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Worldwide Disney Parks updates from Imagineering*

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Published: June 16, 2009 at 3:21 AM

[Editor's note: It's a new name on the byline, but an old friend of TPI whom I trust, who is posting anonymously with permission for what should be obvious reasons. Anyway, have fun with this inside scoop, and remember, planning does not mean construction, so not everything these guys talk about gets built.]

Update: See the comments for confirmation and details from Disney on the renovation of the Disneyland Hotel.

The Imgagineers gave an update today about Disney's worldwide park/resorts/etc plans. I'll try not to be too wordy, but just give an overview. It's all from memory since taking notes wasn't really encouraged.

1. STAR TOURS: As rumored, the rehab is about to start. And you know why? Because Tokyo Disney (Oriental Land Company) wanted their own version so they poured in some money. And George Lucas has been VERY involved. The new version sounds REALLY cool. Apparently, the original Star Tours was supposed to be updated every three years or so with a new film (ha!). So now, they're creating a new 3-D film (yes, everyone will have to wear 3-D glasses). The new film will be set in the time between Star Wars Films 3 and 4 (so, after Queen Amidala's death but before Luke finds Obi Wan and blows up the Death Star). But here's the cool part -- they're saying that the ride will now have hundreds of versions, so guests will never know what they're getting into....they're going to film about 25 openings, about 25 middles, and then 25 endings, so your ride will never be the same...this is one way to make sure it stays fresh for MUCH longer. I can't wait to see this.

2. WDW's Fantasy Land (in the Magic Kingdom) is getting a MAJOR expansion (yes, expansion). And where will that expansion go, you ask? In Mickey's Toon Town Fair, a place that was originally designed to be only a 3-year entry. Apparently, Imagineers are adding "The Enchanted Forest," a place, according to the head story exec, where Princesses seem to always run into (to much laughter). So, yes, it sounds like it will definitely be a heavy does of princesses, but with lots and lots of room for kids and whole families to have tons of fun. Looks like it will include musical shows, story times, birthday parties, lots of character meet-and-greats (of course). We'll see if it turns out to be as cool as their promising. And the area between the castle and the Carousel is being transformed into a castle courtyard, complete with brand new themeing and shrubbery. This is definitely going to be a big change.

3. As speculated, the LITTLE MERMAID dark ride is going into both Disneyland AND WDW. Yep, it's taking over the space once occupied by the Subs.

4. The next major Disney theme park will be on 2,000 acres in Shangai. Which surprises me, considering the poor attendance thus far at Hong Kong. But, of course, Hong Kong's park is pretty small. The Shanghai project looks to be pretty expansive, with lots of lakes, hotels, etc.

5. The Disneyland Hotel is getting a top-to-bottom rebuild. And the entire courtyard/recreation area is being torn down and rebuilt. Basically, Disney's almost rebuilding this hotel from scratch.

6. Disneyland Paris is getting a whole new TOYSTORY Play Place land, which looks like it's kind of like the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" play area, but WAAAAAY more expansive and with actual attractions. We can probably expect to see some form of this in Florida soon, to replace the "Honey" play area.

7. Disney has purchased land in Washington D.C. to build a major resort/water park/themed area....basically, the head designer said that since Disney failed twice to build an American History-themed park, this was their attempt to "do it" right. The designs showed a very, very large historical-type resort hotel with an adjacent water part. They said, however, this plan was in the very early stages.

8. The POP CENTURY resort is back on track to be finished now, but the remaining hotels will be Animation Suites hotels, which are described as vacation suites for families on a budget -- and completely new concept for Disney. Waaay cool.

9. The Tree House Villas have all been replaced and are ready to be occupied by Disney Vacation Club members.

10. On the Cruise Ships, the areas for age-specific programming are being expanded, but the cool part is the new ANIMATOR'S PALETTE restaurants -- guests will actually draw cartoons when they sit down. These cartoons will be given to the "magic people." Then later, during the meal, those actual drawings will come to life and be animated on the walls next to each table. Very cool.

Also, the Turtle Talk with Crush is coming aboard the new Cruise Ships, and Crush will be swimming all around the Animator's Palette to interact with guests. Sounds cool.

11. Hong Kong Disney is getting site-specific attractions based on existing ones here in the states -- for example, instead of Haunted Mansion, they'll be getting the Mystical Manor, where a curse is released inside the house and all manner of supernatural things occur.

That's all I can remember at this moment -- I'll post more as I remember.

Readers' Opinions

From Tim W on June 16, 2009 at 3:57 AM
Sounds great really great for Disney. it sounds almost to good to be true. Im loving every part of the update especially the one about the new star tours. However, the enchanted forest area sounds a bit strange. Im not sure if that will be very attractive to the young boys compared to how toon town is. But some things change in any plan. What also sounds great is the water park in washington, hopefully with a theme park too.
From TH Creative on June 16, 2009 at 4:12 AM
VERY EXCITING NEWS!

