The big 2015 D23 Expo weekend has come and gone and after four years without any significant Disney Parks and Resorts announcements at D23 Expo, this year Disney finally delivered. The biggest news, of course, was the announcement of major new Star Wars expansions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, making the Parks and Resorts presentation the biggest news-maker of the 2015 D23 Expo. Today, we’re kicking off our in-depth D23 Expo coverage by recapping Saturday’s big Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation featuring news of two upcoming Star Wars-themed lands, new Star Wars entertainment and seasonal events, a new Toy Story Land for Walt Disney World, Shanghai Disneyland progress, and much more.

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This is our first installment in our in-depth D23 Expo coverage. Be sure to check back throughout the rest of this week for more from the Expo. But today, there’s a lot of news from Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Parks, so let’s get started!

Welcome to D23 Expo 2015!

One of the D23 Expo’s big highlights was the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation on Saturday afternoon. After not offering a Parks and Resorts presentation in 2013, expectations were high for the return of the panel this year and Disney certainly delivered.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Taking the reigns from former Disney Parks Chair (now COO) Tom Staggs, Bob Chapek took to the stage to host this year’s Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation, a 90-minute look behind the curtain at what Disney’s Imagineers are working on bringing to Disney theme parks around the world.

Unfortunately for Chapek, Disney CEO Bob Iger had more or less stolen Chapek’s big moment just a couple hours before when he made the big announcement that Disney would be building Star Wars-themed lands in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The announcement took the convention center by storm, with Iger making the announcement during the Star Wars portion of the big Walt Disney Pictures presentation, then quickly being disseminated by official outlets including the Disney Parks Blog, and then sweeping through social media.

The announcement, however, only increased demand for the highly-anticipated Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation, as Iger promised more details on Star Wars Land would be shared during the Parks and Resorts presentation. Below, Iger’s announcement during the Walt Disney Pictures presentation.

Two hours after the Walt Disney Studios presentation, the Parks and Resorts presentation kicked off with a sizzle reel showcasing Disney’s Parks and Resorts. Chapek took the stage and got underway, using a loose “soarin'” theme of soaring from park-to-park to tie together the presentation. The Soarin’ theme came off as a bit forced but was used for a very specific reason that we’ll get to a little later.

Star Wars

The first stop on Chapek’s soarin’ tour of Disney parks was Disneyland, where Chapek noted Disneyland’s hugely successful 60th Anniversary celebration and the park’s six-decade tradition of innovation. From there, Chapek said that heading into the next six decades, “a whole new galaxy” will come to the park in the form of an impressive new 14-acre Star Wars expansion.

A teaser reel for the project played:

Below, concept renderings of the planned new land, which will span 14 acres and be themed to a new remote trading port planet not yet seen in the Star Wars universe. The land will feature two major attractions along with shops and dining locations. Iger and Chapek both noted the will be authentic in every way, from impressive scale to shops and restaurants with in-character employees.

The new lands will include two major attractions, one that will allow guests to pilot the Millennium Falcon on a “customized secret mission” and another that “puts you in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”

It’s worth mentioning that MiceAge broke the news of Star Wars Land just days before the D23 Expo started, stating in its report that the new land would take over the existing Big Thunder Ranch and Mickey’s Toontown areas. While Disney’s announcement finally made the rumors real, it didn’t exactly specify where the new land was going, so fans took to social media to find out. The official @DisneylandToday account said Mickey’s Toontown would be safe but Big Thunder Ranch and some backstage areas would be removed for Star Wars. Of course, this could all change but for now it appears Toontown is safe.

After Chapek’s introducing the audience to Star Wars land, Imagineer Scott Trowbridge was welcomed to the stage to discuss the project further.

Trowbridge showcased several conceptual renderings without specifically explaining any of them in detail. He did note, however, that Imagineers are working to get every detail right, including smells that would be authentic to the Star Wars universe to food and drink such as blue milk. Don’t expect to see any burgers and fries in Star Wars land — Disney is promising everything in the land will be completely authentic to Star Wars.

Trowbridge continued by saying that Star Wars Land wasn’t all. While fans are waiting for the 14-acre land to take shape in what is currently Big Thunder Ranch at Disneyland, new Star Wars experiences will be added the parks in both California and Flordia.

