For the Last Time in Forever?

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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I looked up the word curmudgeon and found this:

"someone who gets annoyed easily, especially an old person"

I’m retired and a grandfather, so even though I still consider myself youthful and adventurous, I guess I qualify as an old person. Do I get annoyed easily? If you asked my wife that question, the answer would likely contain something about bears and woods. Hang on one second while I chase some kids off my lawn.

OK, I’m back. Where were we? What has my dander up these days? With all the recent changes at my favorite place, Walt Disney World, you might think I’m upset about the changes to Epcot entertainment… or FastPass+… or Magic Bands… or the My Disney Experience app… or… any number of other things that seem to have riled up every Disney writer, blogger or poster on social media. It seems every time I turn around I find another article blasting Disney for (gasp) making changes to their theme parks and resorts. Mind you, I truly believe most of the complainers are the same folks that repeatedly blast Disney for not changing things frequently enough.

Well, as a certified curmudgeon, I should be railing against Disney for these changes. However, I find myself more often taking the unpopular approach of defending Walt Disney World. That’s right, it’s kind of a “Hey, you kids—get out of my theme parks” rant. I’ll begin the rant by stating unequivocally that I have my own axe to grind with Disney. I certainly don’t like everything they do or have done but I think I’m fair enough to offer credit and give them the benefit of the doubt where and when it’s warranted.

What set me off on this latest tirade was a blog that someone linked to on Facebook. It was published on Huffington Post Travel, written by author and freelance writer Christy Heitger-Ewing and entitled “For the First Time in Forever… I Did Not Enjoy My Vacation to Disney World” (you can read it here). I will apologize right now and up front to Ms. Heitger-Ewing (it will be Christy from now on because I’m far too lazy to continue typing "Ms. Heitger-Ewing" for the length of this article). I don’t mean to pick on Christy because there are many other worthy candidates but her article just happened to be the most convenient.

Let’s begin with the title. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read someone’s diatribe about too much Frozen in the parks, followed by their admonition to Disney to “Let it Go.” Yeah, it was cute once but after a few thousand times, not so much. I’ll give Christy props for using a different song from the same film but I still think it’s a bit of a cheap shot.

Let’s take Christy’s points one at a time. She begins with:

Magic Bands are in no way magical.


Not magical? I disagree. Photo by Steve Russo.

Hmmm. Was she attempting to conjure up a genie or a unicorn? Not magical, huh? She explains that, in her opinion, they should be called “Fickle Bands” or “Frustration Bands” because, presumably, they aren’t very reliable. Gee, my experience with using Magic Bands over three different trips was entirely positive. They opened hotel room doors, granted me access to theme parks and allowed me to purchase everything from meals to Dole Whips to mouse ears. Why would she call them fickle and frustrating especially when admitting, “Though our family's bands worked most of the time, other park-goers weren't so lucky.”

I see. Your Magic Bands were fine but others weren’t as lucky. Christy relates the observation of a woman in a hallway unable to gain access to the laundry room. “She’d been waiting for nearly three hours to wash clothes at Disney. That's not exactly my idea of an ideal vacay.” Mine ether, Christy, although I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “vacay." Let’s ponder this for just a moment. In my experience, I’ve not seen a locked laundry room door at Disney World. Christy makes no mention of the specific resort, and I certainly haven’t done laundry at all of them, so I’ll allow this. But… this woman had been trying to gain access to the laundry room, presumably by using her Magic Band, for three hours? I consider myself the persistent sort but I have to admit, I’d have given up after about 15 minutes.

Did Christy have any other evidence? Sure did. “That evening while waiting in line for food, I got to chatting with the lady behind me who said that her family's defective Magic Bands hadn't worked a single day since they arrived. So every time they returned from the parks, they had to seek hotel staff to let them into their room.”

