Walt Disney once said that the parks will never be completed, and nothing has rung as true about Disney World in recent years. It seems like ever since the pandemic, the Disney parks have undergone massive changes. Whether it’s rides, management, prices, food portions, dining reservations, or more, Disney changed a ton in recent years, especially 2023.
Let’s take a journey to see how Disney changed in 2023 (and what that means for your 2024 reservations).
Splash Mountain Closed
Starting with one of the biggest changes, Splash Mountain took its last plunge into the Briar Patch on May 31, 2023.
This closure comes about three years after it was first announced that it was being transformed into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which will continue the story told in Princess and the Frog.
Though no official opening date has been announced, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is supposed to make its splashing debut sometime in late 2024.
TRON Lightcycle/Run Opened at Magic Kingdom
In keeping up with Disney rides, TRON Lightcycle/Run made its much-anticipated debut at the Magic Kingdom on April 4, 2023.
Highlighting the story and innovation of the TRON films, this motorbike rollercoaster sends guests on an adventure unlike any other, all the while offering some pretty spectacular views of Tomorrowland.
Bob Iger’s Contract Was Extended
The announcement that former CEO, Bob Chapek was being replaced by Bob Iger in November of 2022 broke the internet. Like all major historical milestones, I remember where I was when I first heard the news.
However, in July of 2023, it was announced that Bob Iger, who was originally only supposed to be back at the Disney Company for two years had his contract extended through 2026.
Since he’s been back, Iger has shifted the focus from profits to creativity, with that being at the heart of storytelling, while also restructuring the company, which has seen the loss of several prominent higher-ups such as Kareen Daniel as the Chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution.
Time will tell what other plans Bog Iger has, especially as he considers selling ABC to Nexstar. If so, will that see the end of the ABC Commissary at Hollywood Studios?
Read more: Best Places to Eat at Hollywood Studios
The Return of Happily Ever After
When it was announced that Happily Ever After was being replaced by Enchantment during Magic Kingdom’s 50th Anniversary celebration, guests were not happy. Happily Ever After has been around since 2017 and quickly gained a cult following due to its beautiful lyrics and heartfelt storytelling.
Fortunately, HEA fans were able to enjoy the show once again on April 3, 2023, when it made its return to Magic Kingdom. Though there was a lot of talk about how updated they were going to be, the show and songs remain the same, with the small addition of some newer characters projected down Main Street, U.S.A.
You can catch Happily Ever After most nights at 8:00 p.m., except after-hour events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, which has its own fireworks show.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration Ended and the 100th Celebration Began
Walt Disney World went all out when it was approaching its 50th anniversary celebration. This included everything from the previously mentioned introduction of Enchantment, over 100 new food items, Kite Tails over at Animal Kingdom, and unique illuminations on each park icon.
The 50th anniversary celebration, which began on October 1, 2021, officially ended on April 1, 2023, after almost two years. Though the 100th anniversary celebration started in January 2023 at Disneyland, it officially made its debut at Walt Disney World on September 22nd.
Guests visiting during this time can expect to see new 100-themed decor and merchandise, new character outfits for Mickey and friends, and of course, a ton of new foods and drinks designed to get you in the celebrating mood!
Unlike the 50th, the 100th celebration is only expected to last until December 31, 2023, giving fans and guests a much-needed rest from the non-stop anniversary fatigue.
Typhoon Lagoon Welcomes Back H20 Glow Nights
Though the event has concluded for the 2023 season, H20 Glow Nights came back at Typhoon Lagoon this past year.
This after-hours event is exactly what it sounds like and includes a fun DJ party, character meet-and-greets, and nighttime illuminations that will light up the park. Grab a glow stick and dance the night away in 2024 when it makes its seasonal return.
Journey of Water Opened at EPCOT
Journey of Water – Inspired by Moana is one of the newest offerings at EPCOT. This is a walk-around attraction that allows guests to explore and be inspired by the wonders of water.
Though it does draw inspiration from the movie Moana, this is mainly an educational attraction that teaches guests about water cycles and preservation methods. That being said, it is a great way to cool down in the middle of the day and take great photos.
Moana is available for a meet-and-greet near the entrance of the attraction.
Read more: Where to Get FREE Water in Disney World
Roundup Rodeo Opened at Toy Story Land
Toy Story Land got a new restaurant this year called Roundup Rodeo BBQ – and boy is it a rootin’ and tootin’ good time!
Open for both lunch and dinner, this new restaurant brings you into an immersive environment that makes you feel like a toy. The Cast Members and guests will freeze when Andy’s about to make his arrival (via intercom, there is no Andy meet-and-greet in the parks BUT how cool would that be???)
