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Disney's 'Villains' event highlights need for infrastructure improvements at Hollywood Studios

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Published: September 15, 2013 at 8:21 PM

Fans are still buzzing about Friday night's "Unleash the Villains" "Limited Time Magic" event at Disney's Hollywood Studios (and Disneyland). Huge crowds pummeled both parks, but we heard the most response from fans who'd attended the Florida version of the event. Here are selected comments from Theme Park Insider readers:

"We attempted to go last night in Orlando (around 8pm), but after sitting in traffic for two hours with no end in sight, we called it off. We were within 1 mile of the entrance to Hollywood Studios for the entire two hours, but barely moved. There was no Disney traffic control or other signs directing traffic to alternate routes."

Stage show at the Friday the 13th Disney Villains event
Some of the Disney villains at the Hades stage show during the Friday the 13th event at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo courtesy Disney

"It was a complete train wreck at DHS. They sold out of all the merch hours before the event even began, it was unbelievably poorly staffed and organized, and the combination of the heat, the size of the crowd, and the stupid alcoholic drinks made it downright dangerous. Not sure how they could have screwed it up any worse. We were incredibly disappointed."

"We were stuck in traffic forever, until we decided to park at a resort and walk the rest of the way. Once we were there the line to see the villains was incredibly long, however we did get some good pictures of them (just not with them) in the viewing areas. The Hades show was fun, but the best part of the night was the Villainy in the Sky fireworks. The coolest fireworks show I've seen on Disney property. The lack of merchandise was a little disappointing, apparently most of it had sold out during the day before the event even began."

"I parked at fantasia mini golf and walked, heard one guest say he was on a WDW bus for 3 hours before he got there. The lines to meet the villains was horrific and if you stayed in it you only got a pic with the villain that was available not the one you waited in line for. Cast members were outstanding! But a better plan needs to be in place for next time. BEST FIREWORKS SHOW DISNEY HAS EVER DONE!"

"Both the Florida State Troopers and Orange County Sheriffs were redirecting traffic and turning cars away once park capacity was quickly reached by 8:30p or so. The costumed characters looked fantastic as did the many guests who appeared in costume - plenty of pictures taken by all. Safe to say even Disney was surprised by the massive crowds for this first ever Disney Villains party."

Here's the "Villainy in the Sky" fireworks show, courtesy one Theme Park Insider reader:

The villains fireworks show impressed not just because of the massive volume of pyro that Disney shot up. Villains often have great music, and Disney cut together an impressive soundtrack for this show. No thin pop tunes or whimsical melodies here. Disney started with great classical music, then worked in some of its classic villains themes, too. It was a master class in musical accompaniment for themed entertainment, and an example of how powerfully Disney can impress an audience when it's on top of its game.

But the complaints about access into the park, limited park capacity and staffing for the event raised some tough questions for Disney. And not just as it looks ahead to other special events in the future, either. Remember, Hollywood Studios is where Disney's planning to build Star Wars land. And Friday night demonstrated that DHS is in no condition to handle an onslaught of new fans. Star Wars could make Friday night's crowd the everyday crowd at DHS. And that should worry Disney fans and managers alike.

If Disney's going to do Star Wars land right, we won't simply see a fresh overlay of existing park facilities. We will need to see some major infrastructure work around Disney's Hollywood Studios, including new access and exit lanes from the park, expanded Disney transportation, and a larger parking lot. Sited properly, new park entrance lanes could free space for an expansion of the park around the existing Star Tours ride (it bumps up against the current entrance lanes from World Drive). The park's going to need that extra space to accommodate a larger capacity.

Were you there Friday night? Let's continue the conversation, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From Jacob Sundstrom on September 15, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Perhaps this is more of a statement on Disney's forecasting ability than anything else. My assumption (and I could be wrong) is that the park would get a massive uplift if/when Star Wars land is built... They will have the time given how long most of these massive construction projects seem to take.
From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 1:27 AM
It's amazing how many resorts and attractions sit along East Buena Vista Drive west of Epcot Center Drive. You have The Bonnet Creek Resorts, the cast member entrance to EPCOT, The Caribbean Beach Resort, DHS, the Swan and the Dolphin, the Hess station (only gas station for a few miles) Disney Boardwalk as Yacht and Beach all being served by East Buena Vista Drive.
From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 1:29 AM
It's always good to read a post that says "Cast members were outstanding!"
From Annette Forrest on September 16, 2013 at 2:06 AM
I have a question about the construction of DHS. Maybe Robert could do an in-depth article on it at some point.

