The 2017 D23 Expo provided the Disney community with a ton of new exciting information, especially the Parks and Resorts panel that was held the afternoon of Saturday, June 15th. With so many major announcements; a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction coming to Future World in EPCOT, the Tron coaster coming to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom, a fully immersive Star Wars hotel; it was hard to keep up with it all. The goal of this article is to highlight some of the smaller details that perhaps got overlooked, and examine why they may turn out to have a bigger impact on future trips to Walt Disney World than you might think.
1) Mission Space Green will have an all new adventure - for younger guests to enjoy
One of the real surprises of the event was the announcement of a new space restaurant which will give guests an "out-of-this-world" dining experience and will be located adjacent to Mission Space in EPCOT's Future World. This news is certainly exciting, but it is the other news about this pavilion I find very intriguing. The "green" side of Mission Space (the less intense version of the attraction) is to have an all new mission when it reopens later this summer, and this mission would be suitable to younger guests. What does this mean exactly? Well, we don't know for sure, but the way the announcement was worded implies that guests who are currently unable to ride the attraction will now be able to, likely including guests that are smaller than the 44" height restriction the attraction currently carries.
Will this simply be due to the mission providing a much calmer experience? Will it require an all new seat and restraint system? Now that they are making this adjustment, will they look at making similar changes to other rides that not all guests are currently able to enjoy (e.g., Flight of Passage in Pandora)? Could this be applied to the attractions in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge so the entire family can participate without making everything "kiddie rides"? I am hopeful for the possibilities.
2) China pavilion in EPCOT to have all new circle-vision film - utilizing all new digital technology
While the big news for World Showcase in EPCOT was the announcement of the Ratatouille ride coming to the France pavilion, the other news for that area of the park, that the China pavilion was getting a new film, could have the more far-reaching impact on the parks in general. Now, it isn't simply that the pavilion is getting a new film, which I am sure will be spectacular given the variety and magnificence of the landscapes of China, but more that all new technology has been developed to create the film. One of the technologies Walt Disney was most fascinated and excited by was circle-vision, a system of cameras that would provide a 360 degree view of what was being filmed. This new system is all digital and will provide the first seamless film of its kind. But where can this technology go from here? Providing updates to the films in the other pavilions in World Showcase I am sure, but can it be taken further? What about a version of Soarin' that utilizes a 360 degree film? Or what if one of the attractions in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge uses this? Or the Star Wars Hotel? With it being digital the possibilities are endless, and it is those possibilities I find most exciting, and most fitting EPCOT (the 'E' does stand for "Experimental" after all).
3) The Speedway is NOT being removed from the TRON coaster
People have been envious of some of the new attractions that were developed from Shanghai Disneyland , especially the TRON Lightcycle Power Run. So it is no surprised that news of this attraction coming stateside was greeted with some of the loudest applause. This was one news item that was heavily rumored prior to the start of the expo, but many of those rumors called for the coaster to take up the space currently occupied by the Tomorrowland Speedway. Now I know that not everyone was a fan of this attraction, or, more specifically, the noise and smell it produced, but my kids greatly enjoyed getting to drive and an Autopia-type attraction has been a part of Disney parks for decades, so I am glad it is staying. Let's just hope it also gets a bit of a futuristic update, at least to electric cars! It also means that we are getting a net increase in the number of attractions for the Magic Kingdom and that Disney is willing to push beyond the existing boundaries of their parks to fit in more attractions.
4) The new theater in the Magic Kingdom will be located OFF Main Street
Another unexpected announcement during this panel was that an all new theater will be added to the Magic Kingdom. Now, it will be fun to speculate on what will go into the theater (my guess is a Broadway-style production similar to Frozen - Live at the Hyperion which is currently at Disney California Adventure in California), but to me the really interesting aspect is that they specifically stated it would be located "off" Main Street U.S.A.
So what does that mean? Well, there is room behind the east side of Main Street which is currently used to bring guests to the entrance from the Hub during high traffic times. We also know that Walt's original vision for Main Street in Disneyland included a side street and plans for development of it as Edison Square. Obviously that never occurred, but could this be a similar idea? That being a side street for this theater but also one that could help with crowd congestion? While the recent expansion to the hub has opened up that area, it, along with the new Happily Ever After nighttime spectacular, has also increased the crowds right in that central area. Anything that can help ease the push of the crowds exiting the park would be a welcome addition.
5) There is more to come for EPCOT!
One of the statements that stood out to me most was when Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, specifically said in the panel that they were going to "give us a peak at some" of the changes coming to EPCOT (which are in response to Bob's challenge to the team to "think big" with regards to EPCOT). Tom Fitzgerald, the Imagineer who is leading the EPCOT overhaul also stated "there is a lot I'd love to share with you today, but I'll save that for the next time." So what could still be coming and when will we find out? Well, there were rumors of at least one new country pavilion coming to World Showcase and also of significant updates to the Imagination pavilion, so I think those are still likely. Could there be a replacement for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth? What about something (anything!) coming to the Wonders of Life pavilion? As for timing, there is a D23 event scheduled for October 1st, 2017 at EPCOT to celebrate the park's 35th anniversary, so I think that is the likely date we get some more news.
The announcements so far truly indicate they are thinking "big", and that is the best type of armchair Imagineering to do. So what do you think will come to EPCOT?
One last side note, in the presentation Bob was very careful to never say the term "Future World" but only referred to that portion of EPCOT as "the front of the park", could this be an indication that a name change is coming?
One thing is clear, it is a great time to be a fan of the Disney parks .... especial Walt Disney World!
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