For better or worse, theme parks can't grow forever. At some parks, physical space is the limit, with little room to expand outward. At others, designers are boxed in by existing architecture. Sometimes, guests legs simply can't take another lap or a new land without buckling.
Whether limited by roads, rivers, rides, or guests' energy reserves, opportunities for growth are always at a premium for Disney Parks. Below, we've taken a look at the six Disney Parks in the U.S. from above to highlight their opportunities for expansion. We'll point out projects currently in the works, but also imagine where future development might take place... even if it means replacing what's already there. Of course, if we have a rumor, we'll tell you outright that it's a rumor. For the most part, the areas you'll see below are either confirmed by Disney, or simply our daydreaming of new areas for Imagineers to expand into.
Don't forget – you can click and expand any aerial view to see a larger and more detailed version.
Date opened: 1955
Size: 98 acres
Walt’s “original magic kingdom” was built snugly between Anaheim, California cross-streets and the brand-new interstate highway. Imagining the urban sprawl to come, early designers constructed a raised earthen berm around the park, planted with trees (and a Railroad) to keep intrusive sights and sounds out of the park.
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: To be clear, the berm didn’t last long in its original form. Pretty quickly, the park began to burst at the seams until expanding beyond the railroad altogether. Many of Disneyland’s dark rides are housed in massive showbuildings that lie outside of the park’s berm, each adapting its own ingenious way of getting “out” of the park proper and beneath the railroad. (Can you figure out when you pass under the train tracks on Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, or “it’s a small world”?)
Still, Disneyland is more or less landlocked by city streets, interstates, and the park’s own infrastructure that seal it into its current real estate. Only the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge could've been deemed worthy of the multi-million dollar re-routing of the Rivers of America to build on a newly-constructed northern shore of the waterway, the re-routing of the Disneyland Railroad, plus the relocation of several backstage facilities to off-property locations. As you can see in the aerial below, it would be hard to squeeze one more square foot out of Galaxy's Edge thanks to existing roadways. Does that mean Disneyland’s done growing? Unlikely…
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE: First of all, don't let Disneyland's size full you. It has more rides than any other Disney Park on Earth... by a lot! Just as Disney's been willing to build beyond the park's boundary in the past, they've lately shown a willingness to continue to reclaim and relocate behind-the-scenes facilities to lend to future expansion.
- Pink - A small expansion pad between Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toontown could one day house a medium-sized dark ride for either land.
- Yellow (confirmed) - A remaining backstage entertainment building north of Toontown – one of the last seemingly-relocatable buildings – is already earmarked to become a West Coast version of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
But Disneyland's physical footprint isn't growing and its behind-the-scenes facilities are diminishing... which means that even opportunities to commandeer backstage space are becoming rare at the park, so (unfortunately) replacement is likely to be the name of the game... Most of that potential is centered on the park's west side.
- Teal - It’s long been known that Disneyland’s Submarine Voyage has one of the largest showbuildings ever with the Autopia taking place on its roof! The low capacity, high-cost ride takes up massive space in the otherwise petite park, so it's no surprise rumors of its removal are ever-present.
- Orange - Add in the woefully underutilized Carousel Theater and a pizza restaurant expand either Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, or (more likely) both, as both lands are supposedly slated for big-time facelifts with Wizarding World-style mini-lands within.
- Blue - Lastly, the park's STAR TOURS is likely not long for this world given its redundancy thanks to Galaxy's Edge. It's likely that whenever Tomorrowland gets its much-needed reimagining, Star Tours will disappear. Whether that means reimagining the simulators or replacing them entirely, we just don't know...
- Green - That might be okay given that one of the park's few expansion pads (once planned for a never-built land) resides just south of Star Tours behind main street.
Date opened: 1971
Size: 105 acres
It’s well known that Walt was no fan of the urban sprawl that quickly hemmed in Disneyland, which is why he set his sights on Central Florida and the opportunity to purchase massive land-holdings (the size of San Francisco!) to control the guest experience. And thanks to “the blessing of size,” the park is sprawled out with open pathways and wide plazas meant to handle crowds – features that Disney World fans call brilliant, and Disneyland fans call “impersonal” and “corporate.” Whereas Disneyland's designers were "making it up" as they went, Magic Kingdom was built with things like crowd flow, capacity, and sightlines in mind.
