Home » This is What Walt Disney World Will Look Like in 2025

This is What Walt Disney World Will Look Like in 2025

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Walt Disney World presents a strange contradiction to its fans. On the one hand, the primary draw of Disney’s parks is nostalgia – we love to visit and remember the good times we’ve had before, the family and friends we toured the parks and resorts with, and the amazing things we saw that sparked our imaginations or created unforgettable memories. When we return to Walt Disney World, we’re doing so, in part, as an attempt to relive those wonderful experiences.

However, that’s not the only piece of the equation. Disney fans are also obsessed with what’s to come. The only thing that annoys Disney fans more than the removal of a beloved attraction is a park devoid of creative change. We complain when we return to Walt Disney World only to discover that nothing new has opened. We despair when rides go unrefurbished for years or even decades.

This is the world the Walt Disney Company lives within: its most passionate fans are pleased neither with change, nor with tradition. They want both, and they want neither – and they want all of these things simultaneously. This is why, when Disney decides to redevelop its parks, it does so with a slow, steady, and assured approach. This is why, while Universal opens a new attraction seemingly every other week, Disney takes months even to announce plans to start constructing something new.

All of this makes predicting the future of Walt Disney World that much more difficult. There are attractions and shows that, clearly, are in need of work or reimagination, but it’s unclear if these attractions will even receive that attention in the near future – either for reasons of sentimentality, capacity, or simply inertia.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to look down the line and guess what Disney will look like a decade from now. In fact, all of that difficulty makes the enterprise that much more fun.

How to gaze into a crystal ball

Image - jesse, Flickr

There are three elements of predicting the future for Walt Disney World. The first is rumor and confirmation – essentially, the things we know or hear may be coming to Walt Disney World sometime soon. These include things like Star Wars Land and Pandora: The World of Avatar, and so on.

The second is the educated guess. In looking at the theme parks the way we do, and with some knowledge we’ve gleaned from the history of Disney and the current climate, there are some things we can at least take a shot at predicting, even though there isn’t much evidence pointing toward it. Basically, we look at the full picture and say, “You know, I bet this is what they’re gonna do.”

The third is what we’d want to see. We’ve all visited Walt Disney World and thought to ourselves, “If I were in charge, I’d add this.” Maybe it’s a new transportation solution, or an idea to renovate a property – whatever it is, there’s no real evidence suggesting that will come down the line, but dang, we’d sure love to see it.

Image - princessashley, Flickr

The first two elements of prognostication are a bit more useful, but the third is way more fun. Ultimately, the right balance of all three will show, as best we can, our vision of what the future holds for Walt Disney World.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look 10 years in the future – to the year 2025 – and see what exactly the Walt Disney World of tomorrow has in store for us.

But before we do that, let’s take a page from the gone-but-not-forgotten Horizons, and see what we can learn from the past. In order to get a sense of what Walt Disney World might look like 10 years into the future, let’s take a look at how it has changed since 10 ago:

Walt Disney World in 2005

Image - Atiq Nazri, Flickr

2005 was an interesting time for Walt Disney World. Positioned just beyond the end of the famed Disney Decade, a time when expansion, development, and construction seemed to be the norm, 2005 was the beginning of a decade of relative stability for the Florida resort.

If the 1970s and 1980s were the first era of Walt Disney World, and the Disney Decade was the second, the third can be seen as the time lasting from the economic downturn of 2001 until the opening of New Fantasyland in roughly 2012. While Disney’s first two eras were marked by rapid growth and experimentation, this third era – which we can call the Transitional Era – was notable more for its lack of development.

Consider this: During the Disney Decade, the Orlando resort saw the construction of dozens of hotels open, two theme parks, two water parks, Splash Mountain, Downtown Disney’s West Side, two mini-golf courses, and the Fastpass system. That’s an insane amount of development, and that list doesn’t even begin to describe all of the changes (countless other attractions, like the Tower of Terror and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin also debuted at this time).

Image - matt44053, Flickr

In the Transitional Era, Disney built a lot less at its Florida property. Here are the highlights: Mission: Space, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Soarin’, Expedition Everest, Toy Story Mania, Wishes, and the Pop Century resort. There were other minor additions, like Turtle Talk with Crush, the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and, fatefully, Stitch’s Great Escape – but nothing on the scale of the decade prior.

In a vacuum, yes, that’s a lot of growth. But compared to prior eras, it didn’t really scratch the surface of what the Walt Disney Company was capable of. There were some good reasons, obviously: the attacks of September 11 had a dramatic chilling effect on vacation travel, the economy never fully rebounded to 1990s heights, and, just as it was starting to strengthen again in the mid-00s, the entire world economy collapsed. None of these are good climates to build in.

