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Robert Niles

Insider's Update: Free dining, expensive parties, and a now-empty pipeline at Walt Disney World

Published: May 2, 2014 at 9:32 AM

In case you missed the announcement this morning, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will open to the public on May 28. Fastpass+ reservations now are available via the My Disney Experience link on Given that Disney allowed invited reporters and fans to ride this week, one wonders if Disney's really going to keep the ride closed to the public for the next four weeks, or if May 28 simply is the first day for which you can make Fastpass+ reservations. Either way, if you're visiting the Magic Kingdom this month, you might as well "swing" by and see if the dwarfs will let you in.

The wicked witch

It's time again for what's turned out to be Walt Disney World's annual offering of free Disney Dining plans with Walt Disney World on-site hotel vacations. This year's offer is available to Disney Visa cardholders now, and will open to the rest of the public on May 7. It's a free quick service dining plan for 3- to 14-day vacations at Value Resorts, and a free standard dining plan for vacations of the same length at the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, for the following arrival dates:
August 31 - October 3
October 26 - November 1
November 9 - November 20
December 12 - December 23
Port Orleans, All-Star Movies, Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation, Grand Floridian villas, and Fort Wilderness campsites are not included in the offer.

Disney announced today that the Festival of the Lion King show, which was kicked out of its theater at Disney's Animal Kingdom for Avatar - World of Pandora construction, will return to the park this June in a new theater in the Africa section of Animal Kingdom. In addition, Disney will offer a special, after-hours version of the Lion King story, "The Lion King Concert in the Wild," with a live orchestra and celebrity narrator, as part of a "Harambe Nights" hard-ticket event on Saturday nights from June 7 through August 9. Tickets start at $119 for ages 10 and up and $79 ages 9 and under, and include a street party and dinner buffet after the show, with beer, wine and drinks included.

Rivers of Light concept art
Disney also revealed that the upcoming nighttime show at Animal Kingdom will be called Rivers of Light. No opening date yet.

Finally, Walt Disney World is bringing a version of Disneyland's popular Trader Sam's cocktail lounge to the Polynesian Resort, which will revert to its old Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort name next year as part of a major refurbishment of the resort. The Polynesian version will be called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, though no specific opening date has been announced yet.

With the Mine Train opening this month, neither Walt Disney World nor Disneyland will have any major new theme park attractions planned until Avatar opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom in 2017, unless Rivers of Light opens before then. (We're not counting Festival of the Lion King as a new attraction — that's really more of a refurbishment.) The Disney Springs shopping and dining area that replaces Downtown Disney in Florida remains under construction for a 2016 completion, and renovation work continues at the Polynesian, but nothing's in the pipeline officially for the theme parks on either coast, save Avatar. We will see if Disney will continue to enjoy growing, record-breaking attendance at its theme parks by promoting itself as a lifestyle brand rather than offering new attractions for the next three years. If you forced me to guess, I'd bet that it will. What do you think?

Saturday update: I forgot to mention that Knott's Berry Farm has announced that it will reopen its refurbished Calico Mine Ride and Camp Snoopy kids' area on June 14, with a media preview on June 12.

Also, yesterday Universal Studios Hollywood raised its ticket prices to match Disneyland's one-day, one-park price of $92. Universal is offering a $5 discount when you buy online and continues to offer the "buy a day, get 2014 free" deal so locals effectively can get an annual pass for the $92 price. Prices for 12-month annual passes went up $10 each, though $20 discounts remain available online for the no-blockout day passes, which now cost $139 when bought online. (It's $179 for the Premium Star Pass, which includes free parking before 5pm and front-of-the-line access on the Studio Tour.) That's still quite a bit less than Disneyland's no-blockout Premium Annual Pass, which costs $669.

Replies (36)

David Brown

Published: May 2, 2014 at 9:58 AM

"We will see if Disney will continue to enjoy growing, record-breaking attendance at its theme parks by promoting itself as a lifestyle brand rather than offering new attractions for the next three years."

That's a very astute observation Robert and it's made me think. I have realised that 'lifestyle brand' is exactly what my wife and I see in our vacations at Disney and why we prefer to stay there than at Universal. We enjoy visiting Universal and always include it in our vacation schedules but we get the most pleasure out of simply 'being' at Disney. We spent many hours last time just walking - around the parks, around the different resorts, around Downtown Disney - soaking up the atmosphere. We don't get that same relaxed 'vibe' at Universal and it suits us well. I appreciate it won't be for everyone and theme park fans tend to be younger and more interested in thrills and technological boundary-pushing but I think there are more people out there who want that lifestyle experience for a week or two than want a constant adrenaline rush and consequently I wouldn't bet against your prediction Robert. It saddens me that there are no new attractions planned for Disney in the immediate future but as the saying goes, if it ain't broke......

