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Announcing Excitement!

Announcing Excitement!

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Well, it has been an exciting end to April over at Walt Disney World, hasn't it? (And not only because May finds our friend Jim Hill down in Florida starting his WDW tours!)

On the 22nd of last month, WDW brass gathered at Disney's Animal Kindom to both celebrate the park's 5th anniversary and officially announce "Expedition Everest," an amazing roller coaster-like ride through the Himalayas. (Of course, Uncle Michael had already spilled the beans at the Shareholder meeting previously, making "100 guys on the internet happy!")

On that very same occasion, Al Weiss, beloved President of the Walt Disney World Resort, announced that "Mission Space" would soft open on August 15th (yes, this year) and officially open in October!

This was enough to send Disney fans jumping from their seats and spreading the joy on every last Disney discussion board on the web. With that "soft opening on August 15th," Mr Weiss might have saved WDW's summer season ... or at least played this amazing PR trick AKA "changing the cards on the table."

See, gang ... Disney's well established policy has always been not to publicly announce soft openings; target groups are normally routed towards a specific ride, location or even theme park well before it opens to try it, test it and evaluate it before its officially open; these groups are individually "told" when to ride through specific marketing messages.

Annual Passholders will normally get mail (whether it be in their Inbox or mailbox) alerting them to the dates for what are known as "Annual Passholder previews." Cast Members also get to preview attractions (often used by Imagineering as "guinea pigs" and "crash test dummies"). Lastly, shareholders are generally invited to explore new theme parks a month ahead of the official opening.

Take, for example, last year's Walt Disney Studios - Paris opening; that park opened on the 16th of March 2002 but since February DLRP AP's (paying a fee) and shareholders (for free) received through the mail an exclusive invitation to explore Paris's new Studio themed park.

Another example, the last major E-Ticket to open at WDW: Disney MGM's "Rock n Roller Coaster staring Aerosmith" -- when that ride opened in mid August 1999, Steven Tyler and the band actually held a ceremony in front of the giant Guitar to celebrate its gran opening, even though the ride was being experienced by park guests for over a month. Disney never publicized an earlier opening; even the "coming soon" billboard at the entrance of the park was changed to "now open" on the day of the Ceremony!

But still Disney has never official announced a "soft opening" of a ride or an official opening 3 months later!

So why did Mr Al Weiss announce this? Why did he break from from Disney traditions and announce a 3 month soft opening window to this highly anticipated Epcot E-Ticket ride?

Two very simple reasons actually:

1. To save a potentially disastrous summer season by motivating people to come to WDW to experience this amazing new ride!

2. To prevent another "Test Track debacle" from occurring!

Don't believe me? Well look at the facts; with the combined announcement of "Everest" being constructed and "Mission Space" opening WDW has suddenly "burst back to life!"

Everyone's eyes have now turned back to Orlando, making clear that "this is the place Disney is again focusing on", building exciting new stuff! Orlando is "the place to be" right now.

After all if it wasn't for "Mission Space" opening in August, Disney vacationers wouldn't really have many new reasons to venture down to Orlando. Just look at the list of rides Disney opened in the last 4 years (according to their official site):

Walt Disney - One Man's Dream
Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!
Primeval Whirl
Triceratops Spin
Mickey's Jammin Jungle Parade
Disney's Star & Motor Cars Parade
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play it!
Journey Into Your Imagination starring Figment (don't get me started on this one)
Rock n Roller Coaster staring Aerosmith

Not much to actually motivate someone who's been to WDW any later than for the Millennium Celebrations to actually organize such a trip, right?

On top of it all, nothing new was planned for Summer 2003; the next additions to WDW, besides "Mission Space," were "Mickey's Philarmagic" (set to open in October) and a new fireworks show on the "Wishes" theme narrated by Jimmy Cricket (expected to open during the Xmas season)!

All we Disney watchdogs knew was that "Mission Space" was originally being targeted for an Easter 2003 opening (Disney took the countdown clock in "Innoventions" down as it was clearly counting towards an April 2003 date), then shifted to October 2003 in time for WDW 32nd birthday.

This shift caused speculation that Disney higher-ups were eager to prevent another "Test Track debacle"!

With that experience, Disney learned the hard way that brand new, high-end technology must be well tested well before guests try it ... or else the line of angry guests who experience "technical difficulties" will go straight from "Innoventions" to the "American Adventure!"

So now the "Mission Space" opening is serving "double duty": guests will get to ride it this summer, but the opening ribbon won't be cut until October ... and by saying "it's in Soft Opening," WDW management and Imagineering will have an easy way out in the event of the inevitable technical problems discovered with the ride during its initial runs with guests.

Nice way to solve what could have been a potential PR nightmare, right?

"Mission Space" will help keep WDW on the map this Summer. This "Soft opening + Official opening scheme" is a win-win situation; in the end the ride will open as any other ride, most probably a week or two in advance (the real soft opening as on the 15th the media will be there to film the opening Disney will need a few weeks of normal guest flow in boarding the ride) but Weiss, Eisner, NASA and Compaq-HP management (who paid top dollar to get a prime sponsorship in the ride) will be seen cutting the red ribbon later in October.

All this clearly shows that Disney Theme Parks & Resort management, since Rasulo's appointment, is changing the way it does business; every move is now well planned and strategically thought through (no surprise as Jay, prior to DLP, had 10 years of experience in Team Disney's Strategic office); the division now acts quickly and adapts to change (most of all the end of the war) and has a solutions to each potential problem ready!

Seems like a good way to do business, right? (We can only wish they had done it more often in the past.)

Ciao till next time!
Andrea "MickeyFantasmic" Monti

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