Vote of the Week: Should You Visit a Theme Park During Refurbishment Season?

February 13, 2015, 4:07 PM · If you've been visiting some of the top theme parks in Southern California or Orlando recently, you certainly noticed the construction and refurbishments. Scaffolding covers Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland. The Matterhorn and Peter Pan are closed. Heck, all of Critter Country — including Splash Mountain — is boarded off to visitors. At Disney California Adventure, Condor Flats is closed for its conversion to Grizzly Peak Airfield. The Paradise Pier lagoon is drained dry. Up the road at Universal Studios Hollywood, construction walls block much of the Upper Lot, as the park works on its new Springfield and Harry Potter lands. In Orlando, the hub in front of Cinderella's Castle remains a construction zone. Cinderella's Royal Table, inside the castle, is closed. Disney recently unveiled the work it has been doing around the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, but the popular Flame Tree Barbecue remains shuttered until the end of March. And, yes, they're still tearing down The Hat.

Disneyland construction

A friend yesterday looked at the list of Disneyland's currently closed attractions and exclaimed, "Is it even worth going to the park?"

It's a fair question. Obviously, most people aren't visiting this time of year. That's why so many rides, shows, stores, pathways, and restaurants are closed. With schools in session and holiday crowds at home, the year-'round theme parks use this time of year to make needed repairs while inconveniencing the minimum number of visitors. But parks keep their gates open during the refurbishments and charge the same amount for a day's visit as they do during the busy summer months. If you are able to visit right now, should you?

Here's the conundrum: If most people believe it's a bad deal to visit right now, then it's a good deal. But if people think it's going to be a good deal to go now, then it's a bad deal. (Welcome to the Yogi Berra School of Vacation Planning!) The value of a visit to a half-closed theme park relies entirely upon the attractions that remain open being available with little or no wait, so that you can end up doing just as much on a visit during this time of year that you'd be able to get done on one of those busy summer or Christmas-week days.

You lose that advantage if bargain-hunters decide to crowd the park during this relatively slow season. I visited Disneyland on a Wednesday two weeks ago, and everything was a walk-on. Sure, many attractions were closed, but I breezed through Pirates, Mansion, and Thunder in less than an hour. Yesterday, however, crowds filled those three queues. Even worse, there was a 10-minute wait just to get into the French Market, a slide-tray cafeteria! The half-closed Disneyland offered a bargain two weeks ago, but I suspect many visitors wouldn't have felt the same way about yesterday.

So what do you think?

Obviously, many of us care about certain attractions more than others. So long as Pirates remains open at Disneyland, I'll easily overlook a bunch of closed Fantasyland rides. But parents with small kids might feel the opposite. What are the deal-breakers for you, if any, when considering a theme park visit? Please tell us in the comments.

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Replies (21)

February 13, 2015 at 4:40 PM · When we head to Florida, it's usually during the refurbishment season, because it's nice to not have to battle huge crowds. Construction walls and the odd closed attraction is not too bad when you can walk onto almost every ride in exchange. This year was no different, but I have to say, Disney's Hollywood Studios has become almost depressing with how much is closed. I went for a morning with my youngest, who doesn't like rides like Aerosmith or Tower of Terror. We were done in less than two hours. Toy Story, Star Wars, Great Movie Ride, the Muppet 3D movie, then "Let's take the boat to Epcot". I have so much hope for that park when it ultimately gets it's makeover (Star Wars Land? Pixar? GreatER Movie Ride?). But I won't be heading back with my family until that time comes. That's probably not for 5 years!!!
February 13, 2015 at 5:08 PM · Can't you see Walt pointing the way out? Even he knows not to visit when there is that much work going on.
February 13, 2015 at 5:22 PM · I went to Disneyland for the first time last September. I knew there were going to be refurbishments, but my priorities were rides that we don't have in Florida or different enough, like Pirates. So I checked what historically went down when. We lucked out and nothing was closed all 5 days we were there.
Refurbs are not going to make me change plans usually, unless it was something major, like seeing Radiator Springs Racers for the first time. I know I can always go back, even if it'll be a while. Lower crowd levels trump potential refurbs for me.
February 13, 2015 at 5:31 PM · Most of the time it is a good idea to visit during closures because of the crouds but this time the closures are too many. My favorite attractions are Splash Mountain, World of Color, Soaring Over California, Pirates of the Caribbean and Radiator Springs Racers. So 3 of the best 5 are down. Plus no castle photo op and no submarine voyage. The lack of crouds is not worth it.
February 13, 2015 at 7:26 PM · When we go during the off season, I think the closed attractions make us more open and adventurous to other attractions that we would ignore during high crowd times. With the time we save walking onto attractions, we have tried one of the shows, actually watched and enjoyed a parade, or if in Epcot, really looked through the World Showcase. It is a different kind of trip from the mad rush in the summer.
February 13, 2015 at 7:28 PM · I'm going to LA this summer with my family ( two adults and two kids 9-11 years old). I loved going to Universal some ten years backs, when I visited from Denmark, and would like to show my kids the park. But will it even be worth going to the park with all the construction? Will we be better off in disneyland, or maybe six flags?
February 13, 2015 at 10:52 PM · Hollywood Studios is Disney's worst park. What is there is great, it's just that there just doesn't have very much. Similar story at Epcot. Disney needs to get get going at adding new attractions to them. While I'm sure Disney is working on things that won't happen for years, they can still add attractions that are less ambitious in the mean time. Not every attraction needs to take years to complete or a record cost to be a good attraction. The parks may never be finished, but there should be new and refreshed things every year, not just every couple of years.
February 14, 2015 at 10:45 AM · Yes to the question. The lower crowds means the ability to hit the attractions that otherwise would be too crowded. Having a full slate in the high season still won't offset the crowds. There's actually a compromise. By May, most rehab projects are done. Still the off season since kids are at school. September is also a good off season month. Rehab projects haven't begun yet.

