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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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  • Look, Pleasure Island has several things working against it:

    1. The clubs really aren't worth the price of admission and are no longer unique enough.

    2. It doesn't even have the most popular or famous improve club in ORLANDO.  (SAC comedy club tops it)

    3. The Adventurer's club is essentially the only concept worth salvaging.

    4. The atmosphere doesn't work as well with some of the local teenage crowd hanging around.  

    5. Disney is making so much more off the Marketplace and West Side that PI is seen as a waste.  Those clubs are sitting there not making money during the day, shoot I went to a training class in AC!  Meanwhile the Marketplace was number two in total merchandise sales behind MAGIC KINGDOM.  And they just barely topped us.

    In other words, something has to be done whether we like it or not.  Sure it sucks but I'm sure if the outcry for another park is high enough that the mouse will build that Villain's Park we all really want.  It's not like the other parks are being ignored at the moment.

    BTW I was at DHS the other day and not only has construction begun on the new American Idol attraction we lack an article on but there's also construction being done back at the old Hunchback Theater....

  • Ayefour said:

    "Just one note to Pickstar...if Everest and Nemo increased attendanced at DAK by 8.6% then don't you have to admit that what was a failure at first has now been corrected?"

    Corrected yes, but at what cost. It's ALWAYS cheaper to do things right the first time around. DAK has suffered reputational damage since it opened, Disney lost revenue from having poor attendance there, and they had to sink another $200 million (or more) into the park just to boost the lagging numbers. Had they built Everest and Nemo (or something comparable) when they had all the crews there building the parks, it would have cost them like 1/2 that much (not even accounting for adjusted dollars in 2006 vs. 1996). Also remember they spent money on that Dinoland garbage.

    Tuckenie said:

    "Monorailpilot are YOU getting paid $15 an hour?  Because I'm NOT.  At the much more likely $9.00 an hour you're looking at $288,000 a night.  And 2000 people at $500 a night is $1,000,000.  That's BEFORE you count merchandise.  Numbers bareing out yet?"

    Read what he said .. "$15 an hour for salary PLUS BENEFITS." That's actually a conservative number, based on what I know about Disney's benes. Normal cost of even halfway decent benefits is about 30% of salary.

    And remember, you're talking about a park with high risk activities going on, plus animal handlers, and a staff catering to high-end guests. These people aren't going to be paid $9 an hour.

  • A few more thoughts from the armchair quarterback, who basically went through the same type of decision making process that non-disney dweebs would when being asked to part with their money:

    If Disney Co wants to open this boutique park as described they will, regardless of what dweebs say. Far be it from me to butt heads with their vaulted research dept. No need to get into what the research folks said about DCA, the Paris Studios, or Hong Kong. Amazing what Walt could accomplish without a research dept justifying things. And that's the main issue I have: This is another example of creating via spreadsheet.

    Try some of column A, try all of column B. This boutique as described is just an unconnected mishmash of stuff. I have no strong desire for a Villains park, but by golly I know instantly what it's about, what I expect to find there, and can decide if I want to go. Night Kingdom where you can feed animals and go rockclimbing and a meal and um er huh???

    One reason Disney fans get riled up is we know the Co can do so much better than this. They've already got plans for Thunder Mesa - ok build it. At 4pm, or whenever entrance time is, go and design your own bank robber - costume, mustache, on horseback, etc. They can have historical displays about the Old West, or not. At 6pm go ride Thunder Mesa - a long 25 min ride. Make it Pirates calibur plus. You'll be given a pistol with 3 bullets - while on the ride, you've got to find your bank robber and shoot him. If you do, you can go on to the next adventure, or you may have to form a posse and try a different adventure.

    This armchair quarterback can come up with that in 10 minutes, with no imagineering training whatsoever. It's unique, can't be found anywhere else in the world, and focuses on what Disney Co does best - that's what people will pay $$$ for.  Don't believe me? Go do some research in Tokyo, preferably near the Disney Seas area.

  • Well, I'm not too interested so far. I'd rather Disney used the cash to finally build the fantasy-based Beastly Kingdom that was originally promised to us. I can tell you that I am not flying all the way to Florida to watch a bunch of hyenas having lunch off a zebra or to feed a smelly old hippo. Big whoop. I could travel a much shorter distance and visit the excellent, world-famous St. Louis Zoo. It's yet another reason AK doesn't impress me much, lavish as it is. It's just a big zoo when you get right down to it. Come on, Disney, when we visit a Disney park, we want to see things we can't see anywhere else! Stop trying to lure suckers in by going the cheap route! Remember your heritage for god's sake.

  • Hold on a minute, fans of the Adventurers Club!

    Let's assume Pleasure Island is eventually going completely away and turned into more Downtown Disney WestSide and open day and night.

    Sounds to me like Disney is trying to rescue the Adventurers Club. It will be rebuilt and improved, bigger and better than ever. And while some of its use as the gateway for Disney's Night Kingdom will be using it as a "glorified waiting room" for the high-paying DNK Guests when they first arrive for their adventures, some of them will be exposed to the Adventurers Club environment, CM role-playing actors/actresses for the first time while they are learning which DNK adventures they can sign up for to go on that night. They might grow to love the Adventurers Club as many of us WDW Guests have...

    The DNK Guests will be arriving at the Adventurers Club at 4 pm each day, 5 pm during Daylight Saving Time. How long will they need this "glorified waiting room"? Not for more than an hour.

