Matt Ouimet on having fun at a (Disney) theme park

Edited: November 28, 2015, 8:45 AM

I was reading Robert's report from the IAAPA Expo last week (http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201511/4840/), and I enjoyed reading the remarks by Matt Ouimet, CEO of Cedar Fair parks and former president of the Disneyland Resort.

I was struck by this quote where Mr. Ouimet compared visiting a Disney theme park (Disneyland or Walt Disney World) to his flagship park, Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California:

"We have a saying: Having fun should be fun," Ouimet said. "The day you go to the park, it shouldn't be about - with my apologies to the organization that did so well for us - it shouldn't be whether I'm going to get my $100 worth. It should be about, am I going to create a memories? I'm going to relax, enjoy the Chicken Dinner restaurant, ride the Timber Mountain Log Ride. It shouldn't be stressful."

The Disney theme parks are phenomenally successful, with record attendance these days and huge profits for the parent company. Disney sites have reported larger crowds than in the past this fall, and it seems that Disney wants to eliminate slow periods in the parks, maximizing the crowds throughout the year (except on the busiest periods like the Christmas holidays).

There are multiple commercial sites that tell you how to maximize your time in the parks with touring strategies (many for a subscription fee) and insider advice and tricks (no disrespect meant to this website). Fast Pass+ and My Magic+ at Disney World encourage you to plan out your day months in advance, with popular dining reservations grabbed up right away, and Tom Staggs has promised that My Magic+ will be coming soon to other Disney parks.

Is it still possible to have have fun at Disneyland or Disney World and not plan everything out in advance? If you are paying $99 for a single-day ticket or over $1000 for an annual pass, do you feel pressure to get your money's worth by planning out your day to the nth degree, and using as much insider info as possible?

Is it still possible to have fun when the parks are massively crowded, and you feel you need to get your money's worth? If you have an annual pass, do you feel you need to visit as much as possible to make it worth the ever-increasing cost?


For me, visiting other parks in Southern California like Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm, or Legoland don't require lots of advance planning, just getting to the park early and having a general plan of what to do. And the crowds, while worse on certain days, are usually manageable.

But spending the day at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is a big deal, partly because it's that much more expensive (few discounts, and annual passes are prohibitively expensive) and the day becomes an all-day (16 hour) trip, requiring planning out the morning and afternoon ride sequence, deciding which shows and nighttime entertainment we want to see, and eating meals at less crowded times. And it seems like more and more people there are thinking the same way we are.

What are your experiences in planning out a trip to Disney theme parks and enjoying your trip (versus other parks)? Does the day at a theme or amusement park become less enjoyable with more planning required?

Replies (7)

November 27, 2015, 9:24 AM

Hold the phone here! There is a HUGE difference in price between WDW and DL AP. DL's AP, in my opinion, is way overflated for what you get. Then again, I am also assuming most APs at DLR are actual SoCal residents. Its not $1000 at WDW.

Ouimet does have a little point with the planning, but his park is not packed to the gills. I went to Knotts and loved it, but it is not the same as Disney or Universal. I find it in the "second" tier of Theme Parks (Six Flags is third tier). Knotts does have a pretty immersive park with quality roller coasters. It is a nice mix.

November 27, 2015, 11:41 PM

I'll concede that AP prices at Walt Disney World are not quite as expensive as at Disneyland. But I think the majority of visitors at Disney theme parks (especially in Florida) are not passholders, but people buying single or multi-day tickets. I will also concede that Disney parks have a higher level of theming in their rides, attractions, and entertainment, which help lead to their popularity.

These are the salient points based on Matt Ouimet's remarks: 1) Prices are expensive for admission to Disney parks, relative to many other parks 2) The Disney parks are more often than not overcrowded, to the extent that one has to plan out and strategize one's day 3) The high cost of admission often forces visitors to feel they need to maximize their visits by seeing and doing as much as possible.

So here are my questions:

Do you still "have fun" at a Disney theme park, and not feel overly stressed? Do you feel it is relaxing to go to a Disney park? If not, are other theme and amusement parks better in providing fun in a relaxing and less stressful atmosphere?

November 30, 2015, 12:01 AM

Disney's problem is its demand. It's a great product, but the just isn't enough supply to meet it. This has meant long lines, Fast Pass, more blackout dates, higher prices, but the results haven't seemed to help. I think the solution is adding a third park at Disneyland, and a new Disneyland near Huston. The Huston area has a larger poplucation than L.A. did in 1955, and the fourth largest in the country. While there are many other fine parks, none have the respect or demand that Disney has. I don't expect Disney to be everywhere like Six Flags, but there needs to be a park somewhere besides the southern coasts.

December 1, 2015, 12:14 AM

I could write several pages on why visiting Disneyland (or any other destination theme park) is vastly different from visiting a regional theme park (Cedar Fair, Six Flags, etc.), but I think I'll stick with answering the questions presented here.

Is it still possible to have have fun at Disneyland or Disney World and not plan everything out in advance?

Yes, absolutely. I visit Disneyland at least once every other month and I'd say about 2/3 of the time I follow a touring plan and 1/3 I just wing it. Either way, I usually have an enjoyable time. I will say that the less often you visit the more you benefit from planning, but unless you really like to plan you don't need to do so if you're a regular visitor (at least one visit per year).

If you are paying $99 for a single-day ticket or over $1000 for an annual pass, do you feel pressure to get your money's worth by planning out your day to the nth degree, and using as much insider info as possible?

