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Mickey always plans a few moves ahead when it comes to Walt Disney World

Jim Hill

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Mickey always plans a few moves ahead when it comes to Walt Disney World

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There have been lots of looky-loos lately over that Fantasyland Forest construction fence. Which has resulted in an equally large number of theories floating around online about what's currently going on with this $300 million project.

Take - for example - all that soil that's been piled up towards the very back of this construction site. There are those who will tell you that this dirt was deliberately moved there so that the Imagineers could then sculpt the Fantasyland Forest hills. Or - better yet - build a brand-new berm for the Magic Kingdom.

Truth be told, the real reason that all this soil is being temporarily heaped in one place is because the construction crew is now trying to excavate what's left of the old "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" lagoon. All of that concrete & rebar has to be removed before Disney can then get started with pouring foundations as well as installing the footings necessary to support Fantasyland Forest's new show buildings.

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Mind you, all of the rain that Central Florida has been experiencing lately hasn't made this excavation any easier to accomplish. But there is one foundation that should be poured fairly soon. Which will be out of the general public's sightlines, down at ground level for Gaston's Tavern. And the reason that Cast Members are really looking forward to this part of the project being completed is that they'll then once again have easy access to the Men's & Women's locker rooms down in the Utilidors.

But that's the sort of stuff you always have to keep in mind while discussing a construction project that's going on inside of a theme park. Especially one that's as busy as the Magic Kingdom is. Which is why - in situations like this - the Mouse tries to be like a Grandmaster playing Chess (i.e. always thinking a few moves ahead). Making sure that they're doing things in just the right order so that whatever moves that they're making will then have the smallest possible impact on the overall Guest experience as well as not cause too many Operational headaches for that Park.

And speaking of Operational headaches ... There's been a lot of chatter lately about what's going on with WDW's version of "it's a small world." Why this Fantasyland Favorite was closed for refurbishment on August 1st and now won't re-open to the public 'til October 22nd.

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Given that WDW's "it's a small world" underwent a pretty extensive / lengthy overhaul in the not-so-distant past (This Magic Kingdom classic was closed from May 2, 2004 through March 18, 2005), Disneyana fans are wondering what's going on here. Whether those 29 Disney characters that were added to Disneyland's version of "it's a small world" back in 2008 will soon be popping up in Orlando. But this refurbishment isn't so much about new Show elements as it is about dealing with long term Operational issues that are associated with the WDW version of "it's a small world."

You see, back during the 2004 / 2005 rehab of this Fantasyland favorite, the Imagineers - with the hope that they'd then be able to improve Guest-flow through / ease congestion in this historically crowded corner of the Magic Kingdom - had wanted to swap the entrance and exit of this Fantasyland attraction. So that Guests would then be able to park their strollers right near the entrance of this super-popular attraction. More to the point, so that WDW visitors in wheelchairs / riding on ECVs wouldn't have to enter through the exit any longer. That they could gain access to WDW's "it's a small world" just by entering the queue along with all of the regular Guests.

But there wasn't enough time / sufficient money in the budget to deal with this issue back in 2004 / 2005. Which is why this work is being done right now on WDW's "it's a small world."  All with the hope that this entrance / exit switch will then clear up a decades-old congestion problem at the Magic Kingdom.

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And this isn't the only Guest-flow issue at that theme park that the Imagineers have been looking into recently. Do you know that walkway between Fantasyland and Liberty Square?  The one between the Columbia Harbor House quick service restaurant and the Yankee Trader shop?  Given that tens of thousands of Guests pass through this relatively narrow passage each day as they move from "The Haunted Mansion" to "Peter Pan's Flight" & "it's a small world," things can get pretty grim, crowded and tight back there. Especially during the Holiday season and/or right after a parade dumps.

And while Disney has experimented with two-way traffic in this part of the theme park in the past (i.e. having Guests who are entering from the Liberty Square side of the Park walk up the left side of the street while people who are exiting Fantasyland are forced to walk down the right side of the street), it's become apparent that a more permanent solution to this problem is now necessary. Especially given the huge influx of Guests that are expected to come flooding into the Magic Kingdom once construction of Fantasyland Forest is completed in 2012 or thereabouts.

So what is Disney going to do back in this part of the Park?  Again, you have to think like a Chess Grandmaster here (i.e. a few moves ahead). Especially since the Imagineers have wanted to do something significant with that primo piece of real estate that the old Fantasyland Skyway station occupies.

