Tokyo Disney Resort will be adding a new Scandinavia port with a Frozen area in it as Tokyo Disneyland adds a New Fantasyland with Alice in Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast areas, announced the Oriental Land Company (owners and operators of Tokyo Disney Resort). This is part of the company’s aggressive plan to spend 500 billion yen (~$4.2 billion) on its two existing theme parks between now and 2024.
The Scandinavia port-of-call will be located on an expansion pad in Tokyo DisneySea, while the New Fantasyland additions will mostly repurpose existing portions of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Both areas are set to be complete after the end of fiscal year 2017. This is a fairly aggressive construction schedule considering the expansiveness of these projects, and given that no construction has yet begun.
You can read more about the basics of the news in this press release from the Oriental Land Company. I’d rather focus on commentary than parroting a press release that you can read for yourself. (2017 Update: the Scandinavia port has been put on hold indefinitely in favor of Soarin’ expansion at Tokyo DisneySea; the New Fantasyland project has also shifted.)
Although this news seems like all-upside and no downside at first blush, let’s look a little closer…
The rough outline of this plan was actually unveiled last October, albeit only with the vague plan to expand Fantasyland and add a new, thematically undecided port to Tokyo DisneySea. The big news then was the amount of money being spent on the existing theme parks (which was closer to $5 billion at the time due to differences in the conversion rate). Even spread over 10 years, that number is pretty astonishing. While it includes things like back-of-house improvements and routine maintenance, even removing those expenditures, it’s still (at least) the equivalent of two Disney California Adventure overhauls.
It now appears that these two projects are where a good chunk of that money is being spent, and a post-fiscal year 2017 completion date means an aggressive construction timeline given the scale of the projects and the earthquake code in Japan that makes construction there more challenging. Heck, if this were Walt Disney World and the announcement were made today, construction probably wouldn’t even start until 2017. That’s what we call “The Avatarland Attack Plan.”
At that time the OLC announced their plan last October, I was mostly concerned about the news for Tokyo DisneySea. Given the success of Frozen at the time, particularly in Japan, and that it is set in the “Port of Arendelle,” I figured it was a foregone conclusion that the new port would be Frozenland. Now, like every good Disney fan, I sleep in a bed blanketed with a veritable sea of Olaf plushes, but it worried me that Tokyo DisneySea would be further ‘toonified.
This may seem preposterous to Disney fans who identify primarily with animation and enjoy the parks as an extension of that. It’s certainly not preposterous to any EPCOT Center fan who loved the park in its Center incarnation. Tokyo DisneySea is Disney’s most original, ambitious, and thoughtful concept since EPCOT Center.
Even if they are totally different in theme, they are the same in tone and spirit. The sad story of EPCOT Center has been told and retold, and doesn’t bear repeating here. Suffice to say, I hope the ghost of Dreamfinder is haunting every executive who played a part in bastardizing that park’s wonderful concept.
While still by far the greatest theme park in the world, Tokyo DisneySea has appeared headed on a similar trajectory. A park that opened with entirely original and ambitious concepts has seen every recent addition involving Disney characters (Turtle Talk with Crush, Jasmine’s Flying Carpets, Toy Story Mania) and the popularity of these attractions has vindicated the decisions to add them. You think Toy Story Mania is a madhouse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Arrive at park opening someday at DisneySea. It makes the old DHS rope drop routine look like a leisurely afternoon stroll.
The reality is that Tokyo Disney Resort has a large, spend-happy demographic of young females who are enamored with Disney characters. Although Tokyo DisneySea opened with the aim of attracting Japan’s older, aging population to diversify its business, the quicker and easier buck is undoubtedly made by targeting the younger generation that is character-obsessed. Fortunately, the Oriental Land Company has gone to great lengths to ensure that all additions are carefully made, and aren’t just shoehorned in with some tenuous (or no) justification. This isn’t Monsters Laugh Floor in Tomorrowland.
Enter Frozen. Like I said, it seemed like the no-brainer decision for the last port in Tokyo DisneySea. Not only is the movie insanely popular and set in a port, but it offers a “type” of port that otherwise isn’t represented in DisneySea.
In fact, this last port was originally set to be called Glacier Bay back in the early days of DisneySea, and would presumably have a similar look to Arendelle. Frozenland just made sense, or so I thought, and I was concerned that its opening would further distance DisneySea from its original vision.
This is why I was shocked and elated when I read the news about the new port, and the first line is that it would be “themed to Scandinavia.” Now, the second line is a parenthetical explaining that it would include an area with the world of Frozen, but the fact that the port will draw from a real-world place is at least a minor coup. (The concept art for the Scandinavia port is at the top of this post.)
At the end of the day, who knows, maybe the entire concept will be swallowed by Frozen and the port will be called ‘Scandinavian Fjord’ but have no offerings that aren’t intertwined with Frozen in some way. The pessimist in me worries that might be the case, but the optimist is excited about the “multiple major attractions, shops, restaurants, and other facilities,” and hopeful that one E-Ticket will be IP-free and a large area of the land will be wholly Scandinavian. Color me at least cautiously optimistic this will be the case.
