Final Thoughts on the 2013 D23 Expo

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in D23Expo

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Published on September 08, 2013 at 3:00 am with 19 Comments

For many people, the takeaway from the 2013 D23 Expo was the lack of real takeaways. There were no substantial announcements from the Studios or the Parks and Resorts which left some people underwhelmed. However, I had a great time at the Expo.

I attended the Expo in 2011 and I remember being wowed by the Studios presentation but disappointed by the Parks and Resorts presentation. More importantly, I remember the frustration with the way things were run. Fast forward to 2013 and the event was run substantially better. Two years ago, I couldn’t dream of seeing 3 presentations in a day unless I waited in line for 8 hours. This year, I saw all 5 Imagineering presentations on Sunday without any issues whatsoever.

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The Stage Pass concept worked great. The increased sizes to Stage 23 and 28 were much appreciated. The overflow theater for the Arena appeased many. The event was simply run better in 2013 than it was in 2011.

I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping for Parks and Resorts announcements, but if a project doesn’t have the approval of the Board of Directors, they can’t announce it. As fans, we have to understand that the company does not revolve around this event. Perhaps they could have offered a bit more information on the Avatar and Star Wars projects, but they did at least acknowledge their existence. D23 wanted an Imagineering presence, and the approach of focusing on never built projects was an intriguing one for fanbois.

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Inside the Imagineering pavilion, I appreciated the early EPCOT models as well as the Western River Expedition model. The teaser animatronic of the Hatbox Ghost led to more speculation about it being installed into The Haunted Mansion, and the viewing of ride-throughs on the DISH system led to speculation about the ride system on new Star Wars attractions. All of these things created discussion and all of these things led fans to believe that there is a bright future ahead for the Parks and Resorts.

However, it wasn’t the technology takeaways that I appreciated the most. My biggest takeaway from this event was the time that cast members and Imagineers took to talk with the fans. In many cases I didn’t really like the answers I received (like my conversation with an Imagineer in the My Magic+ area), but I certainly appreciated the time and access.

I don’t profess to have a journalism background. Very few of us Disney bloggers have that background. Conversely, I assume all of the employees Disney gave us access to had significant coaching and training in public relations. I wasn’t expecting to get any groundbreaking information out of the Expo, but I was truly surprised by the number of Disney employees that were willing to at least talk about the questions and concerns of the fans.

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On the very last day of the Expo, my friend Hunter and I were walking across the show floor on our way back to the final Imagineering presentation. On our way, we saw Bruce Vaughn, Joe Rohde, Tom Fitzgerald, Kathy Mangum, Eric Jacobson and Daniel Jue sitting in the autograph area. We looked at each other and immediately tried to find the line. We were told it had been cut off, but after very little persuasion we were allowed to get into the back of the line. At this point, we no longer cared about the final presentation.

Many of the staff covering the event were not Disney employees, and we struck up a conversation with the Expo staffer that was manning the line. He didn’t know who these six people were, nor why we felt it was important to meet them. We explained to him that they were people that worked behind the scenes to create many of the classic attractions that we as fans love. We likened them to the Steven Spielberg of their profession. He immediately understood and appreciated the significance.

When it was our turn we approached the first table featuring Bruce Vaughn and Joe Rohde. I began with, “You know, Joe there’s an animatronic elephant inside the Imagineering Pavilion that I first saw on April 22, 1998.” Thankfully, he didn’t correct me by saying that the animatronic wasn’t there on Animal Kingdom’s opening day. Instead, both Bruce Vaughn and Joe Rohde spent the time talking to us as fans. We took photos with them, thanked them and moved on to the next table.

Greeting us next were Tom Fitzgerald and Kathy Mangum. Hunter made the mistake of calling Kathy Mangum “ma’am” and she jokingly acted offended. They spent the time with us as well, despite the “handler” trying to usher us on to the next table. Simply put, we wanted to thank them and let them know that so much of what they do goes unrecognized and unappreciated by the average fan.

The final table featured Daniel Jue and Eric Jacobson and we barely talked about Disney. To the uninformed, Daniel Jue was a major contributor to the Japanese parks, and we spent most of our conversation discussing the entire country of Japan.

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Collectively, the three conversations made the Expo for me. I would have enjoyed it had they not taken place, but they represented the “something extra” that I remembered from Disney. These weren’t fabricated conversations based on data points being read off a teleprompter – these were real conversations with real people. Sure, they didn’t tell us the five year plans for the parks, but we didn’t expect them to. However, they did answer smaller scale questions and did so in an unguarded way. More importantly though, they seemed to appreciate the conversation and we certainly appreciated them.

