The 2022 D23 Expo is only days away, and rumors are flying about what’ll be announced for Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This post seeks to separate the credible from the wishful thinking, with our predictions for what’ll actually be announced in terms of returning entertainment, new attractions, overhauls, and expansion.
When it comes to this year’s D23 Expo, fans are divided–and understandably so. Many have had their enthusiasm for all things Walt Disney World and Disneyland tempered over the course of the last two years due to cutbacks, price increases, project cancellations, and the generally slow pace of everything.
This is fair. Projects that were announced at the last D23 Expo have been delayed indefinitely or quietly cancelled. Others are still happening, but are taking forever to be built. One of the things we might get at the 2022 D23 Expo is an opening date for TRON Lightcycle Run. This is a cloned roller coaster inside a mostly empty warehouse that was announced 5 years ago. It’s difficult to fault fans for not getting excited about projects announced this year that will maybe be built and could open by 2027.
On the other hand, there’s also reason for cautious optimism. Since cutting back park investments during the closure and subsequent downturn, the company has been ramping up projects once again. In the latest quarterly results, Disney revealed that capital expenditures (CapEx) increased from $2.5 billion to $3.8 billion–the company revealed that this was primarily due to higher spending at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
During the earnings call Q&A, Disney’s CFO reiterated plans to invest even more in its theme parks. She said that investments would be ramping back up after being turned down the last two years. It’s unclear what this means or where the spending will occur (another new cruise ship and relocated corporate offices will also factor into it), but there are necessarily more unannounced projects in the pipeline in order for that to be true.
A big slate of announcements at the 2022 D23 Expo would thus make some degree of sense. The last time that occurred was the 2017 D23 Expo, which revealed a huge slate of additions, most of which have now come to fruition. With that project cycle now wrapping up–and no longer contributing to CapEx numbers–it will soon be time to start the next development phase.
On top of that, the travel industry is proving surprisingly resilient. Disney’s theme park business continues to outperform, and investors have begun to take notice of its success. This coupled with Wall Street souring on streaming (at least a bit) means Disney may finally start to bet bigger on its theme parks. (All lessons learned back in 2009, proving yet again that history repeats itself!)
Nevertheless, I’m coming at this from the perspective that the aforementioned ramping up is still a work in progress, and a lot of specifics won’t yet be ready to share. Meaning that this year’s slate of news will not be on par with 2017. Here’s hoping that’s wrong, and my expectations are unnecessarily low.
With that said, these are all just fun speculation. They’re definitely not credible predictions, informed reporting, or even what I want to see announced–just what I think will happen. I have no clue what will be announced and am not trying to present this as a scoop. I am waiting with baited breath just like everyone else.
Anyway, here are the announcements I think we can expect at the 2022 D23 Expo…
One of the safer bets is that the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products panel will feature a segment about new and returning entertainment. This may or may not be the culmination of an emotional montage highlighting how far the parks have come since reopening. That really depends on how many actual new additions there are to announce and whether they need to kill time.
Regardless of recaps, there actually is a lot happening on the entertainment front. Fantasmic should get a return date at Walt Disney World. It’s a near-certainty that Disneyland Resort will get at least one parade, and possibly two, in 2023. (Magic Happens and a night parade are the most likely announcements. One will be the performers from “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade; the other would be freshly-cast.)
Disney100, or the 100 Years of Wonder is the 100th anniversary celebration of the Walt Disney Company, which was founded in 1923. The celebration will begin at the 2022 D23 Expo and continue throughout 2023. Although Disney100 is billed as starting with this weekend’s D23 Expo, it’s unclear when the park celebrations will begin in earnest. Probably next year after Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary ends–perhaps Memorial Day?
There’s likely overlap between the last segment of the presentation and the Disney 100 portion. (To be clear, these distinctions are ours–they’re predictions, not guarantees or leaks.) Our expectation is that entertainment returning this year or early next is largely handled separately from reimagined or new nighttime spectaculars for Disney 100.
We are, perhaps foolishly, optimistic that Disney100 will right some wrongs of the World’s Most Magical Celebration. Key to that will be entertainment. At Walt Disney World, the logical option is bringing back an ‘extended’ version of Happily Ever After, complete with projections on Main Street and a pre-show celebrating 100 Years of Wonder.
Adding counter-programming to Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would also make sense, and a “new” nighttime spectacular could be created relatively easily by remixing the past projection shows to something that pays tribute to Walt Disney-era animation and live action films. If Orlando leadership is worried about alienating first-timers with too much nostalgia, placing this as the secondary show at DHS is relatively low-risk.
Being less allergic to spending money on new entertainment, it’s likely that Disneyland will receive a new fireworks show and possibly much more. While I’m not necessarily expecting any of this, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see segments added to Fantasmic or World of Color for Disney100, and new floats for the daytime and night parades also aren’t outside the realm of possibilities. Special character cavalcades and costumes are also a given.
