WDW News & Rumors: Epcot Tombstone Removal, Aerial PhotoPass, New Night Shows, Etc.

It’s time with another Walt Disney World news & rumor round-up, as we drop in on projects at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom. This includes the “Project Gamma” Future World re-imagining, aerial PhotoPass of you and Cinderella Castle, new nighttime spectaculars, and more.

On the new nighttime spectaculars front, Rivers of Light: We Are One officially debuts tonight at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, telling the story of our connection with animals, plus the emotions and milestones we all share in our journey through the circle of life. This show introduces additional imagery and familiar animal characters from Disneynature films and classic moments from Disney animation.

This previewed last night, and early reviews we heard were mixed, at best. Then again, reviews for Rivers of Light are also mixed at best. Rivers of Light is a show we’ve enjoyed when we’ve seen it–in large part for the music, but we seldom make the effort to see it, especially after the shaman were cut. I don’t know when we’ll see Rivers of Light: We Are One, but it’s not high on my priorities. When we have the chance to be in Animal Kingdom at night, I’d prefer to spend that time soaking up the ambiance, visiting Pandora, and doing Expedition Everest. I’ll always have the music in iTunes.

Also debuting Animal Kingdom is a new Tree of Life Awakenings scene inspired by this summer’s release of The Lion King. Simba’s journey is depicted in a beautiful artistic style, set to an evocative score comprised of new arrangements of familiar music. I’m actually more eager to see this in person, as I love the (animated) Lion King and its music and think this could be well-done.

It’s probably been a couple of years since we praised them, but we love the Tree of Life Awakenings. This arguably Walt Disney World’s best use of projection mapping anywhere. The show is pure Disney magic, and reminds me a bit of (a technologically more impressive version of) the Kiss Goodnight at Magic Kingdom.

Each Awakening only lasts a few minutes, but they are beautiful in all regards. The experience captures the heart and the essence of Animal Kingdom, and we recommend making an effort to see them. Tree of Life Awakenings take place approximately every 10 minutes intermittently from nightfall to shortly after park close.

At Magic Kingdom, there’s a new limited-time photo and video experience from PhotoPass that allows you to capture an aerial video of you and Cinderella Castle. During daytime, look for a photographer in the East Plaza Garden at Magic Kingdom who capturing two one-of-a-kind photos and a super-zoom video from a unique angle above the theme park.

I’m not normally one for novelty PhotoPass photos, but I’ve gotta admit that the videos I’ve seen people post thus far (this debuted yesterday), have been pretty cool. It looks like a drone video, and is a really unique idea. Kudos to Disney on continuing to try new things with PhotoPass. (Walt Disney World has posted other new Magic Shot videos, but that’s unquestionably the coolest and least cheesy.)

On the resort counter service restaurant front, you’ll soon be able to mobile order at Pop Century’s Everything POP food court, the Mara at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Contempo Café at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. These join the existing mobile order lineup of Centertown Market and Spyglass Grill at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and over 20 other quick-service locations in the parks and Disney Springs.

We’ve tried mobile ordering at the Caribbean Beach restaurants, and it has almost always been counterproductive. In the parks, lines at counter service restaurants can get long, especially at peak times. Maybe we just eat at the right times, but we’ve seldom had this experience at the resorts–especially those listed above. For us, it’s easier to just interact with a Cast Member at the register in resorts, but your mileage may vary on that.

Moving on Epcot, phased demolition of the Leave a Legacy monoliths has begun as Epcot overhauls the guest arrival experience. The granite monoliths honoring those lost in the Battle of Body Wars (that’s right, it was both a war and a battle) will be demolished in stages throughout the year.

The announcement of a New Epcot Entrance & Play Pavilion was ambiguous regarding this, but the tombstones themselves will not be rebuilt outside the park. The photos will be carefully removed and placed in a new area outside the park that is expected to debut in early 2020, though.

Construction walls on the west side of the Epcot entrance plaza went up earlier this week, and those Leave a Legacy tombstones are now inaccessible. Demolition is not the simple process it might appear, and we’d expect it to be a while before this is finished and walls go up around the east side of the plaza. (It’s not a pretty photo, but in the shot below you can see the photo removal.)

I have done little to restrain my enthusiasm about this “addition by subtraction” project. Leave a Legacy is an eyesore, one of several ugly aesthetic additions bestowed upon us by the Millennium Celebration. While I’ve also cheered the removal of other monstrosities from that (the Hat & Wand), at least I could understood the attachment to those things among some fans. I didn’t agree, but I could empathize.

Here, unless you’re among the .0001% of guests who have a photo on the tombstones, how could you like Leave a Legacy? And even if you do have a photo, I’d hope you recognize that these things bear an uncanny resemblance to a war memorial inside a theme park, which is…not a good look? Regardless, hopefully the new photo location and a beautiful park-like entrance for all to enjoy is a fair solution.

Note that this is just the first phase of the Epcot Central Spine Redesign (also known as Project Gamma), which is still happening. We’ve been talking about this for nearly 2 years and thus far have seen next to nothing come to fruition. From what we understand, the 2-Year Spaceship Earth Closure & Reimagining is still moving forward.

Likewise, the Gardens of Imagination-inspired revamp of Innoventions Plaza is still set to begin later this year. That project is rumored to see the demolition of Innoventions West, temporary (and permanent) relocation of Starbucks, a new water maze, along with some more questionable additions. As we’ve noted previously, there has been a ton of fluidity to this project, so don’t be surprised if totally different specific concepts come to fruition. Generally speaking, the goal is more water/green space, and less concrete/clutter.

Moreover, there are the new films slated for Epcot, which are rumored to debut in January 2020 as part of the 2020 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. This includes Awesome Planet, the new Seamless Circle-Vision 360 film for China, Beauty and the Beast Sing-a-long in France, and new Circle-Vision 360 film for the Canada Pavilion.

We anticipate a healthy amount of Epcot announcements and new details about existing projects to come in August at the D23 Expo. In addition to these Future World projects, big news could also be coming to World Showcase. Remember the addition of a Brazil pavilion that ranked #2 in terms of likelihood on our list of rumored Epcot projects (after the now-confirmed Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure)? That project hasn’t been quashed.

Suffice to say, it should be another exciting D23 Expo. We’re waiting with bated breath to see what is officially announced at the Parks & Resorts presentation both for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration and beyond. Until then, it’s fun to speculate about the future of Disney Parks based upon credible rumors that are out there!

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!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of the new/changing nighttime entertainment at Animal Kingdom? Excited, disappointed, or indifferent? Are you looking forward to the new park entrance experience at Epcot? What about the rumored changes to Innoventions Plaza or elsewhere around the park? Excited to try the new PhotoPass Magic Shots and video? 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!

40 Responses to “WDW News & Rumors: Epcot Tombstone Removal, Aerial PhotoPass, New Night Shows, Etc.”
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