From the time I worked at Disney World more than 20 years ago, I have been huge Disney World fan. Since that time (and prior to COVID), I have visited Disney World at least once a year and sometimes twice a year. Each visit consistently resulted in amazing memories of me, my husband and I, or our whole family, enjoying the rides, the characters, parades, fireworks and more.
This consistency continued year after year, even when, two decades later in 2019, my husband, two children and I met my sister and her family in Disney World. We spent an entire week soaking up the Florida sun and making incredible and lasting magical memories (with lots of fun photos) to last a lifetime.
But my latest trip to Walt Disney World this Fall was not as magical as years past.
You would think that just three years later, in 2022, my experience would be just as fun. However, whether it is COVID-related or another reason, the experience just wasn’t the same as I had hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, my trip did have fun elements, but the less than stellar experiences seemed to overshadow the positive ones.
So what’s changed? In my opinion, Disney World has lost a bit of it’s magic, making me hesitant to return anytime soon.
5 Ways Disney World is Missing the Magic
- Cost – We all know that theme parks raise their prices – it’s inevitable, especially with inflation. But Disney has raised their costs significantly in so many ways over the last several years, while simultaneously giving you less for your money. Not only have theme park tickets increased (and become more/less expensive depending on the time of year), but guests now have to pay extra for their fast passes (now called Genie+/Lightning Lane) EACH day and even more if they want expedited entry to some of the top rides. This was once a free service provided to all guests but now equates to $60-80 more each day for a family of four. In addition, guests of Disney World now have to pay a daily parking fee to park at their resorts when that, too, was complimentary. Along with the parking fee, Disney has also disbanded their Magical express bus service taking Disney resort guests to/from Orlando International Airport, forcing them to either rent a car, hire a car service, or find another way to their hotel. And finally, Disney no longer gives resort guests a free magic band, even their most basic one. Ever since they launched the magic band many years ago, the basic bands have always been free and an incredibly convenient perk, as they can be used to do just about anything at the resorts/parks, from accessing your hotel room, fast passes, dining reservations, and paying for things at the parks. Although you can use previously acquired magic bands (which I did this time), if you or someone else in your party needs/wants a new one, you’re going to have to pay for it.
- Reduced Quality – The number of Disney World rides breaking down for significant portions of the day just astounds me. Even when you have ONE popular ride break down, this can shift the dynamic of the entire park because it leads to those with lightning lane passes to be allowed to use their passes for other rides, subsequently making the lines for those rides longer for everyone else. And that is just with one ride…. I experienced this across multiple rides in the same park. On another note, staying at a Disney resort used to allow you at least one hour early entry (or late exit) to at least one park per day, which is 60 minutes before non resort guests could enter. This perk would typically result in my family being able to ride 2-3 rides with minimal lines. Now, it appears that resort guests are only allowed 30 minutes advance entry to one park. This doesn’t give you much time to ride any rides, when it can take 10-15 minutes just to walk to the rides you want. And finally, many cast members, who are historically known for being super cheerful (I know, because I used to be one of them), seemed complacent and just going through the motions…like they lost their own magic.
- Food – Although you can find good food in EPCOT (such as in the countries) as well as some of the resorts, I feel that it’s hard to find decent tasting and healthy food in the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – where I spend most of my time. Unless you want chicken fingers, pizza, hot dogs or a hamburger, your food options are very limited in most Disney parks. This is also the first year, ever, that it was impossible to find any worthwhile advance dining reservations (ADR’s) for sit-down restaurants, although we attempted to get our ADR’s as soon as our window of opportunity allowed. Even two months prior to our trip, I would check nearly ever day for reservations, in the hopes that someone may have cancelled (which has worked in the past), but nothing. Super frustrating and disappointing.
- Crowds – If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you know there’s one thing you can always count on – the crowds, especially during the summer and holidays. However, for many years, I could also count on Disney World being less crowded during the “off” months (ie. Sept-Nov). However, after returning from my November Disney trip, I can honestly say that the crowds (and lines!), were some of the worst I’ve ever seen at Disney World, even those I’ve experienced in the summer months. Even with Disney’s newer reservation system (where you need to reserve which park you want to go to each day), which supposedly helps to manage crowds, the crowd never seemed to subside, making me question whether or not the reservation system is really working.
- Complicated – I feel sorry for any family who attempts to experience Disney World without getting expert advice in advance. Even when you actually have experience and knowledge of how things work at Disney (ie. Park Reservations, ADR’s, Genie+, magic bands, etc), the constant changes to guest systems/processes are hard to keep up with and make it extremely challenging to navigate. The simplicity of securing your fast passes several weeks in advance of your vacation is no longer. Now, through the costly Genie+, you need to repurchase Genie+ each day you want to go to the parks in order to use the Lightning Lane. Then you have to be extremely diligent and savvy about snagging your ride reservation times ASAP in the morning and throughout the day. This definitely added more stress to our day as my husband seemed more focused on trying to get us on the next ride than truly just enjoying his vacation. Now, I admire and applaud Disney for their attempts to keep up with changing technology and for trying to improve their systems for the benefit of the guest (ie. Creating an app, allowing guests to use their phone instead of a magic band). But over the last few years, it seems that the “improvements” they have made are less of a benefit for guests and more for Disney.
While my latest Disney World experience was not as magical as I expected, Disney will always hold a special place in my heart. After all, that’s where I met my husband, became engaged, met lifelong friends, and celebrated so many family milestones. However, if Disney continues down this path of diminishing the magic for its guests, I’m not sure if pure nostalgia is enough to make me return.