Stagnation is a problem in the theme park game.
Record profits? Large crowd? Massive brand recognition?
They’re all great, but if you don’t have an active 5, 10 and 15-year plan in effect, you’re losing ground.
It would seem that Disney is on the tail end of a massive investment in its Florida Disney theme parks, but on that front, the Mouse’s work is never done.
With an entirely new Universal theme park under construction, Disney can’t afford to lose ground to its closest and significantly more affordable competition.
EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios have essentially been completely renovated in the last few years. Work at the Magic Kingdom continues.
There also appear to be plans afoot for significant improvements at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the coming years.
And, can we be honest?
Disney has been on one heckuva heater. The new rides that have debuted in recent years have been among the best theme park experiences in the world. Guests seem thrilled with each new attraction, not a single Stitch’s Great Escape level clunker among them.
Throw in other improvements at the parks, resorts and Disney Springs, and the Disney Parks experience has never been better.
What are the newest rides at Walt Disney World?
New – for the purposes of this exercise – is a relative term. For people who go to the parks multiple times a year, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance probably doesn’t count as new.
However, if you’re only able to make a Disney trip once every few years or less, you might even think of Snow White’s Mine Train as new.
The newest open rides are currently at EPCOT: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
Can you rank the best new and upcoming rides at the Disney theme parks?
It’s the job I was born to do. First, some parameters. Again, we’re going to be generous in our application of the word new.
After all, we are approaching the end of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration. When a park has been open 50 years, anything less than five or so can be called new.
Also, for the record, this is a ranking, so something is coming in last. But there isn’t a dud on this list. Disney is batting 1.000 on new attractions.
I love all of these – or in the case of the as-yet-unfinished ones – I love the idea of them.
14. World Celebration: EPCOT (in progress)
Ok. So not everything Disney has done in the last few years panned out quite as planned.
EPCOT is currently configured into four sections – called neighborhoods.
The largest of these is the World Showcase at the back of the park featuring all the different country-themed pavilions.
World Discovery and World Nature flank World Celebration – which is essentially the entrance to the park and the main thoroughfare down the center.
In 2019, Disney announced major plans to overhaul World Celebration.
The plans included a purpose-built stage area that would be used for entertainment and during EPCOT’s many events and festivals.
The area – which is to be called the CommuniCore Plaza – no, really – would have had a large three-story structure to provide shade and featured a rooftop garden with a nighttime show viewing platform to better see the fireworks.
The ambitious nature of those plans has been dialed back somewhat.
Now, the work – which is to be completed in late 2023 – will be a greener, shadier and more relaxing space.
The plaza remains in the new plans but is considerably less ambitious. There is also a CommuniCore Hall between the plaza and Mickey and Friends Meet and Greet.
Highlights of the World Celebration neighborhood will be the new Walt the Dreamer statue, located behind Spaceship Earth in a place that will be called Dreamer’s Point. The area will be filled with uniquely themed gardens that will change with the seasons.
13. Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana (planned for late 2023)
Speaking of the World Celebration, the Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana is expected to open in late 2023.
Journey of Water is less of a ride and more of an experience.
The Journey of Water will be an interactive trail. Visitors will be able to take a self-guided tour that contains water features and highlights the beauty of nature.
Similar to Moana’s friend the ocean, the water will have a personality of its own.
12. The new Disney 100th Anniversary Nightime Spectacular: EPCOT (planned for March 2023)
This one came as a bit of a shocker simply because the Disney Harmonious show with pyrotechnics and fountains launching jets of water and all that only debuted on Oct. 1, 2021.
It wasn’t even a year old when Disney announced at the D23 Expo that the World Showcase Lagoon show would be replaced at the end of the 50th-anniversary celebration in March.
11. The D23 ‘blue sky’ ideas (theoretical)
At the 2022 D23 Disney Parks Panel, Chairman Josh D’Amaro sparked a conversation that was unique in Disney history. It was the closest the general public will come to being involved in a little Disney spit-balling session.
Essentially, D’Amaro unveiled a series of “blue sky” ideas – concepts basically. They included things that Disney could do in the future with its parks.
Each of these ideas is tantalizing and golden and had D’Amaro announced any of them as concrete, they would head the list. However, since these ideas are merely in the theoretical stage, we’re grouping them here.
The first idea was a new Disney villain-themed land in the Magic Kingdom behind Big Thunder Mountain.
Additionally, the second idea involves Encanto and Coco elements in the Magic Kingdom.
I still think EPCOT is the better fit for both of these, but Disney has two very valuable worlds it has created and – in my opinion – needs to find a way to integrate these worlds into the parks.
There is room in EPCOT’s World Showcase to add pavilions or to add Coco elements to the current Mexico pavilion, maybe even repurposing the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros the way they did Maelstrom into Frozen: Ever After
Finally, one idea included a DinoLand U.S.A. transformation in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Having updated Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom is due for an upgrade.
The space is available in DinoLand U.S.A.
Possibilities here include Zootopia – which seems like a natural fit for another successful Disney property that doesn’t have much park presence – or Moana or both.
10. Toy Story Land: Hollywood Studios (open)
Prior to the most recent round of new rides, Toy Story Mania was the hot ticket in Disney for quite some time. Mania opened in 2008.
In 2018, it got some friends as Toy Story Land opened with the excellent Slinky Dog Dash Coaster and the acceptable Alien Swirling Saucers.
Toy Story Land has been a massive success and an important addition to the park as it serves as a counterweight for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Batuu.
9. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure: Magic Kingdom (planned for late 2024)
I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Song of the South”, Disney’s 1946 movie which was rightfully (and belatedly) withdrawn from circulation in 2001.
I do have a firm recollection of having a “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dash” 45 in my record collection and playing it frequently, and I also had books that featured Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox.
So I know who the characters featured in the current version of Splash Mountain are. But I know my kids don’t know them outside of the ride, and I expect most other Disney guests under a certain age don’t either.
Tiana, on the other hand, comes from the delightful “Princess and the Frog”, possibly my favorite of what I refer to as the new princess movies that feature Moana, Tiana, Rapunzel, et al.
Catchy music and some new favorite Disney characters on a bayou setting make for a fairly logical re-theming that will be, again, like the Frozen Ever After update to Maelstrom.
Disney has created a bunch of new characters in the last 20 years and kids – my kids specifically – want to see them represented in the parks.
This is a good move and I’m looking forward to hearing “Dig a Little Deeper” on the ride. It’s a certified banger.
8. Walt Disney World Railroad: Magic Kingdom (nearing completion)
My son JP was crazy about trains when he was little. They were his favorite thing. On his first trip to the Magic Kingdom, the railway was closed for repairs and we missed it.
We’ve been back several times over the years since then and only once has the train been open for him to ride.
When work began on the often delayed Tron roller coaster in Tomorrowland, the Disney World Railroad closed because Tron overlapped the tracks.
I suspect that had Disney officials known what was ahead, they would have come up with an alternate plan. But lacking the ability to see the future, they approved the plans, closed the train ride and now, years later, the train around the Magic Kingdom is finally approaching a time when it can run again.
7. Festival of Fantasy Parade: Magic Kingdom
The Festival of Fantasy Parade has returned following the completion of the 50th-anniversary celebration.
My eldest daughter Sofia is thrilled. I’m okay with it, but I will say the Festival of Fantasy song – which is ringing through my cerebellum uninvited as I type this is the polar opposite of “Dig a Little Deeper.”
It is not a banger.
6. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure: EPCOT (open)
This ride – perfectly located in the France Pavilion at EPCOT – is a transplant of a successful Disneyland Paris ride.
It is part of Disney’s trackless trio that features motion-based technology that runs guests through a dark ride featuring a combination of 3D and practical effects.
