New Magic Kingdom ‘Welcome Show’

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In case you missed the news earlier this week, Walt Disney World announced that guests will now be allowed to enter the Main Street, U.S.A. area of the park before the park’s scheduled opening time.

At Magic Kingdom park opening, a new welcome show will officially open the park for the day on the Castle Forecourt Stage, as a Royal Herald delivers a proclamation that “the magic can begin!” while joined by characters on stage. In addition to this new show, Main Street Bakery will open early.

We’re late to the punch on this one, and that’s because, frankly, I didn’t really consider this news worth reporting. Based on fan response, I guess I’ve been ‘proven’ wrong. That response is what I find interesting, so I thought I’d take a few moments to offer my thoughts…

First of all, there are legitimate operational and safety reasons that motivated this permanent change. (It’s our understanding that this new show is not temporary during the upcoming railroad refurbishment–that’s wishful thinking on the part of fans given the coincidental refurbishment timing.)

If you’ve ever been for the current Welcome Show on a busy day, you know this area in front of the Train Station can get really crowded and downright uncomfortable. It can get so bad that it’s difficult–or nearly impossible–for more guests to enter through the turnstiles, and the whole area from the Train Station back through security checkpoints can get backed up.

Given that, and irrespective of all else, I can understand Disney’s rationale for making this decision. Moreover, I applaud the decision to introduce a new Welcome Show on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage. The current show is a nice little moment that many guests like to start their day, and it would be aggravating to totally eliminate that without any replacement.

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With that said, I can understand being saddened by the change. For many guests I’m sure this Train Station Welcome Show has become tradition–a way they start every day in Magic Kingdom. People hold nostalgia for the current show, and it will be sad for them to have their tradition end.

What troubles me is the outcry and actual outrage over the change. The line between being sad and being outraged is not a fine one. Being sad and understanding that change is necessary/important for the parks are not mutually exclusive concepts. People can be upset about this, but also understand it’s how things go. (To be sure, I think this is the reaction of most guests who are upset about the change.)

There are also people who are actually outraged, as if their vacation will somehow be ruined by this. There are also people cursing Disney, declaring that this change is only being made in the name of increasing profits. I want to address each of these reactions in turn…

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First, let’s not pretend the current show is some masterpiece of themed entertainment. This is not tantamount to replacing Tower of Terror or some other iconic attraction with a thoughtless movie tie-in.

The current show is a quick smile and wave show featuring favorite characters arriving on the train and a family of the day. It is enjoyable, but most of what makes it ‘special’ to any individual guest is the imputed significance from memories and experiences formed around the show. It’s the start of an exciting day in Magic Kingdom–of course a lot of people are going to have good memories surrounding it.

Unless the replacement show in front of Cinderella Castle manages to be an inexplicable train wreck with Jar Jar Banks and Ivan Vanko showing up to attack Mickey Mouse, it’s probably going to be a similar show of comparable substance and quality.

As such, a wait and see approach strikes me as the right one in this situation. Over time, most guests will form new special memories and nostalgia around this new show.

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Second, the ‘cash grab’ argument. It’s possible this move might make Disney additional money thanks to food, beverage, and merchandise sales. That’s not certain, though. In fact, history suggests otherwise…

I say that because the new practice of opening Main Street early is how things used to be done (meet the new way, same as the old way…). The switch to the Train Station Welcome Show was made post-9/11 (sometime ~2002-03 when attendance was down), reportedly as a cost-savings measure so Magic Kingdom would not have to staff Main Street early.

My childhood memories of rope drop at Magic Kingdom all involve an actual rope drop (hence the name) to the various lands. The old (and soon to be new, again) way of doing things at Magic Kingdom is how Disneyland and Disneyland Paris still do rope drop. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the Train Station Welcome Show became a thing.

So, it’s possible that this will be more profitable (especially given the addition of Starbucks to Main Street), but it’s also possible that it won’t. In any case, some of the best decisions Disney makes are mutually beneficial: for it as a company and for us as guests. I have a hard time believing that this won’t benefit most guests.

With the current Welcome Show, many guests rush around to leave their hotel room as early as possible, choosing between either waking up at the crack of dawn for breakfast or skipping it in a rush to get out of the room and arrive at Magic Kingdom as early as possible. They then stand around in front of the Train Station for ~30 minutes, doing nothing while waiting for the park to open.

With the new show and procedure, guests arriving early will be able to multi-task, having some of their party grab spots for the show (or line up at the ropes leading to each land), and others head to grab breakfast. Likewise, those guests will also be able to capture (uncrowded) family photos on Main Street and in front of Cinderella Castle while they wait, instead of rushing into the park and facing the dilemma of getting those photos or racing to popular attractions.

From my perspective, that’s a win-win for Disney and guests at best. At worst, it’s a win for just guests if the cost of staffing Main Street early still outweighs the revenue generated. Arguably the only potential loser (in terms of guests) is those with 8 a.m. breakfast ADRs who used to get empty park photos on Main Street, but I’m guessing Main Street is still going to be pretty empty right at 8 a.m. Most guests are not going to show up an hour early for rope drop–they’ll arrive at 8:30 a.m. or later.

While I think outrage is an inappropriate reaction to this, it’s not all that surprising. I believe this reaction is in large part due to a younger/newer generation of Disney guests now reaching the point in their ‘journey’ as fans when elements of the Walt Disney World experience around which they formed memories are starting to change (we saw similar reactions to Celebrate the Magic being replaced by the superior Once Upon a Time). As someone who has seen a lot of the things I grew up with at Walt Disney World over the years change or be retired, I can empathize with these people. I can also offer this piece of advice: try to separate out personal attachment and emotion when thinking about and discussing changes. There is nothing wrong with viewing Disney’s decisions with a critical eye (to the contrary: it’s healthy and good), but when everything is viewed through the lens of nostalgia, you are more inclined to be unduly critical of change. When you’re critical of everything, you render your voice meaningless as someone who constantly complains. Just as not all change is good, not all change is bad.


37 Responses to “New Magic Kingdom ‘Welcome Show’”
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