Top 17 Disney Parks and Resorts Announcements from the D23 Expo

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The question you’re asking yourself is no longer, “Are we going back to Disney any time soon?” In the wake of the D23 Expo, the new question is, “How many times are we going to Walt Disney World? And are we going to Disneyland, too?” It’s the only logical conclusion after Disney just spent the weekend confirming countless longstanding rumors about their theme parks. During this event, the company also revealed a few previously unknown tidbits, a couple of which flew in the face of conventional wisdom, even among cast members.

In recent years, D23 has become a combination of Comic Con and an Apple product event. Even by those standards, the 2017 version was a stunning turn of events, as Team Mickey unveiled blockbuster after blockbuster. Let’s take a look at what just happened and evaluate what each news item means for the future of Disney. And while I’m talking, you should be mentally adding up how many new DVC points you’re going to need to visit as many times as you want between now and the end of 2021. Spoilers: it’s a LOT.

Get ready for the 17 (!) hugest announcements from D23, any of which would be the biggest Disney news item of a regular week. It’s a great time to be a Disney fan!  And fair warning, by the time you are done reading this you may find yourself ready for some DVC points or more DVC points!

 

17) New China Pavilion Film

Since opening day at Epcot, the China Pavilion has always featured a Circle-Vision 360° film. The original version was Wonders of China, which ran from October of 1982 until March of 2003. Disney replaced this film with Reflections of China in May of 2003, but the second entry won’t surpass the first in terms of longevity. Disney is creating a third Circle-Vision 360° movie for the China Pavilion.

Disney's China Pavillion at Epcot

The company is describing this film as a seamless digital display system, which is a jargon-intensive way of saying Disney is going to use modern technology to make a state-of-the-art digital movie for the China Pavilion. The camera they showed at D23 looks like a medium-sized Transformer, and we’re sure that Film-O-Bot will offer an amazing perspective of Chinese landmarks along with its panoramic scenery. Imagine Soarin’ around the World, only with a bit more showmanship.

 

16) DCA becomes more Marvel-ous

Vaporware is a key part of any technology firm’s major presentations. The event’s hosts make audacious claims that they don’t have to back up for years. Keeping this in mind, one of the most exciting news items from D23 is Disney’s immersive superhero experience. Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek revealed that Disney California Adventure is about to become the home base for Marvel characters in North America… which isn’t great news for Universal Orlando Resort.

Disney apparently believes that they have the legal rights to feature the characters they own despite their current licensing agreement with Universal’s theme parks. They’re going to add an immersive superhero universe at Disney California Adventure. Details are vague at this point, but the expectation is that characters like the Avengers and Spider-Man will interact with the Guardians of the Galaxy, who already have a presence in this park. Disney’s plans probably tie into the ones we’ll discuss with our top D23 news item down below.

 

15) Paint the Night survives

After ending its run at Disneyland, the kinetic Paint the Night nighttime exhibition was rumored to head to one of Disney’s other theme parks. Instead, it will just change gates at Disneyland, moving over to Disney California Adventure. The trend you can already see developing is that Disney is addressing any existing criticism of their parks, trying to strengthen the theming and overall quality of each one.

 

14) Star Wars Land gets a name

While most people stop after one word (Pandora), the official title of Disney World’s latest expansion at Animal Kingdom is Pandora – The World of Avatar. Disney is following similar naming conventions with the upcoming Star Wars Land. It shall henceforth be known as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. If you’re in the mood for some intergalactic Googling, images and videos of the upcoming land are readily available. They’re…impressive.

Star Wars Land Galaxy's Edge Model

 

13) Mission: SPACE goes two places

When Mission: SPACE closed for refurbishments in June, many analysts speculated that Disney was adding some long overdue enhancements to one of the park’s most criticized rides. During D23, Disney finally confirmed that the ride will be different when it returns.

The Orange Mission will still feature exploration of Mars, but the experience will be altered. In other words, you’ve taken your last journey on the Mission: Space that you’ve known since 2003. Meanwhile, the Green Mission no longer includes a trip to Mars. Instead, guests will take a tour around our own planet, Earth. From this point forward, a choice between the Orange and Green missions actually involves significant differences in the attraction. And both versions of the ride are new. Frequent Epcot visitors actually have a reason to ride Mission: SPACE again!

