At last week’s Walt Disney Company’s shareholder meeting, CEO Bob Iger revealed an interesting tid-bit about the future of Walt Disney World.

Iger, shown above with Jim Cameron from last year’s WDW Avatar Land announcement, said that “in all likelihood, we’re not going to open up Avatar Land until some time in 2015.” Disney’s CEO reported that the design work on the expansion to Animal Kingdom “is just beginning,” which quieted online rumors that the project had been cancelled altogether. According to Iger, Walt Disney World guests might be able to visit the world of Pandora in just 3 years.

Maybe I’m a bit skeptical, but that 3 year number seems very ambitious. Looking at Disney World’s and Disneyland’s recent history, I doubt that Avatar Land will be open in Orlando come 2015.

Let’s look at Disney’s two most recent and biggest expansions to their stateside theme parks. The first is the multi-year expansion to Disney California Adventure park. That was announced October 17, 2007, and while parts of the expansion have been opening over the past few years (i.e. World of Color, Toy Story Midway Mania, the retheming of Paradise Pier, the Little Mermaid dark ride, and more), the two major new lands, Cars Land (model and posters shown below) and Buena Vista Street, are set to open to the public on June 15, 2012. That’s 4 years, 7 months, and 29 days between announcement and opening.

Now, looking at Orlando, Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland expansion was announced in September 2009 at the D23 Expo. The very first part of that just partially opened last week with the soft opening of Storybook Circus at Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland will continue rolling out over the next year or two, with many attractions opening throughout 2012 and in 2013.
If you just look at the date between announcement and the date between initial opening, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that Avatar Land (announced in late 2011) could open by 2015. However, when Avatar Land was announced last year, they had just signed the deal. Planning was just starting, and by Iger’s account, they are still in the planning phase today. When both New Fantasyland and the DCA expansion were announced, Disney provided both details on what attractions were coming as well as concept art ready for public consumption. Disney hasn’t announced any details on what will actually be in Avatar Land, and we haven’t seen any concept art, most likely because Walt Disney Imagineering is not at that point yet with this project. Also, Iger’s language at the shareholder meeting is tentative. It’s not like he’s announcing a release date. All these things make me think Avatar Land will be further out than 2015.

There are a couple of big caveats to take with my prediction. First of all, Bob Iger knows worlds more about what’s going on at WDI and Disney World than me. Secondly, it’s possible that the initial parts of Avatar Land could open in 2015 with the rest of the attractions rolling out in 2016 and beyond, much like the initial parts of New Fantasyland are opening now. However, since it is still extremely early in this project, we’re still far away Walt Disney World guests actually being able to enter the Avatar land at Animal Kingdom. As we’ve seen with New Fantasyland and with the DCA Expansion, it takes time to Imagineer a whole new Disney-caliber land.

Do you think Avatar land will be open by 2015? What kind of attractions do you think or hope they will include? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook, or email me at [email protected].

For a great, in-depth write-up on Disney’s 2012 Shareholder meeting, check out Yesterland