What’s Driving the New Minimalist Design Trend at Walt Disney World?

With the recent refurbishment of many Disney Parks Resort locations, fans have noticed a growing trend towards neutral colors, minimalist decor, and simplistic theming in comparison to past design projects released by the Walt Disney Company via Walt Disney Imagineering. But why?

Of course, Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) has handled nearly every strategic design decision in relation to the Disney properties since its creation in 1953 for the construction of Disneyland. Today, WDI advertises that its Imagineers “imagine, design, and bring to life all Disney theme parks, resorts, attractions, and cruise ships worldwide.”

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Credit: WDI

In addition, WDI voices a commitment to “create immersive experiences, memorable destinations, and innovative entertainment for families around the globe,” something which specific fans claim they have begun to achieve less and less as new design styles adapt and pivot away from the elaborated decorated, colorful, and detailed locations many Disney Parks Guests are familiar with. For example, some fans voiced upset after Walt Disney World updated the heavily immersive pirate-themed rooms at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort in favor of clean lines and minimalist textures in new rooms inspired by background art from The Little Mermaid (1989).

Plus, yesterday’s opening of Carousel Coffee in the lobby of Disney’s Boardwalk Inn garnered mixed reviews, with some Guests enjoying the new menu offerings and simple space. In contrast, others reacted with outcry at its minimal commitment to themed decor referencing the Boardwalk’s early 20th-century inspiration and the shop’s reference to a carousel attraction, even wondering if this was a move on Disney’s part to save money after experiencing financial hardship during the fiscal 2022 year.

Little Mermaid Rooms Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

Credit: Disney

In fact, some Disney Guests believe this new design style attributes to the current leadership at WDI. In a tweet posted yesterday, user @MatthewDotDisney made the claim that the current President of WDI, Barbara Bouza, is responsible for the shift in design:

As Matthew claims, Bouza’s previous work at Gensler, “an integrated architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm,” has contributed to a “Genslerification” of Disney’s own brand standard in terms of new renovations to existing properties, as well as upcoming original releases. Furthermore, rather than returning to the style of bright colors, intricate details, and extensive theming many Disney Guests are familiar with, WDI now focuses on creating spaces that are “dynamic, inspiring, and exciting” with modern shapes, color palettes, and lines.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this direction, the fact remains that some Disney fans disapprove of this style and desire a return to former stylistic choices in terms of Disney Parks and Resorts, which complicates the chances of success for each new Disney project. However, others have pointed out that past improvements to Disney amenities, such as the refurbishment of Walt Disney World Resort’s All-Star hotels, began prior to Bouza’s introduction as president at WDI.

carousel coffee disney world

Credit: Attractions Magazine

Whether or not these new design choices reflect a creative development for WDI style, it’s more likely that the new designs reflect a growing trend toward minimalism in all hospitality and retail fields, rather than one employee’s personal preferences, or budget cuts. Plus, not all recent projects, such as Disneyland’s expansion of Mickey’s ToonTown, or the Galactic Starcruiser Resort, follow the minimalist design, with the “Value” Resorts themselves still keeping the giant themed icons outside each building and themed pools.

Which style do you prefer?

About Spencer Beck

Spencer is a lifelong lover of theme parks, princesses, and Disney history that recently relocated to Northern California. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she was the founder and first president of the campus Disney Club. A former Cast Member still mourning the loss of the Disney Store, she now haunts the halls of the Walt Disney Family Museum, and shares her opinions with anyone who will listen @pinknpurble everywhere.