Yesterday was the fourth quarter earnings call in which Disney executives, including Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger, highlighted their last quarter regarding expenditures and profit. During the meeting, a $60 billion “ambitious” and “turbocharged” investment was announced, pumping new life into Disney’s domestic and international theme parks and Disney Cruise Line.
Many immediately found themselves confused by the terminology, as a plan to spend $60 billion over ten years doesn’t sound turbocharged at all, especially when considering that Iger also stated that experiences would “ramp up towards the back half of those ten years,” with “gradual increases” over the first couple of years.
During the call, Iger mentioned the plan to "turbocharge" investments in Experiences :
"Given our wealth of IP, innovative technology, buildable land, unmatched creativity, and strong returns on invested capital, we're confident about the potential from our new investments." pic.twitter.com/PoIEhva1xU
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) November 8, 2023
It’s confusing, we know, and there’s not a lot to take from the statement other than guest experiences within Walt Disney World and other Disney Parks aren’t entirely being ignored by The Walt Disney Company. This is an instrumental tactic to stay ahead of the curb as Disney’s ultimate competitors in the theme park markets are busy opening new attractions and parks just down the road from Walt Disney World. So, realistically, does this mean a fifth park at Disney World, new shows, bigger rides, updating old rides? What exactly does Disney World look like after a ten-year turbocharge of investment?
The Current State of Walt Disney World
To get anywhere, we have to start where we are, right? Point B can only happen with Point A. Fans, not at all shocked, learned that Walt Disney World and Disneyland both began a downward trend in earnings and attendance after the third annual earnings meeting. Currently, Disney World is still showing a negative trend for operating costs.
However, despite reports of increases in Disney Vacation Club membership, the failed Galactic Starcruiser at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios has offset many of the gains the company has made over this recent quarter. The quickly accelerated depreciation due to the hotel, which priced out many who hoped to one day attend after its closing, seemed to impact overall reporting heavily. Still, this is something that The Walt Disney Company expected.
Despite this, Disney’s experiences division, including its theme parks, saw an increase of 7% compared to the same quarter in 2022 domestically. So, what does all of this say about the current state of Walt Disney World? Other than the fact that, yes, people are still visiting, not much.
When considering the state of Walt Disney World at its four major theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom, an on-the-ground evaluation must be considered, and for many, the outcome is based on bias and the ability to overlook the current state of the parks.
Amid the DeSantis debacle involving Reedy Creek, many feel as if Universal Studios Orlando has gotten the upper hand. According to The Street.com, “the Orange County (Fla.) Board of County Commissioners on October 10 voted unanimously to create the Shingle Creek Transit & Utility Community Development District, a special taxing district proposed by the Universal Orlando Resort that includes 719 acres and encompasses Universal’s new Epic Universe theme park that’s under construction and 13 acres for a new SunRail train station on Destination Parkway.”
Considering that Epic Universe, Universal’s brand new park, is slated to open in 2025, with what seems like direct access via SunRail, there has been a shift in visitation away from Disney World for their I-4 neighbor, but why?
Although many have been put off regarding The Walt Disney Company and Bob Iger’s recent feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the mess that ensued involved the Reedy Creek District, most are blaming prices and experiences at Walt Disney World for their departure. Different from the days of old, Disney World is often seen in disarray nowadays, with overflowing trash, broken ride systems, and unkept areas such as queues and restrooms. As the prices go up, standards are falling, according to some.
Is Bob Iger in Touch with How Many Loyal Disney Guests Feel?
At first glance, considering Iger’s comments regarding “turbocharging” park experiences, along with Disney Cruise Line, with a 10-year commitment worth tens of billions of dollars, the answer to the subheading seems like a resounding yes!
However, it is arguable that anyone visiting Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, or just about anywhere on Disney World property of late would argue no. Despite fiscal reports, there are still several issues at Walt Disney World that still need to be resolved that are impacting guest relations.
