It was a colossal year for news at Walt Disney World, with more credible rumors and announcements than at any point in over a decade. Beyond the formal announcements and rumors, there were also updates on previously-announced projects, such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (the model that stole the show at the D23 Expo) and Toy Story Land (meh).
This list focuses on the new-news, ignoring the unconfirmed rumors and project updates. It’s an equal mix of things that have happened, and things that are going to happen–with the best of the news being things that are yet to come.
When you look at this list, then think about just how much confirmed news didn’t even make the cut (Club 33 in all four parks, Happily Ever After’s announcement, etc.), and also how many reliable rumors are still floating around that are likely to be announced, it’s pretty exciting. It’s going to be a fun few years watching this all be built, and the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World in 2021 is going to be one heckuva celebration!
Before we get into the actual news, here’s a bit on how we put together this list (for the few of you who care). Ranking this Walt Disney World news in terms of popularity is a bit of inexact science. In some cases, we wrote multiple articles about a given piece of news (as it went from rumor to confirmed), and in other cases only one article.
As such, my methodology here is taking the stories that garnered the must cumulative views (per Google Analytics), coupled with rankings based on my own interest level, and averaging those two rankings.
10. Pop Century Room Refurbishment
While news about hotel rooms is not exactly as “sexy” as a new ride, it actually has a bigger impact (just on a smaller subset of guests). Think about it: on a Walt Disney World vacation, you spend maybe 4 hours in new land–an amount of time that is dwarfed by how much time you spend at your hotel. (Well, at least until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens and you basically have to wait in line overnight just to ride one of the attractions. 😉 )
We had several hotel refurbishment updates this year that were among our most popular posts of the year, but none were more popular than updates on the new rooms at Disney’s Pop Century Resort. (Actually, I think the Caribbean Beach Resort overhaul might have been more popular, but that originally was an update to our Caribbean Beach Resort Review, so it’s hard to tell.) Similar news about Wilderness Lodge and Coronado Springs also garnered a lot of reader interest. Read about (and see photos of) the new Pop Century Resort rooms here.
9. Alcohol Added to Disney Dining Plan
When details were released for the 2018 Disney Dining Plan, the surprising part wasn’t the 9% price increase. It was that for both counter service and table service meals, guests could use their drink credits on alcoholic beverages.
A boutique Star Wars-themed hotel was rumored for Walt Disney World and Disneyland early in the year, and then confirmed at the D23 Expo. This Star Wars-inspired resort will debut as part of the new Disney 360 vacation concept, which will introduce “living adventure” experiences allowing guests to be active participants that further enhance what they experience in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
This is not for me, but I have to give kudos to Disney in pursuing a lofty concept here, and something that could revolutionize themed entertainment. Despite a lot of enthusiasm following the initial announcement, no follow-up details have been released, construction has not started, and permits have not even been filed. We’re hoping this project still comes to fruition. Read more details and my thoughts on the Star Wars Starship Hotel here.
7. TRON LIGHTCYCLE POWER RUN Coming to Magic Kingdom
If ever wishful thinking could will something into being, TRON Lightcycle Power Run was it. As soon as this coaster opened in Shanghai, WDW fans pleaded for it to come to Florida. They are getting their wish, with TRON Lightcycle Power Run being added adjacent to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland and scheduled to open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.
After initial misgivings about the idea, my enthusiasm has been heightened. This is especially true after seeing the concept art, including how it will slot in next to Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Speedway. It’s a true addition without any subtraction, and I suspect an aesthetic overhaul of Tomorrowland will accompany this new attraction, which would also be a big win. Click here to read more of my thoughts on TRON Lightcycle Power Run coming to WDW.
6. Dog-Friendly Hotels
In October, four Walt Disney World resort hotels–Art of Animation, Port Orleans Riverside, Yacht Club, and Fort Wilderness Campground–became dog-friendly as part of a pilot program. To date, no other resorts have become dog-friendly.
