Plus… More info on Star Wars Weekends, Expansions officially announced for Toy Story Midway Mania! and Soarin’, and more!
We kickoff the March edition of the WDW Radio Newswire at Epcot, as the 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival has just gotten underway. The 22nd installment of Flower & Garden kicked off on Wednesday, March 4th, with the 75-day extravaganza set to wrap up on Sunday, May 17th. Several classic topiaries have made their triumphant return for this year’s big event, including Beauty and the Beast in France, Lady and the Tramp in Italy, Bambi and his critter pals in Canada, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Germany. One of my personal favorite displays is also back for another stint, as the United Kingdom plays host once again to Captain Hook, Peter Pan, and that ever-persistent crocodile! The Butterfly House has also returned for 2015, and the Wonders of Life pavilion has once again reprised its role as Festival Center. The play areas are back in action this year as well, as kids can romp alongside Lighting McQueen and Mater topiaries in “The Cactus Road Rally Garden.” There’s also several new topiaries in the mix for 2015. Princess Anna and Queen Elsa have made their Royal debut this year, as the sisters can be found in a brand new display in World Showcase Plaza. In addition, Chip n’ Dale have been added into the re-designed “Goofy About Spring” display at the park’s Main Entrance. In total, you’ll find nearly 100 different character topiaries at this year’s edition of Flower & Garden.
But the topiaries are only the tip of the iceberg, as the Outdoor Kitchens have returned for another tour along World Showcase Promenade! Back for a third consecutive year, the kiosks offer up a unique blend of savory foods and drinks. You’ll find tasty dishes like ghost pepper-dusted tilapia at Urban Farm Eats, cheese manicotti at Primavera Kitchen, and achiote marinated pork tacos at Jardin de Fiestas. You’ll also find the pulled pig slider and “piggylicious” bacon cupcake back on the menu at The Smokehouse, and you can indulge your tastebuds with a harissa chicken kebab at Taste of Marrakesh as well. There’s even a new kiosk to explore, as Botanas Botànico joins the mix for 2015. This new offering (located between Morocco and France) will be serving up a delicious infusion of South American-inspired dishes like cachapa con queso and white corn arepas. You’ll also find Seafood Ceviche on the menu, an enticing dish comprised of shrimp, scallops, and grouper mixed with mango and avocado. In total, you’ll find eleven Outdoor Kitchens at this year’s edition of Flower & Garden. You’ll also find a bonus food and drink option, Intermissions Cafe, housed inside the Festival Center.
In addition to the beautiful topiaries and stomach-pleasing Outdoor Kitchens, you’ll also find the Garden Rocks Concert Series! Changing its name from the long-running Flower Power Concert Series, Garden Rocks offers up free live entertainment each weekend throughout the duration of the festival. Gin Blossoms got the concert series underway this past weekend, playing America Gardens Theatre March 6th-8th. Other bands scheduled to appear at this year’s event include Starship (March 27th-29th), The Village People (April 10th-12th), and The Guess Who (April 24th-26th), just to name a few. For a look at the complete lineup for the Garden Rocks Concert Series, or for more information on the 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival in general, visit the official website.
Before we depart Epcot, let’s make a quick stop by The Land pavilion for some exciting news on Soarin’. Back in the November edition of the Newswire, the Rumor of the Month focused on a third show building in the works for Soarin’. Well, on March 5th, Disney officially confirmed a third show building is indeed going to be built at The Land pavilion for Soarin’! Projection system and screen upgrades are also going to be a part of the expansion, so expect some downtime for the attraction once it comes time for these upgrades at the existing two theaters. If plans stay on track, expect the project to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2016.
Time to park-hop over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios now, as another past Rumor of the Month has come to fruition! Back in the October edition of the Newswire, I speculated on the possibility of a third track for Toy Story Midway Mania! being built at the neighboring Soundstage 1 property. The building has been behind construction walls for months now, with no official word coming down as to what exactly is going on inside. That changed late last week, as Disney finally confirmed a third track for Toy Story Midway Mania! is indeed being built inside Soundstage 1. The track expansion will help alleviate the long wait times that have plagued the attraction since its opening back in May of 2008. As with the previously discussed Soarin’ expansion, look for the Toy Story Midway Mania! expansion project to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2016.
For more news out of DHS, let’s shift our focus over to 2015 Star Wars Weekends. Disney recently confirmed the “Symphony in the Stars” fireworks spectacular will be returning to light up the skies over DHS every night throughout the duration of the event. Darth’s Mall will also be back in business, but the store will be operating from a larger location near the Streets of America this year (the former location at Soundstage 1 is now unavailable due to the upcoming Toy Story track expansion). Disney also confirmed James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars animated series) will once again be playing the role of host for each of the five weekends. No other celebrity appearances have been announced thus far, but names should start trickling out as the event draws closer.
