What Does the Future Hold for Walt Disney World?
Walt Disney World has turned 50 years old, and everyone has relished this opportunity to look back on five decades of excellence.
Disney executives don’t have time to rest on their laurels, though. An old maxim states that the Catholic Church thinks in terms of centuries.
For park officials, it’s fairer to say that they think in terms of decades. Yes, Disney is already thinking about the next five to ten years.
So, let’s take a glimpse into the future of Walt Disney World to identify a few ways the parks may change.
Disney Genie represents only the first wave of a digital future at Walt Disney World.
Amazon recently announced the Hey Disney app coming to Amazon Alexa.
Disney will add Amazon Echos to all its Walt Disney World hotel rooms as part of this service.
Insiders have already suggested that guests can ask their Echos valuable questions like, “When will the next bus to EPCOT arrive?”
My Disney Experience currently does that, but you have to grab your phone, load the app, and find the screen.
Meanwhile, you can say the same thing in two seconds and get an answer from the virtual assistant in your hotel room.
A more interconnected future is already here at Walt Disney World, thanks to the impending launch of Disney Genie. It’ll only grow more dramatically in future years.
Similarly, Disney officials have stubbornly stated that artificial reality will never be a thing at the parks. They feel differently about augmented reality (AR), though.
In fact, Avatar World of Passage already uses AR, and the PLAY! pavilion at EPCOT will as well.
Similarly, the rumored black box attraction in development would employ a kind of AR as well.
I’ll go so far as to say that some of the already announced Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser features will lean heavily into AR.
For that matter, I honestly believe that we’re no more than 20 years away from you being able to “visit” Walt Disney World from the comfort of your living room.
All you’ll need is an AR headset and a willingness to accept that it’s not as good as a real stroll down Main Street, U.S.A.
More Indoor Attractions
Over the years, Disney has gotten better at controlling everything that it can. However, some elements remain outside its jurisdiction.
To wit, the frequent heatwaves, random rainstorms, and hurricane season have grown problematic.
In fact, six of the ten hottest years ever in Orlando have occurred since 2015, which is kind of a mind-boggling stat.
Similarly, Disney parks have shut down more for hurricanes in recent years than ever before.
Most of them were precautionary measures, but that’s beside the point. Disney lost revenue on those days.
What’s the solution? Disney will create more rides like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
Similarly, they’ll build more indoor entertainment areas like the upcoming PLAY! pavilion at EPCOT.
Of course, indoor attractions aren’t impervious to disruption.
We learned that when power outages temporarily shut down both Pandora attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Also, Frozen Ever After tears up more than any other Disney attraction.
Still, the air conditioning keeps the place cool, Imagineers have an easier time theming indoors, and everyone’s safe from high winds and rain.
Ergo, the future at Walt Disney World is indoors because that’s where Disney gains weather control and other benefits.
While its founders created the company in 2009, Uber didn’t exist as an app until 10 years ago. Think about how much transportation has changed in just a decade!
Without Uber and Lyft, we’d still be totally reliant on cabs and buses to take us to and from most Disney theme parks.
Now, we have myriad options up to and including the latest one, the Disney Skyliner.
This form of transportation takes advantage of something unique to Disney.
To maintain the line of sight to landmarks, the parks have mostly eschewed skyrise developments.
So, Imagineers had no problem adding a gondola system to some of the parks and resorts.
Also, plans exist to expand the Skyliner to other parts of the campus, most notably Disney Springs. And that leads us to the next point.
Disney has signed an agreement for high-speed rail service to come to Disney Springs. Brightline will build a station somewhere in that area.
Disney fans can exit Orlando International Airport and take a quick train ride to Walt Disney World when this station opens.
That’s not the only transportation plan under consideration either. At one point, Disney had signed a deal for autonomous vehicles.
The company that would facilitate the creation of these self-driving cars collapsed amid multiple lawsuits. However, the idea remains.
If ridesharing can go from nothing to ubiquitous in 10 years, why couldn’t the same be true of self-driving cars?
Imagine how much those would enhance your Disney vacation!
Even More IP
Every time Disney announces something new, some folks grumble about the company’s reliance on intellectual property (IP).
I’ll never understand this criticism, as Walt Disney himself was the one who emphasized such branding.
In fact, Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland has that name because Uncle Walt knew that the movie would come out a few years after the park opened.
Similarly, opening day attractions at Disneyland included Peter Pan, Snow White, and Jungle Cruise attractions.
All of them somehow connected to Disney’s movies and television shows of the era. So, nothing has changed here.
Instead, the strategy circles back to a famous business plan Uncle Walt created in the 1950s. You can see it here:
In truth, any and all criticisms of Disney’s reliance on IP represent a meritless attack on Uncle Walt’s business acumen.
Furthermore, Disney’s decision to rely heavily on Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars has done more than increase park attendance and revenue.
Disney’s overall market valuation increased from $67 billion to $320 billion in ten years.
The results speak for themselves and indicate that Disney will acquire more IP in the coming decade. Speaking of which…
Most of what I say here is reasonable speculation based on what we know about Disney’s trending.
This one falls more into the category of wild speculation. Park officials have faced a perennial problem going all the way back to 1955.
Disneyland Resort never included enough land to satisfy Walt Disney, but he couldn’t afford more.
Within a decade, people often criticized Disney for the cheap surrounding businesses. These cottage industries cropped up across the street from the park.
Even now, every change at Disneyland requires reconfiguring of existing structures.
Walt Disney World doesn’t lack for space in the same way. Uncle Walt learned his lesson there.
However, let’s gameplan out a scenario that’s not as farfetched as you may think.
NBCUniversal’s parent company, Comcast, possesses more than $103 billion in debt. Yes, that’s billion with a b.
The pandemic accentuated the problem, forcing Comcast to make some tough choices.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it’s had to include NBCUniversal in some of them.
Meanwhile, the fledgling Peacock streaming service has turned into something of a laughing stock.
At some point, Comcast could feasibly listen to offers for NBCUniversal. Part of that company is Universal Studios.
Hey, why doesn’t Walt Disney World have a Marvel themed land like Disneyland Resort? Oh, right. Universal holds those rights in perpetuity.
Similarly, Universal maintains all theme park licensing rights for The Simpsons through 2028.
Obviously, Disney cannot make a play for Universal right now, but let’s say that Comcast cannot right the ship with its liquidity issues.
Would Disney at least make an offer for NBCUniversal and, thereby, Universal Studios?
If nothing else, that would be fascinating from the perspective of Imagineers finally getting to build Harry Potter rides, as almost happened many years ago.
This will happen at some point. Right now, Disney is laying low as it allows Epic Universe to claim all the headlines.
However, we all know that Disney has enough demand to fill up another theme park easily. It would create renewed interest at the other parks, too.
From 1971 through 1998, Walt Disney World added a new theme park at the rate of once every seven years.
Now, we haven’t gotten a new one in 23 years and counting. Something’s gotta give.