Declining by Degrees: Magic Kingdom Not So Magical Halloween Party

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

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Published on September 24, 2013 at 3:00 am with 55 Comments

The 2013 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom is unfortunately the weakest yet. The party is slowly being watered down, with cutbacks over the years from the slight to the not-so-slight. It’s a process I’ve long called Declining by Degrees.

Lest newer readers think the following marks me as a Disney-hater, every time I return to the “Decline by Degrees” I like to preface these comments with a disclaimer. What looks like criticism of Disney World, its operational decisions, its policies, and its maintenance is done not because I dislike the place, but because I wish for the park and its managers to live up its potential and its reputation. The critique here should not be interpreted to mean that visitors should cancel their plans to visit Disney World. The message is more for Disney management, to alert them that we notice when maintenance and other policies are less customer-friendly than they had been in the past.

I’ve coined the term “Declining by Degrees” to capture the essence of the problem: little touches are being ignored, maintenance is being deferred, and details are being skipped over. There is a decline, in other words, but it’s happening in such small degrees at a time that most visitors don’t notice them individually. Maybe a bit like the proverbial frog in an ever-warming pot of water.

The vaunted “Disney Difference” is a massive conglomeration of minute details working in concert in the background. Visitors don’t notice each individually, but together they weave a mosaic of alternate reality that is simply believable in its thoroughness. The Decline by Degrees threatens this believability. If you take away one or two details, perhaps no one will notice (or at least not consciously). But if you take enough away, suddenly the whole thing looks less magical, and the paying public can’t explain precisely WHY it’s less great, but it just seems so much closer to the competition in recent years. With Universal nipping at Disney’s heels here in Orlando (and perhaps even eating its lunch), this strikes me as a particularly dangerous time for Disney to erode its brand.

I’ve visited Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP, or “manship” as my family says out loud) annually since 2005. I’ve seen the event change and morph over the years. They’ve gotten better with some things (the first few years it seemed like they used no-name candy with the trick-or-treating, but the mix is pretty good now). But in quite a few respects, the event in 2013 is weaker than it used to be.

The most noticeable change for me from last year is the lack of decorations on the Treat Trails (where you can visit multiple trick or treat barrels in quick succession. Last year the Splash Mountain trail wound through the outdoor line and displayed numerous lighted pumpkins. Those were not on display this year at all. The area was simply unthemed to Halloween.

mickey's not so scary halloween party 2011-09-30-4779
Pumpkins from 2011 at the Splash trail.

The other Treat Trail – the walkway between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland – suddenly has no decorations as well. This was always outfitted with wooden cutouts from Alice in Wonderland. I just don’t get this one. It must not cost more than a few hundred dollars to set this up (though I suppose the spotlights on the cutouts add some cost). Are they maybe going to claim that the cutouts were “obsolete technology” like the Lights of Winter?

On hiatus this year?

On hiatus this year?

My favorite decoration of yore was the set of bright white strobe lights that raced down the PeopleMover track. It lent this avenue of Tomorrowland a truly unique air of excitement and vitality. It honest to goodness pumped you up to see it. (Here’s me raving about those lights in 2009). This year, alas, there is no such lighting scheme. There are multicolor LED lights mounted atop the PeopleMover rail, all right, but they don’t come anywhere as close in setting a mood down below.

Ghost Mickey as seen in 2005. Was it out this year? I walked through most of the park, but didn’t see this one.
Your carriage awaits… in 2007. I didn’t see it out this year.

In Frontierland, it feels like there are very few “special” lights. This is a huge loss. Long ago, the trees were uplit by colored powerful lights, or lanterns throughout the land had their normally white light changed to green (or both).

Creepy Frontierland lighting effects were great!… in 2007.

Whereas in 2013, Frontierland looks pretty much normal. There are only a few half-hearted stabs at altered lighting for the party.

!!bFrontierland in 2013

Adventureland looks great! In 2009. This year it did not have such festive colors.

Adventureland looks great! In 2009. This year it did not have such festive colors.

The fabulous Boo to You parade got a new addition, in the form of “candy corn” float units at the very end. I suspected immediately they were the road cones from the departed DHS parade (I think of that parade as “countdown to cones” rather than “countdown to fun”), and indeed that’s what they were.

!!c
Sing it with me: “Countdown to Candy Corn!”

There are still some parts of this event that shine. You’ve got your free candy (almost all of it with recognizable brand names now), your villains stage show, your satisfying HalloWishes, your outstanding Boo to You parade, your special-night character meet and greets (all seven dwarfs, Pooh and friends in Halloween “costumes”), and your decorations on Main Street. At least Main Street hasn’t stopped decorating with pumpkins. They still do special lighting here too, but it’s not as impressive as it was several years ago. Now it’s more faded and washed-out looking.

!!e

They use a lot of projections in the park still; these days, most of them go directly onto a mountain like Space Mountain or Big Thunder (or, as shown here, from Pirates):

!!

