Today, Walt Disney World has announced plans to temporarily close two attractions in order to construct the TRON roller coaster in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom. In addition to the basic details, there are a few interesting takeaways from this news, and we also have some speculation to offer. (Last updated December 2, 2018 with closing and reopening dates.)
First, the basics. Disney announced that the Walt Disney World Railroad will temporarily pause operations, with trains “parked” at Main Street Station beginning on December 3, 2018. During this time, Magic Kingdom guests will be able to get an up-close look at the railroad and partake in unique photo opportunities.
Next, the Tomorrowland Speedway will close on January 2, 2019 for a portion of 2019, as the ride’s track is re-routed and slightly shortened. Per Disney, it will “reopen as the same attraction our guests know and love in the summer of 2019.” We now know when the Speedway will reopen…
While we’ve known both of these attractions would have to close for an undetermined amount of time to accommodate for the TRON coaster, we previously didn’t know timeframes or details. We’ve recently learned that the on May 18, 2019, the Speedway is scheduled to reopen.
With regard to the Walt Disney World Railroad, we unfortunately still do not know the reopening date. As we discuss below, we believe this is an extended refurbishment that very well could last the entirety of 2019.
It was obvious from the concept art that the railroad would have to pause operations at some point, given the concept art released at last year’s D23 Expo showing the train going under the canopy of the TRON coaster…what we didn’t know is that it’d close so early into construction and (likely) last so long.
What we think is interesting here is the current TRON construction progress versus the closure of the Walt Disney World railroad (versus the 2021 opening date of the coaster). If Shanghai Disneyland’s TRON Lightcycle Power Run is any indication (and it should be, since it’s the same ride), construction will progress in the following manner: roller coaster track followed by show building followed by exterior canopy.
What we’ve observed in the last couple of months in the plot behind Space Mountain is land clearing and the groundwork being laid for the attraction’s foundation. The last we saw, no track was in place yet, and it seems like that stage of the work is still a couple of months away.
If our assumptions are right–and that’s not necessarily the case–the Walt Disney World Railroad could be down for a long time. We’re talking in the range of 18 months to 2 years. Now, it’s possible that the construction will occur in a different manner than at Shanghai Disneyland.
It’s also possible that the final design for the Magic Kingdom Tron coaster will differ slightly from Shanghai Disneyland’s. We’ve heard plenty of rumors that the ride canopy was costly and problematic to construct in China, so a modified design seems possible, if not likely. There are other design changes that could also be made, any of which might alter the construction plans.
Disney has been careful to refer to this attraction as “based on” or “inspired by” TRON Lightcycle Power Run at Shanghai Disneyland, and has referred to the Magic Kingdom version as the “Tron coaster-style attraction” or “Tron attraction” and never by the ride’s proper name in Shanghai. Presumably, this is because a final name hasn’t been chosen for the Walt Disney World version.
This is most likely an insignificant matter of marketing semantics, and choosing a name that will most resonate with each local audience (for example, at Epcot, the ride is “Soarin’ Around the World” whereas the Shanghai version is “Soaring Over the Horizon”), but it could also be a conscious decision if the rides are not identical clones.
To be clear, we’re not trying to rumor-monger here; it’s not like this is going to be Tron bumper cars instead of a roller coaster. To our knowledge, the Tron coaster coming to Magic Kingdom has the same track layout and core design, so it’s at least a 95% substantive clone.
With all of this said, the most likely scenario to us is that the Walt Disney World Railroad experiences a significant downtime, and is closed for all of 2019. This lengthy downtime for the Railroad might explain why the announcement offers no reopening date for it, as opposed to the Summer 2019 reopening for Tomorrowland Speedway.
If the Walt Disney World Railroad doesn’t reopen until 2020, it’s possible we could see some plussing to the show scenes and other details of the attraction a la the Disneyland Railroad when it went down for the Star Wars land construction and rerouting.
We’re not suggesting that Walt Disney World will add Universe of Energy’s dinosaurs or anything like that (AS COOL AS IT’D BE), but there are certainly enhancements that could be made. This is complete speculation, but it would certainly fit with the goal of enhancing classic attractions for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, and would be a marketable element of nostalgia, even if minor.
Speaking of which, the announcement appears to quash rumors that Tomorrowland Speedway will receive an aesthetic refresh, as the Parks Blog indicated it would be the “same attraction.” That verbiage felt deliberate in the announcement, and normally Disney doesn’t intentionally downplay attraction changes (to the contrary) in press releases.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible the Tomorrowland Speedway re-imagining will occur in phases. If the idea is to have a new-look Speedway debut simultaneous to the Tron coaster, there’s nothing to say the ride can’t close for a 3 month track rerouting in early 2019, followed by a 3-6 month thematic redesign in early 2020. Debuting a new version of the ride 2 years before the Tron coaster would be premature, especially if the goal is a huge marketing push of new and re-imagined attractions for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Ultimately, today’s announcement by Walt Disney World confirms what we already knew about these two transportation attractions experiencing downtime for the Tron coaster construction. Beyond that and providing some loose dates, it really raises more questions for us than anything else…but that will probably be par for the course as Walt Disney World undergoes a pretty radical amount of construction and changes between now and 2021.
What do you think of this news? Are you okay with the Walt Disney World Railroad being down for so long if it were to mean new show scenes? Do you agree or disagree with our speculation…or have any of your own to add? 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!