Guidebook Disses Disney over DHS

August 3, 2015, 7:11 PM

How bad is the perception of Disney's Hollywood Studios these days? Check out the photo in this tweet:

The page is from the just-published 2016 edition of "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" and the relevant passage is under the "Studios in Perspective" header:

It's hard for us to recommend spending $80-100 on a park that has so little to offer.

Ouch. Harder to swallow for some Disney fans might be the final line in the graph:

For now, Universal Studios Florida is the superior choice if you want to visit a theme park devoted to movies, TV, and music.

Any announcement about new attractions at DHS cannot come soon enough.

Replies (54)

August 3, 2015, 8:59 PM

It would be a diss if it weren't 100% true...

August 3, 2015, 9:50 PM

Finally, reality comes to the theme park guides. Let's be clear that the other Disney minor parks are equally lacking in rides and attractions. Unless they make a concerted effort to fix them, the critics must give their honest opinions.

August 4, 2015, 4:11 AM

Another negative story about WDW from TPI ... shocker.

August 4, 2015, 4:23 AM

I actually do have Unoffical Guides, although the last time I bough one, it was 2012, and honestly, the best theme park guide I have read. (No offense Sir Niles).

I do agree that Universal is a much more superior park,.

And yes, any announcement about DHS is VERY, VERY, needed!

August 4, 2015, 5:53 AM

Well, it's obvious that it's no longer an opinion, but an accepted fact about the state of the park. However, that pessimism can quickly turn into optimism if Disney can put the right investment into the park. I believe they have a plan to do that soon.

August 4, 2015, 6:32 AM

As a hard-core Disney fan, and a fan of the 'Unofficial Guides' (my automatic choice whenever I am planning a visit), I've got to say I totally agree with this verdict. Disney's Hollywood Studios is worth visiting if you have a park hopper multi ticket but it wasn't a full day park even 3 years ago when we were last there. I think Disney realise there's a major issue here and I fully expect a California Adventure-style makeover (with a budget to match) to transform the park into one of Disney's premier parks. But that's going to take a number of years and in the meantime critics have to call it like it is. It's the weakest of the Disney offerings in Orlando and Universal Studios currently beats it by a country mile.
I still would argue that the Disney World Resort as a whole beats the Universal resort as a whole but that's a different matter.

August 4, 2015, 8:22 AM

Actually TH, the real shocker is that the hardcore Disney fans are finally pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. For over 3 decades the Disney corporation has built cheap parks (by their standards of park construction) and has steadfastly refused to improve them and largely leaving them as half day parks.

The turnaround started with DCA, but it is far too late and the progress has been far too slow for Disney not to receive some well deserved criticism for paying too much attention to the bottom line and far too little attention to the desires of their patrons. And all of the parking garages and glorified shopping centers and infrastructure improvements and ambiguous promises of future upgrades aren't worth a wooden nickel when you don't have enough rides in the park right now.

August 4, 2015, 8:50 AM

Mr. Hillman writes: "The turnaround started with DCA, but it is far too late and the progress has been far too slow for Disney not to receive some well deserved criticism for paying too much attention to the bottom line and far too little attention to the desires of their patrons."

I respond: So they are paying "far too little attention to the desires of their patrons?" And how is that impacting the success of their business model?

August 4, 2015, 10:53 AM

We all know MGM Studios was a poorly planned and executed "me too" move by Disney after Universal was announced. They designed and built that park before Universal was even completed. The park only has 6 actual rides if I am not mistaken.

Last time I was there (2003) the park didn't seem like it was even owned by Disney and felt completely disjointed. Judging from all the comments I have read since, it has gotten pretty bad, just like Epcot and their seemingly endless closed attractions / empty buildings.

The addition of new themed lands could revive the park, but they are already viewed as nothing but responses to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Disney decided to wait and see if such an ambition could be pulled off, then counters with.... Avatar?

I do love reading TH's hissy fits, however. No negative Disney story or comment goes untouched... he always retorts with Disney profits and / or attendance numbers. As Yoda might say: "Strong with him, the cheerleading and Disney Kool-Aid is".