The star of the show is Haunted Mansion, of course, and it does still have special lighting, including at the pet cemetery. And a performer often sits out front, dressed (and illuminated) as a ghost, interacting with the passing crowd in the line.

!!d

One anecdotal complaint I’ve heard over the years is that Disney seems to want to sell more tickets now per night than in prior years. I have not heard real, hard numbers, official or otherwise, but it does kind of look like the park is quite busy during MNSSHP nowadays–as busy as a summer day.

For many folks, the party is still worth the money. You get admission to the park starting at 4pm, which means 8 hours of fun for $60 (most nights) – that’s $7.50 per hour. If you spend 12 hours in the park on a regular day ticket, you’re paying $7.91 per hour. So they’ve maneuvered the prices so that the party is closer all the time to the per-hour cost of being in the park during regular days, but even apart from all of that, we’re talking $8 per hour. Someone using FastPass in today’s park could squeeze in three rides in those 60 minutes, meaning each ride is less than $3 per ride… this is better pricing than the traveling state fair, and we’re talking world-class attractions. So in many ways, Disney can still get away with these prices.

And it’s not like Disney destroyed every part of the value of this event. That would be a Decline by Volumes. Instead, the little chipping away at the magic gives us just a little bit less each year, all while charging the same prices (or even higher prices; it was $37 in 2005 and $60/$70 now, depending on which night you go) to increasingly larger numbers of guests. That represents less and less value as time goes on. That doesn’t mean the experience is WORTHLESS. Especially if it’s your first time, you might have a great time at MNSSHP. But it is less likely to make you rush home and proclaim to every neighbor you have that they too have to go–something you might have done in 2005 or other previous years.

When you add it all up, and even fold in stuff that used to be free in 2005 (we didn’t even mention the photo of your party provided in a paper frame, as well as free face painting eight years ago)… the experience has been diluted somewhat, no question about it.

About Kevin Yee

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

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55 Comments

Comments for Declining by Degrees: Magic Kingdom Not So Magical Halloween Party are now closed.

  1. The things I wish they still had at these parties that they had in years past, are the trips on the riverboat with a Halloween storyteller and musical group, and the Halloween version of the Diamond Horseshoe saloon shows, where they used much of the same cast that they had in the daytime Diamond Horseshoe Saloon shows in a Halloween party experience.

  2. Sometimes it feels to me like it’s become the “cool thing” to do to complain about Disney or to bash it. I noticed this starting about three years ago and I think part of it is that if someone covers a topic for long enough, that person gets jaded and the coverage just naturally turns negative. It’s like this restaurant I love near me that I went to every week for the longest time because I just loved its lasagna…and I would get it every single time…and then one day I just didn’t like it anymore. Friends of mine who have never been there love it, but I got to the point where I think I just had my fill. And I started noticing little things about the restaurant that I didn’t like, but had never noticed before.

    I love Kevin Yee and his writing but I think this is where he’s at with Disney…he’s had too much lasagna.

    I don’t know if an annual event like MNSSHP should be compared year-to-year like has been done in this column. That feels a little like comparing this year’s school play to the one done five years ago, when different people are involved and it’s a different story being told. Did people enjoy the 2013 play who had never seen the one in 2008? Or was the play in 2008 so great that they should have never staged another one because it could never be topped and everything pales in comparison?

    I wonder how many people go to MNSSHP for the first time each year or if it’s an event that is meant for locals who would go year after year (and thus rank one year against another). If some things aren’t offered from year to year, it could be a case of guest feedback indicating to the party planners what people really loved and what they didn’t care about. I know that Disney solicits a lot of guest feedback…and it takes the feedback seriously. Something like that candy is a great example: they had no-name candy in the past but clearly guests complained about that so brand-name candy was offered after that.

    As for the lights and decorations, I’ve been part of the PTA at my DS12 and DS9′s schools since they were in pre-K…and we do different carnivals and pageants and things. Every year we try to decorate a little differently, because it gets stale doing the same things. Some years we go more overboard than others, depending on who is chairing the decorating committee and what our budget is. I don’t know what decisions Disney made with the decorating, but if the lights are setup differently in the past I’d wager there are operational reasons for it…and not just something as simple as Disney wanting to be cheap and deciding to cut down on lighting to thumb its nose at guests.

    I think it’s really good for Kevin Yee to be a voice that points out things to Disney that it needs to hear because I think this is the only way that TDO will ever hear any criticism. But I also think the first question asked about something like MNSSHP is “Did people have a good time at the event?” and I think that should take precedence over how this year’s event compared to the ones last year or five years ago. I also think that anyone covering Disney over a long period of time (especially an annual pass holder) also needs to keep in mind that nostalgia is a powerful force in the brain. Almost everyone remembers something in the past to always be much better than what’s here now, especially when it comes to going to something like a party year after year. Of course the first few times will be more exciting than the 8th or 9th time you experienced it. It’s a real challenge to factor the emotion out of this.

