This summer has certainly been an interesting one at Walt Disney World. Despite over half a dozen new attractions opening during the first weeks of the traditionally “busy” summer season, crowds appear light and a number of interesting developments have been both rumored and confirmed for the resort in the wake of this apparent attendance downturn.
So what does this mean? We don’t know for sure, but here are some of our best guesses…
1. Are Conventional Seasonal Attendance Trends About To Flip Flop?
We’ve already talked a fair amount about attendance trends so far this summer, and how guests levels have been at a very low level ever since mid-May, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the late 2000s. And even though the summer is still going on, the recent July 4th weekend, which acts as a stress test of sorts for Disney theme parks (and often includes several phase closures for the Magic Kingdom and Epcot), did not fill any of the parks to capacity, making it among the slowest holidays we’ve ever seen. Though nightly spectaculars at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom did attract a large crowd close to showtime, during the afternoon on both July 3rd and July 4th, wait times at blockbuster attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight held steady at just over an hour, which is crazy for a day that is supposed to be one of the busiest of the entire year.
No matter what the reason is for this summertime slowdown, we have to wonder if the tick down in the traditionally busier summer season will be followed by higher guest levels during the formerly slow season in the fall. Could consumers be trying to maximize their vacation dollars by trying to visit later in the year to take advantage of the resort's newly-implemented “off peak” pricing? We’ll have to wait and see what the crowds look like this fall to know for sure, but this could be a very interesting reversal of conventional attendance trends, and is well worth watching, especially for those who plan their visits to Walt Disney World around crowd levels.
2. Is A Focus On Smaller, In-Park Experiences Coming?
2016 was a big year for Walt Disney World, as it saw the opening of two new/updated rides (Soarin’ Around the World and Frozen Ever After After) as well as several new shows, including Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire and The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic. However, despite all of these big new openings, Disney started making a number of interesting changes around the Magic Kingdom in particular that hint that smaller developments could be on the way soon.
For starters, the Magic Kingdom is really trying to get guests out of line by offering incentives for playing A Pirates Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas game in Adventureland, and has also introduced a pin-based scavenger hunt for those who don’t mind dropping $80.00 total for just over half a dozen new pins.
In addition, it has also been rumored that a new Streetmosphere-style improvisational show starring The Muppets is on its way to the Magic Kingdom later this year. Though this show certainly doesn’t sound like a big, crowd drawing attraction all by itself, it seems like it will be a fun thing to experience while strolling down the street, and will be yet another way Disney can keep guests out of line.
Clearly Disney is still very interested in keeping guests out of its traditionally long queues, and while recent FastPass+ changes have certainly helped, it looks like the resort is looking for even more small experiences that will keep guests occupied in ways that don't involve rides, character meet and greets, or anything else they might have to wait for.
3. Are Intellectual Property Overlays Truly The Wave Of The Future?
Next year, Walt Disney World is scheduled to open Pandora: The World of Avatar. The year after that, many are expecting to set foot in Toy Story Land for the first time. And of course sometime in the far future, we’ll all be traveling to Star Wars Land at a reimagined Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Now what do these new attractions all have in common? They’re based on intellectual properties (or IPs) and capitalize on characters and storylines guests will already be familiar with thanks to film and TV.
Now while there’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea (and Disney has always incorporated popular characters in its parks), many are wondering if the balance between characters and original attractions has swung too far in favor of the former.
Events so far in 2016 don't seem to support this argument. This year did bring IP-based experiences in the form of Frozen Ever After and The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic, but it also brought the Tree of Life: Awakenings show as well as Soarin’ Around the World, which are not character focused.
However, a quick look at the confirmed schedule of what’s coming soon to Walt Disney World seems to reveal that the only attractions in development involve characters, with the only exception being Rivers of Light, which seems to have been delayed indefinitely. Even looking at the rumor queue, which recently lit up with rumors of the Guardians of the Galaxy invading Epcot’s Future World, it looks like Disney parks are looking to capitalize on a string of box office successes, and non-branded rides like The Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth and Kilimanjaro Safaris simply aren’t being fast-tracked towards development anymore.
What do you think? Is Disney’s latest focus on characters and fictional worlds a step in the right direction, or would you rather the resort returned to creating original attractions? And speaking more in the short term, what kind of implications do you think the lower attendance this summer and focus on smaller attractions will have for Walt Disney World?
Source: Theme Park Tourist
Banner Photo Credit: Blog Mickey