Disney World: Where has the Magic Gone? An Honest Review

The first time we went to Disney World with our family was in 2013, and we had such a great time that we went again the following year. It was pricey but absolutely worth it. We had three little princesses at the time, who still talk about those trips.

Cast members greeted my 5, 4, and 2-year-old little girls with “Good morning, princesses!” And “here we are, princess!” They were truly cast members, and my babies were the Stars of their own princess movies. We splurged on the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique, which was around $60 at the time for a princess bun hairdo and a crown, and the experience of it all, which again, was stellar. It was worth it. My husband planned the entire trip, and fast passes for each ride were booked ahead of time, we opted to add on the meal plan and made reservations for every meal that we could- which also included Character meals so we wouldn’t have to waste time in line waiting to meet anyone.

It went off without a hitch.

The grounds were pristine. Everyone was incredibly polite. There wasn’t so much as a mosquito in sight.

Fast forward nine years.

Things. Have. Changed.

We have since doubled our family size. We’ve been wanting to take a trip back to Disney with our family so we could introduce our youngest three to the Magic that we felt years ago.

We knew it would be pricey with a party of 8, somewhere to the tune of $1,000 per day just for tickets. Add in the cost of the resort and food and if we stayed longer than 2 days we were going to be way outside of our reasonable budget. It would be somewhere around $7,000 for maybe 4 days. Not including food. Because Disney no longer offers meal plans.

My oldest daughter does competitive Irish Dance and had a regional competition in Orlando. We would be there for 2 days for her to dance. We decided this was the perfect time to take our family to Disney! Two days in the parks would be plenty.

We planned to surprise the kids with bags of goodies, snacks, Disney shirts, and of course some precious Mickey Ears (amazon coming in clutch!). We gave them the bags the day we left. They were so excited! We were so excited! We were finally going back to Disney!!

We decided on Hollywood Studios for Saturday and Magic Kingdom for Sunday. We were ready for ALL the M A G I C!!

Now, here’s where it gets a little messy.

We love Disney.

We are also *painfully* aware of price increases across the board. Everything from groceries to gas, and anything in between has gone way up.

Disney is obviously no exception.

But. I have to be totally transparent with my friends who may be considering a trip to Disney any time soon. Especially those with more than two kids.

Also! Please know that I am incredibly grateful to have been able to take our kids to the parks.

Yes, this is a bit of a rant.

It may not be the most popular opinion and maybe it has something to do with how big my family is. Because everything is multiplied by 7 (our 2-year-old doesn’t count yet).

And maybe with the old CEO back it’ll change.

But… we were just so disappointed in Disney.

We were nickel and dimed at every corner. Which we expected really. But it has gotten so much worse.

First off, it’s $25 per day to park. Which seems petty, but considering the cost of literally everything else, it just starts to feel like, “come on, seriously?!”

Next- tickets. When you buy tickets, you’re given the option to purchase multiple days with a slight discount for each additional day. We opted for the two days of tickets.  The website shows a calendar with reservations available. When we purchased there was no warning or disclaimer that there was a private event requiring separate tickets that began at 7 pm.

Our one day in Magic Kingdom we were kicked out of the park at 6 pm by employees checking for wristbands for the Mickey Christmas party. Literally, the employees had flashlights checking wrists. They stood in a line yelling out to guests to raise their wrists so they could see wristbands.

The tickets for the party were an additional $189 per person. And even so, it was a sold-out event. We were not notified at the time of purchasing the tickets that the park closed early, nor were we given any option to purchase tickets for the event.  Once we found out about the party the night before (we were looking to see if there were any cancelations for dining reservations) we asked friends who had gone in years past and they said although they like for people to leave the park, it was generally not a problem to stay during the special events, we just wouldn’t have access to rides.

(And the cost for the bands would have been on top of what we had already paid for the full day of tickets- which would have been a total of about $400 per person.)

After being called out for not having a wristband, I talked to the “cast member” (which I say loosely) about it and I said “it just doesn’t make sense” and he fired right back just as snarky as you can imagine “actually, it does” and pointed to the exit.

Dripping with attitude.

Knowing I’d end up going viral for losing my temper, I clenched my jaw shut and turned around with my husband and six children, and left, only to be confronted again on our way to the exit 3 more times asking for our wristbands. They were quite literally policing the event.

