Wow, 2019 was a big year for Disney World news. While things are always changing at this magical place, Disney kicked things into overdrive. 2019 saw the debut of new attractions, entirely new lands, multiple new resorts, new restaurants, new show, and more. If you thought that was a lot, Disney unveiled even more ambitious plans for the next two years with a laundry list of new projects, including the complete transformation of Epcot. We also saw a set of controversial policy changes that had fans buzzing for weeks.
As we wrap up a very busy and exciting 2019, we’ve made a list of the biggest news stories of the past year. While not exhaustive, the stories below represent the most significant changes, the things we’re most excited about, the articles that our readers read the most, and in a couple cases, the stories that got folks the most riled up, including one that doesn’t seem like a big story, but surprisingly was the story that caused the biggest reaction of the year.
We hope you enjoy this look back at a great year and a look ahead at exciting things to come. Most importantly, we hope you have a happy new year that is filled with magic!
1 – D23 Expo Announces Major Projects Coming for the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World (August 2019)
The d23 Disney Fan Club held is highly anticipated 2019 Expo in August of this year. It’s a fan event that many look forward to—not only for the panels, merchandise, celebrity visits—but especially for the announcements of future Disney park developments. The 2019 Expo announced many exciting new developments, particularly the complete overhaul and reimagining of Epcot over the next two years. We also learned about what’s coming to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021. Check out the links below for the news that came out of the d23 2019 Expo.
2 – Historic Transformation of Epcot Underway at Walt Disney World
So much is happening at Epcot; it’s hard to know where to start. More details were announced about the transformation of Epcot, including the announcement of three new “neighborhoods,” a new Mary Poppins attraction in the UK Pavilion, opening dates to the previously announced films in France, Canada, and China and a whole lot more.
3 – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Opened (August 29)
As the largest single-themed land expansion in Disney history, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is already proving wildly popular by inviting you to live your own Star Wars adventures in a galaxy far, far away. The land opened in two phases. It opened in August with one attraction, where you take control of the most famous ship in the galaxy aboard Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The land is fully immersive. While exploring this expansive new land, you can sample galactic food and drink, enter an intriguing collection of merchant shops and encounter some of their favorite Star Wars characters. Visiting Galaxy’s Edge is an amazing experience that should be on anyone’s must-do list. Learn all about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the links below.
4 – Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (December 5)
Phase two of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge brought us the incredible Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. This groundbreaking attraction made its public debut on December 5, 2019, inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. (The attraction will open at Disneyland Park in California on January 17, 2020). After years of anticipation for this new attraction, you can now become heroes of the Resistance in a climactic battle with the First Order. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is one of the most ambitious attractions ever created for a Disney park. The thrilling action takes place in massive sets that give you the feeling of stepping inside a Star Wars film as you elude the clutches of Kylo Ren and the First Order in a mad dash through a Star Destroyer. The attraction is unbelievable, and Disney has outdone itself. The attraction has been a massive hit with guests since its opening. Learn all about the attraction at the links below.
5 – Disney Releases Tons of New Details and Opening Dates of New Experiences and Attractions
In early December, during a presentation this week to hundreds of media outlets from around the globe, Disney released new information about a list of projects in development across the resort. Check out the links below for opening dates for new films at Epcot, more on the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, new restaurants and more.
6 – New Rules In Effect: Smoking, Strollers, and Ice (May 1)
In late March, Disney announced new rules that went into effect on May 1 that would affect many guests. Smoking is now banned inside the parks. There are designated smoking areas outside the parks. New stroller restrictions prohibit wagons and limit the size of double strollers. Finally, you cannot bring loose ice into the park (although it can be in a zip lock bag). Reactions to the new rules were mixed. Many were thrilled at the smoking ban but were upset about the strollers. Since the ban has gone into effect, we saw a few surprised parents at security being told their wagons are not allowed. We’ve also seen a few ignore the smoking ban. Disney strives to make the park experience a good one for everyone, and so overall, we appreciate these rules.
