Throwing in the Towel

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Features, Walt Disney World

Tagged: , , ,

frontpagepic

Published on July 21, 2013 at 3:00 am with 95 Comments

It’s not that I’m mad, I’m just disappointed. Disney used to be the leader. They used to pride themselves on besting their competition when in reality, there was no competition. Disney was Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky all rolled into one. What made these athletes great was their own belief that they could fail. They still had an inferiority complex. Whether it was the coach that said Babe Ruth was too fat, that Michael Jordan was too short, or that Wayne Gretzky was too Canadian, the inferiority complex gave each of them the fuel to compete. Disney used to have that inferiority complex as well. There was something in the back of their mind that produced doubt. That doubt led them to competitive decisions that fueled growth for decades.

pic

During Michael Eisner’s reign he often asked, “Why are people leaving property?” This question led to a mentality that fueled the growth of the resort. Tourists and locals were spending time at Church Street Station, so Disney built Pleasure Island. The Seas pavilion was built because people were visiting Sea World. The number of hotel rooms increased dramatically because people were staying off property. MGM Studios was fast tracked for fear of losing guests to Universal Studios. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built because people were driving to Busch Gardens in Tampa.

This mentality was great for growth but also had its pitfalls when corners were cut. In California, this approach led to a park where the “best” of California was built in the Disneyland parking lot. However, it took an investment of over $1 billion to make the park successful. Similar shortsightedness also existed in Florida when MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom each opened with only two major rides. However, it wasn’t shortsightedness that ended this level of competition. What ended it was Universal’s Island of Adventure.

Universal Islands of Adventure

Universal Islands of Adventure

A little more than a year after Disney opened the Animal Kingdom, Universal opened Islands of Adventure. During development, word spread that Islands of Adventure would open with three world class roller coasters as well as a ground breaking Spider Man attraction. Disney was ready to react with additions at all four theme parks. When the doors opened for Islands of Adventure the rumors proved true. The Hulk, and Dueling Dragons were world class roller coasters and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman was the most innovative theme park attraction in history. There was just one minor problem with all this: it didn’t affect Disney’s attendance at all.

It was at this time that the inferiority complex disappeared. Disney’s closest “competitor” built the greatest theme park ride to date in a park full of major attractions but theme park fans opted to return to their classic favorites at Walt Disney World. How could Disney fear any competitor at this point? They had no reason to believe that anything could disrupt the gold mine that was the vacation kingdom of the world.

For years, the “competition” struggled. They humbly accepted what little market share Disney had allowed them, and survived off the few guests that were looking for a day away from the resort. During this time, additions at Disney World were few and far between because they were deemed unnecessary.

pic

Disney began to believe that the theme park market had matured and the only responsibility now was to maintain their empire. This began the shift that Kevin Yee mentioned in a recent article. Disney stopped looking for more guests to enter the parks and began looking for those guests to pay more per visit.

While annual price increases typically mark the beginning of every summer travel season, that alone wasn’t enough to meet Disney’s profit targets. Disney looked at what the average guest spent on vacation and the question changed from “Why are people leaving property?” to “Where else are people spending money?” If a family was spending a fixed dollar amount on a Disney vacation, Disney wanted to make sure they were getting as much of that fixed dollar amount as possible.

pic

Several steps were made to ensure that more dollars were spent at Disney than in previous years. The Magical Express buses helped fill Disney’s hotel rooms, and Disney indirectly took profits from rental car companies and offsite hotels. Perhaps more importantly, it kept these guests on property and away from other theme parks. The Disney Dining Plan allowed guests to prepay for meals, once again keeping them on property while providing the added benefit of fixing food costs. These efforts accomplished exactly what Disney had hoped: an increase in spending per guest.

For years, this model worked because the “competition” was struggling to survive. Ironically, it was Islands of Adventure that again acted as the catalyst of change to the Orlando theme park landscape. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter proved that the theme park market in central Florida wasn’t mature, it was just dormant. With Harry Potter, Universal moved from “competitors” to competitors. Unfortunately, Disney’s inferiority complex is long gone and has been replaced by something wholly different. Whether it was replaced with arrogance or ignorance is unknown and unimportant. What is important is that it changes.

