In wrapping up the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train media preview the other day, Walt Disney World executives gave us an “Around Our World” briefing -- basically an overview of everything that’s been going on and is to come at all of Disney’s business units. You’ve probably read all the press releases by now, and realized that much of the news was not really “news” at all (expanded Star Wars Weekends, the upcoming 24-hour Memorial Day Weekend event, Norway experiences for the Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney), or had been rumored around the internet. Still, it was good to get official word on some projects -- and I have to admit that there were one or two items that were actually news to me!
The biggest Walt Disney World news centered around Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis didn’t offer much in the way of details on the progress of the park’s Avatar-themed land, I did glean what I thought was an interesting nugget from the accompanying video.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs spoke about the work on the new land, saying that the three things the team wanted to accomplish were to allow guests to experience the grandeur and scale of the film's floating mountains and the beauty of the bioluminescent forest, and to ride a banshee. He noted that through a new array of technologies and techniques they have figured out how to do all three things! I think this offers some clues as to what we can expect from the attractions when the new land eventually opens... in 2017!
Aside from "Pandora" or "Avatar-land," or whatever the new land is named, Kalogridis did have specifics on several new offerings that will help convert Animal Kingdom into a full-day park -- and by that I mean that the park will have extended opening hours, well into the night.
To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Disney animated feature The Lion King, the park’s beloved attraction Festival of the Lion King will reopen in June in its new location -- the newly constructed Harambe Theatre in the Africa section of the park (artist renderings below).
Animal Kingdom then will begin to offer a series of special ticketed evening events, called “Harambe Nights,” which will include a 55-minute theatrical rendition of the Lion King story in Harambe Theatre called “The Lion King Concert in the Wild.” Running on Saturdays from June 7 through August 9, Harambe Nights will begin with a reception, complete with appetizers, beer and wine, in Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Village, followed by the stage show, which will include a live orchestra and choir and will be narrated by such actors as Joe Morton (from ABC-TV’s “Scandal”) and Viola Davis (Oscar-nominated for her role in the film “The Help”). The evening will conclude with a street party and buffet stations situated throughout that area of the park. For more details, see the official press release HERE.
In addition to this, the park will offer a new, “dark” version of the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction, and live performers will entertain guests in the evenings around the Tree of Life. Further down the road, a new “nighttime Spectacular” called “Rivers of Light.” The nighttime show will combine live music, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery on the park’s Discovery River, between Discovery Island and Expedition Everest. No estimated date was given for this new evening entertainment debut, but we were told that the night-time version of Kilimanjaro Safari, and the Tree of Life live performers would happen “sooner” than 2017.
A lot of the other announcements dealt with the renovations happening at the Polynesian Resort -- er, excuse me, I mean the Polynesian VILLAGE Resort.
That’s right, the hotel is reverting to the name it originally sported back when it opened in 1971. In addition to the room refurbishments that have been ongoing at the resort, the main pool and the lobby -- the Great Ceremonial House -- are also getting the treatment. The resort is also going to add a new lounge, Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, based on lounge at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. The new lounge will offer tiki cocktails served in souvenir mugs and Polynesian-themed small plates.
Another topic that Karl Holz (President, Disney Cruise Line and New Vacation Operations, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) just touched on was the addition of Disney Vacation Club units at the Polynesian. Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows will include a collection of tropical structures right along the Seven Seas Lagoon, due to open in 2015.
Also starting to open next year will be the reimagined Downtown Disney area. The first section of the new Disney Springs, to be known as The Landing, will be rededicated in early 2015. Leading up to that, however, we can expect more new shops and restaurants to open, including a full-service Starbucks this summer, the collection of six small boutique shops known as the Marketplace Co-op, and a new soccer store, the United World of Soccer, to help us all prepare for next year’s World Cup.
So all in all, the presentation wasn't exactly brimming with NEW news, but there were a few little tidbits worth hearing, with the promise of a whole lot more on the horizon.
Having had the opportunity to spend time in Disney's Animal Kingdom at night for several press events over the years, I'm most anxious to see what they do with the new nighttime experiences there. What are you most looking forward to in next few months and years at Walt Disney World, or with Disney in general?
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