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Why For WDW's 40th anniversary celebration is kind of a modest affair

Why For WDW's 40th anniversary celebration is kind of a modest affair

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Brent SD writes in to ask about JHM's 40th-anniversary-of-Walt-Disney-World coverage. Or lack thereof.

I can't help but notice that while many of the other Disney news sites have been doing article after article this week about Disney World's 40th birthday, JimHillMedia has been posting stories about Knott's Berry Farm, The Chew and the Disney Channel. Am I reading too much into this situation? Or is JHM deliberately steering away from covering Disney World's birthday?

Dear Brent SD,

Not deliberately, no. But that said ... Well, I guess that I have to admit that I do share WDW management's somewhat lackadaisical attitude when it comes to the Resort's 40th anniversary.


The face art from the 40th anniversary limited edition artisan watch
which will be sold in the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Don't get me wrong, folks. I recognize that October 1, 2011 is a pretty significant milestone in the history of the Company. But is the fact that Walt Disney World turns 40 tomorrow really a good enough excuse to stage a full-on celebration at the Resort?

Based on the relatively modest festivities that have been planned for the Magic Kingdom tomorrow (i.e. a character-heavy moment in front of Cinderella Castle in the morning, some limited edition 40th anniversary merch being offered for sale over the course of the day plus a slightly beefed-up version of the "Wishes" fireworks show at night), I'd say that WDW management kind of feels the same way that I do. That this date in the history of the Walt Disney World Resort is definitely worth celebrating in a small sort of way ... But let's not get crazy about this, okay?

Besides there's actually a reason that WDW has taken a somewhat muted approach to celebrating its birthdays over the past couple of years. And that's because - in the mid-1990s or thereabouts - The Walt Disney Company kind of went anniversary crazy for a while there. With seemingly any milestone in the Company's history (EX: "100 Years of Magic," that year-long celebration which was built around the 100th anniversary of the birth of Walt Disney) then being used as an excuse to launch yet another promotional campaign for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. With the hope that this time-sensitive celebration (i.e. "You have come down to Disney World now. Otherwise you'll miss out the birthday / anniversary") would then convince those who were still on the fence about booking their next WDW vacation. Or else they'd miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance to party with Mickey.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And what the Mouse found was, after a few years of running these sorts of anniversary-based promotional campaigns for the Walt Disney World Resort back-to-back, they then found themselves entering an era of diminishing returns. With would-be WDW visitors now responding with far less enthusiasm to these  "Don't miss the celebration of a lifetime" -type marketing ploys.

In short: The Walt Disney Company had now become like the boy who cried Wolf. Only in this case, they were the corporation that had cried birthday and/ or anniversary way too often. After all, when once-in-a-lifetime then becomes every-day-of-the-week ... Well, what's so special about that?

So given that The Walt Disney World Resort actually does have some anniversaries coming up that the Company does indeed want the public to think are truly special ... That's why there's kind of an unofficial moratorium now on making a big deal about WDW's birthday.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which brings us to the real reason that Walt Disney World is having a relatively modest 40th birthday celebration tomorrow. That's because plans are already in the works of WDW's 50th anniversary. Which - using Disneyland's hugely successful (more importantly, incredibly profitable) year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of that theme park's opening as their template - Disney World officials want to turn this into the ultimate family reunion. Putting out the message on a global scale that anyone who's ever been to WDW really needs to come back for this Resort's Golden Anniversary. That this is a celebration that WDW visitors, past and present, just can't afford to miss.

So - again - if you're kind of underwhelmed by what you see at the Magic Kingdom tomorrow, don't worry about it. It's all part of the plan. One that will pay off in October 1, 2021. When a celebration that will kind of redefine the term "over-the-top" will then get underway. With brand-new parades and shows being staged in all five of the Disney World theme parks.

And - no - that's not a typo. I did say five.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But that's a topic for a future Why For column. In the meantime, I'm down at Disney World for the next few days. I'll be covering the opening of this year's International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot as well as checking out what's going on tomorrow at the Magic Kingdom. And inbetween all that, I'll be working with Len Testa on the next couple of installments of our "Unofficial Guide's Disney Dish with Jim Hill" iTunes series.

