June 18, 2024

Lengthy Construction Permit Filed for Journey into Imagination


Walt Disney World has filed a long construction permit for a location corresponding with the Imagination Pavilion. This post covers details of the permit and reasons both for and against it being for Journey into

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Walt Disney World has filed a long construction permit for a location corresponding with the Imagination Pavilion. This post covers details of the permit and reasons both for and against it being for Journey into Imagination 4.0, along with possible alternative projects for the permit.

Some words of warning: the rumor mill is going to be working overtime between now and the 2024 D23 Expo. The company won its proxy battle, streaming is almost profitable, other issues have been addressed, and cash flow is improving. Disney filed a 60-page document reiterating its $60 billion investment plan for the next 10 years. Walt Disney World has repaired its relationship with Florida; ditto Disneyland and California. On top of all that, Iger is back in ‘Bob the Builder’ mode to turn things around and grow the company–with an emphasis on Parks & Resorts–to cement a positive and enduring legacy before his time as CEO ends.

It’s basically a perfect storm–but for once, that’s in a good way for Walt Disney World. The money spigot is about to be turned wide open, and you need to buckle up for a roller coaster ride over the next few months. There are going to be some crazy rumors (there already are!) as pitches are made internally and leak out with more certainty suggested than actually exists. Even though this is going to be a blockbuster D23 Expo, it’s still the case that only a fraction of what’s rumored ends up being announced.

While we’ve yet to hear anything credible rumor-wise about Journey into Imagination, there is a concrete development. In mid-April 2024, Walt Disney World filed a new permit for extensive construction at 1990 Avenue of the Stars, which is the address for the Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT. This notice of commencement lists the scope of the work as “general construction” and the contractor as Poli Construction, LLC (credit to danlb_2000 on WDWMagic, the main source for permits in the Walt Disney World fan community).

Poli Construction is a frequent contractor at Walt Disney World, working on a range of projects in the parks and at the resorts. Most of their work has involved interior remodels, with recent projects including restaurants at Disney Springs, Four Seasons Orlando, BoardWalk Inn’s reimagining, and the recent conversion of Trail’s End Restaurant.

The most interesting aspect of the construction permit is that it lists an expiration date of November 28, 2025. For those who aren’t math whizzes or calendar enthusiasts, that’s more than one year from now. That year-plus duration is notable because the default expiration, and what most projects without fully-defined timelines get, is one year.

There have been high-profile exceptions to this, most recently with the Test Track Reimagining that specifies a shorter timeframe. Before that, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster had a similarly shortened permit. The default 1-year timeline is never noteworthy, but shorter or longer ones always are, as they’re extended or reduced purposefully. Meaning that there’s a reason for doing so.

In this case, that’s because the work is expected to take longer than one year. Obviously, that suggests a project that’s larger in scope and scale. This permit’s expiration date being over a year and a half–19 months!–into the future is a really big deal, and inevitably leads to EPCOT enthusiasts like us imagining a reimagined Journey into Imagination. I mean, how could you not?! 

Honestly, I’m more than a little skeptical that this is for Journey into Imagination 4.0 (JII4). Although it seems like the stars are aligning–between the $60 billion and hints we’ve seen in the past year that suggest JII4 is on the horizon–I don’t think this is it. Trust me, I want to believe. I would trade Beyond Big Thunder, Tropical Americas, and every other rumor I’ve heard for this one reimagining.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think this is it. Part of that could be that I’ve been burned too many times by Figment false starts. I should’ve learned my lesson back when the “done deal” reimagining got reallocated to Frozen Ever After, but the last few D23 Expos–two of which revolved around the EPCOT overhaul–further disabused me of the notion that Journey into Imagination was a top priority. I want to believe and I’m holding out hope, but what I want to happen and is not always what I think will happen.

In this case, there are a few reasons for skepticism. First of all, this permit being filed on the Walt Disney World side by Facility Asset Management instead of Imagineering is itself suggestive that it’s something other than an attraction. Second, nothing in Poli Construction’s portfolio leads to a logical conclusion that this is a ride reimagining. Yes, there is that longer timeline, but there could be other explanations for that.

The biggest reason for my skepticism is that the Test Track reimagining starts next month and will probably last around one year. I would also hazard a guess that no other EPCOT attractions will go down for reimaginings until Test Track 3.0 debuts.