Now that a bit of time has passed since the Expo, what are your lingering thoughts? Did the show live up to the hype?

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

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19 Comments

Comments for Final Thoughts on the 2013 D23 Expo are now closed.

  1. Well see, this is where we are due to WDW lazy leaders. It’s like dating someone for 10 years, who doesn’t bring anything to the relationship; no ideas, no energy, no thought, no love, but they take and will sit down and eat a meal with you. You have two choices; one is to make excuses and imagine that in the next 10 years they will start planning, having ideas of their own, caring, and not just taking; or two you have given 10 years and you are moving on.
    WDW fans have to bring their own speculation, ideas, and wishful thoughts about what they hope WDW leaders will do. WDW just dusts off some old models of things they never did and talks to you as you come by the booths which you paid to get in. What did you think they would do? Tell you to shut up and move along? They took your money, talked with you, let you see some old memories of things they didn’t even do. You are left you to imagine great things that you would do if you were them in the future.
    Meanwhile, for 7 years, a good looking prospect is making great plans and inviting you to them. Great fun dates, great future plans which they want to share with you. They have been trying to entice you for 7 years. You aren’t married to the old WDW. Why don’t you move over to Universal Florida and feel excited and appreciated again?
    Show WDW you aren’t gonna be a sucker for another 10 years.
    Go have fun with a two way relationship at Universal and enjoy all the new plans they have for you.
    Or, just keep riding the Jungle Cruise on de Nile River and let WDW keep counting your money.
    Who knows, maybe WDW just might learn to appeciate their partners the way old WDW leaders did.

    • Ah, CaptainAction, if your comments weren’t so spot on accurate I would have laughed when I read your response.

      The Disney operating procedure for the parks appears to have devolved into offering the least they can (and always with a movie tie in), and only try something better if the current customer base balks. Unfortunately, for the most part this policy appears to be working quite well for Disney.

      • Thank for the message Badger. Universal is trying so hard and WDW leadership is so lazy that I’ve really enjoyed rewarding Universal with my hard earned money.
        The more the merrier.
        When giant former disney families like mine and people i know have made the switch then there are thousands ahead of and behind us. Momentum shifts are slow when things are this big but if Universal can grow larger than AK, Disney Studios, and Epcot in 2015, then we can watch some jaws hit the ground.

    • Captain,

      Believe me, I want to hear new parks and resorts announcements more than the next person. I’ve been highly critical of the company on that front. However, without those announcements I still had a great time at the Expo. It was a function of the company I was there with as well as the experiences I outlined. This was an article that was more about the experience at the expo as opposed to the dwindling experience at the parks.

      If you’re interested in more criticisms of the company, I suggest you look at some of my prior articles where I do just that.

      Also, for what it’s worth – I’m spending 2 days of my upcoming 7 days trip at the Universal Parks.

      • Tim, that’s how we began too. We were on one of our 2 trips per year to Disney. My family of 5 spent one day at Islands because my wife really wanted to see it. The next day I asked them where they wanted to go and they all asked if it was ok to go back to Islands. I was excited as I felt the same. We left our Disney resort and had a great second day there.
        Now our family of 5 has Annual passes at Universal and our resort home is Portofino. We only awarded Disney with annual passes to the waterparks.
        I don’t know if you want new parks and resorts more than the next person or not because so many of us do.
        I do think it’s time to stop rewarding WDW when Uni is trying so hard and delivering so well and all so quickly for the guests.

      • Hey Tim, are you staying on property at Universal? Have you before? Staying at Royal Pacific, or Portofino has some amazing perks. If you join the Loew’s First Club, it’s free, after a few stays you get a $100 credit for the resorts restaurants, an upgrade to a 900 sq ft suite with two full baths, and the pass to skip all lines as many times as you like from the morning of check in until the evening of your check out. Hard Rock isn’t in on this though, just the skipping lines feature.
        We love the boat rides to the front of the parks.
        We use the Uni Annual Pass discount and can stay at the 4-5 star Portofino in the 900 sq ft suite with the two full baths and the $100 meal credit, and ride the boat to the front of the parks for the same price as one moderate WDW resort room with one bath and a bus ride.
        Skipping the lines feature is amazing. We have never waited as long as 10 minutes for anything, even at peak holidays.

