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.
You reminded me we lost the Osborne Festival of Dancing Lights. Now I am sad. That said, this is a perfect analysis!