me, that indicates that engaged Disney fans aren't listening to those shows as much anymore. The Disney Podcast Awards, however, do not seem to accurately reflect those trends.
Ultimately, I think this issue could be best cleared up by explaining more about the nomination process, the composition of the panel, what the criteria were for each category, etc… Until such time, however, I'm going to disregard these "awards" as things that don't actually have any value as indicators of actual show quality.
At 3am Eastern today, I–like many a technology geek–was loading and reloading the Apple Store on my existing iPhone in hopes of securing a new iPhone on next Friday’s launch day. The store was supposed to go live at 3:01am, but at 3:08am I was still getting the “check back soon” message that Apple puts up when it’s updating its store. People on Twitter were–justifiably–complaining about how frustrating things were. When I finally got into the store, I received a generic “unable to complete transaction at this time” error on 6 different attempts before my order went through on my phone (during which time I–unnecessarily–went to my computer as a backup, in case I was doing something wrong on my phone). A basic online order that should have probably been completed by 3:04am wrapped up at 3:37am.
When the process was completed, I tweeted about how much the whole experience made me long for Disney’s ADR system. I know there are differences in scale–orders of magnitude differences, probably–but, every day of the year Disney enables its ADR system at exactly 6:00am to allow thousands of people to make their 180-day reservations. Every day. I’ve gone through that process at least 25 times, sometimes making tens of reservations, and it usually works pretty well. The same goes for making new Fastpass+ selections, changing ADRs, and otherwise using My Disney Experience (these days, anyway).
Before you start sending me pictures of your Donald Duck error message (or Stitch in the rain), let me be clear: I am not saying Disney is perfect. I’ve had problems–sometimes very annoying and difficult to correct problems–using Disney’s web services, as I am sure many of you have. What I am trying to say, however, is that making web services which have to support the kind of activity that Disney and Apple receive through their websites and apps is hard. I know that from both my experience as a developer of them and as a consumer of them. Programing at this kind of scale isn’t easy–just ask Apple after last night–, but, overall, Disney does a pretty good job with it.
ASIDE (for people who care): I bought a 128GB Gold iPhone 7. I like a white screen, since it’s easier to find when I leave it on the coach or my dark furniture, and I prefer gold to silver or pink. I chose the in-store pickup option so I can get it first thing in the morning next Friday, and I bought it in the Apple Upgrade Program, since it’s kind of stupid not to.
tl;dr – Though mildly enjoyable to play, it’s your typical, scammy “free-to-play” mobile game that is best avoided.
In a recent article at MacStories Graham Spencer dug into the top grossing apps in the iOS App Store, and found that over 65% of them were what are known as “free-to-play” games. These games use a model that involve a “free” download of the game, and then the ability to use the in-app purchase functionality of your to allow you to “enhance” your experience. Insidiously, the games are then designed in a way that you are almost constantly tempted to purchase these “enhancements”, thereby allowing the developers to rake in money from users. Sadly, Disney’s iOS offering has all the worst elements of that trend.
What is Emoji Blitz
When I first heard of KIMOJI, I couldn’t understand what would make the application so popular. Clearly, I was in the minority, as KIMOJI shot to the top of the iOS App Store sales chart. When it was announced that Disney was going to make its own emoji keyboard–featuring its famed icons like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy–I figured I would give a try. What I never expected was that Disney Emoji Blitz would set a new low in gamification of a simple concept. You see, instead of purchasing the Disney Emoji keyboard and getting access to the various emojis that Disney has created, the Emoji blitz requires you to “unlock” the various emojis through repeated play of a simple matching game (think of a combination of Tetris and Connect-Four, where when you end up with 3 of the same emoji next to each other, they disappear from the board and new emoji fall into place.)
On its face, the game play isn’t terrible. It’s a nice little distraction when you have a minute or two. If that’s all the game was, I might have such a problem with it. Sadly, however, it gets much, much worse.
