Ohhhh boy. Here we go. The anti-most magical place on Earth post. These are the things that we either did not understand about our vacation in Walt Disney World, or things that just kept coming up that we struggled with. Disney-holics: as you read, just remember all the things I LOVED about our trip. There are two sides to every story.
Things We Kind of Hated About Our Disney World Experience:
The Bus System, specifically at Caribbean Beach Resort – Oh. My. God. Okay, so we love that by staying on Disney property, you are automatically connected to the Walt Disney World transportation system, meaning boats, buses, and monorail options. However, every property is different, and like many, CBR offers only bus transportation to the parks. That’s fine. We’ve enjoyed being chauffeured around on all of our previous trips. Something about this trip though, made travel almost unbearable, to the point where we started treating ourselves to cab rides to and from locales, just to avoid it. My dad estimated we wasted at least a quarter of our trip waiting for or dealing with some kind of transportation issue. That’s a lot of wasted time that could be spent actually enjoying vacation. I suspect CBR is one of the largest culprits of this, because their property is so spread out and it takes FOR.EV.ER to get anywhere, plus almost every bus is filled to capacity with people, often people with motorized scooters that need to be loaded onto buses, eliminating seats, etc. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I imagine if you stayed at other resorts, with just one or two stops on property to pick people up and let them off, you’d save a TON of time. The real kicker for us was one afternoon, as our bus pulled up, we entered the bus from the back door, simply because there was no one else getting on or off but us. You weren’t supposed to do that, and we didn’t realize this until the large, angry bus driver stood up from his seat, and started charging at us, YELLING to get off the bus! “GET OFF THE BUS!” We were bewildered and shocked and got off the bus. We then had to get back on through the correct door, and continued being berated by this crazy bus driver. It wasn’t that we made a mistake (we were VERY SORRY about it at this point,) it was the way this particular cast member unnecessarily screamed at eight adults to get off his bus. All he had to do was ask nicely. It was a jarring experience, after coming to expect the best service from all Disney cast members in the past. Believe me, CBR will be receiving a strongly worded letter from my mother about that one.
Angry Disney Cast Members – I’m not talking about angry Disney princesses here (although that may have been amusing,) I mean the other cast members in the parks, and unfortunately, at our Caribbean Beach Resort. For those who aren’t familiar with the Disney way, all employees are called “cast members,” I presume because they are all playing a part in what is supposed to be a magical experience for all guests. This is one thing we always remembered, the amazing, hard-working, always-smiling employees, always there to help on our previous visits. This trip, we could see a major change in personnel. With the exception of Caribbean Beach Resort cast members I mentioned in my previous post, we encountered many employees who were snotty, angry, or had a plain old attitude when you’d ask them things like, “Would it make more sense for this breakfast to be a snack or a quick meal?” Not only that, but at our resort, most of them didn’t seem to know the answers, and didn’t seem to care. Around the theme parks, we felt a general indifference from many cast members, ranging from the bored, teenaged-looking employees running the rides, to the actual “actors” on certain rides. I’m not saying that every cast member was like this, but I am saying that I heard more cast members verbally complaining about things, talking about their next day off, and just being kind of short with patrons more often than not. It was disappointing. It can’t be an easy job, (I know I would probably hate it,) but I miss the high standards that seemed to be upheld in days of Disney past.
The Disney Dining Plan – This one. I almost want to say it nearly ruined our trip. How long as the Disney Dining Plan been around? I’m not sure. I could look into it, but that would be me wasting even more time stressing out about it. We stressed a lot about it, all vacation long. So I think we were on the “basic” plan, meaning each day, each of us got one snack, one quick meal, and one sit-down, table service meal. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the catch is- if you want a bottle of water? That’s a snack. If you want a bagel and an orange juice on the go before you head out for the day? That’s maybe a snack, maybe a quick meal. Shit, it might even be a continental breakfast (a new option presented to us one day, out of the blue.) You aren’t really sure, and guess what, neither are any of the food service employees at Caribbean Beach Resort. Therefore, they will charge you in ways that leave you with no food at the end of your trip, or, alternately, charge you all kinds of extra dollars that you’ll discover on your room bill when you leave to go home. I think life would have been easier had we met just one cast member who was willing to talk us through it in the beginning. We did find that magical person (Stephanie, from The Wave restaurant,) but it was at our last supper. Secondly, say you’re sitting down to an exquisite fine dining dinner. Maybe you want to order an appetizer and a salad instead of an entrée, because it’s a million degrees outside and it hurts to eat. Sorry, you can’t. Well, you can, but it doesn’t count towards the dining plan. You are allotted one non-alcoholic drink, an entrée, and a dessert as your sit-down table service meal. Anything else will cost you extra. We got to the point where we kind of stopped caring, and just told our servers, “put whatever you can towards whatever we have left on the meal plan, and charge the rest to one room.” We gave up a little, and guess what, I am pretty sure we spent even more money than we would have just buying things outright, with cash. I think there is potential in the dining plan, but what I think would make more sense is just having a debit system. As in, you have a certain amount that is simply deducted every time you buy food. If you need more money, you just add more money to your account. When your money is gone, it’s gone. At least that way, you know where your money went. Sigh. We all hated the Disney Dining Plan. A lot.
