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Game Over: WDW's DisneyQuest to close in early 2008

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Game Over: WDW's DisneyQuest to close in early 2008

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This "quest" is finally coming to an end.

What was once supposed to have been the flagship of an entire chain of 30 indoor theme parks, one that would have eventually encircled the globe, DisneyQuest will be closing in 18 months. Then this 5-story tall, 100,000 square foot structure -- which towers over the West Side section of Downtown Disney -- will be gutted & turned into a brand-new ESPN Zone.

According to one WDW insider who was privvy to this decision:

"I'll be sorry to see DisneyQuest go. But this is really the right choice for Downtown Disney. A ESPN Zone will freshen up the mix on the West Side. This new sports dining and entertainment venue will have strong appeal to both WDW guests as well as Orlando locals. And given that we'll regularly be doing broadcasts from an on-site studio, this ESPN Zone will also help up Downtown Disney's profile. So it's really a win-win for Walt Disney World."

As you might imagine, the cast members who currently work at WDW's DisneyQuest and/or the ESPN Club over at Disney's Boardwalk Inn resort (Which will be closing once WDW's new ESPN Zone opens) have a very different take on the company's decision to shutter its indoor theme park. Said one DisneyQuest staffer:

"This just stinks. Sure, attendance has been flat at DisneyQuest for the past few years. But that's because we haven't had a new attraction since "Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold" replaces "Hercules in the Underworld" back in 2000. Plus Disney doesn't really promote us anymore to people staying on property. So how is DisneyQuest supposed to attract WDW guests with no shows and zero promotion?

If the company had just gotten behind us, I'm sure that we could have been a success ..."

Ah, but that was the real problem, folks. Disney Company executives felt that they'd already poured enough money into the development & creation of DisneyQuest. Initial work on the indoor theme park project began back in 1994, with proof-of-concept field tests of various proposed DQ rides & attractions (Remember the "Imagineering Lab" at Epcot's Future World? Where two lucky guests from each tour group got the chance to try out the prototype version of "Aladdin's Flying Carpet Ride"?).

After four years of R & D, the Walt Disney Company was finally ready to go forward with the DQ project. Which (in theory) would have brought the Disney theme park experience into urban enviroments. Which would have then allowed the Disney corporation to tap into a potentially huge new customer base.

The only problem was the initial cash outlay for constructing a DisneyQuest was huge. Enormous. $80 - $100 million each. And then ... Well, it was going to take Mickey years (and dozens of other DQs having to be built in untapped markets all around the world) before Disney Regional Entertainment (I.E. The division of the Mouse House that actually ran herd on the DisneyQuests) finally began making any serious money off of this project.

Which is why -- almost from the get-go -- the Walt Disney Company began cutting corners on the DisneyQuests. Whereas the WDW version was 100,000 square feet, the Chicago version of DisneyQuest (Which opened in June of 2000) was only 90,000 square feet. And the DQ that was in the works for Philadelphia (Before that project was abruptly cancelled in 2000)? That DisneyQuest was only supposed to be 80,000 square feet.

Given that the WDW version of DisneyQuest (Which had been built to handle 1400 guests an hour) rarely if ever met its attendance projections, the corporation quickly lost all enthusiasm for this project. Cutting back on its original plan to swap out 15-20% of the rides, shows & attractions every two years as well as abandoning its plan to build the other 28 DQs in the chain. The Chicago operation closed in September of 2001, after only 27 months of operation.

And the WDW version of DisneyQuest? ... Well, that's pretty much limped along ever since. The staff & management team there knew that the end was eventually coming. They just didn't know when Mickey would eventually pull the plug.

But clearly there were signs. When the DisneyQuest Emporium got rid of virtually all of its merchandise featuring the DQ logo and began selling generic Disney trinkets ... Well, that was one indication that Mouse House managers were finally getting ready to make their move.

Then earlier this year, when Walt Disney Company officials announced their plans to begin "freshening up" Pleasure Island by shutting down various stores & restaurants there that were under-performing ... DisneyQuest workers, realizing that this West Side facility hadn't ever met any of its attendance or financial projections in years, knew that DQ would soon be on the chopping block.

So, when I called a couple of DisneyQuest employees earlier this week looking for comment of the upcoming closing, most folks were sad but not surprised. Some even tried to be a bit upbeat. As one cast member told me:

"At least we're getting plenty of advance notice about the closing. Plus if they stick with this 18 months timetable, we'll still be able to celebrate DisneyQuest's 10th anniversary. That should be one hell of a party."

So just a "heads up" here, folks. If you're a big "CyberSpace Mountain" fan, make sure that you drop by WDW's DisneyQuest in the coming months and get in a couple of rides. For -- come January of 2008 (Reportedly right after the Christmas crowds go home) -- DisneyQuest will close its doors forever. And then -- after several months of extensive construction -- this distinct structure will eventually re-emerge as Downtown Disney's new EZPN Zone.

