What's wrong at Walt Disney World?

June 21, 2023, 12:54 PM · Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom once again topped the TEA/AECOM Theme Index report for 2022, drawing more visitors than any other theme park in the world last year. But when you dive into the numbers TEA/AECOM reported, the math shows that the Walt Disney World Resort was far from being the winner in this report.

Magic Kingdom drew a reported 17.13 million visitors in 2022, more than any other theme park in the world. But the Magic Kingdom's 2022 number remained more than 18% below the park's reported attendance in 2019, before the pandemic lockdowns. Walt Disney World's EPCOT and Disney's Animal Kingdom did ever worse by that metric, with EPCOT drawing about 80% of its pre-pandemic attendance, and DAK getting just 65% of its 2019 number last year.

Disney's Hollywood Studios posted the best recovery performance among the Walt Disney World theme parks, welcoming a reported 10.9 million visitors in 2022 - just 5% off its 2019 attendance.

Yes, Disney is limiting its theme parks' daily attendance with a mandatory advance reservation system, something that no other major theme parks in the United States continue to do. But that alone does not explain the especially poor recovery at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom. After all, Hollywood Studios did come within about 5% of its pre-pandemic attendance, while on the west coast, the two Disneyland Resort theme parks, which also have Disney's advance reservation limits, welcomed within 8 and 9 percent of their pre-pandemic numbers.

Nor is the problem Florida, as Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure has completed its recovery by topping its 2019 attendance number, with Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay all coming close to hitting their pre-pandemic attendance, too. Indeed, it might be that Walt Disney World's Orlando-area rivals are benefitting from whatever is ailing Walt Disney World, as many people wanting to visit Central Florida for its theme parks now are choosing the non-Disney alternatives in the market.

Let me pause for a moment to note that the TEA/AECOM numbers are from 2022, so all the stuff that's happened in the past six months in Florida politically with Disney does not apply. We will see that impact, if any, in next year's report.

In my post about how Universal's Islands of Adventure has managed to lead the industry's recovery, I noted the importance of IOA's two big new roller coasters in driving attendance. At Walt Disney World, the resort has added two major attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios in recent years: Star Wars Galaxy's Edge in 2019 and Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway in 2020, just weeks before the lockdown. I believe that the appeal of those attractions has helped Hollywood Studios outperform its sibling parks at Walt Disney World, even as resort-wide issues have kept the DHS from matching IOA and getting back to its 2019 numbers.

So what are those resort-wide issues at Walt Disney World? I can think of two: price and perks. The performance of Disney World's Florida competition proves that the market remained popular last year, but those parks offered relatively new attractions with aggressive discounts, including available annual passes, in 2022. Meanwhile, Disney continued to keep many of its pre-pandemic perks, including dining plans and extended theme park hours, off the table for many guests last year. Those are coming back in 2023, but again, we won't see that effect until next year's report.

The disruptive construction at EPCOT should be wrapping up this year, perhaps providing a boost to that park, which also just got the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and Ratatouille ride in France. But it may be time for Disney to take another hard look at the situation at the two Kingdom parks. Especially after the resort's 50th anniversary celebration failed to deliver the boost that perhaps the company has expected.

Walt Disney World needs to deliver more value for the prices it charges to drive its attendance closer to its pre-pandemic numbers. That means a combination of capacity-expanding new rides, fresh entertainment, better value on food and beverages, and targeted discounting to keep the resort affordable for a wider variety of families. Fortunately, Disney World doesn't need to look far for a model, as the Disneyland Resort in California has been enjoying relative success with exactly that model.

A company that runs the world's most-visited theme park has proven that it knows how to succeed in this business. But Walt Disney World's competitors are closing the gap, so Disney needs a stronger response if it wishes to maintain the lead over those competitors that it enjoyed before the pandemic.

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Replies (54)

June 21, 2023 at 2:00 PM

Unless I am mistaken, there is a missing caveat in Robert's assessment about the TEA/AECOM report: It's an estimate. The publisher does not show the math specific to the calculations related to any of the parks.

This means the Magic Kingdom may have welcomed less than 17 million. Universal may have welcomed millions more. Hell, Sea World might be the number one park in Central Florida.

Absent any real numbers and a comprehensive presentation of the report's methodology, drawing conclusions about the published calculations has little value.

June 21, 2023 at 2:12 PM

@TH - I would generally agree with your assessment, but if the data were dramatically off the mark, don't you think park operators would be the first to issue a press release revising the estimates provided in the report? Even a company like Disney that view their attendance data as sacrosanct would certainly want to set the record straight if they were grossly inaccurate, or potentially demonstrated that a certain operator down the street was not making the gains perceived in this report.

It's also clear in the report that some data are gleaned from purely empirical observations, hence the extremely rounded numbers used for the Disney parks.

Ultimately, the report is more of a "health check" of the industry as a whole, and a sort of pecking order that is already understood between competitors. The accuracy of the data can always be brought into question because of the various collection methods, but I see little reason to dispute the precision of the data when not a single one of the impacted parties take exception to the report.

