2022 D23 Expo Predictions & Wish List

With the 2022 D23 Expo now just under 3 months away, Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans are anxiously awaiting announcements for the parks’ next phase of growth. Rumors and wishful thinking are starting to swirl about what new attractions are on the horizon, with speculation about overhauls and expansion various lands and parks.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans are muted as compared with the previous two D23 Expos. Understandably so, as many had their hopes and excitement dashed not long after the last convention when the parks closed. Many projects were delayed indefinitely or quietly cancelled. Others are still happening, but are taking forever to be built.

Beyond that, there’s also the issue of consumer sentiment. In the last two years, fans have been beaten down by a barrage of bad news–delays, nickel & diming, modifications, cutbacks, and upcharges. While the occasional morsels of good news has been peppered in the mix, that’s been the exception rather than the rule. As a matter of self-preservation, few fans seem to be getting their hopes up about 2022 D23 Expo news…

With that said, a big slate of announcements would actually make some degree of sense. The last time that really 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, the time is right to share what’s in store for the next development phase.

That’s the animating assumption of this post, which is part predictions and part personal wish list for what’ll be announced. It’s obviously optimistic–if even half of this ends up coming to fruition, I’ll be very happy. Despite the disappointments and hard lessons of the last couple years, I think there’s a compelling case for optimism.

For Walt Disney World, the elephant in the room is Universal’s Epic Universe, the third theme park being built in Central Florida by Comcast. On recent earnings calls, that company’s executives have praised the success of their parks, and said Epic Universe is full steam ahead, and slated to open by Summer 2025.

Officially, Disney won’t have any “answer” to Epic Universe. They either won’t acknowledge the project as a threat or Universal as a bona fide competitor. Their public position when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened was that “a rising tide lifts all boats” — that a stronger Universal was beneficial to Disney because it attracted more people to Central Florida.

That’s inarguably true to some extent, but it’s also spin. Over a decade later, the theme park landscape has also evolved in Orlando. Universal has built a half-dozen hotels in the intervening years at a range of price points, and there’s also the difference that 3 theme parks plus a water park makes. For many visitors, Universal will be a destination unto itself, rather than a diversion from Disney.

As a hotel business that also operates theme parks, Walt Disney World cannot afford to lose overnight guests to Universal. Those are its most lucrative visitors, and if Universal is able to siphon some away–even just 10%–that’s a huge blow to Disney. With Universal offering more affordable accommodations and on-site perks for a brand new park, that’ll be a given come 2025. And a totally different dynamic from when the Wizarding World first debuted over a decade ago.

If Walt Disney World intends to have an unofficial answer to Epic Universe in an attempt to draw some attention away from that new park–and offer a compelling reason to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, the announcement essentially needs to be made now. Given Disney’s glacial pace of construction, any major additions for 2025 need to commence work in the very near future.

Of course, this assumes that Disney executives have anything but the short-term in mind, are not singularly focused on yield management. They need to view Universal as credible competition, and have the ambition and vision to expand. There are any number of reasons that the company may not wish to invest significant sums of CapEx into the parks. (They’re not necessarily good reasons, but they are reasons…)

In the near-term, there are signs of a looming recession or slowdown, declines in consumer confidence, and the travel segment is likely to see pent-up demand fizzle out in the coming months. Of course, whatever is announced today would open in a different environment–maybe debuting during an economic expansion or recovery years from now. Still, building during a downturn requires vision and boldness.

In any case, these predictions are all just fun speculation and mostly a wishlist–definitely not credible predictions or informed reporting. I have no clue what will be announced and am not trying to present this as a scoop. I have zero insider sources and am waiting with baited breath just like everyone else.

With that said, here’s what I hope gets announced, along with other things that we realistically can expect in terms of announcements during this year’s Expo, in no particular order…

Celebrating Stuff Coming Back 2+ Years Later

Last year at Destination D23 from Walt Disney World, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro hosted a presentation called “Connections: A Look at the Future of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.” During that, he shared a variety of project updates and shared some minor news. He also “celebrated” the following:

  • Character dining is serving up fun again at Chef Mickey’s and other dining locations.
  • The iconic Dapper Dans Barbershop Quartet is back with their merry melodies.
  • Guests are once again enjoying Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park.
  • The Mariachi Divas have also made their return to Disneyland Resort.
  • Taiko Drummers are back in action and Friendship Boats are sailing again at EPCOT.
  • Beignets have returned to Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, along with refillable cups.
  • “Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage” has returned and it’s as enchanting as ever!
  • Couples are saying “I do” at Disney again with the comeback of Disney Fairy Tale Weddings.
  • Holiday foods are back
  • Churros are also back!
  • Miniature golf is back at Winter Summerland Golf
  • Holiday gingerbread houses have returned to the hotel lobbies at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Epcot’s American Adventure Rotunda!
  • Disney pin trading has returned!
  • At Princess Fairy Tale Hall, Princess Tiana is back!

