A mother from Ellicott City, Maryland, sent us this question last week:
Do you provide a description of how you come up with your star ratings for rides? I’m not talking about the age-related ones, but the authors’ rating. This question came up when we were reading about Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
As it happened, last week was also when the Unofficial Guide staff got together to review the ratings for every attraction in Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.
The authors’ rating is the consensus opinion of the Unofficial Guides’ authors. And while everyone’s got personal favorites and criteria, all of us agree that the basic rating system functions something like this:
***** Attractions rated five stars are iconic attractions by which all others are judged. These are generally combinations of great storytelling, attention to detail, and technical achievement, all done on a grand scale. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal is a good example, as is Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.
**** Four-star attractions are generally either done on a smaller scale attraction, like Mickey’s PhilharMagic, or it’s a headliner attraction that has aged technology or content (e.g., Living with the Land).
*** Three-star attractions are usually budget-friendly rides that Disney uses to increase the capacity of a particular area. Magic Carpets of Aladdin was the example we discussed most often here.
** Two-star attractions are usually older, lightly-themed carnival rides, such as Mad Tea Party, or in the case of Stitch’s Great Escape, a rare attraction with so little merit that it can’t be recommended.
* One-star attractions are either simple diversions that Disney promotes as an attraction, like Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, or the ride has material weaknesses in story, theme, ride experience, and maintenance, and should be avoided.
There are no zero-star attractions in Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando. Also, an attraction can earn (or lose) half a star if it’s slightly better (or worse) than similar attractions.
Here’s a list of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions whose authors’ ratings have changed in the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a short explanation for the change:
Citizens of Hollywood *** 1/2 One of the best sets of roving street performers in any Disney park, you’ll find this comedy troupe on Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, dragging unsuspecting tourists into the antics. Previous rating: none
Fantasmic ****1/2 Not quite as good as the Disneyland version, which integrates existing park elements better. Some of us thought that for the hassle involved in getting a good seat, the script should be better. Previous rating: *****
Mulch, Sweat, and Shears ***1/2 This band of landscaping “brothers” plays loud classic rock cover songs from Journey to AC/DC, with a healthy dose of comedy and audience participation. Previous rating: none
Muppet*Vision 3-D **** We love the script and the gags, but Waldo, the “new” 3-D effect in the film, debuted in 1991, four months before Nirvana released Smells Like Teen Spirit. Technology has changed a lot since then, the film not so much. Previous rating: ****1/2
Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights ****1/2 The best holiday event in Walt Disney World, Osborne Lights has fantastic effects, a great soundtrack, and it changes every year. The debate over whether it deserved 5 stars centered around better crowd control and the lack of a story or narrative. Previous rating: none
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue ****1/2 Greatly improved by its last refurbishment, which included a different script, more classic Star Wars characters, better visual effects, and a different ride experience every time, we gave Star Tours an extra half star. Previous rating: ****
Studio Backlot Tour ***1/2 Several of us wanted to rate Backlot Tour lower than this. Residential Street is gone, as are the tours through the movie sets. Most of the movie props date back two decades. Previous rating: ****
Voyage of the Little Mermaid ***1/2 The performer who plays Ariel has to be one of the strongest singers of any in the Studios, because she’s the central singer in most of the show. But it’s a relatively small show whose effects and script haven’t been significantly updated in years. Previous rating: ****
Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream **** While most kids today probably think of Walt Disney as the man who drew Mickey Mouse, the first part of One Man’s Dream highlights the technical innovations, such as the multi-plane camera, that Walt and his staff brought to movie-making. From cartoons, to movies, to railroads, to theme parks and urban planning, the attraction shows that Walt had passion and interest far beyond what most people realize. Previous rating: ***