Repackaging what’s there can no longer succeed in the face of real competition. Disney needs to regain that fire that stems from their inferiority complex. They need to know they’re not the best in the business of themed entertainment anymore.

pic

Is it possible that we will we soon see the Universal parks pass the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and perhaps even Epcot in attendance? What do you think? Can Disney return to their old competitive ways or have they thrown in the towel?

 

 

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

Browse Archived Articles by

95 Comments

1 2 3

Comments for Throwing in the Towel are now closed.

  1. Tim,
    Nice article but I guess it was just too painful but to admit and write about the rest. It seems your article stopped in the middle.
    First a little about me; I asked my wife to marry me 21 years ago at the Disneyland Castle. We honeymooned at the Grand Floridian. We had annual passes to either Disneyland or World for 15 years.
    My wife talked me into visiting Islands of Adventure the year it opened. Our home video of that day is pretty funny because I went from complaining about missing a day of Disney to, “Wow, this place is pretty cool, unique, and creative” in 20 minutes.
    Disney has been trying to squeeze every $ from our family the last 10 years without giving anything much new.
    Universal is giving more all the time in both entertainment and value. We now stay at the magnificent Portofino Bay and have annual passes to Universal.

  2. Continuing my earlier thoughts.
    Portofino upgrades our now family of 5 to a gigantic suite with TWO full bathrooms for free. Our room key skips 99% of all the lines. My Universal annual pass discount gets me this FANTASTIC room set up for $180-$220 per night. Every time I check in we are given $100 in dining at any of the restaurants at this delux resort. A beautiful boat picks us up at the resort and through a magnificent landscaped grounds to the front of the parks. ALL THIS for less than I can get two rooms at a Disney VALUE RESORT!
    Universal built the new fantastic Transformer ride in less than 1 year. They are upgrading the Simpson’s Ride into a”land” in less than a year. The new Despicable Me ride was done in less than a year. The new Harry Potter area will be opened 1 and 1/2 years after tearing out Jaws ride.
    The technology from the 3d Kong ride in L.A. is being used for the Potter train and will blow guests minds with different journeys and adventures just switching parks.

    • Wow, it’s as if I wrote this for you. Thanks for reinforcing what I’m seeing.

    • Walt Disney World is the shining example of what is wrong with “Disney”. WDW in the 2010′s is bland, corporate, value engineered to death, and coasting on nostalgic fumes. The biggest ride added to Magic Kingdom in 20 years is The Little Mermaid, which is a harmless little non-Fastpass walk-on attraction in DCA, but touted as “the biggest expansion in Magic Kingdom history!” in WDW.

      I think the humidity and horrible weather finally got to the suits out there in TDO. They’ve been cooped up inside so long in the air conditioning that they forgot they run amusement parks instead of running an administration building.

      Luckily, there is Disneyland. Disneyland can’t escape all of the One Disney corporate borg mindset from Orlando, but luckily the warm California sun purifies the thoughts of the suits in TDA. Disneyland can still get away with being Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom; charming, unique, hipster without trying, and forever attached to Walt Disney’s personal philosophy on family entertainment.

      WDW is just sad in a very bland and sterile 21st century corporate kind of way. And I don’t think they’ll be able to fix that at this late date.

