D23 Announcements Confirm Many Disney World Rumors

This past weekend Disney held their D23 Expo, a fan biennial event which Disney uses to make make announcements and promote upcoming products.  It’s kind of like the company’s own private Comic-Con.  The last couple of events have been light on Disney World news, but the 2017 expo was packed with goodies for fans of the Orlando resort.

If you have been following Disney World rumors, none of these announcements were all that surprising.  We’ve been talking about Star Wars for years now and last year we were buzzing about a Guardians of the Galaxy project and a replacement for the Great Movie Ride.  But the Expo provided additional details as well as confirmation that these things are happening.

Let’s take a closer look at all of this year’s announcements.

Fans have been eagerly anticipating the new Star Wars-themed expansion slated to open in Hollywood Studios in late 2019.  To kick off the Expo, Disney unveiled the official model for the new Star Wars land.  The new attractions will make their debut in Disneyland first with the Orlando version scheduled to open later that year.  But don’t be surprised if the Disney World project gets pushed back into 2020.

For lack of an official title, fans have been referring to the project as Star Wars Land for years.  Disney officially named the new themed area Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.  Um, okay.  I’m probably going to go on calling it Star Wars Land because Disney’s official names tend to be overly wordy.  They also highlighted some interactive elements for example how you perform on the new Millennium Falcon may impact your experience in the park.  A successful flight may reward you with credits.  Dump your cargo and you may run into a bounty hunter at the Catina.

Hollywood Studios is in the middle of a (much-needed) overhaul.  In addition to the upcoming Star Wars project (excuse me, Galaxy’s Edge), the park will open a kid-friendly Toy Story land.  This park has always been light on attractions.  Of the handful of rides offered at Hollywood Studios, many have height restrictions which limit’s the park’s appeal to families with young children.  Toy Story Land is obviously a move to address that issue.

One of the few rides in the park that everyone can experience regardless of height is the Great Movie Ride.  However, this attraction features several show scenes which can be scary for young kids.  In one section, the xenomorph from Alien pops out at riders.  There are also mummies, snakes and loud gunshots which may upset timid children.  On the other side of the equation, many guests consider the attraction dated or boring.

Regular readers of the site won’t be surprised by the news that Disney has decided to replace the park’s flagship attraction.  We talked about this rumor when it first broke almost a year ago.  The writing was on the wall for the Great Movie Ride the minute Disney cancelled the attraction’s sponsorship deal with Turner Classic Movies.  Disney doesn’t cancel sponsorships without a reason.

The new attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, promises to put guests into a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short.  Disney Channel viewers will recognize the retro animated style.

This is a screen-based attraction which is at least moderately disappointing to fans of Disney’s signature animatronics.  Disney is promising a revolutionary effect which they call 2 1/2-D.  Basically, the screens will be 3-D-like without requiring guests to wear clunky glasses.  Imagineer Kevin Rafferty set expectations for the new ride sky-high:

This is one of the boldest…most impossible things I’ve ever worked on in almost 40 years of being an Imagineer. And you know what? That’s what I love about it. Well, that, and Mickey.  This is not going to be a small attraction, it’s going to be game-changing.

Only time will tell if the new attraction can deliver.  The Great Movie Ride closes in August with no date set for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

Epcot’s World Showcase will be hosting another cartoon-based attraction.  The France Pavilion will be expanded to include a clone of the Ratatouille ride that opened in Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris in 2014.

It’s unclear if the Disney World version of the ride will be an exact clone of the original attraction.  If it is, it will be the first trackless dark ride in the Orlando resort which is something fans have been wanting for a long time.  Unfortunately, the Paris version of the ride has been viewed as something of a disappointment based on the poor integration of screens.  Maybe, hopefully, the Disney World version of Ratatouille: The Adventure can offer some improvements in execution.

Either way, this will be viewed as a controversial decision among Epcot purists still stinging from the Frozen-themed make-over of Maelstrom.  While I am mildly opposed to the invasion of animated properties into the World Showcase, I am all for adding rides to the park.  At least Ratatouille is a true addition rather than a replacement.

Speaking of replacements, Disney also announced the closure of The Universe of Energy to make room for a new Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride.  Details were scarce, but the rumor mill suggests that this new ride will be big on thrills with no real effort to edutain.

