Posts tagged Back to the Future
This past weekend, I flew to California to initial planning on Project Anime 2013. My trips are pretty standardized now and involve almost NO sleep on my part. This is, in part, because staying up late and not sleeping makes it easier to pass out exhausted when I return to Florida and get back to my local time zone’s clock.
Thus, I was up LATE last Saturday night/Sunday morning while driving from Hollywood to Anaheim. While on the highway, I saw a sign for the Puente Hills Mall coming up on the next exit. My geek memory kicked in and I realized that I knew the name of that mall.
I pulled off the exit and, after doing some research on my cell phone, found a particular area of the mall’s parking lot and posted this photo on Instagram:
If the place isn’t immediately recognizable to you, the answer is: The Twin Pines (Lone Pine) Mall from Back to the Future.
Here’s a reference pic from 1985:
Here are a couple more pics I took:
I guess I can cross this off my geek-centric bucket list. Nerding right along…
Working for Universal Orlando taught me that one bad experience can ruin a vacation & I learned it first hand yesterday.10
I worked for Universal Orlando (originally just Universal Studios Florida) from 1994 to 2001. It was a great and often challenging job that instilled in me the concept of providing, and in turn expecting, outstanding customer service.
I remember being there when attractions like The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera, Nickelodeon, Murder She Wrote, Back to the Future, and The Wild, Wild, Wild West Stunt Show all ran day in and day out.
Anyone else remember the Dynamite Nights Stuntacular? I do.
The main thing I remember, though, is how important it was as an employee to provide outstanding guest service. You see, in Universal theme park vernacular there are no “customers.” Only guests.
I remember how important guest service was because it was instilled in the training to work there and reinforced every day. There were guest service competitions hosted by management regularly. Prizes and incentives were awarded for turning a guest’s day around when opportunities presented themselves. Universal Orlando was intent on making sure that every man, woman, and child had the most memorable vacation of their lives when they arrived in Florida to “ride the movies.”
It’s always sad to revisit places that you remember with fondness only to learn the truth of how cruelly time has changed them. Who says you can’t go home? Universal Orlando.
A couple of weeks ago, Universal announced that they were closing Jaws the Ride. That attraction was my first job for Universal Studios, so I posted about it on my blog:
Jaws the Ride at Universal Studios in Florida. Memories & Let’s go ONE LAST TIME! http://www.tomcroom.com/?p=8495
A number of former boat skippers and I started working on meeting up to ride the ride together one last time. Thus, this event was created on Facebook to spread the word:
After getting messages and seeing posts from a number of folks looking to travel or having difficulty committing due to finances, I decided to contact Universal Orlando. I had no expectations, but there was a little hope that Universal would open its arms to some returning alumni to say good-bye to Bruce and the “mistake on the lake.”
Here’s what happened from there:
- On December 2, 2011, I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org presenting the event and what we had planned. I also cloned the communication via Universal Orlando’s web form here: http://media.universalorlando.com/Contact_Us/contactus.aspx?tab=PublicRelations
- On Saturday, December 10, 2011, I was in Orlando for meetings and a birthday – so I took the time to stop by Universal to talk to Guest Services since I hadn’t heard anything from Public Relations. That proved a dead end since, after checking with some supervisors, the woman at the window (who was, for the record, being very helpful) said I should contact Public Relations since they should be able to help.
- This past Tuesday (December 13, 2011… twelve days later) I hadn’t heard back. I honestly didn’t notice because (personally) I had already planned on buying a ticket. At the time I had no trouble giving Universal some money for a trip down memory lane. For me it seemed (again, at the time) worth it. Folks were contacting me, though, asking if I had heard anything about passes just in case.
- I called the Public Relations phone number – (407) 224-4233 – and spoke to a pleasant enough young woman. Her first answer after I explained why I was calling, though, was that there was nothing that could done on “such short notice.” I then pointed out that I had first made contact almost two weeks earlier. I was given the impression that I was inconveniencing her at that point and she gave me another name of whom I should speak to. She then explained that that person in question was unavailable that day and my best bet was to just email her.
- Not wanting to keep peoples’ hopes up, I posted on the Facebook Event page the direct contact information I was given (Kristen Clark, email@example.com) and conveyed that if folks wanted to follow through on their own that they should. I’ve dealt with plenty of businesses that aren’t savvy enough to operate an effective communications team, but seeing that Universal Orlando had become one was a huge personal disappointment. Even a short “We’re sorry we can’t help, but thanks for asking” would have been sufficient.
- EUREKA! I got an email back from Kristen yesterday stating that she got my email, but that she wasn’t the person that could handle it. She was, though, polite, direct, and promised follow through. This was what I had come to expect from working at Universal. Even if there was nothing she personally could do regarding the request, she was at least communicating the fact politely and professionally and offering to follow up on it.
Then I got a phone call last night.
Working for Universal Orlando taught me that one bad experience can ruin a vacation & I learned it first hand yesterday.
I wasn’t exaggerating with the title.
