It’s not that I’m mad, I’m just disappointed. Disney used to be the leader. They used to pride themselves on besting their competition when in reality, there was no competition. Disney was Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky all rolled into one. What made these athletes great was their own belief that they could fail. They still had an inferiority complex. Whether it was the coach that said Babe Ruth was too fat, that Michael Jordan was too short, or that Wayne Gretzky was too Canadian, the inferiority complex gave each of them the fuel to compete. Disney used to have that inferiority complex as well. There was something in the back of their mind that produced doubt. That doubt led them to competitive decisions that fueled growth for decades.

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During Michael Eisner’s reign he often asked, “Why are people leaving property?” This question led to a mentality that fueled the growth of the resort. Tourists and locals were spending time at Church Street Station, so Disney built Pleasure Island. The Seas pavilion was built because people were visiting Sea World. The number of hotel rooms increased dramatically because people were staying off property. MGM Studios was fast tracked for fear of losing guests to Universal Studios. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built because people were driving to Busch Gardens in Tampa.

This mentality was great for growth but also had its pitfalls when corners were cut. In California, this approach led to a park where the “best” of California was built in the Disneyland parking lot. However, it took an investment of over $1 billion to make the park successful. Similar shortsightedness also existed in Florida when MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom each opened with only two major rides. However, it wasn’t shortsightedness that ended this level of competition. What ended it was Universal’s Island of Adventure.

Universal Islands of Adventure
Universal Islands of Adventure

A little more than a year after Disney opened the Animal Kingdom, Universal opened Islands of Adventure. During development, word spread that Islands of Adventure would open with three world class roller coasters as well as a ground breaking Spider Man attraction. Disney was ready to react with additions at all four theme parks. When the doors opened for Islands of Adventure the rumors proved true. The Hulk, and Dueling Dragons were world class roller coasters and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman was the most innovative theme park attraction in history. There was just one minor problem with all this: it didn’t affect Disney’s attendance at all.

It was at this time that the inferiority complex disappeared. Disney’s closest “competitor” built the greatest theme park ride to date in a park full of major attractions but theme park fans opted to return to their classic favorites at Walt Disney World. How could Disney fear any competitor at this point? They had no reason to believe that anything could disrupt the gold mine that was the vacation kingdom of the world.

For years, the “competition” struggled. They humbly accepted what little market share Disney had allowed them, and survived off the few guests that were looking for a day away from the resort. During this time, additions at Disney World were few and far between because they were deemed unnecessary.

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Disney began to believe that the theme park market had matured and the only responsibility now was to maintain their empire. This began the shift that Kevin Yee mentioned in a recent article. Disney stopped looking for more guests to enter the parks and began looking for those guests to pay more per visit.

While annual price increases typically mark the beginning of every summer travel season, that alone wasn’t enough to meet Disney’s profit targets. Disney looked at what the average guest spent on vacation and the question changed from “Why are people leaving property?” to “Where else are people spending money?” If a family was spending a fixed dollar amount on a Disney vacation, Disney wanted to make sure they were getting as much of that fixed dollar amount as possible.

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Several steps were made to ensure that more dollars were spent at Disney than in previous years. The Magical Express buses helped fill Disney’s hotel rooms, and Disney indirectly took profits from rental car companies and offsite hotels. Perhaps more importantly, it kept these guests on property and away from other theme parks. The Disney Dining Plan allowed guests to prepay for meals, once again keeping them on property while providing the added benefit of fixing food costs. These efforts accomplished exactly what Disney had hoped: an increase in spending per guest.

For years, this model worked because the “competition” was struggling to survive. Ironically, it was Islands of Adventure that again acted as the catalyst of change to the Orlando theme park landscape. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter proved that the theme park market in central Florida wasn’t mature, it was just dormant. With Harry Potter, Universal moved from “competitors” to competitors. Unfortunately, Disney’s inferiority complex is long gone and has been replaced by something wholly different. Whether it was replaced with arrogance or ignorance is unknown and unimportant. What is important is that it changes.

Repackaging what’s there can no longer succeed in the face of real competition. Disney needs to regain that fire that stems from their inferiority complex. They need to know they’re not the best in the business of themed entertainment anymore.

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Is it possible that we will we soon see the Universal parks pass the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and perhaps even Epcot in attendance? What do you think? Can Disney return to their old competitive ways or have they thrown in the towel?

 

 

  • CaptainAction

    Tim,
    Nice article but I guess it was just too painful but to admit and write about the rest. It seems your article stopped in the middle.
    First a little about me; I asked my wife to marry me 21 years ago at the Disneyland Castle. We honeymooned at the Grand Floridian. We had annual passes to either Disneyland or World for 15 years.
    My wife talked me into visiting Islands of Adventure the year it opened. Our home video of that day is pretty funny because I went from complaining about missing a day of Disney to, “Wow, this place is pretty cool, unique, and creative” in 20 minutes.
    Disney has been trying to squeeze every $ from our family the last 10 years without giving anything much new.
    Universal is giving more all the time in both entertainment and value. We now stay at the magnificent Portofino Bay and have annual passes to Universal.

  • CaptainAction

    Continuing my earlier thoughts.
    Portofino upgrades our now family of 5 to a gigantic suite with TWO full bathrooms for free. Our room key skips 99% of all the lines. My Universal annual pass discount gets me this FANTASTIC room set up for $180-$220 per night. Every time I check in we are given $100 in dining at any of the restaurants at this delux resort. A beautiful boat picks us up at the resort and through a magnificent landscaped grounds to the front of the parks. ALL THIS for less than I can get two rooms at a Disney VALUE RESORT!
    Universal built the new fantastic Transformer ride in less than 1 year. They are upgrading the Simpson’s Ride into a”land” in less than a year. The new Despicable Me ride was done in less than a year. The new Harry Potter area will be opened 1 and 1/2 years after tearing out Jaws ride.
    The technology from the 3d Kong ride in L.A. is being used for the Potter train and will blow guests minds with different journeys and adventures just switching parks.

    • Wow, it’s as if I wrote this for you. Thanks for reinforcing what I’m seeing.

    • Westsider

      Walt Disney World is the shining example of what is wrong with “Disney”. WDW in the 2010’s is bland, corporate, value engineered to death, and coasting on nostalgic fumes. The biggest ride added to Magic Kingdom in 20 years is The Little Mermaid, which is a harmless little non-Fastpass walk-on attraction in DCA, but touted as “the biggest expansion in Magic Kingdom history!” in WDW.

      I think the humidity and horrible weather finally got to the suits out there in TDO. They’ve been cooped up inside so long in the air conditioning that they forgot they run amusement parks instead of running an administration building.

      Luckily, there is Disneyland. Disneyland can’t escape all of the One Disney corporate borg mindset from Orlando, but luckily the warm California sun purifies the thoughts of the suits in TDA. Disneyland can still get away with being Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom; charming, unique, hipster without trying, and forever attached to Walt Disney’s personal philosophy on family entertainment.

      WDW is just sad in a very bland and sterile 21st century corporate kind of way. And I don’t think they’ll be able to fix that at this late date.