How do the Guardians of the Galaxy fit into Epcot’s vision of the future?  They don’t.  But Disney really wanted to use this popular IP in Orlando.  After plans to retheme the Tower of Terror were (thankfully) scrapped, a new attraction in Epcot became a viable plan B.

Once again, this is a move that won’t sit well with Epcot purists.   The park’s original mission statement has been slowly fading away.  Guardians represents another nail in the coffin of the idealistic EPCOT Center.  Arguably, the final nail.  On the upside, the ride is likely to be a crowd-pleaser and the attraction it is replacing was beyond dated.

Epcot will be receiving a few additional updates as well.  Mission: Space, a state-of-the-art attraction that never fully lived up to its potential, will be getting new experiences.  The Green Mission will be a family-friendly tour of Earth from space while the Orange Mission will feature an updated trip to Mars.

In between Mission: Space and Test Track, Disney will open a new space-themed restaurant which will be operated by the Patina Restaurant Group.  This is the same team responsible for operations at Tutto Italia, Via Napoli and Morimoto Asia.

Additionally, the China Pavilion will get a new movie replacing the existing Circlevision 360.  None of these Epcot announcements is all that earth-shattering but they all feel like genuine improvements.  I’d personally rather see Wonders of Life repurposed or a refurbishment for the Imagination Pavilion, but those things are also in the works and should come to pass eventually.

The only park that didn’t get any love from Disney at the Expo was Animal Kingdom.  That park just opened the long-in-development Avatar land, so it’s understandable that it doesn’t have any major projects on the horizon.  That leaves room for a couple of announcements at the Magic Kingdom.

The most popular attraction at the most recent Disney theme park in Shanghai is The TRON Lightcycle Power Run.  The neon-colored coaster will be cloned near the Tomorrowland Speedway.  Like a lot of these newly confirmed projects, Disney hopes to have the new ride ready for the resort’s 50th anniversary in 2021.

The Magic Kingdom will also receive a new theater located just off of Main Street USA.  The new building will be based on the Willis Wood theater in Kansas City, where Walt lived after he left Marceline.

There was plenty of news outside of the theme parks.  Regular readers know I have been critical of Disney’s transportation system.  Disney plans to supplement the shuttles and monorails with a new gondola system called Disney Skyliner.  These gondolas will connect the Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts with Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot.

While I applaud any effort to improve on Disney’s current transportation offerings, I’m not sure about these gondolas.  These kinds of vehicles have been used as attractions at several amusement parks including the Magic Kingdom, but they have been removed from these locations due to safety concerns.  You can easily imagine guests being stuck high in the sky when these things break down.

Rumor has it that Disney plans to use this new system as justification for charging more for rooms at the connected hotels.  The plan is to do away with the current Value, Moderate and Deluxe designations and charge whatever the market will bear for each individual hotel.  You can expect price hikes across the board because raising prices is what Disney does best.  But insiders are saying that management would like to charge as much for a room at the gondola-connected hotels as they currently do for resorts along the monorail line.

Another transportation offering is Disney’s answer to Uber.  For $20 per ride, guests can now hop a ride on a polka dotted Minnie Van.  This is a service that interests me, but I think $20 is too much to ask.  Since the vans won’t travel off property, they will primarily be of use to guests who are already paying Disney’s inflated room rates.  Those hotels are expensive in part because they pay for the transportation which Disney is now supplementing with these vans.

Disney also announced two brand new hotels.  One is a new DVC resort themed to the Riviera.  Surprise, surprise, the new Riviera Resort will be connected to the gondola system.  It opens in 2019 on land that used to be part of the Caribbean Beach Resort.

They also confirmed the rumored Star Wars themed hotel.  This addition is part of Disney’s new “360” vacation concept which means guests will be immersed in the world of Star Wars through interactive experiences.

What exactly does that mean?  Well, Disney didn’t go into details.  But rumor has it that guests at the hotel will experience exclusive meet and greets and participate in activities that tell an interactive story.  Supposedly this will be an all-inclusive experience with meals in Star Wars-themed restaurants that won’t be available to non-hotel guests.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in seeing for yourself, you’d better start saving up now.  Obviously, Disney hasn’t released details on pricing yet.  But according to insiders, you can expect to break the bank for a stay at this unique hotel.  I don’t expect most Star Wars fans will be able to afford it from what I am hearing.

