Rumors about a 5th theme park coming to Walt Disney World have been around since the 4th one, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998. But is it possible? Could a 5th park Disney World actually happen?
In this post, we’ll discuss why it makes sense for Disney to build a new theme park in Florida, the latest rumors about it but also why it probably won’t get built anytime soon.
Just to be clear, we have no insider knowledge as to what plans Disney has in the works, but looking at the current state of the parks in Disney World and various other factors, we can make an educated guess as to where and when we’ll see one.
Fans want it to happen, they need it to happen and you’ll often see rumors persisting online about a new theme park. But while Disney fans have been clamoring for a 5th gate in Walt Disney World, the stars just haven’t been aligned, and it has mostly been wishful thinking with no solid basis to think we’d be getting a 5th gate anytime soon.
Let me just say, for sure Disney will eventually open another park in the area, I think that fact is inevitable. However, there are some things that have to happen before we see a 5th park. Let’s discuss…
Why It’s a Good Idea to Build a 5th Disney World Park
Talk of a 5th gate in Orlando is nothing new. People have always been talking and are still talking about a 5th theme park for Disney coming to Orlando. It all starts back when Disney’s Animal Kingdom was being built. On promotional material, they showed the site for the Animal Kingdom and the future site of Disney World’s 5th theme park.
That right there shows that it’s something that has always been in the pipeline for Disney. The timing just hasn’t been right.
Just when business was booming in 2001, a decline in travel hit due to 9/11. Then we had the economic crisis in 2008, and since then Disney has been concentrating on refurbishing its already existing, parks in Orlando which haven’t always kept up with the times.
They Have the Land
The first problem that comes with any theme park expansion is you need to have the available land to do it. This is not a problem for Disney. I mean they have roughly half the land still remaining in Disney World of the 30,000 acres they currently own. 15,000 acres or so, is a lot and you can put 3-4 new parks there if you really wanted to.
The situation here is totally different than in Disneyland for example where neighboring businesses started encroaching on Disney’s land from the second they opened the gates in 1955.
Disney World is another story though and it would make sense they want to use that valuable real estate for something that helps the company’s bottom line.
Disney Has Never Been Stronger
Has there ever been a time in history when the Walt Disney Company has been stronger? in 2019 they completely shattered their own record at the box office with $11 Billion in ticket sales. $11 Billion!
And just think, they have yet to even tap into and start making money on the huge library of IP they bought recently from Fox. Disney also just launched their streaming platform to rival Netflix, Disney+, which has gotten off to s good start and has a load of promising titles coming in 2020 and 2021.
People love Disney more than ever and the theme parks are high up on that list. If Disney can show the Fox deal to be worth it financially, they could afford to take another risk and build a 5th theme park in Florida.
Overcrowding in the Parks
Revenue and attendance at the parks has been strong and that “down season” that used to exist in Disney World has all but disappeared. There was a small scare this Summer when the crowds in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge weren’t as big as they thought they would be, but on both coasts, that’s changed drastically with the addition of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance being such a smashing success.
During the busy seasons especially, the Disney World theme parks get very crowded, and they’ve needed more capacity now for years. A 5th park would help to spread out some of the crowds and make each park a bit more liveable and enjoyable.
It Could Mean Higher Revenue
Walt Disney World is already one of the busiest vacation spots in the world and is always one of the strongest earning divisions of the Walt Disney Company. Seeing how people love the currently 4 theme parks, they would certainly come flocking to a 5th one.
If built properly and with the right economic circumstances, a 5th park would increase company revenue and propel the company forward in the Orlando theme park market for decades.
Universal is Catching Up with Disney
Believe it or not but there is a full-on theme park war going on in Central Florida and Disney and Universal have been exchanging heavy blows for the last decade. Universal has always played second fiddle to big brother Disney, but when Universal opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter nearly a decade ago, the gloves came off.
Disney was knocked off guard and they’ve been scrambling to catch up. That’s the reason we now have Pandora: The World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge today, because of fear of loss.