While Test Track is down, EPCOT can’t really afford to close any other attractions–namely, Spaceship Earth or Journey into Imagination. While it is possible that they expect CommuniCore Hall to pick up some slack, that’s not a bona fide attraction, so it’s not the same.

One thing we’ve observed time and time again is that when Test Track is down, the other rides in the former Future World have longer waits. This is true even of Journey into Imagination, which goes from being underutilized capacity (e.g. is often a walk-on) to having a measurable wait time without Test Track.

I know some people are going to doubt this, claiming that the current Journey into Imagination is a perpetual walk-on, but it’s really not! The monthly average for Journey into Imagination is 15 minutes, compared with 18 minutes for Spaceship Earth, and 67 minutes for Test Track.

Before anyone claims that’s just the posted wait time and it’s actually a walk-on, it’s (again) really not! Above and below are photos of the overflow queue in use on two days after spring break ended. We did Journey into Imagination multiple times and had actual waits that were above 15 minutes (!!!) twice. I was surprised given that we visited on 2/10, 4/10 and 5/10 crowd level days (pre thrill-data.com).

That’s only going to worsen once Test Track closes, and all of the guests that are normally riding or waiting in long lines for Test Track are displaced to other parts of the park. (It would be a really good time for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind to ditch the virtual queue and move to standby!)

Personally, I hope another attraction goes down during the Test Track closure. Even though the front of EPCOT is feeling fresh thanks to recent additions, it still has several shows, rides, and pavilions that are long overdue for updates. Nevertheless, I think it’s more likely that Spaceship Earth and Journey into Imagination go down simultaneously.

As for what else this construction permit could cover, the same address is also home to the Disney Vacation Club Lounge upstairs in the Imagination Pavilion, as well as the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival, Disney Visa meet & greet space, and the ImageWorks post-show area on the ground level after the attraction.

I doubt this has anything to do with the DVC Lounge. They’ve been refreshing that over the last several months, and there’s now new furniture and other updates that have it looking fresh. Honestly, I don’t think any other cosmetic changes in there would require permits, anyway. It’d have to be something bigger.

What would require a permit is expanding the lounge, and that may not be a bad idea given that there’s still a lot of unused space up there where the former upstairs ImageWorks used to be. There also could be non-DVC plans for that space, but I don’t know how feasible that would be.

Everything else seems like a more obvious candidate. The Magic Eye Theater is long overdue for a new tenant. Same goes for the ground-level post-show, and overhauling that would make a lot of sense once CommuniCore Hall and its Mickey & Friends meet & greet space opens. More to the point, redoing the post-show before reimagining the ride makes sense, and would mean keeping that capacity while Test Track is closed. In fact, that’s the most logical sequence of events, assuming that we’re getting Journey into Imagination 4.0.

The only thing that’s tripping me up with that is Poli Construction’s experience, which is overwhelmingly with restaurant interiors. I don’t think EPCOT needs more dining capacity, but I also didn’t think that before Space 220. And yet, it’s one of the most popular ADRs in all of Walt Disney World.

Creating an imaginative and exclusive niche restaurant carved out of the Imagination Pavilion would be hugely popular. Can you imagine how many fans would pay big bucks to walk through that Rainbow Corridor to enter an imaginative dining room with inspiration from the original attraction?! It would be a license to print money…I just don’t know how it would work.

While I cannot say whether this construction permit is further false hope or a sincere sign that Journey into Imagination is being reimagined, what I can say is that it should be. That it’s time to reimagine the Imagination pavilion (Figment called–wants changes!).

That’s hardly a bold assertion–it’s been time for well over a decade. The last version was only a band aid, meant as a quick fix for the truly abysmal second version. That third version–again, a temporary solution–is now the longest-running version of Journey into Imagination.

It’s no secret that even as diehard Figment faithful, we don’t love the current incarnation of the ride. It made our lists of the 10 Worst Attraction Replacements at Walt Disney World and 10 Attractions That Have Aged Poorly at Walt Disney World. We recently (half-heartedly) defended Journey into Imagination as one of several attractions at EPCOT that you should not skip, which is a “controversial” opinion because the attraction truly is divisive.

