Disney is moving its theme parks division to Orlando, but will it be enough to improve Walt Disney World?


  • Photo via Disney

When Bob Chapek took over as Disney’s CEO last year, many questioned how he planned to make his mark after his two predecessors completely revolutionized the once-struggling company. Now, in what is one of the first major decisions since taking over, Disney confirmed it will be moving its Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products division to Orlando. The move is the first in 66 years for what is likely the best-known division of the company.

The move to Lake Nona was first reported by the Orlando Business Journal earlier this year but was confirmed via an internal email to employees last week.

Disney has remained mostly tight lip about the decision to upend the 2,000 jobs affected by the move and what it means for the future of the company. In the past year, numerous high-ranking executives have left the company, most notably Disney’s head of communications and top lawyer. It’s unknown how many employees will opt to make the transcontinental move.

While some fans have taken to social media to express their concerns over having Imagineers and other theme park divisions based out of Florida, it may help address the ‘west coast bias’ that has often occurred within the Parks division.

Disneyland is the company's first theme park  but Walt Disney World in Florida is the busiest.  The resort's central  Magic Kingdom consistently ranks as the most-attended theme park in the world.

Despite this, the company still regularly references Disneyland versions of attractions in merchandise and updates those attractions more frequently than their East Coast counterparts. Disneyland also sees more frequent changes to its entertainment offerings, with new nighttime spectaculars and parades regularly debuting at the park while WDW parks can go decades without new shows or entertainment.

The ‘Be Fair to Florida’  Twitter hashtag finds hundreds of results, with the vast majority relating to Disney and Universal’s seeming preference to their California resorts. The hashtag is championed by Derek Burgan, a theme park fan and writer at Touring Plans, a trip planning website and app.

This bias can also be seen in attraction development at Walt Disney World. Numerous attractions in recent years have opened with little shade, while others seem to have been designed without an understanding of Florida’s frequent rainstorms in mind. Animal Kingdom's short-lived "Rivers of Light" nighttime show relied heavily on water screens, which can’t be accurately viewed when there’s wind. In Hollywood Studios, when the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster opened, it offered little in the way of shade for most of its queue.

Focusing on Florida doesn’t seem to be the primary reasoning for the move. In a letter to employees,  Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro,  noted “Florida’s business-friendly climate.” Recent reports reveal that Disney could claw more than 60% of the project's cost in tax breaks totalling over half a billion dollars.

The new Lake Nona location is just twenty miles from the current Orlando Imagineering offices. A toll road, 417, connects directly between Disney’s existing property and Lake Nona. No details have been shared on where within Lake Nona the new Disney campus will be located, but in the internal email, Disney stated the move will take place over the next eighteen months.

Disney stated they plan the new campus to cost in the ballpark of $240 million and take three years to complete.

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