7 – New Resort MagicBand Upgrade Option Now Available
MagicBands have been around for five years, and it’s hard to imagine a trip to Walt Disney World without them. MagicBands are bands that guests can wear and scan for admission into the parks, redeeming FastPasses, room keys, and easy payment around property. They are incredibly convenient and a must for any Disney vacation. MagicBands are complimentary for Disney resort guests and annual passholders. In the past, resort guests could only choose from eight solid colors. Now resort guests have the option to upgrade their MagicBand to a unique design for a small fee. This past week the new option became available for guests in their My Disney Experience accounts.
When word of the upgrade option got out, people quickly ordered their upgraded bands, and many styles sold out and are no longer available. Expect Disney to restock those styles soon. If your trip is more than two months away and you don’t see the style you want, we suggest you wait until that style is back in stock. Note that while the Disney site says you have up until 11 days before your check-in day, we heard from guests saying their bands shipped out after they hit the two-month mark before they got a chance to upgrade. So, keep an eye out on the current selection, and be sure to make your customizations before the two-month mark just in case.
Disney annual passholders are also eligible for the upgrade. Do note that passholders are only given one complimentary band per year. If you have already received your band for your current pass year, you will not see the upgrade option in your account. I ordered my passholder band on a Tuesday, and it shipped two days later.
Click here to read our news story to see the full collection of MagicBands to choose from. Note that band availability is limited and some bands may no longer be available. More bands have been added and will continue to be added as time goes on.
8 – Disney Skyliner Opens (September 29)
The Disney Skyliner, Disney’s latest form of complimentary transportation, opened on September 29! This “most magical flight on Earth” connects Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and the new Disney’s Riviera Resort. We were there at the Dedication Ceremony on September 27 and have ridden it many, many times since its opening. It’s proven itself as a reliable and fun way to travel around Walt Disney World. Learn more at the link below.
9 – Illuminations: Reflections of Earth Ends (September 30)
On September 30, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth ended its almost twenty-year run as the nighttime spectacular at Epcot. Disney cast member Shawn Slater shared, “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” at Epcot. Begun as part of the Millennium Celebration, which started in October 1999, this nighttime spectacular has touched the hearts and minds of millions of guests over the past two decades.” While we enjoyed Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, we think the temporary Epcot Forever is a good temporary show that will hold us over until HarmoniUS debuts sometime next year.
10 – Epcot Forever and The Epcot Experience Debut (October 1)
On October 1, the new (temporary) nighttime spectacular, ‘Epcot Forever,’ debuted. We were there and really enjoyed the new show. It has us looking forward to the permanent show, ‘HarmoniUS,’ which is set to debut sometime in 2020.
Also, on October 1, the Epcot Experience opened to guests. The Epcot Experience is a fantastic way to learn about the upcoming transformation of Epcot. See both articles below for more information.
11 – Hollywood Studios Celebrates 30 Years (May 1)
On May 1, Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrated its 30th Anniversary. The park’s transformation is almost complete. The park has one more major opening to look forward to in the near future – Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway’s is opening March 4, 2020. This year the park received a brand-new entrance, including a new bus loop, new tram area, a new auto toll plaza, an expanded parking lot, and of course, a Disney Skyliner station. Once in the park, you’ll notice the brand-new logo. The park has now established itself as a place that immerses in the movies, instead of taking you behind the curtain. We’ve come to love this new park and what it offers. Check out the link below for more on the transformation of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
12 – First Round of Major Closings at Epcot (September 8)
Saturday, September 7, was the last day of operation for The Fountains of Nations, Innoventions East, Colortopia, Nanooze Break, Club Cool, and Fountain View (Starbucks). Club Cool will reopen in a new capacity at a future merchandise location. A temporary Starbucks location is now open near World Showcase. One side of Epcot Character Spot is also closed with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy being relocated to a new spot for meet and greets. Construction walls up around the Fountain of Nations and surrounding areas. This area will eventually be a part of the new “neighborhood” – World Celebration. More closures are coming as Epcot undergoes a complete overhaul and re-imagining in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
13 – Disney Debuts New Fireworks Shows at Halloween and Christmas Parties
This year two all-new fireworks show debuted at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The new “Disney’s Not So Spooky Spectacular” was a fantastic addition to the Halloween Party and was a huge hit with guests. As host of the spectacle, Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” spins a not-so-scary tale about how anything can happen on Halloween night. Jack’s ghost dog, Zero, brings everyone along on a trick-or-treating adventure where four friends – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck – find themselves drawn into a haunted house. Encounters with dancing skeletons, waltzing ghosts, and wickedly troublemaking Disney villains make for a hair-raising adventure. It all comes to life with state-of-the-art projection effects, lasers, lighting, and dazzling fireworks.
During Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the new “Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks.” Minnie Mouse is our host, inviting everyone to come together in a celebration of the magic of Christmas. The sky fills with fireworks, as we’re swept up in medleys of beloved holiday songs, from “Joy to the World” and “Deck the Halls” to “Up on the House Top” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The music of the show evokes heartfelt moments of home and family, as well as the festive fun of the season, all building to an incredible finale. This show as also an amazing addition to the Christmas Party.
14 – Villains After Hours Debuts (June 6)
Disney After Hours is a special ticketed event that allows guests to experience a Disney Park with minimal wait times and complimentary popcorn, ice cream treats, and drinks. This summer, a villains themed event kicked off the summer at Magic Kingdom Park. The event proved very popular with guests and is returning to Magic Kingdom in 2020. Learn more about the event below.
15 – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Debuts New Holiday Offerings (November 8)
In years past at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, holiday decorations were minimal. Yes, there was a Christmas tree outside the park and a few decorations, but nothing to really get excited about. This year all that has changed with holiday décor in every land and some fantastic holiday offerings sprinkled throughout the park. We enjoyed checking out the holiday offerings many times this year. The highlight for us was on Discovery Island. There a merry menagerie of life-sized animal puppets interacted with the guests. The menagerie was my absolute favorite holiday experience. Reindeer, foxes, polar bears, and penguins roamed about interacting with guests. Click here to watch a video highlighting the amazing puppetry.
Over in DinoLand USA, characters gathered for “Donald’s Dino-Bash!” in colorful holiday costumes. Decorations and Christmas trees can also be found in the greeting areas. Daisy’s pink designs were especially fun. Finally, as the sun sets, the Tree of Life awakened with a series of wintry tales emerging from within, backed by a familiar and heartwarming holiday musical score. Between awakening moments, the Tree of Life shimmered and sparkled throughout the night, alive with the magic of nature and the spirit of the holidays. We loved the offerings and can’t wait to see what they add next year! Learn more about the offerings at the links below.
16 – Disney’s Riviera Resort Opens (December 16)
Disney’s Riviera Resort, the 15th Disney Vacation Club property, is now open. The resort is inspired by Europe, imagined by Disney, and Disney’s Riviera Resort immerses guests in the grandeur and enchantment of the European Riviera. The deluxe resort is also the first dedicated Disney Vacation Club resort at Walt Disney World since the opening of Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort in 2004. The resort is beautiful and a fantastic addition to Disney Vacation Club and Walt Disney World.
17 – Gran Destino Tower Opens (July 9)
In July 2019, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort celebrated the Grand Opening of the Gran Destino Tower. The opening completed a multiyear re-imagining focused on today’s travelers and offers new restaurants and new arrival experience. Celebrating the rich cultures and vibrant landscapes of Spain, Mexico, and the American Southwest through contemporary design and Old-World traditions, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort shines with renewed luster. Gran Destino Tower takes its name from the surrealistic Disney animated film “Destino.” You’ll find the film has influenced the design and architecture of the Tower. The Tower is stunning and is a terrific addition to Coronado Springs. A stay at Gran Destino Tower feels like a stay at a deluxe resort, with moderate resort prices. Learn more about the re-imagined resort at the links below.
18 – Lightning McQueen Racing Academy Opens (March 31)
KA-CHOW! Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy debuted on Sunday, March 31, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This new show experience invites guests into the world of Pixar Animation Studios’ Cars films as they become rookie racers and learn the rules of the road from Piston Cup Champion Lightning McQueen. This attraction is a fun show and is the perfect stop for Cars fans (and parents needing a nice break in the air conditioning).