Disney PR types are hoping that this new sports dining and entertainment experience will be ready to open by October 1, 2008 (Just in time for Disney World's annual press event). But those who are familiar with all the work that will need to be done in order to change the old DisneyQuest building into a state-of-the-art ESPN Zone say that the proposed construction schedule is overly optimistic. And that -- more than likely -- it won't be 'til the late winter or early spring of 2009 'til this revamped West Side facility is actually ready to serve its first customer.

But what do you folks think? Are you sad to learn that Downtown Disney will soon be losing the world's only remaining DisneyQuest? Or are you excited to hear the West Side will soon have its very own ESPN Zone?

Your thoughts?

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  • I'm going to miss Disney Quest.  We enjoyed it quite a bit when we went there in 2003.  I got to play some classic arcade games I hadn't seen since the 80's.  It's a shame.  But then it's just a sign of the changing times. Quite a shame.  ESPN Zone isn't really all that special anyway.  It was just better promoted.  It'll eventually go the same way of Disney Quest.
  • I worked storyboarding Cyberspace Mountain back in the day.  It's sad to see it go, but Disney's got the reputation for having big plans and then scaling back to the point of undercutting all of the work that had gone before.  I don't think that the idea had ever fit in the park itself, but back when DisneyQuest franchises were going to be built in every major city as indoovirtual amusement parks (to rival the plans SKG had for GameWorks arcades- those were the days!) it seemed like it could have really worked.  Ah well...  

    But ESPN Zone?  That's just dumbassed.
  • I'm just as sad--Every trip, the ritual was, hit the parks in the morning, but the first night was DQ till midnight... :)
    And it's not about Chicago--that was simply a mistake trying to put a theme park off of resort property, where people have to work during the day--it's just the fact that, well...a lot of us old 80's Pac-maniacs have had to come to grips these last few years with the fact that Arcade Games Are Dead:  They were killed off by finally being left behind by the elaborate scenarios anyone could play at home on their own Playstations (what, "Splinter Cell: the Arcade Game"?), and all that's left for willing quarters nowadays are a few DanceDance Revolution games that only the breakdancing pros play.

    Even when I still hit DQ, I used to wonder how it would weather changing times...Now, I just hope that Cyber SM and Virtual Pirates of the Caribbean can find their own good homes elsewhere on property--
    Maybe at the theme parks, where we're in a mood to play, and there's no shortage of players?
  • Do you know what is going to replace ESPN Zone on the Boardwalk? I hoping they put something good there that fits in line with the Boardwalk's entertainment theme.
  • Hi guys!!

    I'd like to point out that a few DQ games (including Cyber Space Mountain) are being part of the Television Tour postshow here at the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Resort Paris!

  • I personally never went to Disney Quest because of the extra charge, but I have some familiy that loves Disney Quest and I'm sure that they will miss it greatly.  I understand that Disney Quest has a limited market appeal, but ESPN Zone also has a limited market appeal.  Disney Quest, I feel, leans more towards younger men, and ESPN Zone appeals, in general, to more men than women.  I don't plan on going to ESPN Zone, but if it's free, I may take a walk around initially.  Does anyone know if it'll be free?
  • Maybe they'll take some of the rides from DQ,  re-theme them or freshen them up a bit, and plop them down over in Future World at Epcot. Since attendance at DQ wasn't that great, they would be new to most of the Epcot guests, and would put something "new" into Future World to help that problematic area. Heck, why not Tomorrowland in either DL or WDW? Since you woundn't need to now keep them exclusive to DQ, you could clone them and put them in all the Tomorrowlands in all the parks world wide. Just a thought.
  • Sort of sad to see it go, but not surprised, either. I think Disney never really got a handle on how to market DisneyQuest. We saw it in Chicago first and wanted to go in to see what it was, but you had to pay for a full day's admission, and we only had an hour or two to spare. We finally went to the WDW version a couple of years ago when we bought park tickets that had it included. Again, we'd wanted to go in before, but just didn't know enough about it to justify the price. If Disney had created a way to let you check it out without spending an arm a a leg, I think that would have certainly helped. My daughter loves it, so now we pay extra to go. She'll be really disappointed, but at least we can get in a couple of extra trips before it shutters for good.

    Rather than build these huge indoor complexes, I think Disney should have gone after the Chuck E. Cheese market, which is tailor-made for them. We had a Bullwinkle's open up here several years ago and it does great business. We have one Chuck E. Cheese in town that is in poor shape. As my son pointed out once, "Bullwinkle's has a few games that are broken, and Chuck E. Cheese has a few games that actually work."
  • So, one less thing to do in Downtown Disney and yet another unimaginative, non-Disney restaurant (why not just make a Jimmy Kimmel Live Lounge while you are at it?) If you must close DQ and open a restaurant, at least make it something special and unique.  DQ is one of the last few things that still makes me return to that area (and spend money.)

