If you’re a person on the internet, chances are you’ve seen lots of chatter regarding D23’s Parks and Resorts panel. Rumors run rampant all year round (vom), but this panel is where the official announcements come from.
Disney Parks Blog has a page of updates and information here, so you’re welcome to hop on over to read the full story. Buuuut I always want to know one thing first: what’s closing. Disney Parks Blog – understandably – tends to bury that information in favor of highlighting the new and exciting. Some of the updates are related to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, too, and may not necessarily be of interest to our WDW visitors. So below, I’ll outline the changes coming to our parks at Walt Disney World.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The Great Movie Ride is closing for good on August 13, 2017. I’ve heard rumors that GMR would be replaced by a Mickey-themed ride for a while, but this one was still the biggest surprise to me. While GMR was definitely dated and in need of an overhaul, it’s a Hollywood Studios icon! It’s also one more attraction that’ll be closed at Hollywood Studios while Star Wars Land (Galaxy’s Edge) and Toy Story Land are completed.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway will replace the Great Movie Ride. This will be a “2.5-D” ride based on the new Mickey animated shorts. The description leaves me feeling a little underwhelmed, but I’ll try to reserve judgement until I actually experience it.
Toy Story Land, currently under construction, is set to open in the summer of 2018. Attractions will include the Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers. The concept art gives me Dinorama vibes… I can’t say I’m anxiously awaiting the opening, but I’m sure it’ll be fun.
Star Wars Land, or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as it will officially be called (does that sound super Michael Bay-ish, or is it just me?), opens in 2019. Galaxy’s Edge is evidently set in a “remote trading port” which totally screams Hondo to me. The land will offer “two major attractions” – one that involves piloting the Millennium Falcon, and the other “will make you feel like you’re on a destroyer inside a hangar bay” and “is built on a scale we’ve never done before.” The word “immersive” is used a lot, and there’s going to be a cantina. I love Star Wars, so while I’m excited for this one, I’m going in with few expectations.
Mission: SPACE is getting a themed restaurant! This should be fun, as eateries are less abundant in Future World than they are in the World Showcase.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure will close on August 13 and will be replaced by a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. This has been rumored for years, so I’m surprised it’s actually happening! I was hugely pleasantly surprised by how much I loved both Guardians movies, so I’m excited for this. I’ll miss the dinosaurs and the opportunity to sit in the dark and air conditioning for 40 minutes, but it was time for a change.
The France Pavilion is also getting a Ratatouille-themed attraction that’s similar to the 4D -ride in Paris. Evidently there are food smells, so please pass my Thanksgiving pants.
Both rides are scheduled to open in 2021, in time for WDW’s 50th anniversary. No word on the Mission: SPACE restaurant yet.
Main Street USA is getting a theatre inspired by Kansas City’s Willis Wood theatre. It’s hard to tell by the concept art exactly where this will be, but I’m thinking behind Tony’s-ish.
And the big one: Magic Kingdom is getting a TRON ride similar to (or the same as?) the TRON Lightcycle Power Run from Shanghai Disneyland. Contrary to what many clickbaity headlines shouted last week, this is not replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway. Based on the concept art, it’ll be located behind Space Mountain. Like the new Epcot attractions, this is scheduled to open in 2021 for the 50th anniversary.
WDW is getting a Star Wars-themed resort. Yay, fun! Disney Parks Blog uses that word over and over again: immersive. Apparently it involves a view of space from every room, special attire, and an experience that will “touch every minute of your day.” Well… okay. I’m totally onboard with a Star Wars resort, but I want to be able to see daylight from my room, wear my own damn clothes, and maybe not have an experience “touch 100% of my day.”
There was also talk about the two towers going in at Caribbean Beach Resort. Evidently they’re DVC oriented.
The Skyliner has been confirmed. Gondolas will connect Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Caribbean Beach Resorts, plus Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s International Gateway. I have a hard time imagining how efficient this might be, but I’ll prepare to be pleasantly surprised. I’m still holding my breath for a different route into/out of Magic Kingdom that allows one to skip the ferry or monorail.
WDW is also adding Minnie-themed vehicles to take you anywhere on resort property. I’m envisioning something like a Disney uber.
So there you have it. What do you think? Did any of the news surprise you? What are you most looking forward to?
Once upon a time, the land on which Pandora sits was intended to be dedicated to mythical creatures. 🦄🐲
Such a land is exactly my cup of tea. A land devoted to a James Cameron movie sounded, frankly, boring and self-congratulatory af. Yes, okay, the movie was visually pleasing, but that’s about it. I couldn’t imagine what Disney was going to do with “Avatarland” and how it would be special in any way. Would I visit and probably find some things to enjoy? Sure. But was I anxiously, excitedly waiting for opening day? Not really.
Well, I was really wrong.
Pandora, the Land of Avatar, is stunning, and you don’t have to care a lick about the film or subject matter in order to enjoy it.
Small but mighty, this newly-opened land is full of lush, alien-looking flora and majestic floating mountains. The level of detail is impeccable.
Amidst the vegetation, you’ll see a few earthling-made ruins. One of my favorite details was, oddly enough, the bathroom exterior doors. They look futuristic yet distressed in a post-apocalyptic kind of way.
And, at nighttime, everything glows.
Flight of Passage
In a word: whoa. The queue is massive and oh-so-detailed. We waited in line for just over three hours, and the experience was totally worth it. Never thought I’d say that about a ride, but here we are.
