Though Walt Disney World may have been accused of standing still in the face of growing competition from Universal Orlando, in reality nothing could be further from the truth as there are some big changes coming to the resort over the next few years.
Disney has chosen to invest its money in a different way than Universal, which has focused on building major new attractions (such as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley) and more hotels (like the under-construction Lowe’s Sapphire Falls). But the company is spending money on Walt Disney World - a lot of it. Over the coming years, the results of this spending should start to become more visible to guests.
There are many changes coming to Walt Disney World, but some will have a bigger impact than others. Here's a look at 14 of the biggest updates that are in store for Walt Disney World as of April 2015.
14. A night-time show for Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the offerings at Walt Disney World's fourth theme park, which has often been (perhaps unfairly) accused of being a "half-day park" in the past. Disney's Animal Kingdom has always closed earlier than the resort's other theme 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. Confirmed 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.
A new, expanded Tree of Life has been unveiled at the park as of February 2015, and work on installing LED leaves has begun in earnest as of April 2015. The process to remove and re-install all of the leaves is expected to take several months.
13 A new version of Kilimanjaro Safaris
In a linked development, 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.
Disney has now filed the first construction permit associated with the project, with an expiration date of December 31, 2015. It covers electrical upgrades to the ride to enable night-time operation. Disney has not officially announced the commencement of construction, but the impending closure of the Backstage Safari tour implies that work may have already commenced
12. The last days of Disney's Hollywood Studios
Last February, the remnants of the Sorcerer's Hat at Disney's Hollywood Studios came down. However, we learned recently that in addition to the removal of the former park icon, this park will be getting a whole new identity soon. Though we don't know what the new name of this park will be or when it will take effect, it looks like the days of "Disney's Hollywood Studios" may be numbered as Disney continues to iron out details of this park's total reboot.
11. Toy Story Playland in Development
It has been all but confirmed that a Toy Story Playland (similar to what can be found at Walt Disney Studios, Paris as well as Hong Kong Disneyland) will be moving in the area formerly occupied by the Backlot Tour attraction. This new area will feature several themed play structures with characters from the Toy Story films as well as rethemed flat rides.
WDWNT reports that there are three rides in the works for this new area. The first will be a clone of the RC Racer flat ride attraction currently found at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland (pictured above). The second will be an attraction tentatively titled "Woody's Round-Up" which will be a re-themed version of Mater's Junkyard Jamboree featuring horse-drawn carriages. The third ride is rumored to be a trackless Toy Story-themed dancing car ride similar to the ride recently confirmed to be replacing Luigi's Flying tires at Disney California Adventure.
10. The transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs
The existing Downtown Disney area currently being transformed into shopping and entertainment district Disney Springs by 2016. The update will be more than a simple facelift - Disney intends to double the number of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in the area, boosting the total to more than 150 establishments.
Fittingly given its Florida location, Disney Springs will feature a theme centered around an idealized version of turn-of-the-century lakeside town. Disney promises that it will create a "welcoming, comfortable space where families can enjoy time together and instantaneously feel right at home".
Several new stores have recently opened at Disney Springs, incuding Chapel Hats, an additional Sunglass Hut location, and a several new shoe stores. These new retail offerings are located in the area between the current Marketplace and the bridge to the West Side, and are part of the "phase 1" opening of this emergent space. You can learn more about these shops in depth here.
In a recent development, The BOATHOUSE restaurant will be welcoming its first guests this month. Reservations can be made now, and you can check out the full menu here. In addition to serving diners, the much-anticipated Amphicars feature will also make its debut this month as well. Sadly, guests will not be able to grab the wheel and drive an Amphicar themselves, but if you still want to ride in one of these unique vehicles, 20-minute guided tours will cost $99 for a group of up to three guests.