While I wouldn’t expect a celebration of churros or refillable mugs during the keynote Parks & Resorts panel at the D23 Expo, an emotional montage highlighting how far the parks have come since reopening is all but inevitable. That’s doubly so if there isn’t much new to announce and they need to kill time.

My expectation is that the presentation will start with this and a recap of the anniversaries (Walt Disney World’s 50th and Disneyland Paris’ 30th). Basically, the longer those recaps go, the less likely it is that there are major, substantive announcements.

Announced Project Updates & Recaps

Similarly, it’s a certainty that there will be status reports and new concept art for projects that are already underway. For the international parks, 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.

Domestically, there are almost certainly details about the overhaul of EPCOT that 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.

Over at Disneyland, more details about the Toontown transformation, Downtown Disney expansion, and Paradise/Pixar Pier Hotel seem likely. Even though it would technically qualify as an update, I do not expect to hear anything about DisneylandForward. I’d love to be wrong about that, but I think fans have misread what that actually is. There is no there there–it’s essentially about zoning and land use.

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 details here will be limited to the names of the two new ships to join the fleet.

TRON Lightcycle Run Opening Date

I’ve gone on record with my prediction as to the “most likely” opening date for TRON Lightcycle Run in December 2022. Even if that’s wrong in month or year, it wouldn’t surprise me if the attraction’s opening year, season, month, or specific date is announced.

The reasons for this are relatively straightforward and simple. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind’s opening is now in the rearview mirror, and its first summer season will be in the books by the time the 2022 D23 Expo rolls around. There’s thus no danger of a TRON announcement causing people to postpone trips in order to experience both at once.

To the contrary, if there is a recession or economic downturn on the horizon, it might behoove Disney to announce a specific date now in an attempt to “lock-in” those future bookings before consumer sentiment drops further and there’s a pronounced travel downturn.

Tomorrowland Transformation

By the time the 2022 D23 Expo rolls around, it’ll be almost 3 years since Disney announced “A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrowland Entrance Coming Soon to Disneyland.” That entrance, depicted in the concept art above, still has not come to fruition. (They did just add some new plants. Progress!)

That entrance was likely the first step in a planned, long overdue transformation of Tomorrowland at Disneyland. If you go back and read it, that announcement primarily looked backwards, noting that the entrance of the future pays homage to Tomorrowland entrances of yesterday. That would be my expectation for the aesthetics of the land as a whole, which has been a visual hodgepodge for decades.

It seems logical that the next “new” Tomorrowland will revisit the 1967 ideas of Walt Disney and his Imagineers that envisioned it as a “world on the move,” featuring Googie architecture, Space Age designs, and mid-century modern stylization. Today’s Imagineers have been leaning into these looks more and more, and for good reason: they stand the test of time.

On a substantive level, it’s hard to say what’ll change. Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters seem like obvious candidates for updates, but we’d bet against that. Instead, the far side of the land seems like the clearer choice. As Hyperspace Mountain has proven, Space Mountain could become an entirely “new” ride via the strategic use of screens. Something more permanent could be a big draw and done without significant investment or downtime.

Then there’s the old Innoventions/Super Hero HQ/Star Wars Launch Bay building, which is long overdue for demolition and outright replacement. Personally, I’d be shocked if the inevitable Tomorrowland transformation restores the PeopleMover or gets the new Space Mountain from Tokyo Disneyland, but I’d love to be wrong. I think the more likely move in the current environment is something cheaper and largely superficial–but that can still be marketed as new.

There’s an outside chance that a Tomorrowland transformation is also announced for Walt Disney World. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is well past its prime, Stitch’s Great Escape has been gutted, and TRON Lightcycle Run launches soon. That new roller coaster could be dubbed ‘phase one’ of the transformation, with its biomimicry aesthetics becoming the visual identity of the future Tomorrowland.

Fantasyland Expansion

For years, there have been rumors of Fantasyland expansion at Disneyland. Most versions of this involve replacing Fantasyland Theatre and taking up some of the space between Toontown and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or some portion of the lagoons and Autopia area on the opposite side.

Most credible versions of this rumor revolved around Arendelle, but are now several years old. More recently, there has been chatter about cloning attractions from Tokyo Disney Resort. I know absolutely nothing, but view that as unlikely simply by virtue of size. The show buildings for the Tokyo additions are absolutely massive, and there’s insufficient space for any of them in the ideal plots at Disneyland.

Moving forward on this soon makes sense. Fantasyland is cramped, and opening up more walkways would ease the strain of crowds and help with capacity. Toontown is already closed until next year, allowing some of the groundwork to be laid during that project. Finally, Frozen stuff is under construction in Hong Kong and Paris (concept art above); cloning that now would be cost-effective.

Avengers Campus – Phase 2

At the last D23 Expo, Disney revealed plans for phase 2 of Avengers Campus. This was to become a brand-new E-Ticket attraction where guests will step on board a Quinjet and fly alongside the Avengers in an epic adventure to Wakanda and beyond.

