Avatar Moves Forward at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Features

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Published on April 09, 2013 at 3:55 am with 26 Comments

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.

Nothing to see here, move along.

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.

No more view from the bridge.

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.

Spice Road Table… en route!

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.

Unrelated: new cone sandwiches at Downtown Disney

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.

Unrelated: Lava Lounge bar taking form behind Rainforest Cafe.

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.

Unrelated: cone drinks at Cool Wash

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.

Unrelated: Transformers walls are down, shop is open, meet and greets started at Universal.

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.

Unrelated: Diagon Alley takes shape in the former Amity area.

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:

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida.

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  • Timon

    Cone Sandwiches – Aren’t they the old Disney Handwich from the ’80′s? 2.0 version
    http://www.parkeology.com/2010/08/talk-to-hand.html
    What’s old is new again.

    • unkadug

      I was thinking the exact same thing

  • ChrisNJ

    Isn’t it really EPCOT just going the same route as DCA with special viewing areas? I’m not a fan of it at all. Especially when the restaurants you need to go to for special event viewing passes have limited menus.

    I miss the good ol days of low entrance price and ride tickets. yeah, I’m a dreamer. Just glad I got a chance to see MK that way first.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    Thank you Kevin. They are absolutely moving forward with Avatar. In fact, I hear that the budget for it was significantly increased.

    Epcot has such a beautiful lagoon, why mess it up by blocking the view with all this new construction at waters edge?

  • xboxtravis7992

    I dislike the movie Avatar with a passion, bland plot, an hour to long, overly preachy, and bland characters. Once the hype died the movie seemed to be quickly forgotten.

    That being said though, the movie had many many many environments which would make a great theme park land. So I am curious to see what WDI can make with Avatar, I would dare say WDI can make a better Avatar than James Cameron did (as long as Avatarland has the right funding). Lastly all that is at risk for Avatar is a small meet and greet area, seeing that Lion King is going to be moved to a new stage in the more thematic Africa portion of the park. So despite being an Avatar hater, I am anticipating what can be done in Animal Kingdom.

    • ParkerMonroe

      Persoanlly, I preferred Avatar when it was still called Pocahontas.

      • theswillmerchant

        Or when it was called Fern Gully, or Dances with Wolves.

  • ttintagel

    Geez, how long will it be until the entirety of EPCOT is only available for private functions?

    • GiggleGoddess

      They should only allow private reservations on certain days of the week so then the public can have access to those spaces every so often. It would be fair for Disney to do that.

  • StevenW

    I’m not sure I like your Coca Cola example. I prefer a comparison to other Disney shows. Compare Epcot’s IllumiNations to DCA’s World of Color.

    IllumiNations: Free non-reserved viewing spots with Paid viewing spots (via private parties and restaurant reservations).

    World of Color: Free reserved viewing spots with Paid viewing spots (via dinner packages).

    The problem with IllumiNations is it is unclear where the best view spots are as more spots are taken up. In contrast, World of Color tells you where to stand to view the show. There are no surprises.

    • KennyVee

      I agree, the Coca-Cola analogy was a bit of a head-scratcher.

      “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.”

      So, you mean offering 12oz cans with a one-time tab as well as higher-priced 20oz bottles with a screw-on cap? That already happens, and nobody thinks they’re getting ripped off because of it, or that it’s indicative of greed within the Coca-Cola company.

  • pixie chick

    We just returned from a trip to WDW last night and could immediately tell the difference in the Mexico and Morocco pavillion areas with the new waterfront restaurants. Not only is the view from both sides diminished, but the bottlenecks created (in what was once a wide walking path) are frustrating. It’s starting to feel like walking through Disneyland’s Adventureland during peak season- an area I tend to avoid whenever possible. It’s a shame because I definitely don’t want to avoid World Showcase, one of my favorite areas of all Disney parks. EPCOT seems to have several large, unused buildings right now in Future World that could be utilized rather than adding more view-blocking, sidewalk-narrowing restaurants in World Showcase.

  • LBJeff

    Actually, Coke changed their formula about 25 to 30 years ago when it substituted high fructose corn syrup for cane sugar. There’s a part of the story that I truly believe is connected to the New Coke fiasco, but anyone who tastes Coke produced in Mexico with the sugarcane formulation will tell you that it is a much better product. So, in Kevin’s analogy, Coke did water down their product and charged as much for the cheaper and lesser product.

  • martinjbell1986

    How about a poll Kevin? People’s favorite nightime show: Illuminations, Fantasmic DL, Fantasmic DW, World of Color, Fireworks, ect….

  • ParkerMonroe

    Apple might be a better example; as they already charge a premium price for exceptional products (much like Disney).

    They are famous for standing behind their product – going as far as to offer a full year warranty (even on their refurbished products)!

    What if Apple decided to drop their AppleCare to 90-days and still charge $1,200 for a MacBook? What if it was basically the same MacBook as three years ago; is it still worth a premium? What if, six months later, they raise the price of the MacBook to $1,299 because they promise enhancement to future MacBooks.

    Then they change iTunes. You can use the program to shop for music, and listen to it on the MacBook, but if you want to transfer it to your iPod/iPhone it’ll cost you more. Oh, and you’ll pay more if you want album art, too.

    Six months later they raise the price to $1,350…. and the cycle continues…

  • unkadug

    Is it possible that the viewing areas from the new restaurant might be enhanced by the removal of the islands?

  • whamo

    LBJeff is right about the Mexican coke (no drug pun intended) being better than the American cola. I rarely drink cola because I’m on a renal diet, but I had about six ounces of it from the bottle two weeks ago, and I got that old refreshing feeling. I can’t wait to drink a soda out of the box in front of the Carsland venue in D.L. We used to buy pop that way in the 50′s when I was a wee lad.
    As for Avatar? It was a breakthrough movie in terms of 3-D and very artistic, even if the plot was stolen (the amateur imitates and the pro steals). I enjoyed it, even though I get it when people troll about it.

  • KEBSD

    Avatar land is a horrible idea… I really think Disney will regret it as time goes by.

  • Haven

    I have to agree about the good ole days of everyone waiting in one line for rides. My most recent trips to Disney parks have found the fast passes sold out before noon anyway. The idea of having a fastpass as an app on your phone sounded even more ridiculous. If a day at a theme park just becomes another reservation, hurry up and get a fast pass, use my cell phone, text message, emailing mess, what was the point of taking a day off from work in the first place? Nah, I would rather breathe, meander, enjoy, play the day by ear.

  • chesirecat

    There isn’t enough room in the Festival of the Lion King/Camp Minnie Mickey area for Avatarland as the current WDI conceptualization involves a river ride, in addition to Soarin over Pandora. The land east of conservation way (an offstage road) would be most appropriate for this expansion, land which has conveniently already been cleared.

    Festival of Lion King will moved though.