Beloved Imagineer Joe Rohde is Retiring

November 23, 2020

We are hearing today that beloved Imagineer Joe Rohde is set to retire on January 4, 2021.

Joe Rohde is the Imagineer behind so many beloved projects at Disney Parks and more.  He was the driving force behind the opening of Animal Kingdom Park as well as Pandora — the World of Avatar, designing the Disney Vacation Club property called Aulani in Hawaii and the now-shuttered Adventurers Club, a nightclub-theatrical experience at Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island. He’s had a hand in so much, probably more than most realize.

“I know, this is going to sound weird for a 65-year-old person, but it’s kind of like a coming-of-age moment. I have things to do that are different than this,” Rohde said Monday. “There are things I want to create, there are things I want to do. There’s only so much time in a lifetime to do these things.”

Rohde, known in Disney circles for his elaborate, dangling earring, has been a world traveler in his profession and his private life. He said he plans to spend extended time with the Explorers Club, a conservation-related group and has a travel wish list.

My favorite country is still Nepal. I’ve got to go back to Nepal at least one more time,” he said. He had already planned to go on an expedition related to narwhal conservation in northern Canada this summer, but it was pushed back because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The timing for retirement works well on the Disney front, too, he said.

When Pandora opened at Walt Disney World in 2017, it was part of a three-pronged Rohde rush of projects to open, including the Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout refresh of Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure theme park and Villages Nature Eco-Resort, which is adjacent to Disneyland Paris. They all opened within a three-month period.

“What that did is it created a hiatus gap. Where now I’m in development on things, and development can go on forever. So, part of the opportunity dates all the way back to there,” Rohde said.

“I feel like this is just a great sort of time, and it won’t continue. I mean, once you get ramped up on one of these gigantic, gigantic projects, then that’s another five to seven years, you know?” he said.
Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, used his Instagram account to salute Rohde’s real-life adventurer status and his work ethic.

“His unyielding commitment to excellence across all aspects of projects, and his demand for authenticity and including diverse, indigenous cultures in design and production, are hallmarks of his projects and what differentiate them from all others,” Weis wrote.

Rohde laughed thinking back about his early days at Walt Disney World. “When I started, I simply knew nothing. … I didn’t know anything about Disney. I didn’t know anything about Epcot. I didn’t realize who all these completely famous people were walking around me,” Rohde said Monday.

“I didn’t know how to do the work. I didn’t know anything. So, it was this incredible opportunity to learn and to learn from people who at that point in time, were part of the original founders of the company itself,” he said.

“Joe has spent his career mentoring and advising all of those he works with, and I know that he continue to do that until Jan. 4 and beyond,” current Imagineer Zach Riddley posted on his Instagram account Monday afternoon.

In more recent times, Rohde said was proud of his Animal Kingdom and Aulani work because of the real-life connections they created.
“There is a whole nest of personal creative projects that I’ve been interested in developing further,” Rohde said. “Now, mind you, all those things are kind of speculative. That’s part of the adventure of it, is to step out into something really new, truly new for me.”

I had the opportunity to meet Joe Rohde last summer as well as to sit in on seminars with him at events. He’s truly a class act and will be missed. We wish him a happy retirement as it’s very well deserved.

Thank you to our friend Dewayne Bevil at the Orlando Sentinel for the information.

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