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Eddie Sotto's take on the current state of the parks

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rsoxguy

Well-Known Member
Mr. Sotto, I have a couple of questions for you.


  1. If you were a present day Imagineer, would you lean more toward whimsical renovations such as the Fantasyland expansion, or would you gravitate more toward the Tower of Terror/Rock-n-Roller Coaster thrill ride type of additions? I don't want to put you on the spot, but I am genuinely curious as to how creative minds within the business feel about these things.
  2. Is your name pronounced S(long O)tto, or S(short O)tto??
Please do not feel obligated to answer the first question if you prefer to avoid any controversy.
 

lazyboy97o

Well-Known Member
I think one thing a lot of people forget when talking about the company focusing on each quarter and trying to please the shareholders is that doing otherwise would be illegal. Even Roy had his fair share of battles with shareholders, particularly over Walt's position within the company and then later, the real big one that probably had the potentially to ruin the company, WED Enterprises.

There is also a lot of talk about greed and while that may be true, disregarding Wall Street would hurt a lot of people. The biggest investors in The Walt Disney Company are groups holders such as pension funds and personal investment groups. Hard working people do have parts of their savings and retirement tied into the performance of The Walt Disney Company.
 

WDW1974

Well-Known Member
Short term thinking is not healthy. Agreed.

But is this really true based on their actions?

It depends on what actions you're speaking of. I know you haven't been to WDW in years Eddie (tsk ... tsk ... shame ... shame :animwink:), but the effects of short-term thinking tends to show its ugly face in FLA BY FAR more than any other Disney resort worldwide.

That brings up the whole ugly discussion and my assertion that over the past 15 years there has been a fundamental shift in WDW's purpose/mission in the company.

Once you had The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

Now, you have the The Timeshare Kingdom of the World. You had Celebration (which really looks like the economy has hit it VERY hard). Now, it's Golden Oaks. It's Flamingo Crossings (keep walking in the middle of the street is fine since no one is driving here to hit you). It's 25,000 plus hotel and timeshare units, with more of each on the way. It's dumping little pieces of real estate on the market to pick up a quick buck.

The long-winded paragraph above is simply that WDW is now operated as a real estate development company, timeshare seller and hotel chain with theme parks as almost ancillary businesses.

Both the real estate market and, to a large degree, hotels are based on short term goals. Sell now. What's the load levels for our MK resorts for the third week in March?

When it comes to the Florida parks, the thinking has been short term pretty much since you left the company ... what almost a dozen years ago now? Things get shuttered without replacement (see WoL, see Adventureland Veranada and EVERY shop in the land, except for one, see Image Works, French art gallery etc). Whole parks sit and rot and decay (see RC and DI). Lots of short term savings at long term costs (both literally and to the image of 'the brand' as the Disney of old, the one you worked for simply didn't abandon things because they didn't want to run them).

Deciding to dump a billion into DCA as the economy was crashing seems more long term to me. So does the foresight of adding Cruise Ships (and they improved them).

To be fair, the DCA Extreme Makeover budget was approved BEFORE the economic meltdown (check with any of your buds in Glendale if you think my timeline is off). Indeed, some have speculated that it wouldn't have happened at all if the funds hadn't already been allocated when our great economic lie came home to roost.

But I definitely agree that DCA's projects are certainly long term in scope and intended impact, both creatively and financially -- which is as it should be.

Same thing with DCL, which was a no-brainer with the premiums that Disney gets to charge on its ships (which are fantastic, btw). Haven't done the Dream yet ... am waiting for Fantasy to debut and send Dream on real cruises to places beyond the Bahamas, which I can almost see from my window (yes, that's my Sarah Palin impression ... more impressive in person with me in drag :eek:) ... but may very well do the Magic westbound transatlantic this fall.



The company has turned tail on the cheap park concepts (DCA, Paris Studio) in favor of inventing Shanghai as a new design from the ground up. Big bucks. Long Term thinking, as you can import the attractions back to the US if they are well received.