  3. I think Disney can’t bounce back. They have become to big and slow to react. Also they should outsource their building activity so their attractions will be less expensive or more spectacular as they are now. Disney imaginering hasn’t shown me anything impressive since Epcot’s Mission: Space in 2003. It was a bad ride. After that we have seen a lot of ride and show that had great ideas but didn’t result in a magical experience. Look at Sourin that is a glorified demo of shots of flying over California with a motion matching it. The illusion is broken every time you get another scene. Toy Story Mania is a Wii game in 3D. The castle projection does the same. Granted the Paris one has a wonderful story and is Plussed but the US parks just have a demo real. World of motion does the same.
    But what about cars land, you ask. One once removed ride brought back (how silly is that), one tractor ride that has carnival all over it and a test trek system ride that still is as cumbersome as it’s Epcot original (but they promised otherwise). It’s a decent ride but the upkeep is lacking. You will tell me that these rides are insanely popular and you are right, that’s how bored guests are. Why they are not willing to go to Universal, Sea World or Bush Gardens is beyond me. Some of these parks are made by former Disney Imagineers and are the above and beyond many Disney rides and shows. They give you something fresh and new.
    Going back to Disney, the only real promise is shown by the new Mansion ride in Asia. So maybe they still have it. attraction wise. Now food, souvenir and character wise they still could improve a lot. The food was World Showcases triumph but it has become horrible. Where Uni is creating specific food and souvenirs Disney is going all over the place with less ride or location specific items.
    I hope Disney wants to compete with Universal, and more, they want to repeat their re-imaginering of the failed California adventure. They have shown they can make a park that is almost as popular as Disney Land. Non of the WDW parks are as popular as Disney Land but they could try to bring them up to the level of Magic Kingdom. Only problem is that parks like Animal Kingdom are huge and don’t have any quality rides and Epcot is huge and has many rides that need to be updated (almost all of Future World). Epcot would be best of to get a completely new theme. The Studios are the easiest to fix. They have some beautiful streets and amazing rides. The focus needs to move from making movies to being in the movies.
    Lets hope they are going to restructure the overly expensive Imaginering so they can build more with the money they spent (and build quicker). But as long as the sheep’s keep coming in droves and are willingly offer Disney to plunder their wallet they’ll get exactly what they deserve.

    • I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you put it, but I think every park could use significant investments in both upgrades and new additions. There’s a staleness in Disney World that I don’t feel at Universal or even Disneyland.

    • Tielo, I do not agree that the food at World Showcase is worse. IMO it is better now than it has ever been by far. I would have said 5 years ago that most of the World Showcase food was boring…left behind by modern cuisine happening outside of Disney. Now we have La Hacienda de San Angel which is much better than the old San Angel Inn, La Cava del Tequila which serves excellent unique cocktails, Via Napoli which makes some of the best pizza I have had anywhere…on par with some NYC establishments, Boulangerie Patisserie which is a big upgrade to their old pasty joint, and Monsieur Paul an replacement to Bistro de Paris. Morocco is also getting a new tapas restaurant this year and I expect it to be better than the bland Marrakesh.

      Overall though, this adds nothing to the base ticket and is just another way for Disney to make more money, just like the article is saying.

      • For me, the food in World Showcase has slipped in some place and improved in others. The Cantina in Mexico has gotten worse and Le Cellier has gotten ridiculous. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of Via Napoli and Teppen Edo (although I hate that they don’t take Tables in Wonderland).

        Dining in general has been affected by trying to fit into the Disney Dining Plan price structure and that’s a problem that Disneyland doesn’t have to face.

  4. (cont): Universal is putting in a new roller coaster in Jurassic Park now. Universal is adding a new value resort now. Universal just bought another huge chunk of land across I-4 for another theme park. Universal Annual Pass discount is 20% all through the parks. There is a free snack center serving bottled water, granola bars, and chips in a lounge setting if you use Amex to buy tickets.
    Disney? They tore out Snow White ride when there aren’t enough rides in Fantasyland already. Added restaurants, stores, and photo ops to grab more $’s from guests. Little Mermaid ride has less special effects than the 40 year old Pinocchio ride; Lampwick – Donkey, Monstro attack, Blue Fairy. After much complaining new Disney leaders are forced to build Snow White coaster which will take two years to complete.
    Our old Disney family of 5 has moved to Universal. Our last trip to Orlando; we all have annual passes to Universal, Disney Waterparks/Disneyquest only. As we went from Portofino through Disney to hit the waterparks and Disney Quest, I wondered if I would hear sad remarks about missing Disney from my family of 5…not a word.

    • You forgot the biggest thing… Springfield USA napkins. My friend WDW1974 over on the WDWMagic forums will often say, “They’re bending over to pick up pennies when dollars are flying over their heads.” This commentary is often regarding the joke that is refillable mugs.

      As for the Mermaid ride vs. Pinocchio, I do disagree here. There are some great animatronics in the Mermaid ride and I would argue it’s the best dark ride in Florida’s Fantasyland. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was announced in January of 2011 and site prep had already been done. It’s going to be over 3 years to complete. I’m optimistic that it will be a solid ride, and I don’t really oppose a land with two D-tickets as opposed to an E and 2 C’s. New Fantasyland is only a problem because people expected it to be a response to Potter and it never was. It just points to the arrogance that they felt there was no need to compete in the first place.

