Tuesday, August 1, 2023

PODCAST - Minion Land, DreamWorks, and Epic Universe with Alicia Stella

Today, Joe is joined by the prolific theme park writer and video producer, Alicia Stella! In this episode, we discuss pickles, escape rooms, Minion Cafe, Villain-Con's pros and cons, USF's 2024 additions, and finally Epic Universe!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

It's The Capacity, Silly

Hi Bob, it's me, Joe. I saw recently you had some thoughts on using pricing as a capacity restrictor. You are starting to realize a few things are very wrong at the parks, so let me walk you through your issues and my thoughts on what the issue is and how to fix it.

How We Got Here

After Walt Disney World stole all of Disneyland's presents in 2005 the war began. The Disney War was the ouster of Michael Eisner and your hiring for the first time, too. Congrats! After this development money at Walt Disney World started to dry up, with less and less capital going for permanent attractions and more spent on temporary entertainment or festivals. This of course helped through the 2008 Great Recession.

You know Potter changed everything, you green-lit the amazing Carsland and DCA 2.0 redo. But we got diminishing returns from the eventual re-dos of DAK, DHS, and Epcot - the constant meddling of marketing and cost-cutting has caught up. Remember this art, Bob? Do you think the Epcot redo was successful? I don't think it was successful. And I think there are other major projects that didn't land either - shall we discuss the Galatic Starcuriser?

What I really think messed y'all up is with FastPass+. Look, I think there is some really GREAT stuff with FP+ like moving all the dining to a central online system, modernizing all of WDW's data infrastructure, installing WiFi in the parks, and lots more. But FP+ was so costly and limiting that everything needed to be "on" the FP system. So instead of investing in new attractions y'all invested in ways to spread people through existing properties IMMEDIATELY. That's how we got those awkward benches in rooms, just to have a place for capacity reasons. And this whole issue gets exacerbated with Genie+.

Then you resigned before COVID-19 and Chapek took over. The maintenance in the parks have taken a hit, with numerous situations of rides failing, like TTA, Jungle Cruise, and Haunted Mansion. As I spent a week writing this article Pirates suffered a 7-hour downtime on a weekend. How can a theme park run reliably with such downtime? No wonder you can't lift reservations if daily guest capacity fluctuates by 14,000?

I feel pretty convinced that if Chapek's consultant-backed staff reductions would have decimated the parks division and WDI might not have survived. Chapek had one goal - make them pay, fuckos. The fact is, when you took over there was nothing left for Walt Disney World when you came back. You had a VP ready to quit, and your golden company ATM was finally about to break down.

It's The Capacity, Silly

Here is a list of attractions that have shut down at WDW without a capacity replacement. By that I mean an attraction of equal capacity was added. Example: SDMT and LM are capacity replacements for 20K and Snow White Scary Adventures.
  • Tomorrowland Theater
  • Stitch's Great Escape
  • Wonders of Life
  • Innoventions
  • ImageWorks
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid (DHS)
  • Primeval Whirl
Damn. Oh, wait we forgot parades and nighttime shows.
  • Magic Kingdom nighttime parade
  • DHS daytime parade and entertainment
  • DHS nighttime fireworks
  • DAK nighttime show
  • DAK parade
Seeing the problem now? Sure, some things have added capacity! There is more walkable space in DHS, and the replacement for the backlot tours is four new rides. But you also see the issue of Animation Courtyard, right?

Bob, your product never expanded to meet the demand. All this money and, most importantly, time, was wasted on things that never added ACTUAL capacity to the parks. Your shuffling of the deck chairs has ended, and the boat is still going toward the iceberg. But there are solutions.

Add Rides and Shows

So simple it might just work!

Seriously, add attractions like rides, shows, and interactive experiences to the parks. Yes, it will take time and lots of money, but holy hell this is the solution to so many of your problems. Here are some things that can be done relatively quickly:
  • Stitch replacement attraction
  • MK nighttime parade
  • Play Pavilion
  • Rivers of Light replacement
  • DAK parade
  • Primeval Whirl replacement
Those things can be completed, roughly, within the next 24 months. That's probably your best bet for attraction guests who come down for Epic Universe to skip Universal's old parks and see your new stuff.

Long term you need more investment and it will cost you:
  • Long-term Tomorrowland redo to address CoP and Buzz
  • Update the 50+-year-old IASW and Peter Pan's flight
  • Finally fix the Imagination Pavilion
  • SSE ride system overhaul and refurbishment
  • Replacing Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Star Wars Launch Bay
And that's just returning capacity to the park, not actually expanding to fit a new group of guests...


Orlando has grown nearly 60% between 2000 and 2022. Disney's parks have, on the whole, remained the same capacity or decreased. Since the 2008 financial crisis and recession, more and more people have moved to Orlando or remained after a college degree or internship. Even more moved when Work From Home became a larger option, with Disney fans justifying the move in various ways. Now legions of influencers descend on the parks and things feel even more askew than before.

The parks don't just need a return to their old capacity but an EXPANSION of that capacity.