June 21, 2023 at 2:41 PM

Russell: "I would generally agree with your assessment, but if the data were dramatically off the mark, don't you think park operators would be the first to issue a press release revising the estimates provided in the report?"

Me: No. No I don't. Why would that benefit a park model and why would a park operator want to undermine the credibility of TEA. The numbers don't really impact the ongoing success of an individual park.

Russell: "Ultimately, the report is more of a "health check" of the industry as a whole ..."

Me: ... published by an association whose sole purpose is to advocate on behalf of the themed entertainment industry. In addition, since the report has never shown its math over the years we don't have any solid documentation showing they have used the same methodology year after year. Meaning if TEA/AECOM has become better at calculating attendance figures in 2022, then previous reports could be well off the mark. Thus, comparing year-over-year peaks and valleys seems to be less than scientific.

June 21, 2023 at 3:28 PM

"The numbers don't really impact the ongoing success of an individual park."

Sure they do. These numbers and rankings are a massive marketing tool, so if an individual operator knows they're not being measured right, why would they stand idly by to allow a fallacy to spread? What benefit is there to perpetually allowing grossly inaccurate data to be released in public? Sure, they don't want to rock the boat (especially if you're on the upper decks of that boat), but they also are competitive, and don't want misrepresentations undermining the true pecking order within the industry. Journalists (especially those in business/financial reporting) cite the data from these reports all the time, and you better believe financial analysts look at this report to make projections and evaluations across the industry (along with peripheral companies like construction contractors, ride providers, and staffing agencies). If these data were so bad and unreliable, why would the industry as a whole perpetuate this mirage?

Again, while I believe there is some inherent error in these data, there should be a strong amount of perceived validity because no one, including the only people who know whether the data are accurate, has spoken up to question the numbers.

June 21, 2023 at 4:12 PM

So, going back to the original premise of the article, what’s wrong with Disney? My feelings are that due to the cost and difficulty of a vacation at Disney World, it is starting to become a “one and done” destination.

There’s also the death of a thousand cuts theory. Too many upcharge events that make it look like Disney doesn’t care about the middle class, too much involvement in political situations, and too much disassociation from the traditionalists. They add up.

June 21, 2023 at 4:30 PM

I wouldn't be surprised if a large part of it would be the confusion and disdain of genie+.

June 21, 2023 at 4:34 PM

There are hardcore Disney fans who will maintain brand loyalty no matter what, but the overwhelming consensus I'm hearing from friends who don't fall into that group is that Walt Disney World simply isn't a good value anymore. Between rising prices, longer lines due to Genie+, very few quality new attractions (especially that aren't at the expense of a beloved favorite), and cuts resulting in significantly reduced service quality, very few that have visited post-pandemic left feeling like they wanted to go back. I personally opted out of spending any time at WDW in 2022 after my subpar visit in 2021, and even if I do wind up going this year there's a good chance I'll be passing on Disney once again as I've been enjoying not only Universal but also SeaWorld & Busch Gardens more in the past couple years.

June 21, 2023 at 4:38 PM

Niles will never admit this due to his overwhelming liberal slant on this subject, but WDW has become micro target for about a year. I know and work with others here in Florida that have had enough. The regular AP holders were denounced by Disney as bottom of the ladder and unwanted due to our lack of spending. Yet when the higher AP levels become available again, they didn’t sell out like CA. Water bottles in the water at Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain unpainted, no drive to open Tron before UO opens Epic. Cast Members have become aloof. And now the best part Robert, the wokeness you love. The majority of the rest of the country doesn’t. And the fans that grew up on squeaky clean Disney sure as don’t. The guy with the beard dressed as a Fairy Godmother assistant. The ‘violence’ stripped from Indiana Jones. The horrific debacle of rethemed Spash that had absolutely zero perceived racism. A publicity held company using shareholder money to fight a war against a state law backed by the citizens of Florida and had no bearing on Disney. Conservative America is voting with their wallets yet again, you just won’t admit it. Disney was the original Bud Light

June 21, 2023 at 4:53 PM

I think we’re about to go sideways.

June 21, 2023 at 5:03 PM

Price, reservations, value for money elsewhere where you don't spend the day in the park glued to your mobile phone checking apps so add uninteruppted immersive experience at the other parks to the list. History tells us hubris is a very dangerous trait.

June 21, 2023 at 7:06 PM

I wonder if focusing on the numbers at Disney theme parks misses a bigger answer. Could it be that people are at least partially motivated to visit the parks by how they feel generally about Disney entertainment, and on that score, 2022 was not a great year for Disney. Turning Red, Lightyear, and Encanto all lost buckets of money and were not drivers of Disney good will. The three Marvel contributions (Doctor Strange, Thor and Black Panther) did better but none got past the billion dollar threshold. The live action Pinocchio was widely perceived as awful. A lot of factors go into deciding to visit a theme park, but maybe some people thought that, as an entertainment company, Disney wasn't very entertaining.