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Which is why it might be wise - after "it's a small world" 's entrance & exit get swapped around and the Liberty Square / Fantasyland entrance congestion issue gets dealt with - to keep your eye on the Sky ... way Station.

What's that you say? I've made predictions on this website before that haven't panned out.  Like - for example -- Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek.

Well, that project was legit. Just ask all of the British tourists who were surveyed about Disney's proposed answer to SeaWorld's Discovery Cove. The only reason that WDI didn't move forward with development of this niche park for Orlando is because the economy tanked back in the Fall of 2008.

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But let's remember that good ideas never die at Disney. Which is why it was interesting to hear all about those information sessions that were held on property last week. As the WDW Resort began looking for Cast Members who might be interested in hosting that new tour that's now in the works for Disney's Animal Kingdom. You see, many of the Guest experiences that were originally proposed for Disney's Night Kingdom / Jungle Trek (i.e. rock climbing, ziplines, etc.) have since been resurrected as elements for this new DAK tour.

And if this Animal Kingdom version of "Keys to the Kingdom" proves to be extremely popular with WDW visitors ... Well, who knows? Maybe once the economy finally turns around, Disney might then take another look at possibly building a niche park in Central Florida.

But - for now, anyway - the Company's taking the emphasis off of plans for the WDW Resort that can then be implemented in the far-off distant future and instead exploring new revenue sources that can possibly be implemented at Disney World in the somewhat immediate future. Which is why (again borrowing a page from SeaWorld Orlando & the Universal Orlando Resort. Who have offered valet parking to their Guests for quite a while now) the Mouse is now reportedly toying with the idea of setting up a professional parking service (for an extra fee, of course) at its Central Florida theme parks.

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"Wait a minute," you say."Valet parking at WDW's theme parks? I can see how that might work at Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom? But how could Disney ever offer valet parking to those Guests who were visiting the Magic Kingdom?"

Again, in a situation like this, it's best if you embrace that Chess Grandmaster analogy. And then wonder what changes The Walt Disney Company would first have to make to the physical set-up of that theme park before valet parking could then become a reality at the Magic Kingdom.

Anyone have any thoughts as to how that might happen?

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  • Regarding your question on Valet, maybe Disney would set aside a parking lot or create a parking deck just for those cars Valet Parked, to be convenient for the valets?

  • If Disney is so concerned about "guest flow", it should consider the reality that Soarin' is ill-fit for "Epcot" and that their solution (a chorus line of cast members performing their best scarecrow impersonation) looks ridiculously retarded. It's time to remove Soarin' or reformat it so that it actually fits the theme of what "The Land" pavilion was all about - Agriculture.

  • I think Soarin' is perfect in The Land pavilion.  Although it's not as in-depth about agriculture and environmental preservation as the Living with the Land attraction is, it still gives guests a closer look at agriculture's dear dependent friend, nature.  Scenery many people don't have the opportunity to see in person, is now right beneath their feet.  I think the sequences of the vast rivers, the plains, and the orange groves combine to create a beautiful experience for guests.  Also, the popularity of Soarin' has brought more attention and guest interaction to The Land pavilion than ever before: the interest in Soarin' has brought guests to The Land pavilion, increasing the attendances of the Living with the Land attraction and the Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable show.  I think the placement and design of Soarin' and it's queue area was well thought out and will continue to increase the attendance and popularity of The Land pavilion, and Epcot.

  • I guess the real question is not why they closed Small World, but why *now*?  Why not push it a month so that it didn't close until the real September slow down, rather than closing as early as August 1st while the summer rush (granted, post-July 4) is still going?

    Granted, it doesn't matter to me, as I'm not visiting the park anytime soon, nor have I ridden Small World (either US park) since '84. My wife can't stand the tune, so I live it vicariously through the Disneyland Treasure DVDs.

  • I just returned from WDW yesterday...I like SOARIN with the LAND, you get both a bird's eye view of the "land"; then what is being done with the land in the boat ride; and even what still needs to be done with the land in the silly TIMON/PUMBA movie.  And all that in what is like one big airport.  It is all pretty cool as a pavillion.

    VALET PARKING...do not like it.  I think the pluses should be made to resort guests, like FAST PASS only for resort guests, or other PERKS like extra magic hours.

