It’s D23 season!! Disney fans have waited for 3 full years for Disney’s marquee event to take center stage once again at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. And this year’s D23 event certainly did not disappoint.
Living by Disney was there to cover all the action, from start to finish. And because we focus primarily on Walt Disney World, our coverage leaves no stone unturned. Learn all you need to know here of what was shared and all that we have to look forward to in the coming years.
So, buckle up and get ready! There’s a lot to cover!
In this article I’ll provide a brief overview of the Expo, the news and ideas shared for Walt Disney World and end with thoughts and commentary from Serena and I. We often see things very similarly, and the takeaways from this Expo were no different. My thoughts blended seamlessly with hers, so I combined them both within this article. Hope you enjoy it!
If you are looking for even more coverage, Serena shared a ton on her Instagram account direct from the D23 event. Find her stories HERE.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
D23 Expo Overview
Disney’s D23 Expo recently took place in Anaheim, CA, after a 3-year hiatus due to the pandemic. If you have ever attended, you know full well it’s awesome, chaotic, overwhelming and just an all out exciting time!
This year’s Expo was attended by nearly 100,000 Disney, Star Wars and Marvel fans all coming together in one place at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The Expo is a 3-day experience that happens once every 2 years, filled with tons of Disney, Star Wars and Marvel fandom. As D23 members, you have the option of choosing to attend either one of the three days or all three. Most Disney fans choose to attend the event for all three days. Some of those that live locally in California choose to attend only one of the days versus all, but no matter how you choose to attend, it’s always a blast and there is no shortage of things to see and do.
This was my first time attending the expo as Serena’s writer for Living by Disney. I was overwhelmed by SO MUCH happening all at once. It’s so hard to take it all in while you are there. Looking back, it was one of the best experiences and fun times to share with fellow Disney fans and friends. I’m already looking forward to the next D23!
D23 Expo Schedule
By just looking at the above image, you can see how packed the expo is with things to do!
Each of the three days usually start with a popular (hard-to-get into) panel followed by smaller sessions throughout the day. You can attend any that interest you. Just be aware the more popular the panel, the longer the wait to get in to see it! The BIGGEST panels, Disney Legends, Marvel and LucasFilms and the infamous Parks, Experiences and Products panel, are by far the hardest to get into. These panels require HOURS of waiting (sometimes overnight) if you want to be one of the lucky 7,000 fans in the main D23 Hall. If early morning panels aren’t your thing, you can spend time roaming the Expo show floor filled with unique exhibits and merchandise. It’s massive, you can literally spend 3 days perusing the show floor, and probably still not get to see all of it.
In 2019 and this year, Disney opted to stream some of the panels online for fans who could not attend. While it’s not the same vibe as being in person, it does give a broader audience a chance to participate in the event.
Of all the sessions that are offered throughout the 3 days, the most anticipated session is the Parks, Experiences and Products panel held on the last day of the Expo. This is where Josh D’Amaro – Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, stands valiantly on stage and highlights Disney news, information and reveals insight into the parks future plans. Since it’s been 3 years, and so much shared in 2019 was backburnered due to the pandemic, Disney fans waited with bated breath to hear what Josh and team has up their sleeve for the future of our beloved Disney parks and beyond.
So without further ado, let’s jump right in and see what was shared with Disney fans!
- Happily Ever After will return in 2023 after the 50th Anniversary celebration ends on March 31, 2023. This is the BEST. NEWS. EVER! Fans have been CRAVING this news for a while, and Disney heard it loud and clear, and delivered. They knew this was going to be a BIG hit with fans, so they even opened the panel with Jordan Fisher singing a live performance of the song! There was initially some confusion in the social media world that the show was not returning, just the song (to an all-new show). That’s not completely accurate. In Disney’s words “Next year, the popular anthem “Happily Ever After” will play again when an updated nighttime spectacular returns to light up the skies over Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in 2023.” This allows them the ability to update or adjust things to the original show. So parts of the projections, lighting, or pyrotechnics could be updated, but it will still feel like having the show return.
