Tag Archives: Walt Disney World

How technology can improve theme park resorts

Large theme park resorts are often quick to boast about expensive new attractions that pack-in a host of unique and advanced technology. Yet their customers experience whilst visiting the parks and staying in on-site hotels is often made less enjoyable by reluctance from the resorts to move in to the 21st century.

To be fair to many resorts, including Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, they have made huge leaps online in order to ensure every part of booking your trip is quick and easy. Guests can now book their tickets, hotel and transportation all in one place and, in some resorts, make all their dining reservations for the trip from the comfort of their own home.

But once the resorts have your money the technology-based offerings seem to come to an end, leaving guests stressed on a trip which they planned on taking in order to get some rest and relaxation.

Disneyland Paris is notorious for this. As soon as guests get to the check-in desk they are bombarded with an abundance of leaflets, tickets and key cards which allow them to take advantage of a number of services offered around the resort.

At an ideal resort the majority of this should be condensed into one key card. The technology is available to put a guest’s room key and park tickets all on one key-card, yet many resorts seem reluctant to roll out a system which would make life infinitely easier for its customers.

Many places also allow you to charge purchases to your room on the very same key-card, a godsend for visitors looking to take a trip on a water ride, yet some resorts still fail to offer this service which forces guests to either take cash or a credit card, something which may force guests to bring along a wallet or purse when they don’t really need to.

Combining all these features in to one card may come at a cost for the resorts, but it will no doubt make a guest’s trip more enjoyable and may lead to repeat visits as well as visitors spreading a positive image of the resort to friends and family – in essence free advertising.

Speaking of free advertising, social media is another thing many resorts fail to utilise, despite the fact it’s a direct route straight to the computers and mobile devices of their target market.

Most if not all theme park resorts have some kind of social media account. Walt Disney World has a Facebook page, Twitter account and shares the Disney Parks Blog with Disneyland Resort over on the West Coast.

For the most part Walt Disney World often uses its social media accounts in order to promote new attractions, link to news articles on its main website or offer helpful tips to the people who read the various accounts.

Whilst this is all well and good potential customers now expect more of large organisations on social media sites. The key word is social and theme park resorts should be ready to interact with their visitors and potential customers rather than just offering a one-way communication system as so many resorts currently do.

Answering reasonable questions from guests via services such as Twitter is a great way in which to do this. By answering specific questions a theme park resort will create an image that they care about their visitors and want to help them, an image which may persuade a consumer to chose that resort as opposed to a competitor.

Sea World Parks and Entertainment have been particularly successful in this area with their @Shamu Twitter account, which offers a host of free giveaways and interacts with followers in a non-serious manner – giving the potential customers an idea of just how fun the parks will be.

Guests should also expect a similar level of interaction once they get to the resort. A Twitter account for wait time information would be a godsend at many resorts, replacing the increasingly outdated tip boards which force guests to walk in the opposite direction from where they want to go simply in order to check the wait time at an attraction.

It may seem like a service that would be hard to keep up with but it is certainly possible, as proven by London Heathrow Airport, whose Twitter account will quickly answer any questions which one of its 66 million passengers over the course of a year may ask.

Even better would be if the parks offered a wait times application for their parks in a similar style to Lines by Touring Plans, which offers incredibly accurate wait times, park hours and other useful information directly to your mobile device.

Of course checking park hours online can be a problem if you don’t have access to the internet at your hotel, a service which is becoming increasingly common at hotels around the world but many theme park resorts have yet to catch up with their counterparts.

Many guests now carry electronic devices on vacation with them, whether that be a laptop, mobile phone or another system which has internet connectivity. Anyone who caries such a devices will tell you how much they appreciate free or cheap Wi-Fi and how tempted they will be to return to the resort if such a service is offered.

There are many more features which could be added to resorts which would make guests trip much easier, but these are some of the more basic things which guests would enjoy and, if theme park resorts value their customers, should start looking into in the near-future.


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Universal attempt to profit from Disney’s neglect of its golden rules

Walt Disney once talked about the importance of Disneyland appealing to all ages rather than just children. It seems now, 55 years after the opening of the Anaheim resort, that officials at Walt Disney World are forgetting about what Walt said, and rivals Universal are set to profit.

