As I mentioned earlier today, the family and I just wrapped up a trip to Legoland and we had a surprisingly good time there. I say “surprisingly” because five years ago my wife and I took the kids to Disney and our reaction upon leaving it was never again.
I thought that my negative feelings would moderate over time, but they have not. In that time I’ve read a lot of blog posts about why Disney is awesome, which awesome hotel you should stay at, which awesome ride you should go on, and even some awesome travel hacks. In fact, Saverocity’s own Dia just released a book about Disney hacks which you should definitely buy. But I cannot recall reading a post explicitly warning me away from Disney (though I have warned folks away from the Disney credit card).
My friends, I am here to write that post for you today. Why avoid Walt Disney World, you ask? Well…
We did our Disney trip about as cheaply as anybody can do it. We drove to Orlando. We stayed in the Radisson at Celebration, back when it was only 9,000 points per night (I think it’s 28K now). Our tickets were free thanks to a sweet credit card deal and we even had an extra hundred dollars or so of Disney credit left after buying the tickets to use for Disney food. But the vast majority of people aren’t going to be able to pull that off. If a family of four wants to visit for just two days and maybe have a meal or two at the park you’re looking at close to a thousand dollars before you’ve accounted for travel costs, hotel costs, souvenirs, parking, and the other stuff that goes into a trip.
My ticket cost for seven people for two days at Legoland? $298. The Washington Post digs into the Disney cost issue in more depth if you’re curious.
My family and I went in late September, when it’s still pretty hot in central Florida but at least it’s not ridiculously hot. We were hoping it wouldn’t be too crowded at that time of year, and the resources I checked online said it wasn’t too crowded at that time of year but… it was too crowded at that time of year. A 90-minute wait to ride “It’s a Small World” outside of peak season? No thank you.
The Amount of Planning Needed
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place where–and humor me, I’m just thinking out loud here–you could pay money to a company, and in exchange they would let you onto their property where they have fun things to do and you can just relax and let go of your worries for a bit? That’s actually what happened with Legoland, and that’s why I liked it more. I didn’t need a strategy because I could just show up and do stuff and everything would work itself out.
With Disney, on the other hand, you have to think long and hard about which hotel you’re staying in, which park to go to, what day to go to which park, which rides to go on, when to go on them, which restaurant to eat in, and so forth. And you have to do all of this while your kids are acting the way kids always act. You even have to have a Fastpass strategy, and that’s just sad, folks. Why should the funnest place on earth be so much work?
The Corporate Whoredom
Disney keeps buying up every cool thing from my childhood, and I am not comfortable with my children’s childhood memories being focused on one soulless, monopolistic, global corporation. Imagine if you knew a family who was really into ExxonMobil. Every year they would drop thousands of dollars on a visit to ExxonMobil headquarters (“the most energetic place on earth!”) for a family vacation. They’d spend hours perusing ExxMobboards.com to plan every minute of their trip so they could pack in as much fun as possible. Occasionally they’d switch it up and go to some overseas ExxonMobil headquarters for a change of pace. While there they would eat ExxonMobil food, buy ExxonMobil clothes and souvenirs, and go to character breakfasts with Pegasus, the flying red horse, or with the Esso Tiger.
Wouldn’t that be kind of weird?
What Disney Does Right
I don’t want this to be a snarky, over-the-top diatribe against The Mouse. A good part of what I don’t like is due to the fact that Disney is extremely good at what it does, which stimulates demand, which makes everything crowded, expensive, and complicated. Their rides are certainly better than the ones at Legoland, and the upkeep is better, and so forth. I can’t blame Disney for attracting customers and raising its prices as high as possible and pricing out the middle class any more than I can blame gravity for making planes crash. Yet the fact is, given everything I’ve discussed, I would recommend Legoland to friends (during low to moderate season, anyway, I’d stay away during high season) but I would not recommend the Disney parks. They’re not worth it.
Edit: Dia provides a rebuttal here.