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PENNIES FROM KEVIN - Nostradumbass 2005 - Disney's Theme Parks

In the first part of a six-part series, Nostradumbass will peer into his crystal ball at how 2005 might treat Disney's theme parks.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: March 30, 2005 at 6:46 PM

People were wondering where I was for so long... now they'll be wishing I would disappear again after this semi-exhaustive six-part look at Disney and NBC Universal in 2005

Okay, it's almost April and Nostradumbass is just now predicting what 2005 has in store for the two big park operators? I had actually planned on doing this two months ago, but Disney was being so pokey with its constantly-shifting film roster AND in rolling out ABC's midseason programs, that I figured it best to wait. Which is why I am starting with the easy stuff first:

DISNEY'S PARKS
They'll do very well!

See, that was easy! And for the first time in years and years! Disney parks, with questionable upkeep and sporadic updating, have often been practically impossible to forecast. Take last year, for example. Disneyland and Magic Kingdom usually coast along, but after horrible summers on both coasts, decent increases were more than a little shocking. In fact, all Disney stateside parks had decent increases, including the perennial failure Animal Kingdom. California Adventure continued upward, even though the new Tower of Terror showed no increase at the turnstiles. On the West Coast, much of this was explained away by constant discounting and ridiculously low Annual Pass prices. But what about on the East Coast, which had low hotel occupancy yet increased attendance? Many on TPI are now questioning Amusement Business's estimates, especially after AB reduced Universal Orlando's attendance in 2004... for 2003!

Still, that is neither here nor there nor anywhere else for that matter. Nostradumbass is focused on 2005. Which will be huge. And not regular huge, but Donald Trump yooge! Disneyland, with loads of paint and two new rides, could actually take back its attendance title from little sister MK. That would take about two million extra guests, but Disney Dorks take their Anniversaries seriously, and the park's 50th will be the biggest thing to hit any Disney park for the next decade.

Will this Disneyland frenzy help DCA? Absolutely. Unlike DL's usual attendance, which is boosted by more than 600,000 APs, DL's 50th Anniversary will bring in people from all over the country, not to mention more international guests than the park has seen in years. Unless AP sales can be seriously curtailed - and recent price increases haven't done the trick - Disney's flagship park will probably have to close its gates to guests many times this summer. And those guests will have no choice but to head over to DCA until DL visitors get sick of the crowds and escape the park - probably for DCA!

So what about on the other coast? Who knows? The parks are all getting something new, but will tourists be fooled into celebrating Disneyland's 50th at WDW? If you lived in Chicago and you knew DL was having its big 50th, would your first thought be "Let's go to the Magic Kingdom!"? Especially if you had been to WDW recently and hadn't been to DL in a while??

Disney did what they could by introducing new attractions to each park, but are they enough? Epcot's Soarin' may be, especially considering Mission: Space is still fairly new. But will a stunt show at Disney/MGM Studios? What about a friggin' Cinderella show at MK? Or better yet, a mechanical dinosaur at Animal Kingdom?? Except for the questionable 2004 figures, at least one WDW park has suffered every year since AK opened. That park is usually never MK, so even though the Cinderellebration and the newish Stitch's Great Escape are getting rotten reviews, don't expect WDW's signature park to fall apart this year. An E-Ticket at Epcot is a rare event, so that park should continue its climb back out of the gutter that began last year.

Which leaves Disney/MGM or AK. Or D/MGM AND AK. Both parks are hanging by a thread. D/MGM has stopped seeming fresh for years. Star Tours, MuppetVision, the Great Movie Ride, the Backlot Tour, Sounds Dangerous, all old and all greatly ignored most of the time. Will yet another show - another STUNT SHOW - change this? Possibly, since AK still doesn't offer even a half-day of entertainment. Expedition Everest won't change that, but it is definitely a ride they needed this year, not next year. In fact, many people may just wait for next year to head there, since they already know the handful of offerings there.

Nostradumbass would normally predict small gains, if any, for the two parks, if Universal and Busch weren't helping out so much. This would have been a perfect year for Islands of Adventure to add the long-proposed Jurassic Park coaster, but we'll be lucky to get that next year. Universal Studios Florida and SeaWorld Orlando are both adding shows - Fear Factor Live for USF and a new dolphin show for SWO - which shouldn't strike fear in Disney's heart. Still, the continued competition from these three parks, and unusual competition from their Anaheim sibling may hurt them. In a weeklong vacation, something usually has to go, and of all the Orlando parks, I think it will be AK that is dropped from many itineraries.

The most difficult to figure out right now is the Tokyo resort, but since Disney doesn't own them, Nostradumbass doesn't have to make any predictions. The Paris resort is third-owned by Disney, and another third or so is owned by Euro Disney, which is still basically Disney, so Nostradumbass will have to make a prediction there: It will suck. Seriously, they are so in debt, it would take zillions of people through the gate to get them out of trouble. Fortunately, Iger's recent restructuring means the American parks shouldn't be affected much by the problems on the other side of the pond.

Hong Kong Disneyland should open in September, and this one is really difficult for Nostradumbass. Will people show up? Or do they know this is yet another California Adventure/Walt Disney Studios disaster in the making? Disney seems to be expecting this, and they have created a price scale, with prices being much cheaper on weekdays. It could help, but Disney's investment is so low here that they won't lose much, if any at all, if things fall apart. So no prediction here.

Those are Nostradumbass's two pennies... give him yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on March 30, 2005 at 9:10 PM
So long as Disneyland remains the only park in the L.A. area to understand that people want attractions that an entire family can experience together -- from toddlers to the elderly -- Disneyland will continue to pack in massive crowds. The park's rededication to improving those attractions will only help reclaim the audience that it had begun to lose traction with in recent years.