Published: May 2, 2014 at 10:34 AM

But it is broke. And it is called the Disco Yeti....
Brandon Townsend

Published: May 2, 2014 at 10:53 AM

I will be at WDW on the 27th. Have been trying to change my Fastpass+ selections but the website is not working as usual. My family and I are doing the Keys to the Kingdom Tour that morning, so maybe we can get a ride on the 7 Dwarfs that way.
I was hoping it would open after my trip. Crowds will be crazy.
Brett Blake

Published: May 2, 2014 at 11:05 AM

Robert, realistically, what do you think it would take for WDW to start aggressively planning and building new attractions? It seems it would require a radical change in mindset, but I'm not sure what could trigger that, short of a few years of flatlining or shrinking attendance.

I'm looking for some reason to hope that they can change their thinking, but I just can't see any, and that's a little depressing. I might have to start planning that Tokyo trip, after all...

Robert Niles

Published: May 2, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Actually, I think that all it will take is Shanghai Disneyland opening and freeing up a lot of Imagineering time and the theme park capital budget.
TH Creative

Published: May 2, 2014 at 2:30 PM

It should be noted that while there may be no attractions in the pipeline (at least none that we know about) the company's investment in construction at its Florida property is enormous.

Disney Springs Retail Expansion
Disney Springs Food and Beverage Expansion
Disney Springs Parking Garages
Disney Springs Civil (Including New Roads and Bridges)
Polynesian Resort - Renovation of Existing Rooms
Polynesian Resort - Expansion of Water Cabanas
Disney Boardwalk Hotel - Renovation
Disney Caribbean Beach Resort - Renovation
Disney Yacht Club - Renovation
Disney Beach Club - Renovation
Disney Animal Kingdom - Nigh Time Entertainment
Disney Animal Kingdom - African Village
Disney Animal Kingdom - World of Pandora
Back of House - Laundry Facility Expansion
Magic Kingdom - Hub Hardscape Renovation
New Resort/Entertainment Area Development - Flamingo Crossing

Combined these projects (along with a myriad of smaller upgrades and renovations) represent hundreds of millions in investment.

Further there is the news that Tom Fitzgerald fis moving from Disneyland Paris to become the creative director at Epcot and that Scott Trowbridge is now in charge of a new Star Wars studio within WDI.

Certainly it must be acknowledged that the company is investing a substantial amount of revenue in the Florida property's resorts and infrastructure and that the moves involving Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Trowbridge could reasonably be regarded as harbingers for new attractions still to come.

David Ackerman

Published: May 2, 2014 at 4:02 PM

TH Creative's list points out what WDW's problem is. Every item is food or hotel. Imagineering seems unable to move any attractions along. (And no, I don't consider a few drawings and a promise of Avatar to be a "real" attraction.)

Maybe Disney needs to admit they can't compete any longer in the theme park world and sell the parks to Universal. Then, they could concentrate on hotels and restaurants

Published: May 2, 2014 at 4:16 PM

I have to say that after our spring break vacation which was three days at Universal followed by six days at Disney, we are changing our future plans. It will now be three to four days at Disney followed by four days at Universal. The new fast pass is not optimal, and the unlimited express pass at Universal with the new AAA attractions has us making the change. Certainly other people enjoy different things, but we are the type that uses the fireworks and parades as a way to experience rides more efficiently, and we never do any character meet and greet (although our boys would totally stop if a terminator walked by). I think that Disney is missing a massive opportunity with Star Wars, but maybe they have crunched the numbers and know that the infrastructure must improve in order to absorb the influx of people they would get.
TH Creative

Published: May 2, 2014 at 5:25 PM

So Mr.Ackerman's approach to quality embraces a model where the resorts should be ignored. Where guests should be expected to pay for hotel rooms that are neglected. That decades old HVAC, electrical, plumbing and finishes should be considered to be acceptable. That traffic systems and back-of-house operations should become lower priorities.

I see.

Mr. Ackerman writes: "Maybe Disney needs to admit they can't compete any longer in the theme park world and sell the parks to Universal."

I Respond: I'm sorry, but "compete?!"