Magic Kingdom has no berm. It doesn’t need one! Not only does the park spread out its offerings; its surroundings are also absolutely opposite of Disneyland. Just take a minute to compare the aerial view of Magic Kingdom below with the image of Disneyland above... the difference is amazing.
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: Magic Kingdom has taken a pretty relaxed view of expanding size-wise, as – unlike Disneyland – its surrounded in Disney-owned woods and fields accessible at their leisure. As in California, Pirates of the Caribbean was built partially beyond the park’s railroad, as was Splash Mountain. Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion is entirely within the railroad, which is why the "stretching room" there isn't a real elevator. While Disneyland’s Space Mountain was sunk dozens of feet into the ground so as not to loom over Main Street, Magic Kingdom’s even larger version of the ride was built beyond the railroad because… why not?
Even though the cinematic “New Fantasyland” that opened this decade was touted as the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history, if you can believe it, it actually just reactivated the plot of land vacated by the Lost Legend: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea without adding acreage acreage to the park.
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE:
- Purple (confirmed) - The new, upcoming Modern Marvel: TRON Lightcycle Power Run, will see the railroad re-routed, but will sprawl across previously-unused real estate between Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Speedway.
- Red - While guests at Disneyland can now completely circumnavigate the Rivers of America (thanks to Critter Country, Galaxy’s Edge, and Frontierland), Magic Kingdom’s Rivers of America banks are only about 50% developed, with guest-accessible areas terminating at Big Thunder Mountain on the west and Haunted Mansion on the East. Technically, that leaves room for an entire themed land or more along the Rivers’ northern bank... but would we want one there?
- Blue - However, the plot of land fans have been begging for is just north of the “small world” showbuilding (most easily accessed from Pinocchio’s Village Haus or from the Tangled restrooms. With enough space for a mini-land or dark ride itself, fans have fluttered over the idea of a cavern passage between the “small world” and Mansion showbuildings leading to Rapunzel’s Tower in a glen, as entrance to a Tangled dark ride. Given that such a mini-land an attraction are under development for Tokyo DisneySea’s Fantasy Springs, it just may be possible…
- Orange - The last long-rumored expansion pad is outside of the park's existing footprint in a forested plot once earmarked for a never-built "mountain" – Fire Mountain – creating a remote, volcanic sub-section of Adventureland. Originally said to be tied to Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, the volcanic coaster project was shelved, then reimagined as a connection to Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Though the project was eventually cancelled, rumors suggest a revival with Moana may be possible one day...
- Teal - A small expansion pad exists in Tomorrowland, but with the Declassified Disaster: Stitch's Great Escape (and the aging Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor) taking up prime real estate just as the land undergoes the knife, it's unlikely that plot will need used anytime soon.
Date opened: 1982
Size: 200 acres
When it comes to growth, Epcot has been a wild card. Maybe that’s because Disney itself hasn’t seemed entirely sure what the park should be since at least the late-80s. Future World – Disney’s lofty, intelligent, educational “world’s fair” – was meant to showcase the smarts of American industry in monumental ‘80s architectural pavilions featuring lengthy, informative dark rides sponsored by mega-corporations. Each element of that seemed to falter one-by-one until today.
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: With Epcot’s figure-eight orientation and large size (about twice as big as Magic Kingdom), expansion outward has been rare. Rather, new experiences have replaced old throughout Future World, especially. Stories of those continuous replacements fill our Lost Legends library, but essentially every one of Future World's pavilions has lost a beloved or fascinating attraction at one time or another.
One of the most ingenious growths within the park was the construction of the Lost Legend: Soarin’. Accessed from within the Land pavilion, Soarin’ and its impressively large infrastructure were built in a hangar closer to the Imagination pavilion than to the Land - evidence of how existing pavilions can still spread outward from their monumental footprints with auxiliary showbuildings (true of the blue, yellow, and red zones below).
