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“We have ambitious plans for our parks and resorts around the world,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “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!” And, wow… he was right. There had been tons of rumors swirling about from various internet sources; none of them reliable. Disney fans knew big news was coming from the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts panel at D23, but we, the audience, were cheering along when rumors were confirmed, denied and expanded upon. New resorts, transportation options, immersive experiences, and returning favorites are detailed below!
First Look at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
I attended D23 for the first time with one of my best friends, and she was completely gaga over the news about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the newly announced name for the Star Wars–themed lands. Mr. Chapek, who headed up the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts panel, shared exciting details about the land, including and a glimpse inside the two anchor attractions. One attraction will put guests right in the middle of a battle between the First Order and the Resistance, and guests will feel like they are inside a hangar bay on a Star Destroyer. The second attraction allows guests to fly the Millennium Falcon, where each guest is critical to the mission’s success. I feel like this is all too similar to Mission: SPACE, but I’m sure the attraction will have its own enchanting appeal and I’ll have to wait and see the land first-hand to decide for myself. Perhaps I’ll have to use the Force.
In and around the land, guests will encounter characters such as BB-8, Chewbacca, Rex and Kylo Ren. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a 14-acre expansion, topping Pandora by two acres, but will include at least two eateries, and holds the possibilities of more than one merchandise location. I had the pleasure of speaking with Imagineers in the Parks and Resorts EXPO booth, where I learned that blue milk will be present, and renderings lining the wall hinted at a Schwarma-type restaurant, a drink stand, and an alien food cart. I’ll be tasting my way through the galaxy, for sure. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in 2019, with the first land debuting at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, then at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando.
Epcot’s Much Needed Transformation
Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary isn’t far off and there are grand plans to complete a transformation that started with New Fantasyland back in 2014. Mr. Chapek announced plans spanning across Epcot to continue the original vision of the park, while at the same time making it more timeless and relevant than ever before.
Patterned after the number one family attraction at Disneyland Paris, Ratatouille will be added in an all-new space in the France pavilion at World Showcase. France’s Pavillion has numerous nooks and crannies, and the addition of an attraction will make France an even more fun place to grab a macaroon and hop in line to follow Remy around.
Some of the most fun Epcot news was rumor confirmation that Epcot will see the addition of a brand new attraction based on the action-packed world of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Can you see Groot in the exterior rendering?!) Following in the footsteps of Mission: BREAKOUT, Walt Disney World Resort can relish these favorite characters and all their excellent music and adventure. Officials mentioned that Peter Quill, better known as Star Lord, visited Epcot as a child, and this point will be a thread in the attraction’s storyline.
Adjacent to Mission: Space will be a new restaurant that will invite guests to travel high above the earth for an unforgettable dining experience. Before you dine at the new eatery, you can stop off at Future World’s Mission: SPACE for a new Green Mission that will take guests on a gentle, stunning tour around the Earth, and an updated Orange Mission will make the trip to Mars even more spectacular. Officials mentioned that even kids will tolerate the new Green Mission nicely, making Mission: SPACE more family friendly.
New for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom Park
Toy Story Land is expected to open in Summer of 2018, and fans are ready! Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been a very small park for guests in the last year or two, as Andy’s backyard and Galaxy’s Edge are readied. The rumor mill started churning as the very-tired Great Movie Ride was proposed to close and transition to a ride-through featuring Mickey Mouse. Plans were confirmed at D23 for the first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway to do just that. Featuring a new original story following Mickey and Minnie on Goofy’s train, the attraction will also have a lovable attraction theme song, which officials say will be completely enchanting and easy to sing. This new state-of-the-art ride-through attraction will take guests on a journey inside the wacky and unpredictable world of Disney Channel’s Emmy Award-winning “Mickey Mouse” cartoon shorts using new technologies that transform the flat cartoon world into an incredible dimensional experience and make guests feel as if they are INSIDE the movie with Mickey.
Next on the docket was news of the highest rated Shanghai Disneyland attraction coming to Walt Disney World Resort. The Tron-themed roller coaster attraction will be added to a new area near Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom Park. It will not replace the Speedway, as previously rumored, but instead, be set into a new space between Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Speedway. According to my looking at Google Maps, Disney will have to move considerable amounts of outbuildings and roads, but I think this new attraction will be well worth the time spent during construction.
Additionally, a new live entertainment theater will grace Main Street, U.S.A. Based on the iconic Willis Theater in 1920s Kansas City, the new theatre will bring world-class entertainment to the world’s most popular park. I have a feeling it will house shows similar to Frozen at the Hyperion Theatre in California, but I have personal reservations about where the theater entrance will be placed… I can’t find an unused location that I don’t adore!
