Did My Disney Experience Kill Spontaneity at Disney World?

My Disney Experience ushered in a new wave of Disney vacation. For the first time ever, your room key, PhotoPass card, admission ticket, FastPasses, and payment are all at your fingertips at the touch of a button — well, technically, all on your wrist with a tap of your MagicBand.

 

2019 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival MagicBand ©Disney

Additionally, to really maximize your trip, you should book your dining reservations as early as possible (180 days in advance), as well as your FastPasses (up to 60 days in advance.)

But with all this pre-planning, it raises the question: Is spontaneous Magic dead at Disney?

Blue Castle Evening
Cinderella Castle

Booking FastPasses in advance means you need to have your tickets purchased and linked to your account, as well as know which park you want to be in on which day. And while FastPasses can be modified, if you happen to score a hard-to-get time slot for rides like Slinky Dog Dash or Flight of Passage, you’re pretty much locked in… unless you want to give it up and wait in standby for a few hours.

Slinky Dog Dash Pre-Launch
Slinky Dog Dash

FastPass+ does guarantee you’ll get to ride some of your must-do attractions, or saves you a spot in line to meet your favorite characters or see a spectacular show. If you’re a planner, this is basically a dream come true.

Mickey & Minnie at Adventurers’ Outpost

And let’s be honest — as Walt Disney World has continued to grow over the years, it’s become less and less of a destination where you could just “show up.” Even without FastPass+ and My Disney Experience, it would still be a very good idea to be familiar with height requirements, dining options, how to get from place to place, and in general what there is to do at Walt Disney World. As a former Guest Relations hostess, I cannot tell you how many times people approached me and asked, “What is there to do here?!” And this was pre-MDX. (Not to date myself.)

When you’re spending thousands of dollars on a vacation, it’s a good idea to do some research beforehand — no matter the destination.

Epcot view across World Showcase Lagoon

And still, even with all the planning that goes into a Walt Disney World vacation, there is surprise magic to be found (if you let it happen!). Maybe you score a last-minute dining reservation to Le Cellier, or discover accidentally that a drink and a few munchies at Baseline Tap House are the perfect dinner instead.

Perhaps you run into Kevin just in time for a selfie in Animal Kingdom, or end up shaking your groove thing with Mr. Incredible at the Super Shindig! You could discover the Single Rider line is only 5 minutes long at Test Track, or a Cast Member may make a little magic and give you an extra scoop at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. 

Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar

It’s true that Walt Disney World may no longer be a last-minute spontaneous vacation destination for the average person — but was it ever?

It’s certainly a big change to get used to, and with any big change there are gonna be growing pains. But at the end of the day — with the additions of My Disney Experience, you can guarantee yourself to see and do at least three things you want to during the day, in addition to all the spontaneous magic that is sure to happen when you’re at the Most Magical Place on Earth!

What do you think — did My Disney Experience kill spontaneity at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Molly is a lifelong Disney enthusiast, and former Walt Disney World Guest Relations Cast Member and tour guide. Her Walt Disney World favorites include Festival of the Lion King, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Fantasmic!, Mickey-shaped pretzels and rice krispie treats, and anything with Buzz Lightyear! She lives in Orlando with her husband (who she met in Guest Relations) and their two rescue dogs, Kronk and Cruella de Vil (Ella for short!)

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24 Replies to “Did My Disney Experience Kill Spontaneity at Disney World?”

  1. I have been going to Disney World regularly since 1998. We like to plan a day or two in advance what we are going to do, but we can’t do that anymore; we have to plan 60 days out. Since My Disney Experience arrived, the standby lines for rides are as bad, or worse, than before the paper fast passes were introduced. With the My Disney Experience fast passes, it takes us twice as long to get thru the rides because the fast passes are at least an hour apart. We can’t get fast passes in advance for the 2 rides in one park, and the night show in another park because you can only get fast passes for one park at a time. I am very unhappy about being charged to park at a Disney resort when I am already paying a lot for a room. They aren’t charging for busses which are surely more expensive to operate and maintain than a parking lot. The new ticket pricing which varies by day really infuriates me. Disney has been dumbing down EPCOT so much over the years that there are few attractions left that we want to experience. We enjoy the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, but I have started to look at non-Disney vacation options, much to my dismay given how much I have loved Disney World over the years.

