My appreciation for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has only grown over recent years. The other three parks are all in need of major expansions or updates to tired attractions. Now that I have kids, our vacations have shifted more towards the original park because there’s so much to do. Epcot has been my favorite park going back to the ‘80s, but it’s hard to argue with the fun of a full day at the Magic Kingdom. It doesn’t match Disneyland for attraction volume, but it’s still miles ahead of the other Disney World parks in that regard.
Despite this success, there is still room for improvement. Ride capacity has not grown significantly in the past few decades. New Fantasyland provided a necessary jolt, but the park has closed the Skyway, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Stitch’s Great Escape (very soon) without direct replacements. The Snow White’s Scary Adventures location is a meet-and-greet with limited capacity. Attendance keeps increasing, so Disney still has work to do so guests can optimally enjoy its flagship park.
This fourth entry in my “Seven Wishes” series follows the articles on the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. My goal with these ideas is not to suggest gigantic projects with massive budgets. There are no massive Tron or Star Wars updates in my plan for Tomorrowland. Even so, it’s not surprising that a majority of these wishes cover that land. I wrote a separate piece on fixing Tomorrowland, so there is some overlap with these thoughts. Disney is working from a position of strength with the Magic Kingdom, but they must be careful to get too complacent. Universal will not rest and will keep pushing Disney for market share.
1. Bring back a regular show to the Diamond Horseshoe and expand the food options.
One of my parents’ favorite attractions during our family trips to The Magic Kingdom was the Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree. The live stage show was corny but fit with their sensibilities. Plus, it was an entertaining way to enjoy lunch and a show. There were no upcharges for the experience beyond what you paid for the food. This was during the time when reservations were needed, and it helped make the Jamboree (originally called Revue) feel special.
I’m not asking for Disney to reinstate the old show or even use similar gags. Regardless, the current set-up is a missed opportunity given the potential for the space. Today it’s just a basic dining establishment that isn’t a huge draw. The setting is still impressive, but it falls short without the entertainment to draw more attention. Improving the Diamond Horseshoe would also lessen the pressure from nearby spots like Pecos Bills and the Columbia Harbour House. The all-you-can-eat format also is limiting for families with picky eaters. Disney should do better and help make the Diamond Horseshoe a prime destination once again.
2. Add the Vacation Hoedown and Christmas Special overlays to the Country Bear Jamboree.
I’m thrilled that the one-and-only, original Country Bear Jamboree still plays in The Magic Kingdom, even in a shorter version. California lost theirs to Pooh a while ago, so it’s a relief to still have it at Disney World. On the other hand, there’s more that Disney could do to liven up the attraction. During family vacations as a kid, I saw the Vacation Hoedown quite frequently during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It doesn’t match the original but does include memorable tunes like “The Great Outdoors” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. Plus, it’s just fun to see the bears doing something different. Rotating in the Vacation Hoedown would keep the show fresh.
Disneyland brings in more locals, so its holiday overlays make sense. The Christmas Special sometimes appeared in Florida, and it still runs (along with the original and Vacation Hoedown) as the Jingle Bell Jamboree in Japan. Disney World should follow that model and look for ways to make holiday adjustments. I can point to the success of the Jingle Cruise to show that updates can also work at Disney World. It’s time to give locals and annual passholders more diversity from the classic attractions!
3. Replace the Princess Fairytale Hall with a new Fantasyland dark ride.
Disney World’s original Fantasyland section has a solid group of likable attractions, including Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, and PhilharMagic. On the other hand, it’s really short in the dark rides department. Disneyland also has Mr. Toad, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. The main reason that Disney World’s Fantasyland feels slight is having a character greeting right in the middle. Snow White’s Scary Adventures wasn’t a big draw, but it complemented the other attractions well. Despite the popularity of its princesses, this spot needs a dark ride!
I’m not asking Disney to recycle a popular old attraction either. It would be great to see Mr. Toad again, but I’d also fine with seeing a ride themed to Frozen, Tangled, or the recent Moana. You could even double down on Beauty and the Beast and capitalize on the new live-action version. That ride would be themed to the animated film, but leaders would still love the synergy. Another gain would come from capacity, which is sorely lacking with meet-and-greets. Even a slow-loading dark ride can do 600-700 riders an hour, which takes many off the paths. It would also pull guests away from the headliners and allow for a huge marketing push.
4. Update the Tomorrowland Speedway to focus on renewable energy.
This is the easy slam dunk in this Magic Kingdom list, especially since it actually connects to the futuristic theme. Disney should replace the current vehicles with electric cars and promote them as vehicles of tomorrow. They could redo the sets to fit that theme and add effects to the tunnel. There would be a significant cost to replace the vehicles, but we’re not talking E-ticket money. We also could see reduced maintenance costs for newer cars (and a lack of fuel charges).
