We have an official opening date for Pandora: World of Avatar, an opening year for Star Wars Land, and a likely soft opening date for Rivers of Light. (No, for real this time!) We’ll cover all of this and some commentary in today’s post.
The opening date for Pandora: World of Avatar is May 27, 2017, which is not what we were opening or predicting. However, with a Memorial Day weekend official opening, it is likely that we will see at least a few weeks of soft openings beforehand.
In fact, given how complex the land itself is, with Cast Members stationed around various points offering guests information about plant-life and environmental details (some Cast Members are also expected to know bits of the Na’vi language to share with guests) and how high expectations are for things to run smoothly, we would expect a longer soft opening phase rather than a shorter one to iron things out. I don’t think an event on Earth Day is out of the question, but I would not expect it to include any publicized mention of Pandora. Disney likes to pretend new offerings are not open–even as people enter them–until they officially open.
That brings us to Rivers of Light. Last night, there was a private event at Animal Kingdom for something called “SMMC,” which is not a cool secret society like the acronym might suggest. During this, Rivers of Light was shown. There were no technical issues and a few minutes had been trimmed since the Cast Member preview last month, suggesting that test and adjust on the show is complete and it is ready to go.
More importantly (for the sake of its imminent debut), Cast Members are scheduled for the Rivers of Light theater this weekend. This amphitheater is not currently being used, so unless there’s an epic new projection show about Duffy slaying Maleficent’s dragon form (I’d watch that), it stands to reason that Rivers of Light is about to debut. Now, we have zero inside information on this, but Disney does not tend to staff empty theaters, so draw your own conclusions…
Again, I would not expect any official word from Walt Disney World on Rivers of Light. We are close enough to May at this point that it wouldn’t shock me to see Rivers of Light receive a few months of ‘technical rehearsals’ with an official opening May 27, 2016. That way, all of this can be bundled together as a huge relaunch of Animal Kingdom.
February 10, 2017 Update: Walt Disney World has confirmed that Rivers of Light will debut tonight. FastPass+ is currently available, so act fast if you’re in the park today!
On the Star Wars Land front, Bob Iger announced yesterday during Disney’s earnings call that the still-unnamed Star Wars Lands will open at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 2019. We previously reported that construction on Disneyland’s Star Wars Land is significantly ahead of Walt Disney World’s, which is no brilliant insight–it’s obvious to anyone with eyes.
We also indicated there was an internal target opening of Christmas 2018 for Disneyland’s Star Wars Land. It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything on that, but that could still be the target soft opening (to absorb holiday crowds) with early 2019 being the official date.
Alternatively, both could officially open in late 2019 (with a long soft opening for Disneyland’s in advance of that), which I suspect would have to be the timeframe if both are to open simultaneously. Before this announcement, my guess was that Star Wars Land for Walt Disney World would slip into 2020. Unless they pick up the pace of construction significantly, it’s going to be tough to make that 2019 opening date in Florida.
There’s still no opening date or even a target year for Toy Story Land. However, if Star Wars Land is coming in 2019, it stands to reason that Toy Story Land will open in 2018. Honestly, and I think I’ve written this before, Toy Story Land could open at the end of this year if Disney moved quickly on it. I doubt that will occur, and I’d instead predict Memorial Day 2018 as the target (and likely) opening date for Toy Story Land.
When I’ve written about Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land here in the past year-plus, I’ve noticed there’s about as much excitement for each of these lands. My advice to Toy Story fans would be this: lower your expectations. Toy Story Land will be a good addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the sense that it diversifies the attraction lineup, but it is not going to ‘wow’ anyone.
It’s different than the Toy Story Lands at Walt Disney Studios Park (in Paris) and Hong Kong Disneyland, but the idea is the same. Both of those lands are ‘dressed-up’ areas with pretty basic amusement park (not theme park) rides. The Toy Story overlays to these rides are neat, but I know of no one who has experienced these lands who has been blown away by them.
On the other hand, everything I’m hearing about Star Wars Land and Pandora indicates they will be mind-blowing, with next-level attractions and environments that will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I know some people “don’t care about Star Wars” so they aren’t interested in this land, which is pretty much the widespread reaction to Pandora: World of Avatar. How many of you care about Song of the South? Do your kids binge-watch The Twilight Zone or even know what an “Aerosmith” is? Yet, Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster are all immensely popular with guests of all ages.
The best example for me, though, is Harry Potter. I haven’t read any of the books (and couldn’t even get through the first few movies), and aside from knowing it’s some sort of version of London in the “Upside Down,” I haven’t a clue what’s going on in Diagon Alley (or maybe that’s Hogsmeade? I don’t know–or care). Yet, I love that area and both Harry Potter attractions, because they are amazingly well done. Likewise, I’ve never been to Morocco, yet it’s one of my favorite World Showcase pavilions.
The point with all of this is that ‘quality will out.’ Just because you don’t care about the source material does not mean you won’t care about the theme park land or attraction. They are two totally different things. This is especially true with Pandora: World of Avatar, based upon an insanely-popular film that hasn’t really entered the pop culture zeitgeist. (I don’t care about this movie or its sequels at all, but I’m incredibly excited for the land.) Conversely, in the case of Toy Story, just because you do care about the source material doesn’t mean you’ll love the land. In any case, after a stretch of primarily focusing on the international parks and years of development, it’s exciting to finally see a big project coming to fruition at Walt Disney World.