Disney's missed opportunity with the New Fantasyland
Published: December 6, 2012 at 7:56 PM
Actress Ginnifer Goodwin, Disney Parks Chariman Tom Staggs, Mickey Mouse and singer Jordin Sparks open the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom this morning. Photo courtesy Disney
Here's my take: Disney reduced what could have been a rim-rattling slam dunk to a layup. Yeah, the additions shown off today still score, but they don't get people out of their seats and shouting to their friends the way a complete new extension of the land - with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train mountain at its center and not a construction wall in sight - would have.
Disney chose to save substantial construction costs by building its new Fantasyland in phases, rather than paying the extra expense to build all four components - Storybooks Circus, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - at the same time. So we got Storybook Circus last spring, Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast last month, and we will get the Mine Train in 2014.
That's spreading the impact of the new land over two years. It's as if Universal had opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Hogwarts still under construction, then debuted Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey 18 months later. No, I don't expect the Mine Train to be as spectacular as Forbidden Journey has been, but I think that makes Disney's position even weaker. The Mine Train could have been the final piece to really wow people today. Instead, it's presence in the middle of the New Fantasyland simply serves to remind everyone that today's "premiere" isn't. The project won't be complete for more than another year.
I love what Disney's done with New Fantasyland - so far. But I want to raise the missed opportunity here. Opening Fantasyland in dribs and drabs might please the hard-core fans, who are always looking for something new. But that decision kept Fantasyland from having the critical mass that allows a project to appeal beyond established fans and grab the attention of other potential visitors - the way that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to a lesser extent Cars Land did.
The Magic Kingdom will get an attendance boost over the next year as people who put off visits in 2011 and 2012 to avoid the construction begin to return. But some will hold out until 2014, further dampening the impact that the New Fantasyland could have had for the company.
Yes, building it all at once would have been more expensive. Substantially so. But theme parks have always been a business where you have to spend money to make money. Contrast Disney's relative caution with Universal's damn-the-budget drive to get Transformers built and open within 12 months.
A complete New Fantasyland would have convinced more Orlando-area visitors reason to come to the Magic Kingdom in 2013 - not 2014 or beyond. But with construction walls remaining in the middle of that area all year, I wonder how many of those potential visitors might choose to spend a day over at Universal's completed Transformers in late 2013, instead.