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Night Kingdom to reimagine the Disney-theme-park-going experience

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Night Kingdom to reimagine the Disney-theme-park-going experience

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TiggerFan452 writes in to say:

Hey Jim,

Just wondering if you've heard anything about these focus groups that Disney World has been recruiting people for. If you take part, you're apparently shown a preview video for something called "Disney's Night Kingdom". Any idea what this project is about and if Disney's actually going to build the thing?

Dear TiggerFan452

"Disney's Night Kingdom" is the Mouse's long overdue response to SeaWorld's Discovery Cove. And -- yes -- the Mouse is actually going to build this $520 million project. Current plans call for this niche park to officially throw open its doors in October of 2011, just in time for the start of Walt Disney World's 40th anniversary celebration.

"Why did you call 'Disney's Night Kingdom' a niche park?," you ask. Well, because -- just like Discovery Cove (Which only allows in a thousand visitors each day) -- DNK will be restricting the number of guests that can enter this park every afternoon. Only 2000 people will be allowed into WDW's 5th theme park at any one time.

 Copyright 2002 Busch Entertainment Corporation

And -- yes -- I said "afternoon." Disney's Night Kingdom's operating hours will be 4 p.m. to midnight (5 p.m. to 1 a.m. during daylight savings time).

Okay. I know. DNK already sounds unlike any Disney theme park that's currently operating on the planet. But there's a reason for that. The Imagineers want your Disney's Night Kingdom experience to be distinctly different. Something that you'll remember for the rest of your life.

How so? Well, let's first start with the extraordinary guest service that you'll experience as you enter DNK. Current plans call for Disney's Night Kingdom to be staffed by 4000 cast members. That means that -- for every guest that visits this theme park -- there'll be two cast members to take care of their every need. So expect to receive a lot of personalized attention & pampering once you arrive on site.

Speaking of arriving ... Guests will enter DNK through a new, super-sized version of the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island. As you & your family are registering for that night's activities, the club's members will entertain as well as offer hints about the extraordinary adventures that await you.

After you've finished checking in, there's a whole new world to explore. Have you ever dreamed of acting like Indiana Jones and riding a zip line over a pool full of hungry crocodiles? Or hand-feeding a hippopotamus? Well, here you can.

Mind you, Disney's Night Kingdom will have no traditional theme park rides per se. But you'll still be able to get your fill of excitement & adventure as you strap on a pair of night vision goggles and then wander out into a pitch-black African savanna. Where you'll then be able to observe up-close lions & hyenas as they go through their nocturnal hunting routines.

You'll also be able to try your hand at spelunking as you explore a cave full of bats. Or -- if you're not a big fan of bats -- how about rock climbing? Does that sound too much like work? Then why don't you head on over to that South American-themed enclosure where you can frolic with some penguins?

As for the look of Disney's Night Kingdom ... Well, this theme park's horticultural budget will be just about as big as WDW's Typhoon Lagoon is. So expect DNK to look pretty lush.

And once you've had your fill of adventures, why not grab a gourmet meal at one of the park's two highly themed eateries? Or -- better yet -- find a seat inside of Night Kingdom's centrally located main theater. Where you'll then be dazzled by a state-of-the-art stage show which will be produced by Disney Theatrical and feature top Broadway talent.

I know, I know. A lot of you may have trouble wrapping your heads around a Disney theme park that's as distinctly different as DNK is going to be. That's why the business plan that the Walt Disney Company has drawn up for this project calls for Disney's Night Kingdom to operate at only 60% capacity during its first year of operation and then only 80% capacity during Year 2. Starting in Year 3 ... Well, by then, Disney hopes to have all of the bugs worked out (not to mention finally having a handle on the marketing of WDW's newest theme park). Which is why they then plan on Disney's Night Kingdom operating at 100% capacity during its third year of operation.

As for future plans for the park ... Well, DNK's blueprints do include spots for two new hotels. But these resorts will only be built in response to guest need.

Speaking of hotels ... The Mouse expects that Disney World's higher end resorts (i.e. The Contemporary, the Polynesian, the Grand Flo, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht & Beach Club, the Boardwalk as well as the Dolphin & the Swan) will be the primary feeders for Disney's Night Kingdom. With DNK drawing most of its visitors from these pricier on-property hotels.