To this day, I feel our Disney vacations failed us on so many levels (by comparison to UOR) and my only memories are exceedingly long waits for thrill-less rides (except for ToT, I actually love that one). I can still picture the overcrowded, slow death marches in mid 90's heat from one ride to another, only to discover a carnival spinner named Dumbo had a 140 minute wait time.

The Fast Pass machine wait lines were longer than the opening day lines to get into Hogsmeade. I always loved the fact that you had to wait in line for a slip of paper that is supposed to save time waiting in line.

I know some of you think Star Wars and Avatar will be the saviors of Disney, but both are problematic when it comes to integrating food and shops, which is what Disney does best. Looking forward to the amazingly themed Mos Eisley Cantina that probably won't serve alcohol, just a sweet carbonated beverage with some creamy froth on top to compete with Butterbeer.

Edited: August 4, 2015, 11:36 AM

Well TH, you know I've said repeatedly that the folks who run Disney are extremely smart because they are, but...

They're hurting their business model in three fairly significant ways.

One - A large part of Disney's success depends on the goodwill of their customers, and Disney has been rather parsimonious with rewarding that goodwill in the last several years. With the success of the Universal parks in Florida and eventually California, people are starting to notice that Disney is doing a relatively lackluster job.

Two - None of the ugly stepsister parks in Florida or California or France has more than 60% of the attendance of the flagship Disneyland/Magic Kingdom parks. I'd say that's a major failure in the business model because it looks like a lot of visits and meals and nights in hotel rooms are being lost because Disney is slow to invest in the secondary parks.

Three - When the best non-Magic Kingdom/Disneyland theme parks in the world outside of Japan are Universal parks, then Disney has done terrible damage to their brand as the premier vendor of themed entertainment. Perceptions may be slow to change in the theme park industry, but they are changing and the perception of Universal is getting more favorable while the perception of Disney is getting worse.

August 4, 2015, 11:40 AM

NB writes: "I do love reading TH's hissy fits ..."

I Respond: Which is pretty obvious as you can't seem to let many of my posts slip by without commenting. I take your obsession as a gesture of respect.

NB writes: "...however. No negative Disney story or comment goes untouched... he always retorts with Disney profits and / or attendance numbers."

I Respond: Didn't quote any numbers on this thread. Just asked a question. Is that somehow unreasonable?

NB writes: "As Yoda might say: 'Strong with him, the cheerleading and Disney Kool-Aid is'."

I Respond: Yeah, I am all in for Disney.

June 19, 2014: "From my perspective the so-called "glitches" (Gringotts) are an affirmation that Universal Creative is fearless. Never cutting it cheap and always pushing the envelope. In the weeks ahead the technical challenges will be addressed and Universal Creative will maintain its standing as the gold standard in themed entertainment."

September 23, 2011: "Seriously, there is no denying that the team at Universal Creative has consistently outpaced WDI since the opening of Islands of Adventure. "The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman," "Men in Black: Alien Attack," "Revenge of the Mummy" "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey." There is not a single WDW attraction that is anywhere near as innovative. Even "Twister" demonstrates how Universal Creative is more committed to take an extraordinary risk at creating the (apparently) impossible theme park experience. With the sole exception of the "Jungle Cruise" at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom the team at WDI has not even come close to the productions listed above. NOT EVEN CLOSE!"

Regarding the new Trader Sam's lounge at the Polynesian (Rated: Weak): "Too small. The servers should focus on serving more ... The Jungle Cruise skippers belong in the Magic Kingdom."

NB writes: NB writes: "I know some of you think Star Wars and Avatar will be the saviors of Disney ..."

I Respond: Saving them from what, exactly?

August 4, 2015, 11:47 AM

"And how is that impacting the success of their business model?"

Isn't poor reviews a lagging indicator?

August 4, 2015, 11:48 AM

TH Creative - You're spending quite a bit of effort fighting against other commenters and trying so hard to defend Disney. I don't feel like anything in the Unofficial Guide is controversial. The park isn't a good deal for travelers that have visited in recent years given all the cuts.

Personally, I'm confident that Disney will turn around DHS and make it an amazing place once again. Given its current state, however, I don't plan to go there in our next trip in early 2016. This will be the first time that I haven't visited all four parks since DAK opened in 1998. I'm just one person, but I feel like this approach will be common. My kids are young, so we'll be going to Legoland instead. I expect a lot may go to Universal.