  2. I can attest to the fact that there once was a spontaneous WDW that you could just show up at and have a blast. Best I can recall it was Spring of 1998 that my family was driving from our home near Nashville to Gatlinburg,TN for a short unplanned vacation. As we neared Nashville, on a whim, I called Delta to check on flights to MCO. Lo and behold, there were 4 seats available at a doable last min. price. Booked the flights while driving thru downtown Nashville. I still vividly remember my wife crawling over the front seat into the back of our SUV and start culling out cold weather mountain clothes from the suitcases and consolidating the leftovers into a couple of bags. Meanwhile, I turn towards the airport and hit the phone again to book ressies at any available resort. Luckily we got great deals on Contemporary Resort rooms. Only hitch we forgot about was the fact we didn’t have our AP’s with us, but in true Disney magic, problem solved by receiving temporary replacements once we got there. We enjoyed the trip with rides and eating onsite probably better than any previously “well planned” trip. The funniest part was when we finally remembered to call home to check in with the grandparents and realized they thought we were in the mountains of Tennessee when in fact we had flown South to the Mouse. And YES, this long time Disney fan really misses the “good old days” when you could be spontaneous at DisneyWorld.

  3. I have been going to Disney since my father took us in 1975. We took about 15 years off & took my son when he was 6 he is now 29 and absolutely refuses to book fast passes before hand. He yells at me if I even talking about it saying MOM! It’s vacation let one aspect of it not be planned. I do book the restaurants because we like to have a sit down dinner to get off our feet & that is the only way to do it. 2020 will be our first trip with my husbands service dog & I have a feeling it’s going to be a totally different vacation ( much slower pace)

  4. After roughly 20 trips in our 31 years together so far (not DVC members, just part of the unwashed masses), my husband and I don’t care about seeing everything anymore. We have our favorite attractions, and luckily they’re not the most popular ones. We also no longer care about seeing the newest and greatest attractions and worlds. Not worrying about those means we can stay away from the ridiculous crowds until we get to them one day in the future.

    What we miss are the days when we didn’t have to book our restaurants six months out, or risk eating nothing but counter service meals (which are fine, but a big part of the reason we go to WDW is to enjoy our favorite restaurants). And of course, now you have to remember to coordinate your attraction Fastpasses with your restaurant reservations, unless you want to ping-pong between parks.

    We also miss not having to pay an additional nightly resort fee to park a car when you stay there. We like to drive to WDW, and even when we fly we prefer to rent a car so we have one onsite. That way, a) we don’t have to pack ourselves onto Disney’s transportation system with thousands of other people, and b) we can do other things outside the resort if and when we choose to do so. But it seems like they’re no longer even trying to be subtle about compelling you to stay inside the boundaries for your entire trip.

    Disney’s done a lot of great things, like the Magic Bands (which we love), but we haven’t been to WDW in five years now and quite honestly we’re fine with not going back for a while. Which is a shame, because WDW vacations used to be our favorites. But though we enjoy planning out our trips (I’m a list- and spreadsheet-maker with the best of them), we miss the days of, “Hey, what do you think about going to Disney World next month?” and actually being able to pull it off without having to reserve a room a year in advance, consulting crowd levels, and needing to work up a spreadsheet an accountant would envy. (And yeah, spoiled old veteran Disneygoers here, I guess.)

    1. Ditto on the “spoiled old Disney vet”, Linda. I’m sure all the Disney newbies get tired of all of us constantly bringing up the good old days. I wonder if WDW will keep getting worse so that 20 years from now the same ones who roll their eyes at us now will be on Allears lamenting the good old days of Disney in 2019.

      1. Ditto X2 here. I guess we “Old Timers” should have been coming home telling everyone WDW was horrible and not to ever visit there. I think we encouraged everyone to go and fall in love with the place like we had. As mad as I get about the current need to plan a year in advance, just to still be in unbearable crowds, it’s not totally Disney’s fault. They have a great product that everyone wants to buy. They have raised the prices which normally slows the market for an item, but as we have all seen, price increase after price increase just seems to make the tickets that much more desirable. I keep thinking the “fad” of WDW will wear off eventually, but I’m beginning to think I won’t live that long. LOL. If Disney is an indicator of our economy, things are looking great for the foreseeable future.

