$3.5 Billion Walt Disney World Expansion? (Part 2)
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
I would like to see them open a restaurant in Epcot where Africa is, out of all the showcases why does Africa have so little? I would love for them to put in broadway type show as well. What better than show dinner and fun. If anyone from Disney reads these, I think they should expand Disney Springs just West of the Circus building. Putting in some Disney themed restaura
I love magic kingdom . It is getting so crowded that I think we might need some shows to disperse the crowds. I was hoping to see a circus show in where the circus tent is .wouldn’t that be fun.mr toads wild ride could fit back at fantasyland. How much fun would it to have a bug ride near tree of life.muppets show needs an update in Hollywood studios.in magic kingdom maybe old fashion rides like the whip in a car.the food has been upgraded to lucious.do you think we can have an amusement park where we can ride with our dogs. Knobles let’s you go on certain rides in pa.iwill not have grandkids.i love ,love,love disneyworld.stayed for a month .coming back in october for 2 weeks. I just don’t want the fun to end.iknow everything takes time and money but I sure do appreciate disney.thank you so very much .
Dogs on the rides? 😀
4290 Danceglen Dr
I wish they got rid of EPCOT in general I honestly had no fun there except Test Track and Mission Space and the whole world tour was honestly boring. I’m not trying to bash on it I’m just saying they need to focus more on Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom to make more attractions and things to do or remake the entire EPCOT with more things to do. I hope to see Star Wars Land soon along with many more attractions at EPCOT or its removal. EPCOT just doesn’t fit Disney and doesn’t really have a theme. At one part it’s got a world tour and then another is a bunch of future high tech stuff and then there is finding nemo stuff? What’s up with that? EPCOT is the park with the least to do and the most boring.
Couldn’t disagree with you more, Aidan. EPCOT is and has always been for me (since 1996) my favorite Disney park. And I have been to most of them (Disneyworld, Disneyland, Tokyo Disney).
I did not see mentioned anywhere in part one or part two about the TTC and the improvements planned with the demolition of the speedway (racetrack). I would suspect that part of the capital rumored to be designated to the Magic Kingdom may actually be slotted for Magic Kingdom parking.
I strained my ocular muscles from rolling my eyes so frequently while reading this.
The Orlando parks and hotels are at or near capacity effectively all year now. Building any of this increases the tax and labor burden. Everything announced in the last three years has been relentless upselling of high-margin “premium” packages for the more affluent guest. If 1/4 of this emerges from the haze of whatever you are smoking, expect it to be accompanied by very steep admission increases, including demand pricing.
Oh dear. I read through your articles, and the posted comments, and have a few thoughts. But, first, a preamble…
I am a senior citizen. And I don’t get to visit WDW frequently; in fact, the last time I was there was in 2002, and that was only my third visit to the park. And I will be visiting WDW in 2016. That out of the way…
From a business perspective, WDC should invest $$$ into the parks; after all, if things didn’t change at the park, there would be no reason for folks — such as yourself, and I’d surmise this holds trues for many posting comments — to keep returning. Agreed? However, I’m wondering if perhaps “you all” have visited so many times that you’re blase’ about what’s currently offered, that that’s why I am perceiving so much negativity towards what is currently there.
I don’t think I’ll find the rides or attractions or presentations ‘dated’ and stale. At least I hope not, altho (unfortunately?) I will probably see them in a different light than if I had not read the comments.
Every one’s ideas about bringing new rides and ideas to the parks are really good ones, and it would be great if WDC takes some of them under advisement. If I’ve misread/
misunderstood folks’ comments, mea culpa.
Even ‘dated and stale’ , and after quite a few trips, we still enjoy it immensely. I’m sure you’ll have a blast!
Great work Tom
Can’t disagree with any of the points raised but we do need to wait for Avatar to see if WDW can cope with the Potter stuff. Recent rides indicates not – all that time and money on the 7 dwarfs and that’s what we get! Here in the UK Alton Towers would have had that ride up in 2 months. Frozen will essentially be a redressed Maelstrom.
At DHS I hope they’re more imaginative than at Paris – These are tiny fairground rides not good enough for WDW and no capacity. They need an inverted family coaster based on Monsters Inc . with Boo’s door. Potter has raised the bar and Disney need to catch on – quickly. They’re relying on their new best friends from Brazil carrying them through this period. Least they appear to have realised and given the cash – I pray it’s not wasted.
For your Death Star pondering, how about a Star Tours type simulator that finishes landing in the Death Star, and when you exit, you are now in the station. Then you could go to whatever various Death Star things that they could come up with, all inside (blessed air conditioning) and have a great special effects ‘explosion’ that gets you back home.
Feel free to send me royalties for these ideas, Disney 🙂
Are there any rumors about the use of Inside Out in Pixar Place? There is a lot of fun potential for a ride or a play ground type area.
I won’t go off on my tangent regarding closing Maelstrom for a Frozen ride and how they should have just put that where Universe of Energy is. But…as you said, Future World needs SERIOUS help. We are going in December and I a little concerned we’re gonna be bored in Hollywood Studios and parts of Epcot. Although I cannot wait to see that view without the stupid hat! Thanks for your detailed article. I’m excited for whats to come!
Tom – I read this before bed last night and had a dream that the Star Wars expansion was done incredibly well. Everything was very tall and amazing. There were no Ewoks, which was disappointing, but I was still in awe. You can rest easy now 🙂