Disney Parks Preview: What’s New for 2021 & Beyond
Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro delivered a keynote presentation during the IAAPA Expo: Virtual Education Conference and shared a behind-the-scenes look at what’s on the horizon for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and other parks in 2021 and beyond. This post offers a summary of the updates for the EPCOT overhaul, Princess and the Frog reimagining of Splash Mountain, Zootopia Land, Star Wars Hotel, and more.
Much of Josh’s presentation focused on the tumultuous year, particularly how 2020 started as a strong year for the travel and attractions industry, Disney included. The company had just debuted the flagship attraction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and had several other new projects around the globe set to debut this year.
Then travel came to a screeching halt and the parks closed. Much of Disney’s focus since the closure has been charting a new path forward. How to reimagine the park, resort, and store experiences to meet new challenges. Finding ways, even amid uncertainty, to plan for the better days that are ahead. With that, D’Amaro looked to the future, and the new and exciting milestones on the horizon…
Although some projects are on pause, there are groundbreaking new updates coming to Disney destinations around the world. Progress is currently being made on several projects across the globe, including in Florida, California, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo.
Let’s take a look at some of the updates…
Progress continues to be made toward the completion of Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure and the Walt Disney Studios Park, even as both Disneyland Resort and the Disneyland Paris complexes are presently closed.
This new Marvel land will invite guests to team up with the Avengers and their allies. The Worldwide Engineering Brigade (WEB) building will soon house WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, where guests will board vehicles and help Spider-Man take control of an army of Spider-Bots that have taken over Avengers Campus.
Guests visiting Disneyland Paris will also soon be able to experience Disney’s Hotel New York — The Art of Marvel. This reimagined hotel will celebrate 80 years of Marvel storytelling in a typical New York setting.
The resort will feature contemporary Art Deco style and include one of the largest publicly viewable collections of Marvel artwork in the world.
At Shanghai Disney Resort, progress continues on a new Zootopia land, where guests will be invited to experience the metropolis of Zootopia.
Based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Oscar-winning animated movie, this development will be Shanghai Disneyland’s eighth themed land and the first Zootopia-themed land at any Disney park. It will feature a blockbuster attraction that seamlessly blends Disney storytelling and state-of-the-art technology to bring this fan-favorite movie and its characters to life.
At Tokyo Disneyland, new attractions, restaurants, and shops recently opened at part of the largest expansion of the park in its 37-year history.
Originally slated to open in time for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, an area based on Beauty and the Beast, plus Big Hero 6 and Minnie Mouse attractions debuted this fall.
Next on the horizon is an even bigger expansion to Tokyo DisneySea called “Fantasy Springs.” This will be themed to a magical spring inspired by Frozen, Tangled, and Peter Pan. It’ll include four new attractions, three restaurants, and a new luxury hotel inside the park that will overlook Fantasy Springs.
D’Amaro didn’t focus too much on Fantasy Springs, likely because it’s owned and funded by OLC and not Disney. However, the is unquestionably the biggest project on the horizon. With a total budget of approximately $2.3 billion, it’s the single-most expensive land Imagineering has ever developed.
To put that into perspective, it’s more than both versions of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge combined (but probably not both plus Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser). Although the timeline for Fantasy Springs has been delayed slightly, construction has barreled full steam ahead during the closure and since reopening. You can read more about Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea here.
Speaking of a galaxy far far away, progress continues on the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Resort at Walt Disney World, where guests will live aboard a starship for a 2-day, 2-night experience. Guests will “cruise” the galaxy in style aboard the Halcyon, known for its impeccable service and exotic destinations. Onboard, guests will stay in cabins and eat meals, before making planet-side excursions to Black Spire Outpost on Batuu.
Unlike Disney Cruise Line, this hotel will put guests in the center of an interactive adventure that they control. Think of this as a hybrid between a live action role playing game and the all-inclusive resort hands-on ‘enrichment through entertainment’ experience of the Disney Institute.
Over at EPCOT, work is continuing on the multi-year transformation of the park, including Harmonious, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
Harmonious will be one of the largest nighttime spectaculars that Disney has ever created. It’ll feature the hallmarks of a Disney experience, including music and images, reimagined by diverse cultural musicians and artists from around the world.
