This Walt Disney World ride refurbishment calendar lists the closure schedule for 2023 at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios & Animal Kingdom. Attractions close for routine maintenance, safety upgrades, improvements, and reimaginings. (Updated January 23, 2023.)
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.
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World the last week of January 2023, it’s particularly brutal. Not only did one of Walt Disney World’s most major attractions just permanently close, but key transportation and both water parks are also currently closed. Here’s a rundown of what to expect this month and beyond in 2023…
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 throughout 2023.
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 walls up around much of the front of Epcot, with bypasses in place that lead guests past the center of the park. These have recently slightly shrunk in size thanks to a new path in front of Connections Cafe and Creations Shop, but they won’t be gone entirely until sometime in 2023.
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 January 23, 2023:
Kali River Rapids – Currently Closed Through Mid-March 2023
Maharajah Jungle Trek – Aviary Currently Closed (Reopening TBD)
Primeval Whirl – Permanently Closed & Demolished
Kali River Rapids is closing in Winter 2023 for routine maintenance and due to a lack of demand for water rides when the weather is colder. This happens without fail between November and March, usually reopening in time for busier timeframes. While the reopening date has not yet been revealed, our best guess would be in time for Orange County’s Spring Break (March 13-17, 2023).
Additionally, the Maharajah Jungle Trek aviary is currently closed, with the reopening likely for Presidents’ Day or Spring Break. However, the tiger viewing area–the main draw–remains open, with a bypass around the aviary. So no huge loss there.
The other closure at Animal Kingdom is Primeval Whirl, which is a precursor for what’s to come in the future. All of Dino-Rama is likely to close at some point in 2023, as that’s the next big expansion site at Walt Disney World. This was essentially confirmed during the D23 Expo. During that, Disney shared potential expansion plans for a replacement of Dino-Rama, including detailed concept art for a Moana Mini-Land at Animal Kingdom.
Another possibility is a Zootopia Expansion for Animal Kingdom that would be built beyond Dino-Rama. The concept art show that both of these proposals are simultaneously viable. The detail of the concept art suggests they are far along in the development. The caveats offered by Disney indicate that they have not yet been greenlit or funded, meaning that they may never happen. Regardless of what ends up replacing it, it’s clear that Dino-Rama’s days are numbered.
Enchanted Tales with Belle – Reopening February 19, 2023
Enchantment Fireworks – Ending April 2, 2023
Happily Ever After Fireworks – Returning on April 3, 2023
Splash Mountain – Permanently Closed
Tiana’s Bayou Adventure – Opening in Late 2024 or 2025
TRON Lightcycle Run – Opening April 4, 2023
With stage shows and parades now back, things are mostly back to the pre-closure normal at Magic Kingdom. It only took almost two years! Next up, Ariel’s Grotto and Enchanted Tales with Belle, which were two of the last holdouts in terms of dedicated venues.
Already, construction walls are up around Chick-A-Pin Hill and Imagineers have been observed on and around the attraction beginning work on the overhaul. The transformation timeline is an aggressive one, and we’re skeptical that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will actually open in 2024. More likely, it’ll be delayed until 2025. That’s actually our hope–as we want to see this reimagining done proper justice, with the scale and quality that the iconic attraction deserves.
If you didn’t get a chance to say your final goodbye to Splash Mountain, perhaps that’s a good thing. Splash Mountain has been in rough shape for a while, and is at the point that it’s not even show ready anymore. The lighting isn’t even on in some scenes, multiple Audio Animatronics are broken, and the backgrounds just look dirty and tired. Walt Disney World stopped spending money on routine maintenance and upkeep months ago…and it shows! The version that exists in your memory is almost certainly the one that exists in the park.
With that said, there still is no closing date for Splash Mountain at Disneyland, so you probably have at least a few weeks to get out there if you want to send-off that version of the attraction. Our expectation is that it closes very soon. Possibly shortly after Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens or Toontown returns. Disney can’t keep kicking the can down the road on its closure and still open the Disneyland version in 2024.
EPCOT Forever – Returning on April 3, 2023
Harmonious – Ending on April 2, 2023
As covered in Happily Ever After & EPCOT Forever Fireworks Return Dates!, Harmonious will be dismantled and a new permanent nighttime spectacular will replace it in late 2023. In the meantime, the interim EPCOT Forever will return for the third time in as many years. No other refurbishments are currently occurring at EPCOT.
Don’t let the lack of ride closures fool you into thinking EPCOT is in great shape. To the contrary, the core of the park is still a sea of construction walls with a giant dirt pit in the middle. Things have improved with the opening of Creations Shop, Club Cool, and Connections Cafe & Eatery. With the opening of this, the path connecting Spaceship Earth to World Showcase is back, which is a welcome relief.
Speaking of Spaceship Earth, our expectation is that it will go down for a lengthy refurbishment at some point sometime in 2023. This could 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
Frozen Sing-Along Celebration – Closed through January 27, 2023
Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple – Permanently Ended
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith – Closing February 20, 2023 through Summer 2023
Star Wars: Galactic Spectacular – Permanently Ended
Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Currently Closed
“For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” previously was scheduled to go dark in the fall off-season for a few weeks, but was officially delayed until January 2023. Walt Disney World calls this one a “routine refurbishment.”
Another routine refurbishment according to Walt Disney World is the multi-month closure of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. We cover downtime details and why the popular roller coaster needs a lengthy refurbishment in that post. Plus, what is NOT happening–quashing “rumors” about Taylor Swift, Hannah Montana, or Black Panther (quite the trio!) in advance…
Outside Theme Parks
Blizzard Beach Water Park – Closed January 23, 2023 (Due to cold weather)
Typhoon Lagoon Water Park – Reopening date TBD (Likely Spring 2023)
Disney Skyliner Gondolas – Closed until January 29, 2023
All routes of the Skyliner will close in late January 2023 “in order to maintain the highest quality standards,” according to Walt Disney World, suggesting this is simply routine preventative maintenance.
Bus transportation will be available at all Disney Skyliner Resorts throughout the planned closure so guests can reach their desired destinations across Walt Disney World.
Otherwise, 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 2023 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 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, perhaps 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, consider the possibility that 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.
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!