Walt Disney World just announced several new additions for Summer 2016, confirming rumors and setting concrete start dates for new attractions and entertainment. Among these are Frozen Ever After, Soarin’ Around the World, and Rivers of Light, among several other pieces of entertainment.
For this post, I’ve gathered all of the announcements to share with you, along with our commentary on the news. We’ll cover what we like, don’t like, and expect from the new summer offerings at Walt Disney World. We’ll also include some speculation concerning info that has yet to be released so you can plan accordingly if you’re taking a trip to Walt Disney World this summer.
Frankly, we didn’t expect a lot out of this summer. Beyond the new nighttime stuff at Animal Kingdom (and there’s some disappointment in store on that front…) and the “re-imagined” rides at Epcot, it didn’t seem like much would be happening at Walt Disney World this summer. To our surprise, when we combed the press releases, there’s actually a decent amount of additions for the summer. Definitely not on par with what should come when Pandora opens next year, or Star Wars Land in 2020(?), but still not too shabby.
There are a few items of interest to me that I thought might be interesting to discuss…
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The big news for the summer concerns Animal Kingdom, both in terms of what is and is not happening. We covered all of the new summer entertainment in depth for our New Nighttime Entertainment at Animal Kingdom post, so I won’t rehash all of that here.
Unfortunately, the big piece of that nighttime entertainment, Rivers of Light, has been delayed. From what we understand, there are serious technical and story issues with the show, causing it to miss its original April 22 premiere. A new date for its debut has not been set, but based on reports about the show, we’d be shocked to see it open before July.
Fortunately, all is not lost. In addition to the other excellent-sounding nighttime entertainment, an interim Jungle Book show will be presented in lieu of Rivers of Light. “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” will be presented for a limited-engagement on Discovery River, and will make use of some of the same tech as Rivers of Light while being inspired by Disney’s hit live-action film The Jungle Book. (Wasn’t its smash success convenient?!) It will also feature Indian-influenced music drawn from the animated classic.
This show should be a cute and visually impressive, especially for something thrown together at the last minute. Word is that it will offer FastPass+, but we wouldn’t recommend using a FastPass+ booking on it until more is known about the show. If it’s shown 3 times nightly (a safe bet), there’s a good possibility you won’t need FastPass+ for the second two shows.
We know–it stinks for anyone going this summer that Rivers of Light may not be shown as previously expected. However, we have to applaud Disney for making the tough decision here to delay Rivers of Light. They could have debuted the show in truncated form or altered it significantly to make the summer debut. The past has demonstrated that when that occurs, usually the underlying problems are never fixed and the truncated form becomes the “regular” show. Instead, they are doing it the right way and fixing the complex show to meet the vision of its creators.
I further applaud the decision to run a temporary Jungle Book show and retain the plan of staying open late this summer. Once the decision was made to delay Rivers of Light, it would’ve been easy to delay all of the nighttime offerings, and cut park hours back to 6 or 7 p.m. as a result. Kudos to Disney for not doing this.
In addition to all of the nighttime offerings, the table service restaurant Tiffins will open Memorial Day weekend for lunch and dinner. Located in Animal Kingdom’s Discovery Island, the interior will be a veritable art gallery from Africa, Asia, and South America, which presumably means it will be a treasure trove of artifacts from the Imagineers’ journeys to those places.
The menu is likewise inspired by the world travels of Joe Rohde and co., with cuisine that offers African, Asian, and South American influences. Reservations will not be available until May 20 at the earliest, so we’re expecting walk-up availability for the first month or so of Tiffins’ operation.
The adjacent Nomad Lounge will also feature waterfront views, while offering small plates and a sustainable drink menu.
One of the main additions to Walt Disney World this summer will be the Frozen Ever After attraction. This, along with the Royal Sommerhaus character location will significantly expand the footprint of the Norway pavilion in World Showcase.
Set to open in June (no specific date has been provided), Frozen Ever After is a boat tour through the kingdom of Arendelle. Guests will be transported to the “Winter in Summer” Celebration created by Queen Elsa’s magical powers. Scenes will include Troll Valley, the icy North Mountain, Queen Elsa’s Ice Palace, and the Bay of Arendelle.
While we remain concerned about the fictional Arendelle represented in World Showcase, we are at least somewhat optimistic that maybe, hopefully the locations depicted will draw inspiration from the real landscape of Norway, and not just depict a CliffNotes retelling of the movie. Walt Disney Imagineers traveled to Norway for architecture and design research, specifically visiting the Detli House in Sverresborg and the Open Air Museum of Cultural History in Trondheim, so there is at least some hope…
The attraction will no doubt be insanely popular regardless due to the continuing draw of Frozen with kids, coupled with the low capacity of the boat attraction. This means you will want to score a FastPass+ for this as soon as they become available, or risk waiting in lines that we anticipate will regularly exceed 120 minutes. In fact, I’d put money on waits eclipsing 180 minutes some days. Prepare to rope drop if you can’t score a FastPass+ for this.
