State of the Magic Kingdom

I was talking with someone this weekend about the sad state of Splash Mountain, I’m sorry I can’t recall who, and the discussion turned to Magic Kingdom’s VP Phil Holmes. Apparently, Phil believes that the park has serious capacity issues to the point where only one major attraction can be down at a time for rehabilitation. This creates a problem when an attraction like Splash Mountain is in serious need of rehabilitation, but they can’t close it or risk coming in under the rides per capita goal, either 8 or 9 rides a day per guest depending on the years budget. Disney arrived at that 8 or 9 number by surveying guests to estimate the optimal number of attractions visited a day to create a ‘positive’ memory of their day in the park. I would really like to see that at 11 or 12 rides per capita, especially considering the price of visiting the parks for a family of four. 8 or 9 seems like barely a half-day park to me.

Now, with Fantasyland Construction underway, the Tiki Room closed due to fire, the sad fact that no brand new attractions have opened at the Magic Kingdom since the Magic Carpets of Aladdin opened in 2002. (MILF opened in 2007, but that replaced an existing attraction so it doesn’t count), and the state of parades and shows that is so horrendous they are no help in increasing capacity, it is impossible to close another attraction unless there is a safety reason. Essentially, by Phil’s logic, the fact that we’re getting the Tiki Room restored to glory, means we have to live with other attractions (Splash Mountain and Carousel of Progress) falling apart. We shouldn’t have to make that Sophie’s choice.

The obvious answer is to increase capacity to a point where these sorts of repairs can occur ahead of when they’re needed instead leaving bad show to fester until such a point of time when rides per capita won’t be affected (basically during low crowd season). In other words build excess capacity into the system so you don’t have to run on the edge all the time.

We are finally getting a partial solution to Phil’s problem. A new attraction (Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid) is part of the Fantasyland expansion and the Dumbo attraction will theoretically be able to double its capacity (assuming they run both rings all day, a habit I can see operations ending quickly to reduce labor costs). I’m unsure if we can count the new Snow White Dwarfs Mine Ride since they’re killing Snow White’s Scary Adventures to build it. But even if we give them some credit for the coaster, it’s still not enough. It’s going to take more than one and a half new attractions (and Mermaid is a C or D ticket at that) to solve the Magic Kingdom’s capacity problem.

But Phil is not powerless. He can immediately solve this problem by adding shows, which are huge capacity sponges. The Diamond Horseshoe Revue is empty and StoryBook Circus is the perfect venue for a big tent themed stage where Kids of the Kingdom type shows can be produced (this also solves the problem of having shows in front of the castle where there is no shelter from the hot sun or rain) starting in 2012. Sadly the Tomorrowland stage is completely useless with its lack of shade and seating. The decision to remove the Galaxy Theater to add some executive parking is one of the worst decisions in the last 20 years.

The park also needs an immediate replacement for both the afternoon and night time parades. That’s a big enough event they should be able to make a whole year long promotion out of it in 2011. I don’t care if they just assemble assorted abandoned floats from the parks around the world. Just produce something that’s not old, tired, and rolls by in under 8 minutes as the current 3pm parade does. While they’re at it, night time parade technology has improved a lot since 1978, but that’s essentially the same technology we have with Spectromagic and MSEP. Steven Davison help us please!

Finally, Phil needs to immediately put into place a rescue plan for Tomorrowland. (Although that steampunk roller coaster idea for Adventureland is pretty cool too.) Evict the cartoon based life-forms and re-ignite excitement for a future that involves space exploration, new technologies that make our future easier, and some visionary ideas too.

My suggestion is to round up Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, and Bruce Sterling (although I still haven’t forgiven him his insult, he is a terrific author and speaker), a few of today’s leading science fiction authors. Doctorow is a huge Disney fan and has a good track record with YA novels that also make a difference. Stross has that knack for peering into the future and building something plausible based on today’s existing trends. Sterling is an established authority on the very near future, a talented author, and someone who probably has something to say about Disney’s Next-Gen (NGE) experience. Get them all in a room with some Imagineers and sketch out plan for updating Tomorrowland with a theme and attractions that will draw crowds for 20+ years.

