Opinion: Walt Disney World visits sub-optimal for non-resort guests right now

Posted Wednesday, February 5, 2014 8:50 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Right now, Disney is going through an awkward tech transition phase that in its current incarnation rewards guests staying at Disney-owned resorts at the expense of everybody else. It won't last, but it will be uncomfortable until advance access to the new FastPass+ isn't just limited to its overnight patrons.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014 1:31 PM

In fairness, I should probably back off that statement. It would be easy enough to hit the highlights in my typical week-long vacation by rope dropping. But, I'm glad I don't have to!

Thursday, February 6, 2014 9:36 PM

In mid-January, I was in town for business and we finished up one day early around 3pm. So I decided to head to EPCOT for the evening and burn a day on my 10-day (no exp) pass I bought a few years ago that I linked to my account. So I was basically a day guest.

While we all know that January is a pretty slow time for WDW, at 3pm, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to book via the APP a FP+ for Soarin for around 7pm (plus Nemo and Land...yawn...). I also could have chosen TT if I wanted to swap with Soarin.

My point is that I would think WDW would have to be smart enough to build into their algorithms to "save" a certain number of FP reservations each day for day guests. Otherwise they will slowly alienate that entire segment of the market.

They couldn't be this stupid...

Last edited by Hanging n' Banging, Thursday, February 6, 2014 9:37 PM
Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:37 PM

Well, not for a billion dollars they shouldn't be that stupid.

Flexibility in the system should ideally be the final outcome here. Yes, it makes sense that resort guests, even though they spend the greatest amount of money, should finally be limited in what they can do in deference to the day guest. But how far out from the day do they make that decision? And there's other factors, what if the park is slow because of an all day rain or something? Do they open up more to everyone? Or does the fact that FPs might be sold out for the day cause them to hold off because those folks might show up anyway and actually use their scheduled times?

I'm not technical and don't pretend to know how the ins and outs of what the thing should ultimately be capable of doing, or what's even possible. But I do know what one might expect for a billion dollar system upgrade.

Friday, February 7, 2014 3:05 AM

This has been the major debate online for Disney. So far, what the insiders can say about this fiasco:

1- Cost for Mymagic + and the whole Nextgen iniative is over 2 billion dollars currently and still going up.

2- That cost has killed the budget at WDW. Avatar and a few other things have been delayed, scaled back or even cancelled due to all money and ressources going toward that.

3- It was originally sold as giving Disney an extra 10% in extra revenues and also being a labor saving move. The extra revenues have yet to appear and more cast members than before are required to explain to guests this whole thing.

4- Today, when Bob Iger had the Hearing Calls, he was asked twice by journalists what impact Mymagic + had in numbers and he refused to answer. Remember: you are a stockholder, the company is dumping 2 billion dollars on a project and they will not tell you if it did anything!

5- WDW is not viewed as a set of theme parks today. It is viewed as a time share resort that happen to have 4 theme parks and other things around.

6-Prices have had such insane increases, even having less guests give record revenues. Thing is: if you gauge people with average steaks for 50$, how long will they come back? Universal will serve you at Mythos beef medallions for 17$ while Disney made Le Cellier a signature restaurant with a 20-30% price increase for no menu change. The steaks there are all over 45$.

7- In addition to Mymagic+ cost overruns, Walt Disney Imagineering is out of control. Can you believe that Little Mermaid, which is an omnimover with plastic fishes cost as much to design and build as Forbidden Journey at Universal? Imagineering also charged Disneyland Paris 110 millions US for what is basically an Intamin ride package and surrending area. The rides are a Half Pipe coaster (second track was cut due to budgets), a junior parachute tower and Musik Express.

8- On the other hand, Universal has been spending money on new attractions, shows and refurbs. Result is a very healthy growth of revenue and attendance. With the new hotel and upcoming stuff like the Jurassic Park expansion, Diagon Alley and King Kong, they will give a major blow to Disney.

Last edited by Absimilliard, Friday, February 7, 2014 3:06 AM

Friday, February 7, 2014 6:31 AM
Sagretti's avatar

I'm curious, where did you get your numbers, especially for the Mermaid vs. Forbidden Journey cost? From the numbers I could find, the original Mermaid ride at Disneyland cost about 100 million and Forbidden Journey 200 million. It seems like the second installation of the Mermaid ride would be comparable, so I'm curious how half the price is anywhere close to the same amount. I guess the Florida version could have cost more if you include the attached meed and greet or other parts of the New Fantasyland expansion, but then you have to factor Hogsmeade into Potter's price.

Edit: Please note that the numbers I found were discovered after a quick Google search, and are not reliable. I'm genuinely curious if there's a reliable source for this information.

