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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, is undergoing a complete transformation to become Disney Springs

Let's take a look at 18 new rides, attractions, shops and restaurants that are either confirmed or rumored to be on their to Walt Disney World by 2017.

18. NBA Experience restaurant

Status: Confirmed 

Opening in: 2016 or 2017

Last month it was confirmed that the NBA City restaurant at Universal Orlando Resort would be closing this August and a new "NBA Experience at Walt Disney World" restaurant would be moving in to Disney Springs. Though details were scarce at first, we learned just recently that this new dining and entertainment center would be taking over the spot currently occupied by DisneyQuest. 

It is unknown if the DisneyQuest building will be demolished when it closes or whether the structure will simply be gutted to make room for the new experience. However, what we do know is that DisneyQuest is closing in 2016, and the new NBA experience restaurant will be replacing it either late next year or in early 2017. 

17. Jungle Cruise themed restaurant

Status: Confirmed (but not announced)

Opening in: 2015/2016

Permits were filed earlier this year to convert the Liberty Tree Tavern restaurant kitchen into a facility that would support two restaurants. Though some had hoped that this was a signal indicating the return of the Adventureland Veranda dining location, several credible sources have said that there is a brand new restaurant concept coming to this space, reportedly named "Skipper's Cantina". 

This highly-themed new dining establishment will be "run" by Jungle Cruise skippers who are picking up extra shifts. Though this location has not been formally announced by Walt Disney World, construction walls are up around the former Adventureland Veranda area, and work is ongoing. Though the park has not confirmed this new dining location, refurbishment schedules seem to indicate this new dining location will open either late this year or early next year. 

16. New theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Status: Confirmed (but not announced)

Opening in: TBA

Permits were filed last May for yet another unnamed construction project at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This newest undertaking will see the addition of what is currently being called a "flex space" theater, which will be located on the far side of Sunset Boulevard, in between the Rock n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (longtime Star Wars Weekends fans may remember this site as the home of Darth’s Mall back in 2012).

Though we don't know what will occupy this space, we do have a few theories, which you can read about here. Construction on this theater has already begun, with overhead photos showing preliminary work on the foundation of this theater underway. 

15. Frozen Ever After

Status: Confirmed
 

Opening in: May 2016

While we've known about the Frozen boat ride that is replacing Maelstrom since last year, we got our first real details this past June. Confirmed to be named Frozen Ever After, this new attraction will use the same boat ride system as Maelstrom, and will have projection enhanced animatronics, similar to those in use at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

It has also been confirmed that the ride will feature a truncated version of the events of the film, as told by the troll characters, and will also feature a small cameo by the "snowgies" popularized by the Frozen Fever short. Construction is well underway and the attraction is on track to open next spring

14. Massive new Frozen meet and greet coming to Norway

Status: Confirmed


Opening in: May 2016

Frozen Ever After isn't the only change coming to Norway at Epcot. A new 13,000 square foot Royal Sommerhus meet and greet will be opening alongside Frozen Ever After at Epcot next spring. Work on this new building (which will take over the expansion pad in between Norway and Mexico) is already well underway. 

Though we know some basics about the Royal Sommerhus, there are still some specifics regarding the actual nature of this attraction that are still missing. For instance, we don't know if this new attraction will be a more interactive experience (like Enchanted Tales With Belle) or if it will just be a super-sized meet and greet with a huge indoor queue. Either way, this new project looks to further solidify Disney's plan to completely Frozen-ify the Norway pavilion. 

13. STK Restaurant

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: 2015

Though it was rumored for quite some time, it was finally confirmed that STK Orlando, a 14,000 square foot, two story restaurant would be coming to Disney Springs later this year. 

In a prepared statement, Jonathan Segal, CEO of The ONE Group said of the new location, “We are thrilled to join the Disney Springs family with the launch of STK Orlando,” and added “The combination of an innovative menu and high-energy atmosphere has driven the success of STK, and we believe it will be an ideal addition to Disney Springs, and will help further cement its status as a place for friends and family to gather for fine dining and entertainment.”

12. Toy Story Playland 

Status: Rumored

Opening in: TBA

Now that the Studio Backlot Tour has been closed at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and most of the former ride structures demolished, 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. WDWNT reports that current rumors suggest that this new area will include three rides. The first will be a clone of the RC Racer flat ride attraction currently found at Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. The second will be an attraction tentatively titled "Woody's Round-Up" which will be a version of Mater's Junkyard Jamboree themed to Toy Story featuring horse-drawn carriages. The third ride is rumored to be a trackless Toy Story-themed dancing car ride similar to the Festival of the Dance ride set to replace Luigi's Flying tires at Disney California Adventure. 

