WDW’s Biggest Challenges and Opportunities

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Magic Kingdom

Tagged: , ,

Published on February 04, 2014 at 3:00 am with 62 Comments

In some ways, it seems like Walt Disney World is firing on all cylinders. The parks have never seemed more crowded, for one thing, and it hardly seems like there is an off-season anymore with short lines. That implies plenty of business and profits, and indeed the quarterly results only vary slightly from the basic message of “this parks-and-resorts division makes a lot of money.”

But there are challenges ahead, as well. None of these will come as a surprise to longstanding readers, but it’s useful to summarize where we stand every so often:

FastPass+ backlash. Virtually every discussion and message board conversation these days seems to evolve (devolve?) sooner or later into an indictment of FastPass+ and its effects on the parks. It seems clear that while I’ve seen some benefits, there are others who dislike the switch immensely and are not shy about voicing their opinions. Most of the time, the objections take the form of disliking the schedule-everything mentality this system enforces, but there are also objections to the way the system is being rolled out operationally (limit of only three per day, no parkhopping, etc). People got used to the original FastPass concept and now feel like the revision is a big letdown. This kind of sustained bad press will eventually have a deleterious effect on actual public opinion, if it hasn’t already, so in some ways this is rolling boulder already in motion, and it’s going to be difficult to stop completely.

Remember these?

Remember these?

MagicBand backlash. There have been fewer complaints about the bands than the FastPass+ system they are used with, but the bands are wrapped up in some of the same arguments. FP+ tends to take longer at the attraction entrance, in part because the bands are hard to work with, even if you know what you’re trying to do (“make Mickey touch Mickey”). On this one point, I wonder if Disney can roll out a technical fix. Can’t they just increase the reception on the antennas inside the posts, and make them more sensitive so that the bands don’t have to be positioned so exactly to scan?

The bands are not universally popular in other ways. Some resent having to wear them all the time–this may be especially an issue during the hot summer months, when the rubber will get all the more sweaty. I’ve heard some folks say that the RFID cards are easier to work with than the bands in general.

Rising Prices, Lowered Value. Like clockwork, prices go up every year. It’s almost entirely “across the board.” The ticket prices go up a few percent a year – sometimes twice per year – and hotel prices creep up, too. Even the food prices go up; this is the legacy of inflation, of course, but when it comes with a reduction in portion sizes (Food and Wine festival is notorious for this), then the value is seen as taking a double hit to the downside. Couple that with public-relations moves that are seen as customer-unfriendly – the RapidFill technology that limits free refills – and the entire restaurant division looks like it’s under siege as times.

Does FP+ add enough value to offset other increases? (Some say it REMOVES value)

Does FP+ add enough value to offset other increases? (Some say it REMOVES value)

Disney is a publicly-traded company, which means it often feels the pressure (or applies self-inflicted pressure) to beat its own results quarter after quarter. This kind of pressure often leads one away from strategic thinking (“let the customer return home with money in his wallet” was a Walt idea) toward tactical, wondering exactly how much the market will bear in price increases, and pinpointing the EXACT point of diminishing marginal returns. The unfortunate, but natural, side effect of this kind of analysis is that Disney *will* find the maximum price the public will pay – arguably they have found it – and that means they are by definition pushing SOME customers away even as they reap maximal profit out of those willing to stay. This is the design; it’s what they are aiming at.

Competition. The big chatter among fans is that Disney is facing unprecedented competition here in Central Florida. But while Legoland is nice, it’s no real threat to Disney’s core business. Likewise, SeaWorld’s big hopes with Antarctica haven’t panned out. The real competition these days is of course from Universal. It’s not just the enormous Harry Potter expansion, though certainly it’s the most visible element. There’s an awful lot going on. CityWalk is being rejuvenated in a big way. Not too long ago, themed mini-golf was added. The gigantic Cabana Bay resort will add to the feeling that this area is a complete Universal zone – not unlike the effect one has of staying “on property” with Disney. And still the rides keep coming inside the parks: new Simpsons expansions, new Transformers ride, and who knows what else they have yet to announce (there are plenty of rumors, many of them fixated upon the Jurassic Park area of IOA).

The first Potter land put IOA on the map in a big way.

The first Potter land put IOA on the map in a big way.

The thing is, one or two of these challenges could be credibly laughed off. Disney is the industry leader by a long shot; of COURSE the competition, well, “competes” with Disney. But Disney just does its own thing and still stays the industry leader.

Then again, challenges like this become cumulative. They add up to a reason to avoid a Disney vacation. I’ve seen numerous Disney fans in message boards proclaiming that they might go to Universal instead this time, or simply skip Orlando altogether.

And yet! (Does this feel like a tennis match yet, with whiplash from snapping our heads to both sides of this debate?) Disney is not the industry leader by accident. When they do something right, they get the kind of homerun that competitors cannot TOUCH by a country mile. The first times I saw Carsland in DCA and the volcano from the inside in Tokyo DisneySea, I was literally agape, literally speechless. Standing toe-to-toe with Disney in the themed environment wars is like jabbing at the reigning heavyweight champion and fooling yourself that you’re landing lots of blows while he does nothing. Indeed it looks like you’re winning for a few second. And then the haymaker comes, and all you see are stars.

Disney could end up doing that to Universal in lots of different ways. No one I know thinks the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster will be the answer, but I’ve been vocal here before that a hypothetical Star Wars land, if done truly right, would be the kind of monster success that would overshadow the competition. Even Pandora has a chance of doing that – let’s see what actually gets built first before we condemn that project any further.

And Disney has a lot more in its corner. Much of the recent investment and infrastructure lately has gone to support princesses and meeting characters. Those without children (or specifically young girls) may feel like this is a waste of time and money, but the reality is that the segment of the visiting population who WANTS experiences like that is large and, if anything, growing. Disney is meeting needs with these expansions, and there are no Universal “intellectual property” competitors to Disney’s own characters.

On top of all that, Disney still has its brand. As noted above, the brand is taking some hits on the chin lately, and may even be bruised. But a multi-billion dollar brand doesn’t just die overnight. Even if Disney just coasted on its reputation – rested on its laurels, to kind-of-quote Walt Disney himself – it would still be the industry leader for the foreseeable future.

