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Ditching Disney?

 
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2007 4:46 am    Post subject: Ditching Disney? Reply with quote

I started out as a theme park fan because of Disney. But more and more I am realising how limited Disney's offerings are. It's really amazing what some parks are doing that Disney just can't, or won't.

For example, my home park, De Efteling in the Netherlands, has quite a few attractions and stories with a bitter ending. People dying and all that. *very* emotional stuff and completely convincing, yet they have done it in a way that it works in a park.

And then...well I visited Alton Towers for the first time this summer. I could rave about Nemesis being the world's best coaster here, but I won't - even though it is. Even theming-wise.

What I wanted to mention is their other major themed attraction: Hex. Okay, the ride itself is not all that special or great, although the soundtrack really does give it a boost. But the queueline. Wow! I have a freeling that atmosphere and setting was stolen when people were writing the script for "The Ring" movies. But at Alton, it's so much more convincing. A real castle, a real legend, and a queueline that is so bitterly simple - it's just a line in a long, dark hallway of the Towers. Everything you see is part of the castle. The only part that is "attraction-made" are video monitors. And they show a vidoe, documentary-style, of the restauration of the tower ruins - completely realistic and convincing. Honestly, I wanted to do Hex over and over again just to stand in the queueline. Guests "got it" very well...it was one of the most quiet lines I've ever experienced, adding to the scary atmosphere. And like "The Ring", there was this always abundent, ver low tone in the background sounds. Scary.

So, the best queueline ever is not Disney, and not even Universal.

Why am I writing this down anyway? I'm not sure. I'm just wondering though, is anyone on here familiar with Alton Towers (or De Efteling)?

Holly3216
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Posts: 92
(9/2/06 9:12 am)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney?
Haven't been there... I wonder if Hex uses sub-sonic sound (too low for humans to actually hear). Sub-sonic noise can create feelings of fear and anxiety in people.

I think the very character of Disney itself has prevented them from doing riskier storylines that are frightening or have a bad ending. Disney is family entertainment. I could see Universal doing that sort of thing in the future, though. Even Disney should be doing deeper, richer storylines, I think, while staying true to themselves. In my limited viewpoint, I think our themeparks have been influenced by the Hollywood machine and Western storytelling. Marketing says people like happy endings and certain ways of structuring a story... so that is how it's done. It seems that right now, a lot of rides are built from a cinematic viewpoint (realism, spectacle, structured storylines, etc.)... It would be interesting to see rides created in different styles all-together, so that you are entering worlds that are not patterned directly after the world you just left outside the door (ex. Noir, Steampunk, Tim Burton style, surrealism)... The theme park industry has reached an interesting point of maturity in which we "know" what will be successful... just as theatre and film did many years ago... The question is, is there a place to go from here? Is there still another evolution or higher plateau for theme parks to reach, where they infuse themselves into not just people's vacation ideas, but the throb and pulse of cities? I have a feeling if Stateside theme parks never evolve and offer something entirely new in experiences (like the visceral emotional experiences they've been designing at Alton Towers and de Efteling) they might continue to see attendence wane as the years roll on...

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/2/06 9:14 am
Meloncov
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Posts: 159
(9/2/06 12:49 pm)
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New Post RE: Ditching Disney People are still actually here! Yay!


I'll have to dig up the JimHillMedia article that talked about, but apparently Imageneering corprate cultrure has gotten brutal. Politics between managers cause them to grab up recources they don't really need, while many worthy projects are left underfunded. The net ressult is a horrible expense-to-result ratio for Imageneering.

No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 50
(9/3/06 11:01 am)
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New Post Re: RE: Ditching Disney On a little bit different topic, Disney rides seem to concentrate much on simple plots lately, mostly their E-ticket thrills which have a "something suddenly goes wrong" and adventure ensues (sp?) B-film type of plot.

Admittedly though, as much as I like De Efteling for its uniqueness (and proximity Wink ), they have shelved their creative team much like Disney :rolleyes

Holly3216
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Posts: 94
(9/4/06 2:07 am)
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New Post Re: RE: Ditching Disney Yeah... I totally wish theme parks weren't "dumbed down"... that there was more story to understand if you wanted it... many seem to follow a very simple story curve, with no detours, complications, deep relationships between characters, etc.) ... and much like you say, there seem to be some stock-story plots for rides.