    That means the Adventurers Club will be able to be open to other WDW Guests about an hour later...

    ...OPENING IN THE EARLY EVENING for WDW Guests as it is now. With a wristband sort of thing for the DNK Guests, they'd even be able to come back to the Adventurers Club anytime that evening, then return to DNK again later if they'd like to.

    Remember, it is described that the Adventurers Club would be at the gateway to this 5th WDW park, not inside the park. Think of how the Rainforest Cafe works at Animal Kingdom: you can go inside it whether or not you have a passport allowing entry to Animal Kingdom.

    Also, the Adventurers Club would be completely rebuilt, enlarging it and improving it.

    Yes, looks to me like the planners at Disney are trying to find a way to save the Adventurers Club, not shut it down to any WDW Guest who wants to go to it. If it makes you feel any better, think of it as the Disney's Night Kingdom Guests having it for a one hour "private party" each late afternoon, followed by the new and improved Adventurers Club opening to WDW Guests in the evening, as usual.

  • I find it funny that there are so many disheartened posts on here... like the rumor mill just posted is all there is to this supposed 5th park. Feed a hippo and climb a wall. It's Disney guys.... do you really think they are going to charge that much of a heap of crap? I'm thinking NO. Also did the post say ANYTHING about replacing your precious adventurers club with NK? NO. And Curmudgeon... that is the lamest idea ever. Thank GOD you aren't an imagineer... Disney doesn't do guns. Way to promote gun touting vigilantism in our youth. Kill a robber save a themepark. How about you just send some kids to south central LA and give them 3 bullets and a du-rag.

    Perhaps there are people in America still that would WANT to feed animals and engage in active and physical adventures with the assurance that they cant get hurt or killed.

  • Also, from what I gather, if you lose a hand to the hippo you're entitled to free drinks and bragging rights back at The Adventurers Club!

  • "And Curmudgeon... that is the lamest idea ever. Thank GOD you aren't an imagineer... Disney doesn't do guns. Way to promote gun touting vigilantism in our youth. Kill a robber save a themepark. How about you just send some kids to south central LA and give them 3 bullets and a du-rag"

    I had a feeling this would come up after he posted that.

    I think Curmudgeon had the right idea.  Something immersive beyond anything that Disney had done before, that builds on what Disney really truly knows how to do.  Telling stories, and getting people involved in these experiences.

    That said, it doesn't have to be guns or killing.  But something that really gets people into what is going on around them.  A completely immmersive movie/show.

    I am all for new ideas.  And that's just it, as Jim explains it, none of this seems very new or compelling.  It seems like other kinds of vacations that would be fun, but not something that Disney could do.  The reason we keep poking at Disney to do better is becaus we know that this company is the only one capable of creating experiences like the ones we are dreaming of seeing.  The only other place that seems to "get it" is Universal.  So when Disney seems to start going off course and letting other vacation destinations decide the direction they go in instead of inventing it themselves, its a bit disheartening.

    Keep in mind, I am only speculating from what Jim has told us.  I am sure there is much more to this park idea than what we have heard so far.

  • curmudgeon said:  "Amazing what Walt could accomplish without a research dept justifying things."

    Have you ever even read a biography of Walt Disney?!  Who do you think created the research department curmudgeon?  Walt couldn't get funding for Disneyland without hiring a research firm and Disney developed its department from those beginnings.  And how exactly do you know they aren't going to use Thunder Mesa in DNK?  Maybe we should all shut up with the negativity until something actually get's announced.  Till then we're operating off a story with few concrete details about a project that is still in development.

    Oh and bravo to Rich Koster for actually talking sense.  If I had to choose between no AC and AC expanded at DNK, I'm pretty sure I'm going with the latter.

  • A long time ago there were rumors of making a recreation of the island in the adventure game 'Myst' for a special experience at WDW, I believe. This project seems like it could be along those lines. A special place that would be very personal and one of a kind. An adventure where you do amazing things, but only see a small group of people ever.

  • Jim mentioned blueprints... has he seen some sort of master planning aerial shot or something?  Where is this proposed park supposed to go?  

    I've got to admit, while I don't see myself shelling out the cash for this "Millionaire Travel Excursion" park experience... I wish I could.

  • Hopefully some people realize the guns at the shooting gallery, space ranger spin, upcoming toy story arcade, jungle cruise, great movie ride, indiana jones stunt show, and the one the pirate points at your boat are not loaded with "live ammo." I am reassured to hear "Disney doesn't do guns."

    As to Walt and his research dept, sure he used outside experts to determine where to locate Disneyland in SoCal, and how to situate the Magic Kingdom on the Florida property. Was he having folks with clipboards running around to see if people wanted a Matterhorn mountain with a steel coaster running through it, or a show put on by singing birds or bears? No - that was the creativity part. All the "research" said Disneyland was going to be a failure.

    There are plenty of creative highly immersive attractions that Imagineering has come up with over the years that have been put to one side because of hourly capacity issues. Use those for your boutique park that has far fewer customers to begin with.

  • Actually... all the "research" said Disneyland would make millions.  That's how Walt was able to turn a 5 million dollar loan into a 17 million dollar loan.  Multiple companies were eager to underwrite attractions.  Many were turned away (Ray Kroc and McDonalds is one of the most famous).  

    The people who said Disneyland would fail were the media.

  • Oh.... and I'll be the first to say it:  Disney's Night Kingdom = worst name ever.

  • Worse than California Adventure?

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