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Is the Disney Rapid Fill Mug Program Leaking Profits for Disney Resorts?

Is the Disney Rapid Fill Mug Program Leaking Profits for Disney Resorts?

The Rapid Refill mug is the next gen version of the popular Disney Refillable Mug program that began back in 1991.  These programs have only been implemented in the Disney resort properties and there are no plans to extend them into the Parks, other than the water parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.   Previous to 2013 Resort guests are given the opportunity to purchase a mug, or they may be given one if they have a Disney Dining Plan. The mugs are still available for Disney resort guests, including those on the Disney Dining Plan, but are now available to everyone.  The original mugs have been a variety of designs, colors, and even sizes.  It has been reported that the mugs from the beginning years in which the mugs were sold were done so with the understanding that purchasing the mug entitled the user to free refills forever.  This understanding was based on signs in the resorts at the time of purchase, statements made by Cast Members and on the message repeated on the mug label itself.  This has been the center of controversy, and trouble for Disney resorts food and beverage departments, ever since the second design of the mugs that came out without that language.  It continues to be the heart of the problem for this next gen version of the program.

The original refillable mugs were sold for a small price compared to today’s purchase price. Disney resorts had custom designed labels for each resort which made it very desirable as a take-home souvenir, as well as a way to self-regulate use of the program across the resorts.  If you purchased a Contemporary Resort mug where you began your vacation, and then you finished your two week vacation at the Polynesian Resort, you were supposed to purchase the Poly mug to use while you were there.  The designs, or the colors of the lids and handles might change and the policy changed with it.  Eventually, all the mugs became one size, one mug style, and one artistic design, for all resorts.  Then the handle and lid colors were the only thing changing.  So the idea that you would be at least socially controlled from using the resort mug at a different resort no longer held true.  Over these years there has also been a controversy on Disney related message boards and forums.  Disney has said the mugs are to be purchased for your current vacation, whether it was for a day or 14 days, and then enjoyed at home.  They were not meant to be brought back on repeated vacations and reused.  Each vacation you were to purchase a new mug.  Since the designs were all the same Disney tried changing the lid and handle colors to make it clear to everyone which mug is the official current design, hoping that guests would comply.  There have not been any CM’s posted at the soda fountains to say to resort guests their container is not complying with current mug rules. If a guest pointed out that another guest’s mug did not comply, look out.  It often led to a heated exchange in the food courts.  This takes us back to that original years.  Since there was this initial group being very vocal that their mug is good for life bringing their mugs back every visit, that gave many other guests the idea that they were entitled to bring back their mugs, no matter when they were purchased or where, and reuse them whenever and wherever they chose.  This was causing Disney to take quite a hit in beverage sales, but it seems in the interest of guest satisfaction, they were willing to take it.  Disney continued to say, and post via signs and advertisements, that the mugs were intended for this current vacation, and not to be brought back on future vacations.  The discussions on the message boards were generating very heated language about re-users being abusers and thieves.  The other side of the debate was those who argued they were entitled to use them again when they went multiple times in a year and justifying it as not costing Disney more than a few pennies per cup to keep them happy and coming back. This discussion has literally gone on for decades.  The abuse of the system escalated to people not even buying a beverage cup from Disney whether it be a paper cup from the food court, or one of the refillable plastic mugs.  Guests were bringing any type of container they wanted and filling up.  It is reported that there were even guests bringing the ice buckets in their rooms to fill up for free.  Their own coffee cups, a cup from their resort rooms, ice buckets, whatever else would hold liquid must have been what pushed Disney over the edge.

You can imagine being in a Disney boardroom somewhere discussing the millions of sodas being stolen over decades and how to finally put a stop to it.  So, in 2013 the Disney resorts began the Disney Rapid Fill mug program.  Prices were established, machines purchased, mugs adapted, and hopes established that this would finally have some control over the hemorrhaging loss of beverage dollars.

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Many mugs are given away with the Disney Dining Plan, which is a nice addition to that package, but with all the food and drinks allowed with this program I don’t know that I would find time to use it.  So let’s look at the current cost for the mugs.  Rather than the one price for the mugs that existed in the past, your new purchase price will be based on the number of days you are staying at a Disney resort.  1-day is $8.99, 2-days is $11.99, 3-days is $14.99 and for “length of stay”, which means 14 consecutive days, you will pay $17.99.  A “day” is considered a calendar day, not a 24 hour period.  Disney is using the same mug design that they have had for a few years now with classic Disney characters enjoying a swimming pool, with the Disney Rapid Fill logo added.  On the side of the mug you will find small print that reads: “Refills available at no additional charge at Resort Beverage Islands located in the resort that this mug was purchased through the end of your resort stay. DO NOT MICROWAVE.”

So, you may ask, how does this solve the problem? Changing signs and policies did not solve the problem; they needed something more powerful to control the misuse of the mugs.  RFID. Yep, the same technology behind the new tickets, MagicBands, and FastPass+ system.  RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.  This is not a brand new idea for Disney mugs as it has been used at both water parks for years.  To keep people from bringing their resort mugs to the water parks and drinking there for free, the water parks had their own mug designs and added RFID stickers to them.  The sticker was specific to that one day. Now if you want to visit both water parks in one day you would be able to refill at both once you purchased that day’s sticker.  It is expensive for one day’s worth of drinking though. If you don’t want to purchase a Rapid Refill mug you do not have to. When you purchase a paper cup at the resort food courts it will also come with an RFID sticker on the bottom.

