Everything changes, but make it stay the same?

How does a company that thrives on nostalgia manage the constant need to make changes to keep their customers engaged? 

This is the challenge that faces the folk who run the parks and resorts at WDW. Based on my own thoughts and experiences, the WDW experience trades heavily on familiarity, nostalgia and memories. Indeed, many of the marketing campaigns used by the company use the concept of making memories as a major part of their attraction. 

It is therefore a very delicate balancing act when those same customers, who love to “come home” to the cosy feeling of familiarity, also demand constant change, innovation and new stuff to do!

mr toad
The end of the toad

It is a small measure of the challenge when you dip your toe into a Disney forum, and see some folks still really cut up about the loss of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, or even more randomly those interactive monitors in Spaceship Earth where you could make table reservations. Is the last one just me? Ok, well that just goes to reinforce my point. The memory of that experience is one of my first of WDW from the early 80’s, and one that my Dad will still recount to anyone who will listen to this day.

Sat here now in the world of Face time, Skype and all manner of virtual interaction, it seems quite old fashioned an idea, but to a ten year old boy, slack jawed and wide eyed as he walked around WDW for the first time, it was nothing short of a life changer.

Now that example is also a good one of something that had to change. With EPCOT professing to be all about the future, if that still existed, the role of the park would be reversed and it would be some sort of clichéd retro Jetson style concept that just wouldn’t work. That doesn’t soften the blow though, and as much as I will still spend time in Space ship Earth after our ride, in a way I still want to show my kids what I saw way back then.

With every ride that closes to make way for the new, they run the risk of upsetting and alienating a generation of customers who hold that ride dear to their hearts. Snow White’s recent closure at the Magic Kingdom is a good example of a real part of history being gone forever. Was the ride worthy still of that real estate? On the merits of the ride experience alone, probably not. I’m sure there are much better rides and experiences around the corner, but for what it represents to many WDW customers, removing such an integral piece of history is a risky move.

stitch
What were you thinking?

What Disney tend to do though is always, no, usually deliver. I say usually as a one-time rider on the Stitch abomination that replaced the Alien Encounter in Magic Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I was no diehard fan of the Alien ride either, but if you are going to replace it then I’m sure there are better things in the minds of the Imagineers.

With very few exceptions, Disney strives to get over the feeling of grief at the closure or change of an attraction by just upping their game every time. Mickey’s Philharmagic is a good example. The Lion King show was OK, but a little irrelevant when you have a potted version of the Broadway show in Animal Kingdom. Philharmagic was a step change in quality, innovation and entertainment and so my personal grief was non-existent.

As we all fear change, and long for the old days (I am generalising I know), spare a thought for the challenge faced by those clever folk at WDW. I know they do not always get it right, and sometimes a new attraction comes over as a rushed idea to ride the crest of the wave of the latest film or character, but they are treading a fine line. For me they get it right a lot of the time, and if any of them are reading this, I am available to be recruited into the ranks of Imagineers at their convenience!

3 comments

  1. Disney does indeed face a period of time where if they are not careful the schmalzy life of The Magic Kingdom may be overwhelmed by the public’s desire for bigger, faster and flashier. As the skittle driven ADHD kids of today get older many of the sweeter memories of Disney may be swept aside by the short attention “grabitwillyoucan” generation growing up today.

    I still enjoy the speed walk round MK trying to get onto rides that my kid’s once considered top notch but now try to convince me not to consider stepping foot on. HS looks a bit dated now and AK is a trek to far on occassions, we often look upon it as an expedition. Epcot leaves me cold. So how will Disney counter the glittering IOA or the refurbishing of US?

    For me I enjoy them all but like you I’m a sucker for a memory and a few tears and in 189 days time my eyes will well up and a lump will come to my throat as I land in MCO and look forward to my 2 year lump of sugar.

  2. I remember those screens in Epcot. I was about 15, and I said to my friend, ‘it’s not a real person, it’s just pretend’, and then the screen said to me, ‘I am very real and you are wearing a blue t-shirt’. I just about fainted on the spot.

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