That’s a lot to digest.  What do we think of all these announcements?  Well, I had originally been planning to return to Disney World sometime after the opening of Star Wars land.  But now, I’m thinking I should probably wait a little longer until some of these other projects open for the 5oth.  Hopefully I can still afford a Disney World vacation in 2021.

Kidding aside, I am encouraged to see Disney finally making additions to its flagship resort.  The first ten years or so of Bob Iger’s tenure as CEO have been lean years for Walt Disney World.  The next few years should make up for some of that.



Posted on July 19, 2017, in Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, travel, Walt Disney World and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I’m going to have to try to get used to the animation style of the nee Mickey Mouse attraction that is replacing the Great Movie Ride. It reminds me of the Ren & Stimpy show of my college years which is decidedly off-brand for Disney I loved Ren & Stimpy, but it seems like an odd choice considering how clean and classic their depictions of the Fab 5 have been property-wide.

    In my mind, the primary benefits of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille rides will be to draw big crowds in more directions in the park. Recent years have seen Test Track and Soarin’ as the only truly popular rides at Epcot, with Frozen joining them recently. The 2 new attractions will provide another popular target in Future World and pull guests further into World Showcase. If they find a way of adding a true attraction in Italy, Germany, or a new country pavilion in that corner of the World Showcase it would be a big plus for the park as a whole.

    The space-themed restaurant and the updated China movie were the only announcements I hadn’t heard anything about previously. They both sound more like traditional Epcot than these bigger announcements, so hopefully they’ll be quality offerings. Mulan could be the host of the China 360-degree movie without bothering me at all as long as it’s really good and really educational about China.

    There were some rumors that were not addressed at all, but might still happen, including updates to Spaceship Earth and Illuminations, a re-arrangement of the Imagination pavilion with Inside Out gaining a foothold (hopefully without fully kicking out Figment), and additional World Showcase pavilions based on Spain and Brazil. Another big rumor was that a Zootopia land might replace Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Animal Kingdom. While that area of the park definitely needs big improvements and I like Zootopia a lot, this seems like another step in removing anything even slightly educational in favor of IPs. That would be unfortunate.


    • I have seen the Mickey shorts that are being used as the basis of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. They are actually funny, which is a nice change. Some of them are surprisingly dark. We’re not in Ren & Stimpy territory, but they are a lot more mature than what I expect from a commercial break on the Disney Channel. Since I have been watching the toons for a few years now, I won’t require any adjustment to get used to them. Although who knows if these shorts will even be in circulation by the time the new attraction opens up. They have already been running for a while.

      Epcot is in need of attractions, so I’m willing to be pretty forgiving. I have given up on any notion that the park is any different from any other park on property. In a couple decades, it will be hard to tell these parks apart. They are all going to feel very much like variations on the Magic Kingdom. A part of me objects to things like Guardians and to a lesser extent Ratatouille, but that battle was lost a long time ago. At least the park will have some popular new attractions.

      I knew about the movie in China. I think I read about the space restaurant as part of the Mission: Space revamp, but I may be misremembering. I haven’t been paying that much attention to Disney World rumors lately.

      From what I have read, Disney still has some unannounced plans that they hope to have ready for the 50th. So some of the rumors you mentioned may still come to pass in the next few years. I forget which ones were more likely than others. Martin recently said that while Inside Out was being looked at as a possible replacement for Imagination, there’s no current movement on that front. His best estimate was maybe 5-6 years from now.

      There was some talk of a promotional campaign for the 50th that would tout 50 new additions. Some of these announcements would count towards that. Others would be really minor things like a new cupcake. But there could still be some pleasant surprise announcements between now and then.


      • When it comes to the issue of replacing education with IPs, they could always just use the characters to teach things at Epcot or Animal Kingdom, even if the things their teaching has nothing to do with the movies their in. I mean, The Lion King didn’t have an environmental message but that didn’t stop Disney from putting in an attraction where Simba lectures Timon and Pumbaa on saving the environment. Maybe they could do that with some of the rumored attractions in Epcot and Animal Kingdom?


