A lot was announced or revealed for Walt Disney World during the 2022 D23 Expo. For all of the most important news, we’ve already shared dedicated posts containing details plus our commentary with speculation about what went unsaid.
However, there’s a lot that we have yet to tackle. During his ~90 minute “A Boundless Future: Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” presentation, Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro bounced from topic to topic, covering a lot of ground.
Unfortunately, a lot of this was superficial ground. Some nebulous projects received disproportionate attention, whereas other major projects weren’t even mentioned. With that said, rather than long posts for each brief announcement, I’ll do a quick round-up here of everything covered for Walt Disney World with rapid fire reactions.
Let’s start with Magic Kingdom…
Happily Ever After Returns! – The Disney Parks (etc.) presentation started with a bang, as the popular anthem “Happily Ever After” was performed by Jordan Fisher and Angie Keilhauer to announce the nighttime spectacular’s return to Magic Kingdom.
Always a company to choose its words carefully, D’Amaro (and subsequent press releases) have said that this will be “an updated nighttime spectacular lighting up the skies” at Magic Kingdom in 2023. This language is not accidental, and there are a few reasons why the reimagined Happily Ever After might be called something else and feature all-new projections.
No more specific date was given for the “updated nighttime spectacular” formerly known as Happily Ever After will “light up the skies” at Magic Kingdom, but our expectation is that Happily Ever After will return on or around April 1, 2023.
We’ve added more commentary to our Happily Ever After Returning to Magic Kingdom article for those who are curious about the why of this, but it’s similar sentiment we’ve shared in prior posts about the Florida Project intro and elsewhere.
TRON Lightcycle Run Delayed Until 2023 – I’m not the type of person who boos–I think it’s classless–but if there were one announcement that would’ve garnered it from me, it was this. This was framed as an exciting announcement–that TRON Lightcycle Run is nearing completion, in testing, and looks great.
It’s easy to frame that differently: the cloned roller coaster announced 5 years ago that consists of a canopy and a mostly-empty warehouse could be ready to open by late November or early December 2022, but we’re deliberately holding it back for the next marketing cycle. Oh, and because we cancelled or paused every other project, so there’s literally no other major addition for 2023.
Sorry for the cynicism, but it’s absolutely called for here. And to my credit (?), I’m much less cynical about some of the other “announcements” than most of you!
Hatbox Ghost Coming to Haunted Mansion – Foolish mortals, prepare yourselves for a new happy haunt at the Haunted Mansion. The Hatbox Ghost has heard your calls and will materialize next year. You may recognize this popular character from the attraction at Disneyland Resort in California.
If you’re unfamiliar with the history of this character, here’s a primer. Adding Hatbox Ghost to Haunted Mansion after so many years seems like thinly-veiled fan service, and it probably is. But who cares? the figure is cool, the effect is awesome, and it’s a nice plussing for the attraction. Plus, is it really so bad that there are Imagineers with their finger on the pulse of what the fan community wants who are willing to lovingly embrace the history of the park? I think it takes some serious pessimism to view this as a negative.
With that said, this was a huge deal when it happened for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary and I just don’t see that being the case at Walt Disney World. California had an established history with Hatbox Ghost, rumors swirled for years, and fans had been clamoring for him. This is positive news, but unlikely to resonate in the same way that it did at Disneyland.
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Update – Are you ready to head down the bayou? Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will take you along with Princess Tiana, Prince Naveen and their friends as they host a party at Tiana’s Place for the people of New Orleans. It’s up to you to help find the missing ingredient when this exciting new attraction opens in late 2024.
Not that you care how the sausage is made, but I totally missed this portion of the presentation. WiFi in the Hall at Anaheim Convention Center was abysmal, so I actually left the room at this point to try improving my connection. Sarah was unimpressed by what was shown–a lot of fanfare for very little of substance.
In addition to this, we have Photos & Video of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Model on the D23 Expo show floor.
Magic Kingdom Expansion – Imagineer Chris Beatty and Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee came on stage for what D’Amaro described as an even bigger expansion to Magic Kingdom than New Fantasyland. A lot of other words were used to describe this, including “potential expansion opportunity,” “early concept exploration,” and “special blue-sky brainstorm exploring [of] what’s possible when dreaming big at Disney Parks!”
They revealed that a new area is (potentially) under development for beyond Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom. The expansion would (potentially) feature Coco, Encanto, and Disney Villains–or some combination of those properties. It could (potentially) feature other stuff, too.
Most Walt Disney World fans have viewed this with a lot of skepticism, pessimism, and downright dismissiveness. Honestly, I do not blame you. Current leadership has not exactly done right by Walt Disney World fans in the last few years. It’s been a rough era, and this flurry of news feels very much at odds with our recent lived experiences. You have no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt and I’m not trying to convince you otherwise.
With that said, I am also not nearly as cynical about this as you all. After originally publishing Magic Kingdom Expansion: Coco, Encanto & Villains Lands Revealed, I went back and added a lot more commentary. So you might consider re-reading that if you saw it shortly after it was posted.
