The State of Walt Disney World: Stardate 2015 – Part 2
Like I said in State of Walt Disney World – Part 1, this two-part post is sort of in lieu of a trip report, with other topics that would have been covered in a trip report handled in dedicated posts. Part 1 covered my observations and speculation as to Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. This installment focuses on Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs, plus my take on the overall state of Walt Disney World and the Resort’s future.
As a preliminary matter, I want to address some of the response to Part 1, as I haven’t gotten a chance to reply to every comment there. I have to say I’m a bit surprised by the positive reaction to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, although that appears mostly to be coming from first time or infrequent visitors. As I said in reply to one comment, when you don’t know what you’re missing, it’s tough to miss it. The Studios is still an enjoyable park with solid headliners…but it’s not what it was even a few years ago.
On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many glowing comments about Animal Kingdom and its potential, and conversely, about how truly abhorrent Dino-Rama is. Usually in fan circles, the bulk of Animal Kingdom is derisively mocked as a half-day park, with praise heaped on Dino-Rama as being “clever” and its supporters saying “you just don’t get it.” Perhaps the readers of this blog are particularly astute…or perhaps my many knocks on Dino-Rama over the years have led to Dino-Rama fans no longer reading this blog and I’m left with you people. Whatever the case, the comments were refreshing.
In terms of Epcot, there’s not much to say. If there’s one thing Epcot still “inspires”, it’s a range of emotions, and the comments reflected that. Some people love what it is, some people love what it once was. The latter group is the biggest wildcard, as they either remain loyal to the park due to nostalgia, harbor resentment for what has been lost, or fall somewhere in between.
Enough recap–let’s get back into the good, bad, and ugly of Walt Disney World: STARDATE SUMMER 2015…
The Magic Kingdom seems like a “Tale of Two Theme Parks” right now. There are huge portions of the park that look great, still glowing from work done over the last couple of years, including Liberty Square, New Fantasyland, and Main Street. Even Adventureland is starting to look better and hopefully will receive some TLC in advance of the Skipper’s Cantina opening late this year. Other lands like the main portion of Fantasyland could use some work, especially on the little things.
Then there’s Tomorrowland. Part of me wonders if the park maps distributed to maintenance teams do not include Tomorrowland. Its blighted state is most evident from the PeopleMover, but even from the ground where most guests will view it, the land looks downright bad in places (and I’m not talking ‘dated’ bad, I mean dirty). Disneyland has the same problem with its Tomorrowland, so I’m wondering if this is part of the unified Disney Parks strategy to present a bleak view of cleanliness in the future?
Overall, I’m torn with regard to the Magic Kingdom. It should be Disney’s crown jewel. It’s the most popular park at the top resort destination in the world, but both Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland top it. It deserves to be Disney’s best theme park anywhere, but it’s not.
With that said, I have to admit that I still feel pretty good about the Magic Kingdom. The new Central Plaza (Hub) project is coming together, and thus far, I like what I see. I will miss the views of the water and wish that it were a bit more lush, I also realize that from an operational perspective, this was a desperately needed project. With that in mind, I think the choices made have been solid, and there are some nice areas that make this area feel like a park. I really like the fountains and manicured shrubbery, and I don’t mind the turf (which has become the controversial focal point of the project for fans). To me, it looks fine and was part of a necessary compromise.
Ultimately, though, I think the jury is still out until the center of the Hub is complete. The Hub used to look great when there were denser trees there, and while I know that level of greenery is unlikely, more foliage would be nice. There is great potential to make this area feel less like a sea of concrete as it did before, and I really hope Disney avails itself of this opportunity.
Aside from this project, all is relatively quiet in Magic Kingdom, and I suspect this will be the case in terms of huge projects for the foreseeable future as other parks (rightfully) receive attention so they can draw some of the crowds away from the Magic Kingdom. In the interim, I hope the team running the Magic Kingdom will focus on maintenance and champion its smaller attractions–even on a meager budget, there are a few attractions that could be noticeably improved upon (Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, Fantasyland dark rides, etc.). The Magic Kingdom deserves a breathtaking E-Ticket people-eater, but equally important is what’s already there looking wonderful again if the park’s management wants to attain the ‘flagship’ distinction that the Magic Kingdom deserves.