On top of that, Disney’s prime competitor in the local market, Universal Studios, had seemingly thrown in the towel. After their big expansion in the late 1990s with CityWalk, the hotels, and Islands of Adventure, investment in Universal had seemingly screeched to a halt due to numerous corporate battles and ownership transfers. Without any local competition, it’s easy to see why Disney felt comfortable sitting back.

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The upshot is this: In 2005, our hopes for the Walt Disney World of 2015 couldn’t have been too massive. And, sure enough, the Walt Disney World of today doesn’t differ greatly from the one that existed ten years ago. But that doesn’t mean we should be as pessimistic looking forward to 2025. There are signs that a great time of growth is on its way to Central Florida.

The Disney Decade started partly because Universal took a shot at Disney with the 1990 debut of Universal Studios Florida, and now, in 2015, they’re doing it again. It continued because the momentum of opening newer and grander attractions, hotels, and shops is exponential. Once Disney saw the massive profits that could be made in giving guests new things to look forward to, they grew addicted to those profits and kept building more (and they would have gone even further, were it not for EuroDisney’s disastrous debut in 1992).

And so, as we enter the fourth era of Walt Disney World’s history, there are signs that it might look more like the Disney Decade than the Transitional Era. Disney just announced its grand plans for the next half-decade at its D23 Expo in California, and on the docket are massive expansion projects for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and some other additions around the resort. With what we know from Disney past, that’s a good sign for Disney future.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a trip to 2025 and see how things have changed – hopefully for the better.

1. Hotels, Disney Springs, and outside the parks

Image - lyght55, Flickr

Interestingly, one of the biggest growth areas for Walt Disney World is the time its guests spend outside the theme parks. It’s weird to think of a place as massive at Walt Disney World lacking things to do, but this is clearly something they’ve started to consider.

It’s important to remember that the Disney company doesn’t actually consider Universal its primary competition. For Disney, the entire vacation industry is Disney’s competition: cruise lines, travel companies, cities and towns abroad – all of it. They don’t want guests to ask themselves, “Universal or Disney” – they want guests to ask, “Rome or Disney?” That is the scale the company thinks on.

It was this ethos that led to the construction of the many beaches of Walt Disney World, hoping to lure guests in from the shores of Florida. It was why Disney eventually built luxurious resort hotels and spas like the Grand Floridian – trying to capture the luxury travel market. It’s why Disney constructed its massive water parks, its many golf courses, and its convention spaces. And, now, it’s why Disney is trying to transform Downtown Disney from solely a post-theme-park hangout spot into a true shopping destination.

Disney Springs concept art

The Disney Springs project is massive, and it’s clearly very important to the Walt Disney Company. While there are things we know are coming – like awesome new restaurants and things like Apple Stores – I would argue that is only scratching the surface. We’ve long heard a rumor that Disney would commission a new Cirque du Soleil show to perform in the La Nouba theater, and I think this one is likely to happen. Cirque is a big name, and a show themed around Disney characters would not only fit that company’s current direction, Disney would clearly love such a thing to help spike attendance at that show.

Another thing I’d expect to see are more resorts constructed in the Disney Springs area – likely, with one opening around 2025.

Boathouse concept art

Think of it like this: the last Disney hotel to open on property was the Art of Animation hotel in 2012. With the additions coming to the resorts over the next half-decade, Disney will need somewhere to house all those new guests. And, with Universal upping the hotel game in the last few years with the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and the forthcoming Sapphire Falls Resort, Disney will need to answer back. And, one way to make those new resorts feel special is to give them added value – like walking access to Disney Springs.

Image - christiantlambert, Flickr

A last point outside the parks: Anyone hoping for an expansion of the monorail line or something similar is likely to be disappointed. The ease of operation for the Disney bus line, plus the falling cost of oil, makes it unlikely that Disney would most past that model in the near future. Although a capital investment in something like a resort-wide PeopleMover system would be lovely, it just doesn’t seem like Disney feels the economic pressure to require such a move.

And, ultimately, that means that getting to the parks in 2025 will likely be a lot like it is today: Waiting at your resort bus stop. However, you’ll probably be able to see the timetables for those buses on your MyDisneyExperience App – so at least there’s that.