  • Tielo

    I think Disney can’t bounce back. They have become to big and slow to react. Also they should outsource their building activity so their attractions will be less expensive or more spectacular as they are now. Disney imaginering hasn’t shown me anything impressive since Epcot’s Mission: Space in 2003. It was a bad ride. After that we have seen a lot of ride and show that had great ideas but didn’t result in a magical experience. Look at Sourin that is a glorified demo of shots of flying over California with a motion matching it. The illusion is broken every time you get another scene. Toy Story Mania is a Wii game in 3D. The castle projection does the same. Granted the Paris one has a wonderful story and is Plussed but the US parks just have a demo real. World of motion does the same.
    But what about cars land, you ask. One once removed ride brought back (how silly is that), one tractor ride that has carnival all over it and a test trek system ride that still is as cumbersome as it’s Epcot original (but they promised otherwise). It’s a decent ride but the upkeep is lacking. You will tell me that these rides are insanely popular and you are right, that’s how bored guests are. Why they are not willing to go to Universal, Sea World or Bush Gardens is beyond me. Some of these parks are made by former Disney Imagineers and are the above and beyond many Disney rides and shows. They give you something fresh and new.
    Going back to Disney, the only real promise is shown by the new Mansion ride in Asia. So maybe they still have it. attraction wise. Now food, souvenir and character wise they still could improve a lot. The food was World Showcases triumph but it has become horrible. Where Uni is creating specific food and souvenirs Disney is going all over the place with less ride or location specific items.
    I hope Disney wants to compete with Universal, and more, they want to repeat their re-imaginering of the failed California adventure. They have shown they can make a park that is almost as popular as Disney Land. Non of the WDW parks are as popular as Disney Land but they could try to bring them up to the level of Magic Kingdom. Only problem is that parks like Animal Kingdom are huge and don’t have any quality rides and Epcot is huge and has many rides that need to be updated (almost all of Future World). Epcot would be best of to get a completely new theme. The Studios are the easiest to fix. They have some beautiful streets and amazing rides. The focus needs to move from making movies to being in the movies.
    Lets hope they are going to restructure the overly expensive Imaginering so they can build more with the money they spent (and build quicker). But as long as the sheep’s keep coming in droves and are willingly offer Disney to plunder their wallet they’ll get exactly what they deserve.

    • I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you put it, but I think every park could use significant investments in both upgrades and new additions. There’s a staleness in Disney World that I don’t feel at Universal or even Disneyland.

    • Pete C

      Tielo, I do not agree that the food at World Showcase is worse. IMO it is better now than it has ever been by far. I would have said 5 years ago that most of the World Showcase food was boring…left behind by modern cuisine happening outside of Disney. Now we have La Hacienda de San Angel which is much better than the old San Angel Inn, La Cava del Tequila which serves excellent unique cocktails, Via Napoli which makes some of the best pizza I have had anywhere…on par with some NYC establishments, Boulangerie Patisserie which is a big upgrade to their old pasty joint, and Monsieur Paul an replacement to Bistro de Paris. Morocco is also getting a new tapas restaurant this year and I expect it to be better than the bland Marrakesh.

      Overall though, this adds nothing to the base ticket and is just another way for Disney to make more money, just like the article is saying.

      • For me, the food in World Showcase has slipped in some place and improved in others. The Cantina in Mexico has gotten worse and Le Cellier has gotten ridiculous. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of Via Napoli and Teppen Edo (although I hate that they don’t take Tables in Wonderland).

        Dining in general has been affected by trying to fit into the Disney Dining Plan price structure and that’s a problem that Disneyland doesn’t have to face.

  • CaptainAction

    (cont): Universal is putting in a new roller coaster in Jurassic Park now. Universal is adding a new value resort now. Universal just bought another huge chunk of land across I-4 for another theme park. Universal Annual Pass discount is 20% all through the parks. There is a free snack center serving bottled water, granola bars, and chips in a lounge setting if you use Amex to buy tickets.
    Disney? They tore out Snow White ride when there aren’t enough rides in Fantasyland already. Added restaurants, stores, and photo ops to grab more $’s from guests. Little Mermaid ride has less special effects than the 40 year old Pinocchio ride; Lampwick – Donkey, Monstro attack, Blue Fairy. After much complaining new Disney leaders are forced to build Snow White coaster which will take two years to complete.
    Our old Disney family of 5 has moved to Universal. Our last trip to Orlando; we all have annual passes to Universal, Disney Waterparks/Disneyquest only. As we went from Portofino through Disney to hit the waterparks and Disney Quest, I wondered if I would hear sad remarks about missing Disney from my family of 5…not a word.

    • You forgot the biggest thing… Springfield USA napkins. My friend WDW1974 over on the WDWMagic forums will often say, “They’re bending over to pick up pennies when dollars are flying over their heads.” This commentary is often regarding the joke that is refillable mugs.

      As for the Mermaid ride vs. Pinocchio, I do disagree here. There are some great animatronics in the Mermaid ride and I would argue it’s the best dark ride in Florida’s Fantasyland. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was announced in January of 2011 and site prep had already been done. It’s going to be over 3 years to complete. I’m optimistic that it will be a solid ride, and I don’t really oppose a land with two D-tickets as opposed to an E and 2 C’s. New Fantasyland is only a problem because people expected it to be a response to Potter and it never was. It just points to the arrogance that they felt there was no need to compete in the first place.

      • DuckyDelite

        >> You forgot the biggest thing… Springfield USA napkins

        I couldn’t agree more. And this is my biggest complaint about Disney now. I remember people wanting to save Tomorrowland Terrace napkins in years past. Now the Disney experience feels cheap and disposable. I didn’t mind paying Disneyland prices in the past because it always felt like I was getting something unique and “plussed”. Now most Disney merchandise looks like it belongs in a 99 cent store.

        As you mentioned they are picking up pennies when dollars are flying overhead. I would pay good money for decent Disney merchandise and I can’t find it. Instead I find iron-on decals that look like Disney saved 5 cents manufacturing.

        I realize sometimes you have to pay more to get more, but this isn’t the case anymore. Disney is often a 5-6 times cost premium for an inferior product or experience.

        Are they willing to give up on the Mickey cash cow and notice the competition is approaching and offer the consumer real value, or are they going to continue to squeeze the remaining loyalists for even more pennies?

  • Anonymouse

    We’re all Disney Fans here so I hop people can put down their defenses and see how this is a great topic that deserves us to be honest about. As much as I may love all things Disney it’s been clear that Disney’s biggest problem (Not only parks, but film also) is their reliance on Gimmicks.

    While calling out Disney on their reliance on “Gimmicks” seems harsh, gimmicks are actually a good thing… if they trick you into a larger experience. But that’s been the difference between Disney vs The Others nowadays. The “gimmick” doesn’t necessarily pay off as much as it did in the past so while the experience is still “good”, we also know that the talent of Imagineers (in Parks) and Pixar (in Film) goes far beyond simply using “Nostalgia” and “Emotional Manipulation” as the primary reason something new is released.

    Are the 3 rides of Cars Land really that amazing that they need to be copy/paste into Florida? Is Monsters U, Cars 2 or Finding Dora really the best Pixar can do? Or is today’s Disney just looking for the easiest way to raise profits with the least effort. (Who knows, but maybe we should start questioning whether or not John Lasseter may have been given too much power in Parks and Film because all this stuff is coming under his reign).

    • LoveStallion

      The rumors are that Luigi’s Flying Tires wouldn’t make the move to Florida, citing space issues. I think it’s more because every department at Parks realizes how stupid of a ride it is and how much of a waste of money it would be to put it in. I don’t even think it’ll survive in DCA for more than 4-5 more years.

      But you really make me think about some of the gimmicks. We talk about Cars Land as if it is a full land with tons of attractions, but it’s really no more of a land than the “mini-lands” at Disneyland Hong Kong – Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, etc. – one E ticket and stores, for the most part. How much space in Cars Land is dedicated to retail and dining? 70%? And that’s Disney’s problem. They are all too happy to find more ways for guests to spend money while providing the bare minimum in entertainment.

      • BuckyRister

        I loved Luigi’s Flying Tires…novel and fun and unique.

    • Let’s not pretend that cloning Cars Land would be a gimmick. Cloning Cars Land would be a huge investment into the parks ($600 million). My opposition to that has been that it will be $600 million invested into a park and a franchise 5 years after it opened elsewhere. It would have been a great move to build Cars Land in DCA and DHS simultaneously but that wasn’t what was originally proposed. The latest rumors point to a similar budget being used on a combined Star Wars section and a Cars section in DHS. It wouldn’t included Radiator Springs Racers but it would spread out the attention across two franchises, and more importantly two fan bases for merchandise.

      I can only assume this decision was fueled 100% by the article I wrote here a few months ago (sarcasm).
      http://micechat.com/26637-open-letter-to-disney-fixing-the-hollywood-studios/

      • StevenW

        Since when did Disney open cloned rides simultaneously? It doesn’t happen too often. Just because you might see it done once for Toy Story Mania, which was opened throughout the theme parks in a tight schedule, it doesn’t happen for the other rides.

