5. Approaching Opening & Closing Dates
In what totally feels like obvious, low-hanging fruit that could’ve sustained fans and be shared widely by the media, Disney chose not to announce opening dates for several high- and mid-profile projects.
For example, Fantasmic's return (featuring new scenes that include Aladdin, Frozen, and Moana) has been advertised as a highlight of the 50th Anniversary... but nearly a year into the celebration, the show hasn't returned since it last played before the pandemic. It’s totally bamboozling that – while noting on a timeline that the show is still due for a 2022 reopening – they wouldn’t just tell us when. Like, seriously, there are only three months left in the year, and dropping a date would’ve given fans a “win” after a panel with few actual announcements of things we didn’t already know.
Same, of course, with the clearly-nearly-finished Treehouse project at Disneyland. These are low-hanging fruit; easy, cost-free announcements that would give fans a “win” and give the media something to celebrate and circulate. It’s just so odd that Disney didn’t even seem to want to confirm things that are happening next quarter at the parks.
And so it goes for Woody’s Roundup Rodeo BBQ Restuarant, the new eatery in Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that was announced way back in 2019! It's clear that construction is nearly complete on this eatery, so surely, there’s at least an update on what season we should expect that offering to come online?
The oddest delay must be – for seemingly the hundredth time – TRON Lightcycle Power Run. While fans had surmised that surely this five-year-long development of a cloned attraction would be ready to go by the busy Holiday season in 2022, Disney at least told us not to expect it. Instead, TRON will be online by “Spring 2023” – still not the firm date fans had expected, and really a shocking extension of a project that already taken five times as long as it took to go from orange grove to Opening Day at Disneyland in 1955.
Likewise, while news and details about the upcoming Tiana's Bayou Adventure redesign of Splash Mountain were plentiful, a closing date for the current ride was not. Though perhaps not the kind of celebratory feature you’d expect for a fan convention, knowing a closing date for Splash Mountain at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom will be very helpful in allowing fans to get their last rides and plan for closures.
With Tiana’s Bayou Bash scheduled for a “late 2024” opening, that leaves just 24 months between the 2022 D23 Expo and the ride’s premier, so Splash Mountain is surely entering its final months… Given park reservations, flights, and the incredible pre-planning needed to get to a Disney Park, it may already be too late for many fans to see Splash Mountain one last time, so even knowing it will close “May 2023” or “July 2023” would’ve been a helpful thing to mention.
6. The EPCOT Oddballs
As we explored in our list of D23 expectations, EPCOT’s reimagining being interrupted by the pandemic has been a real frustration. Some projects were delayed (Ratatouille); others completed (Guardians of the Galaxy); some were sidelined (Journey of Water, now set for late 2023); some canceled and re-announced in different forms altogether (the Celebration pavilion becoming Communicore Hall). But the weirdest subset of EPCOT attractions are those seemingly still caught in Limbo – neither discussed at D23 nor publicly, officially canceled…
Take the Play Pavilion. This retrofit of the former Wonders of Life pavilion was announced as part of the 2019 D23 EPCOT overhaul. It promised no rides, but to create a central space for families. Its glowing, digital, neon cityscape would infuse emoji-stylized Disney characters into rotating exhibits and interactives in a mix of science museum, Imagineering test bed, and playground. Sources differ on how far along the project was when COVID and its budget cuts hit, and without Disney’s official word, we really don’t know if it’s even still in development.
So it goes for the concept of a Mary Poppins presence in World Showcase’s U.K. pavilion. We weren’t very confident we’d hear about this one anyway since even at its announcement, details were sparse (with insiders suggesting Chapek was reluctant to invest in a full dark ride, hoping instead for a simple outdoor carousel or maybe just a meet-and-greet) and that the promotional cycle for Mary Poppins Returns has now passed anyway, making Chapek’s interest in the property probably close to zero.
The king of them all, of course, is Spaceship Earth, which was meant to go down for a multi-year reimagining in 2020. That was, of course, canceled. But given the ride’s aging ride system and Chapek’s hunger for IP integration, it was almost certain that the project (even a scaled down version) would be on the docket for re-announcement. Instead, it appears that Spaceship Earth will need to survive a while before getting any budgetary fixes…