What’s New at Disney Parks in 2018
2017 is in the books, and we’ve officially entered a new year. What’s going on at the Happiest Place on Earth, you wonder? I’m glad you asked! I view 2017 as Phase One of the plan to modernize Disney’s North American theme parks. The introduction of Pandora – The World of Avatar hinted at the changes that will bring the Happiest Places on Earth into a new era.
This January marks the beginning of Phase Two, the year where Walt Disney World adds another theme park and several other exciting features on the path to the endgame, Phase Three. That’s Star Wars Land. We’ve still got 18 months to go on that one, though. For now, let’s discuss the thrilling new Disney changes and celebrations expected in calendar 2018.
Disney Theme Park Anniversaries
Disney just celebrated the 35th anniversary of Epcot in 2017. They’re now poised for two other major celebrations, although one park isn’t technically Disney-owned. I’m speaking of Tokyo Disneyland, which you may not know is the property of The Oriental Land Company. They license the Disney park name and have a strict standards clause in place with Disney.
That’s possibly boring legalese that you don’t care about unless you’re a Disney trivia buff. You should care about Tokyo Disneyland, though. It’s one of the best theme parks in the world and a place you should have on your Disney bucket list. The park is also celebrating its 35th anniversary on April 15th.
Since this is the third most popular theme park in the world with attendance of 16.5 million last year, the anniversary is a huge deal, particularly to the proud people of Japan who have dutifully nurtured this beautiful facility. Seriously, you should talk to a Mickey Travels agent about vacationing here in 2018.
That’s not the only Disney theme park anniversary, though. It’s not even the only one in April! On April 22nd, Disney’s Animal Kingdom celebrates its 20th anniversary on Earth Day 2018. I’m excited to see the stops that Disney pulls out for its most ambitious theme park. I expect plenty of cute animal photos and videos that day. It’s another great time to vacation at Walt Disney World.
Toy Story Land
Speaking of reasons to visit Walt Disney World, the best one this year is the impending arrival of a second new themed land. Hot on the heels of Pandora – The World of Avatar, park planners will reveal another enjoyable expansion.
The new place is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s Toy Story Land, the Pixar expansion hinted at all the way back at the opening of Toy Story: Midway Mania! Disney has modified the entrance to that attraction in anticipation of this Woody-and-Buzz-intensive area.
While the expectations for Toy Story Land are much more modest than Pandora, it’s still a huge deal for fans of Hollywood Studios. That park currently has only a handful of operating attractions. This section will have a roller coaster called Slinky Dog Dash and a second ride based on the Three-Eyed Aliens and The Claw. This attraction, Alien Swirling Saucers, is especially child-friendly, and Slinky Dog Dash is, too. The purpose of Toy Story Land is to create a safe space for parents and children in the area near Star Wars Land, which will debut in 2019.
New Disney Springs Restaurants
Eating is one of the most enjoyable activities at Walt Disney World. The food is remarkably good for a theme park, and Disney has done everything in its power to perfect the art in recent years. They’ve successfully enticed Iron Chefs, Top Chefs, and other celebrity chefs to build restaurants on the Disney campus.
2018 should become one of the greatest years to date for Disney cuisine. Several new restaurants are scheduled to open at Disney Springs. Arguably the biggest one gets it start this week as The Edison, a much anticipated restaurant and nightclub, finally opens after more than two years of delays. In the same Disney Springs complex, Mario & Enzo’s Ristorante, Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar, and Pizza Ponte also join the impressive list of restaurants.
Later in 2018, Terralina Crafted Italian becomes a permanent part of The Landing. Former Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano is the driving creative force behind this establishment. And if you’re thinking about the situation, you’re right. That’s a LOT of new Italian places opening this year. If you’d rather try something different, check out Wine Bar George, which promises more than 100 wines and some of the most delicious shareable bites on the Disney campus.