Here's an interesting TPI post from August 2007: "I have posted this before. I am unwavered in my opinion. I would shut down the Grand Prix Raceway at the Magic Kingdom and I would build a themed "spray-ground" --- an elaborate playground with wet and dry areas. It backs up to Fantasyland so it can be themed as an ENCHANTED FORREST (Snow White, Robin Hood, beauty and the Beast). Water effects (like Universal has at Kids Zone) playground sections (slides, tunnels, rope ladders)."

WDI and THC ... great minds think alike. :o)

------

The Build Out of Pop Century has been rumored for sometime now. I'm 99% sure that an Orlando GC named Hardin Construction holds the contract. The build out makes sense as Disney can "buy hard" forcing subcontractors in a lean market to offer the lowest possible bid price. Expect subs to actually bid below their costs (referred to as "buying work") just to keep the cash flow in their companies.

I was surprised Mr. Dodger did not confirm renovations at Port Orleans and Dixie Landings.

From Anthony Murphy on June 16, 2009 at 4:20 AM
Some great stuff, but when will Disney get off the Princess kick? They do know that the have guests that are not girls between the ages of 4-11! I hope Toontown Fair does not go completly away!


Personally, I would have liked to have seen Roger Rabbit's toon spin brought to the MK, but with the Fab 5 theming!

From TH Creative on June 16, 2009 at 4:44 AM
Gotta say, a lot of this (especially the attraction concepts) sound like a lot of "blue sky" talk. An industry insider told me a couple of weeks ago that WDI has laid off a lot of talent recently. It's difficult to believe that all of this stuff will see the light of day.
From 173.70.41.23 on June 16, 2009 at 5:31 AM
Very interesting.. This is great for the Disney Parks and Resorts. Very excited for the things being added at Disney World.
From TH Creative on June 16, 2009 at 5:34 AM
Adding to the story ... although no reference to a "water park."

Published Last Month:

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (WUSA/USA TODAY) -- Disney plans to build a 500-room hotel resort on 15 acres at the ambitious National Harbor development about eight miles south of DC in Maryland, according to the Washington Post.

The hotel would be another anchor for National Harbor, which includes a 2,000-room Gaylord National convention center, a Westin, an Aloft and other hotels, shops, restaurants and residential units, the story says. The development also has a full-service marina on the Potomac River, where you can catch a water taxi to Old Town Alexandria.

In a press release, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo praised the National Harbor location as "a family-friendly base camp, from which visitors from around the world can explore the stirring sights and inspirational stories of our nation's capital."

From 74.207.200.154 on June 16, 2009 at 8:09 AM
It sounds too good to be true. I'm sorry but Disney has shown no signs of showing this much love to the parks in Orlando. lol
From Robert Niles on June 16, 2009 at 9:19 AM
Let's break this down, shall we?

1) We've already gotten word that a new Star Tours film is in production. The 3D element and multiple story paths are new, but perfectly logical, given trends in the industry. Re-ride-ability is key.

2) This sounds to me like an expanded version of Disneyland's Pixie Hollow mega-meet-'n-greet. There's space to do this without evicting Mickey and Minnie, too. Adding a stage show and a birthday pavilion to the area makes sense from a marketing standpoint. We'll see what makes it through the planning process.

3) I have no doubt that Imagineering has been asked to work up plans for bringing Little Mermaid to the old Sub lagoon site at WDW. Again, though, let's remember that there's two levels of approving a project at Disney - the first is approving Imagineering to design the thing. The second is approving those designs and beginning construction. The gap between the first and second can take years, due to budgets, marketing and prioritizing within the company. And many projects never make it to the second phase.

I'm hearing hear that WDW Little Mermaid has cleared stage one. I'm not hearing that it has cleared stage two. But if WDW wants this, it will have it.

4) This has been well reported and confirmed. Though many folks are still scratching their heads. China's got to be paying a big licensing fee here.

5) Again, this has been well reported and confirmed. The devil's in the details, though. Will it be done a floor or a tower at a time, or all at once? I've heard many conflicting reports, which suggests to me that Disney's not made a firm decision yet.

6) Haven't heard this before, but my radar for Europe is weak. (Something I really must improve, and I apologize to our European readers for that.) Again, it makes sense for DLP and as far as bringing it to WDW's DHS, I would do that in a heartbeat if I were in charge. Toy Story's a much more valuable long-term commodity than the played-out and forgotten HISTK. Especially if DLP foots the initial costs.

