While you eagerly wait for Pandora–The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and lands devoted to Star Wars and Toy Story at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the parks aren’t standing still. This summer there are dozens of new restaurants, attractions and activities to merit a visit to Walt Disney World, including the first ride devoted to the hit movie Frozen, well as the beginning of a new after-dark era at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the biggest expansion ever at Disney Springs. —Douglas Stallings
Star Wars: A Galaxy Far Far Away
This show takes place on the stage right on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Chinese Theater and runs several times a day. Interspersed with projected scenes from all the movies, your favorite Star Wars heroes and villains appear, including Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Maul, Chewbacca, Captain Phasma, Storm Troopers, and even BB-8.
Next to the other restaurant in Disney Springs to open last year, The Boathouse, the whimsical, 1960s-era amphicars—vintage cars that also float like boats—offer guided tours of Village Lake fronting The Boathouse all day long. The trips are not cheap at $125, but they are a unique way for three guests to spend 20 minutes, as amphicar rides are not offered anywhere else in the world. They are unique to Disney Springs and, judging from the wait times, a hit.
Animal Kingdom Rides by Night
Opens Memorial Day weekend
Popular rides such as Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest take on an entirely new feeling after dark. And at night, the animals of the Kilimanjaro Safaris (particularly those on the savanna) are much more active than they are by day. You could see active lions, African dogs, hyenas, hippos, elephants, and gazelles ambling under a perpetually setting sun. The entire savanna remains in twilight for the duration of the evening.
New Acts at “La Nouba”
Disney Springs guests who decide to watch the wonderfully inventive Cirque du Soleil production of “La Nouba” will see two new acts that joined the troupe just this year. Opening the show is B-Boy, a group of three young, talented breakdancers; also new on the bill is “Aerial Bamboo,” a couple of Russian trapeze artists who perform a graceful aerial gymnastics routine that is rarely seen in circuses today.
Colortopia Presented by Glidden
The newest exhibit in Innoventions East explores the power of color in three different areas. The “Power of Color Theater” combines color with sound and narration to show how color can affect and reflect your mood. The second station, “The Color Lab,” has two interactive stations that allow you to identify and mix colors and understand how you perceive color. The third and final station, “Color Our World,” allows you to create a scene on a digital screen with a “magic paintbrush.” There’s also a mobile app to go along with the exhibit.
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Dory Joins Turtle Talk with Crush
Opens early May
The popular interactive animated experience gets some new members when Dory and a few other characters from the upcoming film Finding Dory join Crush. In addition to everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang, you’ll meet Destiny the whale shark, Bailey the beluga whale, and Hank, a seven-legged octopus. Squirt also joins Crush during the show for the first time this summer at Epcot.
Frozen Ever After
Opens in June
Replacing the popular Maelstrom ride in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion, this new ride will join Anna and Elsa in Arendelle for the “Winter in Summer” celebration, to Elsa’s Ice Palace, and to the North Mountain. All the original cast members returned to record the songs with new orchestrations especially for the ride, which is expected to become one of Walt Disney World’s most popular. (Information on FastPass+ reservations is expected to be release in late May.)
Open now by day, Memorial Day weekend by night
By day, four walk-up windows serve African-inspired street food in a seafront African village that has been open since last year. Choose from Kitamu Grill (chicken skewers or ground beef kabobs served with flatbread), Famous Sausages (curried corn dogs), Chef Mwanga’s (spice-rubbed Karubi ribs), and Wanjohi Refreshments (South African wines and beers, as well as African sodas). It’s a lively area by day, with street entertainers and parties. But now the area comes alive at night as well, with the Harambe Wildlife Parti, a new collection of drummers, singers, soccer players/performers, and acrobats who will perform throughout the evening.
Meet Joy and Sadness
Two of the newest characters appearing in Walt Disney World are Joy and Sadness from the popular Pixar film Inside Out. Find them at the expanded Epcot Character Spot along with Baymax from Big Hero 6 (and, of course, Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy). There are interactive exhibits to keep the kids occupied while they wait to meet and pose with their favorite characters.
From the delicious vegan cupcakes of the Erin McKenna Bakery to the rich chocolate creations of The Ganachery to Florence’s own Vivoli il Gelato, a raft of new food shops have already opened at Disney Springs this year. But that’s not all—you can also shop at The Art of Shaving, Apex by Sunglass Hut, Chapel Hats, and Havianas.
For the rest of what's new at Walt Disney World this summer, including a Norwegian village to go with Epcot's new "Frozen" ride, visit Fodor's.