        Carsland was an expensive massive project to rescue DCA. WDW didn’t need rescuing, but it does need tender loving care. It is nice for Disney to finally see the point that WDW area theme parks need more rides. When Carsland was being constructed, their main focus was on the New Fantasyland. Now that this project is near completion, I’m glad they are directing their attention to DHS.

      • StevenW, just because it hasn’t been done historically (it has been done recently however), doesn’t mean that building simultaneously is a bad idea.

        Having said that, to say that WDW didn’t need rescuing is somewhat short sighted. Sure, it wasn’t in the same state as DCA, but DHS and DAK have a very shallow attraction lineup that needs to be addressed. Epcot’s attraction lineup is deeper but there are only two high demand attractions in that park. The theming of DHS is disjointed, and the Magic Kingdom hasn’t seen an E-ticket in 21 years. WDW is getting stale, and here’s hoping the rumors of new attractions all prove true.

    • As for the “gimmicks”, that’s largely been what Disney has been surviving on since IOA opened. Inflating the prices and then offering discounts has been the approach of TDO to fuel attendance. It worked for a while because there was no competition in the area. They were still the best value around.

      Now, Universal is building aggressively and isn’t relying on gimmicks. The only gimmick there is that they’re cranking out new attractions every year.

      • ChrisFL

        Let’s not forget the queue “enhancements”, the little interactive games (which are ok but not a replacement for actual new attractions!) and the adding of Fastpass to attractions that were never popular enough to need them in the first place. That’s what I call Gimmicks.

    • eicarr

      Luigi’s tires is my favorite Disney ride now. Won’t be forever but I’m having fun mastering the tires.

  • Jim1013

    About Universal’s overall ride quality (not just Harry Potter): it would be very easy for Disney to throw up a Dueling Dragons or Incredible Hulk iron coaster, but that’s not what they do. Those two rides, I don’t care how elaborate the queue and station, are Six Flags rides, not even in the realm of Big Thunder Mountain or Space Mountain. Ripsaw Falls has a fun drop, but the whole ride experience can’t compare to Splash Mountain; in Ripsaw Falls “mountain” you can see bare steel beams, wiring, lights – it feels unfinished and cheap. Last time I was on Jurassic Park, most of the dinos had stopped working, so they are focusing on the new rides and letting the old rides slide. The drop ride can’t compare to Tower of Terror, no way. The Mummy coaster can’t hold a candle to Space Mountain, the dark section is mostly bare except for a few spray painted cardboard cutouts. And if we want to talk carnival rides, what about that Simpsons alien spinner? The Simpsons eateries aren’t up to the high standards of Be Our Guest.

    • I couldn’t agree more on The Hulk and Dueling Dragons. They are eyesores on a solid park. I wouldn’t shed a tear if they were removed in favor of family C-tickets.

      I also hate Ripsaw Falls for the same reasons you said. Additionally, the logs themselves are very uncomfortable. I love the idea of being able to spray guests with water at the end of the ride, but aside from that it’s a weak experience. Having said that, if these rides were all removed it would still be a stronger attraction lineup than Epcot, DHS, and DAK from a quality standpoint.

      A year before Harry Potter opened we were pointedly told that the water effect in Poseidon’s Fury was turned off to save money. Universal isn’t without their problems, but the fact remains that they are catching up to Disney very quickly.

    • Micah

      But when the Disneyland Splash Mountain keeps running for two months with some key animatronics broken or missing, and no word on any repairs, it really detracts from that extra special experience that you normally think of as setting Disney apart. And then I see stories here on Micechat.com about missing shingles, peeling paint, cracked and chipped pavement here and there, and it just adds to the disconcerting feeling that Disney is slipping. I’d rather they close Splash Mountain down and get it right, then let it keep going with embarrassing mediocrity.

      • I haven’t been on Splash Mountain since it reopened, but it sounds like everything is back working again and they’ve been maintaining it as well. It’s great to hear, but it’s also something that they should have been doing all along.

    • scarfan

      I have to disagree a bit with the coasters. They’re world class coasters and appeal to the thrill riders who may not be the Disney ideal but they are accommodating family members who might otherwise be wishing that they were elsewhere. And the Dragons are themed very well. You could argue much the same about Rock N Roller Coaster’s blacklight cutouts in the dark as you can about the Mummy, but I think they work better than you do in both cases and do promote the stories involved.

      In terms of overall quality, it would help to compare the recent surge of making the attractions more comparable than the older ones. While the older ones may have had corners cut that Disney wouldn’t have in the past, Harry Potter, Despicable Me, and even the Simpsons re-theme were well executed. UO still has a long way to go to feel as complete as the Magic Kingdom, but considering the stagnation of the non-MK parks, it is certainly becoming more of a family destination than anyone would have believed only a few short years ago. Changing the aging kids area would go a long way towards that, and adding in some young girl friendly areas (Princess Fiona? The Despicable Me orphans?) would definitely fill out some of the holes they have as well.

      • Dueling Dragons had a great queue, now it has a mediocre queue. The trains themselves aren’t as well themed as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They’re basically Six Flags attractions. There’s nothing wrong with that other than they’re out of place in a park like Islands of Adventure.

        I’d even argue that Califoria Screamin’ is more appropriately themed than The Hulk or Dueling Dragons.

  • wdwprince

    It seems like Iger is not focused on the Orlando parks at all. His reign is all about acquiring outside intellectual properties, building cruise ships and a park in Shanghai. Oh yea, and MyMagic+.

    Orlando is neglected. The only thing money is poured into there is timeshares.

    I have never been interested in Universal but this year I am genuinely excited to go there. I’ve been spending more time on their website and have spent much time watching Youtube videos of Universal attractions.I will also be going to HHN for the first time.

    I haven’t yet left Disney for good but my eye is wandering. Universal is looking mighty sexy.

    • Thankfully, it sounds like things are coming. If they’re not announced at the D23 Expo, they’ll presumably be announced at or around Fiscal Year End (September 30th). Unfortunately, it sounds like the dollars are lower than we all wanted, but we’re fans, we’re insatiable.

      I just hope that Disney can still build a great E-Ticket for under $200 million, if so we may be getting 2 in DHS and 1 in DAK. There’s a great article from MiceAge that talks about the upcoming investments:
      http://micechat.com/34900-miceage-disneyland-tomorrowland/

  • judearmstrong

    Disney will also be the premier location for families to go to but I do see what you mean. Their compete e edge has slipped in recent years. I think a large part of that has to do with 2 things (1) movies and (2) creative staff. With movies, look at what universal has in their back pocket movie wise and look at what has been popular amount movie goers, sure disney has Pixar but not everyone wants to see every animated character squeezed I to a Pixar themed park, CG overload! Universal has rights to over 100 years of film! Disney has their own rights to their movies but with flops like John Carter and so on they dot have near the blockbuster caliber films like universal. Hence the buying of Marvel and now LucasFilm. Why do you think that was done? Because Pixar can’t carry all the weight of a slumping movie studio.

    My second point is staff, the creative people at Universal, like I stated above, have so many cool movies to pick from that who wouldn’t want to create a Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and so on. Not too many people want to see all over where Tangled was based from. Disney needs to shake things up a bit, they’ve become a little stagnent and predictable with decisions that are being made for their parks. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE the Disney parks and used to work in Anaheim, no bashing what so ever, but where we were once ahead of the curve, we’ve slowly fallen back. I think a part of that is/was our economic down turn, but now that that has slowly gone away, as you can tell from their price raising, it’s time to take a risk and change things up. Take out Innoventions in tomorrowland and update it with something spectacular, I understand there is a budget and it takes a lot money and man power to create attractions but please, stop wasting those on character greeting locations. Long story short, Disney needs to take back control of the reins and keep its edge on being the premier locations for people to come to

    • LoveStallion

      A fair point about Universal’s stable of films, but you can’t really use Harry Potter as your first example, considering that is a Warner Bros. property that is licensed to Universal. The Simpsons are a Fox property. Transformers is Paramount.

      So really, Universal isn’t much different from Disney in that regard. The only difference is that when Disney previously licensed Lucasfilm properties, they now own them wholesale.

