Bring Star Wars to DisneyQuest

 

Should Disney Bring Star Wars to DisneyQuest? Why Disney Should Learn Lessons From Frozen’s Success

My apologies for not having written in some time. From time to time I have to go make a living. But I really love to come back to this blog, and I appreciate those who take the time to read them.

Yesterday millions of people eagerly went online and to theaters to see the trailer for the new Star Wars saga: The Force Awakens. Of those who rated it, 96% gave it a thumbs up on YouTube. Is there any question that Star Wars isn’t here to stay? This thing is going to make Disney a boat load of money. It’s true, the last three films weren’t all that well received. But they still did fairly well in the box office, and Star War fans are still hungry for more.

"There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?" From the first trailer of the new Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens.

“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” From the first trailer of the new Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens.

Another film people are hungry for more of is Frozen. Or course, no one knew before it came out it was going to be a box office bonanza as well. Still, how long does it take to figure out this thing has legs and you should do something big with it? I spent time at The Tokyo Disney Resort this last August. Amazing! There is still much about that experience that  I still need to write up, but I wanted to mention the one thing that wasn’t at Tokyo Disney Resort–Frozen. No character appearances–in shows, parades, meet ‘n’ greets, whatsoever. This seemed to be a huge miss. While it was released later in Japan than in most markets (not until March), the film came to be the third-highest grossing film in Japan at the time behind Titanic and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It’s absence at Tokyo Disney was a stark contrast to the Frozen Summer event that had just premiered at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The best I could find in Tokyo was a few random pieces of merchandise. I thought it was very strange. It was if everyone was being too cautious about doing anything related to a new film. It seemed like a big miss.

Of some 1,000 photos taken while at Tokyo Disney Resort, this is the only one that has any reference to Frozen. Can you see Olaf? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Of some 1,000 photos taken while at Tokyo Disney Resort, this is the only one that has any reference to Frozen. Can you see Olaf? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It was probably because of the success of the Studio’s summer celebration that only days after I got home that Tokyo Disneyland announced it was going to have Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy–a celebration not too unlike the Frozen event at the Studios. This event is timed from January through March–a season that is probably the lowest in attendance–largely because it is rather frozen in Tokyo that time of year. I would not be surprised to see attendance increase substantially during that time. Disney California Adventure is slated to do something similar–again, not as part of the Christmas holiday, but to improve attendance in dead of winter.

Here’s my point: Disney was months into an enormously successful film before someone finally said, “We should do something more than a meet ‘n’ greet for Frozen.” Most people have no clue that the Studio event went from decision to implementation to opening weekend in only two weeks. It was their way of countering to Harry Potter down the street. And for the investment, it made a big return. I’m sure that changing out Maelstrom was well underway, but why did it take so long to figure out you could do something so much bigger, so much sooner–even for a very reasonable investment?

All of this counters to a recent Orlando Sentinel article that questioned whether interest in Frozen was waning. You wouldn’t know the other night when I tried to move enter in the hub of The Magic Kingdom a few minutes after the new Cinderella Castle lighting show, A Frozen Holiday Wish, had just taken place. The area was packed–”frozen” in place. I heard from Cast Members who stated that on a previous night the crowd started frustratedly chanting in front of the castle when the show was rained out at the last minute. Only at The Magic Kingdom could you have protests over not seeing a Frozen show.No, Frozen is not going away. This is one snowball that is building momentum.

So what does all of this have to do with Star Wars? Reading about the new trailer made me think about this poster I saw for the first time the other day in front of DisneyQuest.

I could see Buzz Lightyear or Pirates of the Caribbean advertised here, but Star Wars? Photo by J. Jeff Kober

I could see Buzz Lightyear or Pirates of the Caribbean advertised here, but Star Wars? Photo by J. Jeff Kober

What makes this strange is that there is no strong Star Wars presence in DisneyQuest–only a few arcade machines–popular as they might be. Why would they link the attractions inside to Star Wars when there is no serious Star Wars presence? Curiously, at the same time “Ride the Comix” closed only a couple of months ago. These vehicles–found on two floors, were a major attraction for DisneyQuest, and now they’re gone.

