Fix this theme park: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
I hadn't intended to include Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in this series. Hey, the park's about to debut a multi-year expansion and renovation to its Fantasyland. Disney's obviously putting a lot of money into fixing this park - what more is there for us to say? But after your reaction to Disney's announcement last week that it would start selling alcohol in the park
, I realized that Disney's not doing enough to convince its fans that Disney really has the right plan in place for what's long been its most popular theme park. So let's talk about that.
Let me back up before we go forward. One of my favorite vignettes in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, our book about working at Walt Disney World, was What time is the 3:00 parade?, where I learned that sometimes you have to listen not to what people say, but what they mean when they say something.
I tried to apply that lesson when reading the criticism and opposition many of you wrote in response to Disney's decision to sell beer and wine in the new Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. For some readers, I'm certain that their opposition really is just about the alcohol. Hey, I get that. As someone who's endured the pain of dealing with alcoholics in my life, I understand the desire for an alcohol-free refuge. But I also suspect that many of the people complaining about this decision have had wonderful times visiting Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and other theme parks that serve alcohol. If you can deal with alcohol being served in those parks, you can deal with alcohol service in the Magic Kingdom, too.
But what about Walt? What about him, I say? Allowing Walt to dictate every decision at the company that bears his name is to ossify the Walt Disney Company forever in the mid-1960s, trapping the company in a modernist worldview that doesn't resonate widely in our post-modern world. It's great to be inspired by Walt's vision and to try to live up to the standards of quality he set. But you're never going to create the great entertainment Walt wanted from his company if you let a guy who's been dead for nearly 50 years micromanage every decision you make.
So what it is then? What's setting off the many people who feel disappointment or even anger at this decision? To me, this is like the whole "what time is the 3:00 parade?" issue. There's something else lurking beneath the surface here.
The Magic Kingdom theme parks, except for the one in France, are the only major theme parks in the world that don't serve alcohol. That no-alcohol policy is one of the elements that have made the Magic Kingdom distinct. Without it, there's one less thing distinguishing the Magic Kingdom from every other major theme park out there. Plus, there's the fear among some fans that Disney will use the inevitable profits they'll make off alcohol at Be Our Guest to justify expanding alcohol sales throughout the park, making the Magic Kingdom less and less unique among theme parks, and looking more and more like the parks at Universal, SeaWorld and, gulp, even Six Flags.
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom might be the world's most visited theme park, but it's far from the world's best. Of the four "Magic Kingdom" theme parks I've visited - Orlando, Anaheim, Tokyo and Paris - I think Orlando's is the weakest in overall quality of attractions, entertainment, food, maintenance, and service. And that's before we look at the competition. Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter meets and exceeds Disney's standards for immersive theming using high-quality construction materials. Universal's keeping the pressure on, too, with a new high-quality Spongebob Squarepants store, a new parade and nighttime show, a new Harry Potter land under construction, and rumors of an expansion of The Simpsons.
With what does Disney respond? A new Fantasyland that's mostly more of the same:
- A retheme of the Goofy roller coaster
- Another Dumbo carousel
- The Little Mermaid dark ride from Disney California Adventure
Sure, there will be a new Snow White family coaster, but that won't debut until 2014, by which time Universal will have opened its new Transformers ride and might be close to opening the second Harry Potter land. That leaves the Be Our Guest restaurant as the only unique element of the new Fantasyland that will be open anytime soon. And that's coming at the cost of the Magic Kingdom's no-alcohol policy. Add something. Lose something. Ultimately, what is gained?
I think that is what is driving the frustration of so many Disney fans. They look up Interstate 4 and see Universal moving forward with new world-class attractions, shows and shops. And they're waiting for Disney to respond with something typically, uniquely Disney.
And they're not seeing that yet. That is why Disney needs to fix this park.
Yes, Disney's trying. It's dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into creating a "NextGen" experience, but up until now all the public has seen of that have been incremental improvements - room key cards, advance ride reservations, interactive card games, sounds tricks in queues - nice new amenities, sure, but not the radical change in theme park storytelling that would define a new generation of entertainment. In geekspeak, Disney's giving us 1.1 or 1.2 - not 2.0.