At Disneyland, The lower level of Innoventions will become the Star Wars Launch Bay, a series of interactive activities and exhibits featuring props from the upcoming film.

Below, the official description from Disney:

This interactive experience will take guests into the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with special exhibits and peeks behind-the-scenes, including opportunities to visit with new and favorite Star Wars characters, special merchandise and food offerings. Star Wars Launch Bay will be located in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and in Tomorrowland at Disneyland park. Also at Disneyland park, Star Wars Launch Bay will share the space with the reimagined Super Hero HQ, featuring opportunities to meet and take photos with super heroes like Captain America and Thor, as well as experience the returning Iron Man Tech Presented by Stark Industries. Both experiences will be available for guests later this year.

Star Wars Launch Bay isn’t all — coming in spring 2016, Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World will launch “Season of the Force,” a seasonal event that will bring special entertainment and food, along with attraction overlays at Disneyland and special fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios featuring music from the films. The event actually sounds like a lot of fun, bringing some much-needed energy to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, and a good temporary event for the spring off-season.

Below, the official event description from Disney:

This new seasonal event, beginning early 2016, brings new experiences to both coasts. In Tomorrowland at Disneyland park, guests will explore the Star Wars galaxy with special entertainment throughout the land, themed food locations and more. Guests also will be thrilled to climb aboard Hyperspace Mountain, a reimagining of the classic Space Mountain attraction, in which guests will join an X-wing Starfighter battle. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, guests will close out weekend nights with a new fireworks spectacular set to the iconic score of the Star Wars movies.

The new Hyperspace Mountain overlay will bring Star Wars to a Disneyland classic.

That’s a whole lot of Star Wars! It’ll be interesting to see what comes of the 14-acre Star Wars Land when it eventually opens (no opening date has been announced) but if Disney follows through with what’s shown in the concept art, this land could be truly incredible. In many ways, using 14 acres of Disneyland’s remaining expansion space for Star Wars is not ideal. After all, this will be the first time Disneyland has dedicated a major area to a single franchise — a significant break from tradition for Disneyland, which has historically been a collection of loose ideas and concepts like “Tomorrowland” or “Frontierland.” At its core, Disneyland is 1950s American ideals filtered through Walt Disney’s optimism and nostalgia. Star Wars is vastly different than the foundation Disneyland is built on, and while Tomorrowland has been home to Star Tours for nearly 30 years, having a single ride in Disneyland based on these films is a lot different than having 14 acres dedicated to it. Would Star Wars be better suited thematically in a different park—or in a park of its own? Probably. But for now, Star Wars is going into Disneyland and it may turn out to be some of the best theme park work Disney has ever done. So while the placement of Star Wars land isn’t ideal, it’s likely going to be one of the most impressive things Disney has done in a very long time. And I’m definitely ready for that.

Toy Story Land

Chapek returned to stage to note that Star Wars wasn’t the only franchise coming to the parks, leading right into the announcement of Toy Story Land for Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Toy Story Land will span 11 acres and feature two new attractions. The land shrinks guests to the size of toys and transport them to Andy’s backyard.

Chapek welcomed Imagineer Kathy Mangum to the stage to discuss the project in more detail were Mangum went on to note that Toy Story Land would be on-par with Cars Land in terms of scope and detail. This bit is worth noting because Toy Story Land will not debut with an E-Ticket attraction of its own as Cars Land did in 2012. Instead, Disney is using the popular Toy Story Midway Mania! D-Ticket attraction as the land’s anchor and adding a third track to that ride to add capacity. The two C-ticket rides are a re-themed version of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree from Cars Land featuring the Little Green Men aliens and a new family roller coaster themed to Slinky Dog.

Below, official descriptions of the new Toy Story Land and attractions:

The reimagining of Disney’s Hollywood Studios will take guests to infinity and beyond, allowing them to step into the worlds of their favorite films, starting with Toy Story Land. This new 11-acre land will transport guests into the adventurous outdoors of Andy’s backyard. Guests will think they’ve been shrunk to the size of Woody and Buzz as they are surrounded by oversized toys that Andy has assembled using his vivid imagination. Using toys like building blocks, plastic buckets and shovels, and game board pieces, Andy has designed the perfect setting for this land, which will include two new attractions for any Disney park and one expanded favorite.

