Everything We Learned at Disney's Parks Panel at the 2022 D23 Expo

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  • New character meet-and-greets are coming to Disneyland in Anaheim, Californa including The Mandalorian and Grogu and The Incredible Hulk.
  • The sixth cruise ship in the Disney fleet is called the "Disney Treasure."
  • The company discussed its "blue sky" project which imagines what the area behind Big Thunder Mountain might look like at Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.

Disney's theme parks are on the rebound after the coronavirus pandemic shut down its domestic and international locations in 2020.

Revenue is growing for Disney's parks, experiences and products division and the company is seeing steady increases in attendance, occupied room nights and cruise ship sailings.

During its most recent earnings, Disney touted that its new Genie+ and Lightning Lane products helped boost average per capita ticket revenue during the quarter. These new digital features were introduced to curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

The company said it has been able to bring back in-park experiences such as character meet-and-greets, theatrical performances and nighttime events at Disneyland, which has allowed it to increase capacity at its parks, CEO Bob Chapek said at the time. Disney has placed caps on attendance since it reopened after the initial round of pandemic closures in early 2020 and instituted a new online reservation system to control crowds.

The company continues to add new features and attractions to its theme parks and cruise lines, which Josh D'Amaro, head of Disney's parks, experiences and product division, outlined Sunday at its D23 Expo.

Disneyland Resort

D'Amaro welcomed Jon Favreau, executive producer of "The Mandalorian," on stage to announce that the Mandalorian will appear with an animatronic Grogu in Galaxy's Edge as part of its in-land costumed characters available for meet-and-greets and interactions. He will arrive in November.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek revealed on Friday that the California-based Disneyland would be getting a third attraction at its Avengers Campus. The ride is based on the multiverse and riders will battle against villains from different universes, including King Thanos.

Head of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige appeared in person while Mark Ruffalo, who portrays the Hulk, appeared via video to reveal that Hulk will be in the park as a meet-and-greet opportunity. The version of Hulk was developed as part of Project Exo and will arrive in the park next week.

(L-R): Jonathan Becker (Research and Development Imagineer), Josh D'Amaro (Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products), Richard-Alexandre Peloquin (Research Engineer Imagineer).
Christian Thompson
(L-R): Jonathan Becker (Research and Development Imagineer), Josh D'Amaro (Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products), Richard-Alexandre Peloquin (Research Engineer Imagineer).

Pacific Wharf at Disney California Adventure will be transformed into San Fransokyo from "Big Hero Six," and including the chance to meet Baymax, the helpful health-care robot. Additionally, Paradise Pier Hotel is becoming Pixar Place Hotel.

Downtown Disney will add several new restaurants including Porto's Bakery and Cafe and Din Tai Fung.

Disneyland's Toon Town land will get a version of Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway attraction from Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida, as well as a number of cosmetic updates and a new play yard for kids. These updates are expected in 2023.

Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which is replacing Splash Mountain, takes place directly after the events of "The Princes and the Frog" and follows Princess Tiana as she searches for a missing ingredient for a party celebrating Carnival. The ride is slated to reopen in late 2024.

A model of Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which will reimagine Disneyland's Splash Mountain, is displayed during the Walt Disney D23 Expo in Anaheim, California on September 9, 2022.
Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images
A model of Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which will reimagine Disneyland's Splash Mountain, is displayed during the Walt Disney D23 Expo in Anaheim, California on September 9, 2022.

D'Amaro said that music will be a huge part of the ride and the cast from the movie will return to lend their voices to the attraction. Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana, arrived on stage to sing "I'm Almost There" and "Dig a Little Deeper" from the 2009 animated film.

Walt Disney World

D'Amaro announced that Disney is in the midst of creating a new night-time spectacular for Epcot to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. Additionally, Journey of Water, inspired by "Moana," which was announced back in 2019 will open in late 2023.

Also coming to Epcot is Figment, the fan-favorite purple dragon, who will be returning to the park for meet-and-greets in the future.

Additionally, next year the Hat Box Ghost will appear at the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World.

D'Amaro showed footage of his test ride of Tron Light Cycle Run, noting that the ride is slated to open in spring 2023 at Magic Kingdom.

Disney Cruises

Disney's sixth cruise ship is called "Disney Treasure" and celebrates Walt Disney's love of adventure. The grand hall is inspired by "Aladdin" and features a statue of Jasmine and Aladdin riding on the magic carpet.

D'Amaro said the "Disney Wonder" will now travel to Australia and New Zealand starting Oct. 2023.

The company is also opening a new island vacation spot located in the Bahamas called Lighthouse Point. D'Amaro said 90% of the power used at this location will be provided by solar power.

International Resorts

Duffy and Friends, cute cuddly characters from Shanghai Disney Resort, will be getting their own stop-motion series on Disney+.

D'Amaro also showed new images from the Zootopia land, which will feature a large animatronic of Officer Clawhauser. No date has been set for the land's official opening.

Hong Kong Disneyland is getting a new Walt Disney statue, which is inspired by Walt watching his children ride on a merry-go-round and inspiring the launch of Disney's theme parks. The park's Frozen-themed land will open in the second half of 2023.

In Paris, a new promenade will be added to attach its new Frozen-inspired land to the rest of the park and a "Tangled" themed attraction will be added to the new garden area.

Tokyo Disney Resort is also in the midst of adding a new land to its park based on "Frozen," "Tangled" and "Peter Pan" called Fantasy Springs.

Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland will undergo a transformation in 2024 and have a new plaza that will be complete in 2027.

Beyond Big Thunder Mountain

At the end of the panel, D'Amaro discussed what he called "blue sky" projects that the Imagineering team is working on. There are projects that are still in early development and may ultimately not see the light of day.

D'Amaro talked about the possibility of revamping Dino Land at Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Initial ideas for the space include the possibility of bringing "Zootopia" to the park, including its variety of districts and animal species, or even "Moana."

At Magic Kingdom, Disney is asking the question: "What is behind Big Thunder Mountain?" The company teased that an area based on "Coco" could be in that location or "Encanto." Perhaps, both.

D'Amaro even teased the possibility of also bringing to life an area of Magic Kingdom overrun by Disney villains. The crowd erupted with applause at this suggestion. For the most part, villains make their appearances during Disney's Halloween special events.

"We are never going to stop delighting you," he said.

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