Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) has been gutting Disney World's least-visited park, and on Saturday we got the first official glimpse into the replacements that will fill the void during the D23 expo. Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land will be added to Disney's Hollywood Studios in the coming years, probably with a name change for the park itself along the way.
The upgrades are long overdue, and the theme-park leader has been closing attractions at Disney's Hollywood Studios at an alarming pace. Star Wars Land will be a game changer. Toy Story Land isn't as inspiring, but it will make the park more entertaining for young families. However, with Disney failing to provide a timeline for the actual debut of either expansion project, it's a safe bet that we won't be seeing Toy Story Land for another year or two, and it may take several more years before we get to pilot the Millennium Falcon.
Disney moves slow. It announced the Avatar expansion at Disney World's Animal Kingdom four years ago, teaming up with James Cameron to bring his blockbuster franchise to life. We're still waiting. Disney offered a sneak peak of Pandora: The World of Avatar over the weekend, and even though it's been under construction for a couple of years in plain sight it won't be until 2017 when guests can enjoy the richly themed expansion. Disney closed one of the only two rides in EPCOT's World Showcase last year, and it will take nearly two years just to transform it into a Frozen-themed boat ride. Regional amusement parks announce rides at the end of the summer, setting them up during the offseason. Disney doesn't move at that speed, even when the end result is a simple attraction.
Toy Story Land shouldn't take long to flesh out. It's basically a carnival-style flying saucer spinning ride themed to the little green aliens from Pixar's original movie and a Slinky Dog-fashioned kiddie coaster. It's also expanding capacity at the existing Toy Story Mania 3-D shooting gallery ride, but that's been in the works for months. There's no new "E-ticket" attraction here. It will merely satisfy the need for incremental attractions at a park with voids to fill.
The same can't be said for Star Wars Land. It will be amazing. It will be a tourist draw. It will encourage guests to travel down to Florida, drumming up attendance at the park that has been Disney World's least visited park for the past few years. It gives Disney the opportunity to offer the same kind of high-tech and immersive experiences that its biggest rival has been adding lately.
By the time Star Wars Land opens -- and with no official timeline for when it actually does we're probably talking 2018 or later -- investors will have an entirely different slate of challenges and opportunities to consider. Disney moves slow, and that only works out if you're a patient investor.