Airing of Grievances – Disney World Scorecard

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Kevin Yee, Walt Disney World

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Published on December 18, 2012 at 4:33 am with 47 Comments

A faux holiday famously invented for the Seinfeld TV show, Festivus includes a bare aluminum pole in place of a Christmas tree, a Feat of Strength wrestling match, and an Airing of Grievances at which each person tells his friends and family how much they’ve disappointed him over the past year. It’s all fun and games in Seinfeld, of course, but I’d like to borrow the Airing of Grievances concept as this year winds to a close. And why not? The end of a calendar year is as good a time as any for taking stock.

Disney World has done a lot of things this year, and they’ve introduced many new elements. Chief among those are New Fantasyland (including Storybook Circus) and Test Track, but there have been others too. Rapunzel tower, mermaids in Pirates, Art of Animation resort, new castle projections, Splitsville, etc. Enough that Disney cannot realistically be accused of simply resting on its laurels. They are out there spending money and creating new stuff. This is a good thing, by and large, and I want to take a moment to applaud them for it.

But if the changes are superficial and there to MASK deeper foundational issues, then perhaps we should temper our enthusiasm. In many ways, Walt Disney World is a study in contrasts. They spend money on new stuff, sometimes quite a lot. But then they shirk the most basic maintenance costs, as if the company is in retreat mode and in danger of being de-listed from the NYSE and needs to hoard cash. It’s a bizarre mashup of spending and conserving that implies conflicted logic, as if the right hand and left hand don’t know what the other is up to, yet are still actively engaged in one-upmanship as if there was a stated conflict. It’s like a Miller Lite commercial, but replacing Less Filling and Tastes Great with “Save Money (on maintenance)” and “Spend Money (on flashy new stuff)”.

There’s a chicken missing in this photo from a few weeks ago.

At the heart of it, of course, is the desire to spend money in TARGETED ways that attract attention, and save money in ways that don’t much matter in the court of public opinion. Call it the Miller Lite Budget. I know I keep switching metaphors, but to capture the true flavor of Walt Disney World today, you have to call it a Miller Lite mentality toward spending that yields both a Declining by Degrees outcome and a Rizzo Factor attitude toward plussing. All three metaphors are accurate at the same time. I’ll keep searching for a Grand Unified Theory that can encompass all of them. In the meantime, I’ll be comforted by the fact that Einstein, too, was thwarted in his attempt to find a Grand Unified Theory. Until we isolate that elusive principle, what we’ve got is a Decline By Degrees, a Rizzo Factor, and a Miller Lite Budget.

The Miller Lite Budget is really just a marketing-driven budget. Instead of spending money on core upkeep and core operations, they spend money on flashy new stuff that they can put into advertisements. Would it “sell” to point out to Middle America that all the Epcot attractions are open until 9:30 in the holiday season because Walt Disney never wanted to see a half-closed park? Heck no! So instead, they close most of the attractions before the park itself closes and choose to advertise something else (Test Track, in this case).

The stink of it is, Test Track is good. And yes, Disney takes away at the same time that it gives.

You would barely know that Epcot is celebrating the holidays. There are barely any decorations up. We saw one sad, lonely garland in the Land pavilion food court, but that was it for the whole pavilion. They used to decorate all the parks in myriad ways, but I guess they only show you holiday decorations now when you want to pay for the holiday party. More Miller Lite Budgeting.

Anyone looking for a park actually decorated to the HILT with holiday lights should skip the mouse and head up the interstate to SeaWorld Orlando. Sakes alive is it amazing there. They don’t quite match the small world holiday and Haunted Mansion holiday one-two punch of Disneyland, but by gum they come close. Disney World may have just given up.

They even have zones in SeaWorld where the decorations have a theme (here: red lights)

Can it be said that complaining just makes us look like whiners? I would like to discuss that for just a second. It’s important to keep perspective on the purpose of “complaining” (or at least pointing out deficiencies), which in my case is not selfishly motivated. I would argue that Disney should interpret it as constructive feedback. We point out problems because we care. The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.

Also, remember that NOT giving voice to problems when you see them can (and will) be interpreted by Disney executives as tacit approval. Imagine they raised ticket prices by ten dollars next year. If there is no outcry, shouldn’t any exec worth his salt duplicate the feat, or even try to push it further, the next year? Well, that same principle applies to just about everything on this list. If we say nothing, we are telling Disney that everything is just fine.

It doesn’t have to be shrill, rude, or hysterical. It’s possible to have a level-headed discussion about shortcomings in the Disney experience and still be a fan. We love Disney and want it to be its best.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

If you speak French, you know the above phrase means that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, we kid ourselves by pretending that anything FUNDAMENTAL ever changes. Frankly put, despite the flashy changes introduced in 2012 (New Fantasyland, Test Track), the core experience of a Disney vacation hasn’t changed too much in the last few years.

