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50th Anniversary Mega Review

Good morning, afternoon, or evening to you! I've just arrived home from an extended tour of all things Disney World for the 50th Anniversary Celebration, taking it all in as a guest and as a member of a much larger group. This has allowed me to see the 50th Anniversary situation from different viewpoints, and I thought I'd share with my readers so that you can glean some idea of whether or not you're interested in visiting WDW during the next 18 months.

If you want the gist of it right away, it's a mixed bag. Longtime visitors of the parks will find some issues and disappointments. New guests may not even notice. It's still Disney World, and in my opinion, that makes it the greatest vacation destination on the planet. Still, there are some things that The Walt Disney Company needs to figure out going forward, because there are significant steps back taking place which do make the experience less magical.

So let's start off with why you should go to Walt Disney World:

Because it's Walt Disney World.

There's absolutely nothing else like it on Planet Earth. Disneyland is fun, but it's tiny in comparison. Universal Studios has great parks, but they're -- again -- tiny in comparison. Dollywood is a fantastic day-trip attraction, and arguably it's up there with Disney World for the fun you'll have... but Disney World is special. There's nowhere else that you can go where you are literally in a vacation world, isolated from the sights, sounds, and worries, of everyday life. That's why you go to Disney World, whether you have small children or not: because Disney World is a village of leisure.

So from that standpoint, there's plenty of reason to go. Sitting by the pool of your resort is just as relaxing as ever, and better yet, Disney hasn't raised the prices on their hotel rooms. Hotel prices have skyrocketed across the country, and that means Disney's previously exorbitant costs are downright bargains now. If you're happy to go to a resort and spend much of your time there, I think you're going to have a really good experience. Likewise, if you want to do Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon when it reopens, Disney Springs, and other auxiliary options, I think those are fantastic.

Where I now have to change my tune is when I think about the parks. Don't get me wrong, the parks are still there and still are what they are. But there are some changes for the parks that signify to me that they're no longer as friendly to different types of vacationers.

Let me start with the reservation system. Disney now requires guests to reserve a theme park online so that you can then go through the turnstiles -- it's not enough to just have a ticket any longer. From Disney's point of view, I get why they would do this. From a consumer's standpoint, and having just done this with a large group, I can tell you it's a pain in the butt.

You may have just gone to Disney World and be thinking, "I didn't have any problem with the system." And that's probably true for people who get their reservations in months ahead of time. But here's what I found, as someone who has been to Disney World innumerably throughout my life. I went to Hollywood Studios one morning so that someone in my group could say "hello" to a friend working there. When I arrived at Hollywood Studios, the park was nearly empty. However, some others in my group were doing Animal Kingdom that day, so we headed over there where we had a reservation (we couldn't enter Hollywood Studios without a reservation, although we knew that and still saw the friend). At Animal Kingdom, the parking lot was very full, to the point we had to walk a very, very long way. What had happened is that, by chance, many more people had reserved Animal Kingdom than Hollywood Studios that day, and so all those guests were stuck at a park that was packed.

Speaking of walking a long, long way. Another thing to keep in mind is that Disney isn't running trams to parking right now. If you're driving your car to a park, it's something to keep in mind now. If grandma or grandpa are going with your family to Magic Kingdom with you, you'd better have a plan other than them walking in 90 degree weather at the end of a long afternoon. Not having the trams is a big deal, and I don't see any reason they're not running other than money at this point.

When it comes to actually being in the park, the bag is -- again -- mixed. There are some downgrades here. While someone who has never been to the parks is unlikely to notice, if you've been going to Disney World, these are substantial, anti-consumer changes that are going to affect your experience.