August 4, 2015, 11:48 AM

Mr. Hillman writes: "With the success of the Universal parks in Florida and eventually California, people are starting to notice that Disney is doing a relatively lackluster job."

I Respond: And how is that impacting their model?

Mr. Hillman writes: "None of the ugly stepsister parks in Florida or California or France has more than 60% of the attendance of the flagship Disneyland/Magic Kingdom parks..."

I Respond: First are you basing your 60% attendance on the AECOM/TEA report? Because if you believe their math, there doesn't seem to be any trend showing that the Disney parks outside of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are suffering greatly.

Mr. Hillman writes: "When the best non-Magic Kingdom/Disneyland theme parks in the world outside of Japan are Universal parks, then Disney has done terrible damage to their brand as the premier vendor of themed entertainment."

I Respond: That designation as "best" is a subjective assessment.

August 4, 2015, 11:49 AM

I think that Star Wars and Avatar can be deftly handled by Disney and can lead to new found excitement in the parks. Avatar may not be the universally-loved IP that many are looking for (including myself), but I think as theme park entertainment it can still be impressive. And I can't see losing with Star Wars unless Disney seriously under-invests in that land, and I don't see that happening.

I think it's fair to call out Disney for the current state of DHS; it really is bad. I have to think they have a major plan for the park in the near future - why else would they close half the attractions for no reason? At the very least, I am hopeful.

Edited: August 4, 2015, 12:09 PM

Mr. Heaton writes: "TH Creative - You're spending quite a bit of effort fighting against other commenters and trying so hard to defend Disney."

I Respond: No sir. I am defending Orlando. I have family and friends that work at both parks. I have worked on projects at both companies.

What you might find more interesting is how so many of the TPI regulars who prefer Universal Orlando can't simply offer up posts in praise of their favorite parks and attractions without running down Walt Disney World.

August 4, 2015, 12:39 PM

"many of the TPI regulars who prefer Universal Orlando can't simply offer up posts in praise of their favorite parks and attractions without running down Walt Disney World."

Does money win or it isn't enough?

August 4, 2015, 1:04 PM

I only pick on Disney because I am a former customer who spent thousands of dollars on vacations and feel like it was a pretty awful experience by comparison.

We all know poor decision making and ego over creative control cost Disney a golden opportunity to bring JK's world to life. That could have been a figurative dagger in Universal's side as attendance would have surely dropped at both parks. I would have probably braved the chaotic sea of slow walking heat stroked mouse ear wearing zombies pushing countless strollers and waits long enough to make a normal person go insane if WWOHP went into a Disney park.

Watching Disney scramble for something to top WWOHP and their countless minions praising every move as smart and noble is entertaining, if nothing else. Us Universal fans were made to feel like the parks were "ghetto" by comparison until all of the expansion was announced. There was this Japanese culture of shame attitude that Disney fans had.

Those days are gone. We now run around waiving our wands at interactive displays without giving a thought to what Disney snobs think about us or our beloved parks. As I said before, I am sure these new Disney "me too" themed expansions will be wonderful when completed.... in 2025.

Edited: August 4, 2015, 1:23 PM

NB writes: "I only pick on Disney because I am a former customer who spent thousands of dollars on vacations and feel like it was a pretty awful experience by comparison."

I Respond: So you post as a means of revenge? Kind of hateful, don't you think?

August 4, 2015, 2:22 PM

That's kind of a twisted way to interpret NB's comments, TH.

I keep thinking about that "wrestling with the pig" observation you made a while back.

Edited: August 4, 2015, 2:31 PM

How on earth was I twisting his words? He had a lousy time at Disney and now (in his words) he likes to "pick on" the parks.

I'm starting to think "NB" stands for "Next Baxter."

August 4, 2015, 3:05 PM

TH - I can totally understand you wanting to support friends who work at the resorts in Orlando.

I'm a huge Disney fan that wants them to do so well, and I even started a blog recently that's mostly about great things that Disney has done (or will do). My point is simply that they haven't met their standards with DHS in a long time. I'm not out to attack them and feel like I'm pretty fair. On the other hand, I won't go the other route and never criticize them.

