Disney World Construction Update: What's up with Tron?

September 15, 2020, 3:50 PM · Disney is throwing shade on its new Tron roller coaster. Literally.

Walt Disney Imagineering's Zach Riddley today posted a couple of construction photos of the upcoming TRON Lightcycle Run at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. They show the placement of the first canopy piece that will form the "Upload Conduit" wave structure over the outdoor portion of the roller coaster.

Tron coaster construction
Photos courtesy Zach Riddley, Walt Disney Imagineering

Another view

Space Mountain's neighbor in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland will be Disney's second installation of the Tron-themed coaster, following the original at Shanghai Disneyland.

Given the construction progress in Florida, we are estimating that the new coaster will be ready in time for the Walt Disney World Resort's 50th anniversary on October 1, 2021, although Disney has yet to announce an official opening date for the ride.

Elsewhere at Disney World, we are looking at a spring or early summer opening for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure and the expansion of the France pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase. (Again, that's not official from Disney, but based upon our observations and conversations with people in the industry.) This ride is a clone of the Ratatouille: L'Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy trackless dark ride at Walt Disney Studios Paris.

But the big new attraction at Epcot, the Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind indoor "story coaster" that's going into the old Universe of Energy pavilion, won't likely be ready just before Epcot's 40th anniversary on October 1, 2022, according to our best estimates. Epcot's new World Showcase Lagoon show, Harmonius, likely won't debut until 2022, either — assuming that Disney is doing big nighttime spectacular shows by then.

Other previously announced new attractions at Epcot — including the Spaceship Earth revamp, the Play Pavilion rebuild of the old Wonders of Life pavilion and the Cherry Tree Lane Mary Poppins attraction in World Showcase's United Kingdom pavilion — have been shelved.

As for the hotels, Disney has dropped plans for the Reflections Resort hotel project on the old River County site, but the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel project remains go for launch. That hotel could be ready by next summer, though Disney likely will not open it until it is certain that it can book the premium interactive experience at close to its full capacity.

Replies (10)

September 15, 2020 at 4:23 PM

Since 2009, I've been yammering about 2021 and the 50th ... Now I can start yammering about 2023 which will be the 100th anniversary of the Disney company.

September 15, 2020 at 4:45 PM

Play Pavilion still seems to be a go from what I've seen. Workers were re-tiling the exterior when I was there a couple of weeks ago.

September 15, 2020 at 6:48 PM

When will Splash Mountain be made over to Princess and the Frog?

September 16, 2020 at 12:48 AM

Here's the latest I've heard regarding Florida's projects:

-Remy's Ratatouille Adventure: Delayed three quarters (spring 2020 > winter 2021)
-Tron Lightcycle Run: Delayed two quarters (spring 2021 > fall 2021)
-Play Pavilion: Delayed two quarters (spring 2021 > fall 2021)
-Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind: Delayed two quarters (summer 2021 > winter 2022) There is a push to have this open as early in 2022 as possible to take advantage of resuming international tourism.
-Star Wars hotel: Completion delayed two quarters, but the hotel won't open until 2022 or later when all restrictions on operation are removed.

All other non-infrastructure projects have been either indefinitely postponed (such as the Spaceship Earth and Splash Mountain projects) or outright cancelled (such as the Mary Poppins project). The only exception are a few small restaurant/retail projects that were scheduled to open in the next six months at the time of closure and will be completed either this fall or winter. Disney is also not approving any additional non-infrastructure projects until business has recovered, so I wouldn't look for anything new to begin development until early 2022 at this point.

For those on the west coast, I've heard Avengers Campus is planned to open for spring break 2021, Runaway Railway is on schedule for the first half of 2023, and the Splash Mountain retheme has been pushed back a year from originally planned but is still moving forward (unlike Florida's version). These three projects, along with the DVC hotel project, will be the only major additions to the resort prior to the 70th anniversary in 2025.

September 16, 2020 at 1:19 AM

I can see Disney hoping to get stuff open for next year but obviously still so much happening with the situation nowhere near as under control as hoped and who knows what can occur but at least some promise for stuff.

September 16, 2020 at 10:55 AM

Most of these timelines offered by Robert really don't make a lot of sense from a project management perspective. It's certainly possible that Disney may hold certain attractions so they can be leveraged for maximum effect when travel/tourism picks up, but based on the fact that Disney has resumed (or in some cases barely stopped) construction, many of the attractions line up more with the timelines that AJ is offering.

