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The big problems with Walt Disney World

Forgive me this week, for this week's entry isn't just about Hollywood Studios. Rather, I'm looking big picture here and talking about Walt Disney World as a whole.  Everyone has different things that Walt Disney World does that bothers them.  Some are big issues, some are small personal problems but we all have something that irks us about our favorite place to vacation.  It's perfectly natural to complain about something we love because we love it so much and don't want to see it going down the wrong path.

Today, I've decided to outline my biggest gripes that I have with the direction of Walt Disney World and really focus on the issues that I feel are detrimental to my future enjoyment of Disney World.  

Too much outsourcing

It seems like today everything in Walt Disney World is outsourced, meaning Disney has an outside vendor/company do the things Disney used to do.  When you take a moment to look at everything that is outsourced, I find myself shocked at where things have gone and also wonder what Disney actually does in house anymore.  Here's a quick rundown of some things that I know are outsourced...

  • Some restaurants across Walt Disney World property (Rainforest Cafe, Yak & Yeti, Via Napoli)
  • Audio Animatronics
  • Some attractions (Rock 'n Roller Coaster, Primevil Whirl)
  • Magical Express (used to be run by Disney, now Bags Inc runs it)
  • Strollers
  • Beach chairs
  • Merchandise (Dooney & Bourke bags, mostly everything in Downtown Disney)

To me, it seems like Disney outsources so much these days that there's very little that they do anymore on their own.  I'm by no means advocating Disney do everything in house, but it shouldn't be to the level we see today.  You may ask why outsourcing is a bad thing and the reason is because when you use third parties, the quality of the service or product does not live up to the "Disney standard" we've come to expect.  After all, the reason I and so many others love coming to Disney World is for that "Disney Difference" and outsourcing completely compromises that level of quality.

High prices

At the end of the day, Disney World is a business and has to make profit. I get that, but it seems that the prices for nearly everything at Walt Disney World over the last 5-10 years have grown to become out of touch for what they ought to be.  As I stated before, I like the "Disney Difference" and am willing to pay a premium for it over competitors, but the premium Disney has put on its tickets, resorts, merchandise, restaurants and more is now ridiculous.  My colleague Jennifer wrote last week about the price of Disney World tickets versus the rate of inflation and that just scratches the surface of the problem.

I think the over-inflated prices are more of a problem with the food and resorts than with the park admission.  Disney has really priced the resorts so far out there now, that it's reliant on discount deals to make the public feel like they can afford to go.  Moreover, if you took many of the Disney World resorts and put them anywhere else, they would not command the price they enjoy.  The moderate resorts, while nice, cost too much to justify $150-$200 per night.  Let me put this in perspective, the brand new Waldorf Astoria that is on Disney World property has rooms starting at $199 per night and it's safe to say the quality of the room at the Waldorf blows Port Orleans rooms out of the water.

The prices for food at many Disney World restaurants is also too high for what you get.  The classic examples are Nine Dragon and San Angel Inn in Epcot.  These Chinese and Mexican restaurants charge about $20 for an entree.  Chinese and Mexican food are among the most ubiquitous food in the United States after burgers and hot dogs.  It's ridiculous that you pay $20 for Kung Pao Chicken or chicken and rice.  Then you have the buffets, that can command anywhere from $30-40 per person and it's safe to say that the quality and selection of food does not warrant that kind of a price point.

Fantasmic! cut

I won't spend too much on this issue since it's been well documented on this site but if you've tried to see Fantasmic! at all since January 2009, then you've likely experienced the utter inconvenience of trying to get into the show.  I hear routinely horror stories of crazy lines and aggrivation of trying to get into the show.  Just the other week I was speaking to a friend who was on the border of tears, recalling how she tried in vain to see the show with her family.  It's become a bigger problem than I had envisioned and its guests who have suffered.  

The Fantasmic! cut has resulted in a tremendous inconvenience with no consolation for our troubles.  It's not like admission prices are cheaper on non-Fantasmic! days and yet, Disney has ignored each every complaint made by guests about the schedule.  It's another sign that saving a few dollars here and there is more important than a better guest experience.

Homogenization of merchandise

Do you remember when there used to be stuff in Disney World you wanted to buy?  Resorts had unique merchandise for each resort and the parks and attractions had their own brand of merchandise that you could only get there.  All these different options gave us good reason to buy Disney World merchandise because among all the various items, you'd find something that struck a chord with you.  Today, that's all but gone.  Now, merchandise at Walt Disney World also doubles as merchandise in Disneyland (check the tags, they say Disney World and Disneyland) and the amount of unique merchandise items is way down.  Now you can find Pirates of the Caribbean or Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise everywhere (like in Hollywood Studios) and when you find the same stuff everywhere, there's less incentive to warrant spending the money on the items. 

There's less merchandise overall and much of it is so generic that it's just not compelling enough to spend $35 for a t-shirt or $60 for a sweater.  The prices are already expensive, but when you consider the merchandise isn't really that great overall, I've found myself buying less and less Disney merchandise in the parks over the last few years.  It's time to expand what Disney can sell and give consumers lots of different options because the limited stuff we have today just isn't cutting it.

Homogenization of restaurant menus

Speaking of slimming down, menus across Disney World have been shrinking.  It seems like today every sit down restaurant at Walt Disney World has the same general basis: a chicken dish, a beef dish, a fish dish and a vegetable dish and something else maybe.  I could rattle off a half dozen restaurants in the parks and resorts that basically all have the same food.  This problem is even more pronounced at the counter service locations, where it seems it's the same food almost everywhere.  We routinely see restaurants change their menu, which results in a smaller menu and price increases for what's left.

The classic example is the hamburger.  Burgers used to be different around Walt Disney World, but today they are almost all the same.  A burger in Pecos Bills is the same as a burger in Backlot Express or Beaches n Cream or Restaurantasaurus. Disney has done this to once again save money.  If you buy a thousand burgers, you can get a better deal per item from the distributor than if you bought 500 and Disney seems to have gone with that with a lot of items beyond just burgers.

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About this column

A regular look into Disney's Hollywood Studios, both past and present, with commentary and analysis from Matt Hochberg.


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Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 by