Walt Disney World fans are an opinionated bunch. Ask any Disney fan what their favorite attraction is and you’ll receive a ton of different answers — and don’t even get us started on the Dining Plan debate. But certain things at Disney get far more attention and credit than they deserve. Whether it’s a hot new attraction or land, a nostalgic favorite, or just another overpriced money grab, these are my top 5 overrated things at Disney:
Pandora at Nighttime
No, I’m not saying Pandora – The World of Avatar is overrated. In fact, it’s one of the best-themed lands in all of Walt Disney World. Nighttime at Pandora is overrated.
We’ve all seen the photos plastered all over the Disney site and in brochures, and we’ve marveled at the colorful photos captured by our favorite Instagrammers. The truth is, most of these photos have been shot with a professional camera, set for a long exposure time, and then highly developed to make the colors pop.
Going to Pandora at night is a bit of an underwhelming experience. The land doesn’t “glow” like you’d expect or as its photos imply. It relies on black lights and a ton of glow paint in an attempt to create a bioluminescent land that transports guests millions of miles away. Instead, it feels more like a Spencer’s Gifts or a tacky 90s basement bedroom. With Disney’s rapidly improving technology, I’m surprised they haven’t implemented more projections around the land to make the colors pop a bit more. It’s a poorly lit land and feels as though it needs a second coat of paint.
I don’t mean to discount Pandora. It really is a wonderful land, but I did find myself thinking “Is this it?” upon entering at night. There’s more to the land than just the paint, though. In professional wrestling, there’s a term called “kayfabe.” Kayfabe is the portrayal of staged events in wrestling. It’s the wrestlers’ and writers’ ability to keep a storyline going so that it feels genuine. Back in the golden days of wrestling, The Undertaker stayed in character no matter where he went — whether in the ring or at the airport. He never broke kayfabe. Nothing and no one in Pandora breaks kayfabe. There’s no sign of Mickey or Disney in Pandora. Cast members are able to tell you about the land’s history and about its different plants. That’s what makes Pandora truly unique. The story and its portrayal is what makes Pandora truly shine.
Toy Story Land
This one pains me to write. Maybe it’s because I love Toy Story and had such high expectations for the land that I’m so judgmental. Yes, the land has a really cool theme. I love the use of oversized, nostalgic toys to make guests feel as though they’ve been shrunken down and are roaming around Andy’s backyard, but there were a few things that I simply couldn’t overlook.
With Pandora, Toy Story Land, and soon Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it seems more and more that Disney is following the same pattern for adding new lands. The current blueprint seems to be two attractions, a restaurant, and over-the-top theming.* (I know TSL has three attractions, but I’m not counting Toy Story Mania here.) Disney got it right with Pandora. Avatar Flight of Passage is the best ride I’ve ever experienced and deserves all the praise it receives. On the other hand, Slinky Dog Dash is fun and fits the theme, but is a pretty basic roller coaster. Alien Swirling Saucers feels like an afterthought. It’s a recycled cheesy carnival ride that’s been themed to fit the land.
Above all, Toy Story Land is a logistical nightmare. For starters, it has one way in and out. Maybe that’ll change once the construction is done, but for now, it doesn’t feel very well thought out. The land has a photo opportunity with the Woody statue welcoming you into the land and they had Buzz Lightyear taking photos right at the entrance. All this, plus the queue for the Slinky Dog Coaster often extending through the entrance, makes it extremely congested.
There’s a photo opportunity with Woody and Jessie, and that line often extends into the exit for Toy Story Mania. Woody’s Lunch Box is a fun, very decent spot to eat breakfast or lunch — if you can find a seat. Surprisingly, the land doesn’t have a true brick merchandise shop (though I’m not sure where they’d fit it), which I believe is a real missed opportunity for the cult favorite. Disney does a great job at making guests feel shrunken down and claustrophobic at the same time.