Pixar Fun and More at Disneyland Resort
Hopping over to the California coast, Pixar news was everywhere! In addition to the reminders that Toy Story land was opening in 2018 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter unveiled plans for Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure. Disney’s Paradise Pier Resort will be “reskinned” to give a place for every Pixar character, Lasseter conveyed. It will include favorites like The Incredibles, to Inside Out to even more Toy Story. There will also be fun at the new Pixar Fest at Disneyland Resort. Starting in 2018, this limited-time offering will include a new fireworks spectacular as well as special characters and entertaining moments. As part of the Pixar celebration, the Pixar Play Parade will return to Disneyland Resort, but this time at Disneyland Park. The fan Favorite Paint the Night Parade, which has been absent for a few months, will move to Disney California Adventure, one of Disney’s longest parade routes.
In addition, the announcement that Fantasmic! would return THAT NIGHT to Disneyland Park, two nights early in honor of the D23 Expo. All 8000 panel-guests were given seats to see the tuned-up and freshened show. I had a front row seat to see the California spectacular, and it certainly did not disappoint, despite the small-seeming stage. Following Fantasmic!, the water fans were once again turned on, and remaining patrons were treated to the very same projections seen on Sleeping Beauty Castle and the fireworks soaring above. A new treat for park goers, this separate viewing area relieves pressure on the front of the park and allows more guests to see the projection show which highlights the rich history and traditions. of Disneyland.
Disney Cruise Line Doubles Its Fleet by 2023
Chapek surprised the crowd by announcing that Disney Cruise Line will add one more ship in its expansion to take family cruise vacations to a whole new level. Joining the other two new ships that were announced just last year, all three ships will be powered by one of the cleanest-burning fuels available, liquefied natural gas. When all three ships are completed by 2023, Disney Cruise Line will have nearly doubled the size of the fleet. We in the audience were then treated to a sneak peek of the new “Beauty and the Beast” live musical production which will be onboard the Disney Dream. The production is currently workshopping in Toronto. Personally, the cast seemed a very fair choice, but the vocals of the Beast stole the performance. The actor so channeled Robby Benson’s spirit, we had to rub our eyes and make sure we weren’t watching the original film!
Immersive Hotels in Florida and Paris
Do you remember hearing about the guest survey proposing an immersive Star Wars hotel? Rumors were TRUE! To the delight of fans both at D23 and at home following the Twitter announcements, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts confirmed extremely ambitious plans to create the most immersive concept ever with a Star Wars-themed hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. The new Hotel will be 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. I suspect it will be very WESTWORLD without the scary robots! 🙂
The next immersive hotel announcement comes as Disney’s Hotel New York – The Art of Marvel at Disneyland Paris. The new resort will transport guests to the action-packed world of Super Heroes, including Iron Man, The Avengers, Spider-Man and more. Guests will see the Marvel Universe through its comic art, films, and Super Hero costumes, which will be displayed in a contemporary art gallery. Is that wasn’t enough for Walt Disney Hotel announcements, just as the Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is due to open on July 17, D23 also announced the 15thDisney Vacation Club property, Disney Riviera Resort, coming to Walt Disney World Resort near Epcot. (rendering is below)
Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Options
Completing the immersion so guests never have to leave the story while on a Disney vacation, Chapek announced plans that will make getting around Walt Disney World Resort even more fun. Walt Disney World’s newest Transportation Option that starts immediately is the Minnie Van, an UBER-like service to transport guest anywhere on Disney property so they never leave the magic. Car seats will be included, and the fleet is made up of mostly Chevy Traverse vehicles.
Returning to Walt Disney World Resort after many years of absence are the gondolas we were so familiar with in the original park layout. Instead of being in-park, this new transportation system, called Disney Skyliner, will give guests an aerial view of the Resort. The Disney Skyliner will connect Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts, as well as the proposed Disney’s Riviera Resort, with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot. It’s sure to give some transportation options to some heavily trafficked areas of the Resort, but I’m really waiting to see how speedy it is.
Honoring Walt Disney Parks
Closing the panel was a touching moment dedicated to the magic of Cast Members. A special letter was read from a family that had their vacation touched by the simple gift of a green Mickey balloon. A performance with Minnie and Mickey and nearly 200 green balloons were brought out, bringing many audience members to tears. Lastly, Mr. Chapek hinted there are even more fan favorites in store from Walt Disney Parks storied past. I can’t wait to hEAR more!