The five big projects Walt Disney World should tackle next


To the people who run Walt Disney World, it may seem like we Disney fans are never satisfied. We are getting three whole new lands in the next four years, a new Soarin’ film, an attraction based on Disney’s most successful movie ever, and a new night time water pageant and yet we want more. Or rather, as fans, we’re painfully aware that all this new development is only coming in such rapid succession because Disney let it go so long without making major updates to the parks. Better late than never, right?

The truth is Walt Disney World has a capacity problem. There’s too much demand and not enough supply. The parks have been raising ticket prices to meet the increased demand, now they have to come through with the other side of the economic equation.

Other than capacity, Walt Disney World’s biggest problem is stagnation of ideas while rest of theme park world advances. Disney used to be the ones rolling out the innovative ride systems, incredibly detailed themed areas, and advanced storytelling. But as of late, they’ve relied too heavily on screens, let budget decisions shorten the experience, or reduced the theming to some colored rocks. Meanwhile an old competitor is stretching its legs down the street and getting ready to give Disney a race for the tourist dollar.

Finally, Walt Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. With Avatar, Star Wars, and Toy Story approved and scheduled to open prior that date, now is a good time make sure the next 50 years are set up for success.

I’ve been working on a list of the next five projects Disney needs to tackle now that the 50th Anniversary is on the horizon. I don’t mean small projects either, like a new nighttime parade at the MK, an actual parade corridor at DHS, or even a new pavilion at EPCOT’s World Showcase (all of which need to happen sooner rather than later). These ideas are on more of a grander scale.

1. Fix Walt Disney World Transportation System — As the number of hotel rooms skyrocketed at Walt Disney World, so did the complaints about delays and failures in the Walt Disney World transportation system. Face it, the monorail system is reaching the end of its life expectancy too. At some point soon there will have to be a fix.

We’ve thrown out a couple of alternative ideas for the Walt Disney World transportation system in the past (Gondolas, autonomous shuttles) and I believe that one of them is closer to reality than most people probably expect. In fact, in 2011, I wrote that such a system was probably 7 to 10 years off. A date that lines up perfectly with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. It looks like I was fairly accurate in my prediction. That solution is autonomous buses and shuttles. The technology exists to have an 18-wheeler operating mostly driver-less and Google has a fleet of cars that have an exemplary safety record. Plus some college campuses are already testing autonomous shuttles.

I’d like to see a small scale test implemented at Walt Disney World asap. If Google won’t play, try Apple or Tesla. But get it done.

2. Future World — The EPCOT Center Future World sadly stopped being about the future a long time ago. Only Mission Space dreams of a future we’ve not yet achieved. Everything else is either current day or those dreams have already been achieved. The Innoventions concept appears to on life support and the latest renovation of Spaceship Earth turned the vision of the future into a dark tunnel and a couple of cartoons.

This is not the sort of themepark experience that inspires while it entertains. That’s why the rumors are growing that a Future World makeover is next on Disney’s hit list after they solve the Disney’s Hollywood Studios problem.

I personally think Disney needs to take a big swing here and completely re-imagine the concept of Future World. The idea of a permanent World’s Fair has not been sustainable. I don’t have a good idea of what might replace it, but they have to do something.

3. Update Tomorrowland — Other than at Disneyland Paris where they named it Discoveryland, Disney Imagineers have not solved the problem of Tomorrowland. The world always catches up with our dreams of tomorrow sooner than you’d expect. What they have done is inserted cartoons in place of that vision, making it essentially a Fantasyland, just set in space. I know Imagineering can do better.

Tomorrowland should be about a vision of Tomorrow based on technology, innovation, and exploration. If there is to be fantasy, it should be Jules Verne-esque. Whatever they build, it should add at least one major attraction and a covered stage (which the MK has been missing since the old stage was removed to make way for cast member parking.)

Tomorrowland is part of a two pronged plan to expand capacity at the Magic Kingdom. Frontierland would be the second part.

4. Frontierland Expansion — Is there a Frontierland makeover coming to the Magic Kingdom just as there is at Disneyland. It could be afoot. Right now there are two major attractions (and a train station) that are in a dead end over in Frontierland. There is a potential expansion pad for a new attraction beyond Big Thunder Mountain. But the traffic flow wouldn’t work. So what if the Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island was abbreviated just like they’re doing in Anaheim right now in order to provide a back route out of Frontierland? A new path would extend from in front of the Haunted Mansion around the back of the new shorter Rivers of America and over to the Frontierland exit.

To be honest, this is my least favorite of the ideas on the list. However, it has been rumored for a while, the Magic Kingdom needs the extra capacity, and it could happen for the right project. Because of the way New Fantasyland was constructed, the Magic Kingdom has become largely landlocked, so expansion opportunities are few. They’ll just have to get more creative.

5. A new Magic Kingdom Resort – With Disney Springs well on the way to completion in 2016, although some tenants won’t move in until 2017, it’s time to look at how to keep more guests on property at night with an option beyond Disney Springs or The Boardwalk. This project could also solve another problem Disney has by building more convention space.