  5. The new system is horrible. We have been repeat visitors over the years, and they may have lost us for good. We go to theme parks to have fun and fun it is not. We can hop down the road to Universal and avoid all this hassle. They should never have changed the system to what it is now. The sole purpose is for their convenience and not that of the guest, thus the mistake. The armband is great, but FP+ is awful. They should only have it for the highest demand attractions and have them day of and not in advance on an app (which frequently fails).

  6. We have DVC so are lucky in that if we miss something this trip then we will catch it next trip. Although, I always put off seeing Pocahontas show and now it is gone like the colors of the wind. I love the magic bands. Such a relief and enjoyment to go to parks without my CCs and to go swimming and not worry about leaving my stuff on a chair. We find the spontaneity in other things at Disney. We always find magical moments like wonderful experiences with cast members, dancing with the shows at AK, or taking a break in the Maharajah Jungle Trek. I think it is how you look at it and attitude you go in with. We took friends with us last year and we did lots of pre-planning. They went with the flow and we had an amazing time. Did not feel like we missed anything, even though we waited 2 hours for Kilimanjaro Safaris, a first, but time to kill for our FOP FP. I love knowing I at least have my fast pass rides and if we hit other rides that are normally really crowded, that is icing on the cake. Just the time with my family spent together is a joy.

  7. The better question is ” did the desire to see and do absolutely everything” kill spontaneity? My last trip was a 4 day to be down there with family during their week. I got in the night before and stayed at the airport ( thank you points!) so I could drop my bags at Pop Century and get to EPCOT before they all came in early that day. Flight delays meant they never got in until after 6, so I ended up with an unplanned full day. I went to EPCOT, then monorail to MK – no Fast passes, just a desire to see the park. Did I get on all the “required” rides? No, but I had an unplanned sit down lunch in Germany – communal table meant I got to meet fellow travelers and not eat alone. Saw all of EPCOT and got on a few rides in MK and still got to see my grand kids at the end of the day. Mission accomplished as far as I was concerned. I think my daughter was more worried about my going solo -but c’mon, are you ever “alone” at WDW? Any vacation is what you make of it

    1. there was a time, not too far in the past, when you could “do absolutely everything” and still be spontaneous. And if you only wanted to do 80% of everything, it was the most relaxing, laid back and stress free vacation ever.

      And, John, I’m with you on wandering WDW solo. I’ve had some of the best relaxing days walking around EPCOT.

      1. I always advise people who ask my advise on going to WDW that they should NOT expect to see and do everything. It isn’t going to happen on the first trip, not the second trip, and likely not even by the third trip. I encourage them to just get over it before they go and focus on enjoying what they do get to participate in. Nothing sadder than seeing a mom and/or dad in a bad mood rushing around with the kids trying to get to everything and not enjoying anything.

  8. As WDW has grown over the years it has become necessary to preplan your vacation at least as far as meals and what days you are going where. I do think fastpass has become way over used. Belted attractions (think Peter Pan’s Flight) and theater shows do not need fastpass. Belted attractions should board without stopping save for a rider who needs assistance. Theaters have a large capacity. Why are we offering fastpass here. The Mountains, boat rides etc is where fastpass should be continued.
    I wasn’t sure about the Magic Band when I first read about it but once I used it I found it quite convenient. Any way I can bring less to a park is helpful.My biggest concern is price, particularly deluxe resorts. Resorts prices need to be lowered about 25% across the board. Ticket prices need to freeze for about 5 years. I find other prices to be reasonable.

    1. Michael, I’m absolutely not a proponent of Disney’s greed. That said, with high prices we all experience at WDW today along with unbearable crowd levels almost all year long, try to imagine what the crowds would be like if tickets and rooms were more economical. I realize this sounds like an elitist statement and I guess it is, but if Cadillacs were all $5,000 each, everybody would be driving a Cadillac and nobody would feel like they had a decent vehicle. WDW is the Cadillac of theme parks and a very hot commodity right now. Hard to swallow, but their price increases help keep the crowd levels lower than no price increase would. I hate to say this out loud as WDW will probably implement it, but my oldest son who is a huge Disney fan, gripes that he wished WDW would go to $250 per day park tickets so the crowds would cut back. Disney is profiting off everything they do but the upside to the extra ticketed events is that they do help cut crowds a bit. There’s just not enough Disney to go around right now which gives them a product they can’t reduce the price on.

  9. The author writes, “It’s true that Walt Disney World may no longer be a last-minute spontaneous vacation destination for the average person — but was it ever?

