Walt Disney World News From D23 – A Recap

As readers of this site probably know, this past weekend was the 2017 D23 Expo out in California. Though, as a Disney fan, I was interested in a lot of the goings on from the weekend, I was most interested in seeing what Disney was going to announce related to Disney World.

Here’s what happened:

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Information about Star Wars Land starting coming out early at D23 when Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek unveiled a detailed model of the Disneyland version of the new land. TouringPlans has some more detailed pictures of the Star Wars Land model, as does WDW News Today, and Disney has posted a video “fly through” of the model:

The name of the new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, was actually discovered in Disney webpage source code a day before it’s official announcement during Saturday’s Disney Parks & Resorts panel. As part of that announcement, Disney gave more details on the two two attractions that will be part of the new land:

One attraction will make you feel like you’re on a Star Destroyer inside a hangar bay. It’s an attraction built on a scale we’ve never done before.

Here is a link to WDW News Today’s look at the ride vehicle for that attraction that is supposed to bring you in a close confrontation with the First Order.

First Order Attraction Concept Art - © Disney
First Order Attraction Concept Art – © Disney

Disney describes the second attraction as

giv[ing] guests the opportunity to fly the Millenium Falcon, piloting the ship, shooting blasters or preparing for hyperspace – all while completing a critical mission. But how you perform on the mission holds even bigger stakes: perform with skill and you may earn extra galactic credits, while bringing the ship back banged up could put you on the list of a bounty hunter. End up on Harkos’s list and you may face a problem if you show up at the local cantina!
Millennium Falcon Attraction Concept art - © Disney
Millennium Falcon Attraction Concept art – © Disney

Chapek also announced that Galaxy’s Edge will feature appearances from popular characters Chewbacca, BB-8, and everyone’s favorite Star Tours pilot, Rex (who will have a new role as the dj in the cantina.)

Overall, the presentation hinted on the new “reputation” features of the land that were previously announced (i.e., your flight on the Millawnium…err…Millenium Falcon having consequences), but did not give details as to how that will be implemented. Thanfully, Inside the Magic has a fantastic interview with Imagineer Scott Trowbridge that gives strong hints as to how that system will work:

“If you do a great job flying the Millennium Falcon, you might find a few more Galactic Credits coming your way. But if you bang the ship up and bring it back all damaged […] when you roll across the street to the local cantina, you might hear from someone in the cantina that there’s even a bounty on your head because you owe more money than you have.

That’s just one quote from the interview, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in Star Wars Land, to head over to Inside the Magic and read the whole thing.

After discussing the land, Chapek confirmed earlier reports that both coasts will get their respective Star Wars lands in the first half of 2019, with the Disneyland version of Galaxy’s Edge opening before the Disney World version (which isn’t surprising based on the reports of the construction progress in both lands.) That said, with Star Wars: Episode IX scheduled to open on May 24, 2019, I would imagine Disney will try to get Galaxy’s Edge open in time to capitalize on the film’s advertising, etc… (and, coincidentially, a few weeks before Bob Iger’s contract expires on July 2, 2019.)

In more Star Wars news, the rumored, immersive, Star Wars Hotel was also officially announced. Chapek described the new hotel as:

“It’s unlike anything that exists today. From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”

If I heard things correctly, he also said that every room will have a window looking out into space. If the “virtual space” windows are half as good as everyone says the “virtual portholes” on Disney cruise ships, we could be in for a real treat. I’d imagine that Elyssa and I will be making reservations as close as possible to the hotel opening.

Star Wars Themed Hotel - © Disney
Star Wars Themed Hotel – © Disney

Hollywood Studios

In non-Star Wars news related to the Studios, it was confirmed that the previously announced Toy Story Land is scheduled to open in 2018.

In a more dramatic move, however, Disney also announced that The Great Movie Ride will become Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The first ever Mickey-themed ride is inspired by Mickey Mouse cartoons and Disney describes it as:

put[ting] you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen. This zany out-of-control adventure features surprising twists and turns, dazzling visual effects and mind-boggling transformations that happen before your very eyes.

