Wednesday, May 31, 2023

What makes Disney Special? A different way to look at Reedy Creek - Part 2


The Vital Role of Reedy Creek in Disney's Success

The Walt Disney Company is a global entertainment powerhouse known for its theme parks, resorts, and cherished characters that have won millions of people's hearts. However, Reedy Creek is an essential operational framework that guarantees the successful running of Disney's most famous theme park locations, hidden beneath the magic and imagination. In this post, we'll look at why Disney needs Reedy Creek to sustain its unmatched standard of excellence.

Walt's vision for EPCOT

Independence and Adaptability

One of the primary advantages of RCID for Disney is its autonomy. As a special-purpose government entity, the district has considerable authority to make decisions and enact policies without interference from other governmental entities. This independence enables Disney to swiftly respond to shifting market trends, customer demands, and technological advancements, ensuring the resort remains pertinent and innovative in a highly competitive industry.

As initially conceived, independence was granted to Disney by the Florida legislature with an eye toward Disney creating a residential community on the property (EPCOT). The thinking at the time was that the Disney company wanted to try new things and push the state of the art in what could be done for a prototype community of tomorrow. At that time, Disney argued that they couldn't build EPCOT - hindered by outdated building codes, zoning regulation red tape, and be caught between two county governments (Orange and Osceola) with competing agendas. 

As it turned out - Disney toyed with the idea of building a residential community with Lake Buena Vista and slowly backed away from that vision until EPCOT was transformed into a theme park vision. While granted to create a residential development, these special powers proved helpful in creating and running a leisure resort. The special feeling and ambiance of the Walt Disney World property is in no small part due to this special arrangement with RCID. 

Sightlines can be controlled because zoning is tightly controlled, preserving the unique nature of the property.

Zoning and Land Use Control

The RCID has authority over land use and zoning within its jurisdiction, giving Disney unmatched control over the development and expansion of its properties. This ability enables Disney to strategically plan the layout of theme parks, resorts, and infrastructure, optimizing visitor experiences and preserving a consistent atmosphere throughout the resort. Having direct oversight, Disney can maintain its distinct brand identity and ensure that Disney magic is consistently delivered.

Imagine if a local government decided to zone the property according to its whims and wants. The government might have competing needs that might not align with the vision or needs of the property. Could a prison be built right next to the Magic Kingdom? While unlikely, it becomes possible once Disney loses control over how land use is allocated and zoned within the district. 

Reedy Creek constructed, owns, and operates the parking garages in the Disney Springs Area. Photo by Michael Rivera, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxing and Fiscal Advantages

The RCID's taxing and fiscal capabilities are a further essential feature. The district is authorized to levy and collect taxes within its borders as a separate governmental entity. This gives Disney significant financial advantages, allowing them to continually improve and expand their facilities by reinvesting the generated revenue into the resort. Using these funds, Disney can enhance guest experiences, upgrade infrastructure, and introduce new attractions, keeping the resort on the cutting edge of entertainment innovation.

The unique aspect of control of RCID by Disney - allows Disney to ensure that government funds are allocated in the best way for the resort's development. While Disney is still paying taxes as any normal landowner would - this arrangement ensures that the money they pay in taxes is used to build infrastructure that directly improves and enhances the property, vs. the money being spent on some other governmental priority that might not be in the best interest of the property. 

As an example of how this works in reality on the property, when Disney was looking to make transportation infrastructure improvements in the Disney springs area, Disney elected to have Reedy Creek construct and operate the parking garages to support the expansion of the shopping district. The arrangement saved Disney millions of dollars. Unlike Disney, Reedy Creek can finance the garages with tax-free bonds. And unlike Disney, Reedy Creek is not required to pay sales tax on the materials used to construct them.

Because investors purchasing tax-free bonds are not required to pay federal income tax on the interest they earn from municipal bonds, they are willing to tolerate lower interest rates than they would for corporate bonds. The cost savings estimate is that the disparity will amount to at least several hundred thousand dollars per year over the 20-year term of the bonds, and those savings will go to Disney. Ultimately these savings help to make Disney more profitable, allowing Disney to build things that other companies couldn't or wouldn't because it might not be profitable absent Disney's unique advantage. This directly benefits the property and, ultimately, the visitor with the development that we would not otherwise be able to enjoy. 

Collaboration and Long-Term Planning 

The intimate partnership between Disney and the RCID promotes a culture of long-term planning and growth. This partnership enables the development of comprehensive master plans, ensuring that Disney's expansion initiatives align with the district's vision for sustainable growth. By collaborating, both entities can mitigate potential problems and execute large-scale projects efficiently, thereby preserving the resort's quality and integrity.

This long-term-planning area is a somewhat important aspect that most people just skip or gloss over. It comes down to who is deciding the future direction of the resort. The comprehensive plan's control can drive how the property, and Walt Disney World, develop in the future. Maintaining control of RCID long-term is vital to Disney's interest in maintaining creative control over the property.


Since its inception, the district has provided Disney with the necessary legal framework, flexibility, and financial advantages for its success. By granting Disney autonomy in decision-making and control over land use, the RCID has enabled the company to continue innovating and providing visitors with unmatched experiences. In addition, the partnership between Disney and the RCID ensures long-term planning and the preservation of the Disney brand. Consequently, Disney's continued partnership with the Reedy Creek Improvement District is essential to its continued success and the enchantment of millions of visitors who come to experience the majesty of Disney.

If you missed part one of this series, you can read it here

What makes Disney Special? A different way to look at Reedy Creek - Part 1

With all the goings on recently with Reedy Creek, and Disney vs. Desantis battle, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at what is special about Reedy Creek, and why discarding the "special arrangement" is not going to be helpful in returning Walt Disney World back to the historical quality that we are used to. 

First some history. 

By 1964, affiliates of what would eventually become the Walt Disney World Co. began purchasing undeveloped cattle land in Osceola and Orange counties. In 1966, the company filed a petition seeking authorization to establish a drainage district encompassing 27,000 contiguous acres. The request was granted, establishing the drainage district and authorizing it to exercise the specific, limited powers granted by Ch. 298, F.S. 

The property was so isolated, in the far reaches of Orange and Osceola counties, that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles distant. Orange and Osceola counties lacked the resources and services necessary to host the planned development. In order to deal with this challenge, the drainage district was further expanded when The Florida State Legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which recast the drainage district as a special taxing district to administer and oversee municipal services for the 47 square miles of the future Walt Disney World Resort. 

Governor Claude Kirk signing the RCID bill at the Governor's mansion - Tallahassee, Florida. Photographed on May 12, 1967

In 1967, the Legislature passed the special act, codified as Ch. 67-764, Laws of Florida, which created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). Florida's then-governor Claude Kirk officially established the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) on May 12, 1967, when he signed the measure into law. He approved the incorporation acts for Bay Lake and Reedy Creek, two incorporated cities in the district, on the same day. Around 1970, the City of Reedy Creek changed its name to the City of Lake Buena Vista. The new district would have the same jurisdiction and accountability as a county government to establish and oversee municipal services. 

Camera operator filming Roy Disney speaking at the Governor's mansion for the signing of the Disney bill - Tallahassee, Florida Photographed on May 12, 1967

The law stipulated that the cost of providing common municipal services like power, water, roads, and fire protection would be entirely borne by the landowners inside the new taxation area, namely the Walt Disney World Resort. The district served as and still serves as a practical means of preventing Orange and Osceola County residents from bearing the cost of these services, taxes, and costs. 

Reedy Creek Who? 

From 1964 until around 1990, RCID did its work for the most part quietly and in the background. Building roads, maintaining infrastructure, and generally supporting the development of the 27,000 acres. Other than the occasional scandal, there wasn't much interest in what RCID was, other than by people who either worked for the district or were deep into all things Disney. 

The Disney Decade...

And then came January 14th, 1990 when Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner unveiled a 10-year expansion plan at Lake Buena Vista in Walt Disney World - in what would become known as the "Disney Decade" speech. Eisner laid out plans to expand Walt Disney World in a number of ways including adding a fourth theme park, and timeshare resorts which would ultimately become the Disney vacation club concept. Eisner said at the time that the idea was, 'The next 10 years we're going to do nothing less than re-invent the Disney theme park and resort experience, and not just here in Florida, but in all our parks and resorts ... By the year 2000, we expect to host over 100 million guests each year in Disney theme parks and resorts around the world." 

The "Disney Decade" would unleash a torrent of development across the Walt Disney World property, but beyond the workload that so much development would create for RCID on the property, there was a unique little change, which would directly impact the quiet way that RCID had always operated. 

People using water sprites near the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village circa 1975. Photograph by Eric Tournay Florida Division of Tourism. 

Eisner's Parents' Manhattan Apartment, and Eisner's taste for architecture. 

When Eisner's parents moved into a Manhattan condominium designed by Robert A.M. Stern in the early 1970s, Eisner's association with one of the elites of architecture was established. Nearly two decades later, Stern created the Feature Animation Building, which debuted in 1994, while serving on Eisner's board of directors for the Walt Disney Company. Eisner, who was completely enthralled with the field of architecture, hired renowned architects to create themed hotels and office buildings for Eisner's "Disney Decade" projects. 

During Eisner’s tenure Robert A.M. Stern, was the architect for Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort, Disney's BoardWalk, and the Casting Center. Stern along with Jaquelin Robertson, also served as the master planner for Disney's town of Celebration. Additional buildings in Celebration were designed by Philip Johnson, Charles Moore, Cesar Pelli, and William Rawn. In addition, the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, designed Celebration Place, the office complex next to Celebration. 

