Tropical Americas Land at Animal Kingdom: Imagineering Progress & Permits

Imagineering has shared progress they’ve made to create an authentic Tropical Americas expansion of Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. This covers details about the potential Indiana Jones, Encanto, and maybe Coco land slated to replace Dino-Rama and the latest developments. (Updated July 2, 2024.)

For those who haven’t been following along closely, Tropical Americas is the Animal Kingdom that has been teased in various incarnations a couple of times. These blue sky daydreaming sessions have confused many Walt Disney World fans, but plans are starting to firm up in terms of what Tropical Americas is and isn’t.

During the last Chapek-era D23 Expo in California, Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro talked about the “what if” possibilities for Animal Kingdom, and showed off concept art for a Moana area to replace Dino-Rama and a Zootopia land beyond that. That’s what this Dino-Rama replacement is NOT–there’s no Moana, and Zootopia has been relegated to replacing the “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” 3D show inside the Tree of Life (this is official, albeit with only one piece of concept art and no closing/opening date/timeframe for the project).

Fast forward one year, and both Disney and Imagineering are ‘Under New Management’ of the Bob Iger (take 2) regime. D’Amaro again takes the stage at Destination D23 in Florida, but this time alongside newly-returned head Imagineer Bruce Vaughn. During this, they engaged in another blue sky session, but also made official announcements.

Walt Disney World confirmed that Imagineering will transform this into a new land inspired by a region sometimes referred to as “Tropical Americas.” As part of their research, Imagineers are looking at some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet in the regions just north and south of the equator in the Western Hemisphere–the northern part of South America, stretching up into Central America.

Tropical Americas will feature “authentic experiences” from this area of the world, with placemaking and storytelling you’d expect from Animal Kingdom. “It’s a beautiful region to explore and has been the inspiration for so many magical stories over the years,” added Vaughn. We can only assume this means that Tropical Americas will feature capybara and chupacabra, both of which are definitely real animals and not at all made up freaks of nature.

Vaughn also indicated that Imagineering had considered several options for Dino-Rama and Tropical Americas, but that Encanto and Indiana Jones “rose to the top” because they give Imagineering “so much to play with.” Vaughn also indicated that there’s “a long way to go and a lot more to discover, but our team in Florida is all over it.”

All of that suggests Tropical Americas featuring Encanto and Indiana Jones is the plan for Dino-Rama. Coco also seems to maybe have a place in Tropical Americas, with a carousel replacing TriceraTop Spin, restaurant replacing Restaurantosaurus, and courtyard architecture reminiscent of Santa Cecilia. Beyond the concept art above, I saw concept art reflecting the latter during a recent visit to Imagineering.

At the time of Destination D23, we were told by credible sources that this is what’s happening. That it’s pretty much a done deal, but Disney just isn’t ready to confirm it really-for-real for a variety of reasons. With that said, even some official announcements from the 2017 and 2019 D23 Expos didn’t come to fruition, so nothing is truly a “done deal” until you’re stepping foot in it.

Fast-forward to Spring 2024, when Walt Disney Imagineering filed a 25-page package of new permits with the South Florida Water Management District for Animal Kingdom, suggesting that major expansion is slated to start soon on Tropical Americas.

You can read that post for full details, but in a nutshell, the permit outlines a plan to create a Walt Disney Imagineering staging area behind Kali River Rapids. This is NOT where construction will occur. Rather, it’s essentially a trailer park for on-site Imagineers that will include 5 temporary office buildings, plus 363 parking spaces and a new sidewalk with crosswalks down the entire stretch of roadway from the Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) trailer park to behind Dino-Rama.

The permit lists this as being for “Project RO” and the proposal itself for the “Project RO Trailer Compound” (or ROTC). It does not mention Tropical Americas or Dino-Rama, but between the sidewalk leading to the project site and prior announcements, the permit’s purpose is patently obvious. Tropical Americas is being led in-house by a Florida-based team of Imagineers, which makes sense and is a good thing for a number of reasons.

July 2, 2024 Update: In another sign that substantive work is imminent, Imagineering has filed another construction permit to set the stage for work on the Tropical Americas expansion at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Today, WDI filed another Notice of Commencement for the installation of more trailers in the backstage compound behind Kali River Rapids.

This is the second of such Notice of Commencements for backstage support on the Tropical Americas expansion, with both being assigned to Modular Building Systems International, LLC. This follows the above package of permits being approved by the South Florida Water Management District at the end of May, which laid the groundwork for WDI to proceed with the project.

The completed water management permit package is valid for 5 years–until May 22, 2029–which is hopefully enough time to complete this project…and whatever else Imagineering is cooking up for Animal Kingdom. The latest permits filed today are essentially more of the same–for the actual installation of the team trailers at the new Imagineering project compound outside Animal Kingdom.

It’s worth noting that the permits in question all pertain to the project team trailer park complex outside the actual area of construction for Tropical Americas. The work itself will require additional permits, and the filing of the first of those will be another major milestone signaling that construction is about to begin in earnest. We’re expecting those later this summer, as Imagineering is wasting no time getting to work on this project now that the Burbank “money spigot” has been opened.

