It’s been a while since we’ve glanced at the current state of construction, renovation, and rumors at the WDW theme parks and resorts, so it’s high time to see what’s cooking–some of which is necessarily rife with speculation and half-known answers, so please, take all of it with the requisite grain of salt. For my money, when you add it all up, things are still moving and shaking at Walt Disney World. They may not be building massively fast attractions like Universal, but they are definitely still moving.

Pandora – The World of AVATAR

Ground was officially broken several days ago, with bigwigs showing up to wield oversize shovels and take a press picture with a gigantic blue alien (statue, I think). The irony was not lost of some online commentators–weren’t the Na’vi all about PRESERVING nature rather than demolition work? Nevertheless, the larger point was that the land will actually be built, as I’ve been saying for some time now. There are just too many vested executives who see this as a crowning achievement. By hook or crook, it’s coming. So far it has meant the closing of Festival of the Lion King (which will return to Africa in several months in a newly-built arena behind Tusker House) and all of Camp Minnie-Mickey.


Nighttime DAK Entertainment

We’ve talked before about overnight tests done on a water projection system (think: sideways) in the lagoon near Expedition Everest. That could give the park a Fantasmic/World of Color-like show, likely without much (any?) pyrotechnics due to the animals’ proximity.

The Tree of Life is now going to get in on the nighttime act, with highly-detailed projections mapped onto its surface the way we see shows now done on Cinderella Castle (in other words, with much realism). Does this mean the Tree of Life will become the Na’vi Hometree? That they will use projections and animations to “attack” the tree and topple it, figuratively?

Disney Springs

There is actually a stunning amount of work being done to Downtown Disney. The parking garage is only the most high-profile – and it will certainly make me more likely to visit in the future. The switchout from Wetzel’s Pretzels to Starbucks, plus another Starbucks in a new location just outside World of Disney adds some caffeinated zing to the place, but there’s a ton more going on, much of it centered around Pleasure Island. Huge sections are now boarded up, and you have to take the new bypass boardwalk next to the balloon to the get to the other side. They are building still other new structures in the area once home to the Motion dance club. They removed Cap’n Jack’s and the nearby marina. They’re building a bridge from Saratoga Springs to the Marketplace (near the t-shirt shop). Soon, Team Mickey will close and be replaced by another Disney shop. The West Side has had recent additions (Smokehouse fast food, Fit2Run, relocated Curl). They’ve played with various locations for four theme-park-themed food trucks, though this food is overpriced.

Pleasure Island as seen in November 2013.
Pleasure Island as seen in November 2013.

It’s a little bit dizzying. There’s so much activity it’s hard to know where to look. And still the hordes descend on the place. Since Pleasure Island closed, the place has only gotten MORE crowded.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster

Work zings along…OK, work proceeds apace…. er, OK fine, things crawl forward here. But there is progress. There are new decorative elements every few weeks, the area now has trees, and they have definitely been running cars through the track. So yes, it’s being built, slowly. No, it doesn’t look complete. No, I don’t have any clue when they might open it. Certainly not in the coming weeks. Summer?

As seen twelve months ago, in January 2013.
As seen twelve months ago, in January 2013.
And how that area looked one year later in January of 2014.

Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade

The Disney Parks Blog has been very loud about their praise for this new daytime parade (will it be equipped with bright lights for nighttime operation too? So says one rumor). It certainly does seem impressive. I’ve heard second hand that the music will be a crowd-pleaser, both upbeat and fast. I’m trying not to get my hopes too high, but it’s hard not to!

Main Street Bypass

WDWMagic has reported that the backstage area behind Main Street (on the Tomorrowland side) will be repurposed for a more permanent “bypass” so we can skip the overly crowded Main Street. I don’t know if that means they will build covered “arcades” like they have down the sides at Disneyland Paris, or just shunt us down here with more elaborate (and permanent) decorations if the area becomes permanently on-stage. I don’t know if there will be stores/shops. What I do know is that the planter right in this area, near the bathrooms below the ramp at Noodle Station, was recently removed, and that fits right in with the idea that there will soon be a bypass here to avoid Main Street.