      • >> You forgot the biggest thing… Springfield USA napkins

        I couldn’t agree more. And this is my biggest complaint about Disney now. I remember people wanting to save Tomorrowland Terrace napkins in years past. Now the Disney experience feels cheap and disposable. I didn’t mind paying Disneyland prices in the past because it always felt like I was getting something unique and “plussed”. Now most Disney merchandise looks like it belongs in a 99 cent store.

        As you mentioned they are picking up pennies when dollars are flying overhead. I would pay good money for decent Disney merchandise and I can’t find it. Instead I find iron-on decals that look like Disney saved 5 cents manufacturing.

        I realize sometimes you have to pay more to get more, but this isn’t the case anymore. Disney is often a 5-6 times cost premium for an inferior product or experience.

        Are they willing to give up on the Mickey cash cow and notice the competition is approaching and offer the consumer real value, or are they going to continue to squeeze the remaining loyalists for even more pennies?

  5. We’re all Disney Fans here so I hop people can put down their defenses and see how this is a great topic that deserves us to be honest about. As much as I may love all things Disney it’s been clear that Disney’s biggest problem (Not only parks, but film also) is their reliance on Gimmicks.

    While calling out Disney on their reliance on “Gimmicks” seems harsh, gimmicks are actually a good thing… if they trick you into a larger experience. But that’s been the difference between Disney vs The Others nowadays. The “gimmick” doesn’t necessarily pay off as much as it did in the past so while the experience is still “good”, we also know that the talent of Imagineers (in Parks) and Pixar (in Film) goes far beyond simply using “Nostalgia” and “Emotional Manipulation” as the primary reason something new is released.

    Are the 3 rides of Cars Land really that amazing that they need to be copy/paste into Florida? Is Monsters U, Cars 2 or Finding Dora really the best Pixar can do? Or is today’s Disney just looking for the easiest way to raise profits with the least effort. (Who knows, but maybe we should start questioning whether or not John Lasseter may have been given too much power in Parks and Film because all this stuff is coming under his reign).

    • The rumors are that Luigi’s Flying Tires wouldn’t make the move to Florida, citing space issues. I think it’s more because every department at Parks realizes how stupid of a ride it is and how much of a waste of money it would be to put it in. I don’t even think it’ll survive in DCA for more than 4-5 more years.

      But you really make me think about some of the gimmicks. We talk about Cars Land as if it is a full land with tons of attractions, but it’s really no more of a land than the “mini-lands” at Disneyland Hong Kong – Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, etc. – one E ticket and stores, for the most part. How much space in Cars Land is dedicated to retail and dining? 70%? And that’s Disney’s problem. They are all too happy to find more ways for guests to spend money while providing the bare minimum in entertainment.

      • I loved Luigi’s Flying Tires…novel and fun and unique.

    • Let’s not pretend that cloning Cars Land would be a gimmick. Cloning Cars Land would be a huge investment into the parks ($600 million). My opposition to that has been that it will be $600 million invested into a park and a franchise 5 years after it opened elsewhere. It would have been a great move to build Cars Land in DCA and DHS simultaneously but that wasn’t what was originally proposed. The latest rumors point to a similar budget being used on a combined Star Wars section and a Cars section in DHS. It wouldn’t included Radiator Springs Racers but it would spread out the attention across two franchises, and more importantly two fan bases for merchandise.

      I can only assume this decision was fueled 100% by the article I wrote here a few months ago (sarcasm).
      http://micechat.com/26637-open-letter-to-disney-fixing-the-hollywood-studios/

      • Since when did Disney open cloned rides simultaneously? It doesn’t happen too often. Just because you might see it done once for Toy Story Mania, which was opened throughout the theme parks in a tight schedule, it doesn’t happen for the other rides.

        Carsland was an expensive massive project to rescue DCA. WDW didn’t need rescuing, but it does need tender loving care. It is nice for Disney to finally see the point that WDW area theme parks need more rides. When Carsland was being constructed, their main focus was on the New Fantasyland. Now that this project is near completion, I’m glad they are directing their attention to DHS.

