Thursday, April 21, 2016

Legoland California Hotel & Park deliver a lot of value and if you plan it right, you don’t have to empty your wallet

The backside of Legoland California Hotel at park entrance

Legoland California Hotel ensures guests are ‘delighted’ 24/7.
There are many “deals & steals” out there for just about any place you want to visit on the planet. Buyer beware – some of those deals end up costing you later on. I was cautious as I researched and explored options for our family trip to Legoland California. I did not want to get nickled and dimed for things not included in the “deal”. I shared my approach to find the best deals for the Legoland Hotel, park tickets, transportation and airfare in this post.

I was happy with the overall cost of our family trip, and pleasantly surprised the whole experience surpassed our expectations.  We knew we would have fun and it might even be a little chaotic, but had no idea that everything is awesome.  I truly thought it was just a sentiment from The Lego Movie, but it truly is their reality.

I’d like to share some key highlights:

Legoland California Hotel nailed the customer experience.
You’ve seen one hotel; you’ve seen them all, right? Perhaps the difference between experiences at one hotel versus another is the number of stars it earned. Five star, high-end hotels down to 1 star motels and everything in between. Your perceived value is typically associated with how much you spent. Spend a lot; you expect quality rooms and service. Spend a nominal amount at a motel; the savings is the true value. You primarily expect clean rooms and little to no service.

Legoland California paid attention to the type of customers they were serving, families, and ensured the experience would be delightful throughout their whole journey. The journey begins with the first visit to the Legoland Hotel website. The journey never really ends, as they strive for customer loyalty and developing a long-term relationship with each customer.
Let me provide some examples:

1) The website streamlines the buyer behavior process   
     Similar to most hotel websites, they show photos and provide the information you need in order to make a purchase (book a room). That was expected. The additional information about the many other perks you can obtain (such as at the Park Resort, Water Park, Sea Life Aquarium, on-site birthday parties and membership) is a bonus to help someone on the fence to go ahead and book it. I found a room rate that was half of their typical rate. This was a big delight for me so I booked three nights.

2) Communications were regular and informative. The customer relationship is nurtured via email before the trip. Imagery of families grinning ear to ear on a rollercoaster builds excitement and anticipation, which reaffirms the post-decision and alleviates potential buyer’s remorse. There’s no way I would cancel.

3) Check-in Process was painless – no detail was left unturned for what could become a chaotic mess when you’re talking about 300+ families coming and going on a daily basis. The Legoland Hotel streamlined the process to make it easy and fast to check-in, which happens to be one of the biggest pain points at many hotels. I never saw more than 1 or 2 people waiting in the lobby, at any given time of the day. If you arrive prior to the 4pm check-in, they graciously provide you everything you need to know about the resort and hotel, check your bags and text or call you when your room key is ready for pick up. You don’t have to worry about a thing – you simply go about your day experiencing the park.

·      4) Hotel Design was brilliantly planned.  It’s not just the kids that go “wow!” when they arrive at the Hotel; it’s the whole family.  

      Amazing Lego structures are on display everywhere, which is a fun part of the décor of course.  The brilliance is in the “brick pits” in the lobby area.  Kids just dive in and start building. This is an ideal way to immerse in the experience as soon as you arrive and throughout your stay.  If your kids don’t like to build Legos, then you’re staying at the wrong hotel and visiting the wrong theme park.  

Hotel Rooms are themed (adventure, pirate, kingdom and Lego friends) and have free Wifi. It’s a kid’s paradise and provides ample separation for the parents. We were fortunate to have an ocean view to our left and Legoland Park straight ahead. Another delight. Each hotel room has a treasure chest filled with small Lego kits. The combination to the treasure chest can be decoded by finding clues in the hotel lobby. The extra amenities (free bottled water, coffee, juice) and Legos to play with in the room, are another delight and nice touch.

Breakfast is included in the price
. There are breakfast buffets and then there is the Legoland Hotel breakfast buffet – one for adults and one for kids. The buffets have every selection you would find on a breakfast menu, and then some. Omelettes and eggs made any way you’d like, to waffles, pancakes, smoothies, bacon, sausage, turkey bacon, hashbrowns, bagels/toast, fruit, oatmeal, cereal and more. It is all you can eat and it is a perfect way to obtain the fuel you need to spend the day at Legoland Park.

