Many new rides, shows, restaurants, hotels, etc. are coming soon to Walt Disney World, and others have recently opened. Here’s what’s next for 2020 & 2021, plus construction info, expansion plans, opening dates. We also cover how ‘important’ each of these additions is for vacation planning. (Updated January 1, 2020.)
This used to be information we covered near the top of our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide. However, during a recent update to that post, we realized this section was getting longer and longer due to all of the changes at Walt Disney World, causing the guide to balloon to over 7,000 words. Since we describe that planning guide as “WDW101” offering a crash course in the basics of trip prep, it probably should not be the size of a Tolstoy novel.
Of course, what’s “new” is in the eye of the beholder. If you are an Annual Passholder, much of what we discuss here is old news. By contrast, if you’re a first-timer, everything about Walt Disney World is brand new. We tend to take a middle ground approach, treating the last year or so as new-ish, as we’ve found many of our readers are fans who visit Walt Disney World every 1-3 years…
We could devote an entire post to whether you should go in 2020 or wait, analyzing the pros and cons of visiting versus delaying. And we have! In our Should You Visit Walt Disney World in 2020…or Wait for 2021?post, we weigh all pertinent considerations, including price increases, likelihood of heavier crowds, hotel availability, new attractions, construction, and more.
In fact, 3 of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks are looking good and mostly wall-free for 2020. The lone exception to that is Epcot, which is a sea of construction walls right now, and will be for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, there’s not nearly as much construction at Walt Disney World right now as there has been in the last few years, making 2020 a great time to visit, especially if you want to experience “the calm before the storm” in terms of crowds for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
Here’s a park by park look at everything new and coming soon to Walt Disney World…
We’ll start at Epcot, as that’s where the big transformation is now underway. The front of the park is half behind walls as the new park entrance project inches forward, and the central spine of Future World between Spaceship Earth and World Showcase has more walls as Innoventions is in the process of being demolished.
Throughout 2020, the scope of this project will continue to grow, with temporary walkways acting as a bypass around Spaceship Earth and the center of the park. The work here is currently the largest construction project at Walt Disney World, which results in a lot of visual blight to the front of Epcot.
Walt Disney World has confirmed that Spaceship Earth will be reimagined during this time, but details of when it’ll close or the closure’s duration have not been announced. Previously, we reported on the rumor of a 2-Year Spaceship Earth Overhaul that could begin in early 2020.
In addition to what has already been announced, we anticipate more changes, additions, and closures to be announced for Epcot in the next year or two. Most of the replacements, depicted in the concept art art, should debut in phases beginning with the smaller elements in 2020.
This massive redesign at the front of Epcot will eliminate Future World and replace it with 3 new neighborhoods, including a 3-level festival center. This has already resulted in a sea of construction walls at the front of the park, with more to come over the course of 2020. Walt Disney World hasn’t announced a timeline for this project, but we don’t anticipate it being done until 2022.
As a preview center for this reimagining of the park, “Walt Disney Imagineering Presents the Epcot Experience” is now open in the Odyssey Pavilion near Test Track. This is a nice area to see the future of the park with no wait–and also decompress in the air-conditioning for 10-15 minutes.
At the same time that the Epcot Experience debuted, the temporary Epcot Forever (a bit of a misnomer) debuted. These fireworks are expected to end before Summer 2020.
Epcot Forever will run for a little less than a year before the permanent replacement, HarmonioUS, is tentatively slated to debuted sometime in Spring 2020. Disney has stated that HarmonioUS will be the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney theme park.
Concept art and descriptions make it look like a mix of World of Color and traditional fireworks show with floating set pieces, LED panels, dancing water fountains, pyro, lasers, spotlights, and more. HarmonioUS will celebrate how the music of Disney inspires people the world over, carrying them away harmoniously on a stream of familiar Disney songs reinterpreted by diverse artists from around the globe.
