What Could Cause Disney’s Animal Kingdom Update to be Delayed?

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Animal Kingdom update

Hey there, Disney fans! In the ever-evolving narrative of Walt Disney World Resort’s future developments, the conversation extends beyond the anticipated updates at Disney’s Animal Kingdom to encompass strategic shifts that might prioritize expansions at the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Insights from industry experts Len Testa and Jim Hill have sparked discussions about Disney’s potential reevaluation of its park update cycle, suggesting a nuanced approach to addressing the needs and demands of its global visitor base. While the “Tropical Americas” makeover for Dinoland U.S.A. has garnered significant interest, the unfolding story reveals a broader perspective on Disney’s planning priorities. Let’s take this time to dive to why Disney’s Animal Kingdom update could be delayed.

Animal Kingdom update

The Park Update Cycle: A Legacy of Transformation

Disney’s methodical yet creative strategy in updating its theme parks reflects a delicate balance between introducing cutting-edge attractions and preserving the timeless charm of its classic experiences. Over the past decade, each park has seen major developments, highlighting Disney’s dedication to enhancing the parks:

  • Magic Kingdom: The expansion of New Fantasyland, completed in stages between 2012 and 2014, rejuvenated the park with new attractions like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and immersive areas such as the Beast’s Castle from “Beauty and the Beast”, home to the Be Our Restaurant.
  • Animal Kingdom: The opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar in 2017 transformed the park, introducing groundbreaking attractions like Avatar Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. This expansion immersed guests in the lush, alien world of Pandora, significantly boosting the park’s allure and guest engagement.
  • Hollywood Studios: A transformative era for the park was marked by the addition of Toy Story Land in 2018 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019. These expansions brought to life beloved universes, offering guests the chance to step into the worlds of their favorite stories and characters.
  • Tomorrowland Expansion at Magic Kingdom: The introduction of TRON Lightcycle / Run, a high-speed rollercoaster attraction, further exemplified Disney’s commitment to evolving its park offerings. This addition, inspired by the TRON film franchise, represents a significant update to Tomorrowland, blending cutting-edge technology with immersive storytelling. The TRON-fluence can be felt throughout the land, as the steampunk vibe made way for a cleaner “future”.
  • EPCOT: The park’s ongoing Future World transformation, initiated in 2019, is aimed at redefining its identity. By integrating more Disney characters and narratives while honoring its original vision of celebrating human achievement, this project seeks to enrich the guest experience with new layers of engagement and discovery.

This historical overview of Disney’s park update cycle illustrates the company’s forward-thinking approach to theme park development. By continuously injecting new life into its parks, Disney ensures that each visit is as enchanting and memorable as the last.

Based on the update cycle, the natural next stop would be the Animal Kingdom update. As the Magic Kingdom is currently retheming Splash Mountain into Tiana’a Bayou Adventure, and potentially a larger retheme of Frontierland. However, could the tides be changing?

Animal Kingdom update

Word on Main Street USA

Len Testa and Jim Hill, respected figures in the Disney fan community known for their insights into the workings of Disney parks, have shed light on the potential change in Disney’s strategic planning. According to their discussions, Disney might be considering prioritizing expansions at the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios over the anticipated retheme of Animal Kingdom. This speculation is rooted in the need to manage increasing visitor numbers and enhance guest experiences at these parks, which consistently attract high attendance.

This insight mirrors the attendance data from thrill-data.com as the data indicates that Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios draw the largest crowds, with Magic Kingdom consistently topping the list. This high demand has resulted in increased wait times and a pressing need for expansion to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

Animal Kingdom Retheme

Magic Kingdom Leads the Way

The Magic Kingdom, often considered the heart of Walt Disney World Resort, is rumored to be at the forefront of Disney’s expansion plans. The “Beyond Big Thunder Mountain” project exemplifies Disney’s ambition to enhance guest experiences through the integration of popular Disney IPs such as “Coco” and “Encanto,” alongside a dedicated area for Disney villains. This expansion not only aims to manage the park’s high attendance levels but also to enrich its thematic diversity, making it a priority in Disney’s strategic development cycle.

This ambitious endeavor is made possible by a strategic reclassification of the park’s land, showcasing Disney’s adeptness at navigating the intricate balance between development and environmental stewardship.

  • Land Reclassification and Development: Recent updates to the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s long-term land use plan have introduced a new designation for certain areas previously deemed challenging for development. This includes lands classified as “Marginally Unsuitable” due to natural constraints, such as wetlands within the 100-year flood elevation. The reclassification affects a substantial portion of undeveloped land, opening up new possibilities for theme park expansions and enhancements.
  • Strategic Expansion North of Frontierland: A significant shift in the updated plan reveals that the land north of Frontierland, adjacent to Big Thunder Mountain, has transitioned from “Unsuitable” to “Marginally Unsuitable.” This change is not merely semantic; it represents a potential green light for development projects that were previously off the table. The strategic land usability could play a pivotal role in bringing to life the “Beyond Big Thunder Mountain” Blue Sky concept, as unveiled by Disney Parks’ D23 panel Chairman Josh D’Amaro in late 2022.

Navigating New Waters: The Potential for a Moana-Inspired Land

The revelation of an Encanto-themed area within the reimagined Dinoland USA at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has sparked conversations about the thematic direction of Disney’s parks. This focus on celebrating diverse cultures and stories aligns perfectly with moving the concept of a Moana-inspired land to the Magic Kingdom in place of the original Encanto land that’s potentially now part of the Animal Kingdom retheme project.

