What I loved about my first Destination D23

by W. Andrew Powell
Jodi Benson and Don Hahn at Destination D23

Disney was a big part of my childhood, from the moment I started watching TV to my first movie, so getting to my first ever Destination D23 was such a big deal.

I grew up watching The Magical World of Disney on TV, and one of my first movies in theatres was The Fox and the Hound. My first trip to Walt Disney World wasn’t until 2016, but I was hooked from the moment we got there, and we’ve been back a few times, and then we did a Disney Cruise, and went to Disneyland California.

Covering Destination D23 as a journalist was the kind of event I’ve always wanted to cover, because it was packed with news from the parks, and Disney Cruise Line, on top of entertainment news for shows and movies. But the thing that makes the event so unique is experiencing everything with so many excited fans.

Once Upon A Studio directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy
Once Upon A Studio directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy

The big moment from this year’s event had to be seeing Once Upon A Studio with all those fans.

Directors Dan Abraham and Trent Correy introduced the short film, dedicated to The Walt Disney Company’s 100th anniversary, and it pays tribute to all of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ main characters over the years. From Mickey Mouse and Tiana, to Jiminy Cricket and the Genie, it’s a charming, joyous, and moving tribute that brought together 400 characters and 40 of the original voice actors.

And it features a moment with the great Richard M. Sherman playing “Feed The Birds” once again, as well as a little bit of Walt Disney himself.

It’s a remarkable film and the crowd erupted in a two minute standing ovation for the film and the directors, who came out to talk a little bit more about it. Between all the news at the event, and the previews, and everything else, I’m pretty sure this short film had the biggest reaction, and it was beautiful to be part of. It was really a moment of pure love for stories, characters, and cinema.

A few weeks earlier I had a special preview of Disney’s Wish with co-director Fawn Veerasunthorn, and I had the chance to see some of the same footage again at Destination D23, but this time with the fans, and it was so wonderful.

Disney Global Ambassador Showdown
Disney Global Ambassador Showdown

Everyone loved the sweet, funny scene, where we get a fantastic moment with Asha, the film’s star, voiced by Ariana DeBose, and they laughed along with Alan Tudyk as Valentino, the pajama-wearing, deep voiced goat. There’s nothing quite like seeing moments like this with an appreciative audience.

Once Upon A Studio will be released in theatres with Disney’s Wish on November 22, 2023.

But, look, the travel news was also such a treat.

Earlier that week, Disney revealed a lot of new highlights from their next cruise ship, the Disney Treasure, and I can’t wait to get onboard. The ship looks iconic, I love the Jasmine and Aladdin-themed Grand Hall, and I can’t wait to enjoy the Coco-themed dining experience.

Coco is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I’m so happy to see more with the characters.

It seemed like the other big park news was the fate of Dinoland at Animal Kingdom. With a cheeky little presentation from Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, they revealed that the area will be rethemed around Central America with highlights for Encanto and Indiana Jones.

There weren’t a lot of details yet, and there isn’t a timeline yet, either, but it’s exciting news and I can’t wait to see this part of Animal Kingdom rejuvenated. Animal Kingdom is such an amazing park, and it will be great to see more updates there.

There was so much news, and I wrote about my favourite top ten announcements at Destination D23 already, but what I really wanted to talk about is the event itself.

The shopping experience was great, and I bought a few things. I also enjoyed the 60 Years of Audio-Animatronics Exhibit too. Plus getting to the event gave me a chance to visit the parks, and I really enjoyed checking out Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, not to mention the presentations and panels were fantastic.

But the fun of Destination D23 was the fans. Everyone was so excited–it felt like a party. The Halloween bash with Disney+ was a blast, and so was the EPCOT takeover night. Like some of the best fan events out there, everyone was on the same page and the energy was so positive.

If D23 is anything like this–and I realize it’s quite a bit bigger, too–I hope I can make it to Anaheim next year. They announced some details at Walt Disney World, so it looks like D23 2024: The Ultimate Disney Fan Event is going to be a big deal, taking over the Honda Center, and running from August 9 to 11, 2024.

Hopefully, I’ll be there next year for my first Anaheim D23, and stay tuned as I’m going to keep blogging about Disney and Walt Disney World over the coming months. In a few weeks I’ll be on my first longer cruise, I’m looking at going back to Disneyland with my family, and my wife, daughter and I will be on the preview cruise next June for Disney Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point.

All photos by W. Andrew Powell/The GATE

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