Top Ten Must-See Sights of the 2011 Disney D23 Expo

in Disney, Entertainment, Theme Parks

The 2011 D23 Expo begins on Friday and with so much to see packed into a three-day schedule, I wanted to offer my thoughts as to what shouldn’t be missed when wandering the convention. I left the first D23 Expo in 2009 disappointed that I had missed so much of what was offered, focusing purely on the big Arena presentations. And while those are highly entertaining, there are also many smaller presentations, exhibits, and special moments that I’m looking forward to seeing this time around – and you should too.

The D23 Expo schedule offers three days of non-stop entertainment possibilities. But many presentations and appearances overlap with each other, so planning helps in deciding which are the most important for you to visit.

Below is my Top Ten list of what I think the standout gems of the 2011 D23 Expo will be and what I’ll personally be sure to see.

10. Smaller Booths / Collector’s Forum

While the 2011 D23 Expo show floor will be filled with large exhibits and booths, it’s important to venture out to the corners for additional fun. Many of the Collector’s Forum booths will try to sell you something or get you to join a new Disney fan community, but the one that stands out to me in this area will be Garner Holt, a company that has been creating Audio-Animatronics figures for Disney for many years. They’ve worked on attractions including Haunted Mansion Holiday, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and most recenty, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. They promise to show off some new developments in Animatronics at the show. In addition, celebrity appearances can be found near the Collector’s forum, with the Disneyana Fan Club and Coolwaters Productions both bringing an exciting line-up of guests.

9. Live Auction preview room

Whether or not you’ll be bidding on rare Disney items in the D23 Expo auction, the preview room for the auction pieces is a must-see. Here you can get an up-close look at many of the items that will be sold in the auctions, allowing you to appreciate the artwork, sculptures, and pieces of Disney history that will soon go to the highest bidder. And photography inside this area is allowed, so even if you can’t afford the items, at least you can get a photo with them before someone else takes them home.

8. Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives

I nearly forgot to see the Archives exhibit at the 2009 D23 Expo due to its location being upstairs, away from the main show floor. But it would be a big mistake to skip this area, with priceless pieces of Disney history displayed from movies, theme parks, and more. Photography is not allowed here, but you will walk away with memories of seeing some of your favorite Disney props and costumes in person. Included this year are items from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “101 Dalmatians,” “TRON,” and more.

7. Mickey’s of Glendale store

Walt Disney Imagineering items can be hard to come by, unless you know someone that can take you to their Glendale headquarters. Fortunately, that very WDI store, called Mickey’s of Glendale, is bringing its items to the 2011 D23 Expo in a store attached to the Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion. Theme park fans are sure to walk away with exclusive Imagineering merchandise that adds value to any collection.

6. Voices of the Parks

If you’ve ever walked through a Disney theme park, you’ve likely heard hundreds of recorded voices, each adding to the overall theme of the area. Whether it’s a simple safety spiel or a character inside a ride, the men and women who lend their voice talents often go unrecognized – until now. Some of these voice actors will be on a panel at the 2011 D23 Expo on Friday, Aug. 19 from 6:45 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. on Stage 28, giving you a chance to see the faces behind these recognizable sounds. It’s sure to be an entertaining laugh-fest.

5. 25 Years of Creativity at Pixar

Pixar has dominated the world of animation since the first “Toy Story” hit the big screen and the 2011 D23 Expo is giving you a chance to meet some of their biggest names and learn just how they’re able to continue to crank out such creative films. The panel will include John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Pete Doctor, and many more, taking place from 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 on Stage 23.

4. Imagineering’s Guide to Creativity and Innovation

As if the creativity of Pixar isn’t enough to inspire you, Imagineering is offering a presentation of their own about how storytelling and technology drive the creation of Disney magic in Disney’s theme parks. This two-hour presentation should be a perfect primer for anyone interested in joining the themed entertainment industry and will also entertain anyone who’s simply a fan. It will take place from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 on Stage 28.

3. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion

The most exciting area of the 2009 D23 Expo show floor was the Disney Parks and Resorts exhibit and with this year’s Carousel of Projects theme, fans are sure to get another incredible look at what’s on the way soon. After a “Carousel of Progress”-inspired pre-show, guests entering this pavilion will see life-sized characters and props from Cars Land, a first look at models from Shanghai Disneyland, and possibly even a conversation with talking Mickey Mouse. Deeper looks into the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and other projects are sure to delight theme park fans in this area of the D23 Expo.

2. Walt Disney Studios – Arena

Though I wrote above that there’s much more to the 2011 D23 Expo than the Arena presentations, it’s no secret that what is presented inside the Arena will be the most amazing surprises. In 2009, the Walt Disney Studios presentation included Hollywood special guests Tim Burton, Robert Zemeckis, John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, and many more celebrities revealing first looks at their upcoming Disney projects. And it concluded with a musical performance by Miley Cyrus and a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It simply doesn’t get any bigger than that – or does it? This year, at the 2011 D23 Expo, the Studios presentation is a whopping 2.5 hours long, promising even more fun and surprises that simply should not be missed. While there are many other inviting activities and appearances scheduled at the same time as the Studios panel, none will be as spectacular. This one takes place 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20.

1. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts – Arena

For theme park fans, the 2011 D23 Expo Arena presentation hosted by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs will be the place to be. In 2009, this is where New Fantasyland and Star Tours 2 were officially announced. Both of those projects, however, had been “leaked” prior to the presentation. But with this year’s Parks and Resorts presentation only two days away, no one is sure exactly what will be discussed and no surprises have leaked yet, making it even more exciting. The presentation was recently reduced from 1.5 hours to 1 hour, likely due to recent executive shakeups at Disney’s Vacation Club. But even without that extra half hour, there’s sure to be plenty of incredible artwork and announcements to come from Disney Parks and Resorts, making it my #1 must-see for the 2011 D23 Expo. This panel takes place from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19.

Honorable Mentions

While the above 10 items are the most important for me to see at the 2011 D23 Expo, they’re certainly not all I plan to see. Many more panels, presentations, and exhibits will be featured throughout the upcoming weekend that I hope to have a chance to witness. These include the Disney Legends ceremony, first looks at Pixar’s “Monsters University” and “Brave”, a chat with Imagineering Legends, making-of Imagineering presentations surrounding The Little Mermaid ride, Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, Disney Cruise Line, and Star Tours 3D, a “Why We Create” presentation by Disney producer Don Hahn, a chance to play new Disney Interactive / Microsoft video games, and even a look at “How Toys Are Made. I doubt I’ll be able to see even half of these, but I’ll certainly try.

Something For Everyone

There’s truly something for every Disney fan at the 2011 D23 Expo. But that also means there are plenty of presentations and appearances that won’t interest many people. For me, of all three days, Sunday, Aug. 21, is the least interesting with Arena presentations surrounding Marvel and the Disney Channel. Neither of these topics appeal to me, though with the increasing presence of Marvel throughout the world of Disney, I will likely attend this presentation just to see where DIsney plans on going with this new acquisition.

Throughout all three days, Disney Channel is inviting many special guests and having activities for younger kids. In 2009, very few young children were present during the first three days of the Expo and it seems Disney is looking to change that this time around. While I am not interested in singing “Perry-oke” or hanging out with Radio Disney DJs, DIsney’s younger audience will eat it up.

Disney Living also has a large presence on the 2011 D23 Expo show floor, with areas devoted to fashion, decor, and other ways of bringing more Disney into your life. For me, this was one of the least interesting areas of the Expo in 2009 and I anticipate I won’t be spending too much time here. But for fans who want to see the newest ways to dress and live Disney, this will be the ultimate spot.

See It All, Relive It All

While it’s impossible to see everything in person at the 2011 D23 Expo, we’ll do our best to be everywhere we can as we cover the event. It all begins tomorrow night with a special preview of the Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion as well as the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit. Then, throughout the following three days, we’ll be posting live updates from everything I mentioned above and much more. So be sure to regularly visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to not only see it as it happens, but also to relive the experience (whether you were there or not) afterward.

And if you ever see me throughout the 2011 D23 Expo, be sure to stop and say hi. I might have something special to give you. See you in Anaheim!

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