What Disney’s “Galaxy’s Edge” Teaches Us About Planning
I’m both a Disney nerd and a Star Wars geek, so you can imagine my salivation when the Mouse announced he was building brand new lands in both Anaheim and Orlando. I am currently saving up kidneys to sell on the black market in hopes of seeing the east coast version of that land sometime before death (ironic, because #kidneys).
But like many Disney fans, I’ve been somewhat perplexed and amazed by the news coming out of California. Since Galaxy’s Edge debuted on May 31, 2019, the anticipated crowds, hours-long lines, and oversaturated parks have been scarcer than a smoke alarm at Aunt Beru’s house (#didyouseewhatididthere).
I’ve read the reports with more than a modicum of nerd interest. For all of Disney’s logistical planning, crowd forecasting, and attempt-at-people-shuffling, the lackluster surge has been a head-scratcher. However, I think there are a few things that those of us who plan for church events can learn from the boo-boo at Batuu:
1. Have a plan.
No one faults Disney for walking into the new land with a plan. Galaxy’s Edge has been in the works for years, which means that reams of paper and thousands of meetings have converged to plan construction, costuming, dining options, timelines, merchandise, and yes, even crowd control. To quote another geek universe, one does not simply walk into Mordor, and one definitely doesn’t coast into a project of this size.
Takeaway: never enter an event of any size without a plan. To do otherwise is foolish. And we all know foolishness.
2. Be willing to adjust the plan.
Roughly a month after opening, Disney lifted the employee and annual passholder ban that had originally been planned for the entire summer in order to keep crowds manageable. What initially seemed like a good idea turned out to be harmful. And so, Disney made a course correction in order to bring balance to the force.
Takeaway: we can’t be so beholden to our precious plans that we’re not willing to see that something’s not working.
3. Hype matters.
Disney did a great job at playing up the crowds. They implemented a new reservation system and a four-hour time limit in the land. Every announcement and press release touted the attention to detail and immersive experience, which made Star Wars fans’ blood run warmer than the interior of a Tauntaun. The hype caused foaming at the mouth and shouts of “take my money.”
Takeaway: But hype matters in another way, too. In the church world I’ve seen this play out at Easter, Christmas Eve, and other “bigger than ever!” services. We’ve actually shot ourselves in the collective feet by chasing people away with the hype, rather than drawing them in. So yes, make a big deal of your event. But know when making a big deal can be too big of a deal.
4. Learn from your mistakes.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios will throw the docking bay doors wide open on August 29, 2019, as their version of Galaxy’s Edge debuts. That means Disney officials have had a three month runway to observe, study, and critique what they discovered in Anaheim. New plans have been made for crowd control, assumedly because of what they learned from round one. I would imagine that the first few weeks of Orlando will look much different than that of their California cousin.
Takeaway: do you undergo an after-action report after each major event? To go through weeks of planning and then refuse to take an hour to debrief is just silly, and I find your lack of hindsight disturbing.
When it comes to event planning, here’s my final counsel: Do. Or do not. There is no try.