My Take On The D23 Expo 2017 Parks & Resorts Panel

OK, folks, it happened–Bob Chapek and a few other people got up in front of a huge audience at the D23 Expo in Anaheim and talked about some of what we can expect for the Disney parks. Some rumors were confirmed, others were disproven, a couple weren’t mentioned at all, and there were a few surprises thrown in as well. While I wasn’t there personally, I did watch a stream of the event as it happened. Additionally, the Disney Parks Blog was posting frequent updates, offering a bit more info on each announcement.

So let’s take a quick look at some of what was presented in the panel (complete with my personal commentary on each).


Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

There had been a lot about the upcoming “Star Wars Land” already at the D23 Expo, with a model of the new area being unveiled and lots of stuff being shown in an booth dedicated to it. So we already knew that it was going to be a big, immersive experience and that everything–from the shops to the restaurants to the characters–would be themed to fit into the world they were creating. Two attractions will be a part of the land, one that takes guests through a Star Destroyer and into a battle between the Resistance and the First Order (which also seems to confirm that the land’s story is set during the new movies) and another that allows guests to fly the Millennium Falcon. This second attraction was described as something like Mission: SPACE in that a group of guests would work together to fly the ship. Unlike the EPCOT attraction, though, you can actually crash the ship (you can’t in Mission: SPACE, I tried).

Supposedly, anything you do in the Star Wars land can have repercussions. Fly a successful mission and creatures in the cantina may show you some respect. Crash the Falcon, though, and you may hear around the cantina that there’s a price on your head. No details were given on exactly how all this would work, though my guess is that MagicBands will be involved.

The biggest announcement in the Parks & Resorts panel was actually the name of this new project: Galaxy’s Edge. While social media seemed split on whether or not this was a good name for the land, personally I really like it. I could see that as a name for some Outer Rim spaceport in the Star Wars universe, and it even evokes the “outer rim” concept as well that plays into many Star Wars stories.

It was also announced earlier that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would be opening in the first half of 2019, and in the Parks & Resorts panel it was added that the one in Disneyland would be opening first. No mention was made on how far after that the Hollywood Studios version would open, they just stated that the two would be staggered.

Personally, I’m super excited for all of this. I’ve dreamed about being in the Star Wars galaxy since I was a child, and it’s looking like Disney is going to finally give me that chance. There’ll probably be more strollers, angry parents, and lines than I had imagined as a kid, but at least there’ll probably also be churros (or whatever they’ll call them in Galaxy’s Edge).

Oh, one last exciting tidbit got announced–Rex, the pilot from the original Star Tours attraction, will be returning! In Galaxy’s Edge he’s a DJ at the local cantina, rather than a pilot, but it’s very cool to see this bit of fan service tossed into the mix.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Though the entire Disney empire was “all started with a mouse” there’s never been a ride actually starring Mickey. That’s going to change, though, at Hollywood Studios. A new attraction called “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” is coming to the park, and will feature Mickey Mouse as well as his friends. Based upon the new cartoons, Mickey and Minnie will start out on a casual drive and end up on an adventure that involves (obviously) a runaway train.

This attraction will be “2.5D” rather than 3D, which was explained to be a new technology that will have flat “cartoons” come to life in a seemingly 3D way without the need for wearing special glasses.

All of this sounds pretty cool, but there is a downside–this new attraction will be taking over the space currently occupied by the Great Movie Ride. That classic will be closing for good on August 13, 2017 to make way for its replacement. While I’ll admit that the Great Movie Ride was showing its age, it’s a bit sad to see the attraction go away completely. I’m also a bit surprised by what the Mickey attraction turned out to actually be. I had thought that it would be something that had to do with Mickey movies (since the park has a cinematic theme and all) and not the cartoons, and shortly before the D23 Expo I had even heard a rumor that it would be a ride featuring scenes from a bunch of Disney animated musicals. Obviously, none of that is true. Still, I’m excited to see this new ride and I’m intrigued by the new technology they’re creating for it. Even if I am a bit sad to say goodbye to the Great Movie Ride.

EPCOT

I literally held my wife’s hand when Bob Chapek said that it was time to talk about EPCOT, I was so concerned about what was to come. As it turns out, I was partially upset and partially excited about what I heard.

First, the stuff that I liked: it’s official that the Ratatouille ride (popular at Disneyland Paris) is coming to the France pavilion in World Showcase. It also sounds like this is going to be in a new part of the pavilion, as there was no mention of the Impressions de France film going away (it’s a fan fave, and I’m guessing a lot of folks would be upset about that if it happened). They talked a bit about wanting to not only highlight the cultures in the countries, but also the stories they’ve inspired. While on the one hand it sounds like an excuse to shove Frozen into Norway, at the same time I sort of get it. If Ratatouille draws a family to the World Showcase, and they get to experience a bit of the “country” in the process, it’s probably a win. Plus, I’ll admit, I’m excited to ride it myself!