 

12) Town Square adds a theater

Much of the focus of D23 was on improving inferior parks. Disney didn’t forget about the most popular park in the world, though. Magic Kingdom is getting a couple of major enhancements. One of them is a new theater in Town Square. Not much is know about this addition yet. It’s actually caused some debate as people wonder whether it’s a modification of the existing Town Square Theater or an additional building. The belief is that it’s a second theater that will presumably host either some combination of events and character meet and greets, but that’s largely speculation right now. No matter what, Magic Kingdom will have a new look when you enter the front gate.

Main Street Theater

 

11) Mission: Dinner in Space

Disney is adding a second enhancement to the Mission: SPACE area to liven up the place, which has generally been a ghost town in recent years. Critics have gleefully chronicled the five-minute wait times for the attraction and the poor use of land in this area. Disney is aggressively attacking these complaints by adding a new table service restaurant to Future World.

Mission Space Restaurant

Located next to the attraction, this space-themed restaurant will offer delicious meals against the backdrop of an outer space view of Planet Earth. If you’ve ever watched a video from the International Space Station, the restaurant’s view looks a lot like that. Disney revealed that the Patina Restaurant Group will run this facility. You already know them from their other restaurants:  Via Napoli, Tutto Italia, and Morimoto: Asia. This meal promises to be one of the most visually stimulating options on the entire Disney World campus and is a fitting parallel to the underwater atmosphere of Coral Reef.

 

10) They paved Paradise and put up Pixar Pier

You know that giant sign under California Screamin’ that says “Paradise Pier?” Well, Disney’s already changed that once over the past 15 years, and it’s going to do so again, as Paradise Pier will no longer exist. In its place is Pixar Pier, a new themed area that will enhance the presence of Disney’s intellectual properties.

Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

The former Paradise Pier and boardwalk areas will get re-themed to reflect beloved Pixar characters, effectively killing the core concept of Disney California Adventure, its California theme. Still, it’s a long overdue decision that will make the second gate at Disneyland much more popular. One of the inclusions is Pixar Pals Theater, which will host characters from The Incredibles, Inside Out, and Toy Story. The change is expected for Summer of 2018, at which point Pixar Pier will become one of the most child-friendly places at any Disney theme park.

9) Minnie starts a van company

Several months ago, Disney hinted that they would enter the ride-sharing marketplace to compete with Uber and Lyft. Disney doesn’t like watching third parties earn income due to the long-standing theme park transportation woes stemming from park congestion. Enter Minnie Vans. While that name is still technically unconfirmed, the belief is that Disney will go cutesy with the title of its latest ride delivery system. When it’s available, guests can pay to have an adorable, polka-dotted Chevrolet transport them to their destination. Basically, Disney wants back all of the money that ride-sharing services are currently taking from them.

From the user perspective, waiting for a bus or boat to arrive is one of the worst feelings at the Happiest Place on Earth. You feel frustrated since you know that you could be spending your Disney time in so many other, better ways. With Minnie Vans, you have the same convenience of a ride-sharing service, only you’re getting a lift from a cast member rather than some random driver. The current belief is that Disney will price the Minnie Vans service competitively and may offer extended-stay guests (i.e. Disney fanatics like DVC members) full trip-pricing. For a set fee, you could have a personal chauffeur during your entire Disney vacation. What’s not to love about that idea? Minnie Vans will take all of the stress out of traveling around the Disney campus!

Check back tomorrow to see the top eight announcements from D23. Believe it or not, we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet!

8) Toy Story Land Gets an Opening Date

With so many big announcements during D23, you may have missed the most important one in the short-term. New themed lands are still ultra-rare at North American Disney theme parks. During the 21st century, Disney has added Disney California Adventure in 2001, rebooted Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom from 2010 to 2014, and introduced Pandora – The World of Avatar in 2017.

While the entire pop culture universe anxiously awaits the arrival of a Star Wars Land, a different themed land is less than a year away! At D23, Disney confirmed that Toy Story Land is almost ready to debut. Starting in the summer of 2018, guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will get to visit this new offering.