August 4, 2015, 5:13 PM

Baxter - hmm. I don't know about that, TH. NB has to be a lot more bombastic and over the top in his opinions for him to come up to (or down to) that standard.

You've commented previously in this thread about being all in for Disney and then listed where you have criticized them in the past. Anybody who has read your stuff in the past several years knows you to be reasonably objective about the parks. But I wonder; are the rest of us also allowed to criticize Disney's shortcomings and still be considered objective?

Funny thing is, NB is also reasonably objective about the parks if you take his posts in their totality. He may lean somewhat favorably towards the Universal parks right now, but he's also probably ready to plan his next vacation to Disney if they ever give him something new or improved and worth seeing. Problem is, they're taking their time giving us something new and improved.

There's also a huge disconnect between the locals and the insiders who live near Orlando and the vacationers who have to travel to Orlando. When the extra travel costs and food and lodging costs are lumped in with the limited time available to enjoy the parks, the criteria for judging whether or not the parks are doing a good job changes drastically. I don't think that many of the locals understand that fact.

Edited: August 4, 2015, 6:04 PM

My daughter is watching Pretty Little Liars right now, which is on ABC (a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney). I thought Disney was a about wholesome family values? I could go into details, but most of you know what I am talking about... the Fosters, is even worse.

August 4, 2015, 8:19 PM

On that note NB, Pretty Woman was on ABC Family. You know the one with the prostitute as the main character. It also has violence and some good old fashioned sex scenes that may not show nudity but leaves nothing for the imagination. I'm not saying the movie is bad, it's actually funny and romantic, but for a much more adult audience than ABC Family owned by Disney. Wasn't Disney trying to buy the rights for making a sequel to that movie?

Anyway back to on topic DHS just needs a few more meet and greets....

August 4, 2015, 9:07 PM

I don't understand the problem with openly stating in plain terms that Disney's Hollywood Studios is in bad shape and it's a substandard theme park entertainment destination.

Disney, itself, publicly acknowledges as much by deciding to spend ~ $3,000,000,000 to upgrade it.

August 4, 2015, 11:41 PM

Denial is the first stage of grief. Just ask T... oh, never mind.

August 5, 2015, 8:31 AM

It's great to see that Disney is finally seeing the light on DHS. But, keep in mind, that a huge portion of that money is going into parking & road infrastructure, not to mention Epcot & MK allotments. That still should leave a sum about equal, in inflation adjusted costs, for a Disney California level renovation. But what troubles me a bit is that Disney shut down so many attractions far in advance of any meaningful construction work. and we're all aware of Disney's slow pace in development and construction. So essentially, we're going to have a park that has a much decreased capacity for a number of years. The problems have existed for a while and Disney reacted too slowly, though thankfully rumor has it they will finally be acting. Bottom line, nothing wrong with Unofficial Guides' statements. They're just being honest. Their allegiance should be to their readers & customers, and not as a propaganda marketing tool for Disney.

August 5, 2015, 10:54 AM

Disney's stock went down $11 due to wall street concerns about theme park and cable business slow down. Specifically for the theme parks, they don't say why. You can guess.

August 5, 2015, 11:41 AM

Actually Disney stock price went down because of a fall in gross revenue -- no mention of concerns about theme parks (where Disney reported a 4% increase in attendance over 2014):

Stock Market Today: "Disney was a drag on the Dow, falling more than 8% after missing sales estimates in its third quarter. Revenue of $13.1 billion missed expectations by $130 million. Profits were better than expected, though, climbing 11% and exceeding forecasts for the 11th consecutive quarter."

Edited: August 5, 2015, 12:13 PM

Anon: Yes, there are concerns on the street. Disney stock had a nice run but some storm clouds are moving in. ESPN is a concern as is cable unbundling. On the theme park front I would think it's troubling to investors that Hong Kong keeps dropping in attendance even though there were excellent attraction expansions, Paris is still a financial pit, and much higher costs for Shanghai with problems looming in China's future. The market always hates uncertainty and usually reacts negatively.I heard some investor comments on TV today, and there's really no shock, but concern over a what TH mentioned and the above areas. Plus analysts are saying Disney is fully valued. I've been hearing stuff on the business shows almost daily concerning ESPN.That's a big concern since they were always a revenue thoroughbred and things are changing in the business. The US theme parks are holding their own, even with the DHS situation.