From a PM standpoint, if you pause or slow progress, it's a finite pause/slowing, which simply kicks the timeline out however many months the pause/slowdown is in effect. In the case of WDW, these projects were slowed or paused for 3-4 months, and based on numerous observations (including those provided from Disney directly), all of them have been resumed.

Now, it's possible that Disney will choose to slow-walk some of these projects to completion, but typically that will actually increase the construction costs. The other possibility is that Disney will allow each project to progress to completion under the preset timeline (adding the 3-4 months for the pause/slowdown) with a deliberately delayed opening to maximize the impact of the new attraction during a more advantageous time period. For instance, an attraction initially anticipated for August/September, but now expected in January, Disney may hold the opening until March in order to use the new attraction to entice Spring Break crowds. However, I don't see Disney holding completed attractions for months and months, and in reality the only months where Disney probably doesn't want to try to open a new attraction would be January/February and August/September.

With that said, everything I've seen and heard is that Ratatouille is almost complete and in the ride system testing phase (with just a bit of exterior finishing work to complete). It doesn't make sense for WDW to delay that debut beyond the upcoming holiday period until next spring. Without the Candlelight Processional, the new attraction along with the announced Holiday Food Festival would be needed to ensure holiday crowds come to EPCOT, which is a construction nightmare right now. Holding the new dark ride for 4-6 more months just doesn't make a lot of sense either logistically or financially.

As far as Guardians, holding that attraction for the park's anniversary in October 2022 similarly doesn't make much sense. From all reports, the ride infrastructure was nearly complete when construction was paused/slowed in late March. Now, this coaster is probably the most complicated project at WDW right now given that it's not a clone of an existing attraction, but I have a hard time believing it's going to take Disney another 2+ years to debut it even if they slow progress to a crawl. While the initial debut expected next fall is likely unattainable at this point, I doubt Disney will hold this attraction beyond Spring 2022.

Tron was progressing well, with very few hiccups considering the complexity of the project working around the train tracks and other factors, and the resumption of construction over the past couple of weeks indicates to me that WDW is still on track to deliver the cloned coaster by next summer (many expected a debut in Spring 2021 prior to the shutdown). From all reports, the track is complete, so once the canopy is in place, they can start testing the coaster, which should be by the end of this year. The timeline for this project will be the easiest to pin down, because guests will be able to physically see and hear when the coaster begins testing, and if that starts during or shortly after the holidays, there's no reason to expect Disney to delay the coaster until October, and perhaps even accelerate finishing work to allow for a debut either during Spring Break or for early summer crowds. HarmonioUS is probably in a similar boat, though it's easier for Disney to hold off the nighttime show's debut until they can host crowds around the World Showcase Lagoon. However, I have a hard time believing that they would keep fireworks and nighttime shows off the schedule throughout all of 2021, so a debut in late 2021 is far more plausible than Disney holding it until late 2022.

I think the only project that could be deliberately slow-walked would be the Halcyon, because the experience could be extremely curtailed/devalued if certain COVID protocols are still in place next year. While I'm sure people would still line up around the block to book rooms at the Star Wars Hotel even if you could book right now, I think Disney wants to put their best foot forward for this one-of-a-kind experience, and if it doesn't live up to guest expectation or the anticipated price point, they could significantly damage future earning potential from the Galactic Starcruiser. In other words, Disney has one shot to get this experience right, and if they have to modify it or compromise critical design features, trying to debut it prior to the world getting back to "normal" may do more harm than good.

September 16, 2020 at 11:18 AM

All these delays is precisely why we are skipping next year and waiting for summer 2022. I am hoping the GotG coaster will be up and running by then, but it looks like all projects that were past the groundbreaking phase of construction will definitely be completed.

September 16, 2020 at 12:42 PM

AJ, I have a few questions in regards to your timeline on Disneyland:

1.) I know you said Avengers Campus will likely be opening during spring break 2021. Is that March or April? Also, I know Spider-Man Weblslinger is opening next year, but...have you heard anything in regards to the Wakanda attraction? Since COVID has pushed back many projects.

