Disney World projects that will still get completed — and those that may be canceled
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Disney World shut down in one reality in mid-March and reopened in mid-July to an entirely changed world.
Before 2020 got weird, to say the very least, Disney World was on track for some pretty aggressive additions and expansions. The iconic theme park’s 50th anniversary is next year in 2021. That means 2020 was a good time to make everything from Cinderella Castle to the entrance of Epcot as new, fresh and exciting as possible.
But the company didn’t just lose four months of theme park operating revenue.
Disneyland in California remains shuttered with no announced reopening date, Hong Kong Disneyland has closed for a second time, major Disney film releases continue to be delayed and no one knows at what level theme park attendees will return. However, we do know that park capacity is severely capped to aid social distancing efforts.
We also know that as of Disney’s last investor call, which occurred in early May, Disney had already identified $900 million in reduced capital expenditures for this fiscal year, driven primarily by paused construction and refurbishment work.
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With costs increased, revenue dramatically decreased and no true end to any of this in sight, what Disney originally thought it was doing in 2020 or 2021 and what it will really be able to do live in two separate worlds. While the park remains tight-lipped on most official plans (trust us, we asked), here are the new projects and attractions that we know are still happening in Disney World. Plus, we include a few that may have been “indefinitely postponed” as part of that $900 million in fiscal year savings.
Runaway Railway opened just in time
One marquee attraction for Disney World in 2020 opened just days before the shutdown and is now available for any who are heading to the reopened parks. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (the first ride featuring the famous mouse couple) opened on March 4 and is one of the more popular rides now as the parks have reopened.
But Ratatouille didn’t
While Runaway Railway was the big spring addition, the big new Disney World attraction for summer 2020 was to be the opening of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.
This ride is in the France Pavillion at Epcot and was just a couple of months from completion when the world shut down. Note that while empty parks would have been great for making quick construction progress in some ways, nonessential work was also paused at Disney World during that closure time.
However, based on some photos obtained via the Skyliner from WDW News Today, it appears that construction on the France expansion around the Ratatouille attraction has resumed. It’s a very safe bet that this project will be completed as designed, and it’s possible it could be completed in 2020. However, whether or not Disney will actually open the attraction this year, or keep it in their pocket to encourage 2021 bookings when people will hopefully be more ready to travel, is another matter.
One new Epcot restaurant opened — one hasn’t
In the America Pavilion at Epcot sits the relatively newly opened Regal Eagle Smokehouse. This all-American joint serves up ribs, baked chicken, rich macaroni and cheese and pretty stellar toast. It opened just a few weeks before the March shutdown. It doesn’t have the absolute best food at Disney World, but it’s pretty good and is a place you can reasonably feed a whole family for a fair price by sharing as portions are huge.
But there was another Epcot restaurant that was originally scheduled to open around the same time in early 2020: Space 220.
This Epcot restaurant will have a “space elevator” to take you up to the dining area and will be open for an intergalactic breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or at least it will probably serve those meals when it probably opens. There is some mystery surrounding this one.
This restaurant had already undergone a few setbacks and delays even pre-pandemic, so no one beyond the wall of Disney is totally certain of the status at this point. We have to imagine this one will open as the construction has to be very far along since it had an early 2020 opening date at one point, but when that opening might be at this point is much harder to guess.
Mary Poppins and Spaceship Earth “postponed”
As part of Epcot’s reimagining, there were many forthcoming additions and attractions coming to the 38-year-old park. The park’s 180-foot silver geodesic sphere, which houses the Spaceship Earth attraction, was set for a May closure and lengthy reimagining, but that’s reportedly been postponed. Spaceship Earth reopened with Epcot in mid-July, so you can continue to experience the attraction in all its current glory.
Also on postponed development — though I won’t be shocked if postponed means canceled — is a Mary Poppins attraction in the U.K. Pavilion at Epcot. Construction had not started on this attraction before the March closure, and it never had a public timeline announced. Notably, it has been removed from the Epcot Experience display that you can visit within Epcot that shows glimpses of how the park of tomorrow will look and feel.
