The renderings of new Orlando attractions that Disney Parks unveiled a year ago — including a roller coaster based on the movie “Tron,” another based on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and a Star Wars themed hotel — have now turned into concrete and steel.
All but one of the new rides and attractions announced a year ago are under construction or in the ground-clearing stage at Walt Disney World, with the first major one — Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway — scheduled to open next year at Hollywood Studios. Some smaller changes, including upgraded Mission: Space adventures and the Minnie Van service, are already up and running. The exception: Plans for a new theater located off Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom apparently have been delayed or even canceled — Disney won’t comment.
Last summer, Disney World announced a slew of new projects: four rides, updates to a fifth, a Broadway-style theater, a new video for the China pavilion in Epcot, a multi-day Star Wars experience to take place in a new specialty hotel, a second hotel of the more earthly variety, a space-themed restaurant, a skyway with moving gondolas that will connect several hotels and parks, and a shuttle service.
Those were on top of two major projects already under construction, both at Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Land, which opened in June, and Galaxy’s Edge — Star Wars Land — scheduled to open late next year.
Although the features are scattered across the entire Disney resort, many are going in key spots where they’ll have a magnified impact. The Tron roller coaster, for example, is being built at Magic Kingdom in Tomorrowland, which some enthusiasts consider the most outdated area in all of Disney World and hope it will be the spark that leads to more modernization.
Epcot is getting a disproportionate number of attractions and other projects that could change the ambiance of the park, in conjunction with other changes that Disney has hinted at but not revealed.
At Hollywood Studios, the new rides will replace the last of the park’s original attractions, those that were operating when the park opened in 1989, marking a 100 percent turnover.
Only Animal Kingdom, where Pandora: The World of Avatar opened in May 2017 (and jumped the park’s attendance by 15 percent over 2016) isn’t getting anything from the package of new attractions.
Most completion dates haven’t been announced. The company says most will open by Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021, with some updates at Epcot coming by that park’s 40th anniversary in 2022.
Here’s a progress report:
It’s hard to believe, but 90 years after Walt Disney sketched the mouse that would become the icon of one of the world’s largest corporations, 63 years after the first Disney park opened, there is still no Mickey-themed ride at any of the 12 Disney parks. Not in California or Orlando, Paris or Hong Kong, Tokyo or Shanghai.
The first will open next year at Hollywood Studios, a specific date not yet announced.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, as Disney describes it, will take guests on a journey inside the world of Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts, with Goofy as the conductor.
The ride is being built in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which used to house the Great Movie Ride. Now posters and signs on the facade promote the new attraction: “We’re imagineering something new.”
The Great Movie Ride closed a year ago. It was the last of the original attractions from the day the park opened.
While Disney hasn’t said when in 2019 we can expect the Runaway Railway, we know Star Wars Land will open late next year, several months after its California counterpart. The land will be called Galaxy’s Edge because it’s on the planet Batuu on the outer rim of the Star Wars galaxy. The village is called Black Spire Outpost, named for the petrified remains of its towering ancient trees.
Those spires are visible rising above construction walls next to the entrance of the Disney Studios parking lot. Riders on the new Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land can also get an eyeful from the roller coaster’s highest points.
Outside the park, on the south side, land has been cleared for the Star Wars hotel, which will have its own entrance to Galaxy’s Edge. But the hotel aspect is almost incidental. You can’t just call up and book a room. Guests will board a spaceship, Disney says, and have a multi-day role-playing experience, with costumes, story lines, a flight deck and spaceship-styled cabins where guests will sleep. Big windows look out into space, something like the LED screens in Disney cruise ships’ inside cabins.
Also coming to Hollywood Studios: Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, a show featuring the cocky stock car from the Pixar movie “Cars.” The show is expected to debut in early 2019.
Epcot will get two major new rides; a station for the new Skyliner route; a space-themed restaurant; a new Circle-Vision movie in the China Pavilion; and two updated versions of the Mission: Space attraction, which were completed last year, a short time after they were announced.
The Guardians of the Galaxy ride is rising quickly near the park’s main entrance, to the left of Spaceship Earth and next to the old Universe of Energy building. The 12-story show building is a giant rectangle of girders, beams and railings sprouting from the new concrete foundation that gives no hint of what the ride will be like. Disney hasn’t said much yet about the ride’s specifics, except that it will be one of the world’s longest enclosed roller coasters and will be completed by the 2021 anniversary. (Although Disney’s California park also has a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction, it is that park’s former Tower of Terror, rethemed. The Orlando attraction will be an original.)
At Epcot’s other end, the show building for the Ratatouille ride is also rising, set far back from the promenade that circles the World Showcase Lagoon, between the France and Morocco pavilions. Disney has not yet announced the name of the ride — Ratatouille: Chef Remy’s Culinary Chase and Ratatouille: Remy’s Mealtime Madness are believed to be among the candidates. But we know what it will be like because it is pretty much a copy of Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy (Remy’s Totally Zany Adventure) at Disneyland Paris.
