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I love Disney more than any sane person should. I can look around my house and see literally dozens of Disney-related trinkets. Several of the items in my wardrobe are Disney apparel, including my favorite hoodie. I try to visit the parks at least twice per year and am a proud member of the Disney Vacation Club. And even I, as diehard a fan as there is, have some complaints about Disney. After almost five years of writing at Theme Park Tourist, I’m finally ready to get them off of my chest. Here are a few controversial opinions from a Disney lover.

Disney transportation just isn’t good enough

Image: DisneyI’m a monorail guy. One of my favorite articles that I’ve ever written explains the history of monorail service. As a kid, I felt like Disney was the future because it had a transportation service that I’d never seen before. As an adult, I still love the monorail so much that I have a toy Walt Disney World monorail on one of my shelves.

Even as a passionate fan of the monorail system, I know the truth. The current line at Walt Disney World is dangerously old. When doors come off or open in the middle of a trip, we’ve gone past a maintenance issue. Disney needs to replace the current monorail fleet, preferably soon. It’s the longest a fleet has run in the history of Disney theme parks…by a lot.

While the age of the monorails is troubling, my biggest problem with Disney transportation is the bus system. We live in an age where I can break out my phone and watch live video from the other side of the world in real-time. Why, then, is Disney fundamentally unable to provide quality bus updates to guests waiting at the parks or Disney Springs?

Image: DisneyI call the entire situation the Disney Bus Lottery, only it’s closer to Shirley Jackson’s lottery than the one where you win a prize. During my most recent visit, a bus driver closed the door while staring at me as I approached. Another waved me away, saying that they were only dropping off, not picking up. On several occasions, I waited 20 minutes or longer, valuable time that I could have spent at the parks, places where I’m, you know, likely to spend money.

Disney's maddening lack of information about bus/boat arrivals and departures continues to infuriate. They have made some in-roads, of course. Most resorts have monitors that show this information now, and the My Disney Experience app also includes it for guests staying at official resorts. What about the people at the parks and Disney Springs, though? These are the places where most Disney transportation occurs yet guests remain entirely in the dark about when a bus/boat will show up. It's utterly inexcusable. The undeniable truth is that Disney transportation and its notification system have improved only fractionally over the past decade despite revoutionary advancements in technology and communication.

Stitch and others deserve better attractions

Image: DisneyEveryone has a favorite Disney character. Sadly, few of these characters get rides based off of their stories. In the early days, the choices were easy. Disney had released only a few movies. Characters from those stories were likely to get a park presence, which explains why Mr. Toad is just in half a movie but gets a full Disneyland attraction.

In recent years, Pixar and Marvel characters have heightened their profiles at Disney parks, with Star Wars Land coming soon. Similarly, original intellectual properties (IPs) like the Yeti have starred in rides. Somehow, actual characters from Disney animated movies have gotten the short end of the stick. During the 2000s, the only non-Pixar films with a significant park presence are Dinosaur, Frozen, and Lilo & Stitch. The DINOSAUR attraction barely bears a resemblance to the movie on which it's based, also. That leaves Frozen Ever After, a thoroughly satisfying ride, and the since-deconstructed Stitch's Great Escape!

Image: DisneyAs a Disney fan, I’m frustrated by this situation. During the 2000s, quality films like Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Moana, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Zootopia are all lacking theme park attractions. While Disney prioritizes all things Pixar, a casual glance at the parks will prove a passion for Lilo & Stitch, too. Stitch has got to be one of the best-selling IPs in the entire Disney catalog yet it had a TERRIBLE ride. When that ride understandably got shut down, the number of attractions based on 21st century Disney films fell from one to zero.

Recently, the only Disney movie that’s gotten any major park attention is Big Hero 6. You may not even know it, either, because this attraction will open at Tokyo Disneyland in 2020. Park officials have done a terrible job in prioritizing high-quality Disney animated films at Disney parks. It’s frustrating. We deserve an excellent Stitch ride, and a Zootopia one would seem like a natural at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, too. And where is that long-rumored Wreck-It Ralph ride? Disney, you have a lot more great IP than just Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar. Pay more attention to it!

Tokyo Disneyland is the place that American parks should mimic

Image: DisneyQuick, where is the best Winnie the Pooh ride in the world? It’s certainly not at Magic Kingdom or Disneyland. How about Monsters, Inc.? No, Walt Disney World has only constructed an improv comedy building thus far. Meanwhile, Disney California Adventure has a solid dark ride, but it’s vastly inferior to a similar version elsewhere.

Yes, the best versions of Winnie the Pooh and Monsters, Inc. attractions are at Tokyo Disneyland. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was the first attraction in the world to employ trackless technology, something that we’re still waiting to see at Walt Disney World. Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek is a delightful dark ride that even comes with a flashlight! 

Image: DisneyIn fact, I can take this idea a step further. Do you love Radiator Springs Racers or Test Track? This type of ride design is fabulous, but Tokyo DisneySea’s Journey to the Center of the Earth stands apart as the most excellent iteration. Why does Tokyo Disneyland claim superiority to the original American Disney parks?

Part of the problem is motivation. The Walt Disney Company can charge whatever they want for theme park attendance. They can also build new attractions and amenities if/when they feel like it. Conversely, The Oriental Land Company owns and operates Tokyo Disneyland. They've licensed the right and must adhere to stringent requirements to move forward with projects.

Image: DisneyDisney has right-of-refusal on attractions, giving Tokyo Disneyland attractions a higher hurdle to clear. Unbelievably, the standards are thereby higher at a non-Disney park with Disney in the title than at the ones managed by The Walt Disney Company. The result is that the original Disney theme parks keep getting surpassed by attractions constructed by The Oriental Land Company.

Disney executives should take more time to study what Tokyo Disneyland does well. Yes, I recognize that the companies interact on a daily basis, but we’ve reached a point where the licensed products have surpassed the originals. It merits additional consideration so that we’ll get the best Disney theme parks possible in the United States.

Character meetings should be everywhere

Image: DisneyHere’s my final vent for today. Why aren’t character meetings more ubiquitous? During recent hurricanes, Disney has shipped characters to resorts to engage in meet-and-greets. These events have created timeless moments captured on video and shared on social media. It leads to an obvious question. Why isn’t that the baseline?

At Walt Disney World, Disney owns and operates more than 25 hotels. Why don’t these places have character meetings available in or near the lobby all day? The expense of having cast members engaged in these interactive events is negligible.

From a customer perspective, moving more character meetings to resorts is a way to keep guests engaged while reducing some of the crowd traffic that Disney is so worried about. You may quibble that Disney has the incentive to get guests in the parks as much as possible, but that's not necessarily true.

Image: DisneyWhen guests are at official resorts, they’re still in the Disney bubble. The company gets all the revenue spent at the stores and restaurants. When guests spend more time at the hotel, they also spend more money. That’s just common sense.

Right now, Disney’s mentality seems to be that they should save character interactions for their expensive character meals. That’s understandable, but there’s a corollary to it. They may only serve a few thousand guests daily at these meals. Everyone at the hotel would like character meetings, which leads to an organic rise in the number of PhotoPass packages sold, too.

I honestly don't understand why Disney doesn't do this. All they'd need is a photographer, a costumed cast member, and one or two organizers per character greeting. In exchange, they'd have lines of 50+ guests from the resort participating in something constructive. To an extent, I get why Disney wouldn't do this at water parks (or hotel pools), but it's an obvious choice at hotels. Disney just isn't doing a good enough job of exploring its deep library of IPs as a means of satisfying theme park tourists.

 

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