While I have expressed skepticism abot the TEA/AECOM report due to the ambiguity surrounding its methodology I have no doubt that BOTH Disney and Merlin outpace Universal's attendance in numbers that are measured in seven (if not eight) digits.

Published: May 2, 2014 at 4:57 PM

Avatar counts as an attraction. It's happening.
James Trexen

Published: May 2, 2014 at 5:34 PM

Looking at the artwork for Rivers of Light, it seems like that a stadium-like viewing area (whether it's standing or sitting is unclear, but I'd more likely guess it'll be the former) will be built. I know firsthand that the viewing area for World of Color can be a pain, so I appreciate Disney trying fix what needs to be improved and I know others will too.
Anon Mouse

Published: May 2, 2014 at 6:02 PM

For the occasional visitor like myself who visits once every 5 to 10 years, Disney World offers more enough attractions. Locals might not be satisfied. Currently here for vacation, I was quite impressed with what I've experienced especially with the rehabbed attractions like Test Track and Living Seas. The New Fantasyland is certainly a strange mix of offerings, but it is good enough. I spent nearly a full day there alone and I wasn't able to reach Dumbo. It is so large. The Dwarf's coaster is almost unnecessary and I won't bother without a Fastpass.

While I can look forward to Avatar, the rumor is the boat ride won't make it in the début or at all. Can someone confirm? The weakest parts are the the Hollywood Studios, and Epcot World Showcase needs some marquee attractions.

Universal is doing great with their additions, but I don't think they match Disney's offering unless they have their own version of Fantasyland in the wings. Star Wars is Disney's answer to Harry Potter, but they are slow walking their plans. This says a lot about Disney's perceived competition.

Published: May 2, 2014 at 7:52 PM

I think they should skip building new rides and spend billions of dollars on trackable wrist bracelet technology originally designed to track prisoners in jail...
Jonah Sirota

Published: May 2, 2014 at 9:11 PM

Robert pointed out that the imagineering effort is 120% in Shanghai right now. I think it is unfair for everyone to say that Disney is losing the theme park wars when they are merely behind Universal in recent construction in Orlando. From a holistic Disney Parks perspective, they are building or have recently built: Huge and successful DCA expansion, two state-of-the-art theme-park-like cruise ships, a new gigantic resort in Shanghai, major new mini-land at Paris, major expansion in Hong Kong, biggest expansion ever of MK at WDW, and upcoming major expansion at DAK. Plus the mymagic+ stuff. It's not popular on sites like this, but it is state of the art, and once all the other players jump on board Disney will be executing more smoothly due to their head start. If we can all just take a step back and think the way that the executives that actually have to make these things work do for a sec: Universal had a spectacular success with Harry Potter and they are riding the wave as far as they can. They are increasing market share, but plowing profits back into growth. That is a smart model, because they have room to grow, but it is not long-term sustainable. Eventually, they will slow down and become more selective about how they invest, and the larger their Orlando resort becomes, the more money and time they will have to spend on maintaining and sustaining a resort of that size. In other words, they will start to have more DIsney-like problems. As their market share grows, they will also be expected to perform at Disney's level with regards to customer service, etc. (I am not trying to start a flame war, but Universal, which has very good customer service, is still no Disney. Disney gets a lot of flak because they market perfection in this area)

Disney, on the other hand, has not, and likely will not lose profits from Universal taking market share. They WILL respond, but they will do it on their timeline. What's the upside of them rushing anything to market right now? (Almost every extra visiter to Orlando is still visiting Disney. When Universal builds another couple of hotels, then Disney may start to feel the heat, as this entire story is really about how many hotel rooms you fill per night). Everyone complained about how long SDMT took to be completed, but they still created an attraction that no one else on the planet could make. If that were not the case, they would have a problem, but Disney knows their strengths and their audience, and they are giving them just what they want.

Just for fun, here are my predictions for the future:
-Star Wars land at DHS announced. Fairly vague details that will focus heavily on Episodes 4-7. The amount of Episode 7 stuff will largely depend on the success of that movie at the box office later that year. To open in phases 2018-2019.
-Update of Soarin' to new film.

-Major overhaul of Future World at EPCOT announced (of which Soarin' was already a part), including a redo of Imagination with the re-imagined Dreamfinder and Figment comic book at its core, redo of Energy pavilion, and a new "smart" environment linking the entire area using technology developed for Avatar-land, with RFID-enabled lighting and fountain effects, etc. Also, Communicore repainted tan, and Spaceship Earth finally pressure-washed. Frozen ride in Norway OR Remy ride in France (not both) (opened in phases 2019-2021)
-Night show opens at DAK

-Avatar opens, environment and boat-ride first. Flight simulator delayed to 2018. EPCOT updates pushed back indefinitely...

