Walt Disney World is currently home to four theme parks, two water parks, a large shopping district and a huge number of resorts. As more resorts are being built and as attendance continues to grow, will Disney ever consider adding a fifth theme park – also known as a fifth gate – to Walt Disney World?
The answer to that question is complicated.
Walt Disney World will eventually build a fifth theme park, but don’t expect to visit it in the near future. Most educated guesses suggest a fifth theme park is in Walt Disney World’s 10-to-15 year plan, at the earliest, after they’ve addressed their current four theme parks.
That timeline is estimated due to the current expansion areas still available at the existing theme parks and the enormous costs associated with constructing a brand new theme park.
Let’s talk more about the existing theme parks. Each one has, more or less, room to expand its current capacity. Epcot has several locations available for new countries in World Showcase. Animal Kingdom could expand Pandora and could build out a new land in the existing Rafiki’s Planet Watch area. The Magic Kingdom has a couple locations for new projects, including the former Magic Kingdom Theater project. Hollywood Studios can grow in a couple directions and may already have plans to expand Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Summarized, all of the four theme parks can expand their capacity through future developments both small and large.
Over on the financial side, it’s much more affordable to expand parks that already have an infrastructure (electric, plumbing, parking, etc) than it is to build something brand new. The costs to create a brand new park from scratch is enormous, especially if it’s going to match the immersive level of detail that Disney is known for at its theme parks. A fifth theme park might be viewed as a “last resort” when all of the existing theme parks have been fully utilized within their constraints.
Some guests will point to Disney’s heavy investment in new resorts at Walt Disney World (Riviera Resort, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge and the large expansion at Coronado Springs) and suggest that a fifth park is absolutely necessary to handle all the guests. While that idea checks out in theory, Disney’s new resorts aren’t being added just attract new guests who weren’t planning on visiting Walt Disney World. Instead, they’re trying to attract more people who may have chosen to visit Walt Disney World while staying off Disney property.
Disney is trying to entice guests who may have chosen the Four Seasons or a different off-property resort with attractive new resort options. In theory, that wouldn’t have as sharp of an impact on attendance at the theme parks as you might believe. Attendance will likely continue to grow just as it has prior to the new resorts thanks to new offerings such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, not just because there are new hotels.
That’s why a fifth gate won’t be coming to Walt Disney World in the immediate future. But let’s switch gears slightly. Why should Disney fans expect a new theme park in the next 10-to-20 years?
Eventually, the existing theme parks will be maxed out both in terms of capacity and in areas to expand assuming current trends continue. The days of there being a slow season at Walt Disney World is over. The parks are already being stretched to their limits, suggesting that expansions (at the very least) are needed. This, combined with the pressure that Universal is placing on Disney by creating a new theme park of its own, will likely force the issue. Competition may be what drives Disney to commit to such a large investment required in a fifth park.
Outside factors may be the deciding factor when it comes to a fifth gate. The current economy is welcoming of the idea, but a swift downturn could eliminate any thoughts of a fifth gate should Disney see its returns at the current four parks start trending down. The economic outlook has to be right on the money for Disney to commit to such an enormous new investment.
Realistically, a fifth theme park will eventually happen at Walt Disney World. It just may take longer than Disney fans would hope.