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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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  • I think Disney should spend the money they want to use on Night Kingdom fixing Disney's rather-boring California Adventure park, (which should have never been built in the first place) before they go pouring more money into another resort thats going to create even more problems. DCA has more potential as a fixer upper that could potentially be something worth visiting again.

    The "Night Kingdom" park sounds like an exclusive interactive mix between a night-club and Disney's Animal Kingdom... I don't frequent clubs, and of all Disney parks- my family and I spend the least amount of time at Animal Kingdom.  I think this is a bad idea and a waste of money.  If they wanted to build a new park, the Port Disney project was a much better idea.  Disney should spend money upgrading existing parks/properties instead of building new ones.

  • I'd love to debate this further, but there's really no point. Again, some of you are clearly NOT the target market for this, just as there are many people that would find the idea of going to a park celebrating fairies and fantasy pretty dull. If you asked me what a more authentic experience is given a choice between riding a "Doom Buggy" through an automated haunted mansion with the same projections of spooks for the Nth time, or some of the mentioned activities, I know what I would pick. As TheDude said, "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."

    Except being given a fake gun, or a fake anything, will always be... well, fake.  And people these days know fake. Some love fake, but there is a reason Disney's "Adventures By Disney" packages are very popular, and I think that is EXACTLY the demographic that this park is targeting: ACTIVE families, people who would rather not sit and be entertained but instead take a more hands-on role. And not a fake role, but feel the exhilaration of zipping through a forest, climbing a rock face, or any of the other adventures that Disney can provide SAFELY and with the excitement of including animals in close-up ways never seen before. I mean, I'm sure there are some people who come home from Disney, and detail every aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean, but I think they're the exception. These types of mini-adventures are the types of things a family can truly call their own stories, facilitated by Disney, but not written by Disney.   I work in the camping industry in the summertime, and as someone who has been there when kids cross rope bridges, climb towers, swing on ropes, etc, I can promise you that a lot of what makes those experiences special is the feeling of overcoming a challenge or stretching ones experiences into a new area. Most of Disney's experiences, being passive, just aren't for everyone, and neither are these new ones. As far as this park not being innovative enough... have you even actually BEEN to Discovery Cove? It's nice, and the UPCHARGE dolphin experience is VERY cool. However, that park is very sedate and is geared almost to a more luxurious, slow-paced, and scheduled, day. There's hanging out by the pool, a lovely lunch, a reef to explore, a heated lazy river, and some very pretty birds to feed.  From what I've heard, this new park will be a thrill park in a whole new way, without queue lines and a much higher adrenaline level. I don't imagine strollers/ECVs to be nearly as common by the nature of these activities, although I'm sure Disney will have to find a way to make everything ADA compliant.

     The contents of this article are VERY on. This new park will be announced soon, and Jim has a lot of it very correct. It is not an add-on to DAK, nor is it a traditional 5th gate. I think WDW doesn't need a 5th gate, and to be honest I have NO idea what a Villains park would involve. If it's just a lot of thrill rides though, I can tell you that anyone who studies the industry knows that there's a glut of those presently, and it's hurting the bottom line of those companies across the board. There's just not much differentiation there, and I think this concept will be VERY different.

    And a few rebuttals:

    Pickstar- "Pickstar said: Boy, for a dude with his head firmly planted in his rear end, you sure like to talk don't you?

    Anyone who knows anything about Disney theme parks (or theme parks in general, for that matter) would recognize that the attendance is up 8.6% because they just built Expedition Everest and Finding Nemo: The Musical. I mean it's almost absurd that you would even point that out as somehow proving that Animal Kingdom wasn't a failure from day one. Why the hell do you think they just dumped $200 mil+ into the park??"