Generally considered the least consequential of the trackless three, I really enjoy this ride. Of course, I love Paris and I love Ratatouille, so it’s right up my alley.
This is a fun family ride that quite frankly Universal Studios should be ripping off even as we speak.
Speaking of technology Universal should be ripping off, the fact that there isn’t a Harry Potter Quidditch version of Avatar Flight of Passage up and running in Universal right now is an indictment of everyone involved in that park’s planning.
5. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway: Hollywood Studios (open)
The second of the trackless trio, this is a fantastic ride that replaced the charming but strange Great Movie Ride.
This ride brings you inside a cartoon with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the gang. It’s creative and a lot of fun.
The immersive experience is so much better without a track.
4. Tron Lightcycle Run: Magic Kingdom (opening late winter 2022 or spring 2023)
On the surface, this is a strange move for Disney.
Despite a fairly successful sequel nearly 30 years after the original 80s sci-fi classic about dudes trapped in a computer world having battles in the digital realm, I can’t imagine there were a lot of Tron heads out there screaming for theme park representation.
However, the Tron roller coaster at Shanghai Disneyland was popular enough that Disney execs decided to roll the dice on the antiquated IP and give it a chance.
Ultimately, if the ride is fun enough – and all indications are it will awesome – then the IP won’t really matter all that much. It’s just window dressing for the larger experience.
3. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run: Hollywood Studios (open)
I am of the Star Wars generation. I believed mightily in the power of the force. For years, if asked what I wanted for my birthday, for Christmas during a trip to the Ben Franklin Five and Dime, I wanted Star Wars toys.
And I had a bunch. Figures, speeders and ships, pretty much everything you could ask for … except the Falcon.
My cousin and best friend Jamie had the Falcon. I did not. I was green as Greedo with envy.
When we walked into Batuu and saw that live-sized Falcon, one of only two built in the world, it was awe-inspiring. It was emotional.
Then we got on Smugglers Run and sat in the cockpit. Queue the angels.
I don’t know how much I approve of the ride experience itself. The idea of everyone having a job on the ride is fine, but with dual pilot controls, gunners and all that stuff, I didn’t really get a feel for successfully flying the thing.
I did, however, get to punch the button to go to light speed. The 9-year-old me, buried deep within, yelped with joy.
Getting to join in on the Falcon’s adventures would have been inconceivable to the younger me, but there I was, sharing the experience with my wife and kids.
If only Jamie could have seen me then.
2. Rise of the Resistance: Hollywood Studios (open)
The only downside to this ride is the line. Buy the Individual Lightning Lanes on Disney Genie and don’t look back.
This ride is a miracle. Immersive, propulsive and the best of the trackless trio. When the doors open and lasers are blasting from life-sized imperial walkers? That may have been the best moment of my life.
The interaction with real cast members adds to the experience as does the series of animatronics standing in for Star Wars characters like Poe, Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind: EPCOT (open)
EPCOT needed something iconic. And while Frozen Ever After and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure boosted the World Showcase Pavilion, the other neighborhoods were lacking.
The Guardian roller coaster fixed all that. This amazing roller coaster dark ride is considered the best in Disney and the best in Orlando by many. I personally prefer Rise of the Resistance but I recognize personal biases may be at play.
With the complicated rights agreement over Marvel characters in theme parks East of the Mississippi, it’s a bit of a miracle that this ride exists at all.
Disneyland in California has the Avengers Campus which comes with the Guardians ride – Mission: BREAKOUT – a reimagined version of the Tower of Terror – as well as the Spider-Man ride Web Slingers. At the D23 Expo, they announced a new multiverse Avengers ride that will have the Marvel characters battling King Thanos.
In Florida, Spider-Man and the Avengers belong to Universal, so any Marvel presence at all at Disney World is welcome.
That the ride itself is so good is a little bit of a finger in the eye of Universal, whose Marvel offerings are underwhelming.
What new addition are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!