Theme parks and their reputations are like giant ocean liners. Once they set a direction, they are hard to turn around, for better or worse. There may be increments and salvos in the battle between ships, but we need to think in terms of these stately long ships and their slow navigation, not the quick dogfighting of attack jets, when comparing Disney and Universal. And that means that Disney will be tricky to unseat. It’s possible, but it’s going to be a long battle. As far as Universal has come lately, their parks still lack the complete range of experiences offered by any of the Walt Disney World parks.

Re-Launching Ultimate Orlando

I’ve maintained a “side blog” since 2006 and have finally decided to unify all my social networking around this one site and brand. That means I will soon stop posting about my Disney updates to my regular Facebook account, and will only use the “Ultimate Orlando” venues/accounts going forward. Also of note: I had to change the YouTube channel, so if you subscribe to the current one be sure you switch your subscription to the new one. If you follow me on any of these services, please update your bookmarks:

Ultimate Orlando Clicks

We take a slideshow video tour of some construction spots in the Magic Kingdom, including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster and its new shrubbery.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/M7t7qUuMxCU

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He is a founding member of MiceAge and has written numerous books about Disney parks (see http://bit.ly/kevinyee).

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  • steve76

    I think one of the problems Disney has (a PR problem but also a real one) is how slow it has become to make changes to the parks. Seven Dwarfs coaster will, I’m sure, be fantastic, but it has taken years to build (and indeed was designed many many years ago). The same with Avatar – they have only just started moving earth around but we’ve been hearing about it for years. Compare that with Universal knocking down Jaws and throwing up Diagon Alley, and building Transformers seemingly overnight.

    Of course that’s a slightly unfair comparison, because Avatar was announced at a ridiculously early stage in its development, and because the relative size of WDW means that investment is spread thinly. But the impression you get is that Disney is paralyzed by bureaucracy, indecision and finances, whilst Universal is fast, agile and willing to plow money in to improve the guest experience.

  • I love WDW as much as anyone. Heck, I even bought into the Disney Vacation Club . . . TWICE! That also means I have a bit more investment into the success of the parks since I’m hooked into a lifetime of vacations there.

    That having been said, there has been a lack of major attraction construction at WDW. With 4 parks and 2 water parks, there should ALWAYS be something exciting and new on the way. The pace of change has been glacial.

    But for the 2 billion they’ve spent on MyMagic+, they could have fixed almost all of the problems with the resort and really given the whole world wonderful reasons to visit. For 2 billion they could have built Star Wars Land at the Studios park, a new pixar themed land at the Studios (Cars Land or Monstropolis), a new pavilion for Epcot, a replacement for Wonders of Life, a fix for Universe of Energy, a fix for Journey into Imagination, Beastly Kingdom at Animal Kingdom (or Avatar Land), and Villain Mountain or FIre Mountain at the Magic Kingdom. Plus lots of little C and D ticket rides throughout the resort. Any one or two of those major projects would drive significant new visits and revenue to the resort. Spaced over a decade of construction, they would provide a steady stream of excitement and plenty of excuse to raise prices.

    Unfortunately that money was spent on something which doesn’t drive much revenue. While I have no doubt that one day MyMagic+ will be sorted out and work perfectly. How many folks are going to book a vacation to Disney World so they can use a wrist band? My guess is that MyMagic+ won’t budge the needle at all when it comes to reasons why people choose a vacation destination. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is likely to be dinner table conversation for tens of thousands of families worldwide. The only lucky thing for Disney is that most of those families will choose to stay at Disney and spend the rest of their vacations there. So, Harry Potter is likely to be a big draw for Disney as well. But, it’s the waining excitement for WDW which will be the problem for Disney if they don’t start building again.

    It’s nice that they are building Avatar Land. It will be much needed. But it’s not going to be enough for the whole resort. They should be announcing a major new project every year for at least the next decade. There’s just TOO much that needs to be fixed or replaced at WDW. At the current pace, far more things are set to become stale and no longer a draw for guests than they could ever hope to fix and replace. It’s a challenge that Disney simply must eventually rise to the level of.

    There is no doubt that MyMagic+ is holding Disney back on the thing guests care about most . . . new attractions. Hopefully, once Disney has paid off the 2 billion, they’ll get back to building those attractions that really drive guest spending.

    • Jungle Trekkie

      From the reporting here on MiceAge it sounds like “Star Wars Land” has been largely cancelled?

      Have they given up on building new attractions to try and reclaim their mantle as the premiere theme park creative geniuses?

      Are they just so deep in trying to clean up their operational mess with the new MyMagic thing that it only looks that way and they have secret creative plans that will shock and awe the world?

    • met19

      actually i think your numbers are wrong. cars land cost at least 600million.

  • DuckyDelite

    Without a doubt, Disney has the Princess meet-n-greet to itself. That will be a huge revenue generator for years.

    However, now that Universal has access to a full media stack (TV Network, Cable, Movies, Theme Park), it will be interesting to see if they aggressively go after this market too. All they need is an Ariel/Hanna Montana hit and they can suddenly have Saturday morning cartoons, an afternoon Universal Mouse Club, a Sunday World of Universal show, and the tour movie. Plus they could take you behind the scenes on the actual show sets.

    I think you are already starting to see this with Transformers and Despicable Me. I’m just not sure if Universal is great at creating new characters or will always be chasing what’s already out there.

    • stitch1085

      Well let’s not forget that characters like Cinderella, Rapunzel, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Mulan weren’t just magically dreamed up fully by Disney. To be sure, Disney has created some great characters (Mickey and Stitch for example) from scratch. But most of the characters in their catalog were created long before Disney ever even existed. Disney may be responsible for making them household names but Universal is taking properties like Despicable Me and now even Dr. Suess properties and turning them into multimillion dollar franchises. Some may argue that it’s not Universal, it’s Illumination Entertainment doing this. BUT Illumination is to Universal what Pixar is to Disney. And let’s be honest what has Disney truly created that’s new and original as of late? All I can see is them buying up franchises (chasing what’s already out there, as you put it) like Star Wars, Marvel, The Muppets, etc. I think Universal is very capable of creating their own characters and at the end of the day does it really matter who creates them? What really matters is who is making money off them.

