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Aug. 29, 2022

Disney is Learning, Seaworld Orlando’s Halloween

Disney is Learning, Seaworld Orlando’s Halloween

Disney is listening to guest reactions and is adjusting several policies, including Magic Keys and reservations. Plus, Year 2 of Seaworld Orlando’s Howl-o-Scream demonstrates an impressive amount of story cohesion. Subscribe to all our offerings:...

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Disney is listening to guest reactions and is adjusting several policies, including Magic Keys and reservations. Plus, Year 2 of Seaworld Orlando’s Howl-o-Scream demonstrates an impressive amount of story cohesion. Subscribe to all our offerings:


Articles In Today's Green Tagged


Philip:From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park, 30 I'm Philip, he's Scott, and today we're going to start off with another Disney minute.

Scott:Are you going to Disney bash again, Philip? Come on now.

Philip:So, this is not Disney bash.

Scott:Okay, good.

Philip:I don't intend it to be Disney bashing, but you never know where the show might lead. But we have a collection of stories here about updates, very fast updates, but some policy and some thematic here. Of course, the first was I think the big news story of the week for most people, which was that the Journey of Water, the new attraction inspired by Moana has released details.

QUOTE: Inspired by the Walt Disney Pictures movie “Moana,” the attraction is based on the journey of water as it goes through its cycle from the sky to the Earth and back again, with nods toward the movie’s main character, Moana, who has a special bond with the playfulness of water.

Philip:They mainly released pictures and the information, but what I thought was interesting about this is it's going in at Epcot, and of course, it's great to see new attractions and blah, blah, blah. We talked previously about how Epcot used to be the experimental prototype community of tomorrow, the original concept of it to be an educational, fun park. But Disney, of course, when they reorganized and they brought in the Disney plus idea, they made the announcement they were going to be recentering that park around IP, instead of like technology and learning education.

Philip:So, I actually thought this was a positive announcement because looking at the theming and looking at the storyline of it, it seems like they're trying to still give a nod towards real-life science or real-life education but couch it in the world of the IP characters. Which was actually a step more than I thought they were going to do based Remy and based on the Frozen reskin. So, I'm optimistic. I'm like, if this is the direction that we will be going with this, and it will actually have real educational components to it, but still be couched in the IP, then I think it would be a win-win

Scott:It's the magic kingdom goes to school. That's really kind of the way I envision it. I think, though, that what you're seeing is a reaction. Disney, they don't always make the right choices up front, but they are really good about listening to either the guests or the commentary as to, "what happened to this place where we could go learn and have fun?" When they went way too far in the other direction. I totally get it, on paper it looks like, "we've got all these assets, we've got all this intellectual property. Why are we not putting it out there? Why are we not following the model that has worked for Disneyland, Disney World, for generations now?" So, I understand why they want to incorporate it.

Scott:I'm excited to see this too. I agree with you, I think this is a step in the right direction. I do think it is in response to some folks saying, "what happened to the learning side, the celebration of learning, that Epcot used to be all about? Do you have to eliminate the education in order to include the IP?" This, again, still early, but based on what they're releasing so far, this looks like a really nice amalgam of those concepts into something that I think guests will enjoy, I think families will enjoy, and if they walk away learning something, more power to them, I think that's exactly the way it should go.

Scott:I'm also excited that it's just another perfect example of how storytelling is just as much a part of scenic design, as it is a part of scripting, as it is a part of visuals for film or projection or animation or whatever. I love the fact that they are giving as much weight to scenic as they are, and the fact that this is kind of the lead story, the first thing that we're seeing. Of course, I guess it's also that you have these incredibly avid Disney fans who are like, "okay, so what little bit are we going to see now? Oh, look, there's some rock work with Moana's face in it. Got it, that's great. This is awesome." I mean, it got us to talk about it, so there we go. I think this is, I think this is a step back in the right direction. I don't think that the other stuff they did was necessarily bad, but I think it was too far afield from what Epcot set out to be. In my opinion.

Philip:I really like your point there about step back in the right direction. But the other reason that I kind of thought of Scott when I read this is, you know, Scott, a lot of the work that you do is, of course, going to educational institutions and arguing the opposite of being like, you can be educational, but you can also be fun and you can work in IP, into characters. So, it's kind of like you've been taking the opposite approach with some of the clients but coming to the same mix.

Scott:Exactly, and it's funny, maybe that's why it resonates so strongly with me is because I want to make certain that people recognize entertainment and education are not opponents to one another. They work together incredibly well and incredibly powerful. In fact, we're recording this on Sunday, the 28th and this coming week, I'll be at the AZA convention to talk to a lot of my, my friends, colleagues, and perhaps future clients in some cases, regarding exactly this: how to incorporate entertainment and education.