On that Ratatouille, visitors are magically shrunk to the size of a rat (much as visitors to the new Toy Story Land are shrunk to the size of toys) and see the world from the perspective of a rat scurrying through a restaurant kitchen. They wear 3D glasses as they ride in trackless, rat-shaped cars through a space filled with giant props and 3D screens, chased by Skinner, the main antagonist in the Pixar film on which the ride is based. The Paris ride has no minimum height requirement.
Ratatouille is also expected to open by the 2021 anniversary.
Other updates at Epcot:
▪ Land has been cleared for a space-themed restaurant and lounge to be located between Mission: Space and Test Track, but no opening date — not even a year — has been announced. Renderings show a table-service restaurant with wide windows depicting views of outer space. The restaurant will be managed by Patina Restaurant Group, which operates a number of restaurants in Disney parks and Disney Springs.
▪ Disney announced a new Circle-Vision film for the China pavilion, to replace the 15-year-old “Reflections of China” film currently showing there, but has not given an opening date.
▪ Mission: Space, a motion simulator ride, was updated last summer. The classic orange version, a mission to Mars, was enhanced with high-definition visuals. Guests in the spinning capsule experience forces up to 2.5.G — two and a half times earth’s gravitational force. A new and less intense, non-spinning green version, featuring a flight around Earth’s orbit, was added and billed as family-friendly.
The Disney organization has talked in vague terms about a broad makeover of Epcot for its 40th anniversary in 2022 and released a piece of concept art last summer, but has declined to reveal anything more. Writers at several fan websites say they’ve seen renderings or other evidence that the entrance plaza will be redone, possibly with a new hotel at the entrance; that a new country pavilion will be built, most likely for Brazil; and that the nighttime Illuminations show will be redone.
News that Disney would build a Tron roller coaster in Tomorrowland was greeted enthusiastically, not only by fans of Tron and thrill rides, but also by parkgoers who say that section of Magic Kingdom is outdated and stodgy. Adding the coaster, they say, could spark a long-needed modernization of Tomorrowland.
There’s no mystery to the Tron coaster, because like Ratatouille, it’s essentially a copy of an up-and-running ride in another Disney park. At Shanghai Disney Resort, it is called Tron Lightcycle Power Run, hits 60 mph, and looks like a chain of motorbikes. Height requirement: 4 feet.
The ride, based on a 1982 Disney science fiction adventure film, will be built on open space next to Space Mountain, across the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks. Ground work is under way, but construction is not as far along as on the other three new rides. Tron is set to open by the park’s anniversary in 2021.
Its construction will disrupt other attractions. The Disney railroad will quit running in December and will be parked at the Main Street Station, according to the Disney Parks Blog, which does not say when it will resume operation. Tomorrowland Speedway will close in the first half of 2019 and reopen that summer after its track is adjusted.
The mystery at Magic Kingdom is the fate of the Broadway-style theater that was among the projects that Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney’s parks division, announced last summer. He said the theater would be based on the Willis Theater in Kansas City in the 1920s, when Walt Disney lived there, and produced a rendering of a large building with classical elements — a colonnade, arches, balconies — to be built on an employee parking lot behind Main Street USA.
But this spring, Disney removed any mention of the theater from its “What’s New” web page. Although the construction area was included on a permit Disney filed with the South Florida Water Management District in November, it was removed from a revised permit filed in May, several fan sites reported. A Disney World spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the theater.
HOTELS AND TRANSPORTATION
In addition to the Star Wars hotel, the Disney Riviera Resort was announced last summer and is well along in its construction. Scheduled to open in fall 2019 near Epcot, it will be the 15th Disney Vacation Club property and will have about 300 units.
Coronado Springs Resort is being expanded with a new 15-story tower that will add 500 rooms, scheduled to open next year. Caribbean Beach Resort’s marketplace area, Centertown, is getting new dining, drinking and shopping establishments that are months away from opening.
The Riviera and Caribbean Beach will be among several hotels that will be served by the Skyliner, a system of aerial gondolas similar to the old Magic Kingdom Skyway that once connected Fantasyland and Tomorrowland and closed in 1999.
The Caribbean Beach Resort will serve as the hub for the Skyliner, which will connect that hotel, the Riviera, the Art of Animation Resort and the Pop Century Resort with Hollywood Studios and International Gateway at Epcot.
Construction of the loading stations is well along, and the first of the gondolas have arrived in Orlando. An opening date has not been announced.
Finally, the new Minnie Van shuttle service, which began on a very limited basis last July, became available to all Disney hotel guests this summer. The shuttles, painted in Minnie-style polka dots, can be hired through Lyft and will take hotel guests anywhere in Disney World. Last month the Minnie Vans added service to and from Orlando International Airport.