Star Wars Land


The enduring popularity of Star Wars, the partnership with Lucas, the outright PURCHASE of Lucasfilm, and the creation of new Star Wars movies all but guarantees that DHS will see a new Star Wars land. There’s just way too much synergy to imagine otherwise, and Iger has hinted at it. They can’t build anything with Marvel on this side of the Mississippi, which only increases the odds that Star Wars will get funded. Exactly WHAT it will be is unknown. There have been some patent filings that could be associated (maybe a dogfighting simulator – an attack on the Death Star?), but that’s far from certain. Will we see Backlot Express rethemed to Star Wars–perhaps Mos Eisley Cantina? There were rumored plans to change the entire road system leading into DHS. If cars drove in from the street where Art of Animation is, the entire land currently used by the offramp and main entry plaza, plus some forested areas, could become Star Wars. I used to think the Indy stunt show was likely a goner, but then again, Indy is likely to have new movies, too, so probably not.


Once the hot idea to “fix” DHS (by removing Backlot Tram Tour and Lights, Motors, Action), this on-again, off-again project is kind of a big “who knows” to outsiders right now. Maybe we’ll get this AND Star Wars… or maybe Star Wars will eat its budget and be the only expansion to DHS.

Flamingo Crossing

The area once slated more than five years ago for a new multipurpose development (cheap hotels, supermarket, and a second shopping district like Downtown Disney) sits at the end of Western Way, a little-known street near Blizzard Beach but darting several miles across the pristine WDW property over here. This zone was sidelined by the recession and shows no signs of life to this day. They built curbs, streetlights, paved roads, and some manicured lawns (which they still maintain), but there is nothing but nothing happening over here still.

Any takers?
Any takers? Photo from 2012.

Water Pageant Bridge

There are modular, white (plastic?) floating barges near the canal used to store the Electrical Water Pageant floats in the daytime. They seem, for all the world, like they could/should/have been used to create a walking/driving bridge across this canal. I don’t know to what end they are there, but would certainly welcome a way to walk all the way around the Seven Seas Lagoon, for exercise if nothing else.

Wildcard: Frozen Meet and Greet

The runaway success of Frozen has translated to heightened demand for the Elsa and Anna meet and greet currently in Norway. This tiny converted shop requires six Cast Members to run and can only let in fewer than 100 guests per hour (by my calculation, witnessing their early efforts), so clearly they are on the lookout for some new way to get Frozen into the parks permanently. People whisper about replacing Maelstrom with a Frozen boat ride–I don’t know how valid those suggestions are, or if they are wishful thinking. Certainly the princesses have a lot of demand, so at a minimum I’d expect a permanent presence for them (perhaps they will take over the Akershus meals?)

Polynesian Resort DVC

The destruction of the spit of land on Polynesian Beach called Sunset Point was weeks ago, so the infrastructure-laying for the DVC units of Polynesian Resort is well underway, despite the lack of any announcement from Disney. There are very vehement rumors that the waterfall effect in the main lobby is doomed. This area has recently seen the closure of the Wyland Gallery store, as well.

Operational Changes

  1. The rollout of FastPass+ and any necessary tweaking is the big news, of course. They’ve been taking parts one at a time to the paperless system, and Magic Kingdom just made the switch. I’m hearing both positive and negative reports–the same mixture that characterized the first switch at DAK. I suspect some of it will be ironed out by tweaking processes, and others will just have to be chalked up to changing people’s behavior. And expectations. Especially expectations.
  2. Tucked in around the edges are always new experiments–things that go on sale, say, or new eateries (I’ll bring you a review shortly of the new Smokehouse quick-service location that JUST yesterday opened at House of Blues, as well as the Spice Road Table in Morocco, which opened more than a week ago). A post on WDWMagic claimed recently that Creature Comforts, a shop near DAK’s first aid and baby station, would close about a year from now to possibly become yet another Starbucks. DHS recently got two new coffee shops (Joffrey’s Coffee) but may also get a Starbucks (at Starring Rolls? Writer’s Stop?)
  3. Hub expansion: they may be looking to shrink the grass sections in the Hub even further, to generate more concrete zones (obviously, so there are more viewing areas for the parades and fireworks). Will the rose garden be leveled and converted? One rumor suggest the moats themselves around the Hub may be changing – does that mean removed? Or just more bridges added?
  4. Someone told me they heard (sigh: it even SOUNDS bad to type it like that) that the RapidFill soda dispensers now deployed at the resort hotels are causing enough confusion, anger, and breakage that some managers are just disabling the RFID function and turning the machines back into regular “all you want” refills. I have no independent confirmation of this as yet – feel free to weigh in at the comments below!
  5. More than one source has told me the garlands across Main Street will not return in the next Christmas season, as the new parade floats are too tall. A few places online have claimed that Osborne Lights won’t return next year at all–this one seems less “confirmed” by a supermajority, however.
  6. Monorail automation – with pilots still onboard but dispatching vehicles the way any ride operator does it inside the parks – is likely to be completed and implemented in 2014.
  7. Cast Members have heard whispers of another 24-hour operational day for Memorial Day weekend.
  8. Will ABC Commissary go to table-service instead of quick service for the dinner hours? So says one rumor making the rounds. This is the pattern we see at Be Our Guest and seems likely for many/most restaurants built in the future.
Unrelated: Diagon Alley at Universal seen through a telephoto lens and some construction beams.
Unrelated: Diagon Alley at Universal seen through a telephoto lens and some construction beams.