That's what Disney's fans long to see. Ultimately, I think almost all Disney fans really don't care as much about alcohol in table-service restaurants in the park as much as they care about seeing the Walt Disney Company maintaining Walt's commitment to building and running the world's most unique and captivating theme parks.
So what can Disney's managers and designers do to convince you that they still share that commitment? How can Disney fix this park? Please tell us your thoughts, in the comments.
After Fantasyland is done, do Tomorrowland. Here's what I'd like to see:
I don't think the overall quality of the Magic Kingdom or WDW in general has much to do with the alcohol outcry. There are many Disneypark fans who, with rationale or not, simply do not like changes.
The first thing they need to do with Magic Kingdom Orlando is to make it pristine again. The whole park needs to be spruced up and then maintained. Adventureland and Tomorrowland are especially is bad. Paint it, clean it up, add some interest to "dead" areas, make it sparkle again. Then they need to make everything work...Splash Mountain, I'm looking at you, I love the ride, but it isn't what it used to be at all.
They need more rides that older people would enjoy going on. Many young adults don't enjoy going there because there is barely anything to do. They should look at their rides which aren't doing well and transform them into something enjoyable.
Robert I agree with you on the grounds that out of all the magi kingdoms, wdw is the least unique in the fact with there being three other parks, Disney has kinda just let this or become sort of a readers digest version of all other magic kingdom. Still I think the problems with this part are a little exaggerated in terms of mantainence and lack of attractions, yet there are still a few things I think should be done
I know I am going to be unpopular, but I think that the Fantasyland expansion was the right choice. Disney is playing to it's strengths which is character driven and families with younger children. It also helps that it supports a $1 billion franchise.
I didn't realize some of the issues with the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom until I visited Disneyland Paris back in 2006. It was even more evident when I went to Disneyland this year, which was a lot better than the one in Florida.
Add more rides to the old Fantasyland; instead of the future meet and greet (how cheap!) at the former Snow White space, bring back Mr. Toad's ride. Build a second level (like Alice at Disneyland) and add another ride.
Daniel, can you get out of your wheelchair? They'll slow down the ride to accompany you, it's just the escalator that doesn't allow wheelchairs.
I agree that the whole park needs to be fixed and the New Fantasyland needs to be fixed as soon as they finished the half-assed effort. Beer and Wine will save the public from noticing how lame the whole project is.
In my humble opinion, the biggest problem with the Magic Kingdom is that there has been a lack of attractions that have been introduced in the past years. The newest attraction has been Monsters Inc. and that was like five years ago!
Revamp the Jungle Cruise (keep the skippers). Shut down the Disney raceway and replace it with a Tron Light-Cycle simulator (multiple tracks, multiple endings.
Don't foeget that Disneyland had the wonderful CLUB 33 which serves alcohol
A decade of theme park neglect is catching up with Disney Orlando. That's what makes the situation so tough for them. Sure they did the new hotels, DVC and New Gen band aid, but that's certainly not enough. It seems that Disney Orlando just quit listening to their customers. The Theme Parks, not the infra structure and window dressing, drive the franchise. That seems to be where they're going wrong. And the Universal success blind sided them. Even Iger admitted its effects. Now there is serious competition. Something which they were unprepared for..... Magic Kingdom, more specifically, is a great big beautiful park. Lots to do, entertainment & ride wise. But a good example of Disney not listening is the new Little Mermaid attraction. The Little Mermaid at California has universally underwhelmed. It's a nice ride but most reviews say it lacks a lot. Instead of spending a little more on the New Fantasy Land version to improve the Mermaid shortcomings, they are doing the actual ride exactly the same as California, according to official Disney releases. That tells me that Disney is not listening to it's customers. Common business sense says that if you have a product that your customers are not satisfied with, and you have the time & money to improve it, then do it..... Of the four Disney Orlando parks, Magic Kingdom probably needs the least improvements. But changes probably are needed for Tomorrowland, since it's becoming more like Yesterland. A new E attraction and a tweak in theming would be helpful.....Magic Kingdom's big weakness was a crowded and underwhelming Fantasy Land. The New Fantasy Land will add much needed space. Though the new attractions could have been better, they should be good enough to satisfy the interests of families with young children.Magic Kingdom is certainly easier to fix than the other three Disney Orlando theme parks..... When you put together an entity the immense size of the Disney Orlando Resort, you need to constantly spend a lot on capital improvements. Backing off for a number of years, then trying to catch up, puts everything in jeopardy. But with so much to do with only X number of budget dollars, it will be tough to fix a decade of neglect. Not impossible, but difficult.
