Saturday, April 7, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 1 - Parks and Resorts Overview

I will start by saying this is probably the most exciting part of the blog series for me, as Imagineer would be a dream job for me.  The Disney Parks create immersive, transporting experiences that are truly magical.  Relying on everything from centuries old stage magic tricks to cutting edge technology, they convey story and theme in ways that are only now being paralleled in the industry.  It's no wonder they have been top-draw attractions since the start of it all in 1955.

Before diving straight into it all with the crown jewel, Disneyland, and how I would run and expand the park to prepare for it's future, I wanted to take a post to outline my goals generally for Parks and Resorts as a whole.

First, in covering the parks there are a few notes regarding my approach:
  • The primary goal is to address each park individually to assess its particular needs, not to treat them as fungible units.  
    • Disneyland will have different needs than the Magic Kingdom or any other kingdom park, though they are both very similar in content.  
      • For example, as a mature park and with the upcoming addition of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, nearly all available expansion pads are used in Disneyland, hence the push for DisneylandForward.  Those that are available either are much smaller or require extensive reworking.  Any additional "new" attractions would then likely come at the expense of something currently existing.  The greater need for Disneyland is to focus on greater utilization of the space as it exists. 
      • The Magic Kingdom, on the other hand, still has many expansion pads that are available and should be utilized.  The Magic Kingdom currently trails Disneyland by nearly 10 attractions.  Accordingly, to me, one of the primary goals for the Magic Kingdom is to increase the attraction count to address the capacity concerns that it is currently facing.
    • Both parks also have similar needs which may call for similar solutions.  Both could use more guest pathways to alleviate the overcrowding that is occurring due to park bottlenecks.   But the goal of each park post will be to work from the park's unique needs to arrive at that solution.
  • A secondary goal for the posts will be to foster unique variations between the parks to solidify each parks identity and incentivize visits to each park.
    • Please note, this goes far beyond just including unique, signature attractions in each park, it includes making sure each land in the park has a unique spin.  And this is particularly true for the castle parks that have repeating lands within their gates.
    • Again, we can use Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom as an example, in particular focusing on Tomorrowland in each park.  Here, each park should provide a different variation of a vision of the future.  This becomes even more important given both parks are in the same country and provide a greater possibility of guests visiting both parks.  Ideally, each land should be similar enough to provide familiarity, but should provide enough variation to encourage exploration and attention to detail.  We want to avoid the "carbon copy" syndrome.
      • In my mind, Disneyland's Tomorrowland should present a Retro-Future, near Googie version of tomorrow, ala the Jetsons and Buck Rogers.  The utopian future envisioned in the 1950s (from which I'm still waiting for my flying car).  This means smooth, clean lines.  White and bright shiny primary colors.  And provides a litany of examples from Disney's own library to inspire and guide the way.
      • The Magic Kingdom benefits from a "lived-in" Tomorrowland.  We can move forward to a late 1970s/early 1980s vision of the future.  More of a Star Wars/Blade Runner/Tron-inspired future.  This means more metal and darker colors in the design.  A bit more wear, a bit more grunge.  Plus with the addition of the Tron Lightcycle Run, we can lean into a more cyberspace/cyberpunk future.
    • Now you can have the same attractions in the space, but you have a slightly different experience each time.
  • Each park will be built out to my vision of completion, utilizing all expansion pads and adjusting current layouts for optimization.
    • These are each long term plans, to build out each park to maximum utilization.  It will present an idealized, "final" version of the park, which should sustain attendance and interest well into the future.  With that in mind, while some parks may have many new projects and revisions assigned to them, it's done with the mindset of stepping through them in an orderly fashion, to manage budget and overall park capacity.  Put another way, taking a park offline or half of a park offline is not an option.  The re-imagining may take a decade or fifteen years, but that will best accomplish the needs of the resort.
  • The current ride and attraction development process for the parks has to change.
    • Every park except Disneyland is desperate for additional capacity.  Several parks have lacked needed additional development over the years, and many were under built at the time of construction.  Attractions since then have been either retheming old attractions or opening previously shuttered space (an attempt at adding capacity, but in reality only restoring old capacity, not adding new).  Thankfully, Disney seems to have recognized this problem, committing to spending $60 billion over the next 10 years in parks, resorts, and experiences (including the cruise line), with nearly 75% dedicated to additional capacity.
    • Disney is currently under an IP mandate for developing park attractions, meaning they are only focusing on the films and franchises that make the largest amounts of money for the company when developing a new ride, retheming a current ride, or inserting any kind of new development.  While well intentioned, this policy is largely misguided for one primary reason - what makes a ride or attraction exciting is not always the same thing that makes a film exciting.  For example, what made Encanto a great movie was the music.  There's not really an experience of the film that you want to "ride."  You want to visit the house, you want to sing along with the songs, but that's it.  Therefore, an Encanto sing-along show, or character encounter in the house would help convey that experience best; you don't need a ride-through to simply retell the story.  Conversely, Tron, while a mid-level movie, is a great in person experience, because of the colors and lights.  Additionally, when watching the movie, viewers want to drive a light-cycle, they want to compete in the games.  Therefore, a light-cycle coaster is an amazing translation of the film experience.  The focus on adding new rides and attractions needs to center on what works best for all considerations like theme, experience, and then intellectual property fit.  This includes developing new, unique, IP free transactions.
    • A full slate of all levels of attractions needs to be created.  The current focus has been on E-ticket and large scale additions.  While there are a few parks that still need additional E-tickets, most Disney parks need more A-C tickets.  Smaller attractions and rides to round out the guest experience and add capacity while not necessarily driving new attendance.  If anything, there are certain types of attractions that every park should have.  A carousel, a Dumbo, a teacups, an animatronic show, etc.  I would even start adding an interactive experience like Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom or Pirate's Adventure, a VR experience like the VOID, and an escape room experience to each park.  There are many parks that desperately need these small form attractions to add capacity in their already cramped spaces and they would be easy wins.
    • Similarly, I also believe each park needs a specific set of lounges.  Each park should have a Club 33-esque lounge for sponsors, a DVC lounge, and an Annual Passholder lounge.  This gives the greatest groups of people investing in the parks themselves places to relax.  A bit of a thank you, if you will.
With that out of the way, I can cover a few of the specific posts that will be addressed.  Please note, I have intentionally skipped the Tokyo Disney Resort and its parks in the list.  While they are Disney parks, they are not owned by Disney, rather licensed to the Oriental Land Company for management.  As a result, they are in many ways, the best parks in terms of quality and least in need of revision or addition.  I want to be surpised by what the OLC does in the future, so I leave the armchair imagineering alone where they are concerned.  All other parks are owned by Disney, so I will discuss them each in turn.

