Walt Disney World Inside Out: Summer 2015
For this post taking an inside* look at current news and rumors at Walt Disney World, I wanted a post title that would be a nod to classic Walt Disney World programming. Unfortunately, all of the good names are taken, so I opted for Inside Out, which is not a nod to the upcoming Pixar film, but rather, to the in-room television loop from my childhood. If you have a few spare hours and want some 1990s goodness, watch some of the totally rad videos. *In reality, this is more an outside look than an inside one, but whatever.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: covering news and rumors is not my thing. Dozens of other sites–many of which I regularly read–do it better and have locals on the ground to be on top of the latest happenings. However, I enjoy commenting on the news, and I’ve spent much of my time as a Disney fan on forums and social media grousing over various news, rumors, and construction.
There are a few items of interest to me that I thought might be interesting to discuss…
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
I really have no idea what is going on here. Rumors have been swirling like crazy concerning Star Wars Land, Pixar Land, and a potential name change to “Disney’s Hollywood Adventure.” About the only thing that is certain right now is that a lot of attractions have closed since the start of this fiscal year without any actual construction, meaning they closed to save on operational costs.
That’s not cool. It might make sense on a spreadsheet since (if?) they are about to incur significant construction costs, but the real world problem with that is the once in a lifetime guests visiting now are paying full price for attendance and experiencing an incomplete park–they won’t feel the benefit of those additions in a few years.
The (hopefully) good news for those of us who visit regularly is that all signs point to something being in store for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is a total guess, but I suspect after the new track is added to Toy Story Mania, the next addition will be an area akin to ‘a bug’s land’ at Disney California Adventure, albeit based on different Pixar properties.
Something like ‘a bug’s land’ could be built incredibly quickly, and would act as a stop-gap while a more elaborate land, which will take more time to construct, is built. All signs point to this land being Star Wars Land. There’s the possibility that this will be confirmed at the D23 Expo this summer, but I would not be surprised if the plans are not made public until after the release of Star Wars Episode 7, especially if the land incorporates plot-points from that movie. There’s also the possibility that plans aren’t even finalized for the land until Disney can gauge public reaction to Episode 7, which would push back the announcement even further.
Oh! The other big thing that happened at the Studios is the removal of the Sorcerer’s Hat. I‘ve written extensively how I feel about this, so I won’t beat a dead horse here. I am beyond excited to look down Hollywood Boulevard and see Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Now, I know not everyone agrees with me on this one, but I’m sure not everyone agreed with Newton regarding gravity, either.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
As a lifelong advocate of Smurf-Aliens, I’ve come out in, let’s call it ‘cautious optimism’ about the AVATAR Land expansion. In the Disney fan community where the sentiment towards this project has been resounding negative, cautious optimism is basically the equivalent of being super, positively hyped up about it.
I’ve already shared some of my opinions on AVATAR Land (I think this is unlikely to be the actual name…I’m betting on “World of Pandora” or something that separates it from the name of the film a bit), so I won’t rehash that here. Suffice to say, while I think Avatar is a poor fit for Animal Kingdom and I really wish a different project would have been chosen, I think Animal Kingdom needs a land based on mythical creatures (AND MOAR DINOSAURZ!!1!!) and also needs to become a park open after dark on a regular basis.
The Avatar expansion along with the Rivers of Light nighttime show directly addresses both of those major concerns. Recent art released by Disney shows the Avatar area being absolutely breathtaking, which is exactly what it needs to be. If this land is visually stunning (and I think it will be), no one will care if the source material has been forgotten or is itself thematically inappropriate, because the area itself will be thematically appropriate and worthy of attention.
As for the status of the project, it took Disney forever to get started here, with numerous issues and controversy being rumored as the causes, but it now seems that construction is going full steam ahead as the 2017 opening date for the Avatar area approaches. Equally interesting, to me at least, is how other areas of the park are subtly being changed, which I suspect is in anticipation of the park needing to be able to handle larger crowds in the future. Prime example of this is the retooling of Flame Tree BBQ’s seating area, and the Harambe Theater District and Africa Marketplace expansion in Africa.
While the Avatar area itself looks to only have 2 attractions, I think it plus the nighttime show, other minor entertainment additions, and later operating hours will cumulatively make a big impact in park attendance, making these expansions targeted at helping crowd flow and capacity necessary.
Polynesian Village Resort
Most Disney fans are probably aware of the massive changes to the Poly, namely the addition of Disney Vacation Club, redesign of the Great Ceremonial House, and redo of the pool area. This is a really sensitive subject for a lot of people, and many are justifiably upset over the removal of the water feature in the lobby. I hesitate to comment on all of this sight-unseen, but I’m not quite as ‘up in arms’ about this as many others. Yes, I think it’s a shame the grand water feature was removed. That does sort of taint the whole project. With that said, that’s about the only thing that I think could conceivably be a disappointment about the project.
The Poly is priced as a luxury hotel, and up until this refurbishment, much of it felt like a vestige of the 1970s. This is great for Disney geeks like me who aren’t actually staying there, but enjoy seeing those elements of the ‘Vacation Kingdom of the World,’ but it’s not so great for actual guests.
Based on what I’ve seen of the refurbishment thus far, Disney has gone to great lengths to embrace tiki culture, making the Poly look less like a holdover from the 1970s and more like a modern hotel paying tribute to the prime of tiki culture in the 1950s.
For me, the jury is still out until I see the execution in person, but I’m looking forward to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (if it’s even half as good as the Trader Sam’s at Disneyland, it’ll be a great addition), the bungalows (overpriced, to be sure, but no one is forcing anyone to pay those prices, and I’m curious as to whether they add an aura of authenticity or detract from the shoreline), and other cosmetic changes around the resort.
Jungle Cruise Restaurant
New Fantasyland was the “big deal” expansion for the Magic Kingdom, and it wrapped up last year. Given that and the state of the other 3 parks, I wouldn’t expect any huge additions to the Magic Kingdom in the next 5 years or longer. However, the Magic Kingdom has continued to quietly see minor improvements, namely in terms of show quality. I’m intrigued by the new Hub, but the most exciting project on the horizon is the rumored Jungle Cruise restaurant.
This project scratches me right where I itch, and I’m not even a big Jungle Cruise fan! First, and most importantly, it addresses the dearth of worthwhile dining options in the Magic Kingdom. Dining the Magic Kingdom has improved in recent years, but the difficulty of getting into Be Our Guest Restaurant should be indicative of a lingering problem. Second, it expands upon the story of the Jungle Cruise in an original way with a restaurant that is purported to be a “Skipper’s Cantina.”
As a fan primarily of theme parks rather than Disney animation (which I also like…just not as much as the parks), I enjoy when the parks are self-referential and weave together their own little universes, so to speak. This is why I’ve become a fan of S.E.A., why I loved the ‘Remember… Dreams Come True’ fireworks, and also why I’m looking forward to this restaurant. While I feel that Imagineering does go off the deep-end with contrived backstories on occasion, I also enjoy seeing the basic premise of certain attractions spill outside their borders and into other areas in ways that are engaging and feel organic.
I think this Jungle Cruise restaurant has the opportunity to be exactly that. Jungle Cruise is an attraction that is incredibly popular both with casual guests and serious fans, and it currently doesn’t have an overwrought backstory. Its basic motifs lend themselves to an interesting restaurant (even without the Jungle Cruise attached) and if the Imagineers make loose ties between the attraction and the restaurant without forcing things, it could be a fun restaurant for casual guests and a spot that rewards serious fans. Here’s hoping that’s what happens, and they do things in the style of Trader Sam’s rather than Rainforest Cafe.
That covers it for the news and rumors that currently are of interest to me. This should by no means be viewed as a comprehensive list. There’s more going on, most notably Disney Springs, but I don’t care about that. As for other projects about which I do care, such as changes in Epcot and at Wilderness Lodge, I simply don’t know enough yet to say anything insightful.
I think it goes without saying that rumors are subject to change, but I want to add the caveat that I have absolutely no insider sources. The underlying stories here have all been gleaned from other sources, and my commentary thereon is based entirely upon my weak powers of deduction. I am not ‘in the know’, I simply spend way too much time on social media reading about this stuff.
