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Parks & Resorts presentation at D23 Expo provides new details about known projects

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In a session that showed off Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs' sense of humor and comfort in his new position, the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation at the D23 Expo featured more details about some of the projects that we've already heard about, but no breaking news about new projects. From New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom to Fantasy Faire at Disneyland Park, from Aulani to Shanghai Disneyland, and the massive overhaul of Disney California Adventure, Staggs, Disney Imagineers and Disneyland President George Kalogridis provided interesting news and images of what's in the works.

At the same time, Staggs showed that, much as Walt Disney Company President and CEO Bob Iger was able to loosen up and appear much more comfortable on stage when he took over from Michael Eisner, Staggs loosened up tremendously from his on-stage appearances as Disney's Chief Financial Officer at shareholder meetings and more. Staggs' sense of humor was displayed throughout, and he seemed quite at ease in his new role.

The presentation opened with the next-generation Mickey Mouse with animated eyes and mouth, who sat in on drums with the D23 Orchestra. At the conclusion of the number, Mickey then introduced Staggs and then bantered with him. After bantering with Mickey, and sending him offstage, Staggs noted that he spent over a decade at Disney's Chief Financial Officer, and joked that presenting to D23 crowds was more fun than talking to Wall Street types. After paying tribute to Disney cast members and showing a funny video of Staggs trying his hand at a number of different roles at Disney's parks and ships, it was time to get to the meat of the presentation (which I'm sure that you're waiting for me to do).

We started out with Imagineering Chief Creative Executive Bruce Vaughn talking about New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park. He explained that the new wall being built across the middle of Fantasyland will help to thematically divide the Castle Courtyard from the Fantasy Forest, allowing the Imagineers to not worry about matching the castle courtyard theme beyond the wall.

While the ride portion itself will be identical to its California cousin, the outside theming of Ariel's Undersea Adventure will be tremendously different, in keeping with the Fantasyland location. Guests will stroll along the seashore on their way to the attraction queue. Once in the queue, guests will help Flounder and Scuttle on a scavenger hunt as they work their way to the attraction's entrance.

When guests meet Belle in her New Fantasyland cottage, there will be a new Audio-Animatronic Lumiere. The 2.5-foot-high character is one of the most difficult that Imagineering has ever had to construct, and is only possible due to the latest technology.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will blend thrill ride with dark ride, and is the first theme park attraction to be completely based on the Dwarfs. It is inspired by the scene of the mine cars racing through the mine. Many versions of the ride vehicles were created in a search for one that recreated the look and feel of the careening mine cars in the film. Vaughn showed a CGI rendering of a virtual ride-through of the attraction. The scenery was still very rough, but gave a great idea of what the overall tone of the ride will be. We'll have that video in the Walt Disney World Park Update this coming week.

Next up was Aulani. Aunty's Beach House will be the kids club. Adults can enjoy various spa treatments at the Laniwai ("Heavenly Waters") Spa. Teens will have their own spa and hangout called Painted Sky. There is also a pool, water slide, lazy river, beach, and more for relaxing enjoyment at the resort. The presentation opened with a performance of "Pearly Shells" by a Hawai'ian musical trio, a singer, and a children's chorus/hula troupe. While Imagineering Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative Joe Rohde is still busy getting Aulani ready for its debut on August 29, he gave a quick tour of the resort via video. At the end of the video, Staggs was wearing a Rohde-style earring—he wanted to make sure that there were pictures because Rohde didn't believe that he'd do it. Staggs then announced that they were so proud of the work that was done on Aulani that they wanted send a family at the event to Aulani to check it out. The lucky guest who found a D23 sticker on the underside of their chair was quickly met by a Disney representative to get their contact information.

Bob Weis, Imagineering Executive Vice-President, Creative was next up, providing a look at Shanghai Disneyland. Disney's partners, the Shanghai Shendi Group, are busy preparing the land. Once they're done, construction will begin. Disney has spent a lot of time working with the Chinese to select stories that are meaningful to the locals because they want to connect well with their Chinese guests. One example given was that there were originally plans to put a dragon in the dungeon, similar to the one at Disneyland Paris. However, since dragon lore is significant in China, and dragons are sometimes used to signify China itself, it was decided that it would not be appropriate to put a dragon in the dungeon and the idea was dropped.