I pawed through the archives and discovered the last time I did an article on the “big stuff” in the Declining by Degrees category, it was a list from 2008 that still largely rings true. I wondered briefly if I could just reproduce the same list and NOT call attention to the fact that it was written four years ago–would anyone notice?

What I’ll do is use some of the language from that 2008 in today’s article, but update individual sentences as I go. It’s a shame that many sentences require no updating, since nothing has changed in four years.

Increased cost/fleecing. It’s undeniable that things have gotten more expensive at WDW, and there is no convincing argument that we’re looking ONLY at inflation as the culprit. It doesn’t take much more than a glance at the ticket costs to see this. Certainly tickets were underpriced in 1984, when Eisner first came, but is there any excuse for the enormous rise even since 2000?

In 2008, the one day ticket cost $75 and the seven-day ticket cost $228. In 2012, the one day ticket costs $89 and the seven-day ticket cost $288. That’s a 26% increase in four years for the weeklong ticket–is your vacation 26% better now than four years ago? They’ve added a few things in those years (Toy Story Mania, Star Tours 2.0, Under the Sea, Test Track 2.0) so maybe the cost is justified?

Decreased operating hours. I have in my paper collection some guidemaps from my visit to WDW in 1989, and they clearly state how late the parks are open every night in the summer: 11 or midnight, or even 1am. No more.

Excepting holidays themselves, the parks are not open nearly as late, even during summer and Christmas. If you lose 3 hours per night in the parks and still pay the same admission price, you’re being ripped off by comparison to those previous years. Add in those more-expensive admission tickets (see above), and you’re being ripped off twice.

From time to time, I hear the counterargument that the park now offers Extra Magic Hours (EMH) for its own hotel guests. I guess so. That means a couple extra hours in the morning, and a few at night. But if you think about it, even for the hotel guests this represents a lessening of the experience compared to a decade ago. Instead of all the parks being open late, now only ONE of them is. And every guest swarms there, so the place is busy. Only Disney could save money, reduce the guest experience, and STILL market it as somehow a perk for the guests. (The marketing hutzpah simply must be admired sometimes).

Sure, the parks are saving money and maximizing returns for shareholders, but at what cost? Does there come a point when people decide to return every other year, rather than every year, because things are less magical? Because they sense the company is reaching into their wallet more and more obtrusively each time? Raising prices at the same time as cutting services is extremely short-sighted, and it’s eroding the brand. I get plenty of emails from folks who used to visit WDW yearly, but do so less often now. In a word, the place is declining by degrees.

And now we’ve got the specter of FastPass+ looming over us. No one knows exactly what the effect of this perk will be, but one theory suggests that if it’s the new hotel perk (the thing that gets you to pay higher prices to stay with Disney), then they may discontinue EMH. If that happens, ladies and germs, we will be even further in this hole of “reduced operating hours.”

Certainly the mine coaster will be on FastPass+ when it’s done. Heck, even the LUNCHTIME menu (ostensibly quick service) at Be Our Guest will experiment with it. I used to joke that BathroomPass+ was coming, but I’m honestly starting to wonder if it’s a joke anymore.

Hard ticket private parties. Going hand in hand with the notion of closing early is the idea to utilize the suddenly-free evenings to offer hard-ticket parties. At first blush, the idea sounds great. Go trick or treating in the parks! Celebrate the holidays! But it’s a marketing bait and switch. You get special fireworks and a special parade, sure. But why in the world can’t they do this as part of the regular day, and let all the visitors see it? Epcot and DHS do that (Flower and Garden, Food and Wine, ESPN Weekends, Star Wars Weekends, Soap Opera Weekends).

But the Magic Kingdom charges extra, and it’s just not good customer service. They close the parks extra early on that day, usually 6:00 p.m. On your way out, you are besieged by CMs excoriating you to buy a ticket for the special event that night. It’s insane. It’s tantamount to saying “get out, and pay to come right back in!” A true marketing visionary would realize that making the events free and included would give a boost to the park attendance, and keep people coming back for more. And buying event merchandise. Doing it their way now is just risking ill will.

Get out, NOW. And pay AGAIN to come right back in!

Attractions closed without replacements. Dead real estate sends a signal that the parks are partly-rotting hulks. We finally got something in the former submarine lagoon (not that a kid’s playground is anything remotely as interesting), but there’s still lots of dead space where once we had something. There’s the Odyssey building in Epcot, Wonders of Life, the upstairs zone of Imagination, the swan boat docks, the boat docks at DAK. But forget the signal sent about real estate. The real sin is a diminished experience compared to previous years.

I know princess meet and greets are popular with many guests, but did we really have to lose the Snow White ride to get a new meeting hall?