2. MyMagic+

Image - pazca, Flickr

I’m a MyMagic+ agnostic. On the one hand, yes, it has made my vacations to Disney easier and more seamless. On the other hand, I think the potential of this technology is limited at best. Disney will continue to integrate it into aspects of Walt Disney World, and by 2025, we’ll see things like the much-hyped personal character interactions come into play – where characters in Disney’s meet and greets are able to talk to you about rides you’ve ridden that day, where you’re from, and what your interests are.

Magician Mickey

I think we’ll also see more passive integration of MyMagic+ — with things such as locating missing children using the RFID technology, as well as RFID-triggered animatronic interactions on rides. There are capabilities of the system that are easy to build on, and presumably, that will continue.

However, I don’t think the Disney vacation in 2025 will be dramatically different due to MyMagic+.

Image - dafalcon, Flickr

We’ve now seen Disney roll out the Shop Disney Parks app – a new application that boasts the ability to have guests buy merchandise remotely and have it delivered to their hotel room. However, that doesn’t take into account the fact that souvenir purchases at Walt Disney World are more emotional than anything else. It may help guests track down that rare item they want, but it probably won’t change much about the actual process of buying things: buying it in the park is half the fun.

MyMagic+ will still be around in 2025, and its current capabilities will continue to help Disney mine data from its visitors while giving guests benefits on the fringes of their vacation, but it won’t overhaul the entire Disney experience in that time frame.

OK, enough of the boring stuff. Let’s get to the parks.

3. The Magic Kingdom

Image - fortherock, Flickr

With the completion of New Fantasyland, you’d think Disney would be done updating this park for the most part. However, I think it’s safe to say that’s not the case. Despite the fact that there are seemingly other pressing needs on the Walt Disney World property (cough*Epcot*cough), there’s no way Disney will put its crown jewel on mothballs.

So, in looking for potential growth areas at the Magic Kingdom, one spot sticks out above all the rest: Tomorrowland.

Clearly, Disney desperately wants to do something with Tomorrowland, but hasn’t a single clue exactly what that something is. They likely were hoping that Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland film would be a runaway success, giving them an excuse to overhaul this area as a tie in. That didn’t happen, and so we seem to be moving on to plan B.

Image - Atiq Nazri, Flickr

Here’s the thing about Tomorrowland as it stands today: The only untouchable attraction is Space Mountain. In terms of its status as a headlining attraction, its near-constant wait times, and its iconic status visually, it would be tough to remove this attraction. But everything else in the area is fair game –even beloved attractions like the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover and the Carousel of Progress likely could be altered or moved (Disney probably will never get rid of the Carousel of Progress, but if this area were to be overhauled, it could presumably be updated and make its way to Epcot).

And so, while it’s hard to say exactly what will be coming to Tomorrowland, it’s fair to say that, come 2025, the Tomorrowland Speedway and Stitch’s Great Escape will either be long gone or confirmed to be on their way out as part of a grand Tomorrowland overhaul on the scale of New Fantasyland. Even Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin might not be entirely safe, considering it is in need of a renovation anyway, and interactive attractions such as Toy Story Mania and the forthcoming Millennium Falcon ride over at Star Wars Land are set to pass it in terms of technical capabilities. Universal’s not slowing down any time soon, so if Disney needs another massive project, Tomorrowland is the place to do it.

Other than Tomorrowland, the only other big change come 2025 will likely be in Adventureland. At D23, we finally got confirmation that a new dining location would be opening in the area, themed to the Jungle Cruise. And, along with this news, we learned that Disney has greenlit a Jungle Cruise film starring none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Image - lorenjavier, Flickr

And it’s here that Disney’s new film strategy becomes clear: Beloved Disney rides that are in need of refurbishment are getting the film treatment first, and then will be rethemed to fit the new films. Clearly, this playbook worked wonders for Pirates of the Caribbean, and we’re thinking Disney’s itching to try it again. It didn’t quite work with Tomorrowland, but it’s clearly a strategy worth looking into.

Thus, if Disney’s Jungle Cruise film is as successful as they’re hoping it will be, expect the Magic Kingdom attraction to be rethemed to match up with that universe – and expect to see the Rock involved. And, if that works, look for more Disney attractions to become films (probably starting with the Haunted Mansion – we’ll just pretend the Eddie Murphy version doesn’t exist).

Ultimately, the Magic Kingdom of 2025 will look much as it does today. Its recent development with New Fantasyland, the Hub Expansion, and the Jungle Cruise restaurant means that it likely won’t go under the knife again for a while, but when it does, Tomorrowland will be the first thing changed. It’s probably not that bold of a prediction, but considering we’re looking into the future, it’s only fitting that the futuristic area of the park gets an overhaul.

4. Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Image - christiantlambert, Flickr

Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the star of the show at D23. At long last, we got confirmation that this park would be getting a multi-billion dollar overhaul that will see it transformed into the most immersive theme park environment this side of I-4. In the past, Disney has been reluctant to have themed lands tied to specific film franchises, but with Universal demonstrating just how successful that model can be with its Wizarding Worlds, it’s finally time for Disney to give it their own spin.

By 2025, we’ll be piloting the Millennium Falcon at Star Wars Land

Star Wars Land concept art Star Wars Land concept art

…and riding a Slinky Dog roller coaster at Toy Story Land.

Toy Story Land concept art Slinky Dog roller coaster concept art

We now know this for certain. What we don’t know are the specifics of these lands, and what the heck Disney’s gonna do with the rest of the park.

Image - tjung, Flickr

Eyeballing it on a map and using our best guesses, Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land are only really taking up a third of the park’s area. Another third of that area is taken up by Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards and attractions like the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the Tower of Terror, and Fantasmic. Those probably aren’t going anywhere.

But, there’s still that other third. What is that for? This, potentially, is Disney’s end game for Disney’s Hollywood Studios: They want Marvel.

It’s clearly killing Disney that they can’t have the Avengers, their highest grossing film franchise, in their theme parks in Florida. If you aren’t aware, before Disney purchased Marvel, that company sold its theme park rights east of the Mississippi to Universal for use in Islands of Adventure. That agreement holds into perpetuity, meaning Universal holds the theme park rights to Disney’s own characters – and it isn’t giving them back.

Now, in response to this, Disney clearly has decided to build an equally popular cinematic universe featuring characters they do have the theme park rights to: Star Wars. And, now we know, those characters are coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But that doesn’t mean Disney has forgotten about Marvel, nor does it mean they’ve given up.

Iron Man Experience concept art

At Hong Kong Disneland, Disney is opening a Star Tours-style simulator attraction themed after Iron Man. With a version of Star Wars Land also heading to Disneyland, and with it confirmed not to be replacing Tomorrowland over there, it seems plausible that the Disneyland version of Star Tours will eventually be turned into something else as it wouldn’t make sense to have Star Wars attractions in two areas of the park. Likely, this is where Iron Man will make his appearance in a U.S. Disney Park. But, that still leaves Orlando as the gaping omission.

By 2025, we’ll have a resolution to this mess – likely with Disney paying Universal some large sum of money and letting them keep partial rights to the comic book versions of the characters. And, ultimately, that means Disney will go ahead full steam on bringing Marvel to Walt Disney World – presumably in that extra bit of land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It probably won’t be open by 2025, but it may have been announced, and we’ll know what form it will take.

In a shocking turn of events, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be one of the most magnificent Disney parks a decade from now. It’ll be a far cry from the half-day park it is now…and it won’t be called Hollywood Studios any more. We’ll have to wait and see what new name Disney has in store for us.

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Image - Atiq Nazri, Flickr

In 2025, we’ll be just five short years away from the opening of the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

OK, I’m kidding. But doesn’t it kind of feel that way?

Image - disneyabc, Flickr

Presumably, at some point in the next decade, the theme park land with the longest development process since Chinese Democracy will open at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and we’ll all be exploring Pandora like God, Joe Rohde, and James Cameron intended.

Pandora concept art

And look, while that movie may not have been the greatest thing in the world, that doesn’t mean the theme park land won’t be. Remember: Disney turned a musical that no one has ever seen into one of its signature attractions – the quality of source material doesn’t really matter to Disney Imagineering.

We’ll also likely be several years into the run of Rivers of Light, the Animal Kingdom’s nighttime spectacular…

Rivers of Life concept art

as well as well into the life of the twilight version of Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

But if I’m guessing correctly, I think Animal Kingdom is going to get the most love from the Imagineers over the next decade of any park outside Hollywood Studios. Think about it: The marquee movies coming in the next half-decade are largely animal related. We’ve got Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur coming later this year, and if that’s anywhere near as successful as Pixar’s other work, it will likely find its way into Dinoland USA – possibly as a family friendly D or E-Ticket alongside Dinosaur. Maybe it’ll replace Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama (hey, a guy can dream).

Image - joeshlabotnik, Flickr

We’re also seeing the rebooted versions of the Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon coming from Walt Disney Studios in the next few years, and those films also seemingly have smooth transitions into life as attractions at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pandora will show that fictionalized animals can work in that park, and having a Pete’s Dragon-themed experience (again, depending on the success of the film) would appeal to its fan base both old and young. And, finally, it’d make that dragon in the park’s logo make sense.