I've read a few times that DHS was kind of thrown-together by Eisner because he knew Universal Studios was coming. So he pushed to have a movie themed park for Disney. From what I understand, not much planning went into DHS.

However, I'm surprised that Disney didn't have an expansion plan for this park in the future. People keep saying it is "landlocked" by the different roads surrounding it. I have a hard time processing that, because I thought Disney learned from Disneyland to build parks with enough room around them to grow in the future. So, why wasn't DHS conceived this way?

I kind of have the impression that DHS was a "good enough" park that was built just to try to keep guests from going to Universal. Animal Kingdom has always felt like Disney's attempt to keep people from going to Busch Gardens. I think they are pretty successful with that, though, because I've never felt the need to to go Busch since I can see animals at DAK.

I wonder if Harry Potter changed things for a lot of people, since they are indeed going to Universal now to see Harry. I know that the only reason I ever went to Islands of Adventure was to see Harry Potter. I never felt any need to go see Universal before that. I will be going back to see the expansion of Harry Potter too.

My gut tells me that Star Wars might be done well enough that it could be an attempt from Disney to keep guests on property, if they want an immersive movie environment Disney is going to offer Star Wars and people can choose if they want to do that or go to Potter. If Disney was smart, they'd build a fantasy themed area too at DHS so people could be immersed in that instead of wanting to go to the wizarding world of Potter. I think an Emerald City of Oz could achieve that on some level. Though, let's face it, Potter is it's own unique thing and has staying power for many years.

I think the appeal of getting a wand and becoming a Wizard or Witch is what will drive people to want to go to Universal. But that same drive can be had in a Star Wars land, where people can get a light saber and become a Jedi. If they build this land, it will be massively popular.

I have a hard time believing that Disney doesn't see that the traffic patterns will change wildly as a result and that DHS will become super-popular in the future with Star Wars.

From robert morris on September 16, 2013 at 2:45 AM
In hindsight Universal should have started HHN one week earlier than scheduled and used the 13th to launch the event
From 71.46.216.42 on September 16, 2013 at 5:23 AM
My partner got home from work about 7 PM and asked if we should head to the Studios. I told him several of our friends had already posted pics on FaceBook of the traffic jams they were sitting in. As much as I would have liked to go there I did not wish to sit in traffic for hours. And now to see the park reached capacity at 8:30 PM we wouldn't have made it in.

I hope the higher-ups take this as a sign that 1) a more adult Halloween event can be a big draw for the Studios and 2) the parking there needs to be fixed (going vertical is the only way I can see).

From Eric Orlando on September 16, 2013 at 5:39 AM
Ha! My wifes comment was used in the article. She is going to love that.

As for the Villans event it was really good and really bad. There was no middle ground. The event and fireworks were amazing. The parking, crowds and lack of planning were horrible.

All of the shows and Toy Story Mania were closed and that was part of the problem. If more attractions had been open it would have given people more to do. Its no wonder the park was packed like MK on New Years Eve. People had almost no where to go. The park was at capacity but the available area for people was effectively cut in half due to everything being up front. I think they should have had the villains characters back in the streets. It would have cut the crowds in the front of the park and given them a greater area to control the lines.

I have a feeling that there are going to be a lot of number crunchers at Disney looking at this and trying to figure out improvements for when Star Wars comes to town. The needs are many.

From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 6:01 AM
Ms. Forrest writes: "...Disney is going to offer Star Wars and people can choose if they want to do that or go to Potter."

I Respond: Why can't they go to both?