Eisner also engaged a number of other high-profile architects, a veritable who's who of the architecture world, for other Disney projects including Michael Graves, to create the Dolphin and Swan hotels. Arquitectonica of Miami to design Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's All-Star Resorts. The New York firm of Gwathmey Siegel and Associates were the architects for the convention facility at Disney's Contemporary Resort and for Bonnet Creek Golf Club. Peter Dominick, a Denver architect, designed Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was designed by Wimberly, Allison, Tong, and Goo in conjunction with Walt Disney Imagineering. Fugelberg Koch & Associates of San Diego was responsible for the design of Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney's Port Orleans Resort, and Disney's Old Key West Resort. David Rockwell of New York handled the Design of Downtown Disney West Side. Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex was designed by David Schwarz of Washington, D.C. Lastly, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, was designed under the direction of Graham Gund Architects of Cambridge, Mass., working along with Walt Disney Imagineering. Gund also was the architect for the Disney Vacation Club in Vero Beach. 

In 1990 there was an article in the New York Times Magazine by Paul Goldberger entitled "Disney deco; and now, an architectural kingdom" The article put Eisner's architectural sensibilities this way;
"Once upon a time there were buildings and there was architecture, and the two had very little to do with each other. There was a great kingdom called Disney, and in it were many, many buildings, and while most of them were fun to look at, they were not architecture. And then one day a new prince named Michael came to rule the kingdom, and he decreed that architecture could be just as much fun as buildings. And so the kingdom filled up with hotels named after swans and dolphins, and office buildings with caryatids modeled after the seven dwarfs and doorways shaped like Mickey Mouse ears. And everybody lived happily ever after."
Well - not quite. Eisner had one other area of the company that he thought could use an architectural treatment, Reedy Creek.  

Photo by Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Making a statement: Back-of-house support facility visible to park visitors..

Prior to 1994, RCFD originally operated the firehouse out of trailers. It was maybe three or four trailers along with a boardwalk that ran between them all. Eventually, the trailers were upgraded to a station that had plain bays and walls made of concrete blocks and corrugated metal that give it the appearance of an old industrial shop. This is the same type of prefab metal support buildings that you can find anywhere back-of-house on the Disney Florida property. But Architects: Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. in association with Schenkel Shultz Architects were engaged by Eisner to design the first back-of-house support facility visible to park visitors at Walt Disney World, The Reedy Creek emergency services headquarters. The 22,511-square-foot building, built at a construction cost of $2,500,000 was a bold statement, and a massive change from the way that Disney had always done its best to hide some of the more mundane aspects of running the resort. The building was built as a flashy public state-of-the-art fire rescue center, complete with living quarters, administrative offices, and a 911 communications center. The exterior front of the building is decorated with porcelain enamel panels in the patterns and colors of red bricks and Dalmatian dogs, which have been scaled up to adorn the exterior. The sweeping curve of the front facade acknowledges and accommodates the curve of the drive where the fire trucks quickly leave the complex. It was a statement in more ways than one. 

RCID Administration Building - Photo by Asher Heimermann, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Reedy Creek Improvement District Administration Building.

By the late 1990s, Eisner wasn't done with his taste for architecture and soon turned his attention to the work of German-American architect Helmut Jahn. Among Jahn's many notable works is the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, the Thompson Center in Chicago, One Liberty Place in Philadelphia, and the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, Germany. Jahn's architectural style was postmodernist with high-tech stylizations, and Eisner was drawn to his designs. According to RCID's financial director Ray Maxwell, despite the fact that Reedy Creek Improvement District was a separate governmental organization, Eisner personally approved Jahn's appointment but left the final decision up to the district. Construction was soon completed, and in 1997, Reedy Creek had a new and very visible Administration building right in the heart of Lake Buena Vista at 1900 Hotel Plaza Boulevard. The building was a straightforward square layout that has its corners chamfered to form an ascending facade, and the "open" corners have been replaced with a planted steel trellis that nevertheless shows the general shape of the original cubic composition. 

The building opened as the Walt Disney World Preview Center in 1970 and currently houses the Amateur Athletic Union. It is located directly northeast of the Reedy Creek Improvement District office on Hotel Plaza Blvd.  Photo by Asher Heimermann, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The location of where RCID's new administration building was built was strategic on many levels. First, it was built next door to the old original Walt Disney World Preview Center building (Now home to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which has the distinction of being the very first building ever built on the property. Second, The location on Hotel Plaza Boulevard (originally known as Motor Inn Plaza) was very much the main entrance and front door to the property. Hotel Plaza Boulevard serves as the main way from the very busy 535 down to the former Village Marketplace and is located in one of the most visible places possible, with an average of 25,000 vehicles passing daily. Lastly, this location and building were a change from the former invisibility of RCID. No longer would RCID operate in the shadows, working out of trailers, but would rather have a glitzy administration building designed by a world-class architect right in the middle of the main entrance for Walt Disney World. 

WDW Welcome Sign at Hotel Plaza Boulevard and 535. Photo by Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Coming up in part two - the vital role Reedy Creek plays in Disney's Success.. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Crowds, Pricing, and the Disney Experience...

