Disney Rumors for June 2022
Okay, I had an entirely different topic planned for the latest batch of Disney Rumors. That one can wait a month, though.
Instead, Disney just threw everyone a curveball by bailing on the Brightline high-speed rail system in Central Florida.
What does Disney have planned for transportation? Here’s what I’m hearing.
The Internal Plan
Three years ago, I wrote about plans in place for the Disney Skyliner. Even though the transportation was only a few months old at the time, Disney wanted more.
The explanation for the system’s appeal should be obvious. It’s relatively inexpensive to construct and even cheaper to operate/maintain.
I’m saying that in comparison with other existing forms of Disney transportation like buses and monorails.
The price of laying new monorail track has proven prohibitive at Walt Disney World. That’s why we haven’t had an expansion since the early 1980s.
Well, Disney technically added 62 feet of track in 2010 for a monorail toeing system, but that doesn’t count.
In fact, Disney hasn’t changed the monorail system since 1988, the year Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa joined the resort monorail line.
Friends, that’s nearly 35 years!
We can debate the pros and cons of monorails as much as we like. However, Walt Disney World’s management team has decided not to add more monorails.
I mean, the writing’s on the wall about this. If Disney wanted a better monorail system, it would have updated the monorail fleet.
Guests have used Mark VI trams since 1989. So yes, all the tech involving the monorail system comes from the 1980s or earlier.
You may wonder about the cost that has chased off additional monorail expansion.
Anyone who has followed the Las Vegas monorail nonsense knows the truth here.
Nobody wants to pay that because the monorail system has declared bankruptcy. Twice.
Walt Disney World is a similar financial sinkhole. The belief is that monorail expansion would cost at least $50 million per mile, possibly as much as $150 million.
The Skyliner/Brightline Plan
Enterprising park planners invented a new strategy for transportation at Walt Disney World.
Everyone already knew the negatives of the bus system several years ago. It’s expensive to maintain, mercurial for customers, and not great for the environment.
Disney scoured the world for alternative solutions and settled on a brilliant one, the gondola system that’s popular at ski resorts.
Since the tracks reside in mid-air, you can cover vast swaths of land and cover virtually any terrain, even mountain ranges.
The swampy Central Florida area works fine with gondolas, something Disney officials knew from the early days of Magic Kingdom.
Tourists used to ride the Skyway to Tomorrowland and Skyway to Fantasyland back in the day.
Now, Disney has switched the premise from an attraction to a viable form of transportation. That’s precisely the same thing that happened with monorails.
At Disneyland, the trams remain an attraction rather than an actual way to crisscross the campus.
We’ve witnessed the same evolution with the Skyliner, and park planners have plotted a much more ambitious gondola system.
Disney officials wanted to add gondola stations near Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs.
In doing so, guests could have traversed most of the Walt Disney World campus via the Disney Skyliner.
However, that strategy represented only part of the goal. Disney also wanted to integrate high-speed rail service via Brightline.
The plan called for guests to ride Brightline trains to and from Orlando International Airport to Disney Springs.
Once guests reached the Disney campus, they would have ridden the Disney Skyliner to their hotel.
Alas, those plans have collapsed. At best, they’re on life support.
Why Disney Split with Brightline
Comcast, the owner of NBCUniversal, has negotiated a deal with Brightline.
The modified plan calls for a stop near the Orlando Civic Center.
Not coincidentally, that’s close to the upcoming location for Universal’s Epic Universe theme park.
Yes, Comcast just worked a deal with Orlando and Florida officials that effectively causes guests to stop at Universal on the way to Disney.
As you might imagine, Disney executives haaaaate that idea. It would cause some guests to split their vacations between Universal Studios and Disney.
Sure, that already happens some, but it’d be easier than ever once the new Brightline stations open.
For this reason, Disney has just announced that it won’t participate in the Brightline plan. As a result, that proposed Disney Springs Brightline station will never open.
This change also calls into question the necessity of a Disney Skyliner station at Disney Springs. I still think it’ll happen, but it just got deprioritized.
Comcast’s successful lobbying has wreaked havoc with Disney’s longstanding plans. During the pandemic, management decided it could no longer rely on Mears Transportation.
The group that operated the Magical Express system laid off most of its staff, especially its drivers. They hadn’t been great before that.
Disney wasn’t about to pay for a service employing many new bus drivers, which is entirely understandable.
Instead, Disney pivoted to this Brightline/Skyliner combo plan as a long-term replacement for Magical Express.
Now that those plans look to be at a standstill (at best), Disney must decide how to proceed.
What Happens Next?
Disney’s current Brightline posture likely involves one of three positions. Executives are doing one of the following:
- Bluffing to express anger while expecting Brightline to cut a better deal
- Plotting a new method of airport transportation
- Satisfied with the current system, which leaves guests to fend for themselves
The bluffing tactic makes the most sense, as Disney just publicly rebuked Brightline.
For its part, the high-speed train service announced plans to build a station near Disney Springs anyway.
That’s akin to acknowledging they need the Disney location. As such, their proclamation actually strengthens Disney’s position.
The whole Brightline/Central Florida falls apart if tourists cannot reach Walt Disney World easily. After all, it’s the alpha in the tourism industry.
Not coincidentally, some rumors have emerged that Disney could consider its own direct transportation system to and from the airport.
In fact, Disney could push Brightline around if it came up with its own method. That would provide an existential threat to the multi-billion-dollar Brightline project.
I’ve also previously mentioned my belief that Disney should consider buying Mears Transportation.
With fewer than 500 employees and annual revenue of roughly $155 million, Mears would provide a solid vertical integration possibility for Disney.
You shouldn’t get too excited by the thought, though. I doubt free Magical Express would return.
Realistically, the only way that Disney considers that is if it needs something to entice customers to come to the parks.
At this point, Walt Disney World crowds are as large as Disney wants anyway. So, extra free stuff doesn’t fit the business model.
Still, Disney wants a one-size-fits-all transportation system. For this reason, the current Brightline clash and potential Disney Skyliner expansion appear intertwined.
Stay tuned to see how aggressively Disney plays this latest bureaucratic tiff.