The Great Gate Debate

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

 Next month, Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  As Walt Disney World’s “fourth gate”, or, fourth theme park, Disney Imagineers were looking to do something more than a simple zoo.  It was always Walt Disney’s intention to have live animals in a Disney park.  His original plan for the Jungle Cruise called for real animals to be featured, but the logistics involved didn’t allow for it and showcasing live animals would not provide park goers with a consistent ride experience each time.  It was not until Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, that Walt’s dream finally came to fruition.  As I said, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is more than just a zoo, it is a theme park featuring stories about animals and the ways in which humans interact with them.  It entertains, it educates, and it engages our imaginations.  Disney’s Animal Kingdom was a welcome addition to Walt Disney World and has established itself as a park worth noticing.

Why all this talk about Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a “fourth gate”?  Well, in recent weeks a rumor, one that has been more persistent than many Disney rumors out there, speculates that a “fifth gate”, or fifth park, is set to open in a few years’ time.  According to various sources, that park, which would operate from the hours of 4 p.m. to midnight, would be called “Disney's Night Kingdom (DNK)” and would be restricted to a 2000 guest limit a day. 

From the talk that is out there, the DNK experience will be distinctly different. First, DNK will have extraordinary guest service that you'll notice right away.  According to the rumors, current plans call for Disney's NightKingdom to be staffed by 4000 cast members. That means that for every guest that visits this theme park there'll be two cast members to take care of their every need.  Guests will enter DNK through a new, super-sized version of the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island. As you & your family are registering for that night's activities, the club's members will entertain as well as offer hints about the extraordinary adventures that await you. DNK apparently is not about theme park attractions.  It is about doing what you want to do; like exploring bat-filled caves or hanging out with penguins.  This specialized guest experience will cost you however, as admission to DNK plans on charging guests $250 - $300 per person in order to gain entry to DNK.

            Whether or not you believe in the validity of the DNK rumor, the better question you should ask yourself is should Disney consider a fifth gate.  If so, is DNK really what the World needs? 

            If you’ve been to Walt Disney World lately, you know that there already is a lot to do.  Four theme parks, two water parks, two miniature golf courses, a major commercial and entertainment center, a sports complex, golf courses, and resorts.  As we’ve reported previously, Walt Disney World is also planning major expansions, like another commercial center, a four star resort to be managed by the Four Seasons, and an American Idol themed experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The World is filled and continues to be filled with gaggles of activities to do, attractions to experience, and things to see.  While the World is not perfect, the added experience of one park with a limited capacity and an expensive admission price will add little to the World for the common guest. 

            It is hard to justify a new park when existing attractions, parks, and experiences could use either an update or some tendering loving care.  When I think of the existing conditions of rides like the Backlot Tour, attractions that have outworn their welcome (Sounds Dangerous, I’m looking at you), and the potential for expansion at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Studios, and Animal Kingdom, I really do not see the benefit of adding another park right now.  If Disney is concerned with providing excellent guest services, then work on training more qualified cast members to lower the guest to cast member ratio.  Furthermore, Disney already has the capability of giving its guests once in a lifetime experiences.  It does not need a trendy park to make guests marvel at the dream giving and magic making abilities of the Disney Company.  Instead, work on improving what is already built.  Continually and consistently improve Walt Disney World and there won’t be a need for a romp at an expensive and exclusive park. 

            Even if a fifth park is needed, is a niche park aimed at adults really the way to go?  If I remember correctly, Walt envisioned his parks to be places where kids and their parents could experience things together.  Sure, places like Pleasure Island exist for adults to enjoy themselves in a nightclub like atmosphere – but it is not what defines Walt Disney World.  Walt Disney World is a place where family and friends can come together, regardless of age, and be immersed in an environment that they can all share together.  DNK seems to be a place where adults with a some loose cash can go and do as they please.  But what about those of us that can’t afford the price of admission? What about those who are too young to stay out until midnight to go check out bats in a cave?  DNK may sound like a novel idea that would be attractive to a lot of adventure-seekers, but when you take a step back, DNK sounds more like an exclusive Disney-version of a country club.

             The truth is we don’t know if DNK is actually something Disney is considering.  This could all just be speculation, rumor, and hearsay with no bit of truth behind it.  Even so, DNK goes to prove the old adage that more does not always mean better.  Sure, a fifth park could be a neat idea at first, but without serious planning and consideration, that neat idea can quickly turn into a big problem.  So Disney, if you’re reading, why don’t you put your fifth gate proposals on the shelf for a while, and let’s take a look at some of the things the World needs first

Until next time!