It’s a fun little thing the restaurant does that helps reinforce the storyline. The menu is heavily themed to barbeque and comes in platters that include smoked ribs, beef brisket, and sausage. Don’t worry, if you’re not a meat eater, there’s a plant-based trio available, too.
CommuniCore Hall and Plaza Open Replace the Old Festival Pavilion
If you’ve ever visited any of the festivals at EPCOT, you know there was a hub. Well, now that the hub is being updated to include expo levels and a fireworks viewing area. Some of these expos are rumored to include cooking and mixology demonstrations and more to create a dynamic, purposeful space.
Next to CommuniCore Hall will a new plaza where performances, including concerts, will take place. Though it’s not confirmed, this will likely be the new home for festival-related events such as the Garden Rocks Concert Series and Disney on Broadway Concert Series. It’s set to open sometime in late 2023.
Figment Becomes the Newest Character Meet-and-Greet to Join EPCOT
Despite having been the unofficial mascot of EPCOT for decades, Figment finally got his own meet-and-greet at ImageWorks.
This long-awaited character interaction was first mentioned at D23 in September and began meeting guests on September 10th. The wait time on the first day totaled approximately 5 hours, much unlike the debut of his now-infamous popcorn bucket.
Guests can meet Figment daily between 9:00 am – 12:30 pm, and then again from 1:45 pm – 3:45 pm.
Read more: Your Guide to All Things Disney Figment
Grogu and Din Djarin Tano Become Walk-Around Characters in Galaxy’s Edge
The Star Wars universe got a little bigger this year, as Grogu and Din Djarin are now official walk-around characters at Galaxy’s Edge.
Like other walk-around characters in Galaxy’s Edge, they don’t have formal meet-and-greets. Rather, they simply walk around the area, interacting with guests. If you want, you can try to snap a selfie, but be respectful and mindful that tend to be bombarded by guests.
Keep in mind that neither of these characters makes scheduled appearances, but you can expect to find them near the Black Spire Outpost Marketplace. Our tip: just follow the crowds, because oh boy, will there be crowds.
There has been some talk about Ahsoka Tano making her debut at Hollywood Studio’s Galaxy’s Edge, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Though, she is making daily appearances at Disneyland, so we’ll see!
Read more: How to Meet Grogu in Disney World
Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Takes its Last Voyage
One of the most surprising changes to occur in 2023 was the announcement – and subsequent closure – of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. It lasted for a little more than a year, having made its debut on March 1, 2022, before taking its last voyage on September 28, 2023.
The Galatic Starcruiser was an innovative concept, taking guests “into space” and creating an immersive environment that continued the story of Star Wars. Despite the exciting concept, the hotel never quite delivered for the hefty price tag.
Prices were about $1,200 per person for two nights, with one day at Hollywood Studios included. Families of four were paying around $5,000 – $6,000 just for a two-night stay, excluding other resort stays and tickets on top of the cost of airfare, food, and other travel expenses.
Maybe its closure isn’t all that surprising.
Dining Reservations Change
One of the biggest shakeups at Disney World this year has to do with Disney dining reservations. First, it was announced, in May, that guests would no longer be able to modify their advanced dining reservations less than two hours online for free. If they do, they will incur a cancellation fee of $10 per person.
Then, over the summer, it was announced that guests will be able to see all of the available dining slots for the restaurant you’re interested in booking. Here’s an example of what you’ll now see when making dining reservations on the website:
This allows you to see the timeslots available and choose one that works for you. It’s a subtle change but one that enhances the overall reservation process.
Dreamers Point Becomes a Reality
EPCOT has transformed in recent years, and one of those changes has been the addition of Dreamers Point.
Dreamers Point, slated to open in late 2023, will feature beautiful gardens and a golden statue of Walt Disney himself! The area will be a reminder for anyone visiting to take hold of their dreams and believe in them, just as Walt did.
Aside from Magic Kingdom, this will be the only other Walt Disney statute on property.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Finally Return
One of the (many) casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic was the temporary closure of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Thankfully, they have made (and will make, depending on when you’re reading this) their triumphant debut in 2022!
Both events take place at Magic Kingdom and require separate tickets for entry. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party takes place on select nights between August 11 – November 1st. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party returns on select nights from November 9 – December 22nd.
Each event features an exclusive parade, firework display, stage show, and unique limited-time treats and meet-and-greets.
The Famous Hatbox Ghost Makes His Debut
When it comes to the Haunted Mansion, there are many differences between the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland versions. One of those differences is the inclusion of a popular character named the Hatbox Ghost.
This ghostly animatronic is famous for his head appearing in the hatbox he’s holding and then returning to normal. Though the effect isn’t always working, when it does, it’s pretty cool and just another sign of how talented the Disney Imagineers are.