    • So, let’s blame the guests for noticing WDW’s LONG list of ignoring guests and taking the guests for granted?
      It’s not the lasagna, BradynBradleysMom.

    • I moved to Orlando in 2011 and made over 50 trips to WDW parks last year. With that many visits, “Declining by Degrees” jumped right out at me. And when I was only visiting once or twice a year I truly did not see it. But the syndrome itself is complicated and brings a few things to mind.

      First, what is the root cause of this? Is it simply managers trying to make bonus by hitting the target bottom line? I know all the symptoms – but what is really causing this problem at the root? Is it happening at Disneyland as well? If not, why not?

      Also, has anyone done the math that might show that, for everything which goes missing in WDW, something is added which compensates? Is there an invisible “Inclining by Degrees” going on? I can’t say as I haven’t really thought about it. But there are new things added all the time to WDW and I wonder how much this offsets the Decline.

      And there is something to the “too much lasagna” concept mentioned above. If you spend enough time anywhere, you will see flaws that you did not see at first. I have given this a lot of thought and I have to admit that going more often did cause me to become somewhat jaded. This jadedness is hard for me to explain, but I’ll try.

      When I go to WDW as a local, I am surrounded by people on vacation. And they are spending a ton of dough. And they have spent weeks, months and years in anticipation of their trip. I know it sounds corny, but I relate to these people. It is really tough to see them get a product that is just a bit less than it was in the past. Then again, they seem happy, so who am I to tell them they are not having as much fun as they think they are? But, in my heart, I know that guests aren’t getting as much value as they deserve. It can become depressing, trust me and the magic becomes tarnished in my mind. But that’s just me.

      Bottom line is that, as far as I am concerned, Declining by Degrees is real, but I am still a little unsure how much to trust my perception of it. How objective am I being in my evaluaton? It feels real to me, but my expectations of what a Disney park should be in 2013 are not the same as the guest from Iowa or Brazil. And are additions to Disney World enough to offset things which go missing? I don’t know. But I will say that if Declining by Degrees is all in my mind – purely subjective – then the illusion is quite convincing.

      And in all this, the thing I am most concerned about it Cast Member morale, which seems very low much of the time. That’s not good for anyone.

      It feels weird to discuss this unpleasant topic on one hand and then tell people that WDW is still an amazing vacation destination on the other. But that is the case. And if you make the trip to Orlando, have the time of your life, see no evidence of DBD and decide that all Disney park forums are full of it, I’m cool with that! But if you were to move here, you just might start to notice this and that until you are posting stuff like this on the internet.

    • Disneyland fans can easily take constructive criticism about the Anaheim parks. I will never understand why WDW fans find it so impossible to accept constructive criticism about the Orlando parks without reacting with the four classic, knee-jerk WDW reactions: getting defensive, criticizing the person who shares those comments, telling them not to compare things over time oris with other Disney parks–which would give you no basis for comparison whatsoever, and saying if the average person liked it than it’s good enough.

      Visiting Disney parks around the world quickly teaches you that “good enough” is not good enough for Disney anywhere else except in Orlando. It’s so childish, like sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you!” How shaky does someone’s grasp of reality have to be for criticism of Magic Kingdom to make their world cave in like that?

      • I enjoy Kevin’s articles, and this has nothing to do with his Declining By Degrees, as he is a Central Florida resident. But, the reason WDW fans can’t take ‘constructive criticism’ is because, for the most part, that criticism is coming from DL’er’s with an inferiority complex.

      • Mike Doyle,
        Boy, did you hit the nail on the head. WDW current leadership for the last 10 years is begging to get criticized. Then the criticizer is attacked by WDW minions for noticing lack of decorations and larger crowds while WDW saved money ,and charged more per ticket, and let more guests in.
        I think these WDW defenders could be spouses of WDW execs and are enjoying the larger bonus checks.
        By the way, DLand has really stepped up and it’s obvious they are trying. The parks are now almost maxed out the land with some very good attractions.
        Some are still waiting 3 years and counting at WDW for a kiddie coaster.
        My family and I have moved on.

      • OrpylandUSA, that’s way off base. WDW fan getting defensive is exactly what you’re doing here. We all expect the best from Disney Parks regardless of what side of the country, or even what country the park is located. If DisneySea started falling apart slowly like WDW, you can bet that there would be an uproar from the fans of that park. Not “you’re a DL’er with an inferiority complex” because that insinuates that you can only be a fan of one park and not more than that.

      • Opryland, quite the opposite. I’m a longtime DLR vet who bought Premier APs (i.e. for both Anaheim & Orlando) this year for my partner’s milestone birthday. He loved DL. But we both had an awful time at WDW, for many of the same reasons Kevin writes about. The quality difference between WDW and DLR is stark, and not in WDW’s favor. We’ve never gotten a Six Flags vibe in Anaheim, but to us, that’s pretty much how WDW felt most of the time, and we felt like we wasted our money. We’re spending the rest of our Premier AP visits at DLR. I’d love to be able to love WDW someday, but just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean it’s better. It just means there’s more of it to disappoint, until management starts taking show and guest experience seriously again.

