Rides and other attractions need to close from time to time at Walt Disney World for refurbishments including routine maintenance, safety upgrades, and improvements. This post offers a schedule of closures for 2019-2020 at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. (Updated December 23, 2019.)
While no one wants attraction closures during their visit, they are a necessary part of keeping Walt Disney World in exceptional condition, and looking good for your future visits. Usually, there are only a handful of simultaneous closed rides, plus new attractions being built. Note that the list below includes several refurbishments that have either been scheduled last-minute, extended, or are longer than normal.
These noteworthy additions include Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track, and Splash Mountain, plus an update on the Walt Disney World Railroad. All of these attractions are now officially on the 2020 Walt Disney World refurbishment calendar. The aforementioned attractions will go down at the beginning of the year, whereas the railroad is likely to be closed for nearly all of 2020. Meanwhile, Primeval Whirl is no longer officially closed…
Rather, Primeval Whirl now officially has “seasonal status.” While its long-term fate is unknown, Primeval Whirl has reopened for the busy Christmas and New Year’s weeks. If you are a hardcore “Whirler” (as fans of Primeval Whirl probably call themselves), we’d recommend getting in your rides on it ASAP before these dinos go extinct again.
It’s unclear what the longterm plans are Primeval Whirl, if it’ll reopen at any point in 2020, maintain the seasonal status, or be replaced entirely. There have been big rumors about the fate of Dinoland for over a year now, and we suspect Primeval Whirl will play a pivotal role in that. Historically, seasonal status has been the kiss of death for Walt Disney World attractions.
In addition to scheduled attraction refurbs, unscheduleddowntime can also occur during a visit. This usually only occurs for a few hours at a time, so if you find an attraction is closed during your vacation and it’s not listed below, it’s likely a temporary closure that will last (at most) for a few hours. Check with nearby Cast Members to confirm.
Below is a schedule of Walt Disney World refurbishments, when the closure starts, and when the refurbishment will conclude. The following day will be when the attraction is scheduled to reopen.
Primeval Whirl – Open Seasonally
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – May 4 to May 21, 2020
Stitch’s Great Escape – Closed Permanently
Splash Mountain – January 6, 2020 to February 27, 2020
Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse – April 27 to May 4, 2020
Walt Disney World Railroad – Reopening TBD (Likely Fall 2020)
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth – Permanently Ended
Impressions de France – Reopens January 2020
O Canada – Reopens January 2020
Test Track – January 13, 2020 to February 26, 2020
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Blizzard Beach – Reopens January 12, 2020
Typhoon Lagoon – January 13, 2020 to March 28, 2020
The attraction closures above are pretty straight-forward. To the extent that specific dates are not yet listed, those will be updated once Walt Disney World provides precise start and/or end dates.
For resort work, please see our 2020-2022 Walt Disney World Hotel Construction & Refurbishments. If you are worried that any of resort hotel renovations will impact your stay, here’s a general rule to keep in mind: room refurbishments rarely impact hotel stays. These occur in specific clusters, and you’ll rarely notice the work being done.
Now, here’s a bit of my philosophy concerning refurbishments, with the specific example of the recent DINOSAUR refurbishment used to illustrate…
Thoughts on Refurbishments
When the news leaked this week that DINOSAUR’s refurbishment was being extended, my immediate reaction was, “this is great–it means they’re actually doing something to the attraction!” My mind raced with the possibilities of how it could live up to the pedigree of Indiana Jones Adventure and the “dinosaur brand.” Even though this meant we would miss it on our next Walt Disney World visit, I was excited. In reading feedback from others, I discovered I was in the minority.
Others online were fuming about this, and how it would alter or impact their vacation plans. The saying “vacation ruined” has attained near-meme status among some fans, and that felt apt for some of the complaints. The thing is, in this situation, I can understand the perspective. Assessing the scope of the refurbishment in advance, scheduling liberal refurbishment dates, and opening early (under-promising and over-delivering) is always preferable to the alternative.
I can also understand that there’s other pent-up frustration at play here, ranging from radio-silence on Rivers of Light to Walt Disney World’s tardiness in releasing park hours while expecting guests to plan 6 months in advance. Neither of these moves by Disney, among others, are defensible. At best, this communication is poor guest service. At worst, it’s demonstrative of a contemptible attitude towards guests.
However, I remain of the mindset that this refurbishment extension–and other current refurbishments–is potentially a good thing. Among the most vocal fans upset about the extension are those who are like me: guests who visit Walt Disney World at least every-other year. We are playing the ‘long’ fandom game. We can look back on the days of the infamous wand over Spaceship Earth and are also looking forward to Star Wars Land & Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
From my perspective, investing in the long-term quality of an attraction is far more important than the temporary satisfaction I’ll get out of riding it on my next visit. I get excited when thinking about ways DINOSAUR could be plussed, improving the experience for years to come. This is why it always perplexes me when regulars contend that their vacation will be ruined because their favorite attraction will be closed.