In this attraction, guests were to team up alongside the Avengers in a battle to save the world from one of the most powerful villains they have ever faced. Disney indicated that Imagineers are conceiving an all-new innovative ride system to put you in the middle of the action in this Avengers E-Ticket.

Although the Avengers Headquarters facade was built with the Quinjet atop the building, that’s it. There’s no show building or anything being built backstage. It has been radio silence from Disney on the substance of the E-Ticket, with the company almost pretending it was never announced. In fact, when directly asked about the attraction during the opening of Avengers Campus, company spokespeople wouldn’t even discuss it.

In fairness, that was mere weeks after the parks reopened after having been closed for over 400 days. The future was still uncertain. It’s also understandable that Disney would want to focus on the excitement of something new during its opening rather than the promise and potential of something unbuilt. However, there were questions about phase 2 even pre-closure, and it’s pretty common for the shelving of second phases by Disney.

Logically, Disney should want to continue improving DCA to increase its drawing power. The first phase of Avengers Campus is underwhelming, and didn’t really move the needle on demand for the park. Disneyland getting Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway plus whatever is announced at D23 Expo only widens the gap between the two parks–that can’t be something that Disney wants. One way or another, it seems likely that DCA will grow soon. The Avengers E-Ticket is the most obvious candidate for that…but not the only one.

Dino-Rama Replacement

Everyone has their price (part 1)

This blog prides itself in being an unbiased, consumer-oriented resource. While you may not always agree with our opinions, hopefully you at least recognize that they are sincerely held. We actually love the things we praise, and actually dislike the things we critique. There is no manufactured hyperbole, in either direction.

With that said, everyone has a price at which they’d sell out. Let’s say that Bob Chapek were to ring tomorrow and say, “Mr. Bricker, I have the deal of a lifetime. You know that thing at Walt Disney World you hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns? It’s gone–under the condition that you sell out and lavish praise upon your second-most hated thing at Walt Disney World.”

Sorry, but I’d take that deal in a heartbeat…it’s for the greater good! I mention this for the sake of transparency–if Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, currently our lowest-rated attraction in all of Walt Disney World with a 0/10 score, suddenly starts receiving effusive praise, now you know why and can disregard accordingly. (Mr. Chapek, feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.)

Over the last couple of years, there have been a ton of rumors about Disney’s Animal Kingdom. My favorite is the Indiana Jones Adventure and Dinoland Changes, and that’s mostly because Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama being replaced by something that is not an abomination is my ultimate dream.

Another possibility that has been floated is a clone of the Zootopia Land that’s being built at Shanghai Disneyland coming to Animal Kingdom. I’ve never considered this to be all that credible, but Zootopia is popular and cloning what’s already being built elsewhere would save costs.

From my perspective, this is another one that just makes sense. Animal Kingdom 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 a ride with both Indiana Jones and dinosaurs!

Figment & Dreamfinder

Everyone has their price (part 2). 

Same deal here. If I suddenly start praising my most-hated thing at Walt Disney World (Dino-Rama), now you know why. Please disregard that praise unless you’re a fan of “clever” backstory that explains why something that sucks supposedly doesn’t. (Mr. Chapek, I’m even willing to “throw in” praise for dinner at Chef Mickey’s, but I’m gonna need you to bring back fried chicken at Trail’s End, too.)

There have been years and years of rumors about a proper overhaul of Journey into Imagination that restored the attraction to its former glory. I have refused to get my hopes up over subsequent Figment rumors–or at least, tried my hardest. However, for me, it just makes sense that a substantive addition would be announced featuring Figment and (hopefully) Dreamfinder at a presentation we already know will talk up Epcot’s reimagining.

For Bob Chapek, this should be a no-brainer move. Even though he probably doesn’t really care about the animated little f*****, hopefully he does care about guest goodwill and fan disenchantment. (Maybe.) At the very least, maybe he’s concerned about his reputation and legacy as Disney CEO?

Bringing back Figment and Dreamfinder is a surefire way of undoing a lot of the outrage and brand damage from the last few years. I can’t think of any other single positive announcement that would outweigh so many prior negatives ones. A lot would be forgiven by fans in the blink of an eye.

On top of that, an overhaul of Journey into Imagination would be both a legacy project and something that would define the EPCOT transformation, tying it together into a more cohesive project. Figment would become the face and mascot of the new-look EPCOT, elevating the otherwise underwhelming central spine in the process. (Plus, earlier this year proved that Figment can really move merchandise!)

Announcing Journey into Imagination 3.0 is one surefire way to get massive applause from the D23 Expo audience, restore some goodwill that has been eroded the last few years, and guarantee visits from loyal fans. About the only ways to achieve that are the return of Figment and Dreamfinder or the PeopleMover (the event is in Anaheim, after all). 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.

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Your Thoughts

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!

47 Responses to “2022 D23 Expo Predictions & Wish List”
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