Ah, but you do realize much of that has been demanded by the Chinese Central Government in Beijing, right? I've spent almost six months working over there in the past three years and you do things one way: theirs.
And I'm waiting to hear the actual plans, but from what i've been told and some artwork I've seen ... it does appear they are going with very much of a hybrid-style MK park with some TDS-like elements thrown in. But I've also heard that Disney got shot down in its desire to have a larger Marvel presence in the park (something very good if true) ... and also heard a land was once again dropped late in the design process (at least it wasn't two like in HKDL).

As for details, they are adding ghost effects into the WDW Mansion. While I have not been to WDW in years and hear it has slipped in many areas, the geist of the company overall is back to basics and quality. Let's hope the things you point out get dealt with. I quit in the Pressler era of no upkeep Park-sploitation. Bob Iger is just the opposite and I think is doing quite a bit of good. He appreciates quality. Not to say you don't have good points and I'm not out there looking at peeling paint, but I think credit is due in some areas.

Well, I'm all for adding ghost effects in the Mansion if done right. That said, that attraction is probably the most perfect at the MK right now to begin with ... there's certainly other places that need the loving a whole lot more.

I'd be interested in hearing your opinions if/when you take a trip to MK, especially if you visit DL right before or after. I visited four different MKs in four months to end 2010 (all but Paris) ... and I take no joy (despite what some Spirited haters would like to believe) in saying so, but Florida's is very much lacking in so many basics compared to ALL the others (yes, even HKDL outdoes MK in things like entertainment, SQS, seasonal offerings, cleanliness, CMs, food value etc).

I don't have a particularly high regard for Bob Iger. I think he's simply a manager and doesn't have vision and passion for the company. He's a tech geek, which I know endears him to some fanbois, and he believes in buying quality content (be it Pixar, Marvel or even the Dreamworks distribution deal) when I think he should be more focused on well ... creating some compelling content inhouse. That said, I have a soft spot for Michael Eisner because he is someone I have known (I guess I could say I still know him, but then some boorish twit might ask me if I am meeting him for sushi and cocktails at a little place on 3rd, which I am not ... I'd meet him at Rivera or nowhere:cool::D) and I KNOW he LOVED the parks, the creative process. Doesn't mean he was always right, because that was certainly not the case. But he cared. He's a real guy, warts and all, as I know I don't have to tell you (but we are having a conversation with the world and everyone here hasn't met the man).

I don't know Bob Iger. I've never sat at a table with him and talked. I've been at events with him, but never gotten or attempted to, an intro. I only know what many friends in the industry say about him and much of it isn't very positive. A lot of people, myself included think he handled D-I-C-K Cook's exit very, very poorly. But that's another story ... for another day.

Oh, one final point ... I am not a 'peeling paint' critic. That term tends to get tossed around toward fans who may be picky (some might say too picky, although I doubt the dude who started it all would likely agree) about very small things. If a wall looks like it hasn't been painted since Clinton was president then I might notice and say something, but paint chips and peals (even in TDR) and especially in harsh weather and with people touching and rubbing up against it ... seeing holes in walls regularly at MK's Buzz or TSMM at STudios isn't acceptable by any reasonable standard.
 

WDW1974

Well-Known Member
I agree - there is a lot of long term quality coming back. The recent additions at WDW - Pooh Queue, Mansion Queue, Town Square Theater, Next Gen, are all things that aren't strictly necessary, but are being done for the long term good - and they are being done to a high quality. There are always going to be problem areas and things that fans don't like, but WDW should gain some applause for what it's doing well.

Steve, I can't agree/disagree on any of the above (with one exception) because I haven't experienced them. But even if they are great, you're still talking about queues and character meet-greet-and-gropes. I've always expected that Disney will design a nice queue (I don't need them to be interactive, but we'll see how they work out) and that there will be places to hang out with teens dressed as foamheads. That's well and good.

But they aren't anything special and really shouldn't be built up into something much greater than they are. Interactive or not, folks don't go to WDW for the queues. And people who are into meeting the characters are generally thrilled to meet them whether it's in a corner of Tomorrowland on an EMH night ... or breakfast at the Cape May Cafe etc.

