Disneyland Resort fans, I feel your pain. Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular is the best stage show Disney has ever produced. I watched it five times on my trip last month and I have never been more disappointed that an attraction is closing. This hurts more than Horizons or Journey Into Imagination, and while those two EPCOT Center attractions were beloved they were in need of a change.
Also in need of a change was Maelstrom at Epcot. On September 12th, 2014 then Chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, Tom Staggs officially announced that a new Frozen attraction would be replacing Maelstrom at Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. Two days later, I wrote a reaction article about the attraction’s fit in World Showcase, as well as entertainment changes coming to World Showcase.
Maelstrom was a solid, well themed attraction, but by no means did people plan their day around it. Some might call it a C-ticket while others might call it a D-ticket. It was 26 years old when it closed and while I enjoyed it, it needed to change.
First, let’s go back to a simpler time: August 28, 2014. Back then, the only hashtag campaign was #SaveOffKilter. News spread quickly that Off Kilter as well as three other entertainment offerings in World Showcase were being replaced. The entertainment announcement read like political spin. It informed us that popular long time acts were being replaced by the unknown. Fortunately, these unknown acts seemed like they would be culturally relevant.
. . .
What I do know is that the limited amount of information on these entertainment changes still points to them maintaining the essence of World Showcase. I’m upset to see favorites leave, but these changes are nowhere near as impactful as Frozen’s permanent placement in Norway.
Remember when fans were upset about Epcot entertainment? While beloved entertainment like Off Kilter and the World Showcase Players have moved along to Yesterland, I would certainly make the argument that entertainment in World Showcase is stronger today than it was at this time last year. Six new entertainment offerings replaced those that closed last September:
- October 5, 2014: Canadian Lumberjack Show Debuts at the Canada Pavilion
- October 17, 2014: Sbandieratori Di Sansepolcro Debuts at the Italy Pavilion
- October 31, 2014: B’net Al Houwariyate Debuts at the Morocco Pavilion
- November 28, 2014: The Paul McKenna Band Debuts at the United Kingdom Pavilion
- April 4, 2015: American Music Machine Debuts at the American Adventure Pavilion
- April 22, 2015: Mexican Marimba Trio Debuts at the Mexico Pavilion
While individual acts may have their detractors, on the whole these changes seem to be positive and continue the tradition of quality entertainment offerings in World Showcase. More importantly, they all fit thematically with their respective pavilion, supporting the cohesive theming guests have come to expect in World Showcase.
While the new entertainment offerings are consistent with our historical view of Epcot, I continue to maintain that Frozen’s placement in the Norway Pavilion is a horrible thematic choice.
It is more than reasonable to expect the Frozen attraction to be a quality attraction. Given the popularity of the movie, it is also reasonable to expect it to be among the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World. Building a Frozen attraction is truly a no-brainer.
The issue has never been with Frozen as a property. The issue has always been its placement as a permanent addition to World Showcase.
The Walt Disney World theme parks all have their own individual identities. When a fairytale property moves into an area that’s somewhat grounded in reality, those individual park identities begin to deteriorate. When the park identities deteriorate the logic of theming and placemaking become irrelevant.
A Frozen attraction could be placed anywhere in Walt Disney World and it would become an immediate favorite. But just because an attraction could be built anywhere doesn’t mean it should be built anywhere.
The best theming transports guests to a new reality. When Frozen Ever After opens, the Norway Pavilion will have conflicting theming. As we learned at the D23 Expo, the new exterior facades will thankfully maintain the look and feel of Norway, but when guests enter the new buildings the theming will shift from Norway to Arendelle. It will be jarring to some guests and subtle to others but regardless, it will be there.
