$3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion? (Part 1)

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We’ve all heard the timeless fable in which the Loch Ness Monster relentlessly begs the couple for ’bout tree fiddy. As with all good fables, this one can be applied to real life, with the monster in our story here being the behemoth theme park resort known as Walt Disney World, the couple being The Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors, and the ’bout tree fiddy not being three dollars and fifty cents or even three hundred and fifty million, but about $3.5 billion.

Rumor has it that the Board of Directors has given in to the monster, approving some $3.5 billion for the Walt Disney World, which purportedly will go principally to the park currently known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with some funds also going to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and more going to infrastructure improvements. In this post (Part 1 of 2 posts) we will take a look at the current rumors as to what is coming, and I’ll offer my take on what is rumored to be coming and what should be coming.

I want to make it abundantly clear that what is discussed in this post is purely rumor, and rumor that I have indirectly sourced from typically-reliable insiders. I have absolutely no direct sources on this (or anything), so this is sort of like a nerdy game of telephone. Moreover, as with all rumors, until construction actually starts (and sometimes even after that) this is all subject to change. This is all a roundabout way of saying: take all of this with a grain of salt and don’t get too excited about the substance of anything here.

Enough with the caveats, let’s jump to the meat of the rumors…

The Rumors

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First up, credit where credit is due. As mentioned, this is like a game of telephone, and I’m the creeper listening in on the line while others converse. The substance of all of the rumors presented here has been sourced from several insiders on the WDWMagic forums.

It’s somewhat difficult to follow there due to those long threads going off topic, but fortunately, one poster has summarized everything encompassed in this large Walt Disney World investment, and put together a synopsis thread. If you’re mostly interested in the substance of the rumors rather than my opinions, I’d suggest going directly to the source.

It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the funds here are rumored to be allocated to the park currently known as Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which will likely be relaunched as Disney Hollywood Adventure. A large portion of the park is slated to be rebuilt from the ground up. It sounds as if only the major E-Ticket attractions are “safe” from replacement during the expansion.

If you’ve been following the rumors for this park since, well, since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, nothing here should come as a huge surprise (heck, even I predicted this stuff…and I know nothing!) and the wheels are already in motion in some regards.

Most of the money is said to be going to Star Wars Land, with a smaller amount going to expanding Pixar Place, adding re-skinned attractions in the style of the Toy Story Playlands in Paris and Hong Kong. Other additions are possible and infrastructure changes are necessary, but contrary to other rumors floating around, Indiana Jones Adventure is not currently part of this expansion.

The more surprising portion of this $3.5 billion rumor (I’ve actually heard this number is somewhere between $3 and $4 billion, so that’s just a ‘compromise’ amount) is the additions to the Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland. I have yet to read any details of substance concerning this, aside from it receiving upwards of $300 million, which would put it just south of the amount the New Fantasyland investment.

Epcot is slated to receive roughly the same amount as the Magic Kingdom, with the only thing insiders agreeing on is that a replacement for IllumiNations is coming. Beyond that, not much is out there about what else might be on the table. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is unlikely to be receiving any of the funds (AVATAR Land, Rivers of Light, and the rest of the construction there are done deals) nor are any of the hotels, the monorail system, or Disney Springs.

I think that about covers the reliable rumors that are floating around. There are a ton of ‘wishful thinking’ fan ideas also out there, and I’ll cover some of those, plus my own, in the Reaction section below…

My Reaction

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My general reaction to this news is a resounding amount of excitement…and also surprise. I’m excited because the vibe I get from everyone who has some insight into the project (much of which insight they haven’t shared to protect their own sources) is excitement. Even those who are cynical and jaded seem to be excited, particularly about the Star Wars stuff.

I’m surprised because for so long, Walt Disney World has been the cash cow of the Disney Parks empire, but has not received a level of investment in new attractions commensurate with its size, revenue, or other worldwide Disney Parks. Some would say this is because it’s a mature business unit (a cold view, but not altogether wrong) or because significant infrastructure investments have instead been made (also true).

While true, I don’t think either of these things preclude adding new attractions being a savvy business decision, but hey, the past is the past. It seems like the ‘monster’ is on the precipice of having a significant number of new attractions added, so the future is bright. I’m certainly giddy, and think now is a great time to be a Walt Disney World fan.

Like I stated, I’m excited to see such a bright future for the resort I view as my “home” one. While I think some integral components have been on an upward trajectory (merchandise, dining, and resorts) for the past few years, there haven’t been any attraction additions with a ‘wow’ factor since Expedition Everest, and that was nearly a decade ago. New Fantasyland is a beautiful environment with some flashes of brilliance and solid supporting attractions, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything that wows.

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This is actually why I’m pleased that a big chunk of money is rumored to be going to the Magic Kingdom. It almost feels like a mulligan on the New Fantasyland project. This is not to say that I think New Fantasyland was a bust–I actually really like what it brings to the table for the most part. I just don’t think it delivered a flagship attraction, but maybe that was never the intent.

