Starting this off I have to state that I am a major Disney fan, I have an annual pass to Disneyland / Disney California Adventures, and I use it on average 2 to 3 times a month, always having a great time. I bought tickets to D23 a couple months in advance with a friend of mine who is more obsessed with Disneyland than anyone else I know. We both looked forward to a great new Disney experience and could hardly sleep the night before the first day. Planning on arriving extra early we wrote down all the events we wanted to go see, and how we were going to do as much as possible. With that said, I regretfully must say that this year’s D23 expo was a pretty big letdown, failing in many ways, it all revolved around one major problem, horrible organizing and pre-planning.
Before I talk about all the negative parts of D23, I would like to mention some of the positives. All throughout the expo, the shows and events (the ones my friend and I were able to get into) were very well put together and very enjoyable. The cast members / employees we very professional and put in all their effort to be as helpful as they could be. The people at the customer service booth were especially very informative when I approached with some questions and concerns. Not a single person working this event gave me any problems or bad attitude, and most were understanding of the guests frustration when it came to not getting into events. The booths they had set up were very diverse, and had great items for sale. Other than being too crowded most the time, the booths area and different small events were a great place to spend some time looking around and just enjoying all that is Disney.
Now for the actual overall experience… Day one of D23, my friend and I arrived around 8am, with a line of people already a few hundred long waiting in the general admission line, and a massive line that looked to be at least 1000+ people in the D23 member’s and premium line. There was already some confusion from the start; most guest knew that the D23 members were going to get in an hour early, but most were also under the impression that the event opened at 9am, and they would be allowed in at that time. When we were informed that general admission wasn’t allowed in until 10am, most were ok with it, feeling they would still have time to make it to the first arena presentation “Disney Legends Ceremony” at 11am. While waiting in line, I immediately started to see the affect of very poor planning and organization. Once the general admission line reached all the way down to the end of the sidewalk it curved buck up the sidewalk towards where it started. On top of this the box office line was lined up next to the general admissions line. This caused there to be little to no walking room on the sidewalk, it also blocked major exits to the convention center. Many people trying to walk past all the lines walked in the street instead, going against oncoming traffic. There also seemed to be very few employees focused on crowd control.
At 10am the doors were finally opened to the general admission line and things went smoothly for the most part until you actual made it inside. Most everyone headed straight for the arena, knowing it only had a 4000 person capacity and that there were thousands more than that trying to get in. My friend and I arrived only to be told there was a chance we would not get in and to wait at our own risk. We had already been waiting 2 hours just to get into the expo, and now we had to wait another hour without even knowing if all the waiting would be worth it. Staying positive and hopeful we decided to wait. During the wait I once again noticed the lack of crowd control and the absent of enough cast members preventing things from getting out of hand. Our first time waiting unsure of if we were getting in or not paid off… we were some of the last ones in before they cut the line. Though I couldn’t help but think of all those who waited almost as long as we did and were told better luck next time.
The rest of the days big events were very much like the days first big event, only except now there were even more people inside the convention center, and the competition to get into events got worse and worse. Every single big event ended up having major stand-by lines to get into the main line for a chance to get into that event. After experiencing that mornings crowd issue with getting into the arena, my friend and I decided to arrive an hour and a half to two hours early for the next big arena event “Walt Disney Parks and Resorts”. Thinking that should be more than enough time, we arrived to see a line stretch half way across the main hall, down the side of the queue line area and through the queue itself. We were socked in almost disbelief, wondering if this was the line for the arena or something else. Not considering the major fire and emergency hazards with walk ways and exits being blocked by a crowd, and the real potential of it becoming a stampede hazard, it was bad enough that there seemed to be little control of this line. It swayed and moved around a few times, with people walking right through it to get to the other side. With many people being irritated at anyone who they thought might be trying to cut in, I was surprised no major outburst of violence accrued. Eventual there was someone walking around telling everyone they had very little to no chance of getting into the arena, many people having already waited an hour or more decided to take their chances. Once again, my friend and I managed to make it in right before the cut off. However we also noticed that there were still many seats available as the show began. With so many having been told they couldn’t get in after waited hours in a line we could only wonder why Disney would let something like this happen. After the event was over we spent the rest of the day walking the booths, and at Downtown Disney.
Day 2 we decided to arrive even earlier, by 7:20am we were standing in the general admission line less than 100 people back from the front of where it started. It looked a lot more organized than the day before, this time they had all of the lines stretch in order going from the convention center entrance all the way around to the arena and heading down the street. Even though we noticed a crowd well over 2000+ people in the D23 member line and Premium line ahead of us, the way they had the lines made it seem as if the day would be better organized and gave us hope that we wouldn’t experience a repeat of the day before. Around 10am the lines started moving; we were excited and couldn’t wait to get into the days first big event “Inside the Walt Disney Studios” at 10:30am. Being at the front of the General admissions line we felt we had a good chance of getting in.