      I’m not sure about Disney’s long-term Marvel rights regarding the Marvel franchises in Universal. I know there is some sort of “East of the Mississippi” clause, but I imagine at some point Disney will expect Universal to pay them a licensing fee or drop all Marvel brands from their parks.

      • TVsRobLowe

        I don’t see Marvel leaving Universal any time soon. When Universal first licensed it, Marvel was in the throes of bankruptcy. The deal worked out that Universal would pay Marvel a one-time licensing fee that would be in effect perpetually. Universal’s side of it is that they have to maintain and present the license in the park to the license holder’s satisfaction. Disney are the ones who requested Spider-Man’s upgrade as well as the latest costumes for the walkaround characters. Why do they play nice though?

        It’s because in Marvel’s contract with Universal, Marvel gets 100% of merchandising profit for items sold in the parks bearing Marvel characters. The relationship between Disney and Universal is symbiotic – Disney releases Marvel movies, which work as advertising for the Marvel section at Universal. People enter Universal from that advertising and spend money on merchandise, and in the end the merchandise money makes it’s way back to Disney.

        Disney also doesn’t have to maintain the Marvel section of the park, essentially having no operations/maintenance costs and reaping 100% of merchandise, which is where the money really is. Universal gets increased attendance in the parks, so everyone wins.

    • Targeting families should be Universal’s next approach. Most of Universal’s additions are targeting older kids/teenagers. Typically it’s these types of rides that drive attendance, but a healthy mixture has been Disney’s approach for a while.

      I’d like to see more Cat in the Hat style dark rides as a selling point for families.

  • BuckyRister

    The second Disney announces their plans for Star Wars, all this hand-wringing and pessimism is going to evaporate. Patience, as Yoda said.

    • They still need to execute it though. Building a great Star Wars land will be a HUGE boost for Hollywood Studios provided it’s done with the same love and care (And money) given to Cars, and New Fantasyland. It needs to have both the visual appeal and the anchor attraction(s), dining (Mos Eisley), and merchandise to really work.

      • BuckyRister

        Yes, but I have no doubt they will “make it work”, and also have no doubt it will almost forever cement Walt Disney World’s status as the dominant theme park destination in Orlando. So the answer to the title of your article is “no”, I think the truth is that Disney fans have grown a bit impatient waiting for Disney’s response to Harry Potter, when Disney is waiting for the creative stew to gel with the coming Star Wars sequels before making any very firm plans. But once they do, all this concern over perceptions of laziness will vanish. Patience.

  • bayouguy

    I’m new to your column but it made great sense. I’ll tack on my 2 cents and suggest Disney jump off the “free market” express and let it crash down the line. Eisner should have answered his question ‘why people are going to other places’ with ‘families want to explore and be together’ and not with ‘spend money elsewhere’. Presently, because of this, Disney cannot invest in improvements to its parks (especially to its domestic parks) because Disney has to spend on all the selfish corporate bonuses and perks for its executives. There’s always lower management personnel, hourly CM personnel, maintenance expenses, and other nonessential costs to cut so the profits can pile up, which none of it would go beyond the closed door of Iger. This is a simplistic model, I know, but I think it fits.

    • BuckyRister

      That’s nonsense. Disney can’t build a new attraction because of executive perks and bonuses? They just dropped a billion on California Adventure and lord knows how much making a bathroom with imagery from Tangled. They’re preparing the biggest game changer in Orlando Theme Parks since the debut of Animal Kingdom with Star Wars, but the reason there is a perception of a lull right now is executive pay?

      • The biggest game changer has been The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney has yet to respond. Star Wars should be (and by all accounts, will be) that response. However it still needs to be executed well and if corners are cut (as they have been historically) it could be another dud despite the intellectual property.

        Keep in mind that if Disney got their hands on Harry Potter, their plan was a Buzz Lightyear style dark ride and a Care of Magical Creatures petting zoo. They haven’t had a grand slam attraction hit in Florida for quite some time.

  • PatMcDuck

    Another vote for Luigi’s Flying Tires, I love them. Ride ALONE though, it seems to help you go faster. I feel a little guilty doing so, if everyone did that, the lines would double, but whatever. The ride does not have the capacity for Orlando crowds though.

    I know many Disney fans that will not even TRY going to Universal, and I tell them how foolish they are. I also like the Hulk coaster, and the log flume there. The theming on the flume is awful and cheap, but the ride itself is great fun. Can’t go wrong with Dudley Do Right. The Jurassic Park section is beautiful after dark, sadly the park closes before dark, or at just dusk rather often.

    Disney needs to pour $$ into Orlando. Avatar land is not the Potter swatter they need, but a large fantastic Star Wars land could be.

  • Wedbliss

    This subject has been covered pretty thoroughly above and it’s all very interesting. As a Disney fan who lives in Orlando, I get very excited everytime I hear about the new great projects going at at the various other area attractions. Disney so very badly needs to have it’s butt kicked right now. I have spent a lot of time on Disney property in the 18 months and there is no doubt that things are getting stale. If I can go all Thomas Schumacher on you, the whole property is in a state of ennui. So I hope Disney takes it on the chin and then says, “thanks, I needed that” and gets back to work.

    I see a huge problem with the way WDW management is structured. I think Disney Parks is most vulnerable in the attitudes of it’s middle management people. Many such managers have no clue. I’ll leave it at that.

    Does Disney have the creative talent to set the pace again in theme park entertainment? I say yes. I think they have talent coming our their “ears”. And, I hope, if things get bad enough, Disney will turn WDI loose and let them spend more than everyone is comfortable with in order to build the future.

    I do appreciate that Disney is in a tough position in this regard: attendance at the US parks is pretty much maxed out. There is a ceiling on how many people can fit in the parks. The only area of growth then becomes increasing per day guest spending. And it’s no easy thing to calculate when another gate on property would be profitable or if things might reach a point of diminishing returns. With growth being essential to the health of the theme park industry in general, knowing just when to grow and when becomes the game. And I think Disney is getting it wrong right now.

    Everything Disney is proposing to add to WDW has been seen before, on way or another. Even if Star Wars Land turns out to be a masterpiece, it’s still imagery and settings that are familiar. Heck, that’s the whole appeal to the executives. But I would so much rather be looking forward to something I haven’t seen before. I want to see something truly new. Disney used to do that, or am dating myself?

    • Wedbliss

      Truly, if Disney feels that they can no longer afford the ‘best attractions’ policy, then maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Disney gained the ground they stand on today by taking large calculated risks on great ideas. Working that way is nerve wracking and Wall Street hates it, but that’s the territory where Disney has always thrived. Stray too far from that philosophy – the precepts of Walt, so to speak – and my interest wanes quickly and I believe the long fortunes of the company are threatened.

      I would have to say that, looking back on Disney Parks history, any other philosophy other than “make the best attractions you can” is terribly puzzling to a Disney fan like myself. Because that was certainly Walt’s philosophy and since when did that need fixing? When Bob Iger says that “the heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation”, is he still talking about the “best attractions” or the best strategy for milking every last buck out of the adoring public? In general, I admire Bob Iger, but when he makes a quote like that, it appears that he is trying to sound a bit like Walt, but is actually addressing profit hungry investors. It’s all quite distressing sometimes, but then I just take a ride on the Jungle Cruise and I am renewed in thinking all is not lost.

  • Haven

    I think the “problem” is simple. Walt Disney Company is a large corporation now, more massive than its founders could have ever conceived. It runs like a huge corporation too. I felt it had gotten too big in the 90’s, now look where it is. Bigger isn’t always better as they say, I feel the key is to always have that sense of artistry to why you even conceive of a new project. I think many designers jumped ship at Disney and have gone to Universal because they get it that you can have fun building things, not just because the business end of the operations says they need something. Make it fun, people will come. Problem solved.

    • That’s one of the biggest problems with large companies, they get so big that they fail to maintain the empire that’s been created.

  • BC_DisneyGeek

    Great article.

    Disney has allowed their Florida property to remain stagnant for so long that it will take a long time and a lot of money to regain their past glory.

    I said this on another article, but I’ll say it again. Disney’s apparent method of building minimalist parks and then growing them over time only works if they actually follow through and grow them over time.

    Animal Kingdom is a park that should be seeing continual additions, yet they seemingly deemed the place “finished” when Everest opened.

