ORLANDO - Disney unveiled plans Saturday for the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, gave updates on its $1 billion expansion of Disney's California Adventure and said it would modernize the popular "Star Tours" ride at its domestic parks.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo chose the D23 Expo, the first-ever gathering of Disney devotees, to announce the ambitious new project in Orlando that will nearly double the size of Fantasyland. He also confirmed speculation that Disney would update the "Star Tours" attraction based on George Lucas' original "Star Wars" trilogy, adding 3-D effects to the ride at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.
The projects come as Disney has been working to maintain attendance levels at the parks through aggressive hotel discounts, ticket giveaways and other promotions that have kept customers walking through the turnstiles but also cut into operating income.
In Orlando, Disney plans to change how its visitors interact with three of its best-known princesses: Cinderella, Aurora of Sleeping Beauty and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Young visitors now spend a fleeting moment, grabbing an autograph or posing for a photo.
Chris Beatty, senior concept designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, said the parks are seeking to create an experience that's more extended and participatory. Disney will construct individual areas - a princess' castle, cottage or chateau - where visitors interact with the character. For example, visitors to Cinderella's country chateau would watch, along with a group, as the Fairy Godmother transforms her rags into a ball gown. They might even have a chance to share a dance before she leaves for the ball.
Other changes in Orlando include a redesigned Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, which would double the capacity and replace the ride queues with a circus tent with bleachers and an interactive three-ring circus. A new "Be Our Guest" restaurant, based on the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast, invites visitors to dine in rooms from the Beast's castle.
Pixie Hollow, an experience similar to the one that opened at Disneyland in November 2008, where visitors meet Tinker Bell and other Disney fairies, opens in 2013.