The Happiest Rip-Off on Earth

Monday, 24 January 2011 07:12 by The Lunatic

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.


Comments (9) -

April 6. 2011 08:35

It sounds like you didn't do much planning for your visit and went during a peak time arriving later in the morning.  If you ever decide to go again, I highly recommend the Unofficial Guide to Disney book or  They will help you do more for your money.  Any holiday weekend is a peak time at Disney.  We specifically go during off-peak times.  Even during peak times though, we will use the fastpass machines and have a plan to see and do all of the major attractions.  Fastpasses don't make lines longer.  Without them, those same people would be in line with you.  And it doesn't do anything to add to capacity.  I have never spent a day at Disney only going on four rides, even at times when Splash Mountain was a 2 hour wait.  And I have gone at peak times like July and NYE.  Our last trip was in November at an off-peak time, and no line (other than Toy Story, which is a MAJOR attraction with long lines all day every day), was over 20 minutes.  

The prices are expensive, but they were $45 in the 80's.  Everything else has doubled.  BUT if you stay for about a week or so, the prices get about $30 a day.  Where else can you go on vacation and spend only that to see all Disney has to offer, which you didn't really get to see.  Go to another city and add up museum and zoo and amusement park prices and see if you can spend that little.  

I agree the kids' pricing is not that great, but they are able to ride almost all of the Disney rides, unlike some other theme parks.  But any other theme park only gives about a $10 discount for kids too, and they start charging for an adult at age 10 at Busch Gardens and others.  I think 12 is more reasonable.  A 16-year old should not have kid pricing when they eat and ride like adults.

I will agree Disney is more corporate than it used to be.  Theme Parks are pricey and the gift shops get old.  But Disney still gives me a lot of bang for my buck if I plan well.  That's why people keep coming and it is so busy.  


September 30. 2011 07:48

Wow, this shows an amazing lack of planning on so many levels. Visit FL at the height of tourist season, then complain about crowds. Show up late to the park and whine that they didn't get the FastPass times they wanted. Buy full priced day passes, instead of discount or bundled deals then get mad at the price. How does this family function?


September 30. 2011 11:10

I have only been to Walt Disney World 15 times and yes they are very busy pretty much year around but with good planning you can just about see everything you want . Yes the price is high but if you have a good and really do things right and not jump from side of the park to another that takes to much time and a waste of money . If you are there when they first open and stay all day till close you got your moneys worth and still be able to enjoy some of the good food they have there. Yes when you go like at Christmas time the place is over busy but you must expect that and do what I do plan to stay for more days and just first take in the shows and rides that you really want and the rest is just good extra fun. Well anyway one thing will never change there I hope is the Magic when you walk through those doors and see that very special castle that brings so much alive in the hearts of the people it always has that special Magic that brings the kid out of you no matter what age you are .     Thank You     Russ

russell leason

September 30. 2011 17:34

Thanks for the unfortunate account of your visit to the Happiest Place on Earth. Their is a silver lining to this though. Simply twist it into a helpful trip planning guide by renaming it "What NOT to do on your trip to Walt Disney World". That being said, it IS possible to have a happy, fun-filled & cost effective trip to Disney by making a few corrections.

1) DO NOT go to Disney on a holiday weekend.
2) DO NOT go to the Magic Kingdom on a Saturday, try Monday or Friday instead.
3) DO arrive at opening to get the earliest Fast Passes. Oh, and as soon as Disney Studios opens, head DIRECTLY for Toy Story Mania FIRST.
3.5) I've heard that Fast Pass times are not necessarily a hard & fast rule. I've heard people say many times that they pretty much use them anytime of the day. However, on the flip side of this, I've also heard Disney is thinking of enforcing the times, which I personally believe they should. Otherwise what's the point.
4) DO Time your trip to take advantage of Free Dining Plans & other specials when offered.
5) If going during Halloween or Christmas seasons (STAY AWAY the week of Christmas though! Busy Busy Busy), DO buy additional tickets for Mickey's Not So Very Scary or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas parties. Towards the end of these evenings you can literally walk on rides especially if you go during a parade or fireworks. We once rode Pirates of the Caribbean completely by ourselves, not kidding!
6) DO take your kids to Disney when all the other kids are in school. I know this isn't always an option, but it is a fact that makes complete sense when you think about it. It's not too big a deal when they're younger. As they grow up with more homework it gets a little trickier.
7) Research, Research, Research! Books, the internet, podcasts, etc.. It's fun too!