More concretely, Disney says this attraction

will feature a new story and a new singable attraction theme song as well as a new experience we’re calling “2 1/2 D.” No glasses required. Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said teams are inventing new technologies that turn the flat world of a colorful cartoon short into a “dimensional display of amazingness.”

In order to make way for this new attraction, The Great Movie Ride will be closed on August 13, 2017. Though I’ve not ridden The Great Movie Ride as much recently, I have fond memories of the attraction. Unfortunately, it was in dire need of an update and a refurb, and it looks like Disney couldn’t (or decided not to) bring all the necessary parties together to structure the licenses necessary to make that happen.

No targeted opening date was given for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Epcot

Many people went into this D23 thinking it was going to be a turning point for Epcot (though, there is a definite split on whether or not such massive changes is a positive development.) Regardless of your thoughts as to whether major changes should take place, however, Disney announced a ton of new changes for Epcot. It also indicated that this is just the beginning of a massive overhaul of the park.

Chapek described the Epcot reimagining as staying true to the “original vision” of Epcot, while also making it “more Disney, timeless, relevant, [and] family-friendly.” I’m sure a lot of ink will be spilled on think pieces over the next couple of days discussing how some of these announcements relate to Epcot’s “original vision”, but, for now, I’m going to focus on what’s upcoming.

To set the stage, new concept art for Future World was shown during the presentation that featured–what looked like–a complete reimagining of Future World. Since Disney did not release that image along with the rest of its media assets, however, I view those ideas as more in the “developing” stages than some of the other items. (A lot can change between initial reimagining and the final product.) If you’re interested, though, here’s a link to a photo someone took of the concept art

As far as actual new attractions, the first announcement was a new Guardians of the Galaxy-inspired attraction that will replace Universe of Energy.. There were not a lot of details given about this attraction, with Disney saying:

Epcot’s brand new E-ticket attraction will be based on the rockin’ and action-packed world of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and is the next step in how guests can encounter these characters at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Previously, rumors have suggested the ride will be some kind of new coaster, but none of that has been confirmed, yet. As with the Great Movie Ride, Universe of Energy will close on August 13, 2017 to begin construction of the new Guardians ride.

The second announced new attraction coming to Epcot is a Ratatouille ride similar to the one at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris.. This ride will be part of new area in the France pavilion and Disney says that in this attraction:

guests will be able to shrink to Remy’s size and scurry to safety in a dazzling chase across a kitchen with the sights, sounds and smells of Gusteau’s legendary Parisian restaurant.

Both of these attractions are targeted to open prior to Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.

Other Epcot related changes include a new, updated Circle-Vision film being added to the China pavilion and updated films for Mission: SPACE, including “a brand new Green Mission that will take guests on a stunning tour around the Earth, with younger cadets joining the adventure for the very first time.” According to Disney, Mission: SPACE is scheduled to reopen this August.

Adjacent to Mission: SPACE will be a new “out of this world” restaurant. Though not many details were announced, it seems likely the restaurant will feature “windows” looking out into space (like the Star Wars Hotel will have.) The fact that it’s going to be run by the same group that runs Via Napoli and Morimoto Asia gives me high hopes.

Space Restaurant - © Disney
Space Restaurant – © Disney

Magic Kingdom

Recently, rumors had been quite strong that the TRON coaster from Shanghai Disneyland would be making its way to Disney World. Many of the rumors suggested this new experience would end up replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway. Well, the rumors saying that TRON is coming were right. It is slated to open in advance of Disney’s 50th anniversary in 2021. The interesting part of things, however, is that the attraction will “sit in an entirely new area right next Space Mountain.” This seems to suggest that the Speedway is sticking around (and, also, hopefully means that there won’t be any issues requiring changes or removal of the beloved People Mover in order to accommodate the new TRON attraction.)

Another Magic Kingdom item that had not been on anyone’s rumor radar is a new theater coming to Main Street U.S.A.. The “new entertainment venue will be based on the iconic Willis Wood Theater in 1920s Kansas City, where Walt lived after he left Marceline. ” Disney hasn’t yet announced what new entertainment will be coming to the theater, but it seems like this venue could be used to house the shows shown on Disney Cruise ships or similar like performances.

