‘Beyond Big Thunder’ Magic Kingdom Expansion Project Starts Soon

Walt Disney World has reiterated its ‘Beyond Big Thunder’ plans for Magic Kingdom expansion outside the existing footprint of the park. This discusses possibilities for Coco, Encanto, and Villains lands in the longer-term and shares the latest news. (Updated April 4, 2024.)

The first time this was mentioned was at the 2022 D23 Expo. The first time it was reiterated was during the “A Celebration of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” presentation at the 2023 Destination D23. There, Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.

At Destination D23, Josh D’Amaro was joined on stage by Bruce Vaughn, who recently returned to lead Walt Disney Imagineering. Vaughn first expressed surprise that D’Amaro would pull back the curtain on the creative process, as normally WDI doesn’t like to do that. Vaughn further indicated that he’s been blown away by the concepts being explored for Magic Kingdom.

The Beyond Big Thunder project scope and scale are supposedly on par with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Pandora – World of Avatar. Vaughn also indicated that the project would likely exceed New Fantasyland over a decade ago. Nothing else was shared–no new substantive details, just a reiteration of intent to expand Magic Kingdom Beyond Big Thunder.

This was reiterated again (so third time discussed) when the Country Bear Jamboree closure date was announced and more reimagining details were shared in January 2024. Walt Disney World teased: “But hold your horses, we’re not done yet. We have a lot of growth and investment planned for our theme parks in the coming years and look forward to sharing more announcements about Frontierland … so y’all come back now, ya hear?”

Technically, this doesn’t say anything about Beyond Big Thunder. Accordingly, it could pertain to any number of things, including but not limited to the following:

  • Tiana’s Palace Restaurant Replacing Pecos Bill
  • Mini-New Orleans Square Coming to Frontierland
  • Tiana’s Bayou Adventure ‘Accelerated Opening’ Instead of Late 2024
  • Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Official Opening Date
  • ???

April 4, 2024 Update: I recently had the chance to visit Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale for a presentation by CEO Bob Iger, Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro, along with Imagineers working on expansion plans for Walt Disney World. The executives discussed the ‘turbocharged’ plans for growth at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and $60 billion investment earmarked for Parks & Resorts.

One of the topics was Beyond Big Thunder at Magic Kingdom. During that portion of the presentation, Michael Hundgen, Walt Disney World Portfolio VP at Walt Disney Imagineering, showed the water management permit that would be filed with Florida in the coming weeks.

Obviously, that’s not the actual permit above–it’s a screenshot from Google Maps. The actual, yet-to-be-filed permit contained water management plans for large swaths of the area between the eastern and northern berm of Magic Kingdom and Floridian Way. This is pretty normal when waterways are going to be rerouted or water is displaced.

I couldn’t ascertain from the permit whether there will be any changes to the Rivers of America or Tom Sawyer Island, but my expectation is that both will be condensed. From a purely operational and crowd flow perspective, I’d imagine that Walt Disney World will want to eliminate the Big Thunder Mountain and Haunted Mansion dead ends; you can look at the above and pretty well envision what that would mean.

In any case, this upcoming permit is the first step in developing that area, and is somewhat similar to what was filed for Tropical Americas with the South Florida Water Management District last month. Although there are no official timelines for the construction (much less opening years or dates), Tropical Americas and Beyond Big Thunder are the next two major projects in the pipeline for Walt Disney World.

With a water management permit incoming, this all but confirms that Beyond Big Thunder is going to be a major topic at the 2024 D23 Expo in August. We would also expect news about smaller scale redevelopment plans for portions of Frontierland, as there’s still been no official word about Tiana’s Palace replacing Pecos Bill. That still seems like an inevitability, but it cannot possibly occur before Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens. It’s too late.

None of this is really a huge surprise. Josh D’Amaro first got up on stage to talk about ‘Beyond Big Thunder’ at the 2022 D23 Expo, when he was joined by Imagineer Chris Beatty and Jennifer Lee, the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. They didn’t provide any substantive details or even an official announcement, instead being careful to use language crouching the presentation, indicating that this is an “early concept exploration” and one of the “potential expansion opportunities” (but also more concrete than a blue sky brainstorming session).

Since then, both CEO Bob Iger and D’Amaro have done interviews or presentations and repeatedly doubled-down on their intentions to expand Walt Disney World. During a JPMorgan conference, D’Amaro was directly asked about expansion plans for Magic Kingdom and how Walt Disney World could grow capacity. He said that management and Imagineers are already at work on improving the guest experience at Walt Disney World and adding capacity in several ways. (The location–a JPMorgan conference–is significant for reasons we’ll discuss in a bit.)

In addition to that, earnings calls and shareholder meetings have included teases of Bob Iger’s plan to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World. Again, no specifics in any of this, but both have mentioned “ambitious plans that to continue to grow these theme parks” and have expressed excitement for Walt Disney World’s future.

In the medium or long-term, expanding Magic Kingdom outside the berm makes a ton of sense. We’ve been bullish on the Magic Kingdom Expansion Possibilities “Beyond Big Thunder” since last D23 Expo, even as other fans expressed (completely understandable and valid) skepticism.

