We bet you didn’t know that The Most Magical Place on Earth is actually a fierce battleground with competing forces fighting for the best vacation possible.
OK, we’re not actually talking about physical battles happening between the guests in Disney World, but there is definitely some underlying competition going on between different kinds of visitors. As a destination that is trying to please everyone, Disney World sometimes has a tough time balancing the different demographics who are vying for dominance in the parks.
Disney reported during an August call with investors that visitor demand to enter the theme parks is currently very high, with no indications that the popularity of the parks will go down anytime soon. Executives said that the Park Pass Reservation system — which is how Disney controls how many people are in each theme park on any given day — is proof that demand is not slowing down. They noted that the park passes are consistently selling out. In other words, most days, Disney World is turning people away from its parks because of high demand.
Having so many people in Disney World inevitably means there are a lot of different kinds of visitors. You’ll see big families there for reunions, teenagers hanging out for the afternoon, young adults with their friends and partners, and more. Some people have unlimited budgets, and others are sticking to strict spending plans. There are plenty of locals, as well as many people who traveled a long way to be there. So how does everyone get along? It turns out, sometimes they don’t.
Not everyone agrees on what kinds of changes should happen in Disney World. While some people are excited about big, new roller coasters, others wish there were more kid-friendly attractions. Drinking around the world in EPCOT is a favorite pastime for the 21+ crowd, but some families would rather the park stay a little calmer in the evenings. New options to plus-up your experience might be great for those who have plenty of funds to spend, but for people trying to stick to a budget, the spending adds up quickly.
Those are just a few examples of how different groups want very different things in Disney World. Has it always been this way? Who exactly are the most common competitors, and what do they want? And is peace even an option? We’re going to explore all of those questions right here.
Has Disney Always Been a Battle?
Originally, Walt Disney seemed to have one audience in mind when it came to Disney’s theme parks: the family. In fact, the inspiration for creating a theme park in the first place came from family outings: “It came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always daddy’s day with the two daughters,” Walt said. “I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things—sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts—I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started” (Disney).
Walt wanted Disneyland to showcase normal American life and especially to pay homage to his small hometown. He said, “Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself. It would encompass the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge of the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of the imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and above all, a sense of strength, contentment and well-being.”
You can see Walt’s emphasis on the family in certain attractions like the Carousel of Progress. This attraction displays the historical changes and new developments that have happened in the world over the last several decades, all through the lens of an ordinary American family.
Although Disney World has become a huge operation with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, lots of hotels and resorts, and an entire district just for shopping and dining, “it all started from a daddy with two daughters wondering where he could take them where he could have a little fun with them, too” (Walt Disney).
Now, Disney is working to appeal to a wider audience, as there is now a much wider variety of people who want to visit the theme parks. Let’s find out who’s competing for a place in the parks.
Who Are the Competitors, and What Do They Want?
“Childless Millennials”, “Disney Adults”, and Large Families
Two of the most obvious groups that are competing in Disney World are “Disney Adults” (“childless Millennials” and younger Gen Z visitors), and large families. It’s getting more and more common to see young adults in the parks without any kids — after all, many of those adults grew up going to Disney World as children, so the parks represent a carefree time in their lives.
The younger adult generations might be looking for more adult offerings in the parks, such as nightlife at bars and lounges, bigger roller coasters and thrill rides, and adult-only spaces.
Disney has been adding more and more of these options to the parks. We’ve seen plenty of table service restaurants that offer fine dining (and even adult-exclusive dining), golf courses at some hotels, late-night hours in the theme parks, and more alcohol offered at the theme park restaurants.
By contrast, large families are often looking for more kid-friendly options to come to the parks. They may want smaller rides that all ages can enjoy, more affordable snacks and souvenirs (as they’re budgeting for a whole family and not just for a couple), and family-friendly shows and entertainment.
In addition, many families would be interested in more rides that have lower wait times rather than a few bigger rides with long wait times. Kids’ attention spans are famously short, and those hour-long waits can get exhausting if your little ones aren’t having a good time.
That may be why you’re likely to see more families in Magic Kingdom (with lots of family-friendly rides and fewer bars and lounges) whereas young adults tend to prefer Hollywood Studios (with bigger rides, albeit fewer options, and a few good lounges in the park).
People with No Budget and Those Trying to Save
Another pair of competitors are people who arrive with a strict budget to follow and those who are happy to spend quite a lot on their vacation. Visitors with a large budget may be interested in more opportunities to “plus-up” their trip.
They might want to check out the VIP tours, purchase Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes, and stay at Disney World’s Deluxe hotels, which offer Extended Evening Hours in the theme parks. Since they don’t mind paying the extra price, it’s worth it to them to add on a lot of extras to their vacation.
By contrast, many people visiting the parks are trying to minimize the cost of their vacation. After paying for flights, a hotel, and Disney World park tickets, they may not be able to afford additional expenses added to the bill.