Locals get a bonus from the locals discount.

February 14, 2015 at 8:33 AM · In some ways I'm fortunate that my local park, Cedar Point (for the two TPI readers that don't know that) has that six month period when the park is put into hibernation while the glaciers from Canada move in (like today). Occasionally an attraction will close before the end of the season, such as at the beginning or middle of HalloWeekends, but usually it is after the park is closed for the season before rehab, refurbishment, demolition and construction starts on new attractions. As far as trips to the year-round CaliFlorida parks goes, they happen for me so rarely that I can plan them around major closures.
February 14, 2015 at 1:06 PM · It really depends on what attractions are closed for refurbishment. If the attraction is It's a Small World.... No problem. ha ha.
February 14, 2015 at 11:38 PM · This is one of those things that depends on a number of factors. For me, if it's a park I've never been to I'm definitely not going to visit when anything noteworthy is closed. However, once I've visited the park I'd be willing to visit with something down as long as there were still enough attractions of interest available to justify the cost. With a local park or a park you visit more than once per year, the impact of a closed ride is much less of an issue than waiting and dealing with larger crowds would be, as it is not likely the same attraction will be closed on every visit. For a park you only get to once every few years, it's worth it to visit during a busier time rather than miss a favorite attraction.
February 15, 2015 at 12:14 AM · It's only natural for a park to schedule more refurbishments at quieter times of year. However, because of the upcoming 60th anniversary celebration, the situation at Disneyland is a little extreme right now.

We are going to DLR in September, presumably when the crowds will be reasonable. At the same time, pretty much everything will be up and running.

February 15, 2015 at 10:54 AM · We've been to Orlando three times (it's so expensive that we can only really consider a trip every 4 or 5 years). Twice we've been in November which was a brilliant time to visit, once we visited in January which was not! It was cold, but every park we went to had at least one major attraction out of commission for refurbishment. When you only get to the parks every 4 or 5 years it's a major blow to have a whole series of the 'big ones' out of action and it did kind of spoil things a little. We would choose November again any time. Good weather and most parks are running at full listing as the run-up to Christmas is approaching.
February 15, 2015 at 11:29 AM · It's easy to plan around the refurbishment schedule, because that information is available online. If we know in advance that our favorites will be closed, we choose other dates.
February 15, 2015 at 5:55 PM · Florida's Tower of Terror is the ultimate deal-breaker for us. For all the flack the Studios takes, we can squeeze a good day out of the park, provided we get a drop or two on Tower of Terror. Without that, we wouldn't even try.
February 16, 2015 at 8:15 AM · Like with David Brown it's a very expensive trip.
Just last August, we had to do without It's a Bugs Life.

For locals I can see it being fine, but for those of us looking for dream vacations, it is more important to have as much running as possible.

Best times to visit for us are May and September/October, crowds are not too massive and the water parks are open, while the weather is not at its peak heat.

February 16, 2015 at 8:54 AM · This is why I went (to disneyland) just after school started in September, less crowded but things were not closed.
February 16, 2015 at 9:53 AM · It's easy to plan around refurbs if you are US based and flexible about dates. We tend to have plan dates up to 12 months in advance so if a refurb is announced subsequently there's nothing we can do about it.....
February 16, 2015 at 11:06 AM · I live in the Kissimmee area of Florida, I have season passes to all the parks as my relatives like to visit. I visited Disney many times in the past, and present. It seems like it is all about marketing & sales. Like a huge mall of merchandise instead of a vacation get-a-way. I visit The Polynesian Resort, it is 1/2 the quality it once was. People who are in their 50's and 60's know how much WDW changed...
In the 80's Epcot was a marvel..Futuristic city.. Now..not quite as Walt desired it to be.. It was an Amazing place to visit then, now they turned it into a replica of The 64/65 NY Worlds Fair. world showplace ???
There is something called "over development".
The Quality & Imagination are something of the past for myself & others...
I don't need TPI staff rebuttal, as this is my opinion as a member here.
TF Wilson Captain USN retired....
February 16, 2015 at 12:37 PM · I guess it depends on what's closest to you. For example, I live a fair distance from WDW. So if I don't get to go on all the rides, I could always come back a couple weeks later. However, I wouldn't even consider going to Disneyland right now since it would be very sad if I were to fly all the way across the country, spend a whole lot of money, and not be able to get the full experience.
February 17, 2015 at 10:03 AM · Literally just got back from Disneyland last night, and as you say, a LOT was closed down. Peter Pan, Splash Mountain, Matterhorn, Soarin, World of Color--those are all marquee attractions. In addition, the castle and It's a Small World were both wrapped up in construction, and the lake at California Adventure was drained dry (which was actually cool to see, but you get my drift).

Bottom line though: who cares. We've been on all those rides plenty of times, and the money I saved (5 nights at the Grand Californian/4 days park hopper for the price of 4/3), plus the lack of crowds, meant we still had a fantastic time. We definitely missed Splash Mountain, and the kids missed the Matterhorn, but we still had four full days of fun, and it was worth every penny.

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