I think these vehicles are begging to have a new paint job and attraction inside them. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I think these vehicles are begging to have a new paint job and attraction inside them. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Now I may simply be making a link that really is as stretched as they come, but I have always thought these vehicle platforms for “Ride the Comix” looked a lot like Bantha-II cargo skiffs, like the one used over the Pit of Carkoon in the third Star Wars installment, Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Again, it’s only conjecture, but if I were Disney, and I would want to really take advantage of  the Star Wars brand, I would be stretching opportunities throughout the parks, like Universal does to Harry. “Ride the Comix” even used a sort of Lightsaber. Wouldn’t this make sense? Yes, it would take a little bit of investment–but it would be minor compared to the number of people who would suddenly show up at the door step of DisneyQuest. And it would cost a lot less than gutting the building and doing something else.

Here’s my point: Don’t get frozen feet. Take chances Disney. If I were making a guess on any film being successful, it would have to be the new Star Wars movie. It only makes sense to add an attraction to DisneyQuest to liven that experience up. If you can be assured that Frozen will bring in a massive amount of people for a modest investment in a seasonal experience, you can be assured that the same modest kind of investment in Star Wars at DisneyQuest will do even better. And you don’t have to wait until Episode VII comes out to be sure of that.

Oh and by the way, let’s not wait so long to get construction moving on adding more Star Wars to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Don’t let that one sit in carbonate too long.

What about you? Does having a major Star Wars attraction at DisneyQuest interest you? Would your next visit to Walt Disney World include DisneyQuest if it included an attraction based on Star Wars?

 

Review: Walt Disney World Hidden History by Kevin Yee

 

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Disney is into the details, and Kevin Yee has covered the coolest of all those details. It’s the second edition. of Walt Disney World: Hidden History, by Kevin Yee, and it’s a valuable addition to any Disney fan’s library.

As someone who has spent scores of years studying all things Disney I was shocked at how many times Kevin uncovered details I hadn’t seen before. I wanted to grab the book and head out to the park. But if you don’t live nearby, don’t despair because this illustrated book offers a photo look at all of those details. It’s the only way to write about all of these insights.

Kevin not only walks through all four parks, but covers some general details the property as well. Names, numbers, symbols are all unscrambled, with Kevin providing the links that take you into the heritage and meaning of those details. It might be a sign, a prop, a doorway, or a sidewalk–But there’s intentional meaning in all of this, and Kevin helps to make the connections.

Here are some examples of the details in this book:

  • Why Blaine Gibson modeled the farmer’s statue in The American Adventure on his father.
  • The backstory of Dinoland U.S.A., and notes a photo of Chester and Hester themselves.
  • The story behind Hanns Scharff, who created the mosais for the Cinderella Castle corridor.
  • In the Star Tours queue, bags are scanned. Kevin offers a full page list of the more infamous items, from a Madame Leota Crystal ball to my favorite–V.I.N.C.E.N.T. from The Black Hole.

 

Here Aladdin's lamp is being scanned. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Here Aladdin’s lamp is being scanned. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

If that wasn’t enough, Kevin has added some other great additions in the back of the book. First, there’s a comprehensive listing of when all the attractions premiered. Next comes comes a complete list of windows on Main Street. Finally, there’s some notes about great details that can be found at Universal Studios. It’s all helpful stuff.

Given his earlier career, I’m hoping that Kevin could possibly consider doing a companion volume that treats Disneyland with the same lens. Walt Disney World: Hidden History is worthwhile and enjoyable reading.

 

Disney Studio Backlot Tour Closing Permanently

 

Big Changes for Disney’s Hollywood Studios–Let the Makeover Begin!

The Studio Backlot TourDisney has announced that Disney’s long-heralded attraction, The Studio Backlot Tour, will close permanently on September 27, 2014. This attraction will be really the biggest closure of any park attraction ever at Walt Disney World. Up until Kilimanjaro Safaris, no attraction took up more space. And no attraction had experienced more changes over the years. It was perhaps the most defining element of Disney-MGM Studios when it opened in 1989.

Entrance to the Studio Backlot Tour. The original entrance was where The Magic of Disney Animation currently is. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Entrance to the Studio Backlot Tour. The original entrance was where The Magic of Disney Animation currently is. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And now it’s gone.

And yet it’s a real beginning for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I had not really forecast the closing of this tour. Many had done that already. It has been a foregone conclusion. In my heart of hearts I’m hoping that it wouldn’t go away. I quite like the tour. And when facades were added from Zorro in the summer of 2013, it propped me up for a time. (sorry for the pun). I still wonder if the Cars Land comes in if it couldn’t take on a movie making approach and incorporate Catastrophe Canyon. That attraction is still the highlight of the tour.