Avatar land done, Avatar 2 film disappoints at box office. Mos Eisley land opens, but only a restaurant and a gift shop at first.

2019: Global recession hits, everything scrapped.



Published: May 3, 2014 at 5:00 AM

We will see if Disney will continue to enjoy growing, record-breaking attendance at its theme parks by promoting itself as a lifestyle brand rather than offering new attractions for the next three years.

This is kind of shocking to me, Disney, a big entertainment company selling their vacations as a lifestyle brand. But after I head some people say that the only time their family functioned as a family was during a Disney vacation it started to make sense to me.
As a European I work to live, work 36 hours a week and have about 6 weeks of vacation with the option to buy more vacation days. No double shifts and many short breaks to visit London, Paris or Venice. We have a breakfast in the morning with the whole family and a home cooked meal at 6 in the evening. In the weekends we spend our time with the whole family doing chores, visiting relatives or do hobbies. Being together as family is how we live why have a family if you can't do that?
To work a lot to go on a 1 week vacation to spent a ton is beyond me. Why not work less and live more. You can have more magical moments throughout the then in an overpriced theme park between plastic and concrete. If you need Disney to have some magic in your life I regard you poor and failed in life and it's time you take a step back and try to look at the big picture and do what really is important.
Visiting a theme park is fun, visiting new ride and experiences (in and outside a theme park) is even more fun but doing it with you family is the most important thing.

Gabriel Schroll

Published: May 3, 2014 at 6:27 AM

You know, I would say that TH Creative's list of expansions and renovations is exactly why the theme parks themselves seem neglected.

WDW is so large that it is incredibly expensive to simply maintain their current infrastructure. It's not unlike a city, where sure it'd be nice to see a big 50-story skyscraper of glass and steel rising downtown, and it'd be cool to see a big half-billion dollar retractable roof stadium built for your team, and a light rail system, etc.

But there's only so much money, and in WDW's case, they have to make sure they don't allow any of their properties to fall into disrepair. I don't want to stay at the Boardwalk for instance, and think to myself "Disney really let this place go" or use a public bathroom at Downtown Disney and see leaks and rust.

It's such a massive piece of land with so many hotels to landscape, rooms to constantly refurbish, roads to repave, etc etc. I'm surprised they have money to do ANYTHING in the parks.

With that in mind, it's pretty spectacular that they've finally opened 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, which "looks" beautiful, no matter how exciting it might be. It fits New Fantasyland well.

Tim Hillman

Published: May 3, 2014 at 10:32 AM

As usual, with THC's comments, I find myself in mixed agreement.

The infrastructure improvements are necessary, and they eventually will enhance the guest experience, but they're not the reason why I visit Disney World. I go for the rides and attractions set in immersive lands. When there are not enough attractions in a park, and I find myself standing in ridiculously long queue lines, the quality of the rides and lands is immaterial. My visit is degraded, and I start looking for other options for my entertainment money.

As far as giving Disney a pass for having a great deal of construction and upgrading going on in their infrastructure and not having the capacity to also improve the parks, I don't buy it. If Disney can't maintain and upgrade their infrastructure AND build awesome rides and lands, they are either incompetent or cheap, and that observation is not made of the Imagineers, instead it's made of the guys with MBAs and spreadsheets who are calling the shots.

I don't understand why the American Disney fan has to be largely ignored while Imagineering is focusing on overseas locations. Is Imagineering so limited or Disney Corporate so incompetent that some of the rides and attractions being developed for overseas can't be modified and installed in an American theme park? To me that would be a smart thing to do since it would save development time and money and please the American Disney fans, but as I suspect, the bottom line come down to money and the lack of desire or the lack of any perceived need to spend it.

The "rock star" fascination with certain Imagineers is baffling. I'm not in the industry and THC is, but what does this say about the state of Imagineering? Are these Imagineers so special that nothing exceptional can be developed for a Disney park without their involvement? If that's the case then what does that say about the quality the other Disney Imagineers? Can they not be trusted with a major or even minor development?

So, I'm not willing to give Disney a pass just because they have a lot going on right now. The company is huge. Their profits are enormous. Their fan base is rabid and loyal. They didn't get to this point by sitting on their laurels and doing just enough. When it takes longer to accomplish a major refurbishment (New Fantasyland 2011-present)) than it does to build an entire park (Disneyland 1954-1955) something is wrong.

