For weeks, Disney super fans who pay attention to these things have been tossing about rumors over what's on tap for Disney's theme parks, resorts and cruise lines in the coming years.
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Some rumors have been swirling for months, with a common theme being worry that Disney might hold off on releasing its biggest attractions so that they could coincide with Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary celebration in 2021.
This weekend, rumor versus reality finally sorted itself out as Disney Parks & Resorts chairman Bob Chapek took the stage at the annual D23 Expo in Anaheim. This super fan-fest, held in Anaheim right across from Disneyland park, includes panels, showcases, sneak peeks and general Disney frivolity.
Or as TravelPulse's own Jason Leppert, who attended the event said, “Disney fandom is in for quite a treat this weekend.”
The most coveted ticket of all is the showcase where Chapek reveals what's new. In front of an audience of nearly 7,000 fans, Chapek did just that, highlighting more than a dozen new experiences and attractions coming to Disney parks around the world.
"On the heels of the many new and incredibly popular experiences that just debuted this year, the best is yet to come," said Chapek. "We have ambitious plans for our parks and resorts around the world. We're investing in the guest experience like never before, and we're doing it all in a way that is only possible at Disney!"
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TravelPulse Executive Editor Michael Schottey was also on hand at Walt Disney World in Florida, watching the announcements live. He said that the company had telegraphed the existence of a big announcement and may have even dropped some hints here and there about what the potential news might be, but no one could have guessed the magnitude or quantity of the news.
There was certainly a lot to be excited about, according to Leppert.
"Most of the news confirmed rumors that have been circling around but there were some surprises as well," said Leppert. "Most notably, the announcement of a seventh ship that will join the Disney Cruise Line fleet."
After weeks of fast and furious murmurings, here are Disney’s top announcements:
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
"Keeping Disneyland and Walt Disney World fans happy was the introduction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, formerly known merely as Star Wars land," said Leppert. "Needless to say, we are all excited by Chapek's promise to take the quality of the new Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom and 'raise that bar even higher.'"
The two lands, both under construction, are slated to open sometime in 2019, first at Disneyland and then at Walt Disney World Resort at a later date. Each will house two major attractions that fully steep guests in the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance.
In one, guests will find themselves located inside a Star Destroyer in a hangar bay, which says Disney, is an “attraction built on a scale we’ve never done before.” In the second, guests will helm the Millennium Falcon while undertaking a critical mission.
Favorite characters such as BB-8, Chewbacca and members of the First Order will all be found in Galaxy’s Edge. A visit to the Cantina will score a meeting with Rex — once the pilot of the original Star Tours attraction — who's now spinning tunes as a DJ.
In what might be the worst-kept secret in Disney history, Disney’s third-oldest theme park, Epcot will be getting some serious love in the coming years. Two new attractions are being rolled out at the Florida park.
Among them, a new “Guardians of the Galaxy”-inspired attraction will be added to Future World. The new E-ticket attraction will replace the Universe of Energy attraction, which will close August 13, 2017. Also planned, in the France Pavilion, is a new attraction inspired by the film “Ratatouille,” where guests will get a rats-eye view of Gusteau’s Parisian kitchen. Both are expected to open by 2021 in time for Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary.
Also slated to open at Epcot is a new, table-service restaurant located by Mission: SPACE. Details are still sparse about the new restaurant, other than it will be operated by Patina Restaurant Group, but renderings suggest guests will be fully immersed in a video-style experience that emulates dining at a distant space port.
"For years," Schottey said, "Epcot has been an amazing place that parents loved to take their children but didn't have as much as other Disney parks to directly cater to those younger guests. That's been improved in recent years, sure, but the big leap was the addition of Frozen to the park last year. Now? With Ratatouille and Guardians? It might end up as my kids' favorite park — mine too."
Disney Hollywood Studios
Chapek also confirmed that Disney will shutter The Great Movie Ride presented by Turner Classic Movies at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
"So unfortunate, because I loved that ride," lamented Leppert.
Loyal fans should plan to visit the park by August 13, 2017, if they want to take a final ride.
In its place, Disney will introduce its first Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Inspired by the Mickey Shorts (cartoons) that air on the Disney Channel, the ride will have its own theme song and will be highlighted by stunning visual effects.
For guests who love 3D but hate the clunky eye wear, the ride is introducing a new feature that Disney is calling “2 1/2 D.” No glasses are required to experience this “dimensional display of amazingness.”
“This is one of the boldest … most impossible things I’ve ever worked on in almost 40 years of being an Imagineer,” said Imagineer Kevin Rafferty. “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.”
