On March 25, the Walt Disney Company dropped a bombshell by announcing an ambitious plan to expand their original Anaheim resort. The new proposal, dubbed DisneylandForward, has generated lots of excitement and confusion among theme park fans, so we’ve got your Unofficial Guide to understanding what changes might be in store for the Happiest Place on Earth.
DisneylandForward, as described on the project’s official website, is a long-term proposal to add new attractions and amenities within the existing properties Disney owns in the Anaheim resort district. It is NOT an announcement of a new third theme park, nor is it a commitment to begin any specific construction projections within any particular time frame.
So, what exactly is DisneylandForward? It appears to be a “blue sky” concept pitch intended to pressure the City of Anaheim into loosening zoning rules that restrict what Disney can build within its present boundaries. Currently, zoning established prior to the construction of Disney California Adventure designates certain parcels for use as either theme parks, hotel/retail, or parking. Disney wants the freedom to mix and match those designations at will, which would permit the theme parks to integrate with the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel, much as DCA currently does with the Grand Californian Adventure.
Ultimately, DisneylandForward calls for expansions to both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure that would absorb existing parking lots and support buildings surrounding the hotels on the west side of the resort. These would be accessed from New Orleans Square/Critter Country and Pixar Pier (respectively) via tunnels or bridges over Disneyland Drive. The new expansions would also include secondary theme park entrances adjoining the hotels and Downtown Disney district.
Not only would DisneylandForward’s concepts create an “integrated resort” more akin to Tokyo Disney, with easier park access for hotel guests, but Disney claims it is the only way for them to add new adventures without having to remove classic attractions.
Beyond the main Disneyland Resort campus, the current Toy Story parking lots would be redeveloped as a West Coast sibling to Orlando’s Disney Springs, featuring a mix of hotels, dining, shopping, and perhaps an indoor themed attraction or location-based experience.
To compensate for the loss of the Toy Story parking spots, this plan also assumes that the proposed eastern gateway parking facility and pedestrian pathway (which was paused due, in part, to opposition from local independent business owners) will finally be completed.
As for what attractions might be included in an expansion of the Disneyland Resort, the DisneylandForward documents are frustratingly vague and somewhat self-contradictory about the details. In fact, if you study the website carefully, there are possibly three different concepts being floated.
Within the website’s text, it is suggested that next-generation lands from Disney’s Asian parks could be the primary source for Anaheim’s additions. Specifically, it says the following Tokyo and Shanghai attractions “could inspire new experiences” at Disneyland Resort:
For Disneyland Park
- Frozen: Guests visit Arendelle, the home of Elsa and Anna, and explore this Frozen land, filled with a thrilling boat adventure as well as a restaurant inside a castle.
- Tangled: Rapunzel’s tower overlooks a charming forest where guests board gondolas to the lantern festival to live Rapunzel’s “best day ever” with Flynn. A restaurant where she befriended a band of thieves in the film is also featured.
- Peter Pan: The Neverland area features two attractions: one that, with the help of Tinker Bell, takes guests on a boat ride following the Lost Boys down a river; and the other taking guests on a journey to the middle of Pixie Hollow, where Tinker Bell and her fairy friends live. The area also includes a restaurant with spectacular views inspired by the Lost Boys’ iconic hideout.
For Disney California Adventure:
- Zootopia: Currently under construction at Shanghai Disneyland, guests will be invited to experience the mammalian metropolis of Zootopia “where anyone can be anything,” with a new major attraction that will seamlessly blend Disney storytelling and state-of-the-art technology to bring this fan-favorite movie and its characters to life.
- Toy Story Land: As part of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, guests “shrink” to the size of a toy and join in the fun in this toy-filled land inspired by the Toy Story films. Guests can take a ride on Slinky Dog Dash, a roller coaster Andy assembled from his Mega Coaster Toy Kit. They can also join the little green aliens as they swirl about in their rocket ship toys in the Alien Swirling Saucers. The land also includes carnival games and a restaurant, Woody’s Lunch Box.
- TRON: Currently open in Shanghai Disneyland and under construction at the Magic Kingdom Park in Florida, the TRON Lightcycle Run roller coaster invites guests to sync the pedal to the moto-metal while twisting and turning in the cyber-fi world in a high-speed race for survival.
However, that’s not the end of the story. If you carefully examine the artwork published on the DisneylandForward website, you’ll find that it does not precisely line up with the above descriptions.
In fact, the colorful concept painting depicting a bird’s-eye view of the expansion is so vague and nonspecific, it’s challenging to match any of its features to the suggested land descriptions.
More intriguingly, the aerial plan view depicting a map of the future resort reveals some details not found anywhere else on the website. Zooming in on the Disney California Adventure expansion, one can see a large statue closely resembling the Black Panther statue from Marvel’s Wakanda, as well as what appears to be a copy of Pandora: The World of Avatar from Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
There’s also an area with a ride track darting in and around mountain peaks, which could be a perfect representation of Raya and the Last Dragon.
The map of Disneyland Park’s expansion is also difficult to interpret, but it appears to line up more closely with the aerial concept art and the descriptions of proposed lands.
Toy Story Lot project is largely consistent with the concept art, although it doesn’t provide many specifics.
Finally, keep in mind than none of these concepts might actually come to fruition, as this proposal is explicitly intended to give Disney a freer hand to build (or not) as it wishes. Disneyland’s relationship with the Anaheim government has been rocky in recent years, especially since the 2018 cancellation of a planned luxury hotel that would have netted Disney significant tax breaks.
This time around, Disneyland is emphasizing that they are not asking the city for any financial contribution, nor are they planning to grow beyond their current borders. But it remains to be seen how the neighboring residents will feel about more attractions replacing the parking lots that currently border their homes. Either way, we will all have many years — if not decades — to wait before these ambitious ideas become reality.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. For all there is to see and do at Disneyland, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. All Disneyland fans should also check out The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey.