April 24th, 2016

Trip Report: Universal Studios, WorldQuest

We flew JetBlue and got an Embraer this time. I am pleased to note that the Zuca Pro (oh, man, you can get it in purple now! damn. The thing is kind of immortal so I cannot justify a replacement. *sigh*) fits into the overhead even in an Embraer. Gotta put it in sideways, but it slides in perfectly. Because we were on an Embraer, we didn't get our favorite row, but it's not a long flight so it hardly matters. Rather than 3 on one side and one across the aisle, we were 2 and 2 in front of each other.

Flight was uneventful. We got our bags and picked up a car at National. I had not ordered a booster for my daughter because she often objects and she's tall enough and old enough to be legal in Florida without. OF COURSE she decided she wanted one.

Trip to Universal was uneventful. I had ordered season passes and unlimited express, so we had to wait in line to pick those up. But once we had them, in theory, minimal waiting, right? We get in the express line for Minions, and boy was I glad a parade came down the street because we waited a loooong time; ride may have been down or something, but I eventually set a timer and we got moving before it went off altho my son and husband bailed out and came back later.

We did rides for a few hours but didn't attempt to close the park down; we left to go to the hotel around 6 or thereabouts after having dinner at Mel's. It's hard to justify spending to stay on property at Disney to go over to Universal, and I hadn't yet decided it was worth it to stay on property at Universal (getting a kitchen there is difficult, so I've been working my way around to giving up on having a kitchen for a few days). WorldQuest is clean and reasonably comfortable. The screens surrounding the deck are kind of awesome. Alas, our room faced the pool and it was loud down there until quite late. R. didn't much care for the mattress. It was fine, and while we'd be willing to go back, I doubt we will between the noise from the pool and the benefits of unlimited express being bundled in with the rooms on property at Universal (plus the hour before park open for on property guests).

We were at Universal last November, but A. and I didn't go on Transformers, Spiderman, the Cat in the Hat Ride, etc. It was nice to get to do a few new things. We skipped ET this time and still haven't done any of the water rides. Looking forward to Kong on our next visit.

We spent parts of 3 days at Universal, and still didn't run out of things to do. The Express is definitely worth it, altho I think it would be almost as good (and a lot cheaper) to get the regular express rather than the Unlimited, if you pay for it separately. We didn't go on very many rides multiple times (altho Hippogriff, Spiderman and Transformers we did, and it was nice to not have to wait long).

Trip Report: Transition from Universal to Disney

I really set up a ridiculous day: start the day at WorldQuest, check out, go to Universal, go on rides for a few hours (mostly to do Forbidden Journey at the beginning of the day -- we'd done Gringott's at the beginning of the previous day. Neither ride is available through Ultimate Express), leave, drive to Animal Kingdom, eat lunch at Yak and Yeti Local Foods, go on the Safari, Expedition Everest using Fast Passes, check into Grand Floridian, meet R.'s mother, go to 'Ohana for dinner. A plan like this is begging to be Murphied, but apparently he was on vacation too and left us alone. I was a zombie by the end of it, but everything went smoothly.

The first day at Universal, someone wanted me to do a survey, which I attempted and then bailed out on because it was screen after screen of pick one of five Would You Use This Kind of Transportation From this location to that location (Very likely, somewhat likely, etc.). A half a dozen or more of these questions per screen, and I was also trying to keep track of my daughter, her souvenirs, etc. Did Not Work For Me. I handed it back.

But it did get me thinking. Orlando suffers from the Las Vegas problem that ultimately led to the monorail which parallels the Strip: people arrive at Mccarren, get a taxi to some location on the Strip, may be willing to walk to a neighboring location on the Strip if there is a tunnel but otherwise will take more taxis to go from location to location on the Strip, unless it is after dark and not crazy hot. The result is horrible traffic and worse air pollution, and city public transport is not really set up to accommodate tourist needs and preferences. The Universal survey which I did not complete did, indeed, ask about monorails.

I don't want a monorail. I've been on a fair number of monorails at this point, and honestly, I don't trust the fuckers for a host of reasons, but even if I did, Orlando development is just spread out too much for it to work well. I suppose someone could set up light rail (also a question on the survey), but I would be fine if Universal set up something like Disney's Magical Express (DME is a Disney branded, Mears run motor coach where you get yellow luggage tags. You stick 'em on your luggage when you check your bags at your home airport, DO NOT pick them up at MCO instead Mears gets them and hands them off to Disney bell services which puts them in your room. The reverse service is available at departure.), altho that would leave the problem of what to do when transitioning from Universal to Disney or vice versa.

Universal recently set up SuperStar Shuttle (who knew there were other shuttles not run by Mears in Orlando? But yes, Super Shuttle has an Orlando operation, and that's who Universal picked to run SuperStar), and semi-mandatory, FOR PAY operation that does not pick up your bags for you. Sort of makes you wonder whyever the fuck.

My main theory is that Universal makes a lot of money off their parking garages. For example, even if you stay on property and have a season pass, and thus don't have to pay at the theme park garage, they still get you for $15 a night to park your rental car at the hotel. And then there are plenty of people with season passes who are paying extra for preferred or Valet or whatever. If this theory is correct, it's hard to know what will happen with DME.

On the other hand, it could be an average capacity issue. Disney has been running up against parking limits (mostly due to Walt's hatred of garages persisting way past any sensible point -- I mean, seriously, this is Florida. You _want_ to be in a garage) for a long while now and has a built up internal transportation network that works better with more people using it (justifies running them at closer intervals which increases usage in a virtuous cycle). If this theory is correct, as Universal's parks continue to mature and capacity is more consistently used, they'll run up against comparable limits and see a benefit in reducing car usages so as to avoid the expense of building more parking garages.