Projects Placed Back on the Shelf

Ideas, attractions, and other expansions once supposedly discussed but seemingly cooling their heels in Development Hell (may never get built? Were never serious considerations to begin with?) include:

  1. Monsters Inc. doors coaster, for Pixar Place
  2. Crush’s Coaster, for Pixar Place
  3. Tom Sawyer Island becoming a peninsula, with no more riverboat activity since there would be no loop of water
  4. Fort Wilderness DVC (on the shoreline facing Wilderness Lodge)

WDW Clicks #12

Diagon Alley updates at Universal (including a tiny peek at Leaky Cauldron), plus CityWalk construction, Falcon’s Fury construction at Busch Gardens Tampa, Monster Jam truck event at Citrus Bowl in Orlando this Saturday, and a new Walt Disney World Earbook (for calendar year 2013) is now on sale!

Direct link:

2013 WDW Earbook now on sale!

Since 2010, I’ve published an annual book chronicling the changes, additions, and significant alterations to Walt Disney World over the course of that year. It’s a little bit like the high school yearbook, and it is meant to work like that in real life (pick one up five years later, and marvel at all the memories). As a result, it bears the name Walt Disney World ‘Earbook.

The 2013 version is now ready and available for sale online:

The retail price is $12.99 but Amazon often discounts from there (today, it’s $11.69).

There was a lot added to Walt Disney World in 2013, including Princess Fairytale Hall, A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, Villas at Grand Floridian, Limited Time Magic, Jingle Cruise, Long Lost Friends, MagicBands, Wilderness Explorers, Norsk Kultur, Princesse Plass, Rapunzel Bathrooms, Prince Eric’s Village Market, L’artisan des Glaces, Lava Lounge, and several Starbucks shops.

We bade goodbye to Apricot Lane, Bamboo, Beastly Bazaar, Cap’n Jack Restaurant, Club 626, Countdown to Fun, Disney Channel Rocks, Fuego, Haagen Dazs, National Treasures at the American Heritage Gallery, Sid Cahuenga’s, SmarterPlanet, Sound Stage, SpectroMagic, Stave Church Gallery, and Wetzel’s Pretzels.

Re-live the special events, additions, removals, and alterations with this yearbook-style volume designed to show, using hundreds of pictures, how rapidly the portrait of life at Walt Disney World changes. An index at the back will make finding information even years from now a breeze.

The book is 66 pages, with hundreds of full color photos inside. If you like this one, you are always welcome to check out previous editions – 2012 ‘Earbook, 2011 ‘Earbook, 2010 ‘Earbook.

Free online course in what Disney fairy tales really mean

There’s a completely free, fairly-low-work online class being offered soon (Feb. 10-Mar. 10) that will explain lots of things about Disney Fairy Tales you never considered before:

  • Why does Cinderella’s prince not just look at her face to identify her?
  • Why Snow White was originally a family drama in the worst way – and definitely NOT a story for today’s children!
  • What do those hedges full of thorns in Sleeping Beauty really mean?
  • Why is Ursula so masculine in Little Mermaid, and what does this have to do with the very last shot of the movie?
  • What does Belle’s Beast *really* stand for? Why is he animalistic?
  • What is the symbolism of a frog supposed to imply, in Princess and the Frog?
  • How does Tangled completely change Gothel’s character?
  • Why does Disney change the siblings around from the Snow Queen for Frozen?

The “class” is open to the public – no prerequisites required whatsoever. You sign up (which is basically one of the Massive Open Online Courses – or MOOC for short – that allows for free college-level content provided to the masses). There are not even any costs for books – everything is provided (electronically) for free.

Expect about maybe an hour or two of reading per week – that’s the only work/homework in the class! This course has no completion certificate, and thus no essays to write. New content gets unlocked each week. Since it costs nothing to join, you’ve got nothing to lose! You can do the work each week whenever you feel like it; there are no synchronous meetings. You decide when in the week you want to participate!

