2019 D23 Expo News: WDW 50th, Zootopia Land, Disney Genie, Epcot Forever & HarmonioUS
A lot was covered at the 2019 D23 Expo, from Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary to a new Zootopia Land, Castle of Magical Dreams, animation-themed Cirque du Soleil at Disney Springs, and much more that we haven’t tackled yet.
Originally, I planned on doing individual posts with my reactions to each piece of news, but that was before the Parks & Resorts panel actually happened. During his ~90 minute presentation, Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products Chairman Bob Chapek bounced from topic to topic, covering a lot of ground.
Unfortunately, a lot of this was superficial ground. Some minor projects received disproportionate attention, whereas other major projects weren’t even mentioned. (No surprise, but the OLC-owned Tokyo Disney Resort, which has arguably the two biggest things on the horizon now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has debuted, wasn’t discussed at all.) With that said, rather than long posts for each brief announcement, I’ll do a quick round-up here with rapid fire reactions…
Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary – First, the most exciting event on the horizon–this promises to be one of the biggest ever at Walt Disney World, with the celebration extended to all four theme parks. Among the highlights will be amazing attraction openings, new entertainment, food and beverage, merchandise, and more.
My reaction: zero mention of what this will include, so I’m guessing we’ll either receive a slow trickle of info via the Disney Parks Blog, or another splashy announcement, perhaps at the 2020 Destination D event? Either way, a disappointment that the only thing shown was some balloons, MagicBands, banners, and a cupcake (seriously!) with an iridescent, rainbow-looking color scheme.
Target Stores – First, the Disney store “shop in shop” locations coming to Target. Bob Chapek claimed that fans are asking for more ways to shop for their favorite Disney products (I don’t believe this), which inspired the creation of this. In October, the Disney “shop in shop” experience will launch at 25 select Target stores, with 40 more opening by October 2020.
This is where me calling it the Parks & Resorts panel doesn’t work. I hate the name “Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products” but more than that, I hate what it represents. I didn’t expect anything about Target stores at this panel (even though I did joke to Sarah before the presentation that they might jettison all Walt Disney World announcements and instead spend the entire 90 minutes on the “hot new Christmas toys coming to Amazon.com”), but whatever, I guess. I really wish Disney would stop trying to make fetch happen with this theme parks and shopping connection.
Disney Genie – Planned to debut in late 2020, Disney Genie will be a new digital offering to enhance the way guests plan for and experience a trip to Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Genie promises customized itineraries geared to princesses, thrill seekers, foodies, families, etc. Disney Genie will even have built-in efficiency capabilities, and will quickly evaluate millions of options to present an optimal day.
If you’re naive or new to Walt Disney World, you might think Disney Genie will eliminate the need for planning sites like this one. Hahahahahahahahahahaha! Those are mighty high hopes to have for the company that gave us My Disney Experience, an app that still feels like it’s beta-testing software some 7 years after it debuted. If this Disney Genie software works as promised, it could be great. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Disney Animation Cirque du Soleil – For the first time, Walt Disney Imagineering and Walt Disney Animation Studios have joined forces with Cirque du Soleil to create a show that will combine Disney storytelling and heart with Cirque du Soleil’s signature artistry. Previews will begin March 20, 2020, leading up to the world premiere on April 17, 2020.
I have somehow gone my entire life without ever seeing Cirque du Soleil, and this is not because I have anything against the idea. Truthfully, I have no good reason at all. I think Cirque du Soleil looks really cool in all the videos/promotional footage I’ve seen. I really want to attend a performance of Cirque, and this version sounds right up my alley. I’m super excited for this.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – New details were shared about Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, as well as a video with on-ride footage.
Sorry, but no commentary from me here. I’m am vehemently against spoilers in attractions, and the moment Bob Chapek started talking about this, I zoned out–and I looked down while the video was playing. Everyone else seemed really excited by this, but I didn’t want to ruin what is currently my most anticipated Disney attraction for myself!
New Castle of Magical Dreams – This newly enlarged castle at Hong Kong Disneyland will “stand as a shining beacon of courage, hope and possibility.” Castle of Magical Dreams draws inspiration from 13 beloved Disney stories featuring princesses and heroines. The structure will feature adornments like Snow White’s apple, Cinderella’s coach and Belle’s rose as well as original artwork and sculptures.