    Well, true. So how much has been dumped into Epcot? Magic Kingdom? I thought the idea was to spend money on these places to improve and refresh them. Mission Space was $100 million. Plus your $200 million does not take into account the new pathway and surrounding area, at least if you are trying to paint Everest as a $200 million expense. According to the Roller Coaster Data Base, the cost was $100 Million.  So... is Epcot now a failure too, as your yardstick isn't attendance but rather the amount being spent to improve its appeal?  And, if you must discount the attendance figure growth as a sign of the park being improved, let's also be sure to point out that Nemo barely opened in time for the holiday season in 06. Hardly a month of the calendar year, so at some point it's likely that people were going to the park because they ACTUALLY LIKED IT.

    TheYeti said:

    "Wow, Jim. I have to agree with Screamscape.com and a couple of your readers on this. Your "reporting" has produced the description of an after-hours DAK experience, not a fifth park. Answer this: Why would Disney build ANOTHER African savannah?"

    Well, they have the one at DAK, plus one at DAK Lodge, and will have a 3rd at the DVC wing at DAK Lodge. Why not? At least they know their animals and landscaping by now. It would be a pretty sad state if people start getting bored by being able to experience these exotic animals from a distance of tens of feet, or less.

    For those concerned about the AC becoming less than it is now, I would ask this: Is a visit to the Rainforest CAfe at the entrance to DAK any less enjoyable than one anyplace else?  Why couldn't this become the signature eatery at the park, ideally with huge windows looking out over the adventures taking place inside the park. I could see a 4pm dinner theater start-of-the-adventure meal, and then seatings afterwards without being tailored to those attending the park that day. Maybe the "Club" being off to the side for those who want to hang out after enjoying the park, or get a drink, or whatever. Ideally maybe closed-circuit TV feeds so you can watch guests adventure inside the park. I dunno... I think it can be a much cooler setting than PI, although i don't think it's a bad fit there.

    jazzmoe said:

    "P.S. I can only hope to one day be as smug, condescending and above it all as jmelrose. Most of the people you refer to as ("sit around the computer and nitpick Disney audience") are very passionate fans of the parks that spend a lot of money there."

    Aw, thanks! This is nothing compared to me in person. However, don't hope for too long, jazzmoe. You're almost there now. Just a little pixie dust...

    "The problem is that Disney's track record of demolishing fan favroites is not favorable."

    Yes, because it's all about YOU. Which seems to be a pretty common feeling around here. If it's not for YOU then its not for Disney. Because, you, of course, ARE Disney.

  • Jim, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about why the Disney Institute concept failed.

    I mean, here were personalized experiences geared toward a small number of people, some of them offering things only Disney could offer.  (I took an animation class there taught by a Disney animator -- to me, that was FAR more interesting than any experience listed in the article).

    So it seems to me that if the Disney Institute concept failed, while offering more interesting experiences at a lower cost, I don't see why this concept would fare any better.

    If the DI had remained operating, we'd probably be incorporating something from their offerings for every visit (as it was, we had the opportunity to visit twice before it was closed).   If the Night Kingdom happens, I can't imagine it being something we'd want to do again and again (and for the current list of experiences, I frankly probably wouldn't do it once).

  • This has to be one of the worst ideas I've ever seen floated by Disney.  Not only does it further split the Disney audience into "haves" and "have-nots," it fails to capitalize on the core concept of Disney theme parks: Namely, that they are places where the entire family can have fun together, no matter their age.  I can't imagine many 10-year-old kids staying up until 1:30 in the morning to go to a Disney "night" theme park, then waking up the next day for the rest of their vacation.

    And what of this concept?  If it's "Animal Kingdom After Dark," and that's it, then maybe it's fine.  But an entirely new theme park?  For $500 million?  It's a waste of money and effort.

    Disney needs to stop chasing after the competition.  Once upon a time, it WAS the competition.  Now it's trying to emulate everyone else.  That's sad.