From edwin roman on September 16, 2013 at 6:15 AM
I have been going to star wars weekends since 2000. This last may the 4th was insane and I believe the park was at full capacity early. Not to mention certain weekends like memorial day for star wars weekends pushes it to the max. Besides parking, entry it seems the park itself can barely handle the crowds as the ins and outs around certain areas like by star tours, the muppets can get congested in a heartbeat. I look forward to the new star wars attractions, but full well know I had better be in the park quite early and make it a point to see every major attraction early. Or be prepared for insane lines of close to 2 hours and struggling thru crowds of people in certain locations. Any easy answer? No. None. Redesign at this stage is hard and might be impossible. Making cast members park at epcot is one small solution. But it still won't help overall and unfair to the good workers at that park. Too bad they did not think vertical like universal and had parking garages. That might be the only thing that can save them.
From Rob Pastor on September 16, 2013 at 6:16 AM
Fireworks show looks good on You Tube, so I'm sure it must have looked great to those watching it live.
From 75.112.191.252 on September 16, 2013 at 6:18 AM
We were on holiday from England and timed our visit to coincide with the event... We were treated to a poor view of what looked like an excellent fireworks show from our car after being stuck in traffic for 3 1/2 hours out side down town Disney!!!! Appalling lack of traffic control causing people to drive dangerously... Will never try to attend one of these events again!
From O T on September 16, 2013 at 6:45 AM
A while back someone said Disney is building stuff they want us to like and Universal is building stuff people want.
Dear Disney, your guests are asking for a long time for a Villains land, not Avatar of any other licensed stuff but villains, you know, these men and women we love to hate, kids and adults, boys and girls. Do you GET it?! It are characters you are sitting on with your big butt that could bring us joy and (date I say it) you boot loads of money.
Go build it. Make it a bit edgy, a bit naughty and fun.
But I guess we have more chance to see Planes in a ride then the good stuff.
From 69.48.238.249 on September 16, 2013 at 6:59 AM
Husband & I are annual PH & live 10 minutes from DHS. We left our house @ 6:30pm & @ 9:30 finally made it to DHS front gate only to be turned away! We couldn't get out of the traffic & had no where to go. We are in our 50's & 60's & were having great anxiety sitting in this traffic congestion not to mention having cars cut in ahead of you after you've been waiting hours! Disney should do the following things to ensure crowd/traffic control: if they close park @ 7:30pm they should attempt to notify cars farther away with either police/Disney staff & at some point if can go in another direction you do so, they used to have a radio station years ago that you could get updates on park closings & such - they should have that again, the event should have been an add'l cost and/or spread out like MNSSHP so crowd control is in place.
From Cory R on September 16, 2013 at 7:53 AM
The parking situation, the understaffed toll booths (at least at the World Drive entrance), and the horrible traffic getting in were all a big pain in the ass, and it is all on Disney for under-forecasting the event. But I had so much fun at the event I totally forgot about the ridiculousness of getting in. The fireworks were worth it alone. And really the crowds were centralized around the Sorcerer's Hat for the shows on the Hades Hangout stage and the fireworks, and the areas around Echo Lake that had the character meet and greets. The rest of the park was fairly easy to navigate. We didn't bother trying to get on Rockin Rollercoaster, Toy Story, or Tower of Terror, although ToT did still have Fastpasses available late into the night. But we practically walked onto Star Tours and waited only 15-20 minutes for Great Movie Ride. We knew that night wasn't about getting on the major rides.

We can complain about the planning and parking but the event was a huge success for Disney. Who would've thought the park could hit capacity in the middle of September?? Now Disney knows how popular this event is, and if they repeat it in the future, they will be better prepared.

From 108.67.209.54 on September 16, 2013 at 7:57 AM
I attended the Disneyland event and was not impressed by the locations they chose to showcase the characters. I also must admit that the dance parties that Disney continues to go with do not make me think Disney at all. The event started in Town Square, but no one knew when to expect the villains. Where would they be? Would there be any type of showcase/performance? The cast members were disheartened because they weren't able to provide much information. The location at New Orleans Square did showcase the villains on a stage, but it also made traffic difficult because there was also Fantasmic! right by it...as well as the first day of Haunted Mansion Holiday. My main suggestion would be to do this again next year, but move it to California Adventure, where there's not much of any Halloween activity happening. If it must stay in Disneyland, utilize Small World Mall and Big Thunder Ranch.

I would love to see this become a yearly event for DHS and for DCA. Both parks could fully handle it once Park Operations had a grasp on the event. DHS could build a tent similar to Darth Mall to ease traffic flow. DCA still has plenty of space to make this work. I honestly wouldn't complain if this became a hard ticket event next year. In both parks you could even utilize only a portion of the park to make it work. Thoughts?

From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 9:16 AM
OT writes: "A while back someone said Disney is building stuff they want us to like and Universal is building stuff people want."

I Respond: I'm not so sure that accurate attendance stats would support that assessment.