Great theme park lands like Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Cars Land at Disney California Adventure or Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom all have cohesive theming. That theming is a type of non-linear story telling that satisfies guests both consciously and subconsciously. A guest can walk through Diagon Alley and feel 100% satisfied, but not know why. Similarly, that same guest could walk through Hogsmeade and feel 95% satisfied and also not know why. For Hogsmeade, perhaps their satisfaction was reduced subconsciously by the exposed steel at Dragon Challenge or the unthemed parts of the Forbidden Journey show building. These types of things, while subtle, help tell the story. When there is a break from that story, guest satisfaction suffers.
Since the initial announcement, quite a bit of new information has been officially released by Disney about Frozen Ever After. In a June 9th, 2015 article, The Wall Street Journal featured an interview with Imagineer Kathy Mangum who discussed the ride in detail. The article featured a scene by scene write up of the queue and attraction, and I encourage all those that are interested to read it. The key points however are what I’d like to address:
- The ride will be four minutes long.
- It will not be a retelling of the story, but will include components unique to the Frozen universe.
- The ride path will remain the same.
I applaud Disney for not going with a “book report” ride for Frozen Ever After. However, the Wall Street Journal article caused me to question an additional issue that I failed to address in my original article. The capacity of Frozen Ever After will be too low to meet guest demand.
Maelstrom did not have an intellectual property attached to it to help drive its daily attendance. Intellectual properties often have the effect of inflating a ride’s demand relative to its quality/ticket level. With no intellectual property connected to it, Maelstrom managed to operate with a lower capacity without generating long lines.
Multiple sources have informed me that the capacity for Maelstrom was roughly 900-1100 guests per hour. Even with improvements at the loading and unloading area, the in ride track switches will continue to throttle the attraction’s capacity. Those same sources speculate that the best case scenario for the attraction’s capacity is around 1200 guests per hour. That’s roughly the capacity of Toy Story Midway Mania.
Disney recently identified capacity issues with both Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin’. To resolve these issues, they are building a third track for Toy Story Midway Mania and constructing a third theater for Soarin’, both set to open in 2016. While the extra capacity is much needed, Frozen Ever After is likely to present a greater operational issue when it opens next year. It’s a case of two steps forward and one significant step backwards.
Alongside the attraction, Disney is constructing a 13,000 square foot building to house a meet and greet as well as a restroom. That area had more than enough room to create a higher capacity attraction as well as a meet and greet. From strictly an operational standpoint, it would have made more sense to modify the Maelstrom track or create an entirely new attraction that can satisfy demand. The theme issues would still exist, but the capacity issues wouldn’t.
It’s not unreasonable to expect lines to regularly exceed three hours for Frozen Ever After. I also expect Fastpass+ reservations to be fully reserved before the thirty day reservation window opens for non-resort guests. Neither of these should be considered a measure of success for the attraction. Frozen is an incredibly popular property and the signature attraction is going into an area that was never designed to satisfy that demand.
Frozen Ever After is truly set up to fail. If it’s a quality attraction, its popularity will be magnified that much more than already anticipated due to the capacity issues. If it’s a poor attraction, it will be condemned from a quality and thematic standpoint. There really is no scenario where the attraction can be of a high quality and still satisfy guest demand.
The deadly combination of a significant thematic break along with the likelihood of a major operational nightmare leads me to only one conclusion: Disney is setting Frozen Ever After up to be the worst new attraction decision in the history of Walt Disney World.
Frozen made over $1.2 billion in the worldwide box office and it deserves a great themed area in Walt Disney World. It does not deserve the shoehorn treatment, the franchise is too important.
Frozen deserves more and World Showcase deserves more. Publicly, Disney will point to 3-6 hour waits for Frozen Ever After as a sign of success, but privately I’m sure they’ll be kicking themselves for not building a fully realized concept in an area that is better suited for the franchise. At a time when Wall Street is pushing Disney to milk everything they can out of their existing properties, Frozen Ever After is incredibly short sighted and represents a gigantic missed opportunity for Walt Disney World.
And that’s the way Tim sees it. Let us hear your thoughts. Will the Frozen theme mesh with World Showcase and the Norway Pavilion? Will the ride be able to satisfy customer demand in the former space of Maelstrom?