The easiest place to start talking about the gamification of Emoji Blitz is in the “currency” system that’s in place. In the game, you have 3 different types of currency:
Hearts – These are your “lives”. You can only play the game if you have a heart. These re-generate every 10 minutes, but you can only keep five of those auto-generated hearts at once (you can, of course, buy more.)
Coins – These allow you to buy things like “boosts” to use in your game, or, most importantly, new emojis.
Gems – You trade in gems to get more hearts or coins (yep, it’s that convoluted) or to change the “challenges” the game is presenting you. Gems are what you can purchase more of with actual money via the game’s in-app purchase system.
So, why have this kind of confusing system of currency? Because, it provides a way to obfuscate what you are purchasing and how much you’re actually spending. For example, you can purchase 81 gems for $1.99. You could then use 30 of those gems to get 5 extra hearts, and 50 of those gems to 6000 coins. Of course, you need 15,000 coins to buy a new emoji, so maybe you should buy 486 gems for $9.99 and then trade 300 of those gems into 40000 coins to pick a “gold box” emoji. You then have a 1 in 20 chance of getting that Tinker Bell emoji you really want (And it’s always 1 in 20, since, SURPRISE, you might get a awarded an emoji you already have.) It’s crazy. You could easily spend hundreds of dollars trying to get the ability to insert a cute WALL-E emoji into your text messages.
If you think that’s bad, the actual game play might be worse. To incentive you to keep playing the game, there are “Missions”, which are things that you need to complete to get to the next “level”:
“Items” which are things you can collect during the course of the game play:
And daily” Challenges”, which are things you need to compete in a given day in order to get some kind of bonus:
All of these are designed to get you to want to play the game more (“Oh, I’ll just try to complete the next mission.” “Oh, I’ll just play until I can collect pirate ship.”), but the challenges are especially terrible, since, not only do you have to complete the challenges in a given day, but your playable characters can only be used once after 2 FREAKIN’ HOURS (Unless, of course, you pay to buy gems, which you can then use to “wake up” the character to play agin.) It’s such a scam.
For another perfect example of how manipulative Emoji Blitz is, take a look at that this screen shot:
In this example there’s a “rare” item on the board, but my time is expired. So what does the game offer me? A chance to use 20 gems RIGHT THEN, in order to get 10 more second to try and collect that “rare” item. If you remember from above, those 20 Gems might cost me a $2 in-app purchase. In other words, the game is trying to capitalize on the fact that I might be willing to do something extra to get this rare item and is hoping I’m caught up in the moment enough to think that paying $2 for 10 seconds of gameplay is somehow a good idea. It is such a scam.
I like emojis. I think they’re cute. I was looking forward to putting Disney emojis in my tweets and text messages. Instead of giving me that chance, however, Disney has created a “game” that has been systematically engineered to try and get you to pay as much money as possible why you pay. It’s so shameful that I would recommend that you don’t even bother downloading Disney Emoji Blitz. I’m sure you can find much better ways to spend tens (or hundreds) of dollars than trying to unlock a cute drawing of Tink’s face.
tl;dr – Plan ahead and buy a battery rod or packfrom Amazon instead of spending more time and money on Fuel Rods. Also, this article has a lot of numbers.
As has been reported on a number of different sites, Disney World has started rolling out Fuel Rod portable chargers for people to use in the parks. The basics of the system are that you pay $30 to get a Fuel Rod that comes fully charged to use with your phone. When you have used the entire battery, you can either recharge the Fuel Rod yourself, or exchange it at a kiosk to get a different, fully charged one at no cost.
Unfortunately, Fuel Rod doesn’t really advertise the size of their…ummm…rod? (Sorry.) The only Fuel Rod review I was able to find said that he got about 65% of an iPhone charge with one of the rods. (This is consistent with what I heard on an episode of DIS Unplugged, but it seems that they used the same review I did to come up with their number.) For those mathematically inclined, 65% of the current’s iPhone’s battery would mean a Fuel Rod would have just over 1,100 mAh of capacity (the current iPhone has a 1,1715 mAh).
