2071 is a long ways off. We are closer to WDW’s birth in 1971 than to its 100th anniversary, and yet I’m struck by a desire to imagine the resort at that century mark. Possibly this is a result of having received a media copy of the Communicore Weekly Musical (see below for a review) which uses a similar conceit of being hundreds of years in the future and looking backward.

When I was a child, I used to imagine how awesome parks would be after they’d had decades to grow and expand. I pictured Disneyland having even more of the interlocking, interweaving attractions like Tomorrowland had when I was a young boy–Submarine Voyage below ground, Autopia on ground level, and PeopleMover and Monorail tracks interweaving the skies…won’t it be grand when they add still more, like maglev trains, hovercraft, and whatever else the future held?

Will we have this coaster in 2071?
Will we have this coaster in 2071?

Alas, not only has this vision of the future not come to pass, the interlocking rides of my childhood is partly gone as well, at least in Anaheim’s Tomorrowland. But Tomorrowland isn’t really the problem. Dick Nunis was. Disney executive Nunis is reportedly behind a rule that went into effect at Disneyland in the 1980s that, barring exceptions such as pressure from Burbank and the extreme top echelon of Disney management, Disneyland was not going to be expanding ad infinitum. When a new attraction was opening, another one had to close. The “one for one” rule was presumably created to ensure that Disneyland didn’t become an operational nightmare. The park was already “mature”, apparently, and seemed to have reached a saturation point of new attractions–I guess they didn’t bring in much more in the way of revenue?

Besides, the park was aging – then nearing its 40th anniversary – and some of the older rides looked a little basic compared to their more-advanced cousins. The real rub was likely ongoing costs. To keep ADDING rides without ever removing any was to incur an ever-increasing base cost of running the place. Maintenance (especially on older rides) would become an issue, and of course it costs money to staff these attractions.

The park did continue to expand, of course, and sometimes it seemed the Nunis Rule wasn’t really in effect (Toontown and Indiana Jones spring to mind). Over in Florida, which Nunis by this point was ALSO in charge of, there was no similar rule that I’m aware of. That was likely due to a few simple reasons: the parks here were younger and didn’t have the “outdated” feel yet, the parks had fewer rides than Disneyland to begin with and thus could squeeze more growth in, and finally, there was not trivial matter of space. Disneyland was crowded–some of that interlocking I loved as a child (it happens with queues and other attractions as well) was the result of finding operational solutions to cramming so much into a small space. Both the MK and Epcot had space to spare, so expansions could happen without dramatic unintended side effects. Add to this the feeling in the 80s and 90s that Walt Disney World was on a building spree–new parks in 1982, 1989, 1998; plus water parks and Pleasure Island and hotels galore–and you’ve got the recipe that begs for attraction additions inside the parks too.

test track 2013-12-01-2996

So is that the trajectory we will see for WDW by the time it turns 100? Will it start to match my childhood dreams of interlocking attractions and more than a hundred “big” attractions per park? I think we can safely say that’s off the table. The Walt Disney World parks don’t seem to be operating on a Nunis Rule principle at the moment, as they do open up new attractions occasionally that are pure expansions, but they aren’t on the building spree was saw in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of the building taking place after that was resort hotels, and in more recent years, DVC resorts (I’ve said for a long time that modern WDW isn’t in the theme park business, but rather the hotel business).

Even if the four WDW parks added a big marquee E-ticket type ride every five years in each park (which is NOT a pace they’ve displayed lately), that’s still only ten additional coasters/mountains in each park–hardly the 100 rides of my dreams when but a lad. And that number is unrealistic. WDW parks tend to add big expansions more like once every ten years now, so that’s only five big expansions per park by 2071.

Still, that would be impressive. In fifty years, there were certainly be new lands in all four parks, most likely stuff we haven’t even considered yet. But will the rides we know and love today still be there?

What will they make of Toy Story Mania in fifty years?
What will they make of Toy Story Mania in fifty years?

It’s a harder question to answer than you might think initially. On the one hand, you think to yourself it would be true blasphemy to imagine ripping out the true classics: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, etc. Can you imagine the outcry from online if they took out the Haunted Mansion? It would be bad publicity of the worst sort.

