20 New Things to Do at Walt Disney World

Courtesy Disney

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

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Star Wars: A Galaxy Far Far Away

Open Now

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.

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Amphicars

Open Now

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.

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Animal Kingdom Rides by Night

Open 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.

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New Acts at “La Nouba”

Open Now

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.

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Colortopia Presented by Glidden

Open Now

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.

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Frozen Ever After

Opens 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.)

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Harambe Market

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.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Meet Joy and Sadness

Open Now

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.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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New Stores

Open Now

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.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire

Opens June

This summer brings a brand-new show to the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage that includes not only Mickey, Goofy, and Donald, but also Tiana, Naveen, and Louis the alligator from The Princess and the Frog; Anna, Elsa, and Olaf from Frozen; and Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled. It’s a joining of classic and contemporary characters with music, dance, and plenty of special effects.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Morimoto Asia

Open Now

Last fall, one of the best upscale restaurants at any Disney park opened in Disney Springs. The pan-Asian menu includes gooey chili-glazed spare ribs, crispy Peking duck, ginger-soy glazed black cod, noodle dishes, and a vast range of sushi and dim sum. Combined with elegant cocktails, a large selection of sake, and Morimoto’s own brand of beer, it’s a great place for a special lunch or dinner. The restaurant, housed in the “Springs Bottling Company” building, has a beautiful, soaring dining room decorated with long, glass-bead chandeliers reminiscent of jellyfish.

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Rivers of Light

Opens Later This Summer

One of the Disney’s most technically complex and inventive shows debuts later this summer at Animal Kingdom, bringing the Discovery Lagoon to life with dancing fountains, floating lanterns, animal films projected onto curtains of mist, music, and other lively performances. The show uses Asian dance, music, shadow puppets, and songs to create a unique spectacle that you’ll likely remember for the rest of your trip (and your year).

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Royal Summerhaus

Opens June

Next door to Frozen Ever After in Epcot, the Norwegian village setting for the Royal Summerhaus was created after imagineers traveled to Norway’s Trondheim to find a suitable model. The authentic-looking village setting will set the scene for a meet-and-greet with Anna and Elsa inside the Royal Summerhaus itself, a cabin that was modeled on an actual country retreat for Norwegian royals.

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Soarin’ Around The World

Opens June 17

One of everyone’s favorite Epcot attractions has expanded both its scope and physical space. Soarin’ now lets you visit major landmarks from around the world, not just from California. Some of the new sights you’ll fly over include the Matterhorn, the Great Wall of China, and Sydney Harbor. And the dazzling new digital images are clearer and more immersive. A third Soarin’ theater will help keep lines moving more quickly.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Star Wars Launch Bay

Open Now

Already one of the most popular attractions in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Launch Bay contains an extensive exhibit of Star Wars replica props, vehicles, and costumes; a place to play interactive video games; a theater where you can remember the magic of Star Wars from the beginning to The Force Awakens; and a character interaction area, where you can meet and have your photograph taken with Chewbacca or Kylo Ren. Storm troopers march through from time to time, and you might see Sand People, too.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular

Open June

The new nighttime spectacle at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will include state-of-the-art projections, pyrotechnics, sound, and fireworks, all to celebrate the Stars Wars films and the music of John Williams. It will replace and improve upon the already impressive Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular, a fireworks display synchronized to parts of John Williams’s rousing scores from all the Star Wars films, including The Force Awakens.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Tiffins

Open Memorial Day Weekend

Animal Kingdom’s newest upscale restaurant will serve a wide-ranging international menu inspired by travel, including such items as grilled octopus or lobster-popcorn Thai curry soup, tempura frog legs, Berber-spiced lamb chops, and miso-glazed black cod; wine and beer will be available. The dining room is decorated with murals of animals from around the world. Next door, Nomad Bar serves African-, Asian-, and South American–inspired cocktails.

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Town Center

Opens Mid-May

Beginning in mid-May, a whole new neighborhood at Disney Springs will open, centered around a bubbling Florida spring, with more than 30 new shops and restaurants housed in Spanish Revival buildings.  Included among these are Lacoste, Sephora, Under Armour, Vera Bradley, Lucky Brand, and the first Uniqlo in Florida. Restaurants from celebrity chefs Rick Bayless (Tablas Fronteras) and Art Smith (Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar) will soon join them, as will Disney-developed concepts D-Luxe Burger and Amorette’s Patisserie. The whole area, the biggest expansion in the history of Disney Springs, will open in phases starting May 15 (most shops and restaurants should be open by July 1).  The area includes a gigantic new bus staging area for resort guests.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Guide

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Tree of Life Awakens

Open Memorial Day Weekend

After sunset, flickering fireflies start to bring the animals on the Tree of Life to light. If you look closely, you’ll see them start to stir. Later, a series of full animated vignettes erupts from the heart of the tree, bringing to life animals such as a deer, a hummingbird, and a fox. It’s a spectacle well worth watching and best viewed from a distance. Viewing areas are set up all around Discovery Island.

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