Friday, April 11, 2014

The Disney Experience

This year, our original Spring Break plan was for us to take the boys on a six-day road trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and back to visit relatives that just moved there. About a thousand miles round trip, with detours to the Mojave National Preserve and Vegas or Laughlin to break up the trip there and back. With four vehicles in our family fleet, surely one would fit the bill, right? Well, the two BEVs - the Focus Electric and RAV4 EV - were out of the running. Both work incredibly well for the daily commutes that they were meant to serve, but their range limitations keep them from being used for day-long treks. That left the Volt and Ram Quad Cab. My wife cringed at the thought of spending hours on end in a small sedan like the Volt, and I balked at spending $300+ on gas for the truck to make the trip. The solution? For about $250 I could rent a 50mpg Prius V, or perhaps a 4-cylinder cute-ute, i.e. an ICE RAV4 or Escape, that nets 30+mpg on the freeway. Rental fees and gas would add up to about $50 to $75 more than gas for the Ram, but I like driving other people's cars once in a while anyway.  Problem solved.

Unfortunately, that plan was thwarted when it looked like we would have to be back in town much earlier than desired, due to last-minute scheduling of a doctor appointment, a critical meeting at work that I didn't want to miss, and a much-needed batting practice for one of the boys. We now only had three days available for a road trip, so anything out-of-state was out of the question. So I thought... why not take a BEV vacation?  Our destination would have to be less than 100 miles away - within the range of our RAV4 EV - and have a suitable charging infrastructure so we could juice up for the ride home. My wife chuckled. "Right, so where could we possibly go?" she asked.

I knew it was somewhat of a rhetorical question, but I answered anyway, with a hint of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Well, there's Bakersfield. Or Victorville. Lancaster, maybe even Mojave if we push it. Oh, I know... how about Riverside?"

She scoffed, as expected. She's not a big fan of dry heat and tumbleweeds.

"Or... we could go to Disneyland," I suggested.

"Oh, I like Disneyland," she responded.

And so it was decided. Naturally, the boys would be more than just fine with it.

I figured that would be her answer, so at that point I already researched charging opportunities in Anaheim. Turns out that Disneyland has ten 2-port Chargepoint L2 EVSEs, with positive reviews in Which is quite fortunate, because from what I could see, none of the hotels in the area claimed to have any L1 or L2 charging provisions. I was still a little worried though, since we didn't have a backup charging location in case Disneyland's EV spots were all occupied or inoperative. So just for good measure, I charged the RAV4 to 100%, aka extended charge, instead of the usual 80%, netting an expected 120-mile range, give or take. We live 59 miles away from Disneyland, so theoretically we could make it there and back on one extended charge if we really had to; worst case I would just have to look for a place to stop for an hour or two on the way home.

Like anything else that is Disney, it was a glorious sight, and of a grand scale... I spotted the row of over 20 EV charging spots, backlit by bright sun shining through an opening between the high ceiling and a ramp from the second floor. Easy to find, after paying $16 and obtaining directions from smiling cast members, then following the signage on the ground floor of the Mickey and Friends parking structure. It was by far the biggest EV charging site I've seen to date. Also in proper Disney tradition, the charging fees were pricey, at 35.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Sure, that's about  the same as charging a Volt or Energi on a $1/hour public EVSE since they have 3.3kW chargers, but that's twice the price or more if you have a BEV with a 6.6kW or better on-board charger. It's almost as bad as paying $3 for a bottle of water or $4 for a bag of Cheetos, or over $90 to get through the front gates. Almost, but not quite.

As far as availability, turned out I had nothing to worry about... on late Wednesday morning there were only two EVs juicing up when I got there, a shiny blue Fit EV and a Volt. Thursday was a slightly different story; only six EV spots were left by the time we got there at 1pm. Several were taken by Volts that weren't hooked up, and one holier-than-thou Model S driver thought he deserved two spots. Someone needed to bring their old beater car and park it so close to that Model S that its door handles would have had no room to perform their erection routine. Is it really that hard to back into a space? I do it all the time in the RAV4 EV. What a jerk.

Other than that, the overall EV experience at Disney was just fine. The EV parking spots are carved out of the existing huge disabled parking area, so it's relatively close to the tram that takes you to the front gates of the Disneyland, California Adventure, and to Downtown Disney.

With only six spots left on a pretty light day -  crowd index in the parks ranged from 51 to 67 per that invaluable Mousewait app - I'm wondering what the Disney charging situation is like on busy weekends. Fortunately I won't have to find out. But with the year-over-year increase of EVs in California, there may be a need in the near future for them to somehow enforce etiquette, or perhaps just install more EVSEs. I think the smartest thing for them to do would be to install 120v outlets and provide free L1 charging. They can easily make their money back on the install since folks on L1 chargers would probably stay longer and buy more of those three-dollar bottles of Dasani and four-dollar bags of Cheetos.

I'm sure they'll do something. Disney has always been great at improving and enhancing The Disney Experience for locals, tourists, and those with special needs. And they're certainly off to a good start on taking care of early adopters like us.


RELATED ARTICLE: Return to the Magic Kingdom - Charging at Disneyland on a crowded day