Rafferty also said the new attraction will have "more hidden Mickeys than anywhere in the universe."
Also opening at Disney Hollywood Studios will be Toy Story Land, with an official opening date set for summer 2018. The land is designed to replicate Andy’s backyard, which guests will experience after being “shrunk” to the size of a toy. Attractions in the new land will include the Slinky Dog Dash, a family-friendly roller coaster, and Alien Swirling Saucers where aliens fly around in saucers trying to capture your toy vehicle with “The Claw.”
"It's interesting to note," Schottey said, "that Hollywood Studios was never about the immersive movie experience as much as it was about being immersed in the movie-making experience. With Toy Story Land and now Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, that appears to be changing."
For Leppert, the biggest reveal was the news that the much-anticipated addition TRON Lightcycle Power Run from Shanghai Disneyland, will not replace the park's Tomorrowland Speedway but rather it will open in a separate location adjacent to Space Mountain.
Tron — the highest-rated attraction at Shanghai Disneyland — is considered one of the most thrilling rides within the Disney parks collection.
Main Street U.S.A at the Magic Kingdom Park will also see some changes as it welcomes a new theater, inspired by the Willis Theatre in Kansas City, where Walt Disney lived in the 1920s. Details on performances have not yet been revealed, but Chapek alluded to an experience similar to Frozen Live at the Hyperion.
Star Wars-Themed Resort
Confirming another popular rumor, Disney will open a new, interactive Star Wars-inspired experiential resort at Walt Disney World Resort.
“It’s unlike anything that exists today,” said Chapek. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story. You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”
An opening date is pending, but Schottey and many others on the TravelPulse staff are already attempting to make reservations.
High-Flying Transportation at Walt Disney World Resort
Disney World Resort will also welcome a brand new, aerial transportation system called the Disney Skyliner which will connect such Walt Disney World Resort attractions as Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot.
Also announced, new Minnie Mouse themed vehicles will provide point-to-point transportation service at Walt Disney World Resort, “in a way that only Disney can do,” according to Chapek.
These Minnie vans, according to TravelPulse Executive Editor Michael Schottey, will be "like Uber, but for Disney."
Pixar to Populate Disney California Adventure
"For the West Coast, we were disappointed to not hear more details about a Marvel land expansion at Disney California Adventure," said Leppert. "However, new attractions will feature Avengers and Spider-Man themes. Also, surprising was the revelation that the park’s Paradise Pier would be re-themed into Pixar Pier as an extension of Toy Story Midway Mania!"
Paradise Pier will officially rebrand as Pixar Pier in 2018. In the newly imagined pier, guests will be able to walk shoulder to shoulder with characters from “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out,” “Toy Story” and more.
In advance of its opening, neighboring Disneyland Resort will hold a limited-time celebration, Pixar Fest, which will present a specially themed fireworks spectacular. Also coming to Disneyland is the Pixar Play Parade, which means the beloved “Paint the Night” spectacular is moving across the aisle to California Adventure. Rumors abound that the parade may even welcome an all new float after its move.
More Super Heroes to Land at Disney California Adventure
Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!, which opened earlier this year at Disney California Adventure in what used to be the Tower of Terror has been a breakout success.
In a review by Leppert, he wrote, “Disney has managed to make the attraction a far better ride — one with bigger thrills, greater repeatability and more immersive theming.”
Based off of that success, Disney will be adding more super heroes to the California theme park. At the very least, Spider-Man and the Avengers are slated to join the gang from Guardians of the Galaxy in a new Super Hero universe. Final details are still pending.
More Marvel at Disneyland Paris
Disney’s Hotel New York located at Disneyland Paris will get a Marvel-ous upgrade when it becomes re-imagined as the Hotel New York–The Art of Marvel attraction. Here guests will be able to interact directly with the likes of Iron Man, The Avengers and Spider Man.
Disney to Conquer More of the High Seas
And yes, finally, Disney Cruise Line has announced it will welcome not two but three new cruise ships to its line, effectively doubling its fleet by 2023.
“We decided two ships wouldn’t be enough to hold all of the exciting new experiences we have been dreaming up to take family cruise vacations to a whole new level with immersive Disney storytelling, world-class family entertainment and imaginative innovations that are fantastically fun and uniquely Disney,” said Chapek.
Ship names are still pending, but it is expected each vessel will have about 1,250 staterooms, slightly larger than the line’s current newest ships, the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
To read all about the new attractions rolling out across Disney Parks & Resorts, check out the official Disney Parks Blog for ongoing updates.