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.
Wow, three posts in one day!
I agree with you on Disney. They do a lot of things right, no question about it. But you will pay dearly for the experience. Plus, the crowds, those insane lines seriously drive me nuts.
Florida residents have special offers where 4-day pass costs something like $170. It’s still a crazy amount, but my daughter really wants to go back. I told her we would do it in 2019. Personally, I love Legoland and consider it a great deal for families. Speaking of, that was a really good find on 14-day passes. It’s an even better deal than their BOGO promo. I need to mention it to my readers at some point.
You bring up some good points about Disney World. For me personally, returning to Disney World is for nostalgia. And with the Fast Pass +, we’ve managed to cut down the ride wait times dramatically. But we also enjoyed Legoland a lot when our kids were younger. I agree that sometimes it’s nice to just be able to show up and have fun without putting in all of the pre-planning work (although I really love the planning part of vacations!) Another great place for kids with no pre-planning involved is Nickelodeon Universe inside Mall of America.
Disney is obscenely overrated and overpriced, the decorations are better than most amusement parks but how much is a nicely decorated ’70’s ride really worth? They have a few rides that are unique but mostly they are lame rides with scenery. Can’t figure out why people are so obsessed.
You are not the only one!
Took family there some years ago because, you know, we would feel such aholes if we didn’t blow money like everyone else. By the time we left…we all agreed: WAY over rated and NEVER again. We kept our word.
I despise Disney – but even more so the dimwits who go there. A big world out there but nitwits would rather waste money on idiotic rides and cartoon characters? These people deserve a swift kick in their nether regions.
There are two brands their products I feel totally overrated:
Disney and Apple (one-trick pony)
They both spend 10% on research and development and 90% in Marketing.
You can’t conpare these two parks based on price. Disney is pristine. You never see a cigarette butt or a piece of gum or even an flower not blooming (as they replace flowers at night). At Disney you will never see a piece of scratched furniture at a resort (my step father works there and he’s part of the crew that removes pieces of furniture that guests damage).
I go to legoland and Disney often as I have small kids.
It’s like comparing an old apple to a new apple. Old apple still tastes good but new one tastes good and is shined.
You can definitely see the difference in quality and upkeep when visiting legoland. (As is very apparent in their LEGO world where they have miniature cities etc that have all been sitting outside to the elements for years and some stuff doesn’t work.)
Don’t get me wrong, if I want an easy day I go to legoland. If I want an experience I go to Disney.
How old are your kids? I think my grandsons ar getting too old at 13. Opinions?
My oldest is 10. 13 may or may not work, I think it would depend on the kid.
Opinions and preferences that people have are different than yours? Shocking that this happen you condescending twat.
I guess you either love it or hate it! I am the odd person out with all the comments agreeing with you. My daughter and I just got back from a week at Disney World and I have already made plans to go for Halloween. I was into Disney before my daughter was born. They just seem to do everything right, everything is pristine. I love going for the holidays. Yes, it is expensive, but we stayed on points at the Dolphin, did not rent a car and used my Southwest Companion pass and points for our airfare. My daughter had a blast and her smile was continuous. I love seeing her so happy – which in turn makes me happy.
Just finished four days at D-World. Magic Kingdom is identical or below the D-Land version. Since I’m from CA, there’s never a need to go there, really. (Although there were some small differences in rides – Space Mountain was a little longer, it seemed)
Crowded, long lines. We rode Avatar Flight of Passage three times, and spent an average of 2 hours each time. Now, the ride was REALLY COOL, and my wife loved it, which helped mitigate the long wait. But I gave up 6+ hours of my life just waiting in line?
And the cost. Wow.
Epcot, of which I had fond memories and that two days wasn’t enough when I went 30 years ago – we breezed through in a day. All shops and restaurants. Yawn.
Fortunately, without children in tow, we kept our sanity. Will we ever go back? Can’t think of a good reason why.
Jason Heiss says
A few thoughts from someone who goes to Disney World about once a year. Yes, the first time or two you have to read up a lot to figure out how to plan your trip. But once you figure out the system you can plan a Disney trip pretty easily. I doubt I spent more than an hour for our upcoming trip figuring out which parks to go to on which days and making corresponding dining reservations. And in a few more days I’ll hit the 30 day mark and start making FastPass reservations, which just takes a few minutes per day of the trip. Once we actually get to the parks there isn’t much planning left to do. We have our dining and FP reservations, and we fill up any remaining time by exploring the park and hopping on rides with short wait times.
Our kids are starting to outgrow Disney, and tolerate more adventuresome travel, so we’ll probably be transitioning to more cultural and educational travel. But for the years where most kids enjoy Disney (4-10ish) it can be a very nice vacation.