Unfortunately, there were no announcements about a new night time parade coming to Disney World. For months we’ve heard rumors about Disneyland’s Paint the Night parade coming to Disney World, but now it looks like that parade is simply moving to Disney’s California Adventure. (I’ve also heard rumors about Main Street Electrical Parade coming back to Disney World, but I’ll believe that when I see it.) Until then, it looks like Magic Kingdom will continue to operate without a night time parade (outside of the holiday parties) for the forseeable future.

Overall Resort Changes

The rumored gondola system that will connect Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts with the Studios and the backside of Epcot was given the name Disney Skyliner. It’ll be interesting to see what an increased amount of people using the International Gateway might mean for that (significantly smaller) entrance. As it stands currently, a boat full of people arriving can clog things up for a few minutes. I wonder what a steady stream of people arriving on gondolas will do.

Also on the transportation front, Disney’s rumored “Uber-like” service was branded Minnie Vans. Details on this new transportation option (such as cost) are scarce at this time.

Finally, Disney announced the new Disney Riveria Resort. This resort seems to be what people previously thought of as the “moderate” Caribbean Beach DVC (in no small part as a result of its location adjacent to Caribbean Beach). With the rebranding and gondola system, however, it’ll be interesting to see if the cost of this resort ends up being more in line with the rest of DVC options.

Other Odds and Ends

In news that made Elyssa crack a smile, Disney announced that there will be new themed dresses coming to The Dress Shop. Hopefully, Disney will be able to actually keep these in stock.

Disney also announced that the various Disney Stores around the country will be redesigned. As someone who tries to get a little bit of a Disney-fix by wandering into my local Disney Store ever week or two, I’m interested in seeing what this new redesign looks like.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see from the length of this post, the 2017 iteration of D23 Expo had a lot of Disney World news. At this point, I’m still trying to process things, but my first impression from the new announcements is pretty positive. We are getting a number of interesting new attractions, without losing things like the People Mover or Impressions de France to make way for them (for now, anyway.)

Out of all the new attractions, I’m probably most exited about Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the TRON coaster. Finally having a ride dedicated to the mouse that started it all is awesome, and I have high hopes that the Imagineers are going to give the attraction a lot of love and care. Meanwhile, the Shanghai version of TRON is that park’s highest rated attraction (and have a soft spot in my heart for the concept of little “people programs” running around in my computer.) Can I make my reservations for Disney World’s 50th birthday now?

That’s it for my recap. Thanks for reading See you at the Galaxy’s Edge!

(NOTE: If you’ve made it this far, but you still want to read Disney PR’s take on all the Disney World news, they have a press release available that talks about everything.)

Star Wars – Forces of Destiny Episodes 2 and 3 now up on Disney’s Youtube Channel

On the heels of the first episode of Star Wars: Forces of Destiny being released earlier this week, Star Wars has released two more episodes:

Episode 2, featuring more of Rey and BB-8’s Story:

and, Episode 3, which gives us first look at how Leia and the Ewoks are going to be portrayed in the series:

These episodes have been great so far. I really hope the series continues to be this good.

Talking Star Wars With MoMM – The Empire Strikes Back

Big week for Elyssa and me, as the guys at Mighty Men of Mouse invited us on to talk about one of our favorite movies of all time: The Empire Strikes Back. I felt a lot of pressure for this one, since Empire is such a great movie. I hope you enjoy our discussion starting at the mark in MMoM Episode 321.

For people who listen to MMoM for the Disney World takes, Elyssa and I also talked to the guys about our impressions of Pandora. If you like hearing / reading what we have to say, we also have a post about Pandora up here on the site. One other topic that comes up is our My Disney Experience Fastpass+ Refreshing Strategy, which we wrote about here.

Enjoy the show! (And remember, if you have any thoughts or comments about it, email Dutch!)