They also announced a new movie coming to the China pavilion, using new camera technology (similar to what was used in Soarin’) in a new Circle-Vision 360 presentation. This is pretty cool, as in this case it does retain the original “show the country” aspect of the World Showcase.

Over in Future World, Mission: SPACE will be getting a new mission. The attraction actually closed down recently for renovation, though nobody (outside of Disney) was quite sure what that was going to entail. Well, as it turns out the less intense “green” side will be getting a new mission that’s supposedly meant more for younger guests who want to experience the attraction. Rather than going to Mars, the new mission will send astronauts into orbit around the Earth. They sort of suggested that this was meant for kids, but honestly I’m pretty stoked to try it myself. I’m not good on spin rides, and while I can handle the green side of Mission: SPACE it’s pretty much at the edge of my comfort level (I tried the orange side once, and will never do so again). So an even more gentle mission sounds just about my speed. On the other hand, Mission: SPACE is a really cool attraction and it would be a shame to lose the excitement of the experience for a more family-friendly approach. I guess we’ll see, but as long as the ride lets me pretend to pilot a spaceship and push buttons I think I’m happy.

Speaking of outer space, a new table service restaurant is going in that’s going to be themed like you’re dining far above the Earth. Part of the Mission: SPACE area, the concept art seems to suggest that the establishment is on a space station and windows are looking out to the planet and the stars beyond. No opening date, menu, or anything else was announced. I’m still excited for it, though.

OK, now for the not-so-good: an attraction based on the Guardians of the Galaxy films will be coming to Future World. Replacing Ellen’s Energy Adventure (which will close on August 13, 2017) the new ride will feature characters from the movie franchise. Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald, who was heading up this part of the presentation, did try to say that it will fit within the theme of EPCOT, and even said that part of the ride’s story is that Peter Quill (one of the main characters) went to EPCOT Center when he was a boy and is coming back as an adult. I’m dubious, as I simply don’t see how an action-based comic book movie can possibly fit within the EPCOT themes of inspiration and education. Then again, I have lots of thoughts about those themes and why I think they shouldn’t be messed with (see my recent EPCOT post for more on that). Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but I’ll just go ahead and remain unsure about it until then.

Interestingly, that was pretty much it for EPCOT announcements. They did say that there would be more coming over time, and a lot of rumors were left unresolved (neither confirmed nor denied). It’s been suggested a bunch lately that a new country pavilion, most likely Brazil, would be coming to the World Showcase, and that wasn’t mentioned at all. Neither was anything that had to do with Figment and/or Journey Into Imagination (which is rumored to be replaced with Inside Out). So while these announcements may still come in the future, they weren’t addressed (for better or worse) at this panel.

Tron Coming to Magic Kingdom, And A New Theatre

The big Magic Kingdom announcement was one that has been rumored for a while now: the Tron roller coaster, Shanghai Disneyland’s most popular attraction, will be coming to Walt Disney World! It’s being put in Tomorrowland, and will occupy a new spot next to Space Mountain. Previously, the rumors had suggested that it would be replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway, but this now seems to not be the case.

So here’s the thing: I’m super excited about this. I’ve drooled over photos and videos of the Tron coaster in Shanghai, and was sort of sad that I’d probably never get to ride it. I’m a huge Tron fan, and the fact that I will now get to experience this cool attraction at Walt Disney World very much works for me. I suppose there’s a small nostalgic part of me that laments such a drastic change in Tomorrowland, and wonders how this big and flashy new thing will affect the fun retro-future style there (which very much influenced my personal aesthetic growing up). Though, I also really like high-tech Tron circuitry (which also influenced my personal aesthetic growing up). Ultimately, I’ll get to ride the Tron coaster, and I think that’s really a net win. Plus, I’m happy that they’re still using the Tron franchise at all. Maybe this will pave the way for a new Tron movie!

No release date was given, other than that it will be opening in time for the Walt Disney World 50th anniversary in 2021.

On Main Street USA, a new theater is going to be constructed. Based upon the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City, MO, the building will be based upon how the theater looked in the 1920s when Walt Disney lived there. What will occupy this new theater was not announced, nor was a firm release date (other than “in time for the 50th anniversary” like the Tron coaster).

New Transportation Options

A couple of new Walt Disney World transportation options were unveiled during the presentation.

The first is a gondola-like system, similar to the old Skyway attraction in Magic Kingdom, called the Skyline. Connecting EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Art of Animation, the new system will take guests over the property to their destination. The cars, at least in the concept art, will be decorated with Disney characters. This whole thing sounds really neat to me, and I’m guessing that you’ll get a great view as you travel. I also loved the Skyway, so getting a chance to sort of ride it again is pretty cool. No launch date was given, though I’m guessing it’s a ways off yet. It also adds to the “lots of ways to get around” thing that’s a cool part of staying at Walt Disney World.

