On September 20th, 2011, I was working at Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruise. I remember because Disney publicly announced that Walt Disney Imagineering and James Cameron would work together and create Pandora: World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and I first heard of this while I was on break. I still hadn’t seen Avatar, but hey, a whole new land?? I legit thought this was the coolest news and I wanted to share it with everyone. The first people I saw were in the wheelchair queue. I told them the news.
They were not impressed.
Now, I can’t recall why they weren’t hyped (Though in hindsight, I can think of a few reasons why), but the dad instead decided to one-up me on hot Disney gossip: Disney was building a brand new theme park – a whole new resort, really – outside San Antonio, Texas!
Well, as you might’ve guessed, 11 years later, one happened, the other didn’t. Couldn’t say if the guy still thinks it’s gonna happen, but every once in a while, the thought crops up in my brain space…”Why not?” and “What if?”
Let’s discuss the basics.
For those unacquainted with the Lone Star State, particularly those outside the United States, Texas is the second-largest U.S. state in the country and the largest in the contiguous 48 states at 695,622 square kilometers (about 268,596 square miles for us what measure in imperial and all.) And houses the second-largest state population after California. Located on the southern border along Mexico, it’s smack-dab in the middle between both east and west coasts, and is home to former president George W. Bush, the Dallas Cowboys football team, the Alamo, NASA, the Waco massacre, some chainsaw massacres, a yellow rose, Ted Cruz, about 400 million country songs, and lots and lots and lots of heads of cattle. Texas is pretty much defined by its size and American frontier spirit, for better or worse, even housing one of the nation’s three power grids. And there have been rumors going on nearly twenty years now that Disney has bought or will buy a ton of land, vis-à-vis what they did in Florida in the sixties, and a Texan Disney theme park is going to happen near El Paso…no, hang on. Austin…wait, I meant Houston…no, that’s not right, it’s gotta be Dallas! No! I mean..
In fact, here’s a 2013 Yesterland article that goes over just some of the rumors and gossip that have persisted over the past two decades. This article from 2020, from a satire site keeps the embers burning, even though Disney proper has never even hinted at this being a possibility in the future.
First question, of course, is could Disney, in fact, fleece real estate developers in buying acres of desolate prairie with phony company names for pennies on the dollar? I didn’t even take the exam and I can tell you that just wouldn’t fly. With the advent of the internet, going into a Fort Worth Remax and try to sell yourself as a representative of the Y. O’Del Associates wanting to buy 50 acres over yonder would get you nowhere because a quick Google search is all it’d take for the secret to be exposed. So let’s not fool ourselves. If this were to happen, it’s not going to be very hush-hush. Headlines and photos will pop up quickly as soon as anything concrete is laid down. After all, Disney has a long history of real projects that were teased, announced, and eventually abandoned. Like Beastly Kingdom. And WestCot. And DisneySea. And Disney’s America. So even when your barista has a friend of a friend who knows a guy on the college program who heard a guy claiming to be from Disney asking about property rates near Dallas, just take it with a fraction of a grain of salt at best.
Of course, outside the U.S., Disney has four resorts in three countries (Disneyland Paris in France, Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, and both the Shangai and Hong Kong parks in China), and it seems awful rude, I daresay gluttonous to hoard all that Mouse ear and Dole Whip revenue in a third American Disney resort. Especially since countries like the United Arab Emirates and Australia would very likely be chomping at the bit to get a piece of the action. And that’s certainly fair. But given my limited understanding of other nations and how well a Disney theme park would work for them, I can’t really comment on that. Besides, this Texas question was what sparked my imagination in the first place, so even though I’ve never lived there, I thought I’d spitball this thought experiment.
There’s the basic pros: Decent year-round weather. Lots of flat, open space to utilize. Job creation. Nearby population centers. And there’s the usual cons, like traffic, urban blight, capitalism, consumerism, and environmental stress. But there are two key factors I thought should make a Disney executive stroke their chin in interest.