To satisfy my intellectual curiosity, I also tried to calculate the size of a Fuel Rod by using the “around 8 hours of phone charge” claim reported by WDW Magic. Though Apple lists a variety of battery times for its iPhone, an estimate of 15-17 hours per day for a normal user isn’t terrible. (A normal user not at Disney World, where the combination of poor network connectivity and “need” to refresh My Disney Experience repeatedly for Fastpass+ availability means that you’re probably looking more realistically at 8-10 hours of battery life, if you’re lucky.) This would mean that a Fuel Rod would charge just over 50% of the current iPhone, and most likely have a capacity of around 850 mAh.
In order to give Fuel Rod the benefit of the doubt (which they don’t deserve for keeping their specs a secret, but, whatever), let’s assume their rods have 1,200 mAh of capacity. How does that compare to various other battery options on the market? SPOILER ALERT: Terribly.
For example, for $10, you can get this Anker battery rod that has just under 3x the capacity of a Fuel Rod and is still slightly slimmer in size. This would let you charge your phone twice without having to think about “recharging your rod”. If you want to invest the same $30 you’d spend on a FuelRod, you can purchase this Amazon Basics Battery Pack that will charge your iPhone over 9 times before it needs to be recharged. In other words, you’d need to either recharge or swap out your Fuel Rod 12 times to get the same capacity as the the Amazon Basics pack. That’s ridiculous. I’d much rather “worry” about remembering to plug in my battery pack every 2-3 days than have to find Fuel Rod kiosks 10+ times over that period.
Look, I understand that some people might not want to carry a battery pack with them when they first enter the park. But, once you buy that first Fuel Rod, you’re going to be carrying it with you anyway for the rest of the day (your Disney World visit?) so you can swap it out. You might as well just pay $10 in advance and get the Anker rod that weighs 2.7 oz to bring with you. At least then you’ll be able to charge your phone almost twice before you need to worry about your battery pack, instead of the .65 times you’d get from the $30 Fuel Rod.
Disney World has made smart phones necessary items to enjoy your park going experience, and, if you want to actually use your phone, you’re probably going to need some additional power. Though the Fuel Rod seems like an interesting idea on the service, its high cost and apparent low capacity seem like a poor option to fit almost all use cases. Think of it this way: you’re already planning things like ADRs and Fastpass+ reservations in advance of your Disney vacation, why not also plan to buy a battery rod or packin advance and save yourself a bunch of hassle?
On our recent 9 hour (but not to or from Disney World) drive, Elyssa and I talked like we would if we had been heading back from a Disney World trip. As we almost always do, we started our discussion with some talk about our favorite breakfast locations (Kona—which we hadn’t been to at the time of our original post—and Tusker House, obviously). We talked about our preference for going to Narcoossee’s over Be Our Guest (we’d rather spend a little extra money, have a a better meal, and not be rushed through it), and our general strategy for how we’d tour if we go to Disney World over Christmas this year (rope drop to take advantage of—what will almost assuredly be—early opening hours, and then have breakfast closer to 11:00 as people really start to arrive.) We also discussed our preferences for New Year’s plans if we’re still down there (Magic Kingdom on the 30th, Studios (??) on NYE?). It was a good couple of hours Disney discussion that got me ready to (hopefully) jump back into a few things that I have been working on for the site.
The biggest take away from the conversation, though, was me once again realizing that how lucky I am to have someone like Elyssa to help me run this site, and—more importantly—my life. I do feel like I (probably?) missed a good bit over the past couple of weeks, but at least I got to keep up with one thing (she’s probably prefer if I say “person”) that’s most important.
Now, with all that said, who’s partying with us in October?
