There will be a little less holiday cheer at Disney's (DIS -1.83%) least visited theme park in Florida, but Disney World is hoping a new nighttime spectacle helps remedy some of that shortfall. The media giant announced over the weekend that it will run Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! nightly from Nov. 14 through the end of the year.
The show will combine fireworks, animated projections on the park's full-scale reproduction of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and special lighting effects, similar to the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular that it will temporarily replace.
It's a bigger move than you think. Removing the nightly Star Wars-themed performances will happen just as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters in mid-December. You would expect Disney's movie-centric park to be all about promoting the big-budget holiday release, but it also has a major void that it needs to fill.
The Grinch gets called back
After 20 years, Disney's Hollywood Studios nixed The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, a seasonal tradition where guests could walk through illuminated displays synchronized to holiday music as fake soapy snow would float down on guests from above. Its popularity expanded over the years, but the holiday celebration just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Disney needs chunks of Disney's Hollywood Studios to build out Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land that will open in a few years, and a lot of that expansion takes place on turf where the Osborne spectacle used to take place. The park will be something special when that is ready in a couple of years, but it's going to be a challenge to justify the stiff admission prices -- it costs as much as $114 plus tax for a one-day ticket -- when the park is operating only a handful of major attractions.
Disney's Hollywood Studios used to take the bronze medal in attendance among Disney's World's four theme parks until 2010 when it was passed up by Animal Kingdom. Disney's Hollywood Studios has remained dead last in Disney World attendance ever since. Most theme park operators would love to draw the 10.8 million guests that Disney's Hollywood Studios attracted last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. It was the eighth most visited theme park in the world. However, a lot of those visits are Disney passholders and resort guests on multiday tickets who know better than to budget an entire day at the park.
It's only a coincidence that the Osborne lights went away just as Disney World attendance started to experience a rare decline, but now that we're wrapping up what was likely Disney's third straight period of year-over-year declines in guest counts, it's fair to wonder if the void is a problem.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights may have seemed hokey, but it kept visitors at the park until the night. Disney is clearly hoping that the new holiday lights and pyrotechnics show will continue to make the park a regular stop for holiday guests. It's a good start, but Disney has to know that it will need more than that in Santa's bag of tricks to avoid a blue Christmas.