By now there is a good chance you've heard the unfortunate news that Disney has decided to alter the schedule of Fantasmic!, starting in 2009. If not, basically Disney has decided that starting on January 5, 2009, Fantasmic! will only be shown twice per week, with shows usually on Monday and Thursday nights. Many fans of the Studios as well as Walt Disney World in general are a bit perplexed and upset at this decision and I can't help but evaluate the effect this will have on how people tour the Studios and view the park.
Disney's decision to cut back on the showings of Fantasmic! is cited as a regular evaluation of their "operation and balance" of their entertainment offerings and Disney goes on to cite a number of new attractions in the park such as Toy Story Midway Mania, Block Party Bash, Journey into Narnia, High School Musical 3 Pep Rally and the Playhouse Disney re-cast that occured this past January. Of course, none of these attractions are close to being nighttime spectaculars on the scale of Fantasmic!. Disney felt it could address the issue with the new American Idol Experience attraction that will be opening in January with a grand finale show at the end of the day with the best contestants of the day showcased for the entire park's guests to enjoy. Regardless of your feelings about American Idol Experience, I think I speak for many when I say an American Idol competition is not what guests want to see at the conclusion of a day in the Studios.
While Disney will likely never admit it anytime soon, the cutback of Fantasmic! is speculated to be for financial reasons. Obviously economic times are getting tougher and flights are being cut back while gas prices make interstate travel less of a sensible solution, so this looks like a pre-emptive strike at cutting back on expenses. I see expenses as little things like cutting back park hours or cutting back a little everywhere to save overall. Fantasmic! is an even more attractive option tu cut back on since it involves so many performers in the many scenes that are depicted on the Fantasmic! stage and for the dedicated Cast Members who perform in this show, it must be a devastating blow to their morale. Cutting out 70% of the showings of a major show like Fantasmic! is overly aggressive and unnecessary given the current state of things. This isn't the 11th hour where the future looks bleak. Rather, international demand has never been higher and the fact is Americans are still coming to the parks in hordes this summer. While I agree Disney should be able to make some cuts to be financially smart given the outlook, nonetheless, I feel a cut of Fantasmic! as is currently planned is a hastily made knee-jerk reaction that has some terrible long-term effects.
A lesson that Disney has learned with its theme parks is the importance of something big in the evening to keep guests in the parks all day. Until now, the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios has a nighttime event involving fireworks; Disney's Animal Kingdom does not because of issues with the animals and the lack of a major night event has in part lead to the perspective shared by many guests that Animal Kingdom is a "half day park". Cutting back on Fantasmic! will in my estimation lead to negative long term results for the Studios as well. Disney has said that Fantasmic! will be shown "more often during our busiest times of the year" but that doesn't lead me to believe that means a return to a showing every night necassarily.
What we can expect to see is many guests writing off the Studios by afternoon because there is no showing of Fantasmic! that evening. On evenings where Fantasmic! is going to be shown, expect a swarm of crowds who want to see it once during their trip, similar to those evenings in the Magic Kingdom when regular showings of Wishes are limited in a week due to many hard-ticket party events occuring (i.e. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, Pirate & Princess Party, et al). This will also have an effect on the popularity of the Fantasmic! Dining Package of making it a more attractive offer despite the fact that the plan isn't that great at all. The longer term effect is I can see more guests writing off the Studios as not important to their vacation plans and a perception of the Studios being a step-child of the other parks...a "b-level park" when compared to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. The Studios brand stands to suffer despite some great new attractions in the park because Disney fans want and demand their fireworks in the evening. The proof is located across Disney property at Disney's Animal Kingdom where guests flee in swarms by 4pm and clearly new top-tier attractions (Everest, Finding Nemo) cannot hold guests all day in the park.
If the economy continues to perform poorly, I'm sure we can expect other cutbacks but hopefully a change in fortunes will convince Disney to reverse course on the cutbacks of Fantasmic! and avoid this unfortunate decision.