Will Disney's Legacy be one of endless price increases?

As has become almost standard operating procedure for Disney of late, they once again raised prices for the domestic theme parks. There is a lot of issues here that need to get unpacked around Disney’s pricing strategy, crowds and the Disney Experience - so lets dig in.


First some math. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971 an admission ticket with 11 ride coupons sold for $5.75 ($35.02 in 2018 Dollars). The median income in 1971 was $9,027 ($54,979 in 2018 Dollars). Flash forward to today - again Median Income today is around $59,039 but the one park one ticket Disney admission is $129 - a 268% increase from what it used to be. Now it could be argued that there is a lot more attractions, parks, things to do now than in 1971 - but the argument doesn’t hold water because while there are more things to do (and thus more cost for the company) there is also a lot more people attending to spread that cost across.

Crowds and Pricing

Consider in 1971 Magic Kingdom Attendance was 10.7 million. In 2016 (latest year I have access to data for) attendance at the Magic Kingdom alone was 20.3 million - and that doesn’t include the other parks (Epcot 11.7M, Animal Kingdom 10.8M, and Hollywood Studios 10.7M).

According to a statement put out by Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown the reason that they have raised prices to this level is as a "crowd control" strategy. 
“We know how important making memories at Disney theme parks is to our guests and we will continue to evolve our pricing in a way that gives them a range of options to meet their budget and helps better spread attendance throughout the year so they can make the most of every visit," 
This doesn’t make any sense on the face of it. How does making something more expensive help anyone to “meet their budget”? I would suggest that what Disney is doing is pricing the theme parks at what ever level they feel that they can get away with to maximize profit. If crowds are really such a problem, so much so that you have to deliberately price the experience out of the reach of most people, then you have by definition, a capacity problem, not a pricing issue. Demand is not a problem that needs to be discouraged, but rather a good problem to have. Why would Disney want to deliberately punish its most ardent fans by pricing them out of their products? Even if this would work as a strategy (and I would argue that it will not), its a terrible long term business practice as those who are priced out will have ill will engendered for how Disney treated them. Movies, Television Content, Consumer Products, all require mass market appeal. What happens to Disney when those very consumers, who are vital to all Disney’s other businesses, are turned off from the pricing strategy from the parks.

The basic operating principle at Disney Parks, more than anything, is nostalgia. Positive memories of a Disney Park experiences are often formed when young. If Disney prices young families out of the market, they are breaking the cycle of the next generation of Disney fans. Long term this will be disastrous to the health of the theme park business. As a justification for rising prices, crowds are a terrible excuse, and the fact that Disney mentions crowds, shows that they have an understanding that crowding at the parks is a number one guest complaint. In fact, crowding has been a major guest complaint for some time, and once the crowd levels exceeded design capacity at the theme parks, led to the introduction of the fast pass system (which introduced way more problems then it hoped to solve). From a marketing standpoint raising prices is absolutely one of the worst things that you can do to people, and I believe that Disney is mindful of it, and so they justify rising prices by tying it to something that they know is equally painful, and that fans are desperate to escape from - namely crowds. It’s a brilliant piece of marketing, but its disastrous as a general business policy.


The real underlying truth of this is that the theme park business has become a consistent reliable earner for the Disney company, and the parks segment has, in fact, become the top earner - contributing to 26% of Disney’s earnings in 2017 alone, which is more than the media networks did. It all comes down to greed and profit.

Tear Down and Replace

Another fine example of the greed principle is the tear down and replace phenomenon. For example instead of building a "Star Wars Park" which is clearly what Disney needs, and what people want - Disney has instead chosen to tear down a significant portion of Hollywood Studios (removing ride capacity) in order to build back a few new rides, themed to Star Wars. Rather than add new attractions while keeping the existing ones, increasing the total overall capacity of the park, we end up with more or less, the same capacity. There are several reasons why Disney has taken this path. 
  1. Disney failed to keep the parks (especially Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) fresh, and for a span of 10 years let the parks more or less stay static. Universal crept up on them and put them in a somewhat difficult position when people started to flock to the newer attractions at Universal. The parks were becoming stale and dated in several respects, and they needed to add some net new attractions. It wouldn't have been enough to just fix and freshen the existing attractions - they needed something new, and they needed it fast.   
  2. Building complete new parks and attractions is expensive. For an example of this - you can see what Disney invested in Shanghai - reported at $5.5 billion. A fifth gate at Walt Disney World could easily cost them in excess of $2 billion. 
  3. Tear down and Replace in an existing park is the cheapest option. You don't have to develop and build the infrastructure, the roads, and such as you would with a new park. You can leverage the existing park's infrastructure keeping development costs as low as possible.  
So with the reasons above in mind we end up with something which feels like a bad compromise, namely tear down and replace. Its the cheapest way for Disney to sort of deal with the two problems, while spending the least amount of money. 

Crowds and the Guest Experience

A miserable guest experience.

