We had a cruise planned for our family vacation in February. Since we were flying to Florida anyway to get on the cruise ship, we decide to extend our vacation for a few days and go to Disney World as well. This family of 5 has been to Universal Studios a few different times, which we've loved. Rachel and I had been to Disney World prior to having kids, but we've never been to any of the Florida Disney parks as a whole family. Since we extended the trip for two days we decided that we would go to the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios theme parks. As with any vacation we've taken, the chances are that I would do again. However, we were disappointed in the overall experience at Disney World and wanted to share with others. Our second day at Hollywood Studios was much better than Magic Kingdom, but it wasn't without its problems.
As a family of five we knew that this experience was not going to be cheap. The cost of the tickets to get into the park vary based on the day. Our cost was roughly $140 per person per day. That meant the upfront cost to walk through the gates was around $1,400. Since this was an expected cost, it really wasn't one of our main issues. The systemic additional expenses the park charges for virtually everything was an issue. It is a reoccurring theme you will see running throughout the rest of this article.
There are two basic types of queues / lanes available for attractions at the parks: "Standby" and "Lightning Lanes". Standby lanes are your traditional queues where you just wait in line for the ride. The Lightning Lanes bypass large sections of the Standby lane, but you must first get a pass and wait in a virtual queue until it is your time for the attraction. The Disney app shows the lane information for each ride.
The "Lightning Lanes" can save you a lot of time, but you can't just access them. There are two types of passes available to gain access to these queues, Genie+ is the replacement for the old Fast Pass system. The Genie+ service is $15 per person per day and gives you Lightning Lane access to a selection of attractions per park (excluding all the tent pole ones that you really want access to). A major caveat and drawback of the service is you can only have one Genie+ pass active at a time. That means that if it is 9am and a select a pass that is for 1pm then you can not make another selection until after 1 o'clock. The time slots for these passes fill up fast as well.
The only way to gain lightning lane access to the crowd favorite rides like "Star Wars Rise of the Resistance" or "Seven Dwarfs Mine Train" is to pay for individual passes.
We were going to be at the parks the weekend prior to presidents day weekend. The forecasted crowds were not suppose to be that bad, 5 and 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Since we were only going to be at the parks for two days, we knew that we would have to minimize our wait times if we were going to be able to ride the most iconic rides. We opted into purchasing Genie+ for everybody ($150). The initial plan was to not buy any of the individual passes.
The lightning lanes require scanning your admission ticket to make sure it is your turn to enter the attraction. Our tickets were emailed to us, which we could then access through the Disney app on the phone. If we were to use the app to scan the tickets at each of the Lightning Lanes I would have had to swipe through 5 different tickets each time and we would not have been able to split up. We opted into purchasing magic bands, roughly $30 each, for everyone instead. These bands could be used at the gate and at each attraction for the Lightning Lanes.
I don't really feel like Genie+ was worth it for us. We were only able to use it twice each day. The second day we had hoped to book a pass through Genie+ for Tower of Terror, but by 10 o'clock in the morning the time for the ride was already late at night. Although, we hadn't planned on purchasing individual Lightning Lanes, the crowd levels were much high than anticipated so we did end up buying them for three rides (another $285).
Splash mountain closed in January and it was suppose to open back up on the day that we were going to be at Magic
Kingdom. It did eventually open that day; one hour before park close. That was a foreshadowing of the problems with
attraction availability. We decided to take the Monorail in when we first got to the park. The train we decided to take
was sitting on the track when we got up to it, but they wouldn't let us on right away. Eventually the operators did
let us on just to ask us to get back off again. Apparently there was a problem with that particular train and they had
to remove it from the rail and bring in a new one. So we started the day with about a 30 minute delay just getting
into the park. Space mountain is an iconic ride that we had wanted to do as a family. It is Temporarily Closed right
now as I write this article. It was maybe open for a couple of hours that day. We even paid for a
Lightning Lane to ride it, but when our time came around the ride was down again and it wasn't going
open back up before park close. At one point while we were at Magic Kingdom the following rides were all temporarily closed at the same time.
- Splash Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Jungle Cruise
According to Touring Plans a full 10% of the attractions were unavailable that day.
The attraction availability issues pushed crowds to the other areas of the park making it super crowded. Hollywood Studios was not immune to these issues either. Rise of the Resistance did not open in the morning when it was suppose to and it shut down for around three hours in the middle of the day. When that ride did reopen so many people had Lightning Lane passes, including us, that it made the standby line irrelevant. Similar to this Disney Fanatic article.
The forecasted crowd level for the day we were to be at Magic Kingdom was a 5. Attendance was measured at a 9 based on actual attendance and attraction closures. This made it very hard to get around and made the lines for everything longer than usual (2 hours was pretty common). The attraction operators on more than one occasion ask people to scoot closer together and "we would get on faster". I don't think they know how ride capacity actually works …
Online Food Ordering
Disney really advertises and pushes for you to use the app to order the food online. We did this for the majority of our food, but we had some gift cards to use so we didn't do it for all of them. It was a disappointment that we couldn't load the gift card into the app and use those for the payment and it was sometimes a hassle to go to an actual cashier. The whole mobile food ordering is just another queueing system in disguise. After entering your order, the app asks you to press a button when you are close to the venue. Your order isn't actually submitted until that point. The app will then give you a time to come back when your order will be ready. It also notifies you of the line to get into when that time comes. Your order isn't actually ready when you are notified. When you get to the window / person you were directed to is when your order is actually put together.
Aloha Isle is the only place in Magic Kingdom where you can get a Dole whip. It is also a spot in the park with terrible mobile and wifi reception. When trying to order the Dole whips we spent over an hour from order to pick up time.
If you look online, you will find a growing list of people unhappy with the way Disney is handling their parks. I think overall our family has enjoyed Universal Studios much more. So I think we would be more inclined to return there instead of Disney. I would go back to Disney again, but I would first like to see them make some changes first. The Genie+, individual Lightning Lane purchases, and mobile food ordering all feel like broken experiences that need to improve.