WDWNT: The Magazine – New Fantasyland: An Examination of Year 1

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Now that we’re a year into the opening of the first stages of New Fantasyland, many of the Internet naysayers are still professing that it is not the “Potter Swatter” that the Walt Disney World Resort needed. This is a logical fallacy, based on a premise that Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort are completely analogous. While it is far from an apples to oranges analysis, it is still more akin to comparing a tangerine to a juicing orange. While both resorts feature multiple parks and resort hotels, the sheer scales and logistics involved in the operation of each make such a linear comparison impossible.

For instance, lets take a look at the premiere piece of evidence that claims New Fantasyland is not the success for the Magic Kingdom that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was for Universal Orlando: the Themed Entertainment Association Global Attractions Report. (While these numbers are not official, they are the best indicator we have.) In 2010, the year the WWHP area opened at IoA, attendance jumped 30.2%. That same year, MK attendance dropped 1.5%. One can’t argue that WWHP wasn’t a success, and we don’t need to look at how many people that actually translates to know that. Fast forward to this year’s report– IoA still continues to outpace the MK in growth 4% to 2.5%. However, when you look at the actual numbers in 2012, MK’s attendance actually grew by over 87,000 more than IoA, and nothing new actually opened until November. The initial Potter effect leveled off. And while these numbers are not official, they are the best indicator we have.

Regardless of that, the goals of the two expansions are vastly different. While any addition is attended to attract return visitors, the Magic Kingdom is more looking for places to put people at this point. While actual park capacities are both variable and kept secret, some estimates are made. These numbers come from a variety of sources around the Internet, so reliable is questionable– but they are close to the numbers I heard in my time as both a Cast Member (1998-2003) and Universal Team Member (2003). The MK reaches capacity at about 90,000, and Islands of Adventure about 40,000. In 2009, before the WWHP opened, IoA averaged about 36% capacity while MK was 56%. In 2012, both parks were averaging approximately 56%, and for the year August 1, 2012-July 31, 2013, the MK closed due to capacity (at least Phase 2: barring non-Annual Passholder day guests without in park reservations) twelve times. (Thanks to TouringPlans.com for the closure numbers.) If the MK tried to attract a double-digit increase, it wouldn’t have anywhere to put the guests. IoA now has the same problem, and any further expansions will have to focus on adding capacity.

new-fantasyland-overview-high-res

Now, let’s look at what was actually added to both parks in the two expansions. The MK re-themed a kiddie coaster, added a dark C/D-ticket ride, doubled the capacity of one of it’s more iconic attractions, a themed interactive show where a group can participate, heavy theming, and is still adding an E-ticket hybrid thrill/dark ride. Universal re-themed a kiddie coaster and a dueling adult coaster, added a themed interactive show where one at a time can participate, and an E-ticket hybrid thrill/dark ride.

People will argue the MK  lost a dark ride for a meet and greet. While I lament the loss of Snow White’s Scary Adventure, calling it a one-for-one exchange for a meet and greet is ignoring a lot of facts. The original plans for New Fantasyland did not include the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It included more themed meet and greets. So the change involved removing a low capacity B/C ticket ride that had one of the shortest waits in Fantasyland, replacing it with a meet and greet, and replacing the proposed meet and greet area with an E-ticket with the same theme as the removed ride. It was a three-way trade similar to what happens in the MLB on a regular basis.

The MK expansion wasn’t a full reaction to the WWHP–it was meant to solve other problems. However, with Universal’s continued and promised investment in it’s parks, WDW will likely need to respond in some way. EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all can use attendance bumps, and the Studios and AK can both use capacity bumps as well.