June 21, 2023 at 8:39 PM

I can not get over the number of people that are willing to believe a company traded on the New York stock exchange is woke or even anything beyond slightly left of center.

June 21, 2023 at 9:19 PM

@Jacob - You'll have to get over it.
-Ben and Jerry's (They pretty much hate Israel.)
-Nike (traditional USA - Bad!; communist China - Good!)
-Adidas (gotta love that male model wearing the female bathing suit)
-North Face (Guys walk around in the woods in drag? Maybe that's the new camo.)
-Anybody that sponsors Dylan Mulvaney (Tampax - Really? Is this a South Park parody?)
There's a whole lot more. The list is pretty long.

June 21, 2023 at 10:07 PM

"Stop pushing your inclusive, human rights for all anti discrimination agenda on me." Chile.

June 21, 2023 at 10:45 PM

@Tim I think a lot of what you said is either hateful or stupid, but you also completely missed my point. companies that are this deep in late stage capitalism are, at most, liberal. they're just chasing profits like everyone else.

that you are angry they're trying to reach customers that aren't you is, well, giving the game away.

June 21, 2023 at 11:45 PM

My family love WDW so dearly but to us, it's the cost of a trip overall. We've been talking and while we'd love to go back, if it was a choice, we might pick Disneyland again, much easier to handle. And no, nothing to do with politics left or right, just the money issue really.

June 22, 2023 at 2:48 AM

The brand is dying. Previous experiences from guests who do repeat visits in one thing, it speaks around. All the failing movies and tv series. Fights in the parks on social media or weird behavior from Disney adults. Shows closed, parking-lot trams missing, entertainment cut, rides closed due to lack of maintenance, building new rides in slow motion and Disney putting a reasonable guest experience behind a complicated paywall does add up so people go for an alternative that is in every aspect superiors.
If even Pete from The Dis, owner of a Disney focused channel and co-owner of a big travel agency just doesn't get exciting anymore about WDW you know there is something very wrong with the mouse.
For this year we have the woke discussion, politics, Nazi's protesting at the gate, continues strikes at DLP, more failing movies and not much new and exciting opening in the parks again and I can see the next TEA report be even more devastating.
Did I say I'm very excited about Epic Universe that opens in less than 2 years.

June 22, 2023 at 5:48 AM

BucsandCanes: "Space Mountain unpainted ..."

Me: Space Mountain was re-painted months ago.

Bee & See "... no drive to open Tron before UO opens Epic."

Me: Really?

June 22, 2023 at 5:37 AM

A much wiser man than I recently wrote: "I feel that this report has declined significantly in quality over the past few years, and has pretty much turned into a cut and paste effort."


June 22, 2023 at 8:16 AM

Lost its appeal to me a few years ago.
Prices just go up and up and an upcharge for everything.
I wont be returning anytime soon.

June 22, 2023 at 8:18 AM

Not to sound like an enabler, but I like having Genie+ behind the paywall. The free version of Fastpass was unsustainable since many of the good rides were usually snatched up before noon. And then it got even worse when FP+ went live and hotel guests booked everything up before day guests even got a chance. Now that a lot of people don’t want to pay for it, I’ll be happy to spring for the upcharge since I don’t get to the parks that often. It especially works beautifully at Disneyland where the locals don’t bother and I can fit in 10+ reservations per day.

Having said that, Iger’s recent comments about guest feedback indicating that they want to book Lightning Lanes prior to their vacation does give me concern that we’ll soon be reverting back to that method.

June 22, 2023 at 8:29 AM

OT: "The brand is dying."

Me: Nope. The brand is paused.

June 22, 2023 at 9:14 AM

@TH Creative
I truly hope so. Iger still hasn't got a successor and has no company money to buy success covering the lack of creative talent in house is troublesome. A competitor that has all the hot ip's and is opening new experiences and rides and even a whole new theme parks and 3 hotels within a shocking short time and looking at the reviews get excellent reviews to what they open. I wonder how and when Disney get it's mojo back. We all need to competition to push quality forward but current Disney seems to not or to not understand what is going on as nothing SIGNIFICANTLY is changing for the best.

June 22, 2023 at 9:34 AM

@OT - I don't believe someone can compare the 2022 TEA/AECOM report to the 2019 edition and make an evaluation of the health and vitality of a company. I do give the 2022 assessment some credibility as it relates to WDW because the total number of theme park guests (including water parks) pretty much matches what Mr. Iger said in his offhanded comment at the last shareholders meeting ("About 50 million visitors will go through our gates this year alone ...").

If your brand can attract 50 million consumers every year it isn't dying. And anyone who thinks Disney is giving up on the parks is either stupid or just hoping that they fail.

June 22, 2023 at 9:50 AM

TH - The brand is dying a slow, but sustained death. I have 7 and 10 year olds and we spent 5 days at WDW in February. We had spent the previous two Februarys at Universal. Listening to my kids...they are done with WDW and it has nothing to do with "wokeness" (while that is an issue for many, not my kids), cost (they aren't paying), Genie+ (they don't care about the changes and are used to people being on their devices). For kids, who are major drivers of vacation decisions it is two things: more thrilling rides and a "coolness" factor.

