When is Walt Disney World going to get a fifth theme park?

It’s an innocent question asked so frequently that diehard Disney parks fans may respond only with an exasperated sigh. Followed, perhaps, by a well-practiced stump speech on why such an expansion doesn’t make sense. 

On its face, the question is far from ridiculous. Disney World crowds keep getting bigger, Orlando keeps attracting more tourists and if Universal is building its third theme park, why shouldn’t Disney respond by adding another?

Disney World hasn’t added a new theme park since the 1998 opening of Animal Kingdom, but that may be the best illustration of why further expansion isn’t warranted. 

According to Len Testa, founder and president of Touring Plans, a popular subscription service that performs statistical analysis on crowds at Disney parks, Animal Kingdom succeeded in getting Disney World guests to extend their on-site vacations. But it also drew visitors away from the existing parks; Animal Kingdom welcomed around 8 million guests in its first full year of operation, Testa said, while the other parks saw attendance drops between 3 percent (Magic Kingdom) to 8 percent (Disney’s Hollywood Studios) that year. 

“I don’t see a good reason for Disney building a fifth park,” Testa told Orlando Rising. “It’d cannibalize money and ideas from the other four parks. It’s just not going to happen.”

Hypothetically, if Disney opened a fifth park in Central Florida, Testa thinks the average length of an on-site stay may increase while attendance would again drop at the other parks. Even that level of success isn’t a given, because as Testa points out, Americans only have so many vacation days — and may not be willing to spend more of them at Disney. 

Arguments in favor of a fifth park do get one detail right: Disney World has to expand to meet increasing demand. The massive amount of infrastructure needed to build another park, however, make it one of the slowest and most expensive solutions to Disney’s capacity issues. 

“I don’t think Disney sees much value in building another park until they get all the other parks expanded in Florida,” Bill Zanetti, a founding member of the University of Central Florida’s Entertainment Management Advisory Board, told Orlando Rising. “The focus right now is clearly on Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, with Magic Kingdom not far behind.”

Expansion and transformation at Epcot will likely be the focus of the Disney Parks & Resorts presentation at the upcoming D23 Expo. While Disney fan sites have said that the fifth park was coming before — WDWNT reported in Oct. 2014 that the new park would be opening by 2021 near the Flamingo Crossings development — speculation has ramped up yet again.

This time, it thanks to a “secret project” Disney will reveal Aug. 22 and then discuss in more detail during a one-hour presentation two days later at D23. Could this be the Mouse’s opportunity to steal Universal’s thunder and announce its next theme park?

D23 Expo schedule for August 24 (Disney)

The truth is there’s nothing to support that theory beyond fans’ assumption that Disney needs to unveil something big following the Epic Universe reveal.

“Disney has its own plans,” Zanetti said. “They will talk about Epcot’s future at D23 this year. It won’t be a response to Universal’s announcement, it will just be business as usual at Disney.”

If Disney does decide to expand in Central Florida, those plans are likely far off into the future — not something thrown together quickly for the sake of public relations. 

“They will continue to advance their attendance and their guests’ experience through capital expenditures like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” said Dennis Speigel, president of the consulting firm International Theme Park Services. “I can tell you that they’re already 10 years out in their capital planning for their attractions.”

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3 Responses

  1. JM

    I tend to agree. It won’t be a fifth park. Consider this: the Secret Walt Disney Company announcement could literally be ANYTHING. Disney is not just a parks company. It is a film and television company as well. Saying it’s an announcement from the company could be anything within their spectrum of business. It could be a new show, a new movie project, who knows?

    This article is a good study of why such a fifth gate is problematic. But I picked up on something. When AK opened, demand for that park stripped visitors from the others. But how is it today? Would these authors claim it is the same today? I think not. I have observed capacity becoming a problem at BOTH these parks. This means that the cannibalizing of money and visitors is a short-term problem. In the long-run, a fifth gate will mean capacity problems could plague yet another park. Meaning, you build a new park to solve capacity problems, but in turn it becomes the very problem you tried to solve.

    Capacity problems just are not solved simply. And let’s remember. This is a good problem for a company to have. So many people are trying to get in that they have to figure out how to handle them all. It means people like the stuff!

    I think Universal is doing a fine job trying to expand. They need to. And there is room for them to do so. Sort of. I don’t believe they made the best real estate deal building where they did. They are hemmed in and have to either build slightly out-of-the way (as they are doing for EU) or they have to buy up some already developed space around them. It certainly was not as good a deal as the one Disney got, but those deals are once-in-a-century. It was going to be more difficult for them no matter what. I am looking forward to seeing what the big U will come up with.

    Reply
  2. Griffin

    I like Disney World JUST the way it is (BUT WE NEED ZOOTOPIA)

    Reply
    • JM

      They had a character meet and greet with Nick Wilde and Judy Hops the summer after Zootopia opened. It’s something they have done, though I would like to see it represented in a bigger scale at the parks, perhaps as an overlay attraction at Animal Kingdom?

      Reply

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