Conflict (or loss) of theme. When you add music that clashes with the original theme of an area (such as Beach Boys at the Epcot entrance for Flower and Garden), you dilute the impact of the original idea. This occurs also with the garish flag decorations in the Future World central courtyard. It’s happened with the Captain Jack Sparrow additions to Pirates of the Caribbean, which is now about a specific movie rather than a concept, and thus makes it harder to fall into fantasy.

Most of Epcot has lost its theme. Just consider the original edutainment goals of Land, Living Seas, Spaceship Earth, Horizons (now Mission:Space), and World of Motion (now Test Track). The original idea is gone. But by far the biggest culprit here is cartoonization. The Golden Mickey now at the hub is only the most recent example. Tomorrowland is nowhere near the theme of optimistic futurism; now we have Stitch and Monsters Inc everywhere. Nemo has invaded the Living Seas.

FastPass side-effects. This is always a controversial topic. Long time readers know that while I know FastPass is free for everyone, the reality is that many first timers don’t know how to use it, or that it’s free, or how to maximize usage of it. Taken as a whole, this means the only reason the system generates time savings for users is that other people are not using it, so in practical terms, it’s an unequal system.

But even beyond all of that, you have side effects like people not being in line, and since they have to be somewhere, they are now in the walkways, and things are more crowded than they were a decade ago. Plus it gets even worse. Queues were built to tell the story even in line, and those are now being skipped some (or all) of the time. For those who do use the standby lines, the lines move slowly. Compare that to a non-FP ride like Nemo’s sea cabs or Spaceship Earth, two Omnimovers. Do you see how fast and consistent the line moves? That’s how all of Epcot and the Magic Kingdom used to be. Now the parks are uneven.

Reduced entertainment. There are still parades and stage shows, to be sure. But not everywhere. Epcot once had parades and a sky spectacular above its lagoon during the daytime. Where did this go?

Restaurants closed and replaced with food carts. This problem is worst at the Magic Kingdom, where El Pirata, the Adventureland Veranda, and the Noodle Station are often closed even on busy days. Meanwhile, a few new quick vending carts have sprung up. Sure, it may look better on paper and result in a marginal profit (sales per labor hour, labor percentage of sales, etc, will all look better with carts), but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the park. Blackjack tables would also make millions! Doesn’t mean they should rip out Peter Pan’s Flight and replace it with a casino.

Lack of menu variety / quality. The Disney Dining Program has rapidly grown, and many vacations are now sold with this pre-paid food option. It’s a separate issue that the DDP itself has had declines by degrees, like the loss of free appetizers or pre-paid tips. Let’s focus instead on what the DDP, in any form, does to the theme park. It’s made the table service restaurants full all of the time, which was doubtless Disney’s goal. But with meals pre-paid, just how much incentive do they have to make the food actually good? Isn’t it logical that quality will slide?

Quality not on the menu? Blame the DDP.

And any manager will tell you that people who prepaid for food want food they are familiar with, which often leads to simplification of the menu to more populist choices. People who in the past might have had hot dogs at carts now want hot dogs at the table service places, and as a result, the menus are becoming less varied. If you want an extreme example of where this is all leading, look at Universal’s Meal Deal, which is only accepted at a few restaurants around the park; the quality is universally bad at those places, since they have no incentive to try.

Loss of spontaneity. FastPass is one culprit here, but so too is the way restaurant reservations are now handled. It used to be you could easily grab same-day reservations, as tables were held open in each location just for that reason. But the combination of the DDP and the ability to make reservations six months out has led to a real requirement to make them early, or you won’t get them at all.

The downstream (and probably unintentional) effect of this is that the day becomes pretty planned out. Your food reservations dictate major events of the day, and FastPass tickets take care of the rest. Spontaneity, and indeed possibly relaxation, is no longer the point. They call this a vacation?

Homogenization of merchandise. Long ago, every shop had its own unique set of merchandise, some of it quite difficult to find outside of your Disney vacation. Now, it seems like every shop has the same merchandise. Part of the problem is the lame attempt to save money by branding everything with “Disney Parks” as though Disneyland and WDW were interchangeable, but the issue is bigger than even that.

Merchants may realize a small savings by buying things in bulk and buying fewer unique varieties, but by golly it means visitors are going to spend less, since they are seeing the same thing over and over.

Loss of quiet corners and special areas. There are loads of quiet corners which were once content to merely be quiet, out of the way places for people to relax. Increasingly, it seems like every square meter is required to generate money. The invasion of the parks by DVC is only one such example (did you know there is DVC in Tomorrowland as well as Frontierland?). Apparently executives didn’t know people want to sometimes just relax and catch up with their day.