"And why is that?," you query. Because just like Discovery Cove (which charges $269 - $289 for a one day adventure that also includes a week's worth of free admission to either SeaWorld Orlando or Busch Gardens Africa), admission to DNK is going to be pricey. Right now, Mickey's leaning toward charging guests $250 - $300 per person in order to gain entry to DNK.

Now keep in mind that this admission fee will also cover the cost of the gourmet meal that you'll be consuming while you visit Disney's Night Kingdom. Plus any non-alcoholic beverages that you quaff over the course of that evening. More importantly, that your admission fee to WDW's newest theme park will be considerably lower should you purchase it as part of a Disney World vacation package.

Another thing that you need to be aware of here is that the Mouse also plans on making DNK available to convention groups. So WDW's newest theme park could wind up being sold out for weeks, if not months in advance. Which is why -- if you really want to visit Disney's Night Kingdom -- advance reservations will definitely be recommended.

As to when the Walt Disney Company will be revealing that this project is actually in the works ... Next month's annual shareholder meeting in Albuquerque is a possibility. Though it's far more likely that Mickey will wait 'til the fall. So that Disney's Night Kingdom can then be announced as part of WDW's annual press event.

So there you have it, folks. Disney World's next theme park will NOT be Villains themed and/or loaded with lots of coasters. But -- rather -- it will be an intimate, natural environment that then offers you the chance to have lots of personalized, hands-on, once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

So now the big question is ... Come 2011, will you actually be willing to pay $250 - $300 to experience something like this while vacationing at Walt Disney World?

Your thoughts?

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  • Its a good response and if this is true, its good to see that money is being spent on parks and resorts i just hope money will be spent on the mainentance  of all parks in florida it seems lately that has been an issue...  I also think 4000 cast members is oftly high  I imagine that will go down after the first year.. when we hear about it in the press event we will know its real

  • Well, Tony Baxter was openly talking about this concept 15-20 years ago, so I'll believe it when I see it.

    As for the questions (to help the marketing dept):

    Have you ever dreamed of riding a zip line over a pool full of hungry crocodiles? No

    Hand-feeding a hippopotamus? No, but if you really really want to, I can probably set it up for you free at your local zoo.

    Observe up-close lions & hyenas ...nocturnal hunting routines. No - I can watch the Animal Planet channel from my recliner.

    Explore a cave full of bats? really ?  this was just to see if we're reading, right?

    Rock climbing? very exotic and difficult to find anywhere else, but I'll pass.

    Frolic with some penguins?  penguins can smell very fishy and not in a pleasant way.

    Grab a gourmet meal? Meals "included in the price" have a historical tendency to be lower quality than meals "not included in the price." Besides, nothing says "gourmet" more than the verb "grab."

    Dazzled by a state-of-the-art stage show? This all depends on who's defining state-of-the-art. I'd be up for one of the old-fashioned shows that features lots of crowd-pleasing classic rubberhead characters, but the trend today seems to be more arty like Nemo puppets on a stick, so I'll pass.

    In the version that was tossed around a few decades ago, the high-ticket park included a lot more whimsey. Virtual reality rides, program your own AA figure, ride vehicles you have real control over, etc.  It focused on what the Disney theme parks were known for and excelled at, not miscellaneous things that are available elsewhere.

    Last time I checked, Disney Co is having trouble staffing and maintaining the Florida property now. City Hall is already crowded with disappointed people. If you increase the price, you also increase expectations - expectations that I don't see a modern-day Disney Co willing to fulfill.

  • Jim, with all the possible interactions with animals will the park be somehow connected with DAK? Sort of a backstage tour after the regular guests have gone?

  • As Sean Connery would say "I'm waiting to be impreshed".  Too early to make a judgement call either way, but I'm not really excited by Jim's description.  Plus at $250-$300 a pop, I don't think my family o four could afford it anyways...

    Couldn't they just offer these experiences as a special package at AK?  Like the behind the scenes tours at the Land....but with lions and hungry hungry hippos.....

    -checks calendar....is it April 1st?-


  • Moronic.  That's my impression.  What an odd idea for a park, one that I can't imagine selling.  How about upkeep/expansion of the parks they already have?  I just can't get behind this idea.

