July 16, 2017 – In a news-packed presentation yesterday at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, Disney announced numerous coming changes to its theme parks. The news gushed out so fast and furious that some fans felt like they were trying to drink out of a fire hydrant. Here are the major highlights:
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
What fans and the media have been calling “Star Wars Land” for the last two years now has an official name: “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge“. The name applies to both Star Wars-themed lands at Disneyland (Anaheim) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Orlando).
Disney further stated that California’s version would open first in the summer of 2019. The Florida version will open sometime later in 2019. At 14 acres each, both themed lands will be mainly the same. The most noticeable differences will be in the entrances and transition points at both theme parks.
Unknown is whether future attendees will be calling the themed lands either “Galaxy’s Edge” or “Star Wars Land” for short.
A Star Wars Hotel in Orlando
Disney confirmed what many had been speculating for the last several months: A Star Wars-themed hotel in Orlando will be built overlooking Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The luxury hotel will be an immersive, multi-day experience. Every room will be decorated in an other-worldly style, windows will allow guests to peer into a simulated outer space, and some views will offer vistas overlooking Galaxy’s Edge.
It will be Disney’s “most experiential concept ever,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Guests at the high-dollar hotel in Florida can expect to interact with droid servants and, of course, grab a bite or drink at the alien cantina.
“Tron” Ride, “Guardians of the Galaxy” Ride, “Ratatouille” Ride, and Other Major Additions in Orlando, Florida
At Magic Kingdom, a “Tron” ride will be installed in new space adjacent to Space Mountain. The company opened the first “Tron Lightcycle Power Run” at Shanghai Disneyland last summer, 2016, and it has become Shanghai Disneyland’s most popular attraction.
Earlier rumors last week that Tron would replace Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Speedway are now debunked. Fans of the gas-powered cars can now breathe a sigh of relief.
Also at Magic Kingdom, a 1920s-style theater will be constructed near the park’s entrance. Whether the theater will host movie screenings, live entertainment or special presentations was not revealed.
At Epcot, two major new attractions will be added: A “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride will replace Ellen’s Energy Adventure (closing August 13th) and a ride based on the movie Ratatouille (2007) will be installed in the French pavilion.
Chapek said the “Guardians” ride will be “rooted in an Epcot story” on the Future World side. The ride will be substantially different from the version at Disneyland, though no details were divulged other than the artist sketches below.
The Universe of Energy attraction first opened with the theme park in 1982. It was replaced in 1996 by its current incarnation, Ellen’s Energy Adventure,
which has four movie segments presenting a storyline with Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Nye, Alex Trebek, dinosaurs and educational matter about energy. After 21 years, however, some of the allusions are outdated and, significantly, the Ellen DeGeneres automaton no longer works.
At Epcot’s France pavilion, a new family-friendly Ratatouille ride will open by 2021. Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, the new attraction will be similar to the version at Disneyland Paris.
Epcot, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this fall, will also feature new films in the China pavilion and a table-service restaurant within Mission: Space. No opening dates were announced.
Meanwhile, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, fans of the current Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction can rest easy. The creepy, literally hair-raising ride will not be rethemed as a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, as happened last year in Anaheim.
However, fans of The Great Movie Ride had better experience it one last time. It closes August 13th. The current 3-year contract between Disney and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the ride sponsor, expires in 2018 and will not be renewed.
Replacing the ride will be an all-new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Inspired by the modern “Disney Shorts” series of Mickey Mouse cartoons, Runaway Railway will have state-of-the-art 3-D effects without the need for guests to wear special glasses.
Here is a 2016 example of a Mickey Mouse short feature:
Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said at D23: “This is not going to be a small attraction. This is going to be game-changing.” The ride will be Mickey Mouse’s first marquee attraction.
Runaway Railway has no announced opening date. However, just steps away, the nearby Toy Story Land will open in summer 2018.
Disney Skyliner (Gondolas), Minnie Vans and More
Disney has finally confirmed the rumored system of gondolas. To be called the Disney Skyliner, the enclosed air-conditioned gondolas will transport guests between Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Art of Animation/Pop Century resorts, and the under-construction Riviera Resort.
Similar to Disney’s fleet of buses, monorail cars, and water taxis (boats), the Disney Skyliner will be free to ride. No opening date yet, but construction is already underway.
Another new transportation option, opening this month, will be the Minnie Van service, offering point-to-point transportation. Disney reportedly wants to compete with the Uber, Lyft and private taxi systems operating on its property.
Next, the D23 presentation announced that planning is underway for Disney Vacation Club’s 15th property: Disney Riviera Resort. Located near Epcot, the latest DVC resort will have 300 accommodations, a rooftop restaurant with views of nighttime shows at Epcot and Hollywood Studios, and a connection to the gondola service, Disney’s Skyliner.
Lastly, Disney Cruise Line is adding three new cruiseliners. It will have a fleet of seven ships by 2023.