Walt Disney World fans have a lot of complaints, which we “celebrate” on this most glorious of holidays with a Festivus airing of grievances. There have been many guest unfriendly changes that are unsurprisingly unpopular, including cutbacks, price increases, delays, nickel & diming, and more.
It’s impossible not to notice this. Many complaints we hear from readers are prefaced with “I’m normally a fan no matter what who defends Disney, but…” or “I don’t normally complain, but…” There have been far fewer fans offering defenses of unpopular decisions with the rationalization that Walt Disney World is a business. There’s also less knocking of those who air their grievances as “so-called fans” and much more agreement and acknowledgement of Disney’s shortcomings.
So in honor of Festivus, we’re going to air the biggest grievances fans have with Walt Disney World. This is the second consecutive year we’re doing this, which I guess makes it an annual tradition now. A lot of this list has actually changed as compared to last year, in large part because Walt Disney World has announced a half-dozen positive changes that have already happened or take effect in early 2024. Nevertheless, some ‘greatest hits’ still remain. Here’s a rundown of the “top” 10 complaints we hear from fans, including some of our own commentary about where we agree and disagree…
N/A. Genie+ Generally – Walt Disney World retiring free FastPass and replacing it with a paid alternative continues to be one of the biggest fan grievances we hear. To be sure, there are still plenty of complaints about it costing money…but fans have largely moved on to how it works.
The biggest one is that the Genie system is unnecessarily convoluted and has too steep of a learning curve. However, another very big one is that it requires too much “work” while on vacation. Well, many of you will soon get your wish there, as advance-booking of Lightning Lanes will launch at some point in Spring 2024. Between that change and the reality that there are almost a dozen other prominent complaints, I’m moving this outside the top 10. Rest assured, Genie+ haters, this would still make the top half of the list if we’re going by the volume and frequency of complaints.
(An entirely separate entry on this list could’ve been the 7 a.m. wake up call, which also applies to virtual queues in addition to Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes. My hope is that with Genie+ removed from the equation, more guests who like to sleep-in on vacation opt to do so, and just go for the 1 p.m. virtual queues. Or that virtual queues end entirely, which is what we recently advocated for.)
T10. Bad Weather – Most of this list is just recounting what we hear from others, but this has been my #1 complaint about Walt Disney World in 2023. Obviously, there’s nothing the company can do about the weather. Every once in a while, you hear a first-timer buy into an urban legend about the parks being climate-controlled thanks to, I dunno, a big invisible dome or something? Maybe they’ve been reading too much Stephen King.
To be sure, I have plenty of other quibbles about Walt Disney World. But if Genie (the character, not the useless app feature) were to grant me one WDW wish, it’d be for Central Florida to have Southern California’s weather. Part of this is my own stupid fault–I spent more time in the parks during August and September than any other months, leading me to openly ask, Is It Still Worth Visiting During “Fall” Off-Season at Walt Disney World?
Judging by the 50+ reader replies, I’m far from the only one whose biggest complaint is weather. So yeah, this might be an airing of an unresolvable grievance (until Imagineering perfects their dome tech), but I’m also not the only old man (or woman) almost literally yelling at a cloud.
T10. Stuff Still Missing – Here’s just a partial list of the atmospheric acts and shows that are still conspicuous omissions from Walt Disney World entertainment lineup:
It boggles the mind that some of this is still missing. Jedi Training Academy was absolutely adored by guests, and was a ‘magical moment’ for so many kids and their families who had the chance to participate. The ‘citizens’ in both Magic Kingdom and DHS were the heart of entertainment in their respective parks, and great welcoming acts to both.
I know the final three nighttime spectaculars on that list definitely or probably are permanently retired, but it’s still wild that there are no replacements. Animal Kingdom has trouble keeping people in the park later in the day, so the solution is to…stop even trying?
It’s a similar story with restaurants. Although only a couple are still completely closed, there are nearly a dozen missing meal services. Like entertainment, some of these are likely deliberate decisions–offerings that are gone for good. Others still aren’t back due to persistent staffing shortages.
In a vacuum, it might be possible to rationalize or explain away so much of Disney’s lethargic pace in resuming normalcy. However, once you step back and look at the totality of the circumstances–especially as compared to their competitors and in light of the prices being charged–it’s all much less forgivable. For the purported leader of the theme park industry, they’ve sure been doing a lot of following.