Or not. If you simply don’t buy that this “announcement” has any meat to it and don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment, just forget it ever happened. (Actually, you might want to wait to re-read our article regardless, as I’ve had a lot more thoughts since revising the article, and probably should do a standalone piece.)
With the blue sky daydreamin’ session wrapped up, let’s turn to EPCOT, which is (hopefully) filling up the Giant Dirt Pit with concrete details…and literal concrete.
The Transformation of EPCOT Continues – The multi-year transformation of EPCOT will soon reach another major milestone with the completion of the World Celebration neighborhood in late 2023.
With lush, green space plus the opening of Communicore Hall and Communicore Plaza, this central location in the park will be the new home for festivals. It will also be home to Dreamers Point, a new area where you can view the new Walt Disney statue called “Walt the Dreamer.”
If I can get Sarah’s approval for some questionable jokes, we’ll have an article about “Walt the Dreamer” later this week. Don’t hold your breath…or maybe do if you’re around Walt while he’s “dreaming.”
Moana’s Journey of Water Opens in Late 2023 – Over in World Nature, the EPCOT neighborhood dedicated to understanding and preserving the natural world, Disney announced that Journey of Water Inspired by Moana will also open in late 2023.
The new exploration trail will allow guests to learn about the story of water on our planet. As you may have seen through Moana’s bond with the ocean, water has a mind of its own, and you’ll get to interact with it throughout this attraction.
As covered elsewhere, a towering Te Fiti is a surprise last-minute addition to the attraction.
Figment Meet & Greet Coming to EPCOT! – Imagination has always been a core theme at EPCOT, with attractions and experiences that push the boundaries. There’s one key character who always comes to mind when we think about imagination, and he’s coming to life in a whole new way by the end of next year. That’s right, you’ll be able to meet Figment in person at EPCOT again.
As is tradition, we overanalyze this meet & greet and what it could mean for the future of Figment, Dreamfinder, and Journey into Imagination in our commentary to the announcement. (It should be noted that the photo of us above is from 2007. I have aged like cottage cheese and Sarah is like a fine wine.)
One thing not discussed in our commentary is that the timeline for this is “by the end” of 2023. The way that’s worded, it could be any day between today and December 31, 2022. However, that would not be the word choice if the intent were to open this anytime soon. I know staffing shortages are still impacting character appearances, but this isn’t that. It’s very odd to me that a simple meet & greet needs such a lengthy timeline. Then again, you still cannot meet Mirabel at Walt Disney World, which is absolutely ludicrous.
New EPCOT Nighttime Spectacular Replacing Harmonious – Looking ahead to the future and the celebration of the Walt Disney Company’s 100th Anniversary, there’s a new nighttime spectacular is in the works for EPCOT. The new show is currently in development and will debut in late 2023. In the words of Disney, it’ll carry on the park’s legacy of “inspiring nighttime entertainment that unites guests around World Showcase Lagoon.”
Like Disney Enchantment being retired so soon, we think there’s much more to this announcement than meets the eye. The original intent was not for Harmonious to have a limited run for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. It was intended to be EPCOT’s answer to World of Color. We have some thoughts about Harmonious being replaced so soon.
Outside of Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, only one other park at Walt Disney World was discussed–and only in the vaguest way…
Dinoland Expansion at Animal Kingdom – As discussed above, Josh D’Amaro invited Chris Beatty and Jennifer Lee on stage to discuss early concept explorations. They actually started with Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom, and potential expansion opportunities and creative “what if” ideas. Options here included a Zootopia Metropolis and Moana Mini-Area, which discuss in separate articles.
Same skepticism and commentary applies here as with the Magic Kingdom. The only distinction I’ll make is that something is definitely happening here. To my knowledge, there are questions of scope, scale, and (maybe?) substance…but this is intended as Walt Disney World’s next large-scale development.
Given that Zootopia was mentioned and Indiana Jones/archeology was not, my guess is that the company has at least narrowed their options. (It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Coco and Encanto plans are flexible on location, and adaptable to either kingdom park. But that’s just a guess.)
That should about cover it in terms of the 2022 D23 Expo announcements we haven’t covered elsewhere in stand-alone posts. This is a lot of announcements–more than I expected–but it’s also a lot that’s devoid of substance. Another thing that surprised me was a lack of specifics for things we know are happening. I expected new concept art for EPCOT, a date for Fantasmic, and other more detailed information about projects on the horizon between now and 2023. These were glossed over almost entirely for a lot of pie-in-the-sky stuff.
As with the last D23 Expo, this feels like a ‘throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks’ approach. Don’t be surprised if some of what was mentioned here doesn’t end up coming to fruition, especially the projects that have yet to commence construction. If the economy slows or pent-up demand fizzles out, Disney+ underperforms, or the domestic parks otherwise stumble, we could see a handle of this projects put on ice.
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What are your reactions to the various announcements for Walt Disney World at the 2022 D23 Expo? What has 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!