For Summer 2017, Walt Disney World fans are receiving something unfamiliar: a slew of new entertainment and the debut of a big-budget land in Pandora – World of Avatar. Collectively, this represents Walt Disney World’s biggest summer of new offerings in over a decade.
Outside of Epcot, Summer 2017 resembles last summer’s addition, except on a larger scale. Last year, there were new reasons to stay in Animal Kingdom later into the evening. This year, there’s an even bigger reason, and Animal Kingdom has the latest hours of any park to accommodate. Disney’s Hollywood Studios received new nighttime entertainment last summer, and is receiving the same this year. Likewise, Magic Kingdom received new entertainment last summer, and is getting the more of that this summer. (Albeit in the form of a fireworks show this year instead of a Cinderella Castle stage show.)
For this post, I’ve gathered all of the announcements to share with you, along with our commentary on the news. We’ll share what expect from the new summer offerings at Walt Disney World, as well as what my be next on the horizon for 2018 and beyond…
This will include some speculation concerning announcements that have not yet been made, but that we think could occur at this summer’s D23 Expo. We’re expecting a pretty some noteworthy announcements at the Parks & Resorts panel, particularly given the slew of rumors, and the fact that aside from Toy Story and Star Wars Lands, nothing has been officially confirmed for Walt Disney World beyond this year.
Alright, on with what’s new and what’s next…
Have you heard that Disney’s building an entire land based on the hit movie Avatar?! Of course you have. It was announced in 2011 (yes, it has been that long) and has been the most controversial addition to Walt Disney World among fans that I can ever recall.
Its continued controversy, even after we’ve seen the construction photos of the amazing floating mountains and have a pretty good idea of how Disney plans to minimize the overt Avatar connections in the land amazes me. While this is a “jury is still out” scenario for me until I step foot in the land and experience those two attractions, I’m cautiously optimistic (emphasis on the optimistic part) based on everything we’ve seen thus far.
And with Cast Member previews now underway, we’re starting to see a lot more via social media. Although I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, it’s nearly impossible. Thanks to the photos and rave reviews from those who have experienced Pandora so far, it’s difficult not to buy into the hype a bit.
Between the early hype and the colossal amount of money spent on Pandora – World of Avatar, this should be a big addition for Walt Disney World fans. It also kicks off a stretch of at least 3 consecutive years with big-budget lands opening at Walt Disney World, and will likely offer a preview of the caliber of technology that will be integrated into Star Wars Land when it opens in 2019.
Of course, with all of this will come long lines and crowds. We’ve already shared some preliminary FastPass+ & Touring Strategy for Pandora – World of Avatar, but there will be more to know once the land opens officially. With a queue for Avatar Flight of Passage that some preview attendees have estimated to be long enough to hold a 5-hour(!!!) wait, Disney is clearly expecting Pandora to be hugely popular. Pandora will undoubtedly look gorgeous at night, so experiencing it during those extended hours is likely a good idea…
Potentially wanting some counter-programming for evenings this summer, Magic Kingdom is replacing its long-running Wishes fireworks with Happily Ever After. This has been met with a mixed reaction by fans, but it’ll be a big draw and should lead to some chaotic nights on Main Street.
In the lead-up to Happily Ever After’s debut, Disney has released a lot of details about the new show, including a video with test footage of the fireworks. I haven’t watched the video, but it seems aimed at both building anticipation and assuaging apprehensive Wishes fans that this will be a fireworks show and not another projection show with some pyro.
What’s not in Magic Kingdom’s summer lineup is a nighttime parade. There’s still a lot of wishful thinking among fans that Paint the Night is “coming soon” to Walt Disney World, but as of right now, it definitely is not. This doesn’t mean it won’t at some point in the distant future, but the more realistic best-case scenario is a new nighttime parade at Magic Kingdom for Summer 2018.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on any nighttime parade announcement for Magic Kingdom at the D23 Expo; the unveiling of Tomorrowland plans is a more realistic possibility.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Think of this year as the calm before the storm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Next year, Toy Story Land will open. In 2019, Star Wars Land will open. I’m not personally excited for the off-the-shelf amusement park rides of Toy Story Land, but I know it’ll be a big deal for many families. Star Wars Land is the big addition, and should present a ground-breaking theme park experience.
There’s also the possibility that the rumored ‘Great Mickey Ride’ will continue the streak of openings, and debut at the relaunched Disney’s Hollywood Adventure in 2020. (An alternative scenario could have it debut in Late 2019 as part of the park’s relaunch, but that seems like a pretty aggressive timeline.) We’ll likely know for sure by this summer’s D23 Expo.
The moderately good news if you’re visiting now is that the park is adding ‘The Music of Pixar Live’ this summer, which will (hopefully) be a Hollywood Bowl-style concert held during the evenings. This will be yet another nighttime draw for the summer…hopefully you can find something to do during the days! 😉
Aside from that, Star Lord and Baby Groot have just started meeting guests, and there could be some minor Star Wars related additions/tweaks in late summer as promotional efforts for the next Star Wars film ramp up.
Epcot is the one park that received more last year than this year, with it receiving absolutely nothing this year. While Frozen Ever After has proven popular with guests, it was like duct tape on the Titanic. And with no construction or major projects announced for Epcot (only a minor update to Mission: Space), something has got to give in the near future.
If summer attendance is weak at Epcot this year (and we expect it to be the park that takes the biggest hit due to Pandora), we’d expect a quick-fix for next summer. There’s not nearly enough time for the rumored Brazil and Spain pavilions, the likely Ratatouille addition to the France pavilion, or a possible Guardians of the Galaxy Future World attraction to be built and opened by then. It’s not even enough time for a Gran Fiesta Tour overlay (Coco opens this November). About the only things there is enough time to prepare by then would be another seasonal event or IllumiNations replacement.
Our bet? Festival Season sees a summer addition for 2018. Even if there are no new attractions that will debut by Summer 2018, we fully expect Disney to clarify its long term plans for Epcot at the D23 Expo (or perhaps at the Epcot 35th Anniversary event in October). There are at least 3 projects that could be announced for Epcot before the end of this year.
For the four theme parks, I think that about covers it for the main additions coming this summer. Some other potentially new-to-you things have also recently debuted, including Miss Adventure Falls at Typhoon Lagoon, Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and a handful of restaurants at Disney Springs. The above debuts coupled with these recent additions should make for a formidable lineup of new experiences for those who visit Walt Disney World once per year (or less).
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What do you think of the slate of Summer 2017 additions at Walt Disney World? Are you excited to experience the Pandora – World of Avatar attractions (and the land itself)? What about Happily Ever After or the new Pixar concert? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of the new offerings? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!