Fantastic Disney Rumors for January 2021
Over the past few weeks, rides have taken a backseat to meta-stories at The Walt Disney Company.
CEO Bob Chapek and his new team have made what some might describe as controversial decisions. And even more may be in the offing.
What’s going on? We’ll try to figure it out in this month’s Disney Rumors.
Whither Annual Passes?
No, you didn’t imagine it. Disneyland did just end its annual passholder program. For some guests, a multi-decade streak as annual passholders just ended.
I could explain this decision away by reminding you that Disneyland hasn’t been open since mid-March of 2020.
Having an annual pass for a closed theme park is like keeping your Blockbuster Video membership card. Sure, it reminds you of happier times. Alas, its utility is questionable at the moment.
The surprise came at Walt Disney World. Disney just confirmed that it’s not selling new annual passes.
Those of us who own annual passes already can renew, but you cannot get it now if you don’t have one yet.
Obviously, speculation has ensued about why Disney would do this. After all, annual passes seem like found money for the company, right?
Here’s the problem. Some reports suggest that Disneyland sells as much as one million annual passes. We’re talking about a theme park whose total 2019 attendance was roughly 18.7 million.
A disproportionately large number of Disneyland guests own annual passes, which has caused demand to spike over the past 15 years.
California locals show up on the same days and lead to increased wait-time and overcrowding issues.
Disney tried to solve this by offering the Flex Pass in 2019. It came with blackout dates and reservation requirements, albeit at a lower price. So, it was an attempt to address the problems through pricing.
Walt Disney World hasn’t adopted the same approach yet, but the parks suffer from the same problems.
So, Disney is using the pandemic as a reason to reset its annual pass tactics. You shouldn’t think that annual passes are gone forever. They’ll simply return in a modified form that reduces park crowds.
The Hall of Presidents Update Take Two
For more than a year after Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom didn’t feature him.
Disney officials needed time to implement a new Audio-Animatronic. During this gap, critics maintained that the company didn’t want to include the 45th President. They cited unsourced insiders to make this claim.
In November of 2020, Joe Biden won the next Presidential election and has since been sworn in as the 46th President.
Now, Imagineers face the same problem once more. They must construct or repurpose an Audio-Animatronic for the sitting POTUS, a process that’s already underway.
All the while, the political climate in the country has grown incendiary. It’s a Disney site, so I’ll spare you the details, but you know that it’s been a rough few months.
The change in Presidents at the Hall of Presidents seems obvious. Somehow, this patriotic show has become an intensely divisive experience to some, though.
In recent weeks, Disney has added security inside the theater to prevent disruptions. That’s…not the sign of a family-friendly attraction.
Hamilton vs. The Muppets?
As such, rumors have spread in recent weeks. I’d mentioned two months ago that Disney was contemplating a Hamilton-based attraction instead.
As a massive fan of the Hamilton soundtrack, I’d love to watch these songs played in the Hall of Presidents building, which features impeccable acoustics.
However, whispers about a different possibility have grown louder since the election. At least some people believe that Disney may turn this building into a permanent Muppets attraction.
If that sounds familiar, it should. The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History has charmed guests roaming through Liberty Square.
Alas, that show is technically canceled, even though Disney sometimes operates it during crowded periods on the park calendar.
The Hall of Presidents building would make for an excellent permanent home, and there’s nothing divisive about Kermit and Miss Piggy!
I’ll even give you a hint about something to track. Disney+ will add five seasons of The Muppet Show on February 19th. If this classic program proves popular, it’ll encourage park officials to make a change.
If audiences show less enthusiasm than expected, Hamilton remains the strongest contender to replace Hall of Presidents.
For now, Disney has closed down the attraction to add a Biden audio-animatronic. Officials will leave the situation untouched for two or three years, which is the safest play.
If the political climate isn’t any better in 2023, that’s the time to make a change. A sudden surge in popularity for The Muppets or a big awards season for Hamilton could alter my opinion, though.
What’s with the Transportation Situation?
I’m someone who lavishes praise on Disney executives. These folks must carry the torch for a man who has been dead for 45 years, yet they do so nobly.
Most Disney decisions cause me to say, “That’s really smart.” Then, on some occasions, I disagree with them, but I allow for the fact that they know much more about the situation than I do.
Disney’s recent choice to end Magical Express at the start of 2022 falls into this category. I’m confident it makes sense in a boardroom or on a spreadsheet, just not to me (or many others).
I understand if you’re wondering what’s going on. I don’t have a great answer to that question. I’ll tell you what I know, though.
Disney and Brightline have agreed to terms on a train station somewhere at Disney Springs. This station will debut after Brightline finishes its upcoming hub at Orlando International Airport (MCO).
The timeline at MCO suggests a 2022 completion date. While Brightline hasn’t broken ground on the Disney Springs station yet – MickeyBlog will be the first to tell you when that happens – we have an ETA.
Brightline has targeted the second half of 2023 for this station. When this hub opens, guests may fly into MCO, take a high-speed rail to Disney Springs, and then…something.
Nobody knows Disney’s plans for that final leg of transportation yet. In fact, there aren’t even many rumblings out there. Company officials are playing this one close to the vest.
From a Disney vacation perspective, the Brightline station seems like it will pass along the train ride’s cost to the consumer, which isn’t ideal. Disney may yet surprise us here, though.
I’m hopeful that the Brightline ride from MCO to Disney Springs becomes the next generation of Magical Express. I have concerns, though.
Will Disney Move Core Businesses to Florida?
I know that some MickeyBlog readers have wondered aloud about this rumor. Unlike the transportation one, this premise makes perfect sense at first glance.
Specifically, some aspects of the Disney empire would move to Lake Nona, a planned community near Orlando.
This city started with a modest population of 1,500 in 2000. That total surpasses 50,000 now.
Due to its prime location, Lake Nona would fit Disney’s blueprint for expansion at Walt Disney World, which has evolved into the hub of the company’s empire.
However, the appeal here isn’t a city but rather a state. Many corporations have switched to the southeast in recent years, as these states have proven extremely pro-business.
In particular, Florida lacks a state income tax and has shown a willingness to bend over backward to please big businesses.
Meanwhile, California’s voting public has chosen a more employee-friendly environment. Then, there’s the whole pandemic thing to consider.
Walt Disney World remains open while Disneyland stays closed. Disney’s sour about the actions of California’s governor. Plus, it hasn’t forgotten about recent issues with Anaheim’s City Council.
As such, Disney’s bluffing, threatening, or seriously weighing a shift to Florida as its de facto base of operations.
There’s probably some meat to this story. However, Walt Disney set up shop in Anaheim, and that still matters. So, cooler heads may yet prevail here.
Either way, I suspect that the park impact would be minimal anyway, at least in the short term.
Feature Image Rights: Matt Stroshane