      • great point about the kiddie coaster.
        Could it be that by taking so long to finish it, you aren’t noticing that they aren’t doing anything else? With something “coming soon” you don’ notice the lack of new attractions? Just like avatar land or star wars land? Neither of which have any concrete plans?

    • I feel like a few years ago, I was among the first in line to make a similar complaint about Kevin’s articles – I called him “cranky,” I believe – lol! Sorry, Kevin. I still kept reading, and then upon a couple of visits to the park, I saw what he was talking about. And I understand what he’s trying to get at. Thus, his caveat, catch-all explanation preceding the actual article. Also, in this particular article, about halfway through, he mentions the event was still fun overall – it had not declined by “volumes” – but he was noting the little things.

      So, now, I say, “Go get ‘em, Kevin!” I think he provides a valuable service to the Disney community, and calls attention to standards that need to be held. This is essentially what Al Lutz and the team did at Disneyland. And to remarkable affect! Damages pointed out one week are often fixed in the next few weeks. Dare we call this synergy?

      It’s possible the same will eventually take affect in Florida, so I think it’s important Kevin keep up the good work, and hopefully readers will understand his point and purpose. He does try to explain himself.

      Oh, and btw, to the one reader who comment about DL’ers having an “inferiority” complex – haha – that would be a “superiority” complex if you ask me! All in good fun…

    • I guess the disclaimer didn’t work. Hilarious.

      If you don’t compare the current experience with the previous, then how do you do the review? Do you merely cite how the good the experience is? Actually, he did say how his experience was, which was pretty good and CROWDED, much more than the past, with much better candy, NAME BRANDED candy.

      Okay, so you missed the reason for why such a column is written.

    • I think Kevin was spot-on with his comparison between this year’s event and previous ones. I kinda like the old lighting which gave the whole activity more of a ‘festival’ atmosphere, which makes sense because it is a family event. Also, to my eyes at least, Main Street has looked better in years past, monochromatic blue gels isn’t as good as the purple LEDs I believe they did one year. As LED spot are less expensive these days (and last longer), you’d think this would be an easy feature to upgrade and change around.

      It’s weird that the Mickey ghost lights are gone as they are a staple special effects, and I think it does matter that it is less impressive as time goes on as guests want to see their old favorites, or perhaps something new and impressive. The Alice cards/trees were a nice touch, though I guess they looked kinda tacky during the day, too bad they couldn’t spend a couple thousand putting in something else. So, yes, this is a real declining from degrees here and in other spots.

      I kinda think that Disney is upgrading some of the special effects/props, and that this takes longer than a year to plan out, possibly some of the stuff will be added to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for next year, (as well as Dumbo’s Circusland) . . . that these lands seem to have no special Halloween decorations/lighting is a missed opportunity, but that may well change. Since they’re building the Seven Dwarf Mine Train now, would it be too much to add low voltage wiring all over the mountain for some light-up pumpkins? Seriously, Disney needs to get in the habit of installing infrastructure (and low-voltage wiring is cheap, even with hidden receptacles in fake rocks) so that the people who put up these effects can it do it more quickly.

      In terms of regulars getting tired with MNSSHP, and it being like eating lasagna in the same restaurant, well, Kevin eats this lasagna dish each year so I think he’s probably in the best position to determine if quality standards have slipped at our favorite “restaurant.”

    • I love Kevin, too, but methinks he needs a change of scenery. Certainly HE did not have fun.

      Dobby questions: Humans? Too much lasagna? There is NEVER too much lasagna!

    • I don’t know if the lasagna analogy really applies to this. Lasagna is a singular item. And if you have one too many of any singular item, you are sure to get tired of it. That’s human nature.

      However, this is an event which has many facets. I would compare this to something like your personal Christmas/Holiday décor. I think that it is generally agreed that annual decorations are somewhat empirical. Each year most will add something new or change things for the better. I find it rare that people I know do less as time goes by.

      It would seem that Disney should be taking the same tactic in these annual events. Especially as they become more popular and profitable. Based on Kevin’s observations, WDW MNSSHP is costing more, selling more and offering less. And while first time visitors may not notice, those that are returning fans feel slighted.

    • Sadly, I have stopped visiting the WDW Resort but maybe every 2 or 3 years. I used to visit 2-3 times per year, and make side trips to other places like Universal, SeaWorld, etc… Now, I visit, and opt to stay at the hotels at Universal Orlando. They give you so much for your money, and the resorts were gorgeous!! Their attention to detail is incredible.