    If Disney has the desire to spend $500 million in capital investments in Walt Disney World, I've got some ideas:

    * Expand the Monorail system and purchase environmentally friendly buses for transportation;

    * Improve Epcot and Animal Kingdom, two parks sorely in need of constant attention;

    * Add some more Lucas-themed rides to Disney-MGM Studios (oh, excuse me, Disney's HOLLYWOOD Studios, thanks to that ridiculous decision)

    * Get rid of that ugly, noisy, under-utilized "race track" in the middle of the property;

    * Put some more creativity and imagination into MK's Tomorrowland; bring us back "the future that will never be";

    * Develop more conservation areas in WDW -- now that the rest of the world is "going green," what happened to Disney's once-groundbreaking "Environmentality" program?!

    Those are just a few. Right now, I've lost all faith in Iger, Staggs and Rasulo when it comes to WDW.  They're strip-mining the land to wring a few more bucks out of partner hotels; they're basically raping the wallets of consumers DURING A RECESSION; they're showing no real creativity or creative bent; and they're failing to manage a transportation and urban-planning nightmare (have you been to WDW during peak times?!).

    In about 10 years, they've undone the 40 years of planning and development around WDW that came before it.  And here's another example of that.  What a sad commentary.

  • There's NO WAY this is an entire theme park for $520 million.  Disney's spending 1.1 billion on updating two areas at DCA and adding a new Car's themed land.  Do you really think $520 million is going to go very far?  Didn't it cost something like $350 million just to build Everest?!  

    This is an Animal Kingdom add on... if it actually exisits at all.

  • No ride mechanisms = lower development price

    Smaller crowd = smaller footprint

    2,000 = 10% of an average day at the other parks.

    $350 million on Everest? Wade through my post above... $100 Million for Everest. Adding the theming and additional infrastructure around the ride and making the pathway ready for more rides someday bumped the final cost to around $200 mil, apparently.

    Chernobog said:

    "If the DI had remained operating, we'd probably be incorporating something from their offerings for every visit (as it was, we had the opportunity to visit twice before it was closed).   If the Night Kingdom happens, I can't imagine it being something we'd want to do again and again (and for the current list of experiences, I frankly probably wouldn't do it once)."


    "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???"

    And yet, despite many people probably finding the idea of going on vacation to take classes (particularly KIDS) fairly reprehensible, that appeals to you. So why be so critical of a concept that is just as valid and has appeal to a different audience? Some people go for weeks to see animals, rock climb, and eat. It's called CAMPING. The "adventure vacation" industry is currently huge, with everything from climbing to rafting to bike trips being guided by professionals year-round. Adventures By Disney is doing great, and I'm sure the program will have a DVC-style Kiosk inside this park.  Like I said, it just seems like to so many people, unless it's the Disney THEY want to see, it's not "good for Disney" and is therefore renounced as bad for everyone. Dissenters to that opinion are then told they  are very passionate fans of the parks that spend a lot of money there...  Clearly Disney already has those people hooked, maybe they're going for a different audience. How can bringing more business to the resort do anything but encourage the suits to continue to grow the brand with more and better things. (Provided, of course, those things survive being attacked on the internet while still in an embryonic state...)

    Again, I'm glad you know what the Villains park had to potentially offer guests.  To me, Villains is an even more ambiguous theme than any but "Magic Kingdom" of the current parks.  I think if you don't see the connection, it's likely from not looking all that hard, and that's likely because the activities don't appeal (as you have already copped to).  

    On a side note, i'm loving all these people hating on "Disney's Hollywood Studios." As if they had a choice on whether or not to keep the MGM name, and to be honest I never understood why the kept the name when so little of the attractions are based on MGM properties. (And how can a proper MGM park not have a Bond ride, but that's another issue altogether.) Disney/Pixar studios certainly would have covered everything but the Lucasfilm and ABC stuff, and with such a... mishmash... of stuff, why not "Hollywood"? It does cover all the bases, and while not utterly clever, its certainly inoffensive. I don't understand all the angst over it. When it comes to this NEW PARK, I suggest they name the park something along the lines of "Disney's Adventure Kingdom" or "Disney's Animal Adventures Park" but Night Kingdom does sound like a nightclub complex. I highly doubt it will end up being the actual name. I'm content to let the Disney folks do what they do best and create this stuff, and I will be very excited to see what happens with this new place.