Dominick, I can't stand up by myself, and they don't allow wheelchairs on the ramp. So I can't get even close to the vehicles.
I think this website may need to be renamed, The Really Awesome Disney California Parks and the Crappy Florida Ones. That seems to be on ongoing theme the last month or so.
Brandon; "Castle Envy", I think you need to copyright that. You deserve a +1 for Best Phrase of the Month.
Daniel, if you get the help of someone from your family or a CM, you can get up the escalator.
I should preface this by saying that my wife has visited WDW somewhere close to 70 times. I think that I have 30+ visits. We love WDW (and also love Universal and Sea World).
Rob Pastor writes: "Now there is serious competition."
Like others have said, while Magic Kingdom does need to be fixed, the other parks need it more.
Mr. Niles: "It's great to be inspired by Walt's vision and to try to live up to the standards of quality he set."
When there were rumors of a fantasyland expansion , I REALLY wanted the expansion to be filled with neverland and wonderland. Not Disney princess paradise. I would also like for Tommorowland to get a makeover expansion similarly to fantasyland.
Daniel Etcheberry writes: "TH, what about a Jungle Cruise with happy hour?"
I personally think Disney bought up the license to Avatar just to keep it out of Universal's hands. Avatar would really fit in better there.
I find the Magic Kingdom to be quite thrilling. Not everything has to have a 300 foot drop or seventeen loops to be thrilling (there is something to be said for the sublime thrills of a well-themed, immersive, narrative attraction like those offered in spades at the Magic Kingdom). However, some changes should be made.
I just thought of something new for Adventureland: An indoor Aladdin flying carpet coaster.
Whoa!! Hey now! Them is fighin' words Brandon! Our Disneyland castle may be small, but....um, let's see, it is actually small, but uh, um, oh yeah.....Cars Land! (That will be the default DLR answer given from this point on :-)
Surprised no one has mentioned a beloved area that is not popular enough to merit its area.
Robert Morris writes:
I dunno, I like the idea. Sounds bold!
Maybe its just me, but I miss how Magic Kingdom was before all the character tie-ins. I'd say Disney really did a great thing in restoring the "Enchanted Tiki Room" attraction to its original glory without the need to include Zazu and Iago. As far as I'm concerned, the only two attractions I don't mind having film references outside of Fantasyland is Splash Mountain(referencing the film Song of the South) and of course Pirates of the Caribbean. With Tomorrowland, I'd prefer it if both the Buzz Lightyear, Stitch and Monsters Inc. attractions were booted and replaced with attractions that didn't have a Disney character tie-in. Loved Alien Encounter, or better yet when it was Mission To Mars. I miss Tomorrowland's sense of wonder it had. The speedway could use an update to give it a more futuristic look, however the concept should remain the same, obviously keep both Space Mountain(for the thrill factor), Astro Orbiter(cause its the centerpiece of Tomorrowland), as well as both the Peoplemover and the Carousel of Progress for nostalgia purposes. I would say the paint/color scheme in Tomorrowland is due for an update. With Fantasyland, once the expansion areas are opened, the only concern remaining is the gridlock passage area between Peter Pan's Flight and It's A Small World, because there's still not going to be a lot of room even once the new Tangled area opens. Hopefully it will at least provide relief from the stroller parking. I also agree with the anonymous persons notation that the characters need to come out to surprise people sometimes, not just the scheduled times because that is part of what makes Magic Kingdom "magical". So to sum things up, keep the "character attractions" in Fantasyland aside from Splash Mountain and Pirates and revamp Tomorrowland's color scheme and attraction selection.
People bitching about booze need to get over it. Disney is going to make tons of money off it and they don't care what you think. Also some of these ideas you people have are NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN so be realistic here.
