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Monday Mouse Watch: Let the West Side Waltz begin

Jim Hill

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Monday Mouse Watch: Let the West Side Waltz begin

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An item posted this past Friday on Screamscape about how the Cheesecake Factory will soon be pulling out of DisneyQuest got tongues wagging around the Web. As Disneyana fans began wondering if this intriguing new tidbit meant that WDW's indoor interactive theme park -- long rumored to be on the ropes -- could in fact be closing its doors. Perhaps as early as this summer.

Well, DQ isn't DOA. Not yet, anyway. No, the word coming out of Lake Buena Vista today is that DisneyQuest has been given a reprieve. With WDW Food & Beverage due to take over the day-to-day operations of that fifth floor food facility that the Cheesecake Factory will be vacating come June.

As to this indoor theme park's long-term prospects ... Things are suddenly looking far rosier than they were even a year ago. Thanks in large part to Jay Rasulo's new corporate agenda as well as more pressing matters on the West Side of WDW's Downtown Disney retail, dining and entertainment complex.

Concept art for the new 800-room hotel that Disney Parks & Resorts will be building in Oahu.
Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

As for the corporate part of this equation ... In his role as Chairman of Disney Parks & Resorts, Jay genuinely believes that the future of the company lies in location-based entertainments (like that oceanfront resort that the Mouse recently announced that it would be building in Oahu) as well as urban entertainment centers (like that thing that Mickey keeps trying to get built in Singapore).

But it might be hard for Disney's board of directors to justify funding these new projects should the company's only existing LBE (i.e. WDW's DisneyQuest) suddenly close its doors. Which is why Rasulo has ordered that DQ stay open. At least for the foreseeable future.

Besides ... Given the triage situation that Mickey now finds itself dealing with when it comes to La Nouba and the Virgin Megastore Orlando ... DisneyQuest is really the least of the Mouse's worries right at this moment.

Copyright 1998 Disney. All Right Reserved

To explain: Just like with the Cheesecake Factory, Virgin & Cirque du Soleil's contracts with the Walt Disney Company -- at least when it comes to these West Side facilities -- are up for renewal this year. And given that Megastore Orlando has never really done as well as the parent company had hoped it would, the rumor is that Virgin is now leaning toward not renewing its lease on this Downtown Disney location. Which means that the Mouse may soon find a 49,000 square foot hole in its West Side line-up.

Which is why the Imagineers are now toying with tossing an ESPN Zone into this location. An idea that -- you may recall -- was once proposed for the building that WDW's DisneyQuest currently occupies.

As for La Nouba ... While this is still a terrific show, demand for tickets for this particular Cirque du Soleil production has fallen off over the past few years. Mostly because people who are visiting the World these days have undoubtedly seen La Nouba on earlier WDW vacations.

CG concept painting of the 2,170-seat Cirque du Soleiel theater now
being constructed at the Tokyo Disney Resort.
Copyright 2007 Oriental Land Co. Ltd.

Which is why Disney & Cirque officials have begun making noise about possibly putting something new into this 1671-seat showroom. And though nothing official has been announced yet, the general feeling is -- once this Montreal-based corporation successfully launches the new show that it's created for the Tokyo Disney Resort in October of this year -- Cirque will then turn its attentions back to Orlando.

Mind you, Disney will still be looking for the same sort of terms that it got back in July of 1996 when it signed its first contract with Cirque du Soleil. And given that -- over the past 12 years -- Cirque has grown into this billion dollar operation ... They may now be seeking a far bigger piece of the pie. Which is why this is far from a done deal. At least as far as Mickey's accountants are concerned.

And as if things weren't already complicated enough for Downtown Disney's West Side ... Late last week, Disney insiders have told me -- with the hope that this gesture might help keep Steve Jobs happy -- Bob Iger allegedly asked that space be found at WDW's retail, dining and entertainment district for a new Apple Store.

 Copyright 2006 Apple. All Rights Reserved

So when you take into account Jay Rasulo's shifting corporate agenda, the ESPN Zone changing from being DisneyQuest's possible replacement to now supposedly filling the hole that the Virgin Megastore Orlando will leave once it bails out on Downtown Disney, not to mention the one-step-forward, two-steps-back aspect of Disney's on-going negotiations with Cirque du Soleil ... It's obviously time for the West Side Waltz. So let the dance begin !

In five years time, once the dust settles on this side of the WDW Resort ... It'll be genuinely interesting to see what got built where. In particular where that Apple Store went.

Your thoughts?

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  • Ya gotta love Rasulo ... he's such a predictable suit.

    "I firmly believe that location based entertainment is the future of this company! Now prop up the only example we currently have, because it's failing badly and I don't want to have to close it and make it look like I don't know what I'm talking about."

    Sheesh ... what a way to run a company ...

  • The problem with DisneyQuest is that it was a prototype that no one was willing to tinker with.  The Chicago store was a virtual clone of the first DQ...a mistake in my mind.

    If DQ would bust out of its black box/warehouse mindset, allow for some outdoor adventures, and push away from its video game positioning, I think Disney could have something really nice.  