    I am still hoping they will add a Timon & Pumba's Wild Safari dark ride to Africa, making a Mr. Toad-style dark ride in DAK, where all the animals (stylized animatronics) are seen in the headlights of your Jeep, with T & P to steer and narrate your night tour of the savannah. No charge for that one, Imagineers...

  • Disney Hollywood Studios cost over $500 million in the late 80s and it covers 135 acres.  At the time the only "rides" were the backstage tour and the Great Movie Ride.  Not exactly multi-million dollar thrill rides (however, I do concede that GMR was probably pretty expensive due to all the animitronics).  Let's face it... $500 million just isn't the same now as it was in 1989.

    Typhoon Lagoon covers 55 acres.  How big (or small) are we talking here?

  • jmelrose, can you express yourself without quoting others comments followed by telling them how they are wrong and should not feel a certain way? I have no problem with your opinions or the fact that they differ from the majority. However, picking fights and offending posters is no way to go about furthering your point of view. I agree with some of your points and if you weren’t sooo condescending, more people would probably engage in your debate. The tone of your writing is not one that people have a positive response to. Start talking to people instead of talking down to them. It is ok to have a different point of view, just try to not be on the attack so much and I’m sure that people like me would engage you in stimulating debate rather than petty arguments.

  • Thanks, jazzmoe. Duly noted. I think my response if mostly because when I read, I feel like the comments I respond to are condescending towards Disney. Obviously not any one person in the organization, but rather this attitude that anyone here knows better than Disney does as to how Disney should do things.  There is a big difference between constructive criticism and feedback, and trashing a concept not even unveiled yet. A lot of people have voiced opinions and thoughts and kept it respectful to the people who have obviously done their jobs and developed an idea that they think will appeal to people.  (Thanks to the person who pointed out that Walt practically invented the idea of a research dept!) It's the arrogant condescension that drives me nuts and makes me respond in kind (which admittedly gets the ball rolling for others as well towards me). As someone so succinctly put it, it's like someone who doesn't like Mexican food telling everyone that a new local Mexican restaurant sucks, and how dare the town build one there when a Chinese place (the person's favorite) could have been put in instead.  Well, how dare you make me feel like my opinions are less valuable (or that I'm "moronic") for preferring Chinese! And so for that reason I guess I felt the need to call out what I saw as the worst offenders. And, if need be, I'll do that again. I'm not looking to offend the group en masse, only those who seem like their opinions are so important that I can question them and not worry about a fragile ego being bruised.

    There's a lot of great discussion, and opinions, and quite a few are fairly different from mine. But then again, I spend all summer outdoors, and enjoy things like rock climbing, rope swings, and the like. I get to teach it, actually. When it comes to the parks,  I love dark rides, and I'd be glad to see some additional true (heavily themed) thrill rides installed in the parks, and I think the Little Mermaid show is one of the worst things Disney has ever unleashed.  I love Stitch but hate his Great Escape.  I will miss the Carousel of Progress if they ever remove it. Strollers make me angry. I have never been to La Nouba. Still haven't seen DAK's Nemo show. I think the area near Festival of the Lion King is a hugely wasted opportunity. I could watch Philharmagic almost daily. I could see Illuminations even more often. I never need to see Fantasmic ever again. I think the Studios park is the biggest failure at WDW (and I used to work there). I don't like cheese, except on pizza.  I have never watched an American Idol episode and see no point to making an attraction based on it. I sometimes think Mission Space was an Imagineer's way to install a Dumbo-style ride and have it fit into the theme of Future World.

