The 50th anniversary celebration of Disney World begins, with a lot of stakes.
“I don’t do business with carnival riders.
In 1959, a landowner repelled Walt Disney’s attempt to buy beachfront property in the Florida Panhandle with these words, at least that’s what the legend says. It was perhaps one of the biggest economic blunders of all time. To build his version of Disneyland on the east coast, the father of the theme park industry instead traveled to a sleepy central Florida town called Orlando, and opened a resort on October 1, 1971, which s he now spans 42 square miles, employs more than 70,000 people, and attracts approximately 50 million visitors a year: Walt Disney World.
Disney World began celebrating the 50th anniversary of the property on Friday, with confetti cannons turned into a blizzard, the only setting available to Disney park marketers. The promotional event will run for at least 18 months and will feature new roller coasters for Epcot and the Magic Kingdom; a new upscale hotel designed to simulate a trip on a “Star Wars” galactic cruiser; two new extravagant fireworks; limited edition merchandise; and MagicBand +, a wearable technology that will unlock (for a price) interactive experiences.
There is also a theme song, with a not-so-subtle title: “The Magic Is Calling”.
Those who don’t like the company’s sugar-packed supertanker approach to family entertainment will surely back down even more. But millions of people will answer Disney’s call, pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into Orlando’s business, airlines and economy – which are still trying to recover from the pandemic.
“There has been a great demand,” said Jeffrey Merola, owner of Mouse Vacation Planning, a Disney-focused Direct Travel subsidiary in Syracuse, NY. with the coronavirus, and many of Disney’s biggest birthday offers won’t go live before that date anyway. (These roller coasters, for example.)
Mr. Merola, who is also a guidebook author, spoke from Orlando Airport on Friday afternoon. He had visited the Magic Kingdom in the morning. “I wanted to be there on the anniversary because it was historic,” he said.
Disney Parks, Experiences and Products made a profit ($ 356 million) in its most recent quarter as the availability of coronavirus vaccines prompted families to return in large numbers. (The division lost $ 1.9 billion in the same period a year earlier.) “We will increase our capacity as demand demands,” Disney chief financial officer Christine M. McCarthy told analysts. August 12.
But the Delta variant caused cancellations, with travel agents saying families were once again worried about traveling to Florida, especially with children too young to get the shot. Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney, acknowledged Delta’s “a little bit of impact” in remarks at a recent investor conference, but said holiday bookings were on hold. He noted that Disney’s security measures, including mask requirements, had proven to be effective.
Mr. Chapek and Robert A. Iger, executive chairman of Disney, kicked off the 18-month-old marketing event Thursday night with speeches outside Cinderella’s Castle, which the company had outfitted with gold decorations and iridescent paint (called EARidescent in Disney promotions). Fan reactions to the new look have been mostly positive, especially compared to the castle’s unfortunate 25th anniversary look in 1996, when Disney turned it into a Pepto Bismol colored cake.
Then again, you can’t please everyone: