Big Disney Parks, Resorts, and Cruise Line News! Highlights from Destination D23 in Orlando

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September 11, 2023

Written by: Jim Smith

Disney Destination D23 is one of the biggest Disney fan events of the year, and this year’s event, which took place over the weekend of September 8th through September 10th – was extra special. Not only did it celebrate 100 years of Disney, but it also unveiled quite a few exciting ideas for future Disney Parks entertainment. Here’s a quick rundown of the biggest announcements from this year’s Destination D23, as presented at Destination D23 and posted on Disney Parks Blog.

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Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom wins the award for most nostalgic announcements (though EPCOT is not too far behind). Here are the biggest…

The Hatbox Ghost Will Come Out to Socialize

Image: Disney

Beginning in late November, the iconic grim grinning ghost will appear in the Haunted Mansion attraction as you pass the Endless Hallway, welcoming himself inside from the swinging wake in the cemetery and grinning at passing Doom Buggies.

The Country Bears – New and Improved

Image: Disney

The Country Bear Jamboree will premiere a new act in 2024, featuring new songs and revisiting old favorites. Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty explained that when the show debuts, the bears will be reinterpreting favorite Disney songs in different genres of country music – like rockabilly, bluegrass, pop-country and other styles. 

Imagineers are working with Nashville musicians to envision the new takes as a homage to the Grand Ole Opry.  The show will still feature the same fun, family-friendly tone and lovable characters.

Yo-Ho, a Pirate’s Brew For Me!

Image: Disney

A new Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge is coming to Adventureland. The first-of-its-kind experience will continue the story of the iconic attraction.  Imagineers are currently in the design process and more details will be coming in the future. It is unknown at this time whether the lounge will be adjacent to (or even overlooking) any portion of the attraction, like Blue Bayou in Disneyland, or if it will simply reside nearby in Adventureland, similar to how Skipper Canteen is located nearby to Jungle Cruise.

Rumor has it the old “Barker Bird” may find a perch in the lounge. I’d pay many galleons for a drink in that lounge!

Magic Kingdom’s “Biggest Expansion Ever?”

Image: Disney

Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Imagineering, announced that a major Magic Kingdom expansion is in the works “beyond Big Thunder Mountain.” Bruce called the plans “the biggest thing we’ve done in Magic Kingdom — probably even bigger than new Fantasyland”, saying that the expansion will be at a scale comparable to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Pandora — The World of Avatar, and will include new attractions, shows and restaurants.

At the D23 Expo in 2022, Disney teased concepts of a “Villians Land” and Coco as possible ideas for this expansion. Both sound intriguing. I personally love the idea of a Villains Land, so long as there is a cohesive story to tie it nicely together. Disney promises more details to come.

EPCOT

Disney’s most progressive park will be taking a step back to honor the nostalgia of its earliest days, as well as continuing to look toward the future with these exciting announcements.

Figment is Back!

Image: Disney

The iconic fan-favorite purple dragon is now greeting guests at EPCOT’s Imagination Pavilion. However, he may be a bit bigger than you were expecting. Figment is a full-size character, coming in at over six feet tall! That’s a heck of a lot bigger than the small puppet-sized Figment that once greeted guests with Dreamfinder back in the early 1980s.  Initial wait times for meeting Figment well exceeded five hours, so plan ahead if you want to meet him.

Test Track – Racing Forward

Image: Disney

Test Track – one of EPCOT’s most thrilling attractions – is being reimagined! Disney Imagineers are working with Chevrolet – the attraction’s corporate partner – to “reach back into history for inspiration – from the original World of Motion – and bring that spirit of optimism to the next iteration of Test Track!”   More details to come on this – but this idea hits me right in the nostalgic feels.

Journey of Water

EPCOT’s long-awaited newest attraction – Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana – will open to the public on Oct. 16, 2023.  The new walk-through experience is located within World Nature – the EPCOT neighborhood “dedicated to understanding and preserving the beauty and balance of the natural world” (formerly known as a part of Future World).

Also on October 16th, Moana will begin meeting guests in her own dedicated space near Journey of Water.

World Celebration Will Finally Be Complete

Image: Disney

Construction walls will finally come down when the World Celebration neighborhood at EPCOT will begin welcoming guests this December. World Celebration will unite the front of the park, tying together the other two new EPCOT neighborhoods – World Discovery and World Nature.  Together, these three neighborhoods make up the full area formerly known as Future World.