7) TH Creative posted the confirmation of this hotel. Again, the water park is new, but Disney's been pushing for some time the idea of regional resort hotels with adjacent attractions. Water parks are easier and cheaper to develop than theme park attractions, as TH's reminded us in the past. Remember, Disney's pushing DVC and needs high-quality resort hotels in other tourist destinations to make DVC a more compelling sale to potential customers.

8) Previously reported and confirmed.

9) Ditto.

10) I'm blind to the cruise stuff, too, as that's not my area of interest at all. (I don't like boats unless I'm at the wheel!) But it all sounds very cool, and not that expensive to implement. I'm sure folks who are into Disney cruises will like it.

11) Um... with its attendance, isn't Hong Kong Disneyland cursed enough already? (KIdding! Had to wrap up with some snark.)

Thanks again, Roger!

From Robert Niles on June 16, 2009 at 9:41 AM
I spoke too soon on 5)

In my e-mail in box this morning from Disneyland:

Beginning in August 2009, Southern California’s landmark Disneyland Hotel will start a significant renovation project that will include major improvements to its guest rooms and considerable changes to the exterior of the hotel. The hotel will remain open during the renovation, which will be conducted in phases, and is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

“We are excited to embark on the largest and most extensive renovation of one of Disney’s classic hotels,” said Disneyland Resort President Ed Grier. “This renovation provides us with the opportunity to bring new magic to this historic hotel, which enables us to enhance the Disney experience that our guests have come to expect. “It also reinforces our ongoing commitment and investment in the Anaheim Resort District – working with the city and area businesses to continue to evolve the District into a world-class, multiday tourist destination,” added Grier.

Significant Guest Room Upgrades, New Room Amenities and Exterior Enhancements
Disneyland Hotel’s renovated guest rooms will feature an all-new contemporary look with exquisite Disney touches woven into the décor. A stunning new headboard that features an artistically carved representation of Disneyland Park’s famous Sleeping Beauty Castle will serve as the focal point in each guest room. The background on the headboard uses fiber optics to create a magical skyline with fireworks – bringing the immersive park experience into the room. Rooms also will feature black and white art that will take guests back in time, reinforcing the nostalgia and history of Walt’s first theme park.

When completed, guest rooms will boast new flat screen TVs, mini-refrigerators, coffeemakers, safes capable of holding laptop computers and new state-of-the-art telephone, cable and wireless Internet connections. Upgrades to plumbing, electrical and heating and air conditioning systems also are included in the project.

Disneyland Resort’s original hotel, built in 1955, also will experience a noteworthy change to its exterior. All of the three towers will feature an updated look, with large windows that will give the outside a sleek, radiant blue tint. The windows will replace the current sliding doors and faux balcony railings and are specially designed to be energy efficient and to extensively filter outside noise.

“The new design for the hotel’s exterior will enhance the existing towers and compliment the Resort as a whole. The windows will feature a sky blue reflective glass that channels the feel of our bright California sky,” said Mike Montague, director of resort development for Walt Disney Imagineering.

The Disneyland Hotel is composed of three main structures – the Magic, Wonder and Dreams towers. Construction will take place in one vertical half of a tower at a time – leaving the rest of the tower open for guests. The Dreams tower will be the first to be renovated and is scheduled to be completed in June 2010.

From TH Creative on June 16, 2009 at 10:02 AM
I can't tell you how much I hate the idea of a 'Little Mermaid' dark ride. There is PLENTY for little ones to do at he Magic Kingdom. Time to put some duckets into attractions for guests ages tweens and up.
From Raul Araoz on June 16, 2009 at 10:25 AM
Most of these rumors have already been spread around the web. The biggest thing I take from this is that the Oriental Land Company is willing to spend money while Disney can still be cheap when it comes to their home parks. Anyone who has seen video of the Winnie the Pooh and Monsters, Inc. rides in Japan can see the difference in quality. I find it kind of sad that it takes the Japanese to spearhead the new Star Tours. The blatant superiority of Tokyo DisneySea to California Adventure, which both opened in 2001, is a living testament to the shift. I hope the refurbishment of DCA is a step in the right direction.

As far as the Fantasyland expansion goes, it sounds awful. The previous rumors spoke of a new Snow White coaster and stuff for the whole family. This sounds like more of a extension of the Pooh's Playful Spot and Ariel's Grotto. I pray this is not the direction that WDI and management are going with the new Fantasyland.

From Lucas Lee on June 16, 2009 at 4:27 PM
sounds pretty cool buh is the star tours thing and the little mermaid thing going to be at the california disneyland too?
From Robert Niles on June 16, 2009 at 5:08 PM
Construction walls are going up in California Adventure around the old Golden Dreams theater, which will be demolished for the new Little Mermaid show building.