August 5, 2015, 12:25 PM

In market watch.

"Shares of Walt Disney Co. DIS, -9.38% which were down 9%, helped drag the Dow lower. The media giant reported weaker-than-expected revenue because of slower TV network and parks growth late Tuesday."

August 5, 2015, 12:29 PM

"Profit rose a better-than-expected 11%, buoyed by the success of the company’s film studio division, but revenue fell short amid slower growth at TV networks and theme parks. "

They keep writing "and theme parks". Why?

August 5, 2015, 12:51 PM

Anon; Good points. This was actually the worst theme park quarterly revenue growth percentage for Disney since the recession. Increased prices have always helped inflate that number. But the numbers that are really dragging P&R down are the investments outside of the US. I wish Disney would forget these foreign ventures and invest the money in it's domestic parks which are generally more reliable profit centers.

August 5, 2015, 3:29 PM

but still, Disney drops because they made only 99 truck loads of money instead of 100 truck loads? Rich people problems (which results in poor people losing jobs maybe).

August 5, 2015, 3:46 PM

Tony: Actually, you're right. Probably end up being a few layoffs to make next quarter's numbers look better.

August 6, 2015, 7:45 AM

Worse than I thought. Dropping another $4 today. Disney stock is now $106 per share from $120 a week ago.

August 6, 2015, 7:59 AM

Well the guide isn't wrong in its assessment. Both Epcot and DHS aren't really worth the value you'd expect an attraction that costs $90. DHS has nothing to do other than 3 thrill rides, a shooting game, and a night time show. Epcot feels like a mall with 3-4 worth while rides that you had to pay to enter. There just isn't enough at WDW that entices me to go there currently. I'd much rather go to Disneyland, where their on site hotels charge for parking.

August 6, 2015, 8:58 AM

Court E: Saw what you did on the Disney parking. TH won't like that. LOL

August 6, 2015, 1:36 PM

Thanks for the comments on the book. We're consumer-oriented, and it's good advice for families going to WDW in the next year. As many of you say, I don't think it's controversial.

Thanks again,


August 6, 2015, 1:52 PM

Len: Thanks for all the great work you do on TouringPlans. I have 2 subscriptions and I find your info very helpful. And I greatly enjoy the articles, especially those by Seth & Derek. TPI, OU, Magic and your site are definitely the leaders of legit theme park information.

Edited: August 6, 2015, 6:11 PM

Yeah it's a little snarky, but I like TH. He's right that it's BS that Universal charges for parking. But I feel it's BS when any resort charges for parking, wether that be at Disneyland, Universal, or even the WDW Swan and Dolphin. He slams Universal when he doesn't bring up the fact those hotels stated above charge for parking. We should be bashing both companies for using such practices, regardless of the resort.

TH gets a little cheerleader like when talking about Disney, but in general he's pretty objective, with a great perspective on how a lot of operations at theme parks work. He's as snarky as I am but with far more passion, and I respect that.

Edited: August 7, 2015, 9:19 AM

IN the spirit of transparancy I am massive Disney Fan,and feel no particular draw to Harry Potter. That being said Universal hit it out of the park when it comes to the integrating Harry Potter into their parks, both in terms of timeliness, and quality. As attractions they are peers to and in some cases surpass E-Ticket Disney attractions such as Expedition Everest (how long has it been since the Yeti worked?)and Mission Space. That Universal was able to secure the rights and get them built, while not skimping on quality in a comparatively short time vs the Fatansy Land Expansion which was a lot of theming, a Finding Nemo sea shell clone, and an updated mine cart ride, is telling. The popularity of Harry Potter is sustained, while, there doesn't seem to be a groundswell of demand for more Avatar, which has passed from the zeitgeist. Disney has an opportunity with Star Wars and Pixar so long as the DCA and Beastly Kingdomme bean counting doesn't result in poorly realized or downscaled attractions. I'm trying to remain optimistic about Pandora, but the track record isn't good.