Toy Story Land

Park planners have expanded the area surrounding Toy Story: Midway Mania!, and this new themed area will feature two new attractions. Slinky Dog Dash is a family-friendly roller coaster that children of all ages can enjoy. Alien Swirling Saucers, a themed ride that celebrates the beloved Little Green Aliens from Toy Story, uses the same technology as Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Basically, you ride in a flying saucer, trying to avoid capture from The Claw. That’s the opposite of the storyline in the movie, where the three-headed aliens view The Claw’s grasp as an act of ascension. It’ll be interesting to see how the theming addresses this incongruity.

Hollywood Studios is currently a park in transition, and the impending arrival of two new attractions is welcome news. The third gate at Walt Disney World will offer an appetizer new year before the entrée arrives the following year. Amazingly, the confirmation of Toy Story Land in 2018 isn’t even the biggest news at this particular theme park.

7) The Guardians of the Galaxy Roller Coaster Is Real!

I have terrible news for fans of Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The charming 45-minute attraction that doubles as the best nap at Epcot is about to go away for good. Its last day is August 13th. The replacement is the long-rumored Guardians of the Galaxy Roller Coaster!

For a while now, Disney has had internal discussions about adding more intellectual properties (IPs) to Epcot. The company wanted to make sure that the IPs aren’t in conflict with Uncle Walt’s vision for the park. At D23, Disney finally picked a side in the debate. Guardians of the Galaxy, the popular movie franchise that has earned more than $1.6 billion in revenue to date, will have a presence in Future World.

Guardians of The Galaxy

To avoid confusion, this attraction won’t act as a mirror to the Disney California Adventure attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! Instead, it’s an entirely new concept that will marry the beloved superhero IP with the themes of Future World.

From Disney’s perspective, Ellen’s Energy Adventure wasn’t attracting large enough crowds to justify the size of its park footprint. Also, many of the ideas presented in the accompanying film aren’t as informational as they were back in 1996 when the attraction debuted. Once again, Disney is taking a perceived negative and turning it into a huge positive. Epcot lacks a true roller coaster, although Test Track mimics ones for about 40 seconds. The timeframe for the Guardians coaster is allegedly 2021, which seems like a long time for a single attraction. Don’t be surprised if it arrives sooner.

6) The France Pavilion Finally Gets Ratatouille!

Pardon my French, but Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy has been a rumored update at Epcot for more than three years now. That’s how long ago that Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris introduced the spectacular, mega-expensive attraction. Ratatouille cost a mind-blowing $270 million to create, and that lofty price tag explains why Disney hasn’t rushed to build one at the most obvious place at Walt Disney World, the France Pavilion.

With the 35th anniversary of Epcot approaching, however, The Walt Disney Company has opened up the checkbook and agreed to make a splurge purchase here. They’re going to bring the most popular attraction at Disneyland Paris across the Atlantic Ocean to Florida. If you’re unfamiliar with the ride, the premise is similar to the beloved movie, Ratatouille, one of Pixar’s finest.

Guests shrink down to rat-size and then try to avoid Chef Skinner, the evil chef who is destroying the legacy of Chef Gusteau. People board something called – I kid you not – a Ratmobile for the adventure. The ride cart is trackless, meaning that each time you visit Ratatouille, your experience will be slightly different. This technology only exists at two parks in the world right now, with Pooh’s Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland being the other one.

The fact that Ratatouille is coming to America is a huge deal in the theme park industry. This ride will quickly become one of the most beloved Walt Disney World attractions. Like Ratatouille the movie, the ride is pure joy. It, too, is scheduled to debut in 2021.

To a larger point, Remy has found a home at Epcot, as the character is the unofficial mascot of the International Food and Wine Festival each year. Kids gleefully try to find little Remy statues that are meticulously placed at the various pavilions. Now, he’ll have a more official presence as the greatest culinary mouse who ever lived.

From a Disney perspective, Ratatouille at Walt Disney Studios conveniently ends at Bistrot Chez Rémy, one of the most expensive restaurants at Disneyland Paris. Don’t be surprised when the France Pavilion adds a new place that instantly rivals or surpasses Monsieur Paul in food quality (and cost).