I'm sure some of this is the same problem you have in the game industry. In the game industry, a lot of games start with a character who has amnesia, or is suddenly thrown into a new environment (often against their will). The reason? Since you are the protagonist in the game, it would be weird if you were expected to understand the world when you had only begun playing the game... but at the same time, it would be weird for a character not to know their own home, neighborhood, etc. So by creating amnesia or a new environment, they neatly solve that story problem... giving you time to understand the world you have entered by making that adjustment part of the protagonist's story. (There's an article about this at Gamasutra.com)

If that made any sense... I think theme parks probably have a similar problem... They have to thrust you immediately into the role of protagonist when you have only just entered a world... so it's convenient to say that, "for some crazy reason, something has gone wrong, and now we're all relying on you, rather than the characters who know and understand this world, to save the day (with someone else's help)..."... Add into that the fact that many rides have thrill/speed, and there has to be a reason/excuse for the ride to go from a standstill to a high-speed something that will thrill and excite people... so "something goes wrong" is terribly convenient... and can be communicated very quickly (since rides tend to be so short)...

I would bet that a lot of the B-film rides were worked backwards... Rather than starting with a cool story/concept and figuring out what technology would best serve it, many of the worst "B-film" offenders probably started with some type of ride technology that they wanted to use... and then they worked the story around it... Just a guess.

Maybe audiences are media-savvy enough that we can begin telling stories that are a little more complex and multi-faceted? It's hard to say, though... Though I long for the return of the long-format dark ride, many people dread getting on the Universe of Energy, because it's sloow and looong... and many attention spans are very short these days... The question may be: would people appreciate deeper storylines? And how long would they be willing to be on a ride in order to experience that story?

How can we avoid the "something goes wrong" scenario, while delivering a thrilling adventure?

P.S. Meloncov... I'd love to read that article... It sounds interesting... and sad...

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/4/06 2:08 am
No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 51
(9/4/06 2:59 am)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? Well, I don't think a deeper storyline really has to take a lot of time. De Efteling once started out as a fairy tale forest, and they have never forgotten about that part of the park. The newest fairy tale they added a couple of years ago was the girl with the match sticks. I am not sure if this is a familiar fairy tale the world over?

Anyway, this is a short, automated show, not longer than 4 minutes at most, and it tells the story amazingly well with visual effects combined with the poem that explains everything. Of course, the story has a bitter ending, but it works. Actually, the attraciton uses the best pepper's ghosts effects I have ever seen. And probably the thing I love the most about it is the fact that the pepper's shost is just an integral part of the story which works *really* well, instead of a "look, we can do this. Ain't it cool?" kind of thing.

I've seen people leave with tears in their eyes...

Meloncov
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Posts: 160
(9/4/06 3:29 pm)
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New Post RE: Ditching Disney Okay, here it is:
jimhillmedia.com/blogs/ji.../4475.aspx

The good news is that Igor is trying to do something about it. The bad news is that he'll exssentially gut Imageneering in the process.

No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 52
(9/6/06 5:25 am)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? If anyone's interested, the source video for the documentary-style introduction in the queue line, plus the first pre-show video of Hex is available here:

www.towerstimes.co.uk/int...videos.htm

Of course, you're missing the Tower's dark atmosphere, but I think the videos are still good Smile

Holly3216
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Posts: 95
(9/6/06 9:30 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? As devastating as it sounds, the "gutting" might be good for Imagineering in the long run. You're not going to get a lot of innovation, creativity and great ideas coming out of a poisonous subculture. To truly have great creative interaction, there has to be trust, respect, etc... which doesn't sound like it's happening there...

The fact that they're looking to bring people on as contract and freelance does disappoint me a bit, though. Over the summer I learned that it's often hard to bring in people per project and really get the kind of input a project needs. When you're brought in on contract, you don't get the chance to understand the brand, where the company is going, the context of an attraction in the grand scheme of things (ex. what it's expected to do for the park). You get a brief overview, and then have to generate the script, drawings or whatever the project needs.

