This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the (possible) future of Walt Disney World and Universal! As they do several times each month, TouringPlans’ own Len Testa teamed up with industry icon Jim Hill to record an episode of the Disney Dish podcast. This particular episode was going to be answering a listener question of character meet-and-greets in the park, but before they got to that question the two men discussed several major stories affecting both Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort. The two theme park titans discussed many rumored additions and changes to the two resorts, as well as giving reasons why they may – and may not – actually come to fruition. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more important items, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…
# 6 – It’s GAME ON for Universal’s Super Nintendo World vs. Disney’s Star Wars Land
Many of us saw the recent groundbreaking of Super Nintendo World in Japan, and a lot of us have been waiting (not so) patiently for some news on what Universal and Nintendo have cooked up for Orlando. Universal waiting on announcing new projects is nothing new, in fact many insiders say the company got “burned” when announcing the original Wizarding World early, causing many guests to delay their Universal vacations until it was opened. Whatever the case, news on Nintendo attractions in America has been between slim and none until recently.
All of a sudden, the flood gates opened. Thanks to Twitter user Gary Snyder we got a look at the original pitch for a Nintendoland in Universal Studios Florida along with some pieces of concept art. In a word, these pictures were mind-blowing. Located in the area of USF that currently houses Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, the new Nintendo area would replace everything except the E.T. Adventure (the only opening day ride still in the park) and the ultra-themed gift store,Spongebob Storepants.
It is important to note that none of this has been confirmed by Universal, and those in the know say this is an early pitch and there have been changes since. However, what we see in this concept art is an entrance through Peach’s castle leading directly to a large indoor area featuring a World of Nintendo store, a Pokemon area, a Luigi pizza, and two kid friendly rides. Going clockwise, the next part of the land is Kirby’s Kid’s Playland, an area in which sites such as Parkscope says is not in the current plans. After that is Donkey Kong Island featuring a large kid’s play area and an outdoor coaster featuring a boom coaster patent that Universal had filed for previously. Islands of Adventure already has the best kid’s play area in Orlando with Camp Jurassic, but this area featuring a tree fort similar to the one Donkey Kong has at the beginning of each game could give IOA a run for it’s money.
After that is what we’re all here for: Super Mario Kart. If this attraction is just one half as good as the concept art makes it appear, it’s going to make everyone happy. While the concept art features an attraction titled Bowser’s airship ride and a Luigi’s Mansion interactive play area, those in the know say these two concepts have been cut and most likely will not be seen in at least the initial phase of Super Nintendo World in Florida. What is also figured to be cut is the final stop on our way around the layout, Zelda’s Kingdom. It’s replacement is a yet-to-be seen dark ride based around another kid friendly character, Yoshi.
What is actually coming and when it will be officially announced is unknown, but in the podcast Jim Hill talked about Universal not being afraid of Disney’s Pandora: The World of Avatar and instead sees the upcoming Star Wars Land as their real battle. Speaking of which…
# 5 – “I’m afraid Star Wars Land will be quite operational when your friends arrive.” Or will it…..
When the subject to the upcoming Star Wars Land arises, both Jim and Len felt the area could be significantly behind schedule. Both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios started their construction of their Star Wars Land sometime last spring. While we have watched a lot of steel go up out in California (which is much easier to get pictures of from the ground or on nearby attractions,) the area earmarked in Florida was just a pile a dirt. However, thanks to bloggers in the sky such as @Bioreconstruct, we have seen major advancements in DHS construction just over the past two weeks. Whether it’s the crews from Pandora making their way over from AK to DHS, or someone in Orlando realized they actually need to build Star Wars Land, seeing the AT-AT skeletons rise up in Florida brought a big smile to this Star Wars fan’s face.
# 4 – A Star Wars Hotel is coming to DHS
One reason Jim Hill gave for the delay in Orlando’s Star Wars construction is that WDW is going to go forward with a new onsite hotel themed to Star Wars. This idea has been around for a little while, getting attention on sites such as WDWNT and Business Insider after a Disney guest survey. Now, Disney (and Universal) survey guests all the time with ideas that sometimes we see in the parks and resorts, but many times we don’t. You may remember one WDW survey that caught fire on social media a while back about Disney asking guests their thoughts on various “resort fees” (spoiler alert: people didn’t like them.)
Jim says that DHS is definitely going to be getting a boutique hotel that will be adjacent to DHS and be a completely immersive Star Wars themed experience. There’s a lot of construction going on at pretty much every road near DHS, but it would be World Drive that would be connecting to this new luxury resort. This would be a resort that would allow guests to do “as much as you want to do,” meaning you can go all in on the experience or pick and choose the parts you like (sort of like when I tell my server at Whispering Canyon they don’t need to do all the ballyhoo during my meal.)
It appears the hotel experience will be able to tie directly into the Star Wars Land experience, which makes the statement made by Disney at this year’s Star Wars Celebration (“your actions will have consequences”) make a lot more sense. Most likely it will be the people who are paying for their upcharge experiences that will have encounters with characters who know what they have done, rather than, say, every single day guest.
