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Tomorrow’s Windows – Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom

We’ve mentioned already several of the rumors regarding the next few years as Disney ramps up for the Magic Kingdom’s 40th anniversary in 2011. If planning continues along current lines, and management steps up with sufficient funding, the park will finally receive a series of refurbishments that will begin to restore it to its long-lost lustre.

Cindy\'s CastleFirst on our slate are the projects that have been confirmed by Disney – refurbishments of the Country Bear Jamboree and the Hall of Presidents. The Jamboree will go dark this fall for a month in order to upgrade the animatronics and give the entire show a well-deserved technical polish. The Hall of Presidents closure, which also begins this fall, will extend well into next year and result in more sweeping changes. While still unconfirmed by Disney, multiple online and personal sources agree that the rehab will not only result in the addition of a new animatronic Commander-in-Chief but also the installation of an entirely new show. The new show won’t feature a speaking role for the current president, but might possibly add a speech from another prominent founding father.

The next tier of projects are those that I feel will definitely appear in the parks barring any disastrous economic situation or major shift in management. These attractions have been confirmed by multiple sources and are generally agreed to be “in the pipeline.” While we know that even solid plans can change, I would wager that we eventually see these projects come to light.

The first of the projects pending announcement is a rehab of the Carousel of Progress. Much like the looming upgrades to the two previously mentioned shows, this rehab would bring new animatronics to the venerable Carousel theatre as well as providing a much-needed modernization of the final scene (no more laserdiscs for you, Grandpa!).

Next door to the Carousel, an extended and long-in-the-making refurbishment will be coming to Space Mountain. After a series of structural issues several years ago, Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain underwent a complete track rebuild. The new track, while retaining the original ride’s layout, provided a much smoother and safer ride experience while allowing the addition of new cars with ride-synced musical tracks. It’s long been known that WDI was working to bring these same changes to Florida, but lethargic and tight-fisted Magic Kingdom management have stymied the plans so far. Still, it appears that the rehab will actually happen next year, with a closing date of January 9, 2009, being bandied about by informed sources. Work has already begun in part – Martin Smith has posted pictures showing that marks have been spray-painted onto the track to tell demolition crews where to cut. The scope and length of the rehab still depend on management, who would rather have a short rehab period than a suitable refurbishment, and we might wind up with only rebuilt lift hills instead of an entirely restored attraction.

Across the park in Adventureland, look for The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management to go the way of the dodo. As we’ve mentioned, it’s extremely likely that a new show will be installed here featuring Lilo and Stitch. Some of the concerns I had voiced here were in part answered by a post on WDWMagic.

“Our version would be far more connected to our previous versions with songs from the original (and jokes at the expense of Iago and Zazu) as well as some Elvis added in there. The show would be a little longer, with a little less telling of what is happening and more singing. And yes, the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room song will start the show off as always.”

The final attraction that seems a lock for the Magic Kingdom is a new Fantasyland dark ride based on The Little Mermaid. The ride, originally intended for EuroDisney and then slated for the Magic Kingdom in the 1990′s, has been redesigned from the ground up for installation at California Adventure by 2011. Knowing Disney parks chief Jay Rasulo’s love of cloning attractions, fans quickly began to suspect that the new E-ticket would be bound for Florida’s Magic Kingdom as well. The story has gained credibility, and major rumor sites agree that The Little Mermaid is on its way to Orlando for the resort’s 40th anniversary.

California Adventure\'s Little Mermaid renderingRendering of California Adventure’s planned Little Mermaid attraction

The last tier of rumors are those for which there is very little evidence. Of these, the most definite but also most nebulous concerns an upcoming rehab of Tomorrowland. Designed to right the wrongs of 1994′s unfinished remodel, the overhaul of Tomorrowland would bring the entire land under a unifying theme that would not end at Rockettower Plaza. We’ve mentioned rehabs for Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress, but also look for something new to replace Stitch’s Great Escape when its namesake heads for Adventureland. I haven’t managed to find out what will happen to Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, but it is my fervent and completely baseless hope that it would at the very least be moved to Hollywood Studios if not shuttered entirely. The new theme of the land remains unknown, but I sincerely hope that many messageboard mavens are incorrect in their assumption it will be based around Pixar’s WALL-E. I loved the film, but think that it has obvious and distinct incongruities with the supposed mission of Tomorrowland. Unlike many, I don’t have a problem with a somewhat fantastical look at the future, but WALL-E is no more suitable a model for Tomorrowland than Mad Max or Planet of the Apes.

Last on our list of possibilities for the Kingdom is a rehab of Fantasyland to bring it more in line with its more visually appealing Anaheim cousin. To accompany the Little Mermaid dark ride, Honor at Blue Sky Disney has suggested that plans are afoot for a rollercoaster-based attraction themed to the mine cars from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He also predicts a new attraction based on Beauty and the Beast, although he doesn’t say if this will resemble the BATB show originally designed for EuroDisney.