Full course description:
Princess stories have been popular for centuries and remain so today around the world; we’ll dive into what these fairy tales mean, and trace the history of these narratives back to their source material, examining contexts all along the way. We’ll borrow tools from cultural studies, literature studies, and film studies to help us analyze these phenomena and what they mean to our society.Many of us may associate princess stories with modern-day products (much of it marketed to small children) or with Disney movies and theme parks. We’ll examine these current versions of fairy tale mythos as well, using our new interpretive tools to uncover not just what’s been changed in the moral and message of the narrative, but what the stories mean as told now.Direct link: this class was previously offered in Fall 2013. It’s essentially the same course now, with the same content, so if you saw it once, there’s no need to sign up again!

  • CaptainAction

    Two of the most “ho hum” or “you’re kidding” themes ever mentioned from WDW and Universal Orlando have to be Avatar and Smurfs.
    Some WDW exec has such a man crush on Jim C that they go after his much hyped and public lost interest a LONG time ago Avatar. Avatar wasn’t creative when it came out, it just looked different. The story was as lame and predictable. Jim C went off to try and write 2 sequels and came back to hire writers when nothing he came up with panned out.
    Universal thinks 50 different Smurfs, collect them all, will be a big money maker. Smurf 2 did worse than Smurf 1 in USA. Universal could still shelve the idea and I hope they do. Only thing worse could be a shared Smurf and Chipmunk land to drive guests to buy massive amounts of Universal branded Advil.

    • jcruise86

      Jim C. is a genius.

  • danlb_2000

    Couple things to add to what was reported. On the Main Street Bypass an aerial picture of that area from before the holidays showed the removal of some trees in the area behind Main Street and the removal of a large tank of some sort from backstage. The picture also showed a large section of the cast parking lot being torn up back there. Something is definitely going backstage on the Tomorrowland side of Main Street.

    Some more recent picture of the work near Water Pageant cannel showed that what was being constructed was NOT a bridge but actually a floating boat dock. Speculation is that this is just being used as a staging area and this dock will eventually replace one the existing ones maybe at MK or the TTC.

  • FerretAfros

    I was under the impression that the area between the Studios and Art of Animation was largely a preserved wilderness area, so Disney wouldn’t be able to reroute an access road through there. Even so, it would make sense for them to modify the existing south toll plaza (creating more park space within the existing footprint) and expand the one of Buena Vista Dr, since that’s where traffic tends to back up

    This is the first I’ve heard about table service at the ABC Commissary, but I sure hope they improve the food if they do the switch. My one time eating there last year was by far my worst meal in 5+ trips

  • gboiler1

    After reading comments about Avatar for the past couple years, including a lot of displeasure from the Disney boards community, which I believe makes up a tiny but vocal population, I look at the project from this perspective. It’s not the movie coming to DAK but its a taste of Pandora which is totally different. Yes the movie was cutting edge and perhaps predictible, but the wow factor was the floating mountains, incredible wildlife and fascinating fauna. I think people forget this may be an incredible experience only attainable through our imaginations. I, for one, am really looking forward to 2017 and beyond.

    • TheBig2na

      This is my perspective as well. Didn’t like the movie that much, but it should be an incredible experience. At the very least its something new which is a good thing.

    • jcruise86

      Good post, gboller1! I didn’t love Cars, but I do love DCA’s Carsland.

    • MikeK

      The problem with Avatar is it’s not a Disney film or I.P. It just doesn’t fit. It’s a reaction to HP at Universal.

      It’s sad that they have financial MBAs deciding what goes into the parks. They really need a right brained visionary making the creative decisions.

    • mondo

      I can’t wait for Avatar land.

  • OprylandUSA

    Yay! Flamingo Crossings!

  • Disney Adventure

    Gboiler1 and TheBig2na, excellent points.

    I liked the movie AVATAR, but I felt it was a little weak story wise. But Avatar Land isn’t going to be a gigantic movie theater playing AVATAR on a loop, it’s going to be Pandora. Which is a fascinating place, and unlike anything anywhere. I’m confident that floating mountains, alien wildlife, and a bioluminescent jungle at night will DEFINITELY feel like being transported into another world and it’s going to be amazing.

    • mondo

      good post

  • snookers

    Kevin, when the Disney Parks Blog showed the photo of the groundbreaking, the description read “In this photo illustration, they were joined by Jake Sully, showing the scale of characters from the “AVATAR” film.” So I don’t believe it was a statue, but rather it was a digitally altered (or “illustrated”) photo. Other than that, great update. I am excited about the bridge from Saratoga Springs to Downtown Disney (er,Disney Springs) as when you stay at the resort it has always been too time consuming to wait for transportation to get across the lake. It seemed it would be faster to swim there than to wait for the boat or take the ridiculously long bus ride.