I’ve never experienced a ride like this. It’s a little like Soarin’ and a little like Star Tours, but more intense than both of those and more of a thrill ride than I expected. It also felt way more advanced than anything else on Disney property.
I still cannot wrap my head around the technology. “Impressive” doesn’t begin to do it justice – it was like being in a different world. Instead of being in a big room with dozens of other guests, you’re in a small room with only 14 others. You also get your very own seat – others have compared it to a motorbike (you can test out one of the seats just outside of the ride if you’re concerned about ergonomics or comfort). In addition to feeling your banshee breathe beneath you, you’ll feel the breezes and mists of Mo’ara.
Now, I hate drops and there are definitely a few drops and swoops. But I’ll ride it again. It’s just too cool not to.
If you can get a FastPass for this one, do. Even if you can’t, I still think it’s worth the wait. Just come prepared (hit the restrooms, grab a small snack if needed, and bring a spare phone charger).
Na’vi River Journey
The river journey is a dark ride with no drops or splashes. The boats have two rows of four, so they’re considerably smaller than the boats you’re used to from Pirates, Small World, and Frozen. They’re also pretty comfortable and quite a bit nicer than the older ride boats.
As you probably gathered from the title, you’ll float down the river and experience the plants and animals of Mo’ara. The visuals are beautiful, and the level of detail is, once again, amazing. The entire ride reminds me of the scene from the movie with the glowing anemones/wisps/dandelion fluff things. Eventually, you’ll find the Na’vi Shaman, who is stunningly life-like.
In all, Na’vi River Journey is beautiful and makes for a great opportunity to sit and cool off, but it’s nowhere near as mind-blowing as Flight of Passage.
One change I would make: narration! Tell us about all of the gorgeous plants, animals, and people we’re encountering!
Advertised wait time was 65 minutes, and we were through in a little less than that. The line did move continuously, so the wait didn’t feel super long. I don’t know if this is worth waiting multiple hours for, but I’m fine with right around one hour. Save your FastPass+ for Flight of Passage.
You’ve almost certainly seen photos of this stand’s most festive looking beverage: the non-alcoholic Night Blossom. With flavors of lime, apple, and pear, this purple and green slush looks as pretty as it tastes. It’s also topped with passion fruit boba, which adds an extra pop of fun and flavor (literally). It’s similar in flavor to Epcot Flower & Garden Festival’s beloved Violet Lemonade, too, so bonus!
In addition to the Night Blossom, Pongu Pongu offers a strawberry margarita and a few themed beer selections.
Food-wise, the stand offers lumpia. Instead of the traditional savory recipe, this lumpia is super sweet and filled with cream cheese and pineapple. Tasty but OH SO SWEET.
Find Pongu Pongu under the big robot.
Satu’li Canteen is Pandora’s quickservice outlet. The decor is a combination of modern industrial and rusty ruins, much like the restroom doors I like so much.
There are huge indoor and outdoor seating areas, which I appreciate SO much. How un-fun is it to walk around with a tray full of food and not be able to find a table? I also noticed a sign stating that seating was for Satu’li Canteen diners only, which I appreciated even more. The only thing worse than walking around with a tray full of food and not being able to find a table is finding HEAPS of tables that are occupied by people sitting and playing on their phones, not even dining at that outlet. 😡
The menu is really different from the standard theme park fare, and I’m super excited about that! You can choose from two types of entrees for lunch and dinner: pods or bowls.
The Cheeseburger Pods, though an unusual concept, taste just like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. So weird, yet so good! This was Mr. EC’s pick, but I’d certainly be open to ordering my own in the future.
In addition to being delicious, the bowls are a great opportunity to get some healthier-ish food in the parks. I can’t tell you how often I’d love some fresh greens but can really only get an iceberg salad or something fried or on a bun (which, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I totally love). With the bowls, base options include quinoa with vegetables, sweet and red potatoes, rice, or kale and spinach. Protein options are beef, chicken, fish, or tofu. There were four sauces available, but I can only remember black bean and onion flavors.
My bowl had the quinoa and veggie base (quinoa, little bits of sweet potato and broccoli, and a few good handfuls of greens and kale), chicken (nicely seasoned, chargrilled thigh meat), crunchy slaw, and the black bean sauce (which was basically a kickin’ vinaigrette). All bowls are topped with crunchy slaw and boba (which I think is coconut flavored).
Word of warning: the black bean sauce doesn’t necessarily taste oniony or garlicky, but I’m told I had fire breath after our meal. So, if you’re on a date or something, bring a mint. 😂
Satu’li Canteen also serves breakfast, so I’ll update once I have an opportunity to try it.
Windtraders is Pandora’s main shop, and it’s full of things I don’t necessarily need but still really want: bubble wands, Pandoran animals, heaps of Na’vi gear, bubble wands, and sooo much glow gear.
The shop’s most popular feature is the Banshee Rookery, where you can adopt your very own baby Ikran.
photo credit: Alberto Y.
Or maybe you want to have your face scanned and have a Na’vi action figure created in your likeness? Because you totally can!
I first visited Windtraders not really caring about the Na’vi, but I left wanting to BE a Na’vi (and needing all of the appropriate gear).
Should You Go?
Yes, you should, even if you don’t care about the movie or the characters. Go to see the sights, experience the rides, and try the treats. It really is like nothing else.
I was totally wrong about Pandora, and I’m so glad.
Have you visited? Leave a comment below and tell me what you thought! Have any questions about Pandora or anything you’d like me to check on? Let me know!