We paid for a full day in the park and were shorted 3 hours, which we would 100% have stayed for. You pay that much, you want to get every minute of time in the park that you can.

I was so upset! I talked to the front desk and was told I could join the queue to potentially get the wristbands. No explanation. Just come over here and wait in line to pay more money.

I also want to say, I get that there are people who willingly pay extra to go to the parties. I get that part of the incentive to pay more is that you have a less crowded park. I get that there are shorter rides and unlimited hot chocolate and eggnog and cookies.

But if that is the case, it needs to be absolutely blatantly clear and posted everywhere on the website, the calendar, and the park before you can purchase tickets- you will pay for a full day and you will not get the full experience.

I get that it’s a separate party. But why not let people who already dished out a ton of money for a full day of tickets stay in the park but check for the bands at the “exclusive to the party” extras? Why not let them stay and watch the parade? I just don’t get it. And I know this aspect isn’t new. But we weren’t even given a heads-up when we spent a solid grand for tickets. Nowhere did it say we would be forced to leave the park early.

We now know the private event policy is how its been for years and years. We just had no clue. (We must live under a rock!)

So, instead of getting the whole fireworks show that made me cry the last time and the big fabulous ending at the castle we were literally ushered out. That’s how our little vacation ended.

We had planned to set up and watch the fireworks and get hot cocoa and treats before we left to head home.

Last time we came here was 9 years ago. We had a blast just like we did this weekend. But the experience was…different.

There was no “good morning princess!” No sugary sweet cast members at every corner. Many times we saw cast members gathered around, one even announced to the other employees during a princess meet and greet, “we’re almost done!” They were chit-chatting but with each other. Not at all engaging with the guests. I could never imagine a cast member being flat-out ugly to me the last time we came.

I could never imagine a wall of cast members blocking Main Street to check for wristbands.

And the Genie + system??

Don’t even get me started.

The fast pass system wasn’t broken so why did they change it? So, they could charge an additional $20 per person per day. The super popular rides weren’t included in the fast pass options.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the Rise of the Resistance would have been another additional $10 charge per person to use a fast pass.

We also were never able to secure a lightning pass for the Tower of Terror because it was booked up until closing almost immediately.

If you chose not to do the fast passes there were solid hour to two-hour waits for those rides.

You cannot schedule another lightning pass until you have used your first one. Which meant my husband was on his phone starting early in the morning to try to get our next one scheduled and timed right.

So, I am just being fully transparent. We knew Disney was expensive. It’s been expensive for a long time. But now it’s outrageously expensive and the Magic is just… gone. Souvenirs, sit-down meals, counter service meals, bibbidi bobbidi boutique, lightning passes, parking, snacks- prices are sky high. (A Buzz Lightyear light-up bubble toy was $34! Chicken tender meals split between kids still came to $80- and remember they no longer have meal plans!)

A few positives though– because it was still Disney and the positives are worth noting!

We waited a little while in line to meet Merida, my kids’ favorite Princess. She was awesome. Super interactive and bubbly. She took her time and was so so very sweet with my “clan” as she called us. Impeccable with her character. An absolute gem.

We also passed Gaston on the street, and one of my younger girls caught his attention because she was looking at a map of the park instead of him. He said “Why are you looking at a map?! I’m right here!” And then proceeded to flex his muscles. She giggled the whole time. It was fantastic! This was the Disney we remembered!

We were super impressed with the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge part of Hollywood Studios. The entire area was incredible.

Fantasmic was amazing. Definitely the highlight for my two oldest.

So, yes, we had a great time! Yes, I teared up watching my babies play and have the best time! We seriously loved it. We did make some precious memories that my babies and my husband and I will never forget.

However, the weight of the negative encounters, the unexpected costs, and the overall feeling (especially when we were forced to leave) was too much. We couldn’t help but feel like they took every single opportunity to charge us more money. I’ll tell you we will happily dish out the money if the experience is worth it! But this time? It just. wasn’t. worth. it.