For 7 and 10 year old kids...what the hell is an Aerosmith? What's a Twilight Zone? Even the "new stuff," while Avatar just had a big hit...no one is walking around with the banshees like they do the wands and capes for Harry Potter. Ratatouille was in 2007 and a decent size hit. The minions just released a huge hit less than a year ago. My daughter is 7, and according to her: "princess are for babies, dad...none of my friends like them anymore." She is seven! Universal is hip, cool, in the moment... Harry Potter, Jurassic World, Minions. Disney is yesterday, nostalgia, historic. There has been a marked change in recent generations, and kids no longer revere those old Disney IPs. The big things Disney is marketing are a dark ride to a mild 2007 film, a roller coaster for Tron...yeah, that's relevant to today's youth, and the one that they did get right the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Here is the other problem 5 years ago Disney's brands were the envy of the industry. Today? Pixar has been been destroyed, their movies are too expensive, and have had how many huge flops in a row? Universal/Illumination puts out cheaper movies that people want to see (and visit - Minions, Super Mario). Marvel - continued diminishing returns and an overall malaise since Avengers: Endgame. What post Endgame movie is a franchise builder? Thor Love and Thunder was awful, Eternals? Bombed and was awful. Star Wars (outside of the TV shows) is in a, at best, holding pattern with "creative issues" following three poorly received movies in a row (if you count Solo). And not to get all political, but some of the wokeness in these movies is starting to turn off viewers. There are customers who don't want to go to a movie and have to explain to their 5 year old about certain topics: Strange New World, Lightyear, etc.. (Two bombs, and why you should probably not alienate flyover country parents). Hell, even Korg (a rock) is now gay in Thor.

Again, I don't want this to be political it's about visions for the future at two companies. Universal is relevant, hip, cool, in the moment. Disney is "timeless," historic, etc.. Universal isn't beholden to some sense of history and doesn't have half the super-fans freak out if they paint a bathroom a different shade a beige because Walt once peed in there.

June 22, 2023 at 11:02 AM

@ MLB - What "hip, cool, in the moment" attractions will Universal be opening in 2024 at USF and/or IOA?

June 22, 2023 at 11:34 AM

@TH - What (at all) is opening at WDW? Universal has a little thing called Epic Universe coming down the pike that will contain a little thing called Super Nintendo World. Perhaps you've heard of it. They're also opening a new Minions attraction. Kids (mine included) will be flocking to it. So, yes...Universal is a little distracted by opening an entire new park (in less time than it takes Disney to construct a roller coaster). What's Disney's excuse? WDW has announced absolutely nothing new, they did however tell us that the are thinking about some blue sky concepts...maybe someday. With the snails pace of development at Disney, it'll be close to 2030 before there is anything of consequence. And, no I don't count a Moana walk through attraction as a major development.

June 22, 2023 at 11:53 AM

MLB, Your concern about the existential terror that certain types face when explaining homosexuality to children reminds me of real life example my wife witnessed at a birthday party my son attended for his kindergarten classmate. During said party my son asked the birthday boy why he had two moms. To which the lad responded, "I dunno". End of conversation. Unless you are a truly terrible parent it's not that hard.

And while the Mouse has certainly had their flops recently, with the formerly unstoppable studio juggernauts Marvel Studios (somewhat) and Pixar (a whole lot) in decline, Disney is still amongst the leaders each post pandemic year in box office and has theme park rights to an impressive slice of the world's most popular IP. And Harry Potter's continued theme park success despite the failure of the Wizarding World series and recent additions at regional parks have shown you don't necessarily need hip, cool or in the moment IP for your themed attractions so long as the execution is superb.

Robert's right. The fact that a trip to WDW is seen as an extremely expensive and stressful undertaking has hurt attendance. I have been planning on visiting WDW next summer, but my initial research shows UO to be a much, much better value. That has to change in order for Disney to right this ship.

June 22, 2023 at 12:03 PM

Wall Street companies are liberal in public but conservative in private and chasing those profits conservatives love. If you don’t believe me, watch how fast all the rainbow flags and logos disappear from your social media and advertising come July 1.

So, having said that, I do not believe in the “go woke, go broke” crowd. Case in point: Modelo has taken over the #1 best selling beer spot, but InBev, the owner of Anheuser-Bush’s Bud Light, has an ownership stakes in Modelo.

Disney’s stock price isn’t what it once was (a lot of companies having this issue), but they are far from going broke or even being a “dying brand”. They are still leading the overall park attendance battle even if their attendance is down from 2019. They literally release a new movie nearly every weekend under the Disney, Pixar, 20th Century Films, or Searchlight brands.

June 22, 2023 at 12:06 PM

@ MLB - You dodged the question. What "hip, cool, in the moment" attractions will Universal be opening in 2024 at USF and/or IOA?

