This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
# 4 – Disney and Universal Movies!
Hollywood movies are having an ever more increasing impact on what we get inside our beloved theme parks. 2016 brought us things such as a Dr. Strange meet and greet in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Zootopia characters added to the Move It! Shake It! Dance and Play It! dance party at the Magic Kingdom, and a Secret Life Pets float added to the Universal’s Superstar Parade at USF. There are some MAJOR movies coming out in 2017 that will surely be affecting what we get at WDW and the Universal Orlando Resort, even if its just a ton of merchandise filling up the gift shops.
Disney will have their live action Beauty and the Beast hitting in March, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean 5 in May, Cars 3 in June, Spider-Man: Homecoming ( although not technically Disney) in July, Thor: Ragnarok and the new Pixar film Coco in November, and of course Star Wars: Episode VIII in December. Other than Coco, every other movie in that list is all but guaranteed to bee gigantic hits, regardless of quality. Several of them could join the Billion Dollar Club (in 2016 Civil War, Finding Dory, and Zootopia hit that magical number.)
While Universal’s slate of films is less ambitious, they also look to have some movies which will bring in a dollar or two. The Fate of the Furious speeds to theaters in April, while June brings The Mummy reboot with Tom Cruise and Despicable Me 3. While not a Universal movie, the Kong: Skull Island film will be coming out in March and if it is as good as the trailer looks, Universal would be well served getting their Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction ready for added interest. Of those movies, The Mummy is by far the most fascinating as it kicks off what Universal wants to be a Marvel-like shared universe of its Classic Monsters. This could be an all-time epic disaster (I’m looking in your direction League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) or one of the coolest things we see in a popcorn movie this year. My money is always on Tom Cruise.
# 3 – Disney Springs Phase 3
We STILL can’t believe how good Disney Springs Phase 2 ended up being, with a second parking garage, a new bus loop, Art Smith’s Homecoming, Blaze Pizza, Frontera Cocina, and a whole bunch of stores that don’t have much appeal to us locals but always seem to be busy. Phase 3 in 2017 will have some more heavily anticipated restaurants opening, including one that seems to be a Must Do. That particular one is The Edison, and here is Disney’s description “Dedicated to a resurgence of old-world style, sophistication and romance. Themed to a 1920s-period electric company, the space will recall an exuberant era of invention and imagination. With 35-foot ceilings and a range of themed areas to explore, The Edison will feature nightly entertainment including contortionists, palm readers, DJs and more.” Now that just sounds cool.
In a surprise move, Fulton’s Crab House will be completely renovated to the modern looking Paddlefish. With as good as The Boathouse is not that far away, I personally would have taken the larger-than-life boat theme from Fulton’s and converted it to a character meal restaurant featuring characters from The Princess and the Frog. Of course, just bringing that up reminds me of one of my favorite exchanges from the show Seinfeld:
Kramer: They’re redoing the Cloud Club.
Jerry: Oh, that restaurant on top of the Chrysler building? Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Kramer: Of course it is, it’s my idea.
Jerry: Which part? The renovating the restaurant you don’t own part, or spending the 200 million you don’t have part?
We also have Planet Hollywood rebranding itself into the Planet Hollywood Observatory. This sounds like an incredible idea, in which the restaurant is eschewing its former reliance on movie stars that #Millenials have never heard of and instead focusing on “stars in the sky.” Then you find out celebrity chef Guy Fieri is designing the concept and you want to jump off the second floor Stargazer Lounge.
Will we get confirmation of the heavily rumored “Walt’s” and the “Neverland Tunnels” in 2017? Time will tell…
# 2 – Donald Trump in Hall of Presidents (Magic Kingdom)
Like him or hate him, Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States on January 20th. If recent history is any indication, his audio animatronic character will be at the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom later this Summer. There is more than a good chance that this will be the biggest theme park news story of the year when it happens, getting worldwide attention. There is also a good chance that the Hall of Presidents attraction will get more visitors than ever before. Will there be protests? Will there be extra security measures? No matter what, the Hall of Presidents is going to have more eyes on it than it usually has, and that is a good thing.
