Though Walt Disney World may have been accused of standing still in the face of growing competition from Universal Orlando Resort, in reality nothing could be further from the truth as there are some big changes coming to the resort over the next few years.
July's update on the changes coming to Walt Disney World include delays for Pandora: The World of Avatar, more closings at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the confirmation of the imminent demise of DisneyQuest. However, it's not all bad news, as tests are currently underway for the new Rivers of Light show at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which may actually be debuting earlier than anticipated. But first this month, we have a small update from an as-yet unannounced new dining location...
15. A new Jungle Cruise restaurant comes to the Magic Kingdom
Back in February, permits were filed to convert the Liberty Tree Tavern restaurant kitchen into a facility that would support not one but two restaurants. Many hoped that this was a signal indicating the return of the classic Magic Kingdom opening day restaurant, Adventureland Veranda (which had been turned into a Fairies meet and greet in recent years).
However, new information has surfaced that indicates that this former restaurant space is being converted into a brand new restaurant experience themed around the nearby Jungle Cruise attraction. 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, we are expecting to hear details about this new dining experience soon. Construction on the location for this restaurant has ramped up in recent weeks, with Tiana and Naveen evicted from their gazebo meet and greet (which is right behind where this restaurant will be) due to construction noise.
14. Wilderness Lodge gets a massive facelift and expansion
With the completion of the expansion of the Polynesian Village Resort in 2015, it looks like Disney's Wilderness Lodge is the next hotel to get a major refurbishment. In July, Disney finally confirmed this development by sending out letters to guests with reservations at this hotel with information about what changes to expect both in the long-term as well as during their stay.
Among the highlights from guest letter is confirmation that this refurbishment will kick off later this year and it set to be complete by 2017 and that the Hidden Springs leisure pool is being upgraded into a full size pool complete with a larger deck as well as a hot tub area.
However, permits filed back in May show that there are even more changes coming to this resort, including DVC bungalows on the water, similar to what has been constructed at Disney's Polynesian Resort.
13. 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, one thing is for sure: the days of "Disney's Hollywood Studios" are numbered.
In preperation for this new identity, many of the park's attractions have been shuttered in the past 18 months, incluing The American Idol Experience, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, The Studio Backlot Tour, and most recently The Magic of Disney Animation. Though we don't have official confirmation yet, attractions Voyage of the Little Mermaid and One Man's Dream are also expected to close in the very near future as this park gets ready for its total reboot, which is expected to be announced next month.
12. Star Wars Land is finally on the way
Star Wars Land has long been rumored for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it seems as though Disney is finally ready to move forward with the project. On a recent earnings report call with investors, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that Disney is "developing designs for a far greater Star Wars presence in the parks," and added that, “When we grow Star Wars' presence, which we will do significantly, you will see better bets being made that will pay off for us than were made in the past." Iger stopped short of saying exactly what form this new expansion would take, but he did say that an announcement would be made in 2015 (likely at the D23 expo in August).
Plans for Star Wars Land were of course first teased at the D23 Expo back in 2013. At the time, it was believed that Disney was planning to include an indoor, more-fully-fleshed-out, audio-animatronic-equipped Jedi Training Academy, a Mos Eisley Cantina-themed restaurant, and possibly a larger, E-Ticket attraction to be added in a second phase.
However, there have been a number of delays, caused by a renewed focus on creating an experience that incorporates upcoming Star Wars movies as well as a desire to compete with nearby Diagon Alley.
Because of this, work on Star Wars Land will likely not begin until late 2015 (or perhaps early 2016) and guests probably won't be traveling to a galaxy far away until 2018 or 2019. Still, an announcement has been confirmed to be coming sometime this year, and hopefully we'll know more concrete information very soon.
11. A new theater for Disney's Hollywood Studios
In a linked developments have been filed for a brand new theater at Disney's Hollywood Studios to be constructed on Sunset Boulevard, next to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Though we don't know what this new "flex space" theater will be used for, odds are that the construction of this new space is related to the imminent destruction of the Premiere Theater near the Streets of America and the possible destruction of the Superstar TV Theater (now known as the Hyperion Theater) around Echo Lake as a possible casualty as plans for Star Wars Land become final.
Construction on this new theater has already begun, but the project remains unannounced by Disney.