It’s been announced that in 2016 construction will begin on additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Based on a variety of sources, let me try to paint for you what I understand will happen. Most of this has not been formally announced, and rumors are just that. But my sources are fairly solid, and as a whole, they paint a total picture.
Goodbye Osborne Lights. We begin with what we know. The Osborne Festival of Lights are going away in January and they’re not coming back. Starting in January the lights will be removed, and with that they may decide to close those streets at that time. Closing such would probably mean closing Lights! Motors! Action! And word is that the contracts of those very talented driving professionals come to an end at the end of this year. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be put on a month-to-month contract through Spring break. Operationally, management can choose to do so, and depending on how big crowds are in the parks, they may have to for a little while.
Already Seasons of the Force seems to be very popular at Disneyland, and I would guess the same will happen in Florida. Who would have guessed that a Frozen Summer would have been such a grand slam for them when it first premiered. Seasons of the Force could be much bigger, and they may need the room to accommodate the overflow guests until construction really gets underway. This may be one way of doing that until construction begins. But there is another possibility as well.
All of that back half of the park may just close come the new year, and nothing will still happen. It’s what happened with the Studio Backstage Tour when it closed. There is nothing about that attraction that suggests one aspect of the tour has even been removed since it closed some time ago. They closed it down well ahead of when they had to. Operationally they had dollars to keep it opened a little longer. They opted not too, and that gamble somewhat paid off. The Studios has kept going and nobody seems to have cared too greatly about its closure.
In short, this section will eventually close in 2016—sooner or later. Know though, that it may easily be another year and a half or two years before we see anything vertical on the new Star Wars Land.
Star Wars Land Location. My original thinking was that the new Star Wars area would continue past where Star Tours currently lies, pushing it out into the parking lot. Sources tell me that would not happen, that Star Wars will literally move into the Streets of America and out toward Lights! Motors! Action!
Muppets. They’re not leaving. What I’ve heard is that Muppets is staying, as is that entire courtyard area. I’ve learned that the plan for Pizza Planet is that it will be re-themed to the Muppets. The fate for Mama Melrose? My thinking is that it will stay as well, but I don’t have any insight. I wouldn’t be surprised if it received some Muppet overlay as well.
Star Tours. If Star Wars won’t be next to Star Tours, but Muppets is still staying, then the question becomes, what will become of Star Tours? The answer is nothing—for now. Its capacity is needed in a big way until the new land opens. But when Star Wars Land opens up, it may not be part of the new land. What will become of it? I hear there are different options to include keeping it, but separate of the Star Wars Land. But if you think of the power of the new Star Wars attractions coming in, the experiences found in Star Tours may not hold you like it does today.
Millennium Falcon. I also learned that the entire Star Wars land would empty out on the back end of Toy Story Playland—transitioning of course from one theme to another. Understand that they don’t want these lands to dead end. They want guests passing through. If you think about Cars Land, you know how iconic it is when you first walk right into Radiators Springs. But you’ll recall that there is a road that carries you out of Cars Land and into the Pacific Wharf section. I’ve heard many say that’s one of their favorite sections of Cars Land, as you walk through the arches. Imagine that same thing happening, only a smooth transition that would bring you into the back end of Toy Story Playland.
Looking at conceptual art, that transition point may be where you wander into the Millennium Falcon. At this point what I’ve heard is that the plan is for the Millennium Falcon to serve as a queue for guests as they prepare to board one of several scores of small simulator bays, that will sit a handful of people per console set. That ride is designed to go where you tell it to go. It is intended to be much more of a functioning simulator. Think about the lights and switches in Mission SPACE, only this time, the system won’t be so easily overriding you if you fail to do anything to the console. My thinking is that you will have interactivity options with your console. Yes, they are being mindful of baby boomers like me that love Star Wars but don’t really get into video games. For us there may be some override. But it is also catered to younger generations who have grown up on video games, and who really want the feel of driving the real thing. For them it will feel like you’re really in control.
THRC. That’s an acronym standing for Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity. In other words, how many guests Imagineers hope can on average go through an attraction in any given hour. It’s an important term as the Studios steps into the next few years.