So those extra “perks” that are available at an additional cost seem less like opportunities to “plus-up” and more like exclusive experiences reserved for the wealthy. While some people would rather pay $15-$20 for Genie+ and not worry about making reservations ahead of time, others preferred the free FastPass+ and didn’t mind the extra work of reserving rides in advance.
Those who are on a budget want an amazing experience in Disney World that’s not cheapened by the fact that they’re missing out on some “additional opportunities.” However, those who have the money to spend are willing and happy to make their vacation easier and more exciting for the extra cost.
Little Kids and Teenagers
Whether they’re coming on their own or with their families, teenagers definitely want different things in Disney World than most little kids. Like young adults, teens are more likely to want roller coasters and exciting rides. Trendy experiences (especially ones that look good on social media) are also more popular for this group.
By contrast, little kids are often looking for opportunities to meet their favorite Disney characters, smaller attractions that don’t scare them, and fun treats that they don’t usually get at home.
Meet-and-greets are more popular with younger kids, especially when it comes to the Disney Junior Dance Party, where they can see characters from some of their favorite shows.
People Who Visit Once in a Lifetime and Annual Passholders Who Come Often
The final groups we’ll discuss here are visitors who are coming for their once-in-a-lifetime Disney vacation and those who visit the parks all the time (mainly Annual Passholders).
Annual Passholders are often looking for new experiences — they’ve been to the parks many times and want to see something they haven’t done before. They’re also more likely to invest in collectible merchandise (like tiki mugs or Loungefly bags) rather than the more classic Disney World souvenirs.
In addition, Annual Passholders want to feel recognized and appreciated by Disney. They’ve invested a significant amount of money into the theme parks already and will likely do so for years to come. As a result, little gestures by Disney like free magnets, exclusive merchandise and snacks, and extra perks can go a long way to make them feel like part of a special group.
Visitors who are only coming once or twice in their life want a more iconically “Disney” experience. They’re looking for the rides and attractions that they’ve seen on social media or in commercials — Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Cinderella Castle, and many other things that those who visit more frequently tend to take for granted.
For those who don’t visit Disney World very often, the planning process for this vacation can be overwhelming. They’re more likely to want an easy planning process that’s simple and self-explanatory, whereas those who visit frequently enjoy finding extra tips and hacks to create the ultimate “ideal” experience.
Finally, people who are coming for their only Disney vacation want to do everything in one trip. They may want more time in the theme parks, and they’re likely more willing to spend money on Genie+ so that they can save time waiting in line. They might splurge on this one trip, whereas Annual Passholders may hold off because they’ll be back in a couple of months or maybe even a couple of days.
Can There Be Peace?
There are so many different kinds of people in Disney World — can there ever be peace between all the different groups?
Disney Is Trying
Disney is trying to accommodate all the different kinds of guests. They have iconic attractions and new ones, late-night park hours and early-morning entrance options, EPCOT festivals and Disney Junior Dance Parties. In short, there seems to be something for everyone.
Currently, it looks like Disney is catering a bit more to the young adult audience. There are a couple of new and upcoming roller coasters in Disney World, and EPCOT festivals are getting longer and more elaborate.
However, Disney also teased some new lands that could be coming to Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom, which feature movies that are popular with younger kids, like Zootopia, Moana, and Encanto. So it seems like the families are not being forgotten either!
What You Can Do to Help
As Disney continues to work to please everyone who comes through the gates, it can help a lot if the visitors are understanding of everyone’s different opinions. You can help by recognizing that what you enjoy isn’t necessarily going to be everyone’s favorite attraction, and that’s OK!
Someone else’s favorite part of the parks might not appeal to you at all. Having respect for your fellow Disney parks guests can go a long way in creating a good atmosphere.
When you’re planning your Disney World trip, do some research to make sure you’re planning YOUR ideal vacation. Don’t waste time at the spots that won’t be fun for you! Check out the attractions, rides, and restaurants ahead of time so that you can prioritize your favorites while you’re there.
There are all different kinds of people who visit Disney World, and there’s honestly something for everyone! From the theme parks to Disney Springs to resorts to golf courses, there’s an activity for every kind of guest.
If you want some help finding out which parks, hotels, snacks, and merchandise are right for your group, you’ll find lots of great advice right here at DFB. Take a look at these posts to help you get started on planning:
- The Planning Tips You Need to Know About Before Your Next Disney World Trip
- Is Disney World Too Expensive For Average Families?
- 5 Ways to Save $1,000 on Your Disney Trip (Really!)
- Our NEW Tips for Saving BIG in Disney World!
- What to Do If You Can’t Get the Disney World Hotel Reservation You Wanted
- How You Should Spend Your Money in Disney Springs
- Your Ultimate 1-Day Plan For Magic Kingdom
- The Best Disney World Hotels for Large Groups
For even more guidance on how to plan your upcoming trip, check out our DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining. We wrote our ebook after decades of visiting Disney World so that we could help you have a stress-free vacation! Click here and use code WDW2022 to get 25% off!
Keep following Disney Food Blog for more planning tips, helpful hints, and all the latest news from the parks.
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Which competing Disney World groups have you noticed in the parks? Let us know in the comments.