The D23 Expo 2017 in July 2017 gave Disney the opportunity to announce a host of new attractions and changes at the Walt Disney World Resort amongst others.
Many are yet to have firm opening dates but it is expected that most will be in place by October 1, 2021 which is the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Some are happening in the next couple of weeks and there have been several new announcements after D23 ended.
Many of the D23 Expo announcements were not unexpected as rumours have been circulating for some time, but there were a couple of surprises. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was noticeable by its absence which is not unexpected after all the recent changes with Pandora - The World of Avatar.
Since 2010 when Universal Studios first introduced Harry Potter in Orlando, Walt Disney World has been playing catchup. In the seven years between 2009 and 2016, figures released by the Themed Entertainment Association, show that Walt Disney World has seen overall growths of between 6.6% for Epcot and 18.3% for Magic Kingdom whereas Universal Studios Florida has grown by 80.8% and Islands of Adventure by an incredible 102.3% respectively. In 2016 Disney actually witnessed a small drop in attendance at all four Florida theme parks.
Whilst both Universal Studios parks are still well behind Magic Kingdom in visitor numbers, Universal are snapping at the heels of the other three Disney parks and could easily overtake Disney’s Hollywood Studios before Star Wars land opens. However, the last couple of new rides at Universal, namely Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon have not been as well received as earlier attractions so they cannot rest on their laurels.
Minnie Van Service
Disney announced a new method of getting around Walt Disney World with an all new Minnie Mouse themed Minnie Van transportation service providing a point-to-point transport service throughout the Walt Disney World Resort.
Starting in late July, guests staying at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts will be able to book the bright red with white polka-dot Minnie themed vehicles including Chevrolet Traverse minivans to take them to anywhere on Walt Disney World property. The minivans seat six passengers plus the Disney driver and include two car seats for children.
The service will be bookable from the Lyft app, much like booking an Uber or Lyft chauffeur/taxi service and it is expected the service will be rolled out to other Disney resorts and locations over time. Prices are a flat $20 per trip for up to six guests.
The Disney Skyliner is a new gondola cable transportation system being built at Walt Disney World to connect the International Gateway at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios with several Disney resorts, namely Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach Resort and the just announced Disney Vacation Club, Riviera Resort.
Reminiscent of the Disney Skyway that used to connect Fantasyland and Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom, it will offer guests a birds-eye view of the Walt Disney World Resort and many of the gondolas will be decorated with Disney characters.
It is expected to open in Autumn 2019.
Star Wars themed Hotel
The latest resort hotel to be announced at Walt Disney World will be a luxury fully-immersive Star Wars environment where guests can experience a multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away, right down to Star Wars themed costumes as part of Disney’s new Disney 360 vacation concept.
The as yet un-named hotel boasts that every window will offer a view of space.
Disney is to build their 15th Disney Vacation Club Resort near Epcot, to be called the Disney Riviera Resort. It is scheduled to open in Autumn 2019 with around 300 units, split across a variety of accommodation types.
One of its highlight features will be a rooftop restaurant offering spectacular nighttime views of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios will see even more attractions close as Disney continues to work on several new projects.
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
The new Star Wars Land is now to be called Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. It is modelled on a remote trading outpost, a stopping off point for traders and adventurers. Guests are placed in the middle of the action on a never before seen planet, one of the last stops before Wild Space.
There will be opportunities to meet a number of Star Wars characters including BB8 and Chewbacca.
Rex (the original Star Tours Star Speeder pilot) can be found as the house DJ in the Cantina where amongst others things they will serve blue milk.
At the battle between the First Order and the Resistance, guests will find themselves inside a massive hangar bay on a Star Destroyer. A model of the ride vehicles shows a First Order Fleet Transport with two rows of four seats operated by an astromech droid.
In the second attraction, each guest has a role to play in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon ranging from piloting the spaceship to shooting blasters and preparing for hyperspace.
How well you perform could have repercussions such as winning galactic credits or at the other end of the scale, ending up on a bounty hunters list.
Disneyland’s Star Wars land is to open first followed by Walt Disney World in 2019. This is not unexpected as construction at Disneyland has been outpacing Walt Disney World from the start.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be the first ever attraction built entirely around Mickey Mouse and will feature new technology described as 2 1/2 D; i.e. you will not need 3D glasses to experience the 3D effects.
The ride will start with a showing of a new Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short as Mickey and Minnie get ready for a picnic. As you drive alongside a train being driven by Goofy, something happens and you step into the movie screen and onto the train.