What I had forecast was the closing of Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and my sources say I should still expect that to occur. It’s another attraction coming to an end. But it’s part of a major expansion on that side of the park. I also contended that there would be a third track added to Toy Story Midway Mania. Some probably wondered if that would happen since Wanderin’ Oaken’s ice skating rink and snow playground took up residence. But it’s been announced that the snow playground and merchandise experience will be moved to where the American Film Institute Showcase was located. Why would they move it over there, if they didn’t have plans to use that space for something else? Now that addition will soon be underway.

Here’s the truth: Years ago when Disney build a new attraction, they built them as one-off experiences. And they still do that when it’s necessary, such as the Frozen makeover to Maelstrom (something I had also predicted). Now Disney wants to budget these additions under large capital expenditures. The new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom is a great example of this, adding not just a ride but restaurants, shops, new character experiences and so forth. Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is another example of this. There is all sorts of expansion work underway and it has nothing to do with Avatar. Much of Discovery Island is under  a fence, and work has just begun on the entire Rivers of Light seating area. And Downtown Disney is another example. What began as some “Hyperion” addition has now become a massive re-doing of the entire Downtown Disney area, down to even re-titling the experience as Disney Springs.

But the biggest example has been the successful re-branding of Disney California Adventure. Here we saw a remodeling that nearly captured every corner of the park from Paradise Pier to Buena Vista Street to the addition of Radiator Springs. That experience showed not only the benefit of a massive makeover to the bottom line, it showed that the park could survive when half of it was behind a construction fence.

That’s what’s happening here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we don’t have an artist’s image, expect that what will be coming in will be at a very grand scale–more like Disney California Adventure than the New Fantasyland expansion. It will be a multi-prong expansion. What is coming in will be very exciting–even if it takes many years to see it open completely up. Bob Iger’s not in a hurry. He would rather see something substantive, than something rushed.

And what of the Studios during this period? Well, who knows? There’s all sorts of things Disney’s Hollywood Studios could do while the rest of the park is under the knife. Most don’t know that the Frozen Summer experience went from idea to opening day in about a two-week time period. That’s right–my sources say that the surprise of the summer came in the 11th hour. Disney defied it’s bureaucratic tendencies by pulling something out of the hat in only two weeks. And all of that was done at a fraction to what Universal spent on Harry Potter.  So imagine what it could do in the months/years to come until the new Disney’s Hollywood Studios re-opens.

Big changes–they be a com in’. So let the makeover begin!

Want more? Visit my Disney at Work Facebook Page where you can see a variety of photos of the Studio Backlot Tour.

 

More MyMagic+ Coming

 

In the recent third quarter report for 2014, Bob Iger discussed MyMagic+, mentioning that “half of the guests now use Magic Bands, and 90% rate it as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.”

First of all, I always tell my clients that ‘very good’ means ‘very little’. The only data that is worthwhile is ‘excellent’. That’s because when people rate something as ‘excellent’ they then become loyal to that product and their intent to return dramatically increases. So combining that number is not really helpful other than it makes the number look good. However, there is something yet to come that could possibly increase those ratings to ‘excellent’. Maybe.

From the Question and Answer Session, a caller asked whether with MyMagic+ there  would be any other benefits in terms of revenue development? This is what Iger had to say:

“There is, and we said that it is going to contribute to our growth in the next quarter… And the plan all along was for it to enable us to grow revenue. Clearly that happens in a variety of ways. It’s increasing Guest satisfaction so that should have an impact on essentially length of stay, repeat visitation, word of mouth. There are other opportunities from a direct revenue generating perspective that I won’t get into in great detail, but we’d be glad to detail  at a later date. Photopass is one such specific example of that, but there are many more. And this is going to start delivering basically positive benefit to bottom line to the quarter we are just in…that we are now in.”

What is it that’s going to help “grow revenue”? The biggest opportunity that I know of that has not been presented to Guests is what I originally referenced as Disney’s Story Maker (which may yet be re-titled when it premieres). I mentioned this back in October 19th of 2012, and in many blogs since. I even asked the question: Disney’s My Magic+ Initiative: Where’s the Magic? But but I’m amazed no one else out on the blog sites have really discussed this. They all talk about the bands and FastPass+ and so forth. But they don’t talk about this. And yet props and other components have been installed over the last year or so. And even more so, original company presentations about MyMagic+ discussed it.

So what is it?

It’s sort of like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom meets PhotoPass. Another way to think of it is the interactive magic wands being used at the Harry Potter attractions at Disney, only your MagicBand would trigger the “magic.” But this time, something would happen to capture that magical moment so that you could have a photo/video keepsake long after it was over.