Going this coming Jan. 28, 5th time, Fort Wilderness Cabins, FREE Dining PLan, with the family for 10 days. To say I'm excited is putting it mildly.


May 23. 2012 05:10

Many people say, "It's my vacation. I don't have a lot of flexibility with the kids' school schedule. I want to sleep in. I want to go to the park when I want to go. I don't want to have to plan ahead and make a tightly scheduled list. I just to relax." In that case, I recommend a Caribbean cruise... or a resort. You want to sit out by the beach or pool and chill, go somewhere where you can do that. Disney World will eat you and your family alive with that approach. That's when you'll get stuck in the four hour line with hungry, screaming, cranky kids at an eye-popping cost.

If you want to have a fabulous time at Disney World, you can, but you do have to plan ahead and do everything all the above commenters are saying.


May 23. 2012 08:20

Man, get off this guy's back about the planning!!! If I were to take a vacation to Disney, I wouldn't think about planning ahead every single ride and every show. Going somewhere like Six Flags, or another, lesser park, requires no planning at all. Of course he NOW knows that he'll have to plan ahead, but hindsight is always 20/20.
To say, you should have planned ahead better, or don't go on a holiday or weekend is rubbish. You all are speaking with experience. I know damn well the average person doesn't sit at his computer for months ahead, going, "Ok, on Monday at 9:03 we'll rush to get there, at 9:22, we'll jump out and rush to the ticket counter, at 9:44 we'll all split up and go...." NOBODY DOES THAT!!! You are taking a VACATION!!!! You are supposed to RELAX! Sure, Disney isn't the place to go for relaxation, but let's be honest, you go to Disney for your kids. Didn't any of y'all see Vacation?????
Dear Half-Baked Lunatic,
I applaud your effort, I feel your pain. Don't let these folks make you think you're really that much of a schmuck. This sounds exactly like a trip I'd take, and I DO PLAN AHEAD to an annoying level!! All these folks do have good advice, I'm not bashing any of their suggestions, but again, hindsight....
I wish you luck on your next trip, and I hope you'll choose something more beautiful and less corporate, like the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, etc.
But hold you head high, you gave your kids their Disney trip. You, sir, would make Clark W. Griswold very proud.

Ryan Boswell

May 23. 2012 11:14

Haha, you clearly are not a very good vacation planner! have been o Disney World 6 times and each time has been tons of fun! (one time was in december and it rained the entire time, but I think that was my favorite visit!)

I think your expierence was ruined by your lack of planning and lack of research on the place. There are great deals if you just look. And fast passes, I have been to Disneyland(which is where i live by) on full capicity days during summer, and have never waited more than an hour for rides, so either you went when a ride was just opening, or you are exagerating on time. And I've never seen a fast pass run out until 2 oclock, unless it was the opening month of a new attraction.

Soure: Passholder for 18 years, and now a Disneyland Cast Member


May 23. 2012 11:21

@Ryan Boswell

Seriously? Before spending thousands of dollars on a vacation, you wouldn't spend 5 minutes googling best time to visit Disneyworld? I would do that with any vacation! And you would google deals? I feel as if that is common sense haha

Besides, The differene between Disney and six flags is that you are garunteed safty so long as you follow the rules. Thats why six flags has shootings, rapes, and robbery and disneyland doesn't.

Also here's a tip for lines for adults: Catch Phrase: game that costs $5 dollars but provides fun enetertainment, and for small kids, get them light up shoes(they have fun stopping around in them) or let them bring a doll.


May 24. 2012 01:28

Thanks Ryan ... actually, our planning was just fine. The biggest surprise was that we had no idea the crowds would be that bad in mid-January, even with the holiday.

I don't care how much "planning" you do, if you pay that much money and only get a couple of rides, it's a rip off!

The Lunatic

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