      • DuckyDelite

        Definitely agree. Peter Pan exists outside Disney, but if you want to see THE Peter Pan, you go to Disney. I think Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is a good example of the point I was trying to make. Although the story of Sleeping Beauty existed before, the castle anchored itself to Disney through Walt’s own media self promotion.

        The Transformer’s meet-n-greet is a huge success and I can imagine kids wanting their parents to take them back to Universal to meet THAT transformer, but right now Transformers still exists in a huge world outside Universal. Universal has characters it can market as “Only at Universal”, but I don’t know if they have a character yet that “Is Universal”. They are trying hard with Grinch, but I’m not sure anyone is buying it.

        If Disney is relying on theme park character exclusivity, I think they better wake up. Universal is no longer the bankrupt, disoriented liquor company it used to be. They are now a huge media empire.

    • EC82

      You’re failing to see the forest for the trees. Princess meet and greets are great, but they are not the defining characteristic of a theme-park visit. They’re lovely trees to see, but the forest is the entire experience itself. With Harry Potter, particularly, but also with attractions like Spider-Man, Transformers, Despicable Me and now MORE Harry Potter, Universal is building experiences that can truly compete with Disney. Standing in long, long lines to get a photo with a princess only has appeal for about a third (maybe less?) of Disney visitors, at any rate.

    • DobbysCloset

      They will never have an afternoon Universal Mouse Club! Secret meetings of Dumbledore’s Army in the Room of Requirements maybe, but they will never lure away the Mouse. M-O-U-S-E!

  • DisneySam

    This article fails to mention the overall of Downtown Disney/Pleasure Island into the Disney Springs concept. If the rejuvenation of Universal’s Citywalk is seen as competition than I definitely believe that Disney Springs will be the unifying aspect that puts Disney ahead of the competition by leaps and bounds. Disney has long needed a fix for the mixture of themes that was the original Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island and Westside. I think that Disney Springs, as put forth in the concept drawings, will be that fix. Now as long as they include the Adventurer’s Club everything there will be perfect.

    Also, as a side note. While I don’t pretend to know the in’s and out’s of engineering I do know that the majority of the Magic Kingdom resides on what is technically the 2nd floor. Building a ride such as the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Coaster has got to be a challenge. I only mention this because a lot of people talk about why it has taken so long for it to open. I believe that the engineering challenges that Disney has to overcome in adding this to the Magic Kingdom may explain some of the delay.

    • EC82

      Not only that, but aren’t they building it on what used to be (sniff-sniff) the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” lagoon?

      • Amy VandenBoogert

        Little Mermaid sits where 20K used to be.

    • Country Bear

      While it’s true that the Utilidors do run in directions under the Magic Kingdom, I don’t believe there were any in this particular area. For the most part the Utilidors run under areas where they originally built attractions (pre-1971) and connect in that manner. When they started the construction for the Dwarfs Mine Train, they were digging in soil to do it, not adding onto (essentially) a “parkade” roof. So the cost would be about the same as building a new “building” on flat ground in Florida. Likely the same costs Universal would face on building a new attraction in Florida.

      • Randman

        Actually, there are utilidors under that area. When they built the first parts of the new Fantasyland, they actually opened up the ground area down to the utilidors, because they had to be sure and re-enforce them. There are pictures out there showing a large blue tarp on the ground, during early construction. That tarp is covering the utilidor.

        Also, remember, the first layer of the park if fill from the Seven Seas Lagoon, and the next layers are sand. They have to go very deep in to hit anything solid to build on.

      • Kidgenie

        This is correct (Sorry Randman), the Utilidor system does not go under any of new Fantasyland or Storybook Circus. Mermaid is were the 20k show building was, and the dwarf coaster is about were the outdoor lagoon was. Google Magic Kingdom Utilidor map to find an image of the park map overlaid with the utilidor map. It is accurate.

      • CaptainAction

        Yeah, there were never utilidors under 20,000 Leagues.

        Guys, really like WDW can’t find any land to build on?!? 43 square miles! So, we think maybe WDW is so slow because they had to build on top of utilidors.
        I know, we know, that there are no good reasons to be this slow.
        Time to throw in the towel so we can call current WDW execs on the carpet for their poor leadership instead of enabling them with excuses.

      • DisneySam

        I’m glad there are so many engineers here who can say definitively that the slow construction isn’t due to the utilidors. Sarcasm aside, just because there aren’t any utilidors directly beneath the ride doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of extra engineering to be done to prepare for what is likely hundreds (if not thousands) of tons of a moving, shaking roller coaster near an area where actual people roam underground. That is a significant challenge anyway you look at it.

    • Concrete Enchilada

      I would expect the soil conditions are part of the delay. I am assuming they’re building on soft swampy ground, which is far from ideal. Depending on the soil’s condition, the ride’s foundation could be fairly extensive or deep and require extensive dirt work. Soil conditions typically vary as you dig further below the surface. They may have dig deep enough to hit firm bedrock. And soil conditions could vary from one spot to the next. This specialty, geotechnical engineering, is more of an art than a science.

      Also, I would expect the prototype ride system to add to the delay. The Seven Dwarves coaster, where the cars will rock/ swing freely, will be the first of it’s kind. Disney would probably spend extra time on the R& D to perfect this system and to “iron the kinks out”.

  • Dan Heaton

    I love Disney World and will still go there, but my enthusiasm has waned due to a lot of the reasons that you’ve mentioned. Like Dusty said in the comment above, they have so much potential to keep drawing crowds to the four parks. They don’t even need to build new lands. Some upgrades to attractions at EPCOT and DHS could make a huge difference and could be sold like new attractions. It wouldn’t take a crazy amount of money, and Disney could quiet any concerns from fans that Universal is a better value and has more to offer. Instead, they’re just sitting back and rolling back services to increase profits. Companies do that kind of move at their peril.

