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A Walt Disney World Retrospective: Ten Magical Milestones to Look Forward to in the 2020s and Beyond

Walt Disney World’s official 50th anniversary has come and gone, even while the celebration of this momentous milestone will continue for several months. In preparation for the resort’s golden anniversary, a number of refurbishments, upgrades and new additions have been in the works for the past few years. However, the closures and restrictions resulting from COVID-19 pandemic have put many of these projects on hold or have delayed their opening. While some of these projects have been all but cancelled, such as the major refurbishment of Spaceship Earth and the addition of a Mary Poppins-themed attraction at Epcot, a number still are nearing completion and preparing to open over the next few years, while others have neither been confirmed to open nor close. Learn about the ten magical milestones we’re looking forward to in the 2020s below.





 

10 – Epcot’s Play Pavilion

Editor’s Note: Disney has not officially confirmed that this attraction is still in the works. Mention of it has been removed from certain press releases. We hope to see this attraction in 2022.

Originally scheduled to open in 2021 as part of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Play Pavilion’s opening was pushed back to 2022 as part of Epcot’s 40th anniversary. This pavilion makes good use of the old Wonders of Life pavilion, which has been used as auxiliary space for various festivals including the International Food & Wine Festival. This new pavilion, which will be decorated like a digital city based upon Disney properties (much like was seen in Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet) will feature a number of interactive experiences as well as character meet-and-greets, presumably moving the characters from Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph from their current locations inside the Imagination pavilion. This pavilion will bring a new aspect of interactivity and recognizable Disney properties to a park that generally neglects move tie-ins as part of their attractions.

9 – Disney Genie and Lightning Lane

Like it or not, Disney Genie will be launched this fall as part of the current My Disney Experience app and. According to Disney, this program will help make a trip to the Disney parks more personalized. Are you a thrill-seeker? A foodie? Traveling with young kids? Disney Genie will give you recommendations for your “perfect” day. Disney Genie’s planning tools will be complimentary and certainly help guests have better experiences at Walt Disney World, and will likely make the planning process less daunting for first-time visitors. 

The two paid services coming this fall are what most guests are not happy about. To make the day “more spontaneous,” guests will be able to purchase the Disney Genie+ service, which will allow them to utilize the new Lightning Lane on some of the park’s most popular attractions throughout the day (a new paid iteration of the retired FastPass service). This daily add-on will cost each guest $15 per day. For guests interested in only making reservations for a few rides rather than an entire day, selections can be made of up to two attractions a-la-carte price that will fluctuate with demand (rumors indicate anywhere from $4-$24 per ride, per guest). While these controversial new paid services may be a positive or a negative depending on who you ask, they will definitely change the way people vacation and experience a Walt Disney World vacation.

8 – Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Lodge

Announced in 2018, Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Lodge was intended to be a new DVC resort along the shores of Bay Lake on the site of the old River Country water park. Themed around nature and sustainability, little details were released other than a number of ecology-related Disney characters would be represented at the resort, including Bambi, Pocahontas, and characters from Brother Bear. It was also announced that a restaurant themed to The Princess and the Frog would be incorporated into the property. Unfortunately, COVID shutdowns halted excavation and construction almost immediately after it began and has not resumed. A lack of official word from Disney would indicate that the project is on-hold–either temporarily or indefinitely. However, if this project does ultimately move forward throughout the next decade, it would be a beautiful addition to the shores of Bay Lake alongside the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness.

Credit: Cirque du Soleil/Disney

7 – Cirque du Soleil: Drawn to Life

Over the past four years, the stylized white circus tent situated at the far west end of Disney Springs has sat empty, devoid of an audience and acrobats. The previous show, Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, closed in 2017 to make way for a new performance. It was later announced that the circus troupe was working on Drawn to Life, which was co-created by Cirque du Soleil, Imagineering, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. The show, which is set to open November 18, 2021, will follow a girl who attempts to fulfill her father’s legacy in completing his final project: an animated cartoon. With the help of an anthropomorphized pencil, the protagonist learns about the Disney animation process, depicted by acrobatics and circus acts. This show is sure to bring some much needed Disney-themed entertainment to the Walt Disney World properties outside the Disney theme parks.