Scott:Having done some projects for Space Center Houston, various zoos, various aquariums, and various museums, I've seen the power, I drank the Kool-Aid. Of course, working for Busch Gardens, I did the same thing. You know, Busch Gardens, when I was there, was the second or third largest zoo in the country, depending on how the breeding program was going. So, it was integral in the way that I kind of "grew up" in the theme park world.

Scott:So, I'm really excited that, that people are understanding this more and more, and I hope that, uh, educators will, um, not be afraid to recognize that being entertaining gets attention. It keeps attention and helps with retention of sharing new ideas. So, make people giggle, make people laugh, and they will learn. Especially now, as hopefully Disney will show us, as they're laughing and learning, it works even more when you've got a recognizable character or intellectual property that the kids are already in love with.

Philip:Yeah, and I also think it dovetails nicely with the trend, again, seemingly unrelated, but the same kind of trend we've been seeing in the rest of entertainment, which is, you know, kids don't just like to be preached to, they like to participate and learn by doing. Which, coming from my education background, that's kind of the best as well, the best thing. Again, the same thing we've been talking about with entertainment, right? The shift of moving from being just watching, of just being the passively entertained, to entertaining, to being an active participant in the entertainment. It's really, when you look at it, I think it's very similar.

Scott:Absolutely. I think that the more we can get the support of the larger parks... Let me put it this way, if the larger parks are starting to embrace it, it means there's going to be a trickle down that's going to happen sooner rather than later.

Philip:Exactly. Well, the rest of the Disney stories, I think are all in that same idea of a step back in the right direction, or correction to something they've been doing. The first is that Walt Disney world has added Roy Disney to the 'Enchantment' fireworks show. Which I think is the same thing as a correction, because this was the show that came out, of course, for the big, a birthday celebration this year, which has been going on for a while. We've talked about that before in a previous episode, but really the idea that even though it's this big birthday celebration, there hasn't really been much, it hasn't seemed that special.

Philip:I think a lot of people were like, "oh, you know, it's a pandemic," maybe kind of using that as the excuse. But there weren't really these touches of celebrating Disney and celebrating the birthday of the company. So, I think this is again, a correction. They probably were getting that feedback of this celebration doesn't really seem like a big annual birthday celebration, it doesn't seem special anyway. So, adding in Roy Disney a little bit, changing the show kind of mid celebration to add in a little bit of Disney nostalgia, I think, is a good idea.

Scott:Whenever a park celebrates a milestone birthday or a milestone anniversary, their marketing department, at least so many of them that I've seen, has this sort of brain freeze. They get terrified because they don't want to say, "look, we're old." They want to say, "we're new, we're fresh, we're vibrant." Because that's what all of the stats say they should say. But when they completely ignore the legacy, because it's not just history, it's legacy, and especially with Disney. Disney has a legacy, and the moment you shut that down, even people significantly younger than I am recognize, it's like, "wait a minute, no, you didn't just start with Disney Plus. That's not when Disney started, Disney started way, way, way before that."

Scott:I agree with you, and I hadn't really thought about it until you just mentioned it, and that is that this birthday celebration, in comparison to... I was around for the, was it the 25th where they took the Magic Kingdom castle and made it pink, made it a giant birthday cake, and everybody was trying to get all the imagery and all of the merchandise they possibly could of the giant pink cake. Yes, at the time, I was lucky enough, I still have one of the maquettes of the birthday cake castle. So, that was a big deal, and this one seems significantly more toned down. I'm guessing, this is pure conjecture, I have no insider information on this in regards to this, but I'm guessing that it's probably that finding that balance between "we're fresh and we're new" and "we're built on a legacy of 50 years."

Scott:I'm thrilled. I am thrilled to see that Walt and Roy are being recognized, because to not recognize them is, in my opinion, just kind of criminal. Walt, especially, I mean, Roy obviously as well, but Walt, especially, set the ground rules for the company, and many of them still apply. So, to not even give a nod to that or recognize that, I think, is a mistake. I think, again, step in the right direction, I think they're coming back and they're recognizing, "we don't have to be quite as on point to the theory that we're getting presented. We still have to maintain the fact that Disney is a company of heart." I think that they're always struggling back and forth, because you know what, businesses don't run on heart, they run on cash. I get that. I understand that completely. I also think that you have to recognize, in order for there to be longevity, sometimes you have to make certain that heart leads, especially if you're an entertainment company because you want people to care about your product.

