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  • Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Disney World’s Biggest Transformations

The official grand opening for Walt Disney World Resort took place on October 1, 1971, with Magic Kingdom as its sole park. Since then Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom joined the line-up of Disney World theme parks. However, the changes didn’t stop with the addition of new parks. Keep reading to see how much the resort has changed over the past forty-plus years.

Magic Kingdom

Disney World officially opened October 1, 1971, with its first theme park: Magic Kingdom. Over the past 49 years, the park has undergone tons of small changes and updates like the removal of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and the closing of the Skyway to Fantasyland in 1999, but there have also been a few major transformations. The Fantasyland expansion in 2012 was the largest in the history of Magic Kingdom, growing the park from 10 acres to 21 acres. This Fantasyland makeover was a first step towards creating immersive park experiences, a concept that is now used with most new Disney parks projects. When Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it was home to 10 attractions, one of the larger areas of the park on opening day. While some still remain mostly unchanged, like it’s a small world, Peter Pan’s Flight, the Royal Carousel, and Mad Tea Party, the area has grown into a fairy tale dreamland, straight from a storybook.

The new Fantasyland places a larger focus on the Disney Princesses and their stories. The addition of a Beauty and the Beast themed area includes the Be Our Guest restaurant inside the Beast’s Castle and Enchanted Tales with Belle inside her cottage, where guests can meet Belle and pose for photos with props. The cottage is completed with advanced audio-animatronic characters like Lumiere, entertaining guests waiting for their face time with Belle. Other new shops include the Bonjour Gift Shop and Gaston’s Tavern snack shop.

Ariel’s Grotto underwent a huge transformation as well. Many years ago the Grotto was a water play area near Pinocchio Village Haus, but the splash area was closed and replaced with The Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The ride is a slow moving dark ride that takes riders through Ariel’s Grotto before giving them the opportunity to meet and pose for photos with Ariel inside a shell. Other meet and greet opportunities with the Princesses are in Princess Fairytale Hall, formerly Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Here guests can find Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Tiana.

Snow White’s presence was not completely removed from Fantasyland, just relocated. The former location of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride is now the home of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. In addition to being one of the only roller coasters at Magic Kingdom, this ride was also the first time to feature an interactive queue. While waiting at various spots in the ride’s line guests can entertain themselves with activities like gem sorting, spinning barrels, and musical spigots for gem washing.

The Toontown section of Fantasyland also got a major makeover, transforming into a huge Storybook Circus. This area is anchored by an updated Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. The iconic attraction now features two spinners, flying in opposite directions. Like the Mine Train, the queue for this ride is interactive. Kids of all ages can pass the time waiting to board the popular ride by enjoying slides and climbing nets in the Big Top circus area. Other attractions in the Storybook Circus are The Barnstormer featuring Goofy as “The Great Goofini” and Casey Jr.’s Splash & Soak Station.


Epcot’s history is much different than the other Disney parks. In fact, Walt Disney’s original vision was for the property to be an innovative housing community titled the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Instead, it opened in 1989 as a more educational park that celebrates global cultures and cutting edge technology. There was a conscious effort to exclude character influences and all of the park’s attractions were run on corporate sponsorships.

However, the World Showcase has grown from 8 countries to 11 countries, and the attractions are changed and updated every so often. One recent change was the renovation to the Maelstrom attraction in Norway which is now called Frozen Ever After, dedicated to the popular Disney film. The biggest transformations at Epcot involve the Future World portion of the park. Once loaded with inventive technological attractions and exhibits, guests could explore the Wonders of Life, which revolved around the human body and health, get a glimpse of families living in a future world at Horizons, and experience the evolution of transportation at World of Motion. Communicore East and West was a large exhibit hall full of different interactive displays sponsored by prominent corporations.

The Wonders of Life pavilion is now an empty space used as a showcase for Epcot’s various festivals. Horizons was replaced with Mission: Space in 2003. Communicore became Innoventions in 1994, still an exhibition hall reliant on sponsorships. However, the number of displays has dwindled severely over the years. The East building only features two exhibits, and the West building is now home to character meet and greets.

Although there have been some major improvements, such as the addition of Soarin’ at The Land and the Test Track renovation, Epcot has largely become a park without a true identity outside of its festivals. Big events like the International Food & Wine Festival and the Flower & Garden Festival are running for a strong portion of the year, and these occasions have become the park’s major draw.