This change maintains the allure of kids being able to drive the mini-cars without the unnecessary exhaust and noise. It’s the easiest fix in Tomorrowland and one that would also inspire new interest from guests. An attractive, sleek ride would also make the Speedway feel less painful for adults. There’s a way to use a lot of the current elements and create something that would last for decades. Any change to Tomorrowland should have that kind of longevity.
5. Replace Stitch’s Great Escape with a space travel attraction.
When Disney shutters a long-running attraction, there are always fans that decry the change to their personal favorite. Stitch’s Great Escape may be a lone exception. It’s currently on death watch after being moved to seasonal status. The big question is what Disney will do with this space. There were strong rumors about a Wreck-It Ralph replacement, but those have quieted for now. The concepts for the virtual ride raised concerns about capacity and fitting with the land’s theme. My wishes are about fixing Tomorrowland, not continuing its problems.
The big question is whether to keep the theater in the round, which goes all the way back to the Flight to the Moon from the park’s early days. I’m okay with using the theater because it’s cheaper and holds a lot of people. Given the renewed interest in traveling to Mars, I’d love to see a new take on that voyage. While it might seem redundant to Mission: Space, there could be a way to connect the two attractions. Guests trained at Epcot and are now ready for the real mission. Gary Sinise could appear in the pre-show to lead us on another journey. This choice is relevant to current issues and bridges Future World and Tomorrowland in an exciting way. The missions would vary in Star Tours fashion and inspire repeat visits.
6. Fix the final scene of the Carousel of Progress and connect it to the 1964 World’s Fair.
I’ve written a separate article on ways to fix the final scene of the Carousel of Progress, which ends the show on a laughable note. This time, I’m picking a single option that would not require another update in the near future. Given the renewed interest in the 1964 World’s Fair (from Tomorrowland, After the Fair, etc.), the best route is creating an ending from that era. Disney wouldn’t be using the same script; the original had many GE references. It also would tie more directly to the World’s Fair and its optimistic view of the future.
What makes this choice appealing is the way that it fully embraces the idea of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Like the Enchanted Tiki Room, it connects directly to the guy who started it all. Disney could make a few other script edits to remove sexism, but the tone would still fit with Walt’s ideas. These changes would also help the show avoid constant scrutiny of being too dated. It’s an old-fashioned attraction by design and isn’t trying to keep up with any trends.
7. Replace the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor with a Rotating Collection of Vintage Circle-Vision 360 films, including a newly produced movie.
It saddens me to walk into The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland and not see a Circle-Vision film playing. The Laugh Floor draws a few chuckles and offers custom experiences, but it’s so limiting. We visited once and haven’t returned since that point. In a similar way to the Carousel of Progress, this space could be a grand showcase for Walt’s ideas. He loved the Circle-Vision technology and produced many films with it. Why not convert this space into a theater that rotates between all those films? Disney could even bring The Timekeeper back into circulation as a tribute to Robin Williams. They did it with Michael Jackson and Captain EO and have another great opportunity.
Along with the two films that currently play at Epcot, here are past Circle-Vision movies that Disney has shown at its parks (and elsewhere):
- A Tour of the West
- Magic of the Rails
- Canada 67
- America the Beautiful
- Magic Carpet ‘Round the World
- American Journeys
- The Timekeeper
- Wonders of China
- O Canada! (1982 version)
The final two choices would likely not appear given the updated versions in Epcot, but they could be interesting to dedicated fans. The Circle-Vision screens are still inside the Laugh Floor space, so Disney wouldn’t need to start from scratch. Instead, they could build on what’s in place and create a spot with a wide range of films. If Disney was more ambitious, they could even shoot a new Circle-Vision movie to be the prime attraction. It wouldn’t be a major headliner, but this change would connect with older guests and longtime fans.
Honoring the Legacy
You may notice a trend in these ideas of appreciation at The Magic Kingdom for Disney World’s past. I believe that Disney hasn’t capitalized on the nostalgia that many of us have for the resort’s history. They understand how to connect us with old films and characters, but not with attractions. These choices are highly unlikely, but I don’t believe they wouldn’t be profitable. The Magic Kingdom retains all its headliners and fills in the gaps where it doesn’t match its past glory.
The Magic Kingdom draws more guests than any other park in the world, and that success gives Disney an opportunity to do things better. Online prophets would scream from the rooftops about effective updates to the Carousel of Progress and the Diamond Horseshoe. You can’t buy that kind of publicity; Disney’s modern success comes from the fans it created in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Dismissing us and just focusing on the wealthiest guests is great for short-term profits. On the other hand, Disney risks alienating its devoted clientele. Changes like the ideas on this list would ensure that Disney World retains its legacy and keeps fans thrilled for a long time.
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