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Tree of Life Awakens at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida
Tree of Life Awakens/Disney and David Roark

This summer is shaping up to be an excellent time to visit Walt Disney World. With new attractions and shows and updates to old favorites, the resort is giving us plenty of reasons to make the trip. Here’s a look at what to expect over the next few months.

Magic Kingdom
The world’s most popular theme park will present a new live show on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage beginning June 17. “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” will be led by a cast that includes Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, as well as characters from The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen. We can only imagine that “Let It Go” will be prominently featured in the show — so don’t say we didn’t warn you. Beginning August 12, there will be a new princess on the block. After the Disney Channel premiered its new series Elena of Avalor — featuring the company’s first princess inspired by diverse Latin cultures — the park is welcoming Princess Elena to its character lineup in a limited time show called “The Royal Welcome of Princess Elena of Avalor.”


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Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida
Epcot/Christine Dayao

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Epcot
While there is no shortage of new additions to Epcot this season, the one we’re looking forward to most is the reopening of Soarin’ on June 17. After a months-long rehab, the beloved attraction is taking flight with a third theater, new screens, a new projection system, and a new video. Dubbed Soarin’ Around the World, the ride will (virtually) fly guests over iconic destinations like the Great Wall of China, Sydney Harbor, and Switzerland’s Matterhorn.

Once you’re back from your trek around the globe, make your way to the Turtle Talk with Crush show at The Seas with Nemo and Friends Pavilion. To coincide with the June 17 release of the Disney-Pixar film Finding Dory, characters from the flick will be added to the interactive show — meaning guests can chat with Dory and other animated marine life thanks to Disney magic.

The World Showcase section of the park is getting some love, too. Frozen is making its move on the Norway Pavilion in June, when the Frozen Ever After boat ride will set sail, transporting guests to Arendelle during the Winter in Summer Celebration. After disembarking, get up close and personal with Anna and Elsa during a meet-and-greet session at their Royal Sommerhus, which is built to look like a traditional Norwegian cabin. The new digs open on June 21.

 

Fireworks at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida
Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios/Christine Dayao

Disney’s Hollywood Studios
It’ll be a few years before Star Wars Land takes centerstage at the park (they just broke ground this month), but the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show opens on June 17 and should be enough to entertain fans of the force in the meantime. It won’t be your average fireworks display, either; aside from pyrotechnics, expect impressive special effects and video projections that’ll flash upon surrounding buildings to turn them into destinations seen in the Star Wars films and spotlight beams that will form massive lightsabers in the sky. If Toy Story is more your speed, the park’s popular Toy Story Midway Mania ride will open its third track starting Memorial Day weekend and should alleviate the long wait times.

 

Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida
Rivers of Light/Christine Dayao

Disney’s Animal Kingdom
To turn this park into an all-day experience, Disney is adding a slew of nighttime entertainment options and is extending its park hours to as late as 11 p.m. beginning May 27. One of our favorite attractions is The Tree of Life Awakens, during which the park’s centerpiece is lit up by fireflies and several vignettes that are projected onto the tree. The park’s wildlife is getting in on the fun, too. The animals seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris will stay out after nightfall during the After Dark experience, made possible by lighting and effects that make it look like the savannah is glowing in the sunset. For a limited time, the park will present The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic on Discovery River; it will have special effects and music that we’re sure will please fans of the original film and the newly released version.

Getting hungry? Make lunch or dinner reservations for Discovery Island’s new Tiffins restaurant. The travel-themed eatery will serve dishes like berbere-spiced lamb chops, vegetable curry with quinoa, and Berkshire pork tenderloin. For small bites, grab a seat at Nomad Lounge. The 101-seat venue will dish out honey-glazed, coriander-spiced pork ribs, Indian butter-chicken wings, and Wagyu beef skewers.

While Rivers of Light — the park’s largest and most anticipated addition — won’t be ready by the start of summer, we can tell you that after getting a five-minute preview during a recent media trip, the Discovery River show will be nothing short of spectacular. Set to a beautiful score, the show combines floating lanterns, water screens with projections, lasers, and live performances in front of a 5,000-seat stadium. (Note: A debut date for the show is currently unspecified, but keep checking back here for updates.)

 

Construction on Town Center at Disney Springs in Florida
Construction on Town Center/Christine Dayao

Disney Springs
For the past several years, the resort’s shopping-dining-entertainment complex has been undergoing a major expansion that will finally be completed this year. Joining the three existing neighborhoods — The Landing, the Marketplace, and the West Side — Town Center will be the district’s focal point when Disney unveils its first section on May 15; the rest will open in phases throughout the summer. Even cooler: It’ll have a manmade spring that will make for some awesome photo opps. Among the eateries opening there are an STK restaurant; a farm-to-table outpost called Homecoming – Florida Kitchen and Shine Bar; The Daily Poutine, where you can get four takes on the staple Canadian dish; and Amorette’s Patisserie. For a little retail therapy, Disney Springs will be home to Kate Spade New York, Sephora, Anthropologie, Francesca’s, and Vera Bradley, among others.

 

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