No disintegrations
No disintegrations

The Kivii Way – How We Refresh My Disney Experience to Get Our Fastpass+ Selections

The concept of “refreshing” My Disney Experience to get additional Fastpass+ selections is nothing new (e.g., this post from easyWDW from April 2016.) It’s a strategy Elyssa and I have been using for at least that long and it has resulted in us getting some pretty great Fastpass+ choices (we ended up taking a last second trip to the Magic Kindgdom on Christmas Day without any Fastpass+ reservations as we walked through the tapstiles, but ended up getting at least Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear while we were there–no comment if we got a Meet Tinker Bell one.)

Even with people having known about the technique for some time, I feel like I’ve received a lot of questions about this kind of refreshing lately (possibly due to Disney closing loopholes related to people getting “extra” Fastpass+ selections?) With that in mind, here’s how Elyssa and I search and “refresh” for Fastpass+ in My Disney Experience:

General Fastpass+ “Refresh” Steps in My Disney Experience

Step 1: Get any Fastpass+ selection you can for the park you want to be in.

Basically, I think of this step as just “get the best available.” So, if my goal is to try and get a Mine Train Fastpass+, I’ll look to see if there’s anything available for the Mine Train, and, if there is, I’ll grab that. If there’s isn’t, I’ll just grab whatever I can in the Magic Kingdom. I’ll also avoid getting other Fastpass+ selections with a return window near what I’m “refreshing” for, so I have more flexibility to choose the results I’m presented with.

Here’s a screenshot of a current Fastpass+ selection with “Modify” link you’ll ned in Step 2 called out:

Step 2: Choose to “Modify” your existing Fastpass+ selection and see what’s available.

The “Modify” Fastpass+ selection screen is pretty straightforward. It starts with a list of times at the top that sets the search parameter for the time of the new Fastpass+ you are looking for. It then shows the other availables times for the attraction you are currently modifying (i.e., if you are modifying a Mine Train selection, it’ll show you other times for the Mine Train.), followed by all other available Fastpass+ selections for around that time (unless an attraction only has selections outside of your time window. In that case, it just shows you what is available for that attraction.)

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:

Step 3: If you like what you see, select your new Fastpass+

Pretty straightforward, right? If you see the attraction and time you want available, just grab it. That’s it!.

Step 4: If you don’t like what you see, select another “time” and see what options present themselves. REPEAT.

I feel like Step 4 is the actual “refreshing” step, since it’s the one that actually pulls new information from Disney’s servers. In this step, you basically just tap on the time in the top bar that you ideally want for you Fastpass+ selection. So, if you want an 11:00am Fastpass+ for Mine Train, you tap 11:00am. If something comes up, grab it. If not, then tap the next time (in our example, 11:30am) and see what comes up. Again, if you see what you want grab it. If not, then I’d recommend choosing the time period right before your ideal time (in our example, this would be 10:30am). Did you get what you want? No? Then go back and tap 11:00am again, and continue repeating this process until something opens up.

So, basically, you’re tapping 3 different “times”, over and over again (but, hopefully, not too long) in order to eventually get the time that you want. (Once again, our example: Tap 11:00am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 11:30am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 10:30am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 11:00am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. … REPEAT… Tap 11:00am. MINE TRAIN FASTPASS+ FOUND)

I’m sure other people have different ways to handle this “refreshing” step, but this method works well for us. The biggest advantage of this strategy is that your thumb is basically just tapping in almost the same place over and over again, so you don’t have to think too much about context, what the menus are showing, etc.. (Personally, I don’t like to expend a lot of mental energy when doing a task like this.)

Some other “Refresh” Tips and Context

A few other quick thoughts about this My Disney Experience “refreshing”:

  • I prioritize getting the attraction I want when doing Step 4, above. So, if I want a Mine Train Fastpass+ for around 11:00am, but a 5:00pm pops up while I’m refreshing, then I just take that 5:00pm one and start back over at Step 2. This way, I don’t have to keep scrolling down to Mine Train in the available attractions list to see what’s available. It’s right at the top. (If that wasn’t clear, here’s an example of what I might do when trying to book a Fastpass+ for Mine Train for 11:00am: Step 1: Book Splash Mountain, since it’s all that’s available; Step 2: Choose to modify that Fastpass+, Step 3: Select a 7:00pm Mine Train that’s become available: Step 4: Keep performing Step 4 until an 11:00am-ish Mine Train Fastpass+ selection shows up.)
  • Related to the tip above, it seems like Disney might just be putting the 2 Avatar attractions at the top when you refresh (which is nice.) There’s no guarantee that’ll continue, though.
  • Be careful when getting into a groove on “refreshing”. I have, admittedly, been in such a rut of refreshing, that I’ve refreshed instead of actually selecting the new Fastpass+ option that’s become available. That can be frustrating.
  • Don’t necessarily give up if things don’t work in the first 5 minutes. I’d estimate that I spent a total of 50 minutes refreshing on Christmas Day last year to get the Fastpass+ selections I mentioned. I think Mine Train took about 30 minutes of that.
  • Even though this article is about Fastpass+ selections, I’ve also used it for last minute ADRs. For example, we finished the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon and decided we wanted Kona breakfast, even though there was no ADR availability when we made the decision. It took about 15 minutes of refreshing on the bus ride over to the Poly to get an ADR for about 10 minutes in the future.

Summary

People at Disney World are always looking for the ways to best utilize the system. Paper Fastpass had a set of strategies, people tried collecting various “dummy bands” in the early days of Fastpass+, and, now, people can take advantage of My Disney Experience to get additional (or better) Fastpass+ options that are more in line with what they want to do. Hopefully, “refreshing” (no matter what technique you use), works as good for you as it does for us.

Happy touring!

You never know who your Fastpass+ might let you meet
You never know who your Fastpass+ might let you meet

Live Stream of the Magic Kingdom Fourth of July Fireworks Tonight at 8:55PM Eastern

UPDATE: Here’s the Disney Parks Blog post with the video. I’ve also embedded the video below.

As it has for the past couple of years, Disney will be live streaming tonight’s Fourth of July fireworks. My standard recommendation for these types of events still applies, namely: Go to the Disney Parks Blog at about 10 minutes before the event to find the new post that includes the Disney Parks video embed. (Of course, I’ll try to update this post with that information if I’m able.)

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Enjoy whatever family time, fireworks, bbq, etc… that you have planned for today.

Still not the right fireworks show
Still not the right fireworks show

UPDATE: Here’s the video stream…

My Disney Experience and Shop Disney Parks crash on the first iOS 11 Public Beta

It’s the time of year when people begin experimenting with Apple’s latest round of iOS betas (despite recommendations from pretty much everyone in the technology industry that they should hold off.) For those of you who are Disney World fans, however, I have a special PSA: My Disney Experience and Shop Disney Parks do not work on the first iOS Public Beta. Though this could be an annoyance for people who are looking to do some shopping via the Shop Disney Parks app, it could really hamper someone who is planning on visiting the Disney World in the near future (imagine not being able to refresh to find new Fastpass+ selections?).

At this point, it’s too early to tell if the issues are something that will be resolved by future iOS updates (in advance of the final iOS 11 release later this fall) or if this is something that Disney is going to have to fix on its end. Until this is resolved, though, you should probably hold off installing iOS 11 on your iPhone if you want to use either of these apps. (Or, you could do what most people recommend, and just not install the betas at all.) Also, as a reminder, this is not anybody’s “fault’. This beta process is designed to allow these types of issues to be found and corrected before the actual release date, instead of people running into these issues with the actual versions of the software.

MDE Crash
MDE Crash

Star Wars – Forces of Destiny Debuts on Disney’s YouTube Channel

One of the things that Elyssa and I were most look forward to from this year’s Celebration announcements was the upcoming animated series focusing on some of Star Wars’ female heroes. Well, that wait is finally over as the first episode, featuring Rey, debuted today:

If you enjoyed that, here’s a sneak peak on what else you can expect from the series:

It looks like it’s going to be awesome.

Disney to Live Stream “The Music of Pixar Live” Tonight at 7:55pm Eastern

UPDATE: Here’s the Disney Parks Blog link, and the video is embedded below.

