Tree of Life

There are plenty of new rides, shows and restaurants due to open at Walt Disney World by 2017. Here is November’s update on the latest confirmed and rumored additions to the resort.

Walt Disney World has been accused of lagging behind Universal Orlando when it comes to spending on new additions in recent years. However, there are now a number of major projects underway at the resort, most of which are due to be completed by 2017.

The two biggest areas of focus are Disney's Animal Kingdom and the area formerly known as Downtown Disney. Animal Kingdom will see its opening hours extended, as well as the addition of the Pandora - The World of Avatar expansion. Downtown Disney, meanwhile, will undergo a complete transformation to become Disney Springs, in an effort to make it more competitive with Universal's CityWalk.

Some elements of these projects have been confirmed, and indeed some are due to open imminently. Others, however, remain simply rumors - and Disney itself has probably not fully decided on the final line-up of shops and restaurants.

Let's take a look at 19 new rides, shops and restaurants that are either confirmed or rumored to be on their to Walt Disney World by 2017.

19. STK Restaurant

Status: Rumored

Opening in: TBA

Back in April, Scott Joseph reported that STK was close to sealing a deal with Disney to add one of its restaurants to the Disney Springs line-up. We've heard nothing since, but we haven't heard the rumored scotched either.

STK is a modern steakhouse chain with locations in New York, Las Vegas and Miami. It has also expanded abroad, opening a restaurant in London. The chain describes its highly-stylized restaurants as "artfullly blending two concepts into one - the modern steakhouse and a chic lounge. The restaurant’s signature DNA includes plaster cast horns, curvilinear black platform seats and a palette of black gloss and cream. A large central lounge area is furnished with creamy leather banquettes and textured crocodile tiles, and is surrounded by an elevated dining room for more formal dining." This new area still has yet to be officially announced. 

18. Pixar Playland 

Status: Rumored

Opening in: TBA

Now that the Studio Backlot Tour has been closed at Disney's Hollywood Studios, rumors have been flying about what might replace it. Though both Cars Land and a Monsters Inc roller coaster have been touted as potential replacements, by far the strongest rumor about what will become of this new space is a Pixar-themed playland aimed at young children (similar to what can already be found at Walt Disney Studios, Paris as well as Hong Kong Disneyland).

This new area would feature several themed play structures with characters from the Toy Story films as well as rethemed flat rides. No announcement has been made yet regarding this project's existence, but hopefully we hear something in the next few months. 

17. Harambe Marketplace

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: 2015

Disney recently announced a new expansion of the Africa section of Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the centerpiece of this new area will be the Harambe Marketplace quick service restaurant. Africa has long needed a quick service option, and this new restaurant will fill this need rather uniquely by allowing guests walk up to several different windows to grab different styles of food (think Springfield Food Court at nearby Universal Studios Florida). Construction on the expansion is ongoing, with this new restaurant expected to debut sometime next year. 

16. Frozen-themed boat ride

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: Early 2016

Maelstrom, in Epcot's Norway Pavilion, saw its last voyage on October 5, 2014, and construction on this new Frozen-themed attraction has already begun in the space formerly occupied by the boat ride. A black scrim currently covers the area where the boats used to peek out over the falls, and a video has surfaced online that shows the Maelstrom boats being carried away on a truck.

Though we don’t know what form this new ride will take exactly, Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts seem to indicate that the ride will follow the plotline of the film and feature several musical moments (expecting to be humming the tune of "Let it Go" for the rest of the day after riding).

15. New Discovery Island restaurant

Status: Confirmed

Opening In: 2015

In addition to the new quick service offering in Africa, Disney's Animal Kingdom will also be getting a new table service retaurant. We don't know what kind of food this new location will offer or even what it will be named, but a new restaurant has been confirmed to be coming to the front area of Disney's Animal Kingdom and it will be open in 2015. We'll let you know more details on this new dining location as they become available!

14. Flamingo Crossings Hotels


Status: Confirmed

Opening in: Early 2016

Disney has been quietly developing a new shopping and entertainment complex tentatively named Flamingo Crossings. The first two tenants for this new area will be TownePlace Suites, Marriott's extended-stay brand, and SpringHill Suites.  These two new hotels are scheduled to open in early 2016 and will have 500 suites between them. Both will be located on a 450 acre lot and will be constructed on Flamingo Crossings Way, right outside Disney World's western gate. You can read more about the Flamingo Crossings project here

13. Morimoto Asia Restaurant 

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: Spring 2015

Late last month, Disney made the rumored Morimoto Asia restaurant official.  As the name suggests, this restaurant will be opened by Chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame), and will feature “pan-Asian” food. The dining room will feature a collection of unique exhibition kitchens that showcase traditional Asian food preparation, featuring dishes like freshly-carved Peking duck and dim sum. Best of all, this restarant is on the “fast track” and will open with phase one of Disney Springs in Spring 2015. You can read more about this new restaurant here.

12. Avatar "flying ride"

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: 2017

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 screen.

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, also in a similar style to the Universal attraction.

Recent photos obtained by ThemeParx show that construction has begun on this new attraction, with much of the foundation for the show building already in place. 

11. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto  

 Status: Confirmed

Opening in: 2015

Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar opened several years ago at the Disneyland Hotel, and is inspired by the Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room attractions. It also incorporates elements of the Adventurer's Club, one of the most popular nightclubs in Walt Disney World's now-defunct Pleasure Island area. It has proven to be very popular, serving up tropically-themed appetizers, desserts and cocktails.

Little surprise, then, that Disney fans are salivating at the prospect of a version of the bar coming to the revamped Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto will feature a themed lounge area, and will serve up handcrafted tiki cocktails in souvenir mugs alongside Polynesian-style small plates. Construction at the Polynesian Village Resort is ongoing, and work on the area where this bar will be held has already begun.

10. Rivers of Light 


Status: Confirmed

Opening in: TBC

Disney is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the offerings at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which has often been accused of being a "half-day park". The resort's fourth theme park has always closed earlier than the resort'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.

Although no opening date has been specified, barges containing props and equipment for the show have already been spied on the river. The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom has also been completely walled off, as well as several area around the park as construction continues on show structures and props.

9. Patina Group Restaurant  

Status: Rumored

Opening in: 2015 (TBC)

The Patina Restaurant Group, which operates the Via Napoli, Tutto Italia and Tutto Gusto restaurants at Epcot's Italy Pavilion, is expected to open a yet-to-be-named Italian restaurant as part of Disney Springs. It appears that it will be located in the space that was formerly occupied by Pleasure Island's 8Trax and Mannequin's clubs. A work permit filed with Orange County suggests that it will consist of "two floors, a new dining area and cast and guest restrooms". There have been no recent updates about this project, but rumors continue to swirl about this potential new dining location.



WDW never had to "keep up" with Universal in the first place! Universal does not hold the same place in people's hearts. Walt's vision was all about family values and memories not just an amusement/theme park that Universal represents. The Imagineers are amazing and will do everything to perfection but it is upper management that needs to rethink this new "redo" it all phase. Too many changes at WDW is taking away from the traditions that families want to share over the years! The "Boomers" want to share their childhood joys with their children and grandchildren which they can't do if you alter everything. You should actually slow it down or we will go to Universal since "that old feeling" Walt gave us will be gone!

Wow! A bunch of new restaurants and this is exciting? Really?

In reply to by Brendon Gray (not verified)

In fairness, it's not just restaurants, is it? Disney is planning on rebuilding half of Hollywood Studios, and is expanding Africa and adding Pandora at Animal Kingdom.

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