2017 Disney Year in Review
As we enter 2018, The Walt Disney Company is preparing Mickey Travelers for years of tremendous growth and improvements. They actually started down that path in 2017, though. Disney altered, added, or announced several remarkable changes to their various theme parks. Park visitors will feel the ramifications of these decisions for many years to come. Here are the seven biggest happenings at Disney parks in 2017.
Everything listed here is important in some way, particularly the final topic under discussion. But let’s be clear on this point. Out of the actual park changes this year, NOTHING mattered as much as the introduction of Pandora – The World of Avatar.
This themed land was the first true addition at Walt Disney World since the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Due to park space limitations and financial constraints, new themed lands are rare at Disney parks. This particular one was first announced in 2011, causing six excruciating years of waiting for park fans.
When Pandora finally debuted, something even rarer happened, something that exists beyond Disney. Virtually no complaints arose. Theme park critics, competing park employees, and Disney fans alike had nothing but praise for The World of Avatar.
The exterior areas of Pandora are all triumphs of Imagineering, the meticulously themed food is delightful and delicious, and the two new attractions are both superlative. This themed land is a perfect 10, but it’s more than that. It’s also the early warning signal that if Disney can do such great things with Avatar, Star Wars Land will be that much more spectacular.
Guardians of the Galaxy Opened
One of the central themes of a new year is “out with the old, in with the new.” Disney took that premise to an unusual extreme in 2017. They killed one of their most popular attractions, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in January. Then, they turned around and replaced it with a differently themed but similar attraction. It was in a way the hint at Disney’s business strategy moving forward. They got rid of a license that they didn’t own, The Twilight Zone, in favor of one that they did.
The new ride is Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! Like the previous attraction in the same building, it’s a drop tower dark ride, only this one is about characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Guardians of the Galaxy were the box office story of 2014, and Disney capitalized on this unexpected wave of popularity by re-theming the attraction to highlight the beloved movie characters. They also added a fitting series of musical numbers, making a previously gothic experience a rocking good time instead.
Disney Introduces Geyser Point
Every Disney resort is a cathedral. The theming is immaculate, the amenities are outrageously great, and the campuses are universally breathtaking. Despite the existing greatness of each one, Disney’s perfectly willing to change basic parts of the hotel grounds. It’s the company’s dedication to plussing, making improvements whenever they have a better idea than the current one.
At Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, that change meant the demolition of the prior pool area. Its replacement is a themed area for Boulder Ridge Villas, the Disney Vacation Club section of the resort. One of the signature parts of this new expansion is Geyser Point.
This new outdoor bar and grill eatery is located right by the water. It’s one of the most serene meal settings at Walt Disney World, and it’s also forward-thinking in design. Disney has the ability to turn this outdoor restaurant into an indoor one when inclement weather is an issue. They have all-weather covers they can use during torrential rain or freezing cold weather. It’s a wonderful place to sit back and have a quick bite while relishing in the beauty of Walt Disney World. Geyser Point immediately becomes one of the best Quick Service restaurants at any Disney resort.
Happily Ever After Fireworks
For the body of the 2000s, Wishes ended our amazing nights at Magic Kingdom. The fireworks exhibition had a projection show displayed on the castle. Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy narrated a hypnotic show about the power of the imagination. It was a spectacular presentation that ran for 14 years, and virtually everyone adored it.
When Shanghai Disneyland debuted in 2016, however, everyone realized that Wishes was on its last legs. The new fireworks display at Shanghai blew away the suddenly outdated technology of the Wishes show. Imagineers had invented a new way to project visuals, one that dwarfed all prior versions. It was only a matter of time for that style to transfer to North America.
In May of 2017, the expected change occurred. Disney closed Wishes forever, replacing it with a new spectacle known as Happily Ever After. This show features projection mapping on Cinderella Castle, providing unprecedented visual detail. During the nightly exhibition, Disney can do so much simultaneously that more than 20 classic animated movies are referenced. It combines classic Disney characters with newer Pixar heroes. You can watch the entire show in 4k here. Suffice to say that it’s a masterpiece that will set the bar for Disney fireworks displays for many years to come.
Festival of the Arts
The original intention for Epcot was to build a functional World’s Fair that happened every day of every year. It was something that had never been done before, and the early results were shaky. Over time, Disney’s mastered the art of international exhibitions, though. They started with the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and then introduced the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival years later. In 2015, they added what’s now called the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
With three parts of the year covered, park planners had a clear path ahead. In 2017, they added a fourth festival called the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. This five-week event took place in January and February, effectively giving the World Showcase some form of daily festival from late August through mid-February. In the process, Disney brought Epcot that much closer to the original plan.
The first run of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts only lasted on the weekends. It proved so popular that Disney’s expanded it to a daily exhibition in 2018. At this point, it seems like a permanent part of the World Showcase calendar, meaning that more than half of the days each year will have some kind of event. That’s a lot of food kiosks, my friends!
California Screamin’ Will Close
When Disney California Adventure debuted in February of 2001, its early reception was famously icy. Several of the original attractions were sub-par, and a couple of them shut down after only a short time in operation.
One of the noteworthy exceptions was California Screamin’, the first true roller coaster at the Disneyland Resort campus in decades. People instantly adored it, and it’s remained a highlight of any visit to the Happiest Place on Earth in the 16 years that followed.
The success of the attraction couldn’t save it from exterior factors, though. In November of 2017, Disney announced that they would close California Screamin’ forever on January 8th. It’s a move similar to Guardians of the Galaxy above in that Disney’s throwing out a great attraction in favor of a more explicitly themed one.
In 2018, The Incredicoaster will arrive just in time for the debut of the much-anticipated sequel to Pixar’s The Incredibles. As Disney converts Paradise Pier to Pixar Pier, they’re tethering current attractions to Pixar properties. California Screamin’ is the most daring change, but it’s also an understandable one. After 17 years, there’s no harm in freshening up a great coaster with a new theme. In fact, I only see upside, the same as with Guardians of the Galaxy.
Greatest D-23 Ever
The Disney D-23 fan event is a huge deal whenever it happens, usually every other year. 2017 in particular was special, though. Disney effectively confirmed every longstanding rumor about their plans for the future of their parks. They announced new forms of transportation such as the Minnie Vans and Disney Skyliner. They validated rumors about upcoming rides such as a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster and Ratatouille attraction at Epcot. And they even provided a few surprises such as a previously unknown Mickey Mouse ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
In short, Disney used D-23 as an opportunity to detail the next five years at Disney parks. We now know exactly how the company plans to build momentum for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World in 2021. D-23 was quite possibly the seminal Disney announcement since Walt Disney himself revealed Epcot in 1966, making it a once-every-50-years kind of story. D-23 confirmed that the next few years will be the greatest ever for Disney fanatics.
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