We recently covered the construction progress on Castle of Magical Dreams here. I’ve long been skeptical of this, but a larger castle makes sense for the region, as does the seemingly awkward name. The look of this is actually growing on me, and it appears less visually busy and jarring in both the concept art above and the new model that was on the show floor. We’ll see!
Frozen Land – Two attractions are coming to the Frozen-inspired land at Hong Kong Disneyland: a one-of-a-kind coaster called Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs and Frozen Ever After, based upon the Epcot attraction. Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs will take guests on a winding journey through Arendelle, beginning with a visit to Oaken’s infamous store. Then, Olaf and Sven help pull your sled to the top of the lift before sending you on your way.
Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs sounds and looks a lot like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but with Frozen. That’s totally fine by me–I think Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a solid idea, albeit a tad light on show scenes. If Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs manages a bit more in the middle or end (and is maybe 30 seconds longer), I think it’ll be a solid addition to Hong Kong Disneyland. Ditto Frozen Ever After–the park definitely needs more dark rides.
Zootopia Land – The Zootopia-themed area coming to Shanghai Disneyland will feature new entertainment, merchandise, and dining options plus a new major attraction that blends storytelling and state-of-the-art technology.
This should be really exciting news. Zootopia lends itself perfectly to a theme park, and I suspect the government-owned Shanghai Shendi Group is ensuring it has a healthy budget. However, with all of the recent strife with China, I’m not getting myself too excited for this. Who knows where things will stand ~3 years down the road when this opens.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – The new Star Wars Resort at Walt Disney World will offer a two-night itinerary where all guests arrive and depart together, similar to Disney Cruise Line. Guests will cruise the galaxy in style aboard the Halcyon, known for its impeccable service and exotic destinations. Onboard, guests will stay in well-appointed cabins, experience onboard dining, make a planet-side excursion to Black Spire Outpost on Batuu, face off against a training remote while wielding a lightsaber, and more.
This all sounds really cool, but I question how much it’ll cost (contrary to “rumors” I don’t think a price can be set for an experience that’s ~2 years and a possible recession away), what it’ll include, and how much it’ll be scaled-back between now and opening–and again from opening to the one-year mark of operations. I love that Imagineering is aiming high with an ambitious and envelope-pushing project, but a lot here still remains to be seen. We have a full post about the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Resort here.
Epcot Forever & HarmonioUS – The limited time run Epcot Forever fireworks debut on October 1, 2019. Following that, a new nighttime spectacular called HarmonioUS will debut less than a year later in 2020. HarmonioUS will be the largest ever Disney nighttime spectacular, and will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people the world over.
The more I see of Epcot Forever, the more excited I get for that. With that said, I’m sad to see IllumiNations going and not being replaced by something that maintains its spirit. HarmonioUS looks a lot like World of Color, and the whole notion of a character-centric show on World Showcase Lagoon really makes me cringe. Part of me hopes that “due to guest demand” Epcot Forever becomes permanent, but I know they’re spending so much money developing HarmonioUS that this will probably never happen.
Epcot’s Future World New Neighborhoods – Finally, Epcot will be unified with four neighborhoods: World Celebration, World Discovery and World Nature (replacing Future World) plus World Showcase. Most notable among these changes is the more lush area around World Celebration, and the new three-level structure that’s (sort of) replacing Innoventions West and will will be the home base for Epcot’s signature festivals.
I offer a lot of commentary about this all in my Epcot’s Future World Being Replaced by 3 New Neighborhoods reaction post. To reiterate what I said there, I’m optimistic that this new area will embody a contemporary take on futurism, and give Epcot a much-needed shot in the arm. Additionally, I think the new names are stupid/pointless and would probably be much more critical of this all if it happened a decade ago, before the stagnation of Epcot really wore me down.
That should about cover it in terms of the 2019 D23 Expo announcements we haven’t covered elsewhere in stand-alone posts. This is a lot of announcements–more than I expected–but it’s also a lot that’s devoid of substance. As with the last D23 Expo, this feels like a ‘throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks’ approach. Don’t be surprised if some of what was mentioned here doesn’t end up coming to fruition, especially the projects that have yet to commence construction. If Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge woes continue, Disney+ costs more than anticipated, or the economy heads south, we could see a handle of this projects put on ice.