There is an outdoor heated pool with large foam Lego bricks to play with. The whole area turns into an outdoor movie theater at night.

Disco balls are in the elevators, and play different songs each time you ride. No, it never gets old because you can’t help but dance and exit the elevator smiling.

Hotel guests have early access to Legoland Park every morning (1 hour prior to the general public). Another delight!

There are many elements and "little things" that add up to a fun and amazing experience. That's the difference.  When you stay at the Legoland Hotel you become completely immersed into the “fun” mindset and you realize you never want to leave. Why can’t every day be this fun and exciting?!
        5) Social media channels – employees do listen and respond.  Relationships continue to nurture across the social web.  I tweeted and they responded within minutes.  Once again, consistency in communications throughout the customer journey.

Those are just some of the ways the Legoland California Hotel delivers value. 
However the most important element that is key for sustainability and loyalty is the staff, known as “Model Citizens”.  The investment in hiring and training the right people to execute Legoland’s vision and mission has paid off.  I wasn’t surprised to discover that Model Citizens are trained by The Disney Institute.
I can honestly say that every person I interacted with at the Hotel and at the Park, were exemplary.  They provide the best consistent customer service I have ever experienced, anywhere. For four days, I was actually looking for exceptions to the great service because I didn’t believe it could be executable and sustainable 100% of the time. People have bad days, even “Model Citizens”. I was bound to find someone being a jerk, or less than kind to a guest.  I can honestly say it never happened.

Why is that remarkable?  If you think about this hotel and park becoming a mecca for families, and that the majority of families typically have more than one kid, there are bound to be meltdowns and tantrums.  Parents become frustrated and annoyed and experiences sour.  Yet the staff never let any of that impact the service they were delivering.  I find that remarkable and I chalk it up to “delivering wow! experiences”.  It’s hard to please the masses but Legoland California Hotel & Resort discovered/created/refined a formula that works. 

The afterglow of our family experience still exists two weeks later. I’m sure it will continue, as I remain a loyal customer moving forward. That is the power of delivering value that matters to your audience.

Best Bet for Legoland California Hotel and Park deals

If you have patience and are relentless about researching for deals, you can find them. Here was my approach:

Best Hotel Deal: Continuously search the Legoland hotel website for fares that are affordable. I did so every few months. Be flexible with your dates and you can wait to grab the best deal possible. The rooms typically run ~ $350-$400+ per night – but I scrounged around until I found a $206/night rate. This was the best deal I had ever heard of so I immediately grabbed 3 nights for an Adventure Room, which happened to be on the 3rd floor, the top floor. Even better! I was even more delighted to learn that the Breakfast Buffet each morning was included with the discounted rate, along with Wi-Fi on the property and in the rooms. Plus there is complimentary bottled water, coffee, hot cocoa and kid juices in the room, which are replenished daily. A really pleasant surprise was the prize in the treasure chest in the room, it had mini Lego packets and a Lego activity book – and that was replenished daily as well with a mini Lego packet.
  • If you are going to Legoland for a few days, I highly recommend you immerse yourself into the full experience by staying at the hotel. We loved it. There is an outdoor, heated pool, outdoor movie by the pool, Lego building pits in the lobby, magicians and other ‘shows’ to keep the kids entertained. Not to mention the elevator rides – which has a disco ball and a random song playing every time you ride it. I think the hotel is ideal for families with kids ~ 5-10. That’s the sweet spot. The only miserable people I saw at the hotel were families with young children (typically more than one). They tended have kids ranging from infants to 4 years old. There were plenty of meltdowns from the younger kids. But 5 and older kids were having a great time, as were their parents. To me, that’s the sweet spot age.
  • The hotel restaurant “Bricks” is where the outstanding breakfast buffet is set up. It’s by far one of the best spreads I’ve seen at a hotel. The main buffet has your choice of omelets or any type of egg cooked the way you like it, French toast, waffles, turkey sausage, polish sausages, bagels, toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit smoothies, pastries and muffins, oatmeal, cereal, coffee, juice, yogurt, etc. The kid’s buffet has Belgian waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, and more. Both buffets are all you can eat, and you can go up for a new plate as often as you’d like. We like to eat early so we signed up for the 7a-8a slot (the other slots are 8a-9a or 9a-10a). We didn’t have to wait in any lines and finished eating after 30-40 minutes when the room started to fill up. On nice days, the restaurant can seat outside, so they can hold even more families. It’s nice to be immersed with Lego structures of chef’s doing a variety of cooking related things (backing cakes, throwing pies, etc.) Note: The earlier you go, the more likely you will miss the lines. After 8am, expect to wait in line for 15+ minutes to get seated.
  • Hotel guests get early access to the park at 9am, a full hour before it’s open to the public. That’s pretty cool and we took advantage of it even though the entire park isn’t open. What is open and running we found worthwhile. We signed up for Mindstorm – the robotic programming course for 3rd graders and older. It’s a 45-minute session and we picked a mid-day slot, which was perfect since we were ready for a rest by that time. We also went on the nearby Coaster Cruise, which is a slow, relaxing and scenic ride throughout the Lego structures, and Miniland. 