But on the other hand, think about time scale again. One hundred years is an immense amount of time. How many attractions do you visit now that were built in 1914 and only “modestly” updated since then? They feel old and quaint, don’t they? Well, that’s how Hall of Presidents, Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, Mickey’s Philharmagic, maybe even Space Mountain will feel in 2071–one hundred years old, and looking its age (some argue that the Audio-Animatronic shows ALREADY have this feeling about them, as though belonging more to the Chuck E. Cheese 1970s than the present).

So Disney has a problem. You can’t let rides stagnate forever or you become that 1914 attraction for 2014 audiences: old and irrelevant. And you can’t just rip out and replace rides, especially the truly popular ones, because there would be too much outcry.

The obvious middle ground is to have both: keep the rides, but update them. The Haunted Mansion is not exactly the 1971 version any more, with upgraded effects, different decorations in some rooms, and improve sounds. There’s no reason they couldn’t continue to tinker–maybe the graveyard scene will someday be replaced by truly stunning robotics or other optical effects. It would be a joke of the first order if the Mansion finally did get holograms someday in the future to replace Pepper’s Ghost effects!

So I think we can say the marquee attractions will be around. I’m betting there will be a Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain in the Magic Kingdom. They will likely have been rebuilt from the ground up by that point–hundred year old coasters are rickety, painful, and sometimes dangerous–but I suspect we’ll have SOMETHING with those names.

The castle will be there. But all the small rides, and possibly all the midrange attractions, are likely to swapped out at some point. I’m not convinced we’ll have a dark ride for Winnie the Pooh or Buzz Lightyear. Fifty years is a long time, and both of those locations have ALREADY been home to multiple attractions, so another fifty years is likely to see major change.

I'll predict right now that we will always have character interactions (and probably some sort of character dance party).
I’ll predict right now that we will always have character interactions (and probably some sort of character dance party).

The other WDW parks are likely to fare similarly well when it comes to the big, marquee name attractions. It would take a major event to not have Tower of Terror there in fifty years, for instance, or some sort of attraction inside the geodesic dome at Epcot’s entrance. The iconic stuff will stay. Pretty much everything else, though, will either be updated hugely or eventually torn down for irrelevance (or put another way: killed off by the Nunis Rule returning in some fashion or other).

Then there’s this: society changes an awful lot in five decades. In the 1950s, people visited Disneyland by dressing up, wearing ties and high heels. They smoke freely. Largely for socio-economic reasons, most of the visitors in those early years were white and middle-class (or higher). Today’s theme park visitor looks very different, not only in terms of demographics but also in attitudes and beliefs (and, perhaps most crucially, in patience for things like waiting in line).

Fifty years from now we might see an equally big shift in demographics. Will the average visitor be international? Chinese and Indian, as opposed to American? (Don’t dismiss the idea entirely: if economies and currencies do exactly the wrong thing, we could end up in a situation like that, where Americans can’t afford travel but other countries can).

Do YOU think we'll still have parades in fifty years?
Do YOU think we’ll still have parades in fifty years?

But we don’t need to look decades ahead to see the biggest shift: expectations about lines and waiting. Disneyland was one of the first parks to utilize the “switchback” queue, which offered guests a chance to be social while they waited in line. Over the years, this morphed into highly-themed queues instead, so people had a chance to interact (or at least, analyze) the story and theme around them while they waited. FastPass in 1999 and smartphones in 2005 have had a huge impact in a relatively short time. In less than fifteen years, Guests have transitioned almost completely from being willing to stand in line to refusing it entirely.

Attempts to engage them in line meet with middling success–I’ve met few people who are enamored with the games in the Space Mountain or Soarin’ queues. But that doesn’t mean these interactions are unwelcome; certainly they are better than nothing. In general, I agree that some manner of interaction – usually digital – is the current paradigm (first came social switchbacks, then themed queues that told the story, and now digital interactive queues).

Smartphones might be grabbing eyeballs right now, but they may also provide some of the solutions for future entertainment in the parks. Just peruse some websites about future products and you’ll instantly see applications for theme park designers. Wearable computing (including Google Glass) will bring innovations like augmented reality (AR)–think of looking at Cinderella Castle through your Google Glass, and seeing a link there to click to learn more, or watch a video of the interior. This can happen now with phones equipped with cameras, but wearable computing will only increase the AR applications.