I never thought I would type these words: I’m looking forward to spending time at Disney Springs. I was there (at Downtown Disney) on 3 separate occasions during my recent trip, which is unheard of for me. In fact, there was a period of several years after Pleasure Island closed that I didn’t go there at all.
Disney Springs certainly hasn’t “arrived” yet, but it is progressing nicely, and seems to have turned a corner in terms of the obtrusiveness of the construction. It’s now to the point where small chunks of it have congealed into a near-finished state, and those pockets look great.
Equally as important, Disney has started announced some of the concepts coming to Disney Springs, and many of the restaurants are interesting and unique concepts. The Indiana Jones-inspired Hangar Bar is the most interesting concept to me, but the pleasant surprise is that even the non-Disney locales will be relatively unique, rather than being common, popular chains.
Where I think Disney Springs will succeed is in being more than an upscale shopping mall with some Disney flourishes. This isn’t because of the backstory (which I think will be conveniently ignored in areas of Disney Springs) but because the overall design will be cohesive and inviting, and the number of unique draws will be sufficient to set it apart. Sure, there will be places where it’ll look like Disney’s take on a fancy outdoor mall, but I think largely, it looks like it will be able to differentiate itself enough that it’s not simply a mall.
Where Disney Springs will likely fail is if it doesn’t open a ShowBiz Pizza Place. For those of you who aren’t cool and don’t know what this is, think of it as the classier cousin of Chuck-E-Cheese.
Overall, I am really optimistic about the future of Walt Disney World. Some might attribute this to my inveterate optimism, some might think I’m wearing rose-colored glasses. My excitement centers mostly around Animal Kingdom, which I think is really about to come into its own and draw a whole slew of new fans. I’m also really optimistic about the long-term prospects for the Studios.
We fans can–justifiably–complain about the current pace of construction, and I think progress has mostly been slow in the past because the resort has been viewed as “mature” in business terms. With the number of large projects potentially on the horizon, I’m not so sure this view of Walt Disney World as mature remains the prevailing line of thought. I know it’s a ways off, but I think Walt Disney World will look radically different from the place we know today upon its 50th Anniversary in 2021.
All of this excitement is tempered by the reality of the experience in the here and now. Looking forward to 2021 or some other far-off date overlooks the fact that right now, things aren’t where they should be given the high cost of a Walt Disney World vacation. The Studios is a mess with its long-existing deficiencies exacerbated by the closure of more attractions. Animal Kingdom is still a couple years away from really being great. Epcot looks good, but it’s probably not going to get the help it needs as long as food & booze sales keep it going strong on the balance sheets.
Despite that, I am excited. I am optimistic. Foolhardy, too, perhaps. I think we are on the cusp of a development boom for at least 2 of the parks that will wholly transform them. So long as that boom doesn’t come at the expense of the “little things” elsewhere, I think Walt Disney World is on the right course. For me, it’s about the long game, and I think that long term, things should be pretty good.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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If you’ve been to Walt Disney World recently, what do you think about its current state and its future? Are you optimistic about things? Pessimistic? What excites you the most about the future of the parks? What disappoints you? I’d love to hear your takes on the present and future of WDW, so if you have any thoughts, post them in the comments
One big thing that Has to go, and would make Tommorowland instantly better, is getting rid of Tommorowland Speedway. It’s a big waste of space. I know it has nostalgia appeal, and my kids can’t wait to ride it, but as soon as they do, their reaction = EH.
Love Mine Train, and Be Our Guest, and even the hub is fine.
Other than ToT and SciFi DineInn, HS is the first park to scrub if we can’t visit all 4.
Still love Epcot, prob because I’m a big foodie/drinker.
And excited both for AK and Springs.