I hope that the real idea behind this is to trim the company down to its bare minimum... keeping people who understand how to build a base of trust, respect, passion, quality, etc., essentially rebuilding the corporate culture from the ground up into what Disney Imagineering is supposed to be (as much as possible)... and then slowly bring more people in, and train them into the new culture. Realistically, Disney probably doesn't need hundreds of people in Imagineering... How many rides and parks are they actually designing in a year? It's amazing how much a small team of 20 or less can design and create, given proper communication, respect, humility, etc. I think it's also a fallacy, though, to think that, given enough project managers, everything can be turned around... (why is the solution to a company problem always to add more managers when the problem is stemming from bad politics and company culture?)

We'll see what happens... But hopefully the point of this upheaval is to root out infection (bad company culture) and injured tissue (people) so that all the individuals and the company as a whole can become strong and healthy again...

P.S. I'm glad to hear about the investment into California Adventure... apparently it fails to capture the imagination... and therefore, the consumer...

P.P.S. The Hex videos definitely get the creepy atmosphere established. An interesting story... I found myself wanting more details (Who died when the branch fell?) Is this actually part of a real history of a place, or did they make it up? If they made it up, they did a good job with faux documentary...

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/6/06 10:04 pm
No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 53
(9/7/06 4:50 am)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? Well, the legend is real. As is the tree. The park just stretched the story to get it tied into the ride. Everything from "but the story didn't end there" was obviously written extra. But the renovation of the Towers is something that's actually an ongoing process. The vault and video are, of course, fake. But if you're not familiar with it, it's really hard to find that line between fake and real - amazing! Smile

Holly3216
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Posts: 96
(9/7/06 9:38 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney?
Marc Davis (about the Haunted Mansion):

"The thing was, with this kind of attraction (and Walt agreed), that this was not a story telling medium. These attractions at Disneyland and Disney World are experiences Ė but they are not stories! You donít have a story that starts at the beginning and goes until the end."

www.grimghosts.com/secret...story.html

According to "Imagineering My Way" podcast, both Pirates and Haunted Mansion were not really considered by Walt to be storytelling vehicles, but rather experiences. These two rides are still among the most popular at the Disney parks, and rated among the best attractions there...

We've been talking about story... but perhaps we should question...Is it really story that "sells" an attraction to the audience or is it something else? What is the magic formula for a great attraction?

No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 54
(9/8/06 3:41 am)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney?
Yeah, interesting thought. Rides like Hex, or Tower of Terror and such, clearly are storytelling. But how many guests understand the back-story of, say, Phantom Manor and Thunder Mesa @ DLP? Other than the fans, I'd say hardly anyone. Which is a shame.

Would you think the experience becomes better for guests if the story is more understandable to them? Perhaps the only real way to make a story clear if it is vocal (audio), and not "just" visual scenes which guests are left to interpret on their own.

Perhaps this is the new revolution? The next step for theme parks - to become real storytelling media, rather than the more "atmospheric settings" they are now?

Meloncov
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Posts: 161
(9/8/06 5:02 pm)
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New Post RE: Ditching Disney The probmen with making the story to obvious is that it makes it harder for guests to imagine there own stories. Guests (especially kids) come to Frontierland to be a cowboy, not hear about other people being cowboys. One of the things I love about LegoLand is that it is filled with story elements, items that basicly amount to visual viggenetes, but very few of the attractions try to overlay there own plot onto that background.

Holly3216
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Posts: 98
(9/8/06 6:33 pm)
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New Post Re: RE: Ditching Disney I think that might be it... perhaps audiences *want* their imagination engaged, rather than being told the story? Somehow, I think Tower of Terror would be so much creepier if you never fully saw the people who got "zapped" to the next dimension... Plus, few attractions have the detail that the old ones do... Since people aren't told the story, some of them spend huge amounts of time discussing the story significance of some tiny detail (even unintentional ones... like the "ring" in the pavement outside the Haunted Mansion at WDW).

It would be interesting if we could test whether it's story or providing just enough story elements for the audience to invest into...