On January 17, 2020 as part of the 2020 Epcot International Festival of the Arts several new movies will debut at Epcot. This includes Awesome Planet in the Land pavilion, Beauty and the Beast Sing-a-long in France, and new Circle-Vision 360 film for the Canada Pavilion. The new Seamless Circle-Vision 360 film for China, called Wondrous China, will debut at a date to be determined.
Also in what’s presently Future World, the Space 220 Restaurant is being built adjacent to Mission: Space and will open in early 2020. The Space 220 Restaurant will feature internationally-inspired cuisine plus over 1,000 bottles of the wines and a wide selection of craft beer.
It would make sense for the new park entrance and Play Pavilion to debut as ‘phase one’ of the Epcot reimagining. It would also be logical for another bypass corridor to connect from the new front entrance to this area, which will include Play Pavilion and the next attraction.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is the biggest-budget project at Walt Disney World now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open.
A smaller scale addition coming to the front of Epcot is Moana: Journey of Water. This is the first-ever attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios hit film, Moana.
This water maze will be a lush environment where guests can interact with living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting. To be clear, Journey of Water is a walk-through maze inspired by Moana, and not a new Moana ride.
This expansion of France will include a variety of retail and restaurant additions, most notably La Crêperie de Paris. This crêperie will offer both table- and quick-service options featuring a menu from celebrity chef Jérôme Bocuse.
Also back in World Showcase, Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue (or as we’ve been calling it, “Regal Eagle’s Distinctly Patriotic Smokehouse: A Salute to All Foods, But Mostly Barbecued Meats ~ A Sam Eagle Craft Drafts & BBQ Joint”) will open by Spring 2020.
There are also credible rumors that two new countries will be added to World Showcase, among countless other rumors. Epcot is the next ‘big’ re-imagining for Walt Disney World after the expansion at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is finished, with Disney planning to invest over $1 billion into Epcot.
Some of this work is expected to take until 2022 or even 2023, meaning it all will not be done in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
In the more immediate future, Disney’s DuckTales World Showcase Adventure will debut in 2020. Guests will be able to use the Play Disney Parks mobile app to search for priceless treasure alongside Scrooge McDuck, Donald, nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, Launchpad and Webby with Disney’s DuckTales World Showcase Adventure.
Disney’s DuckTales World Showcase Adventure will be the next iteration of the interactive scavenger hunt around World Showcase that previously featured Kim Possible and currently Phineas & Ferb. It should be a good way to engage kids in an area of Epcot they often find “boring.”
Next up is Magic Kingdom. The big substantive project here right now is the TRON roller coaster being built in Tomorrowland. This is another attraction that will open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021. While this attraction is an expansion to the park outside its existing berm, its construction will cause closures to the Walt Disney World Railroad through at least 2020.
In addition to TRON Lightcycle Power Run, there are other aesthetic changes occurring in Tomorrowland to help the coaster blend with the existing land. On a substantive note, we anticipate several new pieces of entertainment and attraction overlays being announced soon for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is now open in its entirety. As we discuss in our Star Wars Land Info & Galaxy’s Edge Guide, this new themed universe is the biggest addition to Walt Disney World in years, and will continue to have a big impact in 2020. The first phase opened last fall, and included all shops, dining, and the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run ride.
That was followed by Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance last December. This is the flagship attraction of Galaxy’s Edge, and as we covered in our spoiler-free review, was absolutely worth the wait. It’s one of Walt Disney World’s top 5 attractions, and the best new thing added to Walt Disney World in at least 25 years.
With that said, it would seem that most guests agree with our review. The protocol for experiencing the attraction is unprecedented, as there’s no FastPass+ nor is there a standby line.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is inspired by the new cartoon shorts and brings guests through the screen to take a ride inside a zany cartoon world. Our expectations are high for this–and so are Disney’s; they’re already planning to clone the ride at Disneyland!
Around that same time, the Mickey Shorts Theater will debut, playing an original short film in the style of the popular Disney Channel animated series “Mickey Mouse.” The Mickey Shorts Theater will offer photo ops in addition to the film, plus some fun details.