9. Construction Delays – When the parks closed for a few months, Walt Disney World voluntarily paused all construction even as projects throughout Florida continued full steam ahead. Some projects near completion were held back even after being finished and other attractions that were slated to open “in time for” the 50th Anniversary just finally debuted in 2023. The resulting delays, in several cases, have been 2-3 years. Other previously announced plans were scaled back or abandoned entirely.
The degree to which this is excusable depends upon the project. Disney sitting on Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind makes sense. Theme parks add attractions to incentivize new bookings, and they largely would not have fulfilled that role had they debuted last fall. Universal is the one anomaly in continuing to open new things, and a true kudos to them in going against the grain; otherwise, virtually every theme park operator has held back additions.
This was far less excusable when it came to the central spine redesign of EPCOT. At least the Giant Epcot Dirt Pit™️ is finally gone for good, but the end result sure doesn’t look like the fruits of 5 years of work. Disney squandered an opportunity by not kicking the EPCOT overhaul into overdrive during the closure and subsequent reopening when the parks were uncrowded, and should be downright embarrassed by the leisurely pace of work in the years that followed.
8. Only Caring About the Wealthy – There have been no shortages of examples of this–or at least, decisions that have prompted this refrain among Walt Disney World fans. Price increases are the big one, but so too are the proliferation of pricey upcharge offerings, VIP tours, After Hours events, and more.
Disney is trying to squeeze the middle class, not exclude them. That might offer little solace, but it’s an important distinction (more so than a “defense” of the practice). The rich are not booking motel-style rooms with exterior hallways at the Value or Moderate Resorts, let alone the many nearby off-site budget hotels that Disney relies upon to fill the parks. Rite of passage vacations among the affluent are certainly a thing, but not nearly enough to sustain Walt Disney World.
The bottom line is that Walt Disney World is a middle class vacation destination. Even on the high end, it doesn’t offer the caliber of service, amenities, or general quality the affluent expect of real world destinations. This is why Disney “outsources” that to Four Seasons on the hotel side. There are low-volume niche experiences at Walt Disney World aimed at the wealthy, but they’re relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Disney’s bread and butter is still the middle class…but the current trajectory doesn’t change until that group says “enough is enough” and pulls back on spending and splurging. (The tide is already turning there…)
7. Cutbacks & Charges – For a second year, nickel & diming (or cutbacks and upcharges) is an unsurprising entry on this list. Want a MagicBand? That’ll cost you! Bread to start your table service meal? Prepare to pay extra! Evening Extra Magic Hours? Upgrade resorts! Want to see a parade or stage show? It’s behind an After Hours paywall.
I’m not a fan of nickel & diming. I don’t want to give this major grievance only cursory treatment, but there’s just not a ton I can add here that hasn’t already been said. There are arguably some scenarios–like cutting back on plastic waste with MagicBands or hiring more housekeepers being nearly impossible–where some of this is understandable.
By and large, it’s just a way to improve margins. It’s an effective approach because each is minor in isolation, but there’s a reason why “death by a thousand cuts” is a saying. The totality of these cost-cutting measures has become very noticeable.
(Credit where credit is due, though, as never in a million years did I expect that Walt Disney World would roll back the resort parking charge. Honestly, I figured they’d end up going the opposite direction and eventually add a resort fee, too. The end of hotel parking fees was a huge move in 2023 that doesn’t get enough credit. Between that and better discounts, the effective price of resorts is actually down this year for a lot of guests. We’ll take the win!)
6. End of Disney’s Magical Express – To this day, we still hear from readers holding out hope that Disney’s Magical Express will return in 2024 or maybe in 2025 when Epic Universe opens. Given that there’s no basis for this belief, it’s one of the more surprising common questions we’re asked.
Although its spiritual successor is still operated by Mears, it’s just not the same for many fans that Walt Disney World does not offer airport transportation. (The luggage handling is also a very big deal to some people, which caught us by surprise.) It made Walt Disney World feel all-inclusive, like they “took care of you” from the moment you stepped off the plane until you left to return home.
We’re not going to belabor this one, as nothing new can be said about the end of Disney’s Magical Express that hasn’t already been said. The only thing I’ll add is that I still cannot make sense of this decision. It’s gotta be one of those things that somehow makes sense on a spreadsheet, but is doing incalculable damage in the real ‘World. I firmly believe the beancounters got this one wrong, and its long-term consequences to the company will far exceed whatever money they saved.
