02 January 2018

Fantasy on Parade

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and resting between the holidays, giving plenty of thought towards the current state of Walt Disney World and where it will be going in 2018. The end of year is also a time for reflecting on where we’ve been in the past year, but more than that I’ve caught myself in moments looking all the way to my earliest connections to the resorts and parks that we call our happy places, our home, our vacation destination, and even our escape. Walt Disney World is a mashed up jumble of so many things that it is almost impossible to define, and we each look at it through a very different lens. With all of these random threads of thought trying to weave their way towards a centralized focal point, let’s look at the year ahead for Walt Disney World.

Construction has been an omnipresent part of the Walt Disney World experience for the past several years, and that’s a trend that isn’t looking to slow in 2018. While there will be many new places to explore in 2018, there will still be plenty of cranes, dirt mounds, and girders to be seen throughout the year as we look towards 2019 and beyond. The expansion of Main Street, U.S.A. and the France pavilion, TRON coming to Tomorrowland, a gondola transportation system, Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach additions, and the brand new land of Galaxy’s Edge are just a few of the experiences that won’t be ready in 2018, but that will be taking shape or have new details emerging during the year.

For what actually is coming to the resorts and entertainment areas of the Walt Disney World, we venture over to Caribbean Beach, where new dining and shopping options will be available to guests this year, although this is only a portion of the slated project for the resort. Meanwhile, Disney Springs will open the doors to the much anticipated The Edison, alongside Maria and Enzo’s Enzo’s Hideaway, and Pizza Pointe. Additional dining offerings coming to Disney Springs in 2018 include Wine Bar George, Terralina Crafted Italian, Jaleo, and a refurbishment of concept and cuisine for Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. There is a lot of anticipation around many of these venues, and each serves a very specialized audience that is sure to diversify Disney Spring’s offerings while continual enticing new guests in. In case you can’t tell, I myself am very excited for both The Edison and Enzo’s Hideaway, both of which speak to my industrial, forgotten, adventurer, mid-century sensabilities.

Switching gears towards the parks, we’ll start with Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While noting drastic has been announced around events for the park’s 20th anniversary in April, and 2017 was an out of this world year for the park (literally), one attraction is seeing a refurbishment. Flights of Wonder will be closed for the winter and early spring as it prepares a new storyline that will integrate the characters of Russell and Dug from Up into the show. I’ve always loved Flights of Wonder and how it shared the story of the birds in the care of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but I also understand that it hasn’t always been a must do for guests. In fact, I’ve seen half-filled theaters as the norm that may only fill up if it is a particularly busy day in the park or guests who happen by after the show has already started. I’m not so much of a purist that I don’t understand the need for characters to inject some fresh blood into an attraction, and Up with an avian sidekick already, seems like a fair placement to give the attraction just that spark. I’ll miss the old show, but provided that the message stays the same and the educational value is still there, I’m interested in seeing the new iteration of the show.

Currently there is nothing slated to be coming to the Magic Kingdom in 2018, as new developments are plotted out further into the future to be ready for the park’s 50th anniversary in 2021, so I’m going to make a statement right here. A staple of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World experiences has always been the parades, in particular the nighttime parades that make their way between Frontierland and Main Street. The fact that the Magic Kingdom has been without a nighttime parade for more than a year now with no replacement in sight is simply appalling to me. I am hopeful that word of a new parade will come along at some point this year, but until then this remains an issue that is a true stick in my craw.

Epcot also doesn’t have anything new slated to open in 2018, again the plans for the ark are a bit further off, but the biggest news for the park is the expansion of the Festival of the Arts. This 2017 addition is the fourth festival for Epcot, especially with the holiday season being christened with the word festival this year as the International Festival of the Holidays, and gives the park a festival calendar that almost encompasses the entire calendar. Considering that the inspiration for EPCOT Center were the World’s Fairs, I don’t have a problem in the slightest with utilizing the park to focus on areas such as arts, holidays, horticulture, and culinary skills. The only drawback to these festivals is that the booths around the promenade do tend to take up quite a bit of railing space making it trickier and trickier to find a clear viewing spot for IllumiNations. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the plans for Epcot, and I suspect a new show and better usage of space will be coming shortly. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy all the festivals of the park whenever I happen to be down that way.

Last, but certainly not least, is the new land coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Land is going to allow guests to enter Andy’s back yard and give them two new attractions, a new entrance to toy Story Midway Mania, expanded dining options, and a world of imaginative possibilities in terms of the look of the land. Setting Galaxy’s Edge aside for just moment, this is going to be a terrific addition to the park, and focuses on a Disney owned property that alleviates some of the pressures that come from utilizing outside IPs. If anything, with the success anything related to Toy Story has had in Walt Disney World, it is a wonder that it’s taken this long for a land to be developed in Florida.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios has taken it on the chin for the past several years as it prepared for and began a huge shift from what it was to what it will be, some deservedly and some decidedly not. Nevertheless, complaints about the value and cost of a ticket versus the reduced offerings crept in and guests began deciding just how much time they really wanted to relegate to the work in progress. Glimpses of the park’s greatness have started to be seen here and therein 2017, and I suspect the perception of the park is about to start its swing back into the other direction in 2018.

This is a perfect place to start closing out our look at 2018 for Walt Disney World and talk about how we perceive the parks. Having spent some of the past week inside Walt Disney’s head, meaning I’ve done a lot of reading, listening to recording of him speak, and documentary viewing, I feel as if we’ve become very glib or possibly entitled to what we feel Walt Disney World is and what we are owed from it. Honestly, we can criticize how things are happening, how cranes and construction walls make our visits more difficult, how saccharine and removed from the real world the parks and resorts are, and we’d be wrong on every single count. If nothing changed, no one would come, and it wouldn’t be the place we know and love. And simply because the powers that be aren’t doing things the way you would want them to happen, doesn’t entitle them to change them for you. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t make them facts.

Walt Disney World, and the larger Disney, is a business. There are ways of changing how they do business, but you have to put yourself into the right position to affect change, not just beat against the gates with your megaphone. For Walt Disney World success is defined by attendance and room occupancy and merchandise sales, dollars and cents. For guests it is defined by story and entertainment and memories. There is sentimentality to the entire enterprise, and that is precisely what Walt was looking for, the crossroad or traffic circle where all of these paths intersect. Look no further than his thoughts on the it’s a small world clock, where he knew that there may be easier ways to find the time, but that they would not be as much fun.

And that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? We could spend our time someplace else, we could escape the real world for just a few moments on another experience, but there is a quality to the story and service, a memory of brighter times, and a trust that we have with the Disney name that brings us back time and again. So, while it may not be precisely what you think it should be, let’s put our faith and trust in the Walt Disney World pixie dust and see what we can do to make 2018 a bit brighter for everyone we see and meet there!

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