(Photo provided by Sam Howzit)

Take a trip to Downtown Disney and you’ll see the sorry-looking remains of what used to be Pleasure Island – Disney’s one stop destination for nightclubs and bars aimed at adults looking to have a good time after a long day at the parks.

Disney are hoping to turn the area into something more orientated towards families, a demographic which is already well catered for in Downtown Disney and Walt Disney World on the whole.

This has left a lot of die hard Disney fans feeling slightly left out when visiting the Resort, meaning many are looking elsewhere for their night time entertainment options, including Universal CityWalk.

As a part of their Labor Day celebrations Universal are set to add a techno music offering to their already considerable collection of night entertainment destinations based in the CityWalk area, which acts as a hub for the two parks as well as the hotels on site.

Universal CityWalk is incredibly popular, especially on nights when special concerts and events are held at the Resort. Proof their is a market for adult-orientated night time entertainment in the main Orlando tourist areas.

Officials at Walt Disney World need to realise that, whilst their trying to make attractions which can please everyone in one place, they are also making even the most staunch Disney visitors look elsewhere to spend their money of an evening and unless something is developed to meet the needs of these customers they will walk away.

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Walt Disney World to extend Main Street Electrical Parade stay at the Magic Kingdom

The popular Main Street Electrical Parade is set to continue pleasing guests at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The parade originally returned to the Magic Kingdom as a part of Walt Disney World’s Summer Nightastic celebrations but the official Disney Parks Blog today informed readers that the event will continue running after the event with no set end date.

More to follow.

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Orlando hotels witness increase in occupancy

Hotel industry figures collected for June 2010 have shown that occupancy in the Orlando-area has increased by 4.2% compared to the same month last year.

(Photo provided by DB King)

The figures, collected by Smith Travel Research, showed that hotel occupancy stood at 66.1% in June, rising from 63.4% in the same month last year.

Average daily room rates have also risen by 2.1% over the same period, increasing from $89.20 to $91.07.

Another major indicator of industry health – revenue per available room – has also risen by 6.4%, from$ 56.59 to $60.22.

The first six months of 2010 saw a 3% increase in hotel occupancy from the same period last year, though the average room rate dropped by 5.9%, decreasing from $101.62 in 2009 to $95.59 in 2009.

Revenue per available room also dropped over the comparable periods by 3.1%, from $64.25 in 2009 to $62.23 in 2010.

The increase in occupancy in June, considered to be a busy month in Orlando, will provided a much needed boost the Orlando hoteliers who have suffered a torrid time since the economic crisis hit the tourism industry.

The drop in performance between the comparable six month periods of January to June can be partly attributed to the large number of incentives offered during 2009 in order to attract guests o book stays and extend already planned trips in the Orlando area.

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Theme park spending increases among the “ultra-affluent”

Despite a turbulent economic downturn and the threat of a double-dip recession spending at theme parks has risen, at least with some guests.

(photo provided by Steev)

A report compiled by American Express Business Insights shows a 32% rise in spending inside theme parks by its “ultra-affluent” cardholders, considerably more than the tiny 1% increase among the rest of its customers over the course of the last year.

Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s College of Hospitality and Management, gave the Orlando Sentinel an insight into why spending among the super-rich has increased.

“I think these people didn’t spend a lot before not because they couldn’t afford to, but because it was not socially acceptable,” Pizam said. “Now it is not so shameful as it was.”

The news comes shortly after Disney began pre-sales for homes inside their Golden Oak residential development, a collection of properties inside Walt Disney World which will be aimed at the super-wealthy and will cost a minimum of $1.5 million and a maximum of $8 million.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have also been preparing for a similar shift in the market, announcing the expansion of its Discovery Cove Park in Orlando, where packages cost around $199 per person.

With the travel and tourism industry still facing troubles despite the improvement in the economy over the past year it’s likely other such plans may be put into action by major organisations in the theme park industry.

Disney and, to a lesser extent, Universal frequently use hard-ticket events surrounding major holidays in order to gain additional revenue outside of standard park operating hours.

Should both operators see it as profitable then hard-ticket events may become more common place over the course of the operational calendar, with increased numbers of exclusive events where ticket prices far exceed the standard park entrance fee.

