Arthur Levine, Special to USA TODAY Published 7:00 a.m. ET Jan. 4, 2021 | Updated 2:53 p.m. ET Jan. 4, 2021
Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other top attractions won’t reopen anytime soon, based on new guidelines from California. USA TODAY
Normally this time of year, we’d be shining a spotlight on all of the cool, new things that the Disney parks in Florida and California have planned for the coming year. But this year is anything but normal and, as with nearly everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted Disney’s plans.
The year 2021 was supposed to have been a banner year for Walt Disney World. The Florida resort will mark its 50th anniversary in October, and there are some E-ticket attractions and more in the works that Disney had said would be ready for the big celebration. Now, the rollouts have been delayed, and their timelines are murky.
Likewise, the original Disneyland and the adjoining Disney California Adventure Park have new features for visitors to experience. But the two theme parks still haven’t reopened after shuttering in March, and it’s unclear when state and local authorities will allow them to do so.
The company’s 2021 plans, therefore, remain something of a mystery. As coronavirus vaccines begin to roll out though, there is every indication that the Disney resorts will likely debut some of what they have on tap.
“I’m incredibly optimistic about what 2021 and beyond is going to look like,” says Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney parks, experiences, and products. Demand has been strong at Walt Disney World, which began to welcome guests back, albeit at reduced capacity, in July. “You see people with tears in their eyes,” he adds. “These experiences are very meaningful – maybe even more meaningful now. When the world starts to open up and change, (visitors) will come back quickly, and we will be ready.”
The first park to open at Walt Disney World in 1971 was the Magic Kingdom. But the focus of the resort’s 50th anniversary appears to be on Epcot. The world’s fair-like park is undergoing a major transformation. The company says that Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a ride-through attraction at the France pavilion that will use trackless vehicles, will open in 2021. Based on Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” passengers will shrink down to the size of Remy, the rodent who longs to be a gourmet chef, and join him for misadventures in Gusteau’s restaurant. The World Showcase pavilion will also welcome an actual eatery, La Crêperie de Paris. It will offer both savory and sweet versions of the trés délicieux pancakes.
Massive barges recently floated into position in the park’s lagoon. They will be used as staging platforms from which to launch pyrotechnics, illuminate fountains, blast lasers and trigger all kinds of other effects for Epcot‘s new nighttime show, “Harmonious.” Delayed from 2020, it’s likely the presentation, which Disney is touting as its largest-scale evening show ever, will debut in 2021. During the day, the platforms’ fountains will bring energy and spectacle to the lagoon.
The front of the park, which has been known as Future World, will be divvied up into three lands: World Celebration, World Nature and World Discovery. For now, construction walls and temporary walkways abound. Disney recently unveiled a spiffy new fountain at the park’s entrance.
One of the new projects under development is Space 220, a high-concept dining experience that purports to send guests 220 miles above the Earth for an, ahem, out-of-this-world meal. A “space elevator” will catapult patrons up to a space station outfitted with huge windows that will offer striking views of the solar system. The menu is supposed to feature modern American cuisine. Here’s hoping Tang-inspired cocktails will be available.
Among other Epcot plans: Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana, which will probably open after 2021. The walk-through trail will be filled with interactive water effects and displays. The most anticipated new attraction at the park is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, an indoor “storytelling coaster.” It will feature cars that can turn 360 degrees and direct passengers’ attention to the themed sets and scenes they will encounter in the enormous show building.
Another big-ticket, eagerly anticipated roller coaster, TRON Lightcycle / Run, is under construction next to Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. The launched ride, which will also include indoor scenes, will be themed to the “Tron” sci-fi movies. The coaster isn’t expected to open during the park’s 50th birthday year. But The Hall of Presidents, an opening day attraction, will likely be updated in 2021 to include President-elect Joe Biden.
Smoked delicacies will be available at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ new Roundup Rodeo BBQ, a table-service restaurant coming to the park’s Toy Story Land. While it won’t be new for 2021, the Studios’ Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a delightful romp into the cartoon world of the iconic characters, will be new for most visitors since it opened a couple of weeks before the Florida resort shuttered amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Since it was scheduled to open this past summer and is, by all appearances, finished and ready to welcome guests, it is presumed that Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park will debut whenever the theme parks at Disneyland Resort can reopen and welcome a critical mass of visitors. The featured attraction at the new Marvel-themed land will be WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure. Recruits aboard tricked-out vehicles will sling their own webs and help the superhero collect Spider-Bots that are on the loose.
A nimble Spidey will also swing high above the rooftops at Avengers Campus in the form of an autonomous “stuntronic” robot developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. Thanks to Pym Particles developed by Ant-Man and The Wasp, hungry guests will be able to order miniaturized and outsized food items at the new Pym Test Kitchen.
The classic Snow White ride-through attraction, which dates back to Disneyland Park’s opening day, has been redesigned. Instead of subjecting guests to Snow White’s Scary Adventures, as the ride was called, the newly dubbed Snow White’s Enchanted Wish will be less ominous and sweeter in tone. It will include new scenes and new representations of the animated movie’s characters.
Speaking via Zoom from Walt Disney’s apartment above Disneyland’s fire station, D’Amaro pointed out that the light continues to shine in the Main Street, U.S.A., window to honor the company’s founder even though no guests are in the park. He sees it as a beacon of hope, a reminder of Disney’s spirit and a clarion call for the future.
“I think back to 1955 when Disneyland opened. It was chaotic, and a lot of things didn’t go right,” D’Amaro says. “But Walt did what he needed to do and reinvented the business. I can’t help but think where we are now and the chaos of the moment. We are going to come out of the pandemic stronger – holding on to our legacy but pushing ourselves into new territories.”
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