© 2009 New York Times News Service
Moving to reinvigorate some aging corners of its domestic theme parks, Walt Disney Co. announced plans over the weekend to modernize its Star Tours rides and greatly expand Fantasyland at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Disney’s theme parks, an $11.5 billion annual business considered a consumer confidence bellwether, has struggled in the recession. Wall Street has praised the company, however, for quickly moving to limit the damage through aggressive discounting.
The Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., will receive the lion’s share of the overhaul. The Magic Kingdom, which opened in 1971 and forms the heart of the broader resort, faces a new competitor: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will open at nearby Universal’s Islands of Adventure next year.
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Among the new or reworked attractions coming to Fantasyland over the next three years: an elaborate area where children can dance with Cinderella, celebrate Sleeping Beauty’s birthday or interact with Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” There will also be a redesigned Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride and the addition of Pixie Hollow, a Tinker Bell-themed experience that opened last year at California’s Disneyland.
“We’re always exploring new ways to tell new stories in new places,” Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said Saturday at D23, a Disney-sponsored fan convention that concluded its four-day run on Sunday at the Anaheim Convention Center. Disney would not say how much it is spending on its theme park changes.
Rasulo also confirmed a long-speculated overhaul of Star Tours. The Disneyland and Disney World versions of the popular but antiquated simulation ride will reopen in 2011 with 3-D effects. Star Tours, originally built around the first three “Star Wars” films, will be updated to reflect George Lucas’ three prequels. Disney provided few details, but a snippet of new Star Tours footage shown at D23 was particularly reminiscent of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.”
Disney also gave updates on a previously announced $1 billion overhaul of California Adventure, the eight-year-old park next to Disneyland that has underperformed. The planned World of Color fountain attraction will open in the spring, the “Little Mermaid” ride will open in 2011, and the 12-acre Cars Land will debut in 2012.