Word on the Web is that Disneyland is driving the Star Tours update, with WDW along for the ride (so to speak). So DL might get first.

From M. Ryan Traylor on June 16, 2009 at 9:31 PM
The walls that are up for Little Mermaid at CA Adventure seem to give it a very large footprint, going from Golden Theater all the way to Mulholland Madness.
From TH Creative on June 17, 2009 at 3:36 AM
RN writes: Word on the Web is that Disneyland is driving the Star Tours update, with WDW along for the ride ...

I Respond: Now THAT would be GREAT NEWS! Originally the rumor mill had the new Star Tours only slated for DL. It would be FANTASTIC if it ended up here in Orlando.

From TH Creative on June 17, 2009 at 3:48 AM
With all due respect to Mr. Araoz (whose opinions I admire): I think the enchanted forest idea sounds fantastic. But they can't do it halfway! They have to plant real trees and spend some real cash. It has to rival TSI in size and scope. The kind of attraction where families can spend an hour or more.
From 66.214.184.182 on June 17, 2009 at 6:12 PM
Not sure who's permission Roger is posting all this with. It certainly wasn't the Imagineers. Nice way to congratulate them on their work.
From Robert Niles on June 18, 2009 at 8:13 AM
Roger's inside the Mouse House - that's all I'll say.

And I think it is great strategy to get fans on the Web fired up about future developments in the Walt Disney Company. There's no better way to thank attraction designers than with enthusiasm!

(Same advice goes for designers at other firms, too.)

From Greg McNaughten on June 19, 2009 at 2:39 PM
I find much of this update interesting, but still take it with grain of salt. The real telling point is when the writer says the Imagineers were giving an update.

When I worked for Disneyland in Security we got these updates all the time. We used to be able to sign up for tours of WDI and the Studios. It was later cut back to the Studios only and now I am not sure if they even offer that. While on the WDI tours we saw a full mock up of the Mermaid dark ride and it was fantastic.

The rumor mills at the parks are also very active. In fact some castmembers get their jollies by starting rumors. Rumors like the basketball court in the Matterhorn drive me nuts. I've thrown a few baskets myself and its not a court. Its a backboard with a hoop mounted on a post and that's bout it. The mountain climbers put it their years ago to kill time between climbs. It's on the "5th" floor were the climbers hang out.

I actually believe everything as stated. With that said, what actually becomes a reality is something else. All good companies have 5, 10, 15 year and so on plans and routinely discuss them with their employees. Sometimes simply to flush out ideas with new people.

The completion of the Pop needs to get done. At some point if they do not finish it, it could cost them more and more as the property is not maintained. I am in the architecture / construction field now and I have seen abandoned project tore down because it was going to cost to much to finish and many new contractors do not want the liability for the old work. It can be a contractual nightmare to get all that straighten out.

I am with those who think the Enchanted Forest sounds lame and targeted at a small portion of the daily attendance. There is room for a large expansion behind Small World extending eastward to Town Town that has never been developed. I have seen interviews with Dick Nunis when he talked about future expansions in this area that seems to be off the table for now.

I'll give you an idea of what I have heard over the years at these meetings and never got built at Disneyland:

Westcot
* Disney's America
* Hollywoodland (behind Main Street USA at DL between the old Egg House and the Opera House. It was to feature a Roger Rabbit and Great Movie Ride if I recall correctly)
* Little Mermaid Dark Ride at DL (I saw the mock up around the mid to late 90's)
* Rehab for Tiki Room at WDW that WAS NOT Under New Management and a better concept.
* A bigger and better Indiana Jones than was built.
etc etc etc.

I still enjoy the update because it gives us a look at what Disney is thinking about.

From William LeMasurier on June 19, 2009 at 5:51 PM
I've been going to WDW for the last 11 years now and a refresh for the Star Tours ride to bring it into the Digital world is long overdue. Although I do still love the original, (which they COULD retain on a single Simulator if they chose to for purists who seem to shun anything new and exciting) I'm really not sure why you guys hate the "Under New Management" upgrade to the Tiki Room. Disney has to keep their attractions current with the films they've produced over the last couple of decades as you need to inject a few characters here and there for the younger generations to recognize. I find it just as entertaining.

Anyway, back to Star Tours...the rumoured "random beginning/middle/end" idea is a variation of something I thought of years ago, as I'm sure many of you have as well. The dawn of the CGI age makes ANYTHING possible. Actually I was often hoping that Universal would retain the Back to the Future ride, and only do a much needed CGI upgrade to the film itself. The ride vehicles were perfectly themed! I'll have to see this year if the Simpson's ride is as good or better.

Has anyone heard about the rumoured Soarin' over America update to the WDW version to replace the Over California one now playing? Last I heard they were filming with IMAX already over Florida.

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