  • By the way, each morning Emmett comes out to open the park at 9am and picks a child to help him. All you need to do is get your child up front by the turnstile and raise their hand eagerly and they will get picked.
  • Another advantage of staying at the hotel in the park is the ability to re-enter the park. You can go back to your hotel room for a quick rest if needed, change clothes if you were at the water park, grab a snack from your room, etc. That was nice – so you can come and go as you pleased into the park until it closed at 6pm.
Legoland Park – ticket deals and some helpful hints:
  • We bought etickets in advance from Costco. We got a 3-day pass for Legoland, the Waterpark and Sea Life Aquarium for $98/person for all 3 days. That’s a great deal as people were unhappy to discover the Water Park has a separate daily fee even though you can only access it via Legoland park. Our all-inclusive pass was very much worth it. Re-use the printed e-tickets for all 3 days. When we got there, we learned the hotel was offering a 4-day pass for the same price, but I’m not sure it covered the Water Park and Aquarium as well. I’m pretty thrilled with our Costco purchase. We saved $200/adult per day ($400 savings for 2 days for 2 adults) and $87 for my son per day ($174 savings for 2 days). Nearly $600 in savings just on Legoland park tickets – that’s significant.
  • Project X is the roller coaster the older kids and grown ups like the most. It’s mild, but starts with a nice steep drop and that’s when they take your photo that you see at the end of the ride. The photo is irresistible and you end up paying the $15 for it. Plus you get an access code for a digital copy, and the code is good for 90 days. How could we resist the pure panic look on my 9 year old’s face, my totally ecstatic face cheering “oh yeaaaah!!!” and my husband with a mediocre, ok, this is cool smile. It was hysterical and although I’m not photogenic at all in the photo, it’s one I’ve shared with friends to make them laugh. Project X opens at 10am, so even with early access to the park, you can’t get there early. You wait at the chain link gate to get access to the upper part of the park. The line isn’t long, just a small crowd, but when they open it some people try to run and trample over people to get there first. I’m not sure why they did that, as we never had to wait more than a couple of minutes that early in the day.
  • Coastersaurus and The Dragon are the other 2 roller coasters – and they are mild in comparison to Project X but still fun for kids and grown ups. We rode on them a couple of times.
  • Knights Tournament is a robotic hand that 2 people sit in – and is considered an older kid favorite. There are 5 settings; 1 and 2 are mild, and then apparently things get more intense with levels 3, 4 and 5. My son and I settled for 2, which was the max for his height (he’s under 55”). I thought it would be a lame ride but holy moly, it was intense! You are basically slammed side to side and twist and turn. In the moment it is pretty intense but it’s after you get off when you realize how rough it was on your body (and I don’t have back or neck injuries). If anyone did have issues, that ride would mess them up even more, for sure. I can’t even imagine what the ride is like at a 5. I did see 2 grown ups hanging completely upside down for several seconds while being rocked side to side and shook back and forth. I think their eyeballs were shaking. That might have been a 5. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
  • The Water Park was my son’s favorite. He met a friend there, who was his age and from Seattle. That was fun, so they each had a buddy. They loved the water slide, which is huge., the orange rafts down the back of the slide, the pirate boat that makes a huge splash when you come down the roller coaster portion, and the wave pool in Chima park.

