Disney Headlines for March 9th, 2023
This past week proved more exciting for Disney fans, as an icon came home.
Also, the head of Disney’s Parks division spoke on the (former) Reedy Creek Improvement District. And the Star Wars Hotel makes a change.
We have plenty to discuss in the latest batch of Disney Headlines.
Disney Finally Adds Rather than Subtracts Imagineering Talent
Last year, I wrote that one of the worrisome signs about Bob Chapek involved his tendency to promote “his people.”
While CEO, Chapek formed a tight circle and had no problem pushing high-profile Disney executives out of the company.
Specifically, Disney overhauled its most vital component, the secret sauce in the company’s theme park dominance.
Chapek not only allowed but effectively encouraged Imagineers to leave Disney.
The executive did this by telling people their jobs were moving to Lake Nona, Florida, with or without them.
Several Imagineers walked, which infuriated Disney fans on principle. The collective knowledge of these theme park experts is irreplaceable.
Simultaneously, Chapek made the curious but justifiable decision to hire the new head of Imagineering, Barbara Bouza, from outside the company.
Technically, Bouza joined Disney for another job, but she became the leader of Imagineering so soon afterward that it was obviously a planned deal.
At first, Bouza worked under the iconic Bob Weis before she ultimately replaced him as President of Walt Disney Imagineering.
To her credit, Bouza has absolutely crushed the assignment, as Disney’s projects have noticeably improved over the past few years.
However, Bouza still faces the stigma that she’s an outsider who didn’t develop in the Imagineering incubator. And that matters to some.
Welcome Home, Bruce Vaughn
This week, Disney addressed the problem head-on by fixing a previous mistake. Bob Iger once allowed longtime Imagineer Bruce Vaughn to leave.
So, Chapek wasn’t the only one who messed up in this category. Vaughn demonstrates the kind of professional whom you don’t allow to leave.
You make them the godfather offer to stay. When that doesn’t work, you drop to your hands and knees, shed real tears, and beg them to stay.
Alas, Iger failed to keep Vaughn, and Imagineering suffered. Some of the criticized projects, like Toy Story Land, could have gone better with him involved.
Now, I’m happy to report that Bruce Vaughn has returned to the fold after an absence of more than six years.
That restores 22 years of knowledge to Imagineering. Also, Vaughn has worked for a VR company, Dreamscape, and Airbnb during his absence.
The former Imagineer has become something of an expert in next-generation experiential activities.
Disney doesn’t like using the word metaverse, but Vaughn is definitely the kind of person you hire for Web 3.0 endeavors.
Disney isn’t messing around with job titles, either. Vaughn joins Bouza as co-lead of Imagineering and Chief Creative Officer.
Bouza remains President of Imagineering. For this reason, I have to believe she was asked about the idea and signed off on it.
Iger cares about interoffice dynamics, especially in Imagineering. He’d sooner tell Bouza that she had decided to leave the company than demote her.
We know this because Iger recently did just that to one of his most trusted advisors, a female executive who has been on his boat.
As such, this move sure seems to signal that Disney is planning to make some big moves at the parks. So, it brought back a rock star.
Next step: getting back Joe Rohde!
Josh D’Amaro Comments on Reedy Creek
By the time you read this, Disney will have held the first meeting of the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
Since I can’t see the future, I have no idea how that meeting went, but I would guess it was a lot like a clowder of stray cats in an abandoned warehouse.
Anyway, Josh D’Amaro held a publicity interview as part of the promotion of TRON Lightcycle / Run (yes, that’s the official name now).
Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal walked the new attraction with D’Amaro.
Along the way, the reporter inquired about Disney’s reaction to the change from the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Thus far, Disney has toed the company line with all its replies. Surprisingly, D’Amaro actually commented on the subject.
The head of Disney’s Parks division stated the following:
“We will stay focused on what we have always done. Look at how we run our business. Look at the investments we are making in our business.
As long as I can keep providing that, take care of our cast members, the Central Florida community [and] take care of these guests …
I’m in good shape. I can only control what I can control.”
He later added something quite profound:
“If that new board understands the value that gets created here and how it positively impacts the Central Florida community, I think they will be aligned with our vision and will carry on the Reedy Creek soul that’s been in place.”
In other words, Disney always did the best it could with the self-governance of its part of Florida. If something happens now, it’s because politics ruined a good thing.
That’s an exceptional response and attitude for Disney to take.
The Star Wars Hotel Change
Finally, you may not have noticed it, but Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser recently celebrated its first birthday.
That news got drowned out by a ton of other stuff happening at Disney at the start of the month, and most Disney-related blogs didn’t even notice.
However, there’s a second reason why the topic has fallen under the radar. It’s an open secret that Starcruiser is starting to struggle with attendance.
Disney eliminated several previously announced (and booked) Starcruiser voyagers this summer.
Last week, I speculated that Disney may do the unthinkable here and *gasp* lower prices. How silly of me.
Instead, Disney has chosen to take a different approach to the reduced demand for the Star Wars Hotel.
From now on, Disney will host two Galactic Starcruiser voyages per week.
Starting in October, the hotel/immersive experience will no longer offer that third weekly voyage.
When demand dictates, Disney will bring that extra voyage. However, from October through the end of the year, the only one scheduled is Christmas Week.
In short, Disney doesn’t believe the decreased demand for Galactic Starcruiser will change anytime soon.
The options were to lower prices or offer fewer cruises…and Disney made its choice.
We will spend the next nine months tracking whether the new strategy pays dividends.
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Feature Photo: Disney