    I don’t expect Universal to unseat Disney as the leader. However, there’s no doubt for me that they will make a dent with the new Harry Potter land. While it may just be taking a million guests away from DAK and DHS, it will be felt. There’s also an issue with the public perception like you mention. If either one of the Universal parks passes even one Disney park in attendance, it will mark quite a change. It may take years, but people will eventually change their habits. Disney won’t be the leader forever if they don’t start adjusting now.

  • EC82

    Disney’s biggest challenge is its own way of doing business. It has a risk-management, risk-averse culture that needs to study everything and be guaranteed of a return on investment within a certain period of time. Despite that, HOW did they decide to spend more than a billion dollars on the “Magic Band” system?

    DIsney’s second-biggest challenge is its over-reliance on Marvel and Lucasfilm — the latter even before it releases a film. (It’s February 2014 and the cameras haven’t started rolling yet on the new “Star Wars” movie — it will be interesting to see if they can make a date that’s just 22 months away.) By cramming these into the parks, Disney is placing a massive bet on the long-term viability of brands it seems content to strip-mine. Just 10 years ago, Marvel films were iffy at best, and “Star Wars” was almost through its last cycle. Four or five of these non-Disney-branded films a year will quench the public’s thirst quite quickly, while Disney fails to build its OWN brands. Pixar has lost a lot of its uniqueness. All this affects the parks because Disney seems ONLY willing to invest in branded attractions. There are no more Haunted Mansions or Pirates of the Caribbeans or Big Thunders or Space Mountains — everything MUST be tied to an existing property. This could be a problematic strategy if the films don’t maintain their appeal for 20+ years.

    Meanwhile, Disney has a huge (theoretical) opportunity with its Epcot theme park. This is the ONLY Epcot in the entire world. Rather than turn it in to yet another brand-focused quasi-generic theme park that happens to have a weird, off-kilter semi-futuristic theme, Disney could refocus its efforts on making Epcot be THE reason consumers choose Florida over California, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Tokyo, and THE reason consumers choose Walt Disney World over Universal, Sea World or Busch Gardens. Epcot is almost like a “secret weapon” in Disney’s theme-park arsenal, but one it doesn’t even realize it has!

  • BradyNBradleysMom

    Disney to me feels like it is playing the card game UNO and keeps holding onto all the good cards and not playing them (Draw Dour, Draw Two, Wild Card, etc.). They could have the biggest hit of all time with Star Wars as a fully realized land, but they won’t play that card. I don’t know why, but they keep it in reserve.

    The thing is though, I wish they would sit down and think about all the money they could have made by now off that land…and how that card will expire one day if they don’t ever play it.

    • Concrete Enchilada

      Throw in Indiana Jones and the Cars franchise to the IP mix. It’s time for the Disney empire to strike back and counter with some rides from epic franchises.

  • Freddie Freelance

    “there are no Universal “intellectual property” competitors to Disney’s own characters”

    Actually Disney can take Intellectual Property away from Universal. Universal has use of Marvel characters because Disney is honoring Marvel’s prior contract to allow it, but the contract contains a clause that the contract is broken if the rides don’t remain “state of the art”. If Disney Imagineering shows they could build attractions that are at a higher state of the art than Universal’s current state they can force Universal to update their Marvel attractions or give them up, which is pretty much a Win/Win for Disney: either Universal spends their own cash to promote Disney IP, or Disney gets back the rights to build popular attractions that promote their own IP.

  • Quentin

    I am going to Florida this August and visiting Universal only. I won’t be visiting Disney World. With nothing new since I last visited in 2011 besides the god awful FP+ system that would limit me to three FP’s per day it’s not worth visiting. I doubt I’ll ever go back to WDW, Universal however…

    • CaptainAction

      Quentin,
      Our family of 5 used to visit WDW 2-3 times per year when annual passes made sense. They jacked those prices up so high and stopped building new attractions so we stopped going about 3 years ago.
      We could see a look in our kids eyes after riding things at Epcot which said this was the same old stuff. My kids aren’t unthankful but you could see what my wife and I were feeling. It was a feeling of the same old thing at WDW for a ton of money.

      We switched to Universal and haven’t really looked back. We did buy annual passes to Disney Waterparks w DisneyQuest though for when the weather is really hot or rainy.
      Every time we go to Universal we have new experiences and can afford much nicer hotels on property for about the price of the value resorts (because we need two rooms). The new rides, lands, great deals w AP pass, upgrades to suites, gifts at check in, boat rides to the front of the parks, and skipping lines have really made us feel appreciated while we have a great time.

      The only thing I’m really missing from WDW is Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and Peter Pan but this isn’t enough to make us go back.

      So WDW has missed out on 3 years of 2-3 vacations from this family of 5. We are spending our hard earned money where we feel appreciated and there are always new attractions ramping up at the same time. New rumor is King Kong Island being added between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park with an E-ticket attraction of course.

      • pjhorton21

        CA,

        That is the difference between WDW and Dland – the execs in California understand that to keep the turnstiles moving, they must continually be adding or enhancing attractions to keep the locals happy (and spending money). With so many entertainment options available in SoCal, competition is fierce, and the locals drive the growth of any entertainment endeavor. WDW does not seem to realize that pleasing the regional population (those that would visit the resort more than once a year or so) would go a long way towards filling hotel rooms and increasing revenue. The old adage, ‘You have to spend money to make money’ has definitely worked in California and one would believe would also work at WDW.

        My wife and I visited WDW last May and left wondering when we’d be back. Every experience was stale – we had done it all before and nothing significant had changed (there was the Mermaid ride and the Test Track face lift, neither of which made us that excited). Don’t get me wrong, we love Disney (we have had DLR Ap’s for 15 years) – but when we compare WDW to DLR, WDW is just stagnant. Time to step things up!

      • redrhino54

        Good for you….go to Universal, enjoy yourself, and don’t let the door hit your head on the way out. You come on EVERY post about Disney World, just to trash talk it, not to participate in any intelligent or constructive conversation. Since you haven’t been back in 3 years, you get all your information second or third hand. Im glad you enjoy Universal, and you should, its a fine park, but im sick of all your WDW hating and bashing. Its getting so a person cant say anything without you attacking them . You like being an internet bully?