In 1994, Marvel entered a binding contract with Universal Studios and its then-parent company, MCA, to allow usage of Marvel’s stable of heroes for an upcoming section of their second Florida park, Islands of Adventure. Known only to the drafters of the document, a lot of random stipulations were written up. Like this part here:
“EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI – ANY OTHER THEME PARK IS LIMITED TO USING CHARACTERS NOT CURRENTLY BEING USED BY MCA AT THE TIME SUCH OTHER LICENSE IS GRANTED. [FOR PURPOSE OF THIS SUBSECTION AND SUBSECTION IV, A CHARACTER IS “BEING USED BY MCA” IF (X) IT OR ANOTHER CHARACTER OF THE SAME “FAMILY” (E.G., ANY MEMBER OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR, THE AVENGERS OR VILLAINS ASSOCIATED WITH A HERO BEING USED) IS MORE THAN AN INCIDENTAL ELEMENT OF AN ATTRACTION, IS PRESENTED AS A COSTUMED CHARACTER, OR IS MORE THAN AN INCIDENTAL ELEMENT OF THE THEMING OF A RETAIL STORE OR FOOD FACILITY“
From section 10, you’ll find this juicy little nugget:
“WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI – ANY OTHER THEME PARK MAY USE ANY MARVEL CHARACTERS WHETHER OR NOT USED BY MCA.
III. EAST OR WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI – PERMITTED USES SHALL BE LIMITED TO THE USE OF SPECIFIC MARVEL CHARACTERS AND MARVEL MAY NOT PERMIT A LICENSEE TO USE THE NAME “MARVEL” AS PART OF THE ATTRACTION NAME OR MARKETING.“
How about that, huh? The contract outright states that should Disney or any other theme park use Marvel east of the Mississippi River, Disney would have to avoid using characters from the four primary Marvel families: Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man, since they’re what’s highlighted at the Florida resort. This is arguably one of the bigger reasons why Disney has pushed for super-esoteric properties like Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, The Inhumans, Shang-Chi, and The Eternals. It’s bad enough they couldn’t use Spidey, Wolverine, Mr. Fantastic, or Deadpool in the MCU, but these weird theme park rights couldn’t even let them build a ride based on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes when they made the movie? To top it off, Marvel heroes aren’t really known for staying in their own lanes. Doctor Strange is pretty independent, though sometimes he’s affiliated with the Avengers, among other groups…and he DID appear at Hollywood Studios temporarily to promote his 2016 movie, and Universal didn’t sue. T’Challa is also independent, but he’s been an Avenger for much longer and was married to Storm of the X-Men for a time, so it makes sense to just leave him be. But that’s why almost nothing Marvel-related has appeared in Florida outside the Cosmic Rewind coaster. And they reskinned the monorail to advertise The Avengers and Iron Man 3, but only on the Magic Kingdom track so it wouldn’t roll through Epcot and thus break the terms of the agreement, so…
BUT…that’s east of the Mighty Mississippi. Disney can use ANY Marvel character, per the contract – Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Namor, Captain Marvel, Thanos, Sue Storm, Shang-Chi, Jessica Jones, Morbius, Howard the Duck, Gwenpool, the Punisher, Agatha Harkness, Blade, Hyperion, Alligator Loki, Taserface, Phil Coulson, M.O.D.O.K., Agent Woo, Moon Knight, Hydra Steve Rogers, Malaketh the Dark Elf, Matt Damon Loki, or even Ned – they totally can. And guess what: Texas is completely west of the Mississippi. As long as they don’t use the word “Marvel” anywhere and dodge the really nitty-gritty details on how to market the thing(s), Disney could make anything happen.
Now, if you’re unconvinced about this inherent awesomeness because Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure was a letdown and a half, you’re not alone. But this was for two main reasons: one, Bob Chapek is a stingy [Censored]er devoid of creativity or empathy for us poor folk, reducing what could have been an incredible experience into a tableau to market Marvel Disney+ shows with one halfway decent ride, and two: DCA has no room to expand. With Disneyland Resort notoriously boxed in on all sides and a litany of hamstringing stipulations in Florida, it only makes sense, that if Disney wanted to fully invest in a themed amusement destination undertaking with Marvel…there’s few better places to start than a Marvel-them-aaaah, I mean, “a Super Hero-themed resort”. (Phew! That was close!)
