Over-Rated Disney World
Disney World is a big place with lots to see and do. There is bound to be something to appeal to everyone. And everything appeals to someone… although some times it’s hard to imagine who. Passionate Disney World fans have formed strong opinions about what constitutes a “must do” Disney experience. Not surprisingly, some experiences have become over-rated while others remain over-looked.
What follows is my list of over-rated Disney World experiences. I will follow-up with a list of experiences I consider hidden gems.
First, let me establish some criteria. I’m borrowing this topic from The Disney Tourist Blog. Tom put together an interesting list. But I disagree with several of his entries. In my opinion, his definition of what it means to be over-rated is too flexible. Some of his choices aren’t so much over-rated as they are over-priced or guilty of having long lines.
For my purposes, I am going to define over-rated based on what I perceive to be an overall consensus among Disney fans. Admittedly, this is extremely subjective. The people I talk to about Disney may have completely different opinions about things than the people you hear from. So while something may be over-rated in my circle of Disney friends, it may be under-rated in yours.
With that out of the way, these are the things I think are over-rated in Disney World:
Staying on Property
More often than not, we stay on property when we go to Disney World. It’s expensive, but with young children it has been worth it to us. We enjoy being immersed in the “magic” for the duration of our stay. And it’s nice not to have to worry about transportation.
However, a lot of Disney fans will tell you that staying on property is the ONLY way to experience Disney World. They will make it sound like staying off property will ruin your entire vacation. That is very far from true.
Staying off property allows you to save some money (often a substantial amount when meals are included) and not have to deal with crowded buses. And many are located as close to the parks as Disney’s on property hotels.
I enjoy staying on property as much as the next guy. But it’s not for everybody. It’s certainly not for every budget.
The Disney Dining Plan
The appeal of the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is obvious. for a set price, you don’t have to worry about budgeting for meals. Food at Disney World is expensive, so anything that takes the stress out of budgeting for meals has to be a good thing. Right?
Disney fans will talk about how convenient the plan is. They like that they can pay for everything up front and “not worry” about paying for their meals. Many will talk about how much money they save on the plan and that it has allowed them to eat at restaurants typically outside of their budget.
We have used the dining plan twice and I have to say I do not find it all that “convenient”. You pay for everything up front and then the obligation is on you to make the most of your credits. You are obligated to eat tremendous amounts of food or your investment goes to waste. On both trips, we found ourselves having sit-down meals when we weren’t really hungry. But we showed up because the meals were already paid for.
Which brings me to the “savings”. When the dining plan was originally introduced, there was a built-in savings. But little by little, Disney has chipped away at the plan to the point where for most people it is a break-even proposition at best.
It is still possible to save money on the plan. If you would typically eat this quantity of food and would order one of the two most expensive items on the menu at every meal, you can come out ahead on the dining plan. But most people paying out-of-pocket would not do that.
This has had unintended consequences. To make the dining plan more attractive, Disney has jacked up the prices on food across the board. Those paying out-of-pocket are now subsidizing the dining plan. Meanwhile, the menus have been dumbed down over time with the most expensive items removed.
As with anything, you should do the math before committing to the dining plan. It may turn out to be a good fit for your family. But if the numbers don’t overwhelmingly favor the dining plan, I would recommend paying out-of-pocket. That way you have the freedom to skip a meal without feeling like you have gotten ripped off.
The “Free Dining” Discount
Don’t get me wrong, I love discounts. But a lot of Disney fans out there base their annual trips around when they expect this particular discount to be offered. I have seen people complain that if Disney didn’t offer “free dining” during their stay, they would cancel or reschedule.
The thing about Disney discounts is that by and large the hotel rooms and dining are over-priced. The discounts currently bring the price down to what is reasonable. In reality, Disney doesn’t offer terrific savings. They offer a relief from the usual gouging.
The reason I single out the “Free Dining” discount from other offers is that people perceive it to be a greater value than it actually is. For one thing, the dining is not really free. It’s true you will get to participate in the DDP without a line item appearing on your bill. But there is still a cost. And that cost is that you will pay the over-inflated price for your hotel. It’s robbing Peter to offer Paul a discount.
Frequently, Disney will offer room discounts which would save travellers more money than the Free Dining offer. But there is something so appealing about free food that many travelers never stop to do the math. Add in the fact that the Dining Plan itself is a bit of false savings and it’s no wonder the “Free Dining” Discount is over-rated.
Park hopping is great. But it’s not for everyone. You would never know that from the way some fans talk though.
For a price, the Park Hopper option allows you to visit more than one park per day. The freedom the Park Hopper option allows is definitely appealing. Especially considering the reputation some of the parks have as “half-day” parks.
But that freedom comes at a price. Over the course of a long visit, the price per day is relatively modest. But during a shorter stay, the price per day of the Park Hopper becomes rather steep. Add to that the fact that the act of Park Hopping requires time – another valuable resource on an expensive vacation.
Put simply, Park Hopping is worth it if you make use of it. Otherwise, it’s just an unneeded expense.
With those broad categories out of the way, I’m going to look at some specific categories.
Most Over-rated Park
The Magic Kingdom
This is really a two-park race. The Magic Kingdom and Epcot are the most popular parks. Few would name Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom as their favorites.