      • CaptainAction

        pjhorton21,
        Yeah, I agree with you about Disneyland. I try to remember to always write WDW for my great disapointments with the way they have changed priorities over the last 10 years.
        Really think Disneyland is maxing out what they can do with the amount of land they have and new rides. Wish they wouldn’t play games with the subs and Rocket Rod Tracks though.
        We are planning a trip to California this year and Disneyland will be part of that. Carsland looks very cool and we haven’t been to Disneyland since it opened.
        Love the history of Disneyland as well.

    • CaptainAction

      Quentin,
      Our family of 5 used to visit WDW 2-3 times per year when annual passes made sense. They jacked those prices up so high and stopped building new attractions so we stopped going about 3 years ago.
      We could see a look in our kids eyes after riding things at Epcot which said this was the same old stuff. My kids aren’t unthankful but you could see what my wife and I were feeling. It was a feeling of the same old thing at WDW for a ton of money.

      We switched to Universal and haven’t really looked back. We did buy annual passes to Disney Waterparks w DisneyQuest though for when the weather is really hot or rainy.
      Every time we go to Universal we have new experiences and can afford much nicer hotels on property for about the price of the value resorts (because we need two rooms). The new rides, lands, great deals w AP pass, upgrades to suites, gifts at check in, boat rides to the front of the parks, and skipping lines have really made us feel appreciated while we have a great time.

      The only thing I’m really missing from WDW is Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and Peter Pan but this isn’t enough to make us go back.

      So WDW has missed out on 3 years of 2-3 vacations from this family of 5 per year. We are spending our hard earned money where we feel appreciated and there are always new attractions ramping up at the same time. New rumor is King Kong Island being added between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park with an E-ticket attraction of course.

  • Storkel

    Ultimate Orlando Clicks quiz — Cranium Command.

  • martinjbell1986

    Disney’s annual shareholder meeting is March 18th. I doubt there will be much to say about their Parks and Resorts division but might be worth keeping an ear open.

  • Malin

    If I visit Orlando then I would even with Diagon Alley pick Disney. This might be a shock to the people at MiceChat but not everyone likes Harry Potter and we certainly don’t want to see more of the same in replacement for Jaws. Disney is home of a number of my all time favourite attractions like Spaceship Earth, The Great Movie Ride and Kilimanjaro Safari. Universal hasn’t got anything that can compete against these great attractions. In fact Universal only has a small selection of rides which I enjoy enough to visit. And even then I wouldn’t stay and based an entire multi day vacation around what’s currently on offer. When Universal is ready to create rides that don’t rely on simulators or videos I’ll reconsider this view. But right now it’s going to take much more then a Harry Potter overflow area. I am visiting Orlando this year but to check out the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and “Festival of Fantasy” Parade. Universal I’m undecided about and the same goes for SeaWorld.

    • Country Bear

      Your expectations for Universal seem so high, yet your expectations for Disney are so low. Don’t you feel you deserve new attractions as a committed Disney fan?

    • CaptainAction

      Malin,

      You are the perfect target demogrphic for current WDW execs.

      You love rides which are over 10 years old, You don’t expect WDW to build new rides but are ok if they do. You are happy if WDW gives you a new parade every few years.

      If there are enough folks like you to add to the Theme Park novice group who think having fast passes reserved for Muppet Movie and Spaceship Earth is a cool benefit – then WDW will never have to change.

      How cool are the 15 year old rides going to be in another 15 years?

      WDW execs will have you to thank for making their snail pace and lazyness possible.

  • Concrete Enchilada

    FastPass+ backlash. Anyone consider the “benefit” of a 3 FastPass limit? Less passes in circulation allows the Standby Lines to move faster. Nothing is more annoying than waiting in a sluggish, barely- moving Standby Line and seeing other guests fly through the FastPass Line. I am not in favor of eliminating the FP system, just to curtail it to make the Standby Lines more bearable. On my last trip to WDW in 2011, I waited 90 minutes for Haunted Mansion and 120 minutes for Big Thunder.

    Disney has always been a publicly- traded company, even in the days of Walt. Kevin’s comment about Disney feeling “the pressure (or applies self- inflicted pressure) to beat its own results…” is partially correct. It’s about meeting or exceeding Wall Street’s expectations. Disney could have a great year, but fall short of it’s expectations and vice- versa. While Disney squeezes pennies here and there, FastPass is still free. The only free express system in the industry. When Disney starts charging for FastPass, I couldn’t imagine the backlash.

    • Country Bear

      There hasn’t been a single comment on any chat sites that I am aware of that indicates the direct result of only getting 3 FastPasses has allowed the standby line to move faster. All comments have actually been the exact opposite. Only 3 FastPasses, PLUS you stand in longer lines for all other attractions.

      Perhaps that’s why they called it FastPass+?

  • tooncity

    Folks, just stop going to Walt Dated World. It’s not worth the money. The so-called Magic Kingdom has very little Magic. The other 3 parks have NO magic at all. Everything is Dated, worn out or broken.

    It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized, Fastpass and Magic bands were different systems. I thought they were the same. More reason to NOT go to a Disney Theme park. If I have to work my butt off to Pay for a vacation, then once I’m on vacation I now have to WORK, PLAN, SCHEDULE my entire day, just to make sure I get to do ENOUGH stuff to make the Cost valuable. What a crummy way to spend my money and time.

    A Beach in the Caribbean, sounds like more fun, relaxing and less expensive in the long run.

    Vote with your wallet folks. It’s not worth it.

  • billyjobobb

    The simple fact that you had to write this column, and we’re having this discussion is a big problem for Disney.

    Between the over hype of DVC and fastband plus it is obvious that they’re trying to lock in the most profits available from the smallest group of people.

    How many people have committed to a Disney vacation 20 years from now? No matter what?

    They’re not trying to make more and more people want to come to the parks. They’re banking on the idea that well, they’re Disney and everybody wants to come there. So how do we fleece then the most?

  • solarnole

    I would buy an Orlando Flex ticket and visit Universal, Busch Gardens and Sea World. It would would still be cheaper then a Disney vacation and those three parks are better then the one major ride parks at Disney like Epcot, Hollywood, and Animal Kingdom. Busch Gardens was opened before Magic Kingdom and it’s animal collection is much better then Animal Kingdom. You get closer to the animals and it’s more educational with no hokey poachers or fake baby elephants.

