In 1990, then-CEO of Disney Michael Eisner announced the start of the “Disney Decade,” a marketing campaign designed to usher in new theme park expansions and tentpole movies. In many ways, he was right. The company was slowly righting itself from a disastrous two decades after Walt’s death, and Eisner (with his partner Frank Wells) really did fix the company. But if you compare what happened specifically in Walt Disney World in that decade to all the recent additions and soon-to-be-completed attractions, you could construct an argument that the REAL “Disney Decade” is right now.
The legacy of the announced Disney Decade, at least in Orlando, is mostly the addition of a fourth theme park (DAK) and the build-out of Disney-MGM Studios to a full-day park, with the addition of such attractions as MuppetVision 3D, Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playset, and several other minor attractions. There were, admittedly, many Disney-themed hotels opened in that decade. In terms of E-Ticket rides, you could count Star Tours (transplanted from Anaheim), Countdown to Extinction (now called Dinosaur), Kilimanjaro Safaris, Splash Mountain (transplanted from Disneyland), Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, and Test Track. Excluding the Disneyland transplants, that’s really only five E-Ticket rides for the decade.
Let’s compare that to the decade we are presently in. Given that a bunch was announced at D23 to open by 2021 (WDW’s 50th anniversary), let’s use the decade of 2012-2021.
So let’s start in 2012. In that year, we saw the addition of the Little Mermaid attraction, Be Our Guest restaurant, a revitalized Test Track, and lots of marginal changes in Innoventions, special events, and meet and greets–things that will be repeated for a few years. We also saw minor attractions like the Agent P replacement for Kim Possible.
The interactive games continued in 2013 with Pirate Adventure in Magic Kingdom, plus Princess Fairytale Hall. That was the midpoint of the new Fantasyland expansion, which hit its finale in 2014 with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
During 2015, we saw a lot of Disney Springs open, a process that continued into 2016–a year that also included Frozen Ever After, a revitalized Soarin’, plus extra capacity to both Toy Story Mania and Soarin’. I want to pause for a second on that last item. These are not additions that Disney could market, yet they spent millions of dollars on them. I can’t imagine a reason other than plussing the Guest experience. They must have been hearing via surveys that people wanted to ride those attractions, but were daunted by the lines. Since the adding of 50% capacity to both attractions, the lines are more reasonable and they are now something people might actually wait in Standby for, and I applaud Disney for such moves.
We saw the addition of Pandora in 2017, with its two E-Ticket rides. (The River Journey isn’t a thrill ride, but it’s a “must see” if you’re from out of town, so that feels like an E-Ticket experience to me).
That brings us to the present, with a bunch of stuff announced at D23 for the future, all to open before 2021:
- New Mission:Space film
- Smaller stuff like Mission:Space restaurant and replacement China film
- Toy Story Land, with the Slinky Dog Coaster
- Main Street Theater to house Broadway-style shows
- Disney Skyliner, the gondola transportation system
- Immersive Star Wars resort
- Guardians of the Galaxy (replacing Ellen’s Energy Adventure)
- Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, replacing Great Movie Ride
- Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (I have successfully avoided all spoilers but will just guess it includes two E-Ticket attractions).
There are other announcements to come (I still think we will see a Brazil pavilion in World Showcase, and the new concept artwork for Epcot suggests a World of Color type replacement for Illuminations). Sticking with just what we know, however, we can still count a lot of E-Ticket type experiences.
You could go as high as 14 E-Ticket experiences there, but if you were feeling un-charitable, you might lower that count down to nine. But even that reduced count is almost TWICE the number of “must see” attractions we saw in the supposed “Disney Decade.”
Bottom line: we are in the midst of a mind-blowing WDW expansion, one that brings to mind the heady days of rapid expansion we saw a few decades ago. Instead of new hotels mushrooming everywhere, however, this time we are seeing it in attractions, which is very exciting.
It speaks, perhaps, to the ongoing debate about whether Disney ought to open a fifth theme park. One school of thought suggests it’s more wise to concentrate on upgrading and updating the existing four parks, and this amazing raft of changes suggests that’s the side which is winning. Perhaps it’s a realization that a fifth park might not translate into longer vacations, and that Universal presents an ever-increasing
threat to the number of days spent on Disney property. If Epcot is seen as “old and
skippable” in favor of a few extra days at Universal, it makes sense that Epcot is being refreshed. I’m sure Disney hopes that NONE of its parks are seen as skippable.
Bottom line: if this a second (and more stealthy) “Disney Decade,” then we can conclude this time that the focus is on attractions, which is a fantastic thing. It is an AMAZING time to be a theme park fan living in Central Florida right
now. In addition to all this Disney goodness, we’ve got non-stop additions to the Universal parks, and even SeaWorld is adding a major attraction every year or two. Heck, FunSpot has an amazing wooden coaster in one of its parks and has just opened a second one.
We’ve said it before: competition in the end benefits the consumer, so we all win here. What a time to be a fan!
Well folks, what are your thoughts? Are you happy with the slate of attractions coming to Walt Disney World?
MiceChat’s latest podcast, released today, is on this very subject. Join Dusty, Doug, and Bill Butler (of Garner Holt Productions) as they discuss the major attractions, lands and enhancements on the way to all of the Disney parks. They also pay tribute to the late, great Marty Sklar.
Kevin Yee is the prolific author of many Disney books. You can find them listed on Amazon HERE.