The Vacation Kingdom of the World: You Say Goodbye and I say Helloby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Walt Disney once said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." This concept is certainly true for Disneyland's younger sibling, Walt Disney World. Entire websites are devoted to tracking every change, big or small, that occurs at the Vacation Kingdom of the World. As long-time Disney fans know, when change is good, it can be very good. The wonderful Expedition Everest was Disney's response to the complaint that Animal Kingdom needed more attractions to overcome its reputation as a half-day park. While some may argue that a thrill ride at an animal park seems out of place, the theming and the innovation here are outstanding and outright fun. Disney fans also know that when change is bad at a Disney park, it can be really bad. Many guests have yet to recover from change to the iconic lobby of Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.
The new year brings many changes as Disney continues to announce all sorts of removals, additions, and enhancements. While I generally dread changes to my "laughing place," this year's roster looks promising. So while some may say a sad "goodbye" as things change, this year I choose to say a welcoming "hello."
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Long rumored to receive a Disney California Adventure style extreme makeover, Disney's Hollywood Studios has already experienced radical changes in the past few months. The venerable Backlot Tour closed in September of 2014. As sad as it is to say farewell to one of Disney-MGM Studios' original attractions, this attraction was a shadow of its original incarnation. Speculation that the vast area formerly occupied by the tour is slated for redevelopment runs rampant: Could Radiator Springs be on its way to Florida? Will Pixar Place expand to include the long rumored Monsters Inc. coaster? Will Star Wars land here as promised? Only time will tell, but I feel confident that Disney will use this space to immerse guests in a movie-inspired environment as the Studios continues its shift from film production to experiential attractions.
We must also bid a fond adieu to the L.A. Property Warehouse store at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. This shop, originally home to movie memorabilia and an interactive photo experience, has more recently been home to Disney plush, toys, and children's costumes. It is now time to welcome the Trolley Car Café, the most recent addition of a Starbucks to Walt Disney World. The theme—a trolley car barn—is great, and the details here are very much in keeping with the 1930s and 1940s theme of this section of the park.
Rumors are also building that the Echo Lake section of the park might be ripe for redevelopment. The American Idol Experience and the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction have already closed, and several predictions include the removal of the Backlot Express, Echo Lake, Gertie the Dinosaur, Min and Bill's Dockside Diner, and the block of buildings that encompasses the former American Idol, Monster Soundstage, and Radio Disney booth. Some reports predict that the Streets of America and Lights! Motors! Action! could also make way for a massive reconfiguration of this area of the park. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the Walt Disney Company will allocate sufficient funds for attractions, restaurants, and experiences that will live up to the "E-ticket" reputation long held by Walt Disney Imagineering.
Speaking of massive overhauls, the former Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island areas are fast becoming part of Disney history as a more inclusive Disney Springs theme spreads throughout what was once the Disney Village Marketplace. This can only be seen as a good thing. The disjointed nature of Disney's West Side, with its larger-than-life architecture and vast concrete spaces, the ruins of Pleasure Island with its rows of boarded up clubs, and the quaint, quiet nature of the original Disney Village Marketplace always felt at odds. While shopping and dining experiences don't necessarily excite anyone in my family, we welcome the aesthetic and thematic integrity of the new Disney Springs project and look forward to seeing some of the most recent changes on our next visit.
The Magic Kingdom Area
While the announcement that the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway is closing this summer may come as a shock to those NASCAR fans out there, the location of this attraction never really made a lot of sense. To quote Grandfather from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, "Nasty, noisy, smelly things motorcars," especially when located near a deluxe resort and a theme park. Don't get me wrong: I love attending races, and we never miss the auto show when it comes to town, but the sound of cars lapping an asphalt track never quite fit with my idea of sitting near a tropical pool at the Polynesian or strolling down a turn-of-the-century street at the Magic Kingdom. This area is slated for "transportation improvements" which might mean nothing more than expanded parking lots but could mean much more—a possible redevelopment of the Transportation and Ticket Center. Whatever comes, I say welcome.
The arcades at both the Contemporary Resort and Space Mountain are also receiving some attention. The Tomorrowland Arcade was a 2005 addition to Space Mountain, and is an architectural mismatch. It has always looked like a poorly design by an architect with no understanding of the original structure to which it is attached. By forcing guests to exit Space Mountain through an arcade, Disney cheapened the entire attraction. Arcades can be found anywhere—in malls, Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, and hotel lobbies across the country. This entire area, with its arcade games, massage chairs, photo booths, and retail space is tacky. It's the kind of place we want to avoid on vacation. It is now closed, and I say goodbye to this eyesore. I hope that plans include some cosmetic changes to the outside of the building as well as inside this vast space.
There are also changes in store for the Game Station Arcade in Disney's Contemporary Resort. Located on the 4th floor near dining and shopping locations, the inclusion of this arcade necessitated the removal of a wonderful store. It also made it necessary for retail space to invade the once open Grand Canyon Concourse. While many guests may enjoy arcades as part of their vacation experience, it seems odd that such a prominent area would be used for games that can be found elsewhere. Hopefully, the Game Station Arcade will find a new less intrusive location.
The Tinker Bell and Friends meet and greet in Adventureland has also recently moved. In the words of the Genie, "a very warm Agrabah welcome" to the return of the Adventureland Veranda. This sprawling establishment, nestled in thick greenery at the entrance to Adventureland, closed in 1994. With the recent announcement that the Liberty Tree Tavern will close for refurbishment, rumors began that perhaps the Veranda will open again. Why? Because the Veranda and the Tavern share a kitchen. The upgrades to the kitchen area and permits recently filed by the Walt Disney World Company indicate that the Adventureland Veranda may, indeed, be reopened. Let's hope so.
What will you celebrate?
Are you looking forward to any changes this year? Have any recent announcements set your heart racing in anticipation? If so, let us know. And as always, enjoy your time at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.