Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Does the Future Hold for WDW's Downtown Disney?

                                                         (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

A few months ago I was having a great “catching up” conversation with a friend who now lives in Southern California. In between the discussion of having kids and international travel we wandered into the topic of Disney World vs Disneyland. As with most west coast residents she made an adamant case for why the “original” Disney theme park was better than the “shopping mall with rides” we have here in Florida. As eager as I was for a decent debate I couldn’t agree with her. And since she has actually been to both resorts, I haven't yet, she rattled off issue after issue, point after point as to why Disneyland is the better of the two. After conceding the argument she said something that really stuck with me. “You guys just have so much wasted space over there. Over here we make the most with what we have.” This is something most of us already know, but to hear it from someones else mouth is a little bit eye opening. And during a recent walk through of Downtown Disney with a WDW friend that statement from my west coast friend became even more evident. From empty building after empty building; broken themeing to bottle necked areas, I began to wonder what happened to this once great area. Obviously the Disney World fan base is not happy with the current state of Downtown Disney, and surely WDW management must be growing impatient and frustrated with Downtown Disney’s less than stellar state. So I began to do a little bit of detective work and investigating to figure out what, if anything, is next for Disney World’s Downtown Disney?

Lets start off with the easiest egg to crack. That’s the Downtown Disney Marketplace. This section of the Downtown Disney is the most profitable section of Downtown Disney, and the easiest section for Disney to maintain. With crowd favorites and major draws like the T Rex Restaurant, Lego Store, World of Disney, and the soon to be refurbished Rainforest Café the Marketplace boast the highest occupancy rates for Downtown Disney. Since this section of the area is almost 100% occupied and boast so many crowd favorites Disney has resigned itself to keeping this section as is for the most part. With Earl of Sandwich raking in the dough for the lunch rush Disney is hoping the sandwich shop continues with its stellar numbers. Rainforest Café and T Rex Restaurant continue to slug it out to battle for the family dinner dollar, and with the addition of the ever popular Disney Dining Plan option, both establishments are seeing record numbers. The one interesting tidbit about the Marketplace is the adult favorite Raglan Road pub and eatery. This pub is increasing in popularity and its price points, service, and food quality are making it even more popular amongst guests visiting WDW without kids. Due to this, Disney is actively looking for more of these types of adult friendly establishments to occupy space in other parts of Downtown Disney. 

                                                      (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

Travel Deals Next we are faced with the gigantic eye sore and black hole of fun and entertainment that is Pleasure Island. We will note even get into the massive debacle that was Hyperion Wharf, but it is safe to say that Disney has tried hard before to get this section of Downtown Disney up and running but still to this day Pleasure Island site almost entirely abandoned and deserted. Guests walk through this section of Downtown Disney with a confused faces and childlike curiosity. Recent reports have been surfacing that a couple of the now closed Pleasure Island clubs will be reopening. While this at first appears to be nothing more than Fanboy wishing and speculation, Disney actually has been making some steps behind the scenes to get a couple of the old clubs back up and running. Sources are saying that Disney has gone even begun to work on costuming for the Mannequins and Comedy Warehouse clubs. Again, while this could just be wishful thinking, there definitely is a need for these types of establishments in Pleasure Island. Additionally, in a recent article on wdwinfo.com Thommy Sandvick speculates about an addition to Pleasure Island that would be a dance party in the area that is closely themed to the Mad Tea Party dance party at Disney’s California Adventure. I should caution though, that unlike the dance party at DCA, this dance party would most likely be inside of a building and not out in the open. Obviously, this move would help Disney monetize the dance party. This rumor was further fueled by a recent addition of a Mad Hatter human statue. To be honest, that’s all the talk going on for Pleasure Island; the return of two old clubs and a Mad Hatter dance club.              
                                                              (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

