Walt Disney World has been accused of standing still in the face of growing competition from Universal Orlando. But there are some big changes coming to the resort over the next few years.
Disney has chosen to invest its money in a different way to Universal, which has focused on building major new attractions (such as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley) and more hotels (such as the Cabana Bay Beach Resort). But the company is spending money on Walt Disney World - a lot of it. Over the coming years, the results of this spending should start to become more visible to guests.
There are many changes coming to Walt Disney World, but some will have a bigger impact than others. Here's a look at 10 of the biggest updates that are in store.
10. A night-time show for Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the offerings at Walt Disney World's fourth theme park, which has often been accused of being a "half-day park". Disney's Animal Kingdom has always closed earlier than the resort's other theme parks, partly because of the need to protect its animal residents from excessive noise. However, Disney is now working to install a new night-time show, and will begin opening the park until late.
The show will be hosted around and above the Discovery River and will feature live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. Rumored to be named "Rivers of Light", it is also expected to include the illumination of the iconic Tree of Life. That will involve replacing all 100,000+ artificial leaves on the tree with new ones that light up. Although no opening date has been specified, barges containing props and equipment for the show have already been spied on the river.
9. The removal of the American Idol Experience
The American Idol Experience has been entertaining guests at Disney's Hollywood Studios since February 2009. Based on the hit talent show of the same name, it offers budding singers the chance to perform on stage in one of the park's enormous soundstages. Guests can audition throughout the day, and a select few will then be given their chance in front of a live studio audience. At the end of the day, one lucky contestant is awarded a coveted "Golden Ticket" to jump the line when the American Idol auditions hit their home town.
After five years of showcasing Orlando's latest musical talents, The American Idol Experience will hang up its microphone for good in January 2015. There's no official word on a replacement, although many Disney fans are keeping their fingers crossed that the attraction's closure is a sign that Star Wars Land is on its way to Disney's Hollywood Studios in the near future.
8. The transformation of Downtown Disney
The existing Downtown Disney area is set to be transformed into a new shopping and entertainment district dubbed Disney Springs by 2016. The update will be more than a simple facelift - Disney intends to double the number of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in the area, boosting the total to more than 150 establishments. Two new multi-story parking garages will also be constructed, as well as new roads to improve the flow of traffic. Parking will be free, while Disney Springs will remain free-to-enter.
Fittingly given its Florida location, Disney Springs will feature a theme centred around an idealised version of turn-of-the-century lakeside town. Disney promises that it will create a "welcoming, comfortable space where families can enjoy time together and instantaneously feel right at home".
You can find out more about Disney Springs by reading our analysis of the plans.
7. The overhaul of an Epcot favorite
Soarin' is one of the most popular attractions at Epcot, often commanding wait times in excess of two hours. Nothing is confirmed as yet, but the attraction is expected to undergo a major transformation by 2016 that will see its ride film replaced and additional capacity added.
First up on the list of changes to this attraction is a brand new movie to replace the current "Soarin' Over California" film. This will be a clone of the film being produced for Shanghai Disneyland's own version of Soarin', which will debut alongside the Asian park in late 2015. Rumored international locations include England, France, Italy, Egypt, India, China and Japan. Domestic landmarks are also expected to be featured in the new film, with the Grand Canyon, the New York City skyline, and of course, Walt Disney World in the mix.
Along with the new film, Disney is said to be considering adding a third theater to help curtail those lengthy wait times. Construction could begin later in 2014, to allow the new theater to debut alongside the updated film.
6. The arrival of a luxury hotel brand
Luxury chain Four Seasons is due to open a new $360 million hotel on Walt Disney World property in August 2014. It will feature 444 rooms, 3 pools, a "lazy river", a spa with 18 treatment rooms and extensive sports facilities including tennis courts and a climbing wall. One of the highlights will be a rooftop steak house with views of the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks.
Many of the rooms will also offers views of the fireworks. Among them is a 16th floor Royal Suite that can be configured with up to three separate living rooms and NINE bedrooms. Elsewhere, the five-acre Explorer Island playground will boast a 7,590-square-foot pool, with the lazy river winding around a "ruined" mansion.