By: Amy Kawa
A lot happened in Walt Disney World in 2017, but perhaps the biggest news to come out of the House of Mouse this year involved announcements for things we won’t actually see for years down the road. So, solely focusing on 2017, a lot of this year seemed to involve saying goodbye to attractions of the past to make room for new attractions of the future. Without further ado, we present the “Top 5 WDW In-Park Happenings of 2017.”
Pandora Opens in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- When it was announced that Disney was partnering with James Cameron and 21st Century Fox to bring Avatar’s world of Pandora to life, many people (myself included) were skeptical of how Disney could make this world fit into one where Mickey reigns supreme. Well, as usual, Disney absolutely knew what they were doing and was able to make Pandora even more than a natural extension of the Animal Kingdom; Pandora actually enhances the park, adding something so majestic, so other-worldly to the park. From the minute you cross the bridge to Pandora and hear the sounds of mysterious creatures calling to you, Disney creates a distinct feeling that you have entered into something your senses have never experienced before. From the bioluminescent, glowing nature of the plants and ground in the nighttime and the floating mountains to the amazing Flight of Passage attraction, which is unlike anything you have ever taken a ride on, and Satu’li Canteen, with some of the best eats you’ll find in amusement park, Pandora takes Animal Kingdom to a whole other level. As someone who questioned why Disney would ever associate themselves with Avatar, I (and many many others) are grateful that Disney Imagineers are so talented and created a world that is so unique; one that you are just drawn to and want to keep coming back to explore trip after trip.
2. The Great Movie Ride Takes its Final Bow
- Hollywood Studios is on the precipice of a major transformation. Essentially, anything that made the park what it once was – a celebration of movies and how they were made – is gone. With Star Wars set for a takeover in 2019 with Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land ready to come out to play this summer, the future sure is bright for the currently dilapidated park. However, with all of this exciting change, the theme for the park has also become “out with the old, and in with the new.” The Great Movie Ride, an opening day staple, closed it doors on August 13, 2017 as a part of this change. A slow-moving dark ride that took guests through some of the most famous scenes in movie history, the Great Movie Ride was the cornerstone of Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios). While it’s hard to say goodbye to this attraction, sometimes the old has to make way for something even more exciting… in this case, Mickey’s Runaway Railway, which is rumored to make its debut May 2019.
3. The Power Finally Goes Out on Ellen’s Energy Adventure
- Like Hollywood Syudios, it was announced at this year’s D23 Expo that Epcot would also be experienced a revitalization, specifically focused on Future World, where the pavilions that were once revolutionary and showcased technology and theories of the future now seem somewhat dated. Once of these dated attractions was Ellen’s Energy Adventure in the Universe of Energy pavilion. Starring Ellen Degeneres, Bill Nye the Science Guy (as Ellen’s neighbor), Jamie Lee Curtis (as Ellen’s former college roommate, Judy), and Alex Trebeck (as himself), Ellen went on a journey to learn more about energy with Bill Nye to beat Judy in a game of Jeopardy. As Ellen’s journey takes her back to the time of the big bang and dinosaurs, the closest we get to the present was to offshore drilling and coal, leaving out the consequences of global warming and other things that would bring the attraction out of the 90s and into the new millennium. So, it really did always feel like Ellen was just biding her time until Disney found a suitable replacement. Well, the time is now, as the Universe of Energy ceased to exist on August 13, 2017. A new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction indoor roller coaster will take its place, with an opening date sometime before 2021.
4. Disney Springs Continues to Solidify Itself as a Premier Destination
- Downtown Disney was always a fun place to shop for your favorite Disney souvenirs, but after all of the trouble Disney had with Pleasure Island – their stretch of adult, nightclubs – and closed that part of Downtown Disney, it was never really a destination for Florida locals. Over the past few years, Disney has transformed their shopping and dining district into what is now known as Disney Springs – a beautiful courtyard of specialty brand name shops, Disney-speicifc stores, quick service restaurant, casual table service restaurants, and fancy table service restaurants. It seems like new additions each year keep adding to its appeal, and the design of the space is genius, allowing for stores like Vera Bradley, Sephora, Under Armour, and Zara to have their own space and yet still coexisting with World of Disney, Once Upon a Toy, and Art of Disney. Add in dining options like Sprinkles, Art Smith’s Homecomin’, Pizza Ponte (now open!), Earl of Sandwich, Morimoto’s, The Boathouse, Paddlefish, and Planet Hollywood, and you really do have a place to be for locals and Disney guests alike.
5. Happily Ever After Debuts at Magic Kingdom
- Wishes! was the nightly spectacular for the Magic Kingdom for nearly 14 years, debuting October 2003. Wishes! came to an end in 2017, making way for Happily Ever After on May 12th. This new show isn’t your standard fireworks. It takes any fireworks show you have seen and multiples it by 100. Utilizing image projection onto Cinderella Castle, Happily Ever After combines scenes and images of your favorite Disney characters with music from your favorite movies and a killer soundtrack of its own and pyrotechnics, lasers, and an insane amount of fireworks to put on the biggest and best nighttime extravaganza the Magic Kingdom has ever seen! Happily Ever after will make you smile from ear-to-ear and make you cry all at the same time because it’s that beautiful. As someone who really really loved Wishes, Happily Ever After is the grand finale truly fitting of the happiest place on earth. Check it out below from The Dis, but there really is nothing like seeing it for yourself, in-person!