Philip:Yep. That's exactly right. I think that they were struggling with that line, exactly. Also, the line of, obviously, they were trying to attract more first time and more infrequent guests, how much of the company history they really going to know, are they going to recognize Roy? There's all this. Again, I think this is a good middle ground to kind of work him in, it's not huge. It's not like the whole thing is just about the history, it's not a documentary, but it's it's enough so that you try and meet the fans partway. I also think too, it goes back to, I know a lot of people like to rag on guests, but I think guests can be surprisingly intuitive about things. They may not be able to tell you the exact story of a ride, but they know the sense or the feeling, if the story is written in and conveyed appropriately, I think that people understand. Right?

Scott:I think you also have to recognize that with any sort f guest feedback, guest feedback should never, ever be used as the decision, it should be used as the tool, one of the tools, to make the decision. A perfect example of this is, you show a sampling of a hundred people, and I know they would do a sampling of significantly more than that, but you do a sampling of a hundred people and you show them a picture of Walt and Roy and you say, "who is this?" 20 of them say, "I know who that is or I recognize that." So, therefore, according to that data, you should just get rid of it completely, because 80% of the people have no idea who it is. However, the 20 who do will be like, "this is offensive," and you lose that 20.

Scott:So, I think that, again, this looks great on paper to say, "nobody knows who they are." Roy, I would recognize him, but I don't know whether many people younger than I am would. I think Walt, they recognize a little bit more because he's still sort of iconic. You still see him on t-shirts every now and then. So, again, I think you have to kind of recognize sometimes you have to make that heartfelt decision and not just what the business data says you should follow.

Philip:Well, meanwhile, on the Disneyland side, kind of dovetailing exactly with what you just said, I think the same principle is that Disneyland has put out their Magic Key renewals. They have decided to allow renewals. This was a story that came out last week, and I don't want to go through each of the tiers because you can go just look at the chart online. But the short version of it is, they have brought it back and there are multiple tiers as there were previously. The big difference is that they're all more expensive, and it's just to varying degrees. Actually, the surprising part is that the lowest end one is only maybe $50 more expensive ish, and the higher end is several hundreds of dollars more expensive.

Philip:The other biggest thing here is that there is no longer any option that has no block out dates. So, even the top option has a week blocked out, one week to two weeks ish in there, which is the week of Christmas into New Year is blocked out. So, again, back to that thing of that they just released with the "unfavorable attendance mix" kind of thing at the parks, but yet they have decided, well, we're still going to allow people to renew. I actually think that this, again, I'm shocked. I know a lot of people are hating on it, but I'm actually shocked that they came to a plan that I think is a good compromise. You don't need to be able to visit every day.

Philip:Again, I talked about this previously, you get into hot water when you promise that you can go any day you want, and then you can't. But now they're not, now they're saying there's block out dates, you're going to have to reserve, there's all these caveats to it, and they're making it more expensive. So, they're kind of making the shareholders happy, they're raising the price per day and making everyone happy, blocking out those days, blah, blah, blah. But they're still having an accessible option, because honestly, $50 more for the lowest option is only keeping pace with inflation. So, I feel like it's a really good compromise, they're keeping an accessible option for locals. It's limited, right? You're only going to be able to go like Monday through Thursday, but still for locals. That's fine.

Scott:That's when you want to go anyway.

Philip:I don't want to go on the weekends. I never go on the weekends. We go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then giving that top tier option for people and just saying, "you know what, you're not going to get the week of Christmas or New Year's, just plan around it." Again, I wouldn't want to go then either, that's terrible, you don't want to be going when there's a hundred thousand people in the park. So, I think overall it's a good plan.

Scott:Well, I don't want to sound like the conspiracy theory guy, but I would not be surprised if this was not the plan all along. That by saying, "we're not going to do them anymore." People are like, "oh no! We gotta! We gotta do them! We gotta do them." Then by bringing them back, and they are significantly more expensive in some cases, or just keeping pace with inflation, as you said, but there's more restrictions on them, they've been retooled. It's sort of like trying to find ways to ease into... Come up with something completely shocking, and then when you realize, "no, I'm just kidding", it's half that. Then, half that seems like a blessing.

