How 9/11 Changed WDW Forever



As the coronavirus pandemic rages on it is becoming more and more likely that many of the projects currently in the works and even under construction will never happen.

So we decided to look back at the last national tragedy and how it permanently changed the most magical place on earth forever.

In 2001 Disney was still emerging from their disastrous Disney Decade, and prepping for a new period of investment in their domestic parks. The opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom had gone relatively well and Disney was still looking to recover from its less than successful opening of Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris).

To do this it turned to one of its most consistently successful resorts, Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World was just coming off a period where two new parks had been built, but the existing parks were in need of some love. The Magic Kingdom was doing fine with its still relatively new Tomorrowland, but the other parks needed new attractions.

Epcot had recently removed Horizons and was actively working on a replacement. Meanwhile, much of the rest of Future World was growing a bit outdated and in need of an update.

Disney had begun investing in more value resorts with Pop Century to great success and was well on the way to constructing a second half of the popular new resort.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical Adventure Disney MGM Studios

Disney's MGM Studios had a fairly consistent rotation of live stage shows coming to the park.

Disney's Animal Kingdom had a phase two planned that included notably Beastly Kingdom, ready to be built whenever Disney was ready.

The resort was set to launch many new projects across the parks and beyond as the 2000s began.

Then came 9/11.

The parks closed. The world changed. Travel dropped off the map.

Disney, which had been set to finally start to recover was now facing new challenges it could do nothing about. It began cutting wherever it could.


Classic attractions beloved by generations began shutting down or only operating seasonally, usually a sign they are not going to be around much longer. Most notably, the Carousel of Progress would begin seasonal operation at the Magic Kingdom.

The Timekeeper Magic Kingdom Animatronic

One ride would actually have to be changed in the aftermath of 9/11. The Timekeeper, a Circlevision attraction in Tomorrowland that takes you on a time travel journey around the world featured a present-day segment that visited the Twin Towers. Following 9/11 this had to be changed to a segment in the year 2000 for obvious reasons.

Epcot had an entire redesign of Future World ready to start when the financial problems following 9/11 hit. These would have featured notably a Little Mermaid Retheme of The Living Seas, Soarin Over The World coming to Epcot earlier in a different part of The Land Pavilion, and a roller coaster replacing Spaceship Earth.

This entire plan would be shelved indefinitely, with the only project still moving forward being Mission Space, which was too far along to stop at that point. It would take almost another two decades before Future World would get the revitalization it needed, and now it appears it is going to be even longer.

Disney's MGM Studios basically became stuck in the early 2000s. New shows stopped coming and most of the ones that existed then still exist today, or were just recently removed to make way for Toy Story Land and Galaxy's Edge. The animation studio would even shut down for other reasons a couple years later, leaving the park a shell of its former self due to lack of investment.

Disney World Never Built Beastly Kingdom

The final nail in Beastly Kingdom's coffin came with 9/11. It is uncertain if it would ever have gotten built if 9/11 had not happened, but the terrorist attacks and their effects on tourism ensured that it never got built.

What is now known as Pop Century was originally supposed to be half of a larger hotel. The half that currently exists features the second half of the 20th century, while the other part of the Pop Century resort would have featured the first half of the century on the other side of Hourglass Lake.

This second part of the hotel was under construction when 9/11 happened, and 3 buildings were pretty much entirely built, two buildings of rooms, and the main building as well as the layouts for the other buildings. They were left abandoned for years, until Disney decided to transform them into the Art of Animation resort. The Little Mermaid Rooms were developed from the buildings Disney had left abandoned, and the main building was rethemed for the new resort.

By far the biggest impact of 9/11 though was the lack of development. Disney hardly built anything new in their parks throughout the 2000s. Meanwhile, attendance would increase back to their old levels and beyond, dramatically increasing crowding.

Primeval Whirl Dinoland USA Disney's Animal Kingdom

What little investment there was, either was done very cheaply, like Chester and Hester's Dinorama, or reused existing infrastructure as much as possible as in the case of the disastrous Stitch's Great Escape.

Eventually, New Fantasyland would usher in a new period of development at Walt Disney World, ignited at least in part by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that continued until just recently.

Now with the coronavirus devastating every part of the economy, it is uncertain when the parks will be able to reopen in any capacity. Construction has been halted all across Walt Disney World and the future of everything Disney has announced is now in question.

Disney will likely respond in a similar way. Projects that are too far along to cancel will continue, much of Epcot falls in this category.

Some things will likely be left abandoned at least initially, again much of Epcot is in this category, as may be the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser hotel.

Finally, what hasn't started construction, likely never will and will end up a mere footnote in Walt Disney World history like Beastly Kingdom.

The coronavirus will forever change Walt Disney World just as 9/11 did. While the exact impacts may be unknown at this time, we can look to the past to see what the future may have in store for Walt Disney World.

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