When UNI is again raising the bar by a large margin with WWoHP, Disney should be doing better than 'things to do while waiting for an attraction that eats up people to begin with' or new places to meet Chip and Dale.

And it isn't like Disney isn't capable of raising the bar. They certainly did at DLP. They blew the bar apart in creating TDS. They keep improving in the foreign parks ... and Anaheim is getting lots of love (although it is beyond time DL itself got a new significant attraction), but WDW seems largely stagnant and playing up things such as Everest and TSMM as new doesn't make them so.
 

WDW1974

Well-Known Member
There is an enormous push toward old-school quality right now in the parks division, and many people are thrilled to see its return. Now we just need that same care to be applied to FL ride refurbs, the Jungle Cruise, a replacement for Stitch, the DDP, Imagination, WoL, Animal Kingdom... :lol:

Those would be a good place ... to start!!!

To their credit, WDI and Disney execs know the parks have suffered from years of neglect, and they're obviously trying to correct almost fifteen years of bad management. I won't pretend everything is magically being renewed overnight, but I'm impressed with the level of thoughtfulness applied to the latest projects. I once sadly assumed we'd never again see the level of detail put into the old Disney attractions like 20K and the Diamond Horseshoe. I'm glad I was wrong.

I share some cautious optimism, but I can't get too excited when the same folks are running the same parks and resort. If WDI and the 'high command' know there have been 15 years of bad management, then one would naturally wonder why those people haven't been replaced.

I am curious when you talk about the level of detail, what are you talking about? These new queues? Or stuff being built in the Fantasyland redo?

And don't talk about the DH. I miss that show so much. Most guests probably walk by and have no clue what once was shown inside ... except during busy times when they open it up and serve pre-made sandwiches and salads or FREE dining when they just serve the same dinner as next door at LTT.

I REALLY miss the DH. Live entertainers who sang and danced and told corny jokes while you dined ... and no foamheads. How could anyone enjoy a show without them?
 

WDW1974

Well-Known Member
There is also a lot of talk about greed and while that may be true, disregarding Wall Street would hurt a lot of people. The biggest investors in The Walt Disney Company are groups holders such as pension funds and personal investment groups. Hard working people do have parts of their savings and retirement tied into the performance of The Walt Disney Company.

Wall Street is ... is ... what can I say that will keep the mods away? ... destroying the American middle class and much of it is perpetuated by comments like the above. Great Marketwatch story from three days ago, but this probably ain't the place for it.

I'm a shareholder and I want the company to do well, but not at the expense of destroying what makes it special. I don't need Disney to be just another huge multi-national evil company. If that means the stock is $38 a share instead of $45, I can live with the alleged 'damage' it does to all those hard-working people (who would be much smarter not investing in the market to begin with).
 

Eddie Sotto

Premium Member
To be fair, the DCA Extreme Makeover budget was approved BEFORE the economic meltdown (check with any of your buds in Glendale if you think my timeline is off). Indeed, some have speculated that it wouldn't have happened at all if the funds hadn't already been allocated when our great economic lie came home to roost.

But I definitely agree that DCA's projects are certainly long term in scope and intended impact, both creatively and financially -- which is as it should be.

This may be true, but they could have cancelled it or cut most of it (would not be the first time), but stayed the course. I do know Bob Iger, and as far as I can tell he does care about quality and cleanliness. He pushed to get the money to clean up the park for DL's 50th. That says something. You are right, he is a businessman and as one, I thought he did a wise thing by acquiring Pixar and Lassiter. If you are not a creative visionary, you buy one versus trying to be King Lear. Wise. Does he do safe things? Yes, sometimes, but he is charged with growing the business, so in some ways it's sequelling yourself to death, in others is venturing out into new areas. They have done both. He has abandoned the cheap way out with the DCA type parks, the Cruise ships show that they will spend for the brand. The old Disney would have just copied (or cheapened) the first ship design for the new ones, instead, they reinvented it again and it was done by WDI. A good sign to me. WDW may be the neglected cash cow, so they are hopefully going to focus more on it.