      To get back on track, it doesn’t matter how often I visit. I know that WDW is not interested in adding or plussing their resort with paint, small details or even routine maintenance. The amount of lightbulbs I saw burnt out on Main Street, or atop the Grand Floridian hotel were unacceptable. The new interactive queue in Space Mtn and Haunted Mansion was either completely turned off or had so many elements inoperable. I refuse to spend my money in a resort that is only interested in sucking my pockets dry, without me getting anything new to look at or enjoy. The entire property is stale, lacking character, and is just not as fun as it used to be. Their neighbors down the street are far ahead of the game now, and it’s truly unfortunate, because my heart and passion has always been with TWDC and their beautiful parks. (Art of Animation is quite impressive for a Value Resort though, we opted to stay there for 2 nights in a Cars themed Suite. It was adorable and reminded me of their potential and how the resort used to make me feel.)

      If you want to get the most out of your money and still do Disney, DCL is the way to go!! It’s clear that that is where the company spends most of their time and energy investing, and the payoff is beyond incredible!! IMO, that is the only Disney worth visiting in Florida.

  3. Kevin,
    We have all been complaining to WDW mgt for about 10 years now about all the lazy, half hearted, smug attitudes they have been exhibiting, Each year they take more and give less. No need to list the rising prices and lowering of standards, we all know them, but some die hard fans just keep TRYING to ignore this. Like some guy returning to a terrible relationship, repeating to himself, “She still loves me, she still loves me”, and everyone else he knows, sees the pathetic relationship clearly.
    Current WDW leadership doesn’t care about any of our words, they only care about our money.
    If you ever want to see them care about your thoughts again you will have to quit giving them your money. Your money is the ONLY thing they care about. They are insulting Walt’s legacy.
    Universal is busting its tail to try and get your attention. Ditch WDW and spend your theme park time and money at Universal.
    It will be hilarious to see WDW’s attitude when Uni passes up AK, DS, and Epcot in 2015.
    Or, you can keep talking to a wall.

  4. I know it’s stupid, but one of my favorite parts of MNSSHP was the lighting, especially in Frontierland. It really changed the entire feeling of the area, the ambiance is much different than the park at other times of the year. Lighting can have a dramatic effect.

    Though I will say that I did my College Program in 2006, and there was indeed a tremendous amount of brand name candy. So much that I remember taking notice of it and being surprised. So really, things haven’t improved that much in that department from 2006.

  5. For the past several years, we planned our annual Disney trips for fall to go to MNSSHP – Halloween is my favorite holiday, and the first few years it was great. But the past two years, the park was absolutely jam-packed for the party – as you said, like summer-level crowds – but still staffed for the off-season daytime crowds. It was miserable, and after last year, we decided we were done – your cost per-hour comparison is valid with a single day ticket, but with a multi-day pass, it’s MUCH cheaper per hour during the day, and with significantly smaller crowds. I enjoyed the parade and the fireworks, but they’re the same every year, and I’ve seen them, so there’s no reason to go back. Clearly they are aiming for the once in a lifetime crowd rather than local or even annual visitors. We don’t do horror and gore, so we’re not interested in Universal’s Halloween events – but if they ever did a more family-friendly Harry Potter Halloween event I have a feeling we wouldn’t be the only people heading to Orlando this time every year again! In the meantime, there are too many awesome local fall and Halloween events to spend the time and money dealing with all that – if we go back to Disney, it will be in the winter off-season!

    • Poohmeg,
      Me too on the Universal Halloween. We don’t appreciate gore but a good scare is fun.

      I think Universal should choose one park for a family friendlt Halloween and let the other do the one they have. That could give WDW folks a choice.

      • Although I see your point I don’t think Universal will do that. They have their own part of the pie cut out for them with HHN and they are world class in it. That what they like and what they are good at.
        Beside Disney, Sea World is doing an awesome Halloween event during park hours at no extra costs but with a lot of treats and special activities for the small kids. Also LEGOLAND is doing a great job with brick or treat.

  6. They are starting Mickey’s Not So Fabulous Halloween Party earlier and earlier, charging top dollar, letting more folks in and cutting back on what they offer at the same time. This is textbook WDW management and the very reason WDW deserves our criticism. Other sites and small minded bloggers (on the Disney gravy train) will attack us for noticing, but the fact is that unless Disney feels the heat, they won’t make changes for the better. Meanwhile, Universal Orlando responded to cutback complaints for last years Halloween event by ramping things up this year. Uni listens to its guests and Disney has learned to not care as long as the money keeps rolling in. I sincerely hope that George Kalogridis (who really does care) is paying attention and starts removing all the executives who are making him look bad. You need a litmus test to determine who understands the Disney magic and who doesn’t.

    Meanwhile, Disneyland looks great and is filled with actual decorations, not just lighting and projections.

    • That last comment about Disneyland is completely irrelevant and quite inappropriate as a response to an article about WDW, where no mention of Disneyland was mention. I do not quite get the point of why you elected to include it.