  • Family-friendly roller coaster – All on the back of Slinky Dog, this coaster will zip and zoom, plunge and coast as it takes guests on a fun, toy-filled adventure throughout the new land.
  • Alien saucers attraction – The famous little green aliens from the movie will take guests around for a spin in their very own flying saucers. The music, lighting and sound effects add to the flurry of action, while “The Claw” looms over.
  • Toy Story Mania! – Guests glide into the Toy Story Midway Games Play Set and take aim at 3D objects in a variety of fast-paced games, with an expansion that adds a third track to this popular attraction.

It’s great to see Disney’s Hollywood Studios get new attractions, but to follow up the show-stopping Star Wars Land announcements with Toy Story Land was probably not the best move. While new attractions are sorely needed at this park, I can’t help but feel like Toy Story Land is a cheap option for Walt Disney World. 11 acres for an exposed rollercoaster and a flat ride seems like a lot of wasted space, especially for Toy Story Land which has been a garish mess of visual clutter in the other two parks that it’s been built in. Sure, Disney says this version will be on-par with Cars Land, in terms of quality, suggesting a much nicer version of the land… but did Andy’s back yard have sweeping vistas and stunning landscapes that Disney is planning on recreating like they did in Cars Land? The concept art says no.

Frozen Ever After

Following Toy Story Land, Mangum moved on to Epcot where she updated the audience on the Frozen-themed makeover of the Norway pavilion’s beloved boat ride.

While Star Wars and Toy Story Land were met enthusiastically by the audience, the crowd’s response to Frozen was tepid, at best. Still, Mangum pushed through, revealing the upcoming attraction’s marquee, and noting that the attraction will feature an all-new song and recorded dialogue from the film’s cast.

A look at the upcoming animatronic figure for Sven.

Mangum ended her Frozen preview by giving a look at the Norway Pavilion’s expansion to include a permanent meet-and-greet for Anna and Elsa. Mangum noted Imagineers visited Norway to research historic buildings for inspiration on the new expansion.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom and
Pandora: The World of AVATAR


After checking in at Epcot, the attention shifted to Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

Chapek invited Imagineer Joe Rohde to the stage to discuss the progress on Animal Kingdom’s expansion into a full-day theme park which will see that park’s hours extended well into the evening on a regular basis.

Rohde noted the importance of the park’s nature theme and the desire to turn the park into a viable nighttime experience. Below, the night comes alive with a new fireflies special effect at the Tree of Life.

Of course, a large part of the park’s expansion into a full-day experience hinges on the upcoming AVATAR-themed land that’s under construction now.

As part of the park’s expansion, the popular Kilamanjaro Safaris will be expanded and more animals will be added to the savannah. As night falls, Rohde noted a new special effect will make the magical orange glow of sunset “continue indefinitely” into the evening sky. Below, the official description:

This popular attraction will be extended for a new nighttime adventure next spring, where guests will travel through the African savanna amid the magically extended orange glow of the setting sun and discover two species new to the attraction: African wild dogs and hyenas.

Rohde also discussed the park’s upcoming “Rivers of Light” nighttime water show, saying it will start subtly and slowly build into a larger-than-life spectacle. The show will feature special lighting effects and projections. The official description:

Expected to open next spring, “Rivers of Light” will be an innovative experience unlike anything ever seen in a Disney park, combining live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. “Rivers of Light” will magically come to life on the natural stage of Discovery River, delighting guests and truly capping off a full day of adventures at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

To discuss the upcoming AVATAR-themed area, Rohde invited AVATAR filmmakers James Cameron and Jon Landau to the stage.

Rohde’s enthusiasm for Animal Kingdom is electric and that’s true even for the AVATAR project, which Rohde describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for two creative companies to collaborate. Cameron said the Imagineers are crazier than he is and noted how impressed he was by their plans for the project.

Cameron insisted that the land, officially named Pandora: The World of AVATAR, won’t be a simple retelling of the movie, it will be an all-new experience that is unique to the theme park guests.

Pandora’s big E-Ticket attraction will be called AVATAR Flight of Passage and will be a next-generation version of Soarin.’ Rohde described the ride as “almost a thrill ride” and will take guests on a flight with Banshees — that fight being a regular rite of passage for the Na’vi of Pandora.

