Friday, June 01, 2007

Attack of the 20 Billion Dollar Expansion

Foxxfur from the really terrific blog Passport to Dreams Old and New contributes a special commentary today. She takes a look at Disney World’s recent and upcoming plans for resort hotel expansion and provides a perspective both insightful and just a little bit provocative at times; hopefully a refreshing change of pace from my usually Pollyana-based views on the World. Enjoy!

Attack of the 20 Billion Dollar Expansion

One of the varied blessings Walt Disney World allows for is the blessing of the resorts. After years of having been variously elated and rather beaten-about by the Walt Disney World theme parks, storming in at 9:00 and out twelve hours later, after endless treks back and forth in the rain from the Train Station lockers to the Haunted Mansion, and after getting sick twice on Casey’s hot dogs, I discovered the wonder of the resorts.

The resorts are a blessing, especially for the Walt Disney World frequent abuser who has apparently seen and done it all, and I hold to the belief that Walt Disney World would be a less stressful, more sane place if more guests would bother to leave the park, go to a resort, and spend several hours doing nothing, or drinking heavily, or whatever it is they need to do before returning for more abuse. It’s been repeated ad infinitum from 1989 on, but this is genuinely good advice.

What is even better about the resorts is how they’ve become clustered: some of my nicest days on property haven’t been in parks as of late, but spending time in the resort areas. Magic Kingdom resorts are accessible by about a hundred different ways to Sunday, and with the sheer volume of recreation, shopping and dining that these singular mega-getaways offer it’s easy and reasonably cheap to forgo that extra day at MGM and just go to the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT resort areas for the day. Although Disney says we’re not supposed to, pool hopping is always fun (just don’t get caught at the Yacht & Beach Club one), you can rent a surrey bike at Boardwalk or boat to Downtown Disney from Dixie Landings, and generally actually enjoy living.

But in the last ten years I’ve also began to become really miffed. As nice as these places are in expanding your vacation and as convenient they are, clustered as they are, I’ve begin to become increasingly uneasy about the Walt Disney World machine. Finally, when will enough finally be enough? I can go to Disney’s official website, wait for the interminable interface to load, and count from one to twenty-one without landing on something you’re not supposed to stay in for seven to ten days. I can add five or eight to that figure if I count the Disney Vacation Club adjuncts as separate resorts, like Disney does. And now with four cheap-o resorts on property, and that’s without counting the “not really Disney” Hotel Plaza Boulevard madness, we’re supposed to swallow that they’re planning on opening even more, even cheaper hotels on property, as well as a Four Seasons on top of one of the Golf Courses, as well as whole new sections of Animal Kingdom Lodge and Contemporary… and one begins to wonder if the person pulling the strings here has ever heard of the concept of supply exceeding demand.

I can go to Coronado Springs and not see a single normal guest in sight. This may be because the resort is so effing huge that your vision gives out before the acreage does, but it probably mostly has something to do with the fact that the resort only seems to exist for an endless parade of conventioneers. The resort is so strange and dead that Disney’s doesn’t even run the food court and there is no upscale dining option. Was all this money spent really necessary, in the long run? The resort is huge but it feels like a ghost town. Where is the demand?

Last time I stayed at Old Key West, I stayed in a room which hadn’t been opened in months. There were actually cobwebs the cleaning staff hadn’t gotten yet, and the whole place had a dead atmosphere like it had been forgotten and boarded up. We were nowhere near anything convenient and it was unlike any Disney Resort experience I’ve ever had. You can’t tell me Disney is filling up those rooms. And yet we’re building an adjunct to Animal Kingdom Lodge that’s bigger than the original resort and another 16 floor tower next to the Contemporary while you can’t swing a killer whale in Coronado Springs and knock down a vacationing family and Old Key West rooms are becoming nothing but containers for spiders and ghosts.

And yet, terrifyingly, park attendance numbers continue to climb and soon you won’t even be able to go into Magic Kingdom on any day of the week without being slaughtered alive by ravenous Disney Dining Plan equipped theme park commandos because you’re standing between them and the Fast Pass machine. Considering that on many days EPCOT and Animal Kingdom can’t reach the numbers they’re capable of, Disney doesn’t care: they’ll push people through those Magic Kingdom turnstiles until nobody can move on Main Street and if anybody strikes a match everybody’ll burn alive because it doesn’t matter what the Guest Experience is like now that they’ve already got your money.