Michael H says
I can agree. I really did not enjoy Disneyland when I went. However, California Adventure was a lot of fun for the young and the old of our group. It may have been partly due to the fact that alcohol isn’t restricted there for us, but even the little ones enjoyed it more.
This reminds me of a post by someone who chooses a big city for a vacation but who actually prefers an all inclusive resort instead. Yes, Disney takes some pre-planning & if you just show up & ‘do the park’ I can see loads of disappointment coming. If however you spend a bit of time planning & learning the ins & outs (their app will save you from most lines) then it is hands down the best Amusement Park in the world.
I’m all for everyone else blowing their cash on Disney and making it expensive. That way the real world is less expensive and crowded for folks like me!
I love Disney. It is a must do for any family IMO. With that said, it is expensive. As many others have stated, they take cleanliness serious. I went to another park I had fond memories of from my childhood and found it with litter. Yuck. I will never go back. I’ll pay 5 times the price to have a great experience with my valuable time. People who don’t take their kids are short changing them to save a few bucks. ( cough cough some relatives of mine ) Disney has draw backs. The crowds the other day were terrible despite not being peak season, but we managed to get everything done. The same at spring break 2016. I will go back, but not a season pass holder like my Disney obsessed 45 year old brother and his wife. (Plus 3 kids)
Disney is marketed to conformist middle class people. They work long hours satisfying the requests of their supervisors and bosses (and can note that their bosses have bosses have bosses) and then need a vacation. Rather than construct their own fun vacation, which would involve uncertainty and initiative (things these people have avoided their whole lives), the Disney framework helps them avoid this by presenting a model for a vacation where everything is a safe choice.
This creates a great feeling of security and safety from which these conformists can act. And sure, some of them, like John from engineering, will comfortably optimize himself within the finite set of Disney-approved rides and attractions just as he’s figured his way around his company’s 401k plan and its 12 investment options.
Ultimately though, you’re right, Disneyworld just isn’t that great. But so many people have resigned themselves to the best Disney vacation they fail to consider the bigger picture of what would be the best vacation.
Like any vacation choice, there are people who like it and people who don’t….guess that is true for anything in life. I agree it is expensive, crowded and complicated. But we love it, And we mix our Disney trips in with a lot of international and domestic independent travel.
Or it’s for people who really enjoy theme parks, and want to find experiences no other park can offer. While you’re pondering that from your ivory tower looking down your nose at the world below you, this lowly peasant will continue to visit once every few years with my family and have a great time.
When I go on vacation I dont look to nitpick about things like cigarette and flowers not in bloom. I go to have fun.
Why are you taking her comment personally?
I am at Disney now and in no way is it pristine. For 1980 it was a modern park but I gotta say, I am at the Polynesian and I am completely disappointed. Not a great property and I stay at a lot of hotels. The park did not seem clean at all (about the same as my last Legoland trip). The food is not good and way over priced. We have the deluxe meal plan so I don’t notice the cost that much but if I were paying the prices shown, I would be pissed. And the rides? Not that great at all.
I gotta say, I personally know that both Apple and Disney spend a lot more than what you think on R and D. Way more than 10%. That being said, the marketing does go a long way. And as far as Engineering, both of them are top notch.
Good article. The truth is Disney is more about the money these days than the magic. All of the middle-class families that built the Disney empire have been all but abandoned for higher profits and prices.
The business model Disney parks are trying to use consists of higher prices hoping their parks are less crowded. The result is fewer people paying more money. Make it exclusive and the people that can afford it will still visit.
So far it does not look like the prices to go on a Disney vacation have kept people away. As long as the demand is there, they will keep making it more expensive. Just look at all of the $500 plus per night hotel rooms booked 6 months or more in advance.
I think there might be a breaking point in Disney’s pricing model for vacations. But it remains to be seen when it will happen. It might have already started. This can be seen by their most recent price hikes in annual passes. Many regular pass holders decided to downgrade a level instead of paying the new price. Also, their new ticket price structure for peak and off-peak times shows they are trying to get people to the park.
Be careful Disney. When the entire middle class that built your empire decides to abandon your parks because they no longer want to be in debt to a Disney vacation, you may start to see profits decline.
Don’t get me wrong. Disney does a great job with a lot of things. Vacationing at their parks can be a great experience. It’s just heartbreaking that many middle-class families will no longer be able to have their kids experience a Disney trip.
Totally agree. I’ve been to Disney three times in the past three years. (I live in Florida in the winter). All trips were different events – Princess Color run with stepdaughter, vacation with daughter and her family, and Cheerleader competition with granddaughter.. . Expensive, crowds and totally over rated. Disney does a great job of marketing to a population that can not afford it! Pay off a mediocre vacation over a year or two! Not me! I looked around and thought to myself that there are soooooo many fun activities that familes can do with their kids and sooooooo much cheaper and more fun! Get kids outside their comfort zones…..not more money and more lines!
