2023 Destination D23 Recap: Magic Kingdom Changes & Additions (Country Bear Update, 1,000th Ghost…or Not, Beyond Big Thunder Scope, Bayou Sneak Peek, and Pirates Bar?)

    With the 2023 Destination D23 weekend behind us, we wanted to recap what we learned and discuss the changes coming to Magic Kingdom. In this article, we’ll cover what was said, what was unsaid, and what we thought about it all!

    Country Bear Jamboree Update (Coming 2024)

    We’ll start in Frontierland and an update that has been a long time coming. Technically, the idea for a Country Bear Jamboree update that has the bears singing classic Disney songs was pitched nearly 20 years ago. Practically, the update was (quietly) in the works since 2018 and was paused in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before we get to our commentary on the updates, here are the announced details:

    Imagineer Chris Beatty provided the update:

    We at Imagineering love the country bears as much as you do as fans, which is why I’m thrilled to tell you that next year they’re going to be learning some new songs and performing a whole new act. That’s right. We’re envisioning this new take on the classic Jamboree as an homage to the classic musical reviews of Nashville.

    To reinforce that idea, we’ve created this brand new poster for the Jamboree done in that classic variety show style and spoiler alert, each of you will be receiving one at the end of this session. Now when the new show debuts, the Bears will reinterpret their favorite Disney songs in a in different genres of country music. Think rockabilly, bluegrass, pop country and a lot more. And we’re working with some fantastic Nashville musicians to get the authentic sound just right.
    Chris Beatty, Walt Disney Imagineering
    Country Bear Musical Jamboree poster
    Country Bear Jamboree will be getting new songs and the bears will be performing a new act!

    At Destination D23 2023, it was announced that the Country Bear Jamboree is getting new songs and the bears will be performing a new act in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort. Disney Imagineer Chris Beatty told the Destination D23 audience that when the show debuts, the bears will be reinterpreting favorite Disney songs in different genres of country music – like rockabilly, bluegrass, pop-country and other styles. 

    Imagineers are envisioning the new take as a homage to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and they’re working with Nashville musicians to get the authentic country sound.  The Country Bear Jamboree will still have the fun and friendly tone fans enjoy with the same famous characters like the loveable Trixie, Big Al and others.
    Disney World press release

    When we said that the update was a long time coming, that was both in the literal sense in that work on the redo has been ongoing, but also in the predictive sense. As Disney World continues to update its attractions to address sensibilities, the Country Bear Jamboree has been in limbo. While there isn’t anything overtly bad about the current version of the Country Bear Jamboree, there are absolutely themes within the songs that Disney very likely doesn’t want to continue to deliver, even if there is a comedic undertone to the entire attraction.

    With Frontierland the target of a lot of potential capital over the next decade, the choice was probably to either update the Country Bear Jamboree or remove it. When put in the context of those choices, the hardcore fans will likely be quite happy that the bears are sticking around. We can’t wait to see how Disney keeps the heart of the attraction intact while sprinkling in some Disney songs.

    During the presentation, a video was shown from a recent recording session where musicians were performing The Bare Necessities from Disney’s The Jungle Book.

    Tiana’s Bayou Adventure Mini-Update

    Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is still on track to open in 2024 at Magic Kingdom (and Disneyland) and while we were hoping for a much more substantial update on the progress, Disney at least gave us a glimpse into the work taking place to create some of the amazing Audio-Animatronics that will be part of the Splash Mountain retheme.

    Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro provided a small update on the ride, which he says will be packed with Audio-Animatronic figures. A video played that showed a peek inside the Audio-Animatronic workshop at Walt Disney Imagineering where Imagineers were working on the Louis alligator figure.

    Now, as you know, we’ve been sharing a lot of our creative process with you for over the the past year. Here, you’re seeing a look inside of the Audio-Animatronic workshop at Walt Disney Imagineering. These folks are doing amazing work. They’re hard at work on all the figures that we are just packing into this attraction. It’s going to be such a great experience – bringing you a new story from Tiana’s world that picks off right where that classic film left off.
    Josh D’Amaro, Disney Parks Chairman

    In our Destination D23 wishlist article, we said we hoped for a look inside the attraction or even a look at an Audio-Animatronic under development. I didn’t write it, but I thought that the figure we’d see would be a bit further along than what was shown, but who knows when the B-roll was filmed. Either way, the mini-update served as enough to remind guests that a new ride was coming without rehashing what was already disseminated.

    From what we can see on the ground, the attraction work is coming along nicely and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it open well before Halloween next year and maybe even Labor Day.

    Pirates of the Caribbean…Bar?

    Going back to Chris Beatty’s presentation, we have a new Pirates of the Caribbean lounge coming to Adventureland. The concept is early in the process and an exact opening date or timeframe was not given for the project.

    Since we’re talking about Magic Kingdom, there’s one more thing I want to share with you this morning. It’s something I’m personally really, really excited about. You know at Disney, we’re always looking at ways to extend our stories and to grow those stories within our parks. Well, we started working on something really exciting over in Adventureland that extends the story of Pirates of the Caribbean. 

