The family-entertainment giant is confirming expansion plans for its flagship Magic Kingdom park. The rudimentary blueprints that leaked into cyberspace during the summer are real. Disney's Fantasyland area is growing, and it's tacking on several new princess-themed attractions.
Some of the key additions targeted to open in 2012 include:
- "Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid" -- a state-of-the-art family-friendly indoor ride that takes guests through scenes from The Little Mermaid. This is the same attraction that's opening at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim in 2011.
- "Be Our Guest" -- a theme restaurant where diners will chow down in one of three dining rooms from Beauty and the Beast.
- Updated character-greeting areas for some of Disney's most famous princess characters. Unlike the drab "meet and greet" character queues of today, these areas will feature interactive elements and performances to make this experience more than just a snapshot and an autograph session.
A common complaint is that Disney is overextending itself with this initiative, with a costly expansion that appeals only to young girls. We heard a similar gripe when Disney announced the boys-centric "Cars Land" expansion that will launch in California come 2012.
But do you think the Mickey Mouse Company is going to sit on its pending $4 billion Marvel (NYSE: MVL ) acquisition? There are contractual limitations as to what Disney can do in Florida with its Marvel fleet, but California is pretty much wide open. Disney would be remiss if it didn't take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself -- whether the opportunity involves Marvel properties or its own homegrown characters.
This new plan will probably suck a large chunk of the audience to the back of the park and lighten the lines elsewhere. But if the queues at the other attractions remain just as long, then Disney will have succeeded in ramping up its overall attendance.
Disney needs this. Its Florida resort is just a dozen miles away from Universal Orlando -- the theme-park complex owned by General Electric (NYSE: GE ) and Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX ) that's going to draw huge crowds next summer with its ambitious Harry Potter expansion.
As a kid-friendly icon, Disney may never truly win over the thrill seekers who flock to Six Flags or Cedar Fair (NYSE: FUN ) amusement parks. It aims for a steadier year-round flow of families who make Disney parks the centerpiece of their vacations.
However, Disney has been taking its patrons for granted lately. Its complacency forced it into some pretty dramatic resort discounts and this year's "free birthday" promotion. Disney was coasting, in part perhaps because it was less immune to the recession than are the chains that have been aggressively adding to their parks.
Disney is awake now, even if it's simply setting the alarm to truly wake up in three years.
Other ways to throw up your hands and enjoy the ride: