This weekend is Disney's biennial D23 Expo in Anaheim. I say "biennial" but on off years, there is a smaller version of this convention named Destination D23. For all intents and purposes, there is an annual convention where Disney shares behind the scenes looks at upcoming projects. It takes place over multiple days in September, and there is sure to be a ton of announcements coming out of this. I believe last year, a huge portion of the Marvel TV projects were all announced at once - quite a news dump.
In any case, the news most relevant to this blog will be about Disney Parks and Experiences. And while there are sure to be a bunch of things related to Disneyland as well as the international parks, in order to keep the focus on what this blog does best (?), we're going to be looking at things that effect Walt Disney World. The Parks news come on the last day this year, but there were a few tidbits put out during a media preview on Thursday night, so we'll start with those.
Tiana's Bayou Adventure:
This replacement for Splash Mountain was announced a while back (probably too early, given how little happened with the project in the meantime) and is due to be completed in late 2024. Chances are, that means Splash Mountain will go down for its annual maintenance after the holidays in early 2023, but in this case, not reopen as the reimagining takes place.
The first big news out of D23 was a model of this attraction being available for the first time at the Expo. It looks like everything you would hope it would be (see here) - basically an updated version in the same footprint as splash. The big drop is still there (as we knew it would be) and I think the same mechanics will be at play. Scott Gustin on Twitter said that there will be sixteen new characters for this attraction, and will feature animatronics (including Tiana herself). Walt Disney World will NOT be getting Tiana's Palace restaurant, as that is a Disneyland exclusive, which is kind of a shame in my book.
Imagineering came up with a back story featuring a salt mine that will answer the complaint "there aren't any mountains in the bayou." I suspect that people who were unhappy about this change won't be satisfied with the explanation and those who like the new theme won't care. But I think they did a good job considering they had to retrofit a story behind the existing attraction structure.
Journey of Water Inspired by Moana:
Another long in the works project, this was part of Epcot's big overhaul. As of this writing, construction for this is happening, though no time frame was given for its completion. This attraction hasn't drawn a lot of attention because it's not an "attraction" in the traditional sense, but more of an exploration trail and interactive exhibit.
I always thought there wasn't much to this, though I do like the idea of a Moana piece here and the nature theme ties into Epcot in a loose fashion. A model for this was available at D23 as well, and there is a sixteen foot high Te Fiti figure. That's the first we've heard of this, and makes me more excited for the project. It's bound to be impressive looking in that space and will be a great photogenic piece. Plus, as my wife pointed out, Disney loves their topiaries and Te Fiti is basically one giant topiary already so this just makes sense. The time frame announced here is "late 2023", which seems like a long time considering the construction happening at Epcot.
Happily Ever After Returns ... Sort Of?
The Disney Parks and Experiences panel kicked off with a live performance of Happily Ever After, so it should have been clear what was coming next. Instead, it's not very clear at all. To refresh, Happily Ever After ended "permanently" in September 2021, paving the way for Enchantment to debut in time for WDW's 50th Anniversary Celebration.
I've had plenty to say about Enchantment, so I won't rehash that here, but I'll just say that it appears I wasn't alone - guest satisfaction hasn't been very high for this show. I wrote briefly here about Disney applying a Walt nostalgia tag on the front of Enchantment to make it more appealing to guests. But the end of the World's Most Magical Celebration next Spring gave Disney an opportunity to bring back HEA as if that was their plan all along.
Instead, the D23 announcement was that HEA was coming back ... in a way. If this was the show we all know and love, the announcement would have been a simple "Happily Ever After returns in 2023." But Disney is careful with their wording, and here they said that the "Happily Ever After anthem" would return, as part of a "new nighttime spectacular." Hard to say what this means at this point, but it doesn't sound like a straight up return of the show (maybe with updated Main Street projections). I guess this is better than Enchantment, but it wasn't the home run that it could have been.
New Epcot Nighttime Spectacular:
Speaking of nighttime shows, this one came out of left field - Disney announced a new show for Epcot debuting in late 2023. This will be part of the Walt Disney Company's 100th Anniversary, and will replace Harmonious. Given that this is being presented as part of the celebration, it's possible Harmonious will return afterwards, but I tend to have my doubts.