    We are developing a brand new tavern, some of the regulars might call watering hole, where pirates of all ages gather to tail their tails. And I hear there’s a certain macaw that we haven’t seen in a while. Anybody remember the Barker Bird? That used to be out in front of the Pirates? Well, he’s taking up residence here in a new spot, and you know he loves to come in and spin a yarn or two with guests. So it’s going to be great seeing him again. Look, these designs are really, really early in the process, but we’re really looking forward up to where this is headed. And as soon as we know more, we’ll run up our flag and share it with you.
    Chris Beatty, Walt Disney Imagineering

    Here’s how Disney described the new tavern coming to Adventureland:

    At Destination D23 2023, it was announced that a new Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge is coming to Adventureland at Magic Kingdom Park. This first-of-its-kind experience will extend the story of Pirates of the Caribbean. Imagineers are in the design process now and more details are coming in the future. 
    Disney World press release

    Sitting in the audience, my first reaction was that this was the Peco’s Bill retheme that we thought would be themed to Princess and the Frog. The artwork looked like the main dining room for Peco’s, but it makes far more sense for this to take over Tortuga Tavern – actually located in Adventureland. We share in Beatty’s excitement for the location, but what if this is more groundbreaking for Magic Kingdom than what might be immediately apparent?

    We start with a question that we posed to friends after the panel: Can a Pirates of the Caribbean lounge exist without rum? As you may know, Magic Kingdom only sells alcohol in select table-service locations. Magic Kingdom, like Disneyland, didn’t service alcohol for a long time, per Walt’s intentions. That said, Disneyland has something that Magic Kingdom doesn’t – a bar. While our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is located in Hollywood Studios, Disneyland has Star Wars Land and the popular Oga’s Cantina bar.

    What if the Pirates of the Caribbean tavern does serve rum (and other drinks) in an Oga’s Cantina-style setting? It would allow for Magic Kingdom’s current rules of no “walking” drinks while still creating a bar setting. Of course, as Beatty said, plans are still in the “really, really early” planning stage, so a menu or more details were not immediately available. That said, we don’t want to be like Jack Sparrow, wondering why the rum is always gone.

    Beyond Big Thunder Mountain

    We’re going to have an article talking more about the concept of presenting ideas very early in the development process, but it is very clear that Josh D’Amaro loves to peel back the curtain a bit for D23 fans. At the D23 Expo last year, D’Amaro presented two “Blue Sky” concepts – one in Animal Kingdom and one project in a vacant plot of land beyond Big Thunder Mountain in Magic Kingdom.

    There were no new details about the project, but Bruce Vaughn said that it was one of the projects that he looked at when he first returned to Disney back in March.

    At the very least, Vaughn confirmed that planning continues for the Beyond Big Thunder Mountain project, and said that the scope of the project is going to be massive. He likened it to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Pandora – The World of Avatar. Vaughn actually said that he thinks the project “could be the biggest thing we’ve done in the Magic Kingdom, probably even bigger than New Fantasyland”, noting that Disney is exploring ideas for new attractions, new restaurants, and new shows.

    Hatbox Ghost Update (and Probable Delay)

    We’ll wrap up with a look at something that’s coming soon, but not exactly on time. The Hatbox Ghost will debut in late November in Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion attraction, and Imagineer Daniel Joseph took the stage to deliver the news. Joseph is one of the lead Imagineers working on illusions within the creative branch of the parks division. Joseph worked on the technology that allowed Disneyland to bring back the Hatbox Ghost to their Mansion and is leading the project for the Florida installation too.

    There was actually a fun back-and-forth with some of the Muppets that allowed Joseph to answer a burning question that fans have had: would adding the Hatbox Ghost to the Haunted Mansion constitute adding the 1,000th ghost? Here’s the answer:

    OK, well, Uncle Deadly. Actually no, sorry. No, the Hatbox Ghost was one of the original 999 haunts, but left quickly after the mansion was discovered by a foolish mortals. For all these years, we’ve been wondering where he went. 

    …we’re just glad he’s back and he’s not waiting for any sympathetic vibrations to materialize either. He’s creepy. He’s showing up wherever and whenever he wants because he’s not really a happy haunt. In fact, he’s a very, very unhappy haunt.

    Well, now that you know a little more about our Hatbox Ghost, I am fiendishly excited to share that you will see him for the first time in late November here at the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World. Here’s a first look just for you. As you can imagine, he’s been dying to return to the mansion, and we can’t wait for him to arrive too.
    Daniel Joseph, Imagineer
    At Destination D23 2023, it was announced that The Hatbox Ghost is coming to the Haunted Mansion attraction in Magic Kingdom Park in late November 2023. The iconic grim grinning ghost will appear in the Haunted Mansion attraction as you pass the Endless Hallway, welcoming himself inside from the swinging wake in the cemetery and grinning at passing Doom Buggies.
    Disney World press release

    We can’t imagine that late November was the original plan for bringing the Hatbox Ghost to the Haunted Mansion. That means that Disney missed all of its premier Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party event, missed the launch of the Haunted Mansion movie, and missed Halloween. Those had to be internal targets at some point, although we aren’t privy to the details. It’s likely that some delays either with the Hatbox Ghost figure itself or with the new scene being built popped up. Visible work began in the Mansion on August 1st and it will be nearly 4 months before the Hatbox Ghost materializes.

    As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!

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