South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Disney: Big Magic Kingdom expansion is in the works

- By Dewayne Bevil Email me at dbevil@ orlandosen­ Threads account: @dbevil. X account: @themeparks.

Disney has confirmed what one executive said would “probably be the largest expansion ever” of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, a project that’s been dubbed “beyond Big Thunder.” At a Walt Disney Imagineeri­ng media event last week, Michael Hundgen, a Walt Disney World site portfolio executive, said the plan is to expand the world’s most popular theme park, creating a land of 12 to 14 acres. Magic Kingdom added 11 acres with its New Fantasylan­d project, completed with the opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster in 2012.

Details are thin about the expansion. There have been no official announceme­nts about a theme or a timeline.

“I think they’re being a little coy,” said Dennis Speigel, founder and CEO of Internatio­nal Theme Park Services. “I think they kind of spoon-feed us some of this stuff – keep us on track and off track.”

Speigel maintains his thinking that Disney World will announce the developmen­t of its fifth theme park within the next two years.

“I believe everything they say is strategica­lly thought through before it comes out,” he said.

Last week, Walt Disney Co. settled lawsuits over Disney World’s governing district with Gov. Ron DeSantis, lifting some obstacles that could have delayed future projects. This week, CEO Robert Iger said that resulted in a “win-win” situation for future Disney World endeavors, as the company embarks on $60 billion worth of improvemen­ts worldwide in the coming years.

“There’s a lot they could do back there,” said Michele Atwood, owner of the Main Street Mouse website, of the land beyond Big Thunder. Some fans favor a home for Disney villains and others hope for a “Frozen” land or a “Tangled” ride for the site, she said. “I think that because of Epic Universe, they [Disney fans] want to see more than something that’s just a new ride or a new addition or changes to something that’s existing,” Atwood said.

“So I think that maybe it’s time and maybe it is timely that [Disney’s] talking about it now,” she said.

Epic Universe, Universal Orlando’s third theme park, is under constructi­on a few miles southeast of its original two parks. Epic is scheduled to open in 2025 and feature lands based on Super Nintendo, “How to Train Your Dragon” movies, Ministry of Magic from the “Harry Potter” series and classic Universal monsters.

“No matter what they say, a lot of this is geared towards Comcast and Universal,” said Speigel, who referenced remarks by Iger at the company’s annual shareholde­rs meeting this week.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Oh, we’re not worried

about the Universal Comcast. We knew the park was going to be built 10 years ago. …” Speigel said. “You never heard that before. You never even heard him mention them.”For months, the company has hinted at more attraction­s to be built just beyond the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster in acreage currently considered backstage. At D23 Expo in September

2022, Disney executives publicly tossed around ideas for a land based on films such as “Moana,” “Coco” and “Zootopia.”

They stopped well short of an actual announceme­nt, but one year later at a Destinatio­n D23 event at Disney World, it seemed more inevitable. Executives compared it in scope to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Pandora – the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. At the Destinatio­n D23 event in September, Disney announced that Animal Kingdom’s DinoLand USA will be transforme­d into a “tropical Americas” theme. They made oblique references to “Encanto” and Indiana Jones.

That’s also when fans learned of the revamping of Magic Kingdom’s Country Bear Jamboree attraction, currently underway, and a remodeling of Epcot’s Test Track. The latter update is prompting a temporary closure of the attraction on June 17, Disney announced Friday.The company also shared a video of several animatroni­cs that will be in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, a ride opening at Magic Kingdom this summer and at Disneyland later this year.

 ?? JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Undevelope­d land behind Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster is earmarked for theme park expansion.
JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL Undevelope­d land behind Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster is earmarked for theme park expansion.

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