    And here I was thinking that the new foks in charge were trying to bring the Disney magic back.  Apparently a restaurant featuring an ABC property is considered good enough for the "clueless tourists."  It's time to bring some respect back to those who come to Disney expecting the Disney experience and fantasy and not CorporateLand.
  • Well this just stinks. I've been a huge fan of DQ ever since it first opened. It's one of my favorite places at WDW. Granted, I knew this day would come, I just never really prepared myself for it.

    I just hope and pray that Pirates of the Caribbean finds a new home. Of everything my brothers and I do at WDW when my family goes, that has always been one of our favorites. I can remember one trip where after waiting 45 minutes to play it, we did our usual routine of pirate voices, port and starboard instead of left and right, and generally just getting way into it. The woman operating the ride was so impressed with how much we seemed to enjoy ourselves, that she came in and said, "Come on guys, you can do better than that." We just posted a top score in the game, so I replied, "Well, I guess we could, I'm not sure." "Well, try again then," was her replied. Realizing what she was saying, we began showering her with thanks. After all, there was a 45 minute line out there! "Don't mention it," she said. "Really, don't mention it!" And I am glad to say we did achieve a higher score the second go around. So Disney, if you're not going to save PotC, can I have one of them?
  • While I never visited Dinsey Quest I have to admit it sounded interesting, just not enough to drag me away from the theme parks or resorts.  I liked the concept of brining the theme parks to urban locations, and was interested in seeing the concept expand, but once the Philly project was killed and the Chicago site closed I figured that the WDW site would at some point run it's course as well.

    I will miss the ESPN CLUB at Boardwalk.  As a DVC member who's home resort is Boardwalk I love being able to stroll down the Boardwalk to eat, drink and catch a game while on vacation.  With a move to PI/Downtown Disney I doubt I will venture over (now with a wife and three little kids) to a sports related themed resturant.  The ESPN Club was such a nice fit at Boardwalk, a bit small, and I can see why the ESPN ZONE concept at Downtown Disney seems to be on the horizon.  Would love for the ESPN Club to survive, but realize that it is part of the living breathing resort, and that changes are going to happen.
  • Well, at least my son is finally old enough to see it once before it closes. I enjoyed it, but with young kids, it was not anything on our to-do list, and it wasn't even anything that caught my young kids attention. It didn't appear to hit the demographics properly for WDW. My son, now 8, will enjoy it, but my daughter, 6, has no interest in it.

    I can see why the ESPNZone is a good fit. Disney already allows ESPN to broadcast from its Boston and Anaheim locations on a regular basis. If Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe can make money in Orlando, I'm sure Disney sees that a ESPN location could make a killing.
  • Maybe the move to gradually phase out these cast members is a wise one. The trend does seem a bit dated. But I am wondering if maybe they can be reworked into the new system-- maybe they can serve beer and snacks at the new location? They could also serve out little paper umbrellas with their characters on them to the customers with a smile! LOL! :D
  • No!

    Seriously, I find this to be really depressing news. Disney Quest combined two of the greatest loves of my life; Disney and gaming. Heck, I could spend hours alone in that free retro arcade by Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters (Tron and Disk of Tron own all).

    And I always enjoyed all of the attractions. I think my favorite is and always will be the Pirates of the Carribean game. Me and my two brothers (one of whom is Ajguy up there) always looked forward to gathering booty on the high seas, and we always took great pride in our high scores.

    I really just loved the aesthetic of the place. The retro scifi neon lights thing... well, I get a kick out of it. God, even the elevator ride at the beginning is a lot of fun.

    We're heading down to Florida this summer, so I'm going to be sure to spend some quality time at Disney Quest. Even though I'm sure we'll probably get to WDW again before DQ closes, I want to make these last couple of years count.

    I always considered DQ to be a 5th park. Heck, back when Animal Kingdom first opened, I thought DQ was easily superiour to it.

    Disney Quest always did an incredible job of entertaining me, year after year. Though it may be closing soon, I will never forgot it.
  • I never got to go to DQ despite taking numerous trips to WDW the last 4 years.  With 1 then 2 then 3 wee little girls, I didn't think that DQ was the appropriate venue to entertain them.  Also, I never really knew what was in the dang building and wasn't willing to spend that much chicken finger money on finding out.  (3 to a person please).
    Anyway, Tolkoto, I love gathering booty on the high seas as well.  And anywhere else I can gather it.
    Living kinda sorta near Philly, I was totally jazzed at the idea of having a DQ nearby.  But then Weird Things happened and we were left with a hole in the ground.  
    And kMan, I love the idea of dispersing the DQ attractions around the parks.  I bet Innoventions would seriously get a shot in the arm.  Tomorrowland could fit a few things in somewhere, I'm sure.  Maybe in the Toontown Fair.  That would serve families well that have older kids that could care less while parents take the young'uns on the Barnstormer.
    Hopefully, I'll get to see it before it exits.  DQ I hardly knew you.

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