    My point? I don't claim to have any divine power that allows me to see what Disney will do in the future, but I know they have hit some major home runs with stuff I'd never have considered and they have utterly flopped with great source material.  However, no matter what I wouldn't begrudge them the opportunity to try something new because even if I don't like it, someone out there will, and I'm not about to tell the gazillions kids (and adults) who love Stitch's Great Escape or the Little Mermaid show that they are "moronic" and that they shouldn't have built those attractions because they aren't for me. And, in my own arrogant way, I think that anyone who does declare themselves that self-important and all-knowing has already set themselves up as looking for a fight and I'm just dumb enough to take the bait.

    And, as Dennis Miller used to say, "That's my opinion. I could be wrong." Additionally, as he used, to say, "I... am... outta here."  And by here, I mean this thread. Pax.

  • chernobog: Obviously, I'm not Jim, but my understanding is that the Institute failed because there weren't enough WDW visitors that wanted to spend the money to take classes (and for the record, I also loved many of classes the Institute offered and I wish they'd continued it on a smaller basis).  It sounds like with Night Kingdom, they're not really aiming for high-end intellectual and educational experiences - just high-end experiences. In other words, stuff you'd want to do for the uniqueness of the experience as opposed to what you could learn.

  • How a cockroach got 30 people fired. It's good to be the king ... Lesson from the Heathrow baggage snafu -- don't upgrade both your redundant systems at the...

  • Hi Jim,

    I have just been reading the hundreds of posts this article has spawned all over the internet.  The one thing that got to me was how many people were so very against this form the get-go.  I agree that the details in your article were a bit sketchy (for obvious reasons) and also agree do not sound very exciting.  But then I started to think about the overall concept and after using a bit of imagination have become very excited about this project.  And to help those with little imagination I came up with a fictitious Trip Report about it.   Here it is:

    I am so excited about my last trip to Walt Disney World, that I just had to give you this trip report.

    This is probably the 10th time my family and I have been to WDW since we first went in 2007 for  “The Year of a Million Dreams.”  That is now 5 years ago, and it was the first time we heard about Disney’s Adventurer’s Club (DAC), which was then referred to as Disney’s Night Kingdom.  There were many lame rumours floating around at that time, and it did not sound too exciting, but what we didn’t know then was all the ideas and innovations that Disney was planning, and didn’t want the competition to know they were developing.

    Enough about then.  It is now 2012 and we have just had the most exciting and magical vacation that we could have ever imagined.

    First of all, let me introduce my family.  I am Scott and was travelling with my DW Alison and our 2 DDs, Hannah and Hailey.  We are now in our late 40’s and Hannah is 13 and Hailey is 17.  Three years ago, after a few wonderful trips to Orlando, we decided to become members at Contemporary Villas, the newest DVC community.  Now we go to “the world” at least 2 times each year.

    This year, in addition to going to the theme parks, we decided to give Disney’s Adventurer’s Club a shot.  It was not cheap at $499 per person, but when you consider that a single park ticket now costs almost $100, and this was “all inclusive,” we felt it wasn’t that much of a stretch.  You may ask why we waited so long to try DAC, since it has been open for about a year now, well…  these were the first reservations we could get for DAC.  Only having 2,000 spots per night, they were immediately booked 6th months in advance.

    Since we were staying in one of the Deluxe resorts, our ticket included transportation to DAC from our resort.  That was a very nice touch.  We were contacted by our “Disney Guide” (DG) about 30 days prior to tell us what to expect, give us all the details and she even asked us about adventure preferences, food preferences, allergies, etc..  The level of detail really blew us away.  We were asked to meet at the DAC desk in the Contemporary Lobby at 3:15 for a 3:30 departure.

    When we got to the desk, we were overwhelmed that we were 4 of about 100 people waiting.  The DGs at the desk, quickly greeted us and introduced to our safari group of about 20 people.  Up pulled what looked like long stretch Hummers that accommodated our group and our DG for a trip to DAC.  When we got into the vehicle, we were given our backpack that was filled with a bunch of stuff including hats, personalized name badges, a bottle of water and some paperwork.  We were required to read and sign waivers since some of the adventures could be dangerous.

