Saturday, December 31, 2016

15 new things to look forward to at Disney World in 2017

Disney has promised a lot of new things for Disney World in 2017, including a whole new world at Animal Kingdom, a third festival at Epcot, longer dates for existing Epcot festivals (see a festival pattern here?), new restaurants and updates to rides.

So, without further fanfare, here's a look at the big things to look forward to in 2017:

1. Pandora – The World of Avatar

An artist's rendering of the Na'vi River Journey.

We've seen the construction, read about the hype and wondered, "Was this a good idea, eight years after the movie was released?" Disney is counting people falling in love all over with the Na'vi who inhabit James Cameron's world of Pandora.

The new section of Animal Kingdom is scheduled to open this summer with two marquee rides: The Avatar Flight of Passage, in which guests fly around the jungles of Pandora on the back of a Mountain Banshee; and the Na'vi River Journey, which takes guests on a boat ride through the bioluminescent rainforest.

The World of Avatar also will include a dining location called Satu’li Canteen and a shopping area called Windtraders. 

2. Rivers of Light

Oops. Wasn't this on our coming 2016 list? Yes. Yes, it was. The nighttime show at Animal Kingdom was supposed to open on Earth Day last April, but Disney put it on hold after major problems were uncovered during tests. This was the first time in recent memory that Disney pulled back on an attraction after promising a specific opening date. 

We hope the promised "visual mix of water, fire, nature and light choreographed to an original musical score" on the Discovery River gives us a "wow" moment in 2017. No new opening date has been set.

3. New raft ride at Typhoon Lagoon

This spring, visitors to Typhoon Lagoon will have a new family-style raft adventure to enjoy. On Miss Fortune Falls, guests will be immersed in the story of Captain Mary Oceaneer as they gently ascend in rafts only to plunge into a whitewater adventure where they will encounter some of Captain Mary’s treasure. The ride will clock in at 2 minutes, one of the longest attractions at a Disney water park.

4. Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Yes, another festival at Epcot. This one will feature a mix of visual, culinary and performing arts over the course of six weekends during January and February. Each weekend will introduce new artwork from visual artists and feature food from the Disney culinary team and performances from Broadway talent. For a small price, guests can even try their hand and creating their own works of art — visual, culinary and otherwise — during interactive workshops. The events take place Fridays through Mondays, Jan. 13 – Feb. 20.

MORE: 7 things to watch for at Disneyland in 2017

5. Star Wars guided tour

As fans wait patiently — or not — for the opening of the new Star Wars land at Hollywood studios, they can get their fix during a 7-hour guided tour that includes all things Star Wars. The first tour, which costs $129 per person, kicks off Jan. 2 and will include:

  • A Star Wars “all-in-the-know” tour guide
  • Priority boarding for Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
  • Encounters with two Star Wars characters (Chewbacca and Kylo Ren) at Star Wars Launch Bay
  • An in-depth, insider’s tour around Star Wars Launch Bay
  • Screening of “Star Wars: Path of the Jedi”
  • Dinner at Backlog Express featuring a Star Wars-themed menu 
  • A spot in the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party, which includes themed sweets and specialty beverages, as well as reserved viewing for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show
  • Younglings ages 4-12 on the guided tour package can also train in the way of The Force in Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. 

An artist's rendering of the interior of Paddlefish.

6. Paddlefish

A bow-to-stern transformation is turning the former Fulton's Crab House into a sleek and modern new restaurant with a whole new menu. Paddlefish will continue to serve fresh seafood, steaks and chops, but guests will have new choices, including a build-your-own boil for seafood lovers. A new rooftop lounge will stay open until 2 a.m., serving up a late-night menu and shipshape views of the water and Disney Springs. The restaurant is supposed to open this winter — a delay from its original target of fall 2016.

7. Planet Hollywood Observatory 

Longtime Downtown Disney-goers will no doubt remember the iconic domed restaurant that drew celebrities and fans of the Hollywood scene. The reborn space will be themed to stars of a different kind: a turn-of-the-20th-Century observatory serving up burgers and sandwiches created by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and craft cocktails whose names are inspired by the planets and space travel. Movie memorabilia, video screens, contemporary music and themed merchandise complete the scene. Like Paddlefish, Planet Hollywood Observatory was originally targeting for opening by the end of 2016, but is now eyeing a winter opening.

