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Grading Walt Disney World Throughout the Decades

John park hopper

Well-Known Member
I have been to WDW beginning in 1972, through the 80's and 90's and then a long pause of 17 years returned in 2017 and noticed a lot of changes. The condition of the park was what struck me over flowing trash cans. Litter in the bushes, few benches remained to sit, restaurants we liked now are character meals, (yuck) the actual shops on main street gone. May be I am wrong, it seems the Disney originality of old is being lost. It is not all Disney's fault, society has changed people seem ruder, me first, I deserve it cause I paid my money, sloppy (some one else will clean it up) I would give it a score of 70. I still like Disney --not as much- guess I suffer from I remember Disney when
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
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.
funny I was j ust there in April (see picture in avatar). Did not see ONE. not one.
So I wouldn't call that persuasive.
 

ParentsOf4

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
funny I was j ust there in April (see picture in avatar). Did not see ONE. not one.
So I wouldn't call that persuasive.
I was picking up dozens of scraps of paper during my most recent visit, even as numerous Cast Members walked by.

I also encountered several dirty toilets, although elsewhere there were Cast Members cleaning them. It's not as if staff was not assigned to keep bathrooms clean, but I do question if staffing levels are adequate.

Cast Members picking up trash used to be a point of pride at all Disney theme parks. Walt Disney started this and it continued up to Michael Eisner, who openly wondered if he was being tested whenever he saw a scrap of paper on the ground at the theme parks.

However, this level of cleanliness died under Bob Iger. Blame it on budget cuts or training, but the decline is noticeable.

WDW is still cleaner than the typical amusement park, but old standards are not being maintained.

Yet another reason why today's WDW scores in the mid-80s compared to its high 90 scores of decades past.
 
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Tony the Tigger

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.

I hope I never share this perspective.
 

erasure fan1

Well-Known Member
However, this level of cleanliness died under Bob Iger. Blame it on budget cuts or training, but the decline is noticeable.
And yet the parks continue to see higher and higher attendance. Its the attendance that tells upper management that cuts are OK, and no one really cares. But eventually too many cuts and too many price increases will catch up with them.
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
I was picking up dozens of scraps of paper during my most recent visit, even as numerous Cast Members walked by.

I also encountered numerous dirty toilets.

This used to be a point of pride at all Disney theme parks. Walt Disney started this and it continued up to Michael Eisner, who openly wondered if he was being tested when visiting the theme parks.

However, this level of cleanliness died under Bob Iger. Blame it on budget cuts or training, but the decline is noticeable.

WDW is still cleaner than the typical amusement park, but old standards are not being maintained.

Yet another reason why today's WDW scores in the mid-80s compared to its high 90 scores of decades past.
I always admit that, that's one of the hard parts of this argument. I did not go during this previous golden age, now I've been 3 times in the last 18 months. Never saw rivers if trash, may have seen some garbage cans at pecos bill durning lunch getting full and never "noticed" dirty loos. Now I will say "noticed ", because its quite possible that my level of attentiveness is zippo in the bathrooms. I've never encountered feces in the toilets or urine on the floor so I'm good.

Again I did not go in the magical age. I do wonder how much of it comes from the perpetual old people's lament of the "good ole days".
Every thing in life seems to have been better in the "old days "

Also maybe my explanations are different. Would i notice a used paper towel on a public bathroom floor?? Doubtful
 
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ParentsOf4

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
And yet the parks continue to see higher and higher attendance. Its the attendance that tells upper management that cuts are OK, and no one really cares. But eventually too many cuts and too many price increases will catch up with them.
Walt Disney said:

"Everybody thinks that Disneyland is a goldmine but we have had our problems. You've got to work at it and know how to handle it. Even keeping the park clean is a tremendous expense. And those sharp-pencil guys tell you, 'Walt, if we cut down on maintenance, we'd save a lot of money.' But I don't believe in that."

Under the guise of Strategic Planning, these sharp-pencils guys began to take control in the 1990s. Strategic Planning no longer exists but their philosophy of evaluating every aspect through a cost benefit analysis is pervasive.

As I written before, today's corporate Disney strives for "good enough".
 

ParentsOf4

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I always admit that, that's one of the hard parts of this argument. I did not go during this previous golden age, now I've been 3 times in the last 18 months.

...

Every thing in life seems to have been better in the "old days "
Actually, many experiences are better today than in the "old days".

Music concerts are better. Sports arenas are better. Movie theaters are better.

That's what makes WDW so frustrating. Even as other premium experiences have stepped up their game to justify price increases, Disney has let their game slip.
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
Actually, many experiences are better today than in the "old days".