This Etch A Sketch replaced a ViewMaster reel of Tomorrowland in the Toy Story Mania Queue. It plays some games currently, but when it's designed to sketch a photo of you, something you would want to capture an image of to bring back home. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

This Etch A Sketch replaced a ViewMaster reel of Tomorrowland in the Toy Story Mania Queue. It plays some games currently, but it’s designed to sketch a photo of you, something you would want to capture an image of to bring back home. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

I know a band doesn’t sound as exciting as a wand. But it could be if the interaction or the “magic” was cool enough. And at any rate, the wands have problems as well over at Universal. It practically requires an employee to work with guests at each location to get them to trigger correctly. There were also other variations of how Disney will use this. My understanding was that even Jungle Cruise skippers would have some sort of tablet by which they would know interesting tidbits about the Guests that they could use in their dialogue.

This Mickey Mouse Meet 'n' Greet at the Studios has been there for some time. But look more closely at the movie posters on the wall. They've been changed out completely and are actually monitors set to display different photos when the system is activated. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This Mickey Mouse Meet ‘n’ Greet at the Studios has been there for some time. But look more closely at the movie posters on the wall. They’ve been changed out completely and are actually monitors set to display different photos when the system is activated. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So why isn’t it working yet?

My sources indicate that the major reason is that the entire front end props and presentations and capture have all been created, at the cost of around 20 million dollars. But in the craziness of pulling together the entire initiative, no one had pulled together the back end of the software that would bring it all together and deliver it to the Guests afterwards.

Even the resorts carry this activity. This Hall of Fame exhibit has nothing to do with athletic stars of the past. It is a photo capture moment for MyMagic+. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Even the resorts carry this activity. This Hall of Fame exhibit has nothing to do with athletic stars of the past. It is a photo capture moment for MyMagic+. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

But there were two other problems: One, is that part of what created interaction was that they knew information about you–what your favorite ride was, or where you were from, or what your favorite Disney character was. With all of the “big brother” discussion going on, and with so many organizations out there not being able to keep your personal data from being stolen, there has been some understandable concern about sharing more info–even if that info was knowledge that Tinker Bell was your favorite character.

Head to the Brown Derby right now and you won't see these three framed magazine covers. They've been covered up with different photos until this system is released to Guests. But during the few days they were up, the date would change to the current one, but in the year 1933. I would assume your photo would come up as a black and white image in these pictures. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Head to the Brown Derby right now and you won’t see these three framed magazine covers. They’ve been covered up with different photos until this system is released to Guests. But during the few days they were up, the date would change to the current one, but in the year 1933. I would assume your photo would come up as a black and white image in these pictures. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Still there is another big part of the problem–and one I didn’t know until recently–was that this initiative was going to be something you paid for. Unlike Phineas & Ferb’s Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, or A Pirate’s Adventure: treasures of the Seven Seas, this one was going to require putting down money in some way. That’s where they “grow revenue” comes into play. I think there has been some uncertainty as to how popular it might be, and thus would anyone pay for the memorable photo “keepsakes” that would come from it? I’m not even sure if you can interact for free, and then if you want to keep photo memory you pay for it later on, or what.

There maybe other opportunities to grow more revenue from MyMagic+ “in this quarter”. I think the day they start letting annual pass holders have an account for charging gifts as well as food and beverage is one such possibility. But this is the biggest part of MyMagic+ that hasn’t been introduced. Indeed it is the Magic of MyMagic+. Let’s see if it comes soon.

What do you think? Is this an attraction that might interest you? Would you like something even more magical than just PhotoPass? Are you willing to pay something additional for it?

 

Big Walt Disney World Attraction Changes Ahead

 

New and Revised Attractions Involving Frozen, Toy Story, Soarin’, Indiana Jones, & Star Wars

This morning my article in MousePlanet.com supports the claim that the Frozen is indeed coming to Maelstrom. My sources have indicated that this is indeed well underway. I’m not exactly sure as to when, or to what degree it will replace Maelstrom, but I’m certain that it is coming. Frozen is a great brand, and Disney is ready to build upon it in any way possible.

Maelstrom in Norway at Epcot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Maelstrom in Norway at Epcot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Frozen’s success as well as many other activities in the company have led Bob Iger to proclaim this week that the organization delivered the highest quarter of any in the history of the Walt Disney Company. With that will come big new attractions as well as changes to existing attractions to Walt Disney World, such as the one heading to Norway. But this isn’t the only development I’ve spoken of. Early on last month I first came forward with the notice that a new theater would be added to Soarin’ at Epcot. But pre-construction is moving forward.