If Disney can install a few family attractions at DCA, it will obliterate Knott's in anual attendance. Cedar Fair's plan to turn Knott's into Magic Mountain South, another thrill park, is 180 degrees from what it ought to be doing -- positioning Knott's as a lower-cost alternative for budget-conscious families. The cheap everyday kids' tickets was brilliant. Too bad there are so few unrestricted attractions at Knotts for parents to experience with their kids.

Universal continues to offer zilch for kids under age seven or so. And the park's quest for "hip" atmosphere and attractions, such as the upcoming Fear Factor, does nothing to appeal to grandma and grandpa. Universal does what it does very well. But Universal's after a niche, not the broad family market that Disney targets. Too bad Universal lacks the land for a second gate. With the Nick and DreamWorks licenses, Universal could open a family park in the L.A. area that would do another seven million a year, easily.

Magic Mountain? Please. When was the last time that park opened a significant ride without a height or health restriction? When SeaWorld was still involved?

From Robert Niles on March 30, 2005 at 9:24 PM
Let me throw out one more advantage that the Disney parks have in Southern California -- their own Interstate off-ramp. That makes driving to the Disney parks absurdly simple. Universal's got a ramp off U.S. 101, but it only helps folks driving north from downtown. If you approach from the west, east or north, you're going on surface streets. Knotts is located well away from highways in Buena Park. Magic Mountain is easily accessible from I-5, but it is located on the north end of the metro area, on the other side of a mountain pass from L.A.
From Ben Mills on March 31, 2005 at 10:34 AM
"DL's 50th Anniversary will bring in people from all over the country, not to mention more international guests than the park has seen in years."

Yeah, don't count on that last bit. There has been NO publicity at all for the big anniversary over here. Maybe they're waiting until it's closer to the time... or maybe they realise that no British visitors go there specifically for Disneyland. Seriously, I don't know a single person who has actually been to Disneyland. It's all WDW.

With WDW opening three - potentially four - attention-grabbing attractions this year, I seriously doubt Disney are going to focus their attentions on a resort where the only major new addition is something similar to a ride already in Orlando. It's just not gonna happen.

Seriously, you wanna see how much Disney realises attempts to pull UK visitors out to Anaheim are futile? Check out disneyland.co.uk. You'd think that maybe this would redirect you to the disneyland.com site, or at least Disney's main resort page, right? Seriously, go look at it now. Then tell me that's not pathetic.

With a resort not disimilar from Disneyland Paris, any attempts to encourage European visitors to head to Walt's original park were given up long ago. But that hasn't stopped Disney from using the 50th anniversary advertisments to their, umm, "advantage". In the most recent DLP TV ads - that began airing about a fortnight ago - we're all encouraged to head over to Paris to celebrate 50 magical years. "50 magical years of what?" I hear the entire British public asking. And here's the brilliant bit... they don't tell us! Not a single freaking mention of Disneyland!!!

Frankly, this is only gonna lead to further confusion, as people try to work out what the hell it was they saw opening in 1992.

The new attractions will help to drive WDW attendance from European visitors. All this 50th crap might even push the number of people who go to Disneyland who were heading to California anyway. But no matter how much they plug it over here (if they do eventually decide to) people just aren't gonna go.

I hate to say this, but the only way that Disney could encourage significant numbers of European visitors to head to Anaheim specifically for Disney would be the introduction of a third gate. Just don't tell Eisner I said that...

From Robert Niles on March 31, 2005 at 2:29 PM
Saw a TV commercial for the 50th last night. It was for... Disney World. Funny thing is that Mickey talks about "our biggest celebration ever" and they show the 50th logo, but not once does the spot mention Disneyland. It's all about Disney World getting attractions from other Disney parks around the world. Like California is another country, or something. (Okay, pass on the easy joke here, okay?)

Keep in mind that I'm watching this in Los Angeles! After heaven knows how many contrived "celebrations" over the past few years, I think most people will see this as just another one and ignore it, as well. Especially if Disney won't bother telling anyone just what the anniversary is for.

From Kevin Baxter on March 31, 2005 at 6:04 PM
Well, I've been saying for quite some time that Disney's marketing machine is broke. Though, up here in Northern California we are getting Disneyland 50th spots ALL THE FRIGGIN' TIME!

As far as international guests are concerned, I wasn't really thinking of Europe, since you never see too many of them in Disneyland. I was referring to Asians mostly, though the Canadians get a big advertising push usually too. I've heard more than a few Australian accents in the parks also, but you can usually tell how the Asian economy is doing by how many groups are being led around DL or USH.

From Erik Yates on April 2, 2005 at 12:06 PM
Well maybe they're not advertising Disneyland heavy in Europe, but a friend of mine in Surrey says that they are plugging Orlando like crazy from Disney's 50th to Universal.
From Josh Counsil on April 3, 2005 at 3:35 PM
Up here they've created an exclusive, just-for-Canadians DVD about the 50th... at DisneyWorld. They DO mention Disneyland, but not much- the focus is on the World.
From Jason Moore on April 6, 2005 at 10:01 AM
My how different this discussion is here from what it's like on other sites. Most of the DL geeks I encounter are all bent out of shape and jealous because WDW is stealing their anniversary. It's like a civil war on most of the Disney sites between the east coast and the west coast.
From Kevin Baxter on May 13, 2005 at 4:45 PM
Not sure how WDW could be stealing DL's anniversary since all they got were a bunch of clones for it. YAWN! DL is getting a clone too, and a remake of an already existing ride, but both should be great. They got the massive updating too. But I think the reason the Orlando parks are getting such a push is because they already know DL will be full every day, at least throughout summer. Encouraging people to come and then shutting the gates in their faces isn't a way to engender loyalty, which the company has lost over the past several years.