Upkeep, paint, and regular cleaning. In some ways, this category is the heart of the decline by degrees. The problem here boils down to managers and those empowered to fix things not actually riding the rides and seeing the problems. Or, I suppose, it could be that things are being reported, but there’s something broken about the workflow that keeps things from being fixed.

From the customer end, none of that matters. The point is, something is broken or ugly for a long time onstage, and it diminishes the experience. Period.

Last weekend when we visited, ALL the post-show games and interactions were turned off. Disappointing. Is the new technology still struggling?

Scuffed paint and visible wear and tear imperceptibly add to the notion that WDW is tired, old, and stale. This problem is literally everywhere, but particularly bad spots can be seen at the columns inside Mickey’s Philharmagic and all over the bridge over Columbia Harbour House. But as noted, this is universal. Every ride coordinator and every low level manager is somehow guilty of not following up enough on this issue.

Fresh paint is not expensive. The parks positively MUST put a premium on this issue. If the work order request system is backlogged, then they must throw money at the problem to fix it. These are the kind of details that imply to visitors that WDW has lost its sheen and is now not that different from the local carnival. They can’t afford to lose these once-a-year visitors.

Is it that hard to get managers to wander the parks?

Trash levels in the queues seem much worse than previous decades or Disney’s hard-earned reputation for cleanliness. Partly, the problem is FastPass. In the old days with fast-moving lines, you could send a sweeper into the line, and he’d just wait along with the Guests and not need to zigzag around them, since the line was moving fast. Now, with the standby line quite frozen for minutes at a time, sweepers are forced to rudely sweep under people’s feet, and to zigzag through them. I can see why some might not bother, since it appears rude.

The most obvious upkeep problems now concern two attractions: Expedition Everest (where the yeti hasn’t really moved since Barack Obama took office) and Splash Mountain (where the animated characters go silent and motionless with regularity). Oh, and in case you were wondering what those nets are doing on Splash Mountain’s loading zone, they are there to prevent another chunk of the concrete mountain from falling down into a populated area.

Yes, the mountain is falling apart. After some analysis, they seem to have decided that the culprit was the sprinklers there to provide life-giving moisture to the real plants on the mountain’s facade, so in the meantime they’ve turned off those sprinklers. Result: dead plants all over the mountain. It looks like some faded remnant wannabe park in rural China, not the world’s most visited theme park. Sad.

Ignore those nets above your heads, folks…

There are nets on the Tree of Life, too, also because of falling debris. I’m almost scared to predict it, but may we see yet another attraction gain nets in the next four years?

Air conditioning cuts. It seems like more than a few rides, restaurants, and shops have had their air conditioning levels tinkered with during 2012. This is the height of insanity. Florida is an absolute hellhole without climate control, especially in the summer, but even in mid-December sometimes (like this year). I’m sure it’s entirely true that you could alter the setting by a few degrees (3? 7? 2?) before people would complain, but THE LACK OF COMPLAINTS DOES NOT MEAN THE EXPERIENCE IS IDENTICAL.

Sorry to shout, but the above point needs the emphasis. The folks in charge seem to equate a lack of complaints with a true Rizzo-type cluelessness on the part of the guests. Well guess what? Even if people don’t say anything, many of them will notice it and stay quiet. And an even larger slice of the population will not notice it per se, but the overall experience will be less positive than it would have been otherwise. This is not brain surgery, and it astonishes me that this very basic point can be overlooked for so long. Or outright ignored, I guess.

People are happy to pay a premium price for a premium experience. The problems arise when you charge premium prices for what is no longer a premium experience, and you’re just trading on brand recognition (and eroding the brand). That’s the decline by degrees.

It’s Kind of a Good Book

Jeff Heimbuch, a fellow MiceChat blogger, has co-written a book (“It’s Kind of a Cute Story“) with none other than Imagineer Rolly Crump. You know Rolly’s work. He has a hand in all sorts of attractions at Disneyland: it’s a small world, Tiki Room, and much of the “living furniture” designs of the Haunted Mansion. He worked up many designs for a Health pavilion at Epcot, as well as much in the Land. Any such book would be welcome, as it provides a view from inside the boardroom where rides are conceived and designed.

But I didn’t expect this level of tell-all. Rolly doesn’t really pull any punches. He tells a story, for instance, of Raellen Lescault, the person who conceived of the Fantasyland re-do at Disneyland originally, but has not gotten credit over the years for this. Rolly’s storytelling is pretty direct. It’s fascinating to hear stories about John Hench the way we usually hear stories about Walt Disney (though Rolly has no shortage of Walt stories, either!)

The book is 187 pages, larger format (with a weird rubbery texture to the cover), and lots and lots of pictures (somewhere around 1.5 per page if you average the whole thing out, I’d wager). The pictures are a delight. Drawn from Rolly’s collection, they include stuff on his non-Disney projects too (I died and went to Knott’s Bear-y Tales heaven with this book), and there is no shortage of Disney stuff you have never seen before.