2.) As far Runaway Railway, would the first half be considered before the start of summer?

3.) From what you’ve heard, when will Princess and the Frog be complete?

September 16, 2020 at 1:25 PM

I think it's pretty clear timbo23 that the Wakanda attraction is off the table right now. Disney only appears to be working on projects that have broken ground, or where significant capital has been invested. While the Wakanda attraction was announced as part of a future phase of the Avengers CAMPUS, there's no telling when Disney will feel comfortable moving forward with fresh investments, but I'm pretty sure you can hold off any anticipation of a new groundbreaking in California until at least 2023 for an attraction of that scope (which had been rumored to utilize a similar ride system to FoP).

Trying to pin an opening that's still 8-10 months off down to a specific month is next to impossible. There's no telling what can happen between now and then, particularly with COVID and the State of California. Trying to plan a visit next year timed around an attraction opening that has not been set in stone is a fool's errand. My recommendation would be that if you need to plan something now, and you absolutely must see Avengers CAMPUS, pencil in late 2021. That will given you enough of a buffer in case progress gets derailed or there are operational issues, as we've seen at Galaxy's Edge.

Trying to pin an attraction opening that's even further away (like Runaway Railway) is next to impossible. That's exactly why theme parks use nebulous terms like "Spring", "Summer", or "Late" when they announce the anticipated openings. Runaway Railway just started going vertical a few weeks ago, so considering that it took DHS's version nearly 2.5 years from the time Great Movie Ride shut down until it opened in March, you can assume it will take at least that long from right now to finish. That means the earliest the attraction could be completed would be March 2023. Maybe the "clean slate" offered by not having to strip and retrofit an existing building can shave a month or 2 off the schedule and the experience gained from opening the DHS installation can save another month in the testing stage, but if you're really planning vacations that far out, you're probably safer with a May/June 2023 trip to see the new attraction - or you can just go to WDW between now and then and see it there.

Much like the other attractions that have not yet officially broken ground, Disney has been pretty silent on when the Splash Mountain update will actually happen (though it does seem like it's happening unlike other attractions that have been completely abandoned). However, if the conversion of Maelstrom to Frozen Ever After is any guide, you can probably expect a 18-24 month timeline to retheme the attraction, which would likely start during a typical rehab period (late fall/winter). If Disney was truly desperate to strip the racially insensitive Song of the South out of their parks, they'd be doing it right now while Disneyland is closed. Perhaps they don't want to start the work just yet in the hopes that theme parks are given the green light in California soon, and they want to have their entire arsenal of attractions ready when they reopen (and give fans a chance to experience it before it goes through the conversion). However, if they do start the work later this year, you probably won't see the reimagined attraction open until at least mid-2022. Until they start doing the work, that 18-24 month clock won't start.

September 16, 2020 at 4:38 PM

Timbo, the information I posted is as much as I know date-wise. With all the uncertainties out there, Disney doesn't even know themselves beyond a target for openings, and depending on what happens in November, they're making contingency plans for a possible second shutdown. Plus, if Disneyland is unable to open for the holidays, they may opt to leave the resort shut down until next spring rather than reopening during low season, which will definitely affect timelines. I don't expect to know anything more specific until it's officially announced by Disney.

Regarding Princess and the Frog, I will say that it wasn't planned to be announced until next summer's D23. The announcement was purely due to current events, and was done with Disney knowing they still had at least a year of development work on the attraction before it would be time to shut down Splash Mountain. My hunch is that the Disneyland version was likely intended to close in fall 2021/winter 2022 and reopen 12-18 months later, so shift this timeline back a year. Beyond the financial reasons, WDW's version is on indefinite hold because Disney is trying to talk Tokyo into a redo as well (Florida's and Japan's are virtually identical...California's is significantly different), but Tokyo is reluctant to invest in redoing a ride that is still very popular and absolutely will not go for Princess and the Frog as it isn't a popular IP in Japan. Florida's won't be staying Splash forever, but it may become something else.

As for Wakanda, that's on indefinite hold. A phase two for Avengers Campus is the highest priority of the suspended projects and likely to be the first to be green lit once Disney starts approving new capital, but it probably won't come until after the 70th in 2025. It also may or may not remain Wakanda themed, as the death of Chadwick Boseman messed up a lot of Disney's plans related to the MCU.

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