I agree with you about Tomorrowland. Carousel needs some TLC and it’s high time to do something about the Speedway. It felt dated and out of place to me in 1985.
Team WDW had the chance to have that large E Ticket drawing attraction equal to Radiator Springs Racers at DCA with the Seven Dwarves Mine Cart ride. In my views it came out more like a “seeing eye single” in baseball terms.
There is so much that needs to be fixed at WDW but with that being said it still is a wonderful place to vacation. I hope they repair Epcot’s Journey Into Imagination and Hollywood Studios in general. I personally love the resort feeling I get at Disneyworld and that’s what keeps me coming back. The Magic Kingdom is still a very special place and I’m thankful for that.
With all that said, we just got back from Disneyland and I have to say that all three of the new entertainment offerings (Disneyland Forever Fireworks, Paint the Night Parade, and World of Color Celebrate) all exceeded my expectations. I agree with you that it didn’t compare to RDCT fireworks but it still was so much fun. When will MK at WDW change out Wishes? It’s soooo time for it to move on.
Tom, as always, good article. We are headed to WDW in Sept. Been about 2 years since our last trip. Your opinions give me a good idea of what to expect.
Showbiz Pizza would obviously make Disney Springs complete. I worked at a Showbiz Pizza in the mid 80’s. It was fun but you got real tired of hearing the songs. I even got to wear the Billy Bob costume on occasion, although I was really too tall for it.
We made our first visit to WDW in May 2015. I can’t say that I thought of Tomorrow Land as “dirty”, but we didn’t spend much time there. It was certainly lack-luster (the reason we didn’t spend much time there) compared to the rest of the park. My 4yo son LOVES Miles from Tomorrowland (on Disney Jr.) and “space” (as much as he knows about it for a 4yo)! Disney needs to tap into that and give it a redesign in my opinion.
Interesting that you haven’t commented on the “state of the Fastpass” and how it has affected park touring. Our family was rewarded by early park admission and hustling for fastpass tickets. We would often leave the park, handing out unused fast passes to families entering late. The new fastpass + system has us waiting in 25 minute fastpass lines. I’d love to hear your thoughts…
I took my family on their first visit to WDW in June 2013. I had been twice as a child, but it was my first time as an adult and first time to DAK. As someone who grew up and still lives 8 miles from Disneyland, I agree that WDW>DLR but DL>MK. The sheer size of WDW immerses a visitor in a way that DLR will never be able to achieve. But the upkeep and improvements to DL in the post-Pressler era I feel make it a nicer park than MK, even with the small size.
We found DHS to be our least favorite park on our trip. It didn’t help that it was the rainiest day of our trip, but we made it an early day.
Epcot was our second-least favorite, though to be fair, we had to rush through a lot in order to make dining reservations and Fast-Pass appointments. Future World needs help and you and the other commenters are spot on.
Animal Kingdom was our favorite. The theming was amazing (with the exception of Dino-rama) and is the main reason I want to go back. I am already planning a late 2017 visit in order to see holiday decor, do the private safari, and see Avatarland (could really care less about Avatar, but I admit it will probably look amazing).
Great stuff again Tom, as usual.
I’m very happy about you’re coming back around on Downtown Disney/Disney Springs.
That means we’ll get more future articles/reviews from you about it’s restaurants & bars.
For those that didn’t dig deep on the Showbiz fan site Tom posted.
When Showbiz tanked… fans bought up the animatronics “The Rockafire explosion”..and hacked the codes and made their own Rockafire garage bands. Youtube search Rockafire.
Here’s a good one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUbPVhACSAA
I think this begs the question: there were fans of Showbiz Pizza?!
Of all the Disney World parks, Hollywood Studios is in most need of some serious work.
The sad thing is, it does have some truly great elements. But it boils down to something like 35% amazing, 15% okay, and %50 devoid space/waste of potential. I can’t find it in me to dislike the place… Some of my favorite attractions in Disney World are there. But there is so much… nothing. Every time they close something there, it leaves such an impact. It wouldn’t be so bad if they would at least create something meaningful in it’s place.