8. Wine Bar George 

Orlando master sommelier George Miliotes uncorks his first Disney wine bar in a space reminiscent of a winemaker’s estate warmed by oak wood and cozy lighting. Small plates dominate the food menu but it will be the wines with a starring role: more than 100 selections both by the bottle and the glass in a range of varietals and vintages.

9. The Edison 

An artist's rendering of the Edison at Disney Springs.
Another delayed Disney Springs restaurant — we know, because we've been anxiously waiting — is the "industrial Gothic" Edison restaurant and lounge. The Edison is moving into the space vacated by the beloved Adventurer's Club, but it has undergone a complete rebuild. Like the original Edison in Los Angeles, the space will have 35-foot ceilings and a number of themed areas, including The Lab performance space, The Ember Parlour, Telegraph Lounge, The Patent Office, The Tesla Lounge, The Radio Room, Waterfront Patio. Entertainment will include contortionists, palm readers, DJs and more.

10.  New cheerleading, dance venue for ESPN Wide World of Sports 

A first-of-its-kind venue specifically designed for the high-energy world of cheerleading and dance team competition opens its doors in 2017 at ESPN Wide World of Sports. The complex is collaborating with Varsity Spirit, the nation’s top cheerleading organization, in bringing the new multi-use venue to life. The venue will include a flexible design that allows for as many as four competition areas. With the ability to seat more than 8,000 guests, the sports and entertainment venue also can accommodate six regulation basketball courts, six regulation volleyball courts or be configured for concerts.

11. New features at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

Disney is slowly releasing new details for 2017 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival in Disney World — including the festival first of giving everyone's favorite dragon, Figment, his own topiary. Among the new things to look forward to at this year's festival, which runs from March 1-May 29:

  • A 6-foot-tall topiary of Figment, the dragon mascot of the park’s Imagination! pavilion. 
  • All all-new front entrance topiary garden inspired by a vintage Walt Disney short film where with floral-festooned maypole featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Daisy and Pluto. 
  • New sculpted facial features for Belle, who dances with her Beast at the France pavilion. 
  • Two new Outdoor Kitchens will be added to the 13 already being offering. 
  • The Garden Rocks concert series will expand to four days each week, with three concerts each Friday through Monday. And there will be a new Garden Rocks Dining Package.

12. A new mission for Star Tours 

When Star Wars Episode VII came out in 2015, Disney was quick to add elements of the new movie to its Star Tours ride. In fact, we experienced the new mission before the movie was even released. So expect the same treatment for Episode VIII, which is due in theaters Dec. 15, 2017 (a mere 349 days from now, in case you're counting). Disney Parks chairman Bob Chapek confirmed this during his during D23: Destination D presentation at Disney World in November, saying Disney Imagineering and Lucasfilm are currently working on adding a new mission to the ride based on elements from Star Wars Episode VIII.

13. New rope drop show at Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is making a major change to how the park opens. Instead of having to wait with mobs of people for the opening train show to take place before they "drop the rope" to let you in, you will now be able to head on to Main Street, U.S.A. before the park opens for a bit. Then as the open time hits you can watch a new opening show in the stage in front of Cinderella Castle. This begins Jan. 9. This is being done primarily because the trains are undergoing repair, but wouldn't this be great if it were permanent. You'd be able to head in and see a somewhat empty park for a bit. 

14. MagicBand 2.0 

Ok, you've purchased your special MagicBand and all the MagicBand bling for you the original, now you can look forward to the second generation of MagicBand. In this version, you can keep the "Magic" without the "Band." This version has the technology in a removal fob (similar to electronic card keys). So the small fob can remain attached to the band, or can be taken out and placed on a keychain or other items. We are sure Disney will be selling a lot of additional accessories to this. This will start rolling out in the early part of January.

15. Revamped Hall of Presidents

We try to keep politics out of this, but there is really no choice when talking about this specific attraction. Last year's election means a "huge" update to the Hall of Presidents. An animatronic Donald Trump will join the ranks of the other 44 presidents. The attraction will be closed in January and is expected to reopen in June. 
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