What really happened this weekend at Disney's Destination D23?

September 10, 2023, 8:07 PM · So what really happened at the Destination D23 event at the Walt Disney World Resort this weekend?

Sure, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro and his team revealed and updated a bunch of projects coming to parks around the world. But they also made some very notable non-announcements, if you will. And no one mentioned what might be the most important projects in the development pipeline for Disney Parks.

Let's start with the announcements that D'Amaro & Co. made Saturday morning. In case you missed them, or just want a recap, we've got one at Walt Disney World reveals big changes for Animal Kingdom. But be warned - that verb is hitting a narrow target in that headline. Don't be misled into thinking it is saying something that it might not.

Disney delivered some of its news in the days leading up to Destination D23. We got the Disney Treasure reveal, names and concept art for the attraction and other locations in Shanghai Disneyland's Zootopia land, and an opening date (November 20) for the World of Frozen land at Hong Kong Disneyland. But we still do not have an opening date - or even season - for Tiana'a Bayou Adventure at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. And everyone at Disney Parks seems to have developed memory loss that Bob Iger announced in an earnings call that Disneyland would be adding some sort of Avatar-themed experience.

But Disney did tell us Saturday that EPCOT's new nighttime spectacular will be called "Luminous: The Symphony of Us" and will debut December 5. Journey of Water Inspired by Moana got an official opening date of October 16, and the Hatbox Ghost got an ETA of late November at the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion.

The Disney Cruise Line gave us the new name for the former Global Dream, which will debut in Singapore in 2025 as the Disney Adventure. And Disney Cruise Line's new private port of call in the Bahamas will be called Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point and that it will open with a June 6 preview cruise on the Disney Magic.

D'Amaro and Co. also surprised us with news that Star Tours will add Ahsoka in California, Florida, and France next year, and also next year, a new Country Bears show - County Bear Musical Jamboree - will open at the Magic Kingdom. Then, after the presentation, Walt Disney World also announced that Soarin' Over California will return to EPCOT later this month for a limited run in celebration of The Walt Disney Company's 100th anniversary.

That's the solid news that came out of Destination D23 this weekend. From there, well, things begin to get a bit hazy.

Disney did drop a concept image of the ride vehicle for the new Avengers Campus ride at Disney California Adventure, but we still don't have a name or any sort of timeline for that attraction. And Disney revealed that it would be "reimagining" the Test Track ride at EPCOT, releasing new concept art and name-checking the old World of Motion ride as inspiration for some of the upcoming changes. Still, Disney's language describing these projects reflected a commitment to making these developments happen, especially by revealing sponsor Chevrolet's support for the Test Track changes. We just do not yet have the timelines that we have for the other projects.

That then takes us into the realm of the "blue sky." That's Disney's term for attractions in the imaginative development stage, where a firm commitment to build the attraction is not yet in place.

And yes, that covers the big Dinoland USA replacement that D'Amaro and Walt Disney Imagineering Chief Creative Officer Bruce Vaughn talked about yesterday. The two used just about every weasel word imaginable to keep Disney from actually committing to or officially announcing any element of that project.

Yes, the project makes creative and development sense. A land devoted to Central and South America would fit well with Animal Kingdom's African and Asia lands. Dinoland fails to move the needle with crowds, and given that Dinosaur uses the same track layout and ride system as Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, switching that ride's theme to Indy would be a popular "value engineering" win for Disney Parks. With the exception of the Encanto attraction, everything else shown in the concept art Disney releases is a reskin of existing locations in Dinoland. But Disney did not commit to it, saying only that this was something that WDI was working on.

Before introducing the Dinoland project, D'Amaro and Vaughn genuflected at the Magic Kingdom expansion plans first revealed at the D23 Expo in California last year. They said that WDI was continuing to work on this project, but the lack of new detail provided this weekend suggests that the Magic Kingdom project has dropped below the Dinoland project on Disney Parks' priority list. The Magic Kingdom might have a lot of available land behind Big Thunder Mountain, but as I detailed in Goodbye Tom Sawyer Island? Disney considers major change, it's going to cost Disney a lot of money to make that accessible to guests. The Dinoland project can happen for a lot less money that any expansion in the Magic Kingdom.

That brings me to the projects that Disney did not talk about on Saturday, which is interesting to me because they are perhaps the most important projects to the future of Disney Parks at the moment. These three projects can be described with just three letters...


The new Disney Vacation Club tower at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim opens September 28. Construction continues on the "Project U" DVC complex at Walt Disney World's Polynesian Village Resort. And, I have on reliable authority, Disney is gearing up to begin construction on the long-delayed Reflections Lodge that will be built on the old River Country site at Disney World.

Unlike the attractions announced or simply "revealed" at Destination D23, these projects will bring direct income to Disney Parks and The Walt Disney Company. Disney fans will pay a lot of money for hotel rooms and DVC memberships to stay at these properties. That money then can help pay for the new attractions that will drive admission revenue and ancillary spending at Disney's theme park resorts. But it all starts with expanding the DVC inventory and selling those new rooms.

