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The Disney Dish with Jim Hill Ep 442: The real cost of transforming Disney’s Hollywood Studios           Released August 28th, 2023

This episode is sponsored by Cirque Du Soleil: Drawn to Life , Agent of Excellence and Touringplans .

OPENINGS

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, August 28, 2023.

ON THE SHOW TODAY

On the show today: News! Listener questions! Then in our main segment, Jim Hill and Jim Shull tell us about the development of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, on the anniversary of its WDW opening in 2019.

JIM INTRO

Let’s get started by bringing in the man who says he’s only your fiance if he’s from the fiance region of France. Otherwise he’s just your sparking boyfriend. A brosecco, if you will.  It’s Mr. Jim Hill.   Jim, how’s it going?

GUEST INTRODUCTION

And we’d like to introduce a special guest for today’s show, it’s the former Executive Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering, Mr. Jim Shull.  Jim, how’s it going?

SUBSCRIBER ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

iTunes: Thanks to new subscribers EConrad99, Ann Gonter, Tom Jann, and Linda Drowne, and long-time subscribers Andrew Leicher, Melissa Misse320, Aaron Rifkind, and Jess Friends.  Jim, these are the Disney cast members designing a sasquatch meet and greet for the Redwood Creek area of Disney California Adventure. They say that the project has been great because the sasquatch always share the best trail mixes. The only issue they’re having is the requirement that these character greetings have to happen at completely unexpected times, last no more than 10 seconds, and include a blurry on-ride photo in MDE. True story.

NEWS

The news is sponsored by TouringPlans’ travel agency.  Yeah, we have a travel agency too, and we can help book your next trip.  Plus it comes with a free TouringPlans subscription. Check us out at touringplans.com/dish.

                 

News

  • Cast member previews of Journey of Water start  September 1, so I’d expect AP previews around the middle or third week of September. Disney still says a “late 2023” opening, which would mean quite a distance from, you know, later this week if it was true.
  • Disney’s just announced its schedule for Destination D23 in Orlando, running Friday, September 8 through Sunday, September 10:
  • Friday is the check-in and registration day
  • Saturday’s highlight is a presentation by Josh D’Amaro titled “A Celebration of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.  
  • My guess is that this is going to focus a lot on the ‘yesterday’ and ‘today’ parts, and the ‘tomorrow’ stuff won’t be anything major beyond the projects we already know are in the works.
  • For one thing, Disney probably doesn’t want to announce anything major for WDW while its lawsuits with the state are ongoing.
  • It’s reasonable to infer that there are preliminary development ideas - think of them as 5-year plans - for things like:
  • A Galaxy’s Edge addition like a sit-down restaurant or live entertainment show
  • Animal Kingdom development of the Moana and Zootopia ideas
  • Jim and Jim, any guesses as to what might happen during this talk?
  • Disney announced a lengthy refurb for the Yacht and Beach Club’s Stormalong Bay.  And the interesting thing about this is that Disney’s said it’ll take place from January to March … of 2025. That tells you how popular the pool is at this resort, because Disney felt the need to give people a 16-month heads-up on the refurb.  And to Disney’s credit, it’s scheduling the first half of that refurb during the coldest months of the year, January, February, and March, to further minimize the number of guests that are affected.
  • Disney says the Admiral, Dune Cove, and Tidal quiet pools will still be open.

  • Speaking of openings, Disney says that Tiana’s Palace, the new restaurant in Disneyland that’s taking the place of the French Market Restaurant, will open around the middle of next week, on September 7.
  • The Mint Julep Bar will also reopen.
  • Jim Shull, are you planning to check this out once it opens?

Surveys

               

Listener Questions

From Wesley:

On the Starcruiser for a final time :(.  Introduced myself to the Captain as Ben Lonely.  She immediately asked if I was related to Hank.  And then before I could even ask, she apologized for not being able to show Space Robots in Outer Space on the ship..blaming it on the on-going strikes taking place but said they hope to add the movies soon.   She wanted me to say hello to you for her and give you her best.

A trip planning question from Greg:

I have a question about Genie+ for an upcoming trip to WDW the first week of December (12/2-12/9).  There are seven in my family, my wife and five kids, ages 10, 8, 6, 5, and 5, and my mother-in-law will be coming with us, too.

I’m trying to figure out if it's worth buying Genie+ with this group of kids.  Any purchase is multiplied by 8x, so $25 per person per day really adds up.  Plus, we will probably take breaks mid-day.  On the other hand, skipping lines with 5 kids is magical.

Do you have any thoughts on whether Genie+ is worth it or if we can get by with a sound touring plan?

Len says: My first question to Greg was if he was going to take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry.

(Len talks about work with Furman University this summer.)

From Brent in Australia:

Dear Jim and Len, do you have any idea of why WDI or Disney hasn't thought of dropping Mystic manor or a version of it into Animal Kingdom. From what I hear its one of the best rides WDI has ever produced. Any thoughts as it seems like it would be a home run for Disney with Epic Universe not far off.

