When “Limited Time Magic” was first announced back in October of 2012, it was met with great enthusiasm and high hopes. I know I was not alone in thinking of our distant sister parks, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea with their various seasonal themes, special merchandise, food, and shows. It also reminded me a bit of what makes Disneyland in California so magical, there are special things that happen throughout the year and then disappear, making them all the more special while they are around. I was truly excited that, as a local to Walt Disney World, we would get a taste of these kind of moments and make our 43 square miles feel a little bit smaller, a little more like the memories I had grown up with.
It’s not quite six months into 2013, and we, as Disney Park fans on the east and west coast of the United States, have been treated to quite a few doses of “Limited Time Magic.” Some, have been incredible successes, as judged by Disney social media fans and critics. Others, have gone by with little fanfare or appreciation. What sparked my desire to write this post was the most recent installment of Limited Time Magic: Disney’s Hollywood Studios “May the 4th Be With You” event, celebrating Star Wars Day as it has come to be known. This was, without a doubt, the greatest Limited Time Magic event to date, in my opinion. But why was this day such a success?
Well, let me first note that some of the past Limited Time Magic days have also been well-received; Long Lost Friends Week both at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland was lots of fun, True Love Week was also a unique experience, the Easter Week egg hunts were a great success as well. Other offerings of limited time merchandise, ear hats, t-shirts etc. may have been a fun addition, but certainly not to the extent that these other events have been. What’s the magic formula? And more importantly, what can Disney DO with these experiences to improve future park experiences for guests?
I think the most important key to these Limited Time Magic successes is this: community. Sure, you can bond with other folks in line for a t-shirt or a pin that you have to collect, but what better way to feel a part of the Disney community than dancing down a walkway with your favorite character, or standing in a group of fellow fans as you ooh and ahh to fireworks created especially for you? I arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the late afternoon on May 4th, but I still felt instantly a part of the special community. We all had on our Star Wars t-shirts, with smiles on our faces as a legion of Stormtroopers marched down Hollywood Blvd, or Chewbacca stood in line for Star Tours with the rest of us. A dance party is fun, but a dance party with a DJ playing real hits, where Chewie and Greedo dance in the crowds? Amazing. We all felt a part of this wonderful Disney-Star Wars family, and as a local that may or may not experience burn-out visiting the parks so frequently, it was wonderful to have something new going on that brought us all together.
In my personal opinion, I think something like May the 4th is 10 times more successful than Long Lost Friends Week, where guests may have been excited to see old characters, but really it created long lines and offered little more than a photo op and a souvenir autograph card. Fun, but not amazing. The special Limited Time Magic songs that have been created for Long Lost Friends Week and True Love Week were nice, but seemed a bit forced vs. just letting the experiences speak for themselves. Would these weeks that involve character meet and greets work if the characters were just roaming the parks as they did on May the 4th? I’m not sure, certainly I’m no expert in park logistics, but why not give it a try? I think guests would be surprised and delighted by the experience. Part of what made the Easter Week egg hunts so fun is the community aspect of interactivity. Groups of folks were all searching for the same things, finding fellow guests along the way to share experiences with. Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt?
Other parts to the Limited Time Magic offerings have been special food items, which, on their own, may not be too exciting, but when combined with enough other activities to make it part of the fun, can be a great addition. I dined at Kona Cafe a few weeks ago and saw the little cupcake with the smiling strawberry. I had been out of the Limited Time Magic Loop and had no idea this was a “Limited Time Cupcake“, but I thought it was adorable and unique and it made me smile. THAT’s the kind of little, un-looked-for magic that takes me back to the Walt Disney World I grew up loving – proving that it doesn’t have to be a huge character line-up or special show to make a difference.
