Is Walt Disney World making plans to build a luxury resort to compete with SeaWorld's Discovery Cove?
Veteran Disney observer and blogger Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media says yes, reporting on his blog today that sometime this year, most likely in the fall, Disney brass will announce their fabled "5th gate" plan at Disney World, something called Disney's Night Kingdom, that would offer a pampered theme park experience at night. Like Discovery Cove, the park would be limited admission, with high ticket prices, Hill writes. He projects 2,000 visitors a day, paying about $250 apiece. He cites no specific sources, except for referring to a "Disney business plan" and offers quite a few details on what it might entail.
"The Mouse is actually going to build this $520 million project," Hill states.
An announcement could come as soon as the company shareholder's meeting next month, or more likely at a media event planned for next fall, with plans to build it in time to open in 2011, he speculates.
If so, it may surprise many people in the industry, and go against many recent corporate pronouncements. Various rumors have been out there for a while but it seems many people are not expecting anything anytime soon. Disney President Bob Iger and other top Disney execs have enforced that notion by repeatedly insisting that there are no imminent plans for any additional American Disney theme parks.
Today Disney, of course, is virtually not commenting. Under securities law the company would have to make an announcement that big through a very organized information release, such as a speech at a shareholder's meting. Disney World spokeswoman Andrea Finger said the company draws up all sorts of "bluesky" concept plans, many of which never go anywhere. She would neither confirm nor deny anything.
"We are always looking for new ways to grow the business," she said.

Here are some pros and cons that occur to me:
Pro: Among recent rumors is one that the Disney Cruise Line island adventures offered on Disney's Castway Cay are so well received that Disney has been talking about finding better ways to replicate those experiences at the theme parks.
Con: A recent rumor had it that Joe Rohde, the Walt Disney Imagineer who was the creative force behind much of Disney's Animal Kingdom, had worked up plans for a luxury resort, that they were shown to a few focus groups, and that they died unloved.
Pro: Discovery Cove, SeaWorld's limited-access, pricey, luxury tropical resort, worked. So if there's a market for luxury theme parks, where's Disney's entry?
Con: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has already committed about $3 billion on the three areas that Iger has declared are the division's priorities: fixing California Adventure, buying a couple new cruise ships, and building a Hawaii Disney Vacation Club resort. If the U.S. economy is wobbling, now might not be the best time to launch another half-billion dollar priority.
Pro: The international boom in theme parks, from Singapore to China to Spain to Dubai, is going to really compete for international tourists. The pressure surely will rise for something bold and new. What might Disney do to keep international tourists coming back to Orlando?
Con: While Disney's domestic theme parks have so far recently bucked conventional economics by staying successful in spite of the wobbly U.S. economy and rising gas prices, they haven't always bucked economic trends. And a night lux resort would seem aimed at catching a lot of business meeting traffic, which is highly-susceptible to the economy.
Pro: SeaWorld is opening Aquatica next month and Universal is building the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area. Disney World's got next.
Con: Many people in the industry think the North American theme park market is pretty saturated. To that end, Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo has talked about creating some new businesses, such as niched themed urban districts, and pursuing some new resort hotel-oriented projects in North America (such as the Hawaii one,) rather than talk about building any new parks.