Harmonious has grown on me, and I like it the more that I see it. Disney invested a lot into this show, which has run for less than a year at this point. I THINK guests like it, even if it doesn't hold the special place that Illuminations did. So why replace it so soon? I don't really know the answer to that. The better question is what will the new show entail?
Disney built the Stargate and other barges specifically for Harmonious. Will those be part of the new show as well or replaced entirely? One of the biggest complaints about the set pieces for Harmonious is that they are a total eyesore on World Showcase Lagoon during the day. They look good during the show, but that's a brief time every day, and certainly much less time than all of the daylight hours. My guess is that this would lead to a complete overhaul, which seems like Disney admitting defeat here very early on. An interesting decision.
Tron Opening Date:
Tron Lightcycle Run has been under construction for quite some time now. The building looks nearly done, and Tomorrowland Light and Power Co (aka, the Space Mountain gift shop) is closing to accommodate the construction. Human riders have been testing it recently. Splash Mountain is likely to go down (permanently this time) for refurbishment in the winter. So Tron should open any time now, right?
Instead, Disney announced that Tron will open in ... Spring 2023. For an attraction that's almost completely finished, this seems like a long tail before we see it in action. Assuming it's up and running by March (Spring Break season), that's still six months from this writing. Why the delay? Holding off on opening the completed Remy's Ratatouille Adventure to coincide with the start of the 50th Anniversary celebration made some kind of sense. I'm not seeing the sense in this one. At least something was announced though, unlike an official return date for Fantasmic, which should be imminent.
Hatbox Ghost Added to Haunted Mansion:
This beloved character was added to the Disneyland version of this attraction but not yet the Magic Kingdom one. Until now. Well, until 2023. This isn't a big deal for most people, but I figured it was worth mentioning. I suspect the addition will be nearly seamless, leading all but the most hardcore guests to say "was this always here?" or not noticing at all.
Figment Meet and Greet at Epcot:
Speaking of beloved characters, Figment will once again be meeting guests at Epcot next year. This one is a slam dunk, and probably long overdue. Figment has been minimized in Epcot, but is still the park's mascot. The Figment popcorn bucket garnered longer lines than any attraction when it was released. People want Figment, and Disney is giving them what they want here. An easy win.
Dinoland USA Replacement at Animal Kingdom:
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about a land that could use a big renovation - Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom. Some of that was based on rumors and some on wild speculation. If the D23 presentation was any indication, I might have been pretty close to the mark with a Zootopia themed land. That, along with a Moana theme, was presented as a possible option.
I can't get too excited yet, because it sounds like there's no real substance to this yet. But at the very least, this is an acknowledgement that something needs to be done here and that something WILL be done. The Moana possibility even came with concept art. I think Zootopia is a better natural fit for Animal Kingdom, but either way, this area needs change. Animal Kingdom is now the park farthest removed from an update (Pandora: The World of Avatar was in 2017) and would be next in line for a change. I'm cautiously optimistic.
New Land for Magic Kingdom?
We'll end with this one, which is in the vein of the Dinoland situation above except somehow even more vague and unclear. I say "unclear" here in that I'm not even sure anything is going to happen. Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee and Imagineer Chris Beatty presented this idea as a "what if", saying this is "what's possible when dreaming big."
So is something happening or not? The "substance" of this part of the presentation kicked around a few ideas, namely Coco, Encanto and Disney Villains. The location would likely be behind Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Whatever comes of this (if anything), I'm happy to hear that it wouldn't simply replace something already existing. Expansions are much more fun if they are just new rides/lands, etc, rather than taking away something beloved.
I don't really know what to do with this information as presented. They talked about these being ideas that were actively being pursued, but also as a more "blue sky" sort of dreaming. Will this happen? As a fan, I hope so. It's hard enough for Disney to pin down projects that were already announced, so to speculate on something that is likely four or five years away is a fool's errand. Still, if they talked about this here, they want people to spread the word and hopefully something of substance will actually come to be. For the sake of the parks, let's all hope so.
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