There’s good and potentially bad news about Walt Disney World entertainment–especially characters and streetmosphere–as performers return to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios while others have been quietly removed from WDW’s website. In this post, we’ll cover what’s returning and presumably ending, plus commentary about the likely motivations for the changes.
Let’s start with the good news, as several meet & greets quietly returned to Walt Disney World over the weekend. In Magic Kingdom, there are several character greeting locations that are now back in action. At the front of the park, Snow White is now meeting guests outside on the Town Square Theater Porch. Inside the theater, Minnie Mouse is now back meeting with Mickey–with both characters appearing together in the 50th Anniversary outfits.
All of these are relatively significant developments that could bode well for both other meet & greets and character dining experiences. As has been noted in other posts on a few occasions, we’ve heard that Walt Disney World is currently experiencing a ‘princess shortage.’ This is one big reason why meals with face characters–Akershus, 1900 Park Fare, Bon Voyage Breakfast, and even the normal Cinderella’s Royal Table–have yet to return.
While casting requirements vary, we’re nevertheless a bit surprised that the above meet & greets would return before the aforementioned meals. The latter directly generate revenue, whereas the former are more supporting players, for lack of a better term. They’re not dedicated meet & greet locations, just locations in Magic Kingdom where characters have historically appeared.
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there are a couple more character developments. Star Wars Launch Bay returned without fanfare, a week earlier than previously assumed. With this, Darth Vader is now back in DHS for the first time in over 2 years. Meanwhile, Chewbacca is apparently making intergalactic flights throughout the day, appearing on both Batuu and Earth.
In other DHS entertainment news, Walt Disney World has updated its website to indicate that the Green Army Drum Corps will soon be returning to Toy Story Land. Currently, these drummers march during the Pixar motorcade, but they previously marched around the land with high-energy performances and drum sequences. It’ll be interesting to see whether the motorcades stick around with more characters returning and entertainment moving back to the lands.
The potentially more significant story than these characters and performers returning is the changes made to DisneyWorld.com over the last couple of weeks. In a series of quiet updates, Disney has removed several pages that previously listed “temporarily unavailable” entertainment offerings at Walt Disney World.
Additionally, there’s no longer a landing page for all of the “temporarily unavailable” entertainment acts and experiences. Instead, the links to various entertainment offerings now show an error page with Stitch or redirect elsewhere on DisneyWorld.com.
Here’s a rundown of the entertainment that no longer exists on the official Walt Disney World website:
Pandora Drummers – Swotu Wayä
Jeweled Dragon Acrobats
Citizens of Hollywood
Jedi Training Academy
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Citizens of Main Street
Main Street Trolley Show
Meet Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Tea Party
Meet Gaston at his Tavern
Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater
Offering commentary to this news is tricky. It should go without saying, but the official website status is not necessarily conclusive of reality. If it were, Stitch would constantly be eating anything and everything. Joking aside, we would’ve seen Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM for each of the last two years. Conversely, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party would not have returned. And yet, we didn’t and it did.
I’m actually surprised that Walt Disney World didn’t remove or hide many of these pages from public view long ago. It’s a bad look for prospective vacation planners to see so many things marked as “temporarily unavailable.” It thus might make sense to take down pages for anything without an internal target date for returning.
Speaking of internal target dates, another factor could be Walt Disney World’s goal of being back to normal by the start of the next fiscal year on October 1, 2022. The company wants to be at 100% or as close to it as possible, with that date as the deadline. It doesn’t mean that’ll be achieved, but it’s the goal.
One way to make that easier to accomplish is simply moving the goalposts. If certain things are removed from the “temporarily unavailable” list, they don’t count towards the target. That doesn’t mean those things or something substantially similar can’t still return at a later date. This has happened already to some extent–in the days before closing, several World Showcase entertainment acts were retired, only to be brought back last fall and this spring.
I suspect that’s at least partly what’s happening here. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I have a hard time believing anything on the Magic Kingdom list, specifically, is gone for good. The Main Street Trolley Show and Citizens are iconic; although it wouldn’t be the first time Walt Disney World eliminated something beloved by fans, it just seems unlikely in this particular, high-profile case.
Then there are the meet & greets in Magic Kingdom. Gaston is a guest favorite, Tinker Bell has a dedicated location, and Alice in Wonderland–or someone from that film–makes sense near Mad Tea Party. Bringing back Snow White but none of those just doesn’t pass the smell test.