I also noted early last month that there would be a third track added to Toy Story Midway Mania. While no other blogs other than Screamscape have really picked up on this, the truth is that development on that track addition is further along than I really thought it would be. Some have thought this to be impossible given the track design. One new insight that I have is that in inserting this new track, the area dedicated to guests with mobility challenges will be moved to a new location.

Ariel view of the boarding area for Guests with mobility challenges. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Ariel view of the boarding area for Guests with mobility challenges. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

In yesterday’s conference call, Iger confirmed: “We’re also developing ideas and designs for a far greater Star Wars presence in our parks. We expect to provide details about this sometime next year.”

In preparation for this I noted that not only acknowledged the announced departure of American Idol, but that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular would also be finally going away. Again, other blogs have questioned whether this will happen or not. But I’ve had additional sources from both the front line and from management again acknowledge that this is indeed happening. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is making big changes soon.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular has been a favorite for many years. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular has been a favorite for many years. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

By the way, the Q3 report was wonderfully timed to occur in the aftermath of the opening weekend for Guardians of the Galaxy. Noted Iger: “We are also thrilled with the spectacular performance of Guardians of the Galaxy, which holds great promise as a new franchise for our company and once again reinforces the tremendous value of Marvel.” Little notice was given to the fact that the movie was being promoted at Disney’s Hollywood Studios over the last month. But this was a small foothold in the possibility of Marvel moving into the parks in a big way. What are the possibilities of Guardians becoming  a replacement for Stitch in Tomorrowland, or being a next door neighbor to the Star Wars addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios? I have no insights or announcements there. But that would very cool.

Marvel has finally arrived at a Walt Disney World theme park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Marvel has finally arrived at a Walt Disney World theme park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Tomorrow, I’ll add more insight to the MyMagic+ program, which was a part of the conversation in the Question and Answer Session during the Q3 FY14Earnings Conference Call. There’s more to MyMagic+ than what has been showcased. We’ll show you what is on the way.

 

A Disney Frozen One-Two Punch to Diagon Alley

 

It’s the summer of 2014. The theme park aficionados have  been waiting for.

Diagon Alley promises to attend to details in a way that only Disney has consistently delivered in the past.

Diagon Alley promises to attend to details in a way that only Disney has consistently delivered in the past.

This morning Universal Studios Florida will formally open their new Harry Potter experience for all its guests. Based on the advanced press coverage, there’s little doubt that Diagon Alley  won’t be a home run for Universal Studios Florida. That’s good news as that park’s attendance last year was barely over the 7,000,000 number, with Islands of Adventure being about a million more than that. This addition should help the park see some some solid increases.

There’s been no shortage of comparisons among bloggers about how Diagon Alley will more than trump whatever was created by the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. Since the first parts of Storybook Circus emerged, Disney has spent nearly two years uncovering all of the elements of the Fantasyland expansion. That has netted them nearly an additional two million guests increase in attendance, and now puts Magic Kingdom as the most visited theme park in the world with an estimated 18,588,000 having passed through their gates–some eleven million more than came through the Universal Studios park. Yes, Diagon Alley will do very well, but the Disney parks in Florida are still king.

More interesting this last week is what’s going on at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Their attendance was just over 10 million last year–not nearly what Magic Kingdom does, but significantly higher than Universal’s parks. Still, attendance during the summer is generally slow. Typically they bring out some little promotion. This year it began as Rock Your Summer Side. Disney mentioned it on their own blog on June 20th: “Mickey and the gang will be dressed for fun in the sun, ready to rock their summer side, too! Nearby you’ll even find a giant postcard set up to mark the occasion. It’ll be a great spot to snap a selfie and share the fun with all your friends and family.”  I never saw any costuming changes for Mickey and the gang, nor did I notice a postcard. In the wake of Star Wars Weekends, it looked like a quiet–if not dead–summer for the park.

The park on July 2nd, with a tepid crowd in front of the stage during the DJ hours. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The park on July 2nd, with a tepid crowd in front of the stage during the DJ/Rock Band hours. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Then low and behold, six days later Disney announced on a dime that Frozen Summer Fun LIVE! would be coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Where some four comments had attended Disney’s Rock Your Summer Side blog entry, there were now over 130 comments for the new Frozen event. Suddenly there were promotional materials all over the resort. There were even billboards all around Orlando, and banners up and down the parking lot of the Studios. This event has truly come out of nowhere. Finally Disney marketing was able to keep something under wraps until they wanted to promote it, as there were no real leaks about this earlier.