The first issue is waiting in line. For attractions, queues are now stretched out far beyond what you would expect. This isn't just a Pandora experience anymore... this is Frozen at Epcot stretching out of the Norway Pavilion and down World Showcase Lagoon. This is Gran Fiesta Tour's line wrapping all through the interior pyramid, and then down the staircase outside. What's really bizarre is that many times, these queues don't represent long wait times. In fact, often I found that wait times were doubled, or even tripled, past what they actually represent. While I was there, Lightning Lanes had not yet been turned on, and sometimes their spaces were being used (when possible) to contain the normal queue. Speaking with a cast member who works specifically on queues, there's a concern that Lightning Lanes will actually make the normal queues longer than they currently are because of how little buy-in Lightning Lanes are getting versus the old Fastpass system that all guests had and used for free.

One more note about queues: you need to consider that although social distancing is essentially gone at Walt Disney World, the partitions in queues are still there. There are certain rides that are going to present a major problem for people with claustrophobia issues because of these partitions and how small the queue space was originally designed to be. Just keep that in mind.

Back to Lightning Lanes, there's also the issue that I saw so many attractions with these bypass queue lines in which there's just no way people are actually going to use them. Who in the world is going to use their Lightning Lane on Journey Into Imagination? Yet there it is. And what that means is that some attractions are going to have tons of extra queue space, which they can't use, because it's now reserved for a service very few people (i.e. people who are clueless) are going to actually use. Maybe there will be a sudden flood of people using the Lightning Lane for Mickey's Philharmagic, but I doubt it.

So there's a lot more waiting in lines than there used to be, at least if you knew what you were doing. But something is frankly more annoying, and far more anti-consumer, is the situation with mobile ordering. Just about every restaurant is now going to mobile ordering, and rather than let you come inside while you wait for your order, you have to stand outside in the weather while you wait for your meal. Frankly, it is usually a bit of respite to come inside and wait in line for your order because you get away from rain and/or heat. Now, you have to stand outside. This also means that even at less frequently used restaurants, like Pizzerizzo, they have all this completely unused space for lines, tons of empty tables, and there's a line around the door with people waiting to be allowed in. Whoever came up with this system is bonkers.



Of course, the rides are still amazing at Walt Disney World. Other than some issues on Spaceship Earth, we encountered very few concerns with ride maintenance. However, it does need to be said that while newbies will likely love Harmonious and Disney Enchanted, others will know these are downgrades. Harmonious is not even close to Illuminations, and both shows suffer from any lack of real emotional punch. They feel like pyrotechnic slideshows with music. Don't get me started about Disney Enchanted's Frozen rendition where the vocals are actually nauseating. Disney having canceled their 50th nighttime parade really hurts here, but Spaceship Earth's new lighting feature is impressive. With that said, Disney, please dim the lights on the ball just a little... I get that it's impressive, but it shouldn't be blinding or painful to look at. The displays that have the lights dimmed are much more beautiful and less Las Vegasy.

Finally, construction and the pandemic have changed how I would rank the parks and the experience you will have. Unless you have a bottomless stomach and plenty of change, Epcot's really a half-day park right now. It is an utter annoyance trying to transverse what was once called Future World. Animal Kingdom remains largely the same as always, though Kitetails is a waste of time if you haven't heard before. Even small children will be bored. Hollywood Studios might be the best park for handling the pandemic, just because the pathways are often larger than Magic Kingdom, and there are enough attractions to make it a nearly full-day experience. Certainly some of the best rides are at Hollywood Studios. And Magic Kingdom is still Walt's vision, still the best theme park design out there, and it's still lovely.

So ultimately, if you're new to Walt Disney World, and you go at an uncrowded time with nice weather... I think you'll have a pretty good experience if you follow some guides out there on things to do and not do. If you're a returning guest, I would recommend enjoying the resorts, maybe eating at Boma or Disney Springs, going to Blizzard Beach, playing golf, etc. Go to the parks sporadically. But I would say that if you have been to Disney before, and you make your next trip all about the theme parks, there's a decent chance you're going to be disappointed by some of these new policies. Being at a crammed park when another one is basically empty, yet you can't park hop until the afternoon... that's a bummer.

So that's the story on Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary and how it's looking thus far. Here's to happy vacation memories to you and all those you take with you!
 
