The Mouse that scored: Looking back at the highs (and lows) for Disney World this year
Tron Lightcycle Run at the Magic Kingdom. Source: Disney

Ride openings, company layoffs, employee raises, surprise closures — a lot happened at Disney World in 2023.

Hello, TRON. Goodbye, Star Wars Hotel. We hardly knew ya.

There was no shortage of news this year at Disney World — which has the biggest theme park in the world, a massive labor force and diehard fans who analyze the Mouse’s move. Yes, Disney’s ongoing fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis made international headlines and made average folk suddenly aware of the existence of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but there were plenty of other interesting and significant stories emerging out of Disney World in 2023.

Disney World’s biggest ride opening this year was TRON Lightcycle/Run in the Magic Kingdom. The long-awaited coaster, short but sweet, opened in April.

Disney gave up on its grand cosplay experiment of the Star Wars-themed hotel. Star Wars diehard fans loved the immersion at the hotel, but few were enamored with the $5,000 price for a two-night stay for two people. Disney announced the hotel was closing in September after only being open for 19 months. Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro teased, “No hints yet, but something will happen,” when he was asked what Disney plans to do with the empty space.

Disney also canceled plans to relocate Imagineers to the $1 billion Lake Nona campus. The company originally planned to move a California division of more than 2,000 Disney employees to Orlando, but then nixed it after the move had been contentious among some Californians who didn’t want to move and at a time when Disney was openly fighting with DeSantis.

“This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one,” D’Amaro said in May, blaming new leadership and changing business conditions as the reason why Disney wasn’t moving forward.

Disney’s labor news also made headlines. For labor leaders, one big win was a new contract that raises the minimum pay to $18 an hour by the end of 2023. “Our cast members have always been at the heart of the Walt Disney World experience,” said Jeff Vahle, President of Walt Disney World Resort, in May.

Meanwhile, the rest of The Walt Disney Co. — a massive conglomerate with its parks, cruises, films, streaming service and consumer products — underwent layoffs. A reported 7,000 people lost their jobs.

Universal and SeaWorld also made news. SeaWorld debuted a new surfing themed roller coaster called Pipeline, the latest in its aggressive expansion to add more thrill rides. And Universal, not to be outdone, opened up its Minion Land while its owner Comcast Corp. forges ahead with big projects from a children’s park in Texas, a Halloween Horror Nights experience in Las Vegas and, of course, Epic Universe coming to Orlando in 2025.

The new rides helped make a banner year for Orlando’s tourism where tourists are back at pre-pandemic levels.

We’ll see what happens in 2024 at the parks.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    December 27, 2023 at 11:46 am

    Disney’s bigget “low” was jacking their streaming rates 30% and them almost immediately jacking them again.

    I guess that is just good Capitalism. The folks who didn’t drop after pirce hike #1 are clearly captive audiences controlled by their children, so extract every possible penny from ’em, right? Otherwise the Board of Directors will not be pleased about obviously missed revenues will they

    Dinsey put themselves on my “binge, cancel for 5 years, binge, repeat” list with their first price hike. And I ain’t poor. I’m just smart: Why pay $2000+ when I can watch all of it that I care to watch for $30 if I’m quick, $60 if I’m slow about it?

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