Published: May 3, 2014 at 1:48 PM

Universal wants to spend millions to outdo Disney, and Disney can respond whenever it wants with it's own expansions? Who's complaining?

Seriously, no one will think less of you if you do Orlando on your own terms. I think a lot of people neglect Sea World/Busch/Legoland, too. Just do what you want on vacation! Sheesh.

robert morris

Published: May 3, 2014 at 7:08 PM

Maybe in Disney's for attractions they could go back and edit The American Adventure

To be honest me and the family normally skip it on our way around the World Showcase. We stepped in it for the first time in years last week.

Lance Armstrong's image needs to removed...if you want to sub in Greg Lemond, Michael Phelps or someone from our Paralympics teams or countless others.

Since the seven reasons he is in the film, he no longer has won, and cheapens the film as a whole.

Published: May 3, 2014 at 10:00 PM

It makes business sense to build the park surroundings. It is more profitable and does not seem to be hurting attendance in any way. Adding another couple hundred million in annual upkeep will hit hard in a major downturn in the economy. One of these happens every 7-10 years. For WDW, 2001 and 2008 were both very ugly. The more there, the uglier it gets.

Instead, Disney is maintaining the cash cow and investing to capture growth in the fast growing Asian market. This diversifies away the single point Orlando risk while building future growth. Doing this while squeezing out every ounce of throughput in Orlando makes sense. Magicband is all about squeezing out throughput and margin so they don't have to grow.

Disney, has to be risk averse with their massive Orlando exposure. Universal has lower risk and tough competition down the road. They can't afford to be nearly as risk averse. As a result, they can move much faster.

TH Creative

Published: May 4, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Mr. Hillman writes: "The infrastructure improvements are necessary, and they eventually will enhance the guest experience..."

I Respond: Exactly.

Mr. Hillman writes: "... but they're not the reason why I visit Disney World."

I Respond: That's surprising since most WDI development meetings begin with the question "What can we do to attract Tim Hillman to the Florida parks?"

Mr. Hillman writes: "When there are not enough attractions in a park, and I find myself standing in ridiculously long queue lines, the quality of the rides and lands is immaterial. My visit is degraded, and I start looking for other options for my entertainment money."

I Respond: If you are finding yourself "standing in ridiculously long queue lines" wouldn't that be an indication that the market Disney is targeting is satisfied with the current slate of attractions? I mean, if the attraction development was substandard, wouldn't the crowds stay away and the lines be shorter?

Mr. Hillman writes: "As far as giving Disney a pass for having a great deal of construction and upgrading going on in their infrastructure and not having the capacity to also improve the parks, I don't buy it."

I Respond: I never indicated that they don't have that capacity. My post points out the TPI reports regarding Tom Fitzgerald going to EPCOT and Scott Trowbridge (a major player in the development of IOA) getting involved with Star Wars. So I think there is every reason to believe new attractions will be developed. I mean do you honestly believe that there are no concepts under development simply because the world's theme park blogosphere has not found out about them? In addition to that, Disney is investing a massive amount of money in its infrastructure, in its world-class resorts and other areas to maintain the quality experience guests expect.

Mr. Hillman writes: "I don't understand why the American Disney fan has to be largely ignored while Imagineering is focusing on overseas locations."

I Respond: They're not -- reference previous post.

Mr. Hillman writes: "So, I'm not willing to give Disney a pass just because they have a lot going on right now."

I Respond: It's a Robert Iger can sleep at night.

Anthony Murphy

Published: May 4, 2014 at 5:23 PM

I think that Robert is much more even handed on TPI than on Fbook. I thought the facebook title was a bit more snarky, but I guess it got me to click :)

As for Disney not building anything, I think that people need to remember that it is not a company with unlimited money. It is a bit of a double edge sword. Sure, they have more money than Universal, but they also have nearly three times the parks.

The trouble with WDW is that Disney hasn't really had a need to update. Sure, Universal stepped up their game, but DCA, HKDL, and DLP needed a fixup FAST. WDW is just such a behemoth that it is still top of the FL game. WDW isn't really lacking anything, except one...Disney Springs. Citywalk has surpassed Disney on this front. There are parts of Downtown Disney that work, but much has been shut down.

We will see how the new Diagon Alley does (probably great), but lets not kid ourselves, IOA's Harry Potter was already half built since they just took the existing buildings and some rides and went through retheming. That is nothing against them, but they didn't exactly reinvent the wheel either.