I just remembered an experiment my friend did after we did some work with improv actors... We had been giving the actors an antique photo and a question (ex. "Did you ever forgive me?") and had them create a story. She started giving photographs and questions to average people, and she found that, when asked about the people in the photo, most people could tell an entire story about them based on the question they were given. Maybe Walt knew that the average person could fill in a story that had meaning to them, given enough story bits and a question? Maybe the less-compelling parks don't provide enough story bits in the environment (a photograph but no question), or too many (a novel about the characters)?

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/8/06 6:43 pm
Meloncov
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Posts: 163
(9/10/06 12:33 pm)
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New Post RE: Ditching Disney Well put. I'll have to look at the parks in that mindset the next time I'm in Florida or Anahiem.

cloudboy123
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Posts: 3
(9/10/06 8:53 pm)
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New Post active vs passive involvement I have talked about this in other forums, but a quick synopsis here:

Rides are different than movies and TV. Movies are a passive experience - you sit back and watch them. In order for them to really getyour attention they have to use primary stimuli - shock, noise, bright lights, etc. You are not part of the story or the world. Rides on the other hand are an active experience. You are in the plot.

In a good rice, you are placed in a world, given a situation and some basic storyline "points" to give some order to your world, and then you become an element in that ride. It may an active role, it may be a passive bystander. But you become part of that story and world. If you have to structured a storyline, you take the guest out of that world and role - they become a passive observer. That is why I think so many rides have to resort to lots of light effects, lound noises, and things jumping out at you. Because they have so convinced themselves of the inportance of a formal storyline.

Now, ono a completely different tack, another issue I see happening at the Disney parks isn't so much that they aren't daring with their rides, but rather that they are getting too caught up trying to merchandise the rides and use the rides as a marketing tool. I think this affects the quality of the ride. I also worry that they are becoming more and more focused on one small audience - the typical nuclear familly with one youngster and one near teen. It limits the diversity of their offerings.

cloudboy123
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Posts: 4
(9/10/06 9:03 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? That quote by Marc Anderson about rides not being a storytelling medium - does anyone know where that comes from?

dancinbelle
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Posts: 2
(9/18/06 12:15 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? Back to the storytelling: What about stories that people already know? Going into something like Dumbo or Snow White's Scary Advetures, the plot is already there, and people are familiar with. With the narration out of the way, they get more into the feelings of the ride itself.

Holly3216
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Posts: 102
(9/18/06 2:12 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? That's somewhat true... but the ride still has to stand on it's own as something that transmits story. Remember that there are people who visit the parks who may not know the stories of Snow White or Dumbo. As Americans, we take these stories for granted... but theme parks are an international medium. The people who ride may never have heard of these movies or speak any English. There has to be enough visual storytelling for the audience to understand the main points... We're not yet able to approach rides as a purely artistic medium... Although theme parks are also still quite young. In its infancy, film imitated photography, and television imitated live performance. Theme parks, in their infancy, have tended to imitate film... but are perhaps beginning to find their own voice?

Cloudboy: those are some insightful comments... I agree about rides and marketing. I kindof cringe when companies try to market their most recent property with a ride (since most theme parks are owned by media companies now). They're putting their eggs in one basket, spending millions of dollars, hoping that the cross-marketing will raise the value of the brand as a whole (ex. Winnie the Pooh rides, the Mummy ride, etc.). It's pretty risky... and when done badly, makes it infinitely apparent that they were trying to leverage a property (and merchandise) rather than putting the guest experience first.

Unfortunately, audience analysis seems to be an integral part of most maturing mediums ("know your audience in order to deliver your message well...")... I wonder to some extent if the theme parks aren't creating their audience. I don't recall seeing as many grandparents or very young kids around places like Disney as I remember seeing 10 or 15 years ago... and it seems like there's a lot more people between 14 and 35. Perhaps by creating so many thrill rides, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. They want to appeal to the teens and young adults who come to the parks, so they create more thrill rides... and behold! they have more appeal with those demographics, and attract more of them to the park (but less families bring just young children, or the extended family, because there is less appeal for the "non-thrill" group...)... so then you have more teens and young adults roaming the parks, looking for thrills, so the theme parks again look for a way to appease them... Hmmm... I could be wrong... since I don't have a hand on the numbers...