Is there anyone reading that would have tolerated this? Or that believes for a minute that, if asked, Disney wouldn’t have corrected the problem in a heartbeat? Needing help “every time they returned from the parks” would indicate a cast member opening their hotel room door multiple times each and every day. I’m sorry but I’m just not buying that.

People have had problems with Magic Bands. I know this and, although my usage has been mostly stellar, I have been denied access to a park on two or three occasions. Each time, however, the situation was corrected inside of a minute—certainly not something that would have lasted for days. Christy is beginning to lose a bit of credibility with me but let’s push on to her next gripe…

I don't enjoy cozying up to the crowds.


Crowded? Sure, but worth it. Photo by Steve Russo.

Well, here we’re on common ground. I absolutely hate crowds. What was Christy’s specific problem here? At every show we attended--from the Lion King to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular--the following announcement was made: ‘We ask that you kindly slide all the way to the middle of the aisle to make room for others. And please don’t stop until you are sitting uncomfortably close to the stranger beside you’.”

Really? Reading on, Christy admits adding the second line herself but insists it “was implied”. So, what she’s saying here is that at “every show” she was asked to slide all the way in to make room for others. How dare they! What are these Disney cast members doing asking good folks like Christy to slide in to make room for others? Allowing this practice to continue could result in people holding doors for others or saying “please” and “thank you." Oh, the humanity. Next up…

Spontaneity no longer exists at Disney.


We’ll just hop the first bus we see. Photo by Steve Russo.

“I miss the days when I could go to Disney World, get up in the morning, and consult with the family about where and how to spend the day.” OK, she’s got a point here. I miss those days as well, but let’s face facts; those days are gone forever. The parks are more crowded than ever before, and keeping some semblance of order while allowing folks the ability to reserve a few attractions is what Disney is after. If you need proof, do what I recently did. I viewed a few of our videos from trips made in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was amazing to me how empty the parks looked compared to what I experience today. We usually try to visit during the off-peak, slower periods but I’ve come to realize there really are no uncrowded times—just some periods that are less crowded than others.

Christy misses spontaneity and so do I. I remember the days of playing “bus roulette”—heading to the resort bus stop and hopping the first theme park bus that showed. But… I (and you… and Christy) can still do that. It’s possible. Just don’t expect to arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at 11:00 am and ride Toy Story Midway Mania with a 15-minute wait but… really, could you ever do that? I think not.

"Stress" is a six-letter word—just like "Mickey."

Well that sentence makes no sense whatsoever, but it seems that Christy felt stressed about “how and when to eat, sleep, and navigate the parks so that we wouldn’t miss any of our dining or ride reservations.” Yeah, I get that. I tell everyone I can not to get caught up in that. You can’t do it all. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do it all. Go ahead and say that out loud three or four times… I’ll wait. The stress Christy is talking about here is self-inflicted. Don’t try to manage every minute of every day. You can’t do it and, if you could, you wouldn’t be happy. Stop and smell the roses… or the turkey legs.

Rides have been refurbished with fresh germs.


Don’t touch that screen. Photo by Steve Russo.

Christy asserts the newer and refurbished rides “include interactive games where riders use touch screens to pass the time while waiting in line. While I’m sure many folks see these screens as massive fun, I see massive germ spreadage.” Grammar aside… c’mon, Christy. Really?

I feel safe in proclaiming that germs are pretty much everywhere. Others have touched your luggage handles, rental car doors, hotel room fixtures, railings, bus seats and about 10,000 more items I’m too squeamish to mention. Taking Disney to task for creating interactive elements to ride queues because of “germ spreadage” is like… well, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

Look, let’s agree here that Disney is not perfect. They make mistakes like every other company in the history of companies. What they’re dealing with today is theme parks with ever-increasing attendance and, at least in my opinion, they’re doing quite a bit to use technology to deliver a better than average experience to each and every guest while…and this is important…maintaining a level playing field.