5) Tron Comes to Florida!

Tron has a head position in pop culture, especially among computer geeks. The 1982 film featured unprecedented visuals and graphics. It also had one of the most novel cinematic vehicles ever, the Lightcycle.

Tron Ride

Disney fans felt extreme envy when the company unveiled its plans for Shanghai Disneyland. The headliner out of the attractions was Tron Lightcycle Power Run, which puts riders behind the wheels of a previously fictional car. The distinctive ride offered so much intrigue that YouTube channels owners racked up tens of millions of views during the first month of Tokyo Disneyland. People from other parts of the world looked on with jealousy as they saw one of Disney’s greatest achievements debut thousands of miles away.

While a visit to Shanghai Disneyland should be on any DVC member’s bucket list, the reality is that they don’t have any participating properties yet. So, a visit to experience Tron Lightcycle Power Run is an expensive proposition. That’s why everyone should love the announcement that Magic Kingdom will get its own version of the attraction.

The only real surprise is that Tron won’t replace an existing ride. The belief was that Tomorrowland Speedway, one of the original Magic Kingdom attractions, would leave the park. While that may still happen – the ride takes up a massive amount of prime theme park real estate – it won’t be because of Tron. Disney revealed the blueprints, which show Tron sitting beside Space Mountain on currently unused land.

Would you like to guess when Tron Lightcycle Power Run will arrive at Magic Kingdom? If you’ve been paying attention, you should say 2021. And you’d be correct! The explanation for this target date for all the new major E Ticket attractions is simple. It’s the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Disney wants to do something special to commemorate the debut of the most popular vacation destination on the planet.

4) Mickey and Minnie End an Era at Hollywood Studios

Again, Hollywood Studios is in a transitional phase. One of the victims of change is The Great Movie Ride, the original attraction at the former Disney-MGM Studios. Since the introduction of the park, this signature celebration of the classic era of Hollywood movies has welcomed guests. It’s offered tremendous ride throughput and a nice 20-minute respite that’s allowed park visitors to get off their feet for a while.

On August 13th, The Great Movie Ride goes away forever. And the original concept of Hollywood Studios goes with it. Fortunately, something even more fitting will replace the iconic attraction.

Disney's Great Movie Ride

After literally decades of false starts, Disney will introduce the first ride ever to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Entitled Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, this attraction will do something that Uncle Walt could only dream about back in the day. It will take guests into a Disney Cartoon Short, allowing them to become a part of the proceedings. This will happen thanks to technology that Imagineers describe as a 2.5D. Since it’s not true 3D, the ride won’t require 3D glasses. Disney promises that you will feel like you’re stepping through a movie screen. And for better or worse, Goofy is the one driving the train as you do! Many shenanigans presumably ensue.

In the spirit of classic Disney attractions from Uncle Walt’s era, Runaway Railway will also include a new song created specifically for the ride. If you’re not sure whether you should get your hopes up for this one, I’ll let Imagineer Kevin Rafferty make the sales pitch:

“This is one of the boldest…most impossible things I’ve ever worked on in almost 40 years of being an Imagineer. And you know what? That’s what I love about it.”

3) It’s Not a Gondola. It’s a…

Picking which of the top three stories is most important is almost impossible. All three will change the way that Disney Vacation Club members perceive and interact with the parks that they love.

From a daily perspective, nothing will impact guests more than the gondola. After months of speculation and irrefutable blueprints spelling out the details, Disney finally acknowledged the obvious. The gondola system is real, and it’s spectacular. It also has a name. From now on, your favorite mode is transportation is no longer the monorail. It’s the Disney Skyliner.

This overhead transit system will connect guests at multiple resorts and gates. The underlying explanation for the existence of these contraptions is Central Florida traffic. The heightened attendance at Universal Orlando Resort and sustained dominance of the Walt Disney World complex has made travel kind of a nightmare at times. The ascension of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft has escalated the problem that much more.