# 1 – Volcano Bay
Billed as Universal’s “water theme park,” Volcano Bay looks to completely change what we think of in a resort water park. The park’s signature attraction, the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, uses linear induction motor technology in order to propel guests uphill before they plunge back down, while the Kopiko Wai Winding River may be the most relaxing ride this side of the Peoplemover. Universal is taking two major steps with Volcano Bay. The first is that the park is opening with the wearable TapuTapu. Like Disney’s MagicBands, the TapuTapu will allow guests to just “tap” in order to enjoy certain experiences (such as shooting water canons or illuminating images on caves). TapuTapu will also be involved in the “Virtual Lines,” allowing guests to enjoy other areas of the park rather than be stuck in line for a slide. Because the park was built with this convenience in mind, and the fact that water parks have much better “people eater” attractions like wave pools and lazy rivers compared to their theme park counterparts, there is a solid chance Volcano Bay is going to be able keep guests out of Standby Queues better than a traditional Universal or Disney theme park.
Anyone who has driven by Universal property, or even been within miles of it, has seen the iconic volcano. One of the most truly unbelievable parts of Volcano Bay is knowing the piece of property that this water theme park was built on. Not having WDW’s blessing of size, Universal has been insanely creative in the last several years on maximizing the space they have to work with. From Hollywood Drive-In Golf in CityWalk to the Hogwarts Express crossing both theme parks, to now Volcano Bay sitting next to Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the word “impossible” isn’t in Universal’s vocabulary.
HONORABLE MENTION – Copper Creek Villas and Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
For my money, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is the most underrated of all on-site resorts. It is absolutely one of my favorite places to relax on property. The lobby has that very same “wow” moment you get walking into Animal Kingdom Lodge except with theming towards the American northwest. I adore the water features throughout the resort (including the geyser that erupts every hour ) and think people need to go out of their way to experience Territory Lounge and Whispering Canyon. This year the Copper Creek Cabins will be open at Wilderness Lodge, sitting waterside like the bungalows over at The Poly. Who doesn’t love to be waterside on Disney property? If there is one negative, it is that early rumors indicate the inside of these cabins will be more modern themed rather than the rustic style we all want.
BONUS – Possible Upcharges at Walt Disney World in 2017!
2016 was the Chinese Year of the Monkey as well as the Disney Year of the Upcharge. Dessert party upcharges, bus upcharges, parking upcharges, cabana upcharges, and more. Every week it seems Disney came up with a new way to try and shake us down for more money. Here’s the thing though, we hear that they haven’t even started yet. It’s only going to get crazier. We here at the SATURDAY SIX Think Tank have tried to put together some of upcharges we could possibly see in the coming year:
The DSA Pre-Check: Like the TSA Pre-Check at the airport, this will allow Platinum Plus Annual Passholders and Priviledged Bloggers to skip the bag check security. Everyone knows a blogger’s backpack is only going to used to hold limited edition pins and Tsum Tsums anyway. Price: $1000 per year.
Reserved Pool Chairs: We’ve all seen the whackadoodles that wake up at the crack of dawn to walk down to the pool area and put their towels on the most coveted of pool side chairs. These chair hogs then disappear for hours. Disney can take advantage of this greediness by turning the onsite pools into areas like parade viewing at the parks and reserve pool chairs. Price: $20 per chair.
Dapper Day Dessert Party: This upcharge event is intended only for sophisticated intellectuals who long for a magical moment in time that never actually existed in the real world. With a live DJ playing Radiohead and an “ironic” meet and greet with the penguins from Mary Poppins, this is one party that will leave a smile on everyone’s face. This event will also offer an Inception-like upcharge within an upcharge as the Harmony Barbershop on Main Street will groom mustaches and beards. Price: $49.95 per person. $69.95 if you’re also Disney Bounding as part of your outfit.
Bar Tour with Drunk at Disney – An exclusive bar tour with distinguished author Drunk@Disney. Guests will take a tour of the Disney Value Resort bars, a “free” copy of his “must read” book Drinking At Disney, an autographed backscratcher, one selfie, and several opportunities to buy him a drink. Price: $75 per person (book is extra.)
So there you have it: Six Things We Can’t Wait To See in 2017! 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 Weout 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, Dollywood and Rhinestone Cowboy influencer Morgan Crutchfield, the Bio-est of all Reconstructs – bioreconstruct, New Kid On the Block @Blog_Mickey, Old Kid On the Block Tim Grassey, 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 co-host Aengus Mackenzie and 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.)