D23 Expo 2017 – Ride Recap

D23 Expo 2017 – Ride Recap

With over a hundred episodes we have covered a lot of ground at Walt Disney World.  Fortunately for us, the parks are ever changing and evolving which means we always have new things on the horizon.  A little over a week ago, the 2017 D23 Expo took place out in California.  If you are unfamiliar with the event, it takes place every two years and is the ultimate destination for Disney fans.  Over the course of the weekend, Disney outlines their plans for the next couple of years, including everything from films to parks to resorts and more!  This convention is one of the most exciting times to be a Disney fan as we get to learn about all the new experiences in the works.

This year did not disappoint and there is so much to talk about!  As your ride guide we will focus on the Walt Disney World ride news to come out of this year’s expo.  If you want to learn more about the other parks, resorts, or films click here.  To see the full parks and resorts presentation click here.  As for today, we will have a jam packed episode just focusing on rides.

Before we begin, I want to reflect for just a minute.  In preparation for today’s podcast I went back and looked at our recap from 2015.  That episode included news on Frozen Ever After, Soarin’ Around the World, Pandora and more.  It is hard to believe two years have gone by already and now we can enjoy each of those rides in the parks.  If you haven’t listened to that episode you click here.  I think it’s a fun way to look back at the announcements from two years ago and see how they have come to life today.

Believe it or not, it won’t be too long before the rides we discuss today will become reality as well.  When everything we are about to cover opens up I think Walt Disney World is going to look and feel a lot different then it does today.   Fasten your safety belts, keep you arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, because we are going for a ride on our D23 Expo 2017 – Ride Recap!

The overarching theme of everything about to happen is Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.  This will take place starting in 2021, making this year the target goal for many of the rides we are exploring today.  I love the fact that we have a firm date that ties into the 50th Anniversary.  As we all know, construction seemingly always takes longer than planned and delays seem part of the process.  However, when you have a firm deadline that has to be meet, something amazing happens, the construction gets done one way or another.  It may take crews working around the clock as the deadline approaches, but having this firm target ensures a finished product is produced in time.  Disney knows this and they know they don’t want to let their fan base down.  So, what has been announced are the things Disney feels confident in completing on time.  I think there are other things in the works, things that didn’t get announced at D23, that we could see by 2021.  Those will be the happy surprises if they make it to the parks on time.  The rides discussed today are the ones we can count on and really look forward to.  So, if it isn’t otherwise noted as we go along, plan on the timeframe for each of today’s rides to be open by 2021.

The Parks and Resorts Presentation at D23 began with Star Wars.  We will get to that in a moment but I want to start somewhere else today.  Somewhere with very exciting ride news that we didn’t have confirmed until this expo.  Let’s head on over to Epcot!

Changes to Epcot have been teased for a while now.  Rumors have been circulating about a new World Showcase pavilion, a changing of the guard at Journey Into Imagination, and some very popular Marvel characters making their way into the park.  Well, there has been no announcement about Journey Into Imagination or a new pavilion around the World Showcase lagoon, but we now know the Guardians of the Galaxy are coming to Future World in Epcot!

Guardians of the Galaxy –  Universe of Energy

Photo – Disney

It is time to say goodbye to Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ellen over at the Universe of Energy.  This ride will be closed for good on August 13, 2017.  While I’m sure there are some fans of this ride still out there, I am not one of them.  Other than being a great place to catch 45-minute air conditioned nap, there wasn’t a lot of redeeming quality left in this ride.  Due to the extremely outdated nature of the film used on the ride, it had been rumored for some time that the ride would be closed, the building demolished, and a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster put in its place.  We now know that the ride is being closed, but according to the concept art, the building is staying put.  I’m actually excited that we get to keep the history of this space alive in spirit by having the building stick around.  Of course, that means the likelihood of a roller coaster going in this spot is slim to none.  The building is very large, but lacks the height to house a traditional coaster.