  • StevenW

    “The irony was not lost of some online commentators–weren’t the Na’vi all about PRESERVING nature rather than demolition work?”

    Are they suggesting Animal Kingdom should be closed and returned to a swamp? I can take the irony literally to the ground.

    I’m glad to see Avatar finally being built. I’ve been waiting for this to come.

  • WookieCookie

    So is the official name, Pandora – The World of AVATAR, or just Avatar Land? I’d much prefer the first one that uses the Pandora name.

  • Susan Hughes

    I’m sorry, but Pandora may be a fascinating place, but it’s nothing that will make people plunk down tons of money and use up their hard-earned vacation days just to go see it.
    It won’t be the draw they are crossing their fingers for. Avatar may be the biggest money making film of all time, but it’s allure came and went very quickly. By the time the land is finished…and the sequel has already bombed at the box office…the opening will be a ho-hum event.
    The only good thing I see coming out of the construction for this land finally happening is, it just may put to rest the rumors of DHS ripping off Cars Land in California. That STILL is a huge hit, bringing in tons of people. And it’s all ours out here on the West Coast. And it should stay that way!

    • StevenW

      You’re going to bet against James Cameron’s Avatar sequels. That’s the wrong bet.

      You’re saying its fascinating, but people won’t pay to see it. That’s contradictory.

      Oh well. Unbelievable. How Avatar makes people blue in the face.

  • Disney Adventure

    Susan Hughes, you don’t care for AVATAR the movie, but that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be a great land at Animal Kingdom. I think CARS the movie (and even more so the sequel) is a huge step down in quality amongst the Pixar films, but Cars Land in Disney California Adventure is awesome.

    • jcruise86

      Great minds think alike. So do ours! 🙂

    • Susan Hughes

      Cars 2 may have sucked, but the the original was a hit. And the characters are popular. People who have never seen Cars are familiar with Lightning McQueen and Mater. AND…they’re Disney!
      Then there’s Avatar. Not only did the “buzz” over that film fade quickly, but the characters are quite forgettable. AND…they’re a bad fit for Disney. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Muppets, and yes…even Marvel, are all good fits for Disney. Avatar? Please!

  • jcruise86

    Thanks for the column, Kevin!
    I liked the WDW Clicks video.

  • Aladdin

    Alien Avatar just does NOT fit into Animal Kingdom. Aliens and Outerspace adventures belong in the STUDIOS Park, NOT in the Earth based Animal Kingdom . . . . Heck, Planet of the Apes would fit better than Avatar, and I bet would be a bigger draw!

    • mondo

      Where does it say that AK is only limited to Earth’s creature. Show me any written, spoken by imagineers proof and repeated, would be nice. I’m not arguing, I just want to know.

  • SpectroMan

    I’m thrilled for Avatar, if for no other reason than nighttime hours at DAK and some sort of night show! I think it’ll be awesome and not that crowded for several years, making it a great 2nd half of a park hopping day.


    You mentioned changes in the hub, it occurred to me a while back that since swan boats used to pass under Main Street USA, they could construct a sidewalk alongside the water there to make a “parade bypass” for folks going from the Adventureland side of the park to the Tomorrowland side of the park, just a little armchair imagineering on my part, but with the attempt to create more park capacity every year this is on thing that would help to reduce gridlock.

    • Kevin Yee

      That… is… BRILLIANT! A parade underpass!! I hope they are thinking of something like that.

  • tofubeast

    Awesome round up of rumors etc! Just to add:

    It appears very likely there will be another 24 hour party because May 24-25 are black out dates for the Florida Discover Disney spring ticket deal.

    I spoke to a few Monorail operators and they all stated that the system was converting to being fully computer driven this year. They were all sad about this change.

  • mondo

    Why would they make Tom Sawyer’s Island a peninsula/ no water loop? What would be the reason?

  • Kevin Yee

    The island rumor was accompanied by a new ride – possibly a raft ride – in the far corner of Frontierland. But to do it would mean removing some of the river. Plus, if the island were accessible by walking, it might be more heavily used. But this rumor has been dormant for a long time now.

  • Not My Real Name

    Get rid of the riverboat?? Now that would definitely make Walt turn over in his grave. Or urn. I’m glad it’s only an old rumor