A major unveiling is likely at the D23 Expo in August 2024, followed shortly thereafter by construction and closures around the time of the start of Disney’s new fiscal year. In short, the date to watch for the start of visible in-park construction at Animal Kingdom is around October 1, 2024. Here’s hoping work starts as close to that date as possible, and doesn’t slip into 2025.

In addition to this, the Walt Disney Imagineering project team for Tropical Americas recently took a research trip to the Yucatán Peninsula for culturally authentic inspiration. This is one of the many locales that’ll be highlighted in Tropical Americas, coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The above video shares a first look at progress on developing the land, including glimpses of 3D models and the art, architecture, archeology, and culture of the Maya civilization. Obviously the model is the big thing, but perhaps equally as notable is that they’re still using the same concept art as was released at last year’s Destination D23.

I’m not going to rehash my commentary from the original announcement at last year’s Destination D23, much of which focused on why Animal Kingdom is Disney’s top priority right now. That’s worth reading if you question the decision to move forward with expansion at Animal Kingdom as opposed to Beyond Big Thunder at Magic Kingdom or potential projects at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.

As also mentioned there, I love the idea of reimagining DINOSAUR into Indiana Jones Adventure (IJA). Both attractions use the exact same ride system and even a very similar track layout. Despite this, Indiana Jones Adventure is substantially superior–it’s a top 5 ride at Disneyland, which is really saying something given the wealth of great attractions there. (I’d put it roughly on par with Radiator Springs Racers, another ‘wish list’ ride for Florida fans.)

There’s also a version of Indiana Jones Adventure at Tokyo DisneySea (TDS), which is notable because it’s set in the Lost River Delta port-of-call that’s themed to a rainforest in Central America. That’s closer thematically to Tropical Americas than the Adventureland version of the ride, and the Indiana Jones Adventure queue at Tokyo DisneySea has more real world grittiness of an ancient Aztec pyramid. In fact, footage from the Imagineering research trip reminded me a lot of IJA at TDS.

I’d also expect Indiana Jones Adventure at Animal Kingdom to be more like the Tokyo DisneySea incarnation since the latter was a clone that iterated on issues with the original and streamlined the ride. Meaning that it dropped frequently-broken effects and some of the ‘big swings’ from the original in favor of something more reliable.

I’d expect Indiana Jones Adventure at Animal Kingdom to have its own unique twists, figuratively, as more new effects and tech are introduced given that this version will come over 20 years after the last one and ~30 years after the original. (Fear not, non-believers–this ride is timeless and still feels innovative.)

My dream approach involves Imagineering opting to make the most significant changes in the queue, creating a temple on par with the Tokyo DisneySea version of Indiana Jones Adventure. In the actual ride-through portion, I’d love to see dinosaurs and Indiana Jones live together in delightful harmony (well, plus the inevitable conflict of the attraction).

It would be truly tragic if dinosaurs go extinct at Walt Disney World with Tropical Americas. It’s wild to think that the awesomest animals of all-time went from having an awful land (Dino-Rama) and unpopular ride at EPCOT (Universe of Energy) and Imagineering might not recycle any of that. Maybe it’s time for a live action remake of The Good Dinosaur?!?

One way or another, Walt Disney World needs dinosaurs. Universal is about to have two dinosaur-adjacent lands (Jurassic Park and How to Train Your Dragon – Isle of Berk), which should be a wake-up call for Disney. With that kind of cornering of the large lizard market, maybe all the critics are actually right and Universal will eat Disney’s lunch (figuratively).

Ultimately, we’re pleased that Walt Disney Imagineering has pulled back the curtain a little more on Tropical Americas with a look at their research trip to prepare for the Dino-Rama replacement. While we had hoped for a splashier reveal and Indiana Jones Adventure confirmation (and concept art) during the annual shareholders meeting, it’s still good to see progress.

At this point, we assume that the big reveal will occur during the D23 Expo in August. As that’s shaping up to be a jam-packed Parks Panel–and a Dino-Rama replacement has been teased at the last two tentpole D23 presentations–it would’ve been nice to see the substance of this unveiled prior to then. Then again, I’ll happily take an announcement and concept art then along with a line that “site work is already underway.” That also would be a nice change of pace from the past, when D23 announcements were made and then there weren’t shovels in the ground for another 6+ months.

Either way, it’s going to be a very busy D23 Expo if even half the rumored projects that Imagineering is working on end up being announced. Seriously, there’s a lot on the horizon for Walt Disney World and Disneyland; if all goes right, the next decade is going to be a lot of fun to watch. It’ll be an interesting saga to follow–we’ll keep you posted!

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Your Thoughts

Excited that Imagineering is actively working on Tropical Americas and it’s not just going to be an Encanto and Indiana Jones IP land but will also offer cultural authenticity? Are you optimistic that this will usher in an era of expansion at Walt Disney World? What do you think of the Tropical Americas expansion announced for Animal Kingdom? Excited or underwhelmed by the (possible) plan? Or, are you in wait and see mode with this? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

39 Responses to “Tropical Americas Land at Animal Kingdom: Imagineering Progress & Permits”
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