D23 Expo: Rides Part 1; Disney’s Animal Kingdom & Epcot

D23 Expo: Rides Part 1; Disney’s Animal Kingdom & Epcot

Hello fellow riders and welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide.  I’m your host Ben Crain and I have a special treat for you today!  Rumors have been flying about new rides coming to Walt Disney World for months, but it wasn’t until the D23 Expo took place that we got the official announcements to substantiate many of those rumors.  D23 Expo 2015 just concluded this past week and now there is a lot to talk about!  Much of the exciting news to come out the expo had to do with the expansion of the theme parks.  Today, we will take a look at what you have to look forward to over the next few years at Walt Disney World!

Who’s ready to have some fun?!

With so many exciting rides to come it is hard to know where to begin.  Let’s head over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for what will be the most significant transformation in the next couple of years.


Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris
















Kilimanjaro Safaris has been open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since 1998.  This up close interaction with live animals has been a highlight of the park since it first opened.  However, with normal operation hours of 9 am – 6 pm, there has always been a limited time frame to enjoy this ride.

Well, starting next year that will all change as this ride gets a nighttime expansion to help further develop Disney’s Animal Kingdom into an evening destination.  Disney has promised to magically extend the orange glow of sunset as riders make the journey through the African wilderness.  To go along with this late day excursion two new animals are being added to the safari; wild dogs and hyenas.  The two new species will only be out at night, making the daytime and nighttime versions of Kilimanjaro Safaris unique.

The new Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris is scheduled to arrive in Spring of 2016.  Some reports state that the new safari ride could be open even earlier.  If you have a trip planned for the early part of 2016, keep your fingers crossed.  You may be among the lucky few who get a first look at an exciting addition to an already great ride.

Along with the new Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is getting something it has never had before!  No, not Pandora, we will get to that in a minute.  I’m talking about something the other three parks have already, something sorely missing from Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  What is it?  I’ll give you a hint.  Your park needs to stay open past 6 pm to have one of these.  Got it?  Well, if you said a spectacular nighttime show, you are right!


Rivers of Light


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


Rivers of Light will be a brand new nighttime show located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  According to Disney, “The entertainment experience will combine live performers with floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery.”  This nighttime show will be located between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest on the Discovery River which runs around the Tree of Life.  Based on the concept art and Disney’s description it looks like we can expect something akin to Fantasmic over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  That show uses screens of water that serve as a backdrop for projected images.  The show promises to be different by using floating lanterns and visuals that we have not seen in the other three parks.

The amphitheater seating is already under construction.  I will attach some photos in our show notes this week so you can get an idea of the location of the exciting new show that rests in the shadow of Expedition Everest.  Rivers of Light is scheduled to be open in Spring 2016, with reports it will come after the opening of Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris.  When they are both operational, these two new additions should be an exciting new way to explore the park in a whole new light.

Now, back to that Pandora thing I mentioned a minute ago…


Pandora – The World of AVATAR














Pandora – The World of AVATAR was announced as the official name of the land set to open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Chances are you have already heard about this project; it was first announced in 2011 and they began ground breaking in 2014.  Up until now, the concept for a new land based on James Cameron’s blockbuster AVATAR received mixed reviews.  Well, with a detailed model of the huge expansion on display at this year’s D23 Expo, most of the critics have seen the bioluminescent light!

The scale of this new world is said to be truly impressive, resulting in an immersive environment unlike any other ever attempted by Disney.  According to the model, the floating mountains of Pandora will dwarf their human onlookers.  Can you begin to imagine a huge mass of mountain floating overhead?  How is that for awesome?!

Pandora – The World of AVATAR will be much more than just breathtaking mountains in the sky.  With over 12 acres of real estate the Disney Imagineers have a lot of room to play with.  The core concept proposed by the Imagineers is that you get to create your own experience in Pandora.  Rather than relive specific moments from the movie, guests will discover Pandora in a period after the war.   Human explorers are now welcomed by the native Navi, and can travel to the planet with the help of the ACE corporation.  ACE stands for Alpha Centauri Expeditions.  Like the movie, the land of Pandora will come to life at night as the plants and trees begin to glow.  From the videos shared at D23 Expo, the bioluminescent jungle looks to be an Imagineering marvel.  As guests walk through the jungle, their footsteps will light up leaving a trail of fading bioluminescence.  Even the simple act of walking in this environment creates real Disney magic.

As if that were not enough, the land will also feature a new ride called Avatar Flight of Passage.  This aerial journey will simulate flying through Pandora on the back of a banshee.  James Cameron has been working side by side with the Disney Imagineers to ensure his world of Avatar comes to life in the most realistic ways.  Speaking about the technology used on Avatar Flight of Passage, Cameron said it is “so advanced that you feel you’re flying. You literally feel like you’re flying.  I know you’ve heard that with other rides before, but this is on a whole other level.”  If he is right, then we should be in for a real treat when this new land of Disney’s Animal Kingdom opens.

