The Walt Disney Co., anticipating the 50th anniversary of Disney World in just a few years, has unveiled plans for the most expansive additions in at least a decade to its Orlando parks, bringing cheer particularly to fans of science fiction and fantasy, and reassuring others who complained that certain properties had been neglected.
While Disney has been adding new lands and attractions — Pandora: The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom, “Star Wars” and “Toy Story” lands at Hollywood Studios, a major expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom — other sections of its parks have languished, their style and technology growing outdated.
Last week, Disney announced a spate of new and upgraded attractions that will bring new life to areas at Epcot and Magic Kingdom that haven’t benefited from the current building spree.
Epcot will get new rides based on the “Ratatouille” movie and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” upgrades to Mission: Space, a space-themed restaurant and other changes.
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Magic Kingdom will get a new “Tron” roller coaster in Tomorrowland like the one at Shanghai Disney Resort.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Great Movie Ride is closing, to be replaced by Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride, the first ride at any Disney park based entirely on Mickey Mouse.
Disney World will also get two new hotels, including a luxury “Star Wars”-themed hotel.
Except for the closing of the Great Movie Ride — the last remaining attraction that dates to the opening of Hollywood Studios in 1989 — the news was greeted by cheers at D23 Expo, the annual Disney fan convention where the plans were announced; and enthusiasm by people who posted comments on fan sites and the Disney Parks Blog.
“This is some of the most ambitious development that Disney has put into place since probably the late ’80s, when we saw Studios, Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island all open up around the same time,” said Robb Alvey, a roller coaster expert who runs the website Themeparkreview.com. He predicted that the additions will lure out-of-town fans to visit the parks more often.
“These Epcot updates can’t come soon enough,” said Len Testa, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” “Epcot hasn’t built a new headliner attraction since Bob Iger became CEO [in 2005], and only two (Soarin’ and Mission: Space) this century.”
“Tomorrowland is in desperate need of a makeover. Right now, it’s the least cohesive land in the Magic Kingdom, and possibly in all of Walt Disney World. … Tron is a good start. But it’s like renovating one room of a shack. More work is needed.”
Disney gave no approximation of opening dates for some of the attractions and said only that others will open in time for the 50th anniversary celebration in fall 2021.
Epcot will be the biggest beneficiary of the new work, bringing it back on a par with Disney’s more recently updated Orlando parks.
Families want a little bit more of that Disney wow factor.
Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts
The upgrades will “keep it true to the original vision while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family-friendly, more Disney,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts. “Families want a little bit more of that Disney wow factor.”
▪ A “Guardians of the Galaxy” roller coaster will open by fall 2021 at the current Universe of Energy location in Future World, said Tom Fitzgerald, one of Disney’s Imagineers, or creative engineers. While Fitzgerald gave few details, he said with a straight face that Peter Quill — the fictional superhero leader of “Guardians of the Galaxy” known as Star-Lord — visited Epcot as a child, while Disney produced a photo of Quill as a child with Spaceship Earth’s sphere.
That story and other brief comments indicated it will be a different Guardians attraction from the one that recently opened at Disneyland Resort in California. The new California attraction is essentially a re-theming of that park’s Tower of Terror ride, but Orlando’s Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios won’t be affected.
Universe of Energy, home to Ellen’s Energy Adventure featuring Ellen DeGeneres, will close Aug. 13.
▪ Ratatouille the Adventure will be built between the France and Morocco pavilions in World Showcase. Ratatouille will be the same ride that opened in 2014 at Disneyland Paris, where Chapek said it is the park’s No. 1 attraction. It is a dark, trackless ride on which riders are “shrunk” to the size of Remy, the rat, and the story is shown from Remy’s point of view. The cars cross the roofs of Paris, dive into Gusteau’s restaurant and run across the floor, past scenes of 3D animation, under tables and ovens. It will open by the 2021 anniversary.
▪ Epcot’s Mission: Space simulator attraction, which closed in June for then-unspecified refurbishments, will reopen in late summer with a new Green Mission that will take guests on a tour around the Earth and an updated version of its Orange Mission to Mars. A new space-themed table-service restaurant will be built next to Mission: Space.
