We’ve entered the soul-crushing days of winter, which are excruciating for theme park fans in colder climates. We gaze longingly out the window and dream about sunny trips to Florida, California, and other warm vacation spots. But this is not a melancholy post. Let’s look bravely into the future! A more thrilling annual tradition is looking ahead to what’s on the horizon. Disney fans love speculating on new attractions, restaurants, and other changes. With that pursuit in mind, I’ve developed bold predictions for what we’ll see at Disney World in 2017.
Not all of my feelings are positive, but I’m still excited to see what happens. With Universal increasing the pressure, Disney must step up their game or risk losing market share. Will they respond like a true industry leader? Another trend to observe is the focus on upcharge experiences and perks at Disney World. The private cabanas in Tomorrowland could be the tipping point that changes the narrative or just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve yet to hear any positives from fans about the tents. I’m hopeful that we won’t see a repeat in 2017.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Will Not Replace an Attraction at Disney World.
Poor Epcot. Despite the Soarin’ and Frozen openings in 2016, fans still want more from the second Disney World park. So many rumors have appeared in the past year about changes, particularly at Future World. A common one involved a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction replacing Universe of Energy or another pavilion. Rumor sites guaranteed us that Disney was set to announce this change. Thus far, that info has been false. Given potential issues with the Marvel contract and Guardians characters appearing in a future Avengers film, I’m skeptical.
This prediction may be wishful thinking given my lack of interest. Setting those concerns aside, I believe the rumors are a smokescreen. Bob Chapek’s recent comments about Epcot stated that a “major transformation” is coming. Ellen’s Energy Adventure is prime real estate for a new attraction. Is there a real desire for Guardians in Future World? The sequel is coming in 2017, so Disney may be waiting to gauge its popularity. They also could observe how fans respond to the Mission: BREAKOUT! replacement for the Tower of Terror in DCA. Regardless, I’ll make the bold (and probably wrong) prediction that Disney chooses a different path.
2. Disney Will Surprise Fans with an Amazing Move that Satisfies Our Nostalgia.
This is probably wishful thinking but makes sense for Disney from a business perspective. There’s an underutilized weapon in Disney’s arsenal that could help combat the rise of Universal. The company mines its legacy well in terms of its films, but not its past attractions. Fans love Disney World history and still mourn for extinct attractions that were closed decades earlier. You can look no further than the raves about Horizons to notice that trend. We love the modern parks but have fond memories of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the original Journey Into Imagination, World of Motion, Delta Dreamflight, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Disney pays lip service to its legacy, but the current leadership mostly disregards it.
There is hope from small touches that have slowly rolled out in recent months. The most recent is a 30-second commercial for the Main Street Electrical Parade’s return to Disneyland. Disney should notice the exuberant reaction from fans online at seeing just glimpses of long-gone attractions. This year is Epcot’s 35th anniversary, and we’re only four years away from Disney World’s 50th birthday. Disney should look for ways to celebrate its past, and I don’t mean dessert parties. At Epcot, the Innoventions buildings are a perfect location for something incredible. A virtual reality tour of extinct attractions would make people lose their minds. I’m hopeful that Disney sees the opportunity for something inspiring and won’t waste it.
3. The Edison Will Be the New Hot Spot at Disney Springs.
Located in the Landing section of Disney Springs near the water, The Edison will be an exciting addition to Disney Springs. Based on what we know at this point, this “Industrial Gothic” restaurant and bar looks ambitious and imaginative. The California version is open and looks incredible; there’s nothing generic about it. I love the throwback style, which carries over into the live entertainment. It may never reach the heights of the Adventurers Club among Disney fans, but The Edison has the best chance to come close. I love the idea of smaller areas inside the club that each has its own distinctive theme. I can’t wait to learn more when it opens later this year.
4. Rivers of Light…Still Won’t Open.
This is probably not true, but there is something about Rivers of Light that makes it impossible to execute correctly. It might be the challenges of using an actual waterway instead of a man-made lake. The lack of Disney characters might be too big a hurdle given leadership’s focus on its brands. Maybe the show is just cursed. Regardless, the delays have been astounding. Reports from a recent cast member preview were not good. Could Disney just scrap Rivers of Light?
The show will probably open, but questions remain about whether it will succeed. Disney has invested serious time and money into the project, but there are still issues. Pandora should draw more crowds to the Animal Kingdom this summer, and a nighttime show would be a perfect way to keep them in the park until closing. Many didn’t stick around this past summer for the evening hours, but that should change with Pandora. If Disney can make Rivers of Light work, the park will shed fewer guests and gain major profits from dinners and snacks. The stakes are high, but right now the prognosis is not good for Rivers of Light.
5. Paint the Night Will Replace the Main Street Electrical Parade.
When Disney announced that its classic parade would return to Disneyland, I expected that Paint the Night would then move to Florida. We’ve heard nothing definitive thus far, which is a surprise. The lack of a nighttime parade at The Magic Kingdom feels weird. I suspect that it’s just a temporary delay, however. Disney will likely install a parade for the summer season, if not sooner. The question is whether the choice will be Paint the Night or something different.
My money is still on Paint the Night, which would be very popular in Florida. While there are necessary adjustments to make it work in Florida (and in the hotter climate), the show design is complete. I don’t expect Disney to bring out an entirely new parade while Paint the Night sits on the shelf. It’s also an easy sell to fans that have watched online videos of the energetic parade. I’ve yet to see Paint the Night in person, and I’d definitely set aside the time to see it.
6. Disney Will Announce Opening Years for Toy Story Land and the Star Wars Experience.
I’ve yet to mention Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which will remain under construction throughout 2017. Don’t be fooled by the long lines for the headliners; fewer people are spending time at this park. It’s the lack of capacity that’s keeping those queues filled. The promotion for the Studios will focus on the exciting future. We’ll likely see preview models and other enticing glimpses of what’s on the horizon. This park should be amazing in 2020; right now, it’s a mess.
To keep fans looking ahead, Disney will release the general opening times for the two expansions. Toy Story will arrive in 2018, and Star Wars will follow in 2019. I have no insider knowledge on this topic; it just makes sense given the state of each land. The benefit of opening each land in the next two years is how it sets up Disney’s calendar. Pandora draws interest in 2017, and Toy Story and Star Wars follow in the next two years. Epcot gets a major overhaul by 2020, and The Magic Kingdom adds new experiences in 2021 for the 50th anniversary. While I’d love to see multiple expansions, that doesn’t fit with the normal approach from Disney. The good news is that annual guests should have something new to see every year for quite a while.