There was a lot of hype and conjecture heading into Disney's (NYSE: DIS) theme-parks presentation on Saturday afternoon during its D23 fan expo. The House of Mouse found a way to exceed expectations.
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Disney announced several changes that will be transforming its resort in the coming years. New rides, lodging, and even transportation options were introduced. On Friday, I went over six of the most popular rumors that were surfacing ahead of D23, and all but two of them are now official.
A whole new world
We already know a game-changing makeover is in the works. Pandora -- The World of Avatar has been wowing crowds at Disney's Animal Kingdom since late May, and between Toy Story Land in 2018 and what we now know will be called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in 2019, Disney's Hollywood Studios will get a a necessary spike in visitors.
It turns out Disney was just scratching the surface. Many of the rumors that have surfaced in recent months -- even some of the more outlandish morsels -- were confirmed on Saturday:
- A Guardians of the Galaxy thrill ride will replace Ellen's Energy Adventure in Epcot? Done.
- Disneyland Paris' Ratatouille dark ride is getting cloned in Epcot's France pavilion? Oui!
- Shanghai's Tron Lightcyle Power Run coaster will be going up in the Magic Kingdom, but it won't come at the expense of the classic Tomorrowland Speedway attraction.
- The crazy gondola system that was supposed to connect some of Disney's outlying resort hotels with a couple of its parks? It's going to happen.
- The Great Movie Ride that's being replaced by Disney World's first Mickey Mouse-themed family ride? Say hello to Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.
- Even the survey about a self-contained Star Wars-themed resort is now officially on the books.
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It doesn't end there. We're also getting a space-themed restaurant adjacent to Epcot's Mission Space, an Uber-like "Minnie Van" intra-resort transportation service, and a new Disney Vacation Club resort.
Some of these updates will take time, but they should all be complete within the next four or five years. If you think Disney World is busy now -- with its four theme parks attracting a combined 53.7 million guests last year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association -- just wait until Mickey Mouse lays out all of the new sticky fly paper.
The problem with this year's Avatar-themed expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom is that attendance gains seem to be coming at the expense of visits to the resort's other parks. What happens in a couple of years when there is no weak park? What will happen to resort bookings when the new skyway and private car services give visitors even less reasons to explore rival attractions?
Disney made a lot of big announcements on Saturday at D23, but their impact on Disney's finances will be even bigger. Disney's struggling cable operations require the media giant's other operations to offset subscriber declines, and the theme-parks segment -- Disney's second biggest -- is ready to ride.
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