This was the most popular news story of the year on the blog, and resulted in a staggering 400+ reader comments (although the number of repeat commenters–and those using fake aliases for “agreeing” with themselves–skewed the numbers a bit). It “only” ranks #6 despite its popularity among readers because my personal interest level in this news is nonexistent. The only reason I wrote this article in the first place was because my reaction was too-long-for-Twitter, and I noticed a lot of people there had some very strong feelings when the news first broke. Frankly, I’m still astonished that this has generated such a polarizing response. Read more details about, and my reaction to, Walt Disney World’s dog-friendly hotel policy.
5. MICKEY AND MINNIE’S RUNAWAY RAILWAY
This began as a rumor about The Great Mickey Movie Ride over a year ago, and morphed into Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which was announced over the summer. This new attraction based on the new Disney Channel Mickey Mouse Shorts will allow guests to step through the movie screen and join Mickey and friends on a zany adventure.
While Great Movie Ride is a casualty of this new attraction coming to Grauman’s Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there’s still a lot of (cautious) optimism about this project. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the kind of tentpole attraction that could really tie together the reinvented Disney Hollywood Adventure park after Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge open…it just remains to be seen whether the ride will fulfill that role, or be a screen-centric yawner that doesn’t do justice to Mickey Mouse and co. Click here to read more about this new Mickey Mouse dark ride and my thoughts on it.
4. Less Buses, More Gondolas!
This ranks so highly in large part because the story was pretty drawn out, first as a rumor before being confirmed via permits before being officially announced by Disney. It also ranks highly because we’re genuinely excited about this new transportation system. The Disney Skyliner gondolas will offer a birds-eye view of Walt Disney World, and connect Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and Riviera resorts with Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot.
The #2 story of the year in terms of popularity, the news of Hurricane Irma impacting Walt Disney World was a big story. Several days prior to it making landfall in Florida, a state of emergency was declared as the storm was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds over 175 mph.
Hurricane Irma ended up causing all four Walt Disney World theme parks to close for two days, while (fortunately) only causing relatively minor damage on-property. We ended up stranded in Florida due to a cancelled Disney Cruise Line sailing, and scrambled to book a last-minute room with our DVC points at BoardWalk Villas. You can read about that in “Our Hurricane Irma Experience at Walt Disney World.”
2. EPCOT REIMAGINING
After years of whispers about new life being breathed into Epcot, and scores of rumors about what that would entail, Disney finally confirmed that Epcot is going to receive the TLC it so desperately deserves. Future World is being reinvented and redesigned, while World Showcase will receive a few new and updated attractions. Two of the biggest new attractions coming to Walt Disney World–Guardians of the Galaxy in Universe of Energy and Ratatouille: the Adventure–are also part of the project, with more announcements and details still to come.
My feelings about Epcot being “reborn” are all over the place, but I’m ready for something different. The park I loved–EPCOT Center–has been gone for ages, and although this is not a return to that, I think there’s a lot of potential in the new vision for the park. A new vision is most certainly better than no vision whatsoever, which is the status quo for Future World. Read the full details of what has been announced thus far for Epcot’s reimagining.
1. Pandora – World of Avatar Opens
Pandora has a bit of an unfair advantage here because we did several articles about it this year (more than anything else on this list), giving it a quantitative bump. It’s also something we really enjoyed, hence the #1 slot. In case you’re somehow unfamiliar, Pandora is the new land in Animal Kingdom based on James Cameron’s Avatar (which, I guess, is now a Disney property!).
While AVATAR is not exactly a darling among Disney fans–many of whom still disagree with its existence in Animal Kingdom–we think the land is incredibly well done. It doesn’t hurt that Avatar Flight of Passage being one of the absolute best attractions at Walt Disney World, and the attention to detail throughout the land is staggering. It’s not perfect, but it shows Imagineering flexing its creative muscles when given the budget. If this is a sign of things to come with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge…wow. Read our Ultimate Guide to Pandora – World of Avatar for more on this impressive new land.
What would be your top Walt Disney World news stories of the year? Any news this year that you really liked? That you did not like? Do you agree or disagree with our rankings? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!