Q: I need your help with a Disney vacation that turned out to be a disaster. My family of four joined my sister's family and our mother at Walt Disney World recently. Even though we were on the same reservation — called a "Grand Gathering" by Disney — one of our rooms was far away from us, down the hall at the Wilderness Lodge.
Initially, we couldn't get into the Magic Kingdom because our travel agent ordered the wrong tickets by mistake.
From there, things went from bad to worse. Our monorail broke down, making us late for a character breakfast. We had multiple problems with our dining plan, which forced us to spend hours trying to figure out the bill and leading to several embarrassing situations. The dining plan was apparently new and Disney was horribly unprepared to deal with gratuities.
All of this was complicated by problems with our hotel-issued room and park cards, which did not work multiple times at either park entrances or park restaurants.
And then there were the lines. We arrived at EPCOT, hoping to ride on Soarin', only to find a five-hour wait for a FastPass. I expected more, and left very disappointed. I wrote a letter to Disney, but haven't received so much as an acknowledgment after eight months. — Troy Pelias, Dallas
A: Disney should have answered your letter. But I think I know why it didn't. Your initial complaint (the one I published is less than half the length of the one you sent) read like a laundry list. Companies tend to ignore those because they conclude the customer is just a whiner.
Only, you weren't. You had several legitimate problems, including receiving the wrong tickets and having a dining plan that fizzled. I think the other problems should have been left out of your letter, because they probably lessened the effectiveness of your grievance.
For example, the room assignment problems should have been handled while you were at the Wilderness Lodge, not afterward. Think about it — there's not much Disney can do about the inconvenience of being separated after your vacation is over. Similarly, the long wait at Soarin' could have been addressed by showing up at the park's opening, when the lines are at their shortest, or vacationing during the off-peak season.
And the broken down monorail? That happens. Disney shouldn't be expected to compensate you for a technical problem.
Had you narrowed your complaints down to the two or most significant problems and offered a way for Disney to make things right, I believe this would have turned out differently. Your complaint would have been taken more seriously, and you probably wouldn't have been subjected to an eight-month wait.
Even so, Disney was a little quick to dismiss your initial letter. A review of its promotional material for "Grand Gatherings" (defined as a group of eight people or more) sets a high bar for customer service. It promises a "one-of-a-kind" experience that's "even more magical." Among the special benefits: a dedicated team of "Grand Gathering Travel Planners" that will handle every detail of your itinerary.
That's not what happened to you.
I contacted Disney on your behalf. A representative called you to apologize for your less-than-magical experience. Disney refunded the $1,030 you spent on park passes and sent you a $100 gift card that can be used on your next visit.
(Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at )