Eliminating Disney’s Magical Express is short sighted and will cost the company hotel stays, visits to other theme parks, meals outside the resort complex, and more. One of Walt Disney World’s greatest strengths was its bubble, and the company has voluntarily punctured that. The captive audience that was viewed as advantageous for years is gone–and at a time when Walt Disney World’s #1 competitor keeps growing and getting stronger. Make it make sense.
5. “It’s Boring” – We hear complaints that it’s bland or boring in response to every room refurbishment, as well as restaurant or retail reimaginings. This happens so frequently that we dissected the criticism in What New Walt Disney World Styles Get Wrong (And Right!). Suffice to say, we don’t agree with a lot of the specific criticism–we like most of the room redesigns and think there’s a strong nostalgia bias. Nevertheless, we understand the sentiment and agree with the animating idea in many cases.
One of my biggest worries for the future of Walt Disney World is a lack of bold bets and creative risks. More decisions by analytics, fewer by real people. Less that’s interesting and unique, more that’s beholden to brand deposits and dictated by accountants. This is evident in things like room refurbishments that emphasize function over form–and will be easier to clean and update. That’s not necessarily a problem, efficiency is great!
However, it also seems to be seeping into things like the look of the World Celebration Gardens or nighttime spectacular song selections. Things appear assembled by AI, based on popular public park styles or predicated on Disney+ marketing targets or viewership data. Walt Disney World is a business and always has been. It’s also innovative and imaginative, an ambitious endeavor built not by MBAs and accountants, but by creative visionaries–it should be treated as such by those who now lead it.
4. Maintenance & Unexpected Downtime – This has been a growing complaint for the last couple of years, to the point that it’s close to #1 on this list as others have faded due to the passage of time. Everyone seems to think they experienced atypically bad ride breakdowns during their trips, but in reality, it’s because attraction downtime is far higher than its historical average. So it’s not that you got really unlucky–it’s that more frequent breakdowns are the new normal. Disney disputes this, but it is well-documented (and true).
I’m honestly not sure whether the explanation makes it better or worse. Misery loves company, so perhaps you take solace knowing others are in the same boat? Maybe you’re mad that Disney denies and doesn’t address this known issue? Or it’s possible that you think this is a matter of Disney cutting corners and being cheap?
Honestly, I don’t know if it’s something they even can fully address. Remember how we warned of the loss of institutional knowledge with the furloughs and layoffs back in 2020? Well, look no further than this for the “fruits” of that short-sighted decision, as maintenance departments have been decimated and have far fewer years of tenure.
Sadly, there’s no easy fix. It’s not simply a matter of properly staffing those departments again. When you lose a bunch of old-timers with decades of experience in legacy systems and proprietary technology, you can’t just hire some fresh-faced kid off the street and expect the same results. This was always a risk when baby boomers started retiring en masse, but 2020 really accelerated it and caused a lot of damage all at once.
3. Too Much Screen Time – Refreshing Genie+ for better Lightning Lanes. Mobile Order for counter service restaurants and Merchandise Mobile Checkout to buy stuff. Checking Walk-up Waitlist for new table service availability. Looking at wait times and showtimes. Joining virtual queues. Reading restaurant menus. Playing the MagicBand+ mini games or the DuckTales World Showcase Adventure.
We both agree and disagree with this increasingly common complaint. On the one hand, refreshing Genie+ doesn’t need to be that time intensive and isn’t that much different from the fourth FastPass+ and beyond. Not only that, but pretty much everything else is optional. On the other hand, optional probably needs air quotes around it. Ignore all of those app features to your own detriment.
For years, we’ve said that Walt Disney World leans too heavily on technology (ironic, since it’s something the company is objectively awful at) and not enough on tactile experiences. To paraphrase my favorite Walt Disney quote, “it’s people that make the dream a reality.”
The best memories are formed as a result of interpersonal moments, and so much emotional resonance is derived from guests connecting with Cast Members. Even if people can’t put their finger on it, so much of what differentiates and defines the appeal of Walt Disney World is the ‘little things’ that connect them to other people and the environments around them. Big new rides get people to take the trip, but it’s the myriad little things and those connections that convince them (even subconsciously) to return.
