17 January 2011

Preview of the construction site

Forty years ago when Walt Disney World was being constructed, there were only a scant few avenues that kept up to date information on the project. Major news papers across the country, any publication inside the state of Florida, and the Walt Disney World Preview Center were the best outlets available for construction news and ideas about what was coming. Times have changed, but the process by which information is doled out remains stuck in the past.

Walt Disney World learned from the Walt Disney World Preview Center that guests wanted to know more and see more about their grand construction projects. So, when it came time to highlight the work being done for EPCOT Center, not only was there a preview center on Main Street U.S.A., but guests could also obtain passage through the construction of the park via the newly completed monorail line to EPCOT Center. When combined with the exhibits of the preview center, this trip aboard the monorail provided the perfect view of Walt Disney World’s future and was the pinnacle of previews. Since then, however, the idea of letting guests in on the secret seems to have vanished.Not since the construction of Disney’s Animal Kingdom has there been a larger project, on a singular site, as currently resides on the backside of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. And yet, guests are relegated to a few bits of information and concept art posted along the front of the refurbishment walls. There is more information available through online resources, but even those communications are often dated by the fact that so few facts are being released. What is missing, for a project of this size, is an actual preview center. Even more important, and blatantly missing, is a way to view the project.

Guests are not blind, they see the walls and know what lies behind them, with or without the hints from cranes and steel girders. What they really want to know is what is being built behind the great wall of plywood. Without a monorail whizzing through Fantasyland, the obvious idea for viewing construction in progress would be a viewing platform or, for worldwide audiences, live webcams. Instead, guests’ sole means of catching a glimpse of Fantasyland expansion is by booking passage aboard Dumbo the Flying Elephant. With plans calling for Dumbo to be moved to a new location, soon guests will have no vehicle with which to view the building of a forest.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe every refurbishment or project needs, or deserves, a lavish preview. However, with a project the size and magnitude of the Fantasyland expansion, is there really any reason not to let guests in?

At this point in entertainment history, when DVDs and Blu-rays come equipped with hours of content dedicated to the construction of a single film, when it is blindingly obvious that guests like to know the how of an attraction almost as much as an attraction itself, isn’t it time to find a way to keep guests more involved in the process? Being able to survey the site daily with streaming video or walk up a ramp and watch the buildings begin to take shape are only two of the options that could have grown out of those preview monorails to tomorrow. The question must not be whether guests should be able to see the future of Fantasyland, but how best to integrate them into the experience.

1 comment:

Go said...

Ryan, you are quite correct in pointing out the early desire by Disney to promote the development of WDW & EPCOT by using "preview centers". I miss them too.
I'm holding out hope that at some point in 2011 the new Fantasyland construction will become recognizable enough (in photos) to guests and only then will we see the next "preview center".