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Over these past several weeks, I've chronicled the first, second, third and fourth decade that marks the history of the Walt Disney World Resort.


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I thought that, in the wake of the 40th anniversary event, I would offer my personal projections as to what I think Walt Disney World will look like in 2021 when the resort turns 50. I have no special insight or insider information. Some of these ideas will seem logical; some of it will seem random; and some ideas are more of a wish. But all of them come from my experience of watching this amazing place transform over the last four decades.

In short, these are just my opinions.

So let's look at what I see happening in the next 10 years:

Magic Kingdom

Of course, the big addition at the Magic Kingdom will be the New Fantasyland expansion, which will include attractions based on Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Dumbo. Additionally, a new meet-and-greet will become part of the former Snow White's Scary Adventures attraction. My guess is that there is some additional unannounced attraction (A-ticket or B-ticket in size) that will eventually come to Storybook Circus Land in the aftermath.

Once the princesses move out of Town Square Theater and into their new Fantasyland home, the space for them will be reimagined either for Tinker Bell or for new Disney and Pixar characters. Since new characters currently make their debut at Disney's Hollywood Studios, I believe that the former is more likely, moving the Tinker Bell elements into the Town Square Theater, and reverting the Adventureland Veranda back to a non-meet-and-greet area.

I think that the Jungle Cruise will be reimagined with some of the elements now found at Disneyland Park. It might include some elements of the "Next Generation Technology" project Tom Staggs mentioned at the February 2011 Investor's meeting. That said, many attractions, like the Tomorrowland Speedway and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor will be refreshed as NextGen is introduced.

Shanghai Disneyland will introduce a new attraction that will be ultimately sent to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. Tron is a likely candidate, but it could be a film property we haven't been introduced to yet, like John Carter. I think that after Fantasyland this will be the next big attraction, and will be announced somewhere in the next ten years, but I don't think this will open to the public until after the 50th anniversary.

With the kinks finally worked out of Luigi's Flying Tires at Disney California Adventure, I could also easily see a flying saucer-style attraction placed into Tomorrowland.

I could see the final section of the Carousel of Progress being recreated in honor of the attraction's 50th anniversary debut at the New York World's Fair. That certainly is a great opportunity. It could also be tied to NextGen in some manner

A new parade will soon appear, created by the same people who made the Soundsational Parade at Disneyland. I believe that the next time we see a new parade will be for Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary, and that it could be a night-time parade. Wishes will also be re-imagined but will incorporate The Magic, The Memories, and You technology.

Epcot

Disney will find a new sponsor for the Universe of Energy. The dinosaurs will stay, but I don't think the ride vehicles will. I believe the sponsor will re-shape the attraction to focus on conservation and green issues.

The indoor portion of Test Track will be re-imagined, though it will keep its concept of being a test track and Disney will modify/improve the cars.

Journey Into Your Imagination will be reimagined again, this time using NextGen tools. My preference would be for the original show to go back in with an updated look. That will likely never happen, given that the track layout has been modified, and has never worked the way it should have in the first place. But I believe that a NextGen version could help improve it.

For that matter, NextGen will show up at The Living Seas, Innoventions, the conclusion of Spaceship Earth, the post shows for Mission: Space and Test Track, and throughout World Showcase.

One of Disney's Asian parks will build Soarin' and that with the addition of that attraction, a new film will be made that will be more international in its theme. That will result in either Soarin' changing out both of its theaters, or placing the new film through one airport gate, as it were, and the current film through another gate.

I don't believe any new World Showcase countries will be created. If there are any, I don't think they will have major attractions, as Disney does not like to open that portion of the park until after 11 a.m., and having a major ride/attraction would necessitate opening that country earlier to provide for demand.

Disney's Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, and its Kimmunicator phones, will go away, but another rethemed interactive adventure is slated to be introduced.

Illuminations will be reimagined using technology currently found in Tokyo Disney Seas' new Fantasmic! With that, the old fountains will be retired. This, too, may be timed to Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Sorcerer Mickey hat will come down.

The track from Snow White's Scary Adventures will likely show up back at the Studios and will provide a ride track for either a Ratatouille or Monsters Inc.-type attraction. My guess is the former, since Monsters Inc. already has a strong and unique presence in the Magic Kingdom.

The Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure will go away as I don't believe that the grass elements which were originally wind tunnel tested, will have a shelf life of more than 25 years. The space will be incorporated into an attraction or retail space that will be entered to from the Streets of America Backlot.

A large portion of the studio production area would being transformed into Toy Story Land that would be entered from the space between Toy Story Mania and the recently-closed Narnia exhibit. On the other end, I imagine the Studio Backlot Tour becomes a Cars-like attraction taking people into a Route 66 tour that includes Catastrophe Canyon, as well as something themed to the new Pixar film, Planes. I don't see Radiator Springs Racers coming, as that kind of half-billion type investment is not what is needed for Disney's Hollywood Studios.

MuppetVision 3D would be reimagined (at least in the pre-show) with NextGen. Other shows and attractions will get NextGen components, as well, such as Sounds Dangerous being completely revamped to some sort of movie-themed NextGen activity.

I'm impressed that Aerosmith has the shelf-life that it has, but it won't be the permanent theme of Rock 'n Roller Coaster.

On the Great Movie Ride, show scenes such as Tarzan, Casablanca, and—especially—Alien would be replaced by newer film genres that reach out to younger audiences. Again, another great place for NextGen to show up and perhaps re-explore the current vehicle hijack situation.

