Beyond Thunder Mountain: What Are Disney’s Magic Kingdom Expansion Plans?

Magic Kingdom Expansion Feature Image

Destination D23 is this weekend at Walt Disney World, and some surprisingly big news (plus some underwhelming details and things we already knew) was shared at this morning’s parks panel. Among the updates was a vague reminder of something that was briefly mentioned at last year’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, a possible expansion based on Imagineers posing the question of, “What lies beyond Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” in the Magic Kingdom?

To answer this question, not much. At least for now. The land beyond Thunder Mountain is currently comprised of some backstage areas, waterways, and unbuilt land. During D23 last year, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Josh D’Amaro teased some “Blue Sky” concepts the company was considering for the area. These included ideas based on Pixar’s Coco (2017), Encanto (2021), and/or a land devoted entirely to Disney villains.

Magic Kingdom Castle Closeup

At this morning’s event, however, the prospect of expanding beyond Thunder Mountain was mentioned (and even hyped up). This time, D’Amaro mentioned that it would exceed the scope of the park’s New Fantasyland expansion and would be on a similar scale to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With all of the hype, though, Coco, Encanto, and villains were left out of the discussion, and no new concepts were introduced.

So, what lies beyond Thunder Mountain? Here’s what I’m thinking….

Magic Kingdom concept art showing Coco, Villains, or Encanto beyond Thunder Mountain
Concept art from the 2022 D23 Expo, Credit: D23

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

As you are likely familiar by now, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is the all-new attraction inspired by Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009), which will open as a retheme of Splash Mountain at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom in 2024.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure brings with it a whole set of questions about how the new attraction will fit into the two parks, specifically into the Magic Kingdom. (Disneyland already has New Orleans Square, which fits the setting of the film, and has already opened other new experiences from The Princess and the Frog, like Eudora’s Chic Boutique and Tiana’s Palace Restaurant.)

Tiana's Bayou Adventure Concept Art
Credit: D23

In the Magic Kingdom, the new attraction will be located between Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the rest of Frontierland. And while I’m not saying Splash Mountain (and certainly not its source material) was a perfect fit for Frontierland, I think it’s understandable to consider that the space between Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and Thunder Mountain suddenly being themed to 1920s New Orleans is a little odd.

This could be remedied, though, by moving some things around in the Magic Kingdom ahead of the ride’s opening next year. Since Tiana’s Bayou Adventure was announced, I’ve thought that Pecos Bill’s, and likely the smaller snack kiosks like Golden Oak Outpost and Westward Ho Refreshments, could be rethemed to fit the setting of the new attraction. Aside from the obvious connection that New Orleans-style cooking has to Tiana’s story, it seems like a logical next step to help the attraction fit into the Magic Kingdom more. (Plus, Disney World guests deserve to have beignets in the park, and the walls around the ride’s construction site are already advertising “Tiana’s Foods,” which I know could just be a story-building thing, but it is an interesting point.)

Tiana's Bayou Adventure Concept Art
Credit: D23

The Country Bear Jamboree

Supposing the area directly next to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is rethemed into…”New Orleans Square,” where does that leave the rest of Frontierland? Well, this is my own speculation to be clear, but I think we will soon be looking at a retheme of the rest of Frontierland as we know it.

During today’s event, a new show was announced for the Country Bear Jamboree that will feature new musical acts. The preview shown focused on “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book (1967), but it seems like the show may be getting a bit of…”The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management” treatment. I’m not a fan of changing the Country Bear Jamboree, at least in this way, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, let’s focus on this change and how the new style for the show could make its setting even more vague. By vague, I mean perhaps it will not need to be a “Frontierland” show but rather a new spin on a classic Magic Kingdom show that could work in New Orleans Square if needed.

New poster for the Country Bear Musical Jamboree at Walt Disney World
Credit: Disney

As for the rest of Frontierland as we know it today, it seems like a switch to New Orleans Square would be quite possible, at least in the sense that there aren’t other major attractions that would be all that difficult to change. Shops like the Frontierland Trading Post and the merchandise cart inspired by Big Al, along with the Diamond Horseshoe (which hasn’t been anything like its original concept in years anyway) could also be reimagined to fit the New Orleans setting.

And, the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade is one attraction that I would imagine is on its way out because of its use of firearms. I’m not looking to start a debate on that one, but its removal seems plausible based on the removal of toy guns that had been sold in Frontierland since the Magic Kingdom opened, and after considering the fact that while the arcade has remained open, Disney hasn’t actually charged guests to play it in a couple of years now.

Country Bear Jamboree in Frontierland, Magic Kingdom

Frontierland Expansion

Where does this leave Big Thunder Mountain Railroad then (and Tom Sawyer Island)? And, with Coco, Encanto, and villains seemingly not moving forward, what does lie beyond Thunder Mountain? I think the answer could be simpler than we previously thought. I think “New Frontierland” is beyond the “wildest ride in the wilderness.”

We didn’t learn a ton of details of what exactly the “Blue Sky” concepts mentioned last year would include (in terms of new attractions, shops, and restaurants), but assuming the Country Bear Jamboree, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and several shops and restaurants would no longer be a part of Frontierland, I would hazard a guess that an expansion beyond Thunder Mountain might include at least one new attraction and dining location.

Adding New Orleans Square to the Magic Kingdom while also keeping Frontierland, albeit in a new way, seems like a best-case scenario for me. I was fine with the villains concept, but I would really prefer to see Coco represented in other ways at Walt Disney World (a new restaurant with live music would be amazing, and while I typically don’t love the addition of more IPs in EPCOT’s World Showcase, Coco makes more sense there in my opinion than beyond Thunder Mountain.)

Ride vehicle train for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom
Credit: Disney

As for Encanto, while it’s only “being considered” and not confirmed, it seems like it will have a presence in Disney’s Animal Kingdom now as part of the reimagining of DinoLand U.S.A., so I wonder if that’s the reason for it being omitted from Destination D23’s Magic Kingdom discussion.

All of that being said, I have no idea what the additions to a “New Frontierland” would be, but I would love to see Disney build up the area around Tiana’s Bayou Adventure to fit the New Orleans setting while adding new experiences to keep Thunder Mountain as-is.

What do you think, though? Let me know what your prediction for the Magic Kingdom’s expansion is, or what you’d like to see in the comments!

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