You’ve Got a Friend in Toy Story Land

Now you can hang with Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang from Andy’s toy chest at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Opening at the end of June, this is the newest expansion at Hollywood Studios located behind the former Pixar Place. This colorful land is sure to make you smile and wax nostalgic. Not only do you get to enjoy the company of Andy’s toys, but you’ll also find many toys, craft supplies, board games, and more from your childhood in and around the area. It was unfortunately raining when my friend and I went, but we still had a great time! The rain certainly didn’t put a damper on our fun. So many wonderful details in the atmospheric design of Toy Story Land. Incidentally, you also get some great views of the progress on Galaxy’s Edge!

When entering Toy Story Land, you are greeted by Woody! You’ll definitely want to stop by for a photo. When you pass through the gateway to this land of toys, you’ll be shrunk down to toy size in order to fully enjoy all that Andy’s toy box has to offer. The element that stands out to me more than anything is the colorful nature of everything. Even on the overcast, dreary day that we were having, the colors brightened up the land. Between the giant footprints and towering privacy fence, it truly feels like you are one of Andy’s toys.

Unlike when the land first opened at the end of June, the wait times in the queues for Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash are considerably less. Fortunately, the rainy weather contributed to the even lower than typical wait times while I was there. The main attraction (or E Ticket attraction for Disney enthusiasts) is the family roller coaster Slinky Dog Dash. Just to put the experience into perspective, the coaster falls somewhere between Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom and Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa. My favorite part of the Slinky Dog coaster is the launch! Not nearly as intense as Cheetah Hunt, but quite enjoyable! In terms of duration, it lasts longer than typical family coasters. I was also impressed by the guest cycle time. The cast members were on their A game with loading and unloading park guests. Although we waited in queue for about one hour, the line was consistently moving. You’ll notice there are ceiling fans throughout the queue and plenty to look at. My friend Brittany and I both immensely enjoyed Slinky Dog and felt it was worth the hour we waited.

Woodys Lunch Box is a window (quick service) restaurant in Toy Story Land, and although the menu has changed since opening day, there is still a sufficient variety for a quick meal. Check out the menu here!

Slink Dog Dash isn’t the only new attraction in Toy Story Land. You can experience some swirling fun with the aliens from Pizza Planet at Alien Swirling Saucers. In this glorified “tea cup” attraction, you and your friend board a flying saucer to whirl through the universe. Unlike Alice’s Magic Tea Cups, you have no control over how fast you spin as your flying saucer is connected to the mother ship. Still, it’s a cute, fun ride that was a need for Hollywood Studios.

Make Toy Story Land a must-do on your next Disney trip! Now that the summer is winding down, you’ll probably benefit from shorter wait times in this brand new area. With the rain, I was unable to experience any of the character meet and greets, but I did see green army men walking about. Hopefully next time, I’ll get a chance to say hi to Woody and the gang.

Are Theme Parks Pricing Millennials Out of the Ability to Experience the Magic?

If you’re a Millennial like me, then you may have asked yourself the same question. In fact, I read an article recently on another Theme Park website that explored how changing demographics are changing the theme park business. Fascinating article. However, there was an item of mention that troubled me. When commenting on the observation of the addition of food and wine festivals, expensive up-sell experiences, and line-skipping passes to appeal to adults without kids, it was stated in the form of this development being great for Millennials. And that got me to thinking. Is it, though? Considering the current economic climate and the career status of those who are in their early 20s and to early to mid 30s, are these new trends truly accommodating of this group?

Instead of limiting this topic to the changing population (baby booms versus baby busts), I think it’s more effective to explore this topic of how changing demographics are changing the theme park business with the addition of the income criteria coupled with population. This is an important element to add to the discussion because it’s no surprise that it’s taking much longer to land a full-time position earning a truly livable wage for us than it did for our parents (see images 1-3). In fact, the Pew Research center (image 4) shows that our parents had far more purchasing power when they were rearing us than we do today. Essentially, non high-level mangers or non-executives have exponentially less disposable income correlating to the cost of living than our parents did in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. Furthermore, it’s much harder to get a mortgage than it was 10-20yrs ago, rent rates are way up, and student loans enter repayment. When theme parks keep adding expensive up-sell experiences in order to capture the young single adult or young couple without kids (as we are currently in a baby bust that doesn’t look like it will change with GenZ), I am not entirely sure they are considering the financial burdens and increasing cost of living that 20 and 30-somethings currently face. Our parents COULD afford more vacation than we can today.