Music concerts are better. Sports arenas are better. Movie theaters are better.

That's what makes WDW so frustrating. Even as other premium experiences have stepped up their game to justify price increases, Disney has let their game slip.


lol, I think that's subjective too. I'm a native New Yorker. omg the big uproar (and it's still a complaint) when the Yankees built their new stadium and seriously upped the prices, some thing around 400% they said.

Movie theaters? way worse, movies are 15 bucks a pop. popcorn and soda? add another 25 bucks and this is the "old" theaters. Now the new theaters (at least in philly) with the surround sound and the reclining seats? a show there is 20 bucks a ticket. most of my friends now rarely go, what with On demand, hulu etc. they can stream in their own living rooms.

So I don't think any of them have stepped up their experiences. I wanted to take my nieces to see the queen Bee, Beyonce I simply refuse to kick out 400 dollars a ticket. I did finally finally break down and pay 437.00 for Hamilton. that was one ticket. I go October 13th so I'll let you know and this was what 2 years after it's come out. when it first hit broadway what where the prices?? 1,000 bucks a ticket and you couldn't get one. You really think that's a "step" up.

lol, I live in Philly now. the big music concert coming up is Jay-Z's made in America. It's being held outside on the Ben Franklin parkway. tickets for both days are starting at 200 bucks, for standing entry. no seat.

That's what imo I don't understand. EVERYTHING is off the chart, stupid expensive. a night at the theater in October will probably run me 600 bucks. me, one person (437.00 ticket, another 70 bucks for dinner and 30 bucks to park). I went to the Phillies game, $53.00 each, mid deck along the first base line, I take septa so I don't have to park but for a family of four that's 200 bucks before food, which let's not even compare the prices.
sure the ball park is nice but not any nicer than in 08 when the Phils won the world series. I'm scared to even see what the Eagles tickets are going tocost now that they've won the superbowl and Carson Wentz is healthy. jeez

Again remember I'm viewing this through my, "just began going to the world" and "I live in the highest cost ofliving area imaginable" eyes. :p I recognize that that's sort of the trifecta of death.
 
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Jim S

Well-Known Member
This really makes me sad and angered and disappointed. I feel like Disney always strived to do the most they could so that it would never allow a guest to feel like that in the past.

Write Disney services an e-mail and or a hand-written letter detailing what you experienced and your story that you just told us. Seriously, the more they hear about stories like this, the more chance there is for things to maybe change or begin to change. Or at least we can hope it will.

Obviously money, profits and attendance are the biggest things that will make them listen. But the optimist in me still thinks enough letters and complaints may not necessarily always fall on deaf ears and can only do some good.
We did make a call to Disney. We made it clear we were not upset, angry, or mad but concerned. They were receptive to a discussion and we felt better after the call. I am not negative about Disney but am concerned about the direction. It has been a special place for my family and want it to stay a special place.
 

pax_65

Well-Known Member
We first went in 1975 and 1976. We went in 1988-89, 1994-1995-2001-2003. We went again in 2014-2016- and June 2018. We have seen the changes.

We have too. In these discussions people often bring up other theme parks so that the debate shifts to WDW vs Universal or WDW vs Six Flags. My focus is WDW of Today vs WDW of the Past - on whether WDW is still the same great value it used to be. I don't have charts to back it up (thanks OP!) but IMHO WDW was better in the past. That said, we went in May of 2018 and had a really good time - but the value of what we got for money spent was not what it was in the 1990s or even the early 2000s.
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
So here's an interesting question. I think it's more philosophical than actually expecting a real answer.

How do you reconcile your going to wdw with the past with going now?

What I mean is this, IMO there is no going back. to anything. We are never going back to 99cent/gallon gas, to Mcdonald's being cheap, a time without cell phones or Walt Disney of the past glory. I simply don't have the hope you guys do that it will achieve the "greatness" that it did back in the pre Iger days or if that is even a good thing.

So going forward what do you do? do you continue to go and snap pictures of overflowing trash cans and post that it's going downhill?
Can those that have these issues accept that Disney for the foreseeable future is, what it currently is? I think when Star wars opens, you will see the same gripes then that we've seen when TSL opened. how it's not "imaginative" etc etc.

I think it's an interesting problem. Now I have always admitted, I'm a cynical NY'er. I don't think there is any return to the glory days simply because I don't think that is what John q public outside of a small minority here want or care about. as someone said, the new generation is perfectly A-ok with the state of offerings, it's comfortable and well known.

how do you reconcile your wishing for the old days to acceptance of what it is now? or does that even matter?
 