Regional Entertainment

Disney got burned good with regional entertainment, but the fact is this was a management failure, not a product failure. Look at Paul Pressler for crying out loud. But Disney has had a ton of luck with regional touring entertainment, from Disney on Ice to Broadway tours. There is a huge pent-up demand for Disney content in major regional centers. DisneyQuest was too expensive to operate, Disney's America would have been a big question mark. Instead here's what I'm thinking:

  • Retail - Complete revamp of The Disney Stores with new a focus on three things - guarantee plush of new movie characters to build trust, Disney vacation travel advice and booking to branch the parks and stores, and finally tie shopDisney and Disney Stores together more with returns and shipping to the stores.
  • Regional Kids Parks - Merlin built the formula and now Universal is jumping into the game, so Disney should toss its hat into the ring. Finally built the Mickey Mouse Park everyone joked Disneyland would be. Park would have some small flat rides, playgrounds, water features, pools, shows, and dining. Offer character breakfasts fireworks dessert parties, heck, and even build an on-site hotel with DVC.
  • Touring Entertainment - Pixar Putt is a touring mini golf themed to Pixar. It's cute but expensive, and exactly what Disney should be doing. The demand is there and people want to get out and move in the post-lockdown world. 

Y'all have a lot of debt, poor company structure, and a streaming service that's bleeding money. It's not going to be easy to approve tons of attractions while the WGA is on strike, you WILL be targeted for it, but you have to do it. People want to give you money, yet for over a decade WDW has let dollars pass over their head while picking up pennies.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

PODCAST - Parkscope the Reboot

Hello world!

After a hiatus, the show is back! Joe has RSV or something and is joined by Andrew Hyde from In The Loop fame. We discuss Kennywood safety, Dynamic Attractions filing for bankruptcy protection, Disney sobers up and realizes they have a capacity issue, and finally Universal's new parks.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Universal's New Regional Entertainment Push

Sometimes you leave things in the drafts too long and it spoils. That was me with an article about Universal's plans into regional entertainment. I'd cover the Toothsome that opened in Philly and the trademark filings. Then it sorta split off into the PortAventura article but another part was about other local attraction rumors. I largely wrote off the concept in my head, DisneyQuest had failed, so would this.

This makes this past week's announcement of a new mini-theme park in Frisco, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada so wild. Many of us had written such rumors are decades-old speculation and tomfoolery run amok, harking back to a day when Disney was about to announce a theme park in insert major city here was comment theme park gossip blog fodder. "Disney is building a theme park in Texas" is a meme from the 90s!

Anyway, these will be two very different projects. This article will combine officially confirmed information with my own informed speculation, blue-sky ideas, and informed guessing. Quote at your own risk!

Universal Kids Mini-Theme Park - Frisco, TX

A 25-acre park on a 47 acre plot of land. Park is a themed family entertainment center with a focus on kids. Seriously, it's focused on kids and features meet and greets, play areas, small flat rides, and family coasters. Attractions are small in scale but fit into something slightly larger than Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. In front is a hotel, which claimed to be 300 rooms but could be an ad-lib, and highly themed entryway reminiscent of the DreamWorks logo. Inside we can find lands based on Kung Fu Panda, Jurassic Park Camp Cretaceous, Shrek, Trolls, and Madagascar - all DreamWorks movies. So no Nintendo, no Secret Life of Pets, no Harry Potter, no Minions. We'll get into that later.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Is Universal Acquiring PortAventura World?

Some interesting smoke is spreading around the themed entertainment community. In November The Coaster Kings said rumors are spreading in the Spain coaster community that Universal is kicking the tires over PortAventura World, a theme park resort they owned majority ownership of from 1998 till 2004. But why would they acquire such a park? Does this fit into a larger plan for the parks and resorts division? Let us discuss some.

PortAventura World is a theme park resort comprised of two parks - PortAventura and Ferarri Land. The resort also features several hotels, seasonal events, a golf course, a water park, and a train line to Barcelona, Spain. Famous rides here include Red Force, the tallest and fastest coaster in Europe, Shambalha a B&M hyper coaster, and the upcoming Uncharted indoor coaster by Intamin and Sally Dark Rides.

Why would Universal re-purchase this park? Well, for starters the Parks & Resorts division is still seen as a growth market for Universal, and adding more resorts to the chain would diversify the portfolio of products and spread risk. Right now the industry is in a contraction after COVID with multiple undervalued assets available. Universal could see this as the perfect time to add another resort in an underserved market.

But, will it actually happen? I believe there's a very good chance it happens. It makes sense, Comcast is hungry, and my guess is the price is right. Universal purchasing PortAventura World would be the biggest story in themed entertainment this year (minus any park closures). In fact, the deal could already be closed and an announcement is on the way. It is also very possible Universal has entered an operational agreement with PortAventura, where the investments come from other but Universal operates the day-to-day operation of the parks.

If it happens, what will change at PortAventura? Universal trademarked Hollywoodland Universal Studios in Span back in April 2022 which could apply to the resort or just PortAventura. Ferrari Land will remain as is since the contract remains in place. As for characters, stories, and other attractions moving to the resort, it's too early to tell. Heck, they still use the same Express Pass signage from the early 2000s! Major improvements will likely be made to operations, phone apps, and more to create a more consistent experience with Universal's other parks.

If it happens, what will change at Universal's other parks? Not much in the short term, approved projects will go forward without much change. I don't believe it is likely that future projects are impacted by this, the investment will come from the Board of Directors. The park is also popular and profitable as is, which would avoid a Disneyland Paris situation. Universal working with Ferarri on their licensed park could lead to Ferrari attractions in the USA or Japan, but that seems the least likely outcome.

What are your thoughts about this new rumor? Leave them in the comments below.