Continuing along at DHS, there’s one more bit of news to discuss about Star Wars Weekends. Disney has also recently confirmed the “Stars of the Saga” and “Behind the Force” talk shows will be relocated from the Premiere Theater over to the Theater of the Stars. Located on Sunset Boulevard, Theater of the Stars is the current home of Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage. But the venue will soon be serving a dual role as it plays host to the celebrity talk shows and Q&A sessions every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday throughout the duration of Star Wars Weekends. Premiere Theater is currently home to “The First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration”, so one can only assume the venue shift is due to the fact Disney didn’t want to put a temporary halt on anything related to Frozen.
Wow, all this Star Wars talk has got me excited! So before we park-hop out of DHS, it’s time for the Rumor of the Month! This one is directly Star Wars-related, as the rumor mill has been absolutely scorching lately with speculation that Star Wars Land is coming to our galaxy in the not-so far, far, away future! We aren’t talking one new ride here, we are potentially looking at an entirely new land at DHS dedicated to the beloved franchise. If not for the upcoming release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, an official announcement of the project would have already been made. However word has it Disney wants to incorporate the upcoming film into the land in a major way, thus the delay in development until the movie’s release this December. But this one is a foregone conclusion boys and girls, it’s just a matter of time. As I said, Disney wants to incorporate the new film into the land in a major way, so expect an E-Ticket-type thrill ride based off Episode VII to be at the epicenter of Star Wars Land. Rumor also has it we may see an X-Wing or Landspeeder spinner-type ride ala Dumbo or Aladdin’s Magic Carpets. A virtual reality-style Speederbike thrill ride through the forests of Endor could be in the works as well. And what new land would be complete without a brand new dining location? The Tatooine Cantina would be an obvious choice, and a perfect fit! Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters Friday, December 18th, so expect an official announcement of Star Wars Land before the end of the year, possibly even at the D23 Expo this August in Anaheim.
Time to hop over to Magic Kingdom Park now for a little news on the refurbishment front. It was recently confirmed Pirates of the Caribbean will being seeing some significant downtime this year, as the attraction will be closed from Monday, May 11th to Friday, September 25th. This closure will put Jack and crew out of action for 4 1/2 months, a lengthy refurb but a necessary one. The Audio-animatronics, show elements, and even the ride vehicles themselves have been in desperate need of attention for quite some time now, as temporary closures have become a daily occurrence over the last few months. The lengthy closure will allow ample time to address these issues and get the attraction running at full efficiency again. And who knows, we may even see some elements from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” added in soon! Currently in production in Australia, the fifth film in the Pirates saga will see Johnny Depp once again reprising the role of Captain Jack Sparrow. The movie hits theaters in July 2017.
Time to round out our trip around the four parks with a stop by Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For this newsbit we venture to Discovery Island for an update on Flame Tree Barbecue. The popular quick-service spot has been closed for refurbishment since Monday, January 5th. The restaurant was scheduled to re-open on Sunday, March 1st, but unfortunately the closure was extended by a month and a half. A new re-opening date has been slated for Wednesday, April 22nd, which will put the total downtime for the restaurant at 3 1/2 months.
Time to hop out of the parks now for an update on the ongoing transformation of Downtown Disney to Disney Springs. In the November edition of the Newswire, I detailed the exciting new dining options coming to The Landing district in the form of Morimoto Asia and The BOATHOUSE. Well, the shopping aspect of Disney Springs is starting to take shape now as well, as several new stores have recently opened for business. APEX by Sunglass Hut and Chapel Hats made their debuts about six weeks ago. The Art of Shaving (seen right) was next, opening its doors the week of February 2nd. Sanuk shoe store and Sound Lion (headphones) followed suit the week of February 9th. The week of February 23rd brought about two more additions, as Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC and Havaiana’s (flip flops) joined the frey. This brings the total of new stores in The Landing district this year to seven, but that number is nowhere close to the final tally. Several more shops and restaurants will be opening up at Disney Springs over the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned to the Newswire for more info as it develops!
Well, that’s gonna do it for the March edition of the WDW Radio Newswire, but I’ll be back again next month with lots more news, notes, and happenings from Walt’s beloved Florida Project!
Don Myers covers news and recent events in Walt Disney World. He has been enamored with the World of Disney since his first trip to WDW in 1986. As they say… the rest is history! Don was also a contributing writer for Celebrations magazine, submitting over 30 articles and 7 cover stories for the publication.