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A special "How suite it is !" edition of Why For

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

A special "How suite it is !" edition of Why For

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First up, Courtney writes in to say:

Over at wdwnewstoday.com, there was a big announcement about a Little Mermaid ride in Anaheim. They also said that one would be coming soon to the World.

Jim, does this announcement hold water?

Dear Courtney --

Ah, yes. The billion-dollar-makeover-of-DCA story. Yeah, that very ambitious redo that's now in the works for Disney's California Adventure is going to have a very definite ripple effect. And one of the theme parks that looks to benefit most from this $1.1 billion project is going to be WDW's Magic Kingdom.

To explain: For years now, people have been wondering what the Imagineers plan on doing with that huge chunk of real estate out towards the back of Fantasyland. You know? Where the "20,000 Leagues Under the Seas" subs attraction used to be located? Back in September of 2005, Pooh's Playful Spot was added to Fantasyland's line-up of rides, shows and attractions. But truth be told, this 6300-square-foot toddler play area only occupies a tiny portion of the available acreage.

Photo by Jeff Lange

"So what's WDI planning on doing with the rest of this primo piece of property?," you ask. Well, the way I've been hearing it, the Imagineers would like to use Fantasyland's pre-existing Ariel's Grotto meet-and-greet / waterplay area as the jumping-off point for a brand-new show building which would then house a clone of DCA's just-officially-announced "Little Mermaid" -themed D-Ticket.

Of course, the only problem with that plan is -- these days -- "clone" is thought to be a very bad word by the folks who are working at Walt Disney Imagineering. Plus DCA would like their LM attraction to be an exclusive. At least for a couple of years or so, anyway.

So long story short ... We're at least five (more likely seven) years away from the Magic Kingdom being able to add a "Little Mermaid" -themed D-Ticket to its assortment of attractions. Which (because of this new "Let's not keep repeating ourselves" mandate that WDI has reportedly adopted) could wind up looking very different than the version of the "Little Mermaid" ride that's now in the works for DCA.

Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Getting back to your original question now (i.e. "Does this announcement hold water?"), Courtney: Yes. There really is a "Little Mermaid" attraction in the Magic Kingdom's development pipeline right now. It'll probably be 2012 -- perhaps as late as 2015 -- before that show building finally makes it up out of the ground. But look for a ride-through version of Ariel's undersea adventures to become "Part of Your (Disney) World" vacation experience in the not-so-distant future.

Next up, Valanie B. asks:

What's to become of the Mickey Mouse Penthouse since they are discontinuing it as a prize for the "Year of a Million Dreams" continuation in 2008? I'm guessing they'll rent it out at top dollar for the high rollers that come to town.

Ding-ding-ding ! We have a winner, folks!

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Ever since Disney Parks & Resorts first announced that they would be building that Mickey Mouse Penthouse at the Disneyland Hotel as well as Cinderella's Castle Suite at Walt Disney World, I have been telling people to keep a close eye on these accomodations. Why For? Because I think that it's going to be extremely interesting to see which division of the Mouse Factory actually winds up controlling access to those oh-so-exclusive rooms once the now-extended version of the "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion runs its course in late 2008.

Based on what I've been hearing coming out of Burbank, the folks at Disney Corporate Headquarters would really like to have primary control over who gets to stay in these suites once 2009 rolls around.

You see, the way the suits view this situation ... These rooms will be great bargaining chips to use when the Mouse is trying to woo someone wealthy or powerful. Say -- for example -- that Walt Disney Studios is trying to persuade some A-list actor to come appear in an upcoming motion picture. If that performer has young children, you can bet that -- as part of that negotiation -- the suits will eventually play the "How would you & your family like to stay in Cinderella's Castle Suite?" card. All with the hope that this extremely generous gesture will then soften that celebrity up, eventually make them amenable to signing on the dotted line.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, the folks over at Parks & Resorts also have their sights set on these suites. With the thought that they then might be able to use the Mickey Mouse Penthouse, Cinderella's Castle Suite as well as the soon-to-be-completed Disneyland Dream Suite as enticements for whales.

For those of you who don't speak Vegas, a "whale" is someone who throws an awful lot of money around whenever they visit a resort. Which is why -- if you own or operate a hotel or casino -- you always do everything that you can in order to make a whale happy. With the hope that -- when it comes time for them to take another vacation -- that the whale & his wallet then make a beeline back to your resort.

