The rumors are sort of perpetually out there — “Disney World is going to build a 5th theme park!” “It’ll be based on the villains!” “No, it’ll all be princess-themed!” “No, it’ll be based on Disney’s live-action movies!”
We get the hype. Heck, we want it to be true! We can’t deny that an entirely BRAND NEW 5th Disney World theme park in Orlando would be pretty amazing. But, will it actually happen? Why hasn’t it happened already? And, better yet, why might it NOT happen anytime soon? Today we’re breaking down all of our thoughts on why Disney World CAN’T just add a 5th theme park (sorry, guys!!).
It’s Been HOW Long?!
Let’s start with a look at the past. Here are all of the years when the existing Disney World theme parks opened:
- Magic Kingdom — Opened 1971
- EPCOT — Opened 1982 (11 year gap)
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios — Opened 1989 (7 year gap)
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom — Opened 1998 (9 year gap)
So, as you can see, Animal Kingdom was the last theme park to open in Disney World and that was 23(!!!) years ago! Some of you reading this article might have not even been BORN when Animal Kingdom opened! Wow, feeling majorly old right now. LOL, if you were alive when Hollywood Studios first opened, time to start using some eye cream, ammiright?
Anyway, we bring this up just to note that it has been a WHILE since Disney World opened a new theme park in Orlando. This would actually be the largest time gap between the opening of Disney World theme parks. So, perhaps this long gap shows that Disney World just isn’t planning or willing to open a 5th theme park in Orlando at the moment, and perhaps won’t do so for a very long time. But, there are reasons why Disney might want to build a 5th theme park.
Why Disney Might WANT to Build a 5th Park
Building a 5th theme park could definitely have its advantages when it comes to Disney World. First, having another park for people to visit during their stay could encourage more guests to stay on property for more of their vacation. Guests that previously left one day of their trip to do non-Disney things, like visit other theme parks in Orlando, might be encouraged to instead stay on Disney World property that day and visit the 5th theme park instead.
Guests might also feel encouraged to visit Disney World for a longer period of time. More parks=longer vacay! So, that typical, annual 4-day vacation with a schedule set to visit 1 park per day, may need to become a 5-day vacation to fit in the new theme park. That all means more potential revenue for Disney when it comes to tickets, restaurants, merchandise, hotels, etc.
A 5th theme park would also likely encourage more people to visit Disney World in general. Some people out there have been to Disney World in the past and feel like they’ve “seen all there is to see.” If Disney World opens a 5th park though, that could seriously encourage them and lots of other people to come back to Disney World for the first time in months or years as there’ll be something REALLY new to see.
Guests would (obviously) need to buy tickets for the park, so that would drive revenue up. They might also spend more on food, souvenirs, and other things in the park. (You can hear the cash register *KA-CHING* sounds too, right?)
A 5th park would also give existing loyal fans something new to look forward to. It might mean that you’ll move up your annual trip or visit more than normal in upcoming years to see ALL of the new things.
Disney World could also use this 5th park to incorporate more of their movies, shows, and other IP into the parks. And they could target larger groups of fans with new rides and new technologies, without having to replace some of the classics that fans know and love.
But, perhaps most beneficial, a 5th park would give Disney an entirely blank slate to start from. They wouldn’t have to worry about existing rides, existing pathways, existing structures, etc. They could create anything they want to and that’s likely a VERY exciting thought.
BUT it’s not that easy.
Drawing Visitors Away from the Other Parks
Opening a 5th park also has its disadvantages — one of the biggest being that opening a 5th park would likely (in some respects) draw visitors away from the other 4 parks.
In order to visit all 5 parks, Disney World guests might need to extend their stay. And, some people might be willing to do that.
But, others likely won’t extend their stay. Not everyone has the flexibility to schedule a longer trip and some just might not WANT to! Instead, they’ll just try to do more in the same number of days. Or, they’ll focus their visit on the new park and skip out on the other ones. So, that day in their typical visit that used to be reserved for EPCOT or Animal Kingdom might just switch to a day focused on the new park. This trip, they might just not visit one of the parks at all.
People only have so many vacation days. And while there are a LOT of guests and you might think that drawing visitors away from the other 4 parks is a good thing to help ease the crowds in the other parks, from a financial perspective it’s generally not. Really, from a purely financial perspective, Disney likely wants ALL of its parks to be full.
Now, the 5th park might encourage enough visitors to return, new visitors to come, or returning visitors to extend their stays, mitigating any fears about dropping attendance at the parks. But, if many or most guests just decide that they’ll skip one of the other 4 parks this trip in order to focus on the new park, then that might not be an ideal thing.
Expansion vs. New Creation
Another factor that Disney might be considering when it looks at potentially building a 5th theme park is expansion vs. creation. Generally speaking, expanding an existing park is likely MUCH easier than creating something new.
Why? An existing park already has most of the basic infrastructure needed for the expansion. It’s already got water pipes, an entrance, an exit, parking, transportation, wiring, electricity, etc. — all of the basic things — for Disney to just tap into for the new area. It’s likely easier and more cost-effective to just create an expansion rather than build an entirely new park from scratch.
Sure, expansions can come with their own challenges due to that existing infrastructure, but the challenges for a small expansion are likely less than the challenges would be for an entirely new park.
And, frankly, Disney has shown us its general preference for expansions. Over the past several years, we’ve seen Disney open or work on New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the TRON ride in Magic Kingdom, Pandora — The World of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the entire surrounding area as part of the France pavilion expansion in EPCOT.