I can see an argument for either Epcot or Magic Kingdom as the most over-rated. Both parks have their flaws. Epcot has grown stale and abandoned its original concept in favor of thrill rides that don’t deliver much in the way of thrills. But ultimately, I settled on the Magic Kingdom.
The Magic Kingdom is the heart and soul of Disney World. Many use the terms interchangeably. The idea of visiting Disney World without stopping by the Magic Kingdom is blasphemous to many fans. I have heard people say that their trip has not started until they have walked down Main Street and seen the castle.
As much as I love the Magic Kingdom, you can’t ignore the fact that it is every bit as stale Epcot. The Fantasyland Expansion has done little to address the fact that Disney hasn’t done much to freshen the place up over the last decade. The last true e-ticket at Disney flagship park was Splash Mountain. The park is starting to feel less like a place for “children of all ages” and more like a place for children with their parents in tow.
There’s still a lot of magic in the Magic Kingdom. But as the most popular park by far, it can’t help but be the most over-rated.
Most Over-rated Ride
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is one of the most popular thrill rides on property. If you want a coaster with inversions, it’s the only game in town at Disney World. There is no denying it’s a fun ride.
However, the ride is incredibly short. The pre-show is more than twice as long as the ride itself. The theming isn’t really up to Disney standards. It’s basically a short coaster in the dark with Aerosmith tunes blaring.
From a personal point of view, we have a similar coaster at my regional amusement park which is better than Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in just about every way. Kings Island’s Flight of Fear even has pretty decent theming.
But even if you don’t have a superior ride in your own back yard, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster comes up a little short.
Test Track used to be my standard answer to most over-rated ride, but I haven’t experienced version 2.0. Soarin’ is also a contender for most over-rated – especially given its ridiculous wait times. Toy Story Mania also has ridiculous wait times, but it doesn’t get the same high praise that Soarin’ does.
Most Over-rated Show
Fantasmic! has some pretty spectacular effects. It’s no wonder that the show continues to attract large crowds night after night. Without it, Hollywood Studios really is a half-day park as Disney likely discovered when they stopped having nightly showings.
But as great as some parts of Fantasmic! are, the show is really long in the tooth. It is common to hear of technical problems. It puts undue focus on the animated offerings from the 90s when the show was new. And it has one long and bewildering sequence where Mickey dreams about Pocohantas for no particular reason.
Fantasmic! is in desperate need of an overhaul or an outright replacement. But Disney has been too cheap to pay for much-needed updates or a replacement. And the park is sorely lacking without its night-time spectacular.
As the most lauded show on property, I considered Festival of the Lion King. But I think for the most part, the show earns its distinction as the best show. I sympathize with the argument that it is basically a sing-along. But the acrobatics and theatrics put it ahead of the other in-park offerings.
Having said that, if I were to create a separate category for night-time shows, I would have to give Festival of the Lion King the distinction of being the most over-rated show offered during the day.
Most Over-rated Meet and Greet
Okay, this one is pretty random. For the most part, meet and greets are all the same. They depend on the interactions between the guest and the character. So it’s hard to rank them. For this one, I am basing it on the length of the wait. Tink tends to have abnormally large lines even during the off-season.
Most Over-rated Hotel
The Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian is considered Disney World’s flagship resort and it has a price to match. Having never stayed there, I can’t speak directly to the experience. But I can say with relative certainty that if you are looking for luxury, your dollars will go farther staying off site.
That is generally true of all on-property resorts. But the GF lacks the exotic theme of some of the other resorts. It sells itself as Disney’s luxury resort. As such, it begs comparison with other hotels more so than Port Orleans or the Polynesian which have no counter-part outside of Disney World.
It’s hard for me to imagine ever spending the money to stay at the GF when there are so many more fun hotels out there at a lower price. Especially when other hotels beat the Grand Floridian at its own game as a luxury resort.
I also considered the Contemporary for similar reasons. But it doesn’t have the distinction of being the flagship of the resort.
Most Over-rated Restaurant
Le Cellier in the Canada Pavillion in Epcot slowly became a stand-out among Disney dining choices. As word spread, it became difficult to get a reservation. Disney responded to this success by changing the menu and raising the prices. It is now considered signature dining for lunch and dinner. But while Le Cellier offers a decent steak, it falls short of the standard one expects from signatur dining.
Little by little, fans seem to be catching on that Le Cellier is no longer the same deal it once was. It may not even qualify as over-rated in the near future as fans abandon it. But up until recently, fans placed too high a premium on the hard-to-get reservations.
This is one of those categories where you could argue in favor of just about any restaurant. As I mentioned above, Disney dining as a whole is over-rated. Other restaurants that stand-out to me as being potentially over-rated are: O’Hana, Chef Mickey’s and the Libert Tree Tavern.
Most Over-Rated Snack
The Dole Whip
There is an entire subculture among Disney World fans that worship at the altar of the Dole Whip. It’s pineapple soft-serve, people! In this case, I think the fact that these treats are unavailable outside of Disney parks has driven people crazy.
A close runner-up would be the turkey leg. There’s nothing appetizing about these meaty snacks as far as I’m concerned. I could also see an argument for the Mickey Bar which is basically just a Mickey-shaped Dove bar. But it doesn’t have the same fanaticism as the Dole Whip.
That concludes my look at what’s over-rated in Disney World. In the not-too-distant future, I’ll take a look at what’s under-rated. Until then, what do you find over-rated at WDW?