Photo – Disney

The building structure also excludes the possibility of recreating The Collector’s Fortress, which is the reimagineering of the Tower of Terror in Disney’s California Adventure.  That ride, by the way, is now the highest rated ride in both Disneyland and DCA.  Keep that in mind if you have any qualms about the Guardians coming to Epcot.  I would bet my house that the new ride will prove to be one of the most popular spots in Epcot.  That is not something that could have ever been said of Ellen’s Energy Adventure during its 21 year run.  All right, so we know it won’t be a copy of the Mission Breakout ride in DCA, and it looks like it won’t be a traditional coaster.  So, what will this ride be?  Well, we are going to have to wait a little longer to find out.  All we know right now is that a young Peter Quill (aka – Star Lord) visited Epcot as a child.  It seems that visit made a strong enough impression to give Peter a reason to return to Epcot with his fellow Guardians.  Stay tuned to the WDW Ride Guide for updates as we learn more information about this exciting new ride.

Mission: SPACE – New Green Mission!

Not far from the updated Guardians ride, Mission: SPACE will be getting an updated Green Mission.  The ride was closed for refurbishment on June 5, but it wasn’t until D23 that we found out why.  There will be a completely different mission coming to the Green side, and an updated version of the Orange mission.  Rather than blast off on a mission to Mars, the new Green mission will take astronauts into orbit around Earth.  The orbital journey will take riders over the Hawaiin islands, boot of Italy, and the Northern Lights before safely landing at the Kennedy Space Center.  This will be a much more gentle flight, akin to Soarin’ Around the World, just from a higher atmosphere.  The goal of the updated mission fits in with the overall goal of making Epcot more family friendly.  The new Green mission will provide an experience that even smaller children will be able to enjoy, making this a ride the whole family can experience, albeit through different missions. The Orange mission will still offer the same intense simulation of pulling several G’s on your way to Mars.  The updated experience includes a new HD video to make the ride look as real as it feels.  Both the Green and Orange missions will blast off again starting August 13th.

Photo – Disney

In addition to the new mission at Mission: SPACE and the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, this part of the park will be getting a brand new spaced themed restaurant.  I know its not a ride, but it is going in between the two rides we just discussed so I thought it was worth mentioning.  This section of the park will have a full blown space theme once everything is up and running.

 

Ratatouille Adventure

Photo – Disney

Perhaps, the most exciting ride announcement for Epcot came when Disney confirmed the Ratatouille ride will be coming to the France Pavilion in the World Showcase.  The original version of this ride, called Ratatouille: The Adventure, opened at Disneyland Paris on July 10, 2014.  That ride has proven to be one of the most popular Disney rides around the globe.  The 4D adventure shrinks you down to the size of Remy the Rat, and a hilarious chase through Gusteau’s famous Parisian restaurant ensues.  The ride utilizes the trackless ride system also found on Pooh’s Hunny Hunt and Mystic Manor.

Details of the Epcot version are still to come, but it is safe to expect a ride very similar to the proven success of Ratatouille: The Adventure in Disneyland Paris.  That would mean a 4:30 minute ride that incorporates both 3D and trackless ride technology.  As for where the ride will go, Disney did confirm it will go in a new area located behind the Eiffel Tower.  It looks like Impressions de France will be staying put, along with all the wonderful dining options in the France pavilion.  This popular ride should be a huge draw to this part of the park, and be another exciting way for kids to engage with the World Showcase.

China Pavilion – New Film!

Another pleasant surprise during the Epcot part of the presentation was the news that a new film will be coming to the China Pavilion.  Disney claims they have developed a next-generation digitally camera system.  This new camera technology will first be used in making an updated film for the China pavilion. The film will continue the tradition of the Circle-Vison 360 film, but do so seamlessly.  Once complete audiences will be able to enter the theater and watch a high definition, 360 degree seamless view of the splendor and majesty of China.  No timeline for the new film has been announced, but expect this to be in place no later than 2021.

