Pandora - The World of Avatar isn't the only project underway at Disney's Animal Kingdom. A new nighttime show, an in-the-dark version of Kilimanjaro Safaris and later opening hours are all on the way.
Disney is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the offerings at Walt Disney World's fourth theme park. Much of this will be spent on creating Pandora - The World of Avatar, which will boast two major attractions and immersive theming throughout. But that's not the only major change that's on the way. Let's take a look at the other updates and additions that we can expect at the hybrid zoo/theme park over the next few years.
1. The end of Camp Minnie-Mickey
Camp Minnie-Mickey did not feature in the original plans for Disney's Animal Kingdom. Instead, the area that it occupies was supposed to be Beastly Kingdom, a land filled with mythical creatures and headlined by a stunning, dragon-themed inverted roller coaster. With costs spiralling, though, Beastly Kingdom was bumped into a "phase 2" expansion (and would ultimately never be built). In its place, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner ordered the creation of a much cheaper land. Reportedly, Disney's Imagineers were barely involved in the creation of Camp Minnie-Mickey, which was intended to be a temporary, stop-gap addition but ended up remaining in the park's line-up for over a decade. Even the floats used in the Festival of the Lion King show were reused from Disneyland's Lion King Celebration parade.
Now, Pandora - The World of Avatar is taking over the area. That means that Festival of the Lion King will be moved to a new location in the Africa area of the park (a more appropriate setting, in any case), with the current theater due to close on January 5, 2014. Mickey and Minnie's meet-and-greets have already moved to the Adventurer's Outpost, and the other characters will be on their way out soon.
2. A new nighttime show
Disney's Animal Kingdom has always closed earlier than Walt Disney World's other 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. The new version of the tree should fit well with Pandora, which will also feature glow-in-the-dark plants.
Although no opening date has been specified, barges containing props and equipment for the show have already been spied on the river. It's even reported that test runs for the show have taken place.
3. An evening safari
Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of the most popular attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom, is about to become two attractions in one. A new night-time version of the safari will be launched on an unspecified date, and is expected to feature an updated storyline and a focus on animals that are largely noctural.
So there you have it, folks. The changes to Disney's Animal Kingdom will go well beyond merely adding two new rides in Pandora - The World of Avatar. Disney is aiming to transform what is often viewed as a "half-day park" into a full day (and night) experience. Let us know your thoughts on the expansion in the comments below!