June 22, 2023 at 12:06 PM

I don't think it has much to do with Disney entertainment. Yeah some of its movies have flopped but if you reference Box Office Mojo, out of the top 10 movies for each of the past 5-7 years, the Walt Disney Company released.

If Disney World attendance is falling it's really quite simple... it's expensive. Inflation has hurt the economy dearly and a Disney trip which has ballooned in price (Genie+) will be one of the first things to be cut. Groceries, utilities, and cars have risen in the past few years rapidly and a luxury item like a Disney trip will be cut. Plus yeah Disney has cut back on experiences at resorts and in the parks. That has hurt but ultimately ticket prices and genie + are to blame. Among the rising prices of food in the parks of course. You lower the ticket prices a bit, perhaps offer a "free" day and take away genie+ and the parks will be mobbed like never before. No wokeness or conservatism or "outdated" IP will stop that.

June 22, 2023 at 12:24 PM

Zarex - A few things... first, my point about Lightyear and Strange New World is about the business decisions that are being made. If Disney includes certain topics in animated movies market to children, there is a percentage of the population that will not purchase tickets. Now, were those movies bombs because of certain themes or because they were truly BAD movies? It's probably a combination of both because the movies were truly awful. Is it a smart business decision to alienate potential customers? I guess that is up to Disney and their shareholders to determine.

Second, these are the most recent releases for Pixar: Elemental (bomb), Lightyear (bomb), Turning Red, Luca, Soul, and Onward (I group these together as Disney+/limited release due to pandemic, but there wasn't a movie in the bunch that became part of the pop culture lexicon), Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 were huge hits but before those Cars 3 and the Good Dinosaur both bombed wrapping around Finding Dory. Three hits and all were sequels, and a lot of bombs based on how you quantify the Disney+ releases. There have been a ton of stories written recently about the malaise of Marvel and the overall lack of quality of the movies. (I've seen them all...huge Marvel fan, but even I recognize that something is off with the new movies that are just not as good...Thor Love and THunder, Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, Eternals, etc.. not great movies. Yes, Disney does have a high box office, on very high per picture production costs, look at Illumination vs. Pixar.

Finally, I agree with your observations of WDW. Trips there are no longer fun...they are an exercise in time management (real fun), frustration, and feel gouged at every turn, and when you add in the fact that their employees no longer make the difference; it's a tough sell that will only get worse.

Universal is a better value, more fun, and hip/in the moment because they are far more nimble. Disney has a serious problem at AK - losing market share because there isn't enough to do. EPCOT (Orlando's version of the Big Dig) is a park without an identity unless it is the festival park. This is not to say that Universal doesn't have it's own issues -- What is Lost Continent anymore? Does anyone remember what a comic strip is or the ones that Toon Lagoon is based on? Blondie? Gasoline Alley? --

The overarching takeaway that I have is that Disney isn't about theme parks...it's about filling hotel rooms and operating theme parks just well enough to keep those rooms filled. I doubt Universal ever overtakes Disney, but I certainly didn't think that they would make this big of a dent.

June 22, 2023 at 1:12 PM

MLB (The Dodger): "Now, were those movies bombs because of certain themes or because they were truly BAD movies?"

Me: Or because Disney+ subscribers knew it would be on the streaming service and chose to wait.

September 18, 2023 at 7:28 AM

I see TH jumped ship from my thread where was getting his a$$ handed to him. Hey, TH, it’s because Disney is woke and more than half the world isn’t buying into it anymore!

Sooooooooo TH, if people aren’t showing up in theaters to watch Disney movies, and Disney+ is losing millions of subscribers every quarter per their last several quarterly reports, how is the Disney Entertainment Division not losing millions if not billions of dollars for the company?

And now we go back to my original question, who should Disney fire…NEXT!

As for the theme parks, like so many have said before, going to WDW is a chore, going to Universal is fun.

June 22, 2023 at 3:43 PM

MLB, I vaguely remember that one of New Buzz's female colleagues in Lightyear had a girlfriend or wife or something. Is that going to get folks to stay away from the theaters? I doubt it. I think the movie failed because, in addition to being available on Disney Plus within a few months there was a distinct lack of Space Ranger-ness (?) in the film. I can't see why Andy would want a Buzz Lightyear toy after sitting through that.

I thought Strange World was a much better film with a much more overt LGBTQ story. I could see those that listen to right wing media would skip that one, but Disney is in a tough place trying to appeal to diverse audiences while not turning away types that fear diversity. Universal has done a nice job with the F&F franchise, though that too is waning domestically.

Marvel Studios has had some disappointments, especially with Quantumania. Taking size changing heroes out of the real world was a big no no. The third Ant Man should have followed the lead of Honey I Blew Up the Baby and taken place in Las Vegas. But the studio's track record is still the envy of Hollywood. Thor 4 did quite well, the Black Panther sequel was as good as could be expected, the two Disney Plus holiday specials were fantastic and GOTG 3 was a big hit. I'll be concerned about the MCU when an Avengers film fails.

Yes, Disney movies have higher production costs than many of their competitors. But that's a problem for the stock and the shareholders, not the theme parks. And the Disney parks save money by not having to license pricey IP like their main theme park competitor.

