This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six of Disney’s (Not So) Secret Plans for the Next 5 Years. This past week The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast went over a lot of exciting possibilities for Walt Disney World’s near future. The show was the talk of the theme park world, and while it was loaded with a metric ton of information, scintillating rumors, and insider scoops, we’re going to count down the six biggest takeaways of this audio starting with…
# 6 – The Sorcerer’s Hat ain’t going anywhere…
The era of nightmares doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Jim Hill says that despite the fact that many guests see the giant Sorcerer’s hat sitting in the middle of the park as the biggest eyesore since Cinderella Castle was turned into a giant pink birthday cake, it serves an important purpose to the park. More to the point, the stage below the ugly hat plays a vital roll in allowing DHS to hold various live shows and draw the crowds away from popular attractions such as Tower of Terror and Toy Story Midway Mania.
# 5 – Star Wars Land is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney Hollywood Studios? Funny you should mention that as the rumored Star Wars Land seems closer than ever to coming to fruition. The good news? It will be worth the wait! Are you familiar with a little place called Diagon Alley? Seems that Walt Disney Imagineering had a private tour of Universal’s newest land and immediately went back to their corporate overlords saying they need more money for the upcoming Star Wars projects in DHS. Why? Because as Len Testa said, Disney can’t just be as good as Potter, it has to be better. “Say goodbye to Echo Lake,” said Jim, “that’s Tatooine.” Look for a huge Star Wars presence, so much that it will become the clear identity of the parks.
A long stretch of the park from near the entrance all the way to Star Tours is going to become essentially a Star Wars corridor filled with retail and dining opportunities. Like the re-do of California Adventure several yeas ago, look for A, B, and C ticket attractions such as an X-Wing spinner ride (think the Dumbo ride crossed with the interactivity of Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl.) The oft-maligned Sounds Dangerous building (which has been used for the Carbon Freeze Me experience during Star Wars Weekends) could become the permanent home of the Jedi Training Academy. Jim added that Disney might also have the answer to the Wizarding World’s interactive wands in the form of “The Force.”
What’s staying? Hollywood & Vine (thanks to its popular Play ‘n Dine character meals,) the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (because Disney now owns the full rights to Indy after having purchased LucasFilm) and the American Idol Experience theater (which, as we just found out, will be closing at the end of this month, most likely to become the new home for the Frozen Sing-A-Long Celebration.)
# 4 – The Disney Vacation Club is expanding to other Disney resorts
The best kept secret in Walt Disney World right now is the fact that hotel occupancy rates have been dropping steadily over the years as The Mouse just plain simply over built. Since no new attractions will be opening any time soon to drive up attendance (and on-site hotel stays) there’re only two ways to fix the problem. The first option is lower prices (which for Disney is like asking a vegan to eat a meal consisting of milk-fed veal and BBQ baby back ribs) and the second option is to take rooms out of stock, which Disney has been quietly doing with various “refurbishments.” The super-secret third option? Convert rooms for people who are contractually obligated to stay. Who’s that again? Disney Vacation Club. In order to not only solve their resort occupancy problems, but also alleviate booking problems created by the Aulani debacle over at DVC, Disney will be taking high priced and possibly moderate rooms off line from their resorts (which we are currently seeing at the Polynesian) and converting them to Disney Vacation Club units, still an extremely hot commodity.
What’s after the Polynesian? The Wilderness Lodge will be seeing a DVC change out much like the Animal Kingdom Lodge where 300-400 rooms will be taken out of inventory and converted over to DVC units and possibly over-water units like the Poly’s. Talk of conversion of moderate rooms at Caribbean Beach is also on the table. These conversions will not only make regular hotel occupancy rates rise, but will also keep the gravy train that is DVC chugging along.
# 3 – The Osborne Lights could be changing its name to one based off a…. television show?
Say it ain’t so Jim. Turns out that in the last several years Disney has fully acquired everything that has to do with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. So now they can do whatever they want, whenever they want and one of the things they may want to do is turn this beloved experience into a piece of corporate synergy with a reality television show on ABC Television. That’s right, The Great Christmas Light Fight could replace one of WDW’s best attractions.