So turn-around was this event, that the sand sculpture out front hadn't been completed. Remember, that only the night previous, the park was celebrating the Fourth of July. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So turn-around was opening day for this event, that the sand sculpture out front hadn’t been completed. Remember, that only the night previous, the park was celebrating the Fourth of July. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I was there on the first day and was blown away by how many people had shown up. I headed over to Studio 1 where at Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post & Frozen Funland, guests could pay an additional $10 a piece to go ice skating. The lines were no different than when they were lined up here for Darth Maul only a few weeks ago. Only they were paying this time to get in, and the length of time to get in was completely uncertain, as Disney didn’t have any real experience moving people through and ice skating experience.

It looked no different in terms of the number of people waiting when it was Star Wars Weekends. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

It looked no different in terms of the number of people waiting when it was Star Wars Weekends. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Where Disney really didn’t have their game face on in having sufficient merchandise when the movie Frozen came out, they are now ready. Merchandise is everywhere and guests were buying it up by the bagful. Similarly, there is plenty of delicious Frozen treats to eat, as well as a VIP package that included dessert parties and RSVP seatings. From a per cap point-of-view, this was every bit a winner as any wand you would buy at Olivanders.

Definitely the hype of the entire event was on the scale of Star Wars Weekends–only this wasn’t a weekend event. This is going on every day through the first of September. As I stepped through the park I realized that this was no lame event. Disney had quietly created a one-two punch. Where most figured the completion of Fantasyland Forest and the premiere of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train would be Disney’s answer to competing with Universal this summer, suddenly–and only a few days before Universal premiered Diagon Alley–Frozen suddenly shows up out of no where.

I took my place near the audio tent by the stage and awaited the arrival of Anna and Elsa. Looking around it occurred to me that Disney’s brass had shown up for this event. Everyone from the head of Walt Disney World, George Kalogridis and on down were in attendance. You could see the thrill (or was it surprise) on their faces seeing the size of the crowd that were in attendance.

George Kalogridis in the blue suit talking to others Cast Members before Anna and Elsa's welcome. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

George Kalogridis in the blue suit talking to others Cast Members before Anna and Elsa’s welcome. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And they made no token visit. I found them returning to the first showing of the For the First Time in Forever: A “Frozen” Sing-Along Celebration. While created on a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Let’s Put on a Show” time frame, they created a fun event that frankly rivals the Beauty and the Beast show down the street in terms of pure enjoyment.

Simply put, this show is both joyous and down-right funny. Parents will love it as much as the kids. And that's what Disney wants. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Simply put, this show is both joyous and down-right funny. Parents will love it as much as the kids. And that’s what Disney wants. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

As I heard the voices singing along to the song, I realized that Disney had successfully targeted an audience that Universal wasn’t going to get through their turnstiles. The children sitting there in the audience probably haven’t seen Harry Potter in the movie theater–they’re simply too young to have attended. But here they are in mass numbers knowing every word to the songs of Frozen.

The targeted customer here sits on the shoulders of those who make the ultimate choice of where to go while on vacation. They are not really the same demographic as those visiting Harry Potter. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The targeted customer here sits on the shoulders of those who make the ultimate choice of where to go while on vacation. They are not really the same demographic as those visiting Harry Potter. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Don’t mistake me–this isn’t going to shorten the crowds at Universal one bit. And maybe this isn’t quite a one-two punch. Perhaps it’s more like a snowball being thrown at Universal. But Disney has a huge hit on their hands that’s going to heat up the attendance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And what is most amazing–the cost of doing this event is a bare fraction of what it cost to put together Diagon Alley. Disney may not only gain in attendance, it may gain a new annual event, similar to Star Wars Weekends or the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot.

Guests now have real choices as to where they would like to go this summer. Clearly, the theme park wars are very much alive.

 

Soarin’ and Toy Story Midway Mania Slated For Changes

 

What do you do with decreasing the wait times for your two most popular attractions at Walt Disney World? Guests know not only how quickly FastPass+ options run out for Soarin’ and Toy Story Midway Mania, but that waiting in the standby line can be grueling with waits on any day usually passing the 60 minute mark. It’s a leading reason why there is a two-tier system for FastPasses at those two parks. At Epcot, you’re stuck with deeding between Soarin’ and Test Track. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the same thing occurs with respect to Toy Story Midway Mania and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.

Soon a new "gate" will be available for guests boarding Soarin'.

Soon a new “gate” will be available for guests boarding Soarin’.