We will see what happens with Epic Universe. I think going from a 5 day to a 7 day resort is a bad idea for Kabletown since they are giving up the transportation advantage they have over the sprawling WDW resort. I think it would have been wiser to pump that money into their existing parks, but we shall see.

June 22, 2023 at 1:54 PM

What has not been mentioned, but is the 400 pound gorilla in the room is the Hulu conundrum. Disney is contractually bound to buy Comcast 33% share of Hulu in early 2024. The minimum value of Hulu is $27 billion meaning Disney has to pay Comcast $9 billion. Comcast claims that Hulu is worth much more. After arbitration, Disney will likely have to pay much more than $9 billion. Looking at their financial report they just don’t have that money. Some estimates are they have about $200 million of working capital. Their stock price has gone down so either they take on more debt to pay off Comcast or include shares of the company which would give Comcast one or two board seats. That’s why they are searching for tax write downs by ditching Willow and content off Disney+ and shelving the Galactic Star Cruiser. They certainly can’t afford to greenlight or speed up expensive projects at the theme parks. So they will have to watch as Universal creeps into the market share, especially after EU opens. Not a good situation for Iger.

June 22, 2023 at 2:20 PM

Hey TH, enjoy the video:


June 22, 2023 at 3:44 PM

There's so many factors layered into the lower attendance at Walt Disney World, not one single one is the key reason. Oh and "woke Disney" is not the issue either, no matter how much an incredibly vocal minority tries to spin it. So I'm going to try to give my stance on why Walt Disney World is in the situation that it is. First off, hasn't it been obvious that Disney is no longer in the business of shoveling as many guests through the doors as possible? They've been astronomically raising prices for years on nearly everything (how much is it for a bottle of Sprite now? $6.00?), and including more and more separately expensive experiences such as Lightsaber building or Individual Lightning Lanes. It's clear that Disney is focused on increasing guest spending, and if the rest of the Amusement Park world is anything to go by, that number has been crazy high recently (as seen in Six Flags and Cedar Fair's quarterly reports). So I think it's safe to assume that Disney: the home of the most marketable, merchandisable characters on Earth, is succeeding on that front as well. The park reservation system was also literally put in place to maximize profits with just the right amount of guests and staff, which is probably somewhere below 2019 levels if I had to wager. I don't support this direction, and it seems Universal isn't as interested either. Sure, they have the wizarding wands and Universal Express, but those are either relatively cheap (at least compared to Disney's offerings), or super niche products that don't affect the experiences of most park guests (Universal Express vs. Genie+/Lightning Lane). As mentioned on a previous post, I have also been served way more Universal ads than Disney, which I think is a factor here, and positive word of mouth has gone a long way over at USO. So I don't know if this is the death knell that some people are treating it as, but it certainly is an interesting development for both major players in the Central Florida market.

June 22, 2023 at 4:44 PM

@Smclaugh99: Regarding Hulu, you make the assumption that "after arbitration, Disney will likely have to pay much more than $9 billion". If that's the case, then that's the asset Disney will be buying. The arbitrator can only place a value that is accurate. Meaning yes, Disney will have to pay, but they are buying an asset.

As a company (in March) Disney had a market cap value in excess of $175 billion. There is no doubt they can finance the buyout cost for Hulu. Certainly you must believe that Comcast reps sitting on the Disney BOD is unlikely at best.

June 22, 2023 at 4:46 PM

No sure why Keith Schneider is obsessed with me.

June 22, 2023 at 4:48 PM

“Oh and ‘woke Disney’ is not the issue either, no matter how much an incredibly vocal minority tries to spin it.”
It’s one of the issues, yes it is. And we maybe a minority in this echo chamber of a website, but not in the real world, pal. Woke Disney better wake up! They are going broke.

June 22, 2023 at 6:21 PM

TH Creative: “If that's the case, then that's the asset Disney will be buying. The arbitrator can only place a value that is accurate. Meaning yes, Disney will have to pay, but they are buying an asset.”

Yes, in theory that is accurate. However, the value of Hulu goes down somewhat as soon as Comcast pulls their content. And Comcast has some legitimate gripe that Disney never pushed Hulu to be an international player, perhaps to prevent the value from escalating. Iger wants to bundle Hulu with Disney+, so I don’t know if Hulu subscribership is sustainable. All of these are consideration for arbitration. Heck, I’m not even sure Hulu is worth $27 billion but that was the agreed-upon minimum price as part of Disney overspending for Fox and getting their 1/3rd of Hulu.

Disney’s market cap goes down every day the stock price hits new lows. But if you look at their balance sheet, they have very little working capital. They are not in good financial position right now and that falls on Iger. I wouldn’t be surprised if his endgame is to facilitate a sale to Apple at some point in the future.

June 22, 2023 at 7:21 PM

“Sure, they have the wizarding wands and Universal Express, but those are either relatively cheap (at least compared to Disney's offerings), or super niche products that don't affect the experiences of most park guests (Universal Express vs. Genie+/Lightning Lane).”