Taking the “studios” out of the Studios; cutting the animation department and getting rid of the other elements that made MGM/Hollywood Studios a real working studio was the beginning of the end of the relevance of this park as a whole. Sure, they have added rides and attractions since then, but this park really needs a rehaul and I dare say the park needs to be rethemed entirely. The backlot/behind-the-scenes/pretending-to-be-a-working-studios the scenes areas just don’t work. (Some of the relics in the boneyard of the now closed Backlot Tour need to be in a museum or climate controlled environment, not rotting in the Florida sun.) Even little details such as directional signs seem uninspired and dull. Yes, the park does need new rides, but even really small details can make a huge difference.
I think we will see substantial placemaking to clean up or eliminate the studios “theme” when the park is renamed as Disney’s Hollywood Adventure.
Interesting thoughts on Magic Kingdom. I’m a new fan of Disney parks. Visited WDW in Nov. 2014 and spent 1 day at Disneyland this past week as part of PCH road trip. I was expecting to really prefer Disneyland as I have often heard it described as more quaint and charming, and I LOVE quaint and charming. I had a really good experience in both castle parks, but I have to give the edge to MK. It might boil down to crowds. Because Disneyland is smaller, the crowds felt unbearable in the evening and even into the night. We were still hardly able to move freely at 11pm when we gave up and left. There were several occasions during parade times that we were truly stuck in a sea of people. We kept trying to break through only to be told we had to turn around”swim” back through the crowds. The open layout of MK feels a lot less claustrophobic to me. I now you don’t agree, but I also felt like the cast members were more over the top amazing at MK. Don’t get me wrong, Disneyland has great, friendly people working for them, but I felt like WDW’s cast members were aggressively welcoming (especially w/ our 2 small kids). I’m not a long time visitor of the parks, but I too feel Tomorrowland is the weak link in both parks. However, the People Mover alone gives MK the edge here for me. There were a few things I did prefer at Disneyland such as stumbling upon characters just walking around vs. having to use a FP to get anywhere near one. I was also blown away by the night time parade, which we watched while riding the teacups a few times in a row with no line. and the fireworks. I enjoy your insight on the parks. Also, what do you think the chances are of Tomorrowland or Future World receiving an overhaul based around the recent film. My parents saw it opening weekend and were given a questionnaire asking about whether they would be interested in visiting a Tomorrowland world in a theme park. I thought that was interesting.
Theoretically, the size differences between Magic Kingdom and Disneyland should be offset by capacity differences. In other words, Magic Kingdom has more space, but Disneyland has great capacity (more attractions, more lines, etc.). This doesn’t hold up for the nighttime entertainment, when Disneyland is undoubtedly more chaotic, but if you go at similarly-busy times of the year, you should not notice much of a difference between the two parks.
Well, that really harshed my mellow. LOL. My husband and I took our then 3-year-old daughter to Disney World last year and had a great time. We decided to go again now that she will be 4.5, in the hopes that she will be able to ride more rides this time (she’s short). We decided against AK because we thought it wasn’t that much of a draw for her, despite the animals. I love EPCOT and am always excited to go back, and I think DHS has a few neat things for a preschooler.
We also thought about nixing our usual excursion to DTD for the first time. In September 2014, it was a mess, and I’m still bitter about them getting rid of Pleasure Island and the wonderful Adventurers’ Club (No, I will NOT shut up about that!). I really don’t find the shopping to be all that exhilarating, especially because one can get a lot of shopping done at the other parks. Do you think Disney Springs will be worth it this September?
Did you venture over to the Polynesian on your last trip? Because I wonder what your thoughts and opinions are on the new and refurbished Poly. As long time Poly fan, I am a bit disappointed by the new look (mostly due to loss of nostalgia), but understood why some of the changes needed to be done. Still love the resort though. I was there from June 3-7 and thoroughly enjoyed myself there, especially at the new and improved pool area.
I stayed at the Bora Bora Bungalows. Review will be up soon with more to follow later.