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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

aoa exterior

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.

DisneyParkHopperImage

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

princess(14)

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

Fantasmic!

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

Tinker Bell

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

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

dole whip

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?

More on Disney World

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Posted on February 18, 2013, in theme parks, Walt Disney World and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. A lot of this is, of course, about context.
    – The Rock’n’Roller Coaster would never make anyone’s list of top 20 American roller coasters, but heck, it’s a fun roller coaster in a park that has no other coasters and only one other thrill ride. I’m gonna ride it and enjoy it every time I go to Hollywood Studios.
    – I usually really enjoy Dole Whips, but this time I was a little squirrelly because we spent so much time waiting on them. I woofed mine down so fast that I really didn’t allow myself to enjoy it.

    As far as stuff that I have found disappointing based on other peoples’ enthusiastic opinions:
    – While I enjoyed what I saw of the Candlelight Processional, the build up it gets is a little over the top. It was okay. I’m certainly glad I didn’t wait all night for a “good” seat.
    – Test Track was fun, but I’m glad I didn’t wait a long time for it. I’m not really a big car guy to begin with.
    – I see LOTS of on-line love for Toy Story Mania. People consider it a “must do,” but I just can’t agree. It’s fun enough, but if I wanted to play a video game, I could do that at home.
    – Space Ranger Spin isn’t any better, really. I like cool special effects and animatronics, which it doesn’t have. The dayglo flats of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride were better. Also, the accuracy and scoring of the guns are highly suspect.
    – I was super impressed by the animatronics at The American Adventure, but the tone of the last five minutes or so of the show borders on jingoism. If I was from someplace else, I would find it awfully pompous and egotistical.
    – Based on my comments here, I’d have to say that EPCOT is the most overrated of the parks. It needs serious refurbishment.

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    • You are right about context. Hollywood Studios really can’t spare any of its rides. It needs every ride it can get. I certainly wouldn’t want it removed from the park. It serves a purpose there.

      Having said that, I skip it more often than not. Squeezing in thrill rides is a bit of a challenge when traveling with little ones who can’t or won’t ride them. You have to make your thrill rides count. R’n’R loses that battle every time. Especially with Flight of Fear only 20 minutes away 6 months out of the year.

      Tom called it an unthemed coaster in the dark. Which is fine. But Disney can and should do better.

      I’m not a car guy either. So we’re probably not the target audience for Test Track. The old version was pretty drab save for the victory loop at the end. And even that isn’t all that much more thrilling than riding in a convertible. Lines are typically long and the ride breaks down a lot. Meh. The new version looks like they added some Tron lights, but not a lot else.

      Like R’n’R, it’s in a park that needs every ride it can get. But when I ride it, I’m passing time.

      I really haven’t seen anywhere near that level of love for TSM. Mostly, I have heard people say it is fun and that FastPasses go quickly. It becomes a “must do” for some because the park lacks rides without a height restriction. The other rides that little kids are allowed to ride are freqquently too scary for them. So by default, TSM becomes the most accessible ride for a lot of families.

      I have said it before and I’ll say it again, Hollywood Studios desperately needs more family-friendly rides. A couple of high capacity C or D-tickets would do nicely.

      I have seen even less love for Space Ranger Spin. Since TSM opened, I hear the word “redundant” a lot. But back in the day, it was definitely over-rated. Once again, Kings Island has an alternative that is at least equal to Buzz.

      But like I said, everyone hears different chatter. If I heard a bunch of praise for Space Ranger Spin, it would definitely have made my list.

      Amazingly, I have never seen American Adventure. There is no way I could get the kids to sit through that. I haven’t seen Hall of Presidents since the Bush era for the same reason.

      I can see an argument for Epcot as the most over-rated park. I definitely considered it. It’s flaws are more glaring than Magic Kingdom’s. But I went with MK because I think it is most people’s favorite park. And many consider it unskippable but would skip Epcot without much hesitation.

      Any thoughts on over-rated dining experiences?

      I am looking forward to under-rated experiences far more than listing things that I consider over-rated. It’s more fun to celebrate the lesser gems than to deflate the over-praised.

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  2. I see and hear a lot of folks who rubber-stamp a meal at The Crystal Palace, but the one experience I had there was seriously underwhelming. I’m sure part of the gap is my mild aversion to interacting with costumed characters. The Crystal Palace is a character dining experience with a buffet. The building is beautiful and definitely an icon of the park, but I’d personally prefer that they make it a table service restaurant. I guess that would leave Cinderella’s Royal Table as the only character meal in the MK, which would be too little, but I’m speaking selfishly here.

