March 1, 2011

A Cynical World View

What in the World is going on with Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom? There are construction scrims all over Main Street, new interactive queues being built at the Haunted Mansion and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a total rebuilding of the Adventureland entrance bridge, and walls o'plenty in Fantasyland for the development of the Fantasyland Forest and Storybookland Circus.

I'll tell you what it is: the Walt Disney Company suits have finally realized they need to invest in their old dependable cash cow! With Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey now leading the way and the 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World coming up fast, the Magic Kingdom must look and feel like everyone's collective memories and better.

If management has its way, the Magic Kingdom will see numbers of guests substantially rise for the celebration and create a wave of nostalgia oriented purchases and renewed passion for the place. Its the type of goodwill advertising a company thrives on, one that can positively affect the bottom line for years. Florida's management is wisely putting its spin on Matt Ouimet's playbook for making Disneyland's 50th memorable to wild success. Smart move.

All this means, the guest experience has to match expectations. The overflowing crowd of guests waiting for the Haunted Mansion have to fall neatly into line and not create the bottleneck in Liberty Square. You know, the mass that has frustrated guests for years. The long neglected El Pirata y El Perico restaurant in Caribbean Plaza within Adventureland now becomes Tortuga Tavern to play off the strong attachment to Disney's hit film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. Waiting in line for Pooh becomes more enjoyable. 

Space Mountain is finally given a dusting over and the PeopleMover name reinstated. Small World's recent remodel and new paint job is not a mistake and neither is the new facade for the perennially popular Peter Pan's Flight. Mickey Mouse even moves to the front of the park, solving the problem of the demolition of his home while Fantasyland finally becomes more than a shadow of what is found in other Magic Kingdoms all over the world.

A cynical World view? Absolutely! For far too long the company has left Florida's first Disney park happily deteriorating and under performing when it should have been polished and cared for, treated like the crown jewel the company stated it was.

There are also signs of this mentality hitting all over the World. The majestically beautiful Twilight Zone Tower of Terror over at Disney's Hollywood Studios finally gets a face lift to return it to its horrifying glory. Star Tours 2.0 on the horizon. Shrubs and small trees are planted around the Hat that dares to exist. One Man's Dream gets an update. New restaurants at Epcot's World Showcase will also help ease the crowds maddened by the overbooking results of the Disney Dining Plan. Meanwhile, Disney's gorgeous Animal Kingdom gets... nothing.

The movement for a gussied up Magic Kingdom moves beyond the gates of the parks. Long abandoned expansion for the Pop Century changes to a sure fire hit Animation Resort. Refurbished rooms at the Polynesian Resort. Hyperion Wharf replaces the failing but once incredible Pleasure Island. And I'm sure I'm missing a few things.

Will Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey partnering with Walt Disney World's 40th make or break Disney's reputation as theme park king in Central Florida? Probably not, but the crown has temporarily been given to the new contender. Will Disney nostalgia win over Universal Orlando's innovation and shear effort to create the spectacular? Ultimately, it is all a grab for tourist dollars, and the visitor stands to win in a competition like this.
Regardless of the cash driven motives, maybe this will signal the return of a Walt Disney World when quality was the goal and not overlooked in pursuit of the dollars the company could extract. A time and place when long term investment yielded high guest satisfaction, when integrity matched advertising, when the promise of the experience was only superceeded by the actual visit. Maybe it is the beginning of a Golden Age instead of the Age of the Golden Parachute for departing executives.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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