I have no window into the Chinese government and you may be 100% right. Hear this out. It's true that they are being pushed to do more post HKDL, but as I've said before, management has felt the pain of under designed and capitalized projects that don't perform, the balance sheet is full of them. So Chinese or not, I don't they would have done another "Disneyland Lite" or "Studio" as they are fiscally toxic. Of course, they would not go so far as to go down the DLP or TDS $$$$$ path either.
 

lazyboy97o

Well-Known Member
This may be true, but they could have cancelled it or dumped most of it (would not be the first time), but stayed the course.
Dumping too much of the project would have placed Disney in a rather tight spot with the City of Anaheim, since announcing the project was a political move. It probably also helps that attendance to the park has continued to rise. I think the real key to see how long term the thinking is will be Phase II, which would come after the park has been more widely embraced and the company has fulfilled its move to protect the Resort District. I am really curious to see where Disney's California Adventure is placed on the 2010 attendance estimates.

Wall Street is ... is ... what can I say that will keep the mods away? ... destroying the American middle class and much of it is perpetuated by comments like the above. Great Marketwatch story from three days ago, but this probably ain't the place for it.

I'm a shareholder and I want the company to do well, but not at the expense of destroying what makes it special. I don't need Disney to be just another huge multi-national evil company. If that means the stock is $38 a share instead of $45, I can live with the alleged 'damage' it does to all those hard-working people (who would be much smarter not investing in the market to begin with).
What a surprise, more cliches that sound very much like the "We do what I want and others be damned" attitude you so often criticize.
 

jt04

Well-Known Member
Those would be a good place ... to start!!!



I share some cautious optimism, but I can't get too excited when the same folks are running the same parks and resort. If WDI and the 'high command' know there have been 15 years of bad management, then one would naturally wonder why those people haven't been replaced.

I am curious when you talk about the level of detail, what are you talking about? These new queues? Or stuff being built in the Fantasyland redo?

And don't talk about the DH. I miss that show so much. Most guests probably walk by and have no clue what once was shown inside ... except during busy times when they open it up and serve pre-made sandwiches and salads or FREE dining when they just serve the same dinner as next door at LTT.

I REALLY miss the DH. Live entertainers who sang and danced and told corny jokes while you dined ... and no foamheads. How could anyone enjoy a show without them?

Ah, a crack in the armor. Every contribution of yours I read always seems to have this at its foundation. I suspect WDW used to feed your DES until you overplayed it and now you blame management. :rolleyes:

But keep in mind almost all of the problems you list, from closing the DH to the Veranda to WoL to Horizons to the scaling back of so much of DAK happened under Eisner. Yet you seem incapable of blaming that CEO and instead continually blame his legacy on current management. I am not an Eisner basher as he did some amazing things but at the same time he left serious structual issues in every division. These have been very difficult and extremely expensive for Disney to fix. Iger has been the leader who has just about completed the task. That you don't recognize that proves you either have an incredible 'blind spot' or an agenda of some sort. This is why I was willing to challange so much of what you write.

As for the Diamond Horseshoe, I think it makes a great case study. Again I would remind you it went away under Eisner. But there is a much bigger lesson to learn as to why it won't return. The days of the mostly passive entertainment experience are dying. People demand interactive participatory experiences more and more. Sitting in front of a movie screen, television or stage where the guest is largely just an observer, are not what people want with rare exceptions. DH did involve the audience some but not like Hoop-Dee-Doo or the AC. It takes time to bring the audience in as they are able to do at dinner shows which is why DH could never repeat that formula. So I am certain the days of such shows are over. If it isn't interactive I doubt it even gets past blue sky anymore. Blame video games or the desert much of television became but don't blame Iger. Unless you think he is partly responsible for the decline of television entertainment. :lol: I think that problem is much bigger than Iger.

