Disney World: Walt would be pissed

I had the opportunity to spend the day at Disney World today at the Magic Kingdom. My experience at Disney World today undoubtedly would have Walt himself rolling in his grave. Overall, we were disappointed in the details of our experience.

That’s not to say it was a completely bad experience. It wasn’t, not really. It was more of a rude awakening to what many people are willing to tolerate in terms of expensive, mass appeal entertainment for a day. One that had me questioning how Disney got to where they are today.

Park Tickets cost how much?

$95 each, per day. That’s a hefty fee, period. This is where my disappointment starts and spirals out of control from here. If the tickets, were say, half that price, my disappointments from here on out would be overruled with a sense of “you get what you pay for”. The reality is, however, that I just spent $200 (don’t forget sales tax!) on two tickets to Disney World Magic Kingdom for the day so that my wife and I could enjoy it. I only wish I could report back that we completely enjoyed it.

Over Capacity

Unofficially, the Magic Kingdom park capacity is somewhere around 100,000. Today, I suspect there were easily 50-75,000 people in the park. The crowds were massive. There were points that you couldn’t move without having to ask people to move aside so you could pass. Perhaps not too surprisingly, there were news reports that Disney World was turning people away just days before due to overcrowding.

Disney has somewhere around 17 million guests per year to this park alone. According to Wikipedia, Disney grossed $12.9 billion in revenue in 2012 from operating their parks and resorts – more than their consumer products and studio entertainment revenues combined (by a long shot). In contrast, Disney’s overall net income for 2012 was a staggering $9.9 billion. So explain to me why it’s necessary to cram so many people into this park at one time? Aren’t you profitable enough?

This park should have no more than 20,000 people in it at any given time. Period. It’s too crowded otherwise. Walking around is uncomfortable and awkward. It takes away from your sense of wonderment and the magic that the experience is supposed to instill.

I could have dealt with the rest of the issues I had with our visit if it hadn’t been so crowded.

Long Lines and wait times

Most rides today had a minimum of an 60 minute wait with some being as much as 130 minutes or more.

An HOUR!? Standing around for a ride that lasts 2-8 minutes tops for an hour is absolutely absurd. ABSURD. Anyone who argues that “I’ve waited longer for rides” is a damn fool for giving into a conjured up norm that Disney has managed to brainwash you with. I challenge anyone to rationalize spending an hour or more in line waiting for an 8 minute experience!

To Disney’s credit, they have a Fast Pass+ system that allows you to schedule when you’re going to go to your rides. The 10 minute wait in the Fast Pass line is completely acceptable. I was relieved to have this option.

There’s only one catch: There’s a 3 fast-pass per day limit per person.

Excuse me? 6 would be better. For $100/head, you should be able to schedule as many as you like.

Rides Breaking Down Constantly

Three rides broke down while we were on them – The People Mover, Haunted House and Pirates of the Caribbean.

When the Pirates of the Caribbean broke down, my wife and I were next in line to board the boats. We had to step back and allow the people who had just boarded to get back off while they tried to fix it. It was a good 30 minute standing wait before we could get on finally.

Haunted House stopped abruptly at one point. Our carriage happened to be right in the middle of a downward slope when it stopped. We were stranded there, uncomfortably leaning way backwards for about 5 minutes before they finally “fixed” whatever was wrong and got the ride going again. It completely killed our enjoyment of the ride from there on out.

The people mover broke stopped for a moment, though we were fortunately outside and not in a precarious position or standing. 5 minutes and it was operating again.

This scares the living daylights out of me. What happens if Space Mountain breaks down? You know what, I don’t want to know. If public accounts are correct, nobody has died on Space Mountain. At least, not as a result of ride malfunction.

Everything is spread out

You cannot walk from the park to, well, anywhere. You’re stuck using either the free bus system Disney provides, taxis, ferries, rental cars or your own vehicle (if you live in Florida). Amazingly, the various busses only go between parks and resorts, but not Downtown Disney – where there’s real food and more diverse shopping. You actually have to take a bus from Magic Kingdom to a hotel and then hop the next bus to Downtown Disney from there. Silly. I recommend Saratoga Springs as your transfer point if you’re going to use this “hack”.

This is fine if you’re not in a hurry (which we were not). Traffic is, as one can imagine, horrid. Disney seems to have some “back roads” they own and use for their private charters and buses.

“Resorts”

The Disney Resorts are not resorts. A resort is all about personalized, professional treatment and accommodation. You pay a boat load of money to be pampered. Disney’s version of a resort is more akin to stables where customers pay to lodge, hike and get carted around systematically to different destinations to spend more of their hard earned cash.

We stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. To get to the front office, you had to walk a good 1/4 mile. To get to the food offerings, it’s about a 1/2 mile walk. The resort doesn’t feature any good dining options, just like the parks. Cafeteria style junk food is what you have for casual consumption. Their normal “restaurant” (Shutters) is dinner-only and has short hours during park prime time hours, closing early around 10pm.

Each of the buildings (which are huge) are grouped together in different Island themes (Bermuda, Acapulco, Barbados, etc.) They are so large and spread out that you will end up walking to get to everything – bus stops, food, pools and shopping.

If you want late checkout, it’s probably not going to happen. They need to move people in and out quickly to keep things moving.

Don’t forget to check your fridge to make sure it’s on. Ours wasn’t. We were not happy to have lost about $50 in food we had purchased.

Dining Options

We learned quick that there’s a reason that Disney encourages you to use their “Meal Plans” and schedule your dining. The various food points throughout the resort operate as part of a large system, not as individual enterprising restaurants. Offerings and hours were all over the board. Alcohol was very limited until you got into Downtown Disney.

If you want to dine anywhere without a reservation, prepare to eat cafeteria food that will contribute to your diabetes and high blood pressure. Burgers, pizza, hot dogs, pastries – ugh. All of it is salty, sugary and fatty. They even have RFID enabled soda mugs you can buy and refill all over the Resort. You see lots of people walking around with these things full of corn-syrup laden soda pop, sucking on them for life support.

If you want a healthy, sit down meal, you need reservations at one of the very few places in the entire park that has a decent menu. In this day and age, consumers need choices and healthy options. It’s preposterous to continue to offer only crap for meals.

I’m of the opinion that you’re better off planning all your dining at the various places in Downtown Disney. Most of these operate independently and have more reasonable hours. The Ragland Road Irish Pub, for example, served food until almost 1:00AM when we were there. They even offered to allow us to take our whiskey drinks “To-Go”! That’s what I call service!

Will I go back to the Fiefdom?

I don’t see another visit to the Magic Kingdom in my future (though my daughter could easily sway me in the future when she’s older). This trip to Orlando has led me to conclude that I’m not a big fan of theme parks. I’m far too cynical and demanding of high levels of individualized service to find joy in the system that Disney has built for their parks.

I’ve come to expect a lot for my money. The competitive nature of business in the Pacific Northwest is in direct contrast to the controlled and systematic monopoly that Disney has built for themselves. For what I paid for in the cafeteria for a junk food breakfast ($20/head) I could have purchased a gourmet breakfast of fresh and local food prepared by master chefs back home. An uncrowded amusement park with decent rides costs $25 for a day in my home town.

Perhaps my disdain over the experience is that I dislike being plugged into an unfettered profit model consumption system, walking around with a tracking bracelet and paying a hefty amount of money for the experience.

The Magic Kingdom is no longer that magic to me. It’s more of a greedy Fiefdom full of pirates and executives after my hard-earned buck.

 

 

Greg

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