Disney is very serious about transforming Animal Kingdom into a full-day park, and what they’ve already announced has pushed it in that direction, surely. But I doubt they’ll stop there. Once people truly start to appreciate how magnificent this park is (and, as I’ve said, I think it’s Disney’s best), the crowds will grow and grow and It’ll demand more investment. That’s just how these things go.

6. Epcot

Image - lyght55, Flickr

So, last but not least, we get to Walt Disney World’s biggest mystery: What is going to happen to Epcot? How different will it look in 2025? And here’s the sad truth: it probably won’t look that much different.

Frozen Ever After concept art

Here’s what we know for sure: Disney is bringing a Frozen-themed attraction, Frozen Ever After, to the Norway pavilion, and that is slated to open next year. Disney is also bringing a new world-wide version of Soarin’ to The Land pavilion. Here’s what we think we know pretty surely: the Imagination Pavilion is the next to be overhauled, and it will likely come with an Inside Out-themed film to replace Captain EO. Here’s what we don’t know: what any of this means.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging that Disney recognizes Epcot needs more attractions. However, it’s concerning that they seem so focused on bringing intellectual properties into Epcot.

Image - lorenjavier, Flickr

When it’s come to movie integration, Epcot has actually been one of the more elegant examples of it. Finding Nemo, while not a realistic story, is far more grounded than any of the films that have made their way to the Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even Inside Out is a more realistic world than, say, Toy Story. However, the concern, as always, is Frozen.

There are two ways to look at Frozen’s forthcoming appearance at Epcot: One is that Disney is pivoting Epcot’s direction away from being a grounded, realistic version of the world and toward one based around its films. In this outlook, it would not be surprising to see more such attractions come to the World Showcase – maybe a Mulan ride for China or a clone of Walt Disney Studios, Paris’ Ratatouille ride for France.

The other way to look at it is that Disney was desperate to add Frozen to its parks quickly, looked at the expansions coming to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, and figured it wouldn’t work there. Then, they looked at New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom and realized they didn’t want to plunge that world into construction walls yet again. Then, they looked at Epcot, saw that it needed a new attraction, and figured Maelstrom would be easy and quick to replace.

I actually think the latter situation is true:  Disney didn’t think much about the thematic implications of adding Frozen to the World Showcase. All they saw was that they needed to give this astonishingly popular film a place in its parks, and Norway was the only place that fit the bill. I don’t think it means Epcot will soon be thrown into an existential thematic crisis – I think it just means Disney was kind of panicked in its construction.

Image - christiantlambert, Flickr

To me, what this actually shows is that Disney doesn’t really know what it wants to do with Epcot. And so, guessing its future means we’re guessing alongside the Disney brass. But, here’s what I think: we’re about to enter a time of even more technological amazement in the real world. From Elon Musk’s hyperloop seemingly beginning construction of a prototype to the growth of wearable computing, the future is looking more and more connected to technology. And Epcot, likely, will reflect that.

With Disney’s Hollywood Studios becoming the destination for film immersion, with Animal Kingdom becoming the center for Disney’s more adventurous attractions, and with the Magic Kingdom remaining the hub of fantasy and wonder, Epcot will always need to be something different, something more grounded. So, ten years from now, while I don’t think Epcot will have changed all that much, I think we’ll start to sense a reinvestment in its mission: Showing how bright and connected our future really is.

The biggest rumor coming out of Epcot is that we’ll likely see a replacement for Illuminations coming in the next few years. And, while it’s consistently feted with awards as the best nighttime entertainment show in the industry, I think that’s a rumor that’s likely to come true. However, consider me an optimist: I don’t think we’ll see a World of Color-esque celebration of Disney movies coming in its place. I think its replacement will be as inspiring and focused on humanity as the one way have today. Epcot in 2025 will still be about us, rather than the portrayals of us we see on the silver screen.

Image - aloha75, Flickr

And so, ultimately, the Walt Disney World of 2025 will look much as it does today. It won’t be as completely transformed as it was from 1987-2001, nor will it be as stagnant as it was from 2002-2012. Universal will keep the pressure on Disney, and Disney will keep responding. It will live somewhere in the middle of those two eras, giving guests a largely new experience every two-to-three years, which just so happens to coincide with the Disney World vacationer’s travel schedule.

It’s almost like the Walt Disney Company knows what it’s doing after all these years.