Beyond that, the time has likely come for new stage shows on both coasts. Encanto seems so obvious, and there are unused venues in both Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s also possible that character enhancements to Avengers Campus Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be covered here. Before you question what this has to do with Disney’s 100th Anniversary, I ask you: is anything more wondrous than Baby Yoda?!?
It’s a certainty that there will be status reports and new concept art for projects at international parks that are already underway. These include the Walt Disney Studios Park expansion at Disneyland Paris, Arendelle at Hong Kong Disneyland, Zootopia at Shanghai Disneyland, and Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea.
Even though Disney usually glosses over the Japan parks since it doesn’t own them, it wouldn’t surprise me to see actual attention given to Fantasy Springs since it’s far and away the most ambitious project. The WDSP also should be highlighted given its long-term, transformational significance for Disneyland Paris.
Disney Cruise Line has been laying the groundwork for moving one of its ships to Australia, which could happen as soon as the Fall 2023 season. Other possibilities include hyping up the Disney Wish, MagicBand+ news, and an update on Lighthouse Point.
Hearing more about Disney Cruise Line’s other new ships is also a possibility. However, that might be premature if the company still wants to draw attention (and bookings) to the Disney Wish. Perhaps this will be limited to the name of the next new ship to join the fleet, with a dedicated reveal in the future. (That approach worked well in creating excitement for the Wish.)
EPCOT Overhaul Updates
Domestically, there are details about the overhaul of EPCOT that likely have been held back for the D23 Expo. While I’ve already expressed my hope that Disney bets bigger on CommuniCore Hall & Plaza, I think it’s more likely that we see new concept art for what’s actually planned for the green spaces in the recently-released concept art.
The current concept art has a lot of clone-stamp greenery; that should be replaced with real detail. Here’s hoping for an announcement of the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ Experience: Dig & Dredge Discovery!
Joking aside, the company will play to the crowd and emphasize Dreamers Point and the statue of Walt Disney, naturally. (Much easier to honor his legacy by erecting a statue than actually building stuff of substance.)
An opening season for Moana’s Journey of Water likewise makes sense given where that project stands. Another wildcard is the Play Pavilion, which has not received any official updates in ages, but continues to have construction permits filed. I’d bet on news about the Play Pavilion, and potentially an opening season.
Finally, my more out-on-a-limb prediction here is that a reimagining of Spaceship Earth is revealed. That attraction needs an extensive refurbishment sooner or later; they might as well update the show scenes during the downtime.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Details
It’s now been over 2 years since the surprise news that Disney would retheme Splash Mountain to an attraction inspired by the Princess and the Frog. The announcement clearly came prematurely and at a far earlier stage of development than normal–there was only a single piece of high-level concept art, a vague premise of the attraction, and quotes from Imagineers and other involved parties.
Since then, Disney has revealed…basically just the ride name. There have been other minor details and reporting about WDI research trips, but nothing that can be considered material. It’s likely that’ll change at the 2022 D23 Expo, as this is the only major project in the pipeline for 2024 or beyond as of right now.
Over at Disneyland, more details about the Downtown Disney expansion, Disneyland Hotel DVC, and Paradise/Pixar Pier Hotel seem likely. There’s also the treehouse formerly occupied by Tarzan, which many are assuming will receive an Encanto overlay. If recent rumors I’ve heard are correct, the concept might be much more exciting for diehard fans (especially those of interconnected, international story motifs).
The big thing is likely to be the reimagining of Toontown and opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. My bet is on more concept art for both, and an opening month or season–but not a specific date.
I do not expect to hear anything about DisneylandForward. Once again, I think many people have misread what that actually is. There is no there there–it’s essentially about zoning and land use. When fans say, “Disney will build X as part of DisneylandForward,” they are fundamentally misunderstanding the initiative. It’s not a project, it’s public approval to give Disney greater autonomy over what they can build–if they so choose.
Over the last couple of years, there have been a ton of rumors about Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The two most popular of these have revolved around Indiana Jones and a clone of the Zootopia Land that’s being built at Shanghai Disneyland coming to Animal Kingdom.
I’ve expressed doubts about both rumors in the past, and that remains the case today. I do think something will be announced for Dino-Rama, but that it’ll probably be a roller coaster. The Excavator is a classic unbuilt Walt Disney World attraction that still generates buzz in fan circles. While I wouldn’t expect that exact concept to be resurrected, it wouldn’t surprise me if something that pays homage to it is announced.
Honestly, another roller coaster doesn’t do a ton for me. I think Animal Kingdom has more need for another family-friendly indoor attraction, but the park has several needs. Aside from a nighttime spectacular, this is probably the one that can be addressed most quickly (should Disney so desire)…and people love thrill rides.