If it’s your favorite attraction and you’re active in the Disney fan community, that means you’ve been to Walt Disney World before and probably will visit again. It would thus stand to reason that you would want something you love to get the TLC it deserves, and continue to improve.
DINOSAUR works as a good example here. I’ve seen numerous guests claim that this is their favorite attraction in the days since the refurbishment was extended. Now, I assume a good number of these people are lying for the sake of some good ole fashioned internet outrage (or at least I hope so…and I say that as someone whose political platform could be succinctly described as “Laserdinosaurican”), but there are probably at least a few people who legitimately hold DINOSAUR as their favorite.
These people should know that DINOSAUR used to be called Countdown to Extinction (“CTX”) before an ill-advised movie tie-in was added (it’s probably a good thing Eisner isn’t still running the show, or BoJack Horseman AAs would be all over Big Thunder Mountain). During that era, DINOSAUR had a litany of additional effects, many of its AAs had greater functionality, and the attraction was, as a whole, more impressive.
If you are a long-term fan, would you rather experience DINOSAUR every single year with 66% of the effects working, or every single year minus one with 95% of the effects working? For me, the answer to that is easy. I’ll take a superior long term experience every time. (That this is even a legitimate question for long-time fans speaks to the ‘instant gratification’ nature of things today, but that’s well beyond the scope of this post.)
Beyond that, there’s the much more compelling justification for regular refurbishments: they are essential for the safety of attractions. While we may think of these attractions as all fun and games that offer a safe sense of exhilaration, that’s when they are properly maintained.
It’s unpleasant to think about, but there have been several preventable deaths in the history of Disney’s parks. During a dark era of Disneyland history, improper maintenance was the cause of death on Big Thunder Mountain (thankfully, Paul Pressler’s reign of terror is over). Years of neglect at Disneyland Paris have led to incidents of injury that could be attributed to a lack of maintenance (again, this has been addressed).
This is not meant to scare anyone or provoke an emotional reaction; the fact is that Disney’s worldwide safety record is sterling as compared to other park operators. It’s still important to remember that these fun, ‘magical’ places also exist in the real world and use a lot of potentially dangerous elements if safety is not viewed as key. (Or, in Disney’s case, one of the Four Keys.)
When it comes to maintenance that is not essential to the safe operation of an attraction, we are left to contemplate what amount of show quality should be accepted. If following a strict Nunisian practitioner of the Four Keys, show is another paramount consideration, and it should always be 100%. This is nice corporate propaganda, but I think the practical reality is that 100% is an unworkably high threshold in many circumstances.
I think we have seen this play out with Expedition Everest. Fans joke about the “Disco Yeti” and lament the fact that this jaw-dropping Audio Animatronics figure has not worked in nearly a decade. There are numerous theories as to why the Yeti hasn’t been fixed; what each of these share is that there are large-scale problems and no quick fixes. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, it would require a lengthy refurbishment to fix the Yeti.
Publicly, Joe Rohde has already vowed to get the Yeti working. (And I do believe he means that he will single-handedly heal the Yeti by rappelling in and performing surgery on it with ancient Tibetan instruments #JoeRohdeFacts.) This says to me that Walt Disney World has not just forgotten about the Yeti.
My bet would be that Expedition Everest will close for an extensive, 6+ month refurbishment once the initial opening buzz for Pandora: World of Avatar subsides (so maybe mid-2019?). This would be Expedition Everest’s first major refurbishment since opening. I suspect Imagineering is aware of what’s necessary to fix the Yeti, but Disney has been reluctant to pull the trigger on an extensive refurbishment in a park with so few ride-based attractions.
In my estimation, this is a good example of balancing guest interests with show quality. The working Yeti is truly a magnificent sight to behold (and one most of you probably haven’t seen in A-mode unless you rode prior to 2007), but the attraction is still impressive with the Disco Yeti. Plus, Animal Kingdom does not have a strong enough supporting cast of attractions to carry the weight, so to speak, of an extended Expedition Everest closure. (I suppose you could argue the same about DINOSAUR…)
As a staunch proponent of show quality, I have a difficult time accepting the same argument for any attraction in Magic Kingdom, a park with a veritable “mountain range” and diverse slate of other attractions. In fact, the same goes for every castle park. These parks have enough attractions to pick up the slack if 1-2 attractions have to be taken offline simultaneously without ruining any vacations.