Well, according to my sources, much of the challenges relative to waiting in long queues will partly be relieved as Epcot’s Soarin’ has commenced work on a third theater behind The Land. Already, a number of trailers have been removed from behind that area to allow for the building of an additional theater/projection system. Currently there are two theaters already when the entire attraction is up and running. With the new movie being added where guests will be Soarin’ around the world instead of just California, it’s considered that this will help relieve some of the additional demand for experiencing the attraction.

Long lines are a big part of the wait at Toy Story Midway Mania. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Long lines are a big part of the wait at Toy Story Midway Mania. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Interestingly the same thing is being planned for Disney’s Toy Story Mania. Because of how the vehicles spin about, many guests don’t know that there are actually two track systems that carry guests through the many games. By taking over the Soundstage 1 space temporarily held by the wildly popular Oaken’s Trading Post and Frozen Funland, they will be able to add an additional track and again increase capacity. The upside of that is that more guests will experience the attraction. The downside is that many had hoped the space would be used for another attraction. The timing for this is a little uncertain. But those waiting for major changes to the Studios have become accustomed to second-guessing the timing of things.

Guests waiting an uncertain time to pay for the privilege of ice skating in the middle of summer at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is where the additional track will be located. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Guests waiting an uncertain time to pay for the privilege of ice skating in the middle of summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is where the additional track will be located. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about Frozen’s arrival at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–and its competitive implications. What started as a small meet ‘n’ greet at Epcot, has flowered into a popular meet ‘n’ greet at the Magic Kingdom, and is now a big experience wow at the Studios. And speaking of the Studios, know that the most comprehensive insight to this park is available in my newest book, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show biz to Your Biz. It’s a unique collection of stories and insights that focus not just on the park, but on Disney’s own history as well as Hollywood’s own legacy.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz

Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz

 

American Idol and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular Closing

 

This week Laughing Place and Orlando Attractions Magazine reported that American Idol was closing at the end of the year. In the case of the latter, a statement was posted between the Walt Disney World Company, FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment:

“After more than five successful years, The American Idol Experience will be coming to a close at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in January 2015. Our partnership with FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment has been a great addition to the park and we are very appreciative of the amazing cast and guests who have devoted their time and talent to make this experience special and memorable. We are incredibly proud of the more than 2,000 Dream Tickets that have given guests a chance to live their very own Cinderella story and audition for ‘American Idol’. This past season alone, three of the Top 13 contestants were originally discovered through The American Idol Experience and we expect the attraction to continue providing top contestants for ‘American Idol’ XIV in the coming year.”

The American Idol Experience. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The American Idol Experience. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

My sources also suggest that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is also slated to close at the end of the year. All of this is happening to make way for the major Star Wars additions coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It will surround that end of the Echo Lake corner of the park, and supposedly extend further out as well, though in what direction(s) is uncertain. What is coming in remains to be formally announced, as the attraction is also being tied to a very anticipated follow-up series starting in 2015.

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

What continued presence Indiana Jones will have in the park (other than The Great Movie Ride) is yet to be certain. I should also state that the cast has been informed on past occasions that the show was coming to an end. So anything can happen. In fact, it was never intended to last more than a handful of years. And yet it has remained. Still, if this show is important to you, then make plans to visit before the end of the year.

 

Toon Lagoon at IOA: The Trail to a Great Work Environment

 

What Qualities Do You Look For In The Place You Work At?

At Universal’s Islands of Adventure there are two comics that intertwine in Toon Lagoon. While seen, most guests seldom stop to study them. To most, they are simply incidental theming to the park. But they offer a couple of great thoughts about creating a great work environment.

Mark Trail and Family circus Share the Same Trail Here at Toon Lagoon.

Mark Trail and Family circus Share the Same Trail Here at Toon Lagoon.

The first is a comic known form any years as Mark Trail. Mark Trail is a comic strip created by Jack Elrod, and featured themes that focused on the environment. It was targeted to those who appreciated the great outdoors, and was often instructional in its ideas about how to care for nature and its surroundings. To inspire his small team, Jack assembled his artists in the second floor of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the Atlanta area. Windows looked out over a 130 acre forest that surrounded the home. It provided inspiration for many of the comic strip adventures.

In this studio photo are Ed Dodd, Jack Elrod, Tom Hill and Rhett Carmichael.

In this studio photo are Ed Dodd, Jack Elrod, Tom Hill and Rhett Carmichael.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting some impressive work environments. Google has so many cool amenities. Red Door Interactive overlooked the Padres Stadium in San Diego. And speaking of natural settings–the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a beautiful training facility in the hills of West Virginia. And yet, it isn’t just about the location, the appointments, and the amenities. It’s about the people you work with, and the esprit de corps.

