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Turning Point: Disneyland Becomes a Senior Citizen

When you reach a certain age, you start getting AARP discounts and questions about your retirement plans. Well, that’s true of people but not places. The Happiest Place on Earth is now in its mid-60s. Since the earliest days, Disneyland has been the most famous theme park on the planet. In the face of lofty expectations and fierce competition, it’s maintained that status.

The explanation about how it’s done so is that Walt Disney wouldn’t allow his life’s work to become mundane. He demanded change, and he demanded improvement. In the latest edition of Turning Point, let’s look at how Disneyland has handled its senior citizen status.

The conundrum

Image: DisneyHow similar is the Disneyland of today to the one that you remember from childhood? How much has stayed the same in the face of your maturation into adulthood? And how much did you want it to change?

These aren’t innocent questions. It’s the driving concern of all Disneyland planners. They need to plus as much of the park as possible to keep it fresh and innovative. Otherwise, casual theme park tourists will stop visiting. The changes that they make are treacherously challenging, though.

When Disneyland seems too different, guests complain that faceless corporate decision makers are ruining their childhood. We’ll even discuss a specific example in a moment. The reality is that anytime Disney updates the park, they do two things.

Image: DisneyThe first is that they honor Walt Disney’s express wishes for the Happiest Place on Earth. He was the one who demanded plussing, after all. But the second is that park officials face a backlash when the changes are unwelcome.

Aging gracefully isn’t easy, my friends. The old sporting adage is that Father Time is undefeated. As we speak, Disneyland attempts to prove that maxim wrong. In its mid-60s, it’s trying to reinvent itself for the next generation of Disney lovers. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Project Stardust

Image: DisneyPerhaps the most relevant demonstration of the Disneyland conundrum involves Project Stardust. As we speak, park officials are trying to uphold the four central tenets of the Happiest Place on Earth. These foundational beliefs are safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. The goal for Project Stardust is to improve the park in each of these fields.

Project Stardust is a multi-faceted path forward for a 65-year-old park. Disney officials recently updated Sleeping Beauty Castle with a glossy new coat of paint. They did a lot more than that, of course, but one of the overriding concerns for the update was reverence. Imagineers labored diligently to keep the castle looking like it always has before, only they modernized it during the process.

The castle now features gold leaf and fireproof elements. The former classes up the regal look even more, while the latter protects the building from the nightly fireworks display. These changes exemplify Disney’s precarious balance between the past and the future. They also hearken back to the “safety” and “show” parts of Disney’s mantra.

Image: DisneyOther parts of the renovation will improve walking paths around the park. Traffic flow is an integral part of an enjoyable park experience. Disneyland’s traffic is up almost 27 percent over the past decade. Before Project Stardust, the walkways hadn’t changed in size. Guests felt crowded, and Disney has interceded to alleviate the matter. It’s a matter of efficiency that is invisible to park guests yet one that they all appreciate.

To gain back the extra space, Disney had to modify or remove some elements like trees, bushes, and themed elements for certain lands. It's a necessary sacrifice for the overall betterment of the park, both today and in the future. It's exactly the type of change that Disneyland has needed for a long time now. The park finally has bold management in place, leaders who are willing to make these hard choices.

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