Well, you may be aware that Universal just announced their new, high-tech 3rd theme park in Orlando, Epic Universe recently. They even took some shots at the mouse saying “a universe is bigger than a world.” Though we’ve known that this park is coming for some time, you can be sure Disney isn’t taking it lying down. Eventually, they will have to fire another salvo back at Universal otherwise they risk letting Universal catch up, or even pass them.
Universal has been building massive hotels lately and they self-proclaim that Volcano Bay is their 3rd Orlando theme park, so according to them Epic Universe will be their 4th gate, putting them now neck and neck with Disney. Disney has to respond, and I’m sure an Epcot overhaul is going to be enough.
Why is Disney Buying New Land in Florida?
Disney has started buying up land recently at an alarmingly fast rate. Could this be a sign big things are coming?
How Much Land Does Disney Have Left to Develop?
Back when Disney bought their roughly 40 square miles (30,000) acres of swamp land near Orlando, they made an agreement with the state of Florida that they could develop that land but 25% of it (7,500 acres) would have to remain an environmentally protected area and they couldn’t build on it.
The latest estimates show that Disney has developed roughly 25-35% of that land. When you take into consideration the land they can’t build on, that means Disney has approximately another 40-50% of that land left that can still be developed. That’s roughly 12,000 – 15,000 acres left.
Now considering that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the biggest Disney World theme park and only takes up 580 acres, 12,000 is more than enough for a 5th park.
Of course, not all of that land is going to be buildable, (we are still talking about swamp land here) but Disney and Disney has already started looking for other land outside that original purchase.
Latest Land Acquisitions Near Disney World
In 2005 they bought the 3,000-acre Mira Lago property. In December 2018 they bought the 900-acre BK Ranch, and again in January 2019, they bought another 1,500 acres in Osceola County for $11 million.
That’s not all. Just in December 2019, Disney purchased 235 acres near Reedy Lake on the upper western part of the Walt Disney World property. Some have speculated that Disney may end up using this plot of land as a barrier to keep outside companies at a distance from Walt Disney World, or perhaps another independently-run development, with upscale shopping and dining.
But as far as a new Disney theme park goes, those properties aren’t exactly connected to Walt Disney World, and wouldn’t be great locations for a 5th park. So then why are these acquisitions important?
Remember how we told you that Disney can’t build on 25% of the current land they have in Walt Disney World? There is, however, a loophole they could use to build on that land.
The trick is that if Disney buys other surrounding land in the Orlando area, and then uses that as environmentally protected, they, in theory, can “trade” that for the rights to build more on the existing Disney World site.
Maybe all this land isn’t being used to build a 5th park either directly or indirectly, but Disney is definitely up to SOMETHING. They obviously feel what they previously had isn’t enough for whatever future plans they have for the resort are. Maybe whatever real estate this now frees up in Disney World doesn’t necessarily mean a park, but they must be using it to build something.
When Universal bought 750 acres for their new theme park it was obvious to everyone a new park was coming. Shouldn’t we be at least curious in this case too?
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Where Would a 5th Disney World Park Be Located?
This is a tough question to answer because none of the recently purchased properties are close enough to make building a new park there a great option.
If we were guessing, it would make the most sense to use those properties for wildlife conservation, and make the 5th park closer to the center of the current Walt Disney World property.
Looking at a map, there are 3 locations that stand out as being ideal in the event Disney wanted to build another park:
All 3 are close enough to the existing roads and Resort infrastructure that they would make good locations for a new park. Most of Walt Disney World is accessible from World Drive, and it makes sense that when Disney wants to build a 5th park, it would also be near that main accessway too.
In my opinion, the top 2 are the best suited for a new park, mostly because the one on the bottom left is too close to the Animal Kingdom, which would limit its possibilities for nighttime entertainment due to the animals being close.
I have no knowledge if Disney has plans for that land or if it’s even buildable, but location wise these 3 make the most sense.
Some Recent 5th Park Rumors
Over the last 20 years, there have been plenty of rumors about a 5th gate in the Orlando area. Here are some of the most recent.
