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Disney Dish 2023-07-17_Shownotes
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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 436:  Who’s moving into WDW’s Haunted Mansion next month  


Normal Open: Welcome back to another edition of the Disney Dish podcast with Jim Hill. It’s me, Len Testa, and this is our show for the week of Shmursday, July 17, 2023.  


On the show today: News! Listener questions! And more surveys from Universal and Disney.  Then in our main segment, Jim wraps up the history of the Toy Story Mania attractions around the world.


Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says that every relationship has someone who stacks the dishwasher like a Scandinavian architect and someone with the spatial awareness of an inebriated porcupine.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?


iTunes: Thanks to new subscribers Jessie21773, RoryCB, Tinkering Bells, and Treblemaker, and long-time subscribers CS Zucko, M Ciarrocchi, Dave Maruc, and R L Duvall.  Jim, these are the Disney cast members who designed the fantastic Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at Disney California Adventure. They say that the rock climbing wall, zip line, and slides “are wonderful enrichment exercises that teach creative problem solving and also reduced the number of guests eaten by bears to historic lows.” True story.


Sponsorship: We have a new sponsor for the show’s news segment. And before we announce that new sponsor, I’d like to thank Tammy Whiting and everyone over at Storybook Destinations for sponsoring the show for the last few years.  We’ve done a number of live events with Tammy and they’ve all been great.  They do a fantastic job.

The new news sponsor is  TouringPlans’ travel agency.  Yeah, we have a travel agency too, and we can help book your next trip



  • The Haunted Mansion has announced a short refurbishment.  We don’t normally mention these on the show, but this one is interesting for a couple of reasons:
  • Closed August 7, reopens to guests August 10
  • MNSSHP begins the next day, August 11.
  • There’ll be a media event around all of this
  • Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie will be in theaters - it opens 13 days earlier, on July 28
  • Jim, is this when we’ll expect to see the new Hatbox Ghost figure in Walt Disney World?

  • The portrait of Dorian Gray in Bob Iger’s attic continues to work.  Iger just got his contract extended by Disney’s board, through 2026.
  • Iger was on CNBC this morning and actually talked about one of the stories I’ve been involved in over the past week.  And that’s the low wait times at Walt Disney World for the July 4 holiday.
  • Last week I worked with the Wall Street Journal to look at this exact question.  And that article ran on Monday, July 10.  And I cannot believe how many media outlets wanted to talk about it.
  • The data was featured in stories all week, from CNN to Bill O’Reilly, and I did interviews with people as far away as South Africa.
  • So let’s go over the question and how it was answered:
  • First, wait times at Walt Disney World were really low on July 4:
  • The average wait-time across the Magic Kingdom’s major attractions on July 4 was 27 minutes.  It was also 27 minutes at EPCOT, 25 minutes at Animal Kingdom, and 18 minutes at Hollywood Studios.
  • If you look at how busy the parks were as compared to the previous 365 days:
  • MK was the 275th-busiest day of the past year
  • EP was 295
  • AK was 343
  • DHS was 363 - so the 2nd slowest day of the past year
  • Okay, so we know it wasn’t crowded.  The next question is “why?”
  • So I pulled historical data for WDW going back to 2015, and noticed some things:
  • The MK was slow last year too, as was AK and DHS
  • In fact, from 2015 to 2019, July 4 was somewhere between the 10th and 50th-busiest day of the year at the Magic Kingdom.
  • DHS and AK are always slow on July 4, probably because they don’t have fireworks.  So that’s half the story right there.
  • So one avenue of explanation was “What has changed at WDW since 2019?”
  • Another thing to look at was “How did other theme parks around the country do?”
  • And this is where it gets interesting, because every Disney and Universal theme park in the US, plus SeaWorld Orlando, was slower in 2023 than in 2019.
  • Which tells us it’s probably not isolated to Disney, or to Central Florida.
  • When attendance is off, the first thing we look at is weather. And this is the most likely explanation for Florida, and for a lot of places around the US:
  • Central Florida had a heat advisory in effect on July 4, where weather services were telling people to stay indoors because the heat index was going to reach 112 degrees.
  • There was also the possibility of thunderstorms at night, which threatened to cancel fireworks
  • This is also supported by the fact that wait times at the parks bounced back somewhat later in the week.  
  • There’s also long-term trends at play:
  • The end of the 2022 “revenge travel” surge
  • Disney’s more expensive and complicated than ever
  • TRON probably doesn’t have enough appeal for families to make a special trip
  • That’s definitely lowering attendance in 2023.  The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that Orange County tourism tax revenue has fallen for 2 straight months.  
  • On the other hand, Florida tourism in general is doing well. Port Canaveral is seeing very strong demand for cruises, including Disney Cruise Line.
  • But overall, my conclusion was that the most likely explanation was weather.  And Iger seems to have agreed with this as well.


