There are a lot of guides out there about going to Disney World on a small budget. We've explored how maximize ones Orlando Florida experience on the cheap in the past. There's camping, there's time-shares, there's low cost hotels.
But what about at the high end? If you put in the bucks, how well does Disney scale up? Based on recent Disney commercials, the implication is that Disney can also serve as a pretty impressive upscale destination if you want to put in the dollars.
So this time around, we thought we'd put that to the test. Our family of 4 has myself, my wife, and our two small children. We purchased Disney's "Magic Your Way". This includes a Concierge room at the Polynesian resort. The Polynesian is rated as the second highest rated luxury resort located in Disney World (Grand Floridian is the best). And the Concierge rooms are the best of the best at the Polynesian.
There's a lot of "special services" you get by getting a concierge room. Examples - all day exclusive buffet for being able to get pretty high end snacks throughout the day (at night there's wines, cognac, and specialty drinks along with very tasty deserts). The view looks out right at the lagoon where you can see the nightly fireworks, boat parades, etc. And the special perks such as a staff that will make sure you "get into" whatever you want on short notice (such as character dinners without reservations if you're into that thing).
So how does this translate into reality? Well, for me the question is number of fun units per dollar spent. And make no mistake, if you have small children, Disney World rocks. We're having a great time. But so far I can tell you that the experience doesn't scale well.
Part of the issue has to do with the incredible gouging that the resorts take part in. Want a "cheap" lunch for a family of 4? It's going to be around $30 and we're talking McDonald's level food here. The Consierge floor does cut down on this since it has enough snacks to tide the kids over the but expense is immense.
The tickets and room combined end up aboug $800 PER DAY. Bear in mind, that's a family of 4 but the tickets are only around $120 per day of that cost. That leaves nearly $700 per day just for the room. And the Polynesian is unimpressive. It doesn't have Internet access (i'm writing this via my cell phone connection). The rooms are one room, nothing you wouldn't expect in a Day's Inn. The fireworks and boat light show are neat but not worth any sort of real premium. And the constant food buffet probably saves us $30 or so per day in food expenses, that still leaves us with $670 per day. Even if you give the view $70 per day, you're talking about a hotel at $600 per day.
Okay, fine, what about conveniences? After all, isn't that really why you'd say at the Polynesian or the Grand Floridian? Convenience to get to the park? The mono-rail comes right into the resort which is nice. And there's shuttles to take you to the various Disney properties. But on the other hand, if you get a decent hotel in Orlando for say $200 per night, rent a car ($70 per day here -- yea it's steep) and spend an extra $30 per day infood and you're looking at $300 per day vs. $700 per day.
In other words, staying in one of the premium resorts with relatively convenient access to the parks is a $400 premium per day. And in my view, that kind of premium isn't justified for what you get. Simply put, Disney World doesn't scale well. It's still a blast of course but the experience isn't really much better than it would be if we'd stayed at a nice but less expensive hotel locally.
What could/should they do? I can think of a few things:
1) The Polynesian should have real Internet access. I know that sounds geeky but believe me, when you've got 2 small children, there's some down time.
2) Don't gouge us at the resort. Meals at certain resort restraunts should be included. It really chaffes me to spend another $30+ to get a couple of burgers and fries and chicken fingers.
3) Universal Fast Pass. Fast Pass is a great idea. But you still have to go to the ride, pick up a fast pass, then go back an hour or two later. For that $400 premium, fast pass should be something you always have.
4) Less waiting. The Polynesian and the Grand Floridian are the most expensive of the Disney resorts. They should have an extra shuttle going to them for each of the parks so that there's less waiting. 20 minutes of waiting may not seem like a lot but add it up during the course of a week and you're talking a couple of hours. And again, if you're charging $400 per day as a premium, the return should be about increasing the amount of Disney magic you are able to get.
5) MUCH better rooms. Here's a ridiculous thing - I'm writing this laying on the bed in the $700 per day room because it's too small to have a desk. The television is 13 inches. The bathroom is tiny. We're talking a very low end room.
Anyway, so that's the first day's impressions. Disney World is a great vacation destination. But even if you have money to spend, don't waste it on spending on extras at Disney World. It just doesn't scale up. They'll happily take as much money as you can throw at them but they're just not set up to make it worth it. The law of diminishing returns starts far lower here.