▪ The China pavilion will get a new 360-degree film to replace “Reflections of China.”
“Epcot has always been, from Day One, an optimistic celebration of the real world, brought to life by the magic of Disney,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a place where the real becomes fantastic and the fantastic becomes real.”
Epcot opened in 1982, the second of the Disney World parks. It is part world’s fair (World Showcase), part a celebration of technology (Future World) that has fallen behind. Its most recent new attraction was the transformation of the Maelstrom flume ride in the Norway pavilion into a “Frozen”-themed ride that opened a year ago.
“I think the makeover of Future World will be a very welcome change,” Alvey said. “That section of the park is starting to feel a bit dated, so giving the entrance area and the main plaza a refresh will help make the park feel new and updated again.
“I also think this may be an opportunity for some of the annual festivals to expand out into Future World. Where they would feel a bit out of place and maybe cramped before, with this new makeover they can rebuild keeping those festivals in mind.”
▪ Tomorrowland will get a “Tron”-themed roller coaster like the one rolled out last year at the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort, where it is called Tron Lightcycle Power Run. The ride vehicle looks like a motorbike on which riders lean forward and hold on to handlebars. The coaster hits 60 mph, about the same speed as Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. The ride will be built next to Space Mountain and won’t displace another attraction.
“Tron” was a 1982 Disney science fiction adventure film that spawned video games, comic books, an animated television series and a sequel.
“I think ‘Tron’ will be a very good addition, and having experienced the attraction in Shanghai, my prediction is that it will instantly become one of Walt Disney World’s top five attractions for many visitors,” Alvey said.
▪ In addition, a live entertainment theater will be built on Main Street U.S.A, based on the Willis Theater in 1920s Kansas City, where Walt Disney lived at one point.
Opening dates weren’t announced for either of the Magic Kingdom projects.
▪ Walt Disney liked to remind people that his fictional empire all began with a mouse. Yet Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride will be the first attraction based on Mickey at any Disney park.
Runaway Railway takes place inside “the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short,” like those shown on the Disney Channel, said Kevin Rafferty, an Imagineer. “When the unexpected does happen — and you know it will — Mickey and Minnie are there to help keep you out of trouble.”
The story is that Mickey and Minnie, going on a picnic, get into their little red car and start driving. When they look inside a train running next to them, they see that their friend Goofy is the engineer. “You will step into the movie screen and onto Goofy’s train,” said Rafferty. “With Goofy as your engineer, what could possibly happen?”
The animation will be 3D, Rafferty said, but without 3D glasses.
The Mickey ride replaces the Great Movie Ride, which also will close Aug. 13. Opening date for the new ride was not announced.
▪ Also at Hollywood Studios, Chapek revealed more information about “Star Wars” land, under construction in Orlando and California. The land will be called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Disney had already said the land is set on a never-before-seen planet, “a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space.”
Chapek said both “Star Wars” lands will be completed in 2019, the California version before the Orlando one.
Disney unveiled a scale model of the 14-acre land, carved out of stony, hilly territory, with giant spikes of rock towering above trees. The buildings feature domes and gentle curves that contrast with the landscape, and a variety of warships and other aircraft, including the Millennium Falcon, which will be featured in one of its rides.
The latest plans include two new hotels.
▪ One is a “Star Wars”-themed hotel, which a Disney press release described as “the most experiential concept ever in an immersive [hotel]. … Dedicated entirely to the galaxy of Star Wars, it will be a one-of-a-kind experience where a luxury resort meets a multi-day adventure in a galaxy far, far away.” It will involve costumes. Disney did not reveal its location or its opening date.
▪ Disney Riviera Resort, a Disney Vacation Club hotel, is expected to open in fall 2019 near Epcot. Riviera Resort will have about 300 units in a mix of types of lodging. It will be connected to several Disney hotels, Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s International Gateway by the Disney Skyliner, a system of aerial gondolas similar to the old Disneyland Skyway, which once connected Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.