Scott:So, had they just gone straight into the renewals and raised all the prices, everybody would be up in arms because all the price hikes, we're not getting as much for our money, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now, the focus is on, "oh, they finally decided to bring them back. Oh, thank goodness." So, it's a positive thing. It's positioning. I'm not saying this is what happened, but I would not at all be surprised if this wasn't the master plan all along, to say, "we're going to hold back. We're going to, you know, put the, the idea out there that we're not going to do these anymore, that people are going to have to pay full day price." And now all of a sudden when they come back with this, retooled, now more expensive, now providing less for more money, instead of it being chastised for that, it's being praised as, "oh, thank God, they're renewing Magic Keys. Thank God." So, that wouldn't surprise me at all.

Scott:Again, I don't think any of the changes are bad, and I think that's probably why, if this was indeed part of the original strategy, I think this could be why it's part of the original strategy. Because all the things that they're doing, I don't want to go to a theme park on a Saturday morning, in the middle of summer. I just don't. So, it makes it so that people have a moment to step back and kind of realize, "oh wait a minute, I can't do it, but you know what? I don't want to do it." So that's okay.

Philip:Yeah, you don't really need to. Yes, exactly, exactly. I still think, honestly, even with the price increase for the top tier pass, depending on your situation, still is a good deal because you're getting parking included. So, basically TL;DR again, it's about eight visits. So, if you're going to go more than eight times, then you'll save money. I mean, if you're going to go once a month, which I think is low, honestly, people that are locals tend to go more than once a month, then you're saving money even at the top tier. So, again, like you just said, decide if you don't need it, then you don't need it, then just go to a different park and just buy day tickets and go like twice a year or something.

Philip:So anyway, back on the Walt Disney World side, they have changed around their park reservation system. Basically, there's a few tweaks, but one of them is that the Disney Park passes will be tied to a specific ticket. The reservations are tied to a ticket, not guest profiles, which is a big deal. The other one is, basically, they're kind of combining the pools together.

Philip:So, for example, if you have somebody with an annual pass and somebody has a two day ticket, you can now make the reservations together in one step, rather than going through and trying to do them separately. That's actually a big deal, and that's something that I've come across, which makes things very difficult. For example, real example, I have a pass and my parents want to come visit, they get a day ticket, we can't make those reservations together, we couldn't previously, so I'd have to go in and see what days I have available. Then also, what's available is different, like it was pulling from a different pool. So it was just kind like a mess. So, these little tweaks are, I think very critical. But then again, tweaks that are helping locals, because that's really more of a help to the locals. Because if you're just visiting for one day and you're just, you're making your reservation at the time that you're buying your ticket, these changes don't impact you at all.

Scott:Right. I have to just claim complete ignorance on this, because I have not been back to a Disney park since they've gone to a reservation system. I've talked about this in previous episodes before, to me it takes a lot of the fun out of the experience, even though if I really sit down and think about it, it probably makes the experience itself better. I just drank the Kool-Aid yet. Plus, working in the industry, I'm spoiled. So, when I go to a park, I'm used to going to a park where I'm going with someone who is working there, or I'm working there at the time, and I take my lunch break and go do something fun in the middle or I whatever. So I'm spoiled, and I recognize that I totally recognize that.

Scott:I'm doing a disservice, I think, to my myself in not experiencing this because I need to see what the guest experience is, and how easy or difficult. I may discover, "oh my God, I never want to do it without a reservation again, because this is perfect." So+, I have to kind of step back from this discussion because I really don't know how it impacts you, but I think you're the example that you gave Philip I think is perfect. One of the things that locals and out of towners are always going to come to the parks together. So, this seems like it only makes total sense, and I'm a little bit surprised they didn't do it this way before. But maybe they didn't even think about it and they just realized, "oh crud, this is something we need to do."

Philip:Yeah. I still think the system is imperfect, but if they keep making changes, I think there's a little bit of hope. Again, we're never going back, so it's kind of a moot point to argue that it should be going back. I think that the other big kind of barriers to this is still that locals, again, not that they care, but I like to go for just a few hours, or go at the end of the night for only a few hours, because I don't want to encounter the crowd. So, I want to wait. But the way the reservation system is looking, it's looking at total capacity, like for the full day. So, it's not going to account crowd levels of how many people are really going to be trying to ride Small World at 11:00 PM at night on a Wednesday. It's not looking at that. It's looking at the whole day, how many could be potentially in at one time. So, I think it's possible for the future to account for some of that stuff and allow people to come in later.

