04 March 2013

Marvel at the Magic All Around You

For the first few decades of Walt Disney World’s growth, it was commonplace to see massive celebrations for milestone anniversaries of the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT Center. Going back even farther to Disneyland, one of the biggest celebrations, and influx of new attractions, came with the park’s fourth anniversary. Somewhere around the turn of the century, the 21st century that EPCOT Center had talked about so often in those early years in fact, the celebratory spirit for a park turning another half decade older went away.

As part of Epcot turning 25 in 2007, the online fan community began to put together its own event when it appeared nothing official was coming down from Walt Disney World itself. Epcot did manage to pull off a rather nice ceremony, a great gallery, a wonderful talk with Marty Sklar, and an IllumiNations tag. However, all of this seemed very last minute in terms of actual time put in to the event, and only the gallery remained open to celebrate the park beyond that first day. Subsequent celebrations, for Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s 15th, Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ 20th, Magic Kingdom’s 40th, and Epcot’s 30th have been planned out further in advance, but they also seem to lack any sort of staying power beyond that one day.

You want to know something? I’m okay with that. Oh sure, I’d love to see galleries dedicated to the history of the parks in every park, with a revolving set of exhibits which could be refreshed for anniversaries. Stage and firework productions specifically for an anniversary that continue throughout the month or year would be nice too. However, just having Walt Disney World acknowledge the parks’ anniversaries is enough for me right now. What I don’t understand is the lack of forethought that comes into play as it comes to attractions for celebrations.

Once upon a time, great new attractions opened on, or near, their park’s birthdays as a sort of gift to the guests. Since parks are an ever changing lot, there could always be some new attraction to help you celebrate even the tiniest of birthdays, such as EPCOT Center turning 1 with the opening of Horizons. Now, I’m not saying that a new attraction or land needs to open every year in every park. That would be ludicrous. What I am thinking is the attractions that are coming could be put on a timetable that would allow their opening to be a celebration for the entire park.

The Magic Kingdom turned 40 in October of 2011. There were no new rides opened that day or in the weeks and months prior to the celebrations. Instead, the park celebrated in the midst of one of the largest construction projects the park had ever seen. Yes, there was new growth coming to the park. And yes, there were new experiences just around the corner for Fantasyland. But it felt more like a corridor of walls, a horrific wooden hedge maze, than a celebration of the beauty and innovation the park had been known for. This project is still not finished in 2013, but it is getting there. Could all of this have been completed in time for the 40th anniversary? No, let’s not be silly! I mean, it is possible that the construction could have started several years earlier to get it all in under the wire, but let’s be practical. One year would have been enough to complete what we have now: Storybook Circus, Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid, and Belle’s village. These would have made excellent birthday presents for the Magic Kingdom’s 40th, not its 41st.

Looking ahead, it appears to me that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be in the midst of a massive construction project, whether it is Cars Land or some other original draw, when the park turns 25 in 2014. Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate its 15th birthday later this spring and two decades of going wild in 2018, I suspect the planned Pandora expansion, or whatever becomes of Camp Minnie-Mickey, will end up opening somewhere in between these two dates. As for Epcot, it needs some refurbishment, reimagining, and some new World Showcase Pavilions, but I don’t know when or if those are coming. Meanwhile in the Magic Kingdom, it turns 45 in 2016 and 50 in 2021. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly love to see something incredible come just in time for the park that started it all in Florida to celebrate its half-century mark.

The long and short of it is Disney has a storied history of celebrating its park’s milestones with fanfare and new attractions. Scheduling the construction of new lands, attractions, and resorts is never an easy task, but the process could certainly use some refining. Somewhere along the way of keeping themselves relevant in a new century they forgot that guests like to celebrate with them, and in the biggest of ways.

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