Disney ought to be reducing their attendance cap at Magic Kingdom and MGM and start outlawing traditional strollers in the park and helping guests enjoy themselves and stop shoveling more price effective and price gouging “punishment packages” at guests hoping they won’t notice they’re being conned. But they won’t. They’ll build more resorts and try to drag in more people and offer nothing in the way of a pressure relief valve until it’s too late.

And meanwhile the parks deteriorate because management is terrified that these people will stage a revolt if something is closed (if you doubt this one, you should’ve seen Orlando Pirates between April and July last year) because they’ve been planning this trip for years and Disney can’t get its’ act together to actually work on the time table they’re encouraging guests to have to plan on. It’s disgusting that you have to make dining reservations months in advance, but that’s the way Disney wants it. They’ve dug themselves into a hole they can’t even function inside of.

Why isn’t the resort hemorrhaging money on these hotel rooms? We know they can’t fill them but they irrationally continue to build more. Are buildings being closed in Phases? When the iron gets too cold will they pull the same joke they produced post 9/11 and actually close whole resorts for “refurbishment”? Why are they building more resorts when they refuse to finish a building they half constructed over at Pop Century?

Walt Disney World opened with one theme park, two resorts, a Country Club hotel, and a campground. Eventually they added another Country Club, a shopping plaza, some cheap-o hotels and, finally, another park. Walt Disney World grew into its’ skin. Euro Disneyland opened with six hotels and you couldn’t get the money flow out of that place to go the other way with a shovel for a few months because of it. And I’m just wondering when that bright shiny Walt Disney World bubble is going to pop, because it’s gonna happen, and at the rate we’re going – sooner, not later.

17 comments:

theorbo said...

I agree with the concerns of this post. However, saying that, I do understand the fact that the ultimate concern for Disney, including WDW, is to deliver value and growth to shareholders.

I would not be surprised to learn that they have performed cost-benefit analysis demonstrating that being able to sell these excess rooms at premium prices during the busiest periods (while having them sit idle for 9 months of the year) would result in net gains for the company.

The counter-argument to this would be that they are diluting the brand or cheapening the experience (making things less magical) with the results mentioned such as increased over-crowding. I don't doubt that. I just think that the revenue analysts have more say, ultimately, than those who have more long-term views.

I love the site and this post was a nice change of pace.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this site, too. But if I want to read another "Disney sucks!" piece high on snark and low on facts, I'll go back to MiceAge or the LaughingPlace chat boards.
Hate Disney? Think it's dirty and overcrowded? STFU and stay home. I go a couple times a year, usually when it's packed, and my family has no problem with crowds or meal reservations or any of the issues this particular guest blogger whines about. People who want the park all to themselves miss the point and ought to stay home.

Jeff Pepper said...

There are few people out there who truly appreciate WDW the way that Foxxfur does. While her criticisms in this piece were clearly harsh at times, they do not in anyway represent a "Disney sucks!" mindset nor paint her as a Disney hater. And what are these "facts" you claim she was low on?

Her observations in this case are sadly accurate. On my recent stay at Pop Century,I winced every time I left my room and looked across the lake at the building shells. It continues to be a real eyesore.

And clearly, Disney is not expanding its attraction offerings to keep up with guest demands and increased resort capacities. 60-90 minute waits for headliner attractions are now common during non-peak seasons.

These are all issues that allow for fair and balanced criticisms. Foxxfur provided that, but I guess just not in a tone that was reverent enough for you.

Anonymous said...

So stay home, Jeff. Every successful venture spawns a cottage industry of naysayers who do nothing but pine for "the good 'ol days" and expect everything to be just perfect for them and them alone. If I ever have a problem at WDW, I tell a manager and it gets fixed. I don't have a need to whine about it online where an unpleasant experience in my room becomes grist for projecting my dissatisfaction onto the other 47 square miles. If I dislike a destination so much, I just don't go. If I can't stand crowds, I go where it isn't crowded. If I feel a need to "wince" every time I look at something, I stop paying for the priveledge of looking at it. There's disappointed and then there's stupid, Jeff. Thanks for clearly stating where you stand.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the other anonymous posters.

