A new land themed around the "Avatar" movie franchise is likely to open in Disney's Animal Kingdom "sometime in 2015," according to the Walt Disney Co.'s top executive.
Disney President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger provided the rough target date during a question-and-answer session at Disney's annual shareholder meeting in Kansas City, Mo.
Disney has released few details about the roughly $500 million project since it was announced six months ago. It is supposed to the first of several lands themed to the James Cameron-directed movie that will be built at Disney theme parks around the world.
The lack of new information has fueled some Internet speculation that the Walt Disney World project could be in trouble. But Iger's comments suggest it is still on track.
"The design work is just beginning," Iger said. "I actually attended a meeting with [Disney Co. Chief Financial Officer] Jay Rasulo the other day where we got pitched some of the creative on it."
Marvel plans in the works
In addition to reaffirming the company's Avatar plans, Iger confirmed that Disney has begun developing plans to incorporate Marvel Entertainment superheroes into its theme parks.
"We've done some preliminary design work. … We're working on some concepts," Iger said. "It's our hope, in a few places around the world, Marvel characters will appear either in attractions or lands or in some form to provide entertainment like our Disney characters do."
Marvel characters are unlikely to appear in any of Disney World's theme parks anytime soon. Universal Orlando has a longstanding license with Marvel — predating Disney's 2009 purchase of the comic-book company — giving it exclusive theme-park rights on the U.S. East Coast to the company's most popular superheroes.
Iger also said Disney has no plans currently to add more Disney Vacation Club time shares at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. The executive said Disney is still evaluating the performance of a test in which it added 50 DVC units to the Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in 2009.
Hotels get pool reprieve
Central Florida hotels got a temporary stay last week from federal regulations that aim to make hotel pools accessible to the disabled.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association said the White House issued a 60-day extension on a rule that requires hotels to install pool lifts to assist disabled customers. The March 15 compliance date has been pushed to May 15.
Hoteliers nationwide raised concerns about the rules, including liability for unattended pool lifts. There were reports of hotels planning to close their pools rather than face legal challenges.
According to the lodging association, the U.S. Department of Justice will take public comments on a possible six-month extension that would allow more time to address uncertainties about the requirements. The association, which said it will continue to seek clarification on the standards, advised members to continue moving forward toward compliance with the ADA standards.
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