As a self-proclaimed Disney and Disneyland addict, I was very excited to attend the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts panel at the D23 Expo, and the presentation did not disappoint, as a line-up of new attractions and entertainment coming to its theme parks around the world was announced. As Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek gave 7,500 lucky fans, myself included, an exciting behind-the-scenes look at what’s to come, I just kept thinking about when I could plan vacations to each destination to see it all in-person.
Whether it was new attractions or upgrades for Disneyland, Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, Hong Kong Disneyland or the brand new Shanghai Disneyland, it’s clear that Disney takes great care and pays extreme attention to detail, in creating experiences for all of its visitors.
Obviously, the biggest announcement of all was the fact that both Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (where it’s said to be located in the Big Thunder Ranch area, inclusive of some backstage locations) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida will be allowing Star Wars fans to step into the stories from a galaxy far, far away, as they create the largest single-themed land expansion ever.
Here’s what we learned about Star Wars Land:
- At 14 acres each, the Star Wars-themed lands will transport guests to a never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space, where Star Wars characters, both recognizable and new, and their stories come to life.
- Simply setting foot into this new land is going to be amazing and awe-inspiring. Everything will be in story, and each experience will be out of this world. You will be able to experience the action, adventure, mystery, drama and humor that Star Wars is known for, as you are placed directly into the middle of the classic battle between darkness and light.
- These authentic lands will have two signature attractions. Along with an epic Star Wars adventure that puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance, another attraction puts guests behind the controls of one of the most recognizable ships in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon, as they take on a customized secret mission.
- The partnership between Disney and Lucasfilm dates back to 1987, when the popular Star Tours attraction, inspired by George Lucas’s legendary Star Wars film series, opened at Disneyland. The attraction was then redesigned, emerging as “Star Tours – The Adventures Continue” in 2011 and featuring more than 50 different story outcomes and the possibility to visit five different planets. Now, they will be updating it again, with a new world from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where you might even have a chance to meet some new characters.
There will be updates to the live Jedi Training Academy, which is a favorite of younger fans. It will be re-imagined with a new experience that includes new characters and a new villain to battle, from the popular Disney XD series Star Wars Rebels.
- Later this year, Star Wars Launch Bay – located in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and in Tomorrowland at Disneyland – will launch as an interactive experience that takes guests into Episode 7. It will consist of special exhibits with props and artwork and peeks behind-the-scenes, including opportunities to visit with new and favorite Star Wars characters, special merchandise and food offerings. You will also be able to play the latest and coolest new games with custom content only for those locations. It will share the space with the re-imagined Super Hero HQ, featuring opportunities to meet and take photos with the likes of Captain America and Thor, as well as experience the returning Iron Man Tech presented by Stark Industries.
- Beginning in early 2016, Season of the Force will be a new seasonal event that will allow guests to explore the Star Wars galaxy with special entertainment throughout Tomorrowland, with themed food locations and more. Guests also will be able to take an E-ticket thrill ride at Hyperspace Mountain, a re-imagining of the classic Space Mountain attraction, in which guests will join an X-wing Starfighter battle. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests will close out weekend nights with a new fireworks spectacular set to the iconic John Williams score.
Another announcement that debuted to much excitement is the upcoming Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, where guests will be able to travel to infinity and beyond, in an 11-acre land that will transport guests into the adventurous outdoors of Andy’s backyard.
Here’s what we learned about Toy Story Land:
- Inside this area of the park, guests will feel as though they’ve been shrunk to the size of Woody and Buzz, as they are surrounded by oversized toys. It is in this land that you will also be able to meet all of your favorite Toy Story.
- Included are two new attractions, a family-friendly roller coaster that will take guests on a toy-filled adventure, all on the back of Slinky Dog, and an alien saucers attraction where the little green aliens from the movie will pull you around for your own spin on a flying saucer while The Claw looms over you.
- They are also adding an additional third track to Toy Story Mania! to increase capacity for the popular ride that allows guests to take aim at 3D objects in a variety of fast-paced games.
For the big announcement of the expansion of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which includes Pandora – The World of Avatar, they pulled out all the stops and brought out filmmaker James Cameron and producer Jon Landau to share some of the details.
Here’s what we learned about this new highly immersive experience:
- The creation of Pandora has been a collaboration between James Cameron and his production team with the Walt Disney Imagineers. When Cameron first heard the pitch of what Disney was looking to do, he was blown away, as the vision far exceeded expectations.
After the huge success of Avatar, people wanted to be able to go to Pandora themselves, and now they can. The story takes place after the war and humans are being welcomed to Pandora, where guests will be transported into this world. The adventure is yours to have, and even just walking around is fully immersive.
- The E-ticket attraction Avatar Flight of Passage is the centerpiece of Pandora. It will allow guests to soar on a Banshee over a vast alien world via a spectacular flying experience that will give guests a birds-eye view of the world. It will be a flight of passage that will be both physical and demanding, but also scenic and emotional.
- This world also includes floating mountain and a bio-luminescent forest, which will host a water-based ride that is a very fluid, lyrical and romantic journey for the entire family to experience.
- Along with being immersed in the world of Pandora, the entire park will transform after dark, with new nighttime entertainment experiences that offer guests longer days than ever before. Animal Kingdom is built around a value system that celebrates nature itself, but up until now, they’ve only been able to celebrate the half of that story, with what happens in the daylight. Now, they can include a unique experience that captures the spirit that comes out at night.
- The popular Kilimanjaro Safaris that allow guests to travel through the African savanna will be extended for a new nighttime adventure next spring, and two additional species – African wild dogs and hyenas – will be added.
Expected to open in the spring of 2016, “Rivers of Light” will be an innovative experience that combines live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery, taking place over Discovery River. They will use light, water and fire to create a rich and remarkable experience.
Here are some additional details on attractions announced at the panel, that will be popping up in Disney parks around the world:
- Set to open in 2016, Hong Kong Disneyland will debut the Iron Man Experience, which will be the first Marvel attraction at any Disney theme park. Along with having the opportunity to meet and take photos with the superhero himself, guests will be able to go on an epic adventure over the streets and in the sky above Hong Kong. At the new Stark Expo, guests can board the Iron Wing to take flight and battle some new and familiar faces of Hydra, alongside the popular Avenger.
- Epcot is bringing the world of Arendelle to life and will open “Frozen Ever After,” an adventure fit for the entire family. Guests will be transported to the Winter in Summer Celebration, and they will also visit Elsa’s Ice Palace and the ice-blue world of the North Mountain, along with other locations. The Norway Pavilion’s exterior will be expanded to include unique architecture and the “Royal Sommerhus” will provide a setting for guests to meet Elsa and Anna.
Shanghai Disneyland will combine traditional Disney techniques of storytelling while re-imagining many of the attractions to make them authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese. Two of the stand-out highlights are Treasure Cove, which is the first Pirate’s themed land with the centerpiece attraction Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, and the Tron Lightcycle Power Run coaster, one of the fastest rides in any of the parks, which will simulate what it would be like to ride a lightcycle.
- “Soarin’ Around the World” will debut next year at Epcot and Disney California Adventure. This new experience will capture the beauty and magic that the world has to offer, as it flies above some of the most unique natural landscapes and man-made wonders, including Monument Valley and the Great Wall of China.
What all of these exciting announcements demonstrate is how Disney not only wants to grow and expand its theme parks, but also really wants to make sure that there is something for everyone.