I believe a re-invented Fantasmic! will be part of the 50th anniversary, perhaps with a section themed to the lights of Tangled.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Of course, the big expansion is the advent of Avatar in the form of Pandora. The question is, where? Either the Wildlife Express Train will need to be moved or modified, or Festival of the Lion King will need to be moved. I rather think it will be the latter as it is more accessible area to the guests to remove Camp Minnie-Mickey. Second, a new theater venue will allow them to do some changes/modifications/enhancements to the show. They also have an opportunity to change the Rainforest Cafe, which backs up into that area, into a Pandora-themed eatery. This would be huge for Rainforest, which really doesn't need two identically themed properties on the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney could also take over Dinoland and put Avatar there. They could easily move the dinosaurs into a train-style panorama exhibit like you find at Disneyland Park. They could then re-theme Dinosaur! into a Pandora themed experience and could have a save-face excuse to remove the Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama exhibit. That would perhaps be a more affordable approach.

Other than adding the new interactive adventure tied to Russell in Up, as well as adding some NextGen refreshing to the attractions that are currently in the park, there will be relatively few changes to the line up of park attractions.

The park will create a new parade for the 50th. Because of the animals, but also because there is a lack of formal table-service restaurants, I don't think there will ever be a night-time spectacular.

Walt Disney World Resorts

Beyond the addition of Disney's Art of Animation Resort, the largest focus of the next 10 years will continue to be on Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Of course, work has begun on a DVC addition to Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. But I expect at least a few of the following four possibilities:

1. Disney will add a tower to Disney's Polynesian Resort in a similar cascading shape to the one originally designed for the resort. This will be added to the parking lot and will push parking for the resort further into the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

2. A DVC resort will be created connecting Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground. A drawing card to this resort will be a new water play area based on (and named for) Disney's River Country.

3. Disney will explore taking a portion of the Port Orleans Resort and creating a more moderately priced Disney Vacation Club package for those who might be more on a budget, and have not taken advantage of current DVC offerings.

4. The Walt Disney World Swan and Walt Disney World Dolphin fall back into Disney's hands where they turn the Swan into a DVC property and make the Dolphin the new center of operations for businesses and conferences.

Finally, I believe paid parking will be introduced to the resorts similar to what is currently found at the Disneyland Resort. It's already at the Swan and Dolphin. It is unfortunately inevitable at the remainder of the resorts.

Disney's Water Parks

I don't see another water park in the future. That said, additional pools, slides and beach areas will be made to one or both of the current water parks to increase capacity.

Downtown Disney Area

At some point sooner than later, Pleasure Island will completely go away. It would seem that Hyperion Wharf will not continue on as we currently know it. But I do believe that the addition of stages/gathering places will likely be preserved. There is a need for more formal gathering places.

Cirque du Soleil would need to create a new show, possibly based on the Marvel characters. Either legal will work out a way for that to happen under the agreement it has with Universal Studios, or they will do a trade with a Vegas show and bring it here, with the Marvel show going there.

Several options will exist for DisneyQuest, both resulting in the end of DisneyQuest as we now know it. Those options include:

  1. Disney rebuilding it into a much bigger high-end, high-tech premium concept, but with a price range more comparable to Sea World's Discovery Cove.
  2. Disney partnering with someone like Landry's of Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe fame to redo DisneyQuest into a Dave & Buster's style restaurant, gaming and retail space.
  3. Disney partnering with Cirque du Soleil to build its first restaurant concept.

Development Around the Walt Disney World Resort

I still have questions about the development of the Four Seasons Resort. I think that Four Seasons is a smart addition to Walt Disney World, and could be very successful. I just question the location. I don't think that a resort of the caliber should be located there. After all, it's located between a campground and a warehouse district. If they were really smart they would re-negotiate for a location off of the Epcot monorail beam between that park and Transportation and Ticket Center.

Flamingo Crossings will be built, and other competitors will emerge in and around that area.

While new attractions and new resort offerings will create job growth, Disney will work hard to outsource the work so that the overall cast number will not increase.

Though it's currently halted, high-speed rail will eventually come to Florida with a stop at Walt Disney World. But I doubt that we will see that rail within this decade. If that high speed rail was to connect Tampa and Walt Disney World, I believe that Disney might consider moving its cruise line departure port to Tampa, rather than Cape Canaveral. That's not to say it will happen, but Disney will use it as a bargaining chip to get a better deal.

When the economy rebounds, Disney will announce a major mixed use development that would include office, retail, hotel, entertainment, and residential space. This will become the core of what is Disney's most valuable, undeveloped property, the triangle that borders U.S.192, I-4, and World Parkway. Think of something like downtown Celebration but on a much bigger scale, or something like the new City Creek in Salt Lake City, but, again on a bigger scale, Whether it is built in this decade or the next remains to be seen. But that property is far too important to not be developed at some point.

Summary

In short, I think many good things are ahead for the Walt Disney World Resort. It will probably never look like the Disney Decade with all its growth, but I believe that Disney will continue to make major investments in what is still a resort with much promise. And for the most part, I think those developments will be good for the local economy, and good for tourists visiting from around the world.

So what do you think? Are there predictions here you agree with? Are there some that you think will never happen? Am I missing a big opportunity? I've shared my opinions about what could happen. I'd love to hear your opinions.

As for whether or not it really happens, well, check in with me in 10 years.



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(Send an email to Jeff Kober)

J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) president of Performance Journeys and CEO of World Class Benchmarking, is also a thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars, and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as a "Disney at Work" series of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available via DisneyatWork.com. You can find out more about his newest book, "Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence" at LeadWithYourCustomer.com.