      • Nope, I’m staying at an offsite Condo so neither Disney nor Universal is getting my money there. I’ve heard fantastic things about the Portofino though and will probably check it out on an upcoming trip. We’re still debating whether or not to get Univeral APs. We’re debating another trip in January to get another usage out of Disney World AP but are unlikely to visit prior to September or October of 2014 following that.

        I’ve been wholly impressed with what Universal has been doing in recent years and I have yet to see Spiderman’s upgraded projectors, Transformers or Fast Food Boulevard. I’m even one of the few people that really likes Disaster.

  2. I don’t think anyone can deny that Disney rested for too long, allowing Universal the upper hand. They waited so long to put new attractions in development that they essentially had nothing new to announce in time for the Expo. However, it was STILL a good Expo. In my opinion their best expo.

    We already know which projects they’ll be able to talk about next time. And they are the projects folks want to know more about (Star Wars, Marvel, Shanghai, Tomorrowland). It’s a shame they didn’t have the budget and approval for this time around, but that’s the breaks.

    Having worked the MiceChat booth from open to close for three days, I know what people liked and didn’t like about the expo (we are a lightening rod for what people are feeling). And aside from some concern about line control on the Friday morning and staff training, there weren’t a lot of complaints this year compared to previous years. Disney is getting better at this.

    For the first time, I’m actually looking forward to the next Expo.

    • I think that without meaning to, you hit the nail on the head.

      What’s wrong with Disney? They’re focusing too much on the logistics. They worry too much about moving the line, giving you the right meal options, not overlapping 2 great presentations, etc.

      And they’re missing out on the fact that those aren’t the reason we go. They may be the things that we complain most about, but they aren’t the things that we go back home and tell all our friends about.

      I’ve never come home from a trip to Disney and told people that the lines moved fast, I was always able to find a bathroom, and there were plenty of people standing outside the closed, broken down ride to tell me what was wrong. No, I tell people about the experience. About the great rides!

      We went to Florida, spent all but 1 day at Disney and everybody wanted to know about Harry potter. Why can’t Disney get this? I don’t think I will ever again set foot inside Animal Kingdom. Unless something great comes to Hollywood Studios I won’t be going there. My next 10 day trip to Florida will likely have me staying at Universal and taking a bus (like you do if you’re on property) to Disney for maybe 4 or 5 of the 10 days.

      great job Disney!

    • I agree Dusty, this years expo was head and shoulders above the rest.I guess the old adage,the third times a charm really fits here. I knew there weren’t going to be any major announcements so that didn’t bother me much. What did surprise me was the lack of participation from ABC. Now I did see a few minor celebrities, mostly from the LiveWell network, but I expected more from ABC primetime TV. Only 3 shows were even represented. I expected more. Otherwise though we had a great time

  3. I think most people who attended the expo had a great time and that is important but watching it from a distance it looked like one huge commercial ringing nothing substantial for the fans.
    Take for instance the imaginering session with the guys who made Mystic Manor. It’s a tease and painful for every real WDW fan. They get boring movie tie ins with old ride systems and unoriginal and uninspired attraction when another park overseas gets the best original Disney attraction produced for the last 15 years. In the same vain where the presentations of the new Star Wars land and Avatar Land. Nothing was presented and was more frustrating and disappointing than fun. The fact they made some much mistakes with Avatar in their peek a boo set was appalling for the few Avatar fans there where and lacked respect and interest for the franchise.

    All the movie stuff was also sad. All bought movie franchises where trailers and short walk on from actors but nothing about Star Wars and the poor Disney Studios showed Planes made in India that got (justifiable) bad reviews like their own live action movie this year with Jonny Deb. It made it perfectly clear they aren’t able to make amazing new movies anymore like they did once.

    I get it you liked taking with imagineers but Disney doesn’t care about their guests and their opinion except for their questionnaires in their parks. Take their blog. Give them one polite critical question and you are banned for life. You know Disney I once cared but don’t anymore because of that.

    The rest of the expo was reselling stuff that they already had and merchandise (of course). All in all a bad show for the (once) greatest story tellers and theme park makers in the world.

    • Well said Tielo.

  4. Tielo,

    I saw the Mystic Manor presentation and was totally blown away. I walked out and immediately did a Captain Jack Sparrow, “I want one of those.” I’ve been barking up the LPS tree for a while now and really want to see it utilized stateside, either in an original attraction or a clone of one of the overseas versions.