The guest columnist clearly has no life and needs to lighten up and give Disney a break.

Please delete these columns ASAP as a way to ensure that this blog stays positive and leaves the negativity to the Disney hater-infested blogs and sites like Re-Imagineering, Epcot Central, Miceage, WDWMagic, Laugingplace.com, etc.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Pepper said...
There are few people out there who truly appreciate WDW the way that Foxxfur does.

See, therein lies the problem. You have this tiny, inbred band of people who simply think they know everything and the rest of the great unwashed masses are just sheeple who must shut up and do as they say. Only those who "truly appreciate" should have the parks all to themselves because, darn it, they're the only ones who truly get it. You find the same band of annoying, self-absorbed people in all walks of life, self-appointed experts on wine, or art, or any other topic.
I like this blog because the guy who runs it is a appreciative fan with a great eye for detail. He enlightens and educates the reader. If he thinks he needs to be like the "hater-infested blogs" to be popular, I'd encourage him to please not go there. There's enough of that in the world already. :(

FoxxFur said...

Well this is fun. =)

Brian Wright said...

well put

sdav10495 said...

Will the real anonymous please stand up? (Oh wait, it's just one of you, isn't it...)

If you're looking for a piece to call "high on snark and low on facts," there are plenty to choose from among the various Disney fan blogs. But this post was not one of them. If you think foxxfur's post was a hatred-spewing tirade against sub-par resorts and how things have devolved from the good old days, you'd better read it again...there's more irrational vitriol in your own comments. The point foxxfur makes about EuroDisneyland gets to the heart of the subject--what exactly is is Disney thinking filling up WDW with so much hotel space when it clearly shot itself in the foot that way in the first decade of the Paris resort? That's not opinionated whining. It's a totally valid question, and one that was posed fairly.

"Hate Disney? Think it's dirty and overcrowded? STFU and stay home."

"You have this tiny, inbred band of people who simply think they know everything and the rest of the great unwashed masses are just sheeple who must shut up and do as they say."


Now, I myself can't stand the idea that there's an elite group of Disney fans that bullies the rest because, come on now, we're talking about a theme park that we all patronize as members of the same public. But seriously, those like yourself with the opposite "populist" attitude can be equally as nuts...you think just invoking that "WDW: Love It Or Leave It" mantra makes your point any more valid? It's an absurd excuse for a rebuttal.

There's nothing wrong with loving Disney unconditionally, but honestly, does it ever occur to you that the online fans who demand the most of WDW might be doing it because they care immensely about the quality of the parks? Do you really think these are WDW "haters"?

I could care less if you do think everything is perfect in the parks--if that's how you feel, then that's the experience you have and I'm happy for you. I myself know that no matter what needs improvement, I am never happier than I am in WDW--and I wouldn't wish a lesser experience on anyone. But if you can't at least grasp why some fans choose to critique the parks and point out how much more can be done to improve them--if you really can't see that these people do not hate Walt Disney World--then I'm sorry to say you deserve whatever "sheeple" label gets thrown at you.

Anonymous said...

Actually, sdav10495, there are several of us "Anonymous" posters. I'm not lying!

Your comment up there was VERY mean-spirited and not respectful of other peoples' opinions. I hope it gets deleted ASAP, since us pro-Disney fans do not deserve such flack.

Jeff Pepper said...

Anonymous—

If you are upset at being accused of writing multiple comments, the solution is simple—identify yourself. For all of us bloggers who allow open forums for our readers, it is especially frustrating when people put up harsh and provocative comments, and then hide behind walls of anonymity.

Believe me, I was very tempted to delete some of these comments. The ones using language such as “STFU” and “There's disappointed and then there's stupid, Jeff. Thanks for clearly stating where you stand,” and “The guest columnist clearly has no life and needs to lighten up and give Disney a break,” and “You have this tiny, inbred band of people who simply think they know everything . . .” But because the harshness and malicious nature of these comments tends to undermine the very points they are trying to express, I’ve decided to keep them posted.

sdav10495 put up a rational, polite and very civil comment, and for that he has my thanks.

theorbo said...

Good gracious alive! I really think the original post was created out of love and concern for the parks and the brand. I don't think it has anything to do with "wanting the parks to themselves" or "living in the past."

