Disney’s Hollywood Studios Reimagining – What we know so far

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Update: just learned that One Man’s Dream will be closing following the D23 Expo. So go this week if you want to make final memories.

If there’s one thing we learned from Master Yoda it’s that the future is always in motion. Which brings us to the waiting game about the future of Walt Disney World’s most neglected theme park – Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

There have been rumors swirling about the future of DHS since back when it last changed its name. Monster’s Inc Roller Coaster, Star Wars Cantina and Stunt Show, Tangled stage musical, and Radiator Springs are just a few of the big projects rumored to be coming to the park over the years. Who knows we may see some of them yet.

What we do ‘know’ (in as much as it’s a widely believed rumor from reputable sources) is that about a year ago, whatever plans Disney had for the park were thrown out. Iger and the board of directors were said to say they weren’t ambitious enough, especially giving the scope of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the expected box office value of the new trilogy of Star Wars movies.

Just last month, the Board of Directors and Disney’s top executives were at Walt Disney World where they walked the site and approved a new multi-billion dollar set of improvements (anywhere from $2.2bn to $3.6bn depending on which rumor you choose to believe). Included in that figure is some money that will go to EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom. So the true amount spent at DHS might be closer to $1.4bn to $2.0bn.

The larger the amount, the more extreme a makeover DHS will receive. Expect something just a bit larger than the DCA makeover, but definitely not a completely new park. There are 5 or 6 attractions that will stick around, plus the two main avenues. Everything else is potentially on the chopping block.

We’re also uncertain about the timeline. I expect Disney to rush to open some of the more kid friendly Pixar themed areas to balance out the attraction mix at the park. Everything else may to take 3 to 5 years to open. Some say the timeline is even longer.

So here’s what we ‘know’ about the future of DHS going into this week’s D23 Expo. (Take everything with a grain of salt as most inside sources have been very quiet ever since the plans were approved.)

Almost completely certain:

  • A name change. Actually, this is literally the only certain thing we know as a 6-year old tricked Disney CEO to confirm this at the last shareholder meeting.
  • Toy Story Playland is coming and bringing with it 3-4 attractions that are friendly for families with kids ages 4-11. This is much needed.
  • A Star Wars themed land. The number of attractions and mix of stores and restaurants is unknown. Also its location. It could be where Echo Lake is now, or behind Indy.
  • A “Blue Sky” preview center will open in the space formerly occupied by the Art of Animation either late 2015 or early 2016. It will have meet-and-greet areas, models and plans for the new park.

Also likely certain

  • A new parking structure and a vastly reworked entrance to the parking lot. The main entrance plaza will likely be expanded as well. It already get clogged every morning and especially during special events.
  • In addition to improvements in the parking lot, there will be a lot of backstage work to support the new projects, this includes a lot of drainage work. All that Florida rain has to go somewhere and if you’re building a parking lot where it used to go, then you need to reroute the rain somewhere else.

Less certain

  • Fantasmic will be enhanced and some daytime shows will be added. (If they’re going to do daytime shows, they’ll need to add some roofing, so I don’t see this happening).
  • Beauty and the Beast will close as Theater of the Stars is enclosed. Rumor is a Villains themed show will replace it.
  • Radiator Springs (a ‘Florida rain-proof’ version) will be located at the back of the park to draw visitors into the park the way the Lights Motors Action show has never been able to. I don’t mind this. Every park has a Haunted Mansion, and yet they’re all different in some way. So too with Radiator Springs.
  • I’ve heard the rumor that an Indiana Jones attraction is coming to DHS. Since Disney now owns that IP, I don’t discount that rumor. If they remove the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, I do expect to get a replacement of some sort. However, I expect EPIC to stick around.

Very unlikely

  • The Muppets. We keep hearing The Muppets 3D will be going, but I doubt that. Maybe a new movie, but the Muppets are a franchise that Disney is counting on.
  • Marvel-land. This depends entirely on the Board of Directors willing to put down cash to buy the theme park rights back from Universal. It needs to happen, but won’t be cheap to do that and then build a Marvel land with the attractions it deserves.
  • Monorail from EPCOT to DHS. If anything, expect Disney to expand the use of the friendship boats. Monorail is just too expensive.

What to expect at D23 Expo?

While Bob Iger is on record saying they’ll announce how Star Wars will be coming to the parks in 2015, the expectation is that WDW news from D23 will focus on Avatar. We’ll probably get confirmation that major changes are coming to DHS (Star Wars and Pixar additions) but no specific attraction details.

Iger is also on record saying that stories for new Star Wars attractions will be drawn from the new movies. With a new Star Wars movie coming in December, they’ll probably avoid spoilers and wait until after the movie is in theaters for a week or so to announce specific attraction detail for Star Wars at Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The timeline

This will happen in phases, keeping as much of the park open and cast member work force employed as possible. Phase one is already underway with the addition of a 3rd track for Toy Story Midway Mania, the new blackbox theater near Tower of Terror, and the closure of Art of Animation.

Expect One Man’s Dream and Lights Motors Action to close (like immediately following the D23 Expo). Disney wants to reap the benefit of Avatar for a few years, so I wouldn’t expect anything Star Wars related beyond meet and greets to open for 3 years (or more). Pixar stuff will be coming sooner, of course.

As soon as the new blackbox theater opens, Premiere theater should go behind walls and that part of the park can close to get ready for Star Wars land.

What are your predictions on what we’ll hear from D23 Expo this week?