Yes, this is an animation blog. No, this post does not directly deal with animation; however, I recently visited Walt Disney World, and what’s going on there, based on what I’ve read and experienced, and given that at the moment there is not a lot going on with animation (outside The Lego Movie juggernaut), this is an important new program that will affect Disney across the board. Of course, I need to give credit where it is due. After reading Tom Richard’s review of FastPass+ on Mouseplanet.com, I was struck and inspired by this closing thought he wrapped up with: “Many frontline cast members say that the idea behind the new My Magic Plus is to evenly distribute crowds at the most popular parks, like the Magic Kingdom, and to reduce overall wait times. That may be true to an extent, but adding attractions would also help reduce wait times and evenly distribute people.”
While I found no exact, official investment numbers Disney has put into the FastPass+ project, unofficial sources commonly estimate upwards of $1 billion has been poured into these wristbands. The sad thing, and this has been stated in practically every FastPass+ review I’ve found, is that the bands are still a mess. In my own personal experience with the wearable tech over a six day visit, my troubles included not being given a PIN number upon arrival in order to pay for anything, having that PIN suddenly reset midway through the visit while trying to pay for lunch, an inability to upload photos onto our $200 Memory Maker account from certain family members’ bands, and a fairly confusing, clunky app that would often separate our family’s FastPass times even though they ended up still all being reserved together. Of course, Disney did provide reimbursements, extra FastPasses, and other forms of compensation for the troubles we experienced, but what it really comes down to is why is Disney pursuing this technology, and why are they still having troubles after nearly a year of testing and almost two months of resort-wide integration?
There’s no question about it, Disney found the FastPass+ idea more attractive because it had a monetary benefit. I presume this idea ran along the lines of “If our guests have their times for riding and dining all planned out, that leaves more time for shopping, and since purchases are as simple to make as tapping a wrist to a Classic Mickey, all the better!” Surely there was more sophisticated and educated planning than that, but I refuse to believe that The Walt Disney Company would invest in something so complex solely because it enhances the guest experience (where are those monorails to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom?). The problem I have with the investment is more that it is entirely unnecessary investment. So far, the bands are not revolutionary, rather they are infamous. If Disney fails to get the show running smoothly by summer, Magic Bands will become more of a hazard, a detriment to the good name of Disney service, rather than a good idea that just needs to get out its kinks. People won’t be patient with such abysmal technology, especially given what a Disney vacation costs these days.
In addition, Universal Studios has built in essence a mint with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, not to mention its coming expansion this summer. With Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise on the decline (wait times for the attraction never topped 30 minutes over the Valentine’s/President’s Day holiday weekend), and princesses are targeted at a very narrow age group of girls, Disney’s park appeal is beginning to rely solely on the Disney parks name. I walked through New Fantasyland, and without question it is a certain improvement in efficiency in the way it has opened up the previously chronically congested Fantasyland. It also is refreshing to see Walt Disney World’s most drastic addition since Animal Kingdom, but it’s simply not enough. Obviously, building a second Cars Land in Florida is not only a discredit to the unique magic of California’s, but I seriously doubt it is economically sound. Yet why invest $1 billion in bracelets when the competition down the road is creating and expanding an immersive world that appeals to perhaps one of the widest fan-bases in existence, second only to, I would guess, Star Wars. Ah, now the gears are turning! The enthusiastic average Joe would suddenly exclaim, “That’s what they should do! Disney should create a Star Wars experience just like Harry Potter!” What a wonderful idea! The only problem is that rumors suggest just such a project has been placed on hold due to the extreme investment and extreme troubles Walt Disney World has in the Magic Bands. Of course, construction on the Avatar experience in Animal Kingdom is continuing at this moment. Remember Avatar? It came out in 2009, experienced the ephemeral fame of pop culture, and has now gone the way of YOLO and Vine. Sequels are lined up for 2016, 2017, and 2018, and Disney better hope that those not only revive the Avatar fan-base, but establish it so that that section does not have to be torn down in ten years when it becomes outdated (or sooner, should Disney, as they ought to, overhaul Animal Kingdom just like they did California Adventure. But that is another story in itself).
How does this all relate back to animation? Bob Iger recently promised Frozen coming to Disney parks in a big way. While he was not specific as to how its presence will be brought to the parks outside of the castle projection shows and other night-time spectacles, I can only imagine that, with the shape Walt Disney World is in at the moment, it will not be anything sturdy, permanent, and retaining. By retaining, I mean an experience that will keep families excited to experience it five to ten years in the future. Disney has already invested the money in Magic Bands, so it is no use to gripe about their negligence to the very skewed attraction line-up, as Tom mentioned in his review. What I hope the company will recognize going forward is that they need an experience quite desperately at Walt Disney World that will appeal to a wide audience, just as Walt had originally intended with Disneyland. In comparison between the two, I honestly felt that the four parks at the World felt more empty of worthwhile attractions than Disneyland’s two parks. So Disney, fix the Magic Bands, or scale them back even if need be, but invest in something worthwhile and tangible to truly please crowds, not just an unnecessary service that has the ability to improve profits, but possibly tarnish your nearly spotless track record of customer service.