Last edited by Sagretti, Friday, February 7, 2014 6:59 AM
Friday, February 7, 2014 10:37 AM
Jeff's avatar

Yeah, a lot of that is gossip, and not grounded in reality. I've learned a lot about the project from friends and acquaintances around town, and some of the stuff that fan sites post as "fact" are hilariously not accurate. I would go as far as saying the most hardcore fans are incapable of even viewing the parks as fun. They're ten times worse than coaster enthusiasts, and know far less about what really goes on.

Let's be honest here, if you can book a restaurant out months in advance, you can charge whatever you want for steak. You'd be Timber-Rider if you didn't. The people crying about that the most either feel excluded or can't afford it. Painting Disney as a failing enterprise after they just posted a near record quarter seems silly to me.

The overall project is interesting to me from an IT and software standpoint, because it has a lot of aspects that are total anti-patterns. Some of the work that could have been done by small, high performing teams were farmed out to vendors all over the world. Communication between teams was awful. Probably most interesting, is that it's hard to tie together many different systems that were built in a suboptimal way in the first place, and getting them to work together is hard if you don't fix them first (or concurrently).

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Friday, February 7, 2014 11:04 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

I gotta say, the way this has opened the door for some old fashioned Disney bashing has been a surprise to me. Generally, the tone (as far as I follow things) is that Disney can do no wrong.

I'm honestly a little surprised.

My take as someone who is interested in the whole crowd management/VQ/bsuiness services approach of things with little to no specific interest in Disney is:

1. It sucks now because they're in the "let's put this into practice and see some real world results" phase of things. The operational kinks will no doubt be worked out.

2. The issues about who can do what and get what and when and how don't make sense for two reasons:

2a. See #1

2b. It still seems to me like there's a larger plan to totally transform how you do a Disney vacation and every shade of grey along the way until you get there is going to be less than optimal on top of that whole 'change is scary' thing. Somehow I suspect that when we come out of the other side of this thing (whether you like the end result - the 'new' Disney experience - or not) that in hindisght some of the silliness will make a bit more sense with the added perspective of time.

And 2b is the meat and potatoes of things, I think. I really think Disney is planning on changing the game...again. It weird because we don't know what that endgame really is and because things seem weird until they become normal - that's just human nature.

I'm sure right now is not the optimal time to be visiting the park. And I'm not sure a lot of you (us? them?) will ever be able to Disney the same way again. It's time to form new ways to vacation with the mouse - like everyone had to when they changed things in the past.

All those times when it's easy to say, "Well, now it makes no sense to..."

Maybe that's the point? Change is coming.

I'd say I was giving too much credit if this were anyone but Disney. But it's not. And they just might have us all reevaluating how we visit parks like the entire industry did after the initially introduced FastPass 15 years ago.

Friday, February 7, 2014 12:03 PM

$2 billion dollars for this system?!? What would it have cost to build a fifth park with the 5 most popular attractions of each park and then make it a "private/limited attendance" park ala Discovery Cove?

Discovery Cove takes the stupid out of everything. Pay a lot of money, get free food and drink (including alcohol) and have a comfortable experience in a manageable crowd.

I know this is the direction of the amusement park business. I understand why they are doing it. I still don't like it.

Friday, February 7, 2014 12:20 PM

RE: saving some spots for day guests: evidence is that this is happening. At least one person has posted concrete evidence of this by looking at availability at 8:50 vs. 9:05 (on a 9AM open day). At 9AM, suddenly, a lot of things become available that weren't at 8:50, including the hardest-to-get headliners.

RE: old-fashioned Disney bashing: This is mostly coming from a fairly small segment of fastpass-hackers who worked every last angle of the old system. They've lost some of their advantages, and are kicking and screaming about it. But, apparently the fraction of guests using the new system is much higher than that using the old system, so I'm guessing Disney is willing to put up with some anger from a small set of guests in exchange for broadening participation in VQ.

Friday, February 7, 2014 12:43 PM

Not to get too political, but Jeff's comment about the IT side of this could equally be said about the Healthcare.gov website.

amazing similarities based on Jeff's description of the process

Friday, February 7, 2014 1:29 PM

Regarding the cost of Mermaid versus Forbidden Journey, well connected people have said so and I trust them more than internet gossip about attraction prices. Also, what you don't realise is that Forbidden Journey set design was cleverly built on a tight budget to put as much money as possible on the waiting line and screen carousels. It did not cost as much as you expect and the whole Harry Potter land came in at under 300 millions. Not bad considering Disney dumped that amount on ONE attraction in California, Radiator Springs Racers.