    SMALL WORLD, yeah curious with as crowded as the parks were last week.  And TOY STORY MIDWAY MANIA too, that was the real puzzle.  There is such a demand for that ride, it was shocking it closed.  I imagine GUEST RELATIONS was swamped with complaints.  I changed my whole vacation plan to be at DHS on 8/16 to ride...rode it twice in the first 3 hours of the park as there were 75 minute waits at park opening.  Amazing the popularity of that ride...but well worth it.

  • Good story as always, Jim.

    As far as the valet parking: Why would it have to be in the Magic Kingdom parking lot?  Disney's got several locations that are closer to the MK main entrance than the parking lots that are unused, are accessible from the existing roads, and could support a dedicated valet lot (say, the site considered for the Venetian Resort). Even if they did use part of the MK lot for valet, they could easily set up a dedicated shuttle (town cars or small vans, say) to take valet guests from the lot to the MK bus stop, with a arrival/departure area as close as possible to the entrance. It'd add more to the cost of the parking, but given the audience it'd be primarily intended for (guests at the Four Seasons or Golden Oak), they probably wouldn't mind paying a few more bucks for a separate lot and a dedicated and more plush shuttle to the MK main entrance.

  • Don't much like the sound of all of this. This sounds more like Disney for rich people. Reminds me of all those bad sci-fi movies where you only get to do more than just bare essentials if you were rich. Disney wasn't built for nor on the rich people. More on those of us that have to save for months or years just for one special trip. I think Disney is forgetting about that more and more. Valet parkin? then put us little people so far away it takes hours just to wait to get there huh? Very nice. NOT!

  • Valet parking from Magic Kingdom Could rely on the watercraft transportation across the lake as time  to allow drivers to queue up vehicles for guests that have requested or purchased the service.  Guests log in or are recognized via RFID devices as they enter the watercraft.  Their status is made available to the drivers who bring the cars from more distant parking and make additional close parking available to those choosing to bet on available lot space.  

    I would like to see Soarin' pick up an EAST coast theme to the Florida Park.

  • RFID technology is the same type of thing that sets off the security alarm at the stores in the mall.  This is currently used to identify and track rail and military cargo and could transmit guest information to attractions around the park.  The characters in Toy Story Mania  can call you by name because they recognize the ID card you carry.  How would you react if Mr. Potato Head asked how you liked your ride on the Tower of Terror and then flashed up the picture of you on the ride 30 minutes or two days ago.  It would be a simple way for the system to recognize what guests are in the area and integrate personalized details into the show.  Think of the post card at the end of Spaceship Earth.

  • I heard awhile back that they were already putting breaks on some of the forest ideas. (that it was too heavy on girls with little for boys) The idea was going around that they would make it far less princess dependent and add a little something for everybody. What is the latest word on the direction of the fantasyland expansion?

  • I think they should fill in the Seven Seas Lagoon and make that a big parking lot... Or just turn the Contemporary into a parking garage (It already looks like one)... And about Gaston's Tavern, will that open before everything else?... How is Disney gonna go about the openings of all these new restaurants and attractions?

  • Well, okay, they're bringing in valet parking for those who can afford it. But what are they going to do for the rest of us? As in, how is the whole high-speed train between Orlando (and the airport) and Tampa going to interact with the rest of the resort? Disney is providing land for a station, so are they just going to run a ton of buses to the resorts from that station or are they going to plan a massive transportation system to carry the load? Are they going to offer deals where train tickets are part of the Disney vacation plans, where Disney employees will pick up our luggage, so that we can just take the 160mph train to Disney and start our vacations?

  • The real estate that the Sky Way station sits on isn't that big, i.e. isn't big enough for a new attraction.  But it is a focal point for the Fantasyland corridor in the Magic Kingdom in a way that it isn't in DL.  The rumors in Disneyland are that the skyway there will be demolished to build a Beauty and the Beast dark ride.  There is concept art on the internet for this, as for the magic kingdom, there are always plans to put in a shop or a meet and greet, though an outdoor area for the boats for Small World might be the nicest ;-)

  • Jim- stories like this get me thinking....Imagineer style.

    That's all the input I got.

  • It sounds like you are suggesting ... a new MK "back entrance" gate at the Skyway station? Could that work? Or is the area too congested/impractical due to CM traffic?

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