Nothing that Disney has done, Fastpass +, tear down and replace, rising prices to an unreasonable level,  will do anything to fix the guest experience as regards the crowd problem. Only net new ride capacity will fix the problem, and preferably net new capacity in all the parks plus a fifth gate. Consider for a moment, what Walt Disney World could be, if Disney had chosen to invest $5.5 billion in only new ride capacity domestically, as opposed to investing it in China.

Spreading Attendance Though Out the Year

The simple fact of the matter is that the "peak" seasons of the year are "peak" because that is when kids are out of school. For many people - there isn't a choice at the time of the year that they get to visit WDW. No amount of raising attendance prices will fix this because people are just simply not going to take their kids out of school to accommodate Disney - and to spread the crowds into the former "off" season of the year. What is going to happen is that people will dig deep to continue coming during the times of the year that still works best for them. Eventually the price will rise to such a point that families will just give up. At that point, Disney will lose the future generation.

Premium Guest Experience

A fine example of "Not a Premium Guest Experience"

Disney is not a "cheap" experience, nor should it be. The parks were built on being a reasonable priced premium experience. What we have today, is a reasonable experience (declining with the overcrowding) with a premium price - so the traditional Disney formula has been flipped on its head. Long term, this will be disastrous for the brand, and no amount of helping people to "meet their budgets" will help that.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Negativity, Positivity and Disney

Disney parks are an inherently positive place. The feelings that you get from a visit to one of the theme parks is, admittedly infectious. I think, that because of this, there is an unusual amount of over positivity as surrounds Disney. You see it when ever anyone dares to mention anything that doesn’t fit the narrative of “everything is always great” at Disney. There are certain websites and communities on the Web where if you dare to criticize anything Disney does - you would be silenced or banned. Not here. To be clear - I love Disney. I am a great fan of the parks and the creative legacy of Walt. In fact I love them so much - that I am willing to be honest - in order to save them from being destroyed.

My great fear is that we will have a new generation of kids coming up who will never know the Disney that was - and just how great it actually was. Instead of tranquil park like settings, with incredibly detailed and themed attractions - they will only know an over crowded over priced thinly themed roller coaster park - with little connection to its history or to the greatness of the vision that once was.

The theming and the park like atmosphere are important. It’s what sets the mood of the place and communicates to people on a very deep and almost sub-conscious level. We are loosing it. We’re loosing it when they design new attraction areas for “though-put” because of the immense crowds.

Take for example the new hub at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. The hub in front of Cinderella’s castle wasn’t redesigned because it was somehow or other bad. The hub had been, with some changes, more or less the way it had always been since 1971. No the hub was redone in order to pack in more people for the fireworks, and to create special “viewing” areas which can be reserved in advance. This wasn’t an improvement to make things better. This was a change to cope with new reality.. and we sacrificed the park like setting what we once had in the name of crowd control. It’s still nice.. but its not what it was.... and that is a huge problem.

I don't point out any of this to be overly negative or because it gives me some great thrill to rain on someone’s fun. Indeed I do it out of a love for the place, and a respect for the vision that is being lost. Disney has lost it’s heart - and is now being driven not what is always best for the guests - but rather what is best for the bottom line. It’s being run, like any other corporation, and unfortunately that sort of thinking will absolutely kill it.

Many folks will point out that Disney is a public company with shareholders and there is a requirement that Disney do everything that it can to return the most profit possible back to the shareholders who are the owners of the company. And I do understand this line of thinking very clearly. How ever Disney doesn’t understand what it is selling or where the real value is in what they offer to the public.

When Walt was building Disneyland - and they were building the Plaza Inn - they tried to talk him out of buying real cut glass chandeliers. Plastic would be fine.. how would anyone know that the furnishings were real.. no one would care. Walt thought differently - the value wasn't that people would come and eat hotdogs in a “recreation” from the turn of the century, but rather they would come and eat hotdogs in a real (as he could make it) turn of the century restaurant. What Walt was selling is the experience of the special.. not the experience of the cheap, or expensive, or crowded, or what to some would be the most “cost effective”. Walt was selling an experience that you could not get anywhere else in the world. People know and can feel quality. That’s the main product that Disney is selling. Follow that guideline and the profits will take care of themselves.  Everything else is secondary.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Walt Disney World Cancelling Express Bus Service

Walt Disney World is cancelling the express bus service which was launched in December of 2016. The service allowed unlimited park-to-park transportation for guests where you would not have to enter through the front and could skip the security line. It looks like the new Minnie Van service may be the reason why Disney decided to cancel this service. The last day for guests to purchase Express Bus Service was August 16th, with the last day of operation will be August 23rd, 2017. While this seemed like a good idea, one positive out of this cancellation is that folks will go back to experiencing the Disney parks the way that they were meant to be experienced with everyone sharing a common entrance as an "establishing scene". Also this service was seen by many as just another instance in a long history of Disney finding a way to throw yet another stealth charge at guests. The charge had the effect of ensuring that, at least at the theme park level, all guests were not treated the same.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What Makes a Disney Park - Disney?

Photo Copyright The Pro Football Hall of Fame

In case anyone hasn't seen it - the Pro Football Hall of Fame has made quite a splash lately with the announcement of the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. The Pro Football Hall of Fame President envisions the devolpment as a football "Disney World". The village will be based around the current Hall of Fame campus in Canton Ohio, and will be a $700 million mixed-use development including a hotel, and an indoor amusement park themed around football called the "Hall of Fame Experience".

According to an article which ran in the USA Today, Hall of Fame President David Baker commented;

"If Disney (properties) are the 'Happiest Place on Earth,' " Baker says, "we want to be the 'Most Inspiring Place on Earth.'
"Football is a great metaphor for leadership, and we can play a role. The game has an incredible history, and kids can get to learn to play the game the right way. We can help build men and women the right way. We can help take care of players — former players like our 'Gold Jackets' (a term used to refer to living Hall of Famers), present and future players. We can enhance the experience for fans."
So thinking about the fact that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has "Disney" aspirations - I wanted to spend some time and discuss what makes a Disney theme park - well "Disney". Understanding what makes Disney parks so special is key to our mission here at Save The Magic. It's helpful to understand what should be saved, and what is so special and unique about Disney parks.

  • Walt originally conceived of Disneyland as a place where families could all have fun together. At the core - the very first principle of Disney Parks is an inclusive environment that all can enjoy. Walt hated having to watch his kids play while he was stuck on a park bench. Fun for all is the basis upon which disney parks are built. 
  • Disney parks provide for isolation from the real world. They allow a visitor to have a suspension of disbelief, and nothing in a Disney Park should shatter the illusion during your visit. 
  • Disney parks are generally clean, safe, well maintained & landscaped.
  • Disney parks are based on telling stories and carry a "theme", and are theme based. Everything from the landscaping, to the retail, to the attractions all carry the story and continue the theme. 
  • Attractions are not "Rides", and each attraction is heavily realistically themed, and is themed to the appropriate area of the park where the attraction is housed. Most importantly each attraction is a medium to tell a story. 
  • Nothing should be out of place - nothing should be discordant. For example, you should not have a cowboy in tomorrowland. 
  • Disney parks have a sense of order. Order is the goal in a Disney park. Guests dont feel threatened while at the park, but rather guests have a sense of reassurance. Disney parks communicate that the world is actually "ok". This reassurance comes from several places at a Disney park. Some of the feeling of reassurance comes from the design and subject matter of the park. Some of the reassurance comes from communicating to people thorough nostalgia and memories. (For example Main Street reflects a time that never was (at least not how it is presented) but more a time that people may have wished was. This communicates a warm sense of nostalgia, and level sets the guest's experience with the right mindset.)
  • Disney parks are planned environments. Things don't happen in a hap-hazard way within the Disney park environment. Everything is controlled, from the environment to the number of choices that are presented to you in any given area. Attractions are not just jammed into any open space available, but rather planed in such as way as to advance the story of a given area. Everything in a Disney Park is also a faithful replica of the real. 
  • Disney parks exist to tell stories, and most of the stories told in a Disney park are told visually, in high quality. Part of the visual story telling is interaction with characters from Disney stories. 
  • Transitions between themed areas is handled artfully and with the utmost skill. For example moving from Main Street into Tomorrowland seems normal and natural. 
  • Disney parks have Wienies. That is a term that was coined by Walt. But the idea is you can put a Wienie on an end of a stick and entice a dog to follow it - by the same token good theme park design always allows for something to draw the visitor forward. For example, the castle at the end of Main Street draws you forth into the park. 
  • Last, and certainly not least, but Disney Parks always focus on the details, for it is in the details that the experience is made. For example Disney will use a very expenseive glass chandelier in a restaurant serving in-expensive hot dogs. Could they have skimped on the chandelier and used something much cheaper? Of course - but the key point is that it wouldn't be as authentic and it wouldn't be as good. Details are important. 
So there you have it - a short list of the things which are key to making a Disney park - "Disney". In the coming weeks I will be taking each of these topics, and will be looking at them more in depth in an effort to show just what is worth saving, and what is being lost.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar Dies at 83

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away. It is a sad day as we have lost yet another person who had a direct connection back to Walt.

We are sorry to report that legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Imagineer Wayne Jackson accepts the Disney Legend award

Congrats to Imagineer Wayne Jackson - for being named a Disney Legend! Its nice to see that someone who was there when Walt was still running things gets recognized! Congrats Wayne, well deserved!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kermit The Frog - Steve Whitmire - Fired By Disney

In case you didn't see it - long time Muppeteer Steve Whitmire, who has dedicated his life to the muppets since he was 19, and who has played Kermit The Frog since Jim Henson's death in 1990 has been let go by Disney after 27 years of service, as his role was being "Recast". Steve has been quiet about it for several months, but has now started his own blog to talk about what happened and to share his feelings about the Muppets. From Steve's first blog post.. he writes

"For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable impossible to resist way of life. This is my life's work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero."