AVATAR-Inspired Land Coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

We know AK is expecting a major expansion with the controversial Avatar-themed land. While Avatar is still the highest grossing movie of all time, I don’t think anyone will argue it has the same fan base drawing power as the boy wizard, if it is a well themed land with great attractions it will still draw crowds.  This site, and many others, have talked about the rumored Studios refurbishment for a long time, and the Lucasfilm purchase seems to have changed the focus from primarily Pixar to Star Wars. While this re-imagining of the plans may delay things, everyone still predicts an eminent investment in that park. This leaves Epcot as the park without any future plans or significant rumors. Test Track’s recent refurbishment did a good job, but won’t be a huge impact on the park. There are currently rumors dancing around Imagination! and Captain Eo undergoing a significant change in 2014. That would be an excellent start, and if it is done well could help revitalize Future World.

However, I think Disney is still hesitant about aggressive expansion from the initial AK impact. When the park first opened in 1998, Disney hoped that it would add a day onto most guests’ stays, but initial numbers showed that it was only cannibalizing days from the other parks. While it is something to keep in mind, 15 years is too long to sit without attempting anything to prolong guests’ stays.

It is definitely time for the Walt Disney Company to look at the theme park competition a bit more.  Universal Parks on both coasts are investing significant amounts into expansion. While Disney has not seen significant draws away from its parks so far, allowing the competition to continually reinvent and improve itself to the extent that it has without reaction is not long-term planning. However, blindly comparing one project to another is not a fair assessment of the situation. The Walt Disney World Resort’s complacency with its secondary parks is a legitimate concern for fans, but lambasting the projects they are completing with inappropriate comparisons is doing all parties a disservice.

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About the author

Ron D'Anna

Traveling to the parks since before he can remember, Ron is a former WDW cast member and Universal Orlando Team Member. Ron is a cohost on WDWNT Nerd Alert and the host of WDWNT Drawn From The Vault. Reach him at [email protected] or @graceysbutler on Twitter.

8 Comments

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  • Great article. I just don't get the choices Disney makes. The addition of New Fantasyland was unnecessary. Yes over the years Disney took rides out of MK to replace them with nothing (Skyway and 20.000 leagues) but the fab five meet and greet was very popular as the old Snow White ride. The park is the most popular but they still invested heavily in meet and greets for girls, a restaurant with a miniature on top, a C ticket dark ride and some very expensive toilets.

    When you look at the west coast they tried to make the other park more popular to lessen the stress on Disney land and it worked amazing. WDW got 2 half day parks with a lot of potential and Epcot that is theming wise a mess in future world and attraction less in World Showcase. Non of these 3 parks would be seeing the visitors it gets when they weren't part of a huge resort.

    With the substantial investment in Avatar, a gamble that the next 3 movies would have more staying power then the original movie, Disney adds 2 rides and a night time show. Yes it got waterfalls, rockwork and lots of trees but AK already has that and it isn't enough for most visitors who tick of the rides and shows and get out of the park as fast as they can (god knows why I can be there for days and have a wonderful time). But adding a Sourin clone (they even aren't sure to put a 3D movie in there, the main thing that got the people in theatre's for the movie in the first place) and a boat ride just isn't enough to make it as popular as MK.

    The same with the Studios. The park has some amazing streets but the rest is awful and ugly. Adding Star Wars could make a huge difference but when I look what they are doing with their huge Marvel ip and the Iron Man ride I'm not impressed on a way the 10 year old Spiderman ride at IOA impresses me. If Star Wars is going to be blue milk, characters dance offs and a mediocre ride it won't add much. The park is theming wise a mess and should decide if it want's to keep on pretending they are a working movie studio and teach us a bit about making movies (but don't get on the level almost any Blu-ray shows us today) or if we ride the movies, or step in the world of movies. I think (like Universal Orlando) they should go that route and have a mayor makeover but unfortunately I don't see that happen soon.

  • Don I think you are missing the point, but you do bring up some interesting points that should be discussed. First off staying power has nothing to do with the success of a ride. Avatar can become great based off the rides and area. If the area was based off the movie then Splash Mountain, Transformers and others shouldn't even be around. What really matters is how good the ride is along with the themeing of the area. Now don't get me wrong because Disney can screw up Avatar if they wanted to. But to say it wont help Animal Kingdom or even the Walt Disney World resort is pretty far fetched. Now regarding New Fantasyland. People do not understand that it was never meant to be a "potter swatter". The expansion was made to deal with capacity issues at the park. Just thought I point that out. I also want to say that I very much agree when you say Disney needs to be careful. Universal is not playing games anymore and Disney has to know this.

