Why Expand Now?
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: the political campaign that is Disneyland Forward caught me completely by surprise. It’s not that I was surprised that Disney had plans for expanding California Adventure… we’ve known that for years. It’s not that expanding the retail and, potentially, hotel offerings is new… they gave up on the most recent push for that upgrade back in 2017. But to put all of what they’re calling Disneyland Forward out at the time they did was really a shock. It’s not what you’d expect during a pandemic, even if we hope we’re nearing the end. Given that we have heard Disney was moving some Imagineers to Florida, it sounded like Disney was moving away from expanding Disneyland Resort. That said, Disney has done an extraordinary job of keeping this secret until release, and for good reason. Let’s get all into all of it.
The Disneyland Resort Predicament
We’re going to delve into what is likely for Disneyland Forward in just a bit. Before we do, we need to give some background readers. If you’re familiar with Disneyland at all, you probably know that it is more or less a regional park with a heavy dependence on annual pass members frequenting it. You’ll also know that Disneyland Resort is an oasis in a sea of less than quarter acre residential lots as far as the eye can see. In fact, if you’ve never been to Anaheim or Los Angeles area, it’s hard to fathom just how far you can go in any direction and never see any open spaces other than the occasional school associated playground. It’s easy to understand why the 13 million individuals living in the greater LA metro area might view the world and the global environment differently than someone living in Nebraska or Vermont. And when you’re sucking Lake Mead dry, environmental catastrophe probably seems much more closer to reality.
Yet in the middle of all that is Disneyland. The Disneyland Resort is home to some absolutely premium real estate, and every single square foot that Disney owns is impressively valuable. Yet Disney isn’t able to leverage that real estate in the way it would most like. You see, the City of Anaheim has immense jurisdiction over anything Disney might like to do within its boundaries, and making changes that involve expansions is very difficult. Whereas Disney can do almost anything they’d like in Walt Disney World, they’re stuck trying to beg politicians and special interests to allow them to create greater capacity in California.
Disney Shoots for the Moon
And that’s why I believe Disney is shooting for the moon with this Disneyland Forward proposal. They have more leverage at this point than they’ve had in decades, and more than they’ll likely have for a long, long time after. Given the COVID situation, Anaheim desperately needs Disneyland operating full blast to raise the surrounding economy. Disney knows this, and they’re ready to make a deal.
With all of that understood, please note that past this point the article is based on some speculation… but speculation that has strong underlying logic and sources. The problem in doing any reporting on what is planned for Disneyland Forward is that all of this – every single thing – is subject to change in a way you would never experience with any other theme park, other than possibly the theme parks in China. Disney will have to collaborate, cooperate, and bargain with politicians about everything they’re planning, and everything can be on the table. Disney may even be ready to make some real estate concessions to the Convention Center if necessary to get this done. But every last bit of this could fall through completely. So, just know that as you read this, we’re at the starting point of a long development process, dealing with people who aren’t necessarily logical and aren’t necessarily interested in Disneyland’s well-being.
A New Moana “Land”
Alright, so the first thing we’re hearing, seeing, and discussing with sources is that Disney is likely to push for an absolute expansion to California Adventure. The expansion would be accessed via a raised path over Disneyland Drive which would keep guests from seeing outside the park while passing through. The road would be located southwest of the Incredicoaster and would be connected to Pixar Pier via a newly themed pathway.
At the end of the Pixar Pier bridge would be a cave which would open up into a new Moana themed land. This land would be the most expansive of all the Disney Forward projects, featuring a size roughly equivalent to Pixar Pier and being built on what is now Simba Parking and Downtown Disney Parking. We believe that part of what is planned here includes a new E-Ticket Moana attraction that features dark ride elements returning to Lalotai, including a huge animatronic Tamatoa that might be even larger than the now-defunct Yeti in Expedition Everest. This ride would also feature outdoor elements, and might be most akin to Splash Mountain in scope.
North of the Oceania area, indications are that Disney plans to have a much smaller area dedicated to Wakanda. This area would be east of Disneyland Hotel and does not appear to host any major attractions. What we believe is more likely in this area is a miniature version of Animal Kingdom where inhabitants of Wakanda demonstrate to guests how nature and technology can exist in mutual harmony. However, one thing that is really interesting is that Disney might integrate Wakanda into the Disneyland Hotel somehow in order to appease Anaheim with a symbolic merger of California Adventure with hotel access.
West Coast Disney Springs
What we’re hearing about the expansion on the eastern side of Disneyland is that it is likely another push for the fourth hotel that was canned a few years ago. Disney’s new angle is to mesh this with a Disney Springs concept from Disney World (although it is unlikely to named as such). This would be a high end retail and restaurant area with hotel rooms on the upper floors of the structures.
An Expanded Disneyland Park?
Here is where we think Disney might not have strong ideas yet, and may be willing to wheel and deal with local politicians. While we think the California Adventure expansion details are pretty darn close to what they’ll soon discuss, the Disneyland Park expansion seems much more fluid. In fact, if you look at the concept art, it shows the expansion being connected via a raised pathway from New Orleans Square. However, in talking with experts on the park, they indicate that it would almost certainly have to be connected via a raised pathway running straight through what is now Critter Country. That is a likely sign they do not have this area squared away just yet.
While this new area for Disneyland might be an extension for the park, it’s probably more likely to be a retail space with access to the park. It might feature attractions, but this one is much more up in the air. One thing we can tell from the concept art is that Disney currently isn’t showing their hand if they have plans to theme it according to a current IP. It does not appear to be a new Frozen land, Wreck It Ralph video game world, a miniature Zootopia, or anything else that we can recognize.
So that’s where we stand right now based on the best information we have. We’re sure to bring you more as the project continues and evolves. And while we’re excited for this expansion, and it seems to only be a positive for future Disneyland Resort guests… it is a little bittersweet. For as nice as all of this will be, Disneyland Forward represents the end of major expansion for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to bid adieu to those third gate dreams for as long as we can imagine. And so whatever Disneyland Forward becomes, we just hope it would make Walt proud. It will be the end of an era.
Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.