      • StevenW, just because it hasn’t been done historically (it has been done recently however), doesn’t mean that building simultaneously is a bad idea.

        Having said that, to say that WDW didn’t need rescuing is somewhat short sighted. Sure, it wasn’t in the same state as DCA, but DHS and DAK have a very shallow attraction lineup that needs to be addressed. Epcot’s attraction lineup is deeper but there are only two high demand attractions in that park. The theming of DHS is disjointed, and the Magic Kingdom hasn’t seen an E-ticket in 21 years. WDW is getting stale, and here’s hoping the rumors of new attractions all prove true.

    • As for the “gimmicks”, that’s largely been what Disney has been surviving on since IOA opened. Inflating the prices and then offering discounts has been the approach of TDO to fuel attendance. It worked for a while because there was no competition in the area. They were still the best value around.

      Now, Universal is building aggressively and isn’t relying on gimmicks. The only gimmick there is that they’re cranking out new attractions every year.

      • Let’s not forget the queue “enhancements”, the little interactive games (which are ok but not a replacement for actual new attractions!) and the adding of Fastpass to attractions that were never popular enough to need them in the first place. That’s what I call Gimmicks.

    • Luigi’s tires is my favorite Disney ride now. Won’t be forever but I’m having fun mastering the tires.

  6. About Universal’s overall ride quality (not just Harry Potter): it would be very easy for Disney to throw up a Dueling Dragons or Incredible Hulk iron coaster, but that’s not what they do. Those two rides, I don’t care how elaborate the queue and station, are Six Flags rides, not even in the realm of Big Thunder Mountain or Space Mountain. Ripsaw Falls has a fun drop, but the whole ride experience can’t compare to Splash Mountain; in Ripsaw Falls “mountain” you can see bare steel beams, wiring, lights – it feels unfinished and cheap. Last time I was on Jurassic Park, most of the dinos had stopped working, so they are focusing on the new rides and letting the old rides slide. The drop ride can’t compare to Tower of Terror, no way. The Mummy coaster can’t hold a candle to Space Mountain, the dark section is mostly bare except for a few spray painted cardboard cutouts. And if we want to talk carnival rides, what about that Simpsons alien spinner? The Simpsons eateries aren’t up to the high standards of Be Our Guest.

    • I couldn’t agree more on The Hulk and Dueling Dragons. They are eyesores on a solid park. I wouldn’t shed a tear if they were removed in favor of family C-tickets.

      I also hate Ripsaw Falls for the same reasons you said. Additionally, the logs themselves are very uncomfortable. I love the idea of being able to spray guests with water at the end of the ride, but aside from that it’s a weak experience. Having said that, if these rides were all removed it would still be a stronger attraction lineup than Epcot, DHS, and DAK from a quality standpoint.

      A year before Harry Potter opened we were pointedly told that the water effect in Poseidon’s Fury was turned off to save money. Universal isn’t without their problems, but the fact remains that they are catching up to Disney very quickly.

    • But when the Disneyland Splash Mountain keeps running for two months with some key animatronics broken or missing, and no word on any repairs, it really detracts from that extra special experience that you normally think of as setting Disney apart. And then I see stories here on Micechat.com about missing shingles, peeling paint, cracked and chipped pavement here and there, and it just adds to the disconcerting feeling that Disney is slipping. I’d rather they close Splash Mountain down and get it right, then let it keep going with embarrassing mediocrity.

      • I haven’t been on Splash Mountain since it reopened, but it sounds like everything is back working again and they’ve been maintaining it as well. It’s great to hear, but it’s also something that they should have been doing all along.

    • I have to disagree a bit with the coasters. They’re world class coasters and appeal to the thrill riders who may not be the Disney ideal but they are accommodating family members who might otherwise be wishing that they were elsewhere. And the Dragons are themed very well. You could argue much the same about Rock N Roller Coaster’s blacklight cutouts in the dark as you can about the Mummy, but I think they work better than you do in both cases and do promote the stories involved.