In a lot of ways - this is exactly why Save The Magic exists - to call attention to when these sorts of things happen in Disney. To those of us who are fans - Disney represents a lot more than just money, or an entertainement product. For us, Disney represents memories, and a history which transcends corporate politics. Absent some grave malfeasance, it just feels wrong to end a 27 year career. This is how the "feeling" of characters change, and something is lost in the process, and every fan is the poorer for it.

Drop by Steve's blog and send him a note of support.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Changes to Pirates of the Caribbean and valid reasons...

By now, no doubt, most fans of Disney parks will be aware that Disney has announced that they are planning on making a fairly important change to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. When Pirates of the Caribbean reopens at Disneyland Paris on July 24th - the famous Bride/Wench auction scene will be gone from the attraction. Florida's Magic Kingdom park and California's Disneyland park will follow Paris's lead and will have the scene removed in 2018. In place of the scene, a new "pirate loot auction" will be installed. The idea behind the new scene is that the townspeople, under threat of violence, will haul their valuables to a "pirate auction" in front of the town tavern where drunk pirates will bid on the townspeople's valuables. The famous "red head" character will now be transformed into a pirate, brandishing a gun, and apparently supervising the auction. The plus sized woman from the auction scene will now be in the background either feeding chickens, or offering her chickens to be auctioned (its not really clear which it is, from the rendering released).

Artist Concept - Copyright Disney

 Los Angeles Times Article

On July 7th - an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, and was widely picked up by other news outlets, which featured some comments and a brief interview with Kathy Mangum, an SVP who is Atlantic Region Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. I would like to quote here the Los Angeles Times article as Ms. Mangum gives the internal thinking about what drove this change.

After consulting with diversity groups, including Imagineering’s in-house WIN — the Women’s Inclusion Network — Imagineering decided to adapt the ride for a generation weaned on strong female Disney characters such as Merida, Elsa, Moana and Judy Hopps.
“Last November, for the first time, we had a woman who was a viable candidate for the president of this country,” Mangum says. “I hate to say times are changing, but there's an advancement in pop culture and society, and the timing felt right. We didn't link it to any one initiative, but as we talked about it, we couldn't think of a really valid reason for keeping it as it is.”

The article continues...
Does she expect a backlash? “Because it was Walt's last attraction,” Mangum says, some fans are “not going to want any kind of change. We understand that. I understand that. But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow. You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.”

History with Walt

While its been widely mentioned that Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction that Walt Disney supervised - what is not as widely known is that there were only two segments of the attraction which were completed to the testing stage, and were actually viewed by Walt in person. The two scenes were the "dunking the Mayor" scene and the "bride auction" scene. Indeed - not only did Walt view and approve the full size operating segment - but Walt himself was actually responsible for adding in the auction scene in the first place. In Fall 1999 issue of The "E" ticket magazine an interview with Claude Coats (one of the original imagineers who worked on Pirates) - mentions,
"Walt added the Auctioneer scene kind of late... He came in one time and even said, 'This will be all right won't it?' He was just a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite 'Disney' or not? We added some other signs around, buy a bride or something like that, that augmented the auction scene as though it was a special big event. Marc (Davis) had done some drawings of the other girls who were tied up and shivering. The way the girls were done it's not an offensive scene at all, but it probably could have been if it hadn't been handled in a very interesting way."
One of the other lesser known aspects of the attraction is that, at least in the storyline of the attraction in Disneyland, the "red head" character apparently had years of happy marriage to a pirate and eventually became a pirate herself. We know this because Disney Imagineer Marc Davis painted the"red head" character as she would appear later in life as seen in the crew quarters area at the beginning of the attraction.

Really Valid Reasons... 

Ms. Mangum of imagineering mentioned in her interview "You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.” and her insight is key to understanding why this change should not be made. One of the things which is most important to our mission at - is to do everything possible to keep Walt's touch alive in the parks. That is not to say that the Disney parks need to be museums. Numerous are the quotes, which Disney is all too quick to point to, from Walt about changing the parks and installing new things. As the years go on, less and less of Walt will exist in the parks as a normal matter of course, new parks are built, and times of course change. This is why it is all the more important to try to save the things which we know that Walt was directly involved in. Change at the Disney parks on classic attractions should only be done when the change is consistent with the story line already established, and when the change adds something meaningful which advances the story. For example, over the years the animatronics have been updated with newer more advanced models. That change is fine, as it keeps the attraction's story as it had been, yet improves on the experience without changing the story line of the attraction. This change, on the other hand, is something much different. Not only does it wipe out a scene which we know Walt worked directly on, and approved - but it fundamentally changes the attraction's story line. Change by change the attraction is transformed into something which Walt wouldn't recognize and this, more than anything else, will break the "tie-back" to Walt. 

