Disney announces major expansions in Anaheim and Orlando

Disney unveiled plans Saturday for the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, provided updates on its $1-billion expansion of Disney’s California Adventure and said it would modernize the popular Star Tours ride at its domestic parks.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo chose the D23 Expo in Anaheim, the first-ever gathering of Disney devotees, to announce the ambitious new project in Orlando, Fla., that will nearly double the size of Fantasyland. He also confirmed speculation that Disney would update the Star Tours attraction based on George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy, adding 3-D effects to the ride at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.

The projects come as Disney has been working to maintain attendance levels at the parks through aggressive hotel discounts, ticket giveaways and other promotions that have kept customers walking through the turnstiles but also cut into operating income. The parks are a major profit center for the entertainment giant, contributing about a third of the company’s revenue.

Rasulo provided a glimpse of plans to revitalize the struggling California Adventure, including the addition next spring of the World of Color attraction, a nighttime display in the lagoon that will feature choreographed fountains, lasers and images projected onto curtains of water. He also discussed Cars Land, a 12-acre addition to the park scheduled to open in 2012, where guests enter the fictional town of Radiator Springs that was the setting for the Pixar Animation film “Cars.”


The biggest attraction in Cars Land will be Radiator Springs Racers. With rock work built on a scale similar to Disney World’s Expedition Everest attraction, the ride will sprawl over six acres and take visitors on a road trip through the caverns and past the waterfall and other scenery depicted in the movie to join the film’s characters, including the Goofy-like character Mater, on a mischievous “tractor-tipping” exercise. The ride culminates with a race through Carburetor Canyon and Ornament Valley. A scale model of Cars Land is on display at the convention center in Anaheim.

Rasulo offered a 3-D presentation of how Disney plans to reinterpret the Star Tours attraction, adding a pod-racing sequence from “Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.” Star Tours opened at Disneyland in January 1987 and is believed to be the first theme park attraction in the world to use flight-simulator technologies. The refurbished Star Tours will debut in 2011.

Most attention was focused on Orlando, where Disney plans to change how its visitors interact with three of its best-known princesses, Cinderella, Aurora of “Sleeping Beauty” and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” Young visitors now spend a fleeting moment with them, grabbing an autograph or posing for a photo.

Chris Beatty, senior concept designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, said the parks are seeking to create an experience that’s more extended and participatory. Disney will construct individual areas -- a princess’ castle, cottage or chateau -- where visitors interact with the character. For example, visitors to Cinderella’s country chateau would watch, along with a group, as the Fairy Godmother transforms her rags into a ball gown. They might even have a chance to share a dance before she leaves for the ball.

“We’re really trying to bring these stories to life like never before,” Beatty said.

A major new ride, tentatively called Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, takes guests on a musical jaunt through the film, where they encounter characters such as Ursula the Sea Witch, singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” and join Ariel and Prince Eric in the grotto. The attraction is set to open at California Adventure in Anaheim in 2011.

Other changes in Orlando include a redesigned Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, which would double the capacity and, for the first time, replace the ride queues with a circus tent with bleachers and an interactive three-ring circus. A new Be Our Guest restaurant, based on the 1991 film “Beauty and the Beast,” invites visitors to dine in one of three rooms from the Beast’s castle.

Pixie Hollow, an experience similar to the one that opened at Disneyland in November, where visitors meet Tinker Bell and other Disney fairies, is set to open in 2013.


“It’s the center of the guest experience at Walt Disney World Resort,” Beatty said of Fantasyland. “They come to the Magic Kindgom with big expectations. We’re looking for ways of enhancing that visit.”