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What are your reactions to the various announcements at the 2019 D23 Expo? What has you most and least excited? Anything you’re hoping does not end up coming to fruition? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I know that they haven’t mentioned details yet about the 50th but any educated guess as to when it will be celebrated? Will festivities start on or around Oct 1, 2021 and go from there for a certain amount of time, into 2022? Or will it be for the calendar year of 2021? My hubs turns 50 in 2021 and we are trying to get an idea of when to go to enjoy the joint celebration.
Do I understand the star wars queue system only works when you enter Hollywood Studios? At that time it will appear on the app?
Target — This announcement was useless. I only purchase Disney Park or Resort themed merchandise and I doubt these will be sold at Target.
Disney Genie — I hope its optional (unlike MDE which seems mandatory) since it looks convoluted. Luckily as a Disney veteran plus a very good planner, I don’t think I will need it.
Cirque — I have a hard time staying awake on the multiple shows Ive attended near my hometown and the last time I went to La Nouba, I feel asleep during most of the show. I will give the new show a chance since its Disney themed.
RoR — I still dont understand the attraction after watching the presentation.
Frozenland — I agree with your opinion about Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and if this Frozen themed coaster is a clone of SDMT, then it will be a nice addition to Shanghai.
Zootopialand — I was afraid Chapek was announcing Zootopialand was coming to AK but thank god its only Shanghai. I hate to see a whole land inside a park wasted on an urban themed. Although I dont want a Zootopia themed land, I am open to a Zootopia dark ride.
SW Hotel — I am not a Star Wars fan so I will not a spend a dime to stay here.
EPCOT Forever — I look forward to this show. I enjoyed the preview of the soundtrack songs like Magic Journeys and Tomorrows Child.
HarmonioUS — I cringe at thought of Illuminations or EPCOT Forever being replaced by a World of Color type show.
Any predictions on passholder discounts during 50th anniversary? I think they offered 20% off dining and merch for 45th anniversary.
Sorry to sound ignorant – but what strife do you refer to in China when discussing ZootopialanD at Shanghai – and how do you think it will effect visitors to Disney? I thought most of the strife was centred on Hong Kong – so would HK Disney be more effected?
The escalating trade war between the US and China. And, yes, there is also already escalated political tension between Hong Kong and China.
Bob Chapek appears to be a clone of Paul Pressler. We all know how parks faired under Paul. Cut the fun, upkeep, and those extras that make the parks special and increase opportunities to buy more merch. D23 was weak.
“I really wish Disney would stop trying to make fetch happen with this theme parks and shopping connection.”
LOL, this sentence made my day!
I agree- brilliant Mean Girls tie.
As much as we love going to WDW and all that it offers, one of the greatest benefits of any trip to Disney for our family was seeing our first Cirque du Soleil show, La Nouba, many years ago. It was amazing, and since then we have seen countless Cirque shows, and have loved every one. We are not only “Disney people,” but are also “Cirque” people, for which we have Disney to thank. I hope you enjoy the new show at Disney Springs, but beware, as you might become hooked!
I am actually pretty hopeful about the Epcot HarmonioUS display. Despite being a ridiculously cheesy name with the capital US at the end, I think it has a lot of potential. Maybe I am naÃ¯ve, but it sounds like Disney could take the music and multi-cultural approach and made something spectacular. All while keeping the Epcot vibe. I also hope they do not add characters/IP to mix, but if they do I would be ok with projections of some sort (as opposed to live characters dancing on boats or something like that). That being said, I was not a huge Illuminations fan and I haven’t seen the temporary replacement. I just have to maintain hope that Disney does the right thing and makes it a true Epcot experience!
HarmoniUS is definitely disappointing given that it seems like another excuse for a character-driven show at the expense of Epcot’s thematic concept and message, but as it’s supposed to “celebrate how Disney music brings people together around the globe,” it could be cool if they used other language versions of Disney songs or played with language in some way. Still seems like a weak replacement, but at least it could represent multiculturalism in a positive way and provide some minor educational value. Probably wishful thinking, but let’s hope they’ve thought about these types of issues and will experiment even if only slightly.
I have the feeling the way the Genie app will be used in reality will end up helping Disney more than help the actual park guest. For example, suggesting table service reservations at restaurants that are always walkups. Or steering users away from rides or experiences where there’s already significant demand, and instead highlighting attractions that don’t have usually attract a crowd. In other words continuing the work of FastPass+ by furthering the phenomenon of rides with 45+min waits that used to always be walk-ons.