This is why (Again, based on what I've been hearing) that the people at Disney Parks & Resorts are asking if they could please share access to these suites with the folks at Corporate Headquarters. So that -- when these rooms are not being used to schmooze a Steve Martin or a Steve Jobs -- that they can then be used to amuse some Disney dweeb who's willing to spend top dollar in order to be able to stay in the very top of the castle.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

To be fair, I guess I should also mention that Disney also has plans to make the Mickey Mouse Penthouse, Cinderella's Castle Suite as well as the Disneyland Dream Suite available to the folks at Give Kids the World and Make-A-Wish. But only in very special cases. More importantly, only when these rooms aren't already being used by Disney Corporate and/or Parks & Resorts.

And -- finally -- Gary C. writes in to say:

I just visited Disney World and I wanted to know: With the recent addition of the popular and successful Expedition Everest are they now thinking of adding more to Animal Kingdom such as that Beastly Kingdomme?

Thanks very much

Dear Gary C.

To be honest, Disney's pretty much done with Phase Two of construction at DAK. Oh, sure. Joe Rohde has several other rides, shows and attractions that he eventually hopes to get built inside of that theme park, plus a few more animal exhibits that he'd like to see make it off WDI's drawing board. But -- what with the costs involved with building "Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain," not to mention what was spent to enclose Theater in the Wild so that it could then present "Finding Nemo -- The Musical" as well as funding the soon-to-be-open Yak & Yeti sit-down restaurant -- the Mouse has poured more than $200 million into DAK over the past four years. And it's time now that some other WDW theme park (i.e. Disney's Hollywood Studios) benefits from a major cash infusion.

Photo by Jeff Lange

But the good news is that this more-than-$200-million was money well spent. Daily attendance levels have never been higher at Animal Kingdom. More importantly, people are staying longer at this theme park. Which means WDW has been able to extend DAK's operating hours from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on a fairly regular basis.

Which -- I know -- doesn't sound all that significant. But when you consider that every additional hour that a Disney theme park remains open ... Well, that's another hour that guests can then shop in the Mouse's stores and/or dine in Mickey's restaurants. So being able to extend DAK's operating hours by a single 60 minute span even on an occasional basis has had a pretty significant impact on WDW's bottom line.

Which is why -- in an effort to significantly extend Animal Kingdom's current operating hours in the near future -- Disney World is now developing an after-dark parade for that theme park, "Rivers of Light." Which will send faux boats loaded with Disney characters "floating" along the roadways that circles the Tree of Life and Discovery Island.

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Should "Rivers of Light" prove to be popular with WDW visitors (More importantly, should Animal Kingdom turn into a really big earner over the next few years) ... Look for Phase Three of DAK construction to finally get underway.

As for Beastly Kingdomme ... My understanding is that -- up until just recently -- Rohde had pinned his hopes on WDI's Living Character Initiative program being the way that he'd finally be able to get an area that celebrated mythological creatures up and running at DAK.

The story that I heard was that Joe had wanted to bring Lucky the Dinosaur back into the park. Only this time around, Lucky would be redressed / reskinned as a young fire-breathing dragon (Who -- because of his youth -- would only be able to blow smoke rings). Lucky would then do a hourly show at DAK where his handler (Who was supposed to be this comical wizard) would put the lizard through his paces.

 Copyright 2005 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But -- as it turns out -- Lucky the Dinosaur proved to be a very delicate piece of machinery. One that the Imagineers really couldn't get to work on a regular basis. And given that Rohde's proposed dragon demo show needed an autonomous walking figure that could do 8 shows a day, day in and day out, no questions asked ... Well, that's why Beastly Kingdomme got put on the backburner. Again.

Anyway ... That's it for this week, folks. If you're a Haunted Mansion fan, be sure and come by JHM next week. When we'll be running a brand-new five part series that takes you room by room, effect by effect through the recent $30 million rehab of that Magic Kingdom favorite.

So -- to borrow a phrase from Little Leota -- "Hurry back, hurry back ... "

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  • I thought there was going to be an article sometime about Epcot's 25th anniversary.