All that makes this compelling reading. Required reading, really, for theme park historians and super-fans. The book is available at Amazon and other retailers (disclosure: I was sent a review copy). This is the kind of book I treasure.

Disneyland Fake Facts Book

Are you familiar with the DisneyLies.com website? It’s kind of a fan’s fan website, meaning that it’s the second order of meta-cognitive. In other words, inside jokes for people who normally read Disney websites.

They’ve put out a book: 396 Pure, Unadulterated, Dyed-in-the-wood, 100% made up, completely fake Disneyland “Facts”. The book is exactly what you think it is: a list book, with most entries a single sentence (usually 30-40 words long). The main point, as you might imagine, is humor.

The best way to give you a sense of the book’s twisted sense of humor, let me re-type a few of the Club 33 entries:

  • The club’s name is a reference to the fact that Roy Disney, an avid golfer, had a collection of 32 golf clubs, and Walt Disney promised that once Disneyland was proven a success he’d buy his brother “club 33″
  • In keeping with its upscale image, Club 33 only serves brunch.
  • Club 33 is the only place is Disneyland where castmembers are allowed to drink while on duty.

Your enjoyment of the one-liners will be greatest when you’re already a deeply embedded fan. In the above examples, you would have known that the 33 refers to the original park sponsors, that the club DOES serve brunch but not only, and that the club does serve alcohol to Guests (but not Cast Members).

And so it goes for the rest of the book, which is 126 pages long and covers the rest of the resort, not just Disneyland. It was definitely good for chuckles, cackles, and outright giggles from me. And, it hardly needs mentioning, many wry grins.

Every two pages (sometimes even less, on average) there is a line drawing of an element from the park. I liked the approach, especially because often the inside jokes of the text were made into part of the picture.

The book is available from lulu.com and from Amazon’s Kindle (and may be available in other outlets in the coming weeks, the author tells me).

My name is mentioned in the introduction (because the list format for the book was inspired by one of my books, I think). I was sent a review copy this week.

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations:

 

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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47 Comments

Comments for Airing of Grievances – Disney World Scorecard are now closed.

  1. I had a great trip to WDW over the summer

    BUT

    My first day at the magic kingdom, I was APPALLED at the squalor, trash, and lack of upkeep lining Main Street. I thought, “They really let people treat this place this way?” Do I blame WDW management? Do I blame the tourists? (It was right after a parade and people seemed ok to just leave their trash anywhwere). Irregardless, it was jarring and almost made me not want to be there. I think I let my expectations down a bit and it didn’t seem quite as bad the rest of the week, but there is only one word for Main Street that first afternoon – dirty. BAD SHOW!

  2. Kevin, you are dead on. I wish you had control of the parks.

  3. I love Walt Disney World and can’t wait to go back, but I agree with everything in your post. What the company is missing is that word of mouth does play a role, especially when you charge those prices. They may have solid attendance, but it would be even better if they gave a stronger experience! Maybe people would stay seven days instead of five (and use those two for Universal). This leads to more merchandise, hotel nights, money on meals, etc. Disney is taking a short-term view and losing the long-term gains. I understand this is what they need as a publicly held company, but even growth companies ignore their devoted customers at their peril. I’m really worried about Fastpass+ and wonder if it’s going to be disastrous for the serious fan. I’m trying to stay optimistic due to some impressive new attractions with good theming, but the lack of needed refurbs and use of dead space is a big concern.

    Great post!

  4. I have one comment about “Increased cost/fleecing”.
    This is true EXCEPT when you compare Disney to other tourist type venues.
    Las Vegas – food is VERY expensive, $15 for ONE ride on a coaster, etc, etc
    New York – food is even MORE expensive, to ice skate for 1 1/2 hours at Rockafeller Center -$45 or $95 PER PERSON for a VIP experience (you don’t have to wait in line and you get free snacks), etc, etc.
    Knotts Berry Farm – it’s cheap to get in, but the food is 20-50% MORE than Disneyland and about 75% WORSE.
    Movie theatres and concerts – I think this one is self explaintory.

    I’m not making excuses for Disney, but when you compare them to even other theme parks, they are not that out of line.
    That said, Disney SHOULD be better and a LEADER not a follower.

    I’m not THAT concerned that DL will go the way of WDW due to it’s close proximity to Corporate and WDI. Plus, most of the big wigs either go there on a regular basis and/or worked at DL. It holds a special place in their heart.

  5. While there is simply just no excuse for lack of maintenance or cleanliness, I think there’s something else going on with how the parks are evolving. My son and daughter are young adults. I also work with a lot of young adults. These days, I don’t think Disney parks appeal to most young adults.