      In terms of overall quality, it would help to compare the recent surge of making the attractions more comparable than the older ones. While the older ones may have had corners cut that Disney wouldn’t have in the past, Harry Potter, Despicable Me, and even the Simpsons re-theme were well executed. UO still has a long way to go to feel as complete as the Magic Kingdom, but considering the stagnation of the non-MK parks, it is certainly becoming more of a family destination than anyone would have believed only a few short years ago. Changing the aging kids area would go a long way towards that, and adding in some young girl friendly areas (Princess Fiona? The Despicable Me orphans?) would definitely fill out some of the holes they have as well.

      • Dueling Dragons had a great queue, now it has a mediocre queue. The trains themselves aren’t as well themed as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They’re basically Six Flags attractions. There’s nothing wrong with that other than they’re out of place in a park like Islands of Adventure.

        I’d even argue that Califoria Screamin’ is more appropriately themed than The Hulk or Dueling Dragons.

  7. It seems like Iger is not focused on the Orlando parks at all. His reign is all about acquiring outside intellectual properties, building cruise ships and a park in Shanghai. Oh yea, and MyMagic+.

    Orlando is neglected. The only thing money is poured into there is timeshares.

    I have never been interested in Universal but this year I am genuinely excited to go there. I’ve been spending more time on their website and have spent much time watching Youtube videos of Universal attractions.I will also be going to HHN for the first time.

    I haven’t yet left Disney for good but my eye is wandering. Universal is looking mighty sexy.

    • Thankfully, it sounds like things are coming. If they’re not announced at the D23 Expo, they’ll presumably be announced at or around Fiscal Year End (September 30th). Unfortunately, it sounds like the dollars are lower than we all wanted, but we’re fans, we’re insatiable.

      I just hope that Disney can still build a great E-Ticket for under $200 million, if so we may be getting 2 in DHS and 1 in DAK. There’s a great article from MiceAge that talks about the upcoming investments:
      http://micechat.com/34900-miceage-disneyland-tomorrowland/

  8. Disney will also be the premier location for families to go to but I do see what you mean. Their compete e edge has slipped in recent years. I think a large part of that has to do with 2 things (1) movies and (2) creative staff. With movies, look at what universal has in their back pocket movie wise and look at what has been popular amount movie goers, sure disney has Pixar but not everyone wants to see every animated character squeezed I to a Pixar themed park, CG overload! Universal has rights to over 100 years of film! Disney has their own rights to their movies but with flops like John Carter and so on they dot have near the blockbuster caliber films like universal. Hence the buying of Marvel and now LucasFilm. Why do you think that was done? Because Pixar can’t carry all the weight of a slumping movie studio.

    My second point is staff, the creative people at Universal, like I stated above, have so many cool movies to pick from that who wouldn’t want to create a Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and so on. Not too many people want to see all over where Tangled was based from. Disney needs to shake things up a bit, they’ve become a little stagnent and predictable with decisions that are being made for their parks. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE the Disney parks and used to work in Anaheim, no bashing what so ever, but where we were once ahead of the curve, we’ve slowly fallen back. I think a part of that is/was our economic down turn, but now that that has slowly gone away, as you can tell from their price raising, it’s time to take a risk and change things up. Take out Innoventions in tomorrowland and update it with something spectacular, I understand there is a budget and it takes a lot money and man power to create attractions but please, stop wasting those on character greeting locations. Long story short, Disney needs to take back control of the reins and keep its edge on being the premier locations for people to come to

    • A fair point about Universal’s stable of films, but you can’t really use Harry Potter as your first example, considering that is a Warner Bros. property that is licensed to Universal. The Simpsons are a Fox property. Transformers is Paramount.

      So really, Universal isn’t much different from Disney in that regard. The only difference is that when Disney previously licensed Lucasfilm properties, they now own them wholesale.

      I’m not sure about Disney’s long-term Marvel rights regarding the Marvel franchises in Universal. I know there is some sort of “East of the Mississippi” clause, but I imagine at some point Disney will expect Universal to pay them a licensing fee or drop all Marvel brands from their parks.

      • I don’t see Marvel leaving Universal any time soon. When Universal first licensed it, Marvel was in the throes of bankruptcy. The deal worked out that Universal would pay Marvel a one-time licensing fee that would be in effect perpetually. Universal’s side of it is that they have to maintain and present the license in the park to the license holder’s satisfaction. Disney are the ones who requested Spider-Man’s upgrade as well as the latest costumes for the walkaround characters. Why do they play nice though?

