September 10, 2023, 8:07 PM ·

So what really happened at the Destination D23 event at the Walt Disney World Resort this weekend?

Sure, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro and his team revealed and updated a bunch of projects coming to parks around the world. But they also made some very notable non-announcements, if you will. And no one mentioned what might be the most important projects in the development pipeline for Disney Parks. Let’s start with the announcements that D’Amaro & Co. made Saturday morning. In case you missed them, or just want a recap, we’ve got one at Walt Disney World reveals big changes for Animal Kingdom. But be warned – that verb is hitting a narrow target in that headline. Don’t be misled into thinking it is saying something that it might not.Disney delivered some of its news in the days leading up to Destination D23. We got the Disney Treasure reveal, names and concept art for the attraction and other locations in Shanghai Disneyland’s Zootopia land, and an opening date (November 20) for the World of Frozen land at Hong Kong Disneyland. But we still do not have an opening date – or even season – for Tiana’a Bayou Adventure at Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. And everyone at Disney Parks seems to have developed memory loss that Bob Iger announced in an earnings call that Disneyland would be adding some sort of Avatar-themed experience.

But Disney did tell us Saturday that EPCOT’s new nighttime spectacular will be called “Luminous: The Symphony of Us” and will debut December 5. Journey of Water Inspired by Moana got an official opening date of October 16, and the Hatbox Ghost got an ETA of late November at the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion.The Disney Cruise Line gave us the new name for the former Global Dream, which will debut in Singapore in 2025 as the Disney Adventure. And Disney Cruise Line’s new private port of call in the Bahamas will be called Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point and that it will open with a June 6 preview cruise on the Disney Magic.D’Amaro and Co. also surprised us with news that Star Tours will add Ahsoka in California, Florida, and France next year, and also next year, a new Country Bears show – County Bear Musical Jamboree – will open at the Magic Kingdom. Then, after the presentation, Walt Disney World also announced that Soarin’ Over California will return to EPCOT later this month for a limited run in celebration of The Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary.That’s the solid news that came out of Destination D23 this weekend. From there, well, things begin to get a bit hazy.Disney did drop a concept image of the ride vehicle for the new Avengers Campus ride at Disney California Adventure, but we still don’t have a name or any sort of timeline for that attraction. And Disney revealed that it would be “reimagining” the Test Track ride at EPCOT, releasing new concept art and name-checking the old World of Motion ride as inspiration for some of the upcoming changes. Still, Disney’s language describing these projects reflected a commitment to making these developments happen, especially by revealing sponsor Chevrolet’s support for the Test Track changes. We just do not yet have the timelines that we have for the other projects.That then takes us into the realm of the “blue sky.” That’s Disney’s term for attractions in the imaginative development stage, where a firm commitment to build the attraction is not yet in place.And yes, that covers the big Dinoland USA replacement that D’Amaro and Walt Disney Imagineering Chief Creative Officer Bruce Vaughn talked about yesterday. The two used just about every weasel word imaginable to keep Disney from actually committing to or officially announcing any element of that project.Yes, the project makes creative and development sense. A land devoted to Central and South America would fit well with Animal Kingdom’s African and Asia lands. Dinoland fails to move the needle with crowds, and given that Dinosaur uses the same track layout and ride system as Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, switching that ride’s theme to Indy would be a popular “value engineering” win for Disney Parks. With the exception of the Encanto attraction, everything else shown in the concept art Disney releases is a reskin of existing locations in Dinoland. But Disney did not commit to it, saying only that this was something that WDI was working on.Before introducing the Dinoland project, D’Amaro and Vaughn genuflected at the Magic Kingdom expansion plans first revealed at the D23 Expo in California last year. They said that WDI was continuing to work on this project, but the lack of new detail provided this weekend suggests that the Magic Kingdom project has dropped below the Dinoland project on Disney Parks’ priority list. The Magic Kingdom might have a lot of available land behind Big Thunder Mountain, but as I detailed in Goodbye Tom Sawyer Island? Disney considers major change, it’s going to cost Disney a lot of money to make that accessible to guests. The Dinoland project can happen for a lot less money that any expansion in the Magic Kingdom.That brings me to the projects that Disney did not talk about on Saturday, which is interesting to me because they are perhaps the most important projects to the future of Disney Parks at the moment. These three projects can be described with just three letters…D.V.C.The new Disney Vacation Club tower at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim opens September 28. Construction continues on the “Project U” DVC complex at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort. And, I have on reliable authority, Disney is gearing up to begin construction on the long-delayed Reflections Lodge that will be built on the old River Country site at Disney World.Unlike the attractions announced or simply “revealed” at Destination D23, these projects will bring direct income to Disney Parks and The Walt Disney Company. Disney fans will pay a lot of money for hotel rooms and DVC memberships to stay at these properties. That money then can help pay for the new attractions that will drive admission revenue and ancillary spending at Disney’s theme park resorts. But it all starts with expanding the DVC inventory and selling those new rooms.I believe that DVC is why Disney has begun revealing these “blue sky” projects at Destination D23 and the D23 Expo. Sure, announcements of new attractions coming in the next year or so encourages families and fans to book their Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme park visits and vacations. But to entice someone to buy into DVC, Disney needs to offer something more long-term.For years, nostalgia and brand affinity could close enough sales to keep DVC going strong. But now that the most devoted Disney theme park fans have signed up, Disney needs to find ways to appeal to a broader range of fans to keep the growth going at DVC. Reveals of new lands and attractions coming years down the road can help do that – or, at least, Disney managements believes that they can.So that’s what happened this week at Destination D23.* * *
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