The reason why Disney "Park and Resorts" division is having record years is due to Disney Cruise Line and Disneyland Resort. In the past, management have taken credit for great success at Tokyo Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland, but they don't mention that Tokyo Disney is what is the equivalent of a franchise, being locally owned and operated. Disney has a minority stake in HKDL, same as with Disneyland Paris.

As for being fast pass abusers, get this: At Hollywood Studios and Epcot right now, it is impossible to get fast pass for both Soarin' and Test Track and both Toy Story Mania and Rock n Roller Coaster on the same day at either park. The attractions and shows were divided in two tiers with those attractions:

Disney Hollywood Studios:

Select One:

  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • Fantasmic
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Toy Story Midway Mania

Select Two:

  • American Idol Experience
  • Disney Junior – Live on Stage
  • Great Movie Ride
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
  • Muppet Vision 3D
  • Star Tours
  • Tower of Terror
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid


Select One:

  • Character Spot
  • IllumiNations
  • Maelstrom
  • Soarin
  • Test Track

Select Two:

  • Captain EO
  • Journey into Imagination
  • Living with the Land
  • Mission: SPACE
  • Seas with Nemo and Friends
  • Spaceship Earth
  • Turtle Talk with Crush

So, now that I am forced into a ridiculous line for either Soarin' or Test Track at Epcot, it is an improvement?

Last edited by Absimilliard, Friday, February 7, 2014 1:30 PM

Friday, February 7, 2014 1:33 PM

...and that separation is necessary given the apparent goals of the new system. Each of Toy Story, Test Track, and Soarin' can handle less than half of their respective parks' average daily attendance, yet nearly everyone wants to ride all of them. You can debate the merits of rationing to spread the wealth from advanced-planners to others, but if you decide to do so, this is how you do it.

And it's clear that this new mechanism is all about spreading the wealth. TWDC appears to think that doing so is in their best interests (i.e. will be more profitable over time). We'll see, but they've been right more often than they've been wrong about how one makes money in this business.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Friday, February 7, 2014 1:34 PM
Friday, February 7, 2014 2:03 PM

Brian Noble said:

...and that separation is necessary given the apparent goals of the new system. Each of Toy Story, Test Track, and Soarin' can handle less than half of their respective parks' average daily attendance, yet nearly everyone wants to ride all of them. You can debate the merits of rationing to spread the wealth from advanced-planners to others, but if you decide to do so, this is how you do it.

Maybe, but how about doing something that Disney used to do quite well: add capacity? Build that originally planned 3rd theater at Soarin'. Do something with the shuttered attractions and restaurants. Wonders of Life at Epcot has been mothballed to become a space for special events. The 4 simulators from Body Wars have been shipped to Hong Kong Disneyland. They have a large restaurant that is also not open to the general public. They got empty ride buildings just waiting for attractions to be built inside the world showcase at Epcot.

Magic Kingdom has at least 3 restaurants that are either closed or on seasonal (read: closed 99% of the time) status. The Fantasyland expansion only restored capacity lost when the old 20k league under the sea and skyway attractions were closed with no replacements in the 1990's.

If you look at Universal Orlando, they are doing it the old school Disney way. Quality attractions growing capacity and attendance with reasonable prices. With the number of things coming down the pipeline there, I am not sure how WDW will still manage to post record numbers with only a kiddie coaster and Avatar Land in the pipeline.

Last edited by Absimilliard, Friday, February 7, 2014 2:04 PM

Friday, February 7, 2014 3:18 PM
rollergator's avatar

CreditWh0re said:

Not to get too political, but Jeff's comment about the IT side of this could equally be said about the Healthcare.gov website.

Maybe if each of the park's had their own governor, and two of the parks refused to sign on....and then one relented JUST at initial roll-out.

Friday, February 7, 2014 8:44 PM

rollergator said:

Maybe if each of the park's had their own governor, and two of the parks refused to sign on....and then one relented JUST at initial roll-out.

I meant in the way the various components were farmed out and then tried to work with each other. Gator, I was not taking a crack at the ACA and its provisions. :)

Saturday, February 8, 2014 1:46 AM
LostKause's avatar

Absimilliard said:

Maybe, but how about doing something that Disney used to do quite well: add capacity?

I agree with this, because it make perfect sense to me, however, I've brought this up in many different conversations about many different parks, and got pretty much laughed at. Someone once said that if you build more lanes on a very busy highway, that it would just create more traffic. I have no comprehension of how that could be possible, but whatever. o_0

Saturday, February 8, 2014 8:03 AM

There is plenty of capacity in both of those parks between the existing attractions and shows. The problem is that there are a few headliners that everyone wants to ride, and this is true at just about any theme park. At DCA, it used to be Soarin' until Toy Story and Radiator Racers were built, and now it's Toy Story and Radiator Racers. It's hard to imagine a theme park that *doesn't* have those one or two attractions where demand exceeds supply at least initially---if it does, you've overbuilt the attraction for the long term.

