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Grading Walt Disney World Throughout the Decades

ParentsOf4

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Now that I've had a chance to experience Toy Story Land, it's time to update my "Walt Disney World Historical Grade" chart for 2018.

Using a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 meaning "absolutely fabulous" and 0 meaning "it's a dump and should be closed", I graded Walt Disney World (WDW) for each year since its opening in 1971. Ultimately I decided to grade WDW against itself, using WDW's best years as the Gold Standard.

It's an arbitrary chart based on my opinion of WDW's quality and value over the decades. It's not based on real data. You might very well have a different opinion.

Without further ado, my latest chart:

WDW Historical Grade.jpg


WDW was by no means perfect when it opened in 1971. The Magic Kingdom was a work in progress but still managed to blow the competition out of the water (only Disneyland was better) with an unflinching commitment to making its Guests happy.

Things only got better from there, with classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) and Space Mountain (SM) opening in the mid-1970s, River Country in 1976, followed by Big Thunder Mountain (BTM) in 1980.

WDW peaked with the opening of Epcot in 1982. Quality remained outstanding while total ticket price decreased. Previously, admission and attraction tickets were sold separately. Concerned about using that pricing scheme at Epcot, Disney leadership created a combined ticket, discontinuing attraction booklets. I recall many being upset about it but as someone who simply wanted to ride attractions all day long, the new tickets were perfect!

That perfection continued for a few years until Michael Eisner became CEO. One of his earliest actions was to increase ticket prices by double-digits. Those upset with the 1982 ticket change were furious with Eisner's massive increases, which continued from 1984 to 1988.

Attitudes greatly improved with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios and Typhoon Lagoon (TL) in 1989. Disney-MGM Studios got off to a rough start; there simply wasn't much to do. However, by the end of the year with the opening of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Star Tours, Disney-MGM Studios finally felt like a theme park worthy of the Disney name. Typhoon Lagoon was amazing, unlike any other water park in the World. It made the quaint River Country seem amateurish. By 1990, the anger resulting from the price increases had been largely forgotten. With 3 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping district, and a nightclub district, WDW finally felt worthy of a week's vacation.

By the early 1990s, the wood was starting to rot beneath the glittering façade. Disney’s Strategic Planning unit began to micromanage theme park decisions. Gone was the uncompromising commitment to excellence, superseded by a cost-benefit-analysis of every aspect of the resort. Year-by-year, quality slipped, replaced by a "good enough" attitude. Many devoted frontline Cast Members remained but senior management was forced out, supplanted by those "sharp-pencil guys" Walt Disney had warned about decades before. Externally, all was well. Internally, Disney’s Old Guard was fading, never to return.

Still, the 1990s experienced many exciting additions. Splash Mountain (SM) opened in 1992. Arguably WDW's best attraction, Tower of Terror (TOT), opened in 1994, followed by Blizzard Beach (BB) in 1995. To the casual Guest, it was a glorious decade.

Perhaps WDW's last gasp of true greatness occurred with the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK) in 1998. It should have been WDW's high-water mark. Instead, DAK opened with too few attractions and struggled with an image problem. (Remember the 2001 "Nahtazu" campaign?) Hardcore Disney fans were disappointed.

The slow decay continued as Eisner was under increasing pressure by Wall Street to improve margin, yet WDW still was an excellent resort, still the best in the World.

The vacation industry took a nosedive after those horrific events of September 11. WDW was not immune. Projects were cancelled, hotels were shuttered, Cast Members were laid off. Operating expenses were slashed and, for many, declining quality became visible for the first time.

After the initial shock, Disney took steps to correct its downturn in business, primarily through deep discounts such as the "Buy Four, Get Three Free" campaign. WDW's affordability improved even as the economy struggled.

WDW experienced another uptick with the introduction of the Magic Your Way (MYW) ticket in 2005 and the opening of Expedition Everest (EE) in 2006. Using an a la cart pricing scheme, the MYW ticket improved WDW's affordability for those seeking an entry-level theme park experience, while EE represented WDW's last great attraction to date.

The late 2000s arguably represent WDW's low point. Even though Strategic Planning had closed shop in 2005, budget cuts continued as corporate Disney increasingly nickel-and-dimed its Guests. Worse, for the first time in its history, capital expenditures were not keeping up with depreciation. The parks were aging yet Disney was deferring basic maintenance. It showed, with each year getting a bit worse than the year before.