The person on the other end of the line was Tom Schroder, Vice President of Media Relations for Universal Orlando. At the beginning of the call, he explained that he was calling for two reasons. His first reason took over ten minutes of my time. His second took only two.
Tom went on the offensive immediately conveying his displeasure for my post on the Facebook Event page:
UPDATE: Universal’s Public Relations department is proving altogether useless. After not hearing anything back via email, I called today. The receptionist who answered pointed me to a “Kristen Clark” who is, of course, unavailable. I’ll shoot an email and check… but getting comp passes is looking slim. Sorry folks. If you’d like to email Kristen about the “One Last Time!” boat ride we’re doing… feel free to do so! kristen.clark@universalorlando
He brought up over and over again how he felt that the phrase “altogether useless” was unfair. I reiterated that almost two weeks without a reply and then being told that no one was available to discuss something was (in my opinion) enough to justify the phrase. Tom wasn’t calling to convey anything… he was calling to complain to me because I had said something disparaging about his team when they failed to follow through.
Seriously. This was almost a ten minute discussion.
Two things he said on the call REALLY irked the hell out of me. The first was the generic/passive aggressive “I’m sorry you feel that way” statement. For those of us that understand the language of guest service, that’s a talk off that means absolute zero. It is an apology for nothing and doesn’t address a situation, but instead turns the alleged apology back onto how the person feels instead of what they experienced. Since I speak fluent service-ese, I actually found that insulting.
The second thing he said was when he was trying to justify taking the time to converse with me on the phone about the statement. He related that the would allegedly have had the same conversation “if he were talking to a guest” about those comments. You know what? I am a guest. I am no longer an employee and, when I come to visit, I spend money at the resort. Every time.
As stated earlier, the second thing he called to talk about was conveyed in a huff after (from what I could tell) he felt he was good and done trying to lecture me about how unfair it was that I called his team “utterly useless” – and it took less than two minutes.
He called to say that there was a lot of focus on Jaws the Ride right now and (as a result) they didn’t have any available comp passes. In his words: “there is nothing they could do.”
It’s taking all of my willpower to not describe this unprofessional person using more colorful metaphors since I intend to forward this post to a number of people/media outlets. In short, though: uncool.
I want it abundantly clear that had I gotten a short phone call stating something along the lines of “we’re sorry, but there’s nothing we can do at this time” then I would have been 100% fine. The fact that this guy felt the need to get me on the phone and try to complain to me from his soap box AND THEN convey that “there’s nothing they could do” made it sound like he was drawing a cause and effect relationship between the two statements… meaning he doesn’t take ANY ownership for the communication failure on his team’s part.
Which means that he doesn’t take any ownership for the brand he represents.
Which means (to me) that Universal Orlando just doesn’t care anymore.
And that’s just sad.
I’m still planning on going to Universal Studios on Saturday to see old friends and revisit memories. I plan (as I did from the beginning) to spend my $80 to get in and check out the park. Rest assured, though, that Tom Schroder has single handedly guaranteed that when I take my family to Orlando, Florida for years to come that I’ll prefer giving my money to the mouse down the street.
My father-in-law also took a number of photos (in more detail than my camera phone.) You can see all of them here – and check out a few choice photos below (click the photo for a larger version.)
Yesterday I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventures for an early trip into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which has its grand opening scheduled for June 18th.) I saw the sites and rode the rides. Before reading on, though, you should know three things:
- I worked for both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World from 1994-2001. During that time, I have been around for dozens of ride openings and I’ve seen more theme park rides than I care to admit in casual conversation.
- While not full on geek about it, I am a fan of the Harry Potter books. I have read them all and enjoyed each thoroughly. By no stretch of the imagination, though, am I an expert in the Potterverse.
- My post will contain details about the ride that could be considered “spoilers” – so if you want to experience the ride for the first time without any expectations, don’t read this blog entry.
Okay! Warnings have been dispersed. Let’s get started:
Talk about walking into another world! Universal’s design team has done a spectacular job of making Hogsmeade in a way that you forget that there are dinosaurs and cats in hats just a few steps away. The buildings are tall enough to block out the view of the rest of the park so that, as far as you’re concerned, there is no theme park. The detail on the streets and the buildings are nothing short of amazing as long as you overlook the occasional “magical fire hydrant”. (Kaleb’s joke, not mine; but I agree with him). ADDED NOTE: Walking around Hogsmeade in the summer leaves your brain a bit woozy. It’s what I call the Blizzard Beach effect: where the painting and props look like winter and snow, but you’re sweating from the extreme heat.
FUN FACT: You can’t buy soda in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The closest you can come is sparkling pumpkin juice. Seriously. You can only get Butterbeer, various juices and beer. (Yes – they make alcoholic Harry Potter beer for the grown up kids visiting.) I tried the sweet kid’s butterbeer, though, at Hog’s Head and it tasted exactly as you would expect it. One recommendation: get the blended instead of on ice. It is much better that way. Shannon did have the alcoholic version and it was just as good.