An addition to Animal Kingdom just makes sense. This is now the Walt Disney World park furthest removed from its last big expansion, it’s the park people spend the fewest hours in per day, and Disney already demolished Primeval Whirl. The picnic space that replaced it is an upgrade over the ride (addition by subtraction, baby!), but it won’t remain empty forever. Something is coming, and sooner rather than later. Here’s hoping it’s an attraction with both Indiana Jones and dinosaurs!
Future of Tomorrow
Disney loves storytelling, and that extends to the presentation of its panels. As such, my expectation is that there’s a “Future of Tomorrow” (or something like that) segment that starts with a feel-good introduction by Walt Disney highlighting Progress City and a quote about moving forward.
I would expect the segment to then take a tour of Tomorrowlands around the world, starting with the international parks and what’s being done there. Tokyo Disneyland’s new Space Mountain could be highlighted, as well as potential enhancements at Disneyland Paris or Hong Kong Disneyland.
Disney could then “zoom in” on Walt Disney World, offering a look at the upgrades already made to Tomorrowland, with more details about what’s on the way. This could include more for Carousel of Progress and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, among other attractions.
Other wildcards include Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Stitch’s Great Escape, both of which are ripe for upgrades or outright replacement. Then there’s TRON Lightcycle Run. I’ve gone on record with my prediction as to the “most likely” opening date for TRON Lightcycle Run in December 2022. If that’s accurate, I would expect a specific opening date at the D23 Expo. If it’s inaccurate, I’d expect they announce that it’ll open in Spring 2023 (no specific date, just the season).
For most Expo attendees, the highlight of the segment will likely be Disneyland. Prior to the parks closing, Disney teased “A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrowland Entrance Coming Soon to Disneyland.” That was likely the first step in a planned, long overdue transformation of Tomorrowland at Disneyland that paid homage to the past.
Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had a lot of conversations about the Tomorrowland transformation at Disneyland and rumors of what it’ll entail. All of these have been second hand–I don’t have any inside info on the project–but I’ve heard enough that I’m reasonably confident something will be announced. There’s simply too much smoke for there not to be fire.
With that said, when it comes to the rumors that I would consider credible (or as credible as it gets when it comes to the perpetual rumors of a Tomorrowland transformation), there is still no consensus. Certain attractions have come up repeatedly as returning or being overhauled, but the specifics are fuzzy.
Given this, my suspicion is that the details are not finalized and Disney won’t be ready to give us detailed concept art at the D23 Expo. Instead, I’d expect something like the high-level EPCOT overhaul announcements of 2017 or 2019, with an aerial overview leaving a lot of room for interpretation and change.
My hope is that this includes some specifics, and I’d personally go nuts if the return of the PeopleMover is among them. Despite what I’ve heard, I remain skeptical that will be announced. Disneyland fans have been burned more times by that than have EPCOT fans and “rumors” of Journey into Imagination’s return.
At this point, I’ll believe it when I see it. Literally. I won’t even trust an official announcement. Plans can change, and many have in the last few years. Until there’s actual forward movement on those glorious trains, I’ll remain skeptical.
Honestly, I would’ve been a lot less skeptical had I published this one week ago, prior to the announcement of Star View Station Lounge. If the Innoventions/Super Hero HQ/Star Wars Launch Bay building is not demolished, that calls into question the veracity of some of what I’ve heard. Or at least underscores that a lot is unsettled and the Tomorrowland transformation timeline is lengthy.
Announcing the triumphant return of the PeopleMover is one surefire way to get massive applause from Disneyland-centric D23 Expo audience, restore some goodwill that has been eroded the last few years, and guarantee visits from loyal fans. While I’ve lost hope for the return of Figment and Dreamfinder, I have a glimmer of hope for the PeopleMover. If Disney executives are truly concerned about all of these things (and maybe they aren’t!), it’s the logical time to do something that should’ve been done a decade ago.
Need Disney trip planning tips and comprehensive advice? Make sure to read Disney Parks Vacation Planning Guides, where you can find comprehensive guides to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond! For Disney updates, discount information, a free download of our Money-Saving Tips for Walt Disney World eBook, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!
Care to make it interesting by placing your own “bets” about what will be announced at the 2022 D23 Expo? Do you think it will be a time for big attraction announcements, or will mostly focus on details about projects that are already underway or that have happened already? Any surprise announcements you think might be possible? Obviously, none of us know what the future holds for the D23 Expo (unless you’re a Disney executive or Imagineer…in which case, please let us know what’s going to happen! 😉 ), but I think it’s fun to take some guesses and see who ‘wins’ just the same. We’ll revisit this post in a month and whoever got the most right will win…bragging rights!