EPCOT Center

Following a series of additions and changes, Disney has yet to confirm any upcoming attractions for EPCOT. One project, though, is continuing under the radar and without official mention. When Spaceship Earth re-opened late last year it was greeted with a wave of criticism for its lackluster touch-screen finale. The spectacular upgrades to the ride’s first half were often forgotten amongst complaints about the somewhat simplistic narration and anticlimactic descent. Disney and ride sponsor Siemens are well aware of the criticisms and the ride has undergone constant tweaking ever since. Without time to install a new finale before the ride was forced to open for 2007′s holiday season, Imagineering crews have been working third shift to slowly prepare the descent area for new and more engrossing show scenes that will finally give the attraction the finale it deserves.

Spaceship EarthEPCOT thankfully has several attractions that, although unannounced, seem certain to get the greenlight. The most obvious of these is a new film for Soarin’, which has been rumored since well before the attraction even debuted in Florida. LaughingPlace recently confirmed that the process of obtaining permits for the filming had begun.

Last year’s rumors about something being planned for the Japanese Showcase have burbled up again, emerging in some discussion on WDWMagic. While the old Mt. Fuji concept is definitely out, something has taken its place and it has to do with bullet trains. Old EPCOT fans might recall a concept from the mid-1970′s for the Japan pavilion which included a simulated trip aboard a bullet train, during which the train cars would be surrounded by a CircleVision travelogue of Japan. While this original concept is obviously far from what WDI is currently planning, I have strong reason to believe the new attraction at least has roots in this old design.

Japan pavilion bullet train concept, circa 1974Concept for Japan pavilion bullet train attraction, circa 1974

The most anticipated of the upcoming EPCOT attractions is the fourth – and hopefully final – refurbishment of Journey into Imagination. Still trying to atone for the disaster of 1999′s Journey into YOUR Imagination, Imagineers have been putting together an elaborate plan to restore the pavilion to glory. While rumors of this restoration have been around for several years, it seems that we might finally see some movement on the project. As Martin Smith explained on WDWMagic, the process has been long for a reason:

Imag needs a rehab. Budget is a joke. WDI hold back. Imag still needs a rehab. Budget is a joke. Seas needs a rehab too. Seas budget is a joke. Seas borrows Imags refurb budget to supplement its own. Seas needs it. Seas is a success. Dark ride is a winner. Imag sees Seas (!) is a winner. Budget grows for Imag. WDI plus plans on the back of Seas and Mexico dark rides. WDI & Kodak know they need to get Imag v4 right. Imag budget grows some more. Ideas are moved around to make Imag ride v4 the best possible. Things finally fall into place.

While the final scope of the restoration has yet to be decided, it appears that the current designs range at least from “good” to “great” – Disney is putting some effort into this rehab and hopefully the Imagination pavilion will once more be a prime destination in Future World.

Figment flies awayEasy pal – help is on the way

Beyond this, the future of EPCOT resides in the realm of speculation. It’s widely recognized that a replacement for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is needed but plans for that are tied in with the mysteries surrounding the future of the Imagination pavilion as a whole. The former Wonders of Life pavilion has been gutted of its attractions, save for the Body Wars simulators that are still used for spare parts and – allegedly – as a testbed for Star Tours 2 testing. Yet this large, empty space is begging to be filled – it just remains to be seen what WDI will come up with to use it.

Hollywood Studios

The most sweeping changes over the next few years will likely come to this park as the Imagineers try to give it a coherent theme and look, while fleshing out its roster of attractions. As of now the only confirmed project for the Studios is the American Idol Experience which will open next year. Jim Hill recently reported that the opening date of the attraction had been pushed back into the Spring from its scheduled January debut.

American Idol Experience renderingConcept for the upcoming American Idol Experience

For those unenthused about American Idol, there is a roster of attractions that will follow on its heels. A prominent axis of expansion will be Pixar Place, which will first see a new rollercoaster based on Monsters, Inc. Reported widely, including at Blue Sky Disney and Jim Hill Media, the attraction will occupy a replica of the Monsters, Inc. headquarters located in its own “mini-land” of Monstropolis. This addition to the end of Pixar Place might possibly include another, smaller attraction. The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground adjacent to Pixar Place will be rethemed to a bug’s life. The Pixar Place expansions will result in the eventual closing of the Studio Tram Tour (by 2010, says Blue Sky Disney), and eventually Pixar Place will extend across the backlot all the way to World Drive. This expansion, whether a replica of California Adventure’s Carsland (please, no) or another idea entirely, will necessitate the demolition of Catastrophe Canyon.

The other most likely new candidate for Hollywood Studios is Star Tours 2 which, having been hinted at for at least a decade, now seems to be actually gathering real momentum.

