Is Disney Over- or Under-Theming?

When Disney makes a change, whether it’s to a hotel room design, new attraction, or re-imagineering an existing attraction or restaurant, fans and guests will undoubtedly say one of two things: “It’s over-themed!” or “Where did the theme go?”

All Star Movies Refurbished Resort Room

Recent examples of this are the refurbishment of the All-Star Resort guest rooms and the re-imagineering of Artist Point restaurant.

As we read through the comments on the story about the All-Star rooms, they ranged from: “They now look like any hotel room! Where are the Disney touches? This looks like Hampton Inn. I’m not paying these rates for a bland hotel room,” to “Seems to me they are refurbishing all the resorts in the same generic, sterile style. I feel the resort rooms, from value to DVC villas, are losing all their personality.”

Storybook Dining at Artist Point

The comments on the new theme and concept for Artist Point included, “What a shame. Another restaurant that was a relatively quiet adult venue will now be overrun with characters and children. Not to mention that the menu has been gutted.” And, “Our favorite ‘happy place’ is gone, and so are we. But, we will always remember Artist Point in our hearts. No reason to ever go to the Wilderness Lodge again for dining.

This got the team to chatting, and even debating, “Is Disney  over- or under-theming?”

We went around and around on this. There are those of us that cry when we walk in Hollywood Studios and The Great Movie Ride is missing, while others of us cannot wait to ride Mickey and Mickey’s Runaway Railway.

Artist Rendering of France Pavilion with new attraction ©Disney

A few of us are looking forward to the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille attractions when they open in Epcot and the Tron attraction coming to Magic Kingdom. There are others on our team who don’t understand why we need these attractions and feel they are over-theming the parks or taking the original intention of an area away.

Norway Pavilion

Did the Frozen overlay take away from the Norway pavilion? Looking at the amount of people there enjoying the attraction, trying the baked goods in Kringla Bakeri og Kafe, and dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall some of us say no. We argued without the Frozen overlay Norway might be another “been there, done that,” walk-by pavilion. But with the Frozen overlay many guests are being introduced to the Norwegian culture through food, architecture, music, a walk in the Stave Church, and even merchandise. They would not be introduced to that culture if the pavilion was just a “pass-by” for families.

Can Disney Win?

We ultimately decided Disney can’t win. If they under-theme an area, whether a resort room, a ride, or restaurant, some will complain it isn’t worth the price and looks like any location in their home town. Others will welcome the break from theming and appreciate the new design.

If an area is re-imagined or “over-themed” Disney will hear either, “why are you applying intellectual property to everything?” or “this is my favorite movie/song/TV show ever — thank you for adding character/movie to this area.”

Where Do You Stand?

We welcome the hotel room refresh. We’ve stayed in several refurbished rooms at various Disney resorts and have enjoyed the fresh look, more USB charging plugs, the clean feel with the updated design, and hard surface floor.

Our time at the Storybook Dining at Artist Point experience was fun, delicious, and something we’d look forward to attending again.

We are looking forward to Epcot’s transformation, and even shared our three favorite changes recently.

In our view, Disney is trying to balance over- and under-theming and doing OK at a very hard challenge. There are areas with less theming when you need a visual or mental break, and there are areas with more theming when you are ready to escape into Fantasyland.

Share your thoughts — Is Disney overdoing it? or are they taking away too much of the theming? Let us know in the comments.

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Sarah has built a career in communications and marketing that started when she was the editor of her high school newspaper. She has written for since 2018, and enjoys sharing Disney news and updates with the AllEars community. She's been a Disney fan ever since her first visit to Walt Disney World when she was 5, and has been known to arrange trips around visiting a Disney park!

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9 Replies to “Is Disney Over- or Under-Theming?”

  1. I agree with these comments. We have loved staying at the Beach Club Villas for years until the last renovation turned the rooms into dingy (beige) hotel rooms. I prefer the Courtyard Marriott! And I agree with the comments about Epcot’s World Showcase. By all means, upgrade Future World to your heart’s content, but the countries provided a unique window into cultures around the woprld that many of us will never have the chance to experience. There was a tour of the pavilion at Norway that I still remember so well. And trying the cuisine as the Askershus was so enjoyable. Now all we do is walk by the character dining and lines for Frozen. If we stop there at all, it’s for the Bakeri. Sad.

  2. I think it depends.

    In the hotels, they’re definitely under-theming and making the rooms look like any generic hotel that you can find all over the world. But for the parks, I think they’re becoming too “themed”, especially Epcot.

    I think the new changes to the pavilions is distracting people from the beauty of each country, which is what the point of the country pavilions was supposed to be. In Norway, now it’s all about “Frozen” and its merchandise, not really about Norwegian mythology, customs, etc. In Mexico, it will probably soon be all about “Coco” and “The Three Caballeros” instead of sharing Mexico’s culture (like the original boat ride).

      1. I agree with Sarah & Ken. The concept of each individual park has been lost somewhere over the past several years. MK is supposed to be for the young at heart (both kiddies & adults). Hollywood Studios is for movies and entertainment. Epcot, is for experiencing different countries and cultures and lastly, Animal Kingdom (need I explain). Many of our favorite (former) restaurants have been converted to Character dining, which at our age we’ve definitely outgrown. One in particular, EMPRESS LILLY which was an upscale favorite of ours was sold off and changed hands twice. Look at it now! It’s cold and lacks appeal. To attract more guests to certain parks, kiddie rides are planned or are in the works. We don’t expect all things to remain the same and that WDW needs to improve with new ideas and changes to keep guests coming to the happiest place on earth. Just keep a few things that attracted us in the first place.

  3. Every time I looked at the all-star room pictures, it evoked some memory but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then today I saw it and my first thought was “generic college DORM ROOM”. After all this time that is what’s been nagging at me. I’m actually very glad I’m staying at Sports this fall so that I can check it off my “resort checklist” and will NEVER stay there again. I had stayed in music & movies with my kids years ago and it was a fun, colorful place to stay. This current rendition has sucked the joy & soul out of a disney room experience, IMHO.

  4. What theme is that room at the All Star Resort? Prison? That looks awful. So my answer for that resort is definitely under.

  5. I go to WDW for the theming. Am I sorry to see some of the Epcot “learning experience” watered down or lost altogether? Yes. On the other hand, having heard multiple parents on Disney transportation telling their children that Epcot “is just like a museum — you don’t want to go there”? Also yes. I understand the need to appeal to the largest number of people and I look forward to riding both Guardians and Ratatouille.

    As for the hotel rooms, I REALLY want them to be themed, but I guess I’ll have to settle for the overall hotel theming.

  6. I would agree that the resorts have overcorrected in terms of theming. I do think that updating and modernizing is important; and, in some cases, that means toning down the theming. But lately they seem to have taken a very minimalistic, cookie-cutter approach. As others have said, if I’m staying at a disney resort, I like some immersive theming. Otherwise I could get a better room off site.