Disney’s latest D23 Expo fan convention wrapped up yesterday with the Disney parks panel as the day’s highlight. Josh D’Amaro, the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, was on hand to discuss a variety of new experiences coming to Disney’s parks and cruise ships around the world, as well as hint at expansions that might be built in a very weird and awkward part of the panel. It was surprisingly short on new announcements, focusing largely on stuff they had already announced, which was a curious choice with Universal deep into construction on a brand new theme park right down the road from Disney World in Florida. There was still a lot of news, though, so let’s recap it all real fast.
Perhaps the biggest news for American park goers was the announcement of a new attraction coming to Avengers Campus. In the new ride at the Marvel-based land at Disney California Adventure, guests will help the Avengers go up against a new existential threat from the multiverse, King Thanos—a Thanos who was successful in wiping out half the population of his home universe. No timeline for the attraction was revealed, but they did release a bit of concept art. If you’re hoping to see something new at Avengers Campus soon, you can count on seeing the Hulk as a walkaround character for the first time starting next week. The big green guy will show up in his “Quantum Suit” from the last Avengers movie.
Sticking to Disney California Adventure, its San Francisco-themed Pacific Wharf area—which is essentially an open-air food court—will be rethemed into San Fransokyo, the futuristic city from Big Hero 6. Baymax, the movie’s lovable medical robot, will be on hand for meet and greets. A piece of concept art showed the walkway to Pacific Wharf reimagined as the movie’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge, with its large torii gates; no word on if it’ll remain a dining area, or what might happen to the Bakery Tour and its delicious Boudin sourdough bread.
D’Amaro also announced timelines for a number of previously announced attractions that are still under construction. The first half of 2023 will see a couple of big projects open to the public, with Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the newly updated Mickey’s Toontown opening at Disneyland early in the year. Meanwhile, TRON / Lightcycle Run, the motorcycle-style coaster coming to the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland at Disney World, is now expected to open in the spring of 2023. The Magic Kingdom will also get a new ghost in its Haunted Mansion, with the Hatbox Ghost animatronic finally getting installed there at some point in 2023.
Plans for EPCOT were hit hard by the pandemic, with a number of the projects announced for the park in 2019 on pause with no updates. Two of the projects that were announced should be open by the end of 2023, though, including the World Celebration festival area that will link Spaceship Earth to the World Showcase. The Journey of Water walkthrough water maze, based on Moana, is also expected to open before the end of 2023. And although there was no news on any potential updates to the long languishing Journey Into Imagination attraction, old-school EPCOT heads will at least be able to meet and greet that ride’s lovable purple dragon, Figment, who will start meeting guests in the park once again at some point next year.
If you’re a fan of Disney’s nighttime shows and fireworks spectaculars, you’ll probably be excited to know that “Happily Ever After” is returning to the Magic Kingdom in 2023—or at least the song is. The announcement and press release are both a little vague, noting that the theme song will be heard once more during an “updated nighttime spectacular” in the Magic Kingdom. Does that mean an updated version of the current show, Disney Enchantment, which hasn’t enchanted fans as much as Happily Ever After did? Or an upgraded version of the original Happily Ever After show itself? Expect more updates and some clarity on this matter in the weeks to come.
Meanwhile, in other, more shocking nighttime show news, EPCOT’s World Showcase Lagoon will get a new show in late 2023 in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary. That’s surprising because the current show, Harmonious, just launched last year to great fanfare, and required installing large barges in the lagoon that are there all day long. Harmonious hasn’t gotten the best reviews, and many have noted that the erector set-looking barges greatly impact the view around the lagoon, so this sounds like a case of Disney listening to its customers—especially if the new show lets them remove those sightline-disrupting eyesores. Disneyland Resort will also get two new nighttime shows in honor of Disney100, both starting in January 2023; World of Color—One will close out the night at Disney California Adventure, while Wondrous Journeys at Disneyland will touch on all 60 full-length animated features the company has made since 1937.
If you’ve ever considered taking a Disney cruise, you’ll have one more option starting in 2024. The Disney Treasure, Disney Cruise Line’s sixth ship, will debut that year, with a theme based around the idea of adventure. Could that mean bars or restaurants based on Pirates of the Caribbean, the Enchanted Tiki Room, or the Society of Explorers and Adventurers? We’ll have to see. As somebody who just did his first Disney cruise earlier this year, I’ve got to say that this news interests me way more than it would’ve just a year or two ago.
The weirdest part of the panel came during a discussion with Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty and CCO of Disney Studios Jennifer Lee about attractions that might come to Walt Disney World’s parks. D’Amaro explained that it was all “blue sky” conversations—the kind of big picture talks that often result in new attractions or experiences at the parks—but it was very unusual to talk about this stuff in public. Beatty and Lee hinted at new attractions based on Coco and Encanto behind Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland, with concept art showing both Santa Cecilia, the town from Coco, and Casa Madrigal from Encanto. They also hinted at a long-rumored land based on Disney’s villains, with it looming as a dark presence beyond the other two additions on the concept art. The two also talked about a Zootopia-themed expansion replacing Dinoland in Disney’s Animal Kingdom with the same tone of “wow, wouldn’t it be cool if this thing, which is not in any way officially being announced, actually happened?” It was a questionable way to discuss the parks’ future, teasing projects without actually announcing them, and left a lot of fans confused and frustrated.
The panel also gave us more updates on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, the update to Splash Mountain coming to both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in 2024. Multiple voice actors from The Princess and the Frog will be returning, including Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Michael-Leon Wooley, and Jenifer Lewis.
D’Amaro also gave updates on a variety of previously announced attractions coming to Disney parks throughout the world, including the Frozen-themed expansions coming to Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea, and Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris. In Tokyo Frozen will be part of the new Fantasy Springs port of call, alongside Peter Pan, Tangled, and a brand new hotel that will be located inside the park. They showed off a clip of the new Elsa audio-animatronic from the Tokyo park, and it looked amazing. Meanwhile, a new Tangled attraction will open in Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris alongside the new Frozen expansion.
Finally, D’Amaro also touched on the new Zootopia land coming to Shanghai Disneyland. It included a clip of an adorable Officer Clawhauser animatronic. This land will also feature various animal puppets when it opens, as was revealed earlier during D23.
The parks panel touched on a lot of upcoming Disney projects, but didn’t break much news. A lot of viewers—the hardest of Disney parks hardcores—were underwhelmed by it. Again, it was unusual to devote so much of it to things that might happen, without officially confirming or announcing them. Still, if you’re a regular Disney parks-goer interested in their future, at least some of these upcoming projects should appeal to you.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.