I don’t know what exactly the baseline is here, but those wands at Universal ain’t cheap. The regular ones go for $55 and the interactive ones $63. The most comparable product I suppose are the MagicBands and those range between $20 and $40.

As for the Express thing, I can assure that I have waited in plenty of lines at Universal that was painful to go through due to the amount of Express passes being sent through. There are 2400 rooms between the three premium hotels that give unlimited Express. Assuming an average family of four, that’s roughly 10000 passes to skip the line whenever. Also, that’s before you factor in the one-time-use passes that get sold online and in-park. And have you ever seen operations at HHN? Yikes!

I love both Disney and Universal, but anyone acting like the latter doesn’t also try to cater to a high-end clientele is fooling themselves.

June 22, 2023 at 8:38 PM

Virtual Queues and Lightning Lane are the 2 biggest issues I experienced during my recent trip to Walt Disney World.

It’s a big ask to expect visitors to invest thousands of dollars to travel to your property with a real possibility of being locked out of experiencing the latest and greatest attractions.

That being said I realize that both are big money makers for the company and I doubt either will be going anywhere anytime soon.

June 23, 2023 at 12:08 AM

People try to analyze the heck out of this when it’s actually quite simple: cost and the quality of the experience you get for that money

I’ve been going to the parks since 1980 and, through the close of the late 1990s, my parents or I always felt that we got an OUTSTANDING return on investment in terms of the quality of the trip. Starting in the early 2000s though that started to change. At first it was small things like popular rides being closed, unique shops converted into bland ones, food quality dipping slightly, etc. But the Disney service standards were so high in the first place, I still felt that the overall experience was a great one, even if it no longer qualified as a stellar one.

But over time these changes accelerated to major issues like park cleanliness, ride maintenance, resort upkeep, and lots of other factors that used to make WDW special, changing or vanishing completely. All while prices continued to climb at exorbitant levels, perks are taken away, and you are nickeled and dimed at every turn. My last visit in 2020, while enjoyable for me and my family, was only that way because I knew the system so well I was able to utilize things like fast passes and other tricks to make it enjoyable while riding a lot of rides and even saving a few bucks. But even then it was still borderline on whether I considered it worth the time, money, and effort to do again and all of the changes that have happened since then have convinced me that it won’t be worth going back anytime soon.

As for my kids, they very much want to go back to UO. They don’t particularly care if we go back to WDW.

June 23, 2023 at 3:43 AM

Epic Universe is going to be the death knell of WDW if they don’t innovate correctly. Disney is happier destroying a multimillion Star Wars hotel that cost more than a night at a Four Seasons instead of pivoting. Rise of the Resistance is the most expensive attraction ever built that can’t stay open an entire day. The recent woke movies and characters are having their mermaid asses handed to them but they keep doubling down. The Moana feature has been in construction for years and adds nothing to EPCOT. Failure after failure after failure

I have the cheapest Disney AP and pay $20/mo with parking included and 20% off merch. That’s less than my UO or
BGT/SWO AP. And Disney just lifted all summer blackouts on my pass.. …

And they continue to alter standby times to fraudulently sell
Genie. Tron was a swing and a miss

And don’t forget the rotting stem that’s been growing and weaving

We passed a law stating that homosexuality wasn’t to be curriculum in public schools funded by public tax dollars in grades K-3. Go figure, five year olds not having about anal instead of reading and writing

Disney, of all of the wholesome brands in America decided to fight a war they cannot win and piss off their base of conservative fans

Their attendance slump isn’t based on Genie+. It’s based on a growing boycott

June 23, 2023 at 6:15 AM

@Smclaugh99: If Comcast pulls its content it would reduce the value of Hulu and undermine their argument that it should be priced higher than $27 billion.

I concur with your thought that Disney could join forces with Apple. In Mr. Iger's book 'Ride of a Lifetime' he wrote about his relationship with Steve Jobs -- asserting if Mr. Jobs had not succumbed to cancer that he believed the two companies would have merged. Whether or not that is still feasible (or even legal) I am not qualified to say. After all, Mr. Iger resigned from Apple's board as Apple TV was competing with Disney and ... conflict of interest, I suppose.

Anyway, thank you for the civility of this back and forth.

Enjoy your weekend.

June 23, 2023 at 10:25 AM

Couple of Comments...

Woke - Most couldn't care. Maybe 5% love or hate it. Other 90% dont care. However, I can guarantee they care when they see a bearded man in a dress at the BBB.

Price - WDW is too expensive. I always hated it when I had to make dining reservations so far in advance. It was the worst part of planning. Now I have to worry about reservations for rides and parks? Plus putting in a pay system per ride that can up to $25/person? A trip to WDW is just not a pleasure these days.

Franchises - Disney Franchises have lost their panache. Kids don't care about Princesses or Pirates. They destroyed the star wars franchise with their movies. They really have Marvel (whose rights belong to Universal in Florida) and Avatar. Universal has much more up to date Franchises - Marvel, Minions, Harry Potter, Super Nintendo and Transformers - plus any movie franchise they own - unlike Disney they are quicker to turn around a popular movie to a ride.