Videoscreens that are flexible are coming. Gesture-based computing (think: Kinect or wiiU) will finally get specific and well-tuned enough to use in even fine motor operations. Projections that let you interact (have you seen the kind of computer keyboard that is just a projection on whatever surface you’re on?) could be just around the corner.

And that’s all stuff we know about in the pipeline–five or maybe ten years out. Fifty years is an enormous amount of time. If we showed people from fifty years ago the magic you carry in your pocket called a smartphone, they wouldn’t believe it. Now ask yourself what YOU wouldn’t believe about the time-traveler from fifty years hence. And then yes, that will exist. And the theme parks will both integrate that, and leverage it to add entertainment while you’re on vacation.

The gaming will continue. I suspect there will be a real blur of activity, with the lines not clear about being “on the ride” versus being “off the ride.” It will be more of a continuum, with activities leading and blending into each other. Some of the rigid constraints of theme park life might go extinct. Will we still have a 3 o’clock parade in fifty years? We might–I could see it–but we might not. Expectations for what a theme park is and what it does will shift in five decades, the way they’ve shifted already since 1971 (let alone 1955).

Interactions are coming to it's a small world soon - are you ready?
Interactions are coming to it’s a small world soon – are you ready?

I said earlier that in some ways it feels like Disney is in the hotel business down here in Orlando, not the theme park business. This model is alluring on paper, especially the current trend of adding DVC units. Logic may tell you and me that Disney ought to stop adding so many DVC places, but the math on the short-term gain they get is too alluring for them to pass up (keeping in mind that quarterly results and a Wall Street mentality of always BEATING results, not status quo, drive many of the lines of business in today’s Disney organization).

So yes, at least for a while, the DVC trend will continue. Eventually I’ll start privately thinking that “WDW” actually stands for “Walt DVC World.”

But all is not lost. As has happened so many times in the past, technology could offer a solution. By the mid-21st century, everyday technology will be astounding to us yokels from 2014. Disney, with its resources and history of being near the leading edge of technology adoption, will have wonders up its sleeve that will wow the general population even in mid-century. So they could conceivably take those technology marvels and Imagineering prowess, and deploy them on the resort hotels and DVC wings. Imagine if they added enough entertainment (whether it’s rides, shows, interactions, games, simulations, etc) to make the resorts into “destinations” the same way the parks are. In effect, WDW could have twenty-five miniature theme parks in addition to the four big ones. In some ways, they arguably have that now (people do like the hotel themes), but this could be ratcheted up easily in the coming decades by adding actual rides and entertainment only open for those staying at that hotel. And it would dovetail nicely with Disney’s real business – putting heads in beds at premium prices – while still allowing them to tout the theme parks as a draw.

Certainly it’s food for thought. I don’t pretend to know anything about what Disney World will truly look like in fifty more years, but it seems certain that change is coming. It’s inevitable. Change happened in the first fifty years (and we aren’t even done with those five decades quite yet), so at a minimum we can expect equal amounts of change going forward. I happen to think the PACE of change itself is increasing, certainly for technology but arguably for culture and society itself, and there’s little reason to think that won’t map onto the theme park existence as well.

Now it’s your turn. Help us envision Walt Disney World at 100. What do YOU think we’ll see?

WDW Clicks #13 – Spice Road Table, Smokehouse, All Star Sports dining area

We visit the new counter service Smokehouse at House of Blues, then also drop in to finally sample (and photograph) Spice Road Table, which opened a couple of weeks ago. We tour the new dining room of All Star Sports, which includes a very cool tribute to a Disney fan (rather than a Disney insider) for a change. Finally, we unveil a (small?) spoiler about the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster, so skip the last part of the video if you don’t want to hear of something I assume they want kept as a surprise.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/LI1sBZzB-gA

Communicore Weekly the Musical

Fans of the Communicore Weekly podcast already know to expect really catchy music as part of the production, and a separate product called “The Musical” obviously goes to great lengths to fulfill those same expectations! I can’t imagine it’s easy, writing songs that are both catchy and memorable (and yet don’t insult the listener), yet these guys do it.

In broad strokes, the story is about how that time, hundreds of years in the past (the story is set in the future), when Communicore Weekly hosts Jeff and George saved Disney. A vanity project, of course, but one done with the same elbow-in-ribs humor the show displays weekly so it’s all in good fun.