    We headed down the Disney way and went into the entrance to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where many people were already leaving for the day.  Instead of heading for the front of the parking lot, we went to the back of the lot, where we noticed for the first time a small train station and additional parking (I assume for those people who were staying off property and had to drive in.)  There was a small area, where I saw the DGs giving out backpacks and having other guests fill out waivers.

    We went straight up to the station where we boarded a steam train the held about 100 people.  This was the beginning of our adventure.  The train ride wasn’t long, but we went through some of the most beautiful and lush landscapes I have ever seen, before arriving in front of a huge “turn of the century” mansion in the middle of what appeared to be deep, dark Africa.  The detailing was incredible.  

    We headed in through the main hall and into “The Clubroom” where we were joined by more people.  Things started happening just like I remember when I had visited the Adventurer’s Club on PI before it moved.  I had heard there was room for 2,000 at DAC, but this was almost identical to the original Adventurer’s Club and could probably hold no more than 200.  This baffled me until I asked one of the bartenders about it, and he just looked at me and said “Do you think this is the only room in this giant mansion?” with a knowing smile, obviously not wanting to give away too many of Disney’s secrets.

    The usual AC antics pursued, and we got to know all the regular characters, and a few new ones.  Drinks were flowing (nice virgin ones for the kids) and of course all of these were included (we were now official members of the Adventurer’s Club.)  The Characters acted as if they had known us for years (with the help of the name badges) and one by one we were asked to go into one of several rooms.  Now I know why the DG asked so many questions when we spoke a month ago.  It now dawned on me that we were all going to have slightly different experiences.  This was also the last time we would see our daughters for a while (they had also asked if we wanted to stay together, but our daughters wanted to “do their own thing.”)

    DW and I asked for some adventure, so we were in a group lead by Colonel Merryweather.  There were about 45 of 55 of us and we were split up into groups with individual DGs and were told about a plot to steal the treasures of the Incadok tribes in Zimbabwe.  Colonel Merryweather needed our help to foil this plot.  And with that, we headed out on an adventure.

    We boarded vehicles, which I recognised from the Indiana Jones ride in DL and Dinosaur in DAK.  Looks like they used the same ride mechanism, but that is where the similarity ended.  This adventure took us through many areas where we had to accomplish task to get to the next level.  It was amazing that we felt like we were the only group around until we got back to our base camp, the AC.  This took us over an hour and it was the most excitement we have had on vacation.  I don’t want to soil any surprises, but I will tell you this, we ended up zip lining over crocodiles to save the day!

    When we got back to the AC, we met up with our DDs and heard their wild stories of how they actually went and “joined the circus.”  This made for lot’s of great dinner conversation as we were now treated to a Great Banquet which was being thrown for us since we had accomplished magnificent feats and created a better world (I guess that was the storyline in many of the adventures.)  This was apparently held in the Great Banquet Hall which is the first time I realized that yes, there were close to 2,000 of us adventurers.

    At our banquet table we heard of many stories from the other guests of how exciting and wonderful their adventures were.  We also got to see many acts put on during our banquet and even a mini Cirque d’ soleil production.

    As the banquet winded down, we were free to return to the AC main salons or go off and explore the rest of the mansion and the grounds.  There were many DG out and about on the grounds to tell us all about the wildlife that was there and give us all some “close encounters” with them.

    My wife and I decided to just wonder out onto one of the many balconies overlooking the grounds and listen to the music from the ballroom floating through the air.

    It was truly a magical evening, and now I know why this is such a popular part of WDW.  Since we are now Official Members to the Adventurer’s club, we actually get a slight discount on return visits, but even without that incentive, I can’t wait to come back and try some of the other adventurers.  Heck, we actually booked for next year before we left, another advantage of becoming a member (365 day booking window).