Whenever I see a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or blog post about a new experience at Disney Parks especially, but also Universal Parks, lesser so at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (who DO tend to cater to where current finances are for Millennials), I wonder who is actually paying for these experiences? Most of these special tour and dining experiences are in excess of $100/person and often much more. After paying for either day tickets or annual passes, hotel nights (if applicable), plane tickets or fuel for the car, I find it difficult to believe that the typical Millennial is able to afford these experiences. Therefore, if the typical Millennial possesses an inability to afford all the increases and special experiences in the parks, then perhaps this “changing of the theme park business” is actually not a good thing for those of us who are in our 20s and 30s. Seems to me, that the more logical course of action would be to follow the median economic status of the biggest group of park guests.

According to the the article that inspired me to write mine, the largest group of park guests is trending toward late GenX and Millennials (with GenZ not being too far behind) without kids. It makes perfect sense for the parks to add in “adult” activities in order to entice Gen-Xers and Millennials such as food and wine festivals, line-skipping passes, and special events, but the prices of these events is outpacing the income of the group that the theme parks know will soon surpass the number of “families” that are guests at the parks. The disadvantage of a proliferation of high-priced up-sells is alienating the very group of current and potential park guests that is outpacing the more traditional families that have been the main source of income for the parks. More than anything else, in terms of spending money on entertainment, Millennials are looking for a good deal–more than our parents–because we have much higher overhead and less purchasing power than they did when they were out ages taking their kids (us) to the parks. Therefore, it’s important for the current theme park business model to recognize the desire for Millennials to continue to support and enjoy the parks as more traditional families get smaller and Baby Boomers getting older with currently empty or soon-to-be-empty nests.

Although it seems common sense for the parks to adapt their respective business models to accommodate the finances of Millennials, the opposite appears to be coming to pass. Instead of packing better deals for young professionals without kids, the trend seems to be catering to only upper-middle and upper class individuals and families. The antithesis of what should be done in order to capture the next generation planning vacations to the parks. If the trend of continuing to add expensive additions to your park ticket continues, then theme parks will become as exclusive a destination as a European vacation or exotic cruise. “This park wasn’t built to cater only to the super rich, everyone in the world has a right to enjoy…” as Dr. John Hammond countered the lawyer’s desire to charge exorbitant prices during the lunchtime debate scene in Jurassic Park (one of my favorite scenes from the iconic film)Disney and Universal should borrow a line from Hammond and modify the business model to create magic for Millennials–especially Disney Parks, as they are increasingly catering to only the super rich.

So yes, we are experiencing theme parks changing their business models to adjust for fewer families and more singles/couples without children. And Food and Wine festivals are a huge hit! I truly enjoy them. But, in developing offerings that attract adults without kids, the parks are in danger or pricing Millennials out of enjoying the magic. Millennials are looking for those after-hours events, food and wine fests, and line-skipping passes but not at the cost of not being able to go to begin with. Theme parks should reevaluate the pricing structure and take the current economic times facing millennials into question. Millennials represent the majority of folks soon to be going to the parks as young professionals, with the traditional families of 3-5 becoming less common. But, Millennials are burdened by rising rental costs, rising student loan repayment cost, lower salaries than our parents, and rising cost of transportation.

‘ReInnoventing’ Epcot

Since 1982, Walt Disney World’s second theme park Epcot has been capturing the imagination through education and glimpses into the future. At least, that was EPCOT until the last few years. Starting in the early 2010s, the identity of then EPCOT (now Epcot) has been shifting away from education to food, wine, and a few thrills. With the recent closures at Epcot (Ellen’s Universe of Energy) and at Hollywood Studios (The Great Movie Ride and soon One Man’s Dream), it is clear that the leadership and Imagineers of Walt Disney World are moving in new directions compared to the legacy direction the park(s) have demonstrated over the decades. Although it mostly flew under the radar for a large portion of park one-time guests and even some regulars, over the last few years–and increasingly so, over the last few months–Future World’s Innoventions is, much like Ellen’s dinosaurs, extinct.

