Highlights of the 2016 D23 Destination D: Amazing Adventures Event

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

Named for Walt Disney's first studio in Hollywood founded in 1923, and created by the Walt Disney Company in 2009, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club holds special events for Disney fans and enthusiasts that includes speakers, displays, screenings, and, of course, special merchandise.

Disney's Contemporary Resort Convention Center welcomed Destination D: Amazing Adventures attendees. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Every other year since 2009, it has hosted the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, featuring all the divisions of the Company, with the next one scheduled for July 14 to 16, 2017. In even numbered years, D23 hosts the smaller, more focused Destination D events. This year's Destination D: Amazing Adventures event welcomed more than 1,000 attendees from 39 States and eight countries to Disney's Contemporary Resort Convention Center at Walt Disney World, Florida, from November 18 to 20.

Destination D: Amazing Adventures welcomed more than 1,000 attendees from 39 States and 8 countries in the Fantasia Ballroom in Disney's Contemporary Resort Convention Center. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

November 18 is celebrated as Mickey Mouse's birthday, in commemoration of the anniversary of the world premier of his first short film, "Steamboat Willie." Destination D provided ample opportunities to share in the revelry.

Destination D attendees received the same button celebrating Mickey Mouse's Birthday upon check-in that Magic Kingdom guests received. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Wilderness Explorers (also known as the folks that purchased VIP Ticket packages) were treated to Mickey Mouse Birthday cupcakes. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Disney likes to unveil some of its new offerings at D23 events, and Destination D: Amazing Adventures provided plenty of news, starting from the moment attendees checked in. Disney announced that its next generation "MagicBand 2" would soon be available; first to Annual Passholders in December, then to guests with upcoming Walt Disney World Resort stays and through its usual retail distribution (including the customizable D-Tech variety) shortly thereafter.

MagicBand 2 features a bigger TouchPoint and a more flexible design. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The MagicBand 2 is designed to be more flexible on your wrist, and its "TouchPoint" is bigger (likely making it more foregiving when contacting the various Mickey head TouchPoints in the Parks and Resorts around Walt Disney World) and removable so that it can be inserted in to "MagicKeepers" (other wearable items like keychains) that Disney intends to be sold in the near future. Destination D attendees were each provided a limited edition Destination D: Amazing Adventures Magic Band 2 with their registration materials.

Disney plans to sell MagicKeepers other wearable objects to allow guests to insert the MagicBand 2 TouchPoint in them to use in Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Society of Explorers and Adventurers, and Adventurelands around the world

Dr. Albert Falls of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers was the host of Destination D: Amazing Adventures. Photo © Disney.

In recent years, fan of the Disney theme parks have seen an increasing number of attractions have their stories (and backstories) tied together by the imagineered Society of Explorers and Adventurers ("SEA"). At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the Jungle Cruise (and the Holidays' Jingle Cruise) forms the basis of an important part of the overarching story. At Walt Disney World, the (late and often lamented) Adventurers Club and the (new) Skippers Canteen are also tied into it. In Tokyo, the (non-Twilight Zone) Tower of Terror, and in Hong Kong, Mystic Manor are also part of that lore. This list is not exhaustive, and Destination D presenters said there will be even more to this story in the future.

SEA apparel and pins, much of it marked "exclusive" or "limited edition," was available for purchase by Destination D attendees. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

One of the important characters in the story of SEA is one of its founders, Dr. Albert Falls. If you have been on the Jungle Cruise, you have heard references to him. Walt Disney World's Skippers Canteen has even more of his backstory. Legend says that the restaurant was created by his daughter after his death. Fitting to the theme of Destination D: Amazing Adventures, Dr. Albert Falls served as the host for the presentations (not surprisingly, he was rather miffed when he heard one of the panels discussing his demise in the story).

The Crest of SEA appeared on a lot of apparel and pins sold to Destination D attendees. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Bob Chapek, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was the first featured speaker during Destination D. He sat on stage with D23's Director of Corporate Communications, Jeffrey Epstein, to make a number of announcements about the future of Disney Parks. Chapek said that SEA will play an increasingly large role in the parks (he also made a number of other announcements that you are probably interested in, a number of which we reported in the Walt Disney World Resort Update for November 22-28, 2016).

Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, takes the stage at D23’s Destination D: Amazing Adventures with D23’s Jeffrey Epstein to talk about the expanding role of SEA in the Parks. Announcements included Pandora – The World of AVATAR, the Star Wars-themed lands, MagicBand 2, and more. Photo © Disney.

In a presentation entitled, "Albert Schweitzer, Harper Goff, Bill Evans, and 'The Wonderland of Nature's Own Design,'" Disney Legend and former Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar discussed of some of the earliest concepts designers Goff, Evans and others brought to bringing Walt Disney's vision to life. During his presentation, he discussed the simple mechanical motions of the earliest version of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise and described some of the evolution of Audio Animatronics and ride technology. He elaborated on his comments during some of the time I got to speak to him afterwards.

Disney Legend Marty Sklar talks about Imagineering and the technology of Adventureland. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Disney Legend Tony Baxter and fellow Imagineers Jason Grandt and Luc Mayrand discussed the differences in the Adventurelands beyond the Disneyland original, from Florida to Shanghai. Of particular interest to fans of Pirates of the Carribean in Adventureland in Disneyland Paris will be the upcoming enhancements to the attraction to coincide with that park's 25th anniversary next year.

Disney Legend Tony Baxter talks about Imagineering the reuse of America Sings Audio Animatronics and repurposing others. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

As the newest, Shanghai Disneyland's Adventureland, not surprisingly, has the most technologically advanced version of Pirates of the Caribbean, seamlessly transitioning between animatronics and digital projections while guests ride a boat that can be turned every which way in furtherance of the storytelling. Tony Baxter also provided an in-depth look at imagineering Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure.

Producer Don Hahn and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline discuss "True-Life Adventures" and DisneyNature. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

A panel of historians, Jungle Cruise skippers and Imagineers, including Justin Arthur, Alex Grayman, Kevin Lively, Chris Merrit, Trevor Van Dahm, and Wyatt Winter discussed "Tales from the Jungle Cruise." Among the many interesting stories the panel told, was the often forgotten fact that the original attraction at Disneyland was done as a completely "serious" journey through the jungle. However, not many years after its debut, some of its legendary puns and jokes started finding their way into the official Skipper spiel, eventually resulting in the attraction known around the World today. The recent seasonal "Jingle Cruise" overlay was designed to appear as though the Jungle Cruise skippers themselves took what they found to try to celebrate the holiday season. At Walt Disney World, in fact, that look was achieved by adding spare props from Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom parks.

Walt Disney Archives displayed a pith helmet once worn by Walt Disney on one of his "adventures." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Discussion of adventurelands would not be complete without looking back at Walt Disney's inspiration for creating the land at Disneyland: the True-Life Adventures films. Film producer Don Hahn and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline discussed Walt's film series and the modern DisneyNature films that carry on that tradition following modern animal protection protocols. I had the opportunity to speak with them after their presentation.

During breaks from the main presentations, attendees were free to view the Walt Disney Archives exhibit, "Walt's Great Adventures," which was put together specifically for Destination D, with photos and artifacts from the archive's vast collection.

Given the adventure theme, Destination D also celebrated Disney's Polynesian Village Resort's 45th Anniversary. Disney artists Casey Jones and Richard Terpstra, Disney Vacation Club's Ryan March and D23's Steven Vagnini led a discussion about the history of the South Pacific-themed resort, from its earliest appearance as a South Seas resort on Florida Project maps displayed by Walt Disney as far back as 1966, to the recent opening of the Disney Vacation Club expansion at the resort.Among the interesting facts discussed was that artist Mary Blair designed the early linens for the resort and that patterns from those designs have been incorporated into the decor in the new DVC accommodations there. Attendees were also treated to a hula lesson.

