Becoming re-enchanted with the Enchanted Tiki Room

07 Jul 2008|LiAnne Yu

Here at Cheskin, we often use examples to help our clients consider all of the elements that contribute to a great brand experience. Nike, Apple, Starbucks offer more than just a product to their customers – they create the conditions for meaningful experiences. Disney is one such brand that is more than any park or cartoon character or toy. Disney represents a sense of Wonder.

But what does this really mean? Last weekend I had the privilege of visiting Disneyland again for the first time in many many years. Disneyland holds a special place in my childhood memories as it’s the very first vacation i remember taking. Sitting on my parent’s living room mantle is a faded photo of a four-year old LiAnne being hugged by Minnie Mouse. For my mini-me, D-land really was the happiest place on earth, and for many summer vacations after that I wanted no less than to dress up as a princess and walk along Main Street USA hand in hand with Minnie or Tinkerbell or Cinderella. On this recent trip I wondered: Would I be less enchanted as an adult now that I had more of an awareness of the artifice?

Well, despite my best efforts, my experience as a professional consultant, and my cynicism from simply being middle aged, I have to admit I was completely enchanted with D-land. Even though some of the rides are older than I am, they still seem fresh and new. There’s no chipped paint, no faded images, no malfunctioning parts. Everything seems perpetually new yet also evocative of nostalgia and a sense of the past.

One of my favorite attractions is the Enchanted Tiki Room. Cheesy, yes, and the anthropologist side of me is critical of the 1950’s-ish characterization of Tiki culture that includes birds speaking with French, German, and Spanish accents. But never mind. The Enchanted Tiki Room is brilliant. And I noticed for the first time that the mechanical birds that aren’t singing or in the spotlight are still moving, ever so slightly, breathing and shifting their heads like, well, like real animals. They were in the shadows and were not meant to be looked at. Yet the brilliant folks at Disney felt it was important to maintain the sense of reality and total experience even among those things that aren’t supposed to be viewed. Many people have commented on the expertise of the park in creating a sense of a “stage” without ever revealing the backstage, or all the work and effort that supports the performances. The Disney experience is seamless. You know it’s fake but you never get to see the Wizard, the curtain remains firmly shut. And absent of the revelation of a Wizard, you can just believe and stay in the dream, even if that dream involves mechanical birds speaking in stereotypical French accents.

And don’t get me started on the Pirates of the Caribbean – still the best ride. Have you ever noticed that the clouds in the simulated night sky move? That there’s a hint of a New Orleans blossoms in the air? If I were as rich as Michael Jackson (before he got into debt and scandal and had his own attraction pulled from Disneyland), I’d want to build a replica in my back yard too.

I also noticed this time that there are no maps in D-land, except for the paper map you can pick up at the entrance. But because there are no maps throughout the park, there is no sense of having to get from point A to B in the shortest period of time. It’s all about coming out of one ride and discovering a new one just around the corner, and letting these experiences guide you rather than having an itinerary. That’s how I ended up on the Winnie the Poo ride, it was simply in front of me and I couldn’t resist a ride with signs pointing to the “hunny jars”.

I also noticed, to my amazement, that there are no brands within Disney except for the Disney brands. So no Starbucks, no big Coke ads. Yes, there’s one McD’s, but very inconspicuously located, and designed to fit into the wild west surrounding. When you’re on Disney’s turf, you play by Disney’s rules.

Waiting in line can be annoying but every detail about the waiting in line experience just furthers the overall sensation of being in a wondrous place. The waiting areas for the Indiana Jones ride gives one a sense of being on a safari adventure, and the colors are safari browns and tans. The waiting area for the Star Wars ride gives a sense of being in a space docking station, and the colors are metallic. In other words, Disney didn’t just put up a bunch of ropes to keep the lines orderly, they thought about the waiting experience
as part of the ride itself.

Early on in my day, I stopped trying to notice things and fell easily into simply experiencing D-land. Sure my feet ached, I felt like I waited too long in too many lines, and felt the food was disappointingly theme park overpriced. But that didn’t stop me from buying a Mickey Mouse watch and t-shirt on my way out, because I somehow wanted to take a piece of this experience home with me. It is, after all, the happiest place on earth.

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