Innoventions (and the former Wonders of Life pavilion, home of the once-popular Body Wars) housed some of the most entertaining, educational, and interactive show offerings at WDW. The House of Innoventions (later Vision House), Storm Struck, Where’s the Fire, What’s Your Problem, and more struck a fantastic balance between education and entertainment (often referred to as edutainment). Now, all that remains of Future World is Test Track, The Living Seas with Nemo and Friends, Mission Space (recently refurbished), Soarin’, Living with the Land, and the iconic Spaceship Earth. Nearly half as many attractions exist compared to just five years ago. During this time,  Epcot also changed its official name from EPCOT to Epcot. What’s the difference, you ask? Originally, Epcot was an acronym that stood for the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. With the reimagination of the park over the years, and furthermore, the movement away from education and the future, the park officially changed its name to Epcot (no acronym).

Although each of these closures could be analyzed separately, the long and short of it is sacrificing education for thrills and booze. And there is not anything innately wrong with that. Theme parks should be thrilling, and offer a wide array of food and drink options! But what made Epcot unique amongst other theme parks around the country WAS the educational component. Much like the “magic of the movies” and filmmaking was the essence of what made Hollywood Studios the park it was. The introduction of the new Guardians of the Galaxy based attraction in Future World (hmm…this area of the park probably needs a new name, now that I think about it), will undoubtedly breath new life into this waning area of the park, but at what cost??? On the plus side, WDW is able to finally integrate the Marvel property into the parks but it will be replacing a legacy attraction. Legacy. That’s a term you hear quite often when talking about the Disney and Universal parks. The term legacy can be defined as an amount of money or property left to an heir in a will. For theme parks, legacy attractions are those that often opened on the first day or have maintained a presence for a substantial amount of time–so long that generations of people enjoyed them. Waxing nostalgic is a popular pseudo-activity at many theme park attractions. There is no quantifiable means of attributing a value to the ability to experience that same attraction with your kids (or nieces/nephews/grandchildren) that you experienced as a kid, but it is invaluable in a theme park adventure. When legacy attractions are removed, the ability to experience childhood nostalgia dies right along with it.

One of the reasons that it is important for Epcot to innovate a new identity is because it was, and still is to an extent, becoming a museum of what once was. Future World used to be the place to experience emerging technologies and be mesmerized by what we now call STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). When the park did not keep the sponsored attractions coming and updating, it lost that wow factor and was slowly allowed to go by way of the dodo. Since the educational element of Epcot was not continually reinforced or re-imagined, it is necessary to gut and refurbish. I cannot help but think that there was room at Epcot for both the legacy and the impressive new attractions for new and long-time guests to experience. In addition to adding new attractions to bolster Epcot’s offerings, the International Food and Wine Festival as well as the Flower and Garden Festival respectively now offer more food and drinks than ever before–especially Flower and Garden. It is easy to see where the park spends the lion share of its budget. Food and alcohol have been an Epcot staple since the beginning–there are few other places that one could experience food and drinks from around the globe without need of a passport. But over the years, the park has been funneling more money into the festivals and has allowed the attraction offerings to teeter on the cusp of closure.

One way that Epcot could remain connected to the ideas of the future, innovation, and communication that were once at the bedrock of the park itself is to introduce attractions and shows that capitalize on the future-fantasy, science-fiction, and other similar IPs that the Walt Disney Company holds. There are communications and artificial intelligence technologies that are showcased in many of Disney’s movies that could be translated into a theme park experience. Innoventions was not only a place to find the “house of the future” but it was also a place that offered interactive shows. Although park guests are increasingly interested in more thrills than learning, the beauty of what Disney has proven they can do is to merge the two ideas. Epcot is the perfect “experimental” place to continue to inspire park guests through a thrilling experience paired with an educational component as well.