I recommend building a 4th major resort along the Magic Kingdom Monorail Loop. This one would be located between the TTC and Contemporary and would share the TTC Station with guests from the parking lot. The hotel would feature multiple dining and entertainment options and be similar in size to the Boardwalk district adjacent to EPCOT.

Connecting the Polynesian with The Contemporary via a collection of stores, restaurants, and performances spaces, this district would provide guests of the Magic Kingdom with something to do after the gates close.

For the hotel, I would love to see a suite style hotel that’s built to accommodate conventioneers and larger families. Include more convention space that will allow Disney to hold bigger events on property. At this location the top floors would have views of both the Magic Kingdom fireworks and those from EPCOT.

Bonus idea — Adventureland hasn’t felt like an integrated whole since they put Agrabah smack dab in the middle of it. It’s also in desperate need of an e-ticket and a family c or d ticket. If they could figure out how to do this without shortening the Jungle Cruise by too much, that would be great.

Which of these project ideas do you like best and/or think is most likely to be announced by Disney?

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9 thoughts on “The five big projects Walt Disney World should tackle next

  1. Charles

    Absolutely agree that the transportation needs an upgrade. My wife & I just drive everywhere we go on property (that can’t be reached by monorail), because the buses are so unreliable. I love the monorails, but even they’re breaking down or on rotating blackouts. Much as I’d love to see a monorail expansion and would prefer that first out of any idea, Disney keeps shelving the notion. I love the automated cars idea. That’s as futuristic as it gets and would definitely be in Walt’s vision. How about also using that extra EPCOT Center monorail station space (which was supposed to be used for a fourth track) for a Musk-style Hyperloop to Hollywood Studios? That’d be a great addition for the whole-park makeover.

    Future World & Tomorrowland definitely need to get back to the future. You & I disagree on our thoughts regarding the Energy pavilion; but we agree that Future World should bid visitors farewell, leaving them inspired and excited about the future. Tomorrowland is lost to me until they replace the combustion engines of the Tomorrowland Speedway with vehicles that run on fuels of the future…I’d love to see it turned into a race between solar-, hydrogen-cell- and electric-powered cars.

    I agree that the Disneyland redevelopment could be a future indicator of what may happened in Frontierland. I’m half-expecting a Frontierland blockbuster movie to be announced, which could herald such a re-imagining of the land.

    The new Magic Kingdom resort has long been talked about, and Eisner (if I’m not mistaken) even planned to put the “Venetian resort” there — complete with gondola rides. The problem is the plot of conspicuously empty land you mentioned is unstable. Imagineers discovered they’d have to drive pilings for the structure deeper than they had to for Spaceship Earth. Still, having a hotel there is a great idea; and I’d love to see it happen. Your idea would certainly fill a niche need.

    I still don’t understand how Agrabah got into Adventureland, but they made it work ok … breaking up the jungle area with the Caribbean/pirates area. Imagineers actually did envision an e-ticket ride there — another mountain called “Fire Mountain.” It was to be a volcano that erupted as you rode through it. Apparently it at least made it through the design stage, because Imagineers put sight balloons up in the area they wanted to build it.

    I’ll add another suggestion: What about more rides in the World Showcase? Germany was supposed to have a modified Matterhorn replica, which was scrapped in favor of a boat ride (rumor has it they actually poured the concrete track for it and just walled it off when the idea was scratched). There’s some developable space there that could host a thrill ride or two to mollify those of us still mourning the spirit of the Maelstrom. And how about a spin around the United Kingdom in the Doctor’s TARDIS. Doctor? Doctor Who…?

    Here are some links to the things I mentioned:


    Fire Mountain:

  2. Chris

    Actually, I don’t hate the idea of Tomorrowland being more firmly rooted in science fantasy. When I think of the Walt Disney World resort as a whole, I think of Magic Kingdom being one big fantasy. For example, Adventureland is a fantastic version of Animal Kingdom and Tomorrowland is a fantastic version of Future World, or what Future World should be anyway (I do agree that changes need to happen there). For me, it helps separate the two so that you don’t have Tomorrowland and Future World trying to be different versions of the same thing.

  3. Jim

    Would it be so bad to extend the monorail to the other parks? I realize the expense would be big but another Transportation center at Epcot could service both Hollywood Studios, Which is not far, and Animal Kingdom, Which is currently only accessible by bus. How cool would it be to hop a monorail at the magic kingdom, and change trains for Hollywood studios an then on to the Animal kingdom.

  4. David Kirby

    With the Disney transport I remember speaking to a cast member when the animation academy was open and they said that Disney world was meant to get a new monorail system but it was given to Shanghai instead. But a upgrade for all the transport system is a must.

    Tomorrowland show be improved the one at Disneyland Paris is an amazing version its called Discovery land but it is one of my most favourite versions it looks amazing. Maybe make Tomorrowland similar to the movie that came out? it may have been a flop but you could bring tomorrowland a more refreshing look.

    I do not think frontier land needs anything new maybe get rid of the tree house its bit pointless to me. The haunted mansion needs a change like Disneyland California as they change the scenes in Christmas and that would be an amazing feature in Disney world.