Opened in 2012, the New Fantasyland (NFL) represented a change in direction, expanding WDW's most popular land in the World's most popular theme park. Yet ultimately it added only 2 attractions, replacing 2 that had closed. It was a small improvement but with much unrealized potential. NFL could have been so much more. NFL should have been more.

WDW held steady in the years following the opening of NFL. There were several modest improvements yet also more cost cutting and price increases, largely cancelling each other out. The net effect was a WDW no longer in decline, but not yet on the mend.

With the addition of Pandora, 2017 was a step upward. The entire land is well-themed and some consider Flight of Passage to be one of WDW's best attractions. Na'vi River Journey is immersive even if it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. The Satu'li Canteen offers bold (for a theme park) food selections.

Sadly, Toy Story Land (TSL) was not enough to continue this upward trend in 2018.

2018 saw some of WDW's biggest price increases in years. Rack rate for a Standard room at All Star Sports was up 8.0%. The popular 4-day base ticket was up 8.5%. Annual Passholders got nailed with a 9% increase! Plus Disney started double-dipping by (for the first time) charging for hotel parking, something that previously was included in the room price for WDW's first 46 years!

One of my bellwethers is the water parks' Sand Pail. I was disappointed to report a large increase to $13.99 last year. This year, they avoided a price increase and, instead, dropped volume from 36 to 24 oz while still charging the same amount:

Sand Pail.JPG

Added together, 2018 became a horrendous year for those shopping for a (relatively) inexpensive WDW vacation.

Meanwhile, theme park attendance continued to climb, meaning Guests were waiting in longer lines even as they paid more. TSL had to deliver a lot to justify these increases. Sadly, it missed the mark by a wide margin.

In some ways, TSL is exactly what WDW did not need: an overhyped, modestly themed land with 2 low-capacity kiddie attractions in a theme park where multiple high-capacity attractions were permanently closed.

Let's recall how we got here. The Great Movie Ride closed. The Backlot Tour closed. Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground closed. Perhaps worst of all, the crowd pleasing (and mega capacity) Osborne Festival of Dancing Lights is gone. (And, on a personal note, one of my favorites, Starring Rolls closed.) Combined, these nearly returned DHS to its dire state after its May 1989 opening. At that time, many WDW fans were furious with what they (justifiably) felt was a ripoff of a theme park ticket. DHS will improve once Star Wars Galaxy's Edge and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway open but, for 2018, TSL may have made DHS even worse by attracting crowds that far exceed its two attractions' limited capacity.

Don't get me wrong; TSL is nice. Some dislike it but theming is consistent with the existing Toy Story Mania. Slinky Dog Dash (SDD) is a fun little coaster. Yet Alien Swirling Saucers and Woody's Lunch Box are disappointing. All three are vastly inferior to their counterparts at Pandora.

And throughout my visits this year, I saw sights like this far too often:

Garbage Can.jpg

Higher than normal price increases. Increased crowds. Insufficient added capacity. A new land inferior to last year's Pandora. For these reasons and others, WDW took a step backwards in 2018.
 
Last edited:

The_Jobu

Well-Known Member
Now that I've had a chance to experience Toy Story Land, it's time to update my "Walt Disney World Historical Grade" chart for 2018.

Using a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 meaning "absolutely fabulous" and 0 meaning "it's a dump and should be closed", I graded Walt Disney World (WDW) for each year since its opening in 1971. Ultimately I decided to grade WDW against itself, using WDW's best years as the Gold Standard.

It's an arbitrary chart based on my opinion of WDW's quality and value over the decades. It's not based on real data. You might very well have a different opinion.

Without further ado, my latest chart:

View attachment 300592


WDW was by no means perfect when it opened in 1971. The Magic Kingdom was a work in progress but still managed to blow the competition out of the water (only Disneyland was better) with an unflinching commitment to making its Guests happy.

Things only got better from there, with classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC) and Space Mountain (SM) opening in the mid-1970s, River Country in 1976, followed by Big Thunder Mountain (BTM) in 1980.

WDW peaked with the opening of Epcot in 1982. Quality remained outstanding while total ticket price decreased. Previously, admission and attraction tickets were sold separately. Concerned about using that pricing scheme at Epcot, Disney leadership created a combined ticket, discontinuing attraction booklets. I recall many being upset about it but as someone who simply wanted to ride attractions all day long, the new tickets were perfect!

