Before I start with this update on my visit last week to Walt Disney World, I want to note that I have nothing but compliments for the terrific folks who assembled the trip and all of the fun (and very insightful) MiceChatters who were a part of it. Dustysage and everyone involved in putting this all together worked very hard to make it as effortless and fun as possible, and they well deserve the many kudos and thanks they are getting for it.
That now said, I wish I could also be as complimentary about the Walt Disney World resort itself (WDW), but alas I can not. Disney’s Orlando outpost is full of outdated technology, suffers from a tired and unimaginative entertainment department, and is still paying a very heavy price for some poor planning decisions made by the now thankfully gone Michael Eisner.
Add to all this a bloated current management team that cannot think out of the box and is complacent about their offerings as well as their target audience, and you have a less than state-of-the-art, increasingly stale vacation product to show for it.
To be sure there are some good things going on out in Florida. I (as well as my fellow travelers) found that for the most part the Cast Members there were very helpful, efficient and cheery in their jobs. And whoever is in charge of food for the parks and hotels is doing a better job overall of providing assortment, value and quality in their menus than their counterpart at the Disneyland resort.
But for every exemplary offering (dinner and fireworks at the California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Hotel, or Epcot’s TestTrack ride) there were too many more misses (run down attractions, static parades/never-changing entertainment, overdevelopment of the property) that took away from the overall experience. Considering a Disney vacation is not for the weak of wallet, the lack of quality and showmanship now painfully evident in Orlando is only magnified when you consider the premium costs involved.
In order not to bore everyone today I’m not going to go into an exhaustive report of everything I did over my week there. Instead I’m just going to present a few of my thoughts (as well as pictures) on what I observed. For those of you who want less critique and more of the fun details, my fellow travelers have already started to post their trip reports on MiceChat in the WDW forum.
At the end I'll tell you what I found out from the sources I deal with about why WDW is so behind the curve, and what needs to be done before things can get back to the way they should be.
All you WDW fans out there note: I do not hate WDW. But I do hate how it is currently being maintained and sold. They need to do better. Disneyland now is proof that it can be improved.
As Maria Von Trapp would sing "Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…"
On the Way
First up I have to say that Disney’s Magical Express bus service is a very good idea. WDW visitors, and later their luggage, are whisked promptly and directly to their booked resort from the airport (past everyone else’s attractions, shops and hotels), pretty much insuring that they will spend every single dime they have only on Disney property. After a very early start that morning to get on our plane at LAX this service was very welcome.
Now you would think that the overhead video screens on the bus would be a great way to get Disney’s message across to a receptive (and very captive) audience. So it’s too bad then that the videos shown to us are extolling the now concluded happiest homecoming celebration and the now gone Cinderella castle show at the Magic Kingdom. It’s only the first example on this trip of how sloppily and rushed the Year of a Million Dreams promotion appears to have been implemented at the parks.
Our first destination, the Caribbean Beach Resort, was the first of the large mid-priced/moderate hotel complexes built at WDW. It was extensively refurbished a few years back during the Pressler-era when the complaints from visitors got loud enough. Currently it is a very clean facility that has yet again seen much better days as far as wear and tear goes. It needs a bit of a freshening up, with some chipped paint on the walls, worn carpeting and dinged furniture, so hopefully that will be soon in coming. But then again, it is clean and the prices are right for our budgets.
We've arrived late in the afternoon, and after checking in rather than join our fellow vacationers at the extra-cost Mickey's Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom that night we decide to do a leisurely dinner over at Spoodles in the Boardwalk area. A reservation assures us prompt seating for a very good but surprisingly limited menu (only five very basic entrees to choose from), which we come to find out over the course of our trip is a new operating policy in effect at all but the highest end restaurants in the WDW hotels and parks.
While we usually could find something to order on these limited menus with little or no problem, and mostly enjoyed what we had, we did feel a little restricted in our choices. As I understand it the five to seven entree menu policy was implemented to speed up both service and diners, so they can turn over more tables at peak periods. While it is very efficient, I do miss the wider selection they used to offer. This type of bottom-line focused policy would become more apparent to us as we spent time on property.
Epcot: New and Old, Emphasis on the Old
All I can figure is that they put something in the water or food there. How else to explain why we were able to get up so early to take advantage of the extra early morning "magic" hours that each park had on selected days. Epcot was our first of six parks that we would visit in five days, so we had a lot to see and do.
To me Epcot has always been the most inelegant of the Disney parks, due to its hybrid nature. Originally more educational in its aim, with a world's fair inspired design, it's now also the home of some of the more extreme rides Disney has been focusing on lately. I'm still not quite sure that fine French dining and state-of-the-art centrifuge rides mix all that well.
After rope drop we rode TestTrack first, and enjoyed it so much that we repeated it. Too bad the Rocket Rods here at Disneyland were never this zippy, clever or entertaining. I was stunned at the exit to see that GM was still pushing their top of the line SUV's - won't we ever learn?
Next up was Mission:Space which was right next door. The ride building is even more impressive in person, all the photographs I'd seen before do not do it any justice. I also liked the dramatic pre-show and boarding videos. Very slick.
I did the higher intensity "Orange" team version and thought the various sensations they achieved were outstanding. This easily took the crown as WDW's premier ride. I did feel a little dizzy once I got off though, and tumbled a bit down the incredibly long and unthemed hallways you have to take to exit the ride.
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