I love Robert's idea! Legend of Sleepy Hollow was one of my favorite Disney classic shorts. If you could have Bing Crosby crooning in the back ground, I would probably never leave the area. That would be brillant themeing! To have an E-ticket ride with the Headless Horseman chasing you would be just amazing.
Rob Pastor writes: "Now there is serious competition."
Brandon, I am going to have to +1 your comment since there is no "like" button. I like TPI because Robert doesn't allow any profanity and the conversations are mostly civilized, but the bias towards anything Disney related is fairly obvious.
I've never been to Magic Kingdom or Walt Disney World (or Florida for that matter), but based on the current offerings at the parks as well as the confirmed additions, I think I'd prefer to spend a week at Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens instead of Walt Disney World. In fact, I actually got to Disneyland Paris this summer, yet still haven't visited all the US Disney parks (although that was more by coincidence), and if given the choice between a trip to Tokyo Disney and Walt Disney World I'd probably pick the Tokyo parks. Based on what I know about Magic Kingdom as well as being a Disneyland passholder, here's what I'd say Magic Kingdom needs for it to be of interest for a Florida trip.
My family and I visited Walt Disney World for the first time last year and we were very disappointed. The park doesn't compare to the quality of Universal or Seaworld. The park is drab, and needs sprucing up. One thing that irritated us was the lack of drinks booths & there should be Disney refillable drinks too.
TH ....that's exactly how GM was thinking about Toyota in the 80s.
What does stand out for me here is the wealth of opinion available that appears not to be tapped into by Disney.
Disney is losing the Disney difference, that's for certain, and it's a shame. But in addition the Be Our Guest restaurant is to be a family restaurant where lots of little girls will be doing some fine dining with their families, maybe for the first time. Can we not have alcohol with all the little kids around? MK is the only place in the resort, if not the Orlando area (except Holy Land park???), that doesn't serve alcohol. Can't we just keep that ONE place that way? Is that really too much to ask?
This is not about fixing up the MK, it is about booze in the MK.
To a degree you have a point, Robert. My consternation is mostly experiential in source (specifically with the drunks at Epcot), but part of it IS the fact that Disney seems to be going for singles and doubles, maybe triples (Fantasyland/Cars Land), while Universal is going for homeruns (Harry Potter), but the bigger issue is that Disney has become reactionary rather than innovative...making advancements/upgrades in reaction to, rather than driving the industry forward as a big #1 could and should. I love both Universal and Disney so this isn't angst about Disney "losing" to Universal. I just want more drive from Disney that isn't born out of being woken up out of a stupor by the "competition".
It's funny to read theme park fans comments...
I was just at WDW for the begining of the month and the thing that stuck me the most is that Illuminations in EPCOT seems really stale to me. I don't think it has changed in at least 5 years (maybe it has even gotten smaller--at least the final piro shot from around the lagoon seems much less impressive.) I do some technical theater work and would be glad to hire on to develop a new show and increase the pop of that experence as long as they would be willing to invest in some additional lights for the show, it could really be special again. I have to agree the Magic Kingdom is in need of some reform. It's hard to enjoy it right now with so many temporary walls up for new constuction, they are not really nicely themed or anything. It's like taking a vacation in a consturction zone. Not enough quality dining options and at least one of the better options closes at 5PM when the park stays open till 9PM. (PS don't go to Cosmic rays with kids for lunch, although the ribs and chicken is a great meal at night on the dining plan, kids at lunch only get 4 nuggets for $6) and the idea of bridges to Tom Sawer Island on both ends is a great one as well as some sort of update to the Speedway or replacing it altogether, Disney should send a few exdecutives to drive the speedway themselvse, it's gotten pretty beat up.
The first time I visited Magic Kingdom it was....magical.
Disney world days are numbered because I rather spend a week @ Universal, or SeaWorld/Busch Gardens deals instead. Currently, Universal is beating Disney in key areas like despicable me, transformers, and Harry potter.