Len says: I’d like to hear Jim Shull’s answer to this as well, because I don’t know what Imagineering’s policy is on having two similar rides in different parks at the same resort.  Setting aside simple rides like Dumbo and Triceratop Spin, and 3D movies, I can only think of a handful of rides and ride systems that are substantially the same across parks:

  • We had Body Wars at EPCOT and Star Tours at DHS from 1989 to 2010.
  • You could argue that Na’Vi River Journey is either It’s a Small Pandora or the Gran Fiesta Tour (which in Na’vi is the lawnol ftxoza tisop).

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

COMMERCIAL BREAK

We’re going to take a quick commercial break.  When we return, Jim and Jim tell us about the design tradeoffs that happened during the development of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened in Walt Disney World this week back in 2019.

MAIN TOPIC - iTunes Show

Disney Dish Last Show for August 2023
Luxury tax show reference

LEN: This episode will post on Monday, August 28th. Which means that – four years ago today – the Florida version of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” was formally dedicated by then-Chairman of Disney Parks Bob Chapek (I wonder whatever happened to that guy).

Of course, before that 14-acre addition could come online at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (not to mention out in California at Disneyland Park), certain sacrifices had to be made.

  • In the case of Florida, that meant the Studios lost its Street of America area. Home to the hugely popular “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.” Not to mention that park’s “Lights, Motors, Action” extreme stunt show & Catastrophe Canyon.
  • In California, to allow room for construction of the West Coast version of Star Wars Land, that then meant moving Disneyland’s pony farm off-site as well as trimming off the end of that theme park’s Tom Sawyer Island as well as shortening the Rivers of America. Also flattening Big Thunder Ranch.

But that’s the cost of doing business in the world of themed entertainment. Universal Studios Florida did the exact same thing back in January of 2012 when it shut down “Jaws: The Ride” so that they’d have the room necessary to build “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley.”

To explain how exactly the folks who run theme parks make these sort of decisions – which, in themed entertainment circles, is known as luxury tax – let’s bring in friend of the show (Not to mention someone who spent 30+ years working at Walt Disney Imagineering) Jim Shull.

JIM S: Thanks for the invite.

Side story: I – like a lot of other people – really miss the “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.” Which made an enormous amount of money for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Not just from when this seasonal entertainment was open to the public, but also from all those private parties / corporate events that were held after-hours at this theme park.

Vividly remember sharing a table on the Streets of America with Jim Carrey. Not sure why he was there. Not sure why I was there either.

Definition of Luxury Tax

Luxury tax is what needs to be done at a theme park which then allows for future construction. The question is … How much of a cost is that park willing to bear?

In the case of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, this meant sacrificing all of the revenue that the “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights” generated for that theme park (and we’re taking tens of millions of dollars annually) with the hope that “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” would be an even bigger / year-round draw for this theme park.

Sometimes takes real courage to turn the key on a luxury tax project

Out in Anaheim, the cost of building Disneyland’s version of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” involved building a brand-new pony farm out in Norco, California (which is some 25 miles away from Disneyland Park. Meaning the horses that work in the Park had to commute. Which didn’t entirely work. Which we’ll get to in a moment).

Brand-new 5.5 acre facility opened in June of 2017. Pony Farm backstage at Disneyland Park was originally 10 acres. But over the 60+ years that was in place out behind Frontierland, its footprint gradually got smaller and smaller.

Behind Main Street & Tomorrowland never-built expansion

Right from the beginning, Disneyland talked about building a brand-new land out behind Main Street, U.S.A. and Tomorrowland:

1956 – International Street
1957 – Liberty Street
1960 – Chinatown
1961 – Edison Square
1991 – Hollywood Land (Final phase of Disney Decade)

That area was ultimately just too valuable from an operational point of view to sacrifice for a new land. Company wasn’t willing to pay the luxury tax.

Interesting side note: When Disneyland Paris opened in April of 1992, the operators of Disney’s stateside parks saw the Liberty Arcade & the Discovery Arcade (i.e., enclosed walkways to the back of the stores along France’s Main Street, U.S.A. Which then make it far easier for Guests to traverse that theme park when a parade is rolling down Main Street or during inclement weather) and said “We want one of those too.”

And Disneyland would eventually get one of these as part of Project Stardust (project that was done in Anaheim out ahead of the opening of the West Coast version of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” to make it far easier for Guests to get back to that part of the Park. Widening walkways / moving planters, etc.) . Opened in November of 2018. Guests enter through a storefront with the sign that reads “Livery Service & Stables” and can then duck backstage. Moving quickly through clogged park.

Main Street bypasses at WDW’s Magic Kingdom

LEN: The Magic Kingdom has a similar sort of bypass on the East Side of Main Street since 2014. It opens depending on how crowded that theme park is on a particular day. A similar bypass – on the West Side of that theme park’s Main Street, U.S.A. came online in 2020. That’s held in reserve for times when that theme park is crazy-busy.