  • Right now, here is how I do things when I visit WDW: one full day at MK, one full day at EPCOT, one half day at Animal Kingdom (and then evening by the pool at hotel), one half day at IOA (just for Harry Potter and then some Jurassic Park), and I skip DHS entirely.

    If they really build Avatar and the Star Wars stuff at DHS, my trip would probably look like this:

    One full day at MK, one full day at EPCOT, one full day at AK (because I'd probably stay until night to see the Avatar stuff glow in the dark), one half day at IOA (but I will get a park hopper so I can ride the train back and forth between Potter areas, though the rest of the Universal parks don't interest me much), and I would add a full day to my trip to spend time in DHS just for Star Wars.

    So, Star Wars at DHS gets me to add a day.

  • Very impressive article, one of the best reads on this website actually. A great comparison in which is also fair.

    I wish you touched a bit on the Magic Bands/MyDisney and how it is doing exactly what Disney intended it to do (sorry, naysayers it is working). If we take a look at WDW latest earnings report we see great increases in in-park spending, as well as merchandise sales in general. Bob Iger was quick to point this out, but did not reveal the Magic Bands as a direct source (frankly stockholders could not care any less about Magic Bands), but there is certainly room for correlation.

    I would love to see any article from you comparing the spending at both resorts, not just attendance because as well all know in-park spending accumulates an enormous amount of cash after ticket sales. Certainly the Magic Bands/MyDisney is working in the revenue generating way Disney wanted and I am curious to see if Universal follows suit in some fashion. Maybe Disney's attendance has not grown the way Universal's has, but I would not be surprised if there in-park spending is on track to outpace or outpace even further.

  • Personally no park can build anything or do anything to make me leave or visit more. When I go to Orlando I currently spend usually a week and will visit all four parks. Each park gets its own day. So a full day at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal kingdom. The only thing with Animal Kingdom is that I leave a little bit before closing and head to Downtown Disney. Either that or spend a evening in the pool. Each park has something that interests me enough to make me want to go. When Universal opens Harry Potter 2.0 then I will be making a visit over to those two parks. But that isn't going to make me stop visiting the other Disney parks any less. People have this mind set for some reason that you can only like one or the other. Also with the Magic Bands. They are working pretty well. I tested them in September and never had one issue the entire week. But to say they are working great is not completely true. There are those out there who have came across major glitches and other problems. So yes the system works but lets not get ahead of ourselves and say it is working great.

  • Loved reading this, and Loved all your points, I think Disney Accomplished what they planned with New Fantasy land, and actually gave us more (Read: Will Give us More) than the original plan by dumping the individual Meet and Greets and Pixie Hollow in favor of The SD: Mine Train (Which looks great in pictures).

    It has taken them a while, but I can say I went last year just after phase 1 of Storybook circus opened, and had a pleasant visit, and will enjoy it even more in a few weeks with the addition of The New FL Forrest, and cannot wait for next spring to give the Mine Train a Try.

    Going forward though, I think Disney needs to take note of several things.

    1. Comcast is investing heavily in the parks, and at a rapid pace, so WDW needs to take the Orlando Challenge to heart, but it is not detrimental at this point, last I read numbers are still showing a heavy tilt to Disney, and although they are chipping away at it, Universal has a long way to come.

    2. Lots is being said about the Differences in Cast/Team Member attitudes, that Universal has really upped their game on that front, and that Legacy Training at Disney has taken serious reductions, we need to get get things back to people understanding why their role is so important in the Disney Company.

    Just my Two Cents

  • Please address the issues that Paul Gibson mentioned, Ron D'Anna, so we can re-assure him that everything will be alright no matter what.

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