I don’t intend to turn this blog into a site that regularly reports on news and rumors, but I’m curious: would more posts of this nature be something that interests you, or would you rather go to the plethora of sites that report directly on this stuff? I enjoy opining on this stuff, but I’m curious as to how much that interests readers.
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What do you think of these changes and rumors? What excites you the most? What are you not looking forward to? Share your thoughts in the comments!
I’ve spent the past five nights in the Polynesian Villas. The studios are absolutely stunning- comfortable, modern, and yet totally embrace the theme of the resort. The great ceremonial house update needs to be seen in person to appreciate it, but it really is fantastic. The tiki statue of Maui and the new “glowing orb” light fixtures are wonderfully done and I honestly don’t miss the water feature and I really thought I would. Everything else, including Trader Sam’s, the lava pool update, and the areas around the DVC long houses are Disney at its best. One all the other areas are finished it will be hard to fault the resort for just about anything. This is the most we’ve ever spent on a WDW resort yet ($1,980 for 7 nights in a studio) but I’ve got to say even with continuing construction I have zero regrets.
That’s really high praise, and it makes me anxious to see it myself in person. It’s easy to get caught up in the online ‘controversy’, but sometimes you have to step back and realize the people who are most enraged don’t have a realistic view of how things operate in the real world. It’s wholly unreasonable to expect a luxury hotel to remain stuck in 1971.
Enjoyed your opinions & comments, as always.
However as someone whose WDW & DLR vacations tend to center around dining & adult beverages, your “don’t care about that” statement concerning the massive changes at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs seemed a bit negative.
I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always found a lot of Disney Magic at the Downtown Disneys on both coasts. (Perhaps because I’m generally well lubricated from the many options available at the restaurant bars).
I understand your point, but I think being truthful and saying that I don’t care is better than going through the motions and writing a few paragraphs that would be bland and disinterested.
I liked this roundup style, and would enjoy more posts like these as an addition to your usual style of post. I don’t read all the other stuff that you do (though I wouldn’t mind if I could quit my day-job) so this is nice for me. I’m happy with you reporting on rumors as well as confirmed stuff.
I enjoy this type of post very much, your humor/wit/opinion and your past knowledge help put things in perspective. Keep up the great work!
I agree with everyone else–love this type of post. My vote would be for more of a round-up type style for simpler stories or those that don’t have much reported on them yet (i.e. new hub construction and the Jungle Cruise restaurant) with lengthier articles on subjects with more substance (Poly re-do, information on Avatar Land as it comes out). Either way though, great information and commentary, I really enjoyed it!
i loved this post! The best part of your blog is your opinions and wit. Yes, many know about these changes and can get the facts/rumors elsewhere. But we want Tom’s opinion! Keep up the good work!
Oh- and I think individual or round- up just depends how much you have to say. This was great but ranting is fun too.
Really enjoyed this post and definitely do more in the future.
I would also say stick with the round up style rather than one for each rumour as personally having a post with multiple news and rumours would hold interest more
Thanks for the feedback on this, everyone! It sounds like the type of post I’ll start doing on a periodic basis.
Next question: would you rather see individual posts for each rumor that go into greater depth, or is this ’roundup’ style better?
Multiple items in a single post works better because you can have a little of something for everyone.
The important thing is you always bring in the history context which makes for a much more interesting story. What makes the posts special (not canned) is you always try and include a little of your personal flavor which adds to the richness of the story.
We all follow tons of Disney sites and blogs, what sets yours and a few others (Disney Food Blog) apart is how you post valuable information without towing the ‘Disney Press Release’ line like so many others.
Keep up the great work!
I really liked this round-up style. Especially if there is a piece of news I don’t really care about, it’s nice to skim through it to get to the next piece. There are so many rumors going around the Disney parks these days, hopefully that kind of post will be easy to generate every so often! 🙂
FWIW, I thought this was a really excellent, well-written post. Great mix of humor, personal opinion, and “news/rumor”. Great work! 🙂
I normally don’t comment, but wanted to give you feedback that you requested; I thought this was a really good post, good information, and useful to the non-Disney “insider”.
More please! I love hearing what night be coming down the pipeline! I agree with all of the above comments, that your opinions on the rumors are worthwhile and interesting. Love reading your blog!