    Disney is like traveling to the 1980s and the magic bands can’t hide the outdated obsolete attractions that they keep open like Captain EO, Disney Quest, Figment, about everything at Hollywood Studios and etc.

    “If you build it they will come” seems to be the motto of Universal and they keep building.

  • Jspider

    I’ve never doubted that Disney CAN blow the competition out of the water. My decisions are made in the present. As a theme park nerd I am planning to go and spreading word of mouth about Universal because it is the most interesting thing to me now. If Disney wants my money and word of mouth advertising they can expand. If Disney thinks more money is made increasing prices and decreasing value then its fine. Carsland was great, but the prices seem to rise so persistently I’m dialing back to every five years or longer as opposed to my previous every other year approach.

    New experiences just sounds good to me now. I don’t know about anyone else.

    • disneytom

      I agree that Disney is leaving a lot of money on the table with their strategy of opening “worthy” attractions at a snail’s pace. If only they’d appreciate how much us fan boys & girls would really shell out to see top notch additions at WDW on the par with Cars Land. The New Fantasyland, I suppose, gets an “honorable mention” but the mix of attractions just doesn’t really cut it for me as the repeatability factor just isn’t there. And, before you say it the Dwarves coaster will change my mind let me tell you that it won’t. Think what you want folks but it is 2 minute ride with one show scene – disappointing because it would be great if it were on par with BTMRR but it is just another simple coaster (down the road from another simple coaster that is in the same land).

      On top of this it has taken four years to build. There is nothing overly complex with this attraction that it couldn’t be fast tracked and, in fact, opened when the New Fantasyland opened. Disney just delayed it because they had nothing to pit against Diagon Alley and this is their answer to that – it is also “new” in 2014 (so Mickey requests that you please, please don’t go down to Universal this trip).

      I rolled my eyes when I read this quote from the Orlando Sentinel last week. It reads to me like it was said out of a plea of desperation by Joe Rohde – “From here on out, which is an incredible slog, we are doing it,” Rohde said. “We are going to make this happen. Which is very exciting, really intimidating, but really technically mind-bogglingly hard to do, but very exciting because we’re going to do it now.”

      Gee Joe, thanks for the validation that you’re really, finally doing something on Avatar but you know what, I don’t really care anymore. 1.) The progress on Avatar has been excruciatingly slow such that apathy has taken over at this point. When it was announced I had a tween but now she’ll be off to College before the silly thing opens. I mean seriously? What excuse can possibly be provided for it taking 8 years to build this in a park? Meanwhile, up the road, a “land” that is just as technologically complex, perhaps even more so, was announced a scant 20 months ago and is about to open in a few months from now. I mean seriously, an entire Olympics takes 8 years to plan, organize and build not a freaking land in a theme park.

      We’re down on Disney because Disney doesn’t appreciate us they are taking us for granted. O.K. Mickey, I realize this is how things are these days. I’m being shaken down by concert promoters, the NFL, movie theaters, airlines, car dealers, etc. – I get it. Nothing is ever going to be like it used to be. I’ll let you shake me down too Mickey, I’ll gladly give you $3,000 each year, heck even $5,000 if you really offer me something cool every couple of years but you just can’t deliver can you? Unless its associated with a princess, a DVC room, or a make-over you’re giving me nothing compelling to return so that money goes elsewhere – Universal, Vegas, Dubai, Tokyo DLR anywhere but the place I’d truly like to spend it, WDW.

      • billyjobobb

        but they only have so much capacity. Building more capacity would cost a ton of money. They know that if they build a new attraction, the park will be overrun and people won’t come thinking it will be too crowded.

      • Country Bear

        Nicely said.

  • WTRiker

    Forgetting all the things that are discussed as to the pros and cons of Magicband/FP+, has anyone else considered the sheer ongoing overhead costs just to operate this system? Just on the front line alone: that’s between 5-9 Cast Members on average for every attraction, in every park, every day just to staff the system, which all goes directly to operations overhead. Now add in resorts staff, kiosk and field staff, IT, support personnel, maintenance, and the manufacturing cost of the wristbands themselves (I find it hard to believe that even in bulk they are cheaper than paper tickets, and even the shipping costs of the boxes to resort guests prior to their visit, etc)…how much of that recurring cost going forward could have been added to the budgets for new attractions, existing maintenance and upgrades, and so forth?
    The implementation cost was just the beginning.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    Kevin, great article.

    I think the biggest issue for WDW right now is the perception that they built the MyMagic+ system before creating the next layer of attractions that it was supposed to work with. But, again, that’s from a theme park nerd perspective: the general public looks at things quite differently, as borne out by the attendance numbers, and ongoing stability of attendance.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think that My Magic+ will make tons of money for Disney. TONS. And more so as they get data from the system, roll it out worldwide, and so on. But, right now, today, the perception is that the bean counters at Disney get a new toy while their visitors get nothing…

    …but again, that’s from a theme park nerd perspective. Clearly, Disney’s numbers nerds know what their guests want as new attractions (the princess meet and greet,) and what they’ll endure as second-rate attractions (primeval whirl, for example.)

    I agree with you regarding Disney’s ability to make one gasp at the holistic brilliance of their creations. I think all they need do is try and the conversation is over…

    …but it seems as if they aren’t, or are happy with pieces of brilliance rather than the whole. Or are happy that gazillions of guests spend gazillions of dollars each year without the Disney brilliance holistically applied. In that, we are complicit. The crude detractors here do have a point, made repeatedly and crassly: if we all keep going to WDW en masse, then the powers that be know that they don’t need to go “full Disney” to capture our vacation dollar. If we all STOP going until they open the wallet and funnel out some whole, brilliant lands of attractions, then WDW will change.

    But right now, they’re like GM of the 1960s, eager to sell you a Corvair that you’ll hate because you’ll keep buying that damned Corvair. It took 60 years for GM to fully burn off its brand. So Disney has quite a while befire they get to that point.

    • CaptainAction

      Not so sure WDW isn’t burning through their brand right now.