The second way to get around the property will be point-to-point vehicles, similar to Uber or Lyft. Called “Minnie Vans”, these will offer guests direct transport from one spot on property to another. The concept shown in the presentation was of a bright pink car with white polka dots. I’ve actually used Lyft on property to get around a few times, so a Disney version seems like a great idea. Though I wonder if they’ll then prohibit other ride-sharing services from operating there.

Also, I love “Minnie Vans”. I dig it when they use puns like that.

New Resorts

The previously rumored Star Wars resort experience is going to become a reality. Guests will stay in a themed resort, and interact with Star Wars characters, and everything they do during their stay will revolve around this theme. The room windows will even “look out” into the stars rather than the Florida sky. The multi-day experience will immerse guests in Star Wars, complete with dressing up in appropriate costumes and “leaving Earth” for a starship resort as the story gets incorporated into every aspect of their stay. There was no word on which resort would be modified to incorporate this, though it’s believed to be one of the deluxe offerings (with a price to match, no doubt). I’m guessing that this whole experience is going to be pretty pricey, though I’m also thinking that I should start saving now because I really want to do it once it becomes a real thing.

Disneyland Paris is getting an overlay to their Hotel New York. Redubbed “Hotel New York-The Art of Marvel” the resort will incorporate characters from the movies and comics. Not much else was explained, though it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an immersive thing like the Star Wars experience at Walt Disney World. Which is kind of too bad–checking into the hotel and becoming a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, teaming up with Marvel heroes for your stay, would be pretty cool.

A new Disney Vacation Club resort was announced for Walt Disney World, called Riviera Resort. Near EPCOT, the new resort will be included in the new Skyline gondola transportation system and will feature a rooftop restaurant that promises to offer great views of nighttime fireworks shows in the park.

Disneyland News

We already knew about the upcoming Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios, and while they showed a bit of video at the presentation they didn’t really offer much by way of new information about it (though there was a cool shot of the Slinky Dog roller coaster track). They did say, though, that the new area will be opening in Summer of 2018!

However, there were a lot of announcements about Pixar coming to Disneyland! One of the biggest announcements was the retheming of Paradise Pier at Disney’s California Adventure. The new “Pixar Pier” will feature attractions based on the studio’s various movie franchises, though whether this means a true renovation of the attractions or just a re-skinning to feature Pixar characters remains to be seen. This will be opening in 2018, to coincide with a new limited-time event dubbed “Pixar Fest”. A new themed fireworks show will be a part of the celebration, as well as the return of the Pixar Play Parade. There will also be other themed events around the parks as a part of Pixar Fest.

Disney’s California Adventure will be getting a lot more Marvel soon, with the announcement that Spider-Man and the Avengers will be coming to the park in a new immersive themed area. That was pretty much the entire announcement, really, with no real details being offered. More information will no doubt get revealed sooner or later, but it didn’t happen today. Also, they didn’t mention where the new area will be located within the park. There’s speculation about it replacing the kid-focused Bug’s Land, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Personally, I’d be a little sad to lose the silly-yet-fun Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train ride if that turns out to be true (I’m maybe half kidding here), but I do think the idea of meeting Spider-Man is pretty cool.

Cars Land will be getting a Halloween makeover this year. The area has previously been decorated for Christmas, but this will be its first Halloween theme. The concept art they showed looked neat, with a big scary face that looked to be made up of hubcap eyes and traffic cone teeth. I love Halloween, so I’m a big fan of more decorations for the holiday.

The popular Paint the Night parade, that had been running at Disneyland prior to the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade, will be moved to Disney’s California Adventure. They also hinted at a new float being added when it starts running there. I loved this parade when I saw it, and I’m glad that it’s going to keep happening. I was sort of hoping that they’d announce it as a new nighttime parade for Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World (or, y’know, announce any new nighttime parade for Magic Kingdom) but if I do get back out to DCA it makes me happy to know that I can see this one again.

Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Cruise Line is adding to their fleet, and while they had previously announced two new ships (bringing the total to six) they now plan to roll out another over the next few years and bring it up to seven. Each ship will have different events and entertainment options, making each Disney Cruise unique. I’ve never done one, though I really want to, and of course more ships will mean more options to choose from. I’d love to think that more ships also means lower rates across the board, but I’ll accept that this is just wishful thinking. Still, I’m hoping to get the chance to do a Disney Cruise someday.


So that’s my basic rundown of what I saw and read during the presentation. A lot of questions were answered, and there’s some exciting stuff coming (as well as some things I’m just not sure about yet). Either way, it seems like the folks at the Disney Parks & Resorts have a lot of new content planned over the next few years and they’ll be bringing a bunch of new experiences to guests at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

 

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