The other two new additions are Jaelo and Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. Jaleo is the latest eatery from celebrity chef José Andrés. If that name sounds familiar, it should. You’ve heard it in the news lately. He’s the hero who has served three million meals to starving Puerto Ricans. Jaleo is a tapas place, but who cares? You should eat there because José Andrés is an awesome human being! As for Puck’s latest restaurant, it allegedly modernizes the bar and grill concept.
Disney Springs is the place to go when you want good eats. That’s already true, of course, but the place is ready to level up in 2018.
The big changes in store at Disney theme parks aren’t exclusive to Orlando. The Happiest Place on Earth is already about to undergo several big changes. The most significant one mirrors a change from 2017. Last year, Disney closed The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in early January and replaced it with Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!.
Starting next week, a similar process will occur. The ride in question is California Screamin’, one of the two best attractions from the opening day of Disney California Adventure. This exceptional roller coaster closes for good on January 8th. In May, the new themed version of the same coaster will arrive. It will also have a new name, the IncrediCoaster.
The timing of this roller coaster repurposing coincides with the arrival of The Incredibles 2, which debuts in theaters on June 15th. While details are still scarce, the presumption is that the IncrediCoaster will have strong similarities to California Screamin’. It’s not like Disney’s going to tear down the current coaster tracks in this timeframe. You can hear the Imagineers describe the plans for the IncrediCoaster here. I don’t know about you, but I bust up at the idea of Edna Mode babysitting Jack-Jack. The new version of the roller coaster sounds extremely entertaining, and the coaster itself is already great.
Disney Goes All-in on Pixar
The IncrediCoaster is only one step in Disney California Adventure’s evolution. The original park theme, California, is on the way out. In its place, Imagineers are prioritizing Marvel and Pixar characters. Other than Mission: Breakout!, the Marvel changes are presumably a part of 2019-2020. The Pixar ones are more immediate.
Starting on April 13th, Disney will host the first ever Pixar Fest. The highlights of this event are a fireworks display and two parades. The fireworks exhibition is Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular. Disney’s Parks Blog describes it this way:
“In addition to dazzling pyrotechnics and memorable music, the theme of friendship, ever-present in most Pixar films, is celebrated in this nighttime spectacular. Guests are invited to embark on an emotional journey that starts when unlikely Pixar characters first meet. As they set out on adventures and overcome obstacles together, “Together Forever” celebrates the everlasting friendships forged by beloved Pixar pals. The story comes to life through projections on iconic park locations: Sleeping Beauty Castle, the water screens of the Rivers of America, the façade of “it’s a small world” and the buildings of Main Street, U.S.A. This nighttime spectacular will even feature a special flyover by Buzz Lightyear at Sleeping Beauty Castle.”
You may already have familiarity with one of the parades. Paint the Night will return, but the nightly show will have a new home. Formerly hosted at Disneyland, it’s now a Disney California Adventure show for the foreseeable future. At Disneyland, you can watch the Pixar Play Parade, which features elements from Up and Inside Out among others. You can also watch several classic Pixar shorts at Sunset Showcase Theater in Disney California Adventure throughout Pixar Fest.
The entire Pixar Fest is a strong hint about the future of Disney California Adventure. Later in the year, Paradise Pier will change to Pixar Pier, although this park area is more accurately described as splitting into two sections. The other part becomes Paradise Park. Along with the change to Pixar Pier, Mickey’s Fun Wheel shuts down temporarily. Disney will alter the appearance of the gondolas to display 24 different Pixar characters. Mickey’s face will remain in the center of the wheel, though.
From this point on, Disney California Adventure is Pixar-intensive, and Marvel theming is coming soon, too. As such, one of the unannounced but expected changes in 2018 is a new park name for DCA. So, that’ll be exciting, too.
As you can see, 2018 is poised to be a year of tremendous excitement at Walt Disney World and (especially) Disneyland. You’ll want to talk to a MickeyTravels agent about booking a trip to at least one of the parks if not both.