I know you will ignore this but others won't. Mission accomplished. :)
 

wdwmagic

Administrator
Moderator
This may be true, but they could have cancelled it or dumped most of it (would not be the first time), but stayed the course. I do know Bob Iger, and as far as I can tell he does care about quality and cleanliness.

That's good to hear. A lot of people like to give opinions on him, even though they have never met him or have any idea what he is like. Great to see those positive comments from someone who actually knows him.
 

Eddie Sotto

Premium Member
Dumping too much of the project would have placed Disney in a rather tight spot with the City of Anaheim, since announcing the project was a political move. It probably also helps that attendance to the park has continued to rise. I think the real key to see how long term the thinking is will be Phase II, which would come after the park has been more widely embraced and the company has fulfilled its move to protect the Resort District. I am really curious to see where Disney's California Adventure is placed on the 2010 attendance estimates.

Maybe you're right, i'm not sure about the City, was not that close to that project. Politics may have played into it, but a huge failing theme park with only 2 popular attractions dragging down the resort had to be the prime reason. I guess the fact that so much money went into "placemaking" tells me that they now understand that the richness of good environments means something beyond what you can market. Not the case prior. Beyond the E ticket additions, you can't really market alot of what they are doing at DCA. The new entrance, or the whole character/victorian overlay to Paradise Pier does not really make those Carny rides anything you can attract guests with, but makes it all warmer and more Disney quality. That was encouraging to me and says something about the management's strategy.
 

Eddie Sotto

Premium Member
Mr. Sotto, I have a couple of questions for you.


  1. If you were a present day Imagineer, would you lean more toward whimsical renovations such as the Fantasyland expansion, or would you gravitate more toward the Tower of Terror/Rock-n-Roller Coaster thrill ride type of additions? I don't want to put you on the spot, but I am genuinely curious as to how creative minds within the business feel about these things.
  2. Is your name pronounced S(long O)tto, or S(short O)tto??
Please do not feel obligated to answer the first question if you prefer to avoid any controversy.

Eddie "Saw-toe" replies :animwink:

I would take the "fantasy" Disney is known for and push it out technically and in scope with more innovative ride systems we have yet to see. Universal did that with Harry Potter. I'm not sure if that means thrill or not, but if it serves the story well and people wish they could do it, I'm for it. So as one poster mentioned, reinventing "Peter Pan" as the ultimate "flying" experience (as Soarin' is) would be great. There's no reason that the animated classics could not be cross demographic E ticket experiences beyond a cheap dark ride. Pooh in TDL is successful for that reason. I'd love to work on something involving Tron, Mary Poppins, or 20K .
 

tirian

Well-Known Member
I share some cautious optimism, but I can't get too excited when the same folks are running the same parks and resort. If WDI and the 'high command' know there have been 15 years of bad management, then one would naturally wonder why those people haven't been replaced.

I was wondering the same thing as I typed my statement, but since I don't know the politics and plans between TWDC and TDO, I'm not going to speculate.

I am curious when you talk about the level of detail, what are you talking about? These new queues? Or stuff being built in the Fantasyland redo?
I'm referring to almost everything. Even the "Storybook Circus" construction wall is better themed than most areas of DCA version 1. The new Adventureland bridge didn't need to better than the first, but it is. I'm still waiting for the intricate detail of the old 20k sub interiors and the DH ornamentation; at least the American parks have resumed caring about the various little details that create an overall environment, instead of just slapping characters on massive fiberglass props and calling it Disney.
 

HMF

Well-Known Member
Not sure if you heard about this yet Eddie but they are moving the organ from the Disney & Co. Department Store in Paris to the new Storybook Circus area in the Magic Kingdoms Fantasyland.
 

Eddie Sotto

Premium Member
Not sure if you heard about this yet Eddie but they are moving the organ from the Disney & Co. Department Store in Paris to the new Storybook Circus area in the Magic Kingdoms Fantasyland.

I heard that, yes. Lucy, the big glass elephant from the DLP Candy Shop is in "The Gibson Girl" at DL, so why not "spread the wealth around"?
 
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