      I used to be one of the few folks griping here aout WDW taking guests for granted and Universal working their tail off to earn the guests business. I gave up on WDW’s current mgt when New Fantasyland opened. That was the nail on the head for many of us. It all became so clear that WDW didn’t care about the guests, just their wallets.

      Since that time two years ago the theme park enthusiasts have turned opinions on WDW. Their are only a couple or more guests that will not hold WDW to standards like they are holding to Universal or other competition. It’s funny how creative they get trying to defend the low standards WDW is operating under.

      We are the ones our friends, relatives, and co-workers turn to when they want to plan a vacation. I explain to folks about the WDW Magic Handcuffs and they look at me with an expression like they just threw up a little thinking about spending that kind of money to be on a schedule with fast passes for Spaceship Earth and Captain EO.

      • AaroniusPolonius

        CaptainAction: I’m sure Disney is well aware that they are burning some brand equity in order to retain profit and market leadership. I’m more than certain that there’s an equation worked out by marketers, data researchers and money crunchers that has their prices, their investments and their overall marketing push positioned in the zone where a slight amount of brand equity is monetized, a slight amount is generated and a massive profit emerges.

        I wouldn’t worry about Disney burning through their brand on a massive level whatsoever. In the first place, they have the lessons of history regarding those that did. In the next, brand is an emotional relationship, built over years…if not decades of work and craftsmanship. You can’t just ‘crack’ a brand overnight, and in the grand scheme of things, 20 years is overnight (and millions in profit.)

        This is continued to be borne out in the marketplace, where Disney branded products, from theme parks to cruises, animated films to furniture, commands more audience and more premiums with regards to pricing simply because it carries the name “Disney.” They are the MODEL for the ENTIRE BUSINESS COMMUNITY in this regard, as well as the poster child for those who dislike immersive, total branding via mega-corporations as to what’s wrong with the country (read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, for example, and a great book.)

  • totalorlando com

    I definitely think that the new Diagon Alley area will be Universal’s first success at snatching some of that elusive ‘Disney Magic’ of their very own.
    Hogsmeade is great, but ti is just a collection of fabulously themed stores and attractions.

    Diagon alley will go much further than that by immersing guests in a completely new world.
    I guess that Disney are more concerned by the strength and maturity that Universal are now showing inside their ‘Imagineering Dept.’

    I fully agree with many of the posts that suggest that Disney appears to have been ‘caught napping’. With the huge Disney Springs and Pandora projects some way off emerging from the other end of the pipeline, the masters could easily be accused of over milking parks guests with MyMagic rather than delivering new experiences.

  • disneytom

    “but they only have so much capacity. Building more capacity would cost a ton of money. They know that if they build a new attraction, the park will be overrun and people won’t come thinking it will be too crowded.”

    Are you suggesting that the Magic Kingdom shouldn’t be expanded because it will cause overcrowding and then people won’t come because it will be too crowded? First, that logic makes absolutely no sense to me. Secondly, if that is your opinion, fair enough, then place some noteworthy attractions in Epcot or DHS where attendance can use a boost.

    • billyjobobb

      I tend to feel like that is how the execs think. They want to increase profits, not expenses. So they figure out a way to get you to spend more. Same costs, same overhead, higher profits? Ka ching!

      I wouldn’t mind all of this if they were doing something about the park. One thing I never understood, and if someone can enlighten me, please do….. Why do they always have to close an attraction to add an attraction? Why couldn’t they ADD avatar to Animal Kingdom instead of replace Camp Mickey and Minnie with Avatar? Why is the idea to remove lights Camera Action and the backlot tour to add Star Wars? Why is there a discussion of losing the Osborne Lights? to make room for something else? They have a bazillion acres!

      I get it in California, they only have so much space, but in Florida?

  • Big D

    I believe there was a note on MiceAge a week or two ago that Disney has officially broken ground on the new Pandora land at Animal Kingdom, so you figure there are at least three new rides coming (and at least one E-ticket), so it’s not just the Seven Dwarves Train. There’s a whole new land coming in a few years. The new land by itself doesn’t need to compete with Harry Potter because the average park guest is already more inclined to go to Walt Disney World then Universal.

    • CaptainAction

      Big D –
      Yes, think of all you will have to look forward to in 2021!
      A boat ride, a soaring ride, plastic light up plants, and a mess hall, and stores!
      The worst news is that it’s all from Avatar. Oh no.
      Yes, and it doesn’t even have to be good because it’s Disney.
      Big D, are you reading what you are writing?
      Yeah, I love WDW because they are mediocre.
      Let Universal be great, I’m sticking with the theme park museum which puts out a mediocre ride every 5 years or so.

  • sjhym333

    My biggest issue is with how Disney has handled AP holders and the rollout of FP+ and the MagicBands of the lack thereof. The communication has been terrible and it is a shame to treat your most faithful guests this way

    • billyjobobb

      but APs don’t spend the cash in the parks. When I was in Florida last spring I probably spend $3k on souvenirs, that was more than I spent in all 3 years I was an AP at Disneyland.

  • ChrisNJ

    Disney should really take a listen to the fan community – most of us would admit to being Disney Fans/Nerds. We want to love all things Disney. And our rants are often pleas for corporate to fix stuff before we just can’t be fans anymore. We are the people who are approached by family and friends for advice on what to do at a Disney park. Well, what does it say when even the super-fans aren’t willing to visit or to talk-up the Disney parks? Eventually that will trickle to the more casual tourist who relies on our advice.

    I used to visit WDW twice a year and stay at a deluxe resort. Now I visit only ever few years and stay off-site as I find the Disney resorts rather dirty. Sorry, but they are nothing like they used to be.

  • TDSTOM

    Yes it’s just terrible what’s going on. That rolling bolder is coming.

    Odd though how the parks just keep getting more and more guest in spite of all the horrible things WDW is doing and those ever increasing prices. Really, odd.

    Aren’t Passholders number up too? Now that’s really odd, since they should better. \

    So odd.