        • They could. I don’t think they will. That ship appears to have sailed. Modern Disney isn’t interested in being educational (which may be just as well given their track record).


      • daffystardust

        As a current annual passholder, I received an email from Disney today in order to encourage me to visit the parks prior to August 13th so I could experience both The Great Movie Ride and Ellen’s Energy Adventure one last time. If my next trip was a year away it would be easy for me to take a glass half full approach to this and be glad I got that last ride in April, but since my next trip is only 44 days away, this feels like they’re rubbing it in. I guess if I was a local with easy access to the parks from home it might motivate me to hit the parks on the 13th itself. That’s probably closer to what they intended. As it is, 44 days from now there will be 2 fewer attractions than there were in April. Ah well…


        • That’s kind of a bummer, but hey, at least you got in your last rides in the Spring. Sometimes it pays to follow the rumor mill so you know what’s on the chopping block. I wouldn’t be too broken up about Ellen. The last time I rode that one was 2009 and that was recent enough for me.


        • daffystardust

          yeah, definitely a first world problem.

          I’m currently trying to figure out how to best use my time once I get there on September 1st.

          When I was scheduling my ADRs four months ago I saw ‘Ohana pop up with availability for 4 so I snapped it up with no qualms whatsoever. After all, we’ll be staying at the Poly that night and I’d love to reinforce my previous great experience there and my Brother’s family hasn’t eaten there yet despite that being their ‘home’ resort. We even got an 8:10pm time which might let us see the fireworks if we get a good table.

          And that’s what I didn’t consider. The fireworks. The new show has opened in the interim and with the heavy use of projections I really don’t see how it’ll be the same from across seven seas lagoon. My first thought once I realized this was a conflict was certainly not to change our dinner reservation.

          I initially assumed I’d be able to hop over from Epcot the night before on my own. Unfortunately, as it turns out, they’re hosting a Halloween party at Magic Kingdom that night. Okay, so that’s a no-go. I thought at the very least maybe I could hop over to hollywood Studios instead to check out the new Disney Movie Magic show there. Well guess what? I just found out last night they’re not doing that show the night of the 1st either. Strike two.

          The plan has been to do Pandora/Animal Kingdom all day on the 2nd. Since my Brother’s family get to go more often they are willing to let me make the decisions (knowing that my nephew will need to have some say once we’re in-park). They’ve already done Pandora on their own, so what’s rolling around in my brain right now is the possibility that I might hop to Animal Kingdom the evening of the 1st to see the bioluminescent features then for all of us to hop to the Magic Kingdom the following evening for Happily Ever After.

          Maybe we’ll wait to make that decision until Saturday night when we see how good the view from ‘Ohana is.


        • You’re making Universal sound really good right now. 😉


        • daffystardust

          No choices to make when there’s no choices.:-)


        • I woke up this morning and this comment popped into my head. I’m not proud of that, but it did. I see where you’re coming from. When it comes to things like parades and fireworks, Universal lags very far behind Disney. At WDW, there are several presentations which are considered to be must-sees by fans of these kinds of shows. Universal has a couple of offerings that few would argue stack up.

          However, the part that jumped out at me this morning was the word “choices”. What I was initially responding to was the fact that Disney locks you into these very difficult choices months in advance. And then, after you have made your selections, things change. Attractions close either permanently or for refurbishment. New shows open. Things are always shifting around and changing your plans to accommodate the changes can be difficult. Whereas at Universal, that’s not the case.

          Yes, things change, but you’re not locked in to dining reservations 180 days out and you don’t have FP reservations to keep track of. You have the freedom to make choices on the fly to a degree that is impossible at WDW. For example, on our last day our plan was to have lunch at Vivo Italian Kitchen. But at the last minute, the girls decided they wanted to revisit Cowfish. At Disney, that would have cost me $40 in cancellation fees plus we’d have had a minimum half hour wait for our table. At Universal, it was as simple as walking next door.

          I’d argue there are choices. They are just different choices. But, yeah, if you want to catch an awesome fireworks show, go to Disney.


        • My response was really a joke based on the differing sizes of the two complexes.