This humble author, who watches more TV than any human being on Earth every should, doesn’t even remember The Great Christmas Light Fight from last December. However, the show was a success, drawing ABC’s biggest amount of viewers in its time slot in over 5 years along with drawing boffo numbers in the key Adults 18-49 demo. The series was renewed for a second season and ABC even ordered a Great Halloween Fright Fight special.
We can assume that a more sane mind will prevail and our favorite Osborne Lights will stay Osborne Lights but with Disney looking for any possible way to acquire every last Dollar Bill, Yen, Euro, and Brazilian Real in the world there will always be a slight chance that we see the purple cat changed over to a purple Duffy the Disney Bear and the hidden razorback into a hidden Gillette Fusion ProGlide Razor.
# 2 – The Great Movie Ride is leaving, but not anytime soon….
Talk about a double whammy, not only is that Sorcerer’s Hat staying, but the gorgeous Great Movie Ride facade looks to be on the way out. This is where if you were Darth Vader you’d be yelling NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Well, let’s look at the silver linings, shall we? I don’t want to say this ride hasn’t been updated in a while, but Ellen’s Energy Adventure called and just asked if its ever going to change. The last time the Great Movie Ride was updated George Bush was president. GEORGE BUSH SENIOR. So if Disney’s not going to change the Great Movie Ride, maybe it’s not so bad that it’s going away. Jim Hill added that its replacement would more than likely using the ride technology that everyone seems to be going gaga over in Disneyland Paris’ new Ratatouille attraction. That could be cool.
Fans of the Great Movie Ride can also breathe a sign of relief as the attraction isn’t going anywhere any time soon as it is already booked solid for private events for the next three years. Private events are held throughout Walt Disney World, but Disney Weddings takes it to the next level, offering guests the ability to book receptions in places such as the Living Seas pavilion and American Adventure Rotunda in Epcot along with the Great Movie Ride in Hollywood Studios. Not surprisingly, the ability to be able to make a toast while sitting in the room with The Wizard of Oz has great appeal. to the point where Disney is booked 150 dates in advance. No new bookings are being taken for the Great Movie Ride, and those who have dates in the future are being approached to possibly change to a different venue in order for Disney to be able to close down the attraction, but for right now it’s staying as is. WE ARE ALL IN YOUR DEBT BRIDES AND BRIDE-ZILLAS OF THE WORLD.
# 1 – A new Nighttime Spectacular is replacing IllumiNations at Epcot
Dedicated readers know that we at the SATURDAY SIX offices have a complicated history with Epcot’s nighttime spectacular. We have made the case both FOR and AGAINST this fireworks extravaganza changing. Our ears definitely perked up with Jim Hill said that Steven Davison, the man behind World of Color, has been working on new project that could replace Illuminations in just 18 months.
WHEW! And that’s just the TOP SIX newsworthy items. Do yourself a favor and click on your iTunes machine and SUBSCRIBE to The Unofficial Guid’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast. If you haven’t heard this particular episode yet, what are you waiting for?! Click these links to listen right now or watch on YouTube. Follow host Len Testa and Jim Hill himself on Twitter as well as Jim’s website JimHillMedia.com.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I got inspired by seeing all the venues that you can rent out at Walt Disney World and searched – and searched, and searched, and searched – until I could find something within my budget. Turns out there is only one place on property that I can afford….
So there you have it: the Six of Disney’s (Not So) Secret Plans for the Next 5 Years. See you next weekend for the latest edition of the SATURDAY SIX, where we are going to head back over to Universal (maybe.) If you had fun, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast.
Special thanks to Mike Sperduto, Morgan Crutchfield, Brian Hyde, Parkscope Joe, Matt Cleary, and crack staff photographer Brandon Glover for their invaluable assistance in this article. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child and that it takes a nation of millions to hold us back, but it takes a group of some of the smartest, creative, and talented people I have ever met to come together and produce the SATURDAY SIX. I value each and every one of them with every fiber of my being. They are the talented ones; the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, while I am just the Phil Jackson who tells them what time to show up and let them do their thing. I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a better group of people and I will never be able to truly thank them enough (well, except for Parkscope Joe, he usually ends up making me want to strangle him.)