From O T on September 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM
@TH Creative
So As the world turns has a lot of viewers and that makes it the best tv has to offer. How sad.
From Cory R on September 16, 2013 at 9:45 AM
Ultimately it doesn't matter if you feel Disney is not up to par with Universal in their offerings, OT. Disney knows they can't please everyone. But the attendance numbers speak for themselves. Winning the theme park battle is not about what a majority of TPI users think are the best attractions, and its certainly not about the Golden Ticket awards, to which Disney does not even send representation to the awards ceremony. Its about giving the majority of the public what they want; winning the attendance battle is what really matters. And until Universal overtakes even one of the WDW parks, which I really don't see happening, Disney will always win. Why should Disney drastically change what they're doing if its working? You have the right to say its sad that the majority of the public prefers Disney over Universal. But the public isn't listening. They are still choosing Disney.

It isn't all about the rides. Most people say they keep coming back to Disney for the friendliness of the Cast Members, the cleanliness of the parks, the immersive environments, the special events, etc. Universal has nothing on Disney in those aspects. Theyre improving, sure, but they have a long way to go. I personally love that in Animal Kingdom and Epcot (World Showcase and the Seas in particular), you have two parks that you can spend almost all day walking around in without having to get on a single ride or see a single show. You can't say that about USF or IOA.

From 132.3.45.83 on September 16, 2013 at 9:51 AM
This article just makes me think that what Disney really needs to do is build a "Dark Kingdom" centered around villians and thrill rides. Obviously there's a demand for it. And it would pull in some of the crowd that goes to Islands of Adventure or Universal for thrills.
From 173.251.20.37 on September 16, 2013 at 10:21 AM
Reading the comments by people who think that Disney does no wrong.

I am thinking that it not that Universal has to raise it's cleaniness or customer service to Disney's level, but that they just have to wait as Disney's service and ride maintenance constantly drops.

Also Disney might sit on it's laurels so long, it might find it loses it audience. I don't know too many tweens or teenagers who are too interested in Disney properties. Star Wars and Marvel are the only ones. We take our children to Disney and put on the movies because of our memories of Disney. The kids are excited because we are excited.

I am not so sure that my children are going to feel the same way when they grow up and have children.

From Jacob Sundstrom on September 16, 2013 at 10:40 AM
"It isn't all about the rides. Most people say they keep coming back to Disney for the friendliness of the Cast Members, the cleanliness of the parks, the immersive environments, the special events, etc. Universal has nothing on Disney in those aspects."

They don't? News to me. Islands of Adventure is wonderfully immersive and themed. The employees seemed just fine to me -- no better or worse than the cast members at Walt Disney World.

Attendance numbers are great -- that's what the park is going for; but to say that means one park is better than the other seems a little silly. We live in a world where Transformers grossed over a billion dollars. Is it the best movie you've ever seen? No, but it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Good for them.

It should also be noted that you can be very good and very popular.

From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 12:25 PM
@ OT: Not sure where which park is "the best" came up in my post. But ... um, okay.

(Chuckle)

From N B on September 16, 2013 at 1:53 PM
Am I not understanding this? Was this event a huge meet & greet with fireworks?
From Tony Duda on September 16, 2013 at 2:01 PM
I had to go back and remind myself that this article was about the good and bad of the Unleash the Villains event and not a WDW vs UOR derogatory rant.

I was at the event, arrived around 5 pm, had no problem driving in and getting a parking spot even though the lots were filling up. The lot attendants were letting people drive in and fill empty spots rather than force everyone to the outermost areas (maybe they were used already, couldn't tell).
NOTE: the toll attendants have stopped their crazy AP Nazi interrogations at DHS and MK that weekend.

I met up with some internet groups people that I have been "eventing" with for a few years. They (we) staked out a great viewing area center stage less than 100 feet away. As some of us went to do rides etc. the others kept the area claimed. Always had a good place for the DJ, stage show and fireworks. Just had to get through the crowds to get back which was taxing.

I didn't care about photos with the Villains but those areas next to Echo Lake were packed by 7pm, terrible decision to place them there. The Disney provided pre-event info said the Villains would be scattered to the outskirts of DHS, they didn't do that. All the people were crammed into the center of the park all night. They had 13 villains, they should have had 13 meet & greets run simultaneously. I only saw 2 with villains switching out but the crowds were so bad I really have no idea how many there were.

Disney did not provide an event map, the only thing was a 2-in block on the daily Times Guide that didn't really detail anything.

I only wanted to see the stage show, listen to the music and watch the special fireworks show. I got to do all that, also do RnR, ToT and ST3D twice each so I had a very successful experience.

