Disney Studio Backlot Tour Closing Permanently

Big Changes for Disney’s Hollywood Studios–Let the Makeover Begin!

The Studio Backlot TourDisney has announced that Disney’s long-heralded attraction, The Studio Backlot Tour, will close permanently on September 27, 2014. This attraction will be really the biggest closure of any park attraction ever at Walt Disney World. Up until Kilimanjaro Safaris, no attraction took up more space. And no attraction had experienced more changes over the years. It was perhaps the most defining element of Disney-MGM Studios when it opened in 1989.

Entrance to the Studio Backlot Tour. The original entrance was where The Magic of Disney Animation currently is. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Entrance to the Studio Backlot Tour. The original entrance was where The Magic of Disney Animation currently is. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And now it’s gone.

And yet it’s a real beginning for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I had not really forecast the closing of this tour. Many had done that already. It has been a foregone conclusion. In my heart of hearts I’ve been hoping that it wouldn’t go away. I quite like the tour. And when facades were added from Zorro in the summer of 2013, it propped me up for a time (sorry for the pun). I still wonder if the Cars Land comes in if it couldn’t take on a movie making approach and incorporate Catastrophe Canyon. That attraction is still the highlight of the tour.

What I had forecast was the closing of Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and my sources say I should still expect that to occur. It’s another attraction coming to an end. But it’s part of a major expansion on that side of the park. I also contended that there would be a third track added to Toy Story Midway Mania. Some probably wondered if that would happen since Wandering Oaken’s ice skating rink and snow playground took up residence. But it’s been announced that the snow playground and merchandise experience will be moved to where the American Film Institute Showcase was located. Why would they move it over there, if they didn’t have plans to use that space for something else? Now that addition will soon be underway.

Here’s the truth: Years ago when Disney build a new attraction, they built them as one-off experiences. And they still do that when it’s necessary, such as the Frozen makeover to Maelstrom (something I had also predicted). Now Disney wants to budget these additions under large capital expenditures. The new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom is a great example of this, adding not just a ride but restaurants, shops, new character experiences and so forth. Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is another example of this. There is all sorts of expansion work underway and it has nothing to do with Avatar. Much of Discovery Island is under  a fence, and work has just begun on the entire Rivers of Light seating area. And Downtown Disney is another example. What began as some “Hyperion” addition has now become a massive re-doing of the entire Downtown Disney area, down to even re-titling the experience as Disney Springs.

But the biggest example has been the successful re-branding of Disney California Adventure. Here we saw a remodeling that nearly captured every corner of the park from Paradise Pier to Buena Vista Street to the addition of Radiator Springs. That experience showed not only the benefit of a massive makeover to the bottom line, it showed that the park could survive when half of it was behind a construction fence.

That’s what’s happening here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While we don’t have an artist’s image, expect that what will be coming in will be at a very grand scale–more like Disney California Adventure than the New Fantasyland expansion. It will be a multi-prong expansion. What is coming in will be very exciting–even if it takes many years to see it open completely up. Bob Iger’s not in a hurry. He would rather see something substantive, than something rushed.

And what of the Studios during this period? Well, who knows? There are all sorts of things Disney’s Hollywood Studios could do while the rest of the park is under the knife. Most don’t know that the Frozen Summer experience went from idea to opening day in about a two-week time period. That’s right–my sources say that the surprise of the summer came in the 11th hour. Disney defied its bureaucratic tendencies by pulling something out of the hat in only two weeks. And all of that was done at a fraction to what Universal spent on Harry Potter.  So imagine what it could do in the months/years to come until the new Disney’s Hollywood Studios re-opens.

Big changes–they be a comin’. So let the makeover begin!

Want more? Visit my Disney at Work Facebook Page where you can see a variety of photos of the Studio Backlot Tour.

J. Jeff Kober

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