          You are right that WDW wants you to lock in certain experiences well ahead of time in a way that Universal does not. At the same time, it should be noted that ADRs and FPs aren’t actually required…they’re just very advisable. Once you’re dealing with a complex as big, diverse, and popular as WDW is complications ensue. The Anaheim complex has only two parks (like Universal) and their pre-planning requirements have been very different from WDW’s. Dining reservations really aren’t nearly as necessary there and they only just started their own version of pre-reserved FastPasses this week.

          I will admit that while the specific situation I’m dealing with at the moment promises to be mildly frustrating, that I kind of like the extra planning that goes into a WDW trip. I know lots of people disagree with me, but I love the anticipation of a trip almost as much as the trip itself, and more complicated planning is a part of feeding that anticipation.

          Obviously, I have visited and enjoyed Universal several times and ideally will do so again. The two places are very different in ways and I really like both experiences.


        • Yeah, I took it as a joke and laughed when I read it. Thumbs up and everything. But then this morning I thought, I should elaborate on that for anyone else who may be following the conversation.

          For what it’s worth, I’m sure Universal would LOVE to lock people into experiences in advance Disney-style. They just aren’t in a position to do so. It’s all part of my theory on how Disney Fans Have Ruined Disney World.

          I will also admit that when planning our Universal trip this summer, I missed the challenges that come with planning for WDW. For guys like you and me, the puzzle-solving and research are part of the fun. It’s why to the extent that people will let me, I will plan their trips for them. It’s a hobby. The problem is, once we get there my spouse doesn’t enjoy the challenge of actually following the plan. Which is why the next time I go to WDW, she may not come with me.


        • I think your experience this year at Universal and mine at WDW are instructive. More days = less stress. If I had done even a 5 day instead of 6 day trip there would have been more pressure to spend more time in the parks and I never would have taken those 2 midday breaks that ended up serving me so well. Obviously, with the size of the complex and 4 parks instead of 2 that means something different at WDW than it does at Universal. The 4 days I spent at Universal last year were mostly pretty easy going in theme park context, while just 4 days at WDW is starting to not be enough for me. Of course, your party’s willingness to get up pretty early could impact that either way.


        • Of course time is money. That’s at least as true in Orlando as it is anywhere else in the world. You can reduce your stress with a longer stay (which costs more money) or by shelling out for other perks. One of the themes of my recent trip was that the extra money we spent on our hotel (and the Express Passes and transportation that were included) were well worth the high price tag for us. At Disney, I find the hotel prices harder to justify, but staying on property at any level bestows some advantages worth considering. And upcharges like a Park Hopper option or park to park transportation will be worth it to some if not all guests.

          The new transportation options announced are going to play into that value calculation. For example, I’m not sure I’d pay $20 for a Minnie van if I was staying on property. But I’m definitely interested in that mode of transportation. I have used taxi cabs before and my recollection is they were less expensive, so I can’t justify the extra cost for a polka dot van. But if Disney were to drop the price to $15 or roll out a package deal per day, it would be something I would have to consider.


        • My first response to the cost of a ride in the “Minnie Vans” was that guests would instantly start online searches for other guests wanting to go the same place at the same time so they could share the cost. If I find just 3 more people who also want to go to my resort or hop to the same park I’m hopping to or go to Disney Springs at the same time as me, my expense goes down to just $5 and that’s an amount I would gladly pay in many situations. I expect there to be a smart phone app aimed at this very soon.


        • That hadn’t crossed my mind. Of course, I’m already taking up four seats in the van instead of one, so I can’t hope to save quite so much through ride sharing. Also, I think, part of the appeal of the van is you don’t have to share your ride. But you’re probably right that this will be a strategy. It probably won’t be hard to find someone if you are just standing at the bus station and the bus is a no-show, I’ll bet there will be plenty of takers willing to split the cost.

          Since we take an afternoon break, we’re looking at 4 trips to and from the parks daily on most days. $80 a day adds up! But I’d happily pay $50 a day for the privilege of 4 daily rides for my family. I don’t really see Disney bundling this product though.

          The gondolas scare me. I don’t think I will try them. And if the connected hotels become much more expensive as I have heard Disney intends, I will not be staying at any of those hotels in the future.

          I do appreciate that Disney is trying to address their transportation problem. I’m just not sure they have hit on the solution.


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