The theme park industry didn't have to go this hard for us to start 2023. But it did. And I couldn't be happier about it.
Let's recap what has been a crazy week for the themed entertainment industry at the beginning of the new year. Walt Disney World got things started by announcing the opening date for its TRON Lightcycle Run roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom.
But the day before that, Disney invited me to the Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters in Glendale for a one-on-one interview with Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro. I got a preview of some eye-opening, jaw-dropping stuff within WDI - which, to be fair, is normal for a visit to WDI - and Josh revealed the news that I would get to share the next day.
Including... relaxed reservation requirements for annual passholders at Walt Disney World and no more overnight parking fees for Disney World hotel guests. At Disneyland, the park will be giving away free ride photos to all park guests, allowing Park Hopping to start earlier and will be assigning more days to its lowest-priced daily ticket pricing tier.
Then at Disneyland, Downtown Disney got an opening when La Brea Bakery decided to get out of the restaurant business. But Earl of Sandwich will return to take over the La Brea Bakery space, at least until it gets bulldozed to make way for the new Porto's location.
Inside the park, Disneyland announced that the French Market will be closing next month to make way for Tiana's Palace, which will open later this year.
Universal could not let its rival Disney get all the attention this week, and it stunned a lot of observers with its moves. Universal announced that it would be opening a family-focused theme park outside Dallas, as well as year-round horror installation in an Area15 expansion in Las Vegas.
On the other side of the planet, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi stepped into the spotlight by officially opening its long-awaited roller coaster, Mission Ferrari.
Former WDI Global Ambassador Bob Weis also surprised a lot of industry insiders by announcing yesterday that he would be joining global design and architecture firm Gensler, the same firm from which WDI's current president, Barbara Bouza, came to Disney.
Finally, Universal topped it all off by soft-opening its Super Nintendo World to all comers at Universal Studios Hollywood.
And we're hardly done. Coming up soon will be the start of the Disney 100 Years of Wonder celebration with the opening of Mickey & Minnie's Runway Railway, the Wondrous Journey nighttime spectacular and the new World of Color - One show at the Disneyland Resort later this month. That will lead us into the official opening of Super Nintendo World next month and TRON Lightcycle Run in March, shortly followed by the debut of the year's new coasters at seasonal parks around the world.
Please keep your hands clicking on the website at all times, folks, because this year's gonna be the wildest ride in the theme park biz.
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Disney v. Universal for one-up press announcements is the longest-running game in this business. And I love it.
Just waiting now for some big Epic Universe news drop during (or just after) the TRON press event.
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It kinda seemed like Universal kept trying to one-up (Mario pun not intended) Disney after each announcement. Disney announces Tron opening date, Universal announces a new park and horror nights location. Disney shows off concept art for Tiana's Palace, Universal soft opens its Nintendo land earlier than expected. Both times, Universal dominated the Theme Park Twitter-sphere.