First off, I would never pay over $1000 for an AP (the highest tier I've ever purchased is Deluxe) because I don't think I could possibly enjoy the park enough in a year to justify that expense. Secondly, the value of a theme park varies by each individual. Some need to get x amount of rides in to justify their visit. Others have a whole list of must-do activities and missing just one means they wasted money. For me, I simply assess value with the question of "Would I do this again?" While visiting, I don't actively think about maximizing value as no matter what I've spent the money for admission. Afterward, however, I will reflect on my visit and decide whether or not my day justified the expense. If it did, great. If it didn't, I don't get upset over it, just make notes of what to avoid on future trips in order to increase the value.

When planning your day, the right way to do it is by asking "What do I want to do?," not "How do I justify the cost?" I've found that people who plan out their visit attempting to do as much as possible just to increase the perceived value of their ticket often have a less enjoyable experience. Chances are, someone who has a loose plan and does 20 attractions they want to do will feel they had a better visit than someone who does 30 attractions and follows a rigid touring plan with little room for variation.

Is it still possible to have fun when the parks are massively crowded, and you feel you need to get your money's worth?

At least when it comes to Disneyland, I actually prefer visiting on a moderate or busy day as opposed to a low crowd day. Believe it or not, I've found it is actually possible to see more in a day with higher crowds and longer hours than in one with lower crowds and shorter hours. The important thing when visiting on busier days is to not let yourself get stressed out about the money. Accept the fact that you spent whatever you did and just enjoy what you are doing.

If you have an annual pass, do you feel you need to visit as much as possible to make it worth the ever-increasing cost?

Since I've been paying for my own pass, I think the most I've visited Disneyland in a year is 8-9 times. I personally think there is a common fallacy among Disneyland APs that they need to visit more in order to feel the pass was a wise investment. The truth is not to visit more, but to get more out of each visit. Like many things, this is going to vary by person, but I personally find visiting for a whole day every month or two is better than visiting for a few hours every week or two. If I were to buy a Deluxe Pass and make six full-day visits over the year, I would feel that I got my money's worth. However, if I were to get a SoCal Select and make 20 visits of 2-3 hours each, I would not.

Do you still "have fun" at a Disney theme park, and not feel overly stressed? Do you feel it is relaxing to go to a Disney park? If not, are other theme and amusement parks better in providing fun in a relaxing and less stressful atmosphere?

Yes, I absolutely have fun at Disney parks and do not get stressed out. While I wouldn't exactly call it relaxing (I prefer an active visit with minimal downtime), I usually get what I hope to get out of a visit and rarely walk away underwhelmed or disappointed. When comparing Disney to other theme parks, I will say that there are a few parks that I enjoy more than any Disney park, but depending on circumstances any theme park can be highly stressful or very relaxing.

Each park is different, and ultimately a visit to a theme park is what you make of it. I have visited Disneyland on a busy day and experienced minimal stress, and I have also visited Knott's Berry Farm on a low crowd day and gotten extremely frustrated with various annoyances. The most important thing to remember is that enjoyment comes first, and if you're so focused on other things that your enjoyment is suffering, then, quite simply, you're doing it wrong.

December 1, 2015, 10:48 PM

I do agree that the less you visit, the more you benefit from planning, but I'd also say that the more you visit, the better you know how to handle the crowds and make the most out of your visit.

This is in no way scientific, but it seems like for the majority of people visiting Disneyland for the first time, unless they are lucky enough to go on a very slow day, they will be overwhelmed by such things as Fast Pass vs. standby line, which shows require a Fast Pass and how to get one, how early you need to arrive to get a seat for a parade or fireworks, etc., without doing a fair amount of research on how these things work.

I asked the same questions regarding Matt Ouimet's quote about visiting Disneyland on another theme park website, and one person responded:

It's becoming a definite "insider's" game. The level of what you are expected to know has become higher than what I like. Sure you should know a few things, but good gods, how much does a person have to research to have some fun? Just let me in the gate and let it be. The last time I was there the feeling in the crowd was absolutely frantic a lot of the time.


Another person said:

We simply could not shake the overwhelming feeling of "I gotta get my money's worth" when we were there. It took nearly all the joy out of our vacation...

Even though we had time in our schedule to visit, two years running we chose not to set foot inside the Resort. The hassle of the crowds, the price of admission, and the incredible amount of pre-planning in order to have a nice day outweighed our desire to see the parks. And that broke my heart a little.


I understand some of the differences between a "destination" theme park (like Disneyland or Universal Studios) and a regional park like Knott's Berry Farm, but I think this is exactly what Matt Ouimet is saying: for all the ways in which a Disneyland experience can be superior (and should be superior) to a Knott's Berry Farm experience, decisions that have been made by Disney park management on how they handle the local Annual Passholder population and the daily crowd level that they feel comfortable with (which maximized profit for the parent company and the stockholders) have made Disneyland far less enjoyable to visit for the average visitor than if different decisions had been made.

And in those terms, if you are looking for an enjoyable experience that is relatively stress-free and where you're not anxious about how much money you had to spend to visit the park, Knott's Berry Farm can be a more enjoyable experience, superior theming and wonderful rides notwithstanding.

December 2, 2015, 4:47 AM

I use Touring Plans.com because I think it's the most accurate. Plus I love the books and podcasts.

December 2, 2015, 8:20 AM

It's almost crucial to have a good working knowledge of the Disney/Universal parks. If I was a wide eyed rookie again, I'd think I would have trouble enjoying a day at the parks with these higher attendance levels. But now, I can basically react to any crowd level with the knowledge I've acquired from my many visits and the info from TPI, OU and TP contributors. It's gotten to the point that it's a science of sorts. It's got to be tough for a first time visitor on a moderate or busy day. Very few slow days anymore.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.



Theme Park Tickets

  Orlando attractions

  Southern California attractions

Get News Updates