Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Lobby

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

3:00 am.




gunh.. wha huh?



Oh crap. Did Kate break the building?

Four years ago when we stayed at the Disney Grand Californian, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and a couple minutes later they told us that everything was ok and we could go back to sleep. Not this time. We got slightly more dressed and headed out the door and down the exit steps. Sniff Sniff. Smells a bit smoky. As we got to the first floor and looked up, there were plumes of smoke against the mostly clear but very dark sky. Whoa. This must be the real thing.

We walked out to the front of the building and it looked like the smoke was coming from the main lobby area of the hotel. Lots of fire trucks were already there and Disney security folks were moving us back from the hotel. One of the people near us said that the giant Christmas tree in the lobby had caught fire. He had seen it in flames as he left his room. It was a big tree reaching probably 30 feet up into the open lobby and covered in lights, ornaments and ribbons.

The hotel staff and security folks started to pass out blankets to people waiting outside and after a few minutes we were all allowed to go into the conference center which was warmer and had better places to sit down. Over the next couple of hours, the staff did an amazingly good job of keeping us informed as to what was going on, passing out diapers to parents with babies, providing water, then pastries and then coffee as everyone else did their best to get some sleep on the floor of the conference center. The guests were pretty impressive themselves, taking the trays of pastries and walking them to the different conference rooms to pass them out to make sure everyone had a good chance to get something to eat.

My biggest concern at that point was that we had a 9:00 am flight and were supposed to try to get a cab around 6:30 to get there. Around 5:30 they announced that they would start moving people back up to their rooms floor by floor, starting with the second floor. I let one of the security people know about our flight and he told us we could go up with the first group so we gathered our stuff and headed towards the lobby. The security folks were practically falling over themselves to be helpful. They escorted us to our room so we could pack up our stuff, then escorted us back down to the lobby.

This was the first time we had a chance to look at the scene of the fire. The tree was gone and they were cleaning the carpet where it had been. The ceiling six stories above was covered in a grey soot and the wood cross beam showed some charring but otherwise the lobby looked almost normal. They suggested we go out the side exit to avoid all of the fire equipment and as we walked down the sidewalk we saw little piles of blackened debris. This was the route they had taken the remnants of the tree. The debris got a litle thicker and included several intact but blackened ornaments around the back of a Budget rental truck where the rest of the tree had clearly been stuffed.

We headed over towards the Paradise Pier hotel to try to get a cab to the airport and noticed at least five TV news trucks parked across the street. While Zach was getting ready to make his Southern California TV news debut and we were counseling him to say nothing, the security folks at the gate said they would get us a cab so we wouldn't have to run the news gauntlet. I'm sure this was partly to keep us from saying anything to the press but we appreciated them again going out of their way to help us. The drove us towards the Disneyland Hotel where they had secured a cab for us, transferred our luggage and we were on our way to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

There were so many opportunities for Disney to fall down here -- for them to get snippy, or to make us wait like everyone else while they took care of the hundreds of people who were camping out in the conference center. Instead, the service felt just as personalized as if we were the only people there enjoying just another of the many perks of being at the premier family resort. The security people followed up with us, got us where we needed to be safely and as conveniently as possible. Remarkably similar to how they responded when Kate and Zach were stuck on the roller coaster.

This was certainly a dramatic end to our Christmas trip but even more I think it is an amazing story of grace under pressure. Well done Disney!

Update: The LA Times has a story on the fire, including video from KTLA here.


Anonymous said...


Great story and what a tribute to Disney. Customer service lives!!!

Thank God your all safe and sound.

Grandma Debbie

Anonymous said...

Wow - great story. What an exit!
Mickey (from Hawaii)

Anonymous said...

What`s Mickey doing in Hawaii ?

Anonymous said...

You guys sure do know how to "do Christmas" don't you? Sounds like quite the adventure! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you!

Katie from NY (the cousin)