Personally, I love the convenience of wearing a single band on my wrist that is my own personal Key to the World. It gives me access to my hotel room and the theme parks and makes paying for meals and other items a breeze. I love that FastPass+ lets me stroll into Epcot at 9:30 am and not have to worry about sprinting to Soarin’ or Test Track to ride without waiting an hour. I’m happy to slide over so another family can enjoy the Festival of the Lion King. I enjoy the fact that Disney has created interactive queues so, when I do stand in line, it won’t seem to be as long a wait. If I have to wash my hands a few more times a day, that’s fine with me.

Stress? Walt Disney World is one of the few places on the planet where I feel no stress at all. Heck, I’m on vacay, aren’t I?

 

Comments

  1. By MyTwoCents

    Thank you for an excellent article, as usual. I don't feel the need to defend Disney for or from anyone, but I also dislike it when a writer simply goes off on a whinefest because her unrealistic expectations weren't catered to... And she depends on the unverifiable stranger's remarks as proof of her pet theory. HuffPo is famous for throwing anything against the wall to see what sticks.

  2. By davidgra

    I, too, read that article. It was nothing more than a selfish, whiny person complaining for the sake of complaining. Trust us, Christy, if you never went back to Disney World, the rest of the world would thank you.

    Yes, every system has an occasional problem. The old paper FastPass machines had problems all the time. How many times did someone stick their ticket into the machine, only to have no FastPass come out? You go talk to a cast member. The same thing goes for your MagicBand. It's not working? A cast member will help you -- and get you a new one, if yours is indeed not working.

    I don't get the complaints about the loss of spontaneity, either. You are free to be as spontaneous as you want to be. No one is stopping you. How spontaneous was it five years ago when you showed up at Epcot, went to the Land at 9:30 a.m., and got a FastPass for Soarin' that had a return time of 4:00 p.m.? You were at the mercy of the machine. No spontaneity there.

    If all the whiners and complainers would quit going to WDW, maybe the crowd problems would go away. No, that's not likely. People like Christy will complain and complain, and they'll go back year after year. The only thing in life they enjoy is the complaining. Christy must be a truly miserable person.

  3. By disnut8

    I hadn't read the article until looking at Mr. Russo's response. Agree with the comments before me but have to add about the spontaneity of the kids not wanting to eat and going for the FastPass option instead and then not eating going for another FastPass right after. OK - they are kids but there were adults there and while it's great to have kids decide their "vacay" (I have never used that word either), eating versus going on an attraction with a FastPass isn't that difficult. First of all, a FastPass is good for a full hour. And maybe five minutes before and maybe fifteen minutes after that hour. I can, as an adult, grab a pretzel or popcorn from a nearby kiosk in less than ten minutes, can eat that in the queue line before I board the attraction and my stomach is happy until a later meal becomes available. Or, I can take a bag of pretzels or popcorn with me in the morning and keep in my pocket in case I get the munchies later. Or a powerbar. Or anything. I did that in all the times I've visited Disney World and will continue to do so. Oh - and I do that every single day of the week when I go to and from work in cast I get stuck in traffic.

  4. By Tony T

    I too received a link to this article on my facebook page. I didn't click on it because I knew exactly what it was, and you just confirmed that for me. I have read and seen to many blogs, articles and message board posts to satisfy my negativity for a lifetime. We are creatures of habit and none of us really like change, but somehow change continues to happen and we survive. Would we really be happy if WDW was still as it was in 1971 or Disneyland on opening day? No

  5. By Jimbo996

    These are typical "I'm better than you" complaints. Having used MagicBands on my trip back in May, I had the full experience with Fastpass, on-site hotels, and dining plan. Let me tell you, it was wonderful. It was easy to use and quite convenient. Let me address each point.

    Someone else's so-called bad experience has nothing to do with you. It doesn't tell you that MagicBands is a failure. For this reporter to cite this as a problem doesn't help anyone. One thing I noticed is everything is mixed together as the experience.

