As we all know, Disney is doing some major renovations to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. During the 2015 Walt Disney Company annual shareholders meeting, a 6-year-old asked if the park would be getting a name change. After some awkward conversation with other executives, Bob Iger admitted that indeed the name will change, but did not make the formal announcement as to what that would be. Renaming the park yet again means there will be gigantic adjustments to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. No doubt there will be a lot of new attractions, restaurants and gift shops coming. Beyond the confirmed Star Wars additions we know are happening (just not specifics yet), there has to be more intellectual properties in the pipeline that can be utilized. Before we get there, that means there need to be some closures first.
The Magic of Disney Animation will be closing as of July 12, 2015 thanks to confirmation given to the Orlando Sentinel. Long gone are actual Disney animators working on future feature films. In recent years, the building has become known for character meet-and-greets and the Animation Academy show where guests learn to draw Disney characters.
This is not to say the attraction isn’t popular. Kids love those character photos, but as we have learned with the closure of Camp Minnie Mickey at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney characters are portable and can be dispersed elsewhere to accommodate construction and park expansion. This has ultimately cleared the way for Avatar.
According to unofficial sources, and yet to be confirmed as of the writing of this article, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream is also scheduled to close along with the Magic of Disney Animation or shortly thereafter. This attraction, which was designed to be a temporary exhibition to coincide with the 100 Years of Magic celebration at Walt Disney World, has stayed open many years beyond the original intention. As anyone can tell you, the attraction is sparsely visited and the final theater show is lucky to see 10% of the seats filled at any given point during operating hours.
Which leads us to the subject of utilization. By far, Disney’s Hollywood Studios uses its land to distribute guest flow the poorest out of any Walt Disney World park. The 135-acre park was originally designed to serve two purposes: theme park and movie studio. Thus, a decent chunk of that land was designated to accommodate pre-production, filming as well as post-production as well as Disney animation. By the end of the 1990s, almost all of the production dried up and thus we saw sound stages turn into attractions like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Play It and Toy Story Midway Mania.
As demand grew to for the park, these sound stages that were no longer used to give guests a glimpse into movie making, could soak in capacity far better than they ever could on the Backstage Tour. The problem remains, how do you expand a park that has no land to expand on? Disney’s Hollywood Studios is essentially landlocked by World Drive and Buena Vista Drive, so there are only so many directions you can move to increase the amount of guests who can fit in the park. What to do?
The first thing is to close the Backlot Tour which happened in September of 2014. As impressive as Catastrophe Canyon continued to be, it was a small chunk of real estate in an attraction that was otherwise rather dull and could be better utilized as an entire new themed land in the park. More on that later.
Next you take an extremely popular show from the very back of the park, the Premier Theater, and move it to an unused theater (home of the former American Idol attraction) at the end of Hollywood Boulevard. By no longer using the Premier Theater at the end of Streets of America for Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, this systematically starts freeing up land in the back of the park.
Note: any information given from this moment on is mere speculation. We rarely do this at Theme Park University, but let’s start to make some educated guesses, shall we?
With the Backlot Tram Tour and the Premiere Theater both no longer in use, this leaves one monkey-in-the-middle: Lights Motors Action. Even during peak season, there are only two showings per day. Even though the stands can hold 5.000 people, they rarely fill up anymore. Recently, the 10-year sponsorship deal ended with Brawny paper towels which allows the venue to also become ripe for future expansion. The odds of this show going away sooner than later? Very high.
The above picture was taken on the Streets of America at 5:45 pm in the middle of June: peak season. Unfortunately while the streets are a cool place for picture opportunities, it represents a huge patch of land where crowds could experience new rides and attractions. The only time of year this gets busy?
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights fills the streets from mid-November through the first week of January every year. Even then, that is only from 6 pm until roughly 10 pm. That’s four hours a day of filling the streets during less than eight weeks a year. Again, this is speculation, but the odds of this Christmas tradition sticking around past 2015 (and even in 2015, it may not happen) are extremely slim.
Even though there are a fair amount of kids playing at the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set Adventure, it has become painfully dated. The movie was extremely popular and even spurred a short-lived television series. Ask any child what movie this playground is from and 99 out of 100 will probably tell you A Bug’s Life. It will go away, though very well could get themed to that Pixar movie I just mentioned. A Bug’s Land at Disney’s California Adventure proves to be very popular even today. Again, all speculation, but odds of this sticking around much longer? Slim.
All of the above changes gives Disney’s Hollywood Studios a sizable chunk of land to repurpose for future development. While it’s fair to believe that the park needs this space to be utilized with new attractions, maybe the top brass at Disney are thinking far beyond the future of the next five years? Maybe they are focusing on the next twenty years and beyond.
The above photo shows Disney’s Hollywood Studios just beyond Sunset Boulevard. Notice the area behind Rosie’s All American Cafe (the scattered red roofed buildings off of Sunset at the bottom of the image).
Everything within the red semi-bubble north of Sunset Boulevard represents non-guest areas that could be used by future expansions. Clearly, every theme park needs back of house facilities to keep things rolling and all the above space couldn’t be used. Yes, there are many offices back there that were once designed for use by the studio, but later for park operations. Those offices, maintenance facilities and even storage areas need to be condensed and repurposed. However, it’s not impossible. Even a gigantic building originally intended for Walt Disney Feature Animation is now utilized for offices of Walt Disney World employees. Which leads me to the hole in the outlined area above.
If Disney’s Hollywood Studios wants to expand into this area, that means the Magic of Disney Animation is the largest blockade. Sure, you could get rid of the fast food locations along Sunset Boulevard to access this area and congest the most crowded section of the park even more, or you can get rid of an attraction that is under utilized and the majority of the characters can be spread elsewhere. In summation, this leaves you with an expansion area that could encompass this:
Sure, there will need to be accommodations made for back of house operations and no doubt, some offices will need to be relocated to other locations around Disney World property. However, I am confident that the overall area outlined above will become mostly guest utilized within the next few years to come. One final thought…
If the rumors are true that One Man’s Dream is closing, consider this: that is part of a giant building complex that is completely connected. Even though the layout is odd, keep in mind, this was the finale to the original Backlot Tour at the Disney/MGM Studios. Considering the former short-lived Jack Sparrow show closed in 2014 and IF One Man’s Dream is closing as well, that leaves a huge building to create a dark ride, new shows, retail or even a combination. However, there is that one show in the corner that while popular, is a bit dated. Hey, it’s a time of big change. Anything is possible.
By now, some of you are having a full blown panic attack. Change is hard. For the record, I may be wrong about my educated guesses listed above. No matter if I am 20% right or 100%, one thing is for certain: big change is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We also haven’t even begun with how the space can be utilized. There is a lot more to think about: attractions, restaurants, gift shops, intellectual properties, even how to expand the parking lot to accommodate larger crowds…. your thoughts?
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