Service Consistency on the Disney Cruise Line

I had the privilege of enjoying a short anniversary trip with my wife aboard Disney Cruise Line last week. The Disney Dream is an amazing ship, and what an incredible time we had. It was in so many ways a complete wow.

Disney Dream
The Disney Dream is an amazing ship–part of the Disney Cruise Line fleet. Here it’s parked at Disney’s Castaway Cay. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

Probably because almost everything with the Disney Cruise Line exceeded my expectations, it made me all the more aware of service when it wasn’t up to par. It also made me reflect at how inconsistent service can occur in any organization. Let me offer some examples:

1. Employee Behavior. Not everyone aboard the Disney Dream or in the Disney Cruise Line Terminal or on Castaway Cay are Disney Cast Members for the Disney Cruise Line. Some are operating partners. And a few are simply not associated at all. For instance, before we even got on the ship, we observed these individuals:

Disney Cruise Line
This Crew Member for the Disney Cruise Line is helping out passengers checking in. The red ribbon under her badge indicates she is new and “earning her ears.” It’s a great way of inviting guests to be more patient with those learning their role. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Consistency on the Disney Cruise Line
This crew member is engaging guests in having their photo taken. The crew member is not part of the Disney Cruise Line, but still is required to perform to the same standards and behaviors as any Disney Cast or Crew Member. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
Consistency on the Disney Cruise Line
Upon exiting the Disney Cruise Line Terminal and boarding the ship, this is the last person you see–a port authority guy probably responsible for the gangplank, but appearing to be asleep. Actually, he was looking at his mobile phone device. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

I was impressed how the Disney Cruise Line operating partner–in this case, the group responsible for photos on the ship–were really as polished as any Cast Member. But then we passed by the guy working for the local port authority. What message are you sending if the last individual you encounter before going aboard a gangplank is someone who is so inattentive to his duty as to nearly appear asleep? Yes, the individual is with the port authority, not Disney Cruise Line. But who really knows that? All you see consciously–or subconsciously–is someone who seems “asleep” at the gangplank. And the clutter behind him doesn’t support the magical experience either.

2. The Shuttle. Disney Cruise Line’s private island Castaway Cay is so huge that you may very well want to take the shuttle. Its intent is similar to the parking lot trams you find at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But this tram is different. Yes…it’s open-ended on one side. I don’t think that’s a big deal. Disney trams ran open ended on both sides for decades and I don’t think that matters as much if you’re driving the tram safely, and not doing too many tight turns.

But this tram was straight out of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Going down a former airfield tarmac, it seemed that it was trying to take flight. And given that the road wasn’t so smooth, you really got bumped around. You could see and hear it in the guests’ expression. Everyone was so surprised that the tram was going as fast as it was. That was probably because the trams at Walt Disney World are very consistent in their efforts to be safe. And that’s important, because the tram can often be the first impression or the last impression you have of your park experience–even though it’s completely outside the park.

All that said, no one fell off the gangplank nor off of a tram. If they had though, it would have been all over the web, and it wouldn’t have mattered that the port authority was in charge or whether the tram experience was better in the parks. It would have still had Disney Cruise Line’s name all over it. That brings us to our third example.

3. Getting Sick. While we were enjoying our Disney cruise, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas returned to port with more than 600 passengers affected by a norovirus outbreak. And just yesterday, the Caribbean Princess has returned to port with the same problem.

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean offers some fairly amazing ships. But if you're sick the entire time on board, what difference does a beautiful ship make? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. Royal Caribbean offers some fairly amazing ships. But if you’re sick the entire time on board, what difference does a beautiful ship make? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I’m not saying the Disney Cruise Line is perfect in this regard–it has had minor outbreaks in the past as well. But I’d like to think they have learned from the experience. In fact, according to Marketwatch, Disney Cruise Line is ranked as one of the most hygienic cruise lines. Indeed, it hasn’t failed a Centers for Disease Control inspection in the last ten years–something that Royal Caribbean, Princess, Carnival, and other competitors can’t currently claim.

The message is threefold:

1. Don’t let anyone or anything send an inconsistent message.

2. Be consistent across the board–from beginning to end–and not just in certain locations.

3. Learn from your mistakes in becoming more consistent.

As Aristotle put it “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Disney Cruise Line spends too much time and money creating the best products and services possible to allow one or two individuals or experiences break the magic. Service consistency is huge for any organization–not just Disney. Companies work too hard to let one employee or one service moment break the entire experience you are providing to customers. You have to stay attentive to the details that ultimately matter.

What does this look like in your organization? Where does the magic fall apart in providing a great service experience? How do you make sure that excellence occurs every day?

J. Jeff Kober

One thought on “Service Consistency on the Disney Cruise Line

  1. This article is fabulous, I am big in providing the best service one can provide and the author touched on points that are very important for WD to see and understand like the person who appears to be asleep, and the vessel that transported people not in a safe manner. Small points that can easily be corrected and would make a huge difference. A complete or almost perfect experience for the customer. Consistency in the message your company wants to provide is essential.

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