Disney is doing another live stream tonight, and this time it’s The Music of Pixar Live. My recommendation for these live streams is to go to the Disney Parks Blog around 10 minutes before the stream starts to find a new post that includes the video embed. I’ll also try to do my best to update this post with the information.

I wonder if my friend will make an appearance
I wonder if my friend will make an appearance

Thoughts on Pandora – Our Initial Review of Avatarland

Queue Selfie
Queue Selfie

I feel like I’m in the distinct minority as to James Cameron’s Avatar. I didn’t hate it, and I actually kind of enjoy watching it. Elyssa, on the other hand, thinks it’s terrible (mostly because she says that you never relate to any of the characters.) However, as for Disney’s take on the planet at the heart of Avatar, Pandora, I think Elyssa and I both agree that Disney knocked it out of the park. In other words, the Imagineers did Cameron’s concept justice.

Attractions

The two major attractions in Pandora are Flight of Passage and the Na’vi River Journey. If you are walking into Pandora as you read this and are trying to decide if a 50 minute wait is worth it for Flight of Passage, the answer is yes. Go get in line and you can read the rest as you walk through the queue (you’ll probably want to pay attention to all the detail in the queue though.) For everyone else, below are some more in-depth thoughts.

At the outset, we’ll note that we’re aware of the reviews that focus on operational issues making it hard for people to ride the headliner attractions, etc. Among other things, there were issues with people being able to fit in the Flight of Passage ride vehicle were a concern. When we visited a few weeks after the official opening day, that particular operational issue seemed to have been smoothed out . And, from what we’ve heard, the day-to-day operations continue to improve.

As far as Flight of Passage goes, it’s already one of our favorite rides at Disney World. We rode it 5 times over a three-day weekend, and opted to wait about 50 minutes to get that last ride in. The various “Soarin’ on steriods” takes are actually a decent way to describe the experience. It’s a ride that makes you feel like you’re flying, but the ride vehicle and its restraints allow for some far more exhilarating moments than Soarin’ provides. I won’t spoil any of the ride itself (I’m sure you can find that if you want it), but I’ll say it’s definitely worth doing, and probably worth waiting for 70+ minutes if that’s the only way you’ll get to ride it.

Thankfully, if you are forced to endure a long wait, the queue for the ride moves you through a good variety of environments: the initial outdoor section gives you excellent views of Pandora; the indoor cave tells the history of the Na’vi in wall art; indoor bioluminescence abounds; there’s a laboratory that includes interesting experiments; and, of course, this guy hangs out in the queue:

That guy!
That guy!

Overall, Flight of Passage is a headliner attraction that everyone (who doesn’t mind a little bit of a thrill) should try. Frankly, I just don’t understand people who say they had no connection to the ride because they didn’t care much for Avatar going in. Even someone like Elyssa, who has no love lost for James Cameron’s film, thought the attraction was fantastic. (Quick note: I’d follow Disney advice and empty your pockets during the ride. I rode once with my wallet still in my shorts and feared the whole time it was going to fall.)

The Na’vi River Journey is the second attraction in Pandora, and, for better or worse, it is a relaxing BOATRIDE through a bioluminescent environment and it features a showcase of the most advanced animatronics that Disney has ever revealed. If you’re the type to nit-pick about the lack of a defined “story” for an attraction, here’s your chance. The ride is simply a pleasant journey through a cool forest that uses the whole gamut of theme park ride technologies to transport you to another word. As you might guess from that, I enjoyed it. I might not wait 60 minutes for it, but 20-30 is probably fair.

Here are a couple of pictures to give you a flavor for what you’ll see. On a moving boat in the dark, my camera was taxed to get a decent result. Consequently, these pictures might not do justice to how pretty the ride is:

Na'vi River Journey
Na’vi River Journey
Trying to do her justice...
Trying to do her justice…

Environment

There have been (garbage) articles that claim the pictures of Pandora do the land “too much justice.” Aside from how asinine that concept is, the idea that photographic wizards are somehow making this place look better in still capture form than it looks when you’re actually visiting is ridiculous. During both day and night (and, yes, it does really look quite different at night), the landscaping, plant life (both living and “imagineered”), and overall environment are fantastic. I would argue that these pictures don’t capture it enough:

Day
Day
Night
Night

At present, the newness of Pandora means it’s pretty much always crowded. These crowd levels can make it a little tougher to just “enjoy” your surroundings in the land. As time goes on, however, and crowds stabilize to “normal” levels, I can imagine night time strolls through Pandora are going to be a great way to end a day at Animal Kingdom. (I have a feeling that we’re going to end a lot of future nights at Disney World by having a drink at Nomad, strolling through Pandora, and then watching some Tree of Life Awakenings.)