        It’s because in Marvel’s contract with Universal, Marvel gets 100% of merchandising profit for items sold in the parks bearing Marvel characters. The relationship between Disney and Universal is symbiotic – Disney releases Marvel movies, which work as advertising for the Marvel section at Universal. People enter Universal from that advertising and spend money on merchandise, and in the end the merchandise money makes it’s way back to Disney.

        Disney also doesn’t have to maintain the Marvel section of the park, essentially having no operations/maintenance costs and reaping 100% of merchandise, which is where the money really is. Universal gets increased attendance in the parks, so everyone wins.

    • Targeting families should be Universal’s next approach. Most of Universal’s additions are targeting older kids/teenagers. Typically it’s these types of rides that drive attendance, but a healthy mixture has been Disney’s approach for a while.

      I’d like to see more Cat in the Hat style dark rides as a selling point for families.

  9. The second Disney announces their plans for Star Wars, all this hand-wringing and pessimism is going to evaporate. Patience, as Yoda said.

    • They still need to execute it though. Building a great Star Wars land will be a HUGE boost for Hollywood Studios provided it’s done with the same love and care (And money) given to Cars, and New Fantasyland. It needs to have both the visual appeal and the anchor attraction(s), dining (Mos Eisley), and merchandise to really work.

      • Yes, but I have no doubt they will “make it work”, and also have no doubt it will almost forever cement Walt Disney World’s status as the dominant theme park destination in Orlando. So the answer to the title of your article is “no”, I think the truth is that Disney fans have grown a bit impatient waiting for Disney’s response to Harry Potter, when Disney is waiting for the creative stew to gel with the coming Star Wars sequels before making any very firm plans. But once they do, all this concern over perceptions of laziness will vanish. Patience.

  10. I’m new to your column but it made great sense. I’ll tack on my 2 cents and suggest Disney jump off the “free market” express and let it crash down the line. Eisner should have answered his question ‘why people are going to other places’ with ‘families want to explore and be together’ and not with ‘spend money elsewhere’. Presently, because of this, Disney cannot invest in improvements to its parks (especially to its domestic parks) because Disney has to spend on all the selfish corporate bonuses and perks for its executives. There’s always lower management personnel, hourly CM personnel, maintenance expenses, and other nonessential costs to cut so the profits can pile up, which none of it would go beyond the closed door of Iger. This is a simplistic model, I know, but I think it fits.

    • That’s nonsense. Disney can’t build a new attraction because of executive perks and bonuses? They just dropped a billion on California Adventure and lord knows how much making a bathroom with imagery from Tangled. They’re preparing the biggest game changer in Orlando Theme Parks since the debut of Animal Kingdom with Star Wars, but the reason there is a perception of a lull right now is executive pay?

      • The biggest game changer has been The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Disney has yet to respond. Star Wars should be (and by all accounts, will be) that response. However it still needs to be executed well and if corners are cut (as they have been historically) it could be another dud despite the intellectual property.

        Keep in mind that if Disney got their hands on Harry Potter, their plan was a Buzz Lightyear style dark ride and a Care of Magical Creatures petting zoo. They haven’t had a grand slam attraction hit in Florida for quite some time.

  11. Another vote for Luigi’s Flying Tires, I love them. Ride ALONE though, it seems to help you go faster. I feel a little guilty doing so, if everyone did that, the lines would double, but whatever. The ride does not have the capacity for Orlando crowds though.

    I know many Disney fans that will not even TRY going to Universal, and I tell them how foolish they are. I also like the Hulk coaster, and the log flume there. The theming on the flume is awful and cheap, but the ride itself is great fun. Can’t go wrong with Dudley Do Right. The Jurassic Park section is beautiful after dark, sadly the park closes before dark, or at just dusk rather often.

    Disney needs to pour $$ into Orlando. Avatar land is not the Potter swatter they need, but a large fantastic Star Wars land could be.