Picture it: As the front entrance greets you with Stan “the man” Lee’s bombastic greeting of “EXCELSIOR!”, you walk along a picturesque New York City street, complete with commemorative plaques for the Battle of New York, and posters for Rogers! The Musical, leading you to the park’s primary weenie and icon, Avengers Tower. Akin to the popularized hub and spoke design, you can walk to any of the themed lands: Wakanda, Asgard, The Cosmos, Latveria, Westview, and the Xavier Institute. It’d be so easy to make at least one E-ticket per land, and replicate both Cosmic Rewind and Web Slingers here. It fits the Magic Kingsom template perfectly but with its clear Marvel stamp, and endless opportunities to create easter eggs in these defined worlds. Heck, there could even be a kid’s area called – what else? – Young Avengers Compound! This all writes itself!
2. Attendance balancing
There’s a lot of reasons why guests leave Disney theme parks disappointed these days. But I’d say it’s safe to say chief among them is the crowding. It used to be Disneyland and Walt Disney World had busy days and quiet days, allowing people to strategize around the crowds and take advantage of the reduced throngs. But that was a long time ago. In 2016, Disney began its tiered ticketing pricing system, so now the quiet days are cheaper and the busier days are more expensive. It’s far from their worst idea ever, but all it really does in the end is ensure that the formerly quiet days are busy and the formerly busy days are..well, still busy. Worse still, as more and more people travel to Disney, the company’s response has disappointingly been lackluster and misguided. Instead of building more rides and shows as “people eaters” (attractions that cycle high volumes of guests) they seem to prefer to simply price out its patrons. Plus, with the rate they’re going at opening new attractions and closing others, they aren’t keep up with demand. Whole buildings sit empty, attractions running much longer than they should without basic maintenance, closing people eaters like The Great Movie Ride, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, and yeah, enough space in Florida to BUILD A FEW NEW WHOLE THEME PARKS…but yeah, Chapek. Just slowly build two roller coasters, raise ticket prices again, and swap out the free Fastpass system for an app that further gouges its already-over-budget guests. Stay the course, champ. This can’t possibly run itself into a fiery blaze sooner or later.
It took 11 years after the Magic Kingdom opened before Florida got their second gate. Another 7 before their third, and 9 before their fourth. Since Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, it’s been 24 years and they STILL haven’t even hinted at a fifth gate (All gossip online about a supposed villains-themed park seem to indicate it was nothing more than fan speculation/wishful thinking/a prank), so it’s doubtful anything like that is in the works, sadly. And if DeSantis gets his way, it’ll stay that way for a very long time. What with him wanting to shut down Reedy Creek Improvement District and force all projects in WDW to be further bureaucratized and taxed.
My point is, Disney needs a place to put people who want to go to the theme parks, and their current tactic isn’t working. By opening a third U.S. resort betwixt the two coasts, it’ll siphon guests away from the current resorts. Alleviate the crowds, buy them time to repair ailing attractions (Cough cough Everest’s yeti cough cough) and bring in guests from the midwest who might otherwise not be able to go to a Disney theme park. Really, Disney, if for no other reason, do it to thin the freaking crowds!
Now…the reasons why this most likely won’t happen (anytime soon)
Look, I’m not an idiot. Obviously this just wishful speculation and the odds of this happening, even within the next few decades, is pretty much zero adjacent. At best, I can only hope someone at WDI will read these articles I write and contact me with a job offer or something.
So let’s ground my flights of fancy with some bitter cold reality, like Space Mountain going 101 just as you’re seated in the rocket.
