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, STARGᐰTE 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.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, 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 clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


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.

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