    Disney spends what feels like an eternity to build a small coaster at the Magic Kingdom, while Potter phase 2 seeming appears overnight with the wave of a magic wand. What’s up with that?

  • DobbysCloset

    You poor dear people.

    I feel your pain. Hugs and hot chocolate for ALL of you.

    My hope is that we are simply in an imagination dry spell coupled to a recession that has building slowed to a crawl in all facets of our economy. Princess Meet & Greet is an inexpensive way to entertain little girls. Carsland seems to be something every little boy, regardless of Coast, can enjoy.

    I have never been to Florida but I have watched Southern California grow and change for fifty years.

    Walt was right when he said that it will never be finished as long as we believe in pixie dust. That’s the point of appealing to those little girls — they grow up to be Imagineers.

  • Brisal73

    Yes a Star Wars land should and probably will be awesome, but don’t think Universal doesn’t have a counter for the Star Wars Land that will come.

    Remember there was that rumor that Universal got the rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise, so I expect something to come from that. Plus more additions to come to Universal Studios and IOA.

    • redrhino54

      Isnt Lord of the Rings an “r” rated movie? Has Disney ever made an attraction from an “r” rated movie? LotR. characters arnt exactly something kids are going to rush up and want a pic of, except, maybe, the Hobbits…..lol

      While I agree that WDW needs more attractions, USF HAD to build something, because 10 years ago , it was just a park with coasters. When you go to WDW so much that you think its stale…..take a year off, because theres a lot to WDW that most people forget about, all the little “extras” that other parks don’t have.

      I had a long streak of going to the parks, and I know that “stale” feeling, but that came from being “burned out” . While I understand how people can feel like that, I think most the commenter on this topic are just jumping on a band wagon .

      BTW, Disney is a company, its main objective, is to make a profit. As long as people keep spending, Disney will be glad to take your money……lol

      • Truecoat

        Lord of the Rings is PG13.

      • Micah

        A Tolkien treatment would need an entire park to do it justice — not just one land in a park. You’d need room to create the illusion of the vast Middle Earth, with all the key areas — the Shire, the Old Forest, Bree, Rivendell, Misty Mountains, Lothlorien, the River Anduin, Fangorn, Isengard, Rohan, Minas Tirith, Mirkwood, Dale, Lonely Mtn, Emyn Muil, Ithilien, Mordor, and maybe the Grey Havens.

        That said, it would be a smash hit with families if done with class and not made to feel cheap and cheesy.

    • That’s part of the problem. We’re all waiting for one swift reaction from Disney, but once Disney announces their reaction it doesn’t mean Universal will stop building. They can build quicker and cheaper and Disney needs to get over themselves and realize that.

  • Big D

    You missed two important factors. Magical Express was important, and the Dining Plan definitely makes people stay at WDW the whole time (since you are only allowed to purchase it for your length of stay — you can’t stay 7 nights and get it for only 5 days, it’s 7 days or nothing), but the pricing of their tickets where the longer you stay the less you pay is probably the absolute biggest weapon in Disney’s arsenal for getting people to stay at WDW. If you’re going for 7 days, and you’re looking at a 6 day ticket to WDW and you want to go to UNI for a day, it’s pretty hard to justify spending close to $100 per person to go to UNI when you can stay at WDW one more day for $2 per person.

    However, in Universal’s favor, they have three amazing hotels that I actually like better then any of the WDW hotels. Yes, nothing will ever beat staying at AK Lodge and waking up to giraffes outside of your window, but in terms of just the hotel itself, the Orlando hotels are the best. The theming is impeccable (Portofino Bay has Italian Vespa scooters permanently parked in front of the hotel, and singing gondoliers at night) and they chose a great hotel company (Lowes) to manage their hotels. One of my biggest complaints when I stay at a deluxe hotel at WDW is usually the staff. I don’t find the staff at the Boardwalk or AK Lodge to be any different from the staff at a value resort. The staff at the three UNI hotels are top-of-the-line. Then consider the fact that the three UNI hotels are typically less expensive then a deluxe Disney resort.

    Overall, I think that WDW has such a long way to go that it will be awhile before they can match the quality of UNI right now. The whole Magic Kingdom needs a serious facelift, as well as most of Future World. Hollywood Studios needs Cars Land AND a Star Wars land. Everywhere seems to be in need of better upkeep. So I think that it might take a decade or so, but it is certainly possible.

    • That’s a great point on the pricing of tickets, but even that is changing. Each additional day used to be $2 more after day 4, it’s now $10 more. I mentioned ticket prices briefly but it is a factor. The mindset is that guests are paying less per day but Disney is getting their money in other places (food, merchandise, hotel).

      For a 1 day ticket, Universal is priced comparably to Disney, but it’s at the 2, 3, and 4 tickets that Universal starts becoming a much better deal. It will be interesting to see how Universal’s pricing changes as it expands further.

      Disney has allowed them to play catchup, and now they run the risk of losing significant ground.

  • Ravjay12

    Patience people! Disney has been busy locking down just the most popular movie franchises (Marvel, Avatar, Star Wars). Its going to take time to develop all these things into quality attractions. Let the theme parks in Orlando grow, improve, and blossom on their own time. Maybe Disney will buy Universal! That’s what so great about the theme park business!! You never know what’s going to happen next. In the end, us theme park fans win.

    • ChrisFL

      Disney can’t buy Universal, in fact, Comcast who now OWNS Universal came very close to buying Disney several years ago…they’re a bigger company.

      Also, they could have done things with Star Wars decades ago but they didn’t.

    • Truecoat

      Having patience at this point doesn’t help Disney one bit. This year Transformers and Simpson land. Next year Harry Potter 2.0. 2015 brings Jurasic Park mine ride and the return of King Kong. They aren’t even close to being finished. How long does Disney wait? When they have a complete redo of Wet and Wild? When they start work on a third theme park? They are losing and it’s going to show next year. Then they have problems…

    • The competition is great for fans, but that only means something if Disney elects to play. As for the franchises that Disney has “locked down”, take a look at where that’s left them

      Pixar: There’s Pixar content in every park, but the one park that has an actual “Pixar Place” has the least amount of Pixar attractions of any Disney park in the world.

      Marvel: Can’t use this in Florida

      Avatar: We’re approaching 2 years and there hasn’t been a single piece of concept art.

      Star Wars: They were developing Star Tours 2 for 20+ years. Just because they acquired LucasFilm doesn’t mean they suddenly have access to all of the intellectual property. They already had access to it, they’re just not paying royalties now.

      • BuckyRister

        That’s incorrect, Tim. They certainly did not have access to all of LucasFilm’s IP for the last 20 years. But they do now. Still, like Pixar and Marvel, they have a respectful relationship with LucasFilm, and are giving LF their own space.

      • Bucky, what other Lucas IP were you clamoring for? Howard the Duck?

  • JiminyCricketFan

    While I am somewhat interested in a Star Wars land, I have to point out that this is a very old franchise. It is like expecting the Muppets to turn around the Disney franchise.

    Harry Potter land was built right at the apex of its popularity. Star Wars is simply in the decline. The last three movies did not capture the magic of the first three. I know that they’re going to make three more movies however I have to say there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be as good.

    I feel that if WDW is going to turn around, there has to be some serious new creativity and imagination. Universal has shown that it’s willing to really up the ante and create wonderful new environments and rides. Disney seems to has gone off the rails. I’m sure people are spending an extra day at the Magic Kingdom in order to visit the Tangled bathrooms.

    • Country Bear

      “I’m sure people are spending an extra day at the Magic Kingdom in order to visit the Tangled bathrooms.”

      Well stated!

    • BC_DisneyGeek

      Star Wars and Harry Potter are both pretty timeless, and the younger crowd loves the prequels more than the long-term fans did. The Muppets comparison is irrelevant, as that franchise never has been, or ever will be, as popular as Star Wars.

      Peter Pan is an old franchise as well, with no new movies in the series, and yet that attraction still draws a long wait every day. Just because a franchise is old (see also James Bond and Star Trek) hardly means its’ popularity is in decline or won’t be a theme park draw.

