A Few Ideas for a Fifth Park at Walt Disney World
Disney has acquired a lot of land in recent years. The company has invested nearly $40 million in real estate over the past two years. In the process, Walt Disney World has expanded by more than 2,700 acres.
Obviously, this sort of land grab has led to speculation. Is Walt Disney World readying for a long-anticipated fifth gate? Back in the late 1990s, company executives promised that one would arrive quickly. More than 20 years later, we’re still waiting. Today, let’s speculate for a moment on what this place would look like. Here are a few possibilities for the unconfirmed fifth gate at Walt Disney World.
The likeliest potential fifth Disney park in Orlando is the one that’s been rumored for decades now. Over the years, Disney’s animated movies have developed such engaging ne’er-do-wells that a sizable percentage of fans root for them!
People love the black hats so much that park officials have leaned into the idea. Starting in 2019, Magic Kingdom has hosted special late-night events called Disney Villains After Hours.
For roughly $130, guests receive exclusive park access for this ticketed event. It actually costs more than regular Disney After Hours proceedings. Why? Magic Kingdom is more likely to sell out for the villainous version. And that statement explains why an entire theme park based on the baddies makes sense.
A Disney Villains park would feature themed lands and rides that emphasize the greats from Disney’s rogues’ gallery. We could have a Maleficent thrill ride, an Ursula water ride, and a Charles Muntz airship attraction. The Disney catalog is overflowing with black hats that fans love anyway. I mean, Dr. Facilier once hosted his own dance party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
Out of everything I’ll list here, Villains Park comes with the most robust marketing potential. Think of all the merchandise that Disney could sell! The potential financial benefits of this premise speak for themselves.
The concern is whether a family-friendly company wants to go all-in on celebrating nefarious behavior. It’s one thing to keep Hondo Ohnaka running ops at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, but an entire theme park based on felons is problematic. Then again, it’s Florida, so…
In the years before the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Michael Eisner and his team of Imagineers dreamt big about the new park. They wanted a place that combined animals of today with fictional literary beasts.
Think unicorns and dragons and fairy folk. Basically, think about the movie Onward as a real place in Orlando, Florida. Eisner envisioned that idea more than 20 years before the movie’s release. Unfortunately, Disney was notoriously tight with its money at the time.
Eisner regrettably chose to drop part of his vision for Animal Kingdom, at least at the beginning. He delayed a themed land named Beastly Kingdom until Phase Two of the park, something he thought would happen in a couple of years.
Eisner felt so confident about the matter that he integrated Beastly Kingdom creatures into the park logo. You can still see some of them at Animal Kingdom today! Unfortunately, the economy crashed within 18 months of the park’s opening. Then, the 9/11 tragedy had ripple effects on the travel industry.
Suffice to say that Beastly Kingdom never got built. In the interim, fantasy culture has soared in popularity. Videogames, books, and movies have turned something historically counter-culture into mainstream culture. And Disney still has ample prototypes for potential themed attractions.
Over the years, rumors have persisted that Disney wants to build an entire park around the concept. If you’re interested in a lot more details, you can read the Beastly Kingdom section of my book, Disney Demystified Volume 2. It covers the heartbreak of the best themed land that Disney planned but never made.
We could have had a dragon castle, y’all! And if Disney ever builds this theme park, we still might get it!
Sensational Six Park
In recent weeks, you’ve heard a Disney fact that likely blew your mind. You only recently learned that the company had never constructed a themed ride based on Mickey Mouse! Yes, the character will turn 100 years old later this decade, and Disneyland opened in 1955. Somehow, Mickey never earned the lead role in a ride until March of 2020.
While Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is dazzling guests with its immaculate Imagineering immersion, this attraction only scratches the surface. Since the earliest days of Disney, cartoon characters have provided the company’s foundation. Among these beloved icons of children’s entertainment, a few stand out.
Disney refers to its core as the Sensational Six. This group consists of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Pluto. You will sometimes notice them referenced as the Fab Five, a description that leaves out Daisy for some reason.
In recent years, park officials have upped the profiles of the Sensational Six. The latest Walt Disney World bus redesigns have highlighted Mickey and his friends. Meanwhile, Minnie Vans have become the most stylish way to navigate the Orlando campus.
Everyone grew up with the Sensational Six and has loved the characters forever. Seriously, Daisy Duck is the “newest” of the group. She debuted in 1940! So, unless you were born before 1930, you were a kid who watched Sensational Six cartoons.
For this reason, the appeal of a Sensational Six theme park is readily apparent. It’s the most timeless concept imaginable and also the most family-friendly option on the menu.
Pop Culture Park
I’m using a blanket headline here to discuss several variations of the same idea. Over the years, people have talked about the possibility of full theme parks based on Disney intellectual properties. This premise is different than the Sensational Six in that it’s not based on the Disney cartoons of old.
Instead, the ideas center on licenses like Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar. Now, I think that it’s readily apparent by now that Star Wars won’t happen. Disney’s Hollywood Studios IS a Star Wars theme park that happens to have other stuff.
Once Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opens, the park will feature a connecting hotel and themed land. Building another new theme park with this premise qualifies as redundant.
As for Marvel, that idea comes with a fundamental challenge. Marvel has licensed the rights to many comic book characters. Unfortunately, the company contracted the superheroes to…Universal Studios. Yeah, it’s not great.
This transaction occurred long before Disney purchased Marvel, but the agreement exists in perpetuity. That’s a fancy legal term that means, “as long as Universal wants to pay the licensing fee.”
Now, questions have arisen about whether Disney could use specific Marvel characters, ones that Universal doesn’t. In this scenario, Disney would probably need to bribe Universal to get the okay on this, which isn’t as impossible as you might expect. Money always talks. Still, it strikes me as unlikely.
At the moment, the most viable version of Pop Culture Park is Pixar. Even with the introduction of Toy Story Land and several Pixar attractions at Walt Disney World, plenty more don’t have a strong park presence. And Pixar’s always making more movies. So, Pixar makes the most sense here, although I still think it’s a stretch.
Disney Forever Park
For decades now, park strategists at Disneyland have debated an odd problem. Some of the opening day attractions like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride remain in operation. With its 50th anniversary in the offing, Walt Disney World has reached the same crossroads.
Some attractions qualify as both long in the tooth and timeless. Disney executives aren’t above retiring an outdated ride, either. Heck, the company isn’t above eliminating one that’s still fun. RIP, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and The Great Movie Ride!
An option is on the table that elegantly solves this problem. Disney could feasibly build an entire park predicated on older rides. Imagineers could even relocate existing attractions for this project. After all, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress has moved twice. First, it switched from New York to California. Later, it swapped coasts again by transferring to its current home in Florida.
Now, some loyalists would hate this idea. They want to ride their favorites in the expected park location. However, I think that everyone would rather have an attraction in an entirely new park than lose it forever.
Importantly, a Disney Forever park would enjoy strong appeal. Guests could re-live their favorites in one spot rather than crisscrossing the entire Orlando campus. For older park guests, the smaller distance would have appeal. Also, since many of these rides are calmer, grandparents could share the experience with grandchildren.
Finally, Disney has already watched proof-of-concept on this premise. Knoebels Amusement Resort has earned a great deal of industry acclaim and consistent traffic. Its business model focuses on restoring classic rides from across the country. Disney could feasibly do the same thing, only with a significantly larger budget.
So, which of these ideas is your favorite? Let us know on social media!