Expansion is coming to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro at the latest D23 Expo teased several potential attraction additions to Disney's most-visited theme park. And we detailed last week the attendance struggles Disney is having in Orlando that are making the addition of new attractions and capacity at the Magic Kingdom a priority for Disney. Walt Disney Imagineering is working on those plans now, according to multiple Insiders.
Where can Disney place new attractions within the Magic Kingdom? It just filled in some available space behind the Tomorrowland Speedway with the new TRON Lightcycle Run. D'Amaro suggested that new attractions could go in on the west side of the park, beyond Big Thunder Mountain. But a quick look at a map shows the problems there.
Big Thunder Mountain is surrounded its queue to the south, the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks to its west, and the Rivers of America to the north and east. There is some available space north of the Rivers, but how would guests access that? There's no space for them to walk around Thunder on the right, and backstage facilities, including Thunder's roundhouse, push up against the coaster on the left.
There is an obvious potential solution here, and if you know me from reading my work for any length of time, you will know that this long has been my nightmare. But sources have told me that is Walt Disney Imagineering is actively considering it now.
Disney could fill in the Rivers of America.
This would mean the end of the Liberty Square Riverboat and my beloved Tom Sawyer Island (that's the original page on this website, by the way), as well as the Disney cast's annual Canoes Races of the World event. But it would open a huge tract for new attraction development, allowing WDI to create new experiences that not only would have to replace the park capacity lost by the removal of these two attractions but also could expand the park's overall hourly guest capacity.
Remember that Tom Sawyer Island is perhaps the largest non-Disney-IP attraction space within the Magic Kingdom. Yes, Disney made a Huckleberry Finn movie in 1993 and "Tom and Huck" in 1995, but those are largely forgotten, and the original Mark Twain novels now are in the public domain. That makes the island a top target for eventual conversion to something that promotes a lucrative Disney IP.
The challenge with redeveloping TSI for another attraction is, of course, access. The only way to and from the island is via the rafts (or maintenance jon boats), which creates a bottleneck for high-capacity attractions on the island. Disneyland Paris addressed this problem with its installation of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad by having the coaster trains go under the Rivers of America to get to the island - a next-to-impossible option in Florida. Installing any sort of bridge over the river takes the Riverboat attraction out of the picture, and remember, the whole idea here is to increase park capacity, not decrease it.
So at that point, the logistics drive Disney to say screw it and fill in the whole thing. Do the Rivers like it did the 20K Submarine lagoon for the New Fantasyland expansion more than a decade ago.
Filling in the sub lagoon had nowhere near the design impact upon Fantasyland that eliminating the Rivers would have upon the west side of the Magic Kingdom. The Rivers of America provide the focal point for two entire lands of the park: Liberty Square and Frontierland. This is the nuclear option for Magic Kingdom development - one that would require the reimagining of nearly half of the world's most popular theme park.
But the nuclear option might be the only option remaining for Imagineers as they consider how to expand Disney Parks' largest crown jewel. Tom Sawyer Island the Rivers of America not only provide a large space for redevelopment, their removal would unlock the best possible access to potential development space north of the park.
Perhaps needless to say, as the self-appointed protector of Tom Sawyer Island within the Disney fan community, I would hate this development. TSI is one of the few "Walt-approved" Disney theme park attractions and the one most representative of his early life growing up in Tom's home state of Missouri. Its removal would represent one more step toward taking the Walt out of Walt Disney World. If Disney needs space for more of its modern IP in the Magic Kingdom, I would invite WDI to remove the Tomorrowland Speedway, The Hall of Presidents, and Swiss Family Treehouse first.
But I think a better alternative would be to use of the thousands of undeveloped acres at the Walt Disney World Resort to build the long-anticipated fifth theme park gate the resort. Just build another park on the land between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom, or across World Drive from the Transportation and Ticket Center.
That said, I just report the news and very rarely get to make it. So Disney will do what Disney does. So if you, like me, are a fan of Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America at Walt Disney World, you might cherish your next visit to these attractions - because they might not be around for much longer.
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