      • Truecoat

        Peter Pan draws the lines not because it’s Peter Pan. It’s because of the ride itself. It’s different from all the other fantasy land rides (who doesn’t like to fly?). Rider capacity also helps with the longer lines.

      • As for Peter Pan’s Flight, I think it draws the lines because of the ride vehicle and the Franchise. Personally, I’m not a fan of Peter Pan’s Flight, I think it looks awful and would love to see a major upgrade to the animatronics. I would much rather ride Journey of the Little Mermaid.

    • A fully developed Star Wars Land will be immensely popular. If you look at the franchises that can encompass an entire land, one thing that needs to be considered is, “Who are the fans of this franchise?” For Cars and the Princesses, the fans are largely children who don’t have disposable income. Comparitively, Harry Potter and Star Wars are largely adults who do have disposable income.

      Putting in a Star Wars Land with comparable unique merchandise offerings as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is as much of a no brainer as anything Disney could possibly do.

      • Tielo

        Yes the Star Wars license is great but it all depends on the rides they are going to put in there. Potter didn’t become an overnight success because of the franchise. It’s because of an amazing ride that makes you live in that world. Adding all the shopping and dining experiences in there are the icing on the cake for the guests and the money makers for the park. I don’t think Universal was thinking about what demographic they should target or how much money they could earn. They, together with JK Rowling, tried to build something that would blow away the fans. What they ended up with was even blowing away non fans of the franchise.
        For Disney that is not a no brainer because nothing they are doing is following that mind-set. It’s the reason why they lost the Potter franchise in the first place.
        If they go in there trying to target Star Wars to a group and not make it for the fans, not being true to it’s legacy and not being respectful to the ip (what they show all the time they aren’t during their horrible Star Wars weekends) it wouldn’t cause a ripple.

    • BuckyRister

      At least five more movies are in development, along with a new animated TV show. You won’t be seeing any new Harry Potter movies anytime in the next several years.

      • Tielo

        If they are as successful as John Carter or the Lone Ragers?

      • It sounds like Harry Potter has a Game of Thrones style television series in development. I don’t think there is a real risk of it becoming stale.

  • Country Bear

    Great article Tim. I agree with your perspective and insights. I have long thought that Disney had abandoned their image as an innovative and high quality company when it came to their Florida property. I’m a firm believer that they “can” fix it, but also sadly resigned to the fact that they have little interest in fixing it. They have had how many years of inaction to prove that they are not committed to producing what their guests are screaming for? I look at Disney differently now because they are less about my emotions and experiences and more about my wallet. They have changed from being a magical company to being a major corporation that makes all decisions on a spreadsheet. I’m so glad that Walt in his time was able to balance that with his brother Roy or we wouldn’t even be talking about the name Disney in such a passionate manner today. The current Disney World management isn’t invested in your experience; they are invested in your wallet. Someone should tell them the easiest way to our wallets is through our hearts. Sadly, Disney is poorly equip to manage that delicate part anymore. The master becomes the student.

    • I’m willing to bet that the pitch meeting for Next Gen/My Magic+/My Disney Experience/Fastpass+ was all rolled into the belief that attendance can’t increase more than 1-2% a year, and the only way to get more revenue is by getting more out of each guest.

      That’s what Next Gen is all about. It’s getting more money out of each guest, and that isn’t even limited to what the guests are spending anymore. Using the information gained by how guests are spending their money on vacation, Disney can sell that information to other companies for additional profits.

  • danielz6

    I’m confident that Disney can blow away universal whenever it decides to. I love universal but personally nothing beats Disney’s level of detail and artistry. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo Disney sea you understand that Disney easily creates the best theme park attractions on earth. I think peoples frustration is that its just not being done in WDW like it is everywhere else. I mean imagineering has been crancking out excellence the last few years. Buena vista street, carsland, star tours 2,mystic manor, grizzly gulch and soon Ratatouille. Its just not happening in Orlando for some odd reason. And I think that reason is simply that Disney Parks is investing heavily in Shanghai right now and its other struggling Parks. I think that once Shanghai is complete investment will return to WDW finally, but it is a shame that Disney world has to wait so long. Personally my theme park dollars will be spent in the next few years in 2 places: Tokyo Disney and Universal Orlando. In my opinion, those are the theme park resorts that best embody Walt Disney’s spirit of creativity, story telling and continual plussing more than anywhere else. Money talks so choose wisely next time you take a theme park vacation!

    • I don’t doubt the talents of the Imagineers at all. That’s not the issue here. The issue here is a willingness to spend money. You point to Tokyo Disney Sea as an example. The Oriental Land Company who funds that park is willing to spend money for the best and it shows.

      The reason why it’s not happening in Orlando is totally non-sensical. I have yet to hear a good justification for this decision making other than sheer incompetence.

  • CaptainAction

    Remember that Pixar was threatening Disney for neglecting their movies being turned into great attractions. Disney kept putting them in parades and small excuse type venues until Pixar threatened to take Disney to court or break off and do their own parks. Then Disneyland made Toy Story Mania, Finding Nemo subs (lazy redesign of a then dormant attraction), and Cars Land. Disney had to be threatened to get them up off their rears. Current Disney is lazy. They are the rabbit taking a nap while a turtle is passing them at a VERY good pace.

  • JCSkipr79

    When you fire Tony Baxter I think it’s very obvious that you threw in the towel…

    • Country Bear

      Excellent point. Would modern Disney have fired Marc Davis or Bob Gurr? Likely.

  • coneheads

    I just don’t get the issue here I guess, it has alrerady been stated several times here that WDW is in the Hotel business and business is booming! Disney Stock has more than doubled in the past 5 – 7 years I believe, so stock holders are pleased. Didn’t the stock price stay in the low twenties for decades before and during the Eisner/Wells expansion?

    Harry Potter,Transfrormers and Springfield has changed Uni’s bottom line but I don’t believe it has affected Disney’s at all. Thrill rides aimed at teens don’t steal visitors from Disney IMO they add more overall visitors to Orlando. Big money Attractions don’t always translate to ticket sales, take Mission Space as was already mentioned $100 million is what I heard it cost but it is always a walk-on. I think if anything it killed any more possibilities for sponsored rides. If I were Siemans I’d fire whoever greenlit that, they don’t seem to get much of anything out of that ride.

    WDI is always referred to as a cohesive unit where talented imagineers just work on concepts never built and ideas never realised. But in reality it has essentially already been outsourced, imagineers are hired for specific jobs for specific periods of time then released to go design Harry Potter rides and Penquin encounters elsewhere there is no WDI vs Uni drama to be had they are the same people.

    As for Disney Management, they must be tickled Pink. The Hotels are full the restaurants are full the souveniers fly off the shelves and wait, what was the problem?

    • DuckyDelite

      But is squeezing profit the only thing Disney knows how to do anymore? There have been many profitable and successful companies that failed because they stalled at their profit apex. Kodak being a recent example. Disney can continue to be a successful organization with or without the theme parks, it is only a small portion of their entire income.

      The problem usually originates when a better and cheaper or a “good enough” competitor arrives. Does the company ignore it, or acknowledge it and respond? I believe, and I think many of the posters here agree, that a serious competitor has arrived. And Disney still seems to have their head in the sand.

      Was Cars Land an innovative idea to address the competition or a just a necessity to save a failing park? If WDW really thinks a mini-Cars Land is the appropriate response to Harry Potter 2, I believe they are in a world of hurt.

      Again, Disney the Corporation will succeed. However, based on my trip this year, future trips will be to Universal, not WDW. And I am a core Disney customer.

      It will be interesting to see in 10 years if Universal really has a success on its hands. It could be playing a Six Flags game and be so debt heavy that the parks may never pay for themselves. But rumor is Butterbeer alone is paying for the original HP expansion.

    • The hotels are full at deep discounts. Also Hewlett Packard sponsored Mission: SPACE not Siemans.

      Disney is starting to feel the heat from Universal and one of the biggest areas is merchandise. People are visiting IOA first and spending all their money on Potter merchandise before stepping foot in a Disney park.

      • coneheads

        “The hotels are full at deep discounts. Also Hewlett Packard sponsored Mission: SPACE not Siemans.”