I am a bit surprised that the rumors focus on Frontierland, the land (along with Liberty Square) with the least issues and one that already has two killer E-Ticket attractions. I would have hoped for something to fix Tomorrowland, or even more for the ever-popular Fantasyland. Both areas could use cosmetic improvements, and new or replaced attractions. I’m hard-pressed to complain, though, as I did not expect anything big for Magic Kingdom anytime in the near future.

From the tone of the Frontierland rumors, it seems like this will reconfigure the land (there was a rumor a few years ago of expansion that would effectively annex and eliminate Tom Sawyer Island, which would make sense here) and add a big-time attraction that utilizes popular Disney intellectual property. Since popular is the operative word there, I think we can safely surmise that it won’t be anything The Lone Ranger related.

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I’m surprised by this because the Magic Kingdom already substantially outdraws the other 3 parks, and I figured all additions would be made with the mindset of drawing guests away from the Magic Kingdom to the other parks. Instead of that tact, it would appear the strategy is to improve the draw of the other three parks, while also increasing the capacity and allure of the Magic Kingdom.

I think this is a really wise strategy: no matter how much the other parks improve, I don’t think they are going to cannibalize business from the Magic Kingdom. It’s Walt Disney World’s crown jewel, the park to which guests will be drawn because seeing that castle is a rite of passage. Instead, the other parks improving means cannibalizing vacation days from spots outside of Walt Disney World, like the beach or other theme parks in Florida (with Universal Orlando also making significant investment, I’m betting marginal players like SeaWorld and Busch Gardens will be the parks most impacted).

My hope is that the money allocated to the Magic Kingdom is spent on something with a huge wow factor (that is also high capacity). A water-cooler attraction that gets people outside of Disney fan circles talking–the kind of buzzworthy attraction that alone gets people to book trips. I would prefer a single attraction of this variety to several smaller-scale additions, simply because I think Walt Disney World’s crown jewel deserves to have one of the best, most innovative attractions in the world. It should have something on par with Mystic Manor (in terms of innovation, not that exact attraction or even one similar to it in story) that really blows guests away. That’s totally the Disney geek in me talking.

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From an operational perspective, smaller-scale high-capacity attractions probably might make more sense to absorb crowds that have made Magic Kingdom feel especially packed in the last few years…but what fun is that?! Actually, I think there is a lot of value in adding a single killer, tentpole-caliber attraction. These are the types of attractions that can be effectively marketed, get hyped up in the mainstream, and draw new guests. Expedition Everest, Radiator Springs Racers, and even the two Harry Potter attractions have taught us this. There are other ways to address how crowded the park feels.

This is wishful thinking, but I would also like to see the Magic Kingdom replace Wishes! I know there are a lot of Wishes fans out there, and I get that a lot of people hold nostalgia for it. It’s a show that effectively tugs at the heartstrings and is an emotive experience. However, the mixed-media shows that have debuted at Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland in the last few years really are the next generation of nighttime entertainment in the castle parks. Heck, I’d put Celebrate the Magic with these shows; I think it is criminally underrated, and actually superior to Wishes in a number of ways.

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Disneyland Forever (the fireworks show for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary) really nails what the Magic Kingdom could use. The shows in Paris and Tokyo are light on fireworks, and I think end-of-the-day fireworks are an iconic part of the Magic Kingdom experience, so those shows as impressive as they are, are not good fits in Florida.

Disneyland Forever is the first of these new shows to feature a lot of projections, lasers, and other effects–and also feature a ton of fireworks. This is perfect for Magic Kingdom. No matter what new technology brings to the table, people will always love fireworks (just ask a scientist: humans are hardwired to love explosions…probably). Fireworks are the wow factor, with the projections and lasers (humans are also hardwired to love lasers) being the icing on the cake.

As far as this rumor goes, I suspect the Magic Kingdom’s additions (if any) are the most speculative part. I want to reiterate and make crystal clear that the above rumors may not come to fruition. It’s a foregone conclusion that something big consisting of Star Wars Land + ??? is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

You don’t need to be an insider to know that. It’s also pretty easy to see that Epcot needs help, and personnel changes there in the last year or so are indicative of some sort of fix being on the horizon. The Magic Kingdom, though, is different. There are a lot of things that could potentially be changed there…and also the potential for a ‘hands off’ approach as it just received significant investment and could be left alone while attention is directed at the other parks.

As for those other parks, we will be back later this week to delve deeper into the rumors swirling about those parks. Stay tuned…

If you are planning a Walt Disney World trip in the here and now, check out our planning resources! If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!

Your Thoughts…

Are you excited about the future of Walt Disney World? Are you optimistic about these rumors? Pessimistic? What do you think will happen? What do you think won’t come to fruition? I’d love to hear your takes on this rumored $3.5 billion investment in WDW, what your dream changes would be, and other ideas, so if you have any thoughts, post them in the comments!


47 Responses to “$3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion? (Part 1)”
  1. Heather August 14, 2015
  2. Linda Sharp August 1, 2015
  3. Rachel July 31, 2015
  4. Doug C July 30, 2015
  5. Ash July 29, 2015

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