I'll skip anything lengthy but just present a few ideas. Noone has to read any blog or website. Not to sound smug or snarky but a blog is a surrogate for the author's voice. If you aren't into it or don't like it, you do not have to read it. Or if you want to make a better blog, try that - blogger, for one, is fairly straight forward.

Disabling anonymous comments might be a consideration - only the more serious posters would do so. If you want a one-sided view of life they are out there, but this blog might not be the one for you (?) ... show some respect for others!

Biblio Adonis said...

Thanks for another great post FoxxFur--and to Jeff for posting it.

I have been a fan of Jeff and Foxxfur for many moons.

I know I speak for Jeff when I say how impressed and envious I am of Foxxfur's writing. She can distill some of the most obtuse and mind-boggling treatise's into very palpable reads.

Something as mundane as skylights becomes a loving look at the development of the design process and proof Imagineering's growth.

Thanks!

FoxxFur said...

Folks, I really am not a Disney hater, nor do I think it ought to be a retreat for only those who think they know everything about it. People who know everything about it are what makes Disneyland so awful to be in on weekends. It is a mass art and as a mass art it is still beautiful and honest and true.

I fully regret that the current clientele does not have the opportunity to expirence World of Motion or Dreamflight or the original Hall of Presidents, but I cannot conscinably also state that I will begrudge them their ability to enjoy what is a still very high quality product. Living in the past is writing petetions asking for the return of attraction XYZ, not celebrating that attraction's artistic success. One activity is passive, the other is active. If we understand what made Dreamflight so great, then perhaps we can also get something out of Buzz Lightyear. If I hated the parks would I be advancing a thesis, every week, that the theme park is the 20th century's other New Art?

But it's not whining. If you'd like to read some of that, I suggest trying some of the above comments, which are at least funny if not insightful, or Mice Age and WDW Magic, which are neither.

But by and large I stand by my essay. I have corroborated my points with evidence and I have made my opinions clear, with what I hope came off as (acid) tounge in cheek, else I'd try smoking a few cigarettes to reduce righteous rage and try reading it again.

You know, last night I rode the Carrousel for the first time since I was five, and I loved it. I hope it never leaves. That's not a love which can be quantified into an intellectual argument for some bullshit I've come up with - it's true and real and honest.

And I'd bet Al Lutz wouldn't see anything in a carousel but a fiberglass horse and some chipped paint. And I don't feel bad for him. He doesn't deserve it.

Rae! said...

Well for such a happiest place on earth,I agree that it needs to finish the unfinished projects.That is not Disney like. I am a huge Disney fan and I am no expert,but i do know that I hope they don't do like other parks and start projects and then just leave them there as an eye sore.
I go all the time and every time I am at Disney there is something some where changing.
I do not like the 180 out dining reservation.I really hope they can change that.But for now if that is the way I have to get my reservation for a popular experience I will.I like this blog and a few others .They do not bash The Disney name,unlike some people here has and they can not even tell who they are.
I'm not am insider but I must say there is always room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Just to say this...

The Magic Kingdom is more crowded - but not reaching anything close to an attendance cap. The low season has simply disappeared, that's all. People who used to "know when to come" are being surprised that the low season has dropped down to a few weeks here and there. Thus, The Haunted Mansion is closed all summer long. People complain that it's the high season - but it isn't. 50K people isn't that many on a Monday afternoon - unless you came two years ago when there were 30K.

The resorts are consistently pretty full as well. If Old Key West was kind of musty - well, no one stays there but die-hard DVC members that say the rooms are bigger than Saratoga's. Port Orleans is bursting at the seams. Coronado Springs was built for conventioneers so it seems kind of weird to complain that it's full of conventioneers.

It's not just Disney that's building hotel rooms by the hundred. All of Orlando is.

All in all, this seems like a pretty atypical post for 2719. I was disappointed by it. It was a litany of the crimes of current WDW execs without any real facts or research. It really felt like one of the other, negative websites. I get enough of that "disney used to be better in the good old days" nonsense at work. Take what you are given and rejoice in it, because it's an amazing world you're being offered.

getfastercar said...

It's hard to find fault in those who remember yesterday, see today, and care about tomorrow.... keep up the good work Foxx.