Derek Ybarra sent in a Universal Orlando survey asking about your interest in upgraded water park cabanas for Volcano Bay:

The upgraded cabana would cost approximately $1,250 per day and potentially include these amenities:

Here’s the thing, Jim - I can’t figure out who the market is for a $1,250 cabana.  

A number of listeners sent in an unusual UOR survey that asked about … your preferred office settings

  • How long have you worked for your company?
  • During a typical week, how many days do you work in an office?

Jil from Cincinnati sent in the most complete version of the new Disney survey that asks about changes to Genie+

  • And Jil pointed out one of the things that I missed when looking at it last week- that Disney is offering more “Tier A” choices if you paid extra money for it.

Listener Questions

On last week’s show we talked about the rumor that Disney World was seeing a record high number of guests using the DAS service to access the Lightning Lane lines at certain attractions.  And I mentioned that we had started counting the number of guests per hour using these lines.  Listener Holly wrote in with a reminder:

Also wanted to mention that people doing rider swap also utilize the lightning lane, so that would inflate numbers beyond Genie+ sales and DAS usage.

And Erin wrote in to say:

I appreciate how you did not jump to the assumption of system abuse as many non-disabled people often do. Although any DAS-type system that Disney implements has the potential for abuse, it is far better to allow a small percentage of people to use it who don’t need it, than it would be to implement policies that inadvertently prevent people who do truly need it from being able to access it.

From David Riggs:

First time, long time. I’m seeing two competing narratives about the direction of Florida tourism across both traditional media and social media. One says that tourism statewide is up, mostly citing reports from the state tourism board. The other says that tourism is crashing, citing revenue collections in heavy tourism counties around Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. My interest in Florida tourism is totally based on my WDW fandom, and the trends around crowds and discounts seem to indicate a downward trend, but WDW is only one piece of a complicated puzzle. You’re a renowned data guy - what say you?

And Paul from Brighton wrote in with this:

Understandably all the focus is steered towards the paid offerings, but I distinctly remember Len talking about the standard Genie service at launch needing improvements. Do you know if there have been any noticeable changes or improvements to this since launch, or has Disney left it to languish?

Research/Patents (use query "disney enterprises".as AND "theme park".ab)


We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we return, Jim continues the tale  of how Disney has adapted the Toy Story Mania ride to fit into three different theme parks. We’ll be right back.

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Toy Story Midway Mania Feature Story
Part Two

Last week’s show, we largely talked about the West Coast version of “Toy Story Midway Mania.” How – in order to make room for this new ride-thru shooter – Imagineers Kevin Rafferty & Rob’t Coltrin had to cut through structural supports for the “California Screamin’ “ coaster at Disney’s California Adventure Park. Not to mention lay this attraction’s ride track in such a way that it didn’t impact the electrical substation that had been built under this coaster. Which also powers this side of that theme park.

This week, we’re going to direct our attention to the East Coast. To where the Disney World version of “Toy Story Midway Mania” was built at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Let’s start with the obvious: The early 2000s were not a great time for WDW’s 3rd gate (Which – up to January 7, 2008) was still called Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

Let’s start with the “100 Years of Magic,” the 17-month-long celebration which was originally supposed to get underway on October 1, 2001. But that plan (for obvious reasons) got tripped up for 9/11. Disney-MGM was supposed to be Ground Zero for WDW’s “100 Years of Magic.” Which is why that – to serve as the icon of this 17-month-long celebration – that 122-foot-tall Sorcerer Mickey Hat was built at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, completely blocking the Guests’ view of the Chinese Theater. Which – once upon a time – had been this theme park’s icon.