Let’s not mince words: the pandemic royally messed with Disney, especially with the theme parks. Ever since the financial failure of Euro Disneyland in 1994, Eisner lost his appetite for big projects. Thus, aside from a few glimmers of outstanding Disney imagineering, most projects barely scraped the bottom of the barrel in terms of that legendary Disney quality. Iger was similarly cautious with their budget, and Chapek even more so. And the problem is, stocking the parks with dance parties, dessert parties, and construction projects taking years was their M.O. for ages. But now, that mindset has solidified and if we’re extremely lucky, we’ll see something more than a new parade by 2030.
I wrote an article recently about Disney’s relationship with the American Republican Party. How the two agreed conglomerates shouldn’t be taxed or regulated and that worker’s rights are stupid. However, this is a post-Trump America now, where disagreement is treason (#UmbertoEcowasright) After Disney reluctantly denounced Don’t Say Gay and after being pressured by their own employees, the conservative right has been relentlessly vindictive, with various Representatives calling to downvote Disney’s upcoming bill to extend Mickey Mouse’s copyright. Florida governor Ron DeSantis and his men want to strip away the Reedy Creek Improvement District as a punitive measure against the company (And, as new studies show, will cost Osceola and Orange County taxpayers around $2 billion in bond debt!!) Suffice it to say, Disney has angered a very, very spiteful group of politicians who seem to view disloyalty as a crime punishable by death. And politically speaking, Texas is likely just as equally hostile as Florida.
See, Texas isn’t just red, it’s notoriously the most Republican-loyal state in the union. There hasn’t been a Democratic governor in office since 1994 and they haven’t voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. While I haven’t seen anything from current governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has vowed to make their own Don’t Say Gay bill to spite Disney should he be re-elected. Texas senator Ted Cruz…Mr. “Don’t blame me, it was my staff that liked porn on my Twitter account“…Mr. “Oh, a massive storm left millions cold and in the dark? Sucks to be you! Love from Cancun!“…Mr. “Trump called my wife ugly? He makes me so mad it makes me want to be his best friend!“…has now claimed Disney will soon start showing Mickey and Pluto “Going at it” because of their support of gay rights. (Sorry for all the links. It can’t be overstated that a politician of Cruz’s magnitude while also being a human dumpster fire probably shouldn’t be listened to.)
If Chapek were to call Gov. Abbott and requested tête-à-tête over a possible deal to build a Texas Disney park, I can guarantee you there’d be a press conference within 12 hours with a smattering of politicians all declaring Disney to go fudge themselves. Say nothing of their followers:
And this Texas we’re talking about! Like 99% of them are armed!
3. Cost to Disney
Sadly, if there’s one thing I’ve learned with Disney over the years is that “cost” a dirty word, a cardinal sin, and kryptonite all rolled into one to them. Why close up so many perfectly usable buildings? Probably to avoid turning on lights or employing more cast members to staff it, even if they turn it into a rest area. Close whole parks? Eh, just board them up and hide them behind a wall. The Tiki Room catches fire after 13 years without a day off for basic maintenance? “Well…if it closes, where else can the kids get their daily dose of hearing Gilbert Gottfried sing?” (R.I.P., Gilbert, man)
I wonder if most imagineering pitches at Disney board meetings are like:
But more specifically, it’s more likely a hyper-paranoid reaction from the risk-averse company that they fear the benefit won’t outweigh the cost soon enough. We see thinner crowds at the parks and have a better vacation, and claim the third park makes up for it. Net positive, right? However, anxious executives will only see less ticket sales and even if guest attendance overall jumps up significantly, it’ll still take years to recoup the initial investment, and they can’t have that.
I mean…Bobby. For real, dude. Walt had the company in debt for nearly forty years and up to $4 million in the forties before they were in the black. I think you all can handle 3-5 years of recouping costs. And speaking of Robert…
Bob Chapek, current CEO of the Walt Disney Company, has not been doing terribly well lately. Between ripping off abd publicly arguing with Scarlett Johansson, ending annual passes, closing Blue Sky Studios, ending Magical Express, rolling out Disney Genie, firing cast members while boosting his own pay…well, even Iger isn’t on good terms with him anymore. Chapek, like I pointed out earlier, is more focused on branding and profits than he is on creativity or quality. He wouldn’t be persuaded by the potential of cool Marvel rides or happier guests enjoying elbow room.
Worse still, even if he okayed the idea, we’d probably looking at a “Marvel Studios” park: yet another park themed to look like a generic studio backlot, full of featureless soundstage buildings, the two best rides being wholesale duplicates of Web Slingers and Mission: Breakout to avoid the expense to differentiate, a few off-the-shelf carnival rides with logos of various heroes slapped on them, 4-5 stage shows, about 3 prop and costume exhibits, and of course, about twenty billboards all telling us to watch THIS NEW MARVEL SERIES ON DISNEY+ RIGHT NOW!! Oh yeah, and don’t forget the 12 gift shops salivating for your wallet.
Ugh. I made myself sick just thinking about it.
5. Cost to consumer
Going to a Disney theme park is not the free experience it once was. Not free of charge, of course, I mean as in liberation. You have to plan precisely which days you want to go, make a reservation for each day, figure out what and where to eat per your dining plan options, plan out which rides to ride through Disney Genie, and don’t forget planning around show times if you want to catch the parade or fireworks. Like the plot of Pinocchio, failure to follow this straight and narrow path will result in nothing but misery if you don’t want your time or money wasted.
Disney has fought the overcrowding problem for years now, and everything has been, at best, a half-hearted measure. Things like hiked up ticket prices and stringent reservation systems make visiting Disneyland or Epcot a chore now. What used to be available to the casual parkgoer 30 years ago can now only be achieved at five times the cost and with militaristic planning. And the reason I bring this up here is because…well, building a new resort would have solved all this years ago, but the hesitation made this into a huge problem that can’t be reversed.
It’s like if you had a leaky roof. But instead of fixing the hole, you place a drip pan on the floor. Then another. Then another. And another. The more it rains, the worse the leaks get. Each new drip pan and bucket inconveniences your walk path more and more, and your friends visiting get increasingly annoyed. But it’s been such a slow progression, you forget half the time that there was a time when it rarely leaked. On top of all of that, your metal pans rust. Mold grows everywhere and stinks up the place. And of course, your roof keeps on leaking. When you finally do replace the roof…well, congrats, but you still have a home that smells of rust and mold and no one wants to visit anymore.
Going to a brand-new resort in Texas would still cost over $100 per person. You’d still have to use Lightning Lanes and pay for Disney Genie just to try to get your money’s worth. You’d still be paying exorbitant sums for undersized portions of food. You’d still be paying nearly $200 just for a collection of cool Disney vacation photos. You don’t have to be a Disney historian to know they never once lowered their prices on anything, even during times of economic insecurity. Walt priced Disneyland so anyone could come and still get a high-quality experience. Now, we’ve struggled to rationalize the axiom of getting what we pay for, despite times where that just objectively isn’t true. After all, in 1955, a one-day ticket for an adult, (minus the ticket book that allowed you to ride the rides) was $1, which comes out to a mere $29 in 2022, adjusting for inflation. That’s a far cry from the $119 to $169 of 2022. That is some grade A bovine fecal matter if I ever saw it.
And like I said before, if they had bothered to head off this problem years ago. I guarantee surveys would reflect far more promising numbers of guests willing to visit. I’m sure the data would only reveal a paltry bump in general attendance now that planning for your next Disney trip feels more like filing your taxes.
I think I made my point clear. A Texas Disney-themed resort just isn’t gonna happen. I will argue, though, it absolutely can succeed…but that will require patience, ambition, creativity, effort, and a lot of money. Resources they are terrified to utilize, but Walt himself freaking proved his theory that investing in quality pays back in dividends a hundred times over, so much sothat today people keep pouring their hard-earned money into those Mickey-shaped coffers for nearly 70 years because of this very mindset.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you don’t feel like I wasted your time speculating on something I concluded just wasn’t in the cards. Like I said, though, this was a thought experiment, and I hope you learned something new. But who knows? Maybe someone will read this and make it a reality. Stranger things have happened.