Disney is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the offerings at Walt Disney World's fourth theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom. 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.
At its media event to preview the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom, Disney revealed some new details of the attractions that will be coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom over the next few years. And, taken together, the changes promise to transform the park from one that is often accused of being a "half-day" experience to one that can retain guests long into the evening.
Let's take a look at the updates and additions that we can expect at the hybrid zoo/theme park over the next few years.
5. Rivers of Light - 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. 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.
4. A returning favorite
To create room for the under-construction Pandora - The World of Avatar, Disney shuttered the Festival of the Lion King show earlier this year. The show will reopen in a new theater in the Africa area of Disney's Animal Kingdom in June.
Above is a first look at what the new theater, which will be located in the left side of the Africa section, will look like.
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.
2. Avatar "flying ride"
The headline ride in Pandora - The World of Avatar will be a major, "E-Ticket" attraction that will offer a simulated experience of flying over Pandora on a banshee creature. It has been compared to Soarin' at Epcot, but it is likely that the Avatar ride will actually be considerably more technologically advanced - supporting enhanced, more realistic movements and 3-D video on a wrap-around sceen.
The plans show four separate theaters, spread across four floors. The show itself will be projected onto an enormous, IMAX-style curved screen, just as it is in the Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Florida. Riders will board vehicles that rise to one of three show levels in front of the screen, in a similar style to the Universal attraction.
In its latest update on Pandora - The World of Avatar, Disney stated that it expects the new land to open in 2017.
1. Avatar boat ride
Housed partially on the ground floor of the same building that will host the flying attraction, and partially outside, will be a "C-Ticket" boat ride. Speculation suggests that Disney will employ advanced audio-animatronics to bring to life the inhabitants of Pandora as guests travel around the circuit.
The attraction will be a water-based dark ride through the planet's beautiful jungles at night, when bioluminescent plants begin to glow. This boat ride will be only the second dark ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom (after the fast-paced, thrilling Dinosaur) and will offer a much-needed family ride to the park's roster as well.
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!