      Disneyland and WDW are two completely difference experiences and cannot understand how people compare the two.

      • Because they’re both Disney parks, with DL being second in visitor numbers, and not by much, only to Magic Kingdom. They aren’t apples and oranges, no matter how unique you want to believe Magic Kingdom to be.

      • Well, in California Disney has some actual competition. You’re not in the middle of Florida. You have all of LA right there. You could spend months there and not even think about Disneyland. But what is there in Orlando? Orlando is theme parks and nothing else.

        Plus, in California, Disney doesn’t have the all inclusive all on property, gravy train. Most people at Disneyland aren’t staying at a Disney hotel, and they don’t have to eat 3 meals at Disneyland.

  7. I’m not eating the lasagna and I’m not drinking the Disney cool-aid anymore either.
    We’ve gone to one Disney park or another every year for the past 13 years except this one. I’ve kept my comments positive both here and on MC during that time but I can’t wear the blinders anymore. The decline is just too much to ignore.
    The parks overall condition with peeling paint, burned out bulbs, broken infrastructure and general lack of upkeep and care screams of a soulless corporate greed culture and not the ideology of the man who created it. I see no commitment to the product anymore – just a desire to profit off the name.
    Until something changes we’ll spend out vacation dollars elsewhere – like Universal.

    • ScottG,
      Our family went through the same thing you describe. We live in Texas and we used to buy annual passes to WDW or DLand every year and head out to the parks 2-3 times before our passes ran out. We began noticing how our one day at Uni (which was mostly to see the animal show which our kids loved) turned into 2 days, then 3, etc as the parks improved and WDW stopped improving. New Fantasyland was the last straw as the WDW neglect of the guest came into full sight.
      Then we noticed how 4-5 star Portofino and Royal Pacific resorts with our Uni Annual pass discount were about the same price as values to moderates at WDW. We began moving nights to Uni resorts and left the WDW value resorts and moderates. Traded standing up in a crowded bus for a beautiful boat ride to the front of the parks.
      Today, our family of 5 have annual passes to Uni and haven’t been to WDW in over 2 years, except for the waterparks.
      The only things I really miss are Haunted Mansion, Pirates of Caribbean, and Peter Pan. There isn’t anything new that we really miss because there just isn’t much new.
      I think a lot of families are finding that Universal is really appreciative of their guests and had kind of forgotten what that felt like at WDW.

  8. Declining by Degrees: Disney Merchandise. (I’ll stick with the parks here and not even begin to rant about the junk I see in the stores with Disney characters slapped to the side of it…)

    I recently visited WDW and had every intention of shopping waaaay more than I did. Came with cash in hand saved just for the trip. But I found little to justify my anything close to a spending spree.

    Nowhere was this more apparent than at Epcot. @Living Seas w/Nemo, you have an announced sequel and carry no merchandise to build synergy on? I’m not saying you have to spoil the film with character plushes that no one will know until 2016 – although, the Star Wars prequels proved 15 years ago that people WILL buy figures of characters they are unfamiliar with just for the thrill of having it before the movie comes out. Can the parks not at least carry t-shirts with a picture of Dory staring at a crossroads sign, scratching her head, with the title “Finding Dory” above her? That stuff will sell like hotcakes!

    World Showcase was worse. Does each country have to have its own perfume/cologne? How many people want to smell like Norway? What does Norway even smell like?? And I remember the Italian pavilion’s main shop full of Murano glass, Tuscan ceramics, and a little something called “VARIETY.” Now, its mostly a rental shop for specialized designers that no one has heard of to hock their goods of questionable quality. The only genuine country-of-origin merchandise to be found is in the China pavilion… because so much of the merch is MADE IN CHINA.

    Then, when I did find something I liked, I had to decide if it was worth the luggage real estate as a result of airline restrictions.

    If anyone at Disney reads these boards, here’s two suggestions:

    1) You either need better merchandise buyers or a better head of merchandise. This attitude of “just because its there, people will buy it” needs to stop. Both variety AND quality need to improve. And the merchandise locations need to be run and operated directly by Disney, not leased out to vendors with no-name merch. And as for that Disney Company synergy: where is it in merchandising?!

    2) Take a hint from AMAZON PRIME. “All you can eat”-style shipping to home for resort guests that they can pay a flat-fee for, cheaper and far less limiting than paying for extra luggage to carry all those goodies home with a airline carrier. The infrastructure is already halfway there, with the delivery to your individual resort and shipping facilities on-site. Take it one step further: want to send a gift from an Animal Kingdom shop to your nephew who loves the Lion King? I could buy a Simba plush and have it shipped right to him, along with a card and a Photopass picture of me holding Simba in front of the entrance to Festival of the Lion King: “Thinking of you… I sent a friend to keep you company until I get back from Disney World!” Seriously, how does Disney NOT have a program like this in place already???

