I say it’s time for Disney to build a third, and there’s only one place to do it: Toronto.
Considering my whereabouts, it’s an audaciously self-serving suggestion. But there are some solid reasons for Disney to choose Toronto, besides making me one very happy guy.
To give everyone a geography primer, the actual city of Toronto is surrounded by several large municipalities, each with hundreds of thousands of residents. All told, well over eight million Canadians live within a driving distance of a couple of hours or so.
A little research into population data reveals that, counting only the major metro hubs, about 108 million Americans live within nine hours of Toronto—35 per cent of the U.S. population. That number is expected to grow to 141 million by 2050.
When I started writing this article, the U.S. Northeast was going to be my pick. Disney could easily build the park in New Jersey or Upstate New York and have it be quite successful. But Toronto’s location outside of the U.S. is actually a big, counterintuitive plus.
Toronto’s advantage lies in the fact that, as of 2011, only 30% of Americans have passports (required for travel between the U.S. and Canada since 2007), as opposed to 60% of Canadians.
That alone would help prevent cannibalization of WDW in Florida. Since there are more passport holders in border regions, a Toronto park would draw most of its American visitors from nearby states. Passport-holding is also more common among higher income households, which are more likely to take multiple Disney vacations anyways.
The new park would draw a good number of international visitors. The Greater Toronto Area is home to thousands of middle-class families with ties to China and South Asia—places where Disney is trying to extend its reach.
These households often host family members from their respective countries; a Disney resort would become a must-see destination for their guests, along the lines of Niagara Falls.
Any Disney park would have to be built outside the major population centres discussed earlier, which is becoming harder (and more costly) to do. What was rural farmland when I was a kid, is now residential subdivisions with thousands of homes and residents.
There is one elegant solution, though.
Canada’s Wonderland, owned by Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment, remains enormously popular for an amusement park of its kind. Disney should buy and redevelop the property, located 25 minutes from Toronto Pearson International Airport.
At 379 acres (about 300 of which are currently developed), Wonderland is approximately three and a half times larger than the Magic Kingdom and about the size of the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. That’s a lot of space to work with.
Unlike Wonderland, which only operates on a May to October, Disney’s Toronto park would be a year-round destination. The combination of climate change (Toronto winters have sadly been getting warmer and less winter-like with each passing year), and a good number of indoor attractions, would make it possible.
Although there are already a number of hotels in the area—not to mention the countless ones that would spring up—Disney would want to build one of its own. I’d love to see accommodations somehow incorporated inside the park.
With an acquisition of Canada’s Wonderland, Disney would find a sizable customer base on which to build, and be faced with no real competition.
Of course, such a project wouldn’t be cheap. It’s likely that Disney would seek—and receive—support from all levels of government, but they would be wise to steer clear of any arrangement with outside theme park operators.
Concerns over traffic and crowds in the area would be one of the bigger issues, since the park is bounded by a major freeway and residential areas. I suggest Disney preemptively give its immediate neighbors free season passes.
Going back to the attractions, what should the new park offer? A ‘sampler’ of classic Disney rides would be welcome for sure, but the Imagineers will also have to create new experiences, and that for years to come, to keep people—especially locals—coming back.
If snow is still a common winter sight by the time the park opens, perhaps the design team can cook up a way to incorporate it into the landscape in spectacular fashion. That would tie-in nicely with the world of Disney’s upcoming animated adventure Frozen.
A portion of the property should also be set aside for a Downtown Disney-style marketplace, with independent restaurants and shops, anchored by a large Disney Store.
As for what the new place should be called, Disneyland Toronto or Disneyland Canada could work, but, as illustrated in the mockup logo above, I’m partial to Disneyland North.