Side note: WDW’s marketing team just couldn’t settle on an icon for Disney-MGM. Early on, it was the Earful Tower. Then the Chinese Theater. Then when Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in July of 1994, that – for the better part of a decade – was the Park’s icon. Then they went with the Sorcerer’s Mickey Hat (Which – let’s remember – stood in place at the end of Hollywood Boulevard for nearly 14 years [from September of 2001 – January of 2015]). Before the Park then reverted to Tower of Terror as its icon.

In short order, a lot of the things that made Disney-MGM a working studio faded from view. November of 2003, much of Residential Street (which Guests used to view from the tram on the Studio Backlot Tour) was pulled down to make way for the 5000 seat arena that would then house the stateside version of “Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show.”

Then just three months later -- in January of 2004 -- it was announced that Walt Disney Feature Animation – Florida would be closing (putting 250 artists & animators out of work).

And then – when you consider that Disney’s 20-year-long deal with MGM to license the use of that fabled movie studios’ name (which was then supposed to add an air of legitimacy to WDW’s third gate. Which – back in 1987, anyway – was originally supposed to have been a working movie & television production facility / theme park) … That deal was supposed to expire in late 2007 / early 2008.

So with so many of the attractions that made Disney-MGM truly unique now gone (and with the name that the public had so long associated with WDW’s third gate soon to be stripped away legally), the Imagineers wondered what they could do to give this theme park a new identity. Give Guests a compelling new reason to come visit the Studio.

Because – when the stateside version of “Lights, Motors, Action” opened in May of 2005 – it quickly became obvious that this Extreme Stunt show wasn’t going to move the needle for the Studios. Attendance-wise, I mean.

But then – in January of 2006 – word came down from Burbank that The Walt Disney Company had acquired Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion. And along with this acquisition came new marching order for the Imagineers. Which was: Find as many ways as possible to cram Pixar’s IPs into the Disney theme parks.

The folks at the still-named-Disney-MGM-theme-park took this directive from Disney management and ran with it. Their thinking was … Well, at the center of the Studios was Mickey Avenue. Which – at that point – only had one attraction on it. Which was the then-then fading “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire –Play It!” But if they were to take this part of the Park and then turn it into a section that celebrated Pixar … Well, that then would give the Studios a way to differentiate itself from the Magic Kingdom or Epcot of Animal Kingdom. Come here if you want Pixar.

Side note: Kind of flawed logic:

  • “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” (which keyed off of Pixar’s second full length animated feature, “A Bug’s Life”) opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1998
  • “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin” opened at the Magic Kingdom in November 3rd of that same year
  • “Turtle Talk with Crush” first opened at Epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion in November of 2004

Disney-MGM managers response: Yeah, but those are just individual attractions. If you want an actual Pixar-themed land – a place where you can visit with the Pixar characters – the place you need to go will be the Studios.

Mind you, it didn’t hurt that the Disney-MGM managers knew that “Toy Story Midway Mania” was already in development for Disney California Adventure Park. And that they could just shoehorn a clone of this ride-thru shooter into Soundstage One & Two on Mickey Avenue. After the Florida version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!” closed, of course.

And as we mentioned on last week’s show … That attraction closes on August 19, 2006. Six weeks before the start of Disney’s new fiscal year / four months before the Company officially reveals that either version of “Toy Story Midway Mania” is in the works.

That plan gets revealed on December 15, 2006. In July of 2007, Mickey Avenue disappears behind construction walls so that it can then begin its conversion into Pixar Place. And speaking of conversion … On August 9th of that same year, the Company reveals that – as of January 7, 2008 – Disney-MGM Studios theme park will be rebranded as Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

FYI: Not an inexpensive proposition … Between all of the highway signs on property & off, all the letterhead, business cards, costumes with the old logo, etc. Company supposedly spent $10 million on this name change.

What frustrated the managers at now-Disney’s-Hollywood-Studios was the other WDW parks who were horning in on their Pixar action. Case in point: Epcot’s “Living Seas Pavilion” – as of January 4, 2007 – became “The Seas with Nemo & Friends.”

Needed a way to have “Toy Story Midway Mania” ‘s opening in Florida really stand out. Disney World staged a genuinely out-of-this-world promotional stunt.

