$3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion? (Part 2)

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Current rumors state that Disney’s Board of Directors has improved a CapEx infusion to Walt Disney World of between $3 and $4 billion with projects at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and, of course, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We covered the substance of these rumors in Part 1 of our $3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion post, and I offered my commentary on the rumors for the Magic Kingdom.

For Part 2, I’ll quickly recap the substance of the rumors, and then turn to what I think of the plans for Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Disney Hollywood Adventure. As for the rumors, they are sourced from reliable insiders on WDWMagic, and summarized there in this synopsis thread. The main rumors concern Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and plans for Star Wars Land, Pixar Place expansion (akin to Toy Story Playland, but based on different films), Blue Sky Cellar, and infrastructure.

That’s the bulk of the amount between $3 and $4 billion expected to be spent on improving Walt Disney World, with Epcot and Magic Kingdom each receiving around $300-400 million. The rumor concerning the Magic Kingdom is that its Frontierland will receive a large expansion, which will presumably account for all of those funds. Over at Epcot, a replacement for IllumiNations is rumored, and it hopefully isn’t going to use all of that budget, as Epcot needs a lot more than just an IllumiNations replacement.

Now, here’s my reaction to the rumors concerning Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot…

My Reaction

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As I said before, I’m really excited about all of this, and also optimistic. Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where the bulk of this investment will go, and at the projects there slated to receive something north of $2 billion, this is a project on par with–or possibly larger than–the Disney California Adventure 2.0 project (when all projects there starting with Toy Story Mania and ending with Radiator Springs Racers are accounted for, I suspect DCA 2.0 cost more than $2 billion).

The wheels at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are already in motion. By now you’re probably aware of several attractions having closed here, and speculation is that work is going on behind the scenes with actual construction likely to begin around the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

First up, what’s not coming. Marvel. After Part 1, some readers wondered why Marvel wasn’t part of these rumors. The reason is simple: Disney cannot use most Marvel characters and the Marvel name at Walt Disney World because the exclusive theme park rights to Marvel characters currently in use plus their “families” and the Marvel name were licensed to Universal in 1994 (for parks East of the Mississippi), well before Disney purchased Marvel.

Some fans aren’t aware of this contract, which is understandable. Many are, and defiantly still seem to think Disney can somehow wrest the rights from Universal by having their legal team find a “loophole.” I have read the contract (and I am an attorney of the non-armchair variety). It is cut-and-dry, with little to no room for interpretation or loopholes.

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There arguably is ambiguity in the term “family,” but not enough to make a difference. The problem with that is there aren’t a ton of characters Disney could build a land around if it didn’t use any in the Avengers films (Hulk is currently in use by Universal and any reasonable interpretation of “family” would encompass his fellow Avengers). I love Rocket Raccoon just as much as the next guy, but you’re not going to build a land around him and his buds.

Now, this doesn’t preclude Disney from strategically breaching the contract in the hopes of a settlement that achieves some degree of compromise, or attempting to negotiate a new deal with Universal, but ultimately, the ball is in Universal’s court. This deal is actually pretty fascinating stuff and I’ve reduced it to its most basic, pertinent terms here. I’d encourage you to read the contract itself if you want to learn more, but this post is about what is likely coming, not want isn’t, so I’m going to move on.

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The first addition expected at DHS is a version of Toy Story Playland. I already wrote about why I’m okay with this even though I’m not a huge fan of Toy Story Playland. New details concerning this rumor tend to support my hypothesis that this land is part of the package deal because it is a cheap and quick way to up the attraction count in a park that needs quantity just as much as it needs quality. While I would much rather have 5 Star Wars (or other concepts) E-Tickets, that’s cost-prohibitive. The approach here sounds almost identical to Hong Kong Disneyland’s expansion, where they got needed quality in Big Grizzly Mountain and Mystic Manor, and quantity in Toy Story Playland.

The timeline for the DHS project is unclear, but the other upside to a land like Toy Story Playland is that it could be built quickly. If construction started on October 1, it wouldn’t be out of the question for this land to open in 2016. I’m not saying it will, but it could. This land has improved incredibly popular in Hong Kong and Paris, and would be a nice shot in the arm for a park that is probably going to be a sea of construction walls for the next few years.