    Fastpass+ is regarded as a failure since many people don't know how to use it. Experienced Disney fans say new users don't know how to use Fastpass+ correctly because they would use it in the morning when the rides are usually not crowded. (They laugh at the old ladies that go to the Haunted Mansion at 9am with FP+.) Thus, my advice is FP+ should be used for rides when the park is crowded which is likely in the afternoon (11 to 2pm). Yet their rule contradicts another counter-intuitive strategy that they should use FP+ in the mornings (9 to 12pm) so they can use the FP+ booths to get more FP+ attractions in the afternoon to increase their allotment of three FP+ attractions. I consider that advice misleading because there's a chance that your preferred attraction could run out of FP+ in the very busy periods. The chances of anyone getting Space Mountain FP+ between (12 to 4pm) is rare if you didn't already get it before entering the park.

    It is odd that spontaneity and stress is misused when dealing with FP+ and dining reservations. You can plan your reservations so you don't have stress. Only a poor planner who thrives on spontaneity would be stressed with a concrete plan. Besides, FP+ has an hour window so I don't get why this reporter can't just get her lunch anyways and go on the attraction at the tail end of her FP+ window. Alternatively with FP+, you can quickly go on the ride and eat lunch afterwards. I chalk this up to "she doesn't know what she's talking about".

    Crowds... you can't do much about it except use FP+ for its intended purpose.

    Germs? You can not touch it. It works every time.

  6. By jms1969

    The original article appears to be a mix of everything people complain about with WDW, with some very weak examples to try to personalize it. As others have commented, it very well represents the "journalistic" quality of the Huffington Post.

    Mixed in with a lot of ridiculous complaints (that Steve did a great job of pointing out in the article) is at least one valid one (IMO), even if it's weakly presented, dealing with loss of spontaneity. FastPass+ should be reserved for the three or four rides that really have consistently long wait times (Midway Mania, Soarin', Test Track, and - for now - the Snow White Mine Train), and for special experiences (meeting Mickey, meeting Anna/Elsa - for now, and possibly the more popular evening shows/fireworks/parades, etc.). The old paper Fastpass system worked just fine for everything else, and allowed you to be spontaneous while meeting a legitimate need - I'd love to see it put back in place, but realize this will never happen. I do think WDW has gone too far towards pre-planning and runs the risk of turning a lot of people off because of it. The idea of ordering your food for a casual lunch at Be Our Guest 60 days in advance, for example, is exactly the kind of thing that any normal person would think is crazy (and yes, we did this last trip and enjoyed it, but we knew already that we're not normal! ).

    All that being said, I still love WDW and give them credit for trying to improve the guest experience. Articles like this that just try to take random potshots at WDW, with made up or exaggerated reasons for doing so, aren't worth the time it takes to read them. However, as Steve mentions, there's a lot of this out there and it's frustrating for those of us who know better to see so much misinformation out there.

  7. By MattyN

    They were told to slide only half way down the row? Nice! Usually when we go we're told to slide three-quarters of the way down. Must not have been that crowded!

  8. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by jms1969 View Post
    The original article appears to be a mix of everything people complain about with WDW, with some very weak examples to try to personalize it. As others have commented, it very well represents the "journalistic" quality of the Huffington Post.

    Mixed in with a lot of ridiculous complaints (that Steve did a great job of pointing out in the article) is at least one valid one (IMO), even if it's weakly presented, dealing with loss of spontaneity. FastPass+ should be reserved for the three or four rides that really have consistently long wait times (Midway Mania, Soarin', Test Track, and - for now - the Snow White Mine Train), and for special experiences (meeting Mickey, meeting Anna/Elsa - for now, and possibly the more popular evening shows/fireworks/parades, etc.). The old paper Fastpass system worked just fine for everything else, and allowed you to be spontaneous while meeting a legitimate need - I'd love to see it put back in place, but realize this will never happen. I do think WDW has gone too far towards pre-planning and runs the risk of turning a lot of people off because of it. The idea of ordering your food for a casual lunch at Be Our Guest 60 days in advance, for example, is exactly the kind of thing that any normal person would think is crazy (and yes, we did this last trip and enjoyed it, but we knew already that we're not normal! ).