Below, the official AVATAR Flight of Passage description:

This E-ticket attraction, the centerpiece of Pandora, allows guests to soar on a Banshee over a vast alien world. The spectacular flying experience will give guests a birds-eye view of the beauty and grandeur of the world of Pandora on an aerial rite of passage.

The land will also include a boat ride that will transport riders to a portion of Pandora’s bio-luminescent forest that’s in a perpetual state of bioluminescence. Rohde described as being a “lyrical” experience.

The team went on to discuss the research done when planning the land, noting that even though it’s a fictional place, it features very real things. Rohde noted the need to research rock types and textures for the design and construction of Pandora’s floating mountains and said that it’s important Disney gets even detail right because while things like floating mountains were only seen for seconds in the film, they will be able to be observed for hours on end when built in the park. Cameron discussed the thematic narrative of the land, which will take place after the war depicted in the film, during a time in which humans are welcome to visit the planet.

While I wasn’t too thrilled when Disney originally announced plans to build an AVATAR-themed attraction at Animal Kingdom, the more I see now of the project the more interested I get. Joe Rohde’s enthusiasm and passion are infectious and the team really seems to be working hard to make this a truly special experience whether you liked the film or not. The boat ride looks particularly promising and the bioluminescent plant life throughout the land is a perfect complement to the other nighttime-focused expansion efforts being added to the park. I usually don’t spend too much time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom during my Walt Disney World vacations, but I think after the park’s expansion projects are finished, it may be difficult to pull me away.

Iron Man Experience

From Florida, Chapek took the audience over to Hong Kong Disneyland where we got an update on the under-construction Iron Man Experience attraction from Imagineer Ted Robledo.

The new Iron Man Experience starts out in the Stark Expo, which has come to Tomorrowland. The Expo will feature Stark inventions on display before guests are invited to take flight aboard Stark’s latest invention, the Iron Wing.

The Iron Wing takes to see the new Hong Kong Stark Tower, featuring the world’s largest Arc Reactor. The tour is eventually interrupted by an all-new HYDRA villain and guests aboard the Iron Wing along with Iron Man himself have to work together to save the day.

The ride’s official description below:

Set to open in 2016, Iron Man Experience will be the first Marvel attraction at any Disney park, taking guests on an epic adventure over the streets and in the sky above Hong Kong. The adventure will begin at the new Stark Expo where guests board the Iron Wing to take flight and battle Hydra alongside fan-favorite Avenger, Iron Man.

The arc reactor at the top of the Hong Kong Stark Tower.

Battling HYDRA with Iron Man.

The Iron Man Experience portion of the presentation included an on-going bit that was supposed to include the appearance of Iron Man himself. Iron Man’s appearance kept getting delayed and Robledo and Chapek distracted from the super hero being a no-show by awarding a member of the audience a special trip to Hong Kong to meet Iron Man. The giveaway was all part of the act, however, and the winner was none other than Marvel Legend Stan Lee who got up on stage to proclaim himself the “greatest cameo actor of all time.”

And eventually, Iron Man did show up.

The new Iron Man Experience is Disney’s first big E-Ticket theme park investment in Marvel, and unfortunately, the attraction so far looks like a mixed bag. It utilizes the Star Tours simulator ride system and the exclusive sneak peek at a portion of the ride movie shown at Expo didn’t look like Marvel Studios-quality special effects. Instead, at first glance, it looked a lot like something from an Iron Man video game cut scene. The ride doesn’t open until next year, so hopefully what was saw was unfinished material and the final product is far superior. But if the D23 Expo’s sneak peek really does give an accurate idea of what the final attraction will be like, then it looks like Universal Orland’s The Amazing Spider-Man attraction will hold onto its title of best Marvel theme park attraction for the time being.

Shanghai Disney Resort

Next up, Imagineer Bob Weis took the stage to discuss progress on the Shanghai Disneyland project.

Weis mentioned his memories of visiting Disneyland growing up, explaining that he’s taking Shanghai Disneyland very seriously even though Disney has “reinvented” the Disney Park experience for Shanghai Disneyland.

The park will feature many significant departures from the traditional Magic Kingdom-style park design. Main Street, U.S.A. is gone in favor of the new “Mickey Avenue,” and the park’s central plaza is the largest in any park, featuring attractions, gardens and the world’s largest Disney parade route.

The tea house in Shanghai Disneyland will feature stunning views of the castle.