That brings us to the other comic depicted–Family Circus–created by Bil Keane. It’s the depiction of family life, and the humor, love, and camaraderie found therein. In another Toon Lagoon panel, you can trace the trail from Billy back to the rest of the family.

The Family Circus looking for Billy. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Family Circus looking for Billy. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There were a couple of key elements found in this comic, which coincidentally tie into any workplace culture:

1. Values. There are strong messages written humorously throughout the comic strip. Themes of being grateful, courteous, and caring are among just a few.

2. Gremlins. In 1975 Keane introduced an invisible Gremlin named “Not Me” which becomes a way for the kids to place the blame on anyone but themselves. Other gremlins were introduced like “Just B. Cause” and “Ida Know”. These same gremlins often creep up in organizations, unless they are defined and thrown out.

3. Dotted Paths. A dotted thick line would often show a character’s path through the house or down the street. We can see that same path utilized here in the comics depicted in Toon Lagoon. In business, this is represented by providing people a path of opportunity for them to grow and develop. In Bil Keane’s family, that path provided opportunities for his own children. Billy in the cartoon is really a representation of Bil’s own son Glen Keane, who went on to be a major character animator at Disney, to include Aladdin, Ariel, The Little Mermaid, Tarzan and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

The trail even continues winding along the walkway of the park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The trail even continues winding along the walkway of the park. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

What messages does this comic strip have toward our work environment? I just got through doing two weeks of programming for a major college in New York. The comment that came up repeatedly was how when the college was small, it “felt like family”. When you stop to dissect that statement, you really it isn’t that the group was small. It was that they knew each other. They were more dependent on each other. They worked together to make things happen. These are the things that make a family a family–even at work.

And yet, there is nothing that stops a family from being a family–even when it grows bigger. I’ve known families with a dozen kids, and none of the older children ever say: “Back when there were only two kids it used to feel more like family.” Family doesn’t stop because it grows. Family stops because you stop working to nurture it. And the bigger the family, the more you have to nurture it.

People don’t leave brick and mortar. They may be attracted to the physical assets of the organization, but in the end they stay because “it feels like family”. What about your organization? Does it feel like family? Are there strong values that bring people together? Are there gremlins that get in the way? Is there a path for your success? How are you “marking the trail” in a way that makes the organization successful?

 

 

10 Things I Love About Disney’s Hollywood Studios

 

Happy 25th Disney’s Hollywood Studios!

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

My columns usually talk about best-in-business practices at Disney. But it’s the Silver anniversary for one of the most popular theme parks in the entire world. It’s time to celebrate. On this date 25 years ago, Michael Eisner stepped forward to declare:

The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood–not a place on the map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was–and always will be.

I have been there hundreds of times with my family. We have enjoyed everything from Hunchback of Notre Dame–the Musical to Superstar Television to Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. In no particular order I’ve captured 10 I love most about Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

1. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!  Still amazing–and fun–after all these years.

2. The Brown Derby. Cobb salad and grapefruit cake in a luxurious setting. Need we say more?

3. Size. My feet aren’t as tired as when I walk the whole of Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This park is doable!

4. Citizens of Hollywood. The best streetmosphere and improvisational street comedy this side of the Adventurer’s Club–or either side, since that club no longer exists.

5. Neon Lights. Especially after a late afternoon storm. Glowing in the reflection of wet streets of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. Beautiful.

6. The Great Movie Ride. Some may argue whether it needs an update. But as is, it’s a well-done attraction showcasing everything from Mary Poppins to John Wayne to The Wizard of Oz. In fact, it’s not just well-done, it’s great!

7. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Perhaps the best non-coaster thrill ride ever imagined. Probably the best themed attraction ever imagined.

8. Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. A fitting tribute to the man who started it all–and the mouse that helped.

9. 50′s Prime Time Cafe. A step back in time to formica table tops and peanut butter and jelly shakes. It’s enough to make you forget to eat your vegetables.

10. Star Tours. Great ride that’s now even better than ever. I only hope that an even bigger Star Wars galaxy is not to far, far away.

What are your favorite things about Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Share that with us.

And as you’re exiting the park, know that if you are someone who really loves the heritage of Disney, Hollywood, and of all things at Walt Disney World, you may want to consider my newest book, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz. It’s the most comprehensive volume ever written about this park. And it’s brand new–just in time for this week’s anniversary celebration. Check it out!

And hooray for Disney’s Hollywood Studios!