Harmonious will also feature the eponymous stargate of the hit television show, STARGá°TE SG-1, reimagined for the diverse landscape of World Showcase.
Here’s a highlight reel video that shares a look at all of the projects on the horizon and quickly summarizes everything here:
Perhaps as notable as what’s featured is what is conspicuously absent from the video: TRON Lightcycle Run. Originally slated to open “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021,” Disney has been silent about the status of the project since the closure.
While we’ve recently seen construction progress at a brisk pace with the installation of the signature canopy, that’s expected to slow down by December 2020. It’s rumored that not much else is being done on TRON Lightcycle Run and construction will be paused until October 2021 once the canopy is finished.
Finally, Josh D’Amaro shared that Disney wants to make sure that the company is focusing on inclusivity, pointing out how Disney added Inclusion to the Four Keys this fall. Inclusion joins Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. “We believe that a truly inclusive environment is critical to fostering ideas from all people to help us grow, innovate, and create the best stories possible,” D’Amaro said. More info about Disney’s backstage commitment to inclusivity will be rolling out in the next few months.
D’Amaro also notes that Disney has chosen to “speed up” some of the work that had been in development to make sure that the parks remain relevant and welcoming to all guests. As an example of what’s been expedited, he pointed to the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Princess and the Frog reimagining of Splash Mountain. Along with that, other such “transformative” projects are on the horizon for Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
I’m skeptical. Not about the end goal or Disney’s emphasis on inclusion, but that any substantive projects have been or will be fast-tracked. It’s one thing to symbolically update the Four Keys, it’s another to undertake costly construction or refurbishment projects.
Attraction modernizations are something that has been floating around in various forms even pre-closure. One thing that stands out about the rumored list is that none of the changes (all to existing attractions) would move the needle on attendance.
From a purely economic perspective, it’s difficult to imagine Disneyland or Walt Disney World prioritizing such projects at a time when other work–that would boost attendance–is being cancelled, reworked, or scaled back.
Moreover, Disney has essentially hit pause on every project that was not already actively underway. Perhaps some changes that are inconsequential quick-fixes will be implemented (there are several attractions and a resort where this is feasible), but it’s tough to envision much of significant scope or scale happening in the next 3 years. Certainly nothing on par with the announcement for the Splash Mountain overhaul. So this news probably isn’t as significant as it might appear at first blush.
When it comes to that Princess and the Frog reimagining of Splash Mountain, D’Amaro did not offer clarity as to when the timeline was accelerated. The inference many fans have drawn from his IAAPA comments is that the Princess and the Frog transformation is now moving faster now than it was upon announcement this summer.
My guess is the opposite: the announcement was what was pushed forward, not the actual work. While the original press release stated that Imagineers had been working on the Splash Mountain reimagining project since last year, it also stated: “conceptual design work is well underway and Imagineers will soon be able to conduct preliminary reviews and develop a timeline for when the transformation can start to take shape.” That suggests to me the announcement was made earlier than normal in the development cycle, which is the basis for my interpretation.
Personally, I’m doubting that both coasts’ Splash Mountain attractions will close before 2022. (For a number of reasons, it’s highly unlikely that Tokyo Disneyland’s Splash Mountain will change at all.) It’s entirely plausible that Disneyland’s overhaul starts first, conceivably finishing before work on the Magic Kingdom incarnation even begins.
If construction on that reimagining really were fast-tracked, it’d already be underway at Disneyland. Now is theoretically the perfect time to start: the park is probably going to be closed for another ~6 months plus there’s clarity and optimism about the medium and long-term future of travel, with light at the end of the tunnel.
Ultimately, I’m a mix of cautiously optimistic and apprehensive about what’s on the horizon. The bulk of my apprehensiveness revolves around Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which I think should be a gala event (for all of the reasons discussed here). I don’t have a ton of faith much will come to fruition for that, as the necessary planning and work for October 2021 offerings and entertainment would need to be happening now. There’s probably still too much uncertainty about Fall 2021 for Disney to be taking concrete steps there.