Now that’s a vision for the Magic Kingdom that excites me. How about you? What’s your vision for the Magic Kingdom? How could Phil Holmes make an immediate impact?

Previously: Magic Kingdom Update Part I and Part II.

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33 Responses to State of the Magic Kingdom

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head here. What few realize when they simply say “it needs a refurb” is what are you going to do with the people while it’s down? The lines for attractions like splash are a huge sap on capacity and help keep mid-october weekdays from feeling like New Years Eve in terms of crowds. No doubt there is much that needs to be done..I just dont see it happening…

  2. Kai says:

    Excellent assessment and I hope someone at the Mouse House reads it. I would particularly agree witht he advice of adding shows and parades which, while functioning as “capacity sponges” also contribute to positive and happy park memories.
    PS: It may be just my dirty mind talking, but “MILF” is an unfortunate attraction acronym ;-)

  3. Kevin says:

    Sadly, the corporate heads of the company have lost this dreaming nature.

    The franchisization of the parks have killed attractions not linked to established products.

    Cory Doctorow involved in a Tomorrowland update sounds like a dream come true and any hardcore Disney fan who hasn’t read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is missing out.

    I, like many, want to see a new epic E-ticket attraction on par with Horizons, World of Motion, Spaceship Earth. I’m a sucker for those classic type dark rides.

    • John Frost says:

      Kevin, there has always been a desire inside WDI to build more of those classic E-ticket type attractions. But with WDI out-sourcing their AA work, I’m not optimistic for a mega-attraction like that anytime soon. I do think we could see some attractions from Tokyo DisneySea easily ported to MK’s Tomorrowland, however. I’d like that.

  4. Matt says:

    A few points:

    Not to ever agree with Phil Holmes but no, the park cannot shut down Splash Mountain right now with Toontown gone. That space gone is killing the rest of the park. It’s for the greater good but still, losing that space is affecting the rest of the park. They can’t get Storybook Circus open fast enough.

    And I rode Splash just like you. I noticed the animatronics not working. You know who didn’t? 75% of the people in the park that day. They just want to ride Splash. If they shut it down to fix some animatronics, I promise you the complaints would be 10 times the amount the ppl who complained about some aspect of Splash not working. When’s the last time the “falling rocks” feature on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad worked? It’s a neat feature but it’s not worth shutting the ride down over the summer to fix it. Now if we could actually get these things fixed for more than a few months, I’d be happy.

    What I think we have going for us is that Wizarding World of Harry Potter continues to be a major success and the Magic Kingdom lost guests this year. At some point after we get Storybook Circus open, I would like to see them slowly start tackling the Tomorrowland problem.

    I TOTALLY agree with you about shows though. They need to get the Diamond Horseshoe open. How about adding an adventure game to Tom Sawyer’s Island. Hardly ANYBODY makes that trek anymore. Have some sort of “Scavenger Hunt” or quet added to that island (Led by Cast Members) and let’s draw people over there.

    If the rumors of the Veranda being reopened as a restaurant or show are true, it can’t hurt!
    Great article.

    • John Frost says:

      Matt, I disagree that 75% of the people did not notice the non-functioning AAs and special effects. 100% noticed them, even the blind since some of the audio wasn’t working as well. Did it ruin their experience on Splash, probably not. And I never suggested it would. But it wasn’t the show as it was intended to be, the show that sets Disney apart from other parks. Next year, they may decide that their entertainment dollars will go to another theme park whose been closing the gap with Disney’s show. The fact that Disney is making it easy for other parks to catch up, will bite them in the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah one day.

  5. Jessica says:

    WDW has always been a popular vacation spot, and a great getaway for the locals. But with all the expansion, the major rides are getting hit the most by guests. Some of these are in need of repair. For example, Big Thunder Mountain is a ver popular ride, but last summer it was closed down a few days due to a piece of the ride breaking. In the avalance room, there is still a big black tarp covering up the piece that fell. Families coming want to do everything that they hear and see about Magic Kingdom. The hope of the FastPass was to eliminate some of the wait, but if fact a bigger problem was created. FastPasses run out, quickly for some rides. This gets worse during the peak seasons. It also seems that this year has not had a slowdown for MK. Lines are just as long as during the Christmas season, and more and more people keep coming, keep giving more wear for the rides. It will be interesting to see how the Fantasyland expansion works after it’s opened.

