Fast-tracked. Expedited. Prioritized. Sped up. All words that are being used to describe the rethemeing of Splash Mountain at both Disney World and Disneyland. And, words that can also mean many different things to different people. It’s like the phrase, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes”, but, it’s really more like an hour. You know what we mean, right? We thought so, you get us! So when we hear any of these words used by Disney to describe the Splash Mountain project, how should we interrupt it? That’s what we’re here to figure out. Grab you Webster’s dictionary, we’re about to put a definition to “speed up”, in Disney terms of course!
What Was Said
On November 16, 2020, at the International Association of Amusement Park Attractions (IAAPA) virtual conference, Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro gave the keynote. In a presentation filled with updates, Josh made mention of the rethemeing of Splash Mountain as part of a larger statement about guest-facing changes to promote inclusion. Below is the excerpt about the project;
“We want to make sure that we’re focusing on inclusivity for our guests as well, so we’ve chosen to speed up some of the work that we had been developing to make sure that our parks remain relevant and welcoming to all of our guests.
For example, we announced the transformation of our classic attraction Splash Mountain to include a new storyline based on Princess and the Frog. Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important. It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou.”
There’s that phrase. The phrase that has all Disneyphiles wondering what it means. Speed up. Does that mean we’ll see Splash Mountain updated before or after the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World? Which is set to begin on October 1, 2021. Hmmm.
What We Know
When it comes to the rethemeing of Splash Mountain there are a couple of things we already know. First, the attraction will be transformed into a Princess and the Frog theme. Second, this is a project Disney has been evaluating for a while. As we discussed in a previous article, Disney ear-marked a variety of attractions or scenes within attractions that needed updating to reflect current social norms. For more details about those attractions, check out the following article.
So, we know Disney had tossed around the idea around the rethemeing of Splash Mountain. The unknown is how long was the concept being worked on prior to the announcement on June 25, 2020. Ideas and concepts around attractions can be floated around Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) for years before they are ever realized, for example, the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland. The concept of the ride (vehicle type and track) was originally planned for an Atlantis-based attraction called Fire Mountain that would go into the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. However, that fell through and WDI used the concept for Indiana Jones. Why? Now that’s a story for another day, but the important piece is WDI had the idea for a while before they were able to create it. Could the same hold true for the Splash Mountain project?
Let’s see if we can put some definition to speed-up. To do so we’re going to channel our inner Dr. Marsh, in that our future could truly be in the past! In the more recent years, Disney has done two major rethemes of well-known attractions, Disneyland’s Tower of Terror, and Epcot’s Maelstrom. Both could be considered reactions to blockbuster success with the respect films that were used in the rethemeing. Guardians of the Galaxy was used for Tower of Terror, and Frozen for Malestrom.
While the rethemeing of Splash Mountain isn’t a reaction to a successful movie, it is a reaction to the social climate. From a development standpoint, it is very similar.
If we look at the fastest Disney has ever been able to retheme a major attraction, from its announcement to opening day the project took about 10 months. This project was Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout in Disneyland’s California Adventure. The project took less-time as WDI used a new “modular” method for reimagining the attraction. This new method greatly reduced downtime. Total downtime for the ride was 6-months.
For the rethemeing of Splash Mountain, we’re well beyond the potential of the new attraction being announced and open for operation within 10 months. However, what we can take away from the project is the total downtime of 6 months. Could WDI do the same with Splash Mountain, and if so, when would they start?
When To Start
That’s the biggest unknown. Before figuring out our potential start date we should take two big things into consideration, the 50th Anniversary and budget. What we know is Disney originally planned to have the vast majority of construction complete prior to the big celebration. To both minimize guest impact and create a better park experience. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans. There is now strong speculation that construction on two of the marque attractions will not be complete prior to October 1, 2020.
On top of the 50th Anniversary, Disney will be working with a much lower budget in 2021. On the November 12, 2020 earnings call, Disney stated park budgets for 2021 would be greatly reduced.
Taking these two things into consideration there are a couple of potential start dates. If we assume the project is sped up and takes a similar amount of time as Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest date the project could begin prior to the 50th Anniversary is March 2021. That would have the project wrapping up in September 2021. We’re assuming Disney would not one of the biggest attractions in the park closed for the anniversary. The next feasible date would be starting the project after the 50th Anniversary in 2022.
A lot to consider. There are a lot of variables to take into consideration when looking at a potential start date for the rethemeing of Splash Mountain. In the DVC Duo house, we thinking that the project will not begin until after the 50th Anniversary. From both a timing and budget standpoint it makes the most sense. Now, Disney could surprise us and kick-off the project prior to the 50th Anniversary. If they were able to complete it ahead of the big day, it would definitely be a big draw for the Magic Kingdom.
So, what is our definition of the Disney speed up? For us, it means Disney is doing everything they can to deliver the ride while taking into consideration the overall guest experience and budget constraints. In other words, they’re giving it all they got captain!
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