I like this type of post, and I would love to see more like it in the future. Speculating about the future of the parks is a lot of fun. MORE! 🙂
I enjoyed this post and would like to see more of your opinions on rumors and confirmed projects,
I very much enjoyed this post. It makes me look forward to the possibilities to come!!
Long time reader, first time commenter! Chiming in to say I really enjoyed this post & would love to see more in this style. Currently planning a Disney World trip for October and find your stuff so valuable. Thanks for the hard work and humor.
I also really enjoyed this article because you put the rumors into context rather than just reporting them. Whether they turn out to be true or not, it’s a really informative article.
I enjoyed this post. Blending rumour, construction, and your opinion is very interesting to read. It’s a nice way to think and daydream about what is happening at Disney World before our next trip.
I like to hear about the more confirmed rumours but not the stuff that hasn’t been confirmed in any way. I also like to see your view on the changes that are happening rather than just throwing the rumour out there.
I could swear that I read/heard a while ago that the official name is “Pandora, Land of Avatar”, because after the announcement I was annoyed that bloggers were still calling it Avatarland. FWIW.
I’m pretty sure they haven’t settled on an official name, as nothing with a trademark has been consistently used in recent materials: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2015/02/bringing-the-world-of-avatar-to-life-at-disneys-animal-kingdom/
My bet is the main name is simply “Pandora” with some sort of small subtitle (sort of like Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin has the ‘inspired by Toy Story 2’ subtitle). I think minimizing the Avatar name is a likely scenario.
It will be interesting to see how much or how little they use the events of the Avatar films in the land itself, particularly with the Banshee flying ride at the center of it all.
Some online have floated the possibility that the ride will involve experiencing the flight via our own “avatars”. This might explain how they’ll work a large Soarin’-esque ride system existing into the middle of what is supposed to be an alien world. The preshow would take place in a laboratory-like setting before we “wake up” as Navi for the ride film. It would make some more sense, relatively speaking within the terms of the Avatar story, that we’d experience the flight as Navi and not as regular ol’ humans.
You didn’t mention the (much needed) refurbishment of The Great Movie Ride and it’s new partnership with TCM. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/26/business/media/disney-pairs-up-with-turner-to-promote-shows-and-a-ride.html?_r=0
Also, I’ve been hearing rumors of refurbishing/retooling Muppet*Vision 3D. Then there is also the new attraction at Norway coming in 2016, that is supposed to feature Frozen, but I hope better heads will prevail and convince them to downplay the Frozen elements and include the Norwegian elements from Maelstrom.
Already covered the TCM deal in a previous post: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/turner-classic-movies-sponsoring-great-movie-ride/
I highly doubt any changes will be made to MuppetVision anytime in the near future. It’s supposedly on the chopping block for expansion.
Also already covered Frozen at Epcot in a previous post: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/epcot-frozen-maelstrom-rumors/
I never knew that Walt Disney World Inside Out played at the resorts. I only ever watched it on The Disney Channel at home. Regardless, I’m a huge fan. In the days before the internet it was one of the few ways to “check in” with the parks from afar.
I am also firmly in the “cautiously optimistic” camp on Avatar. Despite any negativity one might carry into the experience, there should be little doubt that the land will be an impressive piece of theme park stuff. It might lack the nooks, crannies, and endless detail of Diagon Alley (although I’m hopeful WDI will find a way to surprise us on that front) but Pandora should provide a larger-than-life themed environment unlike anything most guests might have seen before. The floating mountains alone should be worth the effort. Also, it’s hard to be excited that Disney is building a new boat-based dark ride.
I think there will be plenty of details, probably just not “rewarding” ones like Diagon Alley contains that delight fans of the books/movies, because there aren’t those kinds of fans of Avatar.
My bet is that it’ll be comparable to Cars Land in terms of style. There are a lot of details there if you look, but they don’t carry the same weight as a lot of the stuff in Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Still, Cars Land is a pretty breathtaking land!
Cars Land is pretty incredible. Visiting recently I was reminded just how impressive Ornament Valley looks, especially at night. It gave me some renewed hope for the potential of Pandora, particularly for the spectacle of the floating mountains.