I also appreciated how it’s a story wrapped around a frame narrative – actors being interviewed hundreds of years later, for example, doing a stage revival of the very ancient (by then) Communicore Weekly the Musical. This gives some plausible reasons for the exposition, and hey, someone’s got to explain what’s going on!

You can find more information about purchasing the musical at the Communicore Weekly Store.

2013 WDW Earbook now on sale!

Since 2010, I’ve published an annual book chronicling the changes, additions, and significant alterations to Walt Disney World over the course of that year. It’s a little bit like the high school yearbook, and it is meant to work like that in real life (pick one up five years later, and marvel at all the memories). As a result, it bears the name Walt Disney World ‘Earbook.

The 2013 version is now ready and available for sale online: http://www.amazon.com/Unofficial-Walt-Disney-World-Earbook/dp/149489887X

The retail price is $12.99 but Amazon often discounts from there (today, it’s $11.69).

There was a lot added to Walt Disney World in 2013, including Princess Fairytale Hall, A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, Villas at Grand Floridian, Limited Time Magic, Jingle Cruise, Long Lost Friends, MagicBands, Wilderness Explorers, Norsk Kultur, Princesse Plass, Rapunzel Bathrooms, Prince Eric’s Village Market, L’artisan des Glaces, Lava Lounge, and several Starbucks shops.


We bade goodbye to Apricot Lane, Bamboo, Beastly Bazaar, Cap’n Jack Restaurant, Club 626, Countdown to Fun, Disney Channel Rocks, Fuego, Haagen Dazs, National Treasures at the American Heritage Gallery, Sid Cahuenga’s, SmarterPlanet, Sound Stage, SpectroMagic, Stave Church Gallery, and Wetzel’s Pretzels.

Re-live the special events, additions, removals, and alterations with this yearbook-style volume designed to show, using hundreds of pictures, how rapidly the portrait of life at Walt Disney World changes. An index at the back will make finding information even years from now a breeze.

The book is 66 pages, with hundreds of full color photos inside. If you like this one, you are always welcome to check out previous editions – 2012 ‘Earbook2011 ‘Earbook2010 ‘Earbook.

Free online course in what Disney fairy tales really mean

There’s a completely free, fairly-low-work online class being offered soon (Feb. 10-Mar. 10) that will explain lots of things about Disney Fairy Tales you never considered before:

  • Why does Cinderella’s prince not just look at her face to identify her?
  • Why Snow White was originally a family drama in the worst way – and definitely NOT a story for today’s children!
  • What do those hedges full of thorns in Sleeping Beauty really mean?
  • Why is Ursula so masculine in Little Mermaid, and what does this have to do with the very last shot of the movie?
  • What does Belle’s Beast *really* stand for? Why is he animalistic?
  • What is the symbolism of a frog supposed to imply, in Princess and the Frog?
  • How does Tangled completely change Gothel’s character?
  • Why does Disney change the siblings around from the Snow Queen for Frozen?

The “class” is open to the public – no prerequisites required whatsoever. You sign up atcanvas.net (which is basically one of the Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOC for short – that allows for free college-level content provided to the masses). There are not even any costs for books – everything is provided (electronically) for free.

Expect about maybe an hour or two of reading per week – that’s the only work/homework in the class! This course has no completion certificate, and thus no essays to write. New content gets unlocked each week. Since it costs nothing to join, you’ve got nothing to lose! You can do the work each week whenever you feel like it; there are no synchronous meetings. You decide when in the week you want to participate!

Full course description:
Princess stories have been popular for centuries and remain so today around the world; we’ll dive into what these fairy tales mean, and trace the history of these narratives back to their source material, examining contexts all along the way. We’ll borrow tools from cultural studies, literature studies, and film studies to help us analyze these phenomena and what they mean to our society.Many of us may associate princess stories with modern-day products (much of it marketed to small children) or with Disney movies and theme parks. We’ll examine these current versions of fairy tale mythos as well, using our new interpretive tools to uncover not just what’s been changed in the moral and message of the narrative, but what the stories mean as told now.
Note: this class was previously offered in Fall 2013. It’s essentially the same course now, with the same content, so if you saw it once, there’s no need to sign up again!