        That kind of proves my point as to the futility of a corporate sponsorship. Bottom line says if the Parks are full spending big bucks on new attractions will not happen. Universal can not put a big enough dent in Disney profit to force them to act, WDW is a juggernaut of cash.

        Discounts are only offered when bookings are low, during these times the parks close at 7 pm and E tickets are closed for maintenance. I miss Pleasure Island most of all during these periods, Kungaloosh!

  • Donathius

    I think you hit the nail pretty squarely on the head. I think CaptainAction just about has me convinced to go to Universal on my next vacation! The thing that I’ve really noticed is that the experience has become rather “blah”. Even at Disneyland. We took our son there for Christmas last year, and were fairly underwhelmed by the experience. It just lacks for want of a better word.

    However my wife and I feel that Disney still has one crown jewel attraction-wise – Disney Cruise Line. I’m well aware of the fact that you pay a SERIOUS premium to go on those ships, but they are an incredible experience on their own. The ships themselves are gorgeous and are wonderfully maintained. We took a cruise (without kids) in January of last year and were blown away by the condition of the 13 year old Disney Wonder. Yes there were a few minor quibbles (like grout in our stateroom bathroom needing to be redone) but the ship was absolutely gorgeous. They were constantly cleaning, polishing, etc and it really showed. To us the ship looked nearly brand new. The theming was amazingly well-done without being overdone, the food was fantastic, and the CMs did SO much to “plus” the experience I didn’t feel like I was just another one of the 2,000 or so people on board. I felt like I really was a guest. There are only 2 stores on board – everything else about the ship says “Come, relax, have fun and enjoy your vacation”. Everything about the Disney parks say to me “Hey, here’s a bit of nostalgia from your childhood – why not spend $40 on a t-shirt?”

  • horizonsfan

    Sad but true article, Tim. I’ve been a Disney World fan since I was a kid and went many times in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’m now taking back my family, but I’ve been really discouraged by the past 5-10 years and the future direction of the company.

    What amazes me is when people look at Universal’s more recent attractions and compare them to Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates, and The Haunted Mansion. All of those attractions are at least 20 years old (some much more)! Even Tower of Terror is almost up to 25 years. With the exception of Soarin’ and Expedition Everest, there haven’t been many recent successes at WDW for me. And saying that, both now have issues. Heck, Soarin’ was an import from the DLR.

    I keep expecting Disney to recognize the danger to their market share and reputation (even more important) if they continue down this path. Instead, they’ve just pursued international guests and allowed themselves to price many families right out of the market. I love the analogy of bending down for pennies while the dollars fly overhead. They’ve focused on interactive queues, games that many guests don’t even know about, and character meetings. While all of those could be nice for some visitors, they only work if they’re combined with new attractions!

    I’m not very optimistic about where they’re headed, either. The focus is on Magic Bands and Fastpass Plus, and clever tricks to get our money are not the reason I fell in love with Disney World. I still love many of the attractions and the feel of being in the parks (especially EPCOT), but I can’t justify the expense for the four of us if they don’t start doing something.

  • stevep52

    Creatively, I think Disney still has it. Just look at what has been done in Asia. In the US, we have Cars Land – to me the center-point of that land is not just Radiator Springs Racers, but Cadillac Ridge. For me, the issue isn’t creativity, but the willingness to spend the funds necessary to realize it.

    I believe that one of the best things to happen is for one of the Universal Parks to pass one of the WDW parks in attendance. That will result in change – though it may be slow in materializing in something tangible.

    Perhaps we are already seeing this change occurring, just very slowly. If WDW is truly coasting, then there will be no significant investment in the Hollywood Studios (as rumored with Cars Land and Star Wars). It may not still meet everyone’s expectations, but Disney is large and moves slowly. Any step in the right direction is reason for optimism. And if one of the Universal park’s does pass one of the WDW parks in attendance, then I do not see this being a one-off event.

    • I don’t think the problem here is Imagineering. Yes, they overspend like crazy but there needs to be a willingness to turn the key on these projects.

      I expect some of the overspending in Imaginering will eventually be addressed, same with the development cycle of an attraction. Universal Creative is much smaller and as a result more efficient. That’s Universal’s biggest advantage right now and they’re taking advantage of it.

  • Swice

    Don’t duplicate Cars Land in Florida. Change it up, Add a Planes attraction, whatever, just don’t totally duplicate!!!!

  • disneytom

    As a long time fan, and former salaried cast member, it is just astonishing to see how much WDW has declined over the past ten years. I will always be a Disney fan but I have to tell you that the “WOW” factor has long subsided and the driving need to go multiple times per year just isn’t there anymore.

    Each park has become stagnant and the overall experience overpriced. This is my biggest beef because there is no return on investment. The scant money that is invested on improvements seems to go into improvements that have a questionable return in value – I’m sorry, nobody is going to pay over $100 to come to a Disney theme park to play an interactive game (well, except for the AP locals). And oh yes, isn’t it cute that the attractions now sport all these interactive queues? I’m sure that soon enough we’ll start seeing tours departing from City Hall trying to hawk “The Wonders of the Magic Kingdom’s Most Amazing Queues”. I mean seriously, what are they thinking and who’s really making these decisions to green light this stuff??

    The other depressing thing is the sorry state of affairs with dining. It used to be that you could have a tasty meal with enough variety, albeit at resort prices, such that by the time your vacation was over you at least felt like you had some memorable meals. Now at most WDW restaurants you are presented with a “printed menu” that has the same items as every other restaurant on property with the exception of perhaps a few marginalized menu items that are obviously to be expected at the restaurant because of it’s location (e.g. escargot in France). And the thing that really stinks the most is that your waiter/waitress greets you with a “….are you on a dining plan” before he/she sputters any other words from their mouth.

    Between a noticeable downgrade in service and maintenance, and the glacial pace at which quality attractions are added, I don’t need to go back to WDW year after year to see what I first saw in 2005 and keeping paying a premium to do so. So I agree, they have indeed thrown in the towel.

    I applaud Universal for upping the ante in the theme park game. And what is wild, truly amazing is that they’re doing what Disney basically used to do – pay attention to the details, not act penny wise to the extent of being pound foolish and low behold they are knocking it out of the parks and continue to do so. Harry Potter is a timeless franchise and I’m confident that between Rowling or some other way they will make sequel books probably based on the characters being grown up. Or, we’ll see their kids start attending Hogwarts 10 years from now and then Universal will just have to make some clever overlays.

    Universal’s owner, COMCAST, actually has a bit of a grudge against Disney because they offered to by Disney on Eisner’s watch and he basically chuckled at them. I think the COMCAST team has decided to stick it to Disney right where it hurts them (between their theme park legs). Once Potter opens in California too there will be a noticeable impact on Disneyland attendance as well.

    Come on Disney, do you want to be remembered and endeared in the eyes of the public or do you want to be perceived as Sears???? Time to pay the piper, announce some new rides and expe

  • Unfortunately, Disney’s quickly going back to that Paul Pressler MBA style approach to the parks. It isn’t about magic or creating the most unique guest experiences at the moment, it’s all about money. As long as the revenues keep growing, they will feel they are justified in the current focus on things like MyMagic+ over creating immersive new experiences and superior customer service and maintenance.

    Will there be new things? YES! But will they be on the scale necessary to counter all of the current concerns? Perhaps. But it isn’t coming soon enough, and there isn’t enough focus on what’s already in the parks. Maintenance is dismal. Count the burnt out light bulbs everywhere. Whatever happened to that old Disney axiom that light bulbs should be replaced before they burn out? Instead the Boardwalk Hotel looks like kids took a slingshot to the popcorn lights which trim the building. Balcony’s look like they are falling off the front of the Yacht and Beach Club. Ride effects go broken for years (sometimes even after major refurbishments). Shows are cut back or removed. Attractions which are easily updated to feature new things are left in their moldy old state for so long that they cease to thrill guests . . .

    But prices keep going up, up, up at a higher rate than inflation. So guests are getting less and less for more and more money.