  • WOW...  I just heard Jim's podcast on magicaldefinition.com and what he described sounded much more interesting then this article led people to think.  Thanks Jim for adding whatever information you can about this project, it is beginning to sound more and more exciting.

  • First, I'm the kind of person who'd pay the money and go look. Its not too expensive for people who pay more than that per day for a non-concierge room at Grand Floridan, folks. So there is a market, and when they throw in conventions and groups where the boss pays the bill, filling this park will be no problem.

    The problem is, as many have stated, the content and the concept. This is no quantum leap forward--just a re-collection of all the stuff that's out there at malls, parks, zoos, and even Disney competitors in the themepark biz with a new name and some window-dressing--probably really GOOD window-dressing, I'll admit, 'cause they do that stuff well. The problem is that it seems these days when the Mouse folks start trying to conceptualize and/or sell-to-the-suits a new park or project, they basically couch their planning and presentation in terms of "Its like another X only Better!" And it doesn't matter if you're "plussing" SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo.......you're still only plussing, not INNOVATING, as long as that's your mindset.

    The labor, expense, and other issues have been well-discussed, but let me add to that just this: What the heck are those 4,000 people DOING is more important than how many of them there are. ANY park or hotel or restaurant/shopping complex needs X bodies to pick up the trash, cook the food, stock the shelves and jockey the cash registers. That is the "given" of the experiment. So let's say that's at least 2,000 of the 4k--after all, maybe there isn't a need for 1-on-1 during operating hours, but somebody comes in when the peeps are home in bed and cleans, re-stocks, refurbishes, and does the books, right?   So....what do the OTHER 2,000 people do? Because THATS the core of the labor issue--not just finding bodies in a body-short Orlando area, but finding MINDS and PERSONALITIES and, frankly, paying for them at a rate they're worth.

    I have had great service from some really earnest, charming, and helpful folks who sold me ice cream cones or took my tickets at WDW parks....but not one of them could do what the Adventurer's Club cast does. They just aren't trained, experienced, or INSPIRED enough to do it. Talent COSTS and talent is RARE and you have to, to use a Disneyesqe analogy, kiss a lot of frogs to find the princes and princesses who are up to the task.  IF that were not true, there would be 500 hit movies about national-treasure-seeking nutjobs because there would be a huge supply of Nick Cage's and the like, in front of and behind the cameras.

    So where do you find 2,000 really, really, really good people to give the kind of top-flight experience you're SELLING people to expect to get here? And if you find them from among the really good cream-of-the-current-crop of CM's working other parts of the world, how do you replace THOSE people overnight?

    That's the problem to solve staff-wise. Couple that with some really out-of-the-box thinking (and with a reality check---us 50-something baby-boomers who can AFFORD a high-end deluxe park and who enjoy all that "gourmet" dining are not really the rock-climb/zip-line profile, folks. Not unless they're really STRONG ziplines and really SHORT rocks) and maybe it'll work. I'd like it to. I just, like so many here for so many reasons....have my doubts.

  • I've got to say: I'm not impressed at all.

    While Universal is busy working on a much anticipated addition, Disney is working on this? Disney had been attempting to reinforce its brands with more character-centric attractions and this is what they're doing?

    It sounds like a waste of time, resources, space and money. But that's just me personally. And the majority of the commenters above, it seems.

    This fifth themepark does sound like a great way to pander to those who have the money to waste on this, but seriously: if you have this money are you going to go to Disney world or are you actually going to take a trip to the actual Savannah? Having friends who do this sort of thing, I can tell you the answer: they won't be going to Disney World for this sort of experience.

    I question the quality of those they are surveying. Are they simply guests coming in and out of the park? Or does this sort of thing take place from home via web and email (such as Universal has been doing lately)?

    Nope. I'm not at all impressed. And with Universal's new Simpsons ride, Harry Potter and the upcoming Rock-It, I'd say they need to reassess who their guests really are. Any of us who live near a decent zoo can tell you - this isn't a big deal at all.

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