I believe that DVC is why Disney has begun revealing these "blue sky" projects at Destination D23 and the D23 Expo. Sure, announcements of new attractions coming in the next year or so encourages families and fans to book their Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme park visits and vacations. But to entice someone to buy into DVC, Disney needs to offer something more long-term.

For years, nostalgia and brand affinity could close enough sales to keep DVC going strong. But now that the most devoted Disney theme park fans have signed up, Disney needs to find ways to appeal to a broader range of fans to keep the growth going at DVC. Reveals of new lands and attractions coming years down the road can help do that - or, at least, Disney managements believes that they can.

So that's what happened this week at Destination D23.

* * *
To keep up to date with all the big theme park news, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

And to help support Theme Park Insider while saving money on discounted theme park tickets, please follow the ticket icon links our Theme Park visitors guides.

Replies (5)

September 10, 2023 at 9:59 PM

It's all very underwhelming, but can you blame them? The Company is at a historical time of crisis, with shaky leadership, faltering IP across the board, the retreat of streaming (I told you so!), and a pathetic little proto-fascist threatening the golden goose, WDW. They need to right the ship, so it's not surprising they're holding off on promising big cash spends.

September 10, 2023 at 10:53 PM

I know that Disney's executives are looking at surveys and thinking the GP want more IP, so that's what they continue to build, but i'm getting really disinterested with Disney Parks in general as original creative ideas continue to be razed in favor of making the parks giant Disney/Pixar/Star Wars/Marvel commercials. Steve Jobs said it best that in creative industries the public doesn't know what they want, its up to you to show them what they want. The Disney Parks have become the biggest destinations in the world by letting their creative people come up with the ideas it seems like now they are letting their reputation slide by letting the business people come up with all the ideas instead of the creative people.

I am not against putting IPs in the park at all, however there has to be balance, and over the last 15 years literally everything Disney has done have been IP. The only original things they have built are Mystic Manor and Bear Coaster at Hong Kong Disneyland and they are easily the two best attractions at that park. At the rest of the parks there have been ZERO creative ideas at all, literally everything they do in their parks and hotels is IP and to me it comes across as just really distasteful. WTF is with that Moana thing right in the middle of Epcot? Just look at the Incredibles rooms at the Contemporary which would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad. But at least that was just some hotel rooms, turning Dinosaur into Indiana Jones has to take the taco as the absolute bottom of the barrel. Not only does the theming not fit DAK at all, and not only does nobody care about Indiana Jones, but the Indiana Jones ride at DLR is going to be over 30 YEARS OLD by the time this ride opens. It also makes no sense to me from a business perspective as so much of what people love about WDW are original/non IP that are still the most popular things there today.

And I agree with everyone else saying the company seems to be in shambles with no direction. Like, how can you keep saying "we're working on doing stuff...maybe we'll do this....maybe we'll do that" with no plan. While i've never been the biggest fan of Universal Parks at least they have an agenda and know where they are going. How can you have such a massively successful property and have no real plans for the future?

September 11, 2023 at 5:58 AM

Really disappointed by the news coming out of Disney this weekend.

What makes Animal Kingdom special is the design and feel - up there with the best for imagination and genius design.

Having "Bugs" under the tree of life, just works. It is a great idea. True it needs some love to bring it back to its former glory... but its a classic. I'm from the UK and wanted my children to experience the spiders and seats that crawl. This feels like trying to cram the Zootopia IP somewhere.

Indiana Jones just bombed at the cinema. The IP is not what it was... but converting Dinosaur over to IJ feels like a lazy retheme. Don't think Dinosaurs will ever not be popular with children and it works better with the overall AK theming.

You could put "Encanto" anywhere... perhaps at a stretch there are animals/wildlife... but its the songs that made it popular.

Primeval Whirl closed three years ago! The area is empty and cleared. I could go to AK every day and not get bored... but that doesn't mean it doesn't need extra capacity. Build something original and special.... have an idea that fits AK, rather than focusing on IP first and then cramming that in as cheap as possible.

There seems to be a worrying lack of plan, lack of urgency and lack of knowledge of what made WDW popular.

September 11, 2023 at 8:20 AM

Robert's article should open a lot of eyes regarding the reality of the situation. Any reasonable, armchair themed entertainment CEO, who was making strategy coming out of the pandemic (after cash-flow had shut down, construction costs [see, renegotiated contracts], and worldwide economic uncertainty) had to prioritize in-progress construction projects. Finish the Contemporary renovation to sell rooms and create a revenue stream.

September 11, 2023 at 9:40 PM

Something big that also didn't get much press was the news that there will be a new Pirates lounge coming to Adventureland. Right now, alcohol is still just limited to the table-service restaurants.

Will the addition of a walk-in tavern bring us one step closer to the dreaded addition of bar carts?

Park tickets

Visitors guides

Weekly newsletter