Disneyland has hit the 60th anniversary mark. Now what? The California theme park, which has belonged to the “Disneyland Resort” for the past 14 years, is in the early stages of a renewal. Though the advancements are not yet visible, the happiest place on earth will no doubt experience nothing short of a transformation over the coming years – especially over the course of the next six decades. If guests who first walked through Walt’s Main Street, U.S.A. on opening day could see Disneyland today, they may not be able to identify much of anything surrounding the hub. Disneyland, as well as experiences around its periphery, have changed – many of them for the better. But what will 2075 resemble?
Envisioning Disneyland Resort’s next 60 years requires remembering the park’s origins, tracking recent developments, and imagining the possibilities of the future.
First, let’s ruminate about Disney California Adventure Park. Remember, it took more than 35 years after Disneyland’s opening for executives to even consider building a second gate. Six years later came the announcement, and just after Disneyland’s 45th anniversary did the park open. To little fanfare, no less. One decade later and it saw a massive overhaul, from both a size and budget perspective.
People ask me if and when the third park will be revealed for Disneyland Resort. If it took 45 years for the second one, don’t expect the next to come anytime soon. I insist that 60 years from now that Disneyland Resort will have another park, if not two. But the priority now is strictly on enhancing the current destinations. As a matter of fact, the company intends on spending a minimum of $1 billion toward new experiences for park guests, starting in the next couple of years, according to a recent Orange County Register article. An initial and important piece of construction: setting aside more parking for thousands of vehicles. A growing concern for the resort with great growth in yearly visitors over recent years – many of them in-state residents who drive to the park, as well as Annual Passholders – more parking is essential. But what about updating some of the older attractions, creating new ones or, holding my breath, expanding each of the parks? That will come.
Disneyland Resort has revived many of its staples in recent months, from the Matterhorn Bobsleds to The Haunted Mansion. The emphasis on updating these mainstays has meant new lives for Peter Pan’s Flight, it’s a small world, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, and many more. Guests continue to flock to the decades-old attractions. Internally, executives might be thinking of why they should dedicate tens of millions of dollars into new rides when the longtimers still draw visitors. But Disneyland itself has lacked a new ride in eight years (Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, itself a plussed-up version of the legendary nautical expedition). New experiences will come, albeit not immediately.
Everyone expects big announcements from this August’s Disney D23 Expo. Increased Star Wars and Marvel incorporation into the parks is a must, a definite plan and yet a still ambiguous one. But not for long. Though any developments will require much capital and patience from guests, I would be surprised if we do not see a new ride from either or both properties by 2020. Come 2065, Tomorrowland as we know it may be a shell of its former self. Even more, an entire land within California Adventure could contain these characters. A third gate with heroic and dastardly figures… potentially.
Technology has always been integrated into the Disneyland guest experience, from witnessing the marvelous Audio-Animatronic figures first appear in The Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963 to tracking wait times on their mobile phones. Taking a page from Walt Disney World Resort, which invested more than $1 billion to develop the infrastructure for FastPass+, a divisive reimagining of the little-to-no-wait ticketing system, Disneyland will likely follow suit. How soon? It’s hard to say. This was years in the works for the Florida parks and is only in the early stages of analysis. Its efficacy is challenging to determine at this point, and considering the costly expenditures, FastPass+ may not enter Disneyland Resort for at least another five years. But this structure could exist and entirely alter how guests plan their days at the parks.
Everything comes at a cost. In guests’ cases, that means from their wallets. Park prices have blown out of proportion in the past 15 years. These ticket increases do not match national inflation by any stretch of the imagination. The Disney park experience comes at a premium. If only 11 years ago, a one-day, one-park ticket cost $49 (half of what it stands in July 2015), the $200 ticket could happen in the next 15 years. If these surges result in more stable – or even declining – attendance figures, this will change how Disneyland Resort operates. But as long as people shell out the cash for the parks, the trends will continue at this rapid rate. With this money, though, come certain expectations. Our more customized world means a greater desire for personalized experiences. That’s why FastPass+ will happen at some point in the next decade or so. Disneyland Resort’s next 60 years will ultimately be defined by uniquely tailored opportunities for guests.
What does that mean? Imagine not only planning where to eat in advance, but also figuring out a specific table with made-to-order meals. Want to be seated right in view of the hub from the Plaza Inn? Go for it. Seeking a vegan option with specific items in the meal? You got it! Our culinary tastes and dietary needs are no longer limited to the hamburgers and fries found at practically every counter-service restaurant. Disneyland Resort, much like its fellow Disney destinations, knows the importance of keeping guests on property and appealing to their delicacy-related desires. For a premium, guests should have the chance to determine every piece of their meals.
For character dining, which has also catapulted in cost, guests will seek more control. Disneyland Resort would be wise to let the guests choose which characters may appear during their meals. Through utilizing social media and websites, guests may be able to pick out which famous figures stop by their tables. Disney’s success in implementing a similar selection program for the “Long Lost Friends Week” suggests that a more comprehensive system could be implemented with much ease. Extending this to the appearance of characters outside of restaurants – engaging in a “surprise” meet-and-greet – could also operate at many spots throughout the Disneyland Resort.
Looking ahead means saying farewell to things we loved in the past. Nothing is sacred, as much as we want to believe that. At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the departure of opening day attraction Snow White’s Scary Adventures in favor of a princess meet-and-greet location speaks to that very notion. Any or all of Disneyland’s Fantasyland dark rides are up for grabs in lieu of a similar attraction, though I hope that would not occur. But anything could be on the chopping block for new experiences, whether a new restaurant (for financial reasons) or something tied in with popular film characters. Disneyland Resort knows it must act selectively and carefully. Disney California Adventure is not as revered as its sister park. Disneyland is a different story.
Attractions come and go. After all, Walt Disney himself said that the park will never be complete and that the park will change over time. Some of the signature attractions (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Matterhorn Bobsleds, along with a few others) are safe. But Mickey’s Toontown could disappear entirely in a few years if the Star Wars Land rumors prove true for that area of the park. Tomorrowland, too, has “complete refurbishment” written all over the land, marked by theme and color inconsistencies.
Disneyland’s main areas may retain the same names and their iconic landmarks, but the next 60 years hold that radical alterations may be underway. Not for the worse, but for the guests of the future who demand nostalgia paired with innovation, customization, and deeper immersion. New lodging options and a redevelopment of Downtown Disney in the next decade or two are safe bets, too. Disneyland Resort as a whole will reflect the trends of what American consumers seek in their vacations and should model elements of how Walt Disney World in Florida evolves.
The place that Walt built is a working, breathing, and continually maturing utopia. Its next 60 years will indeed resemble the best of its first six decades and the unrelenting advancements we see unfolding before our very eyes.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth on Geeks of Doom.