Sept. 12, 2023
7 min read
If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando in 2023 and beyond, you’re going to want to read this before you commit to any dates.
At Destination D23, the massive Disney fan celebration held at Walt Disney World this past weekend, Disney rolled out a bunch of theme park news for its Orlando parks, including new attractions, ride updates and news about theme park expansions for its 100th anniversary.
Related: Every new land and attraction coming to Disneyland and Disney World in 2023 and beyond
I was there, and I have all the details on what’s opening and when, and what’s on the horizon at Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Here’s what you need to know.
Disney’s official line is that “Epcot is always in a state of becoming,” and it’s following up on that premise with myriad reveals for the park that will start immediately. There are two dates you need to keep in mind for upcoming visits in the near future: Oct. 16 and Dec. 5.
- First up at Epcot, there’s an official opening date, Oct. 16, for the “Moana”-themed Journey of Water. The conservation-minded water playground is filled with super-cool interactive elements (my favorite is a waterfall that parts like a curtain if you walk through it slowly).
- And more news: Moana herself will be near the attraction for meet-and-greets, also starting Oct. 16.
- Speaking of character meetings, for the first time, Figment, the pastel winged dinosaur (from Journey into Imagination with Figment — a beloved, if slightly offbeat, attraction) started greeting guests in person Sept. 10. Heads up: This was so popular that people were waiting more than three hours in the Florida heat on opening day to see this version of the purple character.
- On the evening entertainment front: A new nighttime spectacular is coming to Epcot around the World Showcase. It’s called “Luminous: The Symphony of Us,” and will involve “lasers, storytelling, projections and fireworks” per what we saw at D23 and will debut Dec. 5. This name sounds a whole lot like a combination of “Harmonious,” the show “Luminous” is replacing, and the late, beloved “IllumiNations.” We’ll soon see if the new show is a combination of elements from those shows, too.
- There’s good news if you’re tired of looking at the endless construction mazes at Epcot: The World Celebration neighborhood at the front of the park — connecting two other new Epcot neighborhoods, World Discovery and World Nature — will debut in December. So far, there’s no confirmation that this will also open Dec. 5 with “Luminous,” but it’s possible these will coincide.
- Soarin’ Around the World — the simulator hang glider ride that currently “flies” around the globe — will revert to its original Soarin’ Over California theme, flying the state’s coastline, orange groves and Disneyland theme park, starting Sept. 22, Disney’s 100th birthday.
- Finally, a quick look ahead for Epcot: Test Track will get a new groove soon that incorporates elements of the building’s original attraction, World of Motion (date TBA). Disney will still be working with Chevrolet on the new updates. Stay tuned.
Related: Why Epcot is now Disney World’s must-do park
Do you love the old-school Disney attractions, or do you think they need to be given an update? Wherever you stand on the classic versus contemporary spectrum, there’s news at the Magic Kingdom.
- The Country Bear Jamboree is getting newly imagined Disney songs in 2024 and will be called the Country Bear Musical Jamboree. The D23 panel mentioned everything from modern country to rockabilly to give the classic bear characters (who won’t change) a new groove in a “Nashville-style review” (think the Grand Ole Opry, but with bears). One fun preview: a country version of “The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book.”
- Over at the Haunted Mansion, where there are “999 happy haunts, but there’s always room for one more,” the Hatbox Ghost will be joining the ghostly crew in late November. Nope, he won’t make it 1,000; the Imagineers say he was among the original deadly entourage, just “missing” for all of these years.
- Pirates of the Caribbean will get a sit-down tavern dining spot (date TBD).
- And on the far horizon for Magic Kingdom: a new land that will “rival Galaxy’s Edge in size,” said Bruce Vaughn, a Disney Imagineer, adding, “I think this would be the biggest thing we’ve done in the Magic Kingdom, probably even bigger than New Fantasyland.”
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Related: Just a walk away from the Magic Kingdom: A review of Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Animal Kingdom has plans for both the near and far future, too.
- Vaughn revealed that another old favorite (especially with preschoolers), Dinoland U.S.A., will be quite truthful to the history of dinosaurs in general, as it too will go extinct. In its place will be a land that focuses on the “tropical Americas” and “regions near the equator.” It was hinted that “Encanto” and the “Indiana Jones” films will be included in some way. This timing will likely happen in the next decade, so don’t plan a trip around catching this.
- Also on the chopping block is “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” in the Tree of Life, which will be replaced by a “Zootopia” storyline, timing also TBD, but likely in 2024.
Related: Brightline unveils new Orlando Airport train station
The announcements were a little quieter for Hollywood Studios, with one exception.
- There’s a new character about to join Star Tours: Ahsoka Tano. The young female warrior from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will be seen in the attraction sometime in the spring of 2024.
Featured image by AMY SMITH/DISNEY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.