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Disney World finally gets a ‘Frozen’ ride; Soarin’ expands to the whole world

Star Wars Launch Bay at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Theme park fans can meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca and see various exhibits and movie props at Star Wars Launch Bay.
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Theme park fans can meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca and see various exhibits and movie props at Star Wars Launch Bay.

Disney World has a lot going on, with a new ride and a new Soarin’ attraction coming to Epcot, regular nighttime hours coming to Animal Kingdom, and some smaller attractions and upgrades acting as vanguards for new lands that won’t be completed until 2017 or beyond at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

Soarin' reopens at Epcot on June 17, 2016 with a third screen and a new show called Soarin' Around The World.

EPCOT

It’s summer, and Queen Elsa, using her singular powers, has frosted over the green lands of her kingdom. She has invited everyone to her Ice Palace for a celebration of a Summer Snow Day. To get there from Arendelle, we’ll board the new ride Frozen Ever After, which is being built on the track of what used to be the Maelstrom boat ride in the Norway Pavilion. The ride, based on the animated movie Frozen, will open on an unspecified date in June, as will the adjoining Royal Sommerhus, the new meet-and-greet site for Anna and Elsa.

Disney started looking for opportunities to introduce a Frozen element to Disney World soon after the movie came out in November 2013, said Wyatt Winter, the ride’s project manager and producer. The resort settled on a rebuild of Maelstrom. In the interim, Disney put Anna and Elsa in Princess Fairytale Hall for meet-and-greets and on a float in a parade at Magic Kingdom, staged Frozen sing-alongs at Hollywood Studios and has scheduled the “Frozen Games” (think snowball toss) for the Blizzard Beach water park.

The new ride features the music and characters from Frozen but has its own story line that comes after the events of the movie, Winter said.

Seeking ideas for the new ‘Frozen’ ride and meet-and-greet site at Epcot, a Disney team traveled to Norway, following the path of filmmakers who got much of their inspiration for the movie from Norway.

The Royal Sommerhus, an addition to the Norway Pavilion that was inspired by a traditional cabin in rural Norway, will be the new meet-and-greet site. The story is that the royal sisters spent their summers in this house back in happier times when their parents were alive.

Soarin’ returns: Soarin’, which has been closed since January for an expansion and refurbishment, will reopen June 17 with a third screen, a new high-definition laser projection system, new scents and a new show. Soarin’ Around the World tours six continents and replaces the old California-based show. The new show was shot from helicopters with a custom camera rig that flew over places like the Great Wall in China and the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Developing the camera, filming and editing the show took three years, said Jason Grandt, art director for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The Jedi Training Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios was updated with new characters from the animated TV show "Star Wars Rebels."

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Two new lands based on the Star Wars and Toy Story movies will be added. Disney has not said when the new lands will open — groundbreaking for Star Wars land was just last month, and construction typically takes two years or more. Toy Story land hasn’t had a groundbreaking yet. But the hugely popular Toy Story Mania! ride, based on a carnival midway contest, will jump its capacity with a third track set to open Memorial Day weekend.

We’re building a whole new planet.

Scott Trowbridge, Disney Imagineer, talking about the new Star Wars land

Some smaller Star Wars attractions were added in December and April to tide fans over till the new land opens, mostly at the new Launch Bay: meet-and greet sites for Star Wars characters (currently Kylo Ren and Chewbacca); First Order Stormtroopers parading through the plaza; an exhibit of vehicles, weapons and other movie props; a fireworks show set to the John Williams music from the movies (to be beefed up this summer with lasers and light projections); and plenty of retail opportunities. The Star Tours ride was updated with scenes from Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and the Jedi Training Academy was updated with new characters from the animated TV show Star Wars Rebels.

The newest addition, Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away, debuted a month ago. It’s a 15-minute stage show that consists mostly of film clips plus appearances by live characters. The show takes place several times a day in the plaza in front of The Great Movie Ride, no tickets required.