Well, now the famous ghost is joining the other happy haunts at the Magic Kingdom in November 2023. As they say, there’s always room for one more.
Read more: Haunted Mansion Tips and Secrets
The Reopening of the Walt Disney World Railroad
Finally, after four years, 2023 saw the much-welcomed return of the Walt Disney World Railroad at Magic Kingdom. The railroad, which was shut down due to the construction of TRON Lightcycle/Run, takes guests around Magic Kingdom park with new narration. And, though it technically reopened in December of 2022, it’s close enough to 2023 to warrant a place on our list!
A New Holiday Spectacular Debuts at Hollywood Studios
As the biggest fan of Hollywood Studios, one of the most exciting changes and breaking news (for me) was that the park is finally getting its own holiday spectacular.
It was announced this year that Disney Jollywood Nights is coming to Hollywood Studios for select nights between November 11 – December 20th.
This specially ticketed event will include festive meet-and-greets with Max and Powerline, a stage show featuring Mickey, Minnie, Belle, and Tiana hosted by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, limited-time beverages and snacks, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM laser light show, and my personal favorite, a soiree in the courtyard of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Mirabel Replaces Merida
Mirabel from the Family Madrigal is now greeting guests over at the Magic Kingdom. Guests can meet her in the Fairytale Garden located near the Cheshire Cafe in Fantasyland and behind Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland.
This meet-and-greet once belonged to Merida from Brave, who has now been relocated to the Enchanted Glade Gazebo in Liberty Square. Mirabel is available for photos and autographs every day at the following times:
- 9:00 am
- 9:45 am
- 10:30 am
- 11:15 am
- 12:00 pm
- 2:00 pm
- 2:45 pm
- 3:15 pm
- 3:45 pm
EPCOT Luminous – The Symphony of US
Luminous – The Symphony of US opens at EPCOT on December 5th. This new nighttime spectacular will feature your favorite Disney songs, along with laser, fireworks, and other projections that will spark the Disney magic within.
This show is part of Disney’s 100th Anniversary celebration and is designed around the reminder that, no matter where we’re from or what our backgrounds may look like, we’re more connected than we realize.
Though the trams at both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom have been back since 2022, they have been absent from both EPCOT and Hollywood Studios up until this year, when they finally returned.
Now, there is parking tram transportation available at all four Disney theme parks for your comfort and convenience.
Park Reservations Change and Are Now Easier to Get for Annual Passholders
As of January 9, 2024, guests will no longer need to make reservations to visit a Disney park. While this is, perhaps, the biggest change to help get the Disney World theme parks back to their pre-pandemic ways, 2023 still saw some major changes that made it easier for guests to visit.
One of the big changes had to do with park hopping, which is when a guest starts their day at one park but finishes at another. As of this year, annual passholder guests no longer have to make a reservation, and instead can just show up at another park at 2:00 pm on their chosen day.
You Don’t Really Need MagicBands Anymore
If there’s one thing that I saw less of throughout the Disney World parks this past year, it was MagicBands.
MagicBands are bracelets with RFID technology that serve as your park ticket, debit card, and hotel key. They were free with purchase until 2021 when Disney started charging a nominal fee for them.
After the announcements of so many upcharges and losses, this news began to see the decline of MagicBands throughout the parks, especially as the reliability of smartphones increased.
Disney tried to repackage the MagicBand as MagicBand+ in the summer of 2022. This updated version would interact with the 50th Anniversary Celebration statutes around the parks, light up during firework shows, and allow you to play games like the Batuu Bounty Hunter we mentioned in another blog.
Regardless, these bands are getting less and less popular among guests who don’t mind using a keycard to enter their hotel room or park. Who knows…maybe 2024 will see the downfall of MagicBand + or better yet, maybe they’ll be included in the price of your package again.
Disney Changed So Much in 2023
These aren’t the only ways that Disney changed this year, but they are some of the biggest stories to date. WDW Vacation Tips will continue reporting on major changes coming to Disney World, especially in 2024, which will see the opening and updates of several attractions, the return of the Disney Dining Plan, new restaurants, and more.
What’s your favorite way that Disney changed this year? What are you most looking forward to on your next visit? Let us know and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram.
As a self-proclaimed Mouseketeer, Courtney Dercqu is a fan of all things Disney. Between decorating her desk with souvenirs from the park, to making unique mouse ears and having a dedicated Disney Instagram, Courtney is a true believer in the magic of a Walt Disney World vacation. Having had more than 200 articles published on various content, Courtney’s excited to share her knowledge and experience with everyone! Be sure to follow her on Instagram for all the Disney magic.
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