Then there’s the new Royal Sommerhus greeting location, where guests can meet Anna & Elsa. Inspired by a Norwegian countryside cabin, Anna and Elsa have opened their summer home for visitors. No word on whether this will skew towards Enchanted Tales with Belle in being an interactive experience as opposed to a meet & greet, but we expect it to be more traditional (like Princess Fairytale Hall).
Around that same time, on June 17 (the day after it opens in Shanghai Disneyland), Soarin’ Around the World makes its debut. Due to the stipulation that the attraction premiere at Shanghai Disneyland, it’s not clear whether Epcot can do soft openings of the attraction (which will be ready well in advance of the June date). My guess is that it cannot, so don’t hold your breath if you’re visiting Walt Disney World before June 17.
Here’s a preview video of what you’ll see on Soarin’ Around the World (SPOILERS):
Among the new locations are China, Swiss Alps, Monument Valley, Egypt, France, Africa, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, and Disneyland. It sounds like the entire globe will have almost as good of a lineup as the state of California! 😉
In addition to the new film, Soarin’ Around the World at Epcot will have an additional theater (for a total of 3), which should help alleviate wait times slightly (partially offset by demand). Since both this and Frozen Ever After will presumably be Tier 1 FastPass+ attractions, we would not recommend booking FastPass+ for this unless you can’t score one for Frozen Ever After.
For those waiting in the standby line, good news! There’s also a new interactive queue. (Yay? Uhh…) This new queue will be interesting; the Imagineers have plenty of unused space that they could utilize, as the old Food Rocks attraction was (partially) still behind the old queue walls.
Finally, in early May, Dory, Squirt, Nemo, Marlin, Destiny the whale shark, Bailey the beluga whale, and Hank the “septopus,” plus other characters from the new film Finding Dory will join Crush in Epcot’s Turtle Talk With Crush attraction.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
It’s all about Star Wars this summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Starting this June, the new Star Wars fireworks show, “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” debuts. This replaces the current show with something that combines fireworks, pyro-technics, video projections, a fire tower (YES!) and other special effects (hopefully LASERZ!) that will transform Grauman’s Chinese Theater into the twin suns of Tatooine, the Death Star, Starkiller Base, and other Star Wars destinations.
The current Star Wars fireworks show is very solid despite being fairly “basic” in terms of effects, so we are really optimistic about this new show. The new technology being utilized sounds very much like that used in the exceptional Disneyland Forever. That technology plus the scores and visuals from Star Wars should be a killer combination.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the recently-debuted live stage show “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away,” which features characters such as BB-8, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and Darth Maul. We have yet to see this show in person, but reports we’ve heard from friends are that it feels like it was sloppily thrown together and is low quality. That would, sadly, be in keeping with the underwhelming Star Wars Launch Bay that opened during the winter in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
There’s also The March of the First Order Stormtrooper procession led by Captain Phasma from the Star Wars Launch Bay to the park’s Center Stage, which looks cute, but is a minor diversion, at best. Finally, there’s the re-imagined Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple experience that is a nice plussing of the original Jedi Training Academy.
If the fireworks and entertainment listed above aren’t enough to buoy attendance at DHS during its heavy construction, we would not be surprised to see more temporary entertainment added over the summer. Stay tuned on that front.
After several years of receiving the bulk of Walt Disney World’s attention in terms of construction, Magic Kingdom is the quietest this summer. There’s only one addition of consequence, the new stage show “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire.” This all-new live stage show makes its debut in June on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage at Magic Kingdom Park, characters from myriad Disney films.
I’ll be honest: I couldn’t care less about this. I’m just glad Dream Along with Mickey–a show that had played in Magic Kingdom for most of my adult life–is finally gone. I know some people love castle stage shows (and maybe this will be the one to get me “hooked”), but for now, I don’t really care. Standing in the hot Florida sun and humidity for 20 minutes watching the characters dance around carrying on about “magic,” “wishes,” and “dreams” is not my idea of a good time. (I know–I sound like a crotchety old curmudgeon. GET OFF MY LAWN! 😉 )
I think that about covers it for the main additions coming this summer. Expect other openings at Disney Springs, other entertainment here and there, merchandise, and a special edition cupcake or two, as well.
All in all, it’s really not a half bad list, especially considering that the main construction occurring right now is on Pandora: World of Avatar, Star Wars Land, and Toy Story Land. This year is sort of an awkward “transition” year, but even with that, this is probably the biggest year for the parks since New Fantasyland. Beyond that, I think we still haven’t seen the last of the additions for Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. Let’s just hope any other additions are not of the upcharge variety!
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What do you think of the slate of Summer 2016 additions at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of the new offerings? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!