We’ve previously addressed Walt Disney World housekeeper shortages in What’s Up with Mousekeeping? That prompted a lot of questions about security checks and other policies. In response, we’re taking a deeper dive into concerns about “hassles” guests are having in resort rooms. (Updated November 29, 2023.)
The latest development comes courtesy of readers who have reported departure day door knocks at around 9 am, waking them up prior to their 11 am checkout time. This prompted more people to come forward, saying they had experienced the exact same thing recently. In response, many others chimed in with skepticism, sharing that they’ve done many Walt Disney World resort stays over the years, and have never experienced anything like this.
Others suggested putting up the “Do Not Disturb” sign as a simple way to resolve the problem and as a common courtesy to housekeeping staff. As always, it’s silly to assume that just because something has never happened to you, it is not occurring. This whole conversation started last year and has continued throughout this year, too. With the return of full housekeeping at Walt Disney World and several recent stays under our belts, we thought it’d be worth revisiting this topic as of the Christmas 2023 to see how things are going…
November 29, 2023 Update: For our part, we have also experienced the ~9 am knocking on our departure day. This has happened despite having the “Room Occupied” sign on our door. (Walt Disney World no longer does “Do Not Disturb” signs.) Each time this has occurred, it has been quickly and easily resolved by one of us politely letting the housekeeper know when we planned on leaving. In every single circumstance, they were overly apologetic, and seemed sorry for “burdening” us.
Those are air quotes around burdening because it has never been a big or noteworthy thing, at least, not for us. My assumption was and is that it’s increasingly common because housekeepers are being expected to turn over more rooms due to the ongoing labor shortage. That coupled with rising occupancy numbers results in exactly this–housekeepers needing to clean more rooms before 11 am.
Last year, I’d hazard a guess that this has happened about half of the time during our resort stays. It also was unquestionably worse towards the beginning of the year and through summer, getting progressively better around Halloween and Christmas. In fact, I don’t recall it happening at all after October. (It also didn’t happen to us in 2021, but we did shorter stays then and resort occupancy was significantly lower.)
With only one month to go in 2023, we’re happy to report that this has not happened to us once this entire year. Of course, we are a sample size of one, so we’d be well-advised to point to our own sentiment at the top of this post that it’s silly to assume that something not happening to us means it’s not happening to anyone.
Nevertheless, but we can’t help but wonder if whether there’s been some relief. Revenge travel peaked last year, and Disney has stated that hotel occupancy has been lower in 2023. On top of that, staffing shortages have been resolved, meaning that there should be more housekeepers and fewer rooms to clean. Whereas last year would’ve been a perfect storm of pent-up demand, resorts reopening, and staffing shortages. (To that end, we’d love to hear further feedback from readers who have or have not experienced this–it’d be nice to have anecdotes beyond our own.)
Another thing we’d note is that housekeepers have not knocked on our door before 11 am during most of our stays. There have even been times when we’ve been running behind on checkout day and didn’t leave our rooms until shortly after 11 am. In those scenarios, not only did housekeepers not rush us out of the room, but they weren’t even lingering around in the hallways nearby. We probably could’ve stayed until closer to noon without issue. (To be clear, we’re not endorsing an informal late checkout as a strategy!)
The big reason we’re not endorsing this is because that it creates even more of a potential burden from already overburden housekeeping Cast Members. There’s a reason they are (or were) doing the early morning knocks, and it was out of necessity–not to agitate or anger guests. (It’s always a good idea to think about the why of something before being upset about it.) Suffice to say, it was not the Cast Members doing the knocking who were/are the problem.
In an illuminating Twitter thread, Ben Wszalek, former WDW Housekeeping Manager (at Grand Floridian, Fort Wilderness, All Star Movies & Sports) shared some additional context about why this is occurring based on his past firsthand experience in that role. The full thread is worth reading, but we’ll summarize some of its salient points here.
Per Wszalek, housekeepers all work one shift, 8 am to 4:30 pm. Following a morning breakout meeting, these Cast Members head to their assigned building, grab their carts, and get to work. They are assigned to clean a set number of rooms depending upon the resort tier, ranging from 16-18 rooms on average. (As an aside, I’ve heard the expectation has increased in light of the staffing shortage, but cannot corroborate that.)
Checkout time is 11 am, which is halfway through that shift, so simply waiting for all rooms to empty with the day’s departures is not a viable approach. Although some guests may leave earlier, there’s currently no way of knowing who has left and who is opting to sleep late unless Cast Members can see into the room through the window or actually witness the guests departing their room.
The “Room Occupied” sign is a signal, but even empty rooms can still have this up, making it an inconclusive one. Presumably, this is one unintended consequence of Disney’s Magical Express ending and why there was an uptick of these incidences. Staffing shortages colliding with pent-up demand and higher hotel occupancy probably didn’t help.
Housekeepers are expected to have all of their rooms cleaned by 4:30 pm. Sometimes that’s more than the number listed above if other Cast Members have called in sick or the hotel is otherwise short-staffed. Sometimes the front desk wants those rooms ready faster if occupancy is high and guests have arrived at the resort and are waiting.
