WDWorld Traveler: Walt Disney World Resort 2016 Preview

Pretty soon you'll be able to see this tree AT NIGHT!
Pretty soon you’ll be able to see this tree AT NIGHT!

What’s coming to the Walt Disney World Resort in 2016? What new rides, shows, locations, and attractions are we looking forward to at the Most Magical Place on Earth in the coming year? What’s going away to make room for everything new? If you are planning a vacation for sometime in the next twelve months, these questions are certainly on your mind…and if they’re not, then I’m going to put them there!

Magic Kingdom

With the Fall 2015 completion of the Castle hub expansion project, most (if not all) known projects at the park are finished. The majority of the “new” things coming to Magic Kingdom (New Fantasyland, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Festival of Fantasy parade) are already there. The newest table service restaurant to open at the park, the Jungle Cruise themed Skipper’s Canteen in Adventureland, even opened before the end of 2015. It should also be noted that a few of the park’s signature attractions, namely Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and It’s A Small World, will be going down for a significant portion of the year to undergo refurbishments. This is standard operating procedure by Disney and you should always check online before your vacation to see which attractions may be closed during your visit.


Two of Epcot’s major thrill rides are being reinvented in 2016. Maelstrom, the Norway pavilion’s indoor flume ride featuring trolls, oil rigs, and a film about the spirit of the Norwegian people (don’t ask) closed permanently in 2015 to make room for a new dark ride based on everyone’s favorite cold weather princess and her precocious sister. Yes, Frozen Ever After, will debut in the Norway pavilion in 2016. Using Norway as a stand-in for the film’s imaginary Scandinavian setting of Arrendale has irked many Disney purists on the internet but should prove to be a boon to Disney as parents with children who would otherwise never have set foot in the World Showcase will now flock there to ride the ride and (hopefully for Disney) buy souvenirs in the Frozen gift shop, eat at the Frozen buffet, so on and so forth.

The other ride being reinvented in 2016 is Soarin’. The mock-hang glider experience is trading in its California theme imported from Disney’s California Adventure a decade ago for a new film featuring locales from around the world. This project has been rumored FOREVER and is happening now with actually very little fanfare, at least compared to it’s ice-centric counterpart across the lagoon. Even more important, though less sexy, is the news that with the new film will come an additional theater, a move that should cut wait times dramatically in the long run. That having been said, both the remodeled Soarin’ and the new Frozen ride will have massive lines for at least a year after opening.

Hollywood Studios

It is far more likely that an attraction closing will be newsworthy at Hollywood Studios in 2016 than an attraction opening but this is a good thing as the park goes through MAJOR changes by way of being re-imagined. Even the name may be gone by the end of the year! It is literally easier to list the stuff that remains open at the park rather than the things that are/will be closed. Everything above the Great Movie Ride and it’s iconic Chinese Theater are gone…including the Lights Motors Action stunt show and Streets of America (including the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights along with it.) The only thing from that section of the park that might survive is Muppet-Vision 3D but even that is likely reliant on the success of ABC’s Muppets sitcom. Still open are the aforementioned Great Movie Ride and Muppetvision, along with the iconic Tower of Terror, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Indiana Jones stunt show, and Beauty and the Beast and Disney Junior stage shows. Coming in the future is a Toy Story land surrounding the existing Toy Story Midway Mania attraction and a Star Wars land in the area of the existing Star Tours.

As far as things that actually are opened: guests may experience new scenes on Star Tours featuring settings and characters from The Force Awakens. Also capitalizing on the park’s most lucrative property is the new Star Wars Launch Bay (something of a Star Wars museum,) Star Wars: Path of a Jedi (a 10-minute film primer for the uninitiated,) and Symphony in the Stars (a Star Wars fireworks show…the first new regular fireworks show at the park in roughly two decades.) Speaking of capitalizing on lucrative properties, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration show is still running at Echo Lake in an attempt to hold over guests with Frozen-fever until the new ride can open at Epcot. The final new addition to the park is Club Disney, a friendly-to-all-ages dance club that literally only exists to give people something extra to do while half the park is being rebuilt. It should also be noted that all of this stuff is open already and the only thing likely to change in the park in 2016 are the closures as the new Star Wars and Toy Story lands will not be ready until 2017 or beyond.

Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the park most bustling with new adventures and experiences. Most of the anticipation is centered around Pandora, the new Avatar-themed land. While portions of this land may have soft openings (unannounced tests) by the end of 2016 it is not likely to have an official grand opening until 2017. Nevertheless there are many other changes coming to the park to go hand-in-hand with the new land that might be seen throughout the year.

Rivers of Light, a new nighttime entertainment offering (likely drawing elements from California Adventure’s World of Color,) will debut on the park’s never utilized waterfront. An amphitheater is being constructed along the water, similar to Fantasmic, but viewing may also be available from throughout the park. This much needed addition in and of itself turns Animal Kingdom into a “full day” park with night time hours. To go along with the new expanded hours, Kilimanjaro Safari will be debuting a new nighttime ride and will debut new animals to go along with it. A new full service restaurant, Tiffins, is under construction as the entire Discovery Island area of shops and restaurants is refurbished. More new restaurants and bars have opened around the park as well, including an African marketplace themed counter service restaurant and a bar in Asia, as the park beefs up its offerings for folks who will be staying through the nights. Even without Pandora, and the two e-ticket rides coming with it, Animal Kingdom is staking its claim to be a new favorite park for the twenty-something set.

Disney Springs

Rest in peace Downtown Disney, but welcome to the world Disney Springs. The former primarily-nighttime district with a bit of an identity crisis is reopened now as a quaint but busy town featuring a myriad of new restaurants and shops. New locations, some already opened and the rest coming in 2016, include the Indiana Jones themed Jock Lindsey Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia run by celebrity Iron Chef Morimoto and restaurants by fellow celebrity chefs Art Smith and Rick Bayless, The NBA Experience (replacing the soon-to-close DisneyQuest,), an east coast version of The Edison, a redesigned Planet Hollywood, a new steakhouse and new seafood restaurant, a cupcake ATM (yes), Starbucks, food trucks, gelato, an Orlando version of Babycakes NYC, boat rentals, a new parking structure, a bazillion new stores including Pandora, UGG, and Tommy Bahama, plus new themed sections called The Landing and West Side highlines that haven’t even been fully announced yet. Dizzy? Me too. The short of it is that there is A LOT going on at Disney Springs and perhaps most importantly, and something I didn’t even mention yet, is that Disney is addressing the massive traffic issues that occur around the area, making guests and locals very very happy.

In Closing

All told it is an exciting time to be planning a visit to Walt Disney World. New attractions opening at Epcot will inject some much needed energy into that park, while rolling openings at Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs will take people’s minds off the closures at Hollywood Studios. It’s not all wine and roses however. If you are excitedly hellbent on seeing all of the new additions mentioned here, you should probably lay off booking your trip until at least late 2017. That having been said, 2016 will not be a bad year to visit. There is enough new stuff opening and enough good stuff running right now (specifically at Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs) that you will not be wasting your vacation dollar. Still, the best year of the decade to visit Walt Disney World will probably be 2017 or 2018.

Need a full primer before planning your Walt Disney World vacation? Check out my complete P2B Guide to Walt Disney World and more right here on Place to Be Nation. Also check me out at Touring Plans!