19 – Disney Announces New Disney/Cirque du Soleil Show Celebrating Walt Disney Animation Studios
A first-of-its-kind show will celebrate the magic of Walt Disney Animation Studios in a touching story brought to life by Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Imagineering, and legendary Disney animators. It will combine Disney storytelling and heart with Cirque du Soleil’s signature artistry. Previews will begin March 20, 2020, leading up to the world premiere on April 17. Tickets are now on sale. See the link below for more details.
20 – Maleficent Returns to Festival of Fantasy Parade (January 25)
In May 2018, many were shocked to learn that the fabulous Maleficent parade float caught fire. Thankfully, no injuries were reported as a result of the blaze. The parade was promptly closed, and Maleficent was ushered back to the Cast Member Only area. Thankfully, Maleficent didn’t stay away too long. This magnificent float returned to the Magic Kingdom Festival of Fantasy parade on January 25. She returned with extra safety features to keep her in check. You can currently catch Maleficent daily at Magic Kingdom during the Festival of Fantasy parade. Check the times guide or your My Disney Experience App for parade showtimes.
21 – New Character Breakfast at Topolino’s Terrace at Disney’s Riviera Resort
Topolino’s Terrance – Flavors of the Riviera at the new Disney’s Riviera Resort is open for breakfast and dinner. The breakfast is a new character dining experience called Breakfast a la Art with Mickey & Friends. This fun and delicious breakfast features Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy, each in a different artist outfit. Check out our full review at the link below.
22 – Wonderful World of Animation Debuts (May 1)
May 1, 2019, brought the official debut of the new projection show, Wonderful World of Animation. The show takes you on a journey down memory lane where you revisit more than 90 years of Disney and Pixar animation. The Chinese Theater is transformed during the show, where projections display a tribute to animation. The show ends with the one and only Mickey mouse. It’s a great show that celebrates Disney and Pixar animated films, and you don’t want to miss it! Below is a video of the new show.
23 – Rivers of Light: We Are One Debuts (May 24)
Animal Kingdom’s Rivers of Light is a fantastic night show featuring water projections and other special effects showcasing how incredible nature is. This May, the show received an update with Rivers of Light: We Are One. Disney cast member Shawn Slater shared that “‘Rivers of Light: We Are One’ introduces additional, stunning imagery and familiar animal characters from Disneynature films, along with a colorful tapestry of classic moments from Disney animation, to express our connection with animals and the emotions and milestones we all share in our journey through the great circle of life. The music of ‘Rivers of Light: We Are One’ weaves together the original musical score and familiar Disney themes to create a powerful arrangement that inspires and carries us through moments of discovery, fun, friendship, fear, love, and family.”
24 – Hundreds of Plant-Based Dishes Arrive at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort
Guests who are looking for plant-based dishes at Disney Parks received some fantastic news this year with the announcement of hundreds of plant-based dishes arriving at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. The expansion of options for these guests has a lot of people happy! Catch all the details at the link below.
25 – NBA Experience Now Open (August 12)
In late summer, the NBA Experience opened at Disney Springs. Disney developed this one-of-a-kind environment in collaboration with the NBA, where guests enter the world of professional basketball. The high-energy, family-friendly venue is packed with 13 different basketball-related activities across 44,000 square feet and two floors. I’m not a basketball fan, but I still had a lot of fun at the various stations! Learn more about NBA Experience at the link below.
26 – New Tomorrowland Sign at Magic Kingdom (September 2019)
In early summer 2019, Disney removed the old Tomorrowland sign on the bridge connecting the Hub and Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland is getting somewhat of a makeover as Disney is preparing for the 50th Anniversary of the Walt Disney World resort. In September, the new sign was installed. Reactions have been mixed. Many love the new sleek modern look while others think it’s quite dull. This sign has grown on us over the last few months. Click here to see the new Tomorrowland Sign.
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