  • yea and you think Jim might do more than a mention of california adventures billion dollar makeover...  But its a good article overall    Tokyo Disney has huge suites  it makes sense for Disney in america to have that as well...   I agree on clones I dont like them  thats why I was excited to see several things as a california adventure attraction well philharmanonic  will  be a new digital projection system  and  california did come up with midway mania concept come up  but oh well good article overall

           Looking forward to Haunted mansion info.

  • So is the Little Mermaid ride going to be the long-shelved darkride that was originally developed for DLP (which is covered in depth in the Little Mermaid DVD)? That concept art sure makes it look that way...

  • I have to admit ... I'm not surprised, but I will be pretty disappointed if Disney decides to essentially pimp out the Cinderella's Castle Suite.

    I held out some vain hope that they might continue to give it away each day after the celebration ended or maybe even use it for charity stuff as had been rumored, like Make a Wish and things like that.

    Ideally, I'd hope that they can somehow find a way to make it available to the average Disney guest when it's not being used by celebs and high rollers. Having been fortunate enough to actually win a night there, I can assure you it's something every guest should at least have the opportunity to experience.

  • Does Disney really attract WHALES???

    I know that they are in VEgas and drop millions sometimes and the Casino always comes out ahead.  But this sounds like Disney wanting to be like Las Vegas even though they can't stand vegas....

  • Great Why For Jim!  But I'm really excited about your Haunted Mansion series next week (those are what you do best!!).  I was actually in Orlando a couple of weeks ago and rode the updated Mansion.  As you said earlier, it's like a whole new ride!!

  • I for one am glad that "clones" are now a "bad word" at WDI and Disney in general. I think it is stupid to make clones. Although few west-coasters go to WDW and vis-versa, clones just make it less likely that they will. Why should I as a So Cal resident spend $2,000+ to go to WDW, if they have the same stuff that my local park does??

    As for the suites, I think there is plenty to go around. There are 365 days in a year and 2 different suites, there should be plenty of open slots. Certainly they will use it for charity (good PR) and to rent out to average guests (as long as they have the money. I guess $1,000 a night?)

  • While it is no suprise that management wishes to use the "Dreams Suites" to lure in high paying guests, what I find annoying about it is that- with the Disneyland Suite anyways- they took a functioning, well liked, profitable piece of real estate (the Disney Gallery) that was open to everyone, and have turned it into something only a select few can enjoy.  And soon, only the super-rich will be able to access it on a regular basis.

    Guess we should get used to this type of "Disney Magic".  It's quite possible this is the future of their theme park experience.

  • Does Disney really need to schmooze Steve Jobs? Wouldn't he basically be schmoozing himself? Can he event accept gifts from the company being on the board of directors?

  • buttermaker: You betcha they attract whales, although not the same whales that Vegas tries to attract. There have been well-connected members of the Saudi royal family that rent out entire floors of hotel space at WDW for an extended period, not to mention the celebrities who don't necessarily have work pending with Disney but don't have a problem dropping a big wad of cash when they come to visit the Mouse (Mariah Carey and John Stamos most readily come to mind).

    The rebuilding of the Gallery into a suite doesn't bug me all that much - Disney's a business after all, and sadly, the Gallery didn't draw all that many people to come see the special exhibits or to shop.  What does bug me about this is how Disney's trying to spin it to make it sound like it was Walt's idea all along to have a suite where anybody - not just a member of the Disney family - could stay. Yep, that's what Walt always wanted - to sell out his family apartment to contest winners and anybody who could flash enough cash! ;)

  • those gallery events brought in gobs of money for Disneyland expect when the Walt Disney Story opens at California Adventure the entrance of Mr lincoln to become the new disney gallery

  • Briefly mentioned in a earlier comment, but those who can't wait until 2012 for the real Mermaid ride can take a virtual ride created by Imaginneering. It is located on the second disc of "The Little Mermaid Platinum Edition" DVD.  There is a full 4:20 ride thru along with comments from the Imagineers.

  • Just to make sure everyone knows, the Little Mermaid ride on the DVD looks to use a Peter Pan style vehicle while the one just announced will use the ever popular omnimover.  I would assume there will be a few differences.  The main one being the ability to go below and above water the way the one depicted on the DVD did.  This seemed to me what could have been an incredible effect and I hope they can pull that off with the omnimover system.  I guess time will tell.

  • Since it can just be a matter of going up and down hill, I think it's possible.

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