    • Hmmm…I agree and disagree with you (friendly disagreement of course). On one hand, I despise most “One Disney” merchandise items. And I also mourn the loss of more merchandise that is not specifically Disney, but rather fits the theme of a land or country.

      By the way, Japan also has a plethora of actual Japanese merchandise. You can’t even use your Disney dollars there b/c it is an exclusive Japanese retailer. I think this holds true for a number of countries. I mean, I didn’t see any Disney branded cuckoo clocks in Germany.

      And the merchandise otherwise is pretty good. In my trips in summer of 2012 and spring of 2013, I came back with a lot of items and collectibles. At first glance, it may sometimes seem that each shop carries the same thing. But I would still go in, and lo and behold, I often found items I’d not seen anywhere else.

      I’m not saying there’s not room for some improvement, but I was satisfied overall with finding a number of unique items and even some fun, more generic ones.

      • You really point out the problem. The stores mostly look generic these days, even if they do have a few unique items worth looking at. But at one time, most of the stores were quite unique with only a few generic items in them. It’s a complete reversal of how things were when Disney merchandise was at its best. They really do need a more capable merchandise team willing to sell smaller quantities of unique items in just a few stores rather that mass produced items that you will find everywhere. I think they’d find that although they have to work harder, they’ll make more money and increase the spending per guest.

  9. I’m looking forward the the completion of the 47 square mile perfectly designed, constructed, operated, and maintained MiceChat World.

  10. This, sadly, is just another example of Universal “eating Disney’s lunch”. Every year there are reviews of all of the various Halloween events in Orlando, and every year, the Universal reviews go on and on about how this year is SOOOO much better than last year. The talk about how they continually top themselves with quality and quantity. Then, every year, you read the reviews of the Disney parties and they are usually something like “It was nice, but I miss this thing that they used to do. Oh yea… and it’s A LOT more crowded than it used to be”.

    I seriously don’t know when Disney management is going to wake up and remember that it’s all about the show, not about how many dollars you can squeeze out of something. Honestly, if it weren’t for the Food and Wine Festival, I probably wouldn’t bother going to the US parks anymore, and instead save to go to Japan, where they do Disney right.

    On a side note, I went to the Disneyland party in 2009 and left the party feeling exhilarated and wanting to do it again. Then I went to the Disney World party in 2010 and left the party feeling exhausted and not really wanting to ever go again. I don’t know what it is about the Orlando crew, but they just don’t have the knack for this kind of thing that the Anaheim crew has.

  11. I had no idea what I had missed in the earlier MNSSHPs. My first one was 2008 and I was blown away. I guess you don’t miss what you never had. But from your article I can see I missed a lot.

    I noticed the 2013 Halloween shirts (not the special MNSSHP shirts) are the same design as last year. I don’t recall that being the case before. I thought the design was new every year. No?

  12. Dear Kevin:

    You are as deeply sincere and devoted to Disney as anyone so, when you get uneasy about the physical state of Walt’s dream, I totally respect that. You are a sensitive barometer to the level of magic in the park. Obviously a group of execs said, “Let’s not go all out this year on the party; they’ll come anyway.” True and sad. Barnum charged them ten cents to see the “Egress,” remember?

    To paraphrase Dug from “Up:” “I have never been to Florida, but I love you!” If “they” don’t hear you, Kevin, they’re fools.

  13. The current recession started officially in Dec 2007 but we all know it started about 3 years earlier. Disney noticed 9-11 2001 and it’s aftermath year that people who bought into the timesharing scam DVC still came to WDW. Because of that they started in invest heavily in expending the DVC offerings resulting in many more rooms, a trend that extends to today and into the future with the expanding Polynesian Resort. All focused on the more rich customers and because of that changing their demographic. This huge new group are not the recurring guests WDW had for years (more then 80%) and because of that it was logical to not invest heavily in new rides or updating their aging rides because these new rich customers (who in the past wouldn’t be caught dead in WDW) where new to the resort.
    Because of all the shifting around their customer base hasn’t changed much in numbers but in wallet size and that’s why Disney is putting a huge effort in emptying those wallets. Not buy adding value or new rides people willingly open their wallets for but to indulge the rich guests and their spoiled kids with options to make their stay more magical by letting them buy stuff they need to show their love.
    I think that is the reason why Disney does what it does.
    For Mickeys not so scary… Disney designed the event en tweaked it a bit but doesn’t change much. It does so to all it’s events. Unlike USO with HHN who reinvents every iteration of the spectacle. You can see their love and fun they have with this holyday event, something Disney lacks. Almost all events I have attended diminished. Take the wonderful Lights of Winter holiday archway at Epcot who left in 2009 and never where replaced of the Christmas photo who was included in their hard ticketed Christmas event and left for good.
    A company priding itself for an eye to detail and pretending to deliver a superior experience with a price to match it should deliver on these promises and we reminded to their legacy if they are lacking. WDW is lacking in a huge way and all these things add up and unfortunately make me lose interest in visiting them. This is not the first time this happened to Disney (see the last years of Eisner for instance) but it never took them this long to get their act together.
    For the first time in history Disney also has a series competitor, at least more guests see the excellent of the Universal Studio Orlando resort finally (it had been there for years). I can’t wait for the sleeping not so beauty to wake up and change back to the awesome resort they where 10 years ago.