On the West Coast Disney has long profited from it’s ultra-exclusive Club 33 in Disneyland and the data provided by the report will be incredibly positive for senior management over at Disneyland Resort.

Should spending by the ultra-affluent continue to rise within theme parks Disney, and other operators, may consider adding similar hospitality areas to their parks and resorts, aiming memberships at rich individuals as opposed to business clients and commercial partners.

With decreased revenues from sponsorships (see Test Track and GM) hitting park operators hard the increased spending by the rich may be seen as a potential new revenue stream for theme parks, with increasing products and services provided at a premium price.

Whatever the result of the findings it’s certainly good news for the theme park industry, now all park operators need is for all tourists to follow in the footsteps of those on high-incomes.

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What can we expect for Walt Disney World’s 50th?

Disney so far has remained tight-lipped on its plans for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, but all indicators suggest it’s going to be a huge year for the Central Florida destination.

(photo provided by Jordi Gomara)

Word coming from high-ranking Disney officials would suggest that following the overhaul at DCA on the West Coast and the Fantasyland expansion new additions to the United States Disney Parks are going to be few and far between of the course of the decade.

Whilst this may leave park enthusiasts disappointed at the thought of little to no additions for around six years it does make good business sense for the company in what will be vital and unpredictable years for the tourism industry.

With so little action coming over the next decade at theme Disney Parks & Resorts it can be expected that – so long as the industry is stable – the Walt Disney Company will be looking to add more in 2020 and beyond, just in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.

If the many rumours circulating the Disney fan community are to be believed then there’s hundreds upon hundreds of new attractions set to be added to Walt Disney World ready for its half-century celebrations, though obviously this isn’t going to be the case.

What Disney need to do, and what Disney Park officials are certain to realise, is that plans for the 50th anniversary shouldn’t add to the resort simply for the sake of adding but should rather add in order to improve what is currently on offer.

Walk with the animals…

The Animal Kingdom must be looked at as a starting point for Disney’s plans, with the park failing to live up to what is on offer at the rest of the resort. Whilst Expedition Everest greatly improved the park it simply wasn’t enough, with lines now becoming unmanageable during peak times at the parks E-Ticket attractions.

Disney now needs to look at what needs to be spent at Animal Kingdom in order to make it into a ‘full-day park’ which can be enjoyed by the whole family. This will undoubtedly have to come in the form of at least three attractions, though not all will have to be E-Tickets it’s important to ensure the quality is consistent throughout.

This could come in the form of a new land, perhaps a rehashed version of the originally planned Beastly Kingdom? Personally I’d like to see a complete overhaul of Dinoland USA, with Dinosaur being the only remaining attraction of the current line-up.

Other parks will no doubt benefit from some much-needed attention, though it’s hard to predict what Disney has in mind for the three other theme park offerings in Central Florida.

Meet me down on Main Street…

It’s unlikely the Magic Kingdom will see any sort of major change, after all the Fantasyland Expansion will still be a major crowd-bringer for Walt Disney World’s first park and the need to add anything else to the already sprawling park will be minimal.

Many would argue that Tomorrowland could benefit from some attention. It’s been a number of years since the land had a major refurbishment and whilst the Space Mountain update was a fantastic move by Disney the external facade’s of the land still look dated and in need of some love.

It’s quite ironic that the Magic Kingdom is the least likely park to have something new to boast as a result of the 50th anniversary celebrations but fans can take comfort in the fact that the paint on the new Fantasyland expansion will still be fresh and the new section of the iconic land is set to be incredible.

New horizons…

It’s hard to say what we can expect from EPCOT in the build-up to the 50th anniversary, though some reports have suggest Imagineers have been playing with the idea of adding more nations to the World Showcase.

How reliable these reports are is questionable, but it would be far from a bad option to add more countries to the World Showcase and potentially some all-new attractions to go with them. Egypt, Australia or Spain anyone?

What about Future World? What should be added in this fast expanse of innovation? It’s fair to say that the Imagination Pavilion is most in need of something new to draw crowds. Journey to the Imagination is far from a fan favourite, could we see a replacement?