Many city strategists have discovered that the skies are a wonderful place for travelers to avoid traffic. A smartly designed gondola system can transport a lot of people in a short period of time. Seriously, a mid-sized implementation can move 9,000 folks in an hour. Disney’s system probably won’t be that ambitious, at least not at the start. It will, however, connect Hollywood Studios, Epcot, the All-Star resorts, and Caribbean Beach via one skylift. That’s thousands of guests that Disney is taking off the roads each hour.

The company isn’t just doing it as a solution in the short-term. Instead, they’ve seen what The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has done for Universal Studios. Disney correctly projects the same impact from Star Wars Land. The current roads in the area simply aren’t equipped to handle even more traffic at this juncture. Disney’s proactively solving the problem by sweeping guests into the air. And, oh yeah, the Disney Skyliner is going to be a joyous experience for kids, just as the monorail was for you when you were a child.

2) Disney Introduces Its 15th DVC Resort!!!

Okay, here is the news that matters the most to you as current and potential Disney Vacation Club members. As rumored, the 15th development is an extension of the current Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. These 300 new units will have their own name, and it’s Disney Riviera Resort.

Speculation on this resort has centered on the fact that it’s a renovation on a Moderate tier property. The expectation has been that this would have a cheaper point cost for a nightly stay. Disney might have just blown up those predictions. The D23 presentation noted that a new rooftop restaurant will quickly become one of the destination locations on the Walt Disney World campus. This eatery will offer views of both nighttime displays in the area, the exhibitions at Hollywood Studios AND Epcot! That makes it the equivalent of California Grill.

Disney's Riviera Resort

A restaurant with breathtaking views isn’t the only selling point of Disney’s Riviera Resort, either. It will also include a stop on Disney Skyliner. In terms of logistics, the latest DVC property will be relatively equal to the monorail resorts. Guests can travel to two different theme parks via the gondola system. That’s a huge deal to many travelers, especially considering the impending arrival of Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios and the Epcot additions listed above. At virtually any other D23, this would be the top news item for DVC members. This year, there’s something even better, though.

1)    STAR WARS HOTEL IS REAL!!!!

Do you remember how you dreamt about Star Wars when you were a kid? You imagined that you could use The Force to battle evildoers such as the soulless Storm Troopers and the vicious Sith lords who control them. You swung the best available toy recreation of a light saber and fantasized that you were striking down Darth Vader or Darth Maul.

Thanks to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an entirely new generation of kids has the same dreams. What’s amazing is that you and your children can both live out these fantasies as a team thanks to the arrival of Star Wars Hotel. Yes, Disney will construct an entirely new resort that joins with Star Wars Land: Galaxy’s Edge to become THE theme park destination of choice over the next several years.

Disney’s shocking reveal didn’t stop with a resort announcement, either. The company bragged that this resort would be unlikely any other. When you stay at Star Wars Hotel, you will begin an interactive, immersive quest. For 48-72 hours, you will join either the Jedi or the Sith, the rebels or the First Order. Amazingly, your decisions at the parks will impact your missions.

You won’t simply visit a theme park. You will become a part of the proceedings. Even looking beyond the theme park industry for a moment, there’s nothing comparable to this idea that exists in the hospitality industry today. Disney’s announcement functions as a promise that they plan to honor Walt Disney’s version about improving their parks whenever possible. When Star Wars Hotel opens, the vacation will begin the instant you check in. You can live out your childhood dreams in a revolutionary way. And that’s just the immersion element.

Take a moment to imagine what a Star Wars Hotel should look like. That’s the conversation that Imagineers have had in recent months. They get to build a permanent monument to the Star Wars universe. Each room will have an applicable theme, and the hotel restaurants will offer intergalactic flavors that may make Pandora – The World of Avatar’s menu seem like Cracker Barrel by comparison.

Star Wars Hotel

The current belief is that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open in 2019. Whether Disney can build an entire hotel in that timeframe remains to be seen. What we do know is that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter revolutionized the theme park industry in 2009. A decade later, Disney has positioned the Star Wars brand to do the same.

Stating the obvious, you’re gonna need more points, fellow Disney fans. These 17 additions are going to make an already spectacular series of vacation options that much better.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with this ranking or do you think something else should be number 1?  Let us know your thoughts with comments below.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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