There are other, vaguer possibilities for the Studios as well. The eventual scope of Pixar Place’s expansion is unknown, and there still exist real possibilities for another Indiana Jones-themed attraction near the Stunt Show and Star Tours. In addition, Blue Sky Disney has mentioned an upcoming update of the Great Movie Ride and, intriguingly, the possibility of a new E-Ticket “based on a very big film to combat Universal’s opening of Harry Potter.”

Animal Kingdom

Of the four parks, Animal Kingdom is the greatest cipher despite needing the most new attractions. Nothing has been announced concerning future additions, yet only recently did they close the Pocahontas animal show in Camp Minnie-Mickey. Still, it’s known that the park needs greater capacity and there’s still a great deal of unrealized potential in its concept.

Rendering of Mysterious Island, Tokyo DisneySeaWill Mount Prometheus rise at Animal Kingdom?

The most definite idea for Animal Kingdom alluded to recently by those in the know is an expansion based on stories and themes from the works of Jules Verne. This would occupy the niche of “fantastic creatures” once intended for the Beastly Kingdom expansion. Sources are vague, and I would suppose WDI’s plans are very fluid, but common hints allude to two attractions from Tokyo DisneySea’s Mysterious Island area – Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. While it would certainly be a kick to see Mount Prometheus rising from the Florida swamps, part of me would seriously lament the final death-blow to the Beastly Kingdom concept. It’s well known that a great deal of that land’s aesthetic was copied by former Imagineers for Islands of Adventure’s Lost Continent area, but as that segment of the Universal park is now being re-themed to the tales of Harry Potter it would be a great time to see the Dragon’s Tower rise as intended at Animal Kingdom.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Tokyo DisneySeaRendering for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo DisneySea

The only other credible rumor for Animal Kingdom involves the moving of the Festival of the Lion King show from Camp Minnie-Mickey to Africa, as necessitated by the transformation of Camp Minnie-Mickey to a new themed area.

The Fifth Gate

This is where things get dicey. We’ve talked before about what was then rumored to be called “Disney’s Night Kingdom”, a premium-priced adventure experience. I still tend to think this will be more of a premium-priced add-on to Animal Kingdom rather than an official “fifth gate”, but it’s clear the concept persists.

Since the original story dropped, it appears that the concept has been significantly scaled down. Currently called either “Disney’s Animal Trek” (according to Blue Sky Disney) or “Disney’s Jungle Trek” (according to Jim Hill Media), the experience will now operate during the day and will offer less exclusive amenities while retaining the exclusive price tag. I’ve no idea what’s really up with this project, but it’s clear there’s some “there” there, regardless of its eventual scope.

Next stop, Anaheim…

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6 comments to Tomorrow’s Windows – Walt Disney World

  • Zach

    Great and exhaustive roundup. Seems unlikely that even in a three year span this many projects could go forward, but it is always fun to jump around in the rumor mill.

  • Thanks very much! I feel the same way – that’s it’s an awful lot when you stand back and look at it. I was thinking as I wrote it about how many “definite” projects in the past have petered out at the last minute and that definitely puts it in perspective.

    Still, from what I know I would put the “definite” list at: Hall of Presidents, Carousel, Space Mtn (although possibly limited in scope), Tiki Room, Mermaid, Imagination, Japan, and Monsters Inc. Even that would be a sizable haul if it pans out.

    I think a few more of these are more “blue-sky” but it seems like we’ll at least be getting something new!

  • Jonny O

    Hello, nice report! Don’t count on Monsters LF going anywhere. Too popular and only open since March of 2007. They have a big investment in an attraction that cycles up to 1600 guests an hour.

  • Thanks! I’m sure you’re right about MILF, of course, but I had to have my wishful thinking. I do think it would make a lot of sense to move it, though, if they build Monstropolis at DHS. I’m not sure how big a price tag such a move would have, but it sure would work out nice thematically at both parks…

  • Brad

    From what I understand, Beastly Kingdom is still on the drawing boards. I’ve heard that Lasseter may be involved with BK. We probably won’t see it for several years though. I’m thinking they may use some of the upcoming animated films in it. It’s possible that they may do Journey before this project.

  • That would certainly be welcome news – I hadn’t considered that WDFA has a number of fantasy-related films on the docket that might fit nicely with a Beastly Kingdom. “Bear and the Bow”, “Kingdom of the Elves”… it could work. I’m sure you’re right in saying it’ll be several years, though.

    What’s confusing about the rather persistent hints at either Journey or 20,000 Leagues is that such an attraction would require its own new “land”, as it wouldn’t fit with any of the existing areas. Creating a new area, perhaps on the site of Camp Minnie-Mickey, would be a sizable investment in its own right and would no doubt require new shops, restaurants, etc. It wouldn’t be as simple as just building the ride itself.

    I hope we see something, and at least have some announcements fairly soon. DAK deserves it…

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