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Are Disney Parks FULL? Where We Think Each Park is Growing Next...

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!

Image: Disney

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.

Image: Google

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
Size72 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.

Image: Disney 

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).

Image: Google

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...

Image: Disney / Marvel

  • 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.

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