It could be a whole new world! Ok, not world, more like a pavilion. When news broke Epcot’s Morocco pavilion would be run by Disney no later than January 1, 2021, every Disneyphile’s mind went to the same place. More Abu. Can you ever have too much Abu? We think not, he’s definitely one of the best Disney sidekicks around. If it wasn’t for Abu, we may have never met the Genie, right? Anyways, we’re not here to talk about Aladdin, are we? Or, maybe we are? One thing is for certain, we’re here to talk about Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion and whether or not change is on its way or just a mirage!
COVID. That’s what happened. From the start of the pandemic and temporary closure of Walt Disney World, Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion faced financial hardship. In April Marrakesh Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LLC (the company the operates the pavilion) filed for paycheck protection for its 260 cast members in the form of a ~$1 to $2 million note (debt). That carried the company through to the reopening of Epcot in July 2020. At the reopening of Epcot, the Morocco pavilion opened a portion of the pavilion, in the form of the Tangierine Cafe and Spice Road Table. Their quick-service dining location and one of their sit-down restaurants. However, due to lower than expected crowd levels at Walt Disney World, the company had to make the hard decision to close Tangierine Cafe by the beginning of August.
Fast forward to September and news broke that Disney had to file for debt protection (ie UCC Financing Statement) against the Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LLC. The UCC Financing Statement used collateral within Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion to offset a loan from Disney to Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LCC. What the loan was used for is unknown, but it could be assumed it was for salaries and operational costs.
By October 21, 2020, it became clear the Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LLC was unfortunately not going to recover from the financial hardship and that Disney would take controlling interest in the pavilion’s operations. The following statement from Jacquee Wahler, VP Communications Walt Disney World Resort, and Rashild Chaoufani and Rachild Lyazidi, Operating Participants Morocco Pavilion:
“After many years of working together, we have a mutually agreed arrangement to begin the process of transitioning operations of the Morocco pavilion to Disney. By the end of the year, Disney will assume operations of this important part of EPCOT and under Disney’s operation, the pavilion will continue to honor the rich traditions and legacy it has since it opened” – Source: Disney Food Blog
On October 30, 2020, the Disney dining reservation website was updated. Starting on December 10, 2020, Spice Road Table is no longer accepting Advance Dining Reservations. It is unknown if is the restaurant will continue to operate as walk-up dining only.
Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion will be fully operated by Disney by January 1, 2021.
What History Tells Us
So, what’s next for the pavilion? That’s definitely the big question. This isn’t the first time Disney has taken over operational control of an Epcot pavilion. Back in 2002, Disney assumed operational control over the Norway Pavilion. Two years later we saw Akershus Royal Banquet Hall become character dining. Followed by the rethemeing of Malestrom to Frozen Ever After, and the addition of the Royal Sommerhus in 2016. Royal Sommerhus is the Anna and Elsa meet ‘n greet.
While many will say the addition of Frozen to the Norway Pavilion breaks the overall themeing, no one could argue the success of the changes. Both Frozen Ever After and the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall are two of the most popular experiences within Epcot. Additionally, it speaks to Bob Chapek’s comment around making Epcot more “Disney”. An idea that is continuing forward with the addition of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure to the France Pavilion, and soon HarmonioUS.
What Could Happen
That’s the unknown. In the DVC Duo house, we have some ideas on where Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion could go under Disney’s control. The most obvious choice would be to bring more Aladdin to the pavilion. While the movie is not set in Morocco, more like inspired by the Middle East, Disney has shown they’re willing to stretch borders. Look no further than Frozen in Norway. Aladdin is one of the most successful animated films, grossing more money than both Toy Story and Beauty and the Beast. Factoring in inflation, the animated version of Aladdin would have made over $1 billion today. However, it has a very low presence in the Disney parks.
Similar to the Norway Pavilion, the main restaurant within the pavilion could become character dining. Switching Restaurant Marrakesh to an Aladdin character dining spot would bring a second character dining option to Epcot’s World Showcase. The restaurant traditionally ranks as an average dining spot based on Touring Plans rankings (49 out of 103). It would be an easy transition for Disney to make and it would instantly raise the overall demand for the restaurant.
Outside of dining, Disney could very well add an attraction. Between Morocco and the Japan Pavilion is one of the World Showcase expansion pads (yellow square). Similar to how Disney is expanding the France Pavilion, by using an expansion pad, they could do the same to add an attraction. But, what would the attraction be? The most obvious option would be an Aladdin flying carpet ride. Who wouldn’t want to fly through the cave of wonders? However, Disney has already done this concept with virtual reality at Disney Quest. As well as a simple spinner version at the Magic Kingdom. We don’t see them recycling this idea. Instead, it could be a dark ride in a similar fashion as Under The Sea at the Magic Kingdom. If there is one thing Epcot could use more of, it’s family-friendly dark rides.
The other direction Disney could choose to go would be to bring over one of the attractions from Tokyo’s DisneySea. In the Arabian Coast land, there are two attractions that could work in Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion, the Magic Lamp Theater, and Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage. The Magic Lamp Theater is a 3D movie starring the Genie. While Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage is a boat ride similar to Small World. Both would cost Disney less than developing a new attraction.
Time will tell. At the moment, we wouldn’t expect to see much of any change to Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion. With Disney scaling back its projects to help with the recovery from COVID-19, it could be five years before we see anything. In the Norway Pavilion, it was 14 years before Disney made the decision to add Frozen. If anything were to happen the lowest hanging fruit would definitely be character dining at Restaurant Marrakesh. For now, it’s not a whole new world, but keep those eyes peeled you never know what Abu is up to!
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