Also according to Wszalek, housekeeping is one of the only jobs at Walt Disney World that requires no English language knowledge whatsoever. A majority of housekeepers are from Puerto Rico or Haiti, many are older, and some have minimal formal education.
Wszalek put it best with this tweet: “Hskp are some of the most joyous, loyal, hard working people you’ll ever meet. Hskp offers great hours, decent pay, Disney benefits, and requires little education/experience. But it’s also an extremely demanding job. You probably couldn’t do it.”
To anyone who has interacted with housekeepers, most of this is likely obvious. As someone who drinks too much coffee, I’m often looking for their carts in the morning/midday/afternoon and asking if I can have more K-cups. Our conversations aren’t exactly long, but they are always exceedingly friendly and chipper. Same goes when we exchange morning pleasantries.
I also have enough familiarity with the hotel industry to know the condition many hotel rooms are left in. Wszalek isn’t exaggerating when he says you probably couldn’t do the job. (I couldn’t!) All of this is also why our previous post on housekeeping stressed the importance of immigration normalizing before this particular labor shortage can be resolved. Housekeeping is simply a job most Americans will not do, and hourly pay increases and hiring bonuses don’t change the calculus.
As Wszalek also points out, all of this can be a recipe for “messy interactions.” While we have never–not once–had anything but positive experiences with housekeepers, I do not doubt for a second that this happens.
You combine a language barrier with guests who might not exactly be pleasant about being woken up early and feel like they’re being pushed out of a room they paid $500+ per night for…it’s easy to envision scenarios where that ends poorly. I wouldn’t necessarily lay all of these bad interactions at the feet of guests.
However, I do think that courtesy is a two-way street. Many Americans feel that high prices buy them a certain level of entitlement, and we have observed countless interactions where angry guests berate Cast Members for circumstances outside of their control. (I’ve said this before, but all Americans should be “required” to work for a year in a service industry so they “learn” how to treat others.)
Regardless of the specifics of these interactions between guests and housekeepers, I think that misframes the issue. Whatever the problem and potential solution, the fault lies with Walt Disney World’s protocol and procedures. And as we’ve also said before, the frontline Cast Member with whom you’re interacting is not the one who implemented the policies with which you take issue, nor are they the ones pocketing the nightly room rate.
The housekeeper didn’t make the decision that resulted in them knocking on the door of occupied rooms at ~9 am. (It’s fair to say they don’t enjoyconfrontation with guests or waking people up early…they’re just trying to do their job.) The root cause is management, which establishes standards, even unworkable ones, and fails to come up with creative solutions when it’s clear that there are issues.
So what are the potential solutions here? Disney can’t directly address immigration, so “hiring more” alone is not a realistic suggestion. The first and most obvious is restoring the “Service Your Way” gift card for declining housekeeping that began in ~2017 when the housekeeper shortage first cropped up.
That was discontinued when the hotels reopened two years ago. That decision made sense at the time; occupancy was low and rooms didn’t need to be turned over the same day as departure. That is no longer the case, so this incentive should be brought back ASAP. This goes against Disney’s current “philosophy” of tightening the coffers, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Second, there should be a room checkout feature in My Disney Experience. Ideally, not just a passive one that would be just as easy to overlook as removing the “Room Occupied” hanger.
Rather, a location-based prompt that pops up when guests are outside their resort area. If My Disney Experience can encourage me to Mobile Order every single time I’m near the Lunching Pad, they can figure this out.
(UPDATE: Since this post was first published, this exact feature has been added! Perhaps it has helped ease the issue, too.)
Combining those two ideas, Walt Disney World could incentivize early checkouts or use of that theoretical app feature with gift cards. Most people probably wouldn’t modify their checkout times as a result, but enough would voluntarily report when they would be leaving their room with that carrot to make a difference, and improve things for housekeepers and those sleeping in.
Again, this is not in keeping with the “spirit” of recent changes at Walt Disney World, but it would reduce friction and improve guest satisfaction for some of the company’s costliest products. Something like $10-$20 is a very small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, especially if it improves satisfaction or likelihood to return/recommend metrics.
On a tangentially related note, we’ve received a lot of questions about the “Room Occupied” signs and room inspections at Walt Disney World resorts. While we’ve never covered this on the blog, it’s actually nothing new. This policy started back in December 2017, and was first rolled out at the Polynesian Village Resort, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Contemporary Resort, and Bay Lake Tower.
At the time, the company declined to comment on why it swapped “Do Not Disturb” with “Room Occupied” signs at that handful of hotels. Walt Disney World only indicated that they made the decision for a variety of factors, including safety, security and the guest experience.
Never wanting to ruin the illusion, Walt Disney World has still never officially acknowledged the reason for this change–even if it’s obvious based on the timing. The tighter security measures came a couple of months after the Las Vegas massacre, where a gunman gradually assembled an arsenal of weapons over the course of several days before killing 58 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel tower.
Shortly after that, Hilton Hotels also changed its security policy. That chain now recommends that staffers alert a security or duty manager after 24 hours of consecutive Do Not Disturb sign usage. Wynn Resorts made a similar policy change, as did many others on the Vegas strip and in other high-rise locations that now require “welfare checks” after a certain amount of time. Disneyland Paris had already changed its policy to scan all luggage upon entering its hotels via airport-style x-ray machines.
The Room Occupied hanger itself says that the “Disney Resort hotel and its staff reserve the right to enter your room, even when this sign is displayed, for maintenance, safety, security or any other purpose.”
Pursuant to this, Walt Disney World is allowing housekeeping and maintenance staff to enter the rooms on a daily basis. When the change was announced, the policy was that a hotel staffer must knock and identify themselves before entering if the “Room Occupied” sign is out. Arriving guests are/were supposed to be notified about the new right-to-entry guidelines, per the company.
Back when the “Room Occupied” sign change was made and the random security inspections began, it was a hot and controversial topic among Walt Disney World fans. Some contended that safety should be the top priority, trumping privacy and all else. Others argued that the inspections were intrusive, occurred at inopportune times, and were often not handled in a tactful way by security.
This is just a brief summary of some of the many varied arguments for and against security checks. The debates spanned hundreds of pages on Walt Disney World forums, eliciting many impassioned responses. This is hardly a comprehensive recap of the pros & cons, but I’m not particularly keen on relitigating all of that.
What I will say is that I can see both sides of this. My personal view is that security is paramount, but an unsupported cry of “security” cannot simply shut down all further conversation or counterpoints, as is so often the case. I think it’s okay to have healthy skepticism, especially given how much of America’s post-9/11 history is dotted with security theater masquerading as actual safety measures.
There’s also the unfortunate reality that many corporate policies amount to overly conservative legal liability CYA more than anything else. Of course, I cannot say for certain whether that’s the case here. Nevertheless, implementing such policies at ground level rooms in the bayou at Port Orleans Riverside within steps of the parking lot does not strike me as sufficiently narrowly tailored to accomplish any meaningful safety objectives.
Beyond the security policy on its face, there’s the human implementation. We have been subject to these security checks more times than I can count at Walt Disney World. Without fail, they almost always seem to coincide with midday breaks or afternoon naps.
They’re usually perfectly pleasant and brief, but about 1 of 10 times, that’s not the case. (Within the last year or so, we’ve had a few Cast Members politely inform us that they can’t inspect the room while it’s occupied, which is fine by us. We’ve given them a time we’d be out of the room and, presumably, they returned then.)
More than anything else, my quibbles with this policy are its ham-fistedness and inconsistency. To my recollection, we’ve never been advised of the policy at check-in. It often occurs during the middle of the day. The approaches vary widely, as does the demeanor of those doing the checks. (I don’t doubt guests are frequently rude to these Cast Members, but we have never been, and a little graciousness when demanding access to our room would be appreciated.)
If my perspective strikes you as unreasonable, that’s certainly your prerogative, and you are entitled to that opinion. My only response would be that in hundreds of hotel stays since October 2017, we have literally never had an issue with this anywhere but Walt Disney World.
The checks have occurred in other real world hotels, but they’ve never been even a remote hassle. When it comes to both of the issues in this post and so many other things, I think it’s fair to ask: why is this not a widespread issue with hotels outside of Walt Disney World?
Ultimately, that’s where we land with both of these topics, as well as many other resort policies and protocol at Walt Disney World. For a company with such a massive room inventory and a reputation for guest service, Disney is surprisingly bad hotelier. There is minimal attention to detail from a hospitality perspective, as the focus is typically on efficiency above all else.
I love a lot of things about Walt Disney World, but do not view it as one of the world’s great operators of hotels. When you pay the big bucks for a resort at Walt Disney World, it’s for theme, location, transportation, and perks–not luxuriousness. Even the Deluxe Resorts cannot compete with similarly-situated real world hotels in that regard.
This is nothing new. We’ve been saying for years that actual high-end hoteliers such as Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, etc. easily surpass even Walt Disney World’s flagship hotels. There’s a reason Disney “outsourced” luxury to the Four Seasons Orlando. Likewise, mid-tier properties by Marriott, Hilton, IHG, and Wyndham give Walt Disney World resorts a run for their money when it comes to managing hotels. The same could be said for Loews, too.
When viewed from this perspective, it’s easier to see how Walt Disney World has implemented guest-unfriendly policies at its resorts. It’s not the fault of the frontline Cast Members who are simply following the orders of their leaders–it’s a top-down problem. Management sees impressive occupancy numbers and knows that they don’t need to do better, even if there are obvious and remediable points of friction for guests.
What are your thoughts about the “Room Occupied” signs, security checks, and ~9 am departure day door knocks? Think Walt Disney World could come up with better and more guest-friendly solutions to all of this, or are the complainers overreacting? What have been your recent experiences with housekeeping or security in hotels at Walt Disney World–and beyond? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!