Screenwriter Jared Bush discusses the legends behind the new Disney film "Moana." Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Flowing from the South Pacific theme of Disney's Polynesian, Jared Bush, screenwriter of the latest Disney feature animation film Moana, discussed the legends that form the foundation of the characters and plot of the film. Attendees were then treated to an advance screening of the film on a beach at Disney's Polynesian.

New Walt Disney World adventures and the past 45 years

Among his announcements at Destination D, Chairman Bob Chapek said that Pandora – The World of AVATAR, is scheduled to open in summer 2017 at Disney's Animal Kingdom. You can see the latest released concept art and a short video in our Walt Disney World Resort Update for November 22-28, 2016.

Disney Transport showed Destination D attendees its prototype concept "Sorcerer Class" bus. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Although light on specifics, he announced that "Marvelous" things are coming to the parks, but that the Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World will remain while the Disney California Adventure ride transforms into Gardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT! Also, Star Tours will continue to receive new scenes as new films are released, starting with Episode VIII next year.

Tom Vazzana talks about some of the effects and tributes in the new "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!" spectacular that is performed at Disney's Hollywood Studios during the holiday season this year. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

A major overhaul is coming to Epcot, where Bob Chapek has challenged the creative team to "dream big." He provided no details other than that the park will be more Disney, more timeless, and focused on the whole family. Bob Chapek told Destination D attendees that his overarching goal is to place guests into "story" from the moment they begin planning until they get into the parks, including transportation. To further illustrate that, Disney Transport showed off a prototype concept "Sorcerer Class" bus featuring lights synchronized to music and other sound effects.

Imagineer Wyatt Winter talks about imagineering Frozen Ever After for Epcot's Norway pavilion. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

Walt Disney World Ambassadors Caitlin Busscher and Nathaniel Palma shared the details of some of the newest offerings around the resort (many of these are detailed in Disney Springs for the Holidays). Entertainment Show Director Tom Vazzana shared the details of the new holiday nighttime spectacular at Disney's Hollywood Studios, "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!"

Imagineer Wyatt Winter talked about the engineering developments that led to the state-of-the-art all-electronic Audio-Animatronics in the new Frozen Ever After attraction at Epcot's Norway pavilion, along with details of some of the cultural research the team did and the tributes it included to the former Maelstrom ride.

Imagineers Jason Grandt and Alex Wright took Destination D on the nostalgic journey through some of the Walt Disney World attractions of the past. They shared archive photos from several attractions, including If You Had Wings, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

AVATAR creators James Cameron and Jon Landau (as Alpha Centauri Expeditions Founder Marshall Lamm) and Imagineer Joe Rohde discussed the future land at Disney's Animal Kingdom of Pandora – The World of AVATAR as though Pandora is a real place, the movie of several years ago was a documentary (and that the bad people portrayed in the movie are all gone), and that Disney's Animal Kingdom provides a "gateway" to visiting this far-off planet. The message that they sought to convey seemed to be that this new land will represent the foremost in "placemaking," where even the physics and biology of the land make sense in terms of the story being told.

AVATAR creators James Cameron and Jon Landau (as Alpha Centauri Expeditions Founder Marshall Lamm) and Imagineer Joe Rohde share new images and details from the upcoming land Pandora – The World of AVATAR, opening in Disney’s Animal Kingdom summer 2017. Photo © Disney.

They used numerous real and created scientific terms to explain the various effects guests will experience in the land, such as floating mountains and bioluminescent plants that create a "dreamlike" environment. My scientific education (and science fiction acumen) is not deep enough to attempt to spell most of the terms they used in their description; hopefully when the land opens next summer, we will all be able to understand the story on the same level its creators intend.