When the park was open about a year into operation, it had the following attractions with roughly these THRC numbers:
|Backstage Studio Tour||3343|
|The Magic of Disney Animation||1052|
|Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular||2333|
|Great Movie Ride||1938|
|Theater of the Stars||250|
I have averaged some of these hours to give a sense of hourly capacity. For instance, Indiana Jones has a bigger theater, but the show can’t repeat itself every hour on the hour. So the number is skewed lower. What’s important to this conversation is that in the early days the park was capable attraction-wise to handle some 15,000 in a given hour.
With the changes that are coming to the park, the new THRC numbers will look something like this:
|Toy Story Mania||1500|
|The Little Mermaid||900|
|Beauty & The Beast||1500|
|Tower of Terror||2000|
|Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster||1800|
|Great Movie Ride||1938|
|Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular||2333|
Note that there is no One Man’s Dream, as that is going away soon. Gone is also Lights! Motors! Action! as well as the Honey I Shrunk the Playground. Already gone is the Magic of Disney Animation, The Studio Backlot Tour, and the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. That’s a lot of attractions that are now gone.
Why I’m breaking this down is to illustrate that the hourly capacity come next year will only be a couple of thousand more than what it was when it was only open a year. That’s not good news. The park will have much more demand. Operations has to do something to accommodate millions of more guests than they had when the park was a half-day experience.
The Great Movie Ride. People seem to genuinely enjoy the new touches added in the queue and finale of The Great Movie Ride. The obvious question, however, centers on why they didn’t change out some of the scenes. Well, they had plans and designs for doing so, according to my sources. But with all of the construction about to occur, they didn’t want this attraction going down for several months while they did the install. So that will be deferred for an indefinite amount of time.
Midway Mania. So the goal has been to find new ways to add capacity—especially in the short term. Midway Mania will increase its capacity by 50% when it adds a third track. That should come sometime next year, but probably more toward the middle or latter half of the year than the first half. Those working the interactive elements in the park are the some of the most in-demand individuals. It’s one of the reasons why the My Magic interactive component has still yet to launch.
Seasons of the Force is another way to increase attendance. Capacity will increase when they open Star Wars Launch Bay, and it will help to have the radio studios theater show preview films. But that still isn’t enough. Something much, much bigger is needed.
Sunset Showcase/Flex Space Theater. I haven’t added that THRC to the list above, simply because I don’t know what it is. We do know that Club Disney will be openings, but I’m not sure how much of the day it will be utilized. My guess is that it will be heavily utilized at night–especially when other night time offerings are not available, as I’m about to mention.
Fantasmic Opportunity. That big support in adding park capacity appears to be showing up at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, home to Fantasmic! My sources say that entertainment is working on a day time show that could utilize the Fantasmic theater. This could be a tremendous entertainment offering, if they could introduce something of the caliber you find at Tokyo Disney Sea. I think their daytime offerings in the Mediterranean Harbor are better than their Fantasmic show at night.
There’s just one problem—this is sunny Florida and that amphitheater is terribly hot and humid during the summer months. You would have to have a roof over the audience. Something like they have at Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. That roof makes visiting that show during the day very doable. My sources say that as early as January they are looking to start installation of that covering.
Now this activity might require closing Fantasmic for a few months. But if the new show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Rivers of Light, is opening this next year, they can afford to move evening audiences in that direction while they make those modifications to the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater. My thinking is that the Club Disney offering is designed at least temporarily to manage those guests still staying in the park. Keeping the backlot open through the late spring or even longer along with Lights! Motors! Action! would help as well.
Goodbye Osborne Lights. That brings us back to the Osborne Lights. Everything I’ve pretty much shared is based on what we know, or what I’ve heard from sources. So if this is the case, let me finish with an idea of my own. If I were Disney, and I was saying goodbye to the Osborne lights, I’d think very hard about adding a Fantasmic Christmas show by next year. Think about what this might look like they had a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. That overlay is very popular for the Haunted Mansion during both Halloween and Christmas. It could be wildly popular.
And the pathway leading to the Sunset Amphitheater? I’d outline it with some of those old Osborne lights.
That’s what I know, and what I think may well be happening from the sources I’ve spoken with. What do you think?