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Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
Very interesting...I would say that the overall peak would be 97-2000...with maybe a small downtick after dak opened under equipped.

But other than that...I can see the correlation of the rankings
 

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
what is this? This makes no sense

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.

But if you spread that out over 15 years...and frame it against the context of twdc’s other business and the future plan...it isn’t nearly as impressive as just stating dollars.
 

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
Thanks, super! The serious posters all appreciate your graphs and great thought you put in these posts.

For me, the main deciding factor is simply the creative direction of WDW. I could forgive the hem all the rest, although I do compare prices and when I saw this summer that a holiday in WDW costs me the same as three holidays in a glamorous European capital I realise pricing factors in too.

The Epcotalypse of the late 90's, the commercialisation of all of WDW in the first Eisner decade, the toonification (restaurants lost forever to character meals - go away, I'm eating!), the idiotfication, the loss of remarkable sophistication (The Empress Lilly), the loss of a certain innocence. These would make up my chart. Remarkably, it would be quite close to your main line. Although I do think WDW got much worse this decade, rather than remained flat. Also I end up close to 50 out of 100. If that.

I always look for maturity and sanity on these forums (I’m a glutton...I know)

Occasionally somebody provides it...thank you and the OP. We’re here to discuss...that’s what everyone should want.
 

Sirwalterraleigh

Premium Member
That may be true. I'm just saying look at the big picture

The big picture is that their sports cash cow is collapsing and they let big brother muscle about 30% market share (and rising) up the street in Orlando.

Not doing reinvestment to insulate WDW further was a cheap suit, dumb accountant move and the damage will show through the cracks longterm.

We will have to watch.
 

pax_65

Well-Known Member
So going forward what do you do? do you continue to go and snap pictures of overflowing trash cans and post that it's going downhill? Can those that have these issues accept that Disney for the foreseeable future is, what it currently is? I think when Star wars opens, you will see the same gripes then that we've seen when TSL opened. how it's not "imaginative" etc etc.

Speaking for myself... I look objectively at the value WDW is providing today and I make some hard vacation choices. GONE are the days when we'd go to WDW 3 times in a year. These days we go about once every other year. When I'm on property, I'm a lot more careful about how I spend my money. I don't trust Disney like I used to - I look more carefully at the price tag before I make purchases. For example, I don't eat table service on property as frequently because I don't see the value there (with a few notable exceptions). I pretty much refuse to pay for any upcharge events on principle (I don't want to support "cash grabs" that provide an incentive for Disney to shorten park hours).

When I see something in the parks that I feel is "bad show" by Disney, I call them out on it - either by sending them an email or pointing it out on these boards (or both).

In general, I feel people set their expectations too low (or don't know any better). For me, Disney was always about excellence - which is why I fell in love with WDW in the first place. So I try to hold them to that higher standard.
 

eliza61nyc

Well-Known Member
In general, I feel people set their expectations too low (or don't know any better). For me, Disney was always about excellence - which is why I fell in love with WDW in the first place. So I try to hold them to that higher standard.

Thanks you Pax, that's interesting.

I wouldn't agree with the people set expectations low at all. I can't measure Disney to some 1980's standard because I wasn't there so all I can do is measure Disney to what is available today out there in Vacation land in 2018 Also different people view things differently. upcharges are not something that holds any "principal" to me, for one simple reason, I have the option of not "opting in". for me hearing the argument "it use to be free" is moot. lol, last week I had to get air in one of my tires because the pressure was low, had to scrounge around for 4 quarters because now you have to pay for air, lol talk about an upcharge.

Now excellence is also a bit hard to pin down. Disney has the deluxe hotels but everyone and their mother KNOWS you are not getting what is typically defined as luxury. you are paying for flat out location. so comparing them to the standards of say the 4 seasons will lead to disappointment each and every time. So I wouldn't say that I don't know better, I'm fully aware that Disney deluxes are not true values but for how I want to travel I'm willing to accept the offering.
Same with TS (now again, I'm in Philly). If you come to my hometown and eat anywhere near the Liberty Belle or what we call Old city, yes expect to pay 50 bucks per person for a decent sit down meal. of course it pays to do a little homework or ask a native where to catch a good meal off the beaten path but again compared to vacation land usa. 14 bucks for a combo burger meal is not ridiculously expensive.
(tip: do not buy soda in Philly, 1.2c and ounce soda tax and a 12 oz will cost you 2.00 dollars)

I'm still a huge fan of the parks and go as often as I can but I also don't think I have that historical emotional connection.
I dropped 4K last year at the beach in Ocean city NJ so Disney is still in line of my vacation budget.

But I understand the old timers concern.
 
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