Today marks the five year anniversary of Wandering in Disney. Like most Disney Park fans, I’m sentimental and want to thank a few people before getting into the post. Thanks to Melissa, Michaela, Darin, Mackenzie, Matthew, Melissa C., Cassie, Leslie and Kelsee, among others, for writing, editing, talking Disney, and letting me bounce ideas off of you along the way. All of this wouldn’t have happened without you. Along with that, a thanks to you, the reader. I’m honored that people take time out of their day to read this site. Wandering in Disney looks a lot different than I pictured five years ago, all changes I’m proud of, and I’m looking forward to what comes next!
With the blog turning five years old today, I thought it’d be an opportune time to look back at the best changes Disney has made to the parks over the last five years. With my last post being a bit of downer, we’ll focus on the positives here with my five favorite additions that Disney has made in the last five years.
This last half decade has seen more growth in the parks than we’ve seen since the 90’s, specifically at Walt Disney World. With many projects coming down the pike, the positive momentum of the last few years should continue. Even without those upcoming projects opened, limiting this list to five is a tough task. Respect to Frozen – Live at the Hyperion, Toy Story Mania and Rivers of Light, which all have aspects that I really like but didn’t make my list. In the same vein, there have been minor additions over the years that I really enjoy and narrowly missed the list including Harambe Market, Tree of Life Awakenings (which I hate leaving off the list), the Matterhorn’s plussing for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary and nearly all the additions to Disney Springs. Lastly, there have been additions that have sadly already been cut including Burudika and Muppets Present Great Moments in History.
As always this post has to have some rules. Even on anniversaries we don’t resort to chaos! There have been additions made all throughout the globe in the last five years but the only ones to make this list are ones we’ve experienced firsthand. Shanghai Disneyland is clearly the largest addition seen across the globe in the last five years. Soaring: Fantastic Flight at DisneySea has drawn rave reviews while Paris and Hong Kong have enjoyed various additions recently. Alas, we haven’t experienced those… yet! I’m sure I’ve missed something along the way in this hefty honorable mention section but let’s get to the list.
5. Happily Ever After (Magic Kingdom)
It’s not easy to replace a legend with a fandom rooted deep in nostalgia. That’s exactly what Happily Ever After successfully did. Magic Kingdom’s former nighttime spectacular, Wishes, lasted for nearly 15 years and tugged at many heartstrings along the way. While I think the show was ready to be replaced, there was a good deal of angst about the replacement. Instead of attempting to wax poetic on Happily Ever After, I’m reminded of one of our first viewings of the show. A spoiler ahead!
Shortly after the show debuted, we were in Magic Kingdom and had a very good spot a little ways behind the Partners Statue. We were early and I was setting up my tripod like usual when we struck up a conversation with a group of 5 or 6 standing by us. They all lived fairly close by, were frequent Disney visitors, and around retirement age. We were all eager to see the new show but one of the guys I was standing by was tepid, disappointed in the loss of Wishes. The show began and he stood there with his arms folded, taking it in. After a while, the soundtrack and visuals slowly made his body language warm although he still wasn’t all the way in. Finally, the music swelled and the “I can fly” lyrics began as the show reached it’s peak. Tinkerbell appeared above the castle and this man, surrounded by his fellow adults, raised his hands in the air and let out a cheer. It was unbridled joy and a moment that encapsulates the can-do spirit of Happily Ever After.
4. Tiffins and Nomad Lounge (Animal Kingdom)
The least heralded of my picks, Tiffins and Nomad Lounge are perfect for what they are. Tiffins remains at the top the Disney World table-service restaurants, combining an ambitious menu with a look into Imagineering research. We’ve only had excellent experiences at Tiffins and the restaurant summarizes what Animal Kingdom is, a wonderful environment meant to be taken at a slower pace than a usual theme park.
Nomad Lounge, connected to Tiffins, is one of the most relaxing places in all of Disney World. There are small bites to eat as well as an eclectic drink menu. With comfortable couches and chairs both inside and on the porch of the lounge, we love to grab a drink (Melissa loves the iced tea while my favorite is the margarita) and sit for awhile, getting out of the sun and relaxing in between Animal Kingdom adventures.
3. Dreaming Up! (Tokyo Disneyland)
If you had told me five years ago that a daytime parade would be one of the best additions at a Disney Park in the coming years I would have responded that parades aren’t really my thing. They still aren’t really my thing but Dreaming Up! is too good to ignore. We stumbled upon the parade’s inaugural run on our first day at Tokyo Disneyland, very lucky to catch the first public showing ever, and were blown away. If we’re picking nits then I should mention that people adored the parade that preceded Dreaming Up! and might like it even better than the current one.
Dreaming Up! is extravagant in only the way Tokyo can pull off. They take big ideas that seem impossible and then make it larger than life. Every float in the parade is a showstopper, completing it with Peter Pan, Wendy, and Mary Poppins flying high above the crowd. Dreaming Up! shows what Tokyo Disneyland is capable of, sparing no cost to make a standard theme park offering magnificent.
2. Pandora – World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
While it took a few years for the project to finally open, Pandora did not disappoint. One walk through of the land will show you that. With mountains ‘floating’ high above guests and waterfalls cascading down from what seems like the heavens, Pandora is full of wow moments. The broad view is gorgeous but the land doesn’t lack details. Mixing actual plant life with fictional Pandorian plants seamlessly makes the land feel organic and worthy of the park it calls home.
Na’vi River Journey, Pandora’s second attraction, isn’t anything to write home about but Flight of Passage makes up for that in spades. As someone who far prefers physical sets to screens, Flight of Passage shows how incredible screen-based attractions can be. The ride vehicle brings the experience to life and the visuals showcase beauty that matches what guests see outside the attraction. Flight of Passage is easily the best attraction added to the parks in the last five years and Pandora is a glorious success.
1. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Disneyland & Hollywood Studios)
Yes, the opening of Galaxy’s Edge has been a little bit tumultuous. Now that we’re mere days away from the lands marquee attraction opening, I’m hoping that people put away the hot takes and see the land for what it is – an Imagineering masterpiece. Walking around the land leads to astonishing sights, whether it be the iconic Millennium Falcon or a perfectly made market. It’s a Star Wars themed land made for modern-day theme park fans, not the other way around. While that’s part of the reason the land has faced some criticism, this site about theme parks loves it. Galaxy’s Edge will see guests visit for generations to come.
Again, thank you all for the support over the last five years. We look forward to what the future holds on this site!
What are your favorite additions to Disney Parks over the last five years? Let us know in the comments below! If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog via email or WordPress and like our social media pages. You can find all of those things on the right side of this page. Thank you very much for reading, we appreciate it!