Luminous

Image: Disney

On December 5th, EPCOT will debut a new nighttime spectacular called “Luminous – The Symphony of Us.” The show will feature fireworks, fountains, lasers, lighting effects, and music, and will continue Disney’s long tradition of amazing nighttime entertainment at the park. What it will NOT feature are the giant “taco” and “stargate” show barges which were loathed by so many EPCOT guests.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Walt Disney World’s fourth theme park is the location of one huge change, and one “tough” update.

Goodbye DinoLand, Hello “Tropical Americas”

Image: Disney

Walt Disney Imagineering is planning to reimagine DinoLand U.S.A. into a new land – inspired by a region sometimes referred to as “tropical Americas.” According to Disney, “Imagineers are looking at some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet in the regions just north and south of the equator here in the Western Hemisphere – the northern part of South America, stretching up into Central America.” Imagineers are “considering” (this is a critical word when it comes to Disney’s “blue sky” ideas) elements from Encanto and Indiana Jones for the new land. Disney Parks nerds like myself know that the fan-favorite Indiana Jones Adventure attraction in Disneyland uses the same ride structure and track layout as DinoLand’s DINOSAUR attraction. Could DINOSAUR be going extinct? There’s a good chance that will happen. Though I must admit, I’m not sure how Indiana Jones fits well with Animal Kingdom’s theme?

Zootopia is Coming to Animal Kingdom

Image: Disney

Out with the old, and in with the Zoo. A new show based on Zootopia is being created for the Tree of Life theater at Animal Kingdom! The current concept for the new “Zootopia” experience has guests visiting the different biomes you only glimpse in the film, traveling along with Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, and other characters.

Of course, “Zootopia” will have to replace the theater’s existing show based on A Bug’s Life. I guess it really is “tough to be a bug.” More details will be coming in the future.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios received the smallest portion of park updates (but that’s ok – the park has received huge expansions in recent years with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land).

Ahsoka Coming to Star Tours Adventures

Image: Disney

Beginning in Spring 2024, Ahsoka will appear in new adventures debuting on Star Tours at Hollywood Studios, Disneyland Park, and Disneyland Paris. Could we be traveling the “pathway to Peridia” and meeting some Purrgil along the way? We’ll just have to hop aboard and find out!

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

Disneyland Resort is the location of one semi-major announcement (aside from the Ahsoka addition to Star Tours mentioned above).

Avengers Campus – Multiversal Travel

Image: Disney

A new world-jumping vehicle is coming to the next attraction in Avengers Campus to help transport “Super Heroes” (otherwise known as park guests) into the Multiverse. Disney shared a first look at the ride vehicle which will “combine elements of Tony Stark’s time-suits with Xandarian jump points and Wakandan technology.”

International Parks

In addition to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Disney announced enhancements to other parks around the world. 

Hong Kong Disneyland’s World of Frozen will open on Nov. 20, 2023. The land will transport guests to Arendelle and will feature several new attractions, including Summer Snow Day, Frozen Ever After, and Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs.

Tokyo Disney Resort’s Fantasy Springs is set to open in 2024. The new land will include areas themed to Rapunzel’s, Peter Pan, and Frozen.

Image: Disney

Shanghai Disney Resort shared details about its upcoming Zootopia-themed land, set to open by the end of the year. The main attraction, “Zootopia: Hot Pursuit,” invites guests to join the Zootopia Police Department and embark on an adventure to save Gazelle, who has been kidnapped on the day of her big concert. The new area will also offer live entertainment, Zootopia characters, themed food and drinks at Jumbeaux’s Cafe, and shopping at Fashions by Fru Fru.

Disney Cruise Line

Not to be abandoned at sea, Disney Cruise Line made a couple announcements at Destination D23 as well. DCL’s seventh ship – setting sail from Singapore in 2025 – will be named the Disney Adventure. The new ship will feature Disney, Pixar, and Marvel stories.

Image: Disney

On land, DCL revealed the name for its new island destination in the Bahamas. “Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point” will be the official name for the destination, which will celebrate “the natural beauty, traditions and artistry of the one-of-a-kind nation.”

Which of these announcements are you most excited about? Let us know with a comment here, or send a direct message on social:

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