  • At first, when I was reading that it was going to be a  park with limited number of guests and offer more personal experiences, I was really excited.  Then I kept reading, and I got bored.

    I'm not saying these kinds of experiences aren't fun or exciting, I just think Disney could be waaaaaay more creative with the offerings at a park with the luxury of a limited number of guests.

    The immersiveness of the world for a park like this could be unlike anything else created by Disney.  People could actually be invloved in a continuing story taking place in real time, with actors playing characters and interacting with you.

    The rides, which would be blessed with much less traffic and wear and tear than the normal attractions at the other parks, could be even more amazing.

    If they turned the 5th park idea into something like this, I would be all for it.

    Right now, I'm thinking, "meh..."

  • Hmmm.  Not sure about this.

    What time does DAK close these days?  4pm, 5pm?

    What time are they thinking of opening this new 'park', 4pm, 5pm?

    Disney have been looking for ways to make more cash out of DAK when the sun goes down for years.

    As mentioned by Atomic Bear, are Disney not just developing an 'after hours' experience for DAK?  All of the experiences described sound pretty cheap, and could probably be worked into the existing park.   I don't think Disney are developing a new park here, sounds like a hard ticket event.

    I'll probably be proven wrong though  ;-)

  • Ha, remember when Alice would play with the penguins at Sea World?  Marigold, the emperor penguin, absolutely loved her, as he was unaccustomed to humans his own size.  She was about two then, and didn't think it all odd that she was being herded away from her parents to hang out with a bunch of tuxedo-clad birds.  

    Also, you know she'd love the cave full of bats.  Jim, you can take her in.  I'll let you.  You know, 'cause I'm so nice and stuff.

  • Smilee306 said:

    "Moronic.  That's my impression.  What an odd idea for a park, one that I can't imagine selling.  How about upkeep/expansion of the parks they already have?  I just can't get behind this idea."

    I agree.  It is an odd idea for a park.  I'm not excited about this one, especially due to the price.  I'm hoping it'll just be an extension of DAK.  And no rides?!?!  That's just not Disney-like!  

  • I'd be interested to see how they are going to get 4000 new CM's to staff this place. Disney, Universal, an SW have stretched the Central Florida employee pool to near breaking. It's so bad that Disney hires pretty much anyone who comes to Casting as long as they don't have a criminal record - they can't be very selective on who they want. I know it's 3 years away but I don't see them having an easy job of it even then.

  • Agreed that I'm not sure how they will find 4,000 new CMs, let alone 4,000 good CMs.

    I think WDW is kind of missing the point of Discovery Cove.  Dolphins are iconic, almost mythical.  And make no mistake, swimming with dolphins is the selling point of DC.  

    In terms of value, DC also includes a 7-day ticket to Sea World.  I would also point out that SW offers a "touch a penguin" experience now, for around $15.  Petting/feeding a dolphin will only set you back $5.

    Finally, will they really go to the trouble of re-building the Adventurer's Club, and hiring 8 costumed characters, just to use it for what, an hour a night?  Sadly I see that being the first thing to get the axe from this plan.

  • Wow. How incredibly .............. dull ..............

    I seriously hope Disney does major homework on this before they actually committ half a billion dollars to it. I mean maybe Jim only got a sneak peek of the dullest items on their list of "attractions",  but there wasn't one thing listed there that would encourage me to spend a grand to take my family of four there for the day.

    Honestly, most of the stuff listed can be done pretty much anywhere these days. The local mall has rock climbing. Virtually any zoo has interactive areas now where you can feed penguins or whatever. And I think Disney may have overestimated people's interests in bats ... also, have they ever seen the bottom of a cave full of bats? Ask Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs was that looks like ... guano stew, anyone?

    Here's another thought ... for about $450 I can get ONE YEAR'S worth of admission to four of the greatest theme parks in the world (well ... three, not counting AK). Might it not be a tough sell to get people to part with over half that amount just for a few hours in one nighttime park with no rides?

    Lastly, I think the nighttime aspect is actually a DETRACTION instead of a selling point. Nighttime in WDW is when all the good stuff happens ... parades, fireworks, lines shrink as parks empty out ...