Sometimes this website frustrates me with its Anti Disney threads. I am a resident of the UK and I must say that the US is very lucky to have such variety of theme parks. I think the lot of the threads seem to miss the point with Disney (especially those consistantly pitching Universal and disney) anyone understanding business and marketing can see that they are two completely different demographics, Universal competes against six flags and Busche Gardens not Disney. Disney targets families, Im sorry teenagers and young adults dont think much of Disney, you want to get a thrill day, universal and co are right up your ally, its the same in the UK were I live, we have many theme parks that do excactly that, they thrill you, but i dont holiday or take my family there. There is a reason why disney has such a strong following and repeat visitors. The best way i can describe Disney compared to Thrill parks in general is like like the movies, the latest block buster has lots of hype, effects and noise but most often once the novailty wears off the end result is actually a mediocre film, this is the problem with generic thrill parks they need to spend vasts amount of money reinventing themselves. Prime example is Universal, the orginal Universal park had so much potential but has lost the fundemetals that made it great, why rip out King Kong and Jaws, People remeber thos movies they are classics, who will remeber twister or transformers in 10 years time. The SKG franchises are so under utilized in Universal. Apart from Harry potter IOA is so forgatable. This brings me onto the main point Disney get it right, their 4 theme parks provide its visitors with choice of expereinces not just a onslaught of manic rides. I do strongly believe that disney needs to stop getting drawn into the Universal vs Disney competition and BOTH parks concentrate on what they do best which is TWO very different expereinces, Disney needs to enbrace its Disneyness making better use of its classic characters and its ability to bring new technology to these amazing creations especially the creater use of Pixar. Universal bring back the magic of the movies and make better use of dreamworks and get rid of the awful cartoon lagoon and make better use of jurrasic park... who doesnt like dinosaurs !!!!
TSI was a classic...now its a closed restaurant, a broken down fort, some un kept caverns that is open half the day and has low attendance yet occupies a large partial of land in the middle of the MK.
Give each land a consistent theme and stick with it. This park was built with extreme attention to detail. Most Disney fans know that even the lamp posts are a critical part of the atmosphere and help make the transition from one themed land to another. Start with each land and pick a fairly consistent theme. If something doesn't fit with that theme, get rid of it or re-imagine it to make it fit. Plopping an Aladdin themed ride into the middle of Adventureland completely kills every bit of detail that was put into designing the park. Stop making short sighted reactionary changes. This will kill your success. Look at the original Disney Store. They noticed all of the Winnie the Pooh merchandise was selling like crazy, so they got rid of all of the adult merchandise and 80% of the store became Pooh related. Should have made tons of cash right? I stopped going into the stores and so did everyone else who didn't have 3 year olds. I knew all I was going to find there was Winnie the Pooh, and whatever bad disney cartoon was out at the time, so why even go in.
Michael; Your comments, coming from the viewpoint of a former cast member, are interesting and somewhat unique. It goes a long way to explaining why Disney Orlando management has been so arrogant in their decision making process. Very few new attractions in the past decade but a plethora of new Meet & Greets. Yes, I think you are right, that they have misread the tea leafs. And you made an excellent point regarding how surveys can be misinterpreted.
An anon IP above said to add a "Haunted Restaurant with a gift shop in it."
The comment about surveys made me think about survey takers. I hadn't thought about it, but there has been a huge decline in the number of survey takers that I've encountered over the past 6 years. I honestly can't remember seeing a single one during our last 4 trips to Orlando. If my non-random sample is true, it might help explain misread tea leaves by the suits.
Here are my thoughts:
Very good point on people not minding alcohol in the other parks. Very few actually go only to the Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney is the father an visionary of all theme parks. He built Disneyland and set the tone, but he never faced competition. Competition drives all in the theme park world. Disney can not stay still or will languish far behind eventually. You may not like it, but they need to do whatever it takes.
I think Disney should just fire all the imagineers and just get their ideas here!
Would love to see Indiana Jones ride like the one in California in Orlando. The dinosaur ride is supposed to be a spin off of the Indie ride but is no comparison. Also at old MGM studios they did away years ago with one of the best shows around Notre Dame they could bring that back maybe at Epcot France??? Thank you for your great web site.And what about Toon town in CAlifornia??Florida has never had anything close to that..Can't wait for cars land in Florida also.....
An anonymous writer wrote:
Just start adding new rides that are not refurbished as the new ride of the year. What was the last ride that opened that made you want to visit Magic Kingdom.
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