There’s a good chance many of the removed pages are permanent cuts, though. Voyage of the Little Mermaid was rumored to have been gutted two years ago; it’s the type of thing that seems likely to have returned by now if at all. Same goes for Jedi Training Academy–although I’ll never understand why that guest-favorite is gone. I also don’t get the decision to not bring back the fireworks shows while Fantasmic has been on hiatus, but since that has not happened, it probably won’t ever occur.
The Citizens of Hollywood have been “shrinking” for years, so that one being permanent wouldn’t be a shock–although it would be incredibly disappointing. They gave so much life, humor, and old Hollywood charm to the front of the park.
Nothing on the Animal Kingdom or EPCOT lists would be a major surprise. At least a couple of those World Showcase acts had their contracts terminated back in March 2020, so this isn’t really “new” news on that front. It’s just that their pages have finally been removed.
As for the acts in Pandora – World of Avatar, also not a surprise. The drummers brought energy to the land and the mech suit dude was good, weird fun. Neither were particularly memorable and iconic, and Animal Kingdom has long cycled through entertainment acts. (In the last several years, the same is true of World Showcase.)
Assuming those lists except Magic Kingdom are mostly accurate, they’re nevertheless concerning. We’ve written versions of this same editorial countless times, as Walt Disney World has had a penchant of cutting entertainment for several years…pretty much since the start of Chapek’s tenure as head of Parks & Resorts. Not to blame him both then and now (these decisions are below his pay grade now), but the timing lines up.
Our commentary commonly fixates on the dangers of Disney cutting too much fat from budgets to the point where they “hit bone.” At its best, Walt Disney World is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the little moments, the ambiance, the live musicians, the way everything just feels alive that, cumulatively, defines a trip even if you don’t actively notice at the time.
First-time guests may not be able to put their finger on exactly what resonated or made them feel happy at any given moment, but it’s all of this, in its totality. First-timers who fall in love with the parks and become lifelong fans are not doing so because they view the parks simply as a collection of rides. Live entertainment and the little “unnecessary” things are part of what makes the parks feel lived-in, and those acts you might walk past seep into your mind and do move the ‘guest satisfaction’ needle.
While this hasn’t been true the last couple of years, it has historically been the case, and is what made many of us lifelong Disney fans. (It’s also why there is currently a considerable difference in atmosphere between Disneyland and Walt Disney World.)
In past years, we’ve expressed significant concern that Walt Disney World would make such aggressive cuts at times of record attendance growth and profits. If that is how Disney reacted to unprecedented prosperity, how bad would things get when the country entered a recession and Disney felt an actual “need” to further reduce costs to meet profit targets?
You might say that the last couple of years offered an answer to that. Or that Walt Disney World is preparing for exactly that by eliminating some of the “temporarily unavailable” entertainment. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that during the Great Recession, the company actually expanded entertainment as part of the “Summer Nightastic” campaign to lure fans back to the parks.
There are also some patterns worth addressing from pre-closure years. For several consecutive years, entertainment cuts were made in the lead-up to the new fiscal year. That would be followed by official news in October about a bunch of new entertainment beginning early the next year. That was sort of the pattern, with Disney coasting through the fall with less entertainment, before a spike in Christmas-time offerings and fresh additions at the start of the following calendar year.
Although not totally analogous since nothing is technically being cut from what exists in the parks right now, it’s relevant if the new fiscal year is a significant date for entertainment and other normalcy at Walt Disney World.
Ultimately, it won’t surprise us if these “temporarily unavailable” offerings being removed from the website never return. It’s no secret that Walt Disney World now aims for constant growth, and is beholden to each quarter’s financial results–and beating prior quarters. If the numbers fall short, every department is asked to reduce spending to help buoy the numbers. This is irrespective of ever-increasing hotel and ticket prices, the removal of guest perks, new upcharges, etc.
We’ve witnessed the results of this several times over the last few years, in everything from entertainment cuts to reducing ride capacity in the off-season to reducing staffing throughout the parks. It’s short-term thinking for a business unit that should be more fixated on long-term health. It’s as if Walt Disney World is teetering on the precipice of insolvency, even as the company boasts about how per-guest spending is hitting record highs. Charging more and offering less might be one way to achieve short-term targets, but there are certainly long-term negative consequences to that approach. Here’s hoping that’s not what’s happening here, and Walt Disney World continues to restore entertainment, while adding new offerings to kick off the second year of the 50th Anniversary festivities.
What do you think of these Walt Disney World entertainment additions and removals? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about WDW restoring “temporarily unavailable” entertainment now that it’s been removed from the website, or think that’s irrelevant? Worried that Walt Disney World might never get back to 100% in terms of entertainment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!