I have no direct experience of Universal's transportation system. The place their buses drop off requires all the walking that a person parking the garage has to go through, so that's not much of a win. The boat docks are closer to the parks -- but are somewhat distant from many of the rooms in some of the hotels. But at least one of the hotels has a walking path at least as convenient as the BLT -> MK walking path. (We'll be staying there later in the year so hopefully I'll have something to say in a future trip report.)

In any event, as a customer of both the Universal and Disney system, and likely to continue to be so for the next (how old are my kids?) decade plus, it would be Pretty Freaking Awesome to be able to tag my luggage at home, drop it off at Logan, go to a park, check into a hotel and find my luggage already in the room, settle in. Spend a couple days, tag the bags for the other system, call bell service to pick them up, head on down to an air conditioned motor coach that would drop me off at my hotel in the other system (or, conceivably, a central location such as TTC at WDW or CityWalk at Universal), do a park in the other system, head over to my hotel to find my bags already in my room, settle in for a couple days, call bell service to pick up my bags to check them in for my return home, head on down to an air conditioned motor coach that will drop me off at MCO and go home.

Basically, DME at both systems with a connecting link.

I'm not gonna get it. I get that. I can explain in some detail why I'm not gonna get it. But I still want it.

ETA: Speaking of Las Vegas vs. Orlando and transporting the tourists as a problem:

https://skift.com/2015/07/01/las-vegas-is-struggling-to-deal-with-tourist-traffic-issues/

Not a Trip Report: Income Inequality Tourism

The New York Times has an article about leisure and income inequality. R. and I both read it separately and then discussed it some in the evening after I brought it up. We had some of the same initial reactions to the article, the first and foremost of which was, W.T.F., and the second of which was, we're pretty sure this is product placement. Here's a link to the article -- it's long.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/business/economy/velvet-rope-economy.html

One of the most striking aspects of the story is how over the top some of the language is.

"the contrast between the level of service reserved for the top tier and the treatment meted out to ordinary passengers, who in some cases occupy rooms with virtual windows instead of real ones"

"meted out"? Okay, just to be clear. If the ship is large, there have always been inside cabins with no windows. That's just how it works. Oh, and those cabins have always been cheaper. "meted out"?

"Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. In other words, you basically get the Magic Kingdom to yourself."

Disney has been running hard ticket events and private events since ... forever. This particular hard ticket runs about a hundred and fifty, and as near as I can tell, is the equivalent of what it does when a large corporation rents the park after hours -- only you no longer have to be an employee of a large corporation to get the experience. You fork over your $150, and you're good to go (I don't think you need to pay the regular attendance fee on top of the $150 but I could be wrong). Oh, and it's only another 3 hours anyway. If the $150 hard ticket is all you need, and you use it to show up at 7 p.m., it's very, very slightly different from what you would pay for a normal day.

What I don't understand is why the author of the piece chose this aspect of Disney for this article. If _I_ wanted to illuminate how the experience of the park is different for people with money burning a hole in their pockets, I'd point to this:

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/vip-tour-services/

For the low, low price of $500/hour +/- (and you have to pay for a minimum number
of hours), you get front of the line privileges as many times as you like, anywhere you like, walk into any show you want, someone drives you around, someone _goes and gets your coffee for you_, so you don't have to wait in line, keeps an eye on your kid(s) for you if you want to do something else, etc. Oh, and the gentlemen doing the tours have been working for Disney for decades and are the most meticulously considerate people you are ever likely to meet in your life. That is some income inequality marketing in action right there. (Service does not include entry tickets. Seriously.)

If you can't afford a VIP tour, and you want someone else to shepherd your kids around to rides, you can accomplish that goal for a lot less. I'm not sure, but I think you can get Kids Nite Out to do that, and their rates are really low.

But those aren't the examples appearing in the piece. Instead, there's all this focus on cruise ships and Sea World. Sea World?!? Sea World?!?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/seaworld-is-over_us_56412dcde4b0b24aee4b8d56

The article acts like Crystal Cruises is some sort of new idea.

"Next year, Crystal Cruises will begin an airborne version of one of its luxury ships: a customized Boeing 777 that ferries passengers on 14- or 28-day trips around the world."

Anyone on the right alumni association mailing list has been getting fliers for this kind of trip for years.

And then there is this gem:

"Downscale items like canned meat or tobacco aren’t drawing as many new entrants into the market."

Let's ignore the canned meat thing for a minute. (1) Vaping is a _huge_ new entrant. and (2) We are sort of trying to get rid of tobacco.

A lot of what is going on in the article is an exploration of how technology and the more complex pricing models it supports have enabled the rise of A La Carte Everything. At the same time, the massive cognitive load of A La Carte Everything has resulted in an evolution of Pay One Price We'll Deal With the Hassle. But that's not where the author went with it. Nope. And the author really didn't explore how luxury consumption is incredibly uneven (people pick the luxuries they care about and pinch pennies in places where they don't care).

I kind of look at this article and see a world in which if you have the money, you can try just about anything. The past the author seems to yearn for -- where "“For a long time there was an acceptance that outside the door of your room, you were on an equal footing,” he said." -- had a lot of inequality embedded in it. Things that you couldn't buy no matter how much you had, if you were the Wrong Sort of Person.

I'll take a little crass, if we don't care so much about who you are.