We ate lunch and the Three Broomsticks and did the “feast” meal special. The food (which included corn, ribs, chicken, potatoes and more) was well worth the cost. It was more than your standard “theme park food” that most people are used to.
This cute and quirky part of Hogmeade results in an almost guaranteed sale for Universal’s merchandise department. Approximately twenty five people file into a time room and one is randomly selected to be fitted for a wand. With six people in our group, we scored pretty good odds and Tracy got selected. After a couple of clever effects set up to give you the feel that the wand you are using is truly magical, such as watering a plant, the wand maker (NOTE: not Ollivander) presents you with the wand that seems to suit you best. After the show, you have the option to buy the wand for about $30 dollars. I can’t WAIT for the pissed off parent with the crying child who didn’t get to keep his wand. LOL
Where the FAIL comes in is the fact that something this popular WILL have a line… and there is no queue. The show lasts about five minutes. If you give another five minutes for load time, I would guess that you can put through about 150 in an hour. On days that the park stays open for ten hours, that’s only about 1500 that will make it in… and thousands of other people who didn’t get their chance. Where it gets WORSE is that there is no queue line. Hence the line just goes down the street which (as past experiences have taught in theme parks) usually ends in disaster.
So… great experience, but bad operational execution.
You can’t spend enough time staring at the castle on a mountain. Using the old size/perspective trick that Disney did with Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland, Hogarts gives the illusion of being a massive building. That’s only the beginning, though. Hogwarts serves as the queue line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the one new ride built for tWWoHP. While I tend to call in favors and skip lines in theme parks (I HATE lines), I was advised by EVERYONE I talked to that you should go through it. They were right – and the journey is most of the fun for this attraction.
The paintings that come to life like in the movie: AWESOME. The effect is done seamlessly so that you don’t think that you’re looking at clever LCDs in painting frames. Nope: these suckers look like living paintings. EPIC WIN.
The rest of the theming in the line is just as solid and serves to distract from how long the line actually is. You run into Harry, Ron and Hermione who set up the story of the ride for you and (depending on your timing) they even make it snow inside.
When you get there and see a long wait time (which you will), Don’t Panic! The time goes very quickly with all the distractions the queue has to offer.
FAIL: HARRY POTTER AND THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY
Thus we reach the low point of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: the new ride. The premise is simple: Hermione charms your seats and allows you to fly with Harry and Ron to a Quidditch match taking place. Along the way (and once there) you run into Hagrid, a dragon, Aragog and some spiders, the Whomping Willow, and even some Dementors. The ride system uses a new “robo-arm” system to hurl guests around as opposed to being on a ride track. In total, it’s a mix of Back to the Future/Star Tours type flying with animatronics and the usual smoke and water gags. There is VERY little that is original about the ride. Here are my key points of contention:
- The Dragon: You battle a dragon; the CGI is pretty; you have the feeling of flying… and then you face the REAL dragon. The life size head and model is pretty damn impressive – and it does absolutely nothing. The jaws don’t move. The head doesn’t move. It just sits there and you hear noise. Absolute weak sauce.
- The Dementors: I guess the effects department ran completely our of ideas for amazing shock and awe in a ride because the uber-creepy dementors look like nothing more than balloons with fabric stretched over them. Cheesy Halloween ghosts at their worst. With the staggeringly amazing amount of detailed packed into the streets and queue of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, why not spend the time on an element that will be (quite literally) right in front of the guest’s nose??!!!
- Transistions: Going from the screen view to the “real” rooms in the ride (dragons, spiders, trees, etc.) is less than smooth and serves to distract the rider more than entertain. All rides of this nature have these moments (the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure for example), but it is extremely distracting in Harry Potter for some reason. My guess is due to the fact that the ride is completely dark – and the levels of darkness in the screen rooms and the “real” rooms just don’t match up.
The ride, while clever, just failed to deliver to the level of awesomeness of everything offered in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
FAIL: ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE AND THE FUTURE OF WWOHP
I remember working at Universal Studios in the late 1990s. The thing we prided ourselves with (as a team and theme park) was how well we maintained everything for the guest experience. Walt Disney World had fallen in quality at that time and things were looking more and more faded. Well, now Universal Studios is at that same stage.
When Islands of Adventure opened it was a crowning achievement in theme parks. Bright colors and innovative rides made the park a premiere destination that easily impressed even the most jaded theme park attendees. Walking through Seuss Landing yesterday, I saw what had become of the place. The paint had all faded and the areas were dirty and in disrepair. A short walk over to Jurassic Park also displayed the same failure to keep the attractions up to standards. The dinosaurs in the Discovery Center looked less like impressive animatronics and more like old toys that were ready for replacement. With their joints exposed and the skin peeling, these once great monolith attractions looked no better than the local county fair.
It was depressing.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the current “new hotness” in the park, but if Universal’s standards have dropped this dramatically then it is only a matter of time before Harry’s magic will wear off. Sadly, based on what I’ve seen, that time will be sooner rather than later. I’ll try to stop by again next year and (hopefully) be proven wrong.