    Sure, I know. Hordes of young adults swarm the Disneyland Resort on a regular basis. But those are locals who grew up around Disneyland. They know it and appreciate it for what it is. But talk to young adults elsewhere and you’ll get a different story. “Disney is for kids.” When today’s young adults want to have fun, they want to eat, drink and be merry at a night club or on a beach; without kids. Think Las Vegas. Think Sandals resorts. Think Carnival cruise line. Do not think Disney.

    Furthermore, when today’s young adults have children, they visit Disney Parks. But they visit them, “For the kids”. They want more princess meet & greets. They want to see characters wherever they go. They want more kiddie rides. They want to see hot dogs and chicken nuggets on the restaurant menus. They really don’t care for Epcot to be an edu-tainment center. (“Edu-what? What’s that? This is supposed to be for kids.”)

    I don’t think most young adults today share Walt Disney’s original idea for a park where families could do things together. To them, there is “adult fun” and there is “little kids fun” and never the twain shall meet.

    Thus, when Disney does research among young adults, I expect most of the responders want more characters, more kiddie rides, more kiddie food, more kiddie merchandies, and more kiddie shows. Why keep the parks open late? The kids need to go to bed. Theming? Kids don’t notice that. Night clubs? Disney is supposed to be for kids.

    So long extended hours. So long expansive dinner menus. So long detailed theming. So long Pleasure Island…

    • @klutch

      well said! Can’t add much else

      • While your points are somewhat on track, it’s certainly NOT true altogether. For over half a century, families AND young adults (no kids) have enjoyed the parks, stayed out till the parks closed (past midnight) and otherwise took advantage of all the offerings Disney provided. There are STILL a lot of young adults who visit the parks (some here complaining that they are closing too early).

        While there MAY be some who are asking for more “for the kids” stuff, it’s ONLY A MINORITY. Most still want outstanding FAMILY oriented activities and attractions (NOT kiddy) like what Disney provided for most of the first 40 years. People were constantly anticipating what new and grand attractions would be opening next year.

        If Disney executives are basing their decisions on the type of people you describe, then it’s no wonder that things are slipping.

      • bfd55,

        I agree famililies and young adults have enjoyed the parks since Disneyland opened in 1955. And I agree there are still a lot of young adults who enjoy the parks. But I disagree that they are the majority. I think there’s been a sea change here. Young adults who enjoy Disney parks now are the minority.

        I guess it would be hard to prove. But I have travelled a lot all over the country. And I strongly believe most young adults are no longer interested in “G-Rated Entertainment” and wouldn’t even think of visiting a Disney park without kids.

  6. It’s all business. It’s all to make money. Disney’s not here to please annual pass holders. They want paying families to spend money. As long as they are getting that money, things aren’t going to change. The casual guest isn’t going to notice peeling paint or some broken AA.
    Universal seems to be doing the right things that Disney used to do. They’ve managed to create fantastic attractions while keeping up with their older ones. Universal staff seems to be treated better by management and it shows. Disney keeps cutting Cast parties, longer hours and horrible pay. No wonder cast members look so hum drum. You don’t take care of your workers, the parks suffer. Maybe Disney ought to be looking at Universal’s operating manual.

    • Very good points. I have an aunt who has been a Disneyland CM for over twenty years. Declining by Degrees? She’s lived it!

  7. I want to say this carefully, as I don’t want to come off as a pollyanna or a “Disney apologist”. I agree with many of the items in this article, and am particularly angry about Disney closing attractions and not replacing them (Wonders of Life and that horrible Drew Carey movie come immediately to mind). But I have to say, from the perspective of an AP who was just there a week and 1/2 ago, that a lot of the things mentioned, while they matter to some, simply don’t matter to the majority of park stormers. Till you mentioned it, Kevin, I didn’t think about the fact that there weren’t very many Christmas decorations up in Epcot. It just was unnoticed by me. I thought the main tree looked beautiful, and the Christmas scenarios in each country of World Showcase combined with the amazing Voices of Liberty and the Candlelight Processional just screamed Christmas at me. I simply didn’t care that there weren’t more garlands and lights and bulbs up in The Land.

    My point is that while many folks will notice the “declining by degrees”, far more people won’t notice. That’s what Disney is counting on, and I’m not entirely sure they’re wrong about that. Of course all of us uber-Disney fans want things to be just as over the top and spectacular as they always were. But if the Disney company can find a way to cut corners here and there and still keep the crowds rolling in, then as a business they may not be wrong in doing so. We all have our own threshholds as to what we will tolerate. I think it’s horrible that they’ve allowed Splash to get so bad that they have to take characters offstage for extended periods. As I said I don’t like shuttered attaction buildings just sitting there. And I’ve definitely noticed that Spaceship Earth is nowhere near as well air conditioned as it used to be. But on my most recent trip I didn’t notice trash in the queues or a paint problem or a declining morale in CMs. Maybe I would if I visited more often.

