If you criticize a theme park, are you still a fan?
Written by Robert NilesTheme Park Insider readers started a great discussion last week, following my post ranking the world's top Disney theme parks. Thanks to everyone who contributed, and I'd like to continue the debate over what I thought was the strongest disagreement:
Published: August 5, 2012 at 8:07 PM
Where to rank Epcot?
The Imagination pavilion - one of the targets that most needs help at Walt Disney World's Epcot
I ranked Epcot ninth of the 10 Disney theme parks I rated, beating only the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris. My reasons? According to Theme Park Insider reader ratings, Epcot has fewer top-rated attractions than any other Disney theme park in the United States. I agreed with those numbers, and believe that, with Epcot, Disney's failed to reach a park's potential more than with any other of its U.S. theme parks.
Placing Epcot last among Disney's U.S. theme parks was a tough call for me. Whenever I visit Orlando, Epcot's the first Disney park I want to visit. It's home to one of my all-time favorite attractions, Impressions de France, and I love walking around World Showcase, sampling food here and there, and browsing the shops.
But looking in stores and noshing is what you do at a mall, not a theme park. Without more top-rated attractions, Epcot's devolved into Disney's Fancy Outdoor Shopping Center. People paying Walt Disney World rates deserve a full-day, world-class, themed-attraction experience from Epcot. While attractions such as Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth, and Soarin' have their fans, your own cumulative reader ratings say they simply don't match the line-up of top attractions found at Disney's other theme parks in the United States and Japan.
Disney can do better with Epcot, and as fans, I think we have an obligation to say that. It's our money Disney wants to earn. If we fail to tell Disney - or any other business - what we want, clearly and repeatedly, none of us have much standing to complain when we they offer us weak choices instead.
That's why I cringe when some people react as if fans should be volunteer public relations staff for their favorite theme parks, always focusing on the positive, and trying either to ignore problems, or at least give them the best possible spin.
While I appreciate the passion these fans show for their favorite parks, I think, ultimately, they're being played for fools. Positive word of mouth, in person or online, tells a business all's well, and that the public loves its product. It doesn't need to make changes. When when the rest of the skeptical (and silent) public fails to buy in, all that happy talk online encourages a business to blame external factors, such as the economy, the weather, or something else, instead of taking a hard look at its own, inferior product.
I prefer to see fans be as willing to stand up to businesses as they are to stand up for them. Look, Disney World's doing a lot of great things - it's substantially improving the Magic Kingdom, and it offers a wide variety of themed hotels with sometimes excellent value. But I also believe that Disney World's cruising on its reputation. Many fans simply assume Walt Disney World's theme parks are better than those at Universal Orlando or Disneyland. Or they believe it's impossible to afford a vacation to Tokyo. Let's face it - the average Orlando theme park visitor isn't as well informed about global alternatives as the average reader of websites such as Theme Park Insider. So long as public consensus says Walt Disney World's the best, that's what they will believe.
Of course, over time, that public consensus will change, as more people visit alternatives such as Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney California Adventure's Cars Land. But if Disney waits until that perception changes to address Walt Disney World, it will left its flagship resort crippled for years to come.
Look at what's happening in Florida now, and it's apparent that Disney realizes this. The next phase in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland Expansion opens this November. Disney's said to have begun construction on Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Help is on the way for two of WDW's four theme parks.
But what of the Disney Hollywood Studios? And what about Epcot?
I want Disney theme park fans to keep up the pressure - to keep their focus on what needs improving in the Disney Parks chain even as we celebrate all that's Disney's done right within it, as well. That's why, starting next week, I'll be launch a new weekly miniseries on Theme Park Insider, where we talk about a popular theme park that needs some fixing to return it to world-class status. We'll be soliciting your ideas on what these parks can do to earn not just your money, but your well-deserved praise. So let's start thinking about what we'd like to see from the parks that want our business.
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