    There’s only one thing that can stop this madness . . . Universal! Only by getting a solid spanking will the MBAs at Disney be put back into their place and the creatives get the shot they need to fix this terrible mess the Disney World Resort is in. Only then will the shareholders realize that there is something more important that record profits in the short term to secure the long term health of a brand.

    Bob Iger has done a disservice to the shareholders by not setting correct expectations for upkeep and renewal by instead focusing on the one or two big shots to drive revenue and tricks like MyMagic+ to squeeze every last dollar out of the “guests.”

    Are Disney World vacations still magic? I think they are. But not as magical as they once were. And at what point do the scales tip and Universal gains the upper hand? We all see it coming, and it could happen sooner than anyone realizes. Universal is putting all the pieces into place, and not just in Orlando, and not just in the United States. They are waging a global war on Disney and Disney is acting like they can just keep focusing on Fastpass and RFID bracelets.

    • DisWedWay

      Are Disney World vacations still “Magic”? Lets book a week long stay at Fort Wilderness based on our last stay there in 1984 and see. Pioneer Hall was a great place to get your in laws on the stage. I loved the old steam trains that took you and the other Tom Sawyers and Becky Thatchers around the property and over to River Country, Disney’s first premier water park and old time swimming hole. If Tom Sawyer Island had a such a”Magical” swimming hole, this would be it. The steam trains have been removed and River Country has been closed since the 9-11’s scare cut backs. It didn’t take New York that long to rebuild. Why not bring back the steam trains and lay the track correctly this time. The trains are still around. Lets fix the problems with River Country and make it work even better this time. Disney was about building the better mouse trap as my poster says. “If you build it they will come!” was whispered to former Jungle Cruise Skipper Kevin Costner. He went for it in his Field of Dreams. I’m sure guests from the new Wilderness Lodge would love River Country over its present offerings. Bring back the Magic.

    • I’m available as a consultant for hire.

  • zuliek

    Living on a fixed social security income makes it impossible for us to afford a Disney Vacation. However Knott’s Hotel has great package deals, at about $110 a night per person with park admission. And I think you get buffet at the hotel with their packages. On the Halloween Haunted Dreams package I know you get Hotel, Haunted Park early admission, breakfast buffet, Haunted dinner buffet and a free Haunt t-shirt for about $110 a person. It is one of the biggest bargains out there! We have gone the last 3 years. I realize that some will think this is not a big deal as you are in the park for about 6-7 hours depending on the day of the week. But with hotel prices what they are nowadays it is well worth the money. It only takes us about 7 minutes to walk to the park too.

    • BuckyRister

      I just stayed at a Good Neighbor Hotel…six nights with Park Hopper tickets for four days, ran less than $600 a person.

  • craig

    It’s the little things that made Disney special. The resorts having different mugs, free plastic cups for the kids, taking home napkins with the Disney logo to be used for the kids lunches, etc..

    As a 15 year DVC member, the changes they have made with the program have got to stop. They’re restricting pool hopping, lessening or taking away discounts. Membership no longer has its “perks”.

    Disney Quest is outdated and Cirque needs a new show. Stop pumping out new pins, vinylmations and other collectible, limited item, rare crap that is only a step above Beanie Babies.

    The hand drawn artist sketches that can be found in the parks, downtown and at the Art of Animation used to be drawn freehand. Now they are lightboxed. It’s nothing but a tracing selling for $30-$50.

    Last week we were going to buy a plastic license plate frame and it was $20!!!! They have quickly over-priced themselves.

    The dining plan is no longer a good deal. They used to include an appetizer and included gratuity. It’s not worth the time and money.

  • billyjobobb

    Why has nobody noticed that everything good about Disney’s future they bought? Star Wars was somebody else’s idea. Pixar was bought. Disney bought Marvel. What have they created in house in the last 10 years?

    What has Disney created themselves? Jon Carter and Lone Ranger?

  • PinkMonorail

    I just look at my own Facebook feed for the answer.
    There are 20+ people on there who are “certified Disney agents” constantly – CONSTANTLY pimping “free dining” and getting people to go back again and again and again. There are people on my feed who go to WDW and stay in a hotel and go to the theme parks upwards of six times a year, the whole family.
    As long as the parks and hotels are full, why, asked the Devil’s Advocate, should Disney make any effort whatsoever? Their job is to create revenue for their stockholders, who don’t give a rat’s ass (sorry) about quality or “magic”.

  • mom of fiveblues

    I just came back from wdw two days ago. I don;t know where to start but here it goes. It is becoming dilapidated. Plain and simple. space mountain broken down when we went to get on an for hours. I thought this was just repaired. Expedition everrest the same. gum stuck to the ground pavers and ground. My mom stayed at the polynesian in may and she said it needs rehab. We always stay at the yacht and beach club wow where do I start. In the laundry room my the quiet pool three of four washers broken, five of eight dryers. My husband said the pool bath had a broken urinal. Splash mountain broken parts in the ride. loose carpet in the hallways of beach club and boardwalk had so many moldy carpet issues when we stopped in there to meet up with friends. Who arrived two days before we left. Another laundry room had two washers and one dryer broken. Disney is lacking not only in maintenance badly. They need to add more teen to adult rides. They think they don’t need to compete with universal. Sorry they do. I have kids ages 24 to five. So I can tell you I have alot of age ranges to please. This july trip may be the last til disney gets it together. If they can. profit is completely outweighting guest, If you please a guest you will get profit. I heard brazilians are needed at this point to help keep profits up and they are destroying property. I heard from a disney cast member they kicked a hole from one room to another to make an adjoining room. I hear they smear cupcakes icing into table clothes at be our guest.Take their names ban them permanantly. What it is costing to fix their destructiveness is not worth their business. I am not going to say this is all brazilians. Some of them young girls are dressing with their butts hanging out come on it’s a family park. I am only a size six for those of you that will comment and think I said it because I am jealous trust me what I saw how some of them dress they don’t belong wearing shorts that short at any age. We were dispite problems going to go back in october after reading that I can go to portofino bay cheaper. I am trying that this october. I am celiac gluten intolerance and disney did not even do a great job at that while I was there. I couldn’t get a life vest for my child at the pool hotel they didn’t have enough of them. How can this be? Rides Disney needs an avatar ride with a part like spiderman and the beauty of avatar. They need to get rid of the great / bad movie ride. expand and rapidly do starwars. A ride and maybe an interactive jedi experience. One thing disney does have they need to expand on is living with the land. Although we love toy story mania the lack of teen adult rides is showing at disney. Purchasing avatar and star wars cost them a huge chunck of change. Now they need to do something like universal would do with it. quickly along with maintenance in the park. Gone are the gays where older well mannered employees are at the park. All the young not trained well employees are showing. A vacation at the yacht club for 12 days with nine people premium dining I see now I can be treated better and have other options at universal. I may do two disney days and the rest at universal. That will please my five year old and I will not leave my vacation feeling unappreciated and abused by disney no longer caring about their guest. I waited an hour for a manager at a quick service in magic kingdon for him to bypass me to get someone to refill ketchup instead of healping me and my son with our gluten free food order.After three hours all I could find was gf macoroni, I was starved and My five year old in tears cause I couldn’t get help in the magic kingdom from places on the list of gf foods. Sent away with no help from two managers at two quick service and one grand marshall at the parade line. I cannot have seafood and the one place that had gf chicken fingers didn’t have a decicated fryer free from seafood. Come on disney you can do much better than that. I will say at certain number two point restaurants serivce was excellant and fod was great. I had five good meals out of 16 meals. I ate in seven two points and seven one points which were great and decent and one quick serivce which was the worse expeience of my life looking for food. No manager had a list of what other quick service restaurants had to offer. We cannot have not dogs and hamburgers do to medical dietary restrictions. Deluxe dining prices are now not worth what you pay. Cheaper to just pay cash.

  • mom of fiveblues

    true bring back the sketch artist. My kids loved these. I have purchased my kids stitch litographs and disney castle pictures on trips that cost between 285. and 500. and they used to love going through the artist and watching them draw and getting a sketch. I would pay for the free hand sketch. It would pay the artist for the day. go back to what walt wanted and you will have bigger profits. So many people are noticing. You cannot stay on the path you are on. you can only ride a name and dynasty walt built for so long. wise up!!