Throwing in the Towel

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 21, 2013 at 3:00 am with 95 Comments

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?

 

 

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

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95 Comments

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  1. 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.

    • 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

      • Lord of the Rings is PG13.

      • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

  4. 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.

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

      Well stated!

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

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

  9. 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?

    • 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.

      • “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!

  10. 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?”

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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

  14. 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

  15. 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.

    • 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.