D23 Expo: Disney confirms slew of major attractions coming to WDW

By Ashley Carter and Scott Fais, Attractions Insider
Last Updated: Friday, August 11, 2017, 3:53 PM EDT

Disney officials at the D23 Expo parks and resorts presentation Saturday confirmed a dozen changes and additions coming to Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line in Florida.

Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek shared new details about what guests can expect, which were met with cheers and applause from a crowd of almost 7,000 fans inside the Anaheim Convention Center hall.

A majority of the announcements were for attractions coming to the Orlando-area resort.  Here’s a look at what you can expect at Walt Disney World:

Disney's Hollywood Studios

First up, Disney revealed that the official name for Star Wars land will be Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Construction is underway for both lands at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California.

The area will bring back the REX robot character from Star Tours. Once employed as a former pilot in the attraction, the animatronic Rex will now be in the DJ in the Cantina. Astromech BB-8 will also be in Galaxy's Edge, which is set to open first in Anaheim in 2019.  A Disney press release hints the Orlando version of Galaxy's Edge will also debut after the west coast version, later in 2019.

What’s called the first Mickey Mouse-themed ride ever was also announced for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” will take guests through what’s described as a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon, known as an “animated short.”  The indoor environment for the new ride comes from the Emmy Award-winning cartoon on the Disney Channel.  To make way for the new ride, the Great Movie Ride will close on August 13th.  The Chinese Theatre themed building is expected to stay.  The opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be announced at a later date.

Speaking of Hollywood Studios, guests will be able to visit Toy Story Land next summer. The park’s new addition will feature two new rides, including a family roller coaster themed to the toy Slinky Dog.  Unlike a traditional roller coaster with a tall lift hill, the new ride from Germany’s Mack Rides will feature launch zones, where the coaster train will accelerate rapidly.  A seconding spinning ride themed to the “Little Green Men.”

Magic Kingdom

One of the biggest anticipated announcements by fans before Saturday night’s parks panel was speculation a Tron ride was coming to the Magic Kingdom. On Saturday, Disney confirmed that the attraction is coming to the park and will be built in Tomorrowland, behind Space Mountain's exit route. An artist rendering shows the Tomorrowland Speedway will remain at the park, with the new Tron ride being placed just beyond the current boundary of Tomorrowland. 

Chairman Bob Chapek said on Saturday that the Tron roller coaster is the highest rated attraction at the new Shanghai Disneyland park. The coaster operating in China features seating placing riders on a simulated high-speed bike, much like a motorcycle.  To visualize the seating formation, the Dutch manufacturer placed several photos on their web site.

Tron won’t be the first Vekoma installation at Walt Disney World.  The company also fabricated the Expedition Everest roller coaster at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom.

Tron’s opening date is to be determined. 

Main Street USA will also get a new resident.  A new live Entertainment theater will be based on the 1920’s Willis Theater located in Kansas City, a former home of Walt Disney.  A similar venue at Disney’s California Adventure stages Broadway-quality productions.  The Hyperion Theatre played host to “Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” for a dozen years before the curtain dropped for “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.”  An opening show for Orlando’s new theater will be announced at a later date.

Epcot

It's Epcot that will see the biggest changes.

Although low on details, Chapek said Future World will get a facelift.  An artist rendering shown only in the D23 presentation shows the addition of trees to Future World’s center courtyard, new water features, and several new modern-looking buildings near the monorail beam.  

With the facelift comes the promise of a new attraction. A “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride will replace Ellen’s Energy Adventure. Very few details were released about the ride. However, Disney officials did share how the ride is connected to the park: The backstory goes that Peter Quill (Star Lord) visited Epcot when he was a kid. A picture was shared as “proof.” Meanwhile, Ellen’s Energy Adventure will close Aug. 13.  Guardians of the Galaxy is expected to open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.

Permits filed with the South Florida Water Management show Disney Imagineers will need to build a new structure to hold the new attraction behind the existing Universe of Energy building.

Next door, Mission Space will see minor changes.  A new storyline and video will soon begin playing during non-spinning “green” missions.  Chapek said Epcot needs more family attractions.  A Disney press release says “younger cadets” can now join the adventure.  The new video will feature what can be compared to what astronauts see when they fly over earth in the International Space Station.  Mission Space reopens in August.

The area next to Mission Space will eventually be home to a new restaurant.  The table-service venue will feature an interior that will put diners in a simulated space station.  Views out the window will feature spans of the galaxy.  The new restaurant will be managed by the Patina Restaurant Group.  Already, Patina operates the restaurants in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion, along with Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs.
An opening date was not released.

Speaking of the World Showcase, a new attraction is headed to the France pavilion. Ratatouille will join other rides such as Frozen Ever After at Norway and Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros in Mexico. In the new ride, guest will "shrink" to the size of Remy in a chase through a kitchen.  The ride is patterned after the number one attraction at Disneyland Paris.  Ratatouille is expected to open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.

A new movie will debut in the China pavilion. Disney said its working on new camera technology for what is called a “seamless” movie to replace the older “Circle Vision” film.

Transportation

To help guest easily travel between all the new offerings at Epcot and Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks confirmed they're working a new transportation system. Disney "Skyliner," a system of gondolas, will use ski lift-like capsules connected to an overhead cable.  A similar attraction, “Skyway,” operated at the Magic Kingdom until 1999.  The city of London has a new similar transportation system using gondolas to bypass traffic and cross the River Thames.  Click here to watch the video

The new Skyliner will connect Epcot and Disney's Hollywodd Studios to Disney's Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach Resort and an entirely new hotel. 

Also new, a valet van service. "Minnie Van" service will begin later this month. For visitors who want to squeeze every moment out of their day, what's described as "point-to-point" transportation service will take visitors around Disney property without waiting for busses, monorails, ferry boats, or the Skyliner. Visitors can summon a Minnie Van ride using a smart phone. A Disney cast member will then pick them up. No word on the cost for the service or operating hours. 

New Resorts

The 15th Disney Vacation Club property is planned to tower next to the Caribbean Beach Resort. The new Disney's Riviera Resort is slated to be tall enough for a new rooftop restaurant that will provide views of fireworks at Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Riviera Resort will be on the Skyliner gondola route.

For the Star Wars fans, Disney revealed Saturday night they are in fact, working on a “Star Wars” themed hotel. The resort will be an immersive experience, the company said, with storylines for guests and windows that show "space." Disney is calling it a "360 vacation concept."

The luxury hotel is described as a multi-day adventure. Guests checking in can wear costumes and take part in roleplaying experiences. An opening date and exact location was not disclosed. 

Also announced:

  • Disney Cruise Line will increase its fleet to seven ships by 2023.
  • Over on the West Coast, Disney's California Advenutre will get a major refurbishment, bringing in a Marvel-based land that will feature Spider-Man and an Avengers experience.

The biennial D23 Expo has become a platform for the Disney company to make major announcements. In 2015, Star Wars and Toy Story lands were announced, as well as news about the Star Wars spinoff movie "Rogue One. The three-day expo wraps up Sunday.


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