    I dunno ... maybe I'm wrong, but this smells like a failure waiting to happen. You'd think they would have learned from the failure of Animal Kingdom .... people don't come to Disney World for zoos.

  • DISNEY......YOU ARE NOT LAS VEGAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I've been following this story for about 6 months now... I think some of you have maybe forgotten about what "Disney-like" really is.

    First, Disney sells experiences. Some of them happen to require a track and robots in order to present them. Many utilize live humans and in ONE park (you know it as DAK), the show wouldn't take place without animals. Real, live ones.

    Now, if you've ever sat on the Asia trail in DAK and watched the people of ALL ages get excited about being 9 inches (of tempered glass) away from the tigers, I believe all these up-close experiences are hugely compelling. Maybe not to do every year, due to the cost, but much like Discovery Cover will be a special day for most families.  Have any of you SEEN the excitement on the Safari trucks at DAK when a giraffe gets even moderately close?  Some people just LOVE being able to have an up-close and personal experience, and there's where this parks audience is. Perhaps the "sit around the computer and nitpick Disney" audience is not exactly who a largely active and outdoor experience is being targeted at. Um... no offense or anything.

    And, just wondering, did I miss a section that Jim wrote that said the other parks can't still expand due to this park opening?  AND, since I know there's a lot of Disneyphiles in here, did ya notice how the theme parks division is out-grossing every other theme park company in the industry? The parks are the corporate cash cow, and the nice thing is instead of funding countless video sequels, now we see some innovation in the theme park department (as people wanted for years) and there's instant nay-saying. I guess that IS the nature of the average internet forum poster. After all, I know how much research everyone posting so far has put into developing a theme park concept, right? I'm sure you have the pulse of the guests better than those "Disney Research" chumps. Anyway, for those with some common sense, it is clear we will continue to see ALL the parks growing, I'm sure of that.  They know what side their bread is buttered on now... They just want to add some olive oil and that green zesty stuff to the mix as well. Y'know, for bread dipping?

    I think my favorite comments are the ones about how the concept isn't original... Yea, because there's SO many places where you can do the things Jim describes in the article as "attractions." I think the most telling thing was curmugeon's list, reviewing every concept from the viewpoint of someone this park is clearly NOT aimed at: the sit-in-my-chair-and-armchair-quarterback-Disney's-every-decision crowd. You DO realize Disney Adventures have been offering these types of experiences for years with great success, and that there is definitely an audience of people who LOVE doing these types of things. IT won't be for everyone, but if you've never ridden a zip line, you'd have no idea how much cooler they are than ANY roller coaster, anywhere. Top Thrill Dragster is tame in comparison. Now a Villians park, yes, would be fun. But very hardly original, and to be honest you may have noticed that a lot of the "thrill ride" parks aren't doing as well, in part (it is theorized) that many of the experience are easily repeated at different parks. Enthusiasts may travel for multiple ride experiences, but if a family is going to plunk down $75/day (admission + food) per person one theme parks, they like a bit of variety. This park will address that in spades for the Orlando area. Disc. Cove has the dolphins, but I think Disney is going to trump those with both the variety and nature of the adventures being offered. And I predict these will be not "attractions" but "adventures" or "experiences" when the park opens.

    The one comment I agree with across the board is the employee pool being very limited these days. That will require some planning on Disney's part, and I hope that plan is put in place soon.

    Finally, let's not also forget that this is a "Status Park." If you can tell people you took your family to Disney's boutique park, it will be a huge "Keep up with the Joneses" type item. They are not interested in getting EVERYONE to go, and that is in fact part of the reason why they will market at the deluxe resorts and keep the numbers low. A park where, if you have to ask, you can't afford it. (Which, in America these days, "If you have to ask, you can't afford it... but you'll get it on credit anyways.") On a side note, I think $500 is more likely going to be the cost pre-discount, but maybe not initially.  When I first heard the concept, that is what I guessed anyway but this article includes some new additions I hadn't heard about yet.

    This park will have a waiting list a LOT. Have no doubt. Or have a doubt, as that's your right. But you're going to feel foolish later. The corporate rentals alone will keep with park in the black.

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