Sadly, some reports have Pandora – The World of AVATAR anywhere from 6-8 months behind schedule.  Disney continues to list the target date as early 2017, but if these reports hold true, don’t count on this new experience being open until late 2017 or early 2018.  While we wait, we can get a feel for the park at night through the Rivers of Light show and the Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris.  Though once everything is up and running, this may just be the coolest place to be after dark in all of Walt Disney World!

Now that we have an idea of the incredible things to come at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, let’s take a look at some great new things coming to EPCOT in 2016!


Frozen Ever After













Back in June we got the big announcement that Frozen Fever was coming to EPCOT and a new ride called Frozen Ever After would be taking the place of Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion.  Unless you have been living under a troll that looks like a rock, you know how wildly popular Frozen has been since its theatrical release in 2013.  The movie is still the highest grossing animated film of all time with over $1.2 billion in worldwide revenue.  So it only makes sense to  bring the beloved Arendelle to life in a magical Disney ride.

How exactly will they realize this Scandinavian winter wonderland?  Well, we now know that the ride vehicles from Maelstrom will be incorporated into Frozen Ever After.  The boats will take riders along much of the same path as before, with an extension of the ride replacing the theater that held a film at the end of Maelstrom.  Of course, the entire interior of the ride will look brand new.  Guests will be welcomed to the “Winter in Summer Celebration” when Queen Elsa will use her magical frostbitten fingers to transform the kingdom.  During the coldest day in summer, riders will get to see their favorite characters and sights from the movie.  Anna, Christof, Olaf, and more will delight Frozen fanatics as they float along the 4 minute journey.

Beyond the ride, the entire Norway pavilion is getting a major overhaul.  A previously unused area between Norway and Mexico is being renovated to house a massive character meet ’n’ great.  The new 13,000 square foot building is Disney’s answer to the unprecedented popularity of Anna & Elsa.  This also means the sisters will likely be leaving Princess Fairy Tale Hall in the Magic Kingdom when their new Norwegian digs become available.  With EPCOT once again gaining the exclusive photo op, and a new ride to boot, look for a serious attendance boost for this park in 2016.

The latest official report from Disney still gives a vague 2016 opening date.  The rumors right now hint that the new ride and meet ’n’ greet may come online as early as May 2016.  We will keep you updated here on the podcast as Disney releases more specific dates.


Soarin’ Around the World



Ask a hundred people for their favorite Walt Disney World ride and I’ll bet you Soarin’ sits atop that list.  This ride takes riders on a simulated hang gliding journey over the Golden State of California.  The smooth flight is brought to life by lifting you 40 feet off the ground and surrounding you with a 180-degree IMAX projection dome.  The scent of oranges and the rush of wind in your face engage all your senses and make this five minute flight a thrill for the whole family.

Well, this extremely popular ride located in EPCOT is getting a big update for 2016!  It has been known for some time that a third ride vehicle was going to be added to the two existing.  Also, we knew that all three would be updated with the latest digital screen and projection systems.  This new technology alone will make the ride even better than before.  The picture of soarin’ over trees or mountain tops will be crystal clear with the new technology, making the rider feel even more immersed in the environment.

The new and exciting news this past week was that EPCOT would receive an updated film called Soarin’ Around the World.  Some speculated that this new film would only debut in Shanghai Disney and we would have to wait a couple more years for a new film in Florida.  Now that we have been pleasantly surprised, you can look forward to a brand new film that allows you to fly over some of the globe’s most iconic landmarks.  The sneak peek video shows Africa, Australia, and the Great Wall of China.

This new film will replace the original film.  So, if you want to experience the flight over California, your time to do so is running out.  It was announced that the new version of the ride will debut in 2016.  Disney has yet to release a more concrete time frame, but I will keep you updated as more news become available.  With this being my mom’s favorite ride at Walt Disney World, I can’t wait to experience the new version with her the next time we go to EPCOT.

So that is a quick look at the updates we now know about in both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and EPCOT.  If you are planning a trip in the second half of 2016 I think it is safe to say you will have some really cool new experiences to explore!  Not to mention we have only talked about 2 parks so far.  I haven’t forgotten about Disney’s Hollywood Studios in case you were wondering.  Please come back next week as we take an in depth look at the exciting transformation in store for my favorite Disney park.  With big announcements about Toy Story Land and Star Wars themed rides, we have a LOT to cover.  To say I’m a little excited about both of these projects would be a major understatement.  I can’t wait to share this great news with you next week.

Until then have fun planning your next Disney vacation and let me know if I can help in anyway!  I love hearing from you.  Remember you can swing by our Facebook page and leave a comment or send an e-mail to feedback@wdwrideguide.com.   That’s all from me for now, I hope you have a great week and go make each day a ride worth taking!

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