Photo – Disney

Finally, before we leave Epcot, there was some concept art released that showed an updated aerial vision of Epcot’s Future World.  Included in the art work were a hedge maze next to the Land Pavilion, a tree covered lawn area where the Innovations pavilions now sit, and some amazing looking new buildings leading into the World Showcase.  While, Disney did not discuss these details, they did spend a few minutes talking about the future of this park.  Epcot has always been designed to be a showcase of the world we live in today, and the world we look forward to living in tomorrow.  Of course the world of today and the world of tomorrow are constantly evolving and changing.  The Epcot of the 1980’s is fondly remembered by many as a magical place.  Over the years though, that magic has dulled as rides, shows, and entire buildings have closed.  Well, Disney recognizes the time has come to restore some of that magic and look for new ways to entertain guests in this park.  As they put it:

“We want to keep it (Epcot) true to the original vision, while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family, and more Disney.”

This statement is key to understanding all of the changes coming to Epcot.  The Guardians of the Galaxy are coming because they are one of the hottest IP’s Disney has right now.  They are both more relevant and more Disney, and perhaps even more family.  Ratatouille is more Disney and more family than anything that side of the World Showcase right now.  Updates to Mission: SPACE and the China film will be more relevant, and a welcome update.  By the year 2021 I have a feeling this will be one of the most interesting parks for kids of all ages.  It will never be the Epcot of the 1980’s again, but hopefully the changes coming will spark the imagination of a whole new generation of visitors.

All right, let’s leave Epcot now and travel over to the Magic Kingdom!  This Walt Disney World original is about to get a ride I can’t wait to experience.

TRON Lightcycle

Photo – Disney

Disney confirmed that the Tron Lightcyle Power Run will be coming to Tomorrowland!  The original version of this ride opened in Shanghai Disneyland on June 16, 2016.  The Lightcycle is a launched steel roller-coaster that takes riders on an adrenaline pumping ride through the Grid.  Riders must be 48” tall to ride, as your Lightcycle gets up to 60 mph racing through the futuristic looking world of TRON.  The race only lasts two minutes, but weaves you in and out of the color shifting canopy housing the ride.  The glowing lights, and strong graphics associated with the film make this an experience for your eyes as much as your stomach.  In short, this is the highest rated attraction at Shanghai Disneyland.

Seeing the success of this ride overseas, Disney knows it is a safe bet to bring the ride to Orlando.  Even though TRON has not set the box office on fire, like Star Wars or Marvel, the visuals of the film translate exceptionally well to a theme park environment.  At night, this is one of the most stunning buildings you will find in any Disney park.  This is one ride we know pretty much exactly what to expect when it makes its debut at the Magic Kingdom.  The only question surrounding the ride, was where it would fit in Tomorrowland.  Before the D23 Expo, rumors had the ride replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway or even the Carousel of Progress.  Well, thanks to the concept art revealed at D23 we know both of those rides are safe for now.  The new Tron ride will sit behind Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Speedway.  A quick look at Google Maps reveals there is plenty of space for this ride on the other side of the railroad tracks.  Look for this exciting new coaster to open in time for the 50th Anniversary in 2021.

New Magic Kingdom Theater inspired by the Willis Wood Theater

Photo – Disney

The TRON coaster is not the only new thing coming to the Magic Kingdom.  There will also be a brand new theater built off of Main Street U.S.A.  The name for the theater is not known at this time, but it will be modeled after the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City.  The Willis Wood Theater operated from 1902-1917, the same time frame that a 10-year old Walt Disney moved to Kansas City.  This tie in with Walt’s childhood should fit right in with the look of Main Street U.S.A.  While we don’t know exactly where this theater will sit, we do know it won’t be taking over an existing structure.  The new building will be rather large, so it will likely sit behind some of the current buildings on Main Street.  My guess would be at the end of the street between the Town Square Theater and the Main Street Confectionary.

As for what will be shown in the theater, we will have to wait to find out.  Disney has been really ramping up live entertainment, both in the parks and on the Disney Cruise Line lately.  The “Frozen Live at the Hyperion” show in DCA has been extremely popular the past couple of years.  I doubt we will see Frozen come into this space, but perhaps something similar with a newer IP.  Whatever it is, you can expect the highest quality of performance with a venue this size.  I will keep you updated as we learn more about the new theater in the Magic Kingdom.