That perfection continued for a few years until Michael Eisner became CEO. One of his earliest actions was to increase ticket prices by double-digits. Those upset with the 1982 ticket change were furious with Eisner's massive increases, which continued from 1984 to 1988.

Attitudes greatly improved with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios and Typhoon Lagoon (TL) in 1989. Disney-MGM Studios got off to a rough start; there simply wasn't much to do. However, by the end of the year with the opening of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Star Tours, Disney-MGM Studios finally felt like a theme park worthy of the Disney name. Typhoon Lagoon was amazing, unlike any other water park in the World. It made the quaint River Country seem amateurish. By 1990, the anger resulting from the price increases had been largely forgotten. With 3 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping district, and a nightclub district, WDW finally felt worthy of a week's vacation.

By the early 1990s, the wood was starting to rot beneath the glittering façade. Disney’s Strategic Planning unit began to micromanage theme park decisions. Gone was the uncompromising commitment to excellence, superseded by a cost-benefit-analysis of every aspect of the resort. Year-by-year, quality slipped, replaced by a "good enough" attitude. Many devoted frontline Cast Members remained but senior management was forced out, supplanted by those "sharp-pencil guys" Walt Disney had warned about decades before. Externally, all was well. Internally, Disney’s Old Guard was fading, never to return.

Still, the 1990s experienced many exciting additions. Splash Mountain (SM) opened in 1992. Arguably WDW's best attraction, Tower of Terror (TOT), opened in 1994, followed by Blizzard Beach (BB) in 1995. To the casual Guest, it was a glorious decade.

Perhaps WDW's last gasp of true greatness occurred with the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom (DAK) in 1998. It should have been WDW's high-water mark. Instead, DAK opened with too few attractions and struggled with an image problem. (Remember the 2001 "Nahtazu" campaign?) Hardcore Disney fans were disappointed.

The slow decay continued as Eisner was under increasing pressure by Wall Street to improve margin, yet WDW still was an excellent resort, still the best in the World.

The vacation industry took a nosedive after those horrific events of September 11. WDW was not immune. Projects were cancelled, hotels were shuttered, Cast Members were laid off. Operating expenses were slashed and, for many, declining quality became visible for the first time.

After the initial shock, Disney took steps to correct its downturn in business, primarily through deep discounts such as the "Buy Four, Get Three Free" campaign. WDW's affordability improved even as the economy struggled.

WDW experienced another uptick with the introduction of the Magic Your Way (MYW) ticket in 2005 and the opening of Expedition Everest (EE) in 2006. Using an a la cart pricing scheme, the MYW ticket improved WDW's affordability for those seeking an entry-level theme park experience, while EE represented WDW's last great attraction to date.

The late 2000s arguably represent WDW's low point. Even though Strategic Planning had closed shop in 2005, budget cuts continued as corporate Disney increasingly nickel-and-dimed its Guests. Worse, for the first time in its history, capital expenditures were not keeping up with depreciation. The parks were aging yet Disney was deferring basic maintenance. It showed, with each year getting a bit worse than the year before.

Opened in 2012, the New Fantasyland (NFL) represented a change in direction, expanding WDW's most popular land in the World's most popular theme park. Yet ultimately it added only 2 attractions, replacing 2 that had closed. It was a small improvement but with much unrealized potential. NFL could have been so much more. NFL should have been more.

WDW held steady in the years following the opening of NFL. There were several modest improvements yet also more cost cutting and price increases, largely cancelling each other out. The net effect was a WDW no longer in decline, but not yet on the mend.

With the addition of Pandora, 2017 was a step upward. The entire land is well-themed and some consider Flight of Passage to be one of WDW's best attractions. Na'vi River Journey is immersive even if it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. The Satu'li Canteen offers bold (for a theme park) food selections.

Sadly, Toy Story Land (TSL) was not enough to continue this upward trend in 2018.

2018 saw some of WDW's biggest price increases in years. Rack rate for a Standard room at All Star Sports was up 8.0%. The popular 4-day base ticket was up 8.5%. Annual Passholders got nailed with a 9% increase! Plus Disney started double-dipping by (for the first time) charging for hotel parking, something that previously was included in the room price for WDW's first 46 years!

One of my bellwethers is the water parks' Sand Pail. I was disappointed to report a large increase to $13.99 last year. This year, they avoided a price increase and, instead, dropped volume from 36 to 24 oz while still charging the same amount:

View attachment 300593

Added together, 2018 became a horrendous year for those shopping for a (relatively) inexpensive WDW vacation.