Although Disney’s investor relationships are significant, do they carry more weight than the customer? As guests continue to complain of malfunctioning mainstream attractions, alcohol consumption in the parks, and behavior that they’re just not used to at Disney Parks, it would seem that some of those investments could go to tightening up the overall atmosphere and experience at Disney World. Maybe that’s what Iger and their future Chief Financial Officer have in mind.
As we only know that the promised $60 billion will go to enhancing domestic parks and cruise liners, we aren’t clear on how they will accomplish their “turbocharging,” even if it is at a snail’s pace. Ultimately, Iger and company must be aware of the current perception of their parks and how it relates to Disney’s brand. As projections comparatively remain lower than 2022, the financial news is most welcome.
Is Disney World Outdated?
In my opinion, the answer is “yes” and “no.” There are still areas of Walt Disney World buried away at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios that feel like the 80s and 90s, and not in a nostalgic way.
Instead, they’re dilapidated, faded by the Central Florida sun, with some areas, such as the Animation Courtyard at Hollywood Studios, seeming almost abandoned. These odd spots, such as Storybook Circus in Magic Kingdom, offer little to guests of Walt Disney World other than confusion as they attempt to navigate huge pockets of land that are outdated with squeaky, smelling rides from the past.
Although there are new attractions, high-budget ones even, such as Tron: Lightcycle Run and Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s choice to allocate millions for technological marvels has remained independent of dependability. Some guests who don’t have the luxury of attending a vacation spot like Disney World often may only want to experience one attraction, only to see it broken down as one of its intricate, complex mechanics has malfunctioned.
While Disney gives fans rides that may or may not work, it’s also busy upsetting others by doing away with popular attractions such as Splash Mountain. Also, the parks’ cleanliness and overall look have taken a severe hit.
It isn’t unlikely that you’ll find trash everywhere during your next visit to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, Animal Kingdom, or EPCOT. This is a well-reported issue that loyal fans of Disney just aren’t accustomed to. With the money we spend and the time we dedicate to those theme parks, you’d expect to avoid seeing a trash can overflowing with filth.
Disney World After 10 Years of TuberCharging
Assuming that Iger and Josh D’Amaro get the small thing under control, a sum of the billion-dollar investment that Iger mentioned could have a big impact on where Disney World goes in the following years.
Typically the leader of theme park entertainment, in recent years, it has felt like the standard has slipped, allowing others like Universal to gain ground. Universal, which will ultimately open its third theme park in 2025, will be the first to establish a new location since Animal Kingdom opened in 1998.
If Disney, at any point in the near future, announces a new theme park at Walt Disney World, it will answer many of the posed questions from this writing. As fans want a fifth park, despite the theming options (villains being the most obvious choice), Disney could use part of their cash influx to bring new experiences to guests that way.
As well, Walt Disney World is in a race to keep up with technology. As the company owns what feels like half of the IPs in the world, there are many different ways they could create new value within their parks, using the latest trends in AI and other advancements. These models would work well with properties such as Marvel and Star Wars.
A lot has been promised over the last year for fans. Retheming at Animal Kingdom and new lands at Magic Kingdom, but often, these projects have a way of falling through. Despite the severe need for a brand new park, which would help fill all the new resort rooms that Disney intends to cover their Florida skyline with, expanding what already exists would be helpful in developing Disney World into the next decade.
Although parks are a focus to Iger, he’s made it clear that he’s on a mission to establish Disney as the frontrunner in other businesses, such as streaming. However, as many feel Walt Disney World typically gets the proverbial shaft when it comes to new attractions and shows, putting a great deal of his planned investment towards the “most magical place on earth” could help revitalize what feels like a dying interest in the House of Mouse in Florida.
Hopefully, yes, a 10-year plan to pump new experience into Walt Disney World would include new attractions, parks, and technology. However, for the trend to reverse, Iger and D’Amaro would need to seriously look at how to take Disney back ten years in regards to their customer service and standards. Ultimately, that’s what is hurting domestic parks today. While tickets keep going up in price, the experience of Disney is losing it’s oomph.
Where do you think Disney World will be in 10 years?
All opinions within this article are that of the author’s and are not reflective of The Walt Disney Company in any way.