D23 Expo Secret Panel
This was the source of the most recent rumors, which in the end turned out to be a dud. Disney had announced a panel for a “Secret Walt Disney Company Project,” that many were speculating could be a new theme park in Florida.
In the end, it was nothing more than the announcement for the “One Day at Disney” program on Disney+ which is a documentary-style series looking at how magic is made in the Disney parks worldwide.
This was the most hope Disney fans had in a long time, and it turned out to be nothing related to a new park.
Many of you are familiar with the Beastly Kingdom project, an unbuilt land inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World. This land was designed to highlight many of the mythical creatures that give life to some of our favorite stories.
It’s a great idea, but it never materialized, and instead, Pandora: The World of Avatar was built on the land where it was being planned to go.
Some “insiders” are saying that instead of only a land, this project has now transformed into a whole theme park, and would be built near Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
As much as we can see, however, this is only a fanboy rumor and hasn’t materialized into anything we can say has ever been more than just a conversation, if that.
Why a 5th Gate Probably Isn’t Happening
Now that we’ve talked about how it could happen, let’s come back down to Earth a bit and discuss the problems with a 5th gate coming to Disney World in the near future. Here are the main reasons why it probably isn’t happening:
It always comes down to money first and foremost because we are talking about a business. Yes in our minds we can throw whatever Monopoly money around we want, but at the end of the day Disney has shareholders to please and they don’t have an unlimited supply of money.
Heck, they just paid over $70 billion dollars (think about that number a minute) for the Fox acquisition, and that is having a big impact on their bottom line right now. Disney’s latest quart earnings weren’t as high as they had hoped and with a huge purchase like Fox just happening, it seems unlikely Disney would have all the funds to make another very significant expansion like this.
Keeping with the money theme for a second, Disney already has major upgrades and refurbishments going on in the Orlando parks right now and it’s easy to think that they don’t have enough cash to go around for a 5th gate. They already have had budget cuts in WDW for new attractions, and maintenance is a problem, can they really manage to bring another theme park into the fold?
Limited Number of Workers
It may sound silly, but there are just so many construction companies in the Orlando area to go around. With all the work scheduled at Universal, and all the expansions already happening and future ones in Disney World, there just might not be enough workers to go around for everything.
Let’s face it, with the current business model Disney is using for its parks, IP is king and no new attractions are getting built without an IP attached to it, let alone a new park.
That means that if Disney did decide to build another theme park in Florida, it would need enough IP to fill it. Disney does have a lot of IP it isn’t currently using in the parks, but is there enough for a new park?
I guess doubling up on IP that’s currently in the parks isn’t impossible, I mean Universal already does it with Harry Potter in multiple parks. Disney could make another Star Wars-based land using one of the classic film locations that fans go crazy over (hello Hoth). And if they ever got the rights back to the Marvel characters in Florida, that would certainly fit in too.
Our thought though is that they already will start tapping into more existing IP for expansions to the current parks, it will be hard to come up with enough right now for a totally new park.
Attendance and Economic Situation
Lastly, let’s talk about attendance. Park attendance has been booming for years, but things have slowed down a bit in recent quarters and the current parks are not filled up so much that space has become a huge problem.
Even if you think the parks are too full, Disney has found another solution to the problem. By increasing ticket prices and offering more high-end tours and packages, they have been able to increase revenue without having to necessarily increase park attendance at the same time.
Attendance also includes taking into consideration the average U.S. families’ vacation time per year. The average visit for a family to Walt Disney World is around 5 days. If another park was built in Orlando, then either they would need to extend their vacation to Disney World, or sacrifice visiting one of the other parks for the new one.
Yes, this would be awesome from a visitor’s perspective because it would free up space in the already crowded parks. But Disney isn’t going to sacrifice the attendance in its current parks for a new one.
Now there are European visitors that spend 2 weeks in Disney World or the families who are mega-fans who go for longer than one week per year. But Disney already has their vacation time, and would continue to have it whether or not they build a new park.
In order for it to be profitable for Disney, they would only build a new park if they were convinced that it would lead to the average guest actually extending their stay, and that’s difficult to predict.
However, with the ever-shrinking American vacation time, that doesn’t seem too likely.