When I have indicated a discussion of a particular Resort, like the Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort, I will specifically be discussing hotels, amenities, and other offerings provided by Disney in that particular property.  I have split out Disney Springs in Florida as its own discussion given the size and mission of that particular location.  These entries will include discussion of Disney Vacation Club expansion as it pertains to the particular resort.

To differentiate the specific Disney Vacation Club post, that will focus on ideas for Vacation Club resorts that are not tied to current Disney Parks.  While a couple of these have been implemented and even more proposed in the past, this will take a look at the merits and failings of each of those and hope to point to more exciting options.

Regional Entertainment will be a similar discussion.  This is something that Disney has explored in the past as a way of bringing smaller "Disney experiences" to locations around the country, but with very little success.  This post will hopefully explore ideas that could be beneficial and easily translate into many different markets.

The Disney Cruise Line post will look at expansion of that very profitable business for the company and the New Disney Parks Post will focus on specifically new domestic park ideas (though I reserve the right for a followup post to explore other international locations).

These are all ideas that I've long needed to get out of my head.  Everything that will be discussed are either existing attractions, current expansion plans announced by the Walt Disney Company, never-used concepts that have been shared by Disney (the stuff of coffee table books), well-known and circulated rumors (like a Coco overlay for Mexico in Epcot or a Mary Poppins ride in the United Kingdom in the same park), or a complete new invention from my head.  I have only used my ideas and have not included any other concepts from others.

It's going to be a fun ride.

(And please excuse the crude photo-manipulation that will be accompanying these posts.  I plan to use edited aerial photographs from Google Maps to show suggested changes and expansion areas.  My current tools for photo editing are very crude.  Hope to upgrade, but for now, they will hopefully convey the point.)

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