Disney could have combined these ideas and other ones (that we’re sure are just floating around Imagineering somewhere) into a new theme park. But, instead, it decided to expand its existing parks to add in these new experiences. These decisions and the popularity of the expanded areas that have already opened might show Disney’s general preference to continue on expansion efforts in the future, rather than an entirely new park.
The Effort & The $$
Perhaps the most obvious reason why Disney can’t just build a 5th theme park is the sheer amount of effort and money it would take. We’ve seen the effort that has been required just to build the Star Wars hotel and other new experiences on property. We’ve been promised Space 220 for multiple YEARS now, and we still haven’t been able to step foot inside that spot!
It takes YEARS for expansion areas, new rides, new hotels, etc. to be built. Just imagine how long it would take to build an entirely new theme park from scratch and how much effort would be required.
Complications and special situations, like the global pandemic for example, have also caused several new projects in Disney World to either be delayed or postponed. Disney could begin construction on a 5th park and find itself in a similar situation with significant delays due to issues outside of its control. It’s relatively easy to postpone or delay a single ride, but much more difficult to handle delays when it relates to an ENTIRE park.
A 5th park also comes with a lot of challenging things to consider and address. Where should it be placed on property? How much space should it have? How many opening-day attractions does it need to justify guests purchasing a ticket there and feeling satisfied? How will the roads have to be arranged to lead guests to the park?
How will Disney handle transportation of guests from their hotels to this park (more buses, more bus drivers, etc. will likely be needed)? Where will Disney build the parking lot? If all parks are at capacity, does Disney have enough hotel rooms to house a that larger number of guests? Does it need more hotels? How many more Cast Members will they need to hire? The questions are essentially endless. That said, they have done it before in the past.
And, of course, building a 5th park would require a WHOLE lot of $$$. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge alone cost upwards of $1 BILLION (yes, with a “B”). In a time when Disney’s businesses have ALL been significantly impacted financially due to the pandemic, and the theme parks are reporting losses in amounts that also start with a “B,” pouring buckets of money into a 5th theme park might not be financially feasible or practical for a long time to come.
There’s Less Available Space than You Think
The entire Disney World property is VERY large — about 40 square miles! And, as you’re driving around you might see some open spaces and think “wow, a theme park could fit in there perfectly!” And you might be right — for some of those areas. But, not all of Disney’s property in Florida is actually available for a 5th park. Surprisingly a lot of it is actually not suitable for building at ALL.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a special taxing district that is basically the immediate governing jurisdiction for Disney World. Its landowners primarily consist of Walt Disney World. According to a Comprehensive Plan created by Reedy Creek and adopted in 2010, Reedy Creek did an analysis of undeveloped land and how much of it is sustainable for development.
Reedy Creek defined some land as suitable for development (these are lands outside of the Conservation areas and generally above certain flood elevation levels), marginally suitable for development (these are areas where development is strongly discouraged and places that would require mitigation of wetland impacts beyond what the district has already arranged for), and unsuitable for development (this includes wetlands below a certain flood elevation level and all Conservation Areas — Disney set aside part of the Disney World property for conservation many years ago).
Out of all of the acres of undeveloped land — here’s a break-down of what they found at the time:
- Suitable: 2,825 acres (19.9 percent of the undeveloped land)
- Marginally Suitable: 2,256 acres (15.9 percent of the undeveloped land area)
- Unsuitable – 9,093 acres (64.2 percent of the undeveloped land area)
Yes, you’re reading that right. Based on their prior assessments, more than half of the undeveloped land on Disney World property is what the district considers to be unsuitable for development.
Over the next 10 years, the District noted that its development will be directed to focus on those areas that were identified as suitable in the analysis. You can see a map of the various areas below.
Now, this is an older report, but still, it gives us a general idea of what’s actually going on behind the scenes. Basically, yes, there’s a lot of land in Disney World, but quite a bit of it is actually totally unsuitable for development of a new park or anything else. Now, is there enough to build a 5th theme park — it definitely looks like it based on the map — but it’s still likely a bit more complicated than you might expect.
There’s a Lot of Construction Already Going On
Disney is no stranger to construction, but it’s already got SO many projects going on, a 5th park at Disney World might just not be feasible right now or for a long while. At Disney World, the Company is working on building the TRON attraction, the Star Wars hotel, the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster, the PLAY! Pavilion, other parts of the EPCOT Transformation, and SO much more.
But, Disney World isn’t the only place where construction is going on. Disney is also working on Avengers Campus (and now the overall idea of the DisneylandForward project) at Disneyland Resort in California, new things that are coming to Disneyland Paris, expansions at other parks overseas, new ships for Disney Cruise Line, new movies, and other things in tons of other aspects of its business.
In reality, there’s only so much money that can be spent at one time. And, as we mentioned before, considering how the company has been impacted by COVID-19, spending the amount of money it would cost to build another park may simply be out of the question, at least for now.
But, Competition is Coming!
But, Disney can’t just sit around and wait forever to bring in new things. Universal Studios Orlando is working on a new theme park for its resort — Universal: Epic Universe. According to the Orlando Sentinel, this new park is expected to open in early 2025. Just like when the entire Harry Potter-themed area was first added to Universal’s Islands of Adventure, this new area could draw in a good number of visitors and drive up the resort’s attendance.
Disney will likely need to take some kind of action to respond to its competition and encourage tourists not to forget about coming to Disney World. Will that be a 5th park? That might be unlikely, at least for a long time, but we’ll have to wait and see!
At the moment, Disney hasn’t shared plans about a potential 5th park coming to Disney World, but we’re certainly on the lookout for more updates and will let you know what we find!
If Disney World were to open a 5th park, what would you want it to have? Tell us in the comments!