Disney Imagineers Building a New Theme Park?

Artist rendering of American Heartland theme park
Credit: American Heartland

Disney Park fans have been waiting for a new theme park for decades. Although Universal Studios is opening Epic Universe in 2025, that’s not necessarily the same as Walt Disney World Resort opening a 5th gate.

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Well, there’s some bad news about this new theme park…and some good news. And some strange news. But let’s start with the bad…

The Bad News

The new theme park will not be licensed or owned by Disney. And it won’t be in Florida (or California).

Rendering of American Heartland theme park

Credit: American Heartland

Confusing? Yes.

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A team of former Disney Imagineers is building a new $2 billion theme park and resort in Oklahoma. The new 1,000-acre vacation destination will be named “American Heartland Theme Park and Resort” and will sit on Route 66 just a few miles west of Grand Lake, Oklahoma. The new theme park was announced earlier today (July 19) as American Heartland executives sat with local and state officials to reveal the new plan.

“We are thrilled to make Oklahoma the home of American Heartland Theme Park and Resort,” American Heartland CEO Larry Wilhite said. “At the crossroads of the heartland, Oklahoma is an attractive location for a family entertainment destination. The state’s business-friendly approach and innovative partnership efforts have helped make this possible. We look forward to bringing unforgettable generational experiences to Oklahoma.”

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Although this is very exciting news for many people who live in the middle of the country, it’s not the most exciting news for theme park enthusiasts on the coasts. But nevertheless…

The Good News

The new theme park will be comparable in size to Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom (but a few acres smaller) at 125 acres. The theme? Americana. Designed by a team of no less than 20 former Disney Imagineers, the theme park is already gathering a lot of buzz. Although the park won’t hold the licenses to properties like Marvel or Star Wars, there is no reason to count it out on family attractions. Don’t forget that some of Disneyland’s (and Walt Disney World’s) most famous attractions didn’t either. Rides like the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain were all big enough attractions to rest solely on their merits without needing a big summer blockbuster to drum up long lines or hype.

American Heartland Entrance

Credit: American Heartland

In images and videos released about the new theme park, it’s clear that it intends to aim at a similar family-based audience with various attractions, including roller coasters, live shows, and high-quality restaurants. In addition, the theme park resort will have an adjacent hotel and a shopping and dining district similar to Disney Springs.

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“There’s no better place to represent the heart of America than northeast Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom. “This $2 billion investment in our state will create more than 4,000 jobs and introduce a new category of entertainment to the region, and its long-term economic impact will be transformative. Tourism is already one of Oklahoma’s top industries, and this project will elevate our state even further. Since tourism is a doorway to economic development, American Heartland Theme Park and Resort will draw new businesses not only to the surrounding area but also throughout the region and state.”

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The theme park will feature six distinct American lands: Great Plains, Bayou Bay, Big Timber Falls, Stony Point Harbor, Liberty Village, and Electropolis.

The Strange News

If the idea of American Heartland sounds familiar to you, that might be because you’re remembering Disney’s America.

Concept Art for Disney's America

Credit: Disney

It was a theme park resort the Walt Disney Company (under then CEO Michael Eisner) attempted to build in the 1990s, not far from Washington, D.C. It eventually fizzled out over pushback from local residents and historians who questioned Disney’s ability to accurately present American history in a theme park.

American Heartland employs several former Disney Imagineers who helped design the modern Disney Parks. The firms building the park include the same companies that have worked for Six Flags, Universal Studios, and Disney.

Universal Orlando entrance

Credit: Universal

And this new theme park resort will be located about 20-25 minutes from a little town called Disney, Oklahoma. Strange coincidence…or not…?

About Steven Wilk

Steven has a complicated relationship with Disney. As a child, he visited Walt Disney World every few years with his family. But he never understood why kids his age (and older) were so scared of Snow White or Alien Encounter. He is a former participant of the Disney College Program (left early…long story), and he also previously worked in Children’s publishing, where he adapted multiple Disney movies and TV shows. He has many controversial opinions about Disney…like having a positive view of Michael Eisner, believing Return of the Jedi is superior to The Empire Strikes Back, and that Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge should have never been built (at least not at Hollywood Studios). Every year for the past two decades, Steven has visited either Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani or went on a Disney Cruise. He’s happy to share any and all knowledge of the Disney destinations (and he likes using parenthesis a lot…as well as ellipses…)