  • Ravjay12

    Once every couple years our family goes to Disney World because it’s affordable for Military families. This year we will be going to Universal Studios thanks to all the problems and lack of new stuff Disney has. Disney World is the same as it was ten years ago when we first went. Thanks to Micechat for pointing them all out for us! Makes our decision real easy.

  • goatdan

    I haven’t been there to experience the MyMagic+ stuff, but I was very happy that the program didn’t go live this summer when I took my son and wife for their first trip.

    I’m not a huge fan of Fastpass even though I know (knew?) how to use it to my benefit like crazy to go on more stuff, but from what I understand of the MyMagic+ program, it’s just not for me. I like to live in the moment at a theme park – Hey, we’re between rides and there is a parade? Awesome, let’s stand here and watch the last 10 minutes of it or whatever. I’m not someone who likes to sit waiting for the parade for an hour. The magic to me is in the things that just sort of happen.

    From a business perspective, Disney went forward with MyMagic+ because they saw it as a large potential revenue stream, just like Fastpass originally was supposed to do. They can potentially tailor it so that those who pay more play more, and way more stuff that theoretically will help their bottom line. That was the goal. Their belief, which I believe they have even stated at times, is that no one goes to Orlando and *doesn’t* stop at Disney. If Universal adds something worth going to, people stop at Universal but still go and spend at Disney.

    What Harry Potter did and what people forget to take into account was Universal suddenly got a much higher per capita spend from guests on souvenirs, and that *did* cut into Disney’s take. That was why Disney spent a billion dollars on MyMagic+ – if they can get the system to work, they hope to earn back that spend with the guests once they get there. Disney still doesn’t believe that people are going to Universal and just staying there, they are thinking they will still come to Disney, and if they can find ways to pull more money from the pockets of visitors, then it will all work out in the end anyway.

    I think that Universal has seen this as a time when they can jump ahead of Disney by building attractions people want to see and trying to position themselves as a better value, and I think they are definitely on their way to doing that. But it will take more – more hotels, potentially a third gate, something will have to happen to change it.

    Until that point, as Kevin mentioned, theme park reputations are like cruise liners, and most people who go to Orlando won’t skip Disney, so Disney will keep making money, new huge expenditures or not. But unless they change something soon, I think that Disney is going to start to have an image problem as Universal becomes the gold standard.

    My wife who had never been to WDW told me afterward that next time, she just wants to do Universal because her friends have been telling her it’s even better. Neither of us cared for much of anything at Disney Studios, particularly disappointing for me as it used to be my favorite park. It seems to no longer have a cohesive story (we’re a movie park that is really a real pretend studio with random jaunts into movie storylines some of which are serious and some of which are a wink and a nod! And Rock N Roller Coaster because we need some thrill ride!)

    I think that the cruise liner is starting to turn, and unless Disney starts to show people the value that they are beyond MyMagic+ (which seems to remind people a lot about the money they are spending), I do think that Universal will become the new first stop when people get to Orlando in the next 5 to 10 years. I hope this can be changed, but Disney needs to get to work on making the experience better in ways that aren’t just how they can pull more money from the pockets of guests before they can start to do that.

    If you actually read to here, this was a long post, sorry. I owe you a cookie 🙂

  • TheBig2na

    The only way anything will change at WDW is when the mainstream news starts reporting on fan backlash. All everyone hears right now is that attendance is up, room occupancy numbers are up, and general revenues are up. People don’t here about the debates on internet forums and how the hardcore fan is feeling cheated. What is needed to affect the change many people here want is a protest outside the Disney Offices or the front gates of the theme parks.

    I just went to WDW and UO and had a great time. I find something new to do each trip and I have been going almost once a year for 15 years. I remember when each trip had a new ride or experience and I can still find that. I choose both resorts because they both have a ton to offer both new and old. To me its like an all inclusive resort that people keep returning to all the time. Not much changes, but if you enjoy yourself you keep going back. As more and more people start to get bored that may change for people, but I just had the best trip of my life thanks to all 6 parks.

    I do think back though to how I used to attend concerts and how eventually the prices outgrew my need to see a band. I barely buy CD’s anymore or DVD’s because of a lack of enjoyment. It is a very real threat for Disney, one that they should take seriously because it happens very quick as can be seen on here. in 2 years some of the most hardcore Disney fans have said they are done. But until it gets bigger exposure, people will still take their kids for 10-12 years until they get too old to enjoy princesses and cars. And people who went as kids will want to take their kids. Nostalgia can only last so long though. Live in the Past, Get Left Behind. Mickey and friends need to be careful.

  • AaroniusPolonius

    I will say this: at least for the “theme park enthusiasts,” Avatar has to be Tokyo DisneySea brilliant. I’d even go so far as to say that Avatar has to go beyond that level of brilliance because the franchise is already detested on these boards de geek.

    • billyjobobb

      Have you seen the Haunted Mansion movie? How about the Tower of Terror movie? Would you skip those rides because the movies sucked? What if Disney were creating this land on it’s own without a movie tie in? Would you get excited based off of some of the artwork?

      Me, I don’t think Avatar will suck. Disney will likely do it better than okay, but not awesome. However, one area of 3 rides is, like with Rockin Roller Coaster, not enough to carry a bad park.

      What Disney fails to understand is that Disney is not the big attractions. Disney is the details. Disney is places like the Court of Angels , the windows on main street, etc.

      Disney will never compete on rides alone. Disney needs to understand that. Disney wins in ambiance, and immersion. Characters. Nostalgia.

  • Dave fromdownunder

    My Family is planning a trip to Orlando in September the only reason we are going there is Harry Potter not My magic+
    we normally go to DL every 4 to 5 years and every since Hp has opened my family of four to girls 18 and 14 have wanted to go to Universal. Florida so for us to make the big 24hour flight unfortunately Disneyworld is 2nd on the list .Yes we will of course go there but that wasn’t the deal maker and we will stay at the cabana cove prices seem ok and it gives us early entry.
    on the way back to Australia we will call in and go to Disneyland and check out cars land and world of colour at DCA that was being built when we were last there we love Disneyland and its strange to think we are more excited about universal than going to Disneyworld , when I say to the family and were also going to Disney world they say “yeh Dad but we want to go to Harry Potter”.
    and that’s being said from halfway around the world

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