This Walt Disney World refurbishment calendar lists the schedule of ride closures for 2021 and 2022 at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Attractions need to close for routine maintenance, safety upgrades, improvements, and reimaginings. (Updated October 17, 2021.)
While no one wants attraction downtime during their trip to Walt Disney World, refurbishments are necessary to keep the rides looking good (and safe!) for future visitors. Usually, there are only a handful of simultaneous closures, 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.
Over one year after Walt Disney World’s reopening at a time when the parks have otherwise largely returned to normal operations, there’s much more on the below list than normal. However, many of these attractions are currently closed for budgetary, staffing, or other non-maintenance related reasons. There are actually far fewer traditional refurbishments occurring right now than normally.
There’s also a lot of construction occurring, albeit not nearly as much as even a few years ago. However, that massively understates the current closures and impact of construction on visitors to Walt Disney World through 2022.
At Epcot in particular, the refurbishment list is deceptive, as colossal changes have begun that aren’t fully reflected on the list below. There are already walls up around much of Future World, with two bypasses in place to the left and right of Spaceship Earth that lead guests past the center of the park.
Beyond that, show shows and atmospheric acts that were previously on temporary hiatus now will not return until sometime in 2022. This includes Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Finding Nemo: the Musical at Animal Kingdom, and several more.
Here is the current schedule of Walt Disney World refurbishments to attractions, when the closure starts, and when the refurbishment will conclude, updated as of October 17, 2021:
- Expedition Everest – Closed January 4, 2022 through mid-April 2022
- Finding Nemo: the Musical – Returning in 2022
- Kali River Rapids – Closed November 1, 2021 through mid-December 2021
- Primeval Whirl – Permanently Closed
- Rivers of Light – Permanently Ended
The latest update to Walt Disney World’s refurbishment calendar adds the closure of Kali River Rapids, which occurs annually each winter. This is routine maintenance, and likely won’t entail any noticeable upgrades or changes to show scenes.
More interestingly, Expedition Everest is closing for over 3 months in early 2022. Walt Disney World fans who have derided the “Disco Yeti” and have called on the company to fix the Yeti are going to be disappointed. Rather than entailing fixes to broken Audio Animatronics, effects, or show scenes, this will mostly involve work on the roller coaster and its systems. Other improvements might be made, but they’re not the focus.
Our expectation is that the Yeti will never be fixed. If it hasn’t happened in the last decade-plus, it’s not going to happen.
- Enchanted Tales with Belle – Return date TBD (Likely December 2021)
- Festival of Fantasy Parade – Return date TBD (Likely Early 2022)
- Happily Ever After – Permanently Ended
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic – Reopens November 12, 2021
- Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater – Returns in November 2021
- Princess Fairytale Hall – Returns in November 2021
- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – Permanently Ended
- Walt Disney World Railroad – Reopening TBD (Likely Summer 2022 or later)
Festival of Fantasy Parade is the big one here. With a parade returning for Disney Very Merriest After Hours, more entertainment Cast Members are being recalled. It’s likely those same performers will be moved to another parade after the holiday season, which will most likely be Festival of Fantasy.
The Walt Disney World Railroad will not reopen until work has materially finished on TRON Lightcycle Run. This prolonged downtime is by design, with the goal of saving operating expenses under the guise of a necessary closure due to construction.
- Epcot Forever – Permanently Ended
- Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 – Reopens on November 21, 2021
As indicated above, the core of Epcot is still a sea of construction walls, but things have improved with the opening of Creations Shop and Club Cool. Next up is the fast casual restaurant and Starbucks location that will replace Electric Umbrella. Once that opens, there will be a path connecting Spaceship Earth to World Showcase, which will be a welcome relief.
Speaking of Spaceship Earth, our expectation is that it will go down for a lengthy refurbishment at some point in 2022. This may or may not include the previously-announced reimagining. Either way, there’s considerable work needing to be done on the ride system that can’t wait too much longer.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Fantasmic – Return date TBD (Likely 2022)
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular – Returns on December 19, 2021
- Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple – Return date TBD (Likely 2022)
- Mickey and Minnie Starring in Red Carpet Dreams – Returns in November 2021
- Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular – Return date TBD
- Star Wars Launch Bay – Return date TBD
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Return date TBD
The big positive here is that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular finally has a return date, and dedicated character meet & greets should start returning before that.
Additionally, work is now progressing at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater–home to Fantasmic–after months of stagnation. It’s still unlikely that Fantasmic is returning anytime soon. There still appears to be a decent amount of work to be done, and once that finishes, casting and rehearsals will take another several months. At this point, Spring 2022 appears to be the best case scenario.
Outside Theme Parks
- Disney Skyliner Gondolas (Riviera-EPCOT Route) – January 23 to January 28, 2022
- Typhoon Lagoon Water Park – Reopening TBD (Likely December 2021 or January 2022)
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.
In addition to scheduled attraction refurbs, unscheduled downtime 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.
For resort work, please see our 2021-2022 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…
General Thoughts on Refurbishments
When news comes out about any refurbishment, my immediate reaction is always, “this is great–it means they’re actually doing something to the attraction!” My mind races with the possibilities of how attractions could be improved or plussed by Walt Disney Imagineering. Even though we might miss it on our next Walt Disney World visit, I’m always excited.
In reading feedback from others, I’ve discovered this perspective puts me in the minority. Others online fume 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. 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 projects to Walt Disney World’s tardiness in releasing park hours while expecting guests to plan several 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 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 rides 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. This attraction used to be called Countdown to Extinction (“CTX”) before an ill-advised movie tie-in was added. 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 “Five 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.
Fixing the Yeti will require a closure of at least 6 months, and be quite expensive. 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 over a decade ago), but the attraction is still impressive with the Disco Yeti. At this point, it’s likely that Disney has determined the closure would take too long, cost too much, and the improvement would not be worth the investment.
There’s also the reality that Animal Kingdom is lacking in rides. Even after the opening of Pandora – World of Avatar, the park still is heavy on shows and animal exhibits and light on rides. Taking one of the park’s flagship rides down for 6 months to a year to fix one Audio Animatronics figure that guests see for 1-2 seconds might not be worth the sacrifice.
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.
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.”
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.
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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!