Which brings me to my next point, what can Disney DO with all of these experiences? Will they end after this year is up? Will we never see a “Long Lost Friend” again now that that week is over? Will Disney stop creating unique new dessert or dining options because this campaign has ended? I certainly don’t think so on the food side of things. Disney fans are so on top of any new cupcakes or other desserts that come out and I think that will always be a way to excite guests and create buzz. But what about the rest of the park experiences?
Seeing fireworks over Disney’s Hollywood Studios was in a word, spectacular. The Star Wars music and amazing fireworks were the perfect mix. They put a smile on my face and made me proud to be a part of this Disney community, experiencing this special event first-hand. Would they be less special if those fireworks happened every Star Wars Weekend? I don’t think so. I’d definitely stay in the park later, and more than likely spend more money on food, drinks, or merchandise because the park was open later. And after seeing those fireworks, I would most assuredly make a special trip back to see them again. I’ve missed Sorcery in the Sky and I think a fireworks display is just what that park needs. Every other weekend? Once a month? I’ll take it!
These are the moments that make great vacations. These are the moments that create memories and cause little kids and grown-ups alike to go back home and spread the gospel of Disney out amongst their friends and family. I can just picture it now, a little boy or girl saying to their friends, “And then, a Stormtrooper walked right by me and stopped and we battled with his blaster and my light saber!” (or a grown up telling his or her friends the same thing 😉 ) Is that memory not so much more powerful than “and then we stood in line and got a photo with the three little pigs.”? Sure, that photo may be a treasured memory, but the former experience was an active memory rather than a passive one, which put the guest in the middle of the story. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t staged. It was a spontaneous moment and exactly what makes Disney so magical.
My hope is that Disney takes these Limited Time successes and translates them into changes across the parks. Spontaneous character interactions should be the norm, not a one-time experience. Getting the community to rally around a show or fireworks IS possible if it’s done right.
Seeing the Dapper Dans sing boy band songs, while amusing, isn’t something that will create memories that last a lifetime. In fact, if such a big deal hadn’t been made of the Dapper Dans singing boy band hits prior to that week, it probably would’ve had a much bigger impact. I could see a much bigger buzz having formed around a spontaneous rendition of “Bye, Bye, Bye,” with viral video happening and social media channels reposting all over the place. But knowing it was coming, it was just like, “Oh, ok. Cute.” At least that’s how I saw it.
Having a new set of ear hats, while cool and fun, isn’t what will form the moments that make lifelong Disney fans and guests. Keep ’em coming, the designs are great. But don’t call them “Limited Time Magic” when we all know they are just new merchandise for us to buy. (And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE merchandise. It’s where I got my start with Disney, selling merchandise on Main Street, U.S.A. – and some of the new t-shirt and other designs have been absolutely fantastic lately. But keep it separate from something that’s meant to create excitement about the parks themselves.) Keep the “magic” alive by not watering it down with experiences that happen every day anyway. Characters roaming through a park without a line to stand in? Magic. Fireworks in a park that never sees them? Magic.
Disney has had some incredible successes lately from the food booths at the Flower & Garden Festival, to New Fantasyland, to the promise of a new parade at Magic Kingdom. The most successful Limited Time Magic events have been those that truly create magical moments, instigate buzz, and make lifetime memories with guests. The kind of thing where you can say “I was there for…” such as the next major Limited Time Magic event – Disney Parks on both coasts being open 24 hours. I was there for the One More Disney Day event, and it was a unique experience like no other. May 24th is right around the corner and I know I’ll be at the Magic Kingdom all 24 hours.
I know Disney has it in them to translate these limited moments into future guest experiences that create lifelong Disney fans and supporters. I hope the decision-makers take a look at what the response has been and work on ways to make Limited Time Magic a little less limited and a little more magical. I had such a wonderful time at the May the 4th event, it made me super excited for Star Wars Weekends, but I hope some of that intimate, community feel of May the 4th can translate into not only Star Wars Weekends, but the rest of the parks as well.
What are your thoughts? What have your favorite Limited Time Magic moments been and what would you most like to see in the future?