Disney announces 23 wild new developments for its theme parks

(USA TODAY) -- The "23" in D23 is supposed to stand for 1923, the year that Walt Disney arrived in Hollywood to start the Disney Studios and what would become an entertainment empire. But at the D23 Expo that just wrapped, the number could have referred to the 23 announcements that The Mouse made for its theme parks.

The expo is a biennial event presented by the Disney-run D23 fan club. Like San Diego Comic-Con, it celebrates popular culture, but focuses exclusively on the company's films, television shows, parks, and other properties. Before a rapturous audience of Disney diehards who had gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center, Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek ran down what's on the way to the company's iconic playgrounds.

As evidenced by the 23 items that follow, the mind-boggling array of developments signals an explosive period of growth for the parks over the next few years.

1. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
We've known for awhile that new 14-acre Star Wars-themed lands would be coming to both Disneyland Park and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. The expo revealed models of the highly anticipated lands and more details, including that they would be named Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Both will open in 2019, with the California version debuting first. Visitors will be able to interact with characters such as Kylo Ren and BB-8, dine at the Cantina, and otherwise geek out in the highly immersive, sci-fi havens.

2. Millennium Falcon attraction
One of the two featured rides at Galaxy's Edge will hand visitors the reins of the Millennium Falcon, the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" according to Lando Calrissian. There's no word whether Han Solo and Chewbacca will help the rookie pilots in their mission aboard the famed starship.

3. Star Wars battle attraction
The other major experience at Galaxy's Edge will drop visitors into a raging battle between the Resistance and the First Order. Chapek said that guests will feel like they are inside a Star Destroyer and that "the scale of the attraction is unlike anything we've ever done before."

4. Star Wars-themed hotel
For those who just can't get enough of the galaxy far, far away, Disney World visitors will soon be able to sleep among wookies and Jedi knights. Calling it Disney's "most experiential concept ever," Chapek announced that a new Star Wars-themed luxury resort will invite guests on a multi-day voyage aboard a starship. Every window, the parks chairman promised, will have a view of space.

5. Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary
As with many of the D23 Expo announcements, there were no opening dates given for the Star Wars-themed hotel. But much was made of the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, which will take place in 2021. It's likely that everything revealed for the Florida resort will be up and running by then, and that there will be a blowout celebration. Chapek highlighted new rides and features coming to all of the parks with the exception of Disney's Animal Kingdom, which recently opened Pandora – The World of Avatar.

6. Epcot makeover
Epcot, which opened in 1982 and has been showing its age, will be getting a lot of Imagineering love. In its initial inception, the park struck a serious tone and had an edutainment focus geared largely to adults. The company plans to continue injecting more whimsy into Epcot.

"We want to keep it true to the original vision, while making it more timeless, more relevant, more family, and more Disney," Chapek said. In addition to specific announcements, he shared a blue-sky rendering of a significantly updated Future World, the area at the front of the park. Among other changes, the Innoventions science and technology exhibit building appeared to be missing in the image.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy attraction
A new E-Ticket attraction based on the popular Marvel franchise will take over Ellen's Energy Adventure in the former Universe of Energy pavilion. While it sounds more "family" (and potentially a whole lot of fun), the connection to the park's vision seems tenuous. What are the Guardians doing in Epcot? Chapek says that the attraction will have something to do with Peter Quill's visit to the park when he was a child.

8. Ratatouille attraction
Coming to the France pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, the new ride will be based on the popular Disneyland Paris attraction. That 4D ride shrinks visitors down to the size of Remy, the gourmet chef who happens to be a rat, and sends them on an adventure using sophisticated trackless vehicles.

9. New mission for Mission: Space
In addition to sending passengers on a mission to Mars (which will be getting new media), the Epcot attraction will offer a toned-down experience that will take guests on an orbital adventure above Earth. Younger kids will be able to blast off on the revamped ride, which will reopen later this summer.

10. Space-themed restaurant
Next to Mission: Space, Epcot will be adding a table-service restaurant that will transport diners to a space station high above Earth. It promises to have great views.

11. New film for the China pavilion
A new in-the-round movie about China will be presented at Epcot's pavilion. It will use a new digital "Circle-Vision 360" film and projection system that will replace the circular theater's multiple screens with one seamless screen and image.

12. Tron ride
Next to the Star Wars-themed hotel, perhaps the most exciting new announcement made at the D23 Expo was about the Tron attraction coming to Tomorrowland in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. It will be based on Shanghai Disneyland's Tron Lightcycle Power Run, which is arguably Disney's most intense and best themed roller coaster. Using cycle-like cars, launched trains will blast riders into the videogame-like "Grid" of the films.

13. New theater and show
The Magic Kingdom will also be getting a new live show in a theater that will be based on an early 20th-century Kansas City playhouse. Located on Main Street, U.S.A., it will complement the area's architecture and theme, which is tied to Walt Disney's boyhood town.

14. Toy Story Land
In addition to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge coming in 2019, Disney's Hollywood Studios will open Toy Story Land in summer 2018. Capitalizing on the existing Toy Story Mania attraction, the land will invite visitors into Andy's backyard for adventures among his playthings. It will include a new Alien Swirling Saucers ride featuring the green aliens from the movies.

15. Slinky Dog-themed coaster
Also on its way to Toy Story Land will be a roller coaster themed to the films' Slinky Dog. It appears that it will be a family-level ride and offer moderate thrills.

16. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
The curtain will come down on The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios. In its place at the park's centerpiece Chinese Theatre will be a new ride-through attraction based on the hip, retro-style Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts broadcast on the Disney Channel.

According to Walt Disney Imagineering's Kevin Rafferty, the E-Ticket ride will feature a "sing-able and lovable theme song" and will be presented in "2-and-a-half-D." The breakthrough concept will present dimensional media without the need for 3-D glasses. He adds that passengers will step into the flat movie screen and onto a train – presumably a runaway locomotive – that will be operated by Goofy.

17. Disney Riviera Resort
A new Disney World hotel will be part of Disney Vacation Club, the company's membership-based vacation ownership program. It will be located near Epcot.

18. Disney Skyliner gondolas
Moving visitors around the vast property has always been a challenge for Disney World. Instead of expanding the monorail system to address the need for more capacity, the resort is building a gondola system. It will connect Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios with some of the hotels near those parks (including the new Disney Riviera).

19. Minnie Van service
Another new transportation option will move Disney World guests from door to door using "Minnie Vans" (great name!). They will use an Uber-like ride-hailing service.

20. Marvel Land
The Guardians of the Galaxy ride that recently opened at Disney California Adventure will expand into a full-fledged Marvel Land. Chapek said that attractions based on The Avengers and Spider-Man will be part of the superhero mix. It would be interesting to have competing Spider-Man rides from Disney and Universal, which has been featuring the web-slinger in a highly regarded attraction at Islands of Adventure for years.

21. Pixar Pier
With Cars Land, A Bug's Land, and Turtle Talk with Crush, Pixar has long been prominently represented at Disney California Adventure. Soon, Paradise Pier, which is already home to Toy Story Midway Mania, will be transformed into Pixar Pier. The Incredibles and Inside Out will be added to the mix at the "seaside" boardwalk.

22. Pixar Fest
In 2018, Disneyland Resort will celebrate Pixar Fest. Disneyland Park will feature the returning Pixar Play Parade and a Pixar-themed fireworks and projection show, while Disney California Adventure will bring back the Paint the Night Parade.

23. The Art of Marvel
Disney's Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris will transform into a Marvel-themed resort with the incorporation of The Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and other superheroes

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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