The State of Walt Disney World: Stardate 2015 – Part 2

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Like I said in State of Walt Disney World – Part 1, this two-part post is sort of in lieu of a trip report, with other topics that would have been covered in a trip report handled in dedicated posts. Part 1 covered my observations and speculation as to Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. This installment focuses on Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs, plus my take on the overall state of Walt Disney World and the Resort’s future.

As a preliminary matter, I want to address some of the response to Part 1, as I haven’t gotten a chance to reply to every comment there. I have to say I’m a bit surprised by the positive reaction to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, although that appears mostly to be coming from first time or infrequent visitors. As I said in reply to one comment, when you don’t know what you’re missing, it’s tough to miss it. The Studios is still an enjoyable park with solid headliners…but it’s not what it was even a few years ago.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many glowing comments about Animal Kingdom and its potential, and conversely, about how truly abhorrent Dino-Rama is. Usually in fan circles, the bulk of Animal Kingdom is derisively mocked as a half-day park, with praise heaped on Dino-Rama as being “clever” and its supporters saying “you just don’t get it.” Perhaps the readers of this blog are particularly astute…or perhaps my many knocks on Dino-Rama over the years have led to Dino-Rama fans no longer reading this blog and I’m left with you people. Whatever the case, the comments were refreshing.

In terms of Epcot, there’s not much to say. If there’s one thing Epcot still “inspires”, it’s a range of emotions, and the comments reflected that. Some people love what it is, some people love what it once was. The latter group is the biggest wildcard, as they either remain loyal to the park due to nostalgia, harbor resentment for what has been lost, or fall somewhere in between.

Enough recap–let’s get back into the good, bad, and ugly of Walt Disney World: STARDATE SUMMER 2015…

Magic Kingdom

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The Magic Kingdom seems like a “Tale of Two Theme Parks” right now. There are huge portions of the park that look great, still glowing from work done over the last couple of years, including Liberty Square, New Fantasyland, and Main Street. Even Adventureland is starting to look better and hopefully will receive some TLC in advance of the Skipper’s Cantina opening late this year. Other lands like the main portion of Fantasyland could use some work, especially on the little things.

Then there’s Tomorrowland. Part of me wonders if the park maps distributed to maintenance teams do not include Tomorrowland. Its blighted state is most evident from the PeopleMover, but even from the ground where most guests will view it, the land looks downright bad in places (and I’m not talking ‘dated’ bad, I mean dirty). Disneyland has the same problem with its Tomorrowland, so I’m wondering if this is part of the unified Disney Parks strategy to present a bleak view of cleanliness in the future?

Overall, I’m torn with regard to the Magic Kingdom. It should be Disney’s crown jewel. It’s the most popular park at the top resort destination in the world, but both Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland top it. It deserves to be Disney’s best theme park anywhere, but it’s not.

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With that said, I have to admit that I still feel pretty good about the Magic Kingdom. The new Central Plaza (Hub) project is coming together, and thus far, I like what I see. I will miss the views of the water and wish that it were a bit more lush, I also realize that from an operational perspective, this was a desperately needed project. With that in mind, I think the choices made have been solid, and there are some nice areas that make this area feel like a park. I really like the fountains and manicured shrubbery, and I don’t mind the turf (which has become the controversial focal point of the project for fans). To me, it looks fine and was part of a necessary compromise.

Ultimately, though, I think the jury is still out until the center of the Hub is complete. The Hub used to look great when there were denser trees there, and while I know that level of greenery is unlikely, more foliage would be nice. There is great potential to make this area feel less like a sea of concrete as it did before, and I really hope Disney avails itself of this opportunity.

Aside from this project, all is relatively quiet in Magic Kingdom, and I suspect this will be the case in terms of huge projects for the foreseeable future as other parks (rightfully) receive attention so they can draw some of the crowds away from the Magic Kingdom. In the interim, I hope the team running the Magic Kingdom will focus on maintenance and champion its smaller attractions–even on a meager budget, there are a few attractions that could be noticeably improved upon (Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, Fantasyland dark rides, etc.). The Magic Kingdom deserves a breathtaking E-Ticket people-eater, but equally important is what’s already there looking wonderful again if the park’s management wants to attain the ‘flagship’ distinction that the Magic Kingdom deserves.

Disney Springs

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I never thought I would type these words: I’m looking forward to spending time at Disney Springs. I was there (at Downtown Disney) on 3 separate occasions during my recent trip, which is unheard of for me. In fact, there was a period of several years after Pleasure Island closed that I didn’t go there at all.

Disney Springs certainly hasn’t “arrived” yet, but it is progressing nicely, and seems to have turned a corner in terms of the obtrusiveness of the construction. It’s now to the point where small chunks of it have congealed into a near-finished state, and those pockets look great.

Equally as important, Disney has started announced some of the concepts coming to Disney Springs, and many of the restaurants are interesting and unique concepts. The Indiana Jones-inspired Hangar Bar is the most interesting concept to me, but the pleasant surprise is that even the non-Disney locales will be relatively unique, rather than being common, popular chains.

Where I think Disney Springs will succeed is in being more than an upscale shopping mall with some Disney flourishes. This isn’t because of the backstory (which I think will be conveniently ignored in areas of Disney Springs) but because the overall design will be cohesive and inviting, and the number of unique draws will be sufficient to set it apart. Sure, there will be places where it’ll look like Disney’s take on a fancy outdoor mall, but I think largely, it looks like it will be able to differentiate itself enough that it’s not simply a mall.

Where Disney Springs will likely fail is if it doesn’t open a ShowBiz Pizza Place. For those of you who aren’t cool and don’t know what this is, think of it as the classier cousin of Chuck-E-Cheese.

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Overall, I am really optimistic about the future of Walt Disney World. Some might attribute this to my inveterate optimism, some might think I’m wearing rose-colored glasses. My excitement centers mostly around Animal Kingdom, which I think is really about to come into its own and draw a whole slew of new fans. I’m also really optimistic about the long-term prospects for the Studios.

We fans can–justifiably–complain about the current pace of construction, and I think progress has mostly been slow in the past because the resort has been viewed as “mature” in business terms. With the number of large projects potentially on the horizon, I’m not so sure this view of Walt Disney World as mature remains the prevailing line of thought. I know it’s a ways off, but I think Walt Disney World will look radically different from the place we know today upon its 50th Anniversary in 2021.

All of this excitement is tempered by the reality of the experience in the here and now. Looking forward to 2021 or some other far-off date overlooks the fact that right now, things aren’t where they should be given the high cost of a Walt Disney World vacation. The Studios is a mess with its long-existing deficiencies exacerbated by the closure of more attractions. Animal Kingdom is still a couple years away from really being great. Epcot looks good, but it’s probably not going to get the help it needs as long as food & booze sales keep it going strong on the balance sheets.

Despite that, I am excited. I am optimistic. Foolhardy, too, perhaps. I think we are on the cusp of a development boom for at least 2 of the parks that will wholly transform them. So long as that boom doesn’t come at the expense of the “little things” elsewhere, I think Walt Disney World is on the right course. For me, it’s about the long game, and I think that long term, things should be pretty good.

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Planning a Walt Disney World trip? If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!

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Your Thoughts…

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World recently, what do you think about its current state and its future? Are you optimistic about things? Pessimistic? What excites you the most about the future of the parks? What disappoints you? I’d love to hear your takes on the present and future of WDW, so if you have any thoughts, post them in the comments


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