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    • I have never actually eaten at Crystal Palace, so I can’t offer much of an opinion. I have definitely heard the praise and I could easily see the experience falling short.

      Character meals are what they are. The food usually isn’t great. More often than not it’s passable. If you aren’t going for the atmosphere and the character interactions, you should be eating somewhere else.

      We ate at Chef Mickey’s last trip and I was torn. The food was okay. I found a few items that were good. But on the whole, the meal was only slightly better than eating at a Golden Corral.

      I could easily call the meal over-rated based on the dining experience, the price and how hard it is to get reservations there. Many consider it a must-do which it isn’t.

      But, my kids had the best time with the characters that night. We laughed throughout our meal. Everyone agreed Chef Mickey’s was one of the highlights of the trip even if the food was unspectacular.

      Magic Kingdom needs to open up a few more restaurants, period. Be Our Guest sounds like a great addition. But they should add more. And they should probably bring the characters back to dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern.

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      • Oh please no. I actually like eating at Liberty Tree Tavern and would not care for that comfortable, relaxing experience to be interrupted by Goofy in a coon-skin cap or whatever other weird thing they’d have walking about the place.

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        • I figured that would be the reaction. 😉 No worries. It’s not going to happen. Disney figured out they could save on payroll by cutting the characters. Also, tables turn over faster when guests aren’t sticking around to see that last character.

          I have heard good things about LTT’s lunch offerings. But we were pretty unimpressed with the dinner platter. It was a nice, relaxing atmosphere. But the food was only so-so. With no characters to entertain us, I can’t imagine why anyone would pay the asking price for dinner.

          I’d like to see a Fab 5 meal back in the MK, but not at the cost of the existing character meals. Character or otherwise, MK still needs some more dining options. The sad thing is, they have some they could reopen if they wanted to.

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      • LTT is not one of the top overall dining experiences at the Disney World parks, but I’d still rank it second at MK behind the new Be Our Guest restaurant. Restaurants just aren’t particularly strong in that park. Lunch provides for more food choices at LTT, so that is better for most little kids.

        Of the park restaurants I’ve been to, I’d rank my top 10 as:
        1. Hollywood Brown Derby (DHS)
        Food: A Atmosphere: A
        2. Be Our Guest (MK)
        Food: A- Atmosphere: A+
        3. Yak & Yeti (DAK)
        Food: A Atmosphere: B
        4. Marrakesh (EP)
        Food: B Atmosphere: A
        5. 50’s Prime Time Cafe (DHS)
        Food: B+ Atmosphere: B+
        6. Les Chefs de France (EP)
        Food: B Atmosphere: B+
        7. Liberty Tree Tavern (MK)
        Food: B- Atmosphere: B+
        8. San Angel Inn (EP)
        Food: B- Atmosphere: B+
        9. Sci-Fi Dine-In (DHS)
        Food: C- Atmosphere: A
        10. Plaza Restaurant (MK)
        Food: C Atmosphere: C+

        Just like your little girls inform where you end up eating, my dining choices have often been guided by groups that have been heavy on 39-70 year olds with typically just one child. Hopefully on any future trips I’ll be able to mix in a couple of new spots.

        Oops! That is becoming sort of like a full post topic! But I don’t think I have enough experience in eating at enough of the park restaurants to write something like that. So I’ll stop where I am.

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        • That is dangerously close to a post.

          Ranking dining options at MK is kind of pointless. I have only eaten at two sit down restaurants in MK and foodwise neither one was all that impressive. I agree with your B- food rating at LTT. Breakfast at the castle was about the same. We had better meals at counter service restaurants.

          The atmosphere at LTT is great. I can see how that and the fact the platter is all you care to eat could appeal to folks. It strikes me as a great lunch option. Dinner is too expensive for what it is, IMHO.

          I agree with a lot of your rankings. We have eaten at Sci Fi twice and had good food both times. But I have heard from people who had bad experiences. Word is the food had improved with a new menu.

          I am actually planning to talk about dining quite a bit in the under-rated Diseny series. I had so many under-rated items, I’m going to expand it into a series rather than a single follow-up article.

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  3. The Osbourne lights are another Christmas time presentation which seems over-rated to me. “Oooooo….flashy lights!” Kind of a boring concept to my mind, but I’ll give it a bit of a pass and just say that it’s not my thing.

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    • I can’t offer an informed opinion. I haven’t seen the Osborne lights. I have definitely heard people rave about them. So unless they are really fantastic, I could see how they could be over- rated. I do look forward to seeing them myself some day.

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