Friday, April 5, 2024

Progress on Disney World Expansion Projects


For months - years, in some cases - Disney has been talking a good game about new and upcoming major changes to the parks.  Bob Iger and Josh D'Amaro have reiterated their stance, at every opportunity, that major parks investments were coming in the next decade, to the tune of $60 billion.  This was exciting news for Disney fans!  Disney (the corporation) has been focusing most of its attention on streaming and other related media, including how to handle Hulu and ESPN.  But it always remained true that parks was its most profitable sector, and things seemed to be turning back in that direction.

The question was more about "when" than "if", though even that had some caveats.  Disney has officially announced things in the past that end up not happening.  So you'll forgive those of us who were in "wait and see" mode when some of these blue sky concepts were being thrown around at the last couple of D23 events.  Looking back at what we wrote then, so much of this seems very speculative, perhaps as a way to keep fans engaged and looking to the future while Universal charged ahead with Epic Universe.  

And while (mostly) nothing has been officially announced, yesterday saw Disney flex their muscles by putting out a bunch of information that confirms this speculation - major changes are coming, and they are about to happen.  That doesn't mean we're still not years away from seeing the fruits of this labor - we are.  It just means that we can finally stop speculating and start DOING.

I recently posted a news update that included a bit about the Animal Kingdom renovation.  Even then, it seemed like letting the cat out of the bag before they were ready, as some industrious sleuths discovered the new permit mentioned in that post and deduced what it was for.  But Disney has all but confirmed this, as they released some images of the 3D models that are being used for Tropical Americas.  If they wanted to keep this hidden, they're doing a poor job of it!

In fact, that, along with some other updates we're going to talk about, were part of a media event at Imagineering headquarters in Glendale this week (I didn't get an invite, but I'm not sure why??).  This event turned out to be a big deal, as both Iger and D'Amaro spoke, and a bunch of plans were talked about and/or confirmed.  Disney wanted to call attention to their projects at this point for a reason.

While the Animal Kingdom project is certainly happening first, the next big project on the horizon is an even bigger deal - the expansion of Magic Kingdom "Beyond Big Thunder".  This is the first time we have real confirmation beyond the blue sky daydreaming - this project is happening!  And while nothing has been announced as far as what's going into it, both Coco and Villains have been kicked around as possibilities.  Obviously much more is coming on this, and it's exciting to think about the possibilities.

That linked post from Disney Tourist Blog above also mentions an interesting fact about the way this was announced - Michael Hundgen, the Walt Disney World Portfolio VP at Imagineering, showed off a water management permit that would be filed in the coming weeks.  That may not seem exciting to us, but it signifies that extensive work will be done in that undeveloped land behind Big Thunder Mountain (and Haunted Mansion).  This is similar to the Animal Kingdom permit that leaked recently - in this case, Disney just flat out told us, rather than wait for someone else to find it.

Hundgen is also quoted in that CNN piece as saying that this is "probably the largest expansion ever at Magic Kingdom."  That's a big deal!  One thing that Disney needs more than probably anything else is more capacity, and the only way to gain that capacity is expansion.  Replacing one attraction with another doesn't really do that (depending on the throughput of guests per hour, I suppose it COULD do that to a degree) but building something entirely new definitely will.  

That doesn't mean ride replacements have no value - anything new will be a draw, and (hopefully) an improvement on what was there before.  Imagineering just put out a new YouTube show that largely shows off the animatronics that are coming to Tiana's Bayou Adventure, and they look fabulous.  And today, Disney officially announced that Test Track at Epcot will close on June 17th for the refurbishment of that ride that was also announced at Destination D23 last year (and noted in the first linked post in this piece).

For whatever reason, this feels like a dam bursting moment.  Perhaps this was a victory lap for Iger after the recommended Disney board was approved, despite some high profile opposition.  But it looks like we're finally seeing these dreams turn to reality, and that's the important thing for the parks.  D23 is in August this year, and I expect it to be jam packed with Disney parks news - real, substantive news instead of hazy speculation.  Perhaps a new "Disney decade" really is upon us.

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