    I come to Orlando maybe every couple of months or so, and I still see a place that provides more than enough value to keep me coming back again and again. Do I wish they did better with their maintenance? Of course. Is it to the point where it negatively affects my visits? Nope. And I’m betting that most visitors come much less frequently than I do, and are thus less prone to notice any problems. If I were a WDW bean counter (and don’t kid yourself – the bean counters are definitely in charge!), I might make a lot of the same cuts as they have. As long as people keep coming and are willing to pay the prices for their visit, they’ll continue to make cuts like these. We’ll just have to see what the real breaking point is, or if perhaps an Iger or a Lasseter comes in and rights the ship.

    • While you are right that most people probably don’t notice the Declining by Degrees, in the long run, they are affected by it. You can only decline so far before it becomes obvious.

      As was mentioned, if no one brings up the issues, then Disney will continue their cutbacks. Just as you can cook a frog by putting it in a pot of cool water and slowly turning up the heat, overlooking continuous small cutbacks because they just aren’t noticeable will eventually result in the long term negative result.

    • Iger is the captain now so he is ultimately the one steering WDW. He was put in place by Michael Eisner long after Eisner was balanced by Frank Wells. Expect no better from former chief financial officer Thomas Staggs.

  8. Interesting article. I agree with much of it. I would like to add one thing that I’m surprised doesn’t enter the discussion of such things more often. That is the volume of the place. It’s most glaring in the Magic Kingdom, but also in other areas. I don’t expect the Magic Kingdom to be a quiet place by any means, but on my past couple of trips, I just couldn’t believe the assault on my ears. It was just so LOUD everywhere. Does the Electical Light Parade HAVE to be at 110 dB levels? Loud? Sure. Potentially eardrum damaging? No.

    The most upsetting place this happens, in my opinion, is the Winnie the Pooh ride. You almost can’t make sense of anything save for a few fleeting seconds where maybe a song is clear enough to be identified, but the rest seems like it’s just a bunch of Pooh sounds crashing together, and that seems to be the antithesis of WtP itself. I mean, there’s a spot where you’re supposed to be able to hear what Eeyore is saying and I can hear the low tone, but can’t make out any of the dialog.

    Dave

  9. I used to go to Disney World every December. But as the years passed, nothing new was being added for the holidays and many of my favorite displays were disappearing. I no longer go each year and haven’t been to WDW for a few years. There is nothing new there that justifies the cost. If there was a new E ticket attraction, I would think about it, but what WDW needs is several new attractions and shows or parades to justify multiple days there.

    • I’ve been there about 20 times, but the last visit was circa 2001.

  10. Kevin, Great article. I have to say the mind set is starting at Disneyland Ca also. I let my anual pass go this year due to the price changes. I can’t afford Disney hotels. Me and my mom do an anual visit, and when a good salad is 15$, we head out to Denny’s. In my case who looses. I fly into LA, get a rental car, and pay for a near by hotel. Anahiem, and the state, and disneyland loose. I go on off peak times, and buy expensive souveniers (I would buy more if there was Disneyland specific stuff).
    I may go to WDW next year, only because I’m afraid that the new ticket FP process will make it impossible to return. As far as staying in the D property, it is too expensive. Who wants to take a bus to the parks anyway. The Monorail should have been expanded to all parks. What does WDW have worth visiting.
    The Carosel of Progress
    People Movers
    Expedition Everest.
    Rockin Roller coaster.
    That is it.
    Not much to make you fly 3,000 miles.

  11. I agree with almost everything you mentioned in this article. And I’ve always appreciated your observations and know personally that you say these things because you really care about the legacy of the Walt Disney theme park experience. I only lived in Florida for 2 years, and am now back in California. I almost cried when returned to a fully-functioning Fantasmic! along the Rivers of America. Unfortunately, some of the declining by degrees, Rizzo factoring and Miller Lite-ning are creeping into Disneyland as the company still tries to force the One Disney Initiative down our throats (i.e. no more holiday cast parties) as crowds flock to Disneyland in droves despite price hikes, parking hassles and a budding apathetic workforce. However, I have to disagree that the ride coordinators (called “leads” at DLR) and low level management have any control over the maintenance needs of their attractions. These people can (and often do) report the unsatisfactory conditions of their areas until they are blue in the face. They really don’t have any say (except in the glanced through shift reports) in getting the budget to actually fix the problems. The managers that do have the power to get things fixed don’t walk around the park enough to see what needs attention. Unless a really upper-level executive makes a fuss, the decision-making sits in some mysterious cloud of groupthink that gets spit out as work orders that are perfunctorily performed by maintenance crews. Gone are the days when Walt Disney would walk around the park and make sure that “the show” was in pristine shape. You’ll never hear any of today’s Disney Parks® presidents scolding an area manager for sacrificing show over efficiency by shortening the ride duration of the Jungle Cruise.