In an ideal world (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case), the bulk of the exterior areas will be real-world Scandinavia. The ‘World of Frozen‘ area would be akin to Mermaid Lagoon’s King Triton’s Castle, which is a large indoor area, with multiple attractions that are all set underwater.
Think of how cool a similar concept with Frozen would be, set indoors in a perpetual state of winter. I don’t begrudge Frozen‘s inclusion in this port at all, as it is a natural fit, I just hope it doesn’t become a de facto Port of Arendelle. Note that I have absolutely no inside information on anything, so this is all simply speculation and conjecture on my part.
For me, there’s a lot less to say of interest about New Fantasyland. This truly was a no-brainer, and I see almost no way to criticize the changes being made here. If the concept art that was previously released and the plans attached thereto still stand, the bulk of this expansion comes at the expense of the Grand Circuit Raceway (the speedway) and long forgotten areas of Tomorrowland. This Disney and More article has a good dissection of the original concept art for Tokyo Disneyland’s New Fantasyland.
Like the rest of them, Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is a thematic hodgepodge, and much of it is still stuck in the 1980s. I, for one, will not shed a single tear over the “loss” of the Grand Circuit Raceway, and the large swath of land it occupies is certainly a sensible place for expansion. Repurposing land is a necessary evil at Tokyo Disney Resort, where the only other way to expand requires costly reclaiming of land.
Previously, the plan was to relocate ‘it’s a small world’ to the Tomorrowland edge of Fantasyland, with the Alice in Wonderland expansion occurring in ‘it’s a small world’s’ current location, adjacent to Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall. Makes perfect sense, although I’ve always thought moving attractions was the stuff of Theme Park Tycoon, not real life. (In fairness, a few hundred yards should be nothing compared to the move from New York to Anaheim!)
Details are sparse on what this area will include, but the ‘it’s a small world’ plot is massive. Alice in Wonderland is really popular in Japan, and the tone of the story makes for a perfect opportunity to test out a tech-heavy, impressionistic attraction. Trackless ride tech would be a fit for the source material, but being so close to Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, I’m betting a different ride system will be utilized for the anticipated E-Ticket here.
The Beauty and the Beast area looks like it’ll occupy the plot between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland (and parts of both), and what this will include is another big question mark. I expect a modified version of Be Our Guest Restaurant, but I would be surprised to see Enchanted Tales with Belle. Characters are popular in Japan, but low-capacity attractions are a recipe for disaster in Tokyo Disneyland, the most attended theme park in the world (don’t believe the published numbers putting Magic Kingdom ahead), as the potential for multi-hour waits would be great. If this concept is even on the table, I suspect it will wait for the final approval until Stitch Encounter opens and operations has a chance to see how it handles crowds. I think much more likely is a high-capacity dark ride of some sort.
Tokyo Disneyland badly needs people eaters, and I think just about every addition that is part of this expansion will have high-capacity. Much of this expansion is likely occurring due to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the crowds expected to descend upon the parks then. There are already major issues with crowds, and this expansion will create even more interest in the parks, so it had better be able to offset that new interest (and existing crowd issues) through added capacity.
Unless the team working on New Fantasyland for Tokyo Disneyland makes a spectacular and unprecedented blunder, it should be a colossal improvement from what’s currently there. Imagineering has proven time and again what it is capable of when given the budget (just look at the park next door) and the Oriental Land Company appears poised to do this thing John Hammond style.
I think when all is said and done, New Fantasyland is going to be a jaw-dropping area that makes Walt Disney World fans feel robbed (well, besides the ones with their heads in the sand who think that ‘everything Disney does is magical’) over the version of New Fantasyland we received in the Magic Kingdom.
Really, the same goes for the Scandinavian port at Tokyo DisneySea. Even though I am apprehensive about how it will balance IP with the real Scandinavia, I am not at all concerned that it will be built with lavish detail and an incredible budget. Again, I’m cautiously optimistic that the right balance will be struck, and this will prove to be an appropriate addition to Tokyo DisneySea. This is not simply going to be a clone of whatever the heck is going on at Epcot as the great nation of Norway becomes the great nation of Arendelle.
The amount of money being thrown at the whole of Tokyo Disney Resort over the next few years, regardless of the substance of the projects, alone has me excited. I’m hopeful this aggressive expansion finally gets US Disney fans to sit up and take note because frankly, there’s only so much imploring I can do to convince people to visit Japan. If I haven’t convinced you by now…maybe my good friend Olaf can do a bit of persuading. 😉
If you’re thinking of visiting Japan for the first time and are overwhelmed with planning, definitely check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Planning Guide. It covers much more than the parks, from getting there to WiFi to currency and much, much more. For more photos and an idea of what we did day-by-day during our first visit, read our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report.
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Does this expansion look like something you’d like to see at Walt Disney World? Would this be enough to push you over the edge and convince you to visit the parks in Japan? Any other thoughts or speculation to add about the project? Please share any questions and comments you have!