 

6 – Toy Story Roundup Rodeo BBQ

Originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, construction and opening of Hollywood Studios’ newest sit-down restaurant has been delayed through 2022 due to the pandemic. However, the addition of a sit-down dining experience will be very welcome in a quadrant of the park where such options are lacking. According to the restaurant’s backstory, Andy had constructed a rodeo in his backyard for Woody, Jessy and Bullseye out of cardboard boxes and a number of his play sets. Guests will be seated amongst western and train-themed play sets, maintaining their toy-sized scale as though they are a part of the rodeo while enjoying western barbecue. This restaurant is likely to be even more appealing to families with young kids than some of the other establishments throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

5 – Interactive Magic Bands

With the recent announcements that have corresponded with recognizing Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, new information has been revealed regarding the newest generation of Magic Bands, MagicBand+. These updated RFID-enabled bands will light up, vibrate, and even potentially respond to guest movement during visits to the parks, according to Dan Soto, Disney’s VP of Technology and Digital. These bracelets will light up in sync with nighttime shows, including fireworks shows at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and will even interact with the Fab 50 statues scattered throughout the parks. They can also be used to participate in various activities at some of the themed lands, such as Hollywood Studios’ Galaxy’s Edge. 

Credit: Disney

4 – Epcot Redesign

A recent trend in the realm of fashion, entertainment and design is the adage, “What is old is new again.” Vinyl has seen a resurgence, popular TV shows that we grew up with are being rebooted, and big scrunchies and mom jeans are coming back (unfortunately). Fans of Disney nostalgia have been getting a special treat over the past several years as Epcot has been getting a massive overhaul and redesign. The entrance fountain is back, as are the classic pavilion logos. However, the park has also gotten a refresh that brings new life to the dusty old plans of the 1980s. For instance, the park will has renamed its lands. No more Future World and World Showcase: instead, the different areas of the park are referred to as World Discovery, World Celebration, World Nature, and World Showcase. While some have been disappointed with this move, the change makes thematic sense as the pavilions in each of these sections no longer focus on the future, but rather the themes of nature, discovery, celebrating global unity, and the nations of the world. New experiences, such as the Journey of Water, rebranded pavilions (such as the Play Pavilion and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind), and refreshed architecture and landscaping help to bring this park, which has lost so much of its identity over the past two decades, back to its original concept: a place where “human achievements are celebrated” as well as where guests are “entertain[ed], inform[ed] and inspire[d].”

3 – Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser

First accepting passengers beginning March 1, 2022, the galactic starcruiser Halcyon will blast guests off into a galaxy far, far away. This multi-day adventure will immerse guests in the story of Star Wars, encouraging them to dress in costumes that place them in the narrative and conduct jobs on the ship to ensure it runs smoothly. Costumed characters will wander the ship to interact with guests outside their state rooms and in the common areas, bringing further realism to the experience. Guests will also have the opportunity to board a landing craft which will transport them to the Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu. This experience comes at a steep cost, however, with a family of four paying $6,000 for a two-night stay. However, for die hard Star Wars fans who have dreamt about being part of the Star Wars universe for years, this price may be well worth it to price and wait.

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind

One thing that is great about the attractions at Walt Disney World is that regardless of the format, duration, location, or thrill level, they all tell a highly immersive story. This is even the case with thrill rides which often don’t allow riders long to focus on the details of individual scenes. To effectively maintain this story, Imagineers provide guests with highly detailed queues, impressionistic props and details, and music and sound effects that help to tell the story. Details about Epcot’s newest thrill ride, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind have been few and far between. But fans of the franchise and Marvel Cinematic Universe are anticipating this new roller coaster that will help to tell the story of World Discovery. Hearkened as a new type of coaster, the cars will rotate 360º to focus on show elements as they rocket through time and space. It was recently announced that this new experience, which is sure to have a classic rock soundtrack, will be opening in 2022, likely right in time for Epcot’s 40th anniversary.

1 – Tron Lightcycle Power Run

When a Tron-themed coaster was added to Shanghai Disneyland, Disney fans in the United States were incredibly jealous. Imagineers had paid lip-service to guests over the years in the domestic parks by incorporating nods to the cult classic film over the past few decades, but never a fully-devoted attraction. When Disney announced at the D23 convention in 2017 that it would be bringing the Tron Lightcycle Power Run to the Magic Kingdom in time for the park’s fiftieth anniversary, it quickly became the most anticipated new attraction at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, construction came to a halt due to the pandemic, and many wondered if Disney would ever resume. However, official updates were given on the attraction in August 2021 and visible construction has continued as of late. While no official word on when the opening of this new addition to Tomorrowland will occur, it is obvious that this will bring new thrills and kinetic energy to the area.

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