  12. The problems at WDW make me worry for the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, we thought that park was immune from the WDW syndrome but this year we’ve seen the cancellation of the staff party under pressure from the people running WDW so how long before we start to see the cracks in the walls appear all in the name of the almighty dollar.

    Disney need to look at their history and realise they can reach a point where they run the parks into the ground and the people will stop coming and this time they won’t have Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and company to pull their butts out of the fire. No matter what your opinion of that era of Disney history, the fact is that without that group of people the parks would have been broken up and sold to, I believe it was, Asian investors.

    Since there are stockholders reading these blogs I personally feel that they need to also voice an opinion, Disney are implying the stockholders are so greedy they would rather see the part deteriorate so they can have bigger profits, short sightedness like this needs to be nipped in the bud, the stockholders need to stand up for their long term investment, their profits will be great if they have a long term plan. Everyone needs to stand ip and be heard, stockholders speak up at the AGM and fans speak up by getting your Disneyland fix in California or overseas, you need to hit them where they hurt, in the wallet, and then let them know why.

  13. I agree with most everything you say. Hard ticket events and Fast Pass and it’s variations have ruined a lot of the magic for me. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a non-moving line. Throw out Fast Pass and I’ll be happy. And don’t get me started on how horrible trying to dine at WDW is unless you plan 6 months in advance. Hell, we rarely even know we are going 6 months in advance and then everything is full.
    The worst part is that they are bringing a lot of this stuff to Disneyland and I am watching first hand the awful impact it’s having on guests (and the cast members. Remember them, Disney? They run the place.)
    As for keeping the parks up, while I agree it needs to be done, the problem is that they’ve let it go too much to the point where a smaller crew of constant maintanence can’t keep up. They have to throw everything they’ve got to fix problems and then smaller issues don’t get solved because all the personell are busy elsewhere.

  14. I know you receive praise and flames every time you do a DbD but I, for one appreciate every one of them. This one was the most angry and passionate I can recall and for that, I’m grateful for you. You need to keep being the voice for all of us in keeping WDW a top class tourist destination, not just a stale money making machine with no soul.

    • HURRAY!!! I agree about Fastpass. It needs to go. When this was first introduced, I was apprehensive of Disney making cutting in line “legal”. I have always disliked this preferential treatment.

  15. Mr. Yee, thank you for your very honest opinion of the current state of Disney World and some of it’s attractions and features. Sometimes it takes a real dedicated fan who knows what Disney should be all about to really understand the problems that the “World’s most visited disney resort” offers their world wide audience. What a shame.
    Splash Mountain’s rockwork falling apart and on top of populated areas? Ludicrous. Audio animatronics that don’t work for lenghty periods of time? These and more have been the concerns I had when we visited Disney World the last time (compounded more when we visited shortly after returning from Tokyo Disney in 2011). Looking at the beautiful pictures of the new Fantasyland area, makes me wonder how those beautiful architectural features will hold up. I can only hope to visit before the waterfall around the new Little Mermaid ride go inop, and mildew settles it.

    You also touched on a subject that is dear to me.. lack of holiday feel around the resort, unless you are willing to pay for the holiday parties at the Magic Kingdom. Another shame. I have commented on this holiday issue on other forums here on this boarrd just to be reprimended by others who feel Disney World can do no wrong. But since management at Disney World takes their visitors for granted, then I guess they will continue to get away with inferior and overly expensive alternatives to enjoy the holidays.

    However, you brought up the holiday celebration at Sea World. It so happen that my cousin and his family just got back from a week’s vacation in Orlando, where they visited Disney, universal and Sea World. My cousin’s comment the other day was “we enjoyed our day at Sea World more than any of the other parks we visited”.. and he went on to say the park looked like a holiday village all over with elegant and vibrant decorations. My nephews enjoyed the Sesame Street holiday show and my cousin and wife loved the ice skating show and lagoon of trees. I had to search video of this on you tube and was surprised to see all these wonderful holiday offerings. So much so that I would consider returning to Orlando just to see Sea World for the holidays. Your comment on Sea World Mr. Yee, and my cousin’s opinions on his trip, has helped made a strong case for the holidays next year. so thank you.

    When Shamu can whip Mickey’s eggnog into a sweeter brew, at regular entrance ticket fares, then we can see how far below Disney standards the Walt Disney World resort has really fallen. It doesn’t matter the little details they have added this year as I feel it’s a case of too little, too late. Disney is no longer the trend setter in Orlando.