- The Hatbox Ghost is a Disneyland Haunted Mansion legend and he is now being added to the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World sometime in 2023. He is amazing and I’m super excited about this new addition!
- TRON Lightcycle Run will be opening in Spring 2023 – I wish this was happening sooner, I feel like we’ve been waiting forever, but at least it’s got an opening timeline. That’s more than we’ve had before, which has been nothing more than speculation.
- Tiana’s Bayou Adventure – see below for more details
- A Magic Kingdom expansion called “Beyond Big Thunder” in an area literally beyond the Big Thunder Mountain attraction could potentially happen in the future. Early brainstorming and renderings showcase ideas for attractions and areas such as Coco, Encanto and a long awaited (and anticipated) Villains land / area. These are all concepts, and all of these are still far out from coming to fruition, but it’ll be exciting to hear more about them as they progress.
- Our beloved and fan favorite purple dragon Figment will be greeting guests once again in EPCOT by late 2023.
- The World Celebration area in EPCOT will be completed by late 2023. It will include a life-size bronze statue of Walt Disney called “Walt the Dreamer”. Those who attended the Expo got to see this beautiful new statue in person.
- In World of Nature, Moana’s Journey of Water will open in late 2023. We got our first look at Tefiti that will be part of this attraction at the Expo. It is quite magnificent and stunning. I think fans will love it.
- New nighttime spectacular replacing Harmonious coming to EPCOT to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company. The new show is currently in development and will debut in late 2023.
- Dinoland transformation coming to Animal Kingdom. Some of the early ideas and concepts include attractions and areas representing Moana and Zootopia. No dates given, only brainstorming ideas and concepts. More to come I’m sure as we progress into 2023.
Walt Disney World (and Disneyland)
- Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open in Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) in late 2024. We have now learned that the attraction’s storyline will pick up where the movie left off. Tiana is successfully running her restaurant and is in search of an ingredient she’s missing. Attraction goers become part of her story and help her find them. The ride will be a “love letter to New Orleans” and will be focused on the culture and history of the city.
- A full model of the new attraction was shared at the Expo, and Disney also confirmed that many of the original voice actors from the movie, Princess and the Frog, will lend their voices once again to narrate this new attraction.
D23 Expo Commentary
There was a lot of criticism coming out of D23 that we, as fans, didn’t get what we expected. Have we set the bar too high? Perhaps, but having some time to digest what happened has given me a new perspective. If you strip down what was shared with us, you can see that Disney is listening. They hear our cries for nostalgia (Figment is coming back), for the new (Hatbox Ghost coming to Haunted Mansion) and for the incredibly popular fan favorite that we didn’t get to enjoy long enough (Happily Ever After Fireworks show). They delivered.
Josh D’Amaro who hosted the presentation did an amazing job. He addressed many elephants in the room, including how slow updates have been and the high level of fan frustration. Acknowledging that is unusual for Disney to do, but the overall tone of the presentation showed us that improving fan opinion is a big focus right now. It may not happen overnight, but we are on the right track.
He also (re)stated how difficult the Covid closures and delays were for them as a company, and added that they’re only just now feeling recovered and ready to move forward.
The “peek behind the curtain” at the projects that Disney Imagineering is dreaming up is a testament to that. They would ordinarily never share projects at such an early stage of development. However, they want fans to see that they really are working on things and some big projects are coming for the future.
And these projects are BIG. They could be some of the biggest expansions in Walt Disney World in decades. Remember, the last park to open was Animal Kingdom was 1998. We’ve had some lands added since (Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge), but they are nothing in comparison to what they are thinking about for the future. The ideas they shared are truly exciting and will be things many have been asking for.
Let’s be patient and give Disney the benefit of the doubt. It’s been a roller coast of a few years for everyone. The magic, joy and love is still alive and well in the parks and resorts. It’s an exciting time for Disney and their fans. There is so much to look forward to leading into next year and beyond. You can see that just by looking at this slide that was shared at the expo.
Disney is truly thinking outside the box and brainstorming ideas for a boundless future! Time will tell. But I think this Expo was a turning point and a new hope for moving things in the right direction. I’m excited to see what the future holds.