  12. This subject has been covered pretty thoroughly above and it’s all very interesting. As a Disney fan who lives in Orlando, I get very excited everytime I hear about the new great projects going at at the various other area attractions. Disney so very badly needs to have it’s butt kicked right now. I have spent a lot of time on Disney property in the 18 months and there is no doubt that things are getting stale. If I can go all Thomas Schumacher on you, the whole property is in a state of ennui. So I hope Disney takes it on the chin and then says, “thanks, I needed that” and gets back to work.

    I see a huge problem with the way WDW management is structured. I think Disney Parks is most vulnerable in the attitudes of it’s middle management people. Many such managers have no clue. I’ll leave it at that.

    Does Disney have the creative talent to set the pace again in theme park entertainment? I say yes. I think they have talent coming our their “ears”. And, I hope, if things get bad enough, Disney will turn WDI loose and let them spend more than everyone is comfortable with in order to build the future.

    I do appreciate that Disney is in a tough position in this regard: attendance at the US parks is pretty much maxed out. There is a ceiling on how many people can fit in the parks. The only area of growth then becomes increasing per day guest spending. And it’s no easy thing to calculate when another gate on property would be profitable or if things might reach a point of diminishing returns. With growth being essential to the health of the theme park industry in general, knowing just when to grow and when becomes the game. And I think Disney is getting it wrong right now.

    Everything Disney is proposing to add to WDW has been seen before, on way or another. Even if Star Wars Land turns out to be a masterpiece, it’s still imagery and settings that are familiar. Heck, that’s the whole appeal to the executives. But I would so much rather be looking forward to something I haven’t seen before. I want to see something truly new. Disney used to do that, or am dating myself?

    • Truly, if Disney feels that they can no longer afford the ‘best attractions’ policy, then maybe it is time to throw in the towel. Disney gained the ground they stand on today by taking large calculated risks on great ideas. Working that way is nerve wracking and Wall Street hates it, but that’s the territory where Disney has always thrived. Stray too far from that philosophy – the precepts of Walt, so to speak – and my interest wanes quickly and I believe the long fortunes of the company are threatened.

      I would have to say that, looking back on Disney Parks history, any other philosophy other than “make the best attractions you can” is terribly puzzling to a Disney fan like myself. Because that was certainly Walt’s philosophy and since when did that need fixing? When Bob Iger says that “the heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation”, is he still talking about the “best attractions” or the best strategy for milking every last buck out of the adoring public? In general, I admire Bob Iger, but when he makes a quote like that, it appears that he is trying to sound a bit like Walt, but is actually addressing profit hungry investors. It’s all quite distressing sometimes, but then I just take a ride on the Jungle Cruise and I am renewed in thinking all is not lost.

  13. I think the “problem” is simple. Walt Disney Company is a large corporation now, more massive than its founders could have ever conceived. It runs like a huge corporation too. I felt it had gotten too big in the 90′s, now look where it is. Bigger isn’t always better as they say, I feel the key is to always have that sense of artistry to why you even conceive of a new project. I think many designers jumped ship at Disney and have gone to Universal because they get it that you can have fun building things, not just because the business end of the operations says they need something. Make it fun, people will come. Problem solved.

    • That’s one of the biggest problems with large companies, they get so big that they fail to maintain the empire that’s been created.

  14. Great article.

    Disney has allowed their Florida property to remain stagnant for so long that it will take a long time and a lot of money to regain their past glory.

    I said this on another article, but I’ll say it again. Disney’s apparent method of building minimalist parks and then growing them over time only works if they actually follow through and grow them over time.

    Animal Kingdom is a park that should be seeing continual additions, yet they seemingly deemed the place “finished” when Everest opened.

    Disney spends what feels like an eternity to build a small coaster at the Magic Kingdom, while Potter phase 2 seeming appears overnight with the wave of a magic wand. What’s up with that?

  15. You poor dear people.

    I feel your pain. Hugs and hot chocolate for ALL of you.

    My hope is that we are simply in an imagination dry spell coupled to a recession that has building slowed to a crawl in all facets of our economy. Princess Meet & Greet is an inexpensive way to entertain little girls. Carsland seems to be something every little boy, regardless of Coast, can enjoy.

    I have never been to Florida but I have watched Southern California grow and change for fifty years.

    Walt was right when he said that it will never be finished as long as we believe in pixie dust. That’s the point of appealing to those little girls — they grow up to be Imagineers.

1 2 3