Mickey Shorts Theater will take the place of ABC Sound Studio, which is the former home of Star Wars: Path of the Jedi and Sounds Dangerous (located next to Hyperion Theater).
There’s not really anything major on the horizon for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. However, Pandora – World of Avatar is still the “hot new thing” and will remain biggest addition in over a decade at Walt Disney World until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. Likewise, Avatar Flight of Passage remains the most popular ride in all of Walt Disney World. For tips & tricks on beating the crowds, read our Ultimate Guide to Pandora – World of Avatar.
Elsewhere at Animal Kingdom, the nighttime spectacular Rivers of Light is now a couple of years old, and received a downgrade last year in the form of Rivers of Light: We Are One. This new version of the show features scenes from Disneynature films and animated movies. We enjoy Rivers of Light, but opinions are mixed–you definitely don’t need a FastPass+ or dining package for it.
There are two other new additions that are relatively minor but still are worth mentioning. First is Otter Grotto, a really nice otter habitat with both under and above water viewing areas.
Second, is a walk-around Kevin, the bird from Up. For something seemingly simple, she (yes, Kevin is a she) draws massive crowds–guests are really drawn to this character.
Then there’s Disney Springs. This is the entertainment and shopping district previously known as Downtown Disney. Producing a comprehensive list of what has opened here in the last ~5 years would be daunting, as around 75% of this area is new or newly-redone.
The re-imagining of Disney Springs is almost done now, and it has made fans of both of us big time with solid additions such as the Boathouse, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia, the Edison, 4 Rivers Cantina, and more. Jaleo by José Andrés and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill have also recently opened.
Two new resorts opened at Walt Disney World last year. The first of these, debuting over the summer, was Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Our review of this property was mixed, with our ultimate conclusion being that it offered strong bang for buck and was very appealing for a certain type of traveler.
Next, Disney’s Riviera Resort is the newest DVC Resort, which debuted in December. This property is adjacent to Caribbean Beach and offers direct Skyliner access to Epcot. Our Disney’s Riviera Resort Review covers the pros & cons of these new Disney Vacation Club accommodations.
This new DVC resort, along with Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation are connected to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios via the new Disney Skyliner gondola system, which opened last fall.
Throughout 2020 and beyond, several resorts are undergoing refurbishment, construction, and expansion projects. In particular, there are a lot of room renovations, particularly at Value Resorts and DVC properties.
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will offer a two-night itinerary where all guests arrive and depart at the same time, similar to Disney Cruise Line. Throughout the journey, guests delve deeper into adventures by participating in activities, interacting with characters, crew and other passengers they meet, and becoming part of the action and the broader Star Wars saga. (It sounds a lot like a Live Action Role Playing Game.)
Now that Disney’s Riviera Resort has opened, DVC has moved on to its next project. That’s Reflections, A Disney Lakeside Lodge. This is a nature-inspired resort hotel on the shore of Bay Lake being built on the former River Country water park as well as part of the Fort Wilderness Campground.
Reflections, A Disney Lakeside Lodge is themed to complement its natural surroundings, and will include more than 900 rooms and Disney Vacation Club villas spread across a variety of unique accommodation types, including A-frame villas and treehouses. Reflections, A Disney Lakeside Lodge will also have a waterfront Princess and the Frog restaurant.
As you can probably tell, there is a lot that’s new and coming soon to Walt Disney World in the next few years. After years of relative stagnation, Disney has kicked expansion at its Florida properties into high gear, resulting in the biggest construction boom in decades.
With that said, don’t fret too much about the construction–even with an unprecedented amount, must of its out-of-the-way of guest areas, and there are still a ton of attractions to do at Walt Disney World no matter when you visit!
Which additions at Walt Disney World are you most excited to experience? Are you delaying your next visit to maximize seeing ‘new stuff’ or moving it forward to avoid the crowds? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!