Then again, both Disney and Universal know that people are coming for a once in a lifetime trip. We are lucky enough to go more than once a year. Only we notice if a park is building fast/slow.

Gabriel Schroll

Published: May 4, 2014 at 6:01 PM

My curiosity tends to be aimed at whether Universal will be able to open a third gate in Orlando. I don't know the details of what land they own, but I'm pretty sure there are a lot of spots on I-Drive that they could buy as a warehouse/storage unit. Perhaps fronted by a museum/store. I also heard they were going to be building parking garages for their employees, which could free up space for a third gate.

However they want to do it, the Orlando theme park wars could really get interesting if Universal had three parks.

Universal will never have the size or scope of WDW, but three parks and a couple more nicely themed hotels could get people to spend 3-4 days at Universal, which is starting to get into the 50%+ area of a lot of families' 7-day vacations.

I have no idea if that's feasible, but it would sue be fascinating to see play out.

Anon Mouse

Published: May 5, 2014 at 5:59 AM

I think the resorts renovations falls into a different bucket than the attractions. It is simply a matter of the resorts and DVC setting aside a portion of revenue for maintenance and expansion due to its success and increase in business. The resorts renovations are not as fast as assumed. They are long overdue. Resorts should be updated every ten years before customers begin to notice their rundown appearance.

Attractions are a different matter. They cost millions to create. One attraction alone can be equivalent to a new resort. Do this for every park and you notice that adding new attractions and updating existing attractions are very expensive propositions.


Published: May 5, 2014 at 12:46 PM

Interesting comments: Universal has already cleared land in IOA for a King Kong attraction with a show building about the size of Forbidden Journey. A family friendly (think Big Thunder Mt.) will be added to the JP section. This themed coaster is rumored to have extensive rock work theming as if your are traveling through a dinosaur archaeology excavation site complete with dark caves and fossil's. I have a feeling that they will eventually re-purpose Toon Lagoon and hopefully they will build the rumored Mt. Crumpit ride in Seuss landing. That would pretty much complete IOA. Moving over to the Studios side. Shrek needs to go with either a complete overhaul or just level it. I predict that Fear Factor stadium will be demolished to make room for a Harry Potter Ministry of Magic ride. This may also put Men in Black on the chopping block. There is also a plot of land in between MIB and The Simpson's that is ripe for the picking. Kid Zone will most likely be leveled to create a "Fantasy Land" type experience. E.T. could very easily be converted to a Sponge Bob ride. (The bikes become boats-since the first part dips the ride down quite a bit.) Twister, T2, Disaster will either be re-themed, up-graded, or go bye-bye. If the rumor is true that a LARGE plot of land is available behind Lockheed Martin. (which Universal used to own) I predict that land will be bought and a 3rd gate will be created along with two more hotels. I'm sure a state of the art water park is already in development. It would be really funny for Universal to complete all theses things before Disney could even create concept art for a Star Wars land or even open Avatar Land. So the next 5 years should be quite interesting. I love DIsney and am a pass holder (for a few more months anyway) but Disney World is just a real mess. I don't see things turning around at the house of mouse for a very long time.

Published: May 5, 2014 at 2:20 PM

My January trip to Orlando was for a Disney race. Stayed at Contemporary resort on-site. I hadn't been to Disney since I was a child.

On the way in, as our shuttle went from resort to resort, I was shocked at how outdated and dumpy everything looked.

Did not like it. Disney World is a sprawling mess. The monorail is slow and inefficient (travel to a hub, walk to other station, stand around and wait again).

The Contemporary was not impressive. Very loud and frumpy. Our quick check-in involved being walked from the door to the desk where we went through a regular check-in. Huh? The magic band receiver on our door would fall off every time we put the band near it. That stupid 1970's water display thing that would pop up after kids go to sleep and could probably be heard in Georgia. Ewwwww.

We had park tickets for Epcot. After the 30 minute monorail trip, we got Fastpasses figured out, which meant waiting a couple hours for rides. Had trouble finding pretty much everything in Epcot. Eventually found Nemo and enjoyed it. Did the walk around the world thing. Africa is just a gift cart? Really? Heard of Simba? So many underdeveloped concepts or missing areas.

We also built in 2 days at Universal. Upon arrival at Portofino Bay, we find this lovely, relaxed resort for the same cost as Disney. Felt like we were a world away, yet could walk out to eat, go to pool or be entertained all within 2 minutes.