To give another example, I recall visiting Tokyo Disneyland last summer, and during the course of that visit, a key effect–bouncing–was not working on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt. I tweeted out my frustration about this, contending that the attraction should not be operating in that state.
A group of other U.S. theme park fans was visiting at the same time, and they responded that several people in their party had never been to Tokyo Disneyland before, were still blown away by Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, and they’d rather experience it in this state than not at all. A valid perspective, I will concede. Conversely, in a park like Tokyo Disneyland, you still have an incredibly satisfying full-day (plus) experience without Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
Guests are understandably concerned when it appears an inordinate number of attractions are closing during their vacation. Walt Disney World vacations are not cheap and are often once in a lifetime experiences. First-timers certainly do not want to miss out on experiences about which they’ve read extensive hype.
However, the problem with a “not during my vacation” attitude like this is that it’s always going to be someone’s (or tens of thousands of someones) vacation. If attractions with show quality issues don’t close for refurbishments for fear of some guests during a time-limited window missing out, all guests in perpetuity are going to have a lesser experience.
Running an attraction with broken effects is only going to compound problems, and eventually a single broken effect will turn into myriad broken effects. Imagine this scenario park-wide, played out to its natural consequences. That’s not exactly what I’d call the “Disney Difference.” Which is sort of the situation we’ve now encountered with DINOSAUR…
Again, DINOSAUR is a good example here. If it’s your first visit and you experience DINOSAUR with 66% of the effects working, you won’t know what you’re missing. Riding it will, no doubt, be superior to not riding it. However, I’m guessing your satisfaction rating of the attraction wouldn’t be nearly as high, and you might question why so many people love the attraction, and why Disney was lazy with so much empty, dark space. (Or, maybe you won’t: if you only ever eat dog food, you won’t know what you’re missing in a nice steak.)
The thing is, if Disney would not close DINOSAUR during your vacation so you don’t miss out on it, chances are that they would extend the same “courtesy” for other guests, and it would be standard operating procedure to never close anything during anyone’s vacation.
The end result of this would be a park full of “66% attractions” and first-timers would be left wondering why there was so much hype about Walt Disney World, in the first place. If you’re reading this as a lifelong fan, well…maybe you wouldn’t have become a lifelong fan if this were actually Disney’s modus operandi. (In fact, I’d argue that Walt Disney World is trending in this direction, dragging its feet on several necessary refurbishments, with the inaction being predicated upon short term guest satisfaction or cost-savings.)
This might sound like we’re applying ‘heavy’ Rawlsian theory to the lighthearted topic of theme parks, but philosophy isn’t worth a damn if it can’t be applied to theme parks. 😉
A lot of this might seem like an effort to absolve Disney of blame when it comes to refurbishments, but this is not the case. Disney has brought a lot of the guest unrest concerning refurbishments upon itself. The first issue is that Disney has numerous parks that have opened in the last two decades with incomplete slates of attractions, making it difficult to justify taking attractions offline for refurbishment. So step one, a wholly impractical step at this point, would be to open theme parks that are complete on day one.
Failing that, Disney could avoid a lot of the guest backlash concerning refurbishments if they would schedule more 3-4 day refurbishments of attractions to proactively address problems with preventative maintenance.
Although this would not totally negate the need for extended refurbishments, it would improve show quality across the board and help avoid a lot of situations where attractions have to abruptly close because they are in dire need of maintenance. Moreover, a 3-4 day refurbishment is shorter than the duration of most vacations, allowing tourists to effectively plan around the refurbishment.
In this case, both parties planning ahead would prevent those “vacation ruined!” complaints. Don’t worry, Disney, we fans are resilient: we’ll still find something else to complain about. 😉
Joking aside, I realize that’s a tough line to draw between an excusable refurbishment and a frustratingly irritating one. Even if you subscribe to the some degree of the ‘philosophy’ I’m advancing, there is no bright-line rule. It’s still going to amount to a value judgment about what should ‘trigger’ a need for refurbishment, how many attractions should be down simultaneously across Walt Disney World, and what times of year are ideal for which refurbishments. Need Disney trip planning tips and comprehensive advice? Make sure to read Disney Parks Vacation Planning Guides, where you can find comprehensive guides to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond!
Any questions about the current refurbishments at Walt Disney World? What do you think about refurbishments at the Disney Parks? Are you more concerned about an improved long-term experience, or do you think “not during my vacation!”? Where do you draw the line? Any other factors you think are worth considering? As mentioned, we think this is a conversation, so please share your ‘refurbishment philosophy’, or any other thoughts or questions you have, in the comments!