    • John Frost says:

      Jessica, great point about the Fastpasses creating more problems than they solve (especially when you consider the ratio of guests in Standby vs. Fastpass lines). Additionally, Fastpass drives down the effective capacity of the park. It may please a few people who get in a huge number of rides a day, but upsets the vast majority who lose out with longer lines.

    • John Frost says:

      Yeah, I didn’t even mention Big Thunder because I know that Kevin Yee is doing an expose on it soon and he’ll do a better job than I could. But it’s in a sad state too.

  6. Jan says:

    I live in California and have visited the magic Kingdom only once, 4 years ago. I was NOT impressed. The parks were not as clean and well maintained as Disneyland is. The only ride I was excited to go on and it isn’t even a ride was Bear Country Jamboree since they took it out of Disneyland to put in the Winnie the Pooh ride. We went on more rides that broke down while we were on them in one day at the Magic Kingdom then I have experienced in over two years in Califonia. They keep raising the prices but do nothing to improve the overall experience in Florida or California. I am in no hurry to return to Florida and pay ridculous prices for a less then memorable experience.

  7. Jud says:

    I think you omitted one rather vital point that is basic to any maintenance situation- and that is that over the last decade or so, they simply cut the overnight maintenance to near zero. The park used to be completely new every morning: now, I have literally seen spitballs on TV monitors for two weeks! Let alone chipped paint, ripped walls, broken chains etc etc etc, not to mention overflowing trash receptacles? Walt is dead: Wall St lives.

  8. ETicketChelsea says:

    I am a little confused by all this. Why is it that Disneyland was able to close Splash for months at a time (from Jan-May) and have Star Tours Closed and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, all in time to fix problems, completely change Star Tours, all in time for a peak season opening? Disneyland is a much smaller park. Granted they have Toon Town open but other than small kids, not many frequent that park of the park in droves. WDW has four parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney & a slew of golf courses. Disneyland only one of two parks in Anaheim along with Downtown Disney. And not to mention the multiple construction projects currently going on at California Adventure. When I go to DLR, the locals outweigh the out of towners. I can imagine that their Annual Pass Holder Attendance is very important to them and yet they don’t worry about making people upset when shutting down attractions. They want to do things right.

    The point is, Phil Holmes has to do what is necessary to keep the Magic Kingdom up to par. They cant worry about making people mad that attractions are closed. These rides run practically 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. For safety reasons alone, attention must be paid. Disneyland blows the Magic Kingdom out of the water. The MK has is perks over DLR but when you actually compare them ride by ride, detail by detail, DLR always wins. (At least for me!)

  9. ETicketChelsea says:

    Also, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has nothing on MK. It is a tiny portion of Universal Studios IOA. There are only 3 attractions, one of which is worth going on, (Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey.) It will draw crowds in, but once they see what its all about, the novelty will wear off.

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  11. NT3 says:

    I don’t fully understand how the “8 to 9 rides a day” formula works out but the capacity argument is certainly there at the moment. With Toontown gone and (as you pointed out in your original post) lines for Mickey and the Princesses nowhere near as large on Main Street as they were in Toontown that leaves a ton of people wandering the park looking for something else to do. Shut down Splash and EVEN MORE people will be displaced.

    What I don’t understand about Splash in particular is what they heck they were doing in January when it was down? They seem to have not touched any of the glaring issues with the ride…heck, as you pointed out, they didn’t even REPAINT THE LOGS! I know they drained it so I guess they just made sure everything was OK mechanically and didn’t touch any show elements? And why do such a shoddy job? Budget cuts to the maintenance department?

    • John Frost says:

      I know, the fact that they didn’t even repaint the logs blows me away. I attribute it to the fact that when Tiki went down in the fire and they decided to give it the restoration it deserved, they had to accelerate plans to get Splash back into service and meet Phil’s goal of only having one attraction down at a time.