Captain EO is also only set for a temporary run before the return of Honey I shrunk the audience, could we see a replacement for the now dated show ready for the 50th anniversary?

Pixar is the place to be…

Whilst Disney’s Hollywood Studios is set to get an all-new version of Star Tours next year there’s surely going to be some additions in time for the 50th anniversary.

The expansion of Pixar Place seems to be the most likely option for the movie-themed park with the animation studio continuing to release hit movie after hit movie.

With the release of Monsters Inc 2 on the cards maybe we may finally see the ‘door-themed’ coaster which has been the centre of speculation for DHS for a number of years?

Outside of Pixar Place something could be done with the Backlot Tour, which has been seen as outdated and a tad boring by Disney fans for a number of years.

Disney could look to do a total overhaul of the attraction but even then there’s no guarantee that guests will take to it. The whole concept of a studio tour in a non-functioning studio seems to lack the appeal to attract the masses like it used to.

The land currently occupied by the tour could be considered for a new attraction. Some have suggested a clone of DCA’s new Cars attraction but I’d personally prefer the attraction to stay unique to the West Coast and I have an inkling Disney officials would agree with me.

The attraction does take up a lot of space and there’s no doubt a lot could be done with the land but Disney will have to thing long and hard before making any major changes. The park could do with a new E-Ticket attraction simply to draw crowds away from Midway Mania on a morning bit as always it’s incredibly hard to predict what Disney have planned.

All of this, of course, is mere speculation. It’s hard to tell what Disney will do and I certainly wouldn’t like to go down on record saying I believe something will happen when I simply don’t know.

We all know how much Disneyland benefited from their 50th celebrations; let’s hope Disney pull out all the stops and make WDW’s half century just as fantastic.

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What does the future hold for the theme park industry?

The financial crisis has forced the theme park industry to re-evaluate the way they operate in order to ensure they survive the recession. The question is, how much will this crisis change the way in which theme parks are run in the future?

(photo by Diana)

Before the current recession many theme park operators aimed to produce the biggest and the best parks in the world. Universal opened Islands of Adventure in 1999 to critical acclaim whilst Disney opened the $4 billion Tokyo DisneySea in 2001, a record cost for any theme park in the world.

Theme parks were in with tourists, as proven by the ever-increasing number of visitors hitting Central Florida each and every year to take in Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

The popularity of parks led to a number of destinations looking to add theme parks to their offerings to potential visitors. The most notable plan for a themed entertainment destination was Dubailand, a huge destination set just outside the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The recession put an end to many of the expansive projects planned around the world. Dubailand dates have been put back considerably or halted altogether whilst a number of the major theme park operators have kept very tight-lipped about their plans for the future that hadn’t already been announced pre-financial crisis.

But whilst Tatweer are struggling with finance for their entertainment super-destination in Dubai another project in the same city has been a huge success.

Sega Republic, a small indoor theme park in Dubai Mall, represents a new age of themed entertainment which puts quality over quantity. I was personally incredibly impressed by the number of highly-themed attractions in the park which kept me wanting to ride over and over again.

Despite its great selection of well-themed, quality attractions there’s no doubt the price to build Sega Republic will be considerably less than even the smallest parks produced by the major operators in the industry.

This begs the question is, are theme park operators ready to rethink their future plans in order to ensure they are safe from external shocks?

Whilst Sega Republic is only one small park in a huge industry there is other signs that major operators are trying to bring some of their theme park magic in a more compact style around the world.

Recently the Walt Disney Company started a huge refurbishment project for their stores around the world, which included adding a number of high-end, interactive, experiences which are aimed at keeping guests in their stores for longer.

Whilst the store refurbishments are by no means fully-fledged mini theme parks what they do represent is Disney shifting their operations strategy after the recession in order to bring some of the Disney Park ‘magic’ to customers rather than them having to travel to one of the five international resorts themselves.

There’s no doubt it has become incredibly hard for developers to obtain the credit needed in order to build new large-scale parks and this could well mean we see more and more of these smaller outlets coupled with further expansion of the already established major destinations, with a prime example being the major expansion of Disney’s California Adventure.

Of course once credit markets loosen up we could see a return to the more traditional style of theme park development, but until then we could be looking at an all-new way in which the theme park industry is run.

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