Thanks for your report. I found it very interesting. We are at WDW for three weeks next year so we will be able to enjoy everything at a slower pace. Don’t think you should have to keep using a mobile on vacation though. We haven’t been since 2008 so looking forward to new and old rides.
 

MickeyCB

Well-Known Member
But something is frankly more annoying, and far more anti-consumer, is the situation with mobile ordering. Just about every restaurant is now going to mobile ordering, and rather than let you come inside while you wait for your order, you have to stand outside in the weather while you wait for your meal. Frankly, it is usually a bit of respite to come inside and wait in line for your order because you get away from rain and/or heat. Now, you have to stand outside. This also means that even at less frequently used restaurants, like Pizzerizzo, they have all this completely unused space for lines, tons of empty tables, and there's a line around the door with people waiting to be allowed in. Whoever came up with this system is bonkers.
100% spot on!!
Trying to get everyone to look at the phone, place an order (we got timed out once and had to reenter our order), pick a time on some restaurants that wasn't convenient, etc. etc.
 

cgersic

Well-Known Member
100% spot on!!
Trying to get everyone to look at the phone, place an order (we got timed out once and had to reenter our order), pick a time on some restaurants that wasn't convenient, etc. etc.
90% of the time, I was unable to get mobile ordering to even work on my phone. It would get stuck and then time out. So frustrating. I went hungry a lot!
 

Master Yoda

Pro Star Wars geek.
Premium Member
90% of the time, I was unable to get mobile ordering to even work on my phone. It would get stuck and then time out. So frustrating. I went hungry a lot!
I don't know how they did it but Disney managed to make quick service dining more of a pain than table service dining.

We ran into the same issue as you. We could not get mobile ordering to work on three different phones across two different accounts and guest services were unable to fix the issue. We would get all the way to the end and would get an "Oops! Something went wrong" message.

The biggest problem now that Disney is all but requiring you to mobile order is there is no backup system in place for when mobile ordering is not working. The only option we were presented with was to go and wait in the corner for 45 minutes until we call you so that you can go into a 1/2 full QS restaurant and order at the counter.

This could be solved if the CMs that were tasked with gatekeeping the door were able to do a mobile order or if there were mobile ordering kiosks around the park similar to the old Fastpass + ones. None of that was the case and we were forced to go from restaurant to restaurant until we found one that would let us in. To add insult to injury, the restaurants, and the parks were not busy at all yet we could not simply walk to the counter and order.
 

WDW Pro

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I don't know how they did it but Disney managed to make quick service dining more of a pain than table service dining.

We ran into the same issue as you. We could not get mobile ordering to work on three different phones across two different accounts and guest services were unable to fix the issue. We would get all the way to the end and would get an "Oops! Something went wrong" message.

The biggest problem now that Disney is all but requiring you to mobile order is there is no backup system in place for when mobile ordering is not working. The only option we were presented with was to go and wait in the corner for 45 minutes until we call you so that you can go into a 1/2 full QS restaurant and order at the counter.

This could be solved if the CMs that were tasked with gatekeeping the door were able to do a mobile order or if there were mobile ordering kiosks around the park similar to the old Fastpass + ones. None of that was the case and we were forced to go from restaurant to restaurant until we found one that would let us in. To add insult to injury, the restaurants, and the parks were not busy at all yet we could not simply walk to the counter and order.

And that frustration is exponentially raised when bad weather makes it so that someone is out in the cold, heat, or rain, while empty restaurants remain inaccessible with the mobile app temporarily down. Disney is aware it needs to be fixed.
 

Master Yoda

Pro Star Wars geek.
Premium Member
And that frustration is exponentially raised when bad weather makes it so that someone is out in the cold, heat, or rain, while empty restaurants remain inaccessible with the mobile app temporarily down. Disney is aware it needs to be fixed.
Let us hope they actually fix it.

After our last trip, we decided another multi-year long hiatus from the mouse was warranted and purchased APs for the park up the street. I really hope they get their crap together and correct a few wrongs that have happened in the last few years. I know it is a fool's hope, but it is hope nonetheless.
 

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