While Jim says that Disney is keeping the project small at first because they aren’t sure of the demand (especially given a per night room cost that will probably be more than Han Solo owed Jabba the Hutt,) in my personal opinion this will be Disney’s money printing factory from Day One. Look for a 400 room hotel with Disney being cautiously optimistic.
# 3 – A name change for Disney’s Hollywood Studios
When DHS first opened in 1989, one of its claim to fame was that it was a working production studio. Not only were a lot of attractions in the park based around showing guests what it was like to create tv shows, live action and animated movies, but real shows and movies were also shot on the soundstages and in the park. Who could forget the 1990’s television classic Thunder in Paradise starring Hulk Hogan (actually we’re all trying to forget that one, bad example.) Today, none of that really exists at DHS.
When the new Toy Story section of the park opens in 2018, along with Star Wars Land a year later, Disney is going to need a more accurate way to describe to guests what the park actually is. One of the names being bandied around by WDW is Disney’s Movie Adventure.
# 2 – Hogwarts Lights at Universal Studios Orlando
We mentioned earlier that Universal isn’t panicking over Disney adding Pandora: The World of Avatar, and the company feels its next two projects in Orlando will help keep the ship going steady until Super Nintendo World comes in to really raise the tide. One of those projects is the Fast and Furious: Supercharged attraction. With so many great movies this summer (Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, Beauty & The Beast, and Wonder Woman among others) you may have already forgot that Fast and Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious was also released. It did decent in America, but it smashed records worldwide. Fast 8 did an astronomical $443M opening day weekend across the world (to put that number in perspective, Guardians vol 2, B&tB, and Wonder Woman made $407M combined.)
Before Supercharged, Hogwarts Castle will be getting a nighttime lighting show that has already make its debut out at Universal Studios Hollywood. One area that Disney completely cleans Universal’s clock in is the area of nighttime entertainment, but this new castle projection show looks absolutely fantastic. A lighting package on the iconic castle combined with music comprised of some of the signature elements of the Harry Potter score by John Williams is going to keep many a Muggle inside the park to see this show.
# 1 – Zootopia in the Animal Kingdom
As a self-professed Avatar fanboy, I am certainly glad the new land in Animal Kingdom exists. As someone who considers the original Soarin’ attraction to be one of my all time favorite WDW rides, Flight of Passage may actually BE my new favorite ride in Orlando (it’s neck and neck with Universal’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.) However, Your Humble Author may not be a typical representation of your average person who goes to the parks (here is where we pause for moment of relief.) While it’s only early numbers, and Jim made sure to tell people to take a “wait and see” approach to the rest of the summer, both men agreed that as of now, Pandora: The World of Avatar is not moving the needle in Animal Kingdom. The warning signs were there, with several high profile travel agents saying earlier in the year that none of their clients were booking WDW trips specifically to see Pandora.
We’ll check back in on Pandora later in the year, but the area is part of Animal Kingdom’s massive transformation into a “full day park” that certainly has had some hiccups along the way. While there are some truly spectacular elements to the Rivers of Light nighttime show, the history of the show – including its original debut date of Earth day 2016 pushed back to February 2017 – is concerning. We also keep hearing from multiple sources that it seems Disney is just counting down the days until it can just completely reboot the show around the time of WDW’s 50th Anniversary in 2021. While Jim warned that it will be a couple years out because of how much money was already spent on Pandora and the other Animal Kingdom upgrades, it appears that Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Conservation Station will be making way for an area based around the crowd favorite Zootopia. On paper, this seems like it would be a massive hit with Disney fans. The movie is an unqualified smash hit and one that is completely underrepresented in the parks. The merchandise, meet-and-greet, and food and beverage components are almost endless.
HONORABLE MENTION: – “Management” replacing “artists” at Imagineering
One tidbit discussed by Jim and Len might be interesting to those who enjoy the “Inside Baseball” parts of theme park discussion. Many of us that love Disney and are frustrated by how long it can take to get something done, at least compared to the relative speed of their competitors both in Florida and California. Jim told a story in which one of his sources said that a large part of Walt Disney Imagineering is now made up of “management” material rather than people with an artistic background. Whereas in the past when Imagineering was brainstorming an idea, someone could just grab a whiteboard or a piece of paper and draw out their concept. In today’s climate, much of that work is outsourced, adding another layer – and time – to the creative process. So while there may be several reasons why Disney takes time in building major projects – one of which is spreading out the cost over several years for the balance sheets – there’s others that we just don’t see from the outside.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what Jim and Len discussed in their latest audio. The two talked about the latest word on the overhaul of Future World in Epcot, why the rumored Spain Pavilion in World Showcase may be delayed, and even go into detail on how Monstropolis and the long talked about Monsters Inc “door” coaster may finally come to fruition in “Phase 3” on the current DHS makeover. Take it from me, subscribe to the Disney Dish on Bandcamp. You won’t regret it!
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX looks at the (possible) future of Walt Disney Wordand Univesal! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:
Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, master photo manipulator Matt Cleary, Twitter’s own @xSunnyEclipse, one of Orlando’s best artists’s Joel Carroll, the sommelier of Tony’s Town Square Brian Carey, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with goofballs co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde , while fellow Potterheads may enjoy Meg’s work on the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2017 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now and support SIX NATION (boy do we need a better name than that.)