    Having said that, take a look at the Florida E-Tickets built/upgraded since the Animal Kingdom opened. It’s primarily original concepts and not tied to franchises:
    Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – Aerosmith tie in
    Expedition Everest – Original Concept
    Soarin’ – Clone, but original concept
    Test Track and Test Track 2.0 – Original Concept
    Mission: Space – Original concept (probably not an E-ticket but intended to be)
    Star Tours 2.0 – Star Wars tie in

    The bigger issue here is that they haven’t been adding to the parks as quickly as we would like as fans. Personally, I’m less concerned with the theme of an attraction than I am the quality of the attraction. I’m indifferent towards Cars, but love Cars Land. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but I love the new Star Tours.

    The D23 Expo is a giant advertisement for Disney and Disney brands, but that’s why we go. We go because in some way, shape or form, we love Disney. I don’t really see that as a problem. If it’s established that going forward this will not be the location for major announcements then so be it. It probably won’t be as popular, but they didn’t seem to have any problem selling out of tickets the last few years.

    • Hi Tim, it’s true AK had some original stuff but Countdown to Extinction became Dinosaur (from that horrible Disney movie) and I’m sure they’ll try to destroy any other original ride if a movie comes out where they can slap it on the ride. With Lion king, Junglebook (became Tarzan and now Nemo) and A Bugs life it has only 1 original major show (the birds show).

      Epcot once was filled with license free original rides but now Nemo ruined The Seas and many countries pavilion had characters pushed in them.

      Btw I don’t want Mystic Manor, I want something original and awesome and not a cheap Captain Jack projection show in Disney Studios. Doing that is showing major disrespect for your customers and fans and that is exactly how I felt about D23. I really get it fans are a bit blind but when they open their eyes for a second they see Disney laughing in their face calling them idiots and running away with the cash they got to produce a commercial. Unlike their first and second D23 because I could see from home they were amazing.

  5. My only real problem was the staff at the convention center. They should of have took some CM over at DL and used as the red shirts. Just give them a refresher course on crowd control

  6. Disney would rather lose money making movies than invest in the parks.

  7. I had a very good time at the Expo. It did seem better than last time, in the way it was run, I agree.

    Some complaining and chaos that I saw and heard about sounds silly now– it was about trying to SHOP. The lines to get into the stores were insane the entire time. Some of the craziness is caused by Ebayers buying stuff for sure. From conversations I heard, most of the “Sorcerers” finance that ticket by buying stuff to sell on Ebay. As a result, most of the LE stuff was not really available to the average D23 guest. I say raise the edition sizes…… put in small vending kiosks to sell basic stuff like T-shirts, (nothing LE). The lines on the floor for the exhibits were also much longer this time around. I think the reason, was less people tied up for hours on the lines for the presentations, ironically. All those folks have to be somewhere. And there was the usual running out of (horrible) food, esp. on Friday.

    I missed presentations on ride development, last time I saw Star Tours, Little Mermaid, Carsland, etc. Finally caught Voices of the Parks though! The self checking of electronics for the Studio presentations was great, too. The Sat night concert was amazing.

    In general, I think this Expo looked back to the past, more than it looked forward to the future. I hope the next one in 2015 looks forward to upcoming park projects.

  8. Just got the feeling, when i first walked the show, that it was just one big yard sale – they were just there to sell you something. Very little there (outside of the Imagineering pavilion) was actually giving you anything without expecting something (usually money) in return.

    • No company can keep letting a huge percentage of it’s old fans down and feel ripped off and taken advantage of without consequences. I’m sure many of you who feel WDW just wants our money are like me; we are the ones people are referred to when they plan a trip to Orlando. I’m not referring anyone to WDW. My family and I are spending a small fraction on Disney compared to what we used to. I don’t feel WDW deserves my $’s anymore.
      We are the trend setters. Laggards will follow us.
      I don’t want an armband fastpass to the Muppet Movie or Spaceship Earth.
      I’m selling Universal Florida to families who call me asking for Orlando travel advice.
      These folks are loving the experience and value. New value resort is amazing.
      I’m only concerned with those families who have the smallest of kids and doing Universal. Universal still needs more for the tiny kids. They are addressing this in current planning. Universal is addressing everything in current planning.
      Now, if they can just pass AK, Disney Studios, and Epcot in 2015.