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE: Disney is slowly admitting what fans have rallied against for years: that Epcot lost its identity a long time ago to one-off character overlays, brainless thrill rides, and not-so-nostalgic outdated left-overs. The park is famously undergoing a multi-year metamorphosis as we speak. Trouble is, Disney’s solution seems to be… one-off character overlays, brainless thrill rides, and outdated leftovers sold as “nostalgia.” While we don’t yet know how seamlessly it will all come together, we can be sure that Epcot’s growth is largely internal. And we do know of a few areas where dirt is already moving or where projects are certain to take shape.
- Purple (confirmed) - While specifics of Future World aren't exactly clear, overhauls are happening to both the entrance and the inner courtyard, which some suggest will take on a new identity and be called Epcot Center (get it?).
- Gold (confirmed) - The relatively short-lived Wonders of Life pavilion was somewhat awkwardly wedged between the Energy and Horizons pavilions in 1989 – and true to Epcot form, its interior is currently being gutted to become a pavilion dedicated to Play.
- Blue (confirmed) - Its neighbor – formerly Energy – is becoming a massive dark ride roller coaster featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Yellow (confirmed) - A new restaurant is being built attached to the Mission: SPACE pavilion.
As for World Showcase...
- Red (confirmed) - Though not the first "character invasion" in World Showcase (and inevitably not the last), the duplication of Disneyland Paris' Modern Marvel: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will grow Epcot's France pavilion into its neighboring parcel thanks to its very large showbuilding. Speaking of which...
- Orange - World Showcase was built with 9 of its 21 pavilion-sized spaces empty. In the park’s opening year, Equatorial Africa, Israel, and Spain were announced… but they never came. Morocco opened in 1984 on one plot, then Norway was constructed on another in 1988. Thanks to the popularity of the Modern Marvel: Frozen Ever After, Norway expanded into an adjacent plot with the Sommerhaus just a few years ago, and Remy is taking another. That leaves five lots remaining, with Internet rumors suggesting that a Brazil pavilion is in the works for one. But the rest could each host a new country or at least a dark ride for an adjacent one.
As for rumors that both the Land and Seas pavilions are soon to meet the wrecking ball so their properties can be reused for new pavilions? Well… We said Epcot’s a wild card, right?
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Date opened: 1989
Size: 103 acres
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was – by all accounts – intended to be a half-day park. What else might you expect from a park that offered just two rides on its opening day? Yet those two rides were representative of the two halves of the park: an immersive and historic Hollywood park (featuring the Lost Legend: The Great Movie Ride) and a "working" television and film studio (fittingly anchored by the Declassified Disaster: The Backstage Studio Tour). Though the studio itself quickly closed up shop, Disney awkwardly maintained the illusion of working studio facilities for decades, with the entire back half of the park still dominated by tan showbuildings, studio spaces, and offices.
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: Believe it or not, the original, 1989 version of the park was only what we today call Hollywood Blvd., Grand Ave. and Echo Lake. Meanwhile, the Streets of America, Pixar Place, and Mickey Ave. were all behind-the-scenes until opened up to pedestrians in the ‘90s, and Sunset Blvd. was only built in the years following. In the 2010s, Disney finally ditched the flimsy studio aesthetic as entirely as it could, demolishing and repurposing tan soundstages to make way for Toy Story Land.
Similarly, the Streets of America were toppled and access roads re-routed to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which will – bar none – be the defining and identifying feature of the park from here on out.
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE: In its current layout, Hollywood Studios is fairly landlocked by its own access roads and infrastructure on three sides. The good news is that – unlike Disneyland – Disney can reroute and rebuild those roads anywhere it chooses. But for at least the foreseeable future, it won't have to...
- Brown (confirmed) - Obviously, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is the expansion looming on the horizon, overtaking much of the land that had been wasted by the Studio Tour and the later Lights, Motors, Action stunt show. Built right up to the edge of the park's property line, Galaxy's Edge successfully "fills in" the park's existing footprint on the south end.
