Wondering what new rides, shows, restaurants, and other things are coming soon to Walt Disney World, and what has recently opened? In this, we cover what’s next on the horizon for 2019 through 2021, and offer construction info, expansion plans, and more for the theme parks and hotels, plus how ‘important’ each of these additions is in terms of vacation planning. (Last updated September 4, 2019.)
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…
If you’re someone who visits every few years, you might also be wondering when to visit. As you’ll see in the sections that follow, there’s a ton of construction right now with some major expansion projects debuting between now and Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021.
We could devote an entire post to whether you should go in 2019 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 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 below, should debut in phases between 2020 and 2022…
As you can see above, a massive redesign will occur at the front of Epcot, eliminating Future World and replacing it with 3 new neighborhoods, including a 3-level festival center. This will result in a sea of construction walls at the front of the park beginning in mid-September 2019. Work has already started to remove the old Leave a Legacy tombstones.
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 late 2019.
Also on October 1, 2019, “Walt Disney Imagineering Presents the Epcot Experience” will debut in the Odyssey Pavilion near Test Track. This will be a showcase and preview center for everything that’s coming soon to EPCOT!
Epcot Forever will run for a little less than a year before the permanent replacement, HarmoniUS, debuts sometime in 2020. Disney has stated that HarmoniUS 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, dancing water fountains, pyro, lasers, spotlights, and more (DRONES?!?!).
In January 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 Late 2019. Space 220 will feature internationally-inspired cuisine plus over 1,000 bottles of the wines and a wide selection of craft beer.
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 in late 2019 or early 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 2023, meaning it all will not be done in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
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–at least, the first phase. This includes all shops, dining, and the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run ride. (Read our First Impressions of Star Wars Land at Walt Disney World.) On December 5, 2019, the flagship attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, will open.
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!
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 just received a remix: Rivers of Light: We Are One for Summer 2019. This new version of the show features scenes from Disneynature films and animated movies. While we enjoy Rivers of Light, opinions about it are mixed, and you definitely don’t need a FastPass+ or dining package for it.
Throughout 2019, Animal Kingdom will be celebrating the Lion King‘s 25th Anniversary with “Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party” on Discovery Island, which will feature Timon and Rafiki. Other than that minor offering, the only recent addition has been a walk-around Kevin, the bird from Up, which is actually pretty cool.
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.
This new DVC resort, along with Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation will be connected to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios via the new Disney Skyliner gondola system. This new gondola transportation will debut on September 29, 2019.
As you can probably tell, there is a lot that’s coming to Walt Disney World in the next few years. Far more than what has opened in the last several. 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!