    Also please please Disney need to update the Autopia ride I always thought they should make it to do with cars movies but maybe Cars will feature some where else, but a new look to the autopia ride is a must it looks old and needs something new. One last thing update Big thunder mountain like they have done in Paris and California with the projection part.

  5. Will

    This is probably a pipe dream, but I’d love to see a sit down restaurant in Tomorrowland (or Future World even) which is dark, soothing and quiet, and has the night sky projected planetarium-style on the ceiling. I think giving people a calm lunch while they can sit in wonder of the night sky for a little while would be kind of awesome. Walt really wanted to inspire people to wonder about the natural world and was excited about space so I can make an pretty convincing argument in my head. Imagine leaving a lunch relaxed and inspired.

    (Note: I see this–again–as a quiet, low stress environment much like the “Blue Bayou” at Disneyland. I don’t want projected X-Wings and Star Destroyers zooming around on the ceiling, or an interactive Stitch flying by sneezing on you or whatever. A few planets gently rotating by might be nice.)

  6. Sean

    Maybe instead of expanding MK so they can raise capacity again, they can build a new park. Going from 75,000 to 90,000 has not made MK a desirable park to visit. I would love to Tomorrowland be redesigned to look like Meet the Robinsons or the movie Tomorrowland itself. There have been so many additions to movies and ideas that they can build on it’s probably not feasible to contain it all in their current parks.

  7. Ben Power

    In the short term, I would love to see some construction to the parks that does not eliminate rides or impact the parks capacity and attractions. With all the changes to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, those 2 parks being Walled cities, it would be nice to keep Epcot and Magic Kingdom fairly wall free. Doing things in back stage areas would be a great thing to throw in and then have them “pop up” and be a nice and to parks.

    Some easy/capacity related additions is that I would love to see a few more Shows added in. A Villains show at HollyWood Studio and something in Future World that is a stage show. Some of my favorite memories of Disney are the stage shows and with all of the empty pavilions in EPCOT, you’d think they could make this work.

    I am also probably in the minority, but Disney characters in World Showcase would be a great addition…for attractions only. I want to keep the cultural items in the spaces that they currently are, but adding an attraction for France like Ratatouille at Euro Disney, or something like the coaster mentioned above in Germany, would not negatively impact the park and would provide more items for people to do. The big issue is the space, for people and the attraction, when adding on back in World showcase I am sure, but hopefully they have room for 2/3 new attractions over the next few years.

    For the transportation, it is lightyears above other parks. Any time we are moving that many people around, it becomes difficult. Adding things like the hotel mentioned to help disperse when people are trying to leave will do as much to help with this as adding new forms of transportation. When I have used the busses in the past, I leave early/later than the typical guest and have no issues with catching a bus, and a lot of times will walk to the Polynesian after the park closes and go to Disney Springs or get a drink, and then head back to catch the last Bus.

  8. Disney Mike

    I agree completely that transportation needs to be a top priority. Frankly, spending the money to completely upgrade the monorail fleet and expand the monorail system to all areas of the park could be the best thing WDW has done in decades.

    I’ve long heard that Future World would be next on the “big” renovation list. The Magic Kingdom got New Fantasyland, Animal Kingdom is getting Avatar Land, and DHS is getting at least two new lands, so Epcot would be next in the natural progression. A complete re-imagining of the entire land does seem to be the only way to do it, as updating a few attractions wouldn’t really help anything. I’m sure there are plenty of people at Disney Imagineering brainstorming over ideas that could leave many of the attractions in place, but could also re-theme the area. Like you, I have no good ideas; I’d only want to see things like Living With the Land and Spaceship Earth left alone, as those are attractions I never tire of. It would be very nice to put the old Wonder of Life building back to some permanent use.

    As for the rest of the ideas, I think we’ll have to wait until transportation is dealt with. We *might* see a new attraction put into Tomorrowland in the next decade, but I don’t foresee anything more than that happening there in the near future. Same goes for Frontierland or Adventureland. (Personally, I’d love to see something like the Indiana Jones roller coaster from Paris put into Adventureland).

    The idea of a fourth resort on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop is the least likely to happen until upgrades are made to the monorail fleet. They are already having terrible trouble keeping the monorails running as it is, because they’re so overused that there’s no way to take them down for maintenance on a regular basis. If you’ve been there in recent months, you’ll see that they’re often only running traffic from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom on the express monorail loop, and all traffic leaving the Magic Kingdom has been routed to the resort loop, creating horrible delays for resort guests trying to get to the Magic Kingdom. The monorail fleet is falling apart, but there are no plans to order new ones until a plan can be made about the future of the entire monorail system.

  9. Dan Heaton

    I’m nervous about what current management would do with Future World, but I agree that it needs help. I’m just hoping that we still have remnants of early EPCOT (Living with the Land, Spaceship Earth with a better descent) along with the new additions. I just wish they’d do something with Energy, Imagination, and the Wonders of Life building!

    I actually think one of the most important ways to improve the Magic Kingdom’s crowd flow would be to extend a path from Big Thunder Mountain to New Orleans Square. Right now, that bottleneck is a terrible spot with little respite from the crowds. They need to find a way to allow people to flow through that area and not get stuck.

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