Do you remember this, Len? Disney arranged to have a 12-inch tall Buzz Lightyear action figure shot into space as part of NASA Space Shuttle Mission STS-124 on the exact same day that the Florida version of “Toy Story Midway Mania” opened (May 31, 2008).

Mind you, WDW’s PR team doesn’t miss a trick. 2008 was “The Year of a Million Dreams.” And to help promote that year-long celebration, it was suggested that it had always been Buzz’s dream to actually travel to space.

Anyway, this action figure then stays aboard the International Space Station for 15 months. Buzz is then welcomed back to his real world namesake, legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Given a ticket tape parade through the Magic Kingdom on October 2, 2009. The two Buzzes are then photographed visiting “Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin” (duh) and “Mission: SPACE.”

Back to the Florida version of “Toy Story Midway Mania” … It’s a hit straight out of the box. As is Woody’s Picture Shootin’ Gallery just across the way. Enter through door that said Camera Department. moved through the queue – get your picture taken inside of Buzz Lightyear’s box & inside of Stinky Pete’s box & inside the claw machine at Pizza Planet with the three-eyed alien’s. Even inside of Sid’s room (upside down milk crate where Buzz was held prison.)

Actual photo op was a giant-sized version of Andy’s bedroom. Pose there with Woody & Buzz. Guest was toy-sized. Great photo op.

Pixar Place was such a big hit that – just two months after this new land opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – plans were revealed to expand this part of the Park.

Cast Members Portal – Short video piece accidentally uploaded that revealed the Company’s plans to add a suspended coaster in Soundstage Three themed to “Monsters, Inc.” Accidentally uploaded. Plans weren’t originally supposed to be revealed ‘til the Fall of 2008.

By then, financial correction was well underway. Disney World abandoned several plans due to this worldwide financial market thingy. Among them Downtown Disney’s Hyperion Wharf and this Monsters Inc. Coaster for Hollywood Studios.

Disney would eventually revisit that empty soundstage. Announcing in March of 2015 that they’d be adding a third track to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version of “Toy Story Midway Mania.”

Side note: Just not possible in California. Remember how – just to find room for the West Coast version of the “Midway Mania” show building – the Imagineers had to cut into the structural supports for “California Screamin’.” You do that too many times and the ride then falls down.

Reminds me of that Saturday Live bit.

The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opens for previews at WDW’s Magic Kingdom on December 16, 1994. Eisner rides the thing, and then decides that it’s not scary enough. This then-new Tomorrowland attraction then closes in early January of 1995 for retooling. Saturday Night Live gets wind of this. Which is why – on Weekend Update that week – Norm McDonald makes this joke:

Disney CEO Michael Eisner ordered the ExtraTERRORrial Alien Encounter Ride (a new attraction at Florida’s Magic Kingdom) closed earlier this week because it supposedly wasn’t scary enough. What’s Disney going to do to improve this attraction. It’ll be the exact same ride, only with 5 bolts removed.

Third track for “Toy Story Midway Mania” opens in May of 2016. At this point, Pixar Place is so popular with visitors to WDW that they now know that they have to expand this part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios yet again. Which eventually leads to the “Toy Story Land” that we know today. Entrance moved to opposite side of show building across from Slinky Dog Dash.

Speaking of which … During the first week that “Toy Story Land” was opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Pixar Place was used as overflow queue for this land. Officially closed on July, 9th 2018.

Happy to report that May 13th of this year that Pixar Place is back. Edna Mode Experience is a poor replacement for Woody’s Picture Shootin’ Gallery, though.

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ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: We’re celebrating the release of The Barbie Movie as Jim tells us about the “Magical World of Barbie” show that was once presented at EPCOT. I’m sure Jim’s going to give that show one hundred and Ken percent.  


You can find more of Jim at, and more of me at

iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be debuting a new song titled “There’s a Bison in my Boot” when he opens for vocalist Kalyn Beasley at the 2023 Yellowstone Songwriter Festival on Thursday September 7 at 7 p.m. at the Cody Auditorium, on Beck Avenue, in beautiful, downtown Cody, Wyoming.


While Aaron’s doing that, please go on to iTunes and rate our show and tell us what you’d like to hear next.

For Jim, this is Len, we’ll see you on the next show.