Speaking of the East Side of Main Street, U.S.A., I remember when the Hyperion Theater project was announced for WDW’s Magic Kingdom. This was announced at the D23 Expo back in July of 2017. 2000 seat enclosed theater with air conditioning. Something that this theme park has desperately needed for decades.

Was that a luxury tax situation like Disneyland’s space behind Main Street, U.S.A. and Tomorrowland? Just couldn’t bring themselves to give up that valuable chunk of real estate.

Why Hyperion Theater project was cancelled at WDW’s Magic Kingdom

JIM S: No. The Hyperion Theater for the Magic Kingdom was a go project … until it wasn’t. Just eight or so months after it had been originally announced, it was cancelled. That wasn’t a luxury tax-related decision. That was a project decision. A capital investment decision.

You have to remember that – over the history of the Disney Parks – the company has not been afraid to make big investment. Bold decisions.

Show buildings built beyond the berm early examples of luxury tax

Take – for example – the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland Park. The original version of “Haunted Mansion” out in California. Likewise the “Indiana Jones Adventure” ride at that same theme park. Those attractions all needed huge show buildings that just would not fit inside of the previously established footprint of Disneyland Park.

The only way those ride could be built at that theme park was to breach Disneyland’s berm. Tunnel under the train tracks that circle that theme park and then build huge show buildings to house those rides outside of Disneyland proper. But park managers were willing to pay the luxury tax that was necessary in these situations (Likewise with “it’s a small world” at Disneyland). All because they knew that the public would respond enthusiastically to these rides.

Pony farm returns to Disneyland

Which isn’t to say that – just because you’re willing to make a luxury tax payment – that it will actually work.

Case in point: That beautiful new pony farm that Disneyland built out in Norco. After this place opened back in June of 2017, Disney then brought in an animal psychologist. Who told the Park that that 25 mile-long commute to the park was actually hurting the horses. Stressing them out.

The solution: Build a brand-new, albeit smaller pony farm backstage at Disneyland. Out behind New Orleans Square.

Expensive to do. Had to sacrifice backstage space (which is really hard to come by at Disneyland. That place is like a Swiss Watch. Every time you add something, something else has to come out). Upside is … Happier horses.

Canal hidden at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

And since today’s show started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios … I guess we should talk about the big luxury tax payment that Walt Disney World was willing to make to expand that park. And that involves the canal that once flowed through the backstage space at the Studios.

Every good Disney fan knows the name Reedy Creek. But how many of those folks realize that the wetlands that Walt Disney World was built on is part of the head waters from the Everglades. And that it’s crucial for Central Florida’s ecology that all of this water be allowed to continue to flow through WDW property.

This is why General Joe Potter – when he was initially doing all of that site prep at Walt Disney World back in the mid-1960s – built that elaborate series of canal. To keep the water flowing through property to the Everglades.

Now jump to the late 1980s. The company decides to build Disney-MGM Studios theme park at the corner of World Drive & Buena Vista Drive. One of the feeder canals for General Joe Potter’s water system flows right through that chunk of property. No problem. We’ll build Disney-MGM around it. Earful Tower on one side of that canal / tram tour route on the other.

Jump ahead to the 1990s. Studio wants to build a full-sized production facility for Walt Disney Feature Animation – Florida. Likewise an onsite multi-story parking structure which is air conditioned for all of the artists & animators to park their cars in.

Only problem is … General Joe Potter’s feeder canal runs through the proposed construction site of this animation studio & parking garage.

No problem … Hire a few civil engineers and they then figure out how to effectively bury this drainage canal. Keep the water flowing through this area under a concrete slab. Which then allows construction of the animation studio & parking structure.

Over time, this was done to the entirety of the backstage area at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Working on the installment plan, they – year by year – hid that crucial feeder canal from sight. Which then allowed them to build Toy Story Land and “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” on top of that crucial waterway. Which still feeds into the headwaters of the Everglades.

Of course, that’s what you can do if you’re willing to pay the luxury tax.

WRAP-UP

That’s going to do it for the show today.  You can help support our show and JimHillMedia by subscribing over at DisneyDish.Bandcamp.Com, where you’ll find exclusive shows never before heard on iTunes.  Email for tech support at bandcamp: support@bandcamp.com.

ON NEXT WEEK’S SHOW: Disney Cruise Line is announcing details for its newest ship, the Disney Treasure, on Wednesday, and we’ll follow up those announcements with a look at that and how Disney ended up sending the Wonder to Australia.

NOTES 

You can find more of Jim at JimHillMedia.com, and more of me at TouringPlans.com.

PRODUCER CREDIT

iTunes Show: We’re produced fabulously by Aaron Adams, who’ll be showing you the difference between your Cambozola and your Caciocacallo, plus 10 new ways your Stinking Bishop can spice up your relationship, at the Maine Cheese Guild’s annual Main Cheese Festival on Sunday, September 10 starting at 11 a.m., at Manson Park, on Peltoma Avenue, in beautiful, downtown Pittsfield, Maine.

CLOSING

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.


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