The current Journey into Imagination has low guest satisfaction scores relative to other rides of its kind. We’ve routinely remarked that first-timers confuse Figment for a Spyro the Dragon knock-off, which is really only a half-joke.

Unless you’re a child of the 1980s or 90s who experienced the original attraction–which has been gone for far longer than it existed!–or are a voracious consumer of Disney history videos, you likely have zero affinity for Figment and might even be confused by why the current character has such a strong fan following. (He doesn’t! It’s the old Figment we love!)

Not only is guest satisfaction low, but the current Journey into Imagination attraction and the pavilion as a whole are underutilized. The ride routinely is a walk-on or has an actual wait time of under 5 minutes. The theater has been showing the Pixar shorts for a while now, which was also meant to be a band aid following the removal of Captain EO.

Last year, Disney leadership expressed a desire to increase capacity of the parks by reimagining areas that are currently underused. There are several such spots in EPCOT, but aside from Wonders of Life, I can’t think of any that have as much potential for absorbing more crowds as the Imagination Pavilion. There’s so much untapped potential with Journey into Imagination!

Moreover, if you look at the current Disney Parks Project Timeline, you’ll notice absolutely no major attractions on the horizon after Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens in Summer 2024. If rumors are to be believed and that attraction is able to open early, that leaves at least a 2-year gap between that attraction and the Tropical Americas at Animal Kingdom, which is likely to start opening in 2026 or 2027.

In the meantime, Universal is opening Epic Universe in Summer 2025. Walt Disney World won’t have a direct ‘answer’ to that new park. Whether they should is another topic for another day. But it’s already too late for a new ride or land to debut at Walt Disney World alongside Epic Universe. That ship sailed at least two years ago.

About the only thing that could be accomplished in that timeframe is reimaginings. Several are possible at EPCOT, as discussed in our List of What EPCOT’s Overhaul Needs in Phase 2. That is unsurprisingly topped by JII4, but also on the list are updates to other former Future World pavilions as well as additions to World Showcase.

Some of this could be accomplished between now and late 2025 or 2026. (It’s not like Epic Universe is going to stop being popular its second summer–if anything, positive word of mouth will lead to a stronger 2026. That’s what happened the second year of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!)

As we’ve said before, the final reason why a reimagining of Journey into Imagination could and should happen is repairing relations with fans and positive PR. For Bob Iger, this should be a no-brainer move. Although it’s unlikely he himself is a Figment fan, Iger has demonstrated upon returning that he does care about guest goodwill and fan disenchantment–but there’s more work to be done on that front. More importantly (to him), Iger is also concerned about his legacy.

Likewise, Josh D’Amaro is in the running as a successor CEO. Regrettably, that’s not a position fans vote on, but there have been a lot of mainstream media pieces about fan complaints about the parks. If D’Amaro becomes the heir-apparent, you better believe that CNBC, Wall Street Journal, etc., will all be running pieces about the guy who presided over a period of fan unrest being promoted.

Bringing back Figment and Dreamfinder is a surefire way of undoing a lot of the outrage and brand damage from the last few years, quieting the complaints and criticism. I can’t think of any other single positive announcement that would outweigh so many prior negatives ones. A lot would be forgiven by fans in the blink of an eye.

An overhaul of Journey into Imagination would be both a legacy project and something that would define the otherwise underwhelming World Celebration neighborhood of the EPCOT transformation, tying it together into a more cohesive project. Figment would become the face and mascot of the new-look EPCOT, elevating the otherwise underwhelming central spine in the process. Not only that, but Figment has already “proven” that he can really move merchandise and is a highly successful meet & greet character.

Walt Disney World has done enough dipping its toes into the pool to test the popularity of Figment. It’s beyond time for a redone ride. There are several incredibly compelling reasons to move forward on this in 2024. It’s the second-best time to do something, with the most logical time being a decade ago. Nevertheless, I don’t think this permit is a sign that it’s happening. I’m still crossing my fingers for the D23 Expo, but am not overly optimistic that this is a project that starts before mid-2025.

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What do you think of this permit for the Imagination Pavilion? Do you think JII4 will be announced at the 2024 D23 Expo? Or is this just more false hope for fans? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment that now is the second-most logical time for a Journey into Imagination overhaul? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!

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