This is how it works: You purchase a mug, go to the beverage station, place your mug on the tray which reads the RFID adhered to the bottom of your mug, you see your mug recognized on a screen that lights up on the front of the machine (made by a company named ValidFill).  If it recognizes your mug as “valid” for the day you can fill it with the beverage.  It will dispense only the amount of the beverage that is programmed to be “ideal” for that size mug.  It will also tell you how many refills you have left, or days, and how much time must lapse between refills.  It looks like the standard at Disney is about 2 minutes between refills.  This is designed to cut down on sharing. In other words, they do not want you filling up your purchased mug and then immediately pouring the beverage into another non-purchased container and refill again for yourself or another non-purchased container.  If you like to mix your sodas you will still be able to do that as the machine measures how much soda has been dispensed and shuts it off only when you have reached the maximum number of ounces dispensed, or after 70 seconds from the start of dispensing. If you have ice in your cup, you could fill the mug again sooner.  A paper cup, which is good for 4 fills, is about $3.00.  It has a time limit for those refills.  First you must wait the two minutes in between the refills, and it is reportedly set for a maximum of one hour.

Currently the machines are causing problems for the user, you the Guest, but also for Disney resorts.  The base trays are not always recognizing that your mug/cup is on the tray.  It delivers a message “Place cup on tray!  This may happen if you don’t have it properly placed on the tray, or may say it erroneously.  White the soda is being distributed the machine will display the date you will be out of refills. When the machine has dispensed the maximum amount for that cup it will show the message “Fill Complete”.  You may know this before the message shows because your mug/cup will start to overflow.  Not all machines have RFID readers, including the ice and water dispensers, so it looks like you can use any cup to refill there.  The RFID device for each cup is about 5-cents, which some guests who also work in the food and beverage service elsewhere, say this is more than the amount of soda being dispensed.  Resort guests are unhappy with what they see as penny-pinching from them when they are already spending so much to stay on property.  Others are understanding of the need to change the program but are very unhappy to have paid $18.00 for the new mug and then have trouble getting the machines to dispense the soda properly, and sometimes not at all.  The overfilling of the cups makes them all messy, and defeats the extra cost put into the RFID technology to cut down on soda loss. As for those returning with mugs they claim as having lifetime benefits, they should talk to a resort food court manager.  Some of the managers have turned the Rapid Fill element of their beverage machines completely off because they have ruined so many guest experiences that they are tired of hearing about it and care more about the satisfaction of their guests than the bottom line. I visited the Art of Animation resort in doing research for this article.  The machines were all still turned on to the RapidFill setting.  I saw some guests that had no trouble at all, and some who could not get the machines to recognize their cup after trying several times.  I observed multiple RapidFill mugs on nearly every table so guests are still purchasing them, or there were a lot of people in there on the Disney Dining Plan.

Is the delivery system, paying more for a soda with your $9.00 hamburger at the resort food court, or just the rising cost of a Disney vacation making you think twice about staying on property? In the words of one of my new favorite Disney characters, Olaf, from the movie Frozen, “You hesitated”.  If you did, hesitate I mean, then perhaps Disney has gone a step too far with this program.  If you answered with a resounding “No”, then they have not.  Regardless of your choice, it is always good to speak with a Guest Services person at Disney to let them know the good and the bad.

As for the RFID technology popping up everywhere at Walt Disney World through the MagicBands, RFID Tickets, My Disney Experience and FastPass+ programs, the addition of this new RFID beverage system is not much of a surprise.  RFID is not new to Disney as they have used this in controlling the Water Parks Refillable mugs.  They are used in the red cards on the lanyards the CM at the entrance to a ride may give you to hand to the CM just before you board the ride for the purpose of wait time calculations.  They are sewn into every article of the costume the CM’s are wearing to aid in sorting them prior to cleaning and organizing them to be picked up again. With this technology Disney is learning where you go, what you like to eat, where you like to eat, how much time you spend in any area within the Walt Disney World resort, and now know what your favorite beverages are and when you like to get them, offering a glimpse into your sleeping/eating patterns, and so much more.   Like every other corporation, Disney would like to offer you special opportunities tailored to what you like.  All this information will make it easier to submit personalized service to you.

An average mug costs about the same as four individual sodas. Over the length of your stay you will undoubtedly use it enough to pay for the mug plus several more refills. Disney was ok with this. With 47 million guests a year, it is reported that Walt Disney World was probably seeing multimillion dollar losses a year.  The cost of the program has to be paid for, and with guest dissatisfaction you wonder is it going to be worth it?  But if you put the drink machines behind the counter you have staff costs to fill the drinks added to the cost of the drink. Perhaps if the program expanded to the parks it would be more cost-effective for families.  I had a difficult time on my last trip filling my mug once in the morning and once at the end of the night.  Sometimes I was just too tired to walk to the food court to get my drink, but I felt to get my money’s worth I would need to get two drinks a day. I do like using my mugs at home, but I usually leave the lids off because they leak so badly.  If they didn’t leak, I may be happy to buy the mug, just for the mug. I especially like my mugs that were resort specific.  Disney is a company that needs to show profits for its shareholders, although many guests seem to look at it as a rich relative that owes them something.

What do you think? Is this a program that is long overdue and simply a way for Disney to recoup some of the loss they have been absorbing for a couple of decades now, or is this something you see negatively? Do you have suggestions to improve the program to both meet Disney’s needs and meet guest satisfaction?

 

About Cassie

Cassie L. I am a lifelong Disney fan. I attended Walt Disney World in 1971, and was there during the opening week of EPCOT, and have visited the Disney Parks for than 30 times. I have had the privilege of visiting Disneyland as a child, and then again with my children. My family recently moved from the northeastern United States to the Walt Disney World area. I now have cast members in my family and enjoy hearing the magical stories at the end of a shift. I love visiting all of the parks and getting to try more Disney food and being able to share it with you to help you plan your own magical day at Disney.