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Is Something Afoot in Florida?

Spaceship Earth

More accurately – “Something is afoot in Florida, what is it?” A warning – this is all complete speculation and hearsay, but it’s fun so get over it.

Two weeks ago the heavy hitters of the theme park industry convened on Orlando for the IAAPA 2007 conference and trade show. Many of Disney’s Imagineering brain trust made the trip, and took the opportunity to tour Disney’s Orlando properties with a fine toothed comb and give some thought to the next wave of new attractions for Walt Disney World. Aside from Toy Story Mania! there are currently no major future attractions announced for the Florida property, and if WDW is to keep up with the multi-billion dollar expansion plans for California and get something ready for the resort’s 40th anniversary in 2011 it’s time to start thinking about these things.

Reports from the last few weeks place Disney CEO Bob Iger in the parks, as well as Imagineering honcho John Lasseter and Imagineers such as Tom Fitzgerald and Joe Rohde. Aside from the requisite wining and dining, these executives were said to be mulling over various proposals that have been made for Walt Disney World’s next wave of expansion. While public announcements are ostensibly a long way off, decisions are being made now for where development funds are going to be allocated and which projects are going to start clawing their way toward the coveted greenlight.

So what is on the way? No one, even the Imagineers on the projects, probably know for sure – but there are a few clues. Respected posters on prominent Disney message boards have reported that a great deal of attention is being paid to the Japan pavilion at EPCOT Center. Imagineers have been sniffing around, and something is said to be in the works. Exactly what is unknown, but it’s said to differ slightly from previous proposals.

Long-time EPCOT obsessives will no doubt know that this pavilion has come painfully close to actually having an attraction several times over the years. Plans from the 1970’s included a travelogue film delivered via a simulated trip on a bullet train; by the time of the park’s opening a show entitled Meet the World was being created for the pavilion. This attraction, something of a Japanese Carousel of Progress, was designed and the ride building was actually built behind the castle gates at the rear of the pavilion, but in 1983 the attraction was diverted to the new Tokyo Disneyland park and the empty ride building has been a warehouse ever since. Later, during Eisner’s “Disney Decade”, the pavilion was supposed to receive a “Mount Fuji” themed roller coaster, but this too went unrealized.

In recent years there’s been a constant rumor that a certain faction at WDI wants to remedy some of the errors of the past and build up World Showcase’s skyline so as to block out certain outside visual intrusions. Mount Fuji would obviously help in this, and indeed it seems to be the centerpiece of most of the new rumors. Hopefully WDI has some elaboration on this concept up its sleeve, as Fuji (along with a proposed Swiss Pavilion and its Matterhorn coaster) was intended as an east-coast Matterhorn substitute, a position which has since been taken by Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. Strangely enough, Everest impresario Joe Rohde is said to have a hand in this new Japanese project.

The point of all this is that public announcements are a long way off, but funding decisions aren’t and at least management is thinking about these things. The acknowledgment that World Showcase desperately is in need of something new is much appreciated, even if it is all hearsay. Let’s hope WDI is as up on this as rumor holds, and that further leaks aren’t far away. And maybe we’ll just hear something about Imagination 4.0, while we’re at it…

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