Yesterday, I joined other theme park and Disney fan media at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort for a discussion with Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro, and fans of live entertainment in the Disney theme parks will be happy with what he said.
Here are the highlights from the meeting:
Similar to our two meetings with then Disney CEO Bob Chapek, “Attractions Magazine” was invited to meet with D’Amaro, but unlike our meetings with Chapek, this one was on the record; however, we were unable to record it, so these aren’t direct quotes from D’Amaro, but a summery of questions posed to D’Amaro from myself and other reporters.
D’Amaro started off by talking about how he’s been with Disney for more than 20 years, and when he started working in the Disney parks, he never thought he’d end up the president of them. He said someone asked him if his job was a pain in the ass, and he said absolutely not.
He also said he knows how important every part of the parks are to fans. He told a story of how they were planning to move a bush at Disneyland when he was president there, and he asked the cast members if they knew the history of the bush before moving it (meaning they had better know if it has any sort of significance before moving it). He said all of the changes they make are putting guests first.
He also talked about how he is a true fan of the parks, that he visits them often, and loves talking with the cast members and guests. He said he really loves the parks and knows what they mean to people.
Will entertainment be returning to Disney Parks?
Denice Preskitt from MouseSteps.com asked if specific entertainment like the citizens of MainStreet U.S.A. and the Red Car Trolly News Boys would be returning. While D’Amaro didn’t say if those specific acts will be back, he did say they’re not slowing down on returning entertainment.
He also said he knows entertainment makes a difference and means a lot. He talked about how he recently watched the Disneyland Band play in front of the castle at Disneyland, and how much watching them means to him, so he knows entertainment makes a theme park visit special.
D’Amaro said their objective is have all the entertainment that used to be at the parks return (plus more), although he did say not every act will necessarily return as it was before. To make that point about returning entertainment, one of the Disney representatives at the meeting told us Ariel’s Grotto will reopen at the Magic Kingdom on Jan. 22, 2023, and Enchanted Tales with Belle will reopen on Feb. 19, 2023, confirming our rumors of the mermaid meet opening.
Are Genie and Genie+ really working well?
I asked D’Amaro about a recent interview in which he said Genie has been phenomenally well received. I mentioned that, from our experience and feedback from our readers, it’s not great. I also asked if he has tried it himself. He said yes, he’s tried it, and it worked well for him and his family. He acknowledged it’s not perfect, and it does make some mistakes when suggesting things for guests to do, but that it’s always learning and getting better. He also said it works well in general for families who don’t know the parks very well.
Are park reservations and park hopping restrictions going away?
D’Amaro reiterated that the park reservation system keeps the parks from getting overwhelmed and provides a better visit for guests, but he said, they are always looking at ways to make the reservations easier, and finding better ways to handle them and park hopping. Benji Breitbart from LaughingPlace.com mentioned that, in the past, the idea was to make all your plans for the parks ahead of time so you wouldn’t have to worry about it when you got there, and asked if that’s still the plan, considering how Genie and Genie+ work, as well as the reservations and park hopping restrictions. D’Amaro said that’s still the ultimate goal and they are working towards guests not having to think when they visit the parks.
Does Disney+ affect the theme parks budget?
Benji also asked if any monetary loses from Disney+ (or other aspects of the Disney company) affect how much money they’re able to spend in the Disney theme parks and resorts. D’Amaro said they are not slowing down work on any new attractions because of streaming service costs or anything else in the company. He also said they are not pulling back on any expansions or new attractions. He talked about how they “pulled back the curtain” a bit at the Disney D23 Expo and announced some of the expansions they have been planning far ahead, and said he visits Imagineering often to see all the projects they’re working on, and nothing has been held back because of budget concerns. He noted that it’s easy to think that the price of water in the parks was raised to help pay for Disney+, but that’s just not the case; one budget doesn’t affect the others.
Overall the meeting went well and I was happy to hear that D’Amaro is a real fan of the parks. He admitted they don’t always get everything right, but they are working to correct mistakes. He also said companies of today and tomorrow need to be human, meaning they need to have faces behind their decisions and not just corporate statements, and I believe they’re working toward that. D’Amaro said he wishes he could sit down with all their fans and guests like he did with us.