Star Wars is likely full speed ahead, Reflections not so much
Disney had previously announced that the small, immersive Star Wars-themed hotel, otherwise known as the Galactic Starcruiser, will begin accepting reservations in 2020 for two-night experiences to likely begin in 2021. Based on some drive-by looks and nerdy deep dives into some publicly available plans and permits, we’d guess the hotel only has 100 or so rooms, so it probably won’t need mass crowds to return to Disney in order to fill to capacity. Of course, pricing may end up softer than expected given the economy and potential needs to pare back on planned offerings.
While it is likely the opening timeline has been impacted by COVID-19, and the originally planned offerings may have to change due to social distancing, it’s still very possible this property opens in 2021. Not only have additional permits recently been filed for the property, but crews have again been spotted working on-site.
On the other hand, the 900-room Disney Vacation Club resort, Reflections, was announced in 2018. Construction was in the early stages before the March shutdown. With multiple Disney World resorts still closed and rumors that sales of the newest DVC resort, Riviera Resort, slowed, Disney probably has no rush to get progress on Reflections back to full steam.
Related: Review of Disney’s Riviera Resort
While not officially canceled as far as we know, there are reports that construction has not ramped back up at that site.
Additionally, there is precedent for Disney pausing hotel expansion for long periods in the wake of large-scale events. For example, after Sept. 11, 2001, work on an expansion of Disney’s Pop Century Resort was paused for many years. Work on that expansion was started before Sept. 11 and ultimately later became the Little Mermaid section of Disney’s Art of Animation.
Related: The best hotels at Disney World
Tron and Guardian roller coasters, likely still on for 2021
While the exact completion timelines for both the Tron Lightcycle and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind have likely been impacted by the four-month closure of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, both roller coasters are very far into the construction process and are headlining additions for the 2021 celebrations.
Whereas perhaps these attractions were going to open in the first half of 2021 in a previous timeline, it may be that they will now have a ribbon-cutting later in the year. One thing is certain — Disney hasn’t shied away from hyping these rides. Just this week, the Disney Parks Blog released a fun ride-through video of Tron based on the version open at Shanghai Disneyland.
Epcot reimagining will be … reimagined
Mary Poppins and Spaceship Earth aren’t the only elements of Epcot that will be “paused” as a result of the pandemic and associated closures. Epcot was in the middle of a massive reimagining with construction happening all over the place.
There were upcoming new pavilions, a new entrance, water features, a Moana-themed offering and more. Epcot will ultimately have to do something to tidy up the construction, but it will probably be a scaled-down version of what was originally imagined.
Splash Mountain will get re-themed — eventually
While some Disney projects will be quietly paused to reduce expenses while attendance is lower, Splash Mountain made waves with a big mid-pandemic announcement. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter and racial equality movement that came to the forefront during this summer, Disney released plans for a rethemed Splash Mountain that it said have been in the works for at least a year.
Currently, Splash Mountain is themed with seemingly innocuous animatronic animals such as a bear and a fox. But the true origin of its characters are from a controversial 1940’s “Song of the South” movie. Many say “Song of the South” has racial undertones and stereotypes that many say are no longer appropriate in today’s society.
As such, Splash Mountain will receive a total re-theming to “The Princess and the Frog.” For those not familiar, that was the first Disney movie to feature a Black Disney princess. While plans for this re-theme reportedly started in 2019, there is no announced date when the ride as we know it will close or when the newly redone ride will reopen.
Like many other companies and destinations, Disney World is facing times far more challenging than any it has seen before. While the theme park has reopened, things are not what they were before March, and likely won’t be for a long time to come. Some projects that were already in motion will be seen through to completion, but perhaps on a new timeline or with some alternations. Other projects both announced and unannounced will have to be paused or hit the cutting room floor entirely.
We don’t know for sure what all will still proceed as planned at Disney World in 2020 and 2021, but that doesn’t stop us from making some pretty educated guesses.
Featured image by author
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