Epcot has positioned itself to emerge as a new park. France is getting a rollercoaster based upon the movie Ratatouille, Norway introduced the Frozen Ever After attraction (that replaced Maelstrom)Soarin got a makeover, and Test Track re-emerged as a Tron meets Test Track, so to speak, a few years ago. It would appear that Future World will increase in its fantasy and science-fiction offerings whereas World Showcase will bolster its attraction offerings as well. Hopefully, there will always be a sense of the future or education at the core of Epcot, but I am scared that both components will continue to dwindle. They certainly don’t have to. There are a lot of emerging technologies in the Disney movie universe that could very well be translated into attraction offerings or even entire new lands (or areas) at Epcot–so “the future is waiting” as Spaceship Earth would put it.


Of Mice and Movies

Twitter is a’buzz with the latest from the 2017 D23 Expo. Not to be outdone, Facebook, Instagram, and the theme park blogosphere are all but fully consumed with the big announcements for Walt Disney World out of D23 in Anaheim. BIG changes are coming, and will radically modify the existing attraction offerings at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS). While there were many announcements, the biggest ones are arguably the detailed look at the new Star Wars Land, the update on Toy Story Land (opening next summer), Ellen’s Energy Adventure (Epcot) getting replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy. Lastly, the final big announcement that will really hit close to home for many who have been going to DHS for a large portion of his or her life–the announcement of the closure of The Great Movie Ride (GMR) to make way for Mickey and Minnie’s first [dark] ride at Walt Disney World. And it’s that last announcement that speaks volumes regarding the direction that the Walt Disney Company is moving.

Although it’s been fairly common knowledge that the Ellen attraction was going to be replaced with something more contemporary and relevant, the announcement of the closure of GMR came as a shock to many (note: this change WAS hinted at within the last few months). Fortunately, the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre facade is slated to be largely untouched, so it will remain the icon of the park; however, GMR will go by way of The Streets of America. On the plus side, this change paves the way for Mickey and Minnie’s first [dark] ride in the parks period. That’s right. Neither Mickey nor Minnie had a ride based off their respective characters. Strange, right? Since “it all started with a Mouse.” Yes, Mickey has been included in other attractions (i.e. Philharmagic, Fantasmic, etc), but this presents the first time that he will have an actual ride in the parks. Of all the changes coming to Walt Disney World, this represents the most symbolic, and some might argue, the most significant. In order to understand just why this particular change is so important, and to many controversial, we have to look back at a brief history of The Great Movie Ride and by extension DHS itself. If you have read my article entitled A Theme Park in Flux, published back in September 2016, you may be familiar with the following. For all others, let’s hop in the wayback machine!

It’s the mid 1980s. And Disney Imagineers are pictching the idea to add an attraction that explores iconic films to Epcot’s Wonders of Life pavilion. The name of that attraction: The Great Movie Ride. At the same time, Disney is working with MGM/UA to build movie and television production facilities to be the Florida counterparts to the California operations. Concurrent to Disney, Universal Studios and Nickelodeon are doing the same thing just up the road from Disney. Anyway. Led by Michael Eisner at the time, he made the executive decision to–instead of adding a movie-based attraction to Epcot–to build an entire theme park with a filmmaking or film industry theme. Long story short, in 1989 then Disney-MGM Studios opened up with facility tours and two attractions: GMR and the former Studio Backlot Tour inclusive of Streets of America and Residential Street. After the licensing deal with MGM was ended, the park changed its name to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2008 and removed all the MGM branding. Shortly thereafter, Residential Street was removed and Lights Motors Action was added. Since that time, all attractions in that area of the park have been closed to make way for Star Wars and Toy Story Lands.

Speeding up to present day. The decision to remove GMR from DHS represents the end of an era. With the closure of that iconic attraction, the park’s original concept, original idea, the very soul of the park is being rewritten. What was once material for waxing nostalgic at the parks–nostalgia being a significant draw to theme parks–will now merely be a distant memory. It’s not that theme parks should avoid evolving to remain relevant–quite the contrary. They need to! But to remove an attraction that represents the original identity of the park, stirs up quite a lot of emotions. Many might argue that this is the equivalent of closing Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth because Epcot’s direction has shifted from an educational component to food and thrills. More than riding the movies, DHS (much like Universal Studios) was a park that immersed park guests into filmmaking itself. Granted, the filmmaking process is not as magical as it once was, given that most of the magic exists within a computer and is comprised of 0s and 1s; still, there was a magic to the whole thing that park guests found fascinating, and enjoyed approaching films from a different perspective. If GMR isn’t safe, if the tides of time wash this park-opener attraction off the maps, then is any attraction safe???