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Star Wars Land is rumored to be where the bulk of the money for DHS is going. Those familiar with this project have stated that these plans have actually improved as they have been iterated upon, and some insiders seem very enthusiastic about how this project has evolved. It seems like Disney really wants to get this land right.

I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, so I can’t really say there’s something specific I’d like to see represented in this land. What I am hoping is that a single, distinct environment from one of the films, rather than a “greatest hits” of different Star Wars locales. One of the reasons I think Cars Land is so successful is because you feel like you’re actually stepping into that film. Same for the two Harry Potter lands. I think Star Wars has a lot of great environments that could allow for a similar approach, but I’m not sure there is a single environment that is as clear-cut of a choice as any of those environments.

The exception to this is the Death Star and I know a lot of fans would love to see it in the park, but I have a tough time fathoming how this would “work.” The exterior could be done in a style similar to Spaceship Earth, but that would look odd during the daytime and certainly wouldn’t be large enough to do justice to the actual interior of the Death Star. Maybe (hopefully) I’m wrong and the Imagineers could do something mind-blowing with the Death Star, but I’m betting it won’t be a part of these plans.

Ultimately, there’s a reason I write a blog about Disney rather than work for WDI, and that’s because I’m not as creative as the Imagineers. If the plans for Star Wars Land are as impressive as insiders suggest, they are far more impressive than whatever I could dream up. I really don’t care what the style or substance of Star Wars Land is, so long as it blows me away.

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Then, there’s Epcot. With over $300 million slated to go to Epcot and the only rumor being that IllumiNations will be replaced, this means that either something else is planned in addition to the IllumiNations replacement, or this is one serious replacement with a huge budget.

IllumiNations is old, could use some more impressive tech, and too abstract for most guests. Despite that, I’m really worried about it being replaced. To me, IllumiNations is a beautiful show with a great soundtrack and sense of optimism…and Disney would never create something like it again. Just look at Future World and the change from ambitious attractions meant to inspire and educate, to cartoonified ones striving for nothing more than to entertain children. For this reason, I would much rather that the core of the show stay intact while upgrades are made to the tech within the show. Add new fountains, a larger globe barge, and some other new effects to bring the show up to current standards. If you’ve seen the new lasers in the show, you know what a difference upgrades like these can make.

Instead, what I suspect will happen is that it will be replaced with an entirely new show, probably a dumbed-down one hosted by Disney characters as they tour the world (think Gran Fiesta Tour). I’m not sure if it would be feasible to install fountains in World Showcase Lagoon a la World of Color (or if that’s even a goal since Rivers of Light will feature fountains), or if they would go in a different direction.

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The tech upgrades rather than a complete replacement of IllumiNations would also cost a lot less, leaving more of that $300 million for other projects. Even if you aren’t an IllumiNations fan, I think most people could agree that Epcot has far bigger problems than IllumiNations. From Journey into Imagination to Ellen’s Energy Adventure to Wonders of Life, Future World needs help. Likewise, World Showcase could really use a new country or two. Addressing just 2-3 of these issues would probably eat most of that $300 million budget.

It probably goes without saying that my dream project for Epcot is to have Journey into Imagination restored to its former glory with a new ride, new ImageWorks, and new 3D film. An incredible trackless dark ride plus those other changes would eat a good chunk of that budget. Devote another $75 million to a new country (Brazil?) with a D-Ticket attraction to take some of the anticipated burden off of the Frozen dark ride, and I think Epcot would be a dramatically better park.

I’m optimistic that the plan for Epcot is more comprehensive than just an IllumiNations replacement. More than anything else, I would like Epcot to be an ambitious park again–one that doesn’t just go for the low hanging fruit or panders to the lowest common denominator. Really, though, no matter what happens, it sounds like Walt Disney World is going to look dramatically different–and dramatically better–after all is said and done. Like I said, I’m excited.

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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!

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Your Thoughts…

Do you think Toy Story Playland is a good addition? What about a big-budget Star Wars Land? Are you ready to see IllumiNations replaced? What other changes would you like to see at Epcot? 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.


45 Responses to “$3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion? (Part 2)”
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