Meanwhile, theme park attendance continued to climb, meaning Guests were waiting in longer lines even as they paid more. TSL had to deliver a lot to justify these increases. Sadly, it missed the mark by a wide margin.

In some ways, TSL is exactly what WDW did not need: an overhyped, modestly themed land with 2 low-capacity kiddie attractions in a theme park where multiple high-capacity attractions were permanently closed.

Let's recall how we got here. The Great Movie Ride closed. The Backlot Tour closed. Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground closed. Perhaps worst of all, the crowd pleasing (and mega capacity) Osborne Festival of Dancing Lights is gone. (And, on a personal note, one of my favorites, Starring Rolls closed.) Combined, these nearly returned DHS to its dire state after its May 1989 opening. At that time, many WDW fans were furious with what they (justifiably) felt was a ripoff of a theme park ticket. DHS will improve once Star Wars Galaxy's Edge and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway open but, for 2018, TSL may have made DHS even worse by attracting crowds that far exceed its two attractions' limited capacity.

Don't get me wrong; TSL is nice. Some dislike it but theming is consistent with the existing Toy Story Mania. Slinky Dog Dash (SDD) is a fun little coaster. Yet Alien Swirling Saucers and Woody's Lunch Box are disappointing. All three are vastly inferior to their counterparts at Pandora.

And throughout my visits this year, I saw sights like this far too often:

View attachment 300594

Higher than normal price increases. Increased crowds. Insufficient added capacity. A new land inferior to last year's Pandora. For these reasons and others, WDW took a step backwards in 2018.
Fantastic analysis, you lay out exactly what's changed in the parks throughout the years. Well done!
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
With a current score of '86', WDW does not "suck". '86' is a solid B.

However, WDW used to be better.

Those with an open mind about what WDW is today vs. what it once was will be able to recognize the distinction.
Lol my bad, the weekly "wdw used to be better thread ". I edited it
And I know in August when I go I'm going to be running around the world checking the trash cans to see if they are overflowing.
 
Last edited:

ParentsOf4

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Lol my bad, the weekly "wdw used to be better thread ". I edited it
And I know in August when I go I'm going to be running around the world checking the trash cans to see if they are overflowing.
With numerous additions announced for 2019 to 2021, WDW has a chance to make it back into A- (90-92) territory, a great turnaround since bottoming out at the start of this decade.

Much will depend on price increases though.

With typical increases, a score of 90 or above is possible.

However, if corporate Disney continues to do with prices what they did in 2018, then WDW will probably be a B+ (87-89) by 2021.

It's nice to see corporate Disney once again investing in WDW.
 

scorp16

Well-Known Member
it's time to update my "Walt Disney World Historical Grade" chart for 2018
From a statiscal perspective I'm going with a current score in the low 90's. I respect your opinion and your views, but as you referenced in your post, everybody is going to have a different take.

I'd disagree on a few chart points. There is no reference to RC opening in '76 which I think warrants a bigger spike and to a lesser extent Pioneer Hall in '74 (Hoop Dee Doo). Also, Marketplace in '75 would have seen a slight bump) - Disney's trajectory should be upward from opening day through the EPCOT opening (save a slight Fib retracement possibly in '78-'81). You have a flat-line from about '74 to '79.

The drop coinciding to the time frame after the EPCOT opening that you attribute to price increases, IMO, is too pronounced. Yes, prices did increase, but they moved away from ticket books to day and multi- day tickets at this point. So it was more a fundamental change in pricing structure - but yes prices did increase. You have about an 8% drop, I'd go with about 3 to 4%.

Correction starts to happen in '88 with CBR, We shoot up in '89 with MGM studios, Pleasure Island (Adventures Club...because I just needed to throw it in) and continued with the 1990 opening of Yacht Club, Beach Club, Dolphin and Swan. '91 with OKW. The '92 opening of Dixie Landings (now PO) -This takes us back to nearly EPCOT levels. Then we range - from the high to the mid-90's.

We get a slight bounce in '95 with the introduction of Food and Wine and another in '96 with Boardwalk opening. And another slight one in '97 with CSR. Another substantial one in '98 with AK.

Then we drop. Hard. By 2001 we're in free fall (IMO the worst decade of WDW). I'm going about 15% down (which gets me to about 83 - we're pretty much in agreement about the trajectory - but we're just dropping from different levels). From about '99 to '12 nothing good was happening (save maybe Saratoga Springs in '04).