That wraps up the two big announcements from the Magic Kingdom.  Let’s move over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

As a said at the beginning of this episode, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the name of the new Star Wars Land coming in 2019.  As you might expect the D23 presentation spent a lot of time talking about this exciting new immersive land coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  There was even a very detailed model of the land that was on display.  To help give a better sense of what it will be like to walk through Galaxy’s Edge, check out the fly through video below.

We could spend an entire episode on all that awaits with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.  For time’s sake I’m going to quickly highlight what we learned about the two rides.

We did get confirmation and some new concept art of the Millennium Falcon based thrill ride.  Riders will take their seat in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and set off on an action-packed mission.  Everyone in the Falcon will have a role to play in flying the ship, and yes your actions will determine where the ship goes.  It will even be possible to crash the ship!  Of course, doing so means you will fail your mission and there will be consequences even after you have left the ride.  You may want to watch your back if you are strolling around the Cantina later and spot a Bounty Hunter out of the corner of your eye.  On the bright side, if you prove to be a hot shot ace pilot you can expect some type of reward.  This ride, like the entire Star Wars land will be very interactive.  One thing I was most excited to learn was that some new characters will be part of the story with this ride.  For fans of the animated Clone Wars or Rebels series, we got a look at Hondo, that old space pirate, talking with Chewbacca just outside the Falcon.  It looks like Hondo might be looking for a new crew, and piloting the Falcon may be your chance to join his team.

Photo – Disney

The other ride in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, will put you inside the hangar of a Star Destroyer.  The concept art for this ride looks awesome and Disney says, “It’s an attraction built on a scale we’ve never done before.”  The ride will take you through a battle between the First Order and the Resistance.  Beyond that, details about the ride are hard to find.  Based on the artwork it looks like the ride vehicle will be family friendly, but no idea yet on what, if any, the height requirement may be.  It does seem clear the Millennium Falcon ride will be the more thrilling E-ticket option, while the First Order Battle will be geared towards all ages.  Both rides will open with the completion of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.  Look for the new land to open first at Disneyland in 2019, and then later in the year at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Photo – Disney

One last thing I have to mention.  It was revealed that an old friend from the Star Tours of my childhood will be part of the new land in a fun way.  If you rode the original version of the ride, you should remember your droid pilot RX-24, better known as Rex.  Well, good ole’ Rex will have a new job at the Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge.  He will be the DJ for the joint, and if he’s DJ skills are anything like his piloting skills, we might be in for some funky music!  I love little call backs like this to old rides and I can’t wait to see Rex in his new home in 2019.

Slinky Dog Dash

The other big expansion in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Toy Story Land and we don’t have to wait until 2019 for this new toy box of rides!  Coming in summer of 2018, both the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and the Alien Swirling Saucers will be open for fun.  Both rides are designed to be family friendly and should be great additions to the already popular Toy Story Mania!

Slinky Dog Dash will be a family friendly roller coaster that puts you inside of Slinky Dog.  The track was designed by Andy to stretch the limits of this dog’s slinkiness!  You won’t be able to miss the bright red and yellow track that winds through this giant outdoor play land.  We don’t know the height requirement for this ride yet, but I would anticipate the thrill level to be similar to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  That coaster has a 38” requirement so I expect Slinky Dog Dash will be in that same range.

Photo – Disney

Alien Swirling Saucers

The other ride in this new area will be the Alien Swirling Saucers.  This ride is a play set that Andy got from Pizza Planet.  Those little green aliens will be flying up above in their saucers while trying to capture your rocket below using “The Claw.”  The rockets will spin around in different directions to the upbeat sounds of Space Jazz music.  The combination of lights, movement, and sound will be similar to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Disney’s California Adventure.  That ride has a 32” height requirement.  I have to say that it may look simple, but Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree was the surprise ride hit on my last visit to DCA.  If Alien Swirling Saucers is the space age cousin of this other Pixar ride, I think the whole family is in for a real treat.