So, if you've got a limited supply of seats at the headliners, (and you pretty much have to), what do you do about it? Disney has taken the conscious decision to spread the wealth in Florida a little bit, and give more guests a chance at *some* of them without a long wait. That sounds like a pretty smart idea to me.

It's worth noting that Universal did something similar with Potter. Rather than give their onsite guests an advantage, they did not deploy Express at all. The queue is configured for it, but they haven't turned it on there yet. They do have early entry, but that also includes offsite guests on a package, and after that everyone is on equal footing.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Saturday, February 8, 2014 8:07 AM
Saturday, February 8, 2014 8:47 AM

No, I get that too. In regard to WDW, many of us here have remarked that while it's great to have four gates, a couple of the parks, (AK and Studios,) are half-day parks at best, especially for the frequent visitor. The E ticket attractions don't come in numbers like you find at even less attended regional theme parks.

When you look at the list of FP+ rides, take Studios for instance, column A includes R&R, Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and then what's left that we'd all like to ride every time we go? TOT, StarTours, (ok, there's your three) and what else? Movie Ride? Indiana Jones? Muppets? Backlot? No.

I think Disney's in a little bit of a spot here. At a park like EPCOT, the high demand (most exciting, thrilling, whatever) rides just aren't there in numbers, so in an effort to include everybody in FP what they're actually doing is excluding folks from participating as Fast-Passers. To LK's point, a fix to that would be increased capacity- more rides. But with the high quality expected from any new billion jillion dollar attraction, those rides don't come as often as they should to keep up with the demand. Like I said earlier, if we want to FP EPCOT's three best rides we're going to have to go on three different days.

I know and realize my top rides at any park may not be anyone else's. Attractions I might skip most visits may be must-do's for folks with kids, and those rides deserve a place in the top tier as well. As for bottom tier rides, there may be plenty of parties who are pleased to snag "Listen to the Land" with out a wait, and use their three ride allotment happily.

I've thought and thought about whether the old paper fast pass was better. You should've seen the crestfallen look on my face when one time I breezed in Studios on what would've been a slow to normal day, and fought my way through a crowd of 15,000 high school cheerleaders, only to find out that Toy Story was already sold out for the day. Standby was 2 hours. I wound up missing it and didn't take my first ride on it until a couple years later when I made sure we were first down the street.

So I haven't had experience with FP+ yet to draw a comparison, but tomorrow's the day. I'll post sometime through the week. I think overall we'll be fine, but once again my biggest gripe so far is that I'll be park hopping this time and my FP's won't be. If that was allowed I'd be feeling a whole lot better about spending the time and money to hop.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 8:16 PM

LostKause said:
Someone once said that if you build more lanes on a very busy highway, that it would just create more traffic. I have no comprehension of how that could be possible, but whatever. o_0

You're talking about the concept of "induced traffic", which is grounded in supply/demand. If you build more lanes on a highway, you lower the cost of traveling on that highway and that results in an increase in demand for traveling on that road. It's difficult to grasp because it's counterintuitive and it is goes completely to the sales pitch for expanding highways (reduced traffic).

I suppose that's loosely related to Absimilliard's argument for more capacity on rides. The problem is that park's don't add more rides to reduce lines (traffic). They increase capacity in order to increase demand. To some degree, they want lines to ensure that you spend enough time in the park to have the desire to buy a second meal, or buy a snack, or buy another drink.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 8:39 PM

The thing with all the WDW parks except Magic Kingdom is that they are headliner attractions. Toy Story Mania! has horrible lines and ran out of fast pass so early was because it was only one of 6 mechanical attractions in that park.Look over at DCA in California. The same exact ride does not have fast pass and is maximum a 45-60 minutes wait even when the park is busy. But then, that park has Soarin' Over California, Radiator Springs Racers, Little Mermaid and many other things to do.

Epcot only has Soarin' and Test Track for attractions that people will wait in line for. Mission: Space is a dud, Maelstrom is not that popular and Spaceship Earth is an omnimover with large capacity. Bringing back a quality attraction to the Imagination pavillion and doing something with Universe of Energy would help balance demand for Soarin' and Test Track.

WDW has 4 parks and DL has two parks that fit inside Epcot... Weird how Disneyland Resort and WDW has nearly the same number of attractions? Who is missing capacity then?


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