When it comes to the bigger picture, long-term projects, I’m happy with what’s finished, what’s still happening, and what’s “on pause” or cancelled. (The large project that I’m most nervous will be scaled back is the overhaul of Walt Disney Studios Park, and I doubt many of you even care about that.) In particular, a lot was announced for Walt Disney World in the last few years, and I’d argue that some of that was of diluted quality due to the volume of the projects. As a fan who is in this for the long-term, I’ll take a slower pace or lower quantity if it means higher quality and fewer projects with corners cut.
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Looking forward to any of these projects coming to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, etc? Disappointed about anything that has been delayed or cancelled? Thoughts about anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021? Any questions we can help you answer? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing politics or ranting about social issues—anything of that nature, unnecessarily charged or antagonistic will be deleted, irrespective of viewpoint. Not only are you not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, but you’re not going to change Disney’s priorities.
It seems to me the MOST effective way to “re-theme” Splash would be to come out with a new movie featuring the characters– much cheaper (and more profitable) than a new overlay. This will assist those traumatized by Song of the South to get over their night terrors and uncontrollable pain, I would hope/think.
Haha, good luckh with that! People freak out over things nobody alive was involved in, and their imagined links to such events are incredibly contrived. My great, great grandmother’s cousin’s sister’s brother’s next door neighbor at one time…
Hmmm… I haven’t heard of anyone ‘traumatized’ by Splash Mountain. There *are* people who find the source matter insensitive, and those people – many of whom may be a different race, or have a different cultural background, than you – have money that spends just the same as yours at the parks. Belittling them by saying they have ‘night terrors and uncontrollable pain’ is a bad look for a real estate agent who has included his personal info in his reply, and points to the reason why these changes need to happen in the first place. Disney has been very transparent about knowing this IP was problematic for many years
Yeah…calling SOTS ‘source material’ is very, very thin and practically laughable for Splash. The ‘IP’ of the ride is not at all problematic. It’s a rabbit, bears, fox, crocodiles, birds… It’s its own story and the tenuous link to an old, old film which hasn’t been commercially available since before most park guests were born is not a valid reason to waste money on a cheesy overlay for a character that deserves her own new ride/area. And a wasted opportunity to add in a New Orleans-themed section to WDW, which would be awesome. As a shareholder, AP and former MK CM, I do not approve.
Agree! It’s annoying to me that Disney seems to pander these days to a small group of loud voices. Most people are not happy that 1) the ride is being changed; 2) the ride will be closed pretty much forever in order to do so; 3) they don’t know a single person with a problem with it; and 4) of course the change has to be one that also panders to the complainers. I agree with the person who said a New Orleans area would be amazing and make a lot more sense. Leave Splash Mountain alone. Or at least make changes that don’t put the ride out of commission for that long. Nobody is being forced to go to Disney or to ride it.
With Disneyland closed indefinitely, this would be their opportunity to quietly whisk away the hostile Jungle Cruise natives, the Indian Village from Peter Pan’s Flights, and any other park elements that have suddenly become “problematic” in 2020. I’m wondering if that’s the kind of “fast-tracked” changes that D’amaro is alluding to?
Yup, let’s hurry up and ruin everything so nobody is possibly offended or even cares to show up any more..
“Harmonious will also feature the eponymous stargate of the hit television show, STARGá°TE SG-1, reimagined for the diverse landscape of World Showcase.”
LOL – I’m so glad I wasn’t the only nerd to whom this occurred!
Thanks, as always, Tom!
Seems like an odd tie-in to me. But as long as there are MORE pyro effects than the late Illuminations, it’ll all be good. I love the smell of black powder burning in the morning…
Thank you, Tom, for yet another informative update. Honestly, we had been most excited about the “Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge” newest DVC resort announcements of the not-so-distant past. The obvious absence of any recent related discussion would lead one (me) to assume further development has either been paused indefinitely or completely halted? It certainly won’t keep us from any future plans to vacation at WDW, but we had been strongly considering becoming DVC members upon the fruition of “Reflections”. We may now have to reconsider – or be very pleasantly surprised.
sorry, missed those
I am sorry that Disney is going for the Princess and the Frog re-theme of Splash Mountain which makes absolutely no thematic sense. Western River Expedition would be a perfect fit. The mountain could be easily re-themed as well as the AA figures. A mountain will always look out of place with a New Orleans theme. I’m just sayin’
Yes, another dumb, meaningless overlay. I really hope it’s a lot better than the ruination of Maelstrom!