Along with the two new rides, Toy Story Mania! will get a new entrance that faces out into Toy Story Land.  Once you are inside this area you will feel like you have been shrunk down to the size of a toy.  While Star Wars may be getting most of the attention, I think Toy Story Land is going to become the favorite part of Walt Disney World for a lot of little riders.  There isn’t a lot to do for younger kids at this park right now, but when this land opens up it may be hard to get them to leave!

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Photo – Disney

In addition to the family friendly rides in Toy Story Land we got the big announcement that a new Mickey Mouse ride is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  This didn’t come as a complete surprise as there have been rumors of a Great Mickey Ride taking over the Great Movie Ride.  That proved to be a half truth, as the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be taking over the ride space known as The Great Movie Ride.  However, this will not be a Mickey overlay of the existing ride.  Instead, the Imagineers are starting from scratch.  The Great Movie Ride will go away and the space will be completely reimagined for this new ride.

Believe it or not, this will be the first ride in any Disney park to feature Mickey Mouse.  That sounds crazy right?  Well, given this is the big debut for Mickey on an actual ride, the Imagineering team wants to do this one right.  Here is what Disney is saying about this ride:

“The attraction is inspired by the Mickey Shorts that you can see on the Disney Channel. And the people who bring you the shorts at Disney Television Animation are partnering with us to help bring the attraction to life.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will feature a new story and a new singable attraction theme song as well as a new experience we’re calling “2 1/2 D.” No glasses required. Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said teams are inventing new technologies that turn the flat world of a colorful cartoon short into a “dimensional display of amazingness.”

“This is one of the boldest…most impossible things I’ve ever worked on in almost 40 years of being an Imagineer. And you know what? That’s what I love about it. Well, that, and Mickey,” Kevin said. “This is not going to be a small attraction, it’s going to be game-changing.”

Sounds pretty amazing huh?  Game-changing is a big statement, especially from Disney.  I’m not sure what they Imagineers have up their sleeves but they seem very excited about this one.  I love the fact that this will bring another family friendly ride into the park.  Let’s face it, no matter how big a fan you were of The Great Movie Ride, you can’t say that ride was relevant with kids, or even someone under the age of 20.

While it is sad to see the last of this park’s original rides go away for good, I’m a firm believer that this is the right move.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios has always been the most fluid theme park of the four.  When you base your theme on the pop culture of t.v. and film, it only stands to reason that your park changes with the landscape of Hollywood.  When this park opened we were fascinated with the “how” of movies and t.v.  How do they do that, how does it work, how do they pull that off?  The park reflected this in the giant backlot tour, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and The Great Movie Ride.

Today, we are more interested in living the story ourselves.  We want an immersive experience more than we want to know how that experience was created on film.  Once Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge many visitors will be able to live out their dream of shrinking to the size of a toy or becoming a Jedi Knight.  Or, even going inside a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  When that happens the transformation of Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be complete.  This park will move from learning about the movies to living out the movie in an immersive environment.

Photo – Disney

All right, that wraps up our look at the rides coming to Walt Disney World.  I wish we had time to talk about the seventh ship announced for Disney Cruise Line, or the brand new Disney Skyliner that will transport guests from three Disney resorts to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Or, the Star Wars themed resort where every room has a window looking out into space.  Or, discuss the rumors of other rides that weren’t announced but could still be coming.  Well, you get the idea!  Sadly though we are out of time.  There really is so much coming to Disney over the next few years.  2018 will be the year of Toy Story, 2019 the year of Star Wars, and then 2021 will be the 50th Anniversary of the Walt Disney World resort.  By then we will have a very different looking Epcot and some exciting new rides all around property.

Of course you can stay right here with us at the WDW Ride Guide to hear all about this transformation as it takes place.  If you have a question about any of the rides discussed or not discussed today send me a message over at our Facebook page, facebook.com/wdwrideguide.  I’d love to hear from you!  What are you most excited about and have you started planning your next trip yet?  I know I’m planning our next big family trip for summer of 2018.  Hopefully Toy Story Land will be open and I can bring you updates from the park.

Until then we will be right here and next week we will be back with a look at another great Disney ride!  I hope you will join me again then.  Have a great week, and wherever you are, make each day a ride worth taking!

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