The park will feature Disney’s first Pirates of the Caribbean-themed land and architecture for the land was based on 18th century Caribbean architecture.

The TRON Lightcycle Power Run will be the centerpiece of the park’s Tomorrowland and will be one of the fastest roller coasters Disney has ever built.

Below, construction on the park’s Roaring Rapid’s attraction in the Adventure Isle area. The creature found inside Roaring Rapids was designed after Imagineers met with international paleontologists and visiting Chinese archaeological dig sites.

The new Storybook Castle will be Disney’s largest castle ever build and feature a restaurant, a Bibbidy Bobbity Boutique, an interactive walk-through attraction, a boat ride and more.

The Voyage to the Crystal Grotto boat ride will travel underneath the Castle.

And the new interactive walk-through attraction will be based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Shanghai Disneyland is set to open in 2016 and looks more and more compelling as more information is released on this unique park. In addition to being featured in the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation, Shanghai Disneyland was the star of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Pavilion on the D23 Expo show floor. We’ll have a lot more to show you of Shanghai Disneyland later this week.

Soarin’ Around The World

Finally, Chapek returned to the stage to make one last announcement. The Soarin’ theme that Chapek loosely used to tie together the presentation came full circle and Chapek revealed that the new “Soarin’ Around the World” would debut spring 2016 at Disney California Adventure and in Epcot.

Chapek said new technology had been developed by Imagineering for the new film, which will replace the original Soarin’ Over California film at both Disney California Adventure and Epcot.

While Soarin’ Around the World will be a perfect fit at Epcot, replacing Soarin’s California film at Disney California Adventure seems a bit strange. After all, it’s one of the few remaining things that relates to the park’s California theme but the original film’s time has probably come and gone by now. If we can’t get a new film of different California sights, then a film from around the world is probably the next best thing.

Grand Finale

The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation wrapped up with a performance by Disneyland Resort Cast Members performing a medley of theme park music. The lively performance was finished with a burst of fireworks.

Below, a video re-cap of the presentation’s highlights.

Want to watch the entire presentation? Our friends at have you covered:

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Weekly News & Information Round-Up
Weekly Theme Park Hours
August 17-23, 2015
[B]Disneyland Park[/B] [B]California Adventure[/B]
Daily: 8 am – 12 am Daily: 8 am – 10 pm
[CENTER]For a complete listing of theme park hours,
visit the Theme Park Calendar
[center]Closure and Refurbishment Schedule[/center]
[b][center]Disneyland Park[/center][/b]
  • Innoventions: To reopen later this year with new Star Wars Launch Bay exhibit.
  • Starcade: Closed indefintely.
  • Tomorrowland Theatre: Closed indefintely.
[b][center]Disney California Adventure[/center][/b]
  • Luigi’s Flying Tires: Closed for re-Imagineering into new attraction. Reopening expected in early 2016.
  • Muppet*Vision 3D: Dark indefinitely while theater is used for Frozen-themed show.
  • [B]Blue Sky Cellar:[/B] Closed indefinitely.
[b][center]Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels[/center][/b]
Tomorrowplan Crowd Estimates for Disneyland Resort from Mouseaddict

August 17-23


  • We expect crowds to dip now that summer is ending, however there is still pent up demand for the new entertainment from SoCal Passholders who have been blocked out.
  • Activate Tomorrowplan today and get crowd projections all the way through Halloween. Already a Tomorrowplan user? You’ll get the projections automagically. Tap Tomorrowplan in the Mouseaddict app.
  • Have you checked out the new Wait Watcher feature in Mouseaddict? When you don’t want to wait in a long queue, just tell us how long you’re willing to wait. Wait Watcher will notify you when the wait time reaches that time. Only in Mouseaddict.

The free Mouseaddict app for iPhone and iPad features more than five dozen categories of searchable resort information, weather forecasts, park and show schedules, the latest news and articles from MiceChat, and more. Download free on the App Store or at

[center]Headline Roundup
A quick look at noteworthy Disney theme park headlines from around the web.[/center]
Okay, that wraps up todays’ edition of Dateline Disneyland. What do you think of the latest news from Disney Parks and Resorts? Excited for Star Wars and Toy Story Land? What do you think of the Iron Man Experience? Let us know in the comments section below!

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[B]- Andy[/B]

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