August 7, 2015, 8:27 AM

From what I've read, the budget for Avatar was increased after the Disney execs & imagineers visited Diagon, were blown away with it's quality, and saw what they were up against. So, I really guess that while Avatar's quality may have been a concern more than a year ago, that it's now on firm footing budget wise, and isn't being cost engineered to death. I think it's going to be pretty decent, but a lot of people don't seem enthused by the IP. Bottom line though, if the area is a quality immersive land with good attractions, the crowds will come, but probably not at the level of HP or a really terrific Star Wars expansion at DHS(if it happens).

August 7, 2015, 2:06 PM

Even though Pandora is a topic slightly sideways to this original discussion, I believe Pandora will be quite a spectacular place (always thought so) and Disney's Animal Kingdom will promote it with the least attachment to Avatar they contractually can. In time, the origin IP will be mostly forgotten (like Splash Mountain) and a beloved land will remain. However, Disney still OKed a contract with James Cameron for Avatar - The World of Pandora as a knee jerk reaction to Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

August 7, 2015, 3:10 PM

Tony; Good points. Interesting comparison with Splash Mountain as an "IP not always important" concept. Most of Disney's classics weren't necessarily associated with a particular IP.

August 11, 2015, 5:03 AM

Wow, we really got something going on here!

First, Disney's stock dropped because ESPN is doing poorly. From all indications, the parks are one of the bright spots of the profolio.

Second, Universal puts a themed land with two rides and they are ahead?

Third, Universal and Disney are not going after the same exact demographic

Fourth, people are still going to a Disney park at least one day on their FL trip. When people travel to go to FL, they are stopping AT LEAST at Disney for one day. There are many that do not stop at Universal

Fifth, the article just writes off DHS without really stressing that DHS actually has some of the best rides in FL. Not sure why park hopper-ing it isn't viable

August 11, 2015, 8:24 AM

Actually the article mentions that DHS has some don't miss rides. One can assume since we are only seeing a small snippet that they recommend a park hopper option in this scenario... Since entering the park would be the only way to experience those attractions. The guide doesn't recommend dedicating an entire day to such an abysmal park in its current form.

August 11, 2015, 8:07 PM

I am not sure how you couldn't spend an entire day there...even in its current form.

Only one day though!

August 12, 2015, 6:44 AM

You could stay there a whole day, but it's not worth the $90 admission price. Comparing it to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, the Universal Parks, and even Epcot, Hollywood Studios doesn't measure up. It just is a park that's too small with too few good rides and attractions. The "Studios" theme is beyond outdated thanks to DVD's and MacBooks. Add in the fact that most the park is closing with no announcement on a replacement. It simply is not a good park... for $90 dollars. If the prices were reduced like they were when the park opened as a "half-day" park that would be one thing.

August 12, 2015, 7:04 AM

While I'm really against closing all of these attractions before any meaningful attraction construction, I still won't have a problem filling up an entire day at DHS. But you do need to be a customer that enjoys live shows. We like a good show as much as a good ride plus we love to watch the Citizens of Hollywood and their hilarious skits. Would I spend a $90+ to buy an admission? Probably not, but I'm working with a 10 day ticket/with parkhopping where my "real cost" of admission is less than $45. And, I would guess, the bulk of guests have some sort of multi day ticket or package deal where the actual cost is less than the $90+ single day admission fee.

August 12, 2015, 8:40 AM

And again the guide isn't arguing against people that have gone that route. It says if you have only two to three days, this is the park to skip because your ticket is close to the $90 mark. Compared to Disney's other 3 parks and 2 water parks, DHS is not comparable. At least not yet.

August 12, 2015, 8:59 AM

Court E: I wasn't really referring to the Guide's recommendation concerning short stays, which I agree with. (See my previous remarks) I was only addressing that the park could be a full day park for a customer that enjoys live shows and it would be economically feasible for those that have multi day packages that discount the ticket price. I'm certainly not defending the way they're managing this rebuilding process.

August 12, 2015, 9:36 PM

It's a fair assessment as it is a guide for today and not tomorrow. With Disney's price structure if you are on property or park hopping it is worth it to visit DHS if only to do a few rides or a show or two. But if you have $100 and 1 park to visit it currently is 7th on the list of major parks in Orlando and I could understand for young adult or teens choosing BGT in front of DHS or a family with young children putting Legoland in front of DHS.

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