  • In Fun Town, the fight squadron which is geared for younger kids, still appealed to my 9 year old so we had to do that a couple of times since he thought it felt like he was really flying.
  • Then of course there’s the Driver’s License school. The kids can buy their photo to put on an official LegoLand driver’s license. Which is another $15. But makes for a happy and proud Legoland driver as he proudly displayed it on a lanyard around his neck. I guess it’s a badge of honor for all the kids old enough to drive the cars in the little town.
  • I really liked in Adventure area the Egypt ride – where you shoot bulls eye targets and rack up points. You compete against one another. We had fun and did that every day. 
  •  Xbox video game center was a lot of fun as well. We had plenty of fun hanging out there.
  • 4D Lego movie was a great way to spend a few minutes as well. If you’re a fan of The Lego Movie, you’ll enjoy this. No one gets really wet, just lightly sprinkled with lemon water from the ceiling. 
  • Many restaurants promote kids eat free after 4:30 – which was a nice treat. We took advantage of that, as it all adds up throughout the day.
  • If we lived in the area, we would have bought the 12-month membership pass, because you get a free night at the hotel, plus 20% off anything in the park that you pay for (in the stores and restaurants). That is a great perk, but not worth it for a family of 3 from out of state.
  • Mini-figure trading – you get caught up in it and parents want to do it as well. So we looked for the opportunities to trade what we had and find even more fun figurines. Bring a bag of figurines from home so you don’t have to buy any in the park.
Transportation from San Diego Airport to the Legoland Hotel, and back to the airport

We were going to rent a car but decided that would be a waste as we planned to just ‘do the park’ for 3 days. The Blue Shuttle was our preferred method but we learned for just a few more dollars per person, we could get ExecuCar service – and it’s door-to-door service without any stops to other hotels. We thoroughly enjoyed the convenience and the service provided by the drivers. We were 3 passengers and it was ~ $87 each way for 3 people ($29/person). The shuttle services typically charge $15-$25 per person each way, depending upon the company). Plus you make stops for all the other people on your shuttle. We thought it was worth a few extra dollars per person each way to have a non-stop drive to the hotel – which was about 30 minutes. We rode in older version black towncars, nice, but not fancy like a limo. It was comfortable and the drivers are quite knowledgeable and share tips on places to see. You pay in full when you book the reservation, and add the gratuity in advance (or wait until later if you prefer). I took a leap of faith and prepaid gratuity so I didn’t have to deal with payments during the trip. Drivers to not expect additional gratuity in addition to what you prepaid. We arrived at the Legoland Hotel prior to the 4pm check-in time. No worries. You can have your bags securely stored. We did that and went and enjoyed the park for a few hours. When our room was ready the front desk called us. When we returned to the hotel to pick up the room keys, they told us all we had to do was call from the room to have our bags delivered. That was a nice touch, so we didn’t feel bogged down with all of our baggage.
  • We walked from the resort towards the beach, just to find other places to eat for dinner. It was about 10 minute walk to The Burger Lounge (which has great turkey burgers), and it’s beside Costco and Starbucks. So it’s convenient. 
  • It’s nice to know people in the area. We had friends pick us up and take us to the Carlsbad beach, which goes on for miles and miles. We stayed for hours, made a bonfire and ate dinner while watching the dolphins swim in the surf. They were close enough to see them quite well. That was a magical way to spend our last night one of my favorite places in CA.
Airfare:  plenty of deals available off-peak. Did we pay an arm and a leg because we had specific dates we had to fly due to the hotel bookings? No. I just waited to see if Spirit, Alaska Air, Southwest or Frontier had a deal non-stop to San Diego. When I found it, I booked it. The round-trip tickets were just under $300 and in total with bags and seat fees for each leg of the trip on Frontier, I paid about $950 in total. Not the best deal, but nowhere near the $400+ flights on the other airlines (which would have been $1,200+) and had a stop in Los Angeles. I wanted the convenience of a non-stop flight so we had more time in San Diego and with our car service, we were able to fly, land, drive to the hotel and still have 5 hours in the park that afternoon. It was worth the fare for another day in the park. By the way, both of our flights departed on time or early, and arrived early. Don’t just go by Frontier’s ratings, because they exceeded our expectations. By pre-paying for a checked bag, and not paying for carry-ons, we saved 50% ($25 fee vs. $50 fee per bag). Everyone is allowed a laptop or purse to carry on as long as it fits under the seat in front of you. We all had a backpack as our free bag, and yes, they did fit under the seat even though my mother-in-law insisted they would not fit because they were “normal sized backpacks and too big to fit under there.”

What would I change about our trip? 
 Nothing at all. I didn’t know what to expect other than what I had heard from others -- lots of screaming kids, long waits in lines, expensive ‘everything’, etc. But that wasn’t my experience. We had a relaxing time, without annoyances or high costs. From start to finish – it was a perfect family vacation. One of the most appreciated parts of the trip – was the exceptional service from the staff at Legoland, who are called “Model Citizens.” I didn’t know ahead of time they were trained by the Disney team; however it really does show. Everyone is exceptionally courteous and helpful – and greet you with a smile and hello. I always thought that was the exception, not the norm. But at Legoland, everything IS awesome. Read my post about the value Legoland delivers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Which part of a technology company would you rather be in – Hospice Care or Labor & Delivery?

As a consultant for more than a decade, I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of technology companies in various lifecycle stages for their flagship products.  I observed repeated patterns that had become systemic across various industries.  The tech companies had been market leaders during their peak in the late 1990s-early 2000’s.  However, they began to lose traction within their mature category by disruptive technology and competitors who had blindsided them.  

What happened?  Typically the same people and skillsets that helped the company gain the market leader position were still managing the product strategy, without taking into account the product lifecycle, rapidly evolving technology and customer needs. 

Observation: the companies stopped innovating, ignored their legacy flagship products and failed to evolve as their customers, technology and the market evolved.  The product teams became “order takers” of requirements rather than driving the product roadmap.  Typically, the most vocal customers, who may have the biggest impact to the bottom line, would demand the most.  Once the product team focuses on defects, bugs and enhancement requests provided by others, they simply shuffle the board and move the hottest item to the top of the priority list. 

The product manager becomes more of a fire fighter for the issue of the day, rather than the strategic thinker planning the future direction of the product. I see this approach as providing basic life support to the product as it deteriorates before their eyes in hospice care.  It will only be a matter of time before management pulls the plug on funding and the product is sunset. 

Perhaps there is a place in a company for hospice care, as it keeps a revenue stream alive, however the clock is ticking.  Nimble companies continuously monitor the marketplace to look for, or design their own disruptive technology to capitalize.  This is an example of a company that maintains a “Labor & Delivery” ward – they continue to give birth to new ideas and solutions in order to provide even more value to their customers.  True innovation lives there.

A couple of questions to ponder….
  •           How often do management teams get outside of their office buildings to talk face-to-face to existing customers, potential customers, competitor’s customers, etc.? 
  •         How much empathy does management have for their customer base or prospective customer base?  Do they truly understand the problems that need to be solved?

 Without fully understanding the pain points of customers, and how their product or service truly solves a problem, they won’t be able to keep a finger on the pulse for what’s happening TODAY.   

Teams need to ask themselves…
  •      How much time do we spend in meetings, planning and discussing at great lengths what we ‘should do’… right now, next quarter, next year, etc.?
  •       Is it just a whole lot of lip service and a whole lot of non-productive time? 
  •      In a 40-hour work week, how many hours are allocated just to talking to customers?  If it’s <1 hour a week, that’s a telltale sign that the company is spending too much reacting to issues, and not enough time understanding their customers needs and emotions about their product. 

If I’ve learned anything in the past decade, it’s the following 7 points:
  •      Spend less time in meetings
  •      Spend less time reacting
  •      Spend more time talking to customers, prospective customers, and competitor’s customers to gain empathy and truly understand their needs.
  •      Spend more time clarifying the problem you are trying to solve.  As Paul MacCready, aircraft designer and environmentalist says “The problem is, we don’t understand the problem.”
  •      Spend more time building prototypes, rudimentary ones, to get customer feedback quickly.
  •      Spend more time iterating the prototype and obtaining user feedback.

 Once a company gets into this type of cadence, they will enjoy being the innovator, rather than the legacy provider about to pull the plug on their former leading flagship product.