Beyond 2017: Star Wars land — “We’re building a whole new planet,” says Scott Trowbridge, a Disney Imagineer — with two major attractions: a ride on the Millennium Falcon and a place in “a climactic battle . . . between the dark side and the light,” plus the Star Wars Cantina and an upscale dinner club. And Toy Story land, also with two rides — the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and the Alien Swirling Saucers. 

"Rivers of Light," which was originally scheduled to open on April 22, 2016, will be a nighttime water and light show at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

ANIMAL KINGDOM

This spring, Disney Parks did the unthinkable: It postponed indefinitely the launch of a new attraction it had already announced an opening date for. But the alternative was even more unthinkable, at least within the Disney realm: presenting a show that was less than perfect.

“You want it to be a beautiful, perfect thing when it’s open. . . . We don’t sell junk,” declared Joe Rohde, who heads the creative team at Animal Kingdom.

The show in question is Rivers of Light, an after-dark water and light show that will combine scenes of nature projected on water screens, lantern boats, music, storytellers, spirit animals and more special effects. Disney announced in March that it would open on April 22, Earth Day and the park’s 18th anniversary. The show was to be the centerpiece of new nighttime attractions that would also debut on April 22 and would extend hours at Animal Kingdom — which usually closes at 5 or 6 p.m., earlier than the other parks — well into the night.

You want it to be a beautiful, perfect thing when it’s open. .

Joe Rohde, Disney executive, explaining why the opening of a nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was postponed indefinitely

But a few weeks later, Disney said Rivers of Light needed more preparation time and delayed both the show and the nighttime hours. A new live stage show based on The Jungle Book movie will take its place, beginning Memorial Day weekend. A new opening date for Rivers of Light hasn’t been announced, but the Disney Parks blog says The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic will be on “for the summer.”

Nighttime hours will start on Memorial Day weekend, along with several new attractions:

▪ Animals carved into The Tree of Life will come to life at night, and light shows — animal stories set to music — will be projected onto the massive trunk. “I think what people will take away is how connected we all are, how interdependent we all are,” said Marsha Jackson Randolph, one of Animal Kingdom’s show directors. “What’s magical is how we begin to see that.”

▪ Two street parties with music and performers will start around sunset. Harambe Wildlife Party will be set to African rhythms. Discovery Island Carnivale will be a Latin-themed dance party that celebrates the wonder of nature.

▪ Kilimanjaro Safaris will operate after dark with special lighting, including a brilliant orange sunset set behind trees and other lights that seem like natural moonlight. During a safari at dusk, there was a trade-off: Animals far back in their habitats were hard to make out, but the animals that were visible were more active than during the day and some – giraffes, wildebeests – nonchalantly shared the road with the safari truck. A pack of African painted dogs, added specifically for the nighttime safaris because they are nocturnal, raced around their enclosure like a pack of cars on a NASCAR track.

Coming next year: Pandora: The World of Avatar, a land with floating mountains, banshee rides and a boat tour of a bioluminescent forest. From inside the park, floating mountains are visible from certain spots.

MAGIC KINGDOM

Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, a live stage show at Cinderella Castle, will debut in June, replacing Dream Along with Mickey. The new show will feature Tiana of Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel of Tangled, and Anna and Elsa of Frozen.

Princess Elena of Avalor, featured in a new Disney television show, will begin doing meet-and-greets at Magic Kingdom in August. 

DISNEY SPRINGS

The Town Center neighborhood of Disney Springs will open May 15 with the first phase of new shops and restaurants and the final step in the transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. The remake and expansion of the dining, shopping and entertainment district will be completed later this year when the last of the Town Center businesses open. Three “neighborhoods” — Marketplace, West Side and The Landing — were based on existing areas and are already open. Town Center is built from scratch on what used to be a parking lot and has manmade springs running through it. It’s where, according to the requisite story, Disney Springs began, an early-1900s small town with natural springs.

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