So it's going to be a busy couple of days. But hopefully come Monday, I'll be able to share some images & stories that I picked up along the way while wandering around WDW.

Anyway ... That's it for now. You guys have a great weekend, okay? And please remember that - if you have a Disney-related question that you'd like to see answered in a future Why For column - you can send those queries along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

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  • I, for one,  welcome the can of worms which was just opened with that "Five" remark . . .

  • Jim... cmon man!! Leaving us with a teaser for a 5th WDW park with zero details..... Thats just cruel.

  • Hello Jim, best wishes to you as you travel this weekend. I'm looking forward to whatever you can reveal regarding park number five. Be it the previously written about niche park or whatever Disney has up their sleeves. Thanks also for confirming what I had already suspected regarding promotions for the 40th anniversary of WDW. What with the big 50th anniversary right around the corner, doing a huge 40th party would kind of spoil it promotions wise. What i think is kind of funny is that there actually is a fifth park on property. The long closed water park, whatever that was called...somebody remind me. Is Disney missing an opportunity by not opening that for Halloween? A long closed park...perfect for a Scooby Doo scarey Halloween party LOL!

  • I don't think diminished returns were the result of oversaturation of anniversary celebrations.  I think it was the no-purpose events heavy with the word "Dream" or "Memories" or "Gathering" in them.  They all amounted to nothing and were just cheap, banal marketing tags.  REAL anniversaries, I think, do still draw people in.

  • At least they will have a lot of presents the next coming year when the new parts of Fantasyland open up.

  • When 2021 rolls around, there will still be only four parks. May Mr. T himself strike me down if I'm wrong.

  • Jim teases about the fifth park because he's making stuff up again.  How much wrong information can one site publish (and blame it on Disney changing their mind).

  • Why would Disney do something for Scooby Doo?

  • My family loved the 15th anniversary... fun to try to win the prizes.  20th was good.  Loved 25th anniversary.  We felt they were worth travelling to be apart of it.

  • Hey, DCA had its 10th anniversay and no one cared. Really!!! These birthday celebrations are not events in themselves. Besides, what is there to cover? Another birthday? Another date to get reminded about?  No way. Boring. It isn't worth the paper its printed on. Disney should get ready a new attraction to be opened on the 50th anniversay. What are they opening this year? Nothing, but an announced Avatar-Land. What a contradiction.

  • I agree...what 5th park!?

  • But what if Walt Disney World never makes it to 50? Hahahaha....

  • Here we go again. Another "5th theme park" rumor. Despite Disney themselves just recently saying in that Sentinel article that their strategy has shifted with WDW away from adding additional gates. They've hit the law of diminishing returns with parks and anyone who knows business knows that. Heck, just finding enough people to STAFF another park would be a nightmare no one with a brain would want to tackle. They can't find half enough decent bodies to fill the Cast roles they need now. I'm with David Landon ... in 2021 there will still be four theme parks.

  • The original question was "why is JHM steering away from marking the anniversary?"  Instead we hear why perhaps Disney is playing it low key, but not really why JHM is.  Unless JHM is already planning it's WDW 50th coverage, the original question never really was answered.  

    There was nothing here in vaults about WDW's 40 years that couldn't be reviewed, or even a story marking the anniversary and outlining perhaps what's ahead in the future?  Instead we get yet another hint at a possible rumor...

  • Just to comment on Oh Boy Disney is having no problem staffing....there actually still finding ways to "trim the fat" They only hire 1 out of 5 these days when ten years ago it was 1 in 2 and basically anybody who could tie their shoe and you can't forget the College Program which is a great asset. Yes Disney World does have room for parks but currently we the focus is to strengthen the current parks as you can see with the expansions they are doing right now. That doesn't mean though that other parks have not been explored and Disney doesn't have plans for future parks but you also need to take into consideration who is currently is in leadership, the economy and a thousand other factors. I also can say I know this because I'm on the inside, I'm a cast member in leadership. My point about hiring is we there would be no problem finding the staff just as we did well over ten years ago with DCL and Animal but is that where we headed right now? Plus with the economy you got plenty of people looking for work. Not for the next few years at least.

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