New stories to tell at Walt Disney World
What you need to know: big changes coming to Disney’s vacation kingdom
For a theme park that has Walt Disney running through its DNA, Epcot has lacked any conspicuous representations of the man who first dreamt up the idea of an experimental prototype community of tomorrow.
That’s about to change – as are many things at the Walt Disney World resort.
Disney used its D23 fan expo over the weekend to unleash a flood of announcements about upgrades, additions and plans that will change its staggeringly-popular vacation destination dramatically over the next few years.
It’s a lot to digest, so we’ve put together a summary of what was revealed and what you can expect to encounter in future trips to central Florida.
First, the most prominent beneficiary of the planned renovations and upgrades: Epcot.
Bid a fond farewell to Futureworld as we know it, because the portion of the park that isn’t the World Showcase is undergoing a complete transformation. The opening section will now be divided into three neighborhoods: World Nature, World Discovery and World Celebration.
- In World Nature, we’ll find a new walk-through attraction called Journey of Water, inspired by the film, ‘Moana.’ It’s expected to be a lush exploration trail where guests can meet and play with magical, living water. It’s also where the Land pavilion’s new film, ‘Awesome Planet’ which showcases the beauty, diversity and dynamic story of the planet, will debut in January.
- World Discovery – the area where attractions such as Test Track currently reside – will be the new home to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Located on the site of the now shuttered Universe of Energy, the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction will be a roller coaster with a reverse launch.
- Space 220, a new table service restaurant that will be part of the Mission: Space pavilion will put guests 220 miles above the earth (virtually, we assume,) providing daytime and nighttime views of the earth from far above central Florida. The new dining option will open this winter.
- The PLAY! Pavilion, an interactive metropolis, will bring guests into the old Wonders of Life pavilion, offering games, activities and experiences that connect them with friends, family and Disney characters.
- World Celebration is where Walt will watch over all of it. This new neighborhood will be home to Dreamers Point – with lush gardens, a wishing tree, an interactive fountain, and the new statue celebrating the legacy of the original dreamer, Walt Disney.
- The park’s icon, Spaceship Earth, will be given a makeover, as well. New scenes will reflect the universal nature of the human experience, and a new guide – described as a ‘story light’ – a new musical score and new narration will give this park classic a fresh feel.
- A new pavilion is also in the works. It will serve as the home base for Epcot’s signature festivals and provide a stunning view of the World Showcase and the nighttime spectacular. A three-level structure, it is expected to be striking enough to become a new icon for Epcot, according to Disney.
With so many new offerings, it must be remembered that when Mickey gives, Mickey must take away. In order to make room for the Epcot evolution, longtime favorites will be moved or closed. Among the expected changes: The Leave a Legacy monoliths located at the park’s entrance have already been removed. Disney announced via its official Twitter feed that the Fountain of Nations will close in September. The Camera Center, the current pin trading station and the Art of Disney will all be shuttered and/or relocated as part of the coming changes. The Epcot Character Spot will also close in September, though character photo opportunities will reportedly still be available throughout the park. Starbucks and Club Cool will both be moved, and the Electric Umbrella will be shuttered later this fall and given a new look and feel. Mouse Gear (our favorite merch shop) will be relocated while the space undergoes a renovation this winter.
Epcot’s World Showcase
The 11 country pavilions that encircle the World Showcase Lagoon act as a permanent world’s fair, providing visitors with cultural celebrations and exciting culinary options. Several of these, too, will be getting upgrades.
- The UK pavilion will welcome an attraction inspired by Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, which will join the pavilion as an entirely new neighborhood.
- Epcot Forever will temporarily replace the longtime nighttime spectacular, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, until the new show, HarmoniUS launches. Said to be the largest ever created for a Disney park, the show will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people around the globe.
- Next summer, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will open in the France pavilion, along with a new restaurant called La Creperie de Paris. The classic Impressions de France film will get an opening act in the form of a new Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along. The new show will launch in January.
- The Canada pavilion film will get an upgrade in the form of new scenes and a new story. The film, ‘Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360’ will debut in January.
- In the China Pavilion, ‘Wondrous China’ will take guests on a journey across China, filmed and presented in a completely seamless 360-degree digital format.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
As if the opening of Toy Story Land last summer and the highly-anticipated launch of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in just days isn’t enough; Disney’s Imagineers have plans for this park, as well.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which will be housed in the Chinese Theater, home of the former Great Movie Ride, will debut this spring, and will take guests on a journey inside the unpredictable world of the Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts.
Of course, there’s also the aforementioned Galaxy’s Edge, which is rather impossible to summarize succinctly other than to say that guests can visit a galaxy a long time ago and set far, far away. But that’s another story for another day.
The slumbering Cirque du Soleil theater is about to become reanimated – literally. Walt Disney Imagineering and Cirque du Soleil have teamed up to create a story that celebrates the magic of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Housed in the large white structure located in Disney Springs West Side and replacing the long-running La Nouba, the story will center around a father, who was a Disney animator, and how he raised his daughter with classic Disney characters. Prediction: Disney Springs will soon tug on visitors’ heart strings. The new show is slated to open March 20. Tickets for the as-yet unnamed production are on sale, and available at Disneyworld.com.
Hold on to your Mouse ears – literally. Disney is preparing to send guests into a fully-immersive journey straight out of Star Wars via a resort that’s unlike anything seen before.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – a lodging/experience best thought of in terms of booking a cruise – will drop fans into the world of Star Wars for two day/two night excursions aboard the Halcyon starcruiser. Guests will check-in at the Galactic Starcruiser Terminal at Walt Disney World. They will then be invited to enter a Launch Pod for “transport into space.” Through windows above, guests will see themselves leave the real world behind and jump into hyperspace and then docking with the Halcyon. Once the airlock opens, guests will step into the ship’s atrium and into a fully-realized world.
Before jettisoning off to the ship, take a look around at your central Florida surroundings, because it’ll be the last time you see them for the next two days. Every window in the Halcyon, including windows in each cabin, will look out into the galaxy beyond. Vistas will change as the ship travels between different locations.
The experience will allow guests to live a multi-day story that weaves members of the crew, other passengers and Star Wars characters together. An excursion will include a stay in well-appointed cabins, onboard dining, an excursion to the Black Spire Outpost on Batuu (Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.)
The stay also includes opportunities to wield a lightsaber against a training remote, a visit to the bridge to learn about the ship’s systems – including navigation and defense (which, according to the D23 presentation, will likely come in handy during the two-day adventure.) Passengers’ choices will determine how their Star Wars stories progress during the stay aboard the Halcyon.