- Purple - Perhaps coincidentally, Hollywood Studios' version of Galaxy's Edge has almost exactly the same expansion pad in the same relative position as Disneyland's version of the land...
- Teal - One of the only outright remnants of the park's earlier "studio" styling is the area around Echo Lake - a mish-mash of intellectual properties, time periods, and "backlot" contradictions that look especially bad compared to the highly detailed Hollywood Blvd. and Galaxy's Edge. Most awkward of all, the land contains Star Tours - now just as redundant as Disneyland's, but also placed in a "studio" style soundstage further betraying the illusion. Of particular interest in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular that's like stepping directly back in time to 1989, still working off the pretense that the 1981 film is being shot live at a Disney Park. Would fans prefer this space become an Indiana Jones land with its own Modern Marvel: Indiana Jones Adventure? Certainly...
- Green - But long before that becomes necessary, it’s worth mentioning that a huge parcel “studio” space is technically the park’s for the taking. However, in the years since the studio operations moved out, Walt Disney World operations moved in. So while the costuming building may not be making costumes for movies, it’s still making, repairing, cleaning, and storing costumes… just for Cast Members. While relocation of those facilities and offices isn’t impossible or improbable, it’ll be expensive. But it seems almost inevitable that in some point in the future, the path into Toy Story Land will become a crossroads, leading to two "outer loops" in the park's unusual layout.
Of course, Galaxy’s Edge has the potential to change everything. With its two rides added, Hollywood Studios will still have only 9 rides - the fewest of any Disney or Universal park – which may make executives race to add ride capacity.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Date opened: 1998
Size: 300 acres
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a very large park (even if it’s not quite a big as Disney claims). The park's exhausting and sprawling layout was originally meant to encourage sincere exploration (with "off-road" paths, stepping stones over creeks, and no park maps), even if it was quickly reigned in. To make matters worse, "transportation" attractions meant to ferry guests around the park quickly closed, leaving most of this wild trek on foot. Discovery Island acts as the park's enormous hub, with paths branching off to equally-sprawling lands, most containing walk-through, zoo-style animal excursions. Phew!
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: When it opened, most of Asia was still under construction, to say nothing of Everest and its prominent placement along the Discovery River. Expansions of Harambe and Dinoland’s often-mocked Dino-rama further expanded the park’s footprint outward from its gargantuan hub.
Obviously the largest growth was Pandora: The World of AVATAR, a Cars Land-scaled expansion that seemingly went through a multi-year development hell all while fans accosted the idea… until, of course, the land opened to universal acclaim and praise. Pandora is nearly the largest single expansion in Disney Parks (just beat by Galaxy’s Edge), using land previously set aside for a “Phase II” expansion of the park and temporarily housing the painfully simple Camp Minnie-Mickey in the decade-plus meantime.
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE:
- Blue - It’s fairly well known that Disney likes to “double dip” on research and development money, installing identical or similar attractions across its parks. So while fans had imagined for years that a Zootopia-themed land and attraction would take over the almost-retired Rafiki’s Planet Watch (accessible only by train), the potential turned kinetic when a Zootopia land really was announced for Shanghai Disneyland…
- Yellow - On the more “Blue Sky” side, the enormous park’s largest obviously-accessible plot of land is north of Kali River Rapids. While Animal Kingdom probably shouldn’t get any physically bigger from a guest accessible point-of-view, there’s ample room for a new land or a large-scale outdoor animal attraction should Disney ever go there.
Disney California Adventure
Date opened: 2001
Size: 72 acres
Disneyland’s second gate was built on the former parking lot that had served Walt’s park for 40 years. California Adventure has even developed a distinctly rectangular shape as it’s gradually expanded toward the corners of the former blacktop parcel. Like Disneyland itself, the park is landlocked by city streets. Unlike Disneyland, California Adventure has no berm (which means there are several places in the park where outside hotels intrude on sightlines). Plus, the gargantuan Grand Californian Hotel’s “deluxe” placement inside the park acts as a barrier to expansion.