Keeping roots in the original concept of a park is truly important, but it seems the powers that be do not feel that any connection to the soul of the park, the history of the park, is important. Not that I don’t think Mickey and Minnie deserve a ride. Of course they do! And there are likely other places where their new attraction could have gone. Take One Man’s Dream for instance. If you’ve been to DHS, you know this as the Walt Disney museum with a focus his early filmmaking days as well as the plans for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It’s a biographical museum, of sorts. Great attraction. Does it need to be at DHS? No. It’s an example of an attraction that can be moved to another location without a negative impact left by its absence. Disney Springs would be a great location for the museum, and would probably see more guests than it does now. The present One Man’s Dream location could be retrofitted and remodeled for a new attraction. In fact, that area of the park is referred to as the Animation Courtyard. Therefore, it’s best suited for a new attraction where Mickey and Minnie are the stars! For years, I’ve thought that GMR needed to be refurbished. So, I am fully aware that many of the scenes lack sufficient relevance to the kids and teens today–even some young adults. But, because the attraction needed a massive refurbishment does not mean that it should be removed altogether.

It is clear from the announcements at D23 that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will see a complete departure from its founding theme and concept–old Hollywood and the magic of the movies–and move to a sort of diegetic immersion. Instead of learning about the movies, the guests will feel as if they are IN the movies. Instead of celebrating movies, Star Wars and Toy Story will provide guests with a complete escape from the outside world and into the world of these popular franchises. The addition of these properties and lands is exciting! They look beautiful and will offer some fascinating attractions; but, I wish it had not come at the expense of losing the very foundational idea that inspired Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The best laid plans…

“Where are You Christmas?” A Review of “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

img_7604One of my favorite times of the year at the Disney Parks is the holiday season. And not just November through December but September through October too. The autumn and winter holidays offer so much opportunity for seasonal offerings that make the Holidays a special time of year for friends, family, and lovers. Of all the holidays, Christmastime is the generally the highest attended and most looked forward to at the Disney Parks. Whereas Universal Studios Florida is the king with Busch Gardens Tampa Bay as Queen during Halloween, the big D is arguably king at Christmas–perhaps the Jingle King? Putting a Christmas spin on Pumpkin King. For years, hundreds of thousands of park guests flood the Disney Parks to enjoy everything from Cinderella’s Castle draped in icicle lights to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to the late Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and even Holidays Around the World at Epcot’s World Showcase and Jingle Cruise (the holiday overlay at Jungle Cruise). Not to even mention the elaborate gingerbread houses and other creations at the Disney Resorts. Over the last few years, we have witnessed a slow mitigation of Holiday offerings. Most notably the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios (DHS) and Animal Kingdom’s Jingle Jungle Parade. Along with so many anxious park guests and Cast Members, I too was curious how DHS was going to adjust its Christmas offerings with the conspicuous absence of the Osborne Lights. Sunday night, I was finally able to watch the new Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM show at DHS, and if I had to sum up the experience in one word, it’d be a lukewarm “meh.” But as you know, I will provide you with many more words, haha…….

After the announcement of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM as the special seasonal nighttime spectacular offering at DHS, I was still sad that there were no more dancing lights but I was looking forward to the new show and how it was going to play out. Taking place in the center of the park at the replica of the timeless Grauman’s Chinese Theatre serving as the show building for the opening day attraction The Great Movie Ride and icon of the park, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM (Jingle BAM from hereon) is a colorful display of map projections, lasers, and pyrotechnics. Many of your favorite Disney and Pixar animated films are included as well as a sequence from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. In addition to the familiar film clips, there is a loosely integrated narrative with Santa’s elves and then a message from the big man himself. Accompanying the outstanding map projections of gingerbread men, presents, snow, and other holiday iconic images are a vast array of lasers crisscrossing the sky adding an immersive effect to the courtyard and Hollywood Blvd. No nighttime spectacular at the Disney parks would be complete without pyrotechnics. Jingle BAM boasts a fantastic finale of fireworks that dazzle the sky.