Had a ticket for Islands of Adventure. Potter was great, as advertised. Jurassic Park is frumpy - especially the Discovery Center. Great water rides, along with Toon Lagoon, though. Suess was delightful. Marvel section was small, but cool. We found plenty to do each day. Didn't even make it to City Walk in the evenings. Was so relaxed at Portofino that we just had some lovely meals there and recovered.

Since then: obsessed with Universal/theme park news and planning a return trip to Orlando in November. 4 days at Universal, 0 at Disney.

Published: May 5, 2014 at 3:59 PM

I think there is about to be an earthquake in the theme park world.
The last E Ticket in MK was Splash mountain in like 1992.
The last E Ticket in Epcot was Soarin' around 10 years ago.
The last E Ticket in DS was Rockin Roller around 15 years.
The last E Ticket at AK was Everst around 8 years ago and the centerpiece has been broken for 6 years.
Now WDW is talking 3 more years for only Avatar?!
These WDW execs have been resting on other's laurels for a decade.
Universal has only opened about 15% of the new E Tickets, lands, and resorts on their 5 year plan.
Universal is opening a third gate, new themepark/waterpark, 2-3 more resorts, at least 2 more lands, Potter Ministry of Magic, and several more E Ticket attractions all connected by a monorail type transportation system to Citywalk right as the hub.
Families will not have the $'s to do both Universal and WDW.
Families will find it pretty easy to skip AK, and DS as they are old and half day parks anyway (notice the flow of the guests after lunch). Epcot is almost a theme park museum from the 80's.
Guests will want to see all the new attractions and lands at Universal and will still want to visit MK.
Average families won't be able to justify $750/day at WDW for AK, DS, and Epcot. So, Universal and MK will be the parks to visit.
I think Universal parks can probably pass AK, DS, and/or Epcot in the next 2 years.
This group of WDW execs will go down as the ones who let Universal hand them their rumps.
Between 2009-2013 Universal grew at 39% while WDW parks grew bewteen negative, flat, and 2% during the same period.

TH Creative

Published: May 5, 2014 at 5:43 PM

Note to Anonymous: How long have you been working for Universal? I mean, "Had trouble finding pretty much everything in Epcot?"


Thomas Caselli

Published: May 5, 2014 at 8:44 PM

"Outdated and dumpy", 2 words that I would never use to describe anything in Walt Disney World and I have been there 20 times or so. You must have been somewhere else and thought that you were in WDW.

Published: May 5, 2014 at 10:48 PM

to respond to someone's E ticket above -

Since people on here are not considering the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train an E-ticket, does Soarin really count as an E-ticket? It's really just a 2.0 movie theater. Not to be a hater..... because Epcot is a fun park to me..... but the only ride there by these extravagant standards I'd think might be an e-ticket is maybe Test Track (and maybe Mission Space). I'd like to see a new real E-ticket at Epcot. Also, I think Soarin is a great family attraction (although not that much of an impressive e-ticket like say Everest which is an immersive mountain of a ride), but it really needs the screens cleaned. Last time I "rode" it the issues with the screen took me out of the experience to focusing on that smudgy area on the screen.

Published: May 5, 2014 at 10:50 PM

Oh, and another thing to note..... sometimes just something new could be fine and it does not have to be an e-ticket....

after all.... Dumbo is just a spinner and look how popular that thing has been all these years. Not everyone needs the highest, tallest thrills or most expensive ride to be entertained. Kids are funny like that, you buy them a bike and they play with the box it came in!

Published: May 6, 2014 at 7:51 AM

Disney fans not so great at accepting criticism of their outdated park. My actual complaints about Disney were valid, I don't work for Universal (first visit to Orlando in a couple decades). Everything I saw was slow and outdated.

Epcot - I get the sense people apologize for it. There were 2 legit rides we wanted to go on: Soarin' and Test Track. Which meant getting passes first thing in the morning when the park opened and then killing time for 4 hours with the stuff we didn't care about. How has that gate been around so long and still isn't built out?

Yes, we couldn't find things in Epcot. The map for the front section didn't make much sense to us and we wandered around for 15 minutes until we found a staff member who pointed us to walk through one building to pop out where Nemo was. For that amazing movie they have a refurbed ride of like 4 animation clips, a funny, well-executed live chat with the stoner turtle from the movie and a non-themed holding pen with some fish and such.

My main takeaway from visiting Disney and Universal for the first time as an adult: Disney is lazy, outdated. Universal is modern and motivated, which is why I went from "never heard of it before Potter" to "that's a place I'd travel for."

