WDW News & Rumors: Inside Epcot’s Play Pavilion, Blank Slate Dark Ride, and More!

This week’s Walt Disney World news & rumor update covers the ‘blank slate’ dark ride coming to Hollywood Studios, attractions in Epcot’s upcoming Play Pavilion, a restaurant closure at Disney Springs, new MagicBand upgrades, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge music, and more.

First, a newly-announced MagicBand upgrade option. Beginning May 15, pre-arrival Walt Disney World resort hotel guests and new and renewing Annual Passholders will have the option to upgrade from a complimentary solid-color MagicBand to one of more than 30 new MagicBand upgrade options featuring favorite Disney characters and designs at a discounted price.

This will undoubtedly have MagicBand collectors excited, as it means acquiring a new design for $10 rather than $25. I’ve never had a strong temptation to purchase a MagicBand (my ‘collection’ of MagicBands consists of a solid blue one that I always wear, plus dozens of grey ones that I still need to recycle), but if a cool Figment or Country Bears one was included in the $10 offer, I could see splurging on that.

In other news, Disney has released the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite, the 5 minute long original theme for the land written by the original Star Wars composer John Williams.

This now available to download and stream on various platforms, including YouTube:

We haven’t listened, as we’d rather hear it for the first time while walking through Star Wars Land instead of sitting at home on our couch. We’re nonetheless excited, and each new detail or nugget of info indicates we are almost there. A little less than a month to go (at least for the Disneyland opening).

Speaking of which, If you’re planning on visiting the new area, you’ll also want to read our Star Wars Land Info & Galaxy’s Edge Guide. This covers a range of topics from basics about the land and its location, to strategically choosing a hotel for your stay, recommended strategy for the land, and how early to arrive to beat the crowds. It’s a good primer for this huge addition!

Next, there’s the rumor of a “black box” dark ride coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios via WDWNT. Per their sources, the attraction would be a trackless dark ride built in a giant warehouse with projection and screen surfaces, and little to no physical props. Instead, would screen and projection technology would be utilized, allowing the theme of the entire ride to be changed in just weeks, if not days.

No location is indicated for the rumored black box dark ride, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has plenty of potential options. Animation Courtyard seems like a logical choice, especially with Voyage of the Little Mermaid really showing its age and Star Wars Launch Bay about to become superfluous.

While we can’t judge the veracity of this particular rumor, the core concept is highly plausible. By almost every internal metric, the re-imagining of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout was a success.

The project turnaround time, thematic differences from its predecessor, and guest response to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout all earn it high marks. I was (and remain) critical of the attraction in several regards, but what was accomplished in a relatively short timeframe is undeniably impressive.

Shortly after that, we heard that this would be a new template for a line of future Disney attractions: “blank slate” rides that could have their theme, storyline, etc., all swapped out with minimal downtime. The pitch is that these offer endless flexibility, and could be totally changed or refreshed for new movies, sequels, holidays, and so forth.

If used in moderation, I think such a dynamic type of attraction holds a lot of potential. My trepidation is that in reality, such rides would become redundant, feeling like rehashes of one another. I already worry that Imagineering is starting to lean too heavily on projection mapping, screens, and other tech-heavy effects.

I have no such problem with screens when they are the best option for a particular attraction. However, their overuse is concerning, and too often it seems like the tail is wagging the dog when it comes to the integration of technology in theme park attractions.

Other theme parks already utilize VR to accomplish this type of thing. One of my favorite rides at Universal Studios Japan, Space Fantasy, is regularly replaced with seasonal VR roller coasters that have ranged from pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu to the Final Fantasy series. (They’re neat, but I’d personally prefer the regular Space Fantasy coaster, which has cool physical sets.)

My other concern is that these blank slate attractions are a great idea in theory, but past precedent has demonstrated that even high-tech attractions that can be frequently updated seldom are. The ease of making regular updates and doing overlays were touted for both Star Tours and Toy Story Mania when both originally opened. With the former, it took over two decades for a second version, and the latter has yet to see any material changes to its gameplay.

This type of blank slate attraction necessarily would require thematic compromises in order to fulfill its goal of being readily swapped out for a new concept, and I’m perfectly willing to accept some degree of compromise if it means a “new” ride on every year or two. If the reality is likely a heavily compromised ride that seldom changes, I’m far less likely to jump on board.

A less exciting rumor comes via WDWMagic.com, which is reporting that Bongos Cuban Cafe at Disney Springs will be closing later this year. Workers at Bongo’s Cuban Cafe have been told that the restaurant will be closing later this year.

The restaurant is expected to be relocated to Margaritaville Resort, and reimagined there as Estefan Kitchen in Fall 2019. Previous rumors pointed to the restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You replacing Bongos with their Beatrix Market concept. It’s unclear whether that remains the case, or if the location will be totally redeveloped.

This comes as little surprise. Bongos was one of the final dining holdouts from the Downtown Disney days, with only a handful of other dining options remaining of that era. With Disney Springs drawing more and more visitors and becoming a culinary hotspot, there should be no issue attracting a new tenant (or, hopefully, an original concept). We’d expect an official announcement about Bongos departure and a simultaneous replacement concept in the very near future.

Finally, another rumor via WDWNT about the exhibits that will be in the upcoming Play Pavilion in Epcot. In our commentary to the Play Pavilion announcement, we speculated that this would be similar to Innoventions. If the rumored exhibit lineup is any indication, that’s a pretty accurate assessment.

Per their reporting, Animation Academy will return in an interactive experience hosted by Edna Mode from the Incredibles. Guests will be able to learn how to draw Disney characters in this relocated experience that was once offered in the Magic of Disney Animation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (More recently, this has been done at Epcot’s Festival of the Arts.)

Nick and Judy Hopps from Zootopia will host an interactive game called “Hotel Heist.” Expect this to be akin to similar games that were once available in Innoventions.

There will be a stage in the center of the circular pavilion where short performances will be held. We are hoping against hope that Baymax Super Exercise Expo (sponsored, ironically enough, by Pepsi) will be cloned from Shanghai Disneyland. Not because it’s particularly good, but it’s amusing.

Character meet and greets for Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope, Joy and Sadness, and Baymax are also likely to be relocated from around Epcot to a more permanent location in the Play Pavilion. There should also be a Wreck-It Ralph arcade, and a play area for toddlers.

The most disappointing part of this rumor is that there are no plans to use the large show buildings that were previously come to Body Wars and Cranium Command. Although Body Wars was largely dismantled and gutted for Star Tours: the Adventures Continue testing, Cranium Command is still back there and rumors point to it being mostly intact (sans the recently stolen Buzzy). It would’ve been great to have seen some money invested in this for a bona-fide attraction, instead of just what sounds like a bunch of relocated Innoventions exhibits.

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of these rumors? Surprised by the exhibits slated for the Play Pavilion at Epcot? Think the ‘blank slate’ dark ride concept could work if not overused? Interested in customizing your own MagicBand? Any questions we can 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!


31 Responses to “WDW News & Rumors: Inside Epcot’s Play Pavilion, Blank Slate Dark Ride, and More!”
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