I’m not saying I’ll never go back….there are lots of reasons why I might go back but it certainly isn’t my choice of the best vacation for kids and families.
Jared James says
We went in October 2018. I hated the long lines (and yes, we had fast passes). I hated the crowds (our trip was meticulously planned, but you can’t plan around 500,000 people too many crammed into that space). I hated the miserable sweat-drenching heat (we went in October when it was “better”). I hated the complete lack of healthy food. I hated the over-priced garbage being sold literally every 5 feet. I hated the obscene homage to American capitalism and consumption. It’s been over a year now and I still feel angry and gross. Oh – and I didn’t even pay for the trip. Truth is, I would burn my money before spending it on this awful experience. Never, ever again Disney.
Oh well, it’s 2019 and nothing has changed. It is extremely overrated. Very expensive and long lines make It not worth it at all.
I had a lot of fun at Disney World. That being said going once was plenty. The world is a big and beautiful place. Unless you are rich, if you are choosing to go to disney world you are choosing to not go other places.
Given we have the internet, phone translators, AirBnB, Uber/Lyft/electric scooter rentals, and affordable international flights I would recommend broadening your horizons. It may seem intimidating but when you travel you arent walking into it blind anymore. You can thoroughly prep yourself and see some amazing things/
Benjamin Marlatt says
I could rattle off 50 amusement parks that I’d rather go to in a hot second before ever stepping foot inside any Disney park, and this is coming from a native Floridian originally from Orlando. But not only do I think it’s the most overrated park in the country, it’s not even the best park in Florida (Busch Gardens), and honestly, I don’t even think it’s the best one in the Orlando/Kissimmee region (I’d take Sea World and Islands of Adventure over Disney any day).
Here’s what Disney does right. It certainly has a lot of character. It’s one of the best themed places you’ll probably visit.
And that’s about it.
Their rides, quite honestly, suck. Granted, I’m a little torn there, ’cause Arrow Dynamics, arguably the greatest innovator of the modern steel coaster, wouldn’t have become what they became if not for Disney Land… but good Lord, how many damn dark rides does a park need? That’s the impression I got when I visited Disney with my family a couple of years ago (’cause they got me in for free). I thought, “Imagine if Six Flags took Justice League: Battle for Metropolis or if Cedar Fair took Boo Blasters on Boo Hill… and then cloned it about 30 times throughout each of their parks but just used a different character for each ride.”
Keep in mind, this isn’t me now being an adult and losing all sense of nostalgia. When I first visited Disney when I was 7, I just thought it was okay. I really wasn’t taken aback by it, certainly nowhere as much as I was taken by Cedar Point when I first visited that place a few years later, or Busch Gardens or, Kennywood, or most recently this month, Dollywood.
And I probably wouldn’t necessarily feel this way, if it wasn’t for how ghastly overpriced the place is. I mean, I can get a season pass to a good park for the amount it costs for one day at Disney. I just don’t see what they offer even coming close to being worth the cost to attend. Dollywood is a great example of a place that offers every bit of character that Disney has, while at the same time providing a much wider variety of rides and attractions, and all for a lower price.
Oh, I’m not anti-Disney either. I actually love a good deal of their movies. I just don’t think their parks are all that good.
I can’t – I just CAN’T go there. I went once when my son was a toddler. That was enough.
I know this sounds snobby but I’ve traveled extensively. When you’ve watched the sun set on the pyramids of Giza, walked under the Eiffel Tower, rode a Shinkansen in Japan, went on safari in Tanzania, sat in front of the Taj Mahal…. no theme park on earth holds any sort of attraction.
Disney is nothing but A SCAM. A giant advertisement you pay to participate in. I imagine they laugh at everyone going through the gates.
If that’s the most exciting place you ever go in your like i TRULY feel sorry for you. That’s tragic. Wish I was a billionaire. Then I’d buy people family to see world.
Mark Harbision says
I had gone only once, yeah it’s high rated.
Almonte Simmons says
Disney is very overrated IMHO. The rides are extremely outdated, lines are terribly long, and everything is overpriced. They try to compensate with random flare, but it just isn’t enough. It takes too much planning to have a decent time. Maybe 10-15 years ago this place may have been something special. Unfortunately, it has turned into one big money grab for the mouse. They really need to consider making some adjustments.
Meh. Parents who take their kids to theme parks instead of real places are the ones shortchanging their kids.
There’s a reason when some place like Times Square becomes totally sterile or otherwise nauseatingly artificial they say, “it’s like Disneyland” XD