Food Quality – I know, you think I really, really hate Disney already. Especially the Caribbean Beach Resort. Let me tell you, I actually don’t. If this was your first time at WDW (like my husband’s,) you’ll find less issue with some of the things I’m talking about, but that’s because you have nothing to compare it to. Comparison maybe isn’t fair, but it’s hard to go from the most amazing experience, to one that leaves us questioning when and if we’ll return. Anyways, let’s talk food quality. I understand most people don’t go to Disney to experience a foodie adventure, but we were hoping for an overall pleasant experience. As you know, we dined at several restaurants that were fabulous. I don’t think we’ll ever forget that meal at Shula’s. It was divine. Whenever it was time to grab a fast lunch or breakfast, that’s where we ran into problems. At CBR, pretty much everything we ate, whether from the “order-at-counter” area, or from the to-go shop, was tasteless and cafeteria style. Essentially, the food at CBR is cafeteria quality. Similarly, at the parks, when we’d sit down to a lunch at places like Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios, we waited in long lines, had to fight with food services employees about our dining plan, and then sat (if we could find a table,) and ate extremely mediocre food. I had this fantasy of all kinds of delicious quick service meals around the parks, specifically Epcot. I think we probably would have done better eating most of our meals in the countries- or just getting a Mickey ice cream bar and calling it lunch.
Crowd Control – We were told that Disney as a whole was only at 30% capacity. We had a hard time believing that. The crowds were larger than any we’d ever experienced before, and this supposedly is still “off-season” for WDW, one reason we chose the dates we did. Some people aren’t bothered by being crammed into small spaces, lines, and vehicles with other sweaty people and screaming infants, but we are. I fully realize we, as adults vacationing in Disney World, are in the minority. It’s a family destination, so that’s what you get, and that’s what I’d expect. It’s more in the details, and how it felt like as a whole. Maybe Disney could do more for people trying to avoid being run down by double-wide strollers, or maybe not force four full-sized adults to fit into a ride seat only built for two to three. It’s one of those little things that we don’t remember in the past, and for me, personally, it made it so I had little interest in revisiting parks to do more, but instead opted for more quiet days by the pool, avoiding the mass of humanity. I simply don’t match up to the competitive, pushy madness I felt you had to have as your hauled ass to your FastPass. I had a hard time relaxing. This is a vacation, right? No thanks. Lesson learned- maybe we’re not cut out for Disney.
Making Reservations With the WDW Dine Hotline/Website – I love how the Disney advertisement channels on resort TVs boast the “ease” and “flexibility” of making dining reservations and FastPass+ selections. It’s such false advertising. When I made my reservations blindly, five months prior to our trip, I already felt the pressure of having to adhere to those plans, and worried about how difficult it might be to change them. I personally found, it wasn’t super easy. Want to cancel a reservation? If you happen to be less than 24 hours before it, you’ll be charged $10 per head for that cancellation. We were a group of eight so yeah, you do the math. Getting a reservation for eight people was nearly impossible on the fly. Hope that plan you made five months ago is okay with you. And when you called to make or break reservations (because the website wasn’t working,) have your credit card ready (even if you already have it on file,) all your personal information, and get ready for a CIA-style interrogation.
The Commercialization of Disney World – Remember my little letter to Shonda Rhimes? This is a weird analogy, but stick with me. I felt let down by Shonda, whom I love and respect, because I feel she’s spreading herself too thin among her television shows, therefore decreasing the quality of each one. What I’d prefer, is that she focuses her attention on one great show (as were the glory days of Grey’s Anatomy.) It feels like a similar situation occurred in Disney World parks, from 17 years ago, until now. Perhaps they’ve gotten a little too big for their britches? Years ago, when it was three theme parks and two water parks, you could feel the love in every detail of your experience. Now, with so many resorts, parks, Magic Bands, and hoards of people, it feels less like a personalized adventure, and more like a cattle call. Whether it’s some of the rides changed to eliminate the extra special touches they once featured (example: the poaching theme on Kilimanjaro Safari,) or the fireworks “spectacular” at Epcot being cut to 12 disappointing minutes from the 30 we remember, Disney World is a different animal now. Perhaps it’s one that has been stretched too thin to still provide those magical touches we fondly remember from days past.
I’m sure I broke a lot of hearts with this one, and angered the many Disney loyalists out there, worldwide. I know in part, our tough times came from not understanding every little piece of planning a trip to WDW in 2014. I’m sure I could have done way more research beforehand to get a better grip on things. I think I found it kind of crazy that I even HAD to do that much thinking about it, more than any other trip I’ve gone on around the (real) world. If you have tips and want to share them below, please do. I know my family and others planning future WDW trips would appreciate it! Next time, (if there is one,) we’ve already decided the following:
- We’d never, ever bring our kids there before age six. No. Common sense!
- We’d probably pull them out of school and go in late January or February, as close to an off-season as they have these days.
- We’d stay at a resort that has more options than just the bus, potentially even housed in one, traditional hotel building.
- We’d get our dining reservations (sigh) even more in advance, like six months or so.
- We’d make sure to plan days for relaxation.
- We’d buy our own breakfast, to have in our room before going out to the parks.
- Truthfully, I’d maybe avoid the dining plan all together, and budget money for food like you would on any other vacation. At least you know what you’re paying for, and can control it yourself.