    Yes, it was. For many years (1986- 2002) the only preplanning we did was book our hotel a week or two before before leaving.

    And the death of spontaneity is not simply because there are more parks and more people. It’s a deliberate, calculated marketing (and psychological) strategy by Disney to control your time and your spending (and new technology and a new generation of techno nerds certainly helps them succeed). For example, I’ve mentioned before that FastPass was implemented for the sole purpose of getting people out of lines (where they are not spending money) and free them up to spend more on shopping and food. FastPass does not move one more person through a line in a day. Disney is the puppet master. So before your next trip look in the mirror and see if you can see your puppet strings.

  10. I used to enjoy days where I could hop on the first bus to show up and that was the park I’d visit that day when I didn’t have dining or anything else planned.

    1. Yes, Those were the days, Shawn. Easy pace, relaxed, take it as it comes.

      But, as Kansas sang, “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. And all your money, wont another minute buy. Dust in the wind. All spontaneous Disney is just dust in the wind.”

  11. With the cost of tickets and crowd size, effective time management and planning are key to maximize the cost/value of a Disney trip.

    Unless you’re in the 1% in which case you have money to spare and can go whenever.

    However for the 99% a Disney trip is hard earned money that is likely saved by doing less of something else.

    Again planning to get the most out of the trip is key especially for those who make this a once in a lifetime trip.

    1. For those who really don’t have the money for a WDW vacation. I don’t think anyone has, or ever will, lie on their death bed and say “I regret never going to Disney World.” So I wouldn’t lose any sleep knowing I might live a Disneyless life. It’s just an amusement park people. And a shell of its former self, at that.

        1. Zakcav, Forst visit was 1977. Then returned in 1986 (honeymoon) After that we went at least twice a year for about 10 years. Then at least once a year for another 8 years. I’m guessing I’ve spent over 400 total days at WDW. Have stayed in at least 10 different on-site hotels.

          1. You are so right Ken! It is a shell of it’s former self. We also have been going to WDW since 1977, when it was a pleasure and stayed off property. Even the Marketplace shopping village was great with various (non-Disney) stores to browse through. It is now 42 years later and we have become disenchanted with what we’ve seen transpire. First, we realized that as years went by, the cost of a stay in their resorts was going to skyrocket, so we purchased our DVC at OKW in 1993, saving us thousands of dollars just to stay on property. We were so right then and now. Started out twice a year visits (when we were younger) and now visit once a year. With WDW constantly promoting one special event after another, it’s become so overcrowded that we’ve lost that loving feeling we once had. Although we have a trip planned for this November, next year 2020 may be our last trip as it will be wall-to-wall people. Such a shame, as it will be our 50th wedding anniversary. The days of waking up and then deciding what park to visit or where to dine are history. Reading the negative reports from guests regarding the Christmas time (which was our favorite) event, and how there were fights and overcrowding, we no longer can visit that time of the year. As the old saying goes, (All good things must come to an end). In six more days we have to plan our dinning reservations. What a pain!

          2. Bob, Thank you for mentioning the old Disney Shopping Village. That brings back so many good memories. It was so quaint with many unique and interesting non-Disney shops. It was so layed back and relaxing and a nice break from a long day in the parks.

  12. A question that comes up more frequently as things are more prescriptive. For me, my expectations have changed (evolved) with WDW, so I don’t mind the extra planning and actually, with adjusted expectations I can still “wing it”. I just know that doing so means I won’t get to see *everything*… but, I might get to enjoy the experiences I do have even more b/c I’m not racing and rushing and trying to “game” the system. A long time ago, I rope-dropped Space Mountain… before rope drop was a thing. I sprinted, was the first on the ride (yay!). I wouldn’t do that now… it’s funny, I read that in order to rope drop a top attraction you have to be at the park 1 hour (or more?) before opening in order to scramble to whatever ride or else you’ll have to ride standby and wait… an hour? Now I get it, that hour is not park operating time, so it means you may be more efficient with park time. But, it’s still an hour! We have typically roamed the park letting our 5 year old poke around as we make our way to the FP or dining reservation… maybe catch a show, maybe jump on a ride w/ short line. We almost surely don’t see/do as many things as we used to, but it’s less stressful, and more fun.

  13. You cannot be spontaneous at WDW unless you live in Florida and visit all of the time or you are very wealthy and can stay for more than a week. To maximize the cost of your WDW trip, it needs to be run like a military operation.