    Honestly, I think Disney would be well served to go back to the Old Man's initial premise, that there outta be a place where kids and parents can have fun together.  There are so many places in big and medium markets where there's an audience hungry for that kind of together-time.  An amped up video game warehouse doesn't answer that need--not by a long shot.

  • The problem with DisneyQuest is that the technology in there quickly went out of date.  Virtual reality helmets?  Oh please, gimme a break.  Digital 'paddles'?  I can do that on my Wii.  All the games and attractions in there need updating, then it might attract a few more people.  It's getting to look like the old Communicore in there!

  • So, Jim...what are the chances, assuming that Cirque wants to renew, what are the chances of Disney "requesting" that they bring the Beatles' "Love" show to Downtown Disney?  As someone who normally can't stand Cirque, that would be one show that would get me back in that theater again.

  • All this is going while, Flamingo Crossing is just getting off the ground.

    Is there anything happening over on that side of the resort? Have they started breaking ground? Will there be a big name store or "weenie" of some kind over there to lure the masses?

  • longaway:  In my view, Cirque would NEVER even consider recreating "Love" in Orlando.  First, it would erode ticket sales for that show in Vegas.  Second, the theatres for each show are fundamentally different.  ("Love" is theatre-in-the-round and "La Nouba" is a procenium theatre.)  And, given that Cirque is now both a financial powerhouse and a household name, they certainly don't need Disney to expand their empire.  

    I've seen many, many Cirque shows.  I saw "Love" last December and thought it was fantastic.  That said, however, I don't think it would translate well to WDW.  It relies most on the Beatles music, combining it with dance and theatrical characters.  It does not have much in the way of acrobatics.  Therefore, I don't think the show would have much appeal to children.  Additionally, the show is somewhat dark (at least until the end).  Some of the characters would be quite frightening to kids.

    That's my take on things.

  • First of all, let's look at the world outside WDW: Virgin Megastores have closed entirely all over Los Angeles leaving huge empty buildings to fill for real estate owners--why? Not because they were bad record and video stores--far from it. Because the future of music and video purchases is DOWNLOADING, not shelved inventory. And if I can suck something down the high-speed 'net connection from the privacy of my home, why should I drive to Sunset Blvd, let alone fly to Florida, to buy a clunky box? So..to the degree that a LOT of retail will change very quickly now that big-pipe net is a reality for more and more people, so will change the purchase of books, movies, and music any and everywhere, let alone in theme parks. Heck, even clothing and shoes get bought more and more online thanks to liberal return-if-it-doesn't-fit and free shipping policies at places like Zappos.com and the like. That's not about WDW...its about modern LIFE. Thrown in the streaming video watching that Netflix is converting to, and, well, if for $16.95 a month I can watch virtually ANY movie, old or new, in realtime streaming and connect it to my big plasma or LCD flatscreen direct from my modem, all on demand and make my own popcorn....why should I even dedicate a single SHELF in my home to all those admittedly-slim boxes full of soon-to-be-obsolete disks?

    So where does that ripple into the WDW financial universe? Simple: Disney becomes the equivalent of a mall or strip-center owner with empty floor space to fill and revenue to replace. They may replace the revenue via direct sales online and probably will (and let's face it--Disney will have a higher profit margin streaming or downloading you the newest Cap'n Jack Sparrow adventure direct from its own website than they ever made manufacturing, shipping, and then wholesaleing the physical disk to Virgin so they could re-ship, mark-up, add employees, lights, a/c, and insurance to the process and then re-sell it to you while you rested between coasters in Florida.)

    Now as to Cirque Du Soleil--their deal for "Love" IS exclusive for MGM-Mirage, who know, for example,  that even their oldest shows have an ongoing value for many more years than La Nouba has been playing Disney. One example is "Mystere" which has been wowing audiences at the Treasure Island in Las Vegas for nearly 20 years or so and has not a slightest chit-chat about replacement or revamping. When you do it right, AND when you keep it EXCLUSIVE and sell it properly it keeps on going and going. If DIsney is seeing a fall-off, it is probably less because "everyone's already seen it" any more than 'everyone's already ridden it' works as an excuse for ride attractions, and much MORE LIKELY because Disney sells it as "See Cirque Du Soleil w/o having to go to Vegas!" i.e. as a GENERIC quality of Cirque-ism, rather than "This is the ONLY place to see THIS show!" not to mention a "See it again and relive the fun!" campaign to past visitors.

    Or...horror of horrors, they could lower the price a tad, start a "Cirque Club" for people who've seen it once to get a newsletter and a discount on a re-visit, and all the other marketing tools at their disposal IF THEY WANT TO DO THE DEED. And THAT is about whether they are trying to intentionally make it seem "weak" in order to re-negotiate their terms with Cirque.

    I'm just saying....there's money in all this folks, not just fun. Whether retail, live entertainment, or theme park attractions: Sell UNIQUE experiences UNIQUELY, and the world beats a path to your door. That's the "better mousetrap" that Walt created...and one thing Walt WOULDN"T Do is build another CItyWalk and call it "innovative" or "new!"

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