But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow...

In 2006 Disney announced that they would be adding the Jack Sparrow character to the pirates attraction. Originally, as Walt designed, the ride was a loose tableaux representing scenes that historical pirates may have, from time to time, been engaged in. Unlike the attractions found elsewhere in Disneyland, this attraction wouldn't have a linear story line based upon a specific preexisting movie. This was a departure from all the attractions which had proceeded it in Disneyland, and indeed was the genius and strength of the attraction. Unlike a linear story based attraction (Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad, Snow White, Etc.) this attraction would have a story which would be ever new every time you rode it. With so much recorded dialog, it was likely that a guest on the attraction wouldn't hear everything the first time they rode through. This would enable the guest to experience the attraction ever new each time it was experienced, and provided the ability to keep the attraction interesting. It was a major development and break-though in theme park design - as it was the introduction of the non-linear story.

One of the worst things to befall pirates, before this idea of changing the auction scene surfaced, was the addition of the Jack Sparrow character to the attraction's story line. The reason this was so bad is because it took the Pirates attraction and made it have a linear story focused on the Sparrow character. Gone were the tableaux, and in its place was a "where's waldo" sort of experience as you see the Sparrow character pop up three times within the attraction. From imagineering's point of view, the idea was that it would tie the attraction to a character that the modern audience would relate to. The issue here is that this stripped the attraction of it's timelessness. Will the Sparrow character still be relevant in 50 years? Or will that need to be ripped out and replaced with what ever the flavor of the moment is in the future? It is a bad precedent. For example, how well did the Ellen DeGeneres animatronic character age in the Epcot remake of the Universe of Energy attraction? At last check, Disney removed it.

Worse, the change in Pirates belayed that at some point, Imagineering had sort of forgotten their own history. Clearly, dealing with what actual pirates did in history; kidnapping, looting, plundering, shooting, murder, etc., was problematic for a family friendly attraction. The solution to this when Walt was still around, was when Marc Davis attempted to inject some humor into the attraction, and the pirates became, to a certain extent, "cartoonized". In many of the Davis influenced scenes the pirates became sort of bumbling ne'er-do-wells. The Sparrow character, however, was rendered in all the modern Imagineering skill, as a hyper realistic Audio-Animatronic character. It is out of place and jarring against all of the more cartoonzied pirates in the rest of the attraction. Not only was Disney removing the non-linear storyline, but with the addition of the new Animatronic they managed to inject a darker more hyper realistic feel into the attraction. One of the key things which Imagineering Legend John Hench used to teach is that Disney Parks did not have jarring contradictions. Hyper-realistic put against cartoonized characters is a huge jarring contradiction, and a big no-no in imagineering design.

Change for Change Sake requires a really valid reason.. 

Imagineering an attraction, especially one which is as advanced and delicate a balancing act as Pirates, is a difficult proposition. It must be done with the utmost care. It must be done with respect for the art which is the attraction, and respect for Walt Disney's genius. Change because the "timing felt right" is not a good reason for making the change. Indeed making a change because a working group (Women's Inclusion Network) thought it was a good idea is also not a good reason for making the change. The change should only be made if it doesn't alter the story line, and enhances the attraction. Its clear that keeping the same narrative was not a consideration in making this change, in fact it was the motivation to change the story line and delete this scene which was the primary reason for making the change in the first place. Walt Disney was a genius, the likes of which do not come along very often. There were many times when people thought Walt was crazy; sound cartoons, first full length animated feature, first true theme park, etc., and in every case Walt was proven right. In this instance I think its a grave mistake to alter such a fundamental part of the story line personally approved by Walt. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pandora's Effect On Walt Disney World Attendance

Interesting article over at on Pandora’s effect on crowd levels at WDW, and animal kingdom in particular. Lots of data and charts and it is a little bit “inside baseball” for those of us who are Disney Fanatics.. but the long and short of the article is that people are just cutting back on their visits to Hollywood studios and Epcot to spend more time at Animal Kingdom, rather than choosing an extra day at Disney over Universal. So in the battle of Universal's Harry Potter vs. Pandora, it seems like Universal is the clear winner at this point. Pandora isn’t drawing anyone “new” in like universal has done with potter. It seems that its people who are already there and they are just going over to see Pandora since they are there. It also seems like people are just going into animal kingdom, seeing Pandora, then they are leaving – rather than staying in Animal Kingdom as Disney had hoped they would. That indicates that Animal Kingdom still has a serious issue with the rest of the park not being really compelling. Disney really needs to up their game if they hope that this would cure all that is wrong with Animal Kingdom. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Coming Soon

This website is dedicated to preserving and restoring the Walt Disney Company back to the guiding principles that were originally established for it by Walt Disney. The Disney Company is so much more than just a for-profit enterprise, but is something unique in all the world, and is an important part of our lives. Its something that I think is worth fighting for.  Stay tuned to this site for more info soon.