Now we arrive to Downtown Disney West Side. This space is occupied by the new addition of Splitsville; since this spot is not open yet, the verdict is still out, but it should be said that Disney is very proud and optimistic about this new addition. Additonally on the West Side is the AMC Downtown Disney theaters, and a myriad of restaurants that have a hard time filling tables and asking the kind of money Disney would like for them to make; i.e. Wolfgang Pucks, Bongos. The exception to this is the fan favorite House of Blues. So needless to say, Disney is actively courting new, highly themed eating establishments to move to the West Side. We also have Cirque du Soleil La Nouba show. This show has been at the West Side since 1998! So needless to say, everyone who has wanted to see this show, has. Recent reports have been surfacing of the show going down for almost 6 months and going through an extensive refurbishment and re themeing. A lot of noise is being made that this could turn into a Cirque Du Soleil Disney themed show. there is even chatter that if Disney can strike a deal with Universal Studios, that this can be turned into an elaborate Disney Avengers themed show. That would, without a doubt, be a huge draw for not only Disney fans, but locals and Marvel fans alike. 

                                                        (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

The last hurdle we have to clear is a big one. The massive 5 story Disney Quest interactive gaming, building is looking more and more like a red herring than a revolutionary indoor theme park. Lets face it, the last new attraction that was out inside of the building was Pirates of the Caribbean — Battle for Buccaneer Gold, and that was a long, long time ago. Now Disney is looking to do a complete head to toe redo of the indoor complex. Sources say the Phineas and Ferb and You interactive experience that is currently sitting outside of Disney Quest will be moved inside and cranked up to a whole new level. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Disney Channel show, this attraction will be a main draw for the new Disney Quest. We would also see Disney gut all of the 1990’s era virtual reality attractions and replace them with simulator type attractions that are more reliable, can handle more guests per hour, and can be easily updated with new content. The vintage games and arcade components of the indoor theme park would stay, but you would see Disney making more of an effort to more efficiently move guests around the now confusing layout of the building. Guest flow will become a huge priority. A big part of that is because Disney is finding that people are too worn out to get to the fourth and fifth floors of the building. Whats so important about those floors you ask? This is where the lounge type quick service eateries are. So we might see Disney move some of their more popular attractions and new additions to these floors to increase traffic. Now keep in mind that this is a huge refurbishment and would probably mean Disney Quest would be closed for close to a year. So whats stopping Disney from moving forward with these projects?

                                                         (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

Disney wants to change the way their guests arrive at Downtown Disney. They are looking at creating new sections of highway that would lead visitors right to Downtown Disney. Not the winding and turning road you take now from I4, but instead Disney is looking to build a off ramp or flyover section of highway that would take you right to Downtown Disney’s front door. This would also include a multi level parking structure that would be somewhere near the Cirque Du Soleil building. This all sounds well and good and Disney was ready to announce this gigantic project back in the fall of this year, but they ran into a little bit of a problem. It would seem that Disney ran into some opposition from state and federal highway officials about building a separate dedicated flyover and off ramp for Downtown Disney. I have not been able to completely unfold that part of the story yet, but from what it looks like, as usual, Disney is fighting over how much of the highway project they will pay for. With both the government and Disney not wanting to shoulder too much of the cost for this highway project, the overall Downtown Disney redo is at a bit of a stand still.           

                                                                (Photo by: Chris Wakefield)

If/when the supposed head to toe refurbishment of Disney Quest is done Disney hopes to turn all of Downtown Disney into a Disney Interactive showcase. Featuring new elements from the theme parks, Downtown Disney would turn into a place where you can legitimately spend the entire day with your family. The new, refreshing, and excellent restaurants to come would be more than enough to hold you over and fill your belly up in between running from shop to shop, while your kids play a version a Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or Phineas and Ferb scavenger hunt type of game that will take your family all around Downtown Disney. Cap that off with a a Cirque Du Soleil show, or a movie at AMC,a little bit of clubbing at Pleasure Island,  or a date night at Splitsville, and you have yourself a full day of entertainment and fun at the new Downtown Disney!           

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