As we made it through the convention centers entrance we followed most of the crowd towards the arena when the line suddenly stopped a few hundred feet in. We were not even into the main hall yet and we were being told that this was the stand-by line for the arena. Thinking it couldn’t be as bad as it seemed, we started to wait. A few minutes later we were told that this was the secondary stand-by line to get into the stand-by line to get into the main line to get into the arena… yes, you read that right. With only 5 minutes before the event started many were wondering if they would hold off starting it; we had all been waiting for more than 3 hours and they had to let us get in. There were even D23 members waiting in this line with us. At 10:35 our wondering was answered with an announcement that the event had started and the doors closed. This was not a good way to start off the day. Many people decided to leave, feeling the expo was not worth wasting so much time.
The rest of the day’s events went pretty much the same as they had been going. Massive lines, unorganized crowds, and a lot of confused guest. Choosing to stay and give it another chance, my friend and had realized that there were much more people here today than yesterday. Determined to see the next big arena event “The Lion Kind 3D” regardless of how early we would have to get in line or how long that wait would be, she and I decided to hang around the booth area, choosing to miss other events in order to make sure we got in line before it got too big. The event didn’t start until 6pm, but by 2pm there was already a line. We entered the line around 2:40pm and by 3:30pm the queue was completely full and the all too common stand-by line was forming, luckily by this point there were more cast members on the floor and it was starting to look more organized. Starting around 5pm they let people into the arena, and at 6:10 they started the show. We looked around and once again noticed many empty seats yet knowing there were many people who waited but didn’t get in. Managing to see the movie put us in a good mood and we decided to stick around for the Auction starting in Stage 23. Most the crowd from the arena decided to leave being that it was getting late, so it was easy to get into the auction event.
On the way home from the second day it wasn’t too hard for my friend and I to realize that getting into the next day’s first arena event “Marvel” was not going to happen no matter how early we arrived. Since it was the only event we were really interested in we decided to return the next morning to see if we could get refunded for Sunday and just go to Disneyland with our passes. Dropping me off around 7:40am so she wouldn’t have to pay for parking, I was given great customer service as I asked about the refund. I was brought inside where I met with some event organizers. One man, whose name I have forgotten but claimed to be the one who designed the D23 website, personally walked me around to find out who I needed to talk to. The man eventually called someone who he said could authorize a refund for me. Whoever he called ended up wanting to speak to me. I really wish I could remember the name of the man I talked to over the phone since he was also very helpful. He first asked me why I wanted a refund. I explained to him how I was disappointed in the organization of the expo, and how I felt I had no chance to get into the Marvel event. He then offered to guarantee me and my friend good seats in the arena for the day’s first event. I’ll admit I was tempted to take the offer, however at that time my friend was not with me, and I knew the rest of the day would still be pretty much the same as the last two days, so I respectfully declined. I was very surprised as the man on the phone replied the way he did, saying that he was sorry the expo was not as good as I hoped and that he would authorize a refund for that day. It took all of about 10 minutes and I was given a receipt showing that my account and my friends account had been refunded $43 each. I called my friend to pick me up and we headed over to the parks where we ended up having one of the best days we have ever spent as Disneyland and Disney California Adventures.
During the time at the expo spent in line or walking around I managed to talk to many different people. I was sad to hear so many stories of disappointment, many similar to my own. One lady had flown her family out from Florida, this was their family vacation and they only managed to see a couple of the events they wanted to see. Another man had flown in from New York; I met him while at the auction. He told me he was press and even he had difficulty getting into events, missing a few he was hoping to see. When I asked him if he was getting paid to be here he said No, he had to spend over $1500 of his own money to basically give Disney free publicity. So many times I would talk to someone who managed to make it into an event my friend and I didn’t. All too often they would say how there were still seats available as they cut the line and started the show.
Overall my experience at the D23 Expo of 2011 was not what I expected it to be. If it hadn’t been for the great customer service, along with the shows that I did see being put together very well, I would have giving this event an F-. However, the fact the each cast member / employee put in that extra mile made all the difference. I may not have been happy with the way it was organized or how many safety hazards I continually spotted (I’m a Fire Science major in college, can you blame me… lol) but I will give this expo a B+ with much room to be improve. I do not know if I will attend the next Disney expo, but if I do I hope Disney will have learned from their mistakes and it will be the perfect Disney experience.