We probably won't see another traditional theme park built at the resort that is Central Florida's largest employer, but there are plenty of other ways Disney is preparing to define its next decade.
Here are my top predictions for how Disney's business will continue to evolve before it's 50:
More princess mania. One of Disney's smartest new capital projects is the upgrade under way at Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. This is truly the company's bread and butter. All you have to do is look at the wild success of its princess franchise to see that. The $425 million worth of improvements will mean that young princess fans and their parents will get more smiles for their buck while the company sees a return on investment measured in a new generation of brand loyalty for the company.
Get on the bus. The Magical Express bus service, one of the company's smartest innovations of the past decade, will continue to grow as the economy rebounds. While some may have expected Disney to eventually use higher-tech means of travel than diesel buses to move people and their luggage between the airport and resort hotels, transportation at Disney seems firmly planted on wheels. If it were going to expand its monorail system it likely would have done so by now, and the death of high-speed rail in Florida means the chance of building a train between the airport and Disney is about as likely as Mickey and Minnie trading in the castle for a condo in The Villages in their old age.
Avatar will be a miss. It's got most of the right ingredients for a theme-park hit: eye-candy visuals, and it's pegged to a blockbuster film attached to Hollywood heavy-hitter James Cameron. But Avatar's success as a multipart phenomenon is untested. Universal Orlando had multiple books and movies to suggest Harry Potter would work real-life magic for its Islands of Adventure Park. Disney's Animal Kingdom is also a secondary park in need of something new and special, but Avatar just doesn't have the story line or emotional following to provide the size jolt Disney is looking for.
Cruises and time shares. The cruise-line business will continue to grow while the time-share segment wanes. Trends show that families are taking shorter vacations and want to spend as little time as possible on logistics like figuring out where to eat, stay and how to get there. A cruise takes almost all of those headaches out of the picture. Meanwhile, as tendencies toward homeownership fade among young people, they may not want to commit to a vacation time share, either. Disney's just-opened hotel and time share in Hawaii offers an appealing location, but it hit a bump when Disney had to backtrack on the cost of annual fees and raise them by 33 percent.
Next Gen win? The success of the ticket and dining "Magic Your Way" options of the past decade are just the beginning. More price packages will continue to let guests customize their trips while Disney figures out more ways to keep guests and their money on its property. The concept of the personalized vacation could rise to the next level with the somewhat mysterious and expensive project known inside Disney as the "Next Generation Experience." It could either be a $1 billion boondoggle or the Holy Grail. The technology-driven plan would allow guests to book even the smallest details of their trips such as the time they want to ride Space Mountain before they even leave their homes. The idea is to make vacations as hassle-free as possible while providing even more value. If Disney pulls it off, this sort of service will go a long way toward keeping its theme parks from growing stale.
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