After seeing the Season pricing proposals earlier this Summer, I was pleasantly surprised with how the actual implementation of Seasonal Pricing took place. (Notice I’m not saying I’m “pleased that they implemented Seasonal Pricing”, I’m just happy with how they decided to implement if they had already decided they were going to do it.) First, Disney only applied the Seasonal Pricing to 1-day tickets. This alleviates a lot of the issues where people who had multi-day trips across the “seasons” would have been forced to buy tickets for the most expensive of the seasons in their trip. Relatedly, as was discussed on the above linked TouringPlans article and on WDW Today, the original “Seasons” had almost all weekend days listed as “Silver” or above (Disney decided to use Value, Regular and Peak for its Seasons instead of the Bronze, Silver, Gold structure it used in the survey that started all this discussion, but the concepts remain the same.) In the actual implementation, Disney generally left weekends as part of the same season as the weekdays surrounding it. Again, this could alleviate some of the “cross season” concerns when Disney implements Seasonal Pricing on multi-day tickets. (I think it’s safe to assume multi-day Season Pricing is coming within the next few years, so hopefully Disney continues to divide its “seasons” up the same way in the future.)
The actual division of the seasons was also a little interesting. I know that “Spring Break” is considered a popular time at Disney World, but I’m surprised to find it part of the new Peak Season (and, therefore, have the same price as the Summer and Christmas.) Similarly, I’m surprised to find that the 1st and 2nd weeks of December are part of the Regular Season instead of the Value Season, since they’re usually considered some of the lowest crowd times at Disney World. (Even the some of the “higher” crowd levels last year seem to suggest those weeks could have been value. Sorry, Howie.) Maybe Len Testa isn’t that far off the mark when he says that Value Season is “hurricane season” and Peak Season is “when your kids are out of school.”
In summary, I think we got (at least?) a 1 year reprieve from a full-on implementation of Seasonal Pricing for the multi-day tickets that a majority of Disney World guests purchase. We also ended up with a much more customer-friendly version of the “seasons” calendar than was originally rumored (I hope that holds true in future years.) Though I wish we weren’t moving to surge pricing at all, I’m pleasantly surprised by this particular implementation.
One of the things I enjoy about working on Rope Drop [dot] Net is finding out about new and upcoming resources for Disney information. Though I’m woefully behind on updating the Disney Podcast directory with all of the most recent submissions, one recent recommendation by friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski piqued my interest: Backside of Magic. With the recent departure of the original cast from WDW Today, I have been looking for a replacement Disney podcast that fills that same informative, analytical slot in my playlist, and Dutch’s recommendation was all I needed to give Backside of Magic a shot.
Summary of the Show So Far
To date, there have been 3 actual episodes of the show (and 2 mini / placeholder-type ones.) So far the format of the show seems to be:
A summary of important Disney World news;
“Preposterous Ponderance”, in which one host gives the other host a “preposterous” scenario and asks for his opinion on it (James Rosemergy would be proud); and
The weekly topic.
The first episode’s weekly topic covered resources the hosts, Ryan and Jeremy, use to gather their information. Though probably not earth-shattering information to seasoned Disney travelers, knowing where they get their information helps validate their authority. (Yes, they did mention reading this site. I thank them for that, but it was really Dutch’s recommendation that got me to listen, not any kind of quid pro quo as a result of a site mention.) The second episode was a discussion about certain challenges that might arise when planning a Disney vacation (e.g., how to get Fastpass+ selection for a large group with different check-in days). Again, not particularly Earth-shattering information, but it does hint at the level of detail that hosts Ryan and Jeremy may be able to reach as their show continues to develop.
The weekly topic, saving money on Disney gift card purchases, was equally enlightening. The hosts provided 4 levels of “difficulty” in getting increasing amounts of discounts on Disney gift cards, and then explained how to apply those gift cards to your upcoming vacation. Even as someone who has previously written about managing Disney gift cards, I still learned a lot from this segment. (That said, I’m still firmly in the “you can’t pay your rent with a gift card” camp, and I encourage everyone to be smart about your gift card purchases when you have other expenses, limited funds, etc…) The segment also made me excited about the tips for saving on airfare that were teased for next week’s show. If that discussion is half as a good as the gift card one, I think it will be a real winner.
Looking to the Future
After listening to 3 episodes, I’m optimistic that Backside of Magic can be a strong entry in the Disney podcast space. Ryan and Jeremy seem to have a knack for making analytical connections related to certain news items, and I’m interested to see how they continue to apply that skill as the show continues to grow. With such a young show, there is plenty of fresh ground they have not previously covered that is ripe for their analysis.
Of course, as Tony Kornheiser tells aspiring radio hosts: “Anyone can do a Monday show. What’s your Thursday show going to be?” In other words, what are you going to do when all the major topics have been talked about. It’s too early in the life of Backside of Magic to know what they’ll do on their “Thursday” show, but if these first 3 episodes are any indication, I think they’re going to be fine.
As anyone who has read The Unofficial Guide knows, it is pretty much a requirement that you be online, at 6am, exactly 180 days before you anticipated Be Our Guest dining date, if you want any real chance of getting a reservation. (Don’t worry, we’ll mention the onsite “whole trip” booking advantage later.) Though many restaurants will still have some availability 100, 60, or, possibly, 30 days out, Be Our Guest frequently fills up in a matter of minutes on the 180 day mark. This is a clear illustration of the extremely high demand for ADRs at this restaurant, and of Disney’s primary method of dealing this demand (a demand that clearly outstrips supply): distribution based on personal time investment.
Distribution based on personal time investment is basically saying that “those people who are willing to do thing X at time Y” are going to get a priority when it comes to distributing a scarce resource. In Disney’s case, this means being online at 6am, 180 days before your desired ADR date. Some view it as a “fair” system, since it has no real income or opportunity component (requiring you just that that you get up super early and be on a computer), but also provides a way for people to gain a small advantage by doing a little “something extra” (i.e., the previously mentioned getting up early.) In other words, it rewards people who are “invested” in their Disney vacations, but does not punish those who cannot afford to make more of a monetary investment toward them.
As you might expect, those who are well versed in Disney World planning usually like this personal time investment system, since knowledge of the system’s existence is such a high barrier to entry. (This “knowledge of the system” advantage was also one of the reasons people were upset with the removal of “Legacy” Fastpass, which significantly fewer guests used than the new Fastpass+ system.)
The third-party dining sites, however, fundamentally changed ADR distribution from being primarily based on personal time investment, to being primarily based on personal monetary investment. Now, instead of having a “fair” system where anyone could (in theory) book a reservation by getting up early, the reservations were based on who was willing to pay money to gain access to certain reservations. This distribution based on personal monetary investment is a valid way to distribute scarce resources (see, e.g., Uber’s surge pricing), but (thankfully?) Disney has not yet fully embraced it for ADRs. On the other hand, Disney has fully implemented such a distribution system on the room pricing side of the vacation (and has apparently investigated implementing it on the park admission side of things), so it’s not inconceivable that Disney could move to such a system to allocate ADRs. (Of course, to some degree, ADRs already have a flavor of monetary investment distribution because of the whole-trip booking advantages given to Disney’s onsite guests.)
At this point, it seems likely that Disney will continue to provide some kind of advantage to people who are willing to make a little investment, whether in time or money, to their vacation (especially, those willing to stay onsite at Disney resorts.) Should Disney want to completely remove this advantage, however, it could move to ADR distribution via lottery. In that case, everyone who wants to eat at Be Our Guest on a given day would put in their request, and then Disney would randomly choose who, out of all the submitted requests, would get the reservations. Though some people may view this as the “fairest” alternative (and though a move to such lotteries for extremely high demand experiences has some precedent), I find it unlikely that Disney would ever make such a change.
A quick aside before concluding this piece: I would imagine that, in addition to the recebt issues people had with an ADR distribution system based on personal monetary investment, people also had an issue with it being third-party sites that were gaining the windfall from the ADR “fees.” That said, I believe that if Disney were to move to a purely monetary investment based system (again, think Uber surge pricing), people would have a very similar reaction.
In summary, the rise (and fall) of third-party Disney ADR sites shined an interesting light on the scarcity problem that Disney continually has to face. The reactions to this issue from the Disney fan community seem to indicate that the status quo of distribution based on personal time investment is the preferred approach of most Disney fans. How are we all going to react, however, if Disney decides that continuing to refrain from implementing a monetary distribution approach means they are (almost literally) leaving money on the table?