Can You Hear Me Now?

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 (April 2011) of WDWNT: The Magazine.

Do you remember what a big deal it was to have a meeting location? With a resort the size and scope of Walt Disney World, traveling with a large group usually requires meticulous advanced planning if you hope to have any chance of keeping together on your vacation. It was vitally important to know where and when you would all meet up. And if someone didn’t arrive at the proper time (perhaps they were stuck on a broken down Splash Mountain for 45 minutes with the music shut off listening to the Audio-Animatronics click and move and the announcement every 5 minutes that “Looks like Brer Fox and Brer BEAR are causing some kind of commotion downstream”. Not that this has ever happened to me) you were stuck. You either stayed there until they showed up, or gave up and went on, hoping to meet up by chance later on. Or at least it used to, before we all got cell phones.

It’s cliche to say that cell phones have changed our world. This is something that WDW predicted. Walt’s unending interest in the advance of technology would be the centerpiece of EPCOT Center when it opened in 1982. Communication was so integral to the idea of the park, that the icon of EPCOT Center was (until its most recent version) an attraction about the history and advancement of communication through time. Nearly 30 years later, communication has indeed changed the way we experience our WDW vacations.

Perhaps no aspect of our vacation planning has been effected more than the ability for us to break apart and go off on our own, without needing rigid plans on how to meet up later in the day. A simple text message (“Where are you?”) is all we need to reunite. And for the more social network aware, we can follow our fellow travelers as they check in to every attraction, restaurant, restroom, and snack cart in real time (and once again, apologies to my Facebook friends who had to endure this on my last trip.)

Aside from social network apps, smartphone users have dozens of Disney related apps to choose from. Can’t decide what you want to eat? Don’t waste time walking to individual restaurants to see what is on the menu. You can access that information in seconds on your cell phone. And for those who are new to the world, rather than relying on maps, use the GPS in your pocket to show you exactly how far away Space Mountain is (of course, we die-hard fans will still pick up park maps for our collection.)

If you are the one who is responsible for all the planning and budgeting for the trip (and if you are reading this magazine there is a good chance that you are), you can use your phone as your organization tool, keeping confirmation numbers and schedules all in one easy to access place (alleviating the need to carry an actual notebook throughout the parks.) I personally use financial software on my iPhone to keep to my budget (as best as I can.)

Many of us likely never take camera’s to the park now. Why take more in to the park (and have to go through bag check) when your phone allows you to not only take the photos, but instantly share them as well. On trips in the past, we would often take 50 – 100 photos. On my last trip I took over 1000.

A funny side story; a few years ago, I was trying to get a table at the San Angel Inn. The hostess said they were not currently taking walk ups, only reservations. The restaurant was mostly empty, so it seemed strange that so many people were missing their ADR. So I stepped outside, made a quick call to the WDW Dining line, and let them know I wanted a reservation for “now”, and that I was standing on the steps of the pavilion. I had a table within minutes, but not before the Cast Member and I shared a laugh at the fact that he was required to inform me that theme park admission was required to dine there, even though I was calling from inside the park.

Of course, like all technology, there is a dark side. Allow me to say this, email auto responders exist for a reason. Assuming your job is not critical to the survival of the human species, please be on vacation. I am as guilty as anyone of checking my email in the parks, but at least I am free of the requirement to actually respond to anything.

Far worse are those who overuse the phone part of their phones (apparently these things can make phone calls too, who knew?) On the last three occasions I have ridden through Carousel of Progress, I was treated not only to a phone ringing, but it’s owner actually picking up and carrying on a conversation during the show. Walt loved the theater metaphor for the parks, so let’s all take part and set our phones to vibrate on attractions and in shows. Otherwise we will find ourselves with what Jeremy Irons so eloquently put it, “A flood of electronic babble.”

On my first trip to EPCOT Center in 1986, one of the most amazing pieces of technology on display was touch screens. World Key Information kiosks not only allowed us the opportunity to control a computer with our own fingers, but also allowed for real time video chat with cast members. The fact that this technology now exists on a case in my pocket is a testament to the brilliance of EPCOT Center.

It is all something we take for granted now. The younger among us probably do not ever remember a time in their lives when they did not have their friends and family a button press (or touchscreen) away. It is now an assumed part of our lives. And Disney is taking notice. From official apps and mobile websites that gives us park ours and wait times, to text messages from the resort when our rooms are ready.

As Disney prepares a whole new place for technology in the guest experience, we can be sure that the mobile technology that was a thing of science fiction when the parks were built will play a central role.

Can You Hear Me Now? was last updated December 22nd, 2013 by Michael Truskowski