For all the wonderful potential the show has, it unfortunately fails to leave even half the lasting impression that the Osborne Lights left in the hearts and minds of park guests for 20 years. There are a few key elements that contribute to the mediocre reception of Jingle BAM: (1) DHS is not designed/laid out for a nighttime hub show (2) narrative is weak (3) plays out very flat–lacks depth (4) the fireworks are nowhere close to being centered behind the Chinese Theatre (5) fails to elicit a positive emotional response from the park guests (6) Santa’s message is generic and forgettable and (7) there is very little “Christmas” to be found in the show, period. However, it’s not all bad. The show is an outstanding combination of programming, projection technology, and brilliant lasers. The lasers greatly enhance the experience when the snow falls along Hollywood Blvd. From a technical perspective, the show is an incredible spectacle of what happens when art and science are combined.

Unless you arrive one or more hours before showtime or purchase the special dinner/dessert package viewing area, you will quickly notice that your view is most likely obstructed by anything from palm trees, to tech booths, to light poles, shoppes, or even children on the shoulders of parents. Let’s face it, the latter is unavoidable. If you’ve ever been to DHS, you’ll remember that the courtyard in from of the stage in front of Great Movie Ride (GMR) is quite small. Possibly a 1/3 of the size of the one in front of the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). So, there isn’t much physical space to work with when accommodating thousands of guests in the same location for a 15min show. Although Osborne Lights moved over the years, it was a staple to the local holiday celebrations, for sure, as well as those who would travel hundreds of miles. Very quickly, for those of you who do not know the history of Osborne Lights, the show was originally on Residential Street (a street of TV houses) until it was moved to its former location on Streets of America (production standing set). Families and friends could casually stroll through the millions of lights that danced every few minutes–synced to classic and contemporary holiday hits! No showtimes. Just continual twinkling and dancing from sunset to one hour after the park closed.

Much like the hub area, the backlot area was also unable to support the majority of the park guests at any one (1) time. So, the continual dancing was important because guests could attend at their leisure. Compounding the physical space dilemma, there are also new palm trees that were installed after the hat was removed, two giant towers that are tech/electrical/equipment booths for the “temporary” stage that sits where the hat was, and several light poles. Once you back up toward Hollywood Blvd, your view is also blocked by the other trees and shoppes. Unlike Magic Kingdom, which has a low grade incline from the train station to the castle, there is no incline from the entrance of DHS to GMR; therefore, the possibility of an obstructed view is greatly increased. Never mind that GMR is less than half the height of Cinderella’s Castle. Between the level surface from the entrance to GMR, the palm trees directly in front of GMR, and the tech booths blocking the view from Hollywood Blvd, it is clear that this park is not designed for a hub show. At least a hub show that runs only once. And you know what? There is little that can be done about the layout of the park. So. The Imagineers and entertainment leadership should recognize those shortcomings and develop a way that a decent view of the show is possible from the central area of the park.

I love the concept of storytelling–in all forms. So, naturally I was curious as to how a story was woven into Jingle BAM. Even now, I am attempting to piece together what the story was. Essentially, the elves are looking for Santa because he is missing. Turns out that he has been captured by Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas. After Boogie’s song number, Santa is rescued. Following Santa’s rescue, he has a message about friends and family. More specifically, he directs the message to the City of Orlando. But, it just doesn’t strike an emotional tone. It plays off as canned and generic. Tiny Tim’s closing remarks “God bless us, everyone” from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece A Christmas Carol packs much more meaning and impact. Interestingly, it is the other bookend and answer to the novel’s opening line “Marley was dead to begin with, there’s no doubt about that.” I think a holiday message about friends and family is very important, but this one just plays off as forced–like other elements of this show. There is definitely a story and message there, but it is weak. Perhaps it would have been more effective to include some holiday spirit or nostalgia in his closing remarks. I think the show would play out just as well–if not better–if the plot of rescuing Santa wasn’t present. Not that I think the show should be without a story, but the story should be more coherent. Stories, such as this one, should also attempt to elicit an emotional response from the audience but it does not extend its reach beyond the surface level.