Do you think Disney announced they are speeding up the Princess and the Frog construction to try to boost attendance right now? “Hurry up and come ride Splash Mountain now before it changes” type thing… Some people I talk to that are planning trips have that thinking right now, for example: “my kids haven’t rode splash yet so I want to take them before it changes” “my husbands never been to Disney so I want him to see splash before it changes”
No, definitely not. In the roundup on the Disney Parks Blog, they didn’t even mention Splash Mountain or the inclusivity initiative–despite it being a big part of D’Amaro’s keynote speech (The IAATA blog post following his speech covers it: https://www.iaapa.org/news/funworld/disneys-josh-damaro-turning-todays-challenges-tomorrows-optimism).
It’s almost like Disney intentionally emphasized different things for different audiences.
I am praying the my favorite ride of all time Splash Mountain redo gets canceled.
Me too. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it!
Me too! It’s a pointless waste of money that could be better used on NEW things.
I’d love more on Walt Disney Studios Park. I’m probably in the minority of your readers but DLP is my ‘home’ park and I was super excited to see the studios get the investment and overhaul it desperately needs.
What, in your opinion, is going to get cut/scaled back?
I don’t know what, if anything, is going to be scaled back with the WDSP overhaul. I’m just worried that something will given what has happened and how long it’ll potentially take for travel to recover.
My first trip to DLP was in March at the start of this craziness. Parc Disneyland is amazing, and I hate to say it but pretty high up towards my list of favorite parks. MK will always be the best, but the detailing and superior versions of Space, Big Thunder, and Pirates are simply incredible. And the castle!
Agreed! Parc Disneyland’s level of detail is incredible. And then there’s WDS… would love to hear more about the future of DLP. We lived in West Africa for a few years and DLP was our home park then, too. It’ll always be a special place for us and we can’t wait to go back.
Ugh!! I THOUGHT it was a joke, but I’m terrible with sarcasm. My family literally makes a beeping noise at me when they are sarcastic and can tell I didn’t pick up on it.
I also LOVE SG-1, so I was confused, but stoked. I can still take SG-1 themed pictures with it!
Interesting that they did not talk about Port Orleans Riverside…as I would think imagining those plantation style accommodations would be on their list with Inclusivity as well.
Being a person from New Orleans may be why, but, what’s wrong with the style of the Riverside Resort? It looks very normal to me. This is what certain areas of the city, and state, look like. From an architectural stand point, it is accurate. I hope no one starts trying to say that the architecture of the 1700-1800 Spanish and French have some sort of cultural offense.
Exactly, it would be another meaningless waste of money. POFQ is higher on my list, but Riverside is great!
In case you missed it from the bottom of the post: “Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing politics or ranting about social issues—anything of that nature, unnecessarily charged or antagonistic will be deleted, irrespective of viewpoint. Not only are you not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, but you’re not going to change Disney’s priorities.” 🙂
When is Tron opening? Hopefully before we go the end of 2021 (If Covid is done with by then)
Probably 2022. See: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/disney-world-news-rumors-more-virtual-queues-50th-anniversary-tron-delay-2022/
Tom – Is the Main gate new paint update complete? Can we get some pictures soon?
No, and they’re all in varying stages of completion. The one we use (near Coronado) is furthest along, I believe, and that one is only about half-done as of today. I’ll post a photo in a park update this week.
Also don’t get Stargate – am i missing something. Kind of out of left field.
What is Disney involvement with Stargate? Isn’t that MGM?
It’s a (bad, I guess) joke. The centerpiece of Harmonious looks, to me at least, like a giant Stargate.
Darn in, Tom, I was excited. I love Stargate (although I’m not sure how, exactly, it would gel with Disney. I would have paid big money to see the Country Bears going through the Stargate or Miss Piggy taking on a system lord, however. Or maybe I’m a bit punchy from a very Monday of a Monday.)
On – thought there was a connection. Agreed it does look like a stargate
Maybe it IS a stargate! You never know what might come through…after all, it is 2020.