Tim Hillman

Published: May 6, 2014 at 4:20 PM

THC, I can only shake my head at you. Selectively parsing someone’s comments to make a point may seem clever, but it certainly won’t win many fans to your point of view.

As far as the sarcasm about the WDI development meetings beginning with “What can we do to attract Tim Hillman to the Florida parks?” I think you may have a good point, but you’re slightly off in your focus. The question should really be “What can we do to keep Tim Hillman coming back to our parks in Florida more often?”

I may not be the perfect demographic that Disney is looking for, but I am the guy who:
-has been going to Disney parks with his family since the 1960s,
-has stayed with his family in the Polynesian Village, the Contemporary Resort, and Fort Wilderness over the years,
-schedules his business trips as much as possible around the opening dates of amusement and theme parks,
-has been to Disney parks and theme parks on three continents,
-stayed up for 36 hours straight and flew a red-eye home from Japan just so he could get 8 hours in Tokyo DisneySea,
-is married to a woman who’s idea of a dream Christmas vacation would be to get a block of rooms at the Grand Floridian and spend Christmas there with her kids and grandkids, and
-will schedule extra trips to the Orlando theme parks during an economic downturn because he knows the lines will be shorter and the visits more pleasant.

So, with hubris equal to your snark, if WDI development doesn’t open their meetings with a question on how they can keep bringing someone like me back more often to their Florida theme parks………maybe they should.

Now, to the other Disney apologists on this thread (and there seems to be more of you than usual), put down the Kool-Aid. Disney built all of these roads and infrastructure with huge profit centers like hotels and water parks and theme parks and retail centers situated on them, and last time I checked; the price to stay on a Disney property is considerably more than the price to stay off Disney property, Disney has the highest ticket prices in the industry, I’ve never seen a discount in a Disney retail outlet, and Disney has made tons of money. So, please stop making excuses for a company that stopped “paying it forward” a long time ago.

TH Creative

Published: May 6, 2014 at 6:18 PM

Tim Hillman "-has been going to Disney parks with his family since the 1960s,"

I Respond: Which means you must understand why the focus of the most successful theme park on the planet has targeted the (your word) "family" model. Not thrill rides, not intense simulators/dark rides, but attractions that charm and excite all members of the family (Little Mermaid, Mine Train, meet and greets, Festival of Fantasy, etc.)

Tim Hillman "-has stayed with his family in the Polynesian Village, the Contemporary Resort, and Fort Wilderness over the years,"

I Respond: Which means you must understand why the renovation of the resorts is every single bit as important as adding new attractions to the parks.

Tim Hillman "-schedules his business trips as much as possible around the opening dates of amusement and theme parks,"

I Respond: And?

Tim Hillman "-has been to Disney parks and theme parks on three continents,"

I Respond: And?

Tim Hillman "-stayed up for 36 hours straight and flew a red-eye home from Japan just so he could get 8 hours in Tokyo DisneySea,

I Respond: And?

Tim Hillman "-is married to a woman who’s idea of a dream Christmas vacation would be to get a block of rooms at the Grand Floridian and spend Christmas there with her kids and grandkids,"

I Respond: This lovely person must be very excited to realize that Disney has made renovating the rooms at the Grand Floridian to maintain their quality to be every bit as important as adding new attractions.

Tim Hillman: "So, with hubris equal to your snark, if WDI development doesn’t open their meetings with a question on how they can keep bringing someone like me back more often to their Florida theme parks………maybe they should."

I Respond: Apparently with their multi-million dollar efforts to renovate resorts, boost infrastructure and expand retail and dining and beverage outlets ... (based upon your post) they already ARE.

TH Creative

Published: May 6, 2014 at 6:28 PM

Anonymous (or ... whomever) writes: "Yes, we couldn't find things in Epcot. The map for the front section didn't make much sense to us and we wandered around for 15 minutes until we found a staff member who pointed us to walk through one building to pop out where Nemo was."

I Respond: At this point I am pretty much convinced the problem was not EPCOT nor its maps. I mean, I am certain that even a "stoner turtle" would manage to find its way around the park.

And really? You went with "stoner turtle?" And you're trying to maintain at least some persona of objectivity? Hmmmm.

Tim Hillman

Published: May 6, 2014 at 6:41 PM

THC, somehow my debates with you always seem to evolve into an Abbott and Costello conversation type of scenario. Like I said in my original post, I find myself in mixed agreement with you. We just view the relative importance of the investment in the parks and the investment in the rest of the resorts differently.

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