    All that being said, I still love WDW and give them credit for trying to improve the guest experience. Articles like this that just try to take random potshots at WDW, with made up or exaggerated reasons for doing so, aren't worth the time it takes to read them. However, as Steve mentions, there's a lot of this out there and it's frustrating for those of us who know better to see so much misinformation out there.

    Those are valid points. Thanks.

  9. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by MattyN View Post
    They were told to slide only half way down the row? Nice! Usually when we go we're told to slide three-quarters of the way down. Must not have been that crowded!

    Guessing here but... when entering a theater (think Philharmagic) you're asked to move all the way to the end if it's crowded. At venues like Festival of the Lion King, they'll ask each side of a row to slide in toward the center, leaving some room on the ends for additional guests to sit.

  10. By spectromen

    I loved the article! It had the perfect mix of sarcasm, humor and truth. For people to get all bent out of shape because someone's dissing their happy place is a crackup. I feel many of the same ways as Christy did, but I still go because I know times will change regardless of what me, personally wants from WDW.

  11. By carolinakid

    I can agree with both sides. For me I can honestly say that MDE/magic bands/FP+ have not enhanced my visits at all. We actually find ourselves able to do less which I guess is the intent. But MDE is here to stay and it is what it is. I recently got the survey asking if I'd take advantage of being able to order my meals from the menus in advance. I replied highly unlikely. That's just not the way we like to vacation...

  12. By Toocherie

    Unfortunately someone I know got freaked out by the original article--they are taking their first trip to WDW and were very concerned. Several of us assured her that the author was whiny and self-entitled and to go ahead with their trip.

  13. By Jimbo996

    "For me I can honestly say that MDE/magic bands/FP+ have not enhanced my visits at all."

    I'm wondering why you would think it matters. It only enhances your visit if you appreciate short waits for highly popular rides. Otherwise, it wouldn't matter much because you enjoy waiting in long lines due to your preference for spontaneity.

    This is the typical misunderstanding. I know people don't like MagicBands as one way to enjoy the park. BUT BUT BUT you can tour the park any way you want just like you always did. My tip is pull out your tour books that are over 10 years old that pre-dated the original Fastpasses. That's what you do when faced with long queue lines. You wait in long lines.

  14. By indyjones

    We had a less than stellar experience with the Magic Bands and the associated phone application which was just horrible. The absolute best thing about the bands was that it made getting into the parks very quick and easy. Wohoo for that! I agree that the spontaneity is gone. If you don't make a dining reservation 6 months in advance then good luck eating anywhere other than a walk up counter. How about keeping 25% of the tables for walk-up? I'll admit I've never been a huge Fast Pass fan. If you do the math the time you wait overall in the park is the same because if you don't have an FP your wait time is basically doubled. And standing in a line that moves like a snail seems to make people more irritable than standing in a line that is nearly constantly moving. So FP+ just seemed to make things worse because the FP line now extended long outside the entrance to the queue as folks tried to scan there bands to get into the line. Maybe that's been addressed since we went but it sure made using FP annoying.

  15. By towels

    I can't imagine how long it's been since the HuffPo author had been to WDW, but I know they've been asking people to slide down the rows since at least the first time I saw MuppetVision close to ten years ago... Wonder how many germs are on those armrests...

  16. By tshoster

    All I can say it is from the Huffing-ton Post. I would not put too much stock into what they publish. I find that most of their material is self serving and just plain dumb. So anyways,I find that there is always something with every trip to Disney that upsets me. The key though is that I quickly forget about it or they fix the problem and make it better. What I take away from her story is that she hates Disney and was upset that she had to take her family there.
    This was a great read enjoyed and I must be a curmudgeon as well and I am not an old person, I have many years before I can even join AARP.

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