So I was reading Jim Hill’s latest column. He started off by explaining that Disney isn’t making a big deal of Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary this year because they’d rather wait and make a bigger deal of the resort’s more important 50th anniversary in 2021. Sounds reasonable, right? I think we all suspect that Disney will do something big for the 50th, although it’s surely too early to know exactly what that will be.
Or is it? In a sentence that was obviously written to make the reader do a double-take, Hill claims that Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration will span all five Florida theme parks. And then he “elaborates” by saying that Disney plans to have a fifth gate on the Florida property by 2021 before quickly ending the column.
The rumor of a fifth gate is a persistent one in Disney fan circles. I have no doubt that the possibility has been discussed within the company, and I’m sure that concepts and ideas for such a park exist in somebody’s filing cabinet. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m not a Disney employee, I don’t know any Disney employees, and I have no inside information. I’m just a blogger with opinions. However, I can state with unequivocal certainty that when Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration kicks into gear in 2021, there will still be only four parks in Florida. If I am wrong, may Mr. T himself strike me down.
How can I be so certain? I’m glad you asked! Here are my top three reasons why Walt Disney World will not get a fifth gate anytime soon (and probably never):
- The economics don’t make sense. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the global economy is in the toilet. Oh, things are going pretty well for some people-such as former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who spent a year running that company into the ground and was rewarded with a $10 million severance package when they fired him. But the other 99.9% of the population is not exactly rolling in greenbacks. During an appearance on the September 11 episode of the WDW Today podcast, Jim Hill mentioned that because of the bad economy people have been booking their Disney vacations about six weeks out instead of six months or more, which makes it difficult for the company to predict what their staffing needs will be. If the dire economic conditions are preventing Disney from predicting customer demand for their existing parks, how could they justify dropping billions of dollars to construct another? Even if they could, they probably wouldn’t because . . .
- Team Disney Orlando hates to spend money. Did you know that Team Disney Orlando was opposed to the Fantasyland expansion? It’s true. Even though it will help alleviate some of the capacity issues that force the park to turn away paying customers during the busiest days of the year, and therefore make the Magic Kingdom more profitable in the long term, the geniuses at Team Disney Orlando tried to veto the project. The adults at the corporate office in Burbank were forced to overrule Orlando management and thus the project went forward. If they’re unwilling to spend the money on a project that will lead to demonstrable benefits, why would they spend billions on a fifth gate, where the benefits are more nebulous and may not materialize? Speaking of which . . .
- A fifth gate will not cause people to extend their vacations. Aside from a desire to siphon business away from Universal Studios and Busch Gardens, what motivated Disney to build the Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom parks? They wanted people to book longer stays on property. However, in the years following the opening of Animal Kingdom it became obvious that this strategy had not worked. Rather than staying an extra day to see Animal Kingdom, people were just spending less time at the other three parks. I have no firsthand knowledge about the company’s inner workings, but I imagine Disney was counting on the increased revenue from longer stays on property to help offset the continuing cost of maintaining Animal Kingdom. That revenue didn’t materialize, and now the company is forced to operate the park without it. I doubt they’d make the same mistake twice by adding a fifth gate.
So there you have it, three reasons why we will not see a fifth theme park at Walt Disney World—not in the near future and probably not in the far future either. And yes, I’ve heard rumors of a smaller, limited-access gate for the very wealthy, but judging from the downward trajectory of the economy and the upward trajectory of Walt Disney World admission prices and room rates, it’s not too hard to envision a future where the entirety of the Florida property is a limited-access gate for the very wealthy.
Well, that’s all for this post. Coming up later, I’m working on a post about how EPCOT opened at the perfect point in history to capture the imagination of a generation of parkgoers, and after that I’ll have on a history of Disney space rides.