Wondering what new rides, shows, restaurants, and other recent additions have opened at Walt Disney World, and what’s next on the horizon for 2019 and beyond? In this post we share brief info about attractions and expansion in the theme parks and around the resort, and how ‘important’ each of these additions is in terms of vacation planning.
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.
Breaking this info out into its own post also gives us the chance to further expand upon each section section, with park by park info on recent and upcoming additions. 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 several years as new-ish, as we’ve found many of our readers are Disney fans that make it to the parks every few 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 in 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 Now…Or Wait Until 2020 or 2021? post, we weigh all pertinent considerations, including price increases, likelihood of heavier crowds, hotel availability, new attractions, construction, and more.
Speaking of which, we do monthly updates on the biggest construction projects at Walt Disney World, you can see a listing of our latest updates here. There is an unprecedented amount of construction at Walt Disney World right now, with even more to start in the theme parks come 2019. The good news is that many of the hotel projects are starting to wrap up, but you can expect a rolling wave of work between now and 2021.
Here’s a park by park look at everything new and coming soon to Walt Disney World…
Pandora – World of Avatar is the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the biggest addition in over a decade at Walt Disney World. We absolutely loved this new land. We are not Avatar fans, but this land is very impressive. We could go on and on…and we did, in our Spoiler-Free Pandora – World of Avatar Review.
Even though this land is now over a year old, Avatar Flight of Passage remains the most popular ride in all of Walt Disney World, with wait times that always top an hour, and are often around two hours. For tips & tricks on beating the crowds, read our Ultimate Guide to Pandora – World of Avatar. That covers FastPass+, rope dropping the land, Extra Magic Hours, and all kinds of other strategy and tips & tricks.
Elsewhere at Animal Kingdom, the nighttime spectacular Rivers of Light is now over a year old, and it has not had nearly the same “staying power” as Pandora. While we enjoy Rivers of Light, opinions about it are mixed, and you definitely don’t need a FastPass+ or dining package for it.
There are also two smaller new offerings at Animal Kingdom. The first is ‘UP! A Great Bird Adventure’ which features a mix of characters from Up and close-up encounters with bird species from around the world. (This replaced Flights of Wonder.) Next, Donald’s Dino Bash, a dance party and meet & greet opportunities in Dinoland.
Starting in January 2019, Animal Kingdom will celebrate the Lion King‘s 25th Anniversary with “Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party” on Discovery Island, which will feature Timon and Rafiki. At present, nothing else has been announced for Animal Kingdom.
Next up is Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland construction has been done for several years, with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Be Our Guest Restaurant being the highlights. Despite both being a few years old, both remain incredibly popular–among the most popular FastPass+ and Advance Dining Reservations, respectively, so be sure to book those early.
Most other new-ish offerings at Magic Kingdom are on the entertainment front. Festival of Fantasy Parade is the daytime parade, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is the stage show, and “Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History” is a show above Liberty Square that’s one of Magic Kingdom’s most under-appreciated gems.
“Happily Ever After” is the new fireworks show, and it is fantastic! You can read our full Happily Ever After Review for more info. While all of the aforementioned entertainment is new as of the past few years–and is worth seeing–one noteworthy removal is the nighttime parade. We note this because even though it occurred a couple years ago, guests still line the Main Street curb at Magic Kingdom each night for some reason.
Up next, is the TRON roller coaster in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom, which 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 and Tomorrowland Speedway for parts of 2019.
At Epcot, Soarin’ Around the World and Frozen Ever After are now each a couple of years old. If you have Frozen fans in your party, read our Frozen Ever After Review & Tips post for strategy. Wait times for each have dropped in the last year, but they’re still popular.
Aside from the annual festivals that fill most of the calendar outside from the summer months, there isn’t much being added in the immediate future at Epcot. Walt Disney World has announced that IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth will be retired and replaced at the end of Summer 2019, but not much is known about the new show.
After that, a family-friendly Ratatouille trackless dark ride will open in an expansion of World Showcase’s France pavilion, with an internal target date of Summer 2020. Following that, the gigantic Guardians of the Galaxy hybrid roller coaster will debut in Future World sometime in 2021.
Those are the major projects, but several other additions are coming to Epcot. A new film has been announced for the China pavilion, as has a new restaurant in Japan. In Future World, the ‘Space Restaurant’ is being built adjacent to Mission: Space. Beyond those projects, an aesthetic redesign will occur of Future World that could result in a sea of construction walls at the front of the park.
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.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Land is now open. This is the first ‘piece of the puzzle’, so to speak, in terms of the big overhaul of DHS. We share our thoughts on this new area in our lengthy Toy Story Land Review. If you’re just looking for strategy, check out our Toy Story Land FastPass+ & Strategy post.
Beginning in January 2019, new entertainment comes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The Incredibles will take over the former Pixar Place, with new meet & greets, a dance party, and more. Later in the spring, Lightning McQueen’s Race Academy, a children’s show, will open.
Meanwhile, construction for Star Wars Land (officially “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge) and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway continues, which means that there are still a lot of construction walls and closures. These projects should be awesome once completed, but Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge won’t open until Late 2019 (we’re expecting its debut after Thanksgiving), with Mickey & Mickey’s Runaway Railway likely opening before that, potentially in Summer 2019.
From our perspective, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the weakest attraction lineup and will remain that way until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in Late 2019. If you’re considering skipping it until then, take a look at our Universal Orlando Resort Trip Planning Guide. Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure–both of which have elaborate ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ lands that are wonderful–are good alternatives to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
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. Read our Table Service Restaurant Rankings for Disney Springs and Counter Service Restaurant Rankings for Disney Springs Springs if you want better insight as to which of the many, many dining options to choose.
There are still a few ongoing construction projects around Disney Springs, with 2019 openings including the NBA Experience, Jaleo by José Andrés, and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill.
At present, several resorts are undergoing refurbishment, construction, and expansion project. We would recommend consulting our list of 2018-2019 Construction & Refurbishments at Walt Disney World Hotels, which we update regularly for insight into changes at existing hotels.
In terms of new projects, a Star Wars ‘Starship Resort’ has been announced for Walt Disney World, which will offer an immersive visit that further enhances what guests experience in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This resort is unlikely to open until 2020, at the earliest.
Disney’s Riviera Resort, new Disney Vacation Club Resort, is also currently being constructed adjacent to Caribbean Beach, and is likely to be completed by Summer 2019.
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 is expected to open around Summer 2019, but not official date has been announced.
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!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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!