My Growing Concern about the Future of Disney World

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Some of you may have noticed that I have not posted anything recently. I wanted to, I really did, but I was having a hard time with trying to find something that really excited me about the goings on with the domestic Disney parks. Quite frankly, I’m a little worried.

Now, this is not to say that I have completely given up on them, or have no desire to go back to them at all. In fact, we (my family) are in the process of planning our next trip for about a year from now, give or take, and are looking forward to possibly incorporate a Disney Cruise for the first time.

I go back to my point, that I am getting worried. I do have some level of trust in Disney, or I would not spend as much time and energy as I do thinking, reading, and researching them. However, with some of the announcements and changes of the last couple of months, I believe that we are at a crossroads as Disney fans. I can either see this thing going really well, really tanking, or most likely, ending up somewhere in-between where the good changes are outweighed by the bad changes and we end up with a mediocre mix of new attractions that won’t see the light of day for 2-5 years or more.

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What am I talking about? Well – Let’s start with the Frozen overlay of Maelstrom. There are so many articles from both sides about this, but it really seems to be a good example of “Modern Disney Management” thinking. There’s the mommy blogger pixie dusters who love it, and can’t get enough, and hated Maelstrom from the start. Then there are the 80’s kids whose nostalgia for the past won’t let them see that the ride was in desperate need of changes. I do tend to fall in the second half though. I am not excited by this kind of change. If Frozen needed an attraction (and you can easily argue that it does) can’t we just build something new? Why do we have to take away things that were already there to replace it with another character tie-in. (For example, see “The Seas with Nemo and Friends”)

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Not only Maelstrom at EPCOT, but the Frozen changes are everywhere; from its events and stores at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; Magic Kingdom with lines for Anna and Elsa dominating the mommy blogger discussion boards; the anticipation having for an Olaf walk around character in general; Frozen now being incorporated into “Once Upon A Time” on ABC, etc. We get it. Frozen is a big deal, you make lots and lots of money from it, you want us to know you think it’s a big deal, and I am sure you are hoping the sequel does half the gross profit of the original. That doesn’t mean that I constantly need it in my face.

To continue with EPCOT, now we have the removal of Off Kilter, Mo’rockin’ and other entertainment that has been there for some time. The two big replacements being a lumberjack show, and traditional Berber music and dance act? I know that those two are just the most well-known acts that are getting replaced. It sounds like some countries that did not have established entertainment may be getting some, but that does not mean it’s a good thing. However, there’s no announcement about any plans to do anything with the dying and forsaken pavilions that sit lifeless? (for example, the top floor of the Imagination Pavilion) Are you really telling me that you don’t/can’t/won’t do something with that space already? Turn it into a corporate lounge or something, (not that I want that specifically) but to leave it sit empty is a shame.

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Over at DHS, the Back Lot tour is closed, and that’s probably a good thing. It made a lot more sense when the studios was an actual working film and television studio, but for a long time now, it’s been reduced to a shell of what that tour once was. American Idol is gone (thank goodness) even that attraction closed earlier than expected. Over the years, and coming up quickly, other attractions have disappeared without replacement (like the terrible Sounds Dangerous, and the Little Mermaid is scheduled to close in January). They (Disney) intentionally have not given us details about Star Wars, or any other changes, so we can just speculate on what’s coming, if anything. We have  been given information that they are adding a track to Toy Story Midway Mania, so hopefully that reduces demand on one of the only family friendly attractions in the park, until whatever they are building actually gets built. Also, the speculation for Pixar Place is stronger than ever, and that could incorporate a Radiator Springs Racer ride, but who knows. Regardless of what actually shows up at DHS, that park is in desperate need for renewal, so I just hope that it changes for the better, and they look at the success of Disney’s California Adventure, and what renewal/renovation did for that park as a whole.

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Now to Animal Kingdom where apparently construction walls are everywhere. We have been told that about what’s going on there with the expected night time offerings and entertainment that they are planning, and we know that Pandora is coming, but no one really seems to care. The best comments I have heard about it, (and tend to agree with) are basically, “No, I didn’t like the movie, but knowing Disney, I want to see what they come up with before I pass judgment. It could be cool.” At least we’re seeing some progress and changes to that park, however, those changes have been being discussed for years, literally. It’s about time that we see some movement on something, and hopefully the rumors that the yeti is really getting fixed, for real, are actually true this time.

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Disney continues to add Hard Ticket events. Not only that, but the Run Disney crowd has started to take over almost any weekend they can. Disney seems to be adding additional fees and parties whenever they can now. Look at the “Villains Unleashed” event that they had this year. After running some tests and seeing just how popular the villains were with the general public, did they simply give the people more of what they were looking for? No. They decided to charge people $65 for a couple of shows, and the opportunity to meet a couple of characters out of the 50 advertised (because the lines were hours long, literally, to meet the most popular characters). Also, they are up to 9 separate Run Disney events between the two coasts now, and each event has multiple sub categories. Registration for these events can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention any special parties or events that you have to buy extra tickets to if you want to participate in those. However, they sell out super-fast, all the time. Run Disney, and Hard Ticket Parties are just the beginning, look at all the new fireworks/dessert parties, and EPCOT wind down events, and Harambe Nights, and now things like VIP Passes with special seating and privileges for free events. Also, the events like Flower and Garden, and Food and Wine that are really just special events designed to get you to come and spend more money in the parks.

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Disney is been constantly finding ways to get more money out of the guests who are already spending hundreds (or more realistically thousands) to go on vacation. You can’t really blame them. If people are willing to pay for it, why should Disney stop them? They are a business, and there to make money after all. I just don’t want executives focused solely on profit generation by creating events, and not by creating more attractions to drive park attendance. You can increase your profit in many ways, but basically you either get more money per guest, or you get more guest in the parks. You drive park attendance by creating attractions and experiences. You get more money per by increasing prices, and finding ways to charge for things that people once expected as part of the experience of going to the park. Right now, Disney seems to be focused on the latter, but the opportunity for exciting new attractions is definitely there.

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IF Disney gives the designers that are currently working on these upcoming projects the budget and the freedom they need, I believe that something really great can come out of all this change. Not just in one specific park, but for the “world” overall. I am not saying that I am going to like every piece of it. I don’t have to. Disney World, or any Disney park for that matter is not just for me. It needs to be for everyone, and that is the key here. If I can enjoy the park, and my kid can enjoy the park, even if we are enjoying the park in different ways, that’s what counts. If I wanted to go somewhere that just had a bunch of kiddie carnival spinners, I can go up the street for that. I expect a lot more out of Disney, and I want to be immersed in environments, and taken on adventurous attractions that suspend my disbelief, even if it is just for a few brief seconds.

That’s my real concern here. Bean Counters vs. Imagineering. There are a lot of projects and potential on the table right now in lots of areas of “The World”. Pencil Pushers continue to spread their influence as evidenced by things like expansion of DVC and the added hard ticket and extra “pay to play” events that are continually thrown together. I am worried that budget overlaps between projects will cause unnecessary cuts that will make the difference between mediocre space-wasters, and truly “Disney Quality” attractions. I can’t decide if I’m excited for the possibilities, or concerned that Disney World will lose a lot of what makes it special. It’s truly some of both, hope and anticipation while at the same time being pessimistic and assuming the worst. What doesn’t help me is seeing the example of Frozen take over Maelstrom, and this master entertainment plan of putting flag dancers in Italy and lumberjacks in Canada as a solution to improving Epcot. Meanwhile, future world rots away quietly and no new nation pavilions are on the horizon, (Except maybe Puerto Rico, but that’s a real blue sky rumor).

Thanks again for reading, and as always, you can follow me here on WordPress, or on Twitter @saddlesoreswnsn or on Facebook or all three, if you feel so inclined. Also, please feel free to share with your friends who may be interested in the topic.

Also, if you ever have any questions that you want me to address specifically in an article, or article suggestions, please feel free to contact me directly at saddlesoreswanson@gmail.com.

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