That’s another good point, and I totally agree.
*IF* Disney spends the big bucks necessary to make this Genie system work properly (a huge “if”), it’s not going to be for the benefit of guests–it’s going to be for crowd distribution and ensuring a higher fill rate at restaurants and experiences.
Given the incompetence of Disney IT, which has nosedived in the past few years, my expectations are very low. Their systems are buggy, website crashes often, and their apps load more slowly and take more memory with every version.
And even if they fix the above issues, I wonder how many visitors will actually use it. The amount of people I see still having issues with FastPass+ at WDW (don’t get me started on Fastpass woes at DL) boggles my mind.
Disney would benefit greatly from spending some time/money evaluating how to improve the overall experience of both the planning and delivery of its offerings.
I think it’s a bit early for this cynical of a hot take. Sure, if you make something like this available to the guests at large it will likely distribute out crowds. I just take exception this is the *only* reason why they are doing it and it’s not to help guests have a better experience. People are people and they generally aren’t going to be blindly steered away from popular things unless they don’t want to experience the popular things.
Genie is a great name for this potential feature. As a Touring Plans subscriber there is so much room to improve in their product. The data is great–the user experience is abysmal. Here’s hoping that Disney does a decent job. It might actually cause Touring Plans to improve. Competition is generally a good thing. I would be surprised if Disney charged for the feature. If only for the fact they want people to feel they are getting the most out of their vacation for the money. I guess only time will tell.
that’s an optimistic outlook for sure, but disney really doesn’t care if people feel like they are getting their money’s worth. maybe they did once upon a time, but those days are long gone. i’d be shocked into silence if they don’t charge for this in some fashion. they are going to want to tout this as a huge perk.
Disney or past decades
Customer service 1A
Making money 1B
or switch them, both ranked #1
Disney in the past decade
Making money and buying everything 1ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
Customer service/care about customers 20A
Michael, I agree that Touringplans needs to step up, but I’m still glad it’s out there. Other than being forced into MyDisneyExperience for FP+ and ADRs, I find no reason to use Disney’s apps or websites. Tom’s posts, Touringplans/Lines and the menus on Allears are way more helpful in planning and executing park visits than anything Disney has put out.
they conveniently left out of the genie announcement if it will be free or a paid premium. if it’s free, i’d be absolutely stunned. disney sees touringplans and other similar products that already exist, and they see people willing to subscribe to them, they just want their cut. they want people to be enamored with the genie face and it being the “official” app and lure people away. no way will it be free though, it will be a paid premium.
I think it will definitely be a paid premium and I predict it will also allow the paying users to get first dibs at high demand rides and ADRs. If there is a way to charge more for the opportunity to book a “premium” experience, Disney will find a way.
“Stop trying to make fetch happen”
This is why I’m obsessed with your blog. Great content with hilarious pop culture references for our entertainment.
I only got that far and had to immediately stop and comment to thank for the laugh. Now back to reading the rest …..
The “fetch” sentence made me LOL as well. 🙂
I was hoping for a Frozen land or Zootopia Land announcement for DW. I’m glad they are doing a Mary Poppins area and ride and hope they put a lot into it. Yeah the Star Wars Hotel at this point looks cool but depends on price. I wouldn’t spend cruise prices to stay in a hotel.
When they started talking about Zootopia Land, you could just tell there was this feeling that it was about to be announced for Animal Kingdom. I’m thankful it wasn’t (if it’s going somewhere at WDW, I think DHS is a better fit), but there was that vibe in the air.
i think replacing conservation station with zootopia would actually be a really good fit if anything were the happen at AK. it’s out of the way and if someone doesn’t care for it, they wouldn’t even have to see or walk through it. plus the train is already a perfect from-the-film moment.
I look forward to a Zootopia land like I look forward to getting a colonoscopy.
LOL Kev. I agree.
A few thoughts: First, thanks for summarizing this all in one location. It makes it easier to read. I actually had the same thought as you on the Hong Kong castle; I’m still not the biggest fan but it’s growing on me. As for all the US stuff, I’m sad that what they revealed was less than what we have heard rumored (Brazil? Imagination? What’s going on with Dinoland in AK?). and the more I hear about HarmonioUS, the more disappointed I am. I hope they prove me wrong.