No one has ever said that amusement parks are a good deal ... in fact, they are universally considered to be total rip offs.
But after spending five days in Orlando with my kids, I think that the Disney Corporation has just one goal: they are trying to perfect the art of shifting any remaining cash balance from my bank account to theirs.
Mid-January should be a good time of the year to visit Disney World, I thought. This should be the “slow” season, shouldn’t it? Even though it was a holiday last weekend (Martin Luther King Day), I didn’t think the crowds would be all that bad. On top of the holiday on Monday, my kids had two extra days off school for “teacher/staff development and training”, so we had Saturday through Wednesday – five very precious vacation days.
Unfortunately, it was so miserably crowded on Saturday (Magic Kingdom) and Sunday (Hollywood Studios) that it really was not much fun at all for the kids - much less the parents.
Then on Monday, it rained – hard – which at least thinned out the crowds somewhat. Luckily, that was the day we had selected for Animal Kingdom, which is probably the only Disney park that you can do in the rain (but many of the rides and activities were closed for at least half the day). On Tuesday we went to Epcot – the best park of the bunch, in our opinion. But even then we spent far too much time in lines to be worthwhile. It was very frustrating.
Disney World has this new scheme called the “Fast Pass” ticket. Here’s how it works: instead of waiting in line for a ride, you get this special ticket (for free!) that allows you to bypass the lines and walk right onto the ride anytime within a specified one hour window. Sounds like a great idea, right?
Wrong. Here’s the problem. Because so many people are getting on the rides using the “Fast Pass”, it actually makes the lines LONGER for everyone else who doesn’t have a Fast Pass! Theoretically, you can get a new Fast Pass every two hours – so you should be able to get four or five per day, right? Wrong again.
This was our experience: we’d show up at the park around 10:00 am and rush to get a Fast Pass for the ride we wanted to go on the most. We’d look expectantly at the ticket to see when we could go on the ride, only to be disappointed when we found that our assigned “window” was between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. So we had to wait and come back in four hours. Four hours waiting to go on a four minute ride. Ugh.
We’d then get in the regular line for our second selection, only to find that the wait time there was 90 minutes. NINETY MINUTES! That’s an hour and a half, folks. By the time we got off our first ride of the day, it was noon already.
But wait, we can get a second Fast Pass at 12:15 (two hours from when we got the first one) – so we’d rush over to a third ride, only to find that the time window printed on this ticket is between 5:30pm and 6:30pm. Yet again ... ugh.
Two hours later, when we are “eligible” for another fast pass, they are all gone for the day – and the lines are at maximum the rest of the day.
The net result of the Fast Pass tickets is that you do get one or two rides per day without having to wait in line; but because of this, they allow more people in the park (and of course, the more people that are in the park, the more money they make - they don't care if it's so crowded that no one can enjoy themselves). So the “regular” lines are much longer on average and in total you actually spend MORE time in line if you want to go on more than one or two rides. Or you just give up and skip most of the rides, wasting much of the value of the tickets that you’ve paid so dearly for.
And here’s the kicker – since you have to go back and forth between the different areas to pick up the Fast Pass, and then go back to actually get on the ride, I found that we spent a lot more time backtracking to places we’d already been to. With the Fast Pass, you can’t just take a logical “loop” around the park, starting in one area in the morning and making your way around to each section throughout the day. You have to go zig-zagging back and forth, past the shops, which are strategically placed so that you can do a little more shopping along the way.
Ahhhhh, yes. The shopping opportunities. I truly believe that the goal of every amusement park is they WANT you to only ride one or two rides, and then spend the rest of the time in the shops. It’s all such cheap junk, yet these shops are everywhere. And every single ride ends in YET ANOTHER gift shop. As far as I’m concerned, if you have to wait more than 45 minutes to get on a ride, they should give you your choice of any item from the gift shop as an apology for wasting your time!
There was one ride we really wanted to go on at the Hollywood Studios park – but they were out of the Fast Pass tickets by the time we got there at 10:00 in the morning, and the line was 220 minutes long. Three and a half hours!!! Even though this attraction was “open”, we never got to go on the ride. We had tickets that were supposed to enable us to go on all the rides at Disney; but unfortunately, just having a ticket is not good enough I guess – we needed to get there as soon as the park opened at 9:00 (which would have meant forgoing our hotel shuttle and spending an extra $30 for a cab).
Of course, there are always a few rides that are closed for maintenance. Ok, I can understand that. And the rides aren’t the only attractions, there are also the free “shows” that are scheduled throughout the day. But half the shows we wanted to see were full by the time we got there. You need to get in line 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time to get a seat for any of the better shows that are supposed to be included in your ticket price – wasting more of your precious day.
And speaking of ticket prices, here’s the biggest outrage: There was a time when an “adult” ticket was for anyone 18 years old or above. Then it was 15. Then 12. But now, with tickets to the park at an all time high, gag-me-with-a-spoon price of $87.33 for a one day pass, kids who are TEN YEARS OLD and up pay the “adult” price! What the F*^! is that all about? Since when does a ten year old kid pay the “adult” price???
And historically, the price of a kid’s ticket has always been half the price of an adult ticket, right? Nope, not any more. Tickets for children 9 and under are $78.81 – only eight dollars and fifty two cents less than an adult ticket.
Eighty seven bucks a head to stand in line all day, and get maybe four rides and one show at the most? That’s just stupid. (Ok, you do get the fireworks show at the end of the day – which was absolutely the best part of the trip)
Eighty seven bucks a head for the exclusive opportunity to shop for overpriced junk at every turn? It’s insulting.
The executives at Disney should be ashamed of themselves.
Walt Disney was a great man; one of the true creative geniuses of the last century. And while it’s true that he wanted all his artistic endeavors to be profitable, he mostly wanted raise the money so that he could fund his next big project – he always had a vision of something bigger and better. And he always wanted his customers to be happy. It’s just not that way any more.
I think that Walter would be embarrassed by what has happened to the company that bears his name.