As has been discussed elsewhere, the initial excitement for the tease of Coco, Encanto & Villains lands quickly soured–positive sentiment gave way to cynicism about these possible plans. That’s totally fair, especially in light of Disney’s not-so-stellar track record in building things that were announced at past D23 Expos.

(Note: we’re crossing through Encanto because that IP has moved over to the Animal Kingdom plans–that seems to be pretty much a done deal. It’s also highly likely that Coco has moved to the Animal Kingdom proposal.)

However, we think this time is different. (Famous last words.) As we’ve discussed previously on multiple occasions, Walt Disney World continues to outperform, and investors have been taking notice of its success for the past year-plus. This coupled with Wall Street souring on streaming (at least a bit) means investors once again want Disney to finally start to bet bigger on its theme park business.

That part is the key–Wall Street wants the company to spend money building expansions at Walt Disney World, rather than continuing to simply milk the cash cow. This is one of those rare occasions where the stars align and what’s good for investors is good for guests. Expanding Magic Kingdom improves capacity, gives the park more drawing power, and is just plain fun for fans. (All lessons learned back in 2009, proving yet again that history repeats itself!)

This is actually a big part of why that seemingly-random blue sky discussion occurred on stage at the last D23 Expo. Like a child with a short attention span, Wall Street had just started to lose interest in streaming prior to that, and begun asking more questions about the future of Disney’s theme parks. With nothing greenlit or funded, talking about “possibilities” was the best Disney could do.

Those are air quotes because they weren’t simply possibilities then, and that’s still true today. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Magic Kingdom expansion will happen this decade, and it’ll be beyond the berm in the area ‘behind’ Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s the specifics that are iffy, meaning what intellectual properties the area will feature, as well as the unifying theme or motifs of the land or mini-lands.

Within the next decade, we fully expect to be able to walk from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to Haunted Mansion without passing Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. From our perspective, that beyond the berm expansion is less a matter of “if” and more “when” and “what.”

Our expectation is that it actually will be some combination of Coco, Encanto, and Villains (but not “Cocoland” or “Encanto Land”). The better question is when and, frankly, that’ll probably be closer to 2034 than 2024.

Given how far into the future that is and how much things can change, and how long this post already is…perhaps it’s better if we save the ‘Beyond Big Thunder’ discussion for another day. Maybe the same could’ve been said to Josh D’Amaro, and that it’s premature for him to tease it at Destination D23 given how much can and will change, and Walt Disney World’s recent track record even with official announcements.

To each their own on that. Personally, I’d rather hear that the company does have plans for Walt Disney World and doesn’t just intend upon letting the parks stagnate. Even if the specifics aren’t worked out, plans haven’t been greenlit, or funding isn’t there–I still appreciate knowing that something is planned and coming.

Even with the constant refrain about $17 billion worth of investment at Walt Disney World, it’s still tenuous at this point. There’s a lot to sort out in the meantime before that spending starts–from the future of streaming, potential ESPN and Hulu deals, 20th Century Fox acquisition debt, and the current standoff with the state. But those are short-term speedbumps and Magic Kingdom expansion is a long-term solution to an ongoing issue. It will happen.

If all goes well, the decade to come at Walt Disney World could be bigger than the prior one. The current plan to invest $17 billion amounts to more than was spent on New Fantasyland, Pandora, Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the EPCOT overhaul, new resorts, and a significant amount of infrastructure. (As previously discussed, a lot of money was wasted on things that didn’t come to fruition or were short lived.) If even more money is invested without the misallocations of resources, it could be a blockbuster decade for Walt Disney World. It’s just going to be at least a few years of waiting while the near-term speedbumps are addressed and construction commences.

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!


What is your reaction to Disney discussing park expansion in the existing footprint of the park and beyond the berm at Magic Kingdom? Think this can be reconciled with the near-term cost-cutting, or would you rather not build anticipation for something several years out, or that may never come to fruition? What potential plans have you most and least excited? Anything you’re hoping does not end up coming to fruition? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

33 Responses to “‘Beyond Big Thunder’ Magic Kingdom Expansion Project Starts Soon”
  1. Dale Roberts April 6, 2024
    • David Miller April 6, 2024
  2. Ruth April 6, 2024
  3. Nancy April 6, 2024
  4. Joe April 6, 2024
    • Louise UK April 6, 2024
    • Robert marcoux April 6, 2024
    • Nick April 7, 2024
  5. Katie April 6, 2024
  6. Robert marcoux April 6, 2024
  7. Leigh April 6, 2024
  8. Kenr April 5, 2024
  9. Aaron April 5, 2024
  10. Jason April 4, 2024
  11. toughmudder April 4, 2024
  12. Chris January 11, 2024
    • Tom Bricker January 11, 2024
    • Chris January 11, 2024
    • David Miller April 6, 2024
  13. Tommy Lang January 10, 2024
    • EJ January 10, 2024
  14. EJ September 10, 2023
    • Jay September 10, 2023
    • Pete September 10, 2023
    • EJ September 11, 2023
    • Ken September 10, 2023
    • EJ September 11, 2023
    • Becky S. January 10, 2024
    • EJ January 12, 2024
  15. Mickey 1928 September 9, 2023
  16. Cheshire Cat September 9, 2023
  17. Fritz September 9, 2023
  18. Patrick September 9, 2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *