This week Frozen Ever After opened in Epcot’s Norway pavilion after months of being closed for the transformation from the now—defunct Maelstrom ride. As soon as Disney announced that Maelstrom would be closing to make way for a Frozen-themed attraction in Norway, Disney fans began fervent discussion and debate. Many people pleaded that Frozen was not authentically Norwegian and that it didn’t belong in Epcot’s World Showcase. Others simply made the case that Disney had over-saturated their own market with Frozen characters, sing-a-longs, and other appearances throughout the parks. More surprisingly to me was the amount of people simply claimed to be disappointed that Maelstrom, an attraction that was beloved and near to their hearts, was being taken away. This latter group of people may not have been a majority, but they were certainly a very vocal group that was heard throughout the Disney fan community loud and clear.
Nevertheless, when Frozen Ever After opened in Epcot’s Norway pavilion this past Tuesday it opened to throngs of people willing to stand in the hot Florida sun for upwards of 4 hours in some cases to see Disney’s latest attraction. While some may have been surprised by the turnout, considering that so many were turned off by the idea of a Frozen attraction in Norway, it didn’t surprise me at all for a number of reasons. Let me preface by saying that I have not experienced the attraction yet, and I don’t have an opinion on the ride itself yet. I merely have observed several factors that given excellent explanations to the large crowds that were seen this week.
1.First of all, pretty much everything that Disney does today ends up drawing massive crowds; especially in the summer. Like it or not, Disney is doing something right. They know how to market as well as, if not better than, any other company out there. In some ways, the debate on whether or not replacing Maelstrom was the right move was actually free marketing for Disney, and it helped spread the word of the new attraction throughout the community.
2.Secondly, Maelstrom was a dated attraction that rarely was seen with more than a 20-minute wait, other than during peak times of the year. The public has been clamoring for Epcot to make some updates and changes, and Disney has been responding to these calls over the last 10 years or so. We have seen El Rio del Tiempo in Mexico replaced with Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros, The Living Seas replaced with The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and now a more modern addition to Norway with Frozen Ever After.
3.The Disney fan community is Disney’s biggest marketing tool right now. Whether it is podcasts, social media via Facebook, Twitter, etc., or blogs and web sites like this one, we are getting the word out about everything Disney has to offer better than Disney could ever hope for in a paid advertising spot. As fans, we love to talk about Disney, and Disney loves it when we talk about them; especially for free. I have watched as events like Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party have gone from being relaxing, fun experiences to becoming crowded must-do annual events. I attribute this largely to the increase in Disney fan sites, blogs, and podcasts that spark discussion every time one of these events comes back around or when Disney opens a new attraction. In a way, it’s good for everyone. We get enjoyment, as fans, from discussing these things, and Disney gets free promotion. The only down side is, it’s kind of like telling all your friends about this secret spot that only you know about only to find it taken over by crowds of people who the word has trickled down to.
4.The next reason is probably the most obvious. It’s summer time. Crowd levels in Walt Disney World are already at a peak due to school being out and thousands upon thousands of families being on vacation. If there’s ever a perfect time for Disney to unveil a new attraction, it’s right in the middle of summer.
5.Lastly, a reason that should be obvious but may have deceptively alluded many people. Frozen is a major commercial and box office hit! For every one person out there who is sick to death of Elsa singing “Let it go”, there are probably 4 kids out there who have it set up to play on repeat on their iPods and cell phones. “Let it go” even gets massive applause from the crowd when it makes its appearance in the many night-time shows it is a part of in Disney parks on both coasts. For me, adding Frozen to Norway made more sense, strictly in terms of popularity and relevancy, than did the American Idol Experience (now closed) in Disney’s Hollywood Studios or even Avatar’s Pandora coming soon to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The massive waits for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet should have been a harbinger for the crowds that Frozen Ever After would experience. You may not see 4-5 hour waits continuously once the attraction has been open for a while, but I predict it will continue to see lines similar to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Toy Story Mania for the foreseeable future.
Maybe the fictional town of Arendelle, in which Frozen takes place, isn’t authentic Norwegian enough for what World Showcase started out as. Although, I think a case could be made that Disney did a lot of research and got more of the classic Norwegian culture and style into the film than many would like to admit. Maybe there is a core group of very vocal people who are disappointed to see Maelstrom go. Maybe even, perhaps, there is an even larger group of people who are sick of seeing Frozen every time they turn around. But at worst, Disney has captured the public’s curiosity, and at best, they have cashed in with another exciting reason to visit Walt Disney World. Perhaps the only thing surprising about the crowds that showed up for the opening for Frozen Ever After is the amount of people willing to wait for 4 hours in the hot Florida summer sun, but that’s another blog post for another time.