Avatar Moves Forward at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Kevin Yee

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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. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin 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 protected], 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

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26 Comments

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  1. As someone who has used reserved “seating” for both World of Color and Illuminations, I have to say that I really love the convenience of being able to do this and I don’t mind spending an extra nickel to have it. However, I do believe that Disney has an obligation to ensure that all of its park visitors have the opportunity to see the show if it’s included in your days admission. Not necessarily the same seating or view, just an opportunity to have a view if they want it. I believe I watched the show on a lowered platform in front of Morocco (I think) and this didn’t seem to impact anyone’s view above us on the shore.
    I have personally found the view from Italy to be one of the best for the show Kevin. I am generally underwhelmed by Illuminations because the firework and fountains are so far away from you that they really seem insignificant to me. However, when I watched it from Italy, everything seemed quite close and was very thrilling. I’m not sure if that’s the case from other areas of the lagoon as well?
    Thanks for your great writing Kevin!

  2. Although I really did not like Avatar, the one thing you have to say for it is that it is visually incredible. I am looking forward to seeing an Avatar land. It doesn’t seem to really fit with DAK, but I don’t know where else you would put it.

  3. Sorry to belabor a point. Coke began allowing bottlers to reduce costs by substituting corn syrup instead of cane sugar 5 years before the New Coke/Coke Classic fiasco. No one raised an eyebrow until Marketing did their (black) magic in 1985.

    http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/newcoke.asp

    FTA: “These rumors are an attempt to make sense of the unthinkable, that a company of the size and reputation of Coca-Cola could have effected such a blunder. It’s more comforting to cast it all off as a brilliant conspiracy than to live with the notion that a large company might not be infallible.”

    And I had not thought about how Disney is taking away “free” viewing locations in World Showcase. I don’t know if that is part of a master plan.

  4. Then [ancient times]: The ability to watch shows and parades from anywhere you choose. Today: Restricted public viewing areas for shows and parades, plus choked off walkways because of Disney building ‘special viewing areas’. Future: Disney’s FastPass+ prime viewing areas for all shows and parades; limited viewing areas available without Disney’s FastPass+. Beyond that?

    “Coming soon: FastPassSuperDuper++ Walking Lines!! Are you tired of having to force your way down Main Street USA, or Sunset Blvd after a show? Worry no longer! Disney is proud to announce this guest-requested enhancement, where you can add-on to your existing Disney-implanted RFID-enabled bio-chip (for only an additional $44.99 per day in addition to your theme park admission) the ability to bypass normal walking avenues and experience the magic of Disney in your own exclusive FastPassSuperDuper++ Walking Lines!! These special lines allow you to walk as quickly as possible to all of your favorite Disney attractions without having to fight your way thru crowds of people. And since this can be combined with Disney’s FastPass++ (Available for only $29.99 per day in addition to your theme park admission), you’ll be able to shave seconds or even minutes off of your walking time between the 3 of the dozens of attractions YOU CHOOSE to ride that day! And if you choose to upgrade to Disney’s SuperDuperShoppingFastPass++ (for only an additional $24.99 per day in addition to your theme park admission) you’ll be free to shop at one of our dozens of merchandise locations while others stand in 2 hour lines for attractions. And for the ultimate in theme park experiences, you can choose the Disney’s SuperDuperShoppingAndEatingFastPass++ (for only an additional $49.99 per day in addition to your theme park admission), where you’ll be free to experience one of the hundreds of Disney Dining Carts with only a minimal wait! Buy yours today! For the ultimate in magical experiences, stay at an affordable Disney resort!! Starting at only $1499/night for a magical 4-person Disney sleeping pod, based on availability. Resort rooms with full bed and bathroom (complete with a toilet and a shower!) start at only $2999/night at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, based on availability. Let the magic begin!!

    (Theme park admission starts at only $389 per day [no admission to shops or restaurants included], and the more you play, the less you pay! Add on additional days for less – $569/$729/$879/$979/$989/$999 for up to 7 days of Disney magic! Other add-ons include park hopping for the low rate of $599 for the length of your theme park ticket. Please note that attraction availability varies, and is not guaranteed. Currently there are: [07] attractions available at Magic Kingdom; [04] attractions available at Epcot; [02] attractions available at Disney’s Hollywood Studios; [01] attractions available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom)”

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little in reading that, because it’s probably not entirely a fantasy…

    • eessh! with the things they are doing now this totally feels like the direction they are going. Let Disney tell us otherwise….if they lurk around these websites!