It will feature a brand new catchy theme song (move over “It’s a Small World”!!) and boasts more hidden Mickeys than any other attraction.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is replacing “The Great Movie Ride presented by Turner Classic Movies” which will close on August 13, 2017. The Great Movie Ride is the last of the original attractions from when the park first opened as the Disney-MGM Studios.
Toy Story Land
Progress on Toy Story Land is coming along and is scheduled to open next summer. The track work for the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster is complete and it will be a family friendly ride with gentle hills and no inversions.
There have been several rumours about Epcot and they seem to be coming true.
A “blue sky” concept drawing was shown of the front of Epcot. In the artwork, both Innovention buildings are gone along with the Fountain of Nations, replaced by a lot of green space and new fountains in the World Showcase Lagoon.
The area around Future World East where Universe of Energy, Wonders of Life, Mission: Space and Test Track are located looks much the same but in Future World West, there are landscaping changes in front of The Land.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ellen’s Energy Adventure will close on August 13, 2017 to make way for a new Marvel inspired e-ticket “Guardians of the Galaxy” roller coaster ride. No name for the new ride has been announced yet.
The new ride is said to be “rooted in the Epcot mission” and will not mirror “Mission: Breakout” at Disney California Adventure, which is a re-theming of that park’s “Tower of Terror” drop tower ride.
It is expected to open in 2021.
Ratatouille: The Adventure
A copy of the Ratatouille attraction, one of the highest rated attractions at Disneyland Paris is to be built in the France area of the World Showcase, near to the Eiffel Tower.
Ratatouille is a 4D dark trackless ride, where guests are “shrunk” to the size of Remy and taken on a chase across the rooftops of Paris and through the sights, sounds and smells of the kitchens of Gusteau’s restaurant.
It is expected to open in 2021.
The “Reflections of China” film is to be replaced by a brand new 360 degree CircleVision film using the same technology as the upgraded Soarin’ attraction.
Mission: SPACE is getting a makeover with an updated Orange (more intense) mission and a brand new Green (less intense) mission. The Orange mission is a trip to Mars whilst the Green mission is an orbital adventure flight around Earth.
Mission: SPACE will re-open on August 13, 2017.
A new table service space-themed restaurant is also to be built nearby.
There were rumours that Tron might be built at Epcot or replace the Tomorrowland Speedway but in the end it is to get its own space.
Tron Lightcycle Power Run
A Tron Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster ride is coming to Magic Kingdom and will be similar to Shanghai Disneyland’s highest rated attraction.
Guests ride Tron, much like on a motorbike, leaning forward and holding onto the handlebars and the cycles reach up to 60 mph.
Surprisingly, Tron will not replace the Tomorrowland Speedway but instead will be built in an area next to Space Mountain. The concept art shows the Tron building straddling the Walt Disney World Railroad that encircles the Magic Kingdom.
The ride will be open by the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, i.e. 2021.
Willis Wood Theater
A new theatre is to be built off Main Street U.S.A., themed like the 1920s Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City where Walt Disney once lived.
No announcement has been made as to what will be shown in the theatre or when it will open.
Disney Cruise Line
Disney is planning a brand new Beauty and the Beast show onboard their cruise ships, based around the story of the recently released live-action version of the original cartoon.
Also, Disney has now ordered not two but three new ships to be delivered in 2021, 2022 and 2023 bringing the fleet up to a total of seven ships.
The new ships will be around 135,000 gross tons with around 1,250 guest staterooms making them a little bigger than the newest Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
Post D23 Announcements
Despite the wealth of announcements at D23, Disney still managed to introduce a couple more surprises in the weeks following D23.
Grand Avenue at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
A new area of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is due to open this autumn. Called Grand Avenue is sits between the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant and Muppet Vision 3D where the Streets of America used to be.
It is to be themed on present-day Downtown Los Angeles with vintage office building and warehouses. The first building to be announced is the Baseline Tap House with an outdoor tree-shaded terrace and featuring a small-bites menu. As its name suggests it will also offer speciality cocktails, wines, craft ales, cider and lager from California. It is being themed as the former Figueroa Printing Company complete with printing memorabilia.
Online Check-In Service
Using the My Disney Experience app or website, Disney resort guests are now able to check-in online up to 60 days in advance and go straight to their hotel room on arrival, avoiding queuing at the check-in desk. Other services include registering a credit card and specifying any room location preferences.
Before arriving, guests receive their MagicBands through the post which allow them to unlock their rooms.