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  13. Andrew says:

    @ETicketChelsea You have to remember you cannot compare DL with WDW, they are two different beasts. The majority of Disneyland’s guests live within 200 miles of the park. Thus, these people are willing to forego a ride on Splash Mountain, or any other major ride, because they will most likely return in 3 to 4 months. On the other hand, the majority of Walt Disney World guests live one or more days away from Orlando. As such, these people come to WDW at most once a year, but more likely closer to once every two to three years. Would you enjoy spending close to $1500 on a family of four to go the WDW and then realize that a major E ticket ride was down for refurbishment, knowing that you could not return for another 2 or three years. There is method to Phil Holmes’s madness.

  14. Jim says:

    Right on! The key to your article is the ratio of park guests to attractions. The internet has been a-buzz lately with articles regarding Disney’s plans to reduce and manage wait times at the Florida Magic Kingdom theme park. The idea of creating interactive enhancements to the queues sounds like a great idea but is really only a band-aid at this point. The big challenge is to create an environment where guests can enjoy more attractions per visit. Guest satisfaction clearly translates into return visits. The Florida Magic Kingdom has fewer attractions today than it did in 1990?

    When entering Main Street in the ‘90’s, the “Walt Disney Story” was presented in The Exposition Hall. The Main Street Theater was an actual theater that presented early black and white Mickey classics. There was a magic shop, a turn of the century penny arcade, horse drawn trolley cars and live musical entertainment. Main Street was a destination not a World of Disney Store masked behind an elegant facade.

    During the ‘90’s the following attractions were removed and not replaced: Mike Fink Keel Boats, Davy Crocket Explorer Canoes, Diamond Horseshoe Review, Skyway, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Tomorrowland Theater. Removing these attractions also denied the guest the opportunity to enjoy a variety of transportation experiences: traveling down Main Street in a horse drawn trolley, flying over the Magic Kingdom in a cable car, diving under the sea in submarine and being at water level experiencing the Rivers of America in a canoe or keel boat. That is how I remember the magic!

    The new Little Mermaid attraction simply replaces 20,000 Leagues. The Dwarfs Mine Train will replace Snow White Scary Adventures. Three hundred million dollars later and Florida will still have fewer attractions than we did in 1990. The only thing that will reduce wait times is increased ride capacity.

    It would seem that just bringing some of these shuttered attractions back (Keel Boats, Canoes & Diamond Horseshoe) would add a few more choices to the park selections for the day.

    I can’t say enough about the live musical entertainment that has been eliminated. The steel drum band in Adventureland, the colonial band in Liberty Square and the live band that accompanied the shows in front of the castle is what made the Magic Kingdom a theme park rather than an amusement park.

    As a Floridian I have made numerous trips to the Walt Disney World Resort. I have also been to Disneyland in the height of the summer season. I have never experienced the excessively long waits in Disneyland as we have here in Florida. Why? Because Disneyland has twice as many attractions in their Magic Kingdom, thus shorter wait times. It may be an expensive but rather simple solution.

    • John Frost says:

      Disney will tell you all those little attractions and shows went away because the public interested wasn’t there. But I think they were deliberately interpreting smaller crowds to mean lack of interest instead of investing in better shows and improved storylines. In the end all that went away because Disney could save money doing so. The crowds have kept coming, so the ends justifies the means in managements mind. But as we can see by the sad state of the park today, they’ve cut off their nose to save their face. Not a good situation, for sure.

  15. Dylan Malone says:

    Although standing on Main Street and looking at the castle in the Magic Kingdom is one of the most beautiful things a person will ever see, I feel that today’s Magic Kingdom is in some ways the weakest of the four WDW gates. It’s a great park, yes, but it is so obviously a not-quite-as-good-as-the-real-thing copy of Disneyland itself, while the other three gates have something special to offer. I hope that the end result of this undeniably significant expansion effort will be to make the MK the true crown jewel of WDW it is meant to be.

    I agree with everything you’ve written to some extent, but I also remember that we’re still in the midst of the Great Recession- and the Disney company has to operate cautiously and profitably. It is our job as fans of their magic to push them, and remind them of the special role they have in our culture and as leaders of the business world (people from all over the world attend Disney conferences or fly to the Disney Institute to learn how to do things the Disney way). I’ll be back to visit MK this fall (twice actually, never been twice in rapid succession like this, but it worked out that way!) – and hope that things will be okay for us.