Na’vi River Journey
Pandora opened in 2017 with two attractions: Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage. Both attractions immediately became tier-1 FastPass+ attractions, meaning that guests would have to choose one (you can’t choose both when making initial reservations).
As with anything new at Disney, both attractions were the most difficult selections to secure. Flight of Passage quickly earned its reputation as the “best ride at Disney.” It’s a must-do on every Disney fan’s list, thanks to its immersive experience, intricate theming, and groundbreaking technology.
Imagineers certainly outdid themselves with both attractions. Na’vi River Journey features lifelike animatronics, something never seen or accomplished before. But at the end of the day, Na’vi River Journey is an underwhelming, low-thrill boat ride with very little storytelling and immersion. And still, guests wait over three hours just to experience it.
If it’s your first trip to Disney or thrill rides aren’t your thing, then I’d definitely look into trying it, but the idea of using a FastPass+ selection for Na’vi River Journey over Flight of Passage is preposterous and I certainly wouldn’t wait over two hours to ride it.
If you’ve been to Disney in the past two years, you’ve probably seen at least one red polka dot Chevrolet Traverse driving around property. Adorable, aren’t they? As a way to compete with Uber, Disney partnered with Lyft to create Minnie Vans (get it?). Operated just like every other on-demand transportation company, guests are able to request a ride anywhere on property for $25 per trip. Disney recently started offering the service to and from Orlando International Airport for a staggering $150 each way.
Look, the Minnie Vans are a fun experience. We always request one when we’re with Disney newbies and they can’t help but smile when they see it pull up. Once you’re inside, though, it’s like any other ride request service. There’s no Disney experience inside the car, except for the driver who is normally a “Disney expert” and will often play your favorite Disney tunes.
An Uber or regular Lyft from Disney to MCO should cost under $50. Most trips around property will run you between $10-$15 with tip. Minnie Vans can be a fun way to remain in the Disney bubble, but are extremely overpriced and overrated.
The Polynesian Village Resort
Staying at the Polynesian was always on our bucket list. Some people love the Grand Floridian, and some will make the case for the Contemporary, but the Polynesian always had a special place in our hearts.
Located on Magic Kingdom’s monorail line, the Polynesian has a tropical theme with a South Pacific flair. Its history, theming, and close proximity to Magic Kingdom make it one of the most-popular resorts at Disney — and one of the most expensive.
Overall, I like the kitschy decor of the Polynesian. The Polynesian has recently undergone a series of updates and renovations, and many rooms have been updated; however, the resort still feels a bit too dark and outdated.
Unlike many of the other Deluxe Resorts, guests rooms are separated from the main lobby. The layout of the Polynesian Resort features one long Ceremonial House where the main lobby, restaurants, and its monorail stop are located. The Ceremonial House is surrounded by “longhouses” which house the guestrooms. As a result, guest have to walk outside in order to get from their room to the lobby, restaurants, and monorail stop, which could be especially trying during inclement weather.
I hate discussing price, because the same can be said for any Deluxe Resort. The price you pay to stay at a Deluxe Resort is not in line with the amenities offered. You’re often paying a premium for the resort’s location. For the price, I’d much rather stay at one of the Epcot resorts, where you’re within walking distance of two Disney World parks. The Polynesian is a short monorail or boat ride from Magic Kingdom, and guests can easily walk over to the Ticket and Transportation Center to get to Epcot, but getting around is certainly not as convenient as the Epcot-area resorts. On top of this, I believe the value of the monorail resorts will take a hit once the Skyliner is up and running.*
The Polynesian certainly offers a nostalgic experience. As one of the original on-site resorts, many guests grew up staying there as kids — and now, their kids will grow up having stayed there. It’s a Disney icon, no doubt, but I have a hard time justifying its lofty price tag when you could pay a little less to stay at BoardWalk, the Yacht Club, or Beach Club and be within walking distance of two different parks, not have to go outside to grab a quick bite to eat or get to Disney transportation, and stay in updated rooms with tons of natural light.
*Author’s Note: This article was originally published in May/2019.