    • You make some good points but your comments about DVC and “rich people” are ridiculous. I am a DVC member and I’m far from “rich,” in fact we are probably about in the middle of the middle class. We bought into DVC because it gives us nicer accommodations than we would normally be able to afford. We often travel with another family and we usually stay in a 2-bedroom unit, so it actually makes it cheaper than it would be to stay in a simlarly-equipped hotel separately.

      There are plenty of hotel options for people who need so keep costs down…the Disney value resorts, which have more rooms on property than any other category; and of course there are dozens of off-property places to stay for even less.

      As for Disney spending too much on hotels…they have spent probably 2 billion dollars in the last few years on non-hotel projects like New Fantasyland and the “magicband” system. Are these projects kind of underwhelming? YES. I do agree that Universal is currently doing a better job of “plussing” their parks than Disney is. And you are right about upkeep — my wife and I were in Disneyland last week (first visit there in 18 years) and that park is positively gleaming. You’d never know it was built in 1955, it looks like it was built last week. WDW on the other hand is definitely rough around the edges.

      So yes, Disney definitely does have major improving to do in Florida. But they are building more DVC rooms because there is demand for them…that’s all. As a member who constantly has trouble getting the preferred hotel, this is a good development.

      I’m sure they will “turn around” the current state of upkeep. They CAN make outstanding improvements when they put their mind to it. A year ago, “Splash Mountain” was dirty and dusty with many of its animatronics not working; today it looks brand new and is as fun as ever. Same with Haunted Mansion…recent improvements have made it a much more enjoyable attraction. So they CAN do better.

  14. I have my own story about declining by degrees. Sorry this is not part of Halloween. When I was young, we stayed at the Polynesian resort. I remember arriving and having the baggage handler load us into a golf cart and drive us around to our room area. It was a lot of fun. Last year my family and I stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside. We arrived early evening, but it was already dark. With 3 kids and my wife and our carry-on luggage, I was shown on a map a twisting pathway through a poorly lit resort – a walk of about a km or more to find our room. We got lost twice and my wife was not impressed to say the least. It was only afterwards that I recalled in my youth being escorted to our rooms in a golf cart. If they have this service still they certainly did not offer it or I would have taken them up on it. If they don’t – they should! Instead what I was left with was a pissed off wife and kids to start our vacation.
    As for Halloween – i would have thought there would be some fun decorations in the “new Fantasyland”. If there was – I didn’t see it on Kevin’s article.

    • My family and I stayed at the Grand Floridian this summer. We were taken to our room in a golf cart just as you described at the Polynesian. Perhaps this is a difference between moderate and deluxe resorts??

      • Seriously?
        Disney’s Polynesian Resort is classified as a “deluxe resort” — a deluxe monorail resort even — and is priced more than high enough, to boot.

        As are:
        Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
        Disney’s Beach Club Resort
        Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
        Disney’s Contemporary Resort
        Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
        Disney’s Polynesian Resort
        Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
        Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

        Maybe simply charging higher prices and delivering less doesn’t make something “deluxe”?
        But, it’s still “magical,” right?
        Right?

  15. This issue with all of WDW’s “Declining By Degrees” is, of course, that people keep going to the complex, in droves.

    To get granular with this event, if it cost X to get Y visitors in 2007, and it costs X-50 to get Y+25 visitors in 2013, why in Roy’s name would they do any differently? DCA got it’s grand investment because the original sucky part didn’t generate enough revenue to cover its costs.

    The only way that WDW will stop declining by degrees is if people stop going there in record numbers. Or if X-50 equals Y-250.

    • What you’re not understanding is that with what is being said here, the fallout won’t be immediate. In a few years Disney will look around and wonder what happened? They will think that the last few years were a success, when in reality they were failures.

      To bring back the restaurant analogy. Get awesome service, and you leave a great tip. You tell your friends, and you come back. Get ho hum service, okay food, and you leave a tip, but you don’t tell your friends, and you don’t come back. Do you think the restaurant will figure out why there aren’t as many people?

      We went to Disneyland Halloween in 2011. We came back with pictures, and tons of stuff. We showed all our friends. For the weekend they got hundreds of pics posted to Facebook. A few friends booked their own trips after being encouraged to by us.

      In February we went to Florida, our friends again got bombarded with Facebook pics and updates, but we didn’t try to talk a single friend into going. We told people we were glad to go, and would likely return (someday). 10 days in Florida. 9 in Disney. 1 in Harry Potter and guess what EVERYBODY wanted to hear about? We even encouraged our friends to book a vacation there.