Ride Quality - Many of the Universal rides are just fantastic. Have you seen the Jason Bourne show? OMG! Not all are hits - just look at fast and furios. However, most of the WDW attractions are not just the same level - too many old attractions - not updated or walk through exhibits. I do realize that there are a few newer attractions like Stars Wars or Avatar or GOG that are pretty good, but they are not created at the same pace as Universal.

I think when you combine these factors - it is reason why you are seeing a downturn in visitors. I think their policies are coming home to roost. However, they could turn it around - bring back the old fast pass system that can only be accessed day of visit. Plus their dining - a bunch of incredibly overpriced restaurants that are generally mediocre. Compare this to Mythos - which I always eat at on each trip.

June 23, 2023 at 11:15 AM

Three Worlds - Super Nintendo world at Universal. Nintendo fans have been waiting for a theme park for, basically forever. The penetration of Nintendo in the children's market is undeniable, I don't know a household with children who does not have at least one Nintendo game console in it. Now its finally happening. The only thing they need to do is make it more friendly for larger guests, because well, a good majority of Nintendo fans are larger people.

June 23, 2023 at 11:23 AM

Outrun: "Three Worlds - Super Nintendo world at Universal."

Me: Super Nintendo world at Universal" is five words.

Outrun: "Now its finally happening."

Me: It actually already happened in Hollywood and Japan.

Outrun: "The only thing they need to do is make it more friendly for larger guests, because well, a good majority of Nintendo fans are larger people."

Me: I hear they're harder to kidnap.

June 23, 2023 at 3:11 PM

TH: “No sure why Keith Schneider is obsessed with me.”

Me: It’s “Not sure why…”, happy boy.

June 23, 2023 at 2:00 PM

Is Schneeder doing the bigoted song and dance routine again - yep sure is!

June 25, 2023 at 10:34 AM

I just got back from Japan where I was able to ride Splash Mountain with my daughter for her first time. She absolutely loved it and especially the music. She asked if we have it in CA and I had to explain to her as objectively as possible that its being changed because Disney wants to make something new and different here. I kept thinking what a mistake it will be for Disney to change / close one of the best attractions ever made and one that fans like me hold dear. So for one, despite obviously many other reasons, Disney should stop making drastic changes to their best attractions unless those changes are an improvement. I would have loved a Tiana attraction. I actually think it was the last best Disney Animation film, but I would never have traded it for Splash Mtn. I love Disney and am a lifelong fan and will still go, but just not nearly as much as before. When you have a company like Universal constantly wowing us and improving, and Disney which appears to continually diminish the guest experience, eventually that will lead to a major shift in the industry. I think this was a long time coming and I think it will get far worse for Disney before it gets better.

June 28, 2023 at 11:51 AM

Oh, so many things to comment on!

TEA/AECOM Index: I enjoy reading the Index every year, but then again I spend the last couple of months of each baseball season obsessing over the standings, and by October they’re about as meaningless as the TEA numbers. I’ve never understood why Disney’s so proprietary about their attendance numbers; at least they’ve gotten away from the “their numbers are wrong, but we’re not going to prove it” response. Personally, I think they’ve got something to hide - not declines due to wokeness, but that the room might numbers sans DVC stays have never been as strong as they allege. As far as the argument that the numbers are voodoo, it’s been about 70 years since the invention of “roller coaster math”. Are you honestly going to argue that after all of those years of financial analysis of the industry backed up with real-world data that the sharp pencil guys can’t come up with a reasonably accurate set of attendance numbers? Seems some folks are trying to shoot the messenger here.

Culture wars and Disney: Congratulations on convincing a lot of conservatives to switch from one crummy beer to another because they put a trans woman on a beer can. I can still remember how some culture warriors decided to boycott Disney years ago; they boycott made no real difference then, and I don’t think it’s making as much of a difference now as they like to think it is. DeSantis’ main success is making a lot of people feel more sympathetic towards Disney. He’d be better off cutting some kind of deal with them and moving on.

So Why Is Disney Hurting? As far as movies and TV, they’ve done what they’ve always done - saturated the market to the point that they’re suffering from diminishing returns and projects that should have been worked on further or not greenlit, as well as conditioning casual fans to wait to see films on Disney+. As far as streaming, people conveniently forget that the drop in viewership is mainly due to declines in India since Disney+ Hotstar lost the right to professional cricket.

Theme Parks: Years of nickel-and-diming and declining customer service, plus ever-increasing prices, are finally catching up with Disney. They got away with it for years because the competition didn’t offer as compelling a product as Disney, but Comcast has stepped up Universal’s game. Disney needs to stop obsessing about cramming as much IP into the parks and resorts as possible and focus on reviving customer service and coming up with compelling attractions, or in a couple of years Disney May find they’re no longer king of the hill.

Now, where did I put that fire-retardant suit?

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