Keeping Up the Current Parks
With so many new attractions and other projects coming to Disney World in the next few years, Disney has shown that expanding the current parks and keeping them up-to-date is the best strategy at this time.
I mean, when two of your parks were in dire need of updating in the last 5 years (Epcot and Hollywood Studios), it’s better to get those under control than build a completely new theme park.
Then it’s a never-ending cycle because the Magic Kingdom needs more new attractions besides the TRON coaster, so once Epcot is finished being built, it will likely shift focus there. And don’t think that changes aren’t coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom either. Multiple lands/attractions have been rumored there for years, and it’s clear that Disney will at some point start expanding there again too.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see a 5th park being built if it means the other Disney World parks are going to have lower maintenance budgets and not get the care they deserve.
it’s hard for Disney to be able to pinpoint exactly what kind of need they will have in the next decade, but those new rides and attractions already schedule should certainly keep people occupied for a while and they shouldn’t need a 5th gate anytime soon.
How Disney Can Handle Growing Crowds in Disney World?
Though it doesn’t seem likely that Disney will be building a new park in Florida anytime soon, what can they do about the growing crowds in Disney World?
For one, continue adding to the existing parks. If you expand the existing infrastructure in place in the current parks, it gives each park more capacity and is a much lower financial commitment to make.
What expansion space is currently left in the existing Disney World parks?
Here are the expansion pads that are currently available in the 4 Disney World parks (without removing any existing attractions or areas):
- Magic Kingdom (Adventureland) – There is a section behind the Jungle Cruise that has been rumored to be getting a new attraction for years now. This is still in play
- Epcot (World Showcase) – There are still 3-4 expansion pads available in World Showcase if Disney decides to include new countries.
- Epcot (Future World) – Between the Land and Living Seas there’s room for one more pavilion.
- Hollywood Studios (Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster area) – Near the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster there is plenty of real estate where Disney currently has backstage areas and offices. Those can be moved to another location to make room for another land.
- Hollywood Studios (Toy Story Land) – There is one more expansion pad in Toy Story Land which would fit another new attraction if needed.
- Hollywood Studios (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge) – Galaxy’s Edge can fit one more attraction.
- Animal Kingdom (Pandora: The World of Avatar) – There is room for a 3rd attraction in Pandora.
- Animal Kingdom (Conservation Station)
- Animal Kingdom (Africa)
As you can see there is plenty of room still in each park and Disney should tap into these before building a new park.
Another thing they could do is build more resort-only-type experiences like the upcoming Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Hotel. That hotel will keep guests entertained for a full 2 days and they won’t even be going to the parks during that time (except for a short trip to Galaxy’s Edge).
If the Star Wars hotel is a success, they could potentially start building more of these entertainment-based hotels which are entertainment destinations in themselves. This would increase the number of people in Walt Disney World at the same time, also increasing the company’s revenue, while at the same time not overcrowding the parks.
Imagine potential hotels themed to Beauty and the Beast, Frozen or even Marvel (the contract says they can’t put the characters in a theme park) where there are all-inclusive restaurants and entertainment venues inside. This would be amazing and also help solve Disney’s problem.
Even though it doesn’t seem likely we’ll be getting a new Disney World park anytime soon, I don’t think that means we won’t ever get a 5th in Disney World. Realistically Disney has enough on its hands with the Epcot transformation and continuing to revamp the current parks, that most of the money is going there at the time. However a 5th Disney theme park will come to Orlando eventually, it’s only a matter of time.
I don’t think realistically we’ll be getting a 5th gate in the next few years as more $ is being put into revamping the current Disney World parks right now. But they are positioning themselves so that in 10 years from now, a 5th gate in Walt Disney World actually could become a reality if they so desire.
Disney cannot afford to let Universal get too close and they need to keep some distance out in front if they want to keep wearing the crown. One thing is for sure, Disney has a plan and it’s going to be big. Good thing we get to go along for the ride!
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I want to know what you think about a potential 5th gate coming to Disney World…
- Would you be excited about it?
- What kind of park would you like to see?
Let us know in the comments section below!
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