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 Disney Skyliner, Guardians of the Galaxy, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Minnie Van, Mission: Space, Riviera Resort, Star Wars, Star Wars Galaxy's Edge, Tron. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.