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/18/06 2:14 pm
No Limits Thriller
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Posts: 60
(9/18/06 2:25 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? What's more, teens in general cause more problems in parks, for both the property owners as the rest of the public...

cloudboy123
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(9/18/06 7:02 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? Holly - I think you are absolutely correct about the self-fulfilling prophecy. While Disney's attendance is up, I wonder if they are really attracting more people, or just getting more out of the people who are already coming? It seems to me they are slowly creeping to a uncomfortable similarity between the various parks, and are loosing that valued broad appeal.

I am of the mind that if you really want to grow your customer base, you have to reach new customers. And that means new ideas and getting away from the tried-and-true.

Holly3216
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Posts: 103
(9/18/06 9:12 pm)
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New Post Hmm...
Yeah... growing the customer base is good. It's kindof a thorny question on how to draw in new customers, though... From recent new articles I've read, it seems like theme park attendence is hurting... With so much technology and a much more developed tourism industry (plenty of nice places to go beyond theme parks), it seems people aren't hurting for entertainment (compared to maybe the 1960's-80's)... Even in Orlando, a lot of people don't visit the same park multiple time because it's always the same, and it's a "long drive". Zoos and museums have been struggling nationwide...

Since people seem so attracted to live events en masse (concerts, 4th of July displays, etc.), I wonder if theme parks could attract customers by creating general appeal with the rides and decor... and then offer "special events" year round that appeal to different demographics... Disney does it on a limited basis, and their attendence for special events like "Mickey's not so Scary Holloween" is a lot higher than other times... But maybe the crowds for those events are mostly locals? In which case, having constant "special events" wouldn't help...

Given how people live, work and entertain themselves... how can we convince them that it's worth traveling to come to theme parks? How can we renew people's enthusiasm and make it enjoyable to come (besides temporary fixes like making wait times shorter, lol...). Is there a such thing as "family entertainment" anymore?

Edited by: Holly3216 at: 9/18/06 9:25 pm
dancinbelle
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Posts: 9
(9/20/06 12:52 pm)
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New Post Re: Hmm... Not only are parks farther away, the prices scare off a lot of customers. When you multiply admission fees, food, and lodging, it's a big number. When a family has to multiply THAT number by 4 or 5, it gets really expensive . . .

Holly3216
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Posts: 106
(9/20/06 4:03 pm)
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New Post Re: Story Cloudboy,
This is very much a side question, but you mentioned other forums that you had discussed this stuff on... and I would love to read more. What other forums do you visit about theme parks?

cloudboy123
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Posts: 7
(9/20/06 9:26 pm)
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New Post Re: Story The big one I use is WDWMagic. As well as Steve Alcorn's Theme Park Engineering. I have also had a few surprising discussions on some other lifestyle forums as well, but WDWMagic is the primary one. I do post under a different name there.

While everyone talks about additional gates, I have often wondered if Disney would be better off investing in something like a theater row, like how Vegas has their shows. And I would love to see them do something more with the big expanse of undeveloped land they have- nature trails, adventure parks, perhaps more development of sports.

OK, My turn for a question. You seem to have quite a bit of knowledge and understanding of the industry, and said you were a creative type. May I ask what kind of work (you can be quite general) you do?

Aloric
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Posts: 55
(9/20/06 9:34 pm)
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New Post Re: Ditching Disney? I think folks are misinterpeting things a bit...

Disney has 55 hard-ticket event days in the Magic Kingdom scheduled for fiscal year 2006. This includes Mickeys Not So Scay, Very Merry Christmas, Night of Joy, and the new Pirate and Princess Parties in the January slow period coming up.

That's 55 - more than one a week for the whole year.

These events are extremely profitable.

So other other seasonal events, that's why Epcot's Food and Wine Festival and Flower and Garden Festival are offered and expended each year. That's why the Food and Wine festival was offered at DCA this past year.

MK's hard ticket events cap at 20,000 guests for the night, Epcot's festivals push the park near peak attendance number, especially the food and wine weekends.

The smaller parks don't pull it off because they often can't offer the quality experience for the money - they do require a sizeable investment to make these events to work. They are a money-to-make-money type deal.
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