Certainly, we don’t judge any other family that would choose to go! We craved the sweet moments dedicated to entertaining and bonding with our babies. We completely understand making the effort to save and plan and make it a big trip! Just make sure to allow for all the extra charges in your vacation budget. Because there are literally extra fees at every corner. It might also be helpful to have a Disney travel agent help plan your vacation. We didn’t use one, and that may have helped us avoid so many headaches.

At the end of the day, we don’t regret going. We are so thankful for the memories. But would we go again any time in the near future? Absolutely not.

Katy has been married to her college (Geaux Tigers!) sweetheart Chris for 12 years. They live on the Northshore with their 5 daughters and two dogs, who keep their lives exciting and exhausting, and their house messy. After being relocated to the Midwest for several years due to her husband’s job, she and her family realized they missed Louisiana and its glorious heat and humidity more than they could handle and moved back home, this time for good. She loves trying new local restaurants, the four minutes a week her house is actually clean, and watching whichever activity her girls are involved in at the moment. You can usually find her dancing to classic country in her kitchen with a glass of wine, while attempting to come up with something to make for dinner.

8 COMMENTS

  1. We went for the first time in November, and I absolutely echo your sentiments. I was saddened that I didn’t “feel the magic” that everyone raves about. The bathrooms were dirty, trashcans full, quite a bit of the cast members weren’t what I was always told we would experience. It was a lot of money, and we also had to leave for the Very Merry Christmas Party. I knew about the party (could NOT justify the price), but, didn’t think we would have to cut our night short because of it. I wanted to really want to go back, and for what we paid vs what we got? I just don’t have the interest in going again, at this time.

  2. Planning a Disney trip is absolutely exhausting. My first time was in 1990 and you could just go with the flow. We stayed off ground and never feel liked I missed out on anything. We returned in 1995 and stayed on the grounds for the first time. It was magical. I returned on an adult only trip in 2002 and still had fun and thought it was reasonably priced (other than the race car experience). But when I decided to bring my two 4 year old grand kids in 2016 I was shocked by price and the amount of preplanning you must do. The “go with the flow” mentality was gone. We rented a cabin at the campground and rented a golf cart. We went in October so Mickeys Not so Scary Halloween was going on. I checked to see what time we could enter the park if we didn’t have a regular ticket for the day. We were allowed to enter after noontime. So we swam that morning, got in an early nap and headed to the Magic Kingdom by 1. But we missed one of our character meals because of cranky kids and the need for a late nap, but they allowed us to use it on another night, if there was availability. The trip was awesome for the kids, but I felt like I was in full time management mode. We have a fast pass for this ride. We git through it faster thsn anticipated, but our next pass isn’t ready to be used yet. The kids want to ride something else, but if we get in that line, we may miss our fast pass time for the preferred ride. Full transparency – they had more fun at the campground on the golf cart and swimming than any day in the park. It’s amazing to see how we’ve all been brainwashed to think we must do this and fork over the thousands we do to go. I’m not sure I will be returning anytime soon.

  3. Wow. You would have had an even better time at somewhere like Busch Gardens Williamsburg Christmas Town! It’s totally worth it and not expensive at all.

  4. We went on the Disney Wish in early December and then did a park day afterwards. In my opinion, the park was exactly as you described but the cruise was the exact opposite. Incredibly magical and the experience overall was perfection. Like the old Disney. It is very expensive but I don’t feel like they nickel and dime you on the boat except for alcohol and Bibbidi Bobbidi.

  5. I love your honesty! I was fortunate enough to work the College Program in the Magic Kingdom at Disney a very long time ago. (i would recommend to anyone – it has gotten me every job I have ever had since then…really)! It was a different time. Many rules enforced…I would have been fired for talking to other cast members in front of guests like you described. I apologize for your experience. There is so much magic, but at what price? Thanks for sharing your experience! #disneymkcp1989

  6. Im a Disney fan and we go often, like 3 or 4 times a year. I think some things you said hold some weight but I also think some are on you and just poor planning. The parties are an extra expense and although you may not have known about them specifically did you not check the park hours before going? I would also say going to Disney for only one or two park days is very tough and the least economical way to do it. I would highly recommend consulting a travel agent that specializes in Disney to help plan trips, they know the ins and outs and their services are typically free to you. I think for the things you mentioned that I do agree they can improve, I dont believe they are completely staffed and I hope to see a lot of that improved over the next year.

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