Culture

The 5 Most Overrated Experiences at Walt Disney World

Journey Into Imagination

Last week I shared five underrated experiences at Walt Disney World. I always enjoy sharing what I love about my family’s favorite vacation spot — in fact, I’ve joked about becoming a travel agent specializing in Disney trips. When that post went live, my friend and editor David Swindle issued a challenge. He said, “Now you really have to do the 5 Most Overrated Disney World experiences.”

I thought about past attractions, like the lame 3D film Honey, I Shrunk The Audience at Epcot and its accompanying playground at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Or there’s Dreamflight, Tomorrowland’s late ’80s attempt to update the superb If You Had Wings with a new sponsor. I considered upcoming ideas, like the forthcoming Avatar Land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – wouldn’t a Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios make more sense, provide more fun and be more timeless?

After much deliberation, along with some brainstorming with my family, I chose to stick with current attractions. These are all experiences you can take part in currently. Some of them are attractions that have outlived their entertainment value or have become dated, while others represent time better spent doing something else. Regardless of the reason, you’re better off avoiding these experiences — or at least considering them strongly before undertaking them.

5. The Disney Dining Plan

Steak from Le Cellier

You don’t always think of eating as an integral part of a Walt Disney World vacation, but hey, you have to eat, so why not do it the Disney way?

Walt Disney World’s parks, resorts, and the Downtown Disney area offer a stunning array of places to eat — from expensive table service restaurants to quick service venues to snack kiosks. My favorites include Le Cellier, the Canadian steakhouse at Epcot, and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe, a counter service spot with a great hamburger topping bar in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom. And of course, my favorite snack is the famous Dole Whip.

Disney offers a convenient way to enjoy various dining experience. The Disney Dining Plan allows guests to pay a flat rate for a day’s worth of dining. My family has tried the dining plan twice, and, while I can see its appeal, I’m here to say that the Dining Plan is overrated.

First of all, the plan comes with plenty of rules and exceptions, which can occasionally become complicated. Next, the plan often forces guests to choose more expensive food, when what they really wanted would have saved them money had they purchased those items a la carte. (With that said, if a Disney travel consultant or travel agent offers a free Dining Plan option when booking a trip, by all means consider it.) Finally, the Dining Plan can make guests feel like their vacation is more about food than anything else. Worrying about using all the credits, rushing to make the next dining reservation, eating way too much food — the Dining Plan often creates all these problems at once.

I’m not suggesting that everybody avoid the Disney Dining Plan altogether – what I’m saying is that guests should approach the plan with caution before diving headfirst into it.

4. Daytime Parades

Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade

I suppose I should admit here that I’m not a parade person or a show person — I don’t go to Walt Disney World for either experience. My exceptions are the nighttime parades, which I’ve always loved.

Disney always hypes their daytime parades. Each year the Imagineers come up with a new theme and develop elaborate floats and musical numbers. It’s true that they work really hard, and the parades are often spectacular, but they just aren’t worth the hype.

First off, there are the crowds. Thousands of parents and their kids clamor early for the best parade views. Often the scooter abusers make getting through the parade area even more difficult. Next, consider the weather. It’s Florida. At 3:00 in the afternoon. Sitting on a sidewalk is the last thing a sane person should want to do in the unforgiving Florida sun. Then there’s the endless repetition of music throughout the parade. Whether you like it or not, that music will stick in your head the rest of the day.

Instead of sitting in the heat on uncomfortable concrete or brick for a daytime parade, think about these alternatives. Take advantage of the crowds gathered for the parade by hitting some attractions. You’ll definitely notice the shorter lines. Or turn that 3:00 time into a late lunch or early supper and book a reservation for a table service restaurant. Better yet, enjoy the air conditioning of a counter service restaurant and save some money.

You can make much better use of your time by saying no to the daytime parades. Save your sitting for the parades at night — they will wow you so much more.

3. Studio Backlot Tour

Catastrophe Canyon

Back in the late ’80s, when Disney was designing and building Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), CEO Michael Eisner settled on a grand vision for the new park: housing a working film and television production facility within the walls of a theme park. Guests at the park would receive the thrill of witnessing upcoming films and series as they were in production.

The centerpiece of this bold strategy was the Studio Backlot Tour, designed to showcase the behind-the scenes aspects of filmmaking. The problem with the Studio Backlot Tour lay in the fact that the company invested so much into it at the start that the attraction became difficult to change with the times. As such, the tour quickly became dated.

The largest showpieces of the tour demonstrated elaborate special effects. Harbor Attack and Catastrophe Canyon showed the elements that go into action and disaster scenes. These days, movie fans can find infinitely more information on a DVD or Blu-Ray extra. Modern filmmaking involves a greater amount of CGI than is on display on the tour. Back when actual productions took place at Walt Disney World, guests could catch a glimpse of filming in real time. Alas, now the space houses a costume shop, and all guests can see is fabric.

Other points of interest on the tour include the Earful Tower, Disney’s own version of the studio water tower, as well as Walt Disney’s plane. However, the good stuff is buried among far lesser items such as Herbie, the Love Bug (haven’t we all seen VW Beetles before?) and the spacecraft from Flight of the Navigator (no, I don’t really remember it either). Disney removed the best part of the tour, a residential street made up of famous television house facades, to put up the track for the Lights! Motors! Action! Stunt Show.

The Studio Backlot Tour was a grand idea at one time, but the changing purpose of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the unchanging datedness of the attraction have rendered it overrated and not worth the trouble.

2. Captain EO

Captain EO

Nothing says Future World like a dead pop star in a quarter-century old film,  right?

Tucked in the back corner of Journey Into Imagination lies a 3D theater. At Epcot’s opening, the theater featured a film called Magic Journeys, and its aim was basically to demonstrate new 3D technology. In 1986, Disney chose to replace the film with a futurstic 17 minute short film titled Captain EO. With George Lucas serving as executive producer and Francis Ford Coppola directing, what could go wrong? Well, for starters, the filmmakers cast as the lead the very epitome of overrated — Michael Jackson.

Disney’s synopsis of the film goes something like this:

Dazzling 3D graphics, in-theater special effects and booming digital sound make you feel like you’re really there!

Get ready for a bumpy ride as Captain EO and crew crash-land on the surface of an alien planet to present the Supreme Leader of the Dark Side an important gift. Though well intentioned, the gift is not well received, and Captain EO will have to use some slick moves—and slick tunes, including “We Are Here to Change the World” and “Another Part of Me”—to triumph over the evil forces of darkness.

Because we’re all relying on dance moves to save the world. Guests find themselves stuck inside a theater for 17 minutes watching our Jheri-curled hero sing and dance his way through a 1986 version of a lame future. Every bit of the film is idiotic and unimpressive. The special effects are a definite product of their time, and the songs are prototypical Jackson tunes. Somehow, it cost $30 million to produce, making Captain EO the most expensive film of its time, frame for frame.

In 1994, Disney replaced Captain EO with the aforementioned Honey, I Shrunk The Audience (the approximately 450th time Disney tried to extend the life of that franchise), which lasted until 2010. Upon Jackson’s death in 2009, the company announced plans to bring Captain EO back. Imagineers retrofitted the theaters, employing some of the newer effects that Honey, I Shrunk The Audience introduced. New effects, same old crappy movie.

Stay away from Captain EO, trust me. But if you’re just curious enough as to how bad it actually is, check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAvMkZQBIXk

1. Stitch’s Great Escape

Stitch's Great Escape

One space in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom used to host an attraction called Mission To Mars, which simulated a rocket trip to the red planet. For a born-too-late-for-Apollo space cadet like me, Mission To Mars provided an exciting space travel experience. It couldn’t have been simpler — projection techniques and vibrations in the room and the seat simulated space flight for a room full of guests who were snugly buckled in their seats. Alas, Mission To Mars became outdated, and the Imagineers replaced it.

The replacement attraction, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, gave guests thrills of a different kind. In the attraction, the fictional corporation X-S Tech demonstrated its new teleportation technology. Through a mishap in the process, a carnivorous alien was beamed into the room. When the power goes out, guests experienced the horror of an escaped alien: the sound of an alien running around the space thanks to binaural sound in the seats, a splash of alien saliva (or the blood of an unlucky X-S Tech employee?), and even the alien’s breath on the back of guests’ necks. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter provided a scare unlike any other in Disney Parks. For some reason, the company chose to replace ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter with Stitch’s Great Escape in 2003.

The cheaply made animated film Lilo & Stitch tells the story of a young Hawaiian girl who befriends an alien named Stitch. Stitch is supposed to be cute and mischievous, but instead he is irritating as hell, yet for some reason Disney felt the need to market him to the hilt. (For a while, some Disney products even elevated him to the level of classic characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and a statue of Stitch stands atop the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney, where he spits on guests.)

The attraction serves as a sort of prequel to the movie, with Stitch, or “Prisoner 626,” escaping guards in the theater. Using many of the same effects as the Alien Encounter, Stitch spits on guests and tickles them on top of the head. He also eats a chili dog and burps, releasing a disgusting scent into the crowd. The entire experience is annoying.

Disney really disappointed me with an attraction this lame — and for relying on cheap gags like burp smells. The fact that the company hypes this junk as a flagship attraction in Tomorrowland makes a mockery of all the cool stuff that came before. Avoid this one at all costs!

There you go…my top five. I don’t mean it to be a necessarily exhaustive list, but they’re the most overrated experiences of all of them. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.