A Whirlwind of Change: Walt Disney World from 2010 to the Present
Over the last two weeks we’ve gone on a whirlwind tour of the the first forty years of Walt Disney World. This week we’ll be revisiting some highlights of the past decade, all in anticipation of the 50th anniversary celebration that will take place on October 1. The last ten years at the resort have been jam packed with some pretty massive changes. While we can’t get to everything, here are a few that have lingered with us the most.
Disney Acquires Lucasfilm Ltd.
Though it wasn’t exactly a change to the parks, it’s certainly worth noting that in 2012 Disney announced its agreement to purchase Lucasfilm Ltd. A whole fleet of movies would follow this acquisition, with The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker, as well as Rogue One and Solo. In addition, the acquisition would lead to the release of The Mandalorian on Disney+. Of course, all of this would end up having an enormous impact on Walt Disney World, but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
Frozen Smashes Records
Before we get to actual in park changes, let’s have one more bit of foreshadowing. The feature length animated film Frozen debuted in theaters toward the end of 2013. The movie would become the highest grossing animated film to date, and win two Academy Awards. The song “Let It Go” became an instant classic, and would quickly take its place in the pantheon of great Disney songs.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Opens
In May of 2014, the thrilling Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened in the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom. The roller coaster featured hair raising thrills as Guests raced along in a swaying mine cart. It also included beautiful Audio Animatronic figures which incorporated 3D computer animation, bringing the characters to life in a whole new way. In addition, it added another mountain for daredevil Guests to conquer, alongside the Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain.
Star Wars Launch Bay
The following year would further entangle the worlds of Disney and Star Wars when Star Wars Launch Bay opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A walk through attraction, the Launch Bay would allow Guests an up close look at prop replicas from the Star Wars films, as well as the chance to watch a 10 minute film titled, “Star Wars: The Path of the Jedi.” Over the years that followed, Guests would be able to meet pesky Jawas, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, and even the lovable droid BB-8 in the Launch Bay.
Frozen Ever After Arrives In Epcot
As mentioned earlier, Frozen became a smash hit from the moment it debuted in theaters. Princesses Anna and Elsa became two of Disney’s most popular princess, and the huggable snowman Olaf immediately became everyone’s dream best friend. It was an inevitability that the film would find a place in the parks, and that would come in the form of Frozen Ever After, which opened on June 21, 2016 in the Norway pavilion in Epcot. Though the new attraction would replace longtime fan favorite Maelstrom, it more than made up for any sense of loss with absolutely breathtaking Audio Animatronic figures, and a completely immersive queue that took Guests straight into the village of Arendelle.
Pandora: The World of Avatar
In May of 2017, Walt Disney World set a new standard for the world of themed entertainment with the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar. An expansion to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the new land provided Guests with the opportunity to step onto the world of Pandora complete with floating mountains, waterfalls, exotic plant life that could interact with Guests, paths that glowed in the dark, and two new attractions: Na’vi River Journey (an aquatic dark ride) and Flight of Passage. The latter would represent a massive leap forward in themed attractions, allowing Guests to “ride” on a banshee. Sitting atop individual ride vehicles, Guests could feel their banshee breathing as they raced through the world of Pandora. Along the way, the would see, smell, and feel the world around them, as Disney Imagineers made the attraction a multi-sensory experience.
Toy Story Land
A massive re-imagining of Disney’s Hollywood Studios would continue with the 2018 debut of Toy Story Land. Bringing to life one of Pixar and Disney’s most beloved franchises, the new land shrank Guests down to the size of a toy so that they could experience life in Andy’s backyard alongside Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jesse, and all the rest of the gang. The exciting Slinky Dog Dash and dizzying Alien Swirling Saucers joined Toy Story Mania (which had officially opened in 2008), creating a magical world of whimsy for ever Guest who has ever loved a toy.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
A year later, Star Wars fans everywhere would collectively lose their minds as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Like Pandora before it, Galaxy’s Edge and the world of Batuu would elevate the possibilities when it came to themed entertainment. Creating a completely immersive experience, this new land truly felt like landing on another planet with a culture and traditions all its own. Not only would Guests be fully surrounded by the visual storytelling provided by the architecture, but they would hear Cast Members speak in idioms unique to the land. Bottles of soda would be sold with their labels written in the language of the land, and Cast Members would freely roam the area alongside Guests, interacting as though everything were actually taking place in a galaxy far, far away. Both Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance would create heart pounding thrills (and fulfill life long dreams for anyone who ever wanted to take the controls of the Millennium Falcon).
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
One of the latest changes to come to the parks is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Though it seems incomprehensible, it represents Mickey Mouse’s first “proper” ride-through attraction. The mouse that started it all had been featured in previous shows (like the Mickey Mouse Revue and Mickey’s PhilharMagic), but Runaway Railway was the first time Guests could ride through an attraction and share an adventure with the indomitable Mickey. It’s an utterly charming experience that somehow feels timeless despite just arriving in the parks.
It’s been a wild decade for Walt Disney World, full of changes that brought Disney magic to a whole new level. As a fan, it’s been exhilarating to watch how Disney continues to push boundaries and expand our ideas of what’s possible. It makes you wonder: what’s next?