Then Fantasyland gave us a bounce in late '12 and into '13. Announcement of Springs in '13 and it's opening in '15, Frozen in '13/'14 with the M&G and culminating in '16 with FEA, Pandora in '17, TSL in '18 and the yet to come SWL in '19 and Tron and GoG in '20. The SWH, the Gondolas, additions to DS. I think we've crept up into the 90ish range. So I'm at "A-" right now.
 
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DarleneBurrows

Active Member
Bog Iger and his first decade was horrendous. He literally created nothing new and let the parks rot whilst he created shops and ways to extract more money from people.

I suppose at least he is addressing that problem now to an extent, but he's only playing catch up with the new attractions.

I have no problem with price increases, as long as there is investment in new attractions. It's hard to swallow an increase when they are not investing anything in the park.
 

Kram Sacul

Well-Known Member
In the Parks
Yes
Slight. This is about quality and value. RnR provided both. So since we're charting -yes. There would have been a slight uptrend in mid-1999. But at best it double-tops AK and then we crash.
It would be interesting to see separate charts for each park. Epcot and DHS deserve their own analysis.
 

Smiley/OCD

Well-Known Member
WDW was by no means perfect when it opened in 1971. The Magic Kingdom was a work in progress
There is the answer to this whole thread....WDW is STILL and ALWAYS WILL BE a work in progress...attractions will still be added, and prices will keep rising like EVERYTHING else in this world...I went to school for 20+ years...I NEVER got straight A's...(or straight B's for that matter), EVERY year of school...have there been bad years or even decades? I guess if you say so. I don't spend my visit gawking at overflowing trash cans (which I've only seen once in 10 visits)...maybe because I'm not looking for it and having too good a time. Life is too short to keep looking for the bad stuff. I stopped looking at grades when I received my diploma.
 

Kram Sacul

Well-Known Member
In the Parks
Yes
There is the answer to this whole thread....WDW is STILL and ALWAYS WILL BE a work in progress...attractions will still be added, and prices will keep rising like EVERYTHING else in this world...I went to school for 20+ years...I NEVER got straight A's...(or straight B's for that matter), EVERY year of school...have there been bad years or even decades? I guess if you say so. I don't spend my visit gawking at overflowing trash cans (which I've only seen once in 10 visits)...maybe because I'm not looking for it and having too good a time. Life is too short to keep looking for the bad stuff. I stopped looking at grades when I received my diploma.
Well said, Mr Iger.
 

rudora

New Member
And throughout my visits this year, I saw sights like this far too often:

View attachment 300594
Um wow - I just experienced this same thing on my last trip to the world at the end of July. The super full trash cans with litter on the ground were pervasive throughout the Magic Kingdom and quick service restaurants. This is so atypical of Disney I couldn’t believe my eyes! I would really hope management gets its act together.
 

Minnie Mum

Well-Known Member
Lol my bad, the weekly "wdw used to be better thread ". I edited it
And I know in August when I go I'm going to be running around the world checking the trash cans to see if they are overflowing.
No need to run around looking for them. And I doubt the OP had to go looking for them either. As a PP noted, the problem is pervasive. Blame it on custodial cutbacks, or blame it on trashy guests, the problem of overflowing garbage cans and litter has existed for a while now.
 

EricsBiscuit

Well-Known Member
what is this? This makes no sense
Bog Iger and his first decade was horrendous. He literally created nothing new and let the parks rot whilst he created shops and ways to extract more money from people.

I suppose at least he is addressing that problem now to an extent, but he's only playing catch up with the new attractions.

I have no problem with price increases, as long as there is investment in new attractions. It's hard to swallow an increase when they are not investing anything in the park.
I feel the need to defend Bob. He saved DCA by investing 1.2 BILLION in it. Furthermore, he spent 5 BILLION on SDL. They're investing 5 BILLION in WDW. Another BILLION in SWL at DL. And another fortune on DLP. He's spending money. It's not all going to WDW all the time, but he's investing.
 

erasure fan1

Well-Known Member
I suppose at least he is addressing that problem now to an extent, but he's only playing catch up with the new attractions.
And at the same time he addresses the problems he created, he creates a whole new set of problems in my opinion. I'm not sure what problem is worse. Letting the parks go stale or deciding theme and substance is of no importance anymore. I don't think my opinion will change after galaxies edge opens either. Only based on cluster that the studios will be once it does because of Igers terrible decisions with the park. He's done far more negative for the parks than positive in my opinion.
 
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