So while we won’t point to Genie+ or any other new app feature as being “bad,” like many fans have done, we agree with the generalized sentiment that spending a day at Walt Disney World now nudges guests towards spending way too much time with their faces buried in their phones. These new features are great in isolation, and benefit the company by improving efficiency and cutting costs. However, the totality of all of this amounts to Walt Disney World effectively leaning into its weakness and away from its strengths. And that’s worthy of a pretty big ‘grievance,’ if you ask me. Which leads into the related #2 complaint…
2. Death of Spontaneity – We’ve been extolling the virtues of spontaneity at Walt Disney World for years–and cautioning against overplanning. Much to the consternation of many readers, this site is vehemently anti-spreadsheet. (I’ll admit, it’s an odd position for a planning blog to take.) But there’s a reason for that, beyond the simple fact that the best laid plans of mice and humans often go awry.
It’s that one of the biggest complaints we hear from Walt Disney World visitors is that the experience is too scripted, and there aren’t enough opportunities for spontaneity. No one likes to hear this (and obviously we wouldn’t say it directly in response to anyone airing post-trip grievances), but part of this is, frankly, their own fault. You absolutely do not need to plan down to the minute or hour; there are ample opportunities for spontaneity–but you have to allow for it.
However, part of this is Walt Disney World’s doing. They have crafted a massively complicated and complex vacation destination that lends itself to an inordinate amount of pre-planning and structure. The good news is that I expect to hear this less and less in 2024. With park reservations going away, Park Hopping rules lifted, pent-up demand continuing to exhaust itself (meaning more dining availability) and other changes on the horizon, my hope is that the Walt Disney World of Summer 2024 will have more opportunities for spontaneity than the Walt Disney World of Summer 2019.
1. “It Didn’t Feel Like a Vacation” – A common complaint from fans giving up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that “it feels like homework.” The Walt Disney World version of this isn’t quite as concise, but boils down to the trip not feeling like a vacation due to all of the above complaints about screen time, technology, and everything you need to know or do over the course of the trip. This is one we’re hearing more and more, often indirectly. Travel agents share what their clients said, or lifelong fans recount what their friends told them upon returning home. (To be sure, it’s also sentiment shared by Disney diehards–but that group often loves the thrill of planning, so it’s not quite as frequent.)
This breaks our hearts. This is mostly for obvious reasons–hardworking people are saving for months, spending and splurging thousands of dollars on an expensive vacation to Walt Disney World. It should be one of the most memorable and magical experiences of their lives, and be better than they even could’ve dreamed of. They should come home feeling like Disney treated them like they and their vacation was important.
As a WDW training manual once put it: “Every Guest on our entire 42 square miles of property is a VIP whether they are visiting the Magic Kingdom for a day or vacationing in our resort-hotels for a week or more……Remember that 99% of our guests are great people with everything going their way and having the time of their life. They are the easy ones to serve. Your real challenge will be that tiny 1%…the guests who are hot, tired, hungry, confused, frustrated and perhaps missing their luggage, ticket books or cameras. Or perhaps all of the above. They may not be very understanding and it may be up to you to turn their day around into the positive kind they came here to experience.”
It was always the case that many visitors to Walt Disney World were fulfilling a contractual obligation as parents and taking their kids on rite-of-passage trips with zero intention of ever returning again. But one of the things we loved most about running this blog was hearing from ‘The Grinches’ (non-derogatory) who told us after those trips that they didn’t expect to even enjoy Walt Disney World, but unexpectedly fell in love with the place. It was like a Hallmark movie about Disney come to life.
Those messages are now few and far between. As much as this breaks my heart, it also worries me. A lot of people point to culture wars, politics, or Universal as being Disney’s downfall. Honestly, I don’t buy into any of that–I think it’s all massively overstated. What worries me is that current leadership is benefiting from inertia and a longstanding reputation that they are not doing enough to nurture.
There will always be a large percentage of visitors who are one-and-done, but current trips should forge future fans to at least some extent. These diehards are the lifeblood of Walt Disney World, unpaid brand ambassadors who spread the good word and convince skeptical friends and family to take trips. It doesn’t seem like that’s happening nearly as often as it was even in 2019.
Have any grievances of your own to air about Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our airing of grievances? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!