  16. Kevin says:

    I’m still worried park management will still be of the mindset that the general doesn’t care about these issues for so long that they start losing guests over bad show.

    It’s sad but this situation keeps coming back to the reminder that Walt is dead and gone. You still get the sense that the issue is poor management decisions and not just economical recession caused restraints.

    Wizarding World has show competitors can one up Disney. That was something I didn’t believe possible till I saw that ride in December. It’s only a matter of time before Universal or someone else can pull off a similar feat on a park wide scale.

  17. Vikki says:

    I hugely agree that MK needs more (and simply updated) rides. I do have to disagree about giving Little Mermaid a C/D rating. While I have not been over to Disneyland to ride their Little Mermaid ride yet, it has been receiving positive reviews. Even better, its large capacity (2,000 per hour, akin to Haunted Mansion or Big Thunder) should take up some of the slack to allow WDW to close down another major attraction.
    I also think Disney missed the mark in not at least bringing back, at minimal expense, some “classic” shows or things like the canoes (I don’t count Tiki Room because that was an accident) to pump the 40th-anniversary theme. There’s lots of money in nostalgia right now.

  18. ETicketChelsea says:

    You have compare and contrast in any method of problem solving. If you don’t in this case of MK problems, what do they look to to learn from? Disneyland does a lot of things right. MK should take note. I am speaking as an unsatisfied guest. MK needs to improve things regardless. Disney Parks always let’s guests know what is closed for refurb. So its their choice if they want to pay the $ to go when not everything is open.

    Also, Disneyland & MK are two parts of a whole. They represent Walt Disney (the man, not the company) Both should be excel and continue to improve. I doubt Mr. Disney would want politics and park numbers to get in the way of his legacy. He was never satisfied with anything. Cutting corners for more $ is not acceptable.

  19. ETicketChelsea says:

    Also, Disneyland still has canoes, streetcars & horse drawn trolleys. The Penny Arcade still stands. They have street performances in all parts of the park. They still have Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln & a fine tribute to Walt at the front entrance Why can’t MK implement these elements? Singing Pirates shouldn’t be too much to ask for. The 90′s magic that Jim referred to was amazing. Its an example of change that didn’t work. Bring back the real magic!!

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  22. El Grupo says:

    Despite being smaller in acreage, DL can manage having more than one major ride down at a time due to having a greater number of attractions than MK.

    MK would definitely benefit from adding more. And, the additions would not have to all be E-tickets. A couple lesser attractions would round out the park experience. I do think Disney would benefit from rethinking plans for converting SWSA to a M&G. Possibly transition to an Alice or other proven ride instead. A bit of excitement could be injected into TSI with the inclusion of something along the lines of the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail from CA.

    Again, additions that, combined, would probably not have the expense of an Indy ride. However, they would provide multiple alternatives for guests and act as an intermediate step until another E-Ticket is approved.

  23. Kevin says:

    Right on El Grupo, they really should go ahead and build a new Snow White but use the vacated real estate for something for substantial than a meet and great.

    Are meet and greats really that big a draw? Boy, back in my day these characters were free roaming and didn’t need sheltered venues to interact with guests.

  24. I agree totally with Chelsea! BRING BACK THE MAGIC. Over the years magic Kingdom has lost that feeling of jumping into another world. There are too few rides, the parades are just sad, and they are missing having a BIG show. Are we all too cynical because we go frequently and know what to look for? I don’t think so. My last few visits to the park under construction, left me sad. If I had traveled far and spent a fortune to be there, I would be very let down. I also want to note the cutbacks on cast members and the over all quality of customer service that is declining. Its becoming the norm to see filthy bathrooms, garbage on the ground, and improper boarding on rides, because cast members are stretched too far (my special needs son was hurriedly pushed onto the Jungle Cruise, by a rushing cast member and he fell between the boat and the dock. INTO the water, only up to his knees, but he was soaked and scared).

  25. Mooglelord says:

    I say that they close the Magic Kingdom during low attendance season on specific days not for months and months but for maybe 3 days to a week. That might be extremly inconvinent but I think it would do good. They could repaint,clean and build since no one is in the park and have a park wide refurb.

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