Philip:So, those are all moves in the right direction from Disney, and policy changes, shockingly, no negativity there, which is a new thing. So, anyway, let's move on to a different park chain, which is, Howl-O-Scream Orlando has revealed its full lineup of terror for 2022. I'll read a few of these, but, they've announced new and returning haunted houses, Blood Beckoning, Siren of the Seas, Captain’s Revenge, Dead Vines, and Beneath the Ice. They announce their scare zones, Terrors of the Deep, Sea of Fear, Cargo Carnage, Cut Throat Cove, Frozen Terror, Deadly Ambush, and Witchcraft Bayou. They have three shows this year, the Siren Song, which is returning, and the Monster Stomp, which is returning as well. But they have a new story-telling “Lurking in the Depths – An Adventurer’s Tale,” Then they also are returning their themed bars that have themed drinks with them.

Philip:I just want to say, I've been recently reading a lot of press releases. We've been doing a lot of reporting on what everybody's been doing, the announcements here and there. A plus to Howl-O-Scream SeaWorld Orlando. I can't even explain how thrilled reading this makes me, because it all makes sense thematically, like the whole event, everything fits, everything fits, it's all related to the themes, to the major villains, even the drinks and the bars and the scares zones. Everything makes sense! You can look at it and say, "oh, this is a story ecosystem where everything has its place and everything makes sense. Nothing is out of character."

Philip:I mean, maybe the reality when you get there, you know, maybe, I don't know, a clown will pop up somewhere, but I don't know, maybe it'll be a clownfish. It works so well, and I'm so happy to see this, because I kind of think larger events are notorious for it not working together thematically. We get a lot of the same complaints. We get the guests don't care, nobody notices, operations, it's difficult, blah, blah, blah, all this stuff you get. But anyway, Scott, you worked on this.

Scott:I did. So, I'm just sitting here going, "yes, keep going. This is great." Again, I did very, very little, I want to give credit completely where credit is due. The internal team for Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld Orlando is very, very dedicated to what you just described, and that is to making certain that they maintain a full story arc. It's all based on these multiple sirens, sirens of the sea, who have been called back because of a conservation message, actually. So, it even ties back into the mission of the park as a whole. I will say, I have sat in meetings where I have heard the people who are defending the story who are being the guest experience advocate, so to speak, saying, "no, but it has to." And their cohorts, and sometimes even their superiors, are saying, "it's okay, you can let the story go." And they're just not letting it, they're, they're digging in with all their teeth, both hands, and all their nails, and trying to maintain that story integrity. Which I really am impressed with.

Scott:So, full disclosure, I was contracted by SeaWorld, and actually I was subcontracted through another contractor, to work on and create the venue flow for their brand-new haunt, their brand-new maze, this year, which is Blood Beckoning. I was given some basic parameters and then I did a site survey as to where it was going to go in, then I created this really fun, I think fun, dark and kind of sexy, just saying kind of sexy, underground homage to Scratch, which is their blood siren. Let me put it this way, it was one of the easiest creative developments I've done in a very long time, because the team told me what they wanted up front. I gave them that plus. I told the story that they wanted to tell, in a way that I wanted to tell it. The number of the number of revisions, I went through one round of revisions, which three or four is pretty common. So, I went through one round of revisions, and they said, "great, we're going to build it." Then we started on the design drawings and all of that.

Scott:So, it reinforces something that we've said on this show, I've said for years and years, and that is if you've got a strong story that you can stick to, it actually makes you more efficient as a company. You can continue to move forward because you know the story you want to tell, and then you can refine and Polish the way that you tell it. So, I'm so glad to hear that this is what you're seeing. I am anticipating, this is what we're going to see in the park. I will say, I'm not involved with the implementation of this. I was on the front end. I will go and see it, because I've already been invited. They're like, "we're so excited, Scott, we want to show it to you. You because we think it turned out exactly the way you wanted it," and I'm excited to go back and see it. I know the team that's installing it. So, I'm pretty confident, pretty confident it's going to be fun.

Scott:By the way, is the first time I've gone back to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment since leaving Busch Gardens. So, I'm so excited to have just even a tiny, tiny part in this experience and with their new haunt. I also have one in SeaWorld in Texas, which is very, very different. So, kudos to the SeaWorld Orlando team, and I'm not just saying that because they hired me. Kudos to the SeaWorld Orlando team for finding what story they want to tell, hanging onto it and making certain that every element that they put out there is in some way tied back to that overarching storyline.

Scott:So, guess what guys, we're out of time. So, hopefully you've enjoyed another week of us rambling. Please tell everyone, please join our newsletter, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If you're at any of the shows that we're at, please stop by and say hi, both Philip and I are incredibly approachable and we love to talk to people who listen. In fact, we love to hear that people do listen. Because we never know, we just record these things. So, on behalf of Philip Hernandez and myself, Scott Swenson, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and we will see you next week.


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.