Kevin Yee is on a roll today. He takes us from Animal Kingdom to Epcot and beyond. He’s got an eagle’s eye on what’s going on at the Walt Disney World Resort and he’s worried about the loss of some public spaces in the parks.
Something is rotten in the state of Pandora, according to a whole bunch of people who are watching the proposed land, including several insiders. Many insist that Avatar will never be built, and they point to the lack of physical construction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as evidence. Well, that’s changed. For the first time ever, there is something concrete you can point to which indicates that in fact Pandora grinds forward, however slowly. Namely, the moving of the show Festival of the Lion King.
For many months, the argument had been that you can’t start building Avatar until Lion King moves away, and since the Lion King showed no signs of going anywhere, Avatar must be dead. New construction walls behind the Dawa Bar and the Tusker House show where the Lion King is moving. This matches information I got several months ago perfectly: the Lion King is moving to Africa, arguably the better fit from and thematic point of view anyway.
Another set of construction walls, this time in Epcot, tells a different story. Disney recently announced that a third restaurant was going into the Morocco Pavilion, to be located waterside and presumably to be vigorously up sold to vacationers as an ideal spot from which to watch IllumiNations. This kind of stinks for couple of reasons. First, the view from this area is abysmal. There are a couple of islands and significant trees in the line of sight toward the center of the show, and I very much doubt that the pricing of the new restaurant will reflect the obstructed view.
Second, the new restaurant represents a kind of thinking that we should rightly classify as a slippery slope. At first I wasn’t too annoyed about the new restaurant, partly because I would never watch the show from that vantage point anyway. But a friend of mine pointed out that this new construction is merely the latest in a long line of Disney nibbling at the available viewing spaces, and he’s right about that. It’s a bit insidious because it’s happening in such small steps that many of us don’t notice it right away. The restaurant in Mexico constructed a few years ago did something similar — it took “public” spaces and wrapped a sit-down restaurant around them, effectively converting them into upcharge spaces.
It takes but a few minutes to realize that Disney has been doing more and more of this around the World Showcase lagoon. I’ve never seen the show from Italy, mostly because there always seems to be a private party on the waterside dock. I’ve seen such parties in Germany as well, though these days I usually watch the show from center stage, right between the twins stores that I think of as the Duffy stores even though only one of them sells the plush toy. Even this spot is increasingly roped off for private parties. The implication couldn’t be more clear: Disney is carving off more and more of the prime locations and reserving them for activities that improve the bottom line. This will happen with the parades as well once FASTPASS Plus arrives on stage — Disney has admitted, nay, gloated as much.
The rallying cry of apologists has always been that Disney is a business and we should hardly act surprised when the company tries to make more money. I get that. I understand that Disney makes decisions for the Wall Street crowd much more than the main Street crowd. But that’s not the whole story. Are we treating this business like any other business? To fully analyze this move into converting public spaces into private ones for a cost, let’s consider a parallel business.
For our thought experiment let’s choose a similar company, with a global brand and easy recognition. We’ll use Coca-Cola. Coke makes money by attracting new customers and by convincing existing ones to consume more product. They accomplish these goals by advertising and by rolling out new product lines. So what would be the Coke equivalent of Disney’s move with public spaces? Some might argue that this constitutes a new product line, since it’s something people will want. But to me it feels more like a marketing gimmick with a nasty edge to it. What was once included with the price now costs extra. To me, the closer analogy would be if Coke decided to make the default bottle with a one-time pull-tab, and only included the current screw-on caps if you purchased the premium version of the product, which costs extra. Wouldn’t you feel just a little bit ripped off if Coke did that? They used to include something as part of the price, but now you have to pay extra for the same service.
We could probably stretch the analogy with Coca-Cola a bit further. When Disney allows the parks to appear dirty and operate with substandard robotics, it’s a bit like the Coca-Cola product being served to you watered down. It doesn’t taste as good as you remember it, and it does not match the quality which made the company famous. And yet, you’re being charge the same price for it. Actually scratch that. Prices have in reality gone up by a large percentage. So why do people keep buying the product? Partly for reasons of nostalgia and partly because it’s marketed so cleverly. But the biggest reason probably has to do with inertia. Customers have had many decades to view Coca-Cola as a premium brand and quintessentially American. Brand erosion takes a long time and its effects are not immediately apparent when we are in the midst of it.
Obviously, I was using Coca-Cola metaphorically in the above example. I don’t think Coke has declined over time and I think it’s product is still just as good as it was when it became famous. The track record with Disney is a bit more uneven. There are pockets of the Walt Disney World Park experience which do feel watered down, and this taking of public spaces is only the latest example of it.
I used to joke that someday smart amusement parks will advertise their lack of ride reservation systems as a positive: everyone has to wait in the same line and no one has to over-plan the vacation. Now I think something similar could be done with public spaces. Come to our park, the advertising might say, and you’ll enjoy the run of the place. Is it old-fashioned to pine for a park with fast-moving lines and no velvet ropes for the privileged class? I don’t think so, any more than it is to crave an ice cold Coca-Cola. Sometimes you just want the product that made the company into a famous brand.
More information and updates
Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations:
- UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates
- Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account
- Twitter feed (user UltOrlando)
- Google+ account (user cafeorleans)
- Email at email@example.com
- Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is.
- Kevin’s books on Amazon