  • Cultural Representation and Storytelling: A Moana-themed area would not only expand the Magic Kingdom’s thematic diversity but also deepen its commitment to cultural representation and storytelling. Moana’s narrative, rich with themes of exploration, environmental stewardship, and Polynesian culture, offers a wealth of inspiration for attractions, dining experiences, and entertainment that could engage guests in meaningful and educational ways.

With a greater amount of land and the overarching theme of “fantasy” at the Magic Kingdom, it would allow Walt Disney Imagineering to do more with this iconic IP.

Animal Kingdom update

Hollywood Studios: The Next Chapter

Following the potential expansion at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios is poised to be the next beneficiary of Disney’s focus on park enhancements. The need for updates at Hollywood Studios is driven by a combination of factors, including the desire for more attractions and improvements to the park’s overall layout. Currently, areas like Sunset Boulevard end in a cul-de-sac, posing operational challenges and impacting the guest experience negatively. Addressing these issues is crucial for improving flow and accessibility within the park.

Potential Updates and Their Rationale

The area most likely to receive attention for the next round of updates is Animation Courtyard. This section of Hollywood Studios could see significant changes to better integrate with the park’s evolving narrative. It’s very easy to how this area could transition to a greater expansion around Pixar IPs and immersing guests within a place like Monstropolis. The introduction of more attractions is not just about increasing the park’s capacity to entertain; it’s about enriching the storytelling fabric of Hollywood Studios, ensuring that guests have a variety of immersive experiences that reflect the breadth of Disney’s creative legacy. As the overall direction of Hollywood Studios is now focused on being within the movie.

Moreover, the consideration of updates to Hollywood Studios acknowledges the critical feedback regarding the park’s layout and the need for a more cohesive and navigable space. Enhancing the guest experience by creating a more natural pathway that connects Sunset Boulevard to Animation Courtyard, and adding attractions could alleviate some of the operational concerns currently faced by the park.

Animal Kingdom update

The Broader Implications for Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The broader implications for Disney’s Animal Kingdom in the wake of potential expansions and rethemes are multifaceted, touching on guest engagement, intellectual property resonance, and the park’s overall thematic direction. Recent developments and speculations suggest that Disney is taking a measured approach to its next big project at Animal Kingdom, with a particular focus on the integration of the Indiana Jones franchise and the potential for a more extensive park expansion.

Indiana Jones and the Future of Animal Kingdom

Disney World’s recent guest surveys about the Indiana Jones intellectual property indicate a strategic exploration of how well this beloved franchise resonates with its audience. This feedback loop is crucial as it informs Disney’s decision-making process regarding new attractions and thematic areas. Furthermore, reports from Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media about Disney+ exploring a new TV series centered around Abner Ravenwood, Indiana Jones’ mentor, add another layer of consideration. The success of such a series could significantly impact the timing and thematic focus of the retheme for Dinoland USA, potentially incorporating Indiana Jones elements into its design.

The decision to potentially delay the Animal Kingdom update until the reception of the Indiana Jones series is understood could be a strategic move. It allows Disney to gauge the popularity and engagement of the franchise with a modern audience, ensuring that any new attractions or thematic areas are well-received and aligned with guest expectations.

Expanding Animal Kingdom: Beyond Dinoland USA

Beyond the integration of Indiana Jones, there’s growing speculation about a more extensive expansion of Animal Kingdom. One of the most significant factors driving this speculation is Disney’s ambition to enhance the park’s appeal as a nighttime destination. To achieve this, Animal Kingdom would require additional attractions and experiences that guests can enjoy after dark, addressing a current limitation of the park’s offerings.

The Conservation Station area emerges as a prime candidate for this expansion. The possibility of adapting the Zootopia land concept, similar to what was created for Shanghai Disneyland, presents an exciting opportunity. This concept could maintain the existing train concept, with the Conservation Train potentially being rethemed to mirror the bullet train from Zootopia. Such an addition would not only expand the park’s footprint but also introduce a vibrant, new thematic area that aligns with Animal Kingdom’s focus on natural environments and conservation.

Walt Disney Imagineering’s previous considerations of using Zootopia within Animal Kingdom — initially in the context of retheming Dinoland USA and later as part of an update to the Bug’s Life show — indicate a sustained interest in integrating this IP into the park. While these plans remain speculative and unconfirmed, they underscore the potential for a significant expansion that could redefine Animal Kingdom’s appeal and guest experience.


The dynamic landscape of Walt Disney World Resort’s development strategy underscores Disney’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovation across its parks. While the anticipation for the “Tropical Americas” as Animal Kingdom update remains high, the potential prioritization of expansions at Magic Kingdom and updates at Hollywood Studios reflects a strategic approach to enhancing the overall guest experience. As Disney navigates these complex planning decisions, the promise of new adventures and enchanting experiences at its parks continues to captivate the imaginations of Disney fans around the world.

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Meet the Author: Nate Bishop

I’m a die-hard Disney fan with 38 years of visits under my belt, having stepped into Disney World 120+ times. Proud to be a Disney Annual Passholder, a Vacation Club member since ’92, a Castaway Club Member, and a runDisney enthusiast. Oh, and I’ve graduated from the Disney College of Knowledge. Need Disney insights or planning tips? I’m your guy!