The over all experience of the show lacked depth. It felt very flat–like a projected image, ironically enough. All surface level and spectacle but no substance. One of the major attractions to and benefits from Osborne Lights was the total immersion into a winter wonderland. Immersion is so incredibly important in themed entertainment. The Osborne Lights provided more than a show–an experience! Even more importantly than immersion is the concept of experiential attractions. And this was an experience like no other. Jingle BAM lacks these all too important elements of immersion and experience. Instead of experiencing the seasonal holiday offering, park guests watch as third party spectators. The only time it becomes mildly experiential is when the Florida snow begins to fall. One of the most important elements to the experience of the Osborne Lights was the park guests’ ability to go from spectator to participant. The transition from spectator to participant is a popular trend in themed entertainment attractions because it offers a much more visceral experience. But what about the other nighttime Disney shows??? Aren’t they more of a spectacle than experience? Short answer: yes. Wishes, Illuminations, Fantasmic, and the Tree of Life are all about the sheer spectacle of it all. And there’s nothing wrong with that…provided that is how it’s always been. However, Wishes is set apart because of the strong emotions the music and pyro evokes from the park guests. It truly is a magical experience. But the problem occurs when the park offers a participatory experience and replaces it with something more along the lines of a glorified short film.

Most Disney nighttime spectaculars offer a phenomenal dazzling array of pyrotechnics and fireworks. Keeping in line with the tradition of magical Disney fireworks, Jingle BAM also offers an impressive choreographed firework display and dynamic finale. Unfortunately, those fireworks are not behind the Chinese Theatre–not even close. The majority of the pyro and entire firework finale is way off stage left (house right). illuminating the sky above the Animation Courtyard, the fireworks cause the park guests to turn their heads 90-degrees (away from the center of the show). Although DHS would have to close the Pixar area during the Galactic Spectacular (Star Wars nighttime show) in order to keep guests safe from the falling debris, the fireworks shot off above the Chinese Theatre making for a phenomenal nighttime show that was truly spectacular whether you are a Star Wars fan or not. The show was incredibly impressive. With the fireworks way off to the side at Jingle BAM, it feels more like a distraction than the finale.

Lastly, the show simply does not have that holiday spirit. Other than Santa and a couple Christmas songs, the show has a very generic feel. So much so that, take away Santa and replace a few other elements and the show could silly be modified to run as part of daily operations. That certainly displays efficiency, but this is a seasonal offering during Christmastime and should feel special. Guests should have the impression that they cannot get this experience anywhere else. As it stands, this map projection show is not unlike the one at Magic Kingdom. Since Disney has two popular versions of A Christmas Carol as part of its IP, I was shocked that neither make appearances in the show. What is more Christmassy than the timeless classic??? The lack of Christmas music is compounded by the absence of Jack Skellington’s lyrics in the song What’s This? from The Nightmare Before Christmas. As part of the score for Jingle BAM, the accompaniment from What’s This? can be heard, but no lyrics. Although many people celebrate the holiday season differently and various elements are held more dearly than others, there should have been a mixture of classic and contemporary holiday hits to create a festive atmosphere. The magic of Christmas is very much lacking in this seasonal show. Where are you Christmas?

Over all, Jingle BAM is a cute show. Is it a replacement for the late Osborne Lights? No. Is it filled with holiday cheer? Not particularly. But perhaps this is the start of something that will grow to become nostalgic for guests that are just now experiencing the Disney parks for the first time. With map projection shows taking the place of more practical effect shows, we could simply we witnessing the next evolution of nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World. As I recognize the need to evolve and develop new ideas in order to keep the parks relevant to current generations, perhaps Disney Imagineers can find a way to combine both the Osborne Lights and the map projection concept in a new dynamic show–a new experience. In the short term, if Disney Imagineers could find a way to modify the current Jingle BAM to go from a one (1) showtime to something more continuous like the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, then that would quickly solve the physical space and adequate viewing dilemma.