The biggest changes for the park are still on the horizon. Future changes are planned to make Epcot more ride and character-centric, much like the other Disney World parks. Additions such as a Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride at the former home of Ellen’s Energy Adventure and a Ratatouille ride in the France pavilion, among others, will begin to pop up at the park in the next few years.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios opened as MGM on May 1, 1989, and has undergone several changes (including the obvious name change) over the years. However, much like Epcot, the park’s biggest transformations are the ones that are still to come.

Toy Story Land opened Summer 2018, which is an 11-acre expansion that allows guests to explore Andy’s backyard from the perspective of the toys. Taking the area formerly dedicated to the Studio Backlot Tour, the makeover included expanding and relocating Toy Story Midway Mania as well as the addition of two new attractions. Slinky Dog Dash is a family-friendly roller coaster that stretches all around the Pixar-inspired section of the park, and the Alien Swirling Saucers is an attraction similar to the Mad Tea Party, where guests are riding inside a toy set that Andy got from Pizza Planet.

While Toy Story Land brought big changes for Hollywood Studios, the upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge addition is set to be the largest land expansion in Disney’s history. Advancing past the immersive World of Pandora, this 14-acre extension is designed to make the Star Wars movies come to life with familiar characters, locations, and concepts.

Taking over the Streets of America, the land is inspired by the planet’s unknown regions along the outer rim. Upon entrance, guests will find themselves in an exotic marketplace where aliens, droids, and animals are hanging around buying or selling all kinds of merchandise, including items from the galaxy’s black market. Once further inside, the land splits into two areas: a Spaceport controlled by the First Order, and an ancient forest that contains a secret Resistance base. This is where the land’s attractions will be found.

According to Disney insiders, the new Star Wars attractions “will likely harness the very cutting edge of what Imagineering can do.” Although there are still only sparse details about what exactly that means, we do know that one of the rides will be a Resistance mission in which riders are responsible for piloting the Millenium Falcon. The other ride will be a Battle Escape dark ride, where the goal is to escape the battle between the Resistance and the First Order.

Other new additions to the former home of the Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show and the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie set adventure include an “out-of-this-world” dinner theater experience and a Cantina-inspired restaurant whose menu will feature the iconic Blue Milk drink. This Star Wars project advances much farther than any of Disney World’s other expansions with the introduction of user customization to the land. Depending on a guest’s performance on the attractions, they can earn or lose galactic credits that will determine your status among the locals at the trading outpost and other hang-out spots.

Although this project will not be completed until 2019 plans for further expansions, including a themed hotel inside the land, are already being made.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom opened on April 22, 1998, as a unique hybrid between theme park and zoo. After almost 20 years of being one of Disney World’s milder parks, Animal Kingdom got a major awakening with the opening of the World of Pandora in May 2017. The largest addition in the park’s history replaced Camp Minnie-Mickey with a 12-acre recreation of the Valley of Mo’ara designed by Disney Imagineers and James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. With the guidance of  James Cameron, Disney was able to create an immersive land that was a much-needed improvement to the park.

The highly detailed landscape tells the story of Pandora a generation after the events of the film’s not-yet-released sequel. Visitors of the Mo’ara Valley play the part of tourists traveling to Pandora with Alpha Centauri Expeditions to study the ecosystem and learn about repairing and preserving the environment. The land is hidden from the rest of the park, so walking among the floating mountains and bioluminescent plants provides an adventure that is completely unrelated to the typical Disney experience.

The extremely advanced technology used to create Pandora further adds to the illusion that you’ve actually traveled to a new world. The big-ticket attraction in this land is the Flight of Passage, where riders take control of an Avatar using mind projection technology to fly on the back of a wild banshee. For a calmer ride, guests can try the Na’vi River Journey, a relaxing boat ride through the lush bioluminescent foliage accompanied by music from the sacred Shaman of Songs.

The high-tech elements of Pandora are not limited to the attractions. Among the various other souvenirs offered at Windtraders gift shop, visitors can pick up an Avatar action figure made to look like you with facial recognition software.

The restaurant located in Pandora was a revolutionary addition as well. Satu’li Canteen was the first dining location to feature mobile ordering via the My Disney Experience app. In keeping with the immersive design of the area, the entire menu is inspired by the bounty of the land of Pandora, made up of grains, fresh vegetables, and hearty proteins. Adult visitors can try Na’vi-inspired cocktails like green beer and margaritas topped with boba at Pongu Pongu.

Plans to continue this already huge expansion are already in the works, including the addition of an elaborate table service dining experience.

With so many developments still in the works, it’s safe to say that the evolution of Disney World won’t be slowing down any time soon. Experience the newest additions at all four parks with discount Disney tickets from!

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