When can I book my Star Wars vacation? That’s the big question on the lips of every Disney fan.
Let’s start with what we do know and move on from there.
Harry Potter Brings Competition To The West Coast
There are many reasons why Disney wants to build ‘Star Wars Land’:
- Their wish to ‘mine more gold’ from the lucrative Star Wars franchise.
- As a way to expand the total area of Disneyland, addressing the overcrowding issue.
- It’s a cheaper, short-term alternative to building an entirely new theme park in Anaheim.
- To satisfy their recent agreement with the City Of Anaheim to invest $1 billion in exchange for no gate tax at Disneyland.
- The need for creative people to build something new.
However, these are all internal motivations and there’s one more big reason this huge area is being pushed into production: competition.
And by competition I specifically mean the Universal Studios chain of theme parks and a little boy named Harry Potter, their deadliest weapon to date.
Since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first opened in 2010, the growth in visitors to Universal Studios Florida has been double that of Disney World. The trend continued in 2014, allowing Universal to become a first-day park destination and a reason for people to visit Orlando at all.
Now people travel from all over the world not just to visit Disney World, but just to see the Wizarding World.
Wizarding World Coming To California
In December 2011, Universal announced that not only would it be expanding the Potter franchise in both of its Florida theme parks with a Diagon Alley expansion, it would also be building a brand-new Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood.
With new threat to their theme park dominance, now in their own backyard, Disney had no choice but to get serious about their own construction efforts. Increased competition with Universal brings increased benefits for the Disney fan, thus we get ‘Star Wars Land,’ among a whole slew of other expansions.
It Won’t Be Built As Fast As The Original Disneyland
One thing that’s for certain about ‘Star Wars Land’ is that it won’t be built as fast as the original park.
When Disneyland was built, the first shovel of dirt flew on July 16, 1954 and the world’s first theme park opened to the public exactly one year later. It wasn’t the park we know today and some of the rides didn’t work yet, but it was there for all to enjoy.
This kind of rapid expansion is almost unheard of in America today and unlikely to happen with ‘Star Wars Land’ for a number of reasons.
- Immense cost
- More building restrictions than in 1955
- Greater complexity of attractions and themed areas than in 1955
- Higher expectations of modern-day park guests
- Large number of simultaneous Disney global construction projects
- Pandora: The World Of Avatar (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
- Toy Story Land (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
- Extensive refurbishment of Disneyland Paris Resort for its 25th anniversary
- ‘New’ Fantasyland (Tokyo Disneyland) and new Arendelle port (Tokyo DisneySea)
- Huge new hotel (Explorer’s Lodge) and the Iron Man Experience (Hong Kong Disneyland)
- Shanghai Disney Resort (theme park, hotels, lake, infrastructure)
Other Disney ‘Land’ Construction
In order to get an idea of how long these large-scale construction projects take for Disney to carry out today, let’s look at two contemporary lands: Carsland and ‘Avatar Land.’
One of the newest Lands in the Disney empire, Carsland is similar in many ways to ‘Star Wars Land’ (based on what we know now).
The area is surrounded by a highly themed, breathtaking man-made berm, which we also expect to see around ‘Star Wars Land.’ Carsland also has its own massive E-Ticket attraction, as well as several other smaller rides that complement the feel of the area.
The level of detail on the buildings, paths, props, and furnishings is staggering and make you feel like you’re actually walking into the movie. According to Disney CEO Bob Iger,
“We are creating a jaw-dropping new world. We’re bringing Star Wars to life in a big way. …These new lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will transport guests to a whole new Star Wars planet.“
Sounds like a similar experience to me and I think we can reasonably expect the build time to be similar.
At around 10 acres, Carsland is a good 4 acres smaller than ‘Star Wars Land’ will be and it took 35 months to build.
Pandora: The World Of Avatar
Originally announced as ‘Avatar Land’, Pandora: The World of Avatar is also of similar size and scope as ‘Star Wars Land.’
Huge berm-like structures? Check. Immersive environment? Yep. Unheard-of E-Ticket attractions? Three for three, you win the prize!
Also of note is the size of Pandora, right around 14 acres (the same as ‘Star Wars Land’).
Originally, construction was supposed to begin in 2012, with the land opening in 2015. However, this is largely seen as a knee-jerk reaction to announce anything new in the wake of the Wizarding World’s success in 2010/2011.
The real ground-breaking ceremony for Pandora was in January 2014 and, as of the recent D23 Expo, the area is now slated to be complete in early 2017.
Depending on which number you look at, this gives us a construction period of between 38 – 55 months.
Putting It All Together: When Will ‘Star Wars Land’ Open?
So we’ve put together some reasonable numbers for the time to build ‘Star Wars Land.’ It definitely won’t open a year from now and will probably take 35-38 months to complete, beginning January 2016.
We also need to consider the marketing angle to all this.
There are really three major Disney construction projects in America right now (Pandora, ‘Toy Story Land’, and ‘Star Wars Land’) and I’d expect them to extract as much press as they can from each debut.
What does that mean for our timeline?
I don’t expect Disney to unveil more than one of these new lands in a single year, not to mention compete with their international debuts as well. So here’s my prediction of what we’ll see in domestic theme park construction for the next few years:
- Winter 2016: Construction begins on ‘Star Wars Land’ at Disneyland
- Fall 2016: Third track for Toy Story Midway Mania opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Spring 2017: Pandora: The World Of Avatar opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Spring 2018: Toy Story Land opens at DHS
- Spring 2019: ‘Star Wars Land’ opens at Disneyland
I say sometime around March/April 2019, just in time for Spring Break and the busy Summer season, we’ll all journey into ‘a galaxy far, far away.’ This leaves about 38 months for construction, which is certainly an achievable goal for Disney Imagineers based on their record to date.
While it will leave Harry Potter to run amok on the West coast unchallenged for three years, it will also give Disney time to expand its parking and backstage infrastructure to accommodate this and future growth.
Of course, this timeline only covers construction in the United States. Disney is also finishing up the resort in Shanghai, as well as expanding or extensively refurbishing each of its other international resorts in the next few years.
It looks like Disney has already learned from past mistakes by getting a jump on construction this coming January. Only time will tell what happens to the construction schedule for ‘Star Wars Land,’ and the premiere could easily slip by several months (like Shanghai) or years (like Pandora: The World Of Avatar).
However, I think it’s unlikely that Disney managers will tolerate any large delay. Harry Potter is set to open just down the road as early as March 2016 and it seems like Universal is announcing future expansion plans almost daily (Fast and Furious Supercharged, Nintendo ‘World,’ Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York).
Exciting times ahead for theme park fans! Leave me a comment with your thoughts on this ‘Star Wars Land’ timeline. Thanks for reading and we’ll see ya’ real soon!