Universal and Walt Disney World had a bunch of construction announced before they shut down the parks in March of 2020, but what are we actually seeing on the ground at the parks. Will we see the promised attractions that were announced?
Walt Disney World:
Let’s talk about the resort that had the most on the books, and is proud of what they have coming; Walt Disney World.
Since 2017’s D23 Expo(Disney’s big fan event held every other year in Anaheim), Disney has been announcing major attractions that would be coming to Walt Disney World just in time for the 50th anniversary of the resort. Major attractions, new entertainment venues, and even new nighttime shows. A lot can happen between 2017 & now, and it did. Covid, which paused pretty much all major construction in Walt Disney World, is the obvious thing but things like the Main Street Theater for Magic Kingdom were quietly canceled. But what about the other things announced? Let’s take a look at some of the incomplete construction projects.
Tron Lightcycle Run: This attraction is a clone of the ride that opened in Shanghai Disneyland. This one gets to me a little. Announced on July 15, 2017 at the D23 Expo, this rollercoaster based on the world of Tron was rumored to open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. That would make this clone a 4 year build. To make an example from the competitor, Universal announced Transformers 3D and had it opened within a year, which was a cloned ride. Tron’s build is currently taking more time to build from announcement to opening than from the purchase of land and opening of Disneyland.
Epcot overhaul: during the 2019 D23 Expo, it was announced that Disney would be spending some much needed attention on Epcot and giving the resort’s second theme park a much needed face lift. This transformation started in 2019, as the front part of the park started to remove the Leave a Legacy to add new planters and renovate the fountain, and then moved behind Spaceship Earth to create a new central area for the park.
This announcement included a new festival center behind Spaceship Earth, A Cherry Tree Lane experience in the UK, a new film in the Land, China & Canadian Pavilions, a Moana water experience, a Spaceship Earth Reimagining, a copy of the Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure from Disneyland Paris for the France Pavilion, a new Space themed restaurant next to Mission Space, a Guardians of the Galaxy themed Coaster in the building where Universe of Energy (announced in 2017), and the Play Pavilion that takes the place of Wonders of Life, and a new nighttime spectacular. This construction got started pretty fast after the announcements were made. The center of Epcot was closed off and demolition started on Club Cool, Starbucks, Character Spot, and Innoventions West. While Mouse Gears and The Electric Umbrella were both closed and gutted. Space 220, the space themed restaurant, was opened in September 2021, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure & Harmounious, the new night time spectacular, were officially opened on October 1, 2021. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is set to open summer of 2022. The Creation Shop and Club Cool replaced Mouse Gears and was opened on September 15, and Connections Cafe & Eatery will replace Electric Umbrella sometime in the future.
Splash Mountain Retheme: In the Summer of 2020, Disney addressed a Spring 2020 online petition to retheme the popular Splash Mountain from Song of the South to Princess and the Frog. Tony Baxter was brought out of retirement to help with this massive new theme. While we have gotten some concept art and that the story will take place just after the end of the movie and theme around Mardi Gras. Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland will be getting this new retheme, but we don’t know when construction is set to start.
Reflections Lakeside Lodge: This new DVC resort is to be built on the property that was River Country. This resort is a nature themed resort on the shores of Bay Lake. The only thing we found out about the resort is that the restaurant was to be Pocahontas. While concept art came out to show that Disney was going with the modern hotel trends. We haven’t gotten a look at the rooms themselves.
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary: This isn’t directly connected to construction, and in March of 2020 we were still a long way from the 50th anniversary to start. The only thing we knew was happening was the castle was getting repainted. But if you listen to any podcast, or theme park journalist, Disney had been saying for a few years that they had big plans for the resort’s major milestone, and if you have been to any of the other major celebrations for the parks, you know they generally go all out. Most of what had been announced during the D23 events, had direct connections with this celebration.
Once Covid hit, the construction was halted resort wide. Naturally this put the all of the projects behind schedule, and opening dates are now up in the air. Add to that that in the Spring of 2020, CEO Bob Chapek stated that they will save $900 Million on construction cost. While a lot of this is still speculation, a number of projects have disappeared. Construction vehicles have been removed from the site of Reflections, Cherry Tree Lane and the Spaceship Earth retheme have been removed from the Epcot Experience that showcases what’s coming to Epcot. The Festival Center at the Center of Epcot is rumored to have been cancelled. Tron Lightcycle Run has been on and off construction since it had resumed and is rumored to be opening in 2023 ( a 6 year build for a replica of a ride and Pandora took 6 years to build that immersive land). The Play Pavilion has been sectioned off with a new curb and trees to not allow access to the revamp pavilion, with no word on what has happened to the project.
To top it off, the 50th Anniversary was not what everyone expected it to be. While we didn’t know what to expect, I think everyone expected so much more than what happened. No new parades, stage shows, or major refurbishments to classic attractions. Overall it just feels lacking.
Let’s go down the road to the more secretive company. Universal will build a 157’ Coaster in front of your face, and say they know nothing of it. But they did have some constructions happening before the March shut down.
Velocicoaster: The new rollercoaster in the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure, had started construction in the Spring of 2019, but Universal didn’t confirm the coaster until September of 2020. Construction was paused for a few months, but once it was resumed it was at a lightning pace. In fact, most construction was done by the time the parks reopened in June of 2020.
The Bourne Stuntacular: This attraction was all but ready to open when the parks closed. The show officially opening on June 30th in the old Terminator 3D show.
Endless Summer Resort: Dockside Inn: This brand new hotel had an opening date in March 2020, just 3 days before the resort shut down. The resort did open in December 2020.
Epic Universe: In August 2019 Comcast Universal announced they would will be building the resort’s 4th theme park (Universal Considers Volcano Bay its 3rd Park). Land clearing and prep had been well underway when Covid forced the project to halt. This put a lot of fans in a position to think that we may not ever see this park come out of the ground. However, March 2021 saw the construction restart.
There’s not much to report on what Universal announced and got cancelled, because we have gotten it all, or it has started back on construction. To add to all of this, Universal has a new Minions attraction in the works in the old Shrek 4D building. A major refurbishment of The Mummy, and permits have been filed to tear down the Fear Factory Stage. With all the construction actively happening at their parks, Universal hasn’t decreased spending on construction projects, but have gone all in. It takes a lot of money to build a full theme park and the surrounding infrastructures , with estimates being in the BILLIONS of dollars.
All things said and done, I think Disney is looking at what they lost during their 4 month shut down, and what they couldn’t bring back right away and what to charge to the guests in order to gain what they lost during that shut down time. While they could have easily spent money to give the guests a better experience, they choose to skimp out. Disney has the money to spend on parks, they did just spend $71 billion on Fox to help get content for Disney Plus. While Universal will sit and throw money to make the guest experience better, new exciting things coming in a timely matter, and at a price that families can afford. I still love the Disney Parks, and to their defense Disneyland has announced an overhaul to Toontown, and Downtown Disney. But coming out of this pandemic, its been pretty obvious on how the two companies are planning on welcoming the families that are ready to get back to traveling to the theme park capital.