Walt Disney World Done Right, Week Long Getaways, Weekend Away

Walt Disney World: What’s New for Families in Summer 2017 and Beyond

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Making plans to visit Walt Disney World or Orlando this summer or the coming 2017/2018 school year? You’ve come to the right place! I just got back from a whirlwind trip around the “World” and was able to try out all the top new rides, attractions, and shows at Disney that families will want to see this summer and beyond.

Animal Kingdom/Pandora — The World of Avatar

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Floating mountains at Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (credit Walt Disney World)

Hold on to your hats Mousketeers, this is the biggest thing to hit Disney in a few years: The incredibly detailed and transporting Pandora — The World of Avatar is a new 13-acre “land” that’s an extension of Animal Kingdom (since it’s not a separate park, entrance is included in your ticket to AK). If you’re anything like me, your kids probably don’t know much about the movie Avatar, which debuted in 2009, and can’t identify a flying Banshee or the blue Nav’i people from the film, but it won’t matter. What’s really the focus here is an elaborately themed extraterrestrial “moon,” which glows with bioluminescence at night (and evidently cost a whopping half a billion dollars to build — so yeah, it’s nice), and offers two very cool new rides.

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Nav’i River Journey at Pandora – The World of AVATAR at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (credit: Steven Diaz, photographer)

Na’vi River Journey is a slow boat ride, good for all ages, that sails through gorgeous twinkling Pandora with the animatronic wonder, The Shaman of Songs, at its center.

Even better is the immersive Flight of Passage, where you sit on an individual motorcycle-like seat that makes it feel like you’re soaring over fabulous waterfalls on the back of a dragon-like Banshee. The latter falls into the “not too scary” category for kids, and should be good for ages 7 or 8 and up (check the ride guidelines in front).

I’d recommend visiting the animals and safari attractions of AK during the day and making a bee-line to Pandora when it starts glowing after dark. Be sure to get a FastPass (Disney’s free system of pre-booking ride time slots) for Flights of Passage; an insider told me the queue is designed as the longest of any ride at any Disney park, and you do NOT want to be at the end of it with your kids.

Magic Kingdom

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Happily Ever After evening show at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (credit Walt Disney World)

Plan to have the kids stay up late to experience Disney’s super cool new projected image and fireworks show, Happily Ever After. I saw this in May with a bunch of adults and we were all instantly turned into small children, gasping and clapping and cheering. The projected image technology that Disney uses for this is without equal; it turns Cinderella Castle into storybook highlights from Disney’s most popular movies, making it look like the castle is levitating, spinning, and melting, while also transforming, for example, into Belle’s castle while showing parts of Beauty and the Beast, all set to a soaring soundtrack.


Last year’s big news here was the transformation of the Norway pavilion in the World Showcase from a sleepy stop for rice cream (delicious Norwegian pudding) into a Frozen-themed land for fans of Anna and Elsa. This summer, everything is up and running: The “Royal Summerhaus” is a meet-and-greet area for Anna and Elsa encounters in their “summer palace,” and the “Frozen Ever After” slow-moving boat ride has animatronic scenes from the movie, including a happily singing Olaf (In Summer!!)

And mark your calendars for a VERY extended Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which will run from August 31 to November 13, 2017. You’ll be able to eat even more at one of the tastiest spots in Orlando, with special bites and drinks (keep an eye out for the frozen pineapple Dole Whip hit with rum — my favorite grown up drink in the parks). Admission is part of your regular ticket, but you pay to sample the food and drinks.

Hollywood Studios

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Star Wars Spectacular artist rendering — Photo Credit: Walt Disney World

Okay, I’ll confess, this park is undergoing some growing pains right now; they’re steadily closing rides and attractions (I just heard that an old favorite, The Great Movie Ride, will be shuttered by this time next year) to make room for two super cool new lands, which will completely change this sleepy spot: Toy Story, with lots of little kids amusements, in 2018, and Star Wars, in 2019.

Sneek peek of Star Wars Land, coming to Hollywood Studios in 2019 (credit Walt Disney World)
Sneek peek of Star Wars Land, coming to Hollywood Studios in 2019 (credit Walt Disney World)

In fact, the first “sneak peek” at Star Wars Land was just revealed at D23 (basically ComicCon for Disney fans) — check it out above.

Until the then, there’s a revamped version of the already new evening fireworks show Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, that combines Star Wars video projections with special effects to make Hollywood Studios’ Chinese Theater and other buildings transform into another galaxy.

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The Music of Pixar LIVE! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (credit Walt Disney World)

And if you’re at the Studios at 5pm or later this summer, don’t miss The Music of Pixar Live, a really great live music and video concert. I caught the first performance of it in May; heads up, is a real tear jerker (Toy Story 3, enough said).

Heading to Walt Disney World? Let us know what your favorite new spots are!

Happy travels!

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