Weis presented a new CGI rendering of castle. It's huge, with multiple interior floors of guest areas. There will be an integrated performance space on the first floor, along with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. A restaurant is located on the second floor, and a ride on the third floor. A ride traveling through all of Fantasyland will actually be the first to go through a Disney castle.

Weis then stayed around to talk about Disney California Adventure park. Buena Vista Street will recreate Hollywood as it was when Walt Disney came to California. The street will end at the Carthay Circle Theater, which will house a restaurant being created by Napa Rose's Andrew Sutton. Red Car trolleys will run all the way down to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

Kathy Mangum, Imagineering Executive Producer and Vice President, then came out to talk about Carsland. She shared some fresh pictures from the construction site, including Ramone's Body Shop (a merchandise location), Sally's Cozy Cone Hotel (a quick-service food location), and Luigi's Flying Tires, a new attraction based upon the old Flying Saucers attraction at Disneyland. She noted that she was on the site with John Lasseter this morning, and that they stood on the ride floor and turned the air on for the first time. The attraction will begin testing in a couple of weeks.

Two elements of the Cars world that were created but never included in the movie will get exposure in the new land. The original Radiator Spring was found by Stanley Steamer and was the reason the town grew up there. It will be recreated in Carsland. Also, Taillight Caverns features "stalaglites" that resemble car taillights.

One really fun feature is that the Carsland cast member costumes will feature a Hawai'ian style shirt with a pattern based on a Route 66-themed shirt selected by John Lasseter from his own personal collection.

Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis was the last to join Staggs on stage. Kalogridis thanked the Disneyland Resort guests for being patient and understanding during the extreme makeover of Disney California Adventure. He then quickly reeled off a few things with minimal if any exposition. He mentioned that Disneyland was working on several ideas to enhance the guest experience, such as the opportunity to have dinner inside the Haunted Mansion with Imagineers, and the opportunity to attend a tea party with your favorite princesses. He also mentioned the return of the Tahitian Terrace and "America the Beautiful" in CircleVision 360. He also quickly mentioned that Imagineers are working on an expansion of Club 33, but said that they won't have anything further to share on that until 2012.

Kalogridis then went into a description of the expansion of Fantasyland at Disneyland Park. Carnation Plaza Gardens will be subsumed into Fantasy Faire. The central point of this new area will be the Tangled Tower, which will be the site of interactive entertainment throughout the day. Princess Fairy Tale Hall, like the coming location of the same name at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, will be a multi-princess meet-and-greet location. Fantasy Faire will also include food and merchandise locations. The current evening entertainment at Carnation Plaza Gardens will remain, taking place in the new Fantasy Faire. It will be interesting to see how the swing dancers look while they're dancing the night away in the Fantasyland-themed location.

At the conclusion, Mickey Mouse came out for one more number with the band, and the session was over.

There was no mention of the Disney Fantasy or the rumored Disney Vacation Club at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World. Perhaps they were part of the thirty minutes that were shortened from the presentation. (It was originally scheduled for 90 minutes, then shortened to 60 minutes a few days ago.)

What part of the presentations were news to you, and what did you already know? Were you impressed by the presentation, or did you feel that it was ho-hum because there were no new projects announced? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Updated 08-19-2011 at 11:16 PM by Mark Goldhaber

Walt Disney World , Disney Parks & Resorts , Disneyland Resort , Featured , USAT


  1. currence's Avatar
    I'm surprised that they would mention a Club 33 expansion in a general meeting. I preferred it when they pretended like Club 33 did not exist so that most people did not know what they were missing. I suppose with the internet most people who care enough to attend D23 are probably already aware of the Club they may never get into. I also suppose that if they expand Club 33 they can expand the membership rolls, though probably not enough to re-open the waiting list.
  2. oregontraveler's Avatar
    Bringing back Tahatiaan terrace, YAY. Circlevison returning too, double-YAY.
    It makes sense the terrace will return it its former spot. But do you think they will remodel
    the Magic Eye Theater (Catptain EO) for the new 360 theater ??? Otherwise I can't think of any other similar space that's available. Maybe 2nd floor of Innoventions...
  3. zenifrax's Avatar
    Mark, did the presentation on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train actually say that the ride was inspired by scenes from the film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"? I don't remember seeing any racing or careening mine cars in the film. I'm wondering if someone is confusing the film with the DVD game "Dopey's Wild Mine Ride."

    Jeff Peterson
    Escondido, California