Of course, these are all still in the rumor phase at the moment, but we wouldn't be surprised if an announcement of this area comes at next month's D23 event, as the reboot of Disney's Hollywood Studios is largely expected to be announced during this time. 

11. New Discovery Island restaurant

Status: Confirmed

Opening In: 2015

 It was confirmed last December that this new table service restaurant will be taking over some of the massive building currently occupied by quick-service restaurant Pizzafari. However, we still don't know just how this new restaurant will fit into the current Pizzafari structure. Construction in the area adjacent to Pizzafari began several months ago, suggesting that at least some part of this new restaurant will be constructed outside of the current Pizzafari location. 

10. 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.

Construction on these two hotels is well under way, with progress easily visible from the street. Recently, a "topping off" ceremony took place as the final structural steel beam was placed for the new complex's first two hotels. While news about the larger Flamingo Crossing project as a whole remains scarce, if you want to brush up on what this project is (and why it matters) we've got a run-down here

9. Morimoto Asia Restaurant 

Status: Confirmed

Opening in: Fall 2015

Back in November, 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. Though this restaurant was initially supposed to open this past spring, a number of delays have pushed its debut back to fall. You can read more about this new restaurant here.

8. 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.

Construction on the ride building is well underway, with the massive steel structure peaking out from the treeline that separates this new area from the parking lot. During a recent interview with Variety, Bob Iger said that he had ridden a prototype of this ride, and it "It felt so real, so lifelike. There’s never been anything like it." 

7. 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, a process which began in June and is currently taking place after hours. 

Although no opening date has been specified, barges containing props and equipment for the show have been spied on the river and construction is easily visible from the newly reopened Flame Tree Barbecue restaurant. Though we don't know what kind of development timetable Disney is working with, they have been conducting "dress rehearsals" after hours which include full audio effects, suggesting that much of the show portion of Rivers of Light has been completed. 

6. The Edison 

Status: Confirmed
 

Opening in: TBC

Another confirmed resident setting up shop at Disney Springs is The Edison. This new dining and bar location will be based upon the original nightclub in Los Angeles, and will feature a steampunk theme. Construction has already begun on this location, but no confirmed opening date has been announced. 

5. The Planet Hollywood Observatory

Status: Confirmed 


Opening in: 2016

Planet Hollywood has finally confirmed its long-rumored redesign, and will be transitioning into a “turn-of-the-20th-century observatory” in order to jive with the new Disney Springs theme, complete with a Planet Hollywood water tower (replacing the current sign).

“Disney is turning it into a turn-of-the-century Central Florida mining town, and the observatory was a feature at the time,” said Planet Hollywood International founder and chairman Robert Earl. “We’ve gone back to that look for Planet Hollywood.”

In addition to the changes to the building, the name of this establishment will change to Planet Hollywood Observatory and a new menu will be introduced. 

4. Kilimanjaro Safaris - late-night version

 Status: Confirmed
 

Opening in: TBC

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 nocturnal. Permits have been filed that will cover the electrical upgrades needed to transform this into a night-time attraction with an expiration date of December 2015, which suggests that we could see this new version of Kilimanjaro Safaris debut sometime later this year. Early morning tours for Kilimanjaro Safaris have also been cancelled indefinitely, which means that work is likely going on for this new nighttime experience. 

3. Avatar "mess hall" restaurant   

Status: Rumored
 

Opening in: 2017

While it features some stunning eye-candy, much of the original Avatar movie is set in a fairly grim army base. And that could provide the setting for Pandora - The World of Avatar's quick-service dining location. No word yet on if there'll be a more upscale restaurant, too. No dining experiences have been officially announced for this new area, but hopefully we’ll hear something official in the near future. 

2. Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar

Status: Confirmed


Opening in: Fall 2015

After months of speculation, we finally got confirmation last month that The Hangar is a real dining location set to open later this year. Officially named Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, this new watering hole will feature Indiana Jones-themed drinks and appetizers and should have room for about 150 guests, and will be opening later this year. You can read more about this project here

1. Avatar Boat Ride

Status: Confirmed
 

Opening in: 2017

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.  

Disney also released a sneak peek video (above) that showcased some of the props we will see in Pandora: The World of Avatar. Though the video was fairly vague and left us with more questions than answers, we suspect that most of the props as well as the lighted footpath will be elements of the queue for this attraction. 

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