EXPANSION SINCE OPENING: Like no Disney park on Earth, Disney California Adventure's relatively short life has been one of reinvention. Practically nothing the park opened with in 2001 is still around today, thanks to an all-at-once, billion-dollar mea culpa from CEO Bob Iger. During a massive five year reconstruction, the park was systematically demolished and redesigned one land at a time. We're proud to have told the definitive and in-depth story in Disney's California Misadventure: Part I and Part II.
As part of the park’s billion-dollar growth spurt from 2007 to 2012, California Adventure expanded both further out into the Esplanade (the plaza between parks) and into the “Timon” parking lot (what was left of Disneyland’s original). The resulting Buena Vista Street and Cars Land filled out the park literally and figuratively. In the southwest corner of the park, Pixar Pier acts as definite park border behind which expansion is unlikely (aside from perhaps showbuildings).
WHERE TO GROW FROM HERE: Like Disneyland, California Adventure's barrier to expansion is the world around it. An Anaheim motel is even located on the same block practically inside the park (even if it faces the industrial back side of Cars Land). Since it's unlikely the park will grow out, opportunities mostly reside within.
- Purple - The rerouting of the circuitous Disney Way road that resides behind the park (remnants of the Timon Lot) would open a lot of property, but not much that could be easily used or accessed. Of it, we can only see the area behind Pixar Pier as really useful, perhaps by a showbuilding to house a much-needed dark ride for the land. Maybe based on Up or Inside Out?
- Yellow - A few years ago, Disney announced an ambitious reimagining of the resort's east side, where they planned to build a new parking garage with a skybridge into the Esplanade between the parks. That would've kickstarted a major reinvention of the entry experience for the hotel-heavy Harbor Blvd. side of the resort, including the relocation of the bus loops that service the resort. Insiders say that the relocation of those bus lines would've opened the property for California Adventure to fill, and that a land based on Marvel heroes was a shoe-in. But local residents and businesses fought back against the east side plans, so Disney officially cancelled them (instead building the new Pixar Pals parking garage on the west side, next to the existing garage). Since a Marvel land couldn't go there...
- Red (confirmed) - Disney instead bulldozed "a bug's land," a miniature land of lightly-themed carnival rides, hastily added to the park in its early days to add much-needed kid-capacity to the park's lineup. Now, Marvel Land will be located there instead. Luckily, that still places it in proximity to the Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride that replaced the Lost Legend: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
- Teal - While Marvel land will certainly mostly occupy the space once taken by "a bug's land" (red), a tiny bit of parking lot (no longer open to guests) remains behind the Guardians of the Galaxy tower - likely earmarked for a "Phase II" of the land, even if just to contain a large showbuilding for the rumored Avengers-themed roller coaster. Frustratingly, the snap decision to relocate plans for Marvel caused another issue...
The biggest scar on California Adventure – and perhaps its biggest growth opportunity – remains the uninspired Hollywood Land section – the only land that didn’t benefit from the billion-dollar rebuild. Of course, in retrospect, we can see why. Disney clearly expected the east side reimagining to happen, in which case the yellow and orange areas together would become Marvel. Since that didn't happen, Disney's left with a tired "studio" themed land in the otherwise artfully-redesigned park.
- Orange - Hollywood Land is a gaggle of mis-matched intellectual properties like a Monsters Inc. dark ride, an already-played-out Frozen musical, Turtle Talk with Crush, and Mickey's Philharmagic, a copy of Magic Kingdom's 2003 film that (if you can believe it) just debuted at California Adventure this summer, replacing the objectively better Muppet*Vision! At least Tower of Terror anchored Hollywood Land and gave it a time, a place, and an E-Ticket reason to exist. Now, this whole jumbled land is reigned over by a "space warehouse prison powerplant" that makes no sense whatsoever.
...Which isn’t to say a properly-done ‘30s-inspired Hollywood wouldn’t be amazing at the park… Whether Hollywood or something a little more box-office friendly, it's likely that the current Hollywood Land will change eventually. Before Disney's acquisition of Marvel, rumors suggested that half of the land would be annexed to become a Monstropolis. Even though that makes no sense in "California" Adventure, it's probably better than a bland studio land.