From TH Creative on September 16, 2013 at 3:14 PM
I'm hearing that the park's food vendors also closed early -- which obviously did not help matters. I also heard that Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was pretty quiet that night.
From Cory R on September 16, 2013 at 3:33 PM
Makes sense that Mickey's Not So Scary was quiet. It seems to be an event that more APs and CMs go to then out-of-towners, and I'm sure a lot of that demo decided to choose Unleash the Villains, being a one night only event versus Mickeys Not So Scary having many nights.
From Corrie Lucas on September 16, 2013 at 6:10 PM
I was also there Friday night. Arrived in the afternoon to ride ToT and RRC prior to crowds showing up. Also managed some shows and dinner at Hollywood and Vine. Lined up at Echo Lake around 7. Stood in line with a very friendly crowd and was able to line-skip to "meet" The Evil Queen (others in line were waiting for the other villain that was switching with the Queen). Headed over to the dance party and was able to work through the crowd to 4th row, center stage. Yes there were a lot of people but we still managed to dance and have a great time. Took a break and got fast passes for TOT. Headed back to front of stage for fireworks. The stage blocked them so everyone stepped backwards toward the park entrance. After fireworks we rode the Tower and then stopped for ice cream at a clearly open food stand (the stand next to the ice cream was also open). Back to the dance party until 1:00. Headed out of the park around 1:30 and got right onto a bus to the Caribbean Beach resort. Bus wasn't crowded, there was no traffic jam by this point. We had a fantastic night!

Would I have liked to "meet" more villains? Of course! That part of the event was very poorly planned. Streets of America would have been a much better staging area. I also think there should have been 1 line with multiple character greetings like is done at EPCOT. I hope they bring the villains out more now that the demand is clear.

From Eric G on September 16, 2013 at 8:53 PM
I don't think this says anything about needed infrastructure improvements at the Disney Hollywood Studios. What this is an example of is poor planning and forecasting on Disney's part.

This should've been a hard ticketed event or passholders should've been excluded and required to purchase a ticket. Clearly demand exceeded capacity.

From Robert Niles on September 16, 2013 at 10:53 PM
I think that the infrastructure of the park limits Disney's ability to manage crowds of this size. It's not simply planning. If you don't have the lanes to move the cars, or the space to park them, or the space on the street in the theme park to put the people in those cars, all the planning in the world ain't gonna help you. You're going to hit capacity, and people are going to end up frustrated.
From 173.66.184.216 on September 17, 2013 at 5:17 AM
This is not just about bad infrastructure management at DHS. How about having more villain oriented events? A zillion people came out b/c Disney is rotten about trotting out the villains. Ridiculous!!
Re: the merchandise - was it all on sale in the park earlier that day? So you could buy all the merch if you just happened to be in the park that day, without attending the event?

Again, another indication that there is great demand for the villains and Disney is failing on this front.

From Gabriel Schroll on September 17, 2013 at 5:59 AM
I agree that this should have been a hard-ticketed event, requiring wrist bands, similar to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, for instance. If you're not wearing a wrist band, you must leave the park.

Also, as I've been seeing emails and ads for the Harry Potter Spectacular at Universal (or whatever it's called) where you can buy a packaged deal specifically for the event, I think Disney would be wise to come up with a similar offering, incorporating the Yacht & Beach Club, and Boardwalk resorts, which allow guests to walk to DHS.

I can forgive Disney for not foreseeing this occurring. This time. It'd never happened before. They should have planned better, but I can forgive them.

Next year/next time, however? There is no excuse. Something must be done.

And Disney really needs to incorporate parking structures while also widening the entrances and adding at least one more toll both (two more lanes). As with EPCOT and MK, having the lanes isn't always necessary, but during peak times or special events, they are awfully useful.

More than any other park in the entire world, DHS is the one I keep my eye on. It has such potential, but there are a litany of problems, and I'm so very curious to see how they navigate the years ahead.

From 67.8.238.59 on September 18, 2013 at 5:46 PM
Yes we were there if you can count a packed car load of kids stuck in traffic. What is worse, Magic Kingdom was closed for a MNSS party and EPCOT became closed due to overflow parking from HS, so there was no park available to visit!!! Waste of park hopper tix!
From Kelly Muggleton on September 20, 2013 at 1:47 AM
Dear Disney, you are on a drive to take every last cent out of every one of your guests pockets.
So here's an idea for you.
While you run hard ticketed MNSSHP at Magic Kingdom, run a ticketed Halloween Villains party at DHS.
Perhaps thats too simple though.... maybe we can pre-book it this year for 8.05pm on Friday 30th October 2015?? Does that make it more appealling??

I honestly don't understand not giving people what they clearly want.

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