Sights of Destination D and merchandise

"True Life Adventures" was one of Destination D's four photo backdrops themed around the event's title: "Amazing Adventures."Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Another popular activity enjoyed by attendees at Destination D was posing for photos in front of the three-dimensional backdrops set up by D23. Since the theme of the event was Amazing Adventures, the backdrops were True-Life Adventures, Pirates of the Caribbean, Expedition Everest, and the Jungle Cruise.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" was one of Destination D's four photo backdrops themed around the event's title: "Amazing Adventures." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

"Expedition Everest" was one of Destination D's four photo backdrops themed around the event's title: "Amazing Adventures." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

"The Jungle Cruise" was one of Destination D's four photo backdrops themed around the event's title: "Amazing Adventures." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Sorcerer's Apprentice Ballroom was set aside as the Imagineering pop-up shop Mickey's of Glendale, providing attendees each an opportunity to shop for Walt Disney Imagineering and other themed (often exclusive or limited edition) merchandise. Lines were long during every shopping opportunity despite the fact that attendees were only allowed to make purchases during one visit to the shop.

Destination D logo merchandise was available at Mickey's of Glendale. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Walt Disney Imagineering apparel was available at Mickey's of Glendale. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Several different styles of Walt Disney Imagineering apparel was sold at Mickey's of Glendale. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Pin collectors had numerous price points to choose from at Mickey's of Glendale. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Large format collectable pins like this one created for the new movie "Moana" were available at Mickey's of Glendale. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Finally, with respect to merchandise, we should mention the presenting sponsor, Ethan Allen | Disney and its new furniture collection. The on-stage chairs behind Dr. Albert Falls in the photo near the beginning of this article are part of the collection. Several other examples of the furniture were shown throughout the event as well.

The 2 ½ seat shaped like Mickey Mouse's head is part of the Ethan Allen | Disney collection that was on display in the Wilderness Explorer's Lounge at Destination D. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Some of the Ethan Allen | Disney collection was on display in the back of the Fantasia Ballroom during Destination D. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

D23 announces upcoming events

During Destination D, D23 announced a number of special events planned over the course of 2017, including its headline event, the D23 Expo.

Disney's D23 Director of Corporate Communications Jeffrey Epstein, Vice President Michael Vargo, and Membership and Marketing Director Kristin Rodack spoke with attendees and the press about D23 Expo 2017 and upcoming D23 Member Events. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Highlights include:

  • Screenings on the Disney Studio Lot and at Walt Disney World, including "Tangled" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl"
  • A Back-to-School celebration on the Disney Studio Lot of Disney Afternoon favorites like "Duck Tales," "Gummi Bears," and "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers."
  • Official Walt Disney Studios Tours
  • Behind-the-Scenes Experiences (locations to be announced)
  • Lunch With A Disney Legend (both at Walt Disney World and The Walt Disney Studios lot)
  • Advance Screenings, including complimentary movie passes randomly included in copies of Disney twenty-three
  • Fanniversary Celebration--Epcot 35

D23 Expo 2017, D23's biggest event of the year, will take place July 14-16, 2017 at the Anaheim Convention Center including live performances, presentations, exclusive collectables and more. Two contests leading up to the Expo were announced as well. Expo details and contest rules can be found on D23expo.com.

D23 Expo 2017 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland with a design challenge of Disney pirate-inspired artwork. is looking for a band of swarthy artists to create Disney pirate-inspired artwork. Twenty-three pieces of finalist artwork will be on display throughout the D23 Expo weekend on the show floor. The winning artist will be chosen prior to the start of the D23 Expo and will receive a cash prize of $2,300.

At this one-of-a-kind Mousequerade event, taking place at Friday, July 14, during D23 Expo 2017, participants in each five different categories will dazzle the crowd with original costume designs.



  1. By stan4d_steph

    I had a great time at Destination D. Alan failed to mention Willie the aardvark, who made an appearance in the segment about how Animal Kingdom helped the animals prepare for the nighttime experiences that are now available, and how they accommodated different animals needs to deal with stresses. Willie was adorable.

    The presentation by James Cameron was just bizarre. Everyone acted like Pandora was a real place, and that all of the things in the new park area are based on these "real" things from the planet. Doing a 180 from that, the presentation by Joe Rohde alone at the end of the Sunday sessions discussed the actual places they went to get real references for Pandora. That's the kind of thing that most people at this type of event want to see, not some weird reality show starring James Cameron.

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