Food

While visiting Pandora, we, of course, had to try the food. We tried Satu’li Canteen’s custom bowls, the Cheeseburger pods, and the Chocolate Cake dessert. Personally, I think the bowls are going to be a nice change-of-pace option for me going forward. The chicken was quite good and all the ingredients seemed a step up from standard quick service options. The cheeseburger pods were also tasty (Yes, they taste like McDonald’s cheeseburgers), even if I wish the pod-to-meat ratio didn’t so heavily favor the pod. Elyssa gave a thumbs up to the Chocolate Cake, with a surprisingly crunch cookie layer, but it’s tough to get her to give any chocolate item a thumbs down. Personally, I might pass on getting it again, but if you’re in the mood for a bitter chocolate something, you could do worse. (Elyssa’s note: it wasn’t bitter – it was just not milk chocolate)

Pods
Pods
Bowl
Bowl
Cake
Cake

Strategery

As you would probably expect from something new at Disney World, people want to experience Pandora. That means, the usual advice applies: get there early, stay really late, and/or try to get Fastpass+ reservations for the primary attractions (NOTE: You can only get 1 of the Pandora attractions for your initial 3 selections. I’d try to get Flight of Passage because of its higher demand and wait times.) Josh over at easyWDW has outlined a number of strategies concerning timing, including arriving about an hour and fifteen minutes before the park open (on non-EMH days.) If you’re planning to visit, I suggest reviewing Josh’s posts in-depth.

Elyssa and I had a great bit of success taking advantage of the morning extra magic hour (7:00am opening on a Saturday when the park opens at 8:00am.) We arrived about 6:10am via our own car, which got us there before any of the resort buses. (I’d recommend driving yourself or getting an Uber instead of using a resort bus. Being ahead of that crowd can be a huge help.) That put us about 2 parties back at the tapstiles. They let us into the park about 6:40am, where they scanned our Magic Bands again to make sure that we were entitled to EMH access, and then held us at the Tree of Life until about 6:50am. At that point, they began walking us to Pandora and, for almost everyone, Flight of Passage. We briskly walked through the Flight of Passage queue and were part of what felt like the first group to ride for the day. We then headed over to Na’vi River Journey and, essentially, walked onto that. We then exited Pandora, and had time to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris twice before our 9:20 Tusker House ADR. It was a fantastic morning.

We also tried the evening extra magic hours, but had a little less success with them. It seemed like most people went to the earlier showing of Rivers of Light and then headed over to Pandora after that. This mean waits of 90+ minutes for Flight of Passage right when EMH started (though, the end of FP+ return could make that go quicker.) If we were willing to stick around until later in the night, we might be able to get a lower wait. We actually found, however, that riding around 9 (while people were occupied with Rivers of Light) actually worked out better for us, but, based on Josh’s wait time chart, that might have just been an anomaly in the standard wait pattern.

In summary, your best bet is probably to get there early and then also try to get a FP+ for Flights of Passage. Not shocking advice, I know, but, it bears repeating.

Conclusion

As far as the swatting of Potter goes, I’ve been to Diagon Alley, and I prefer Pandora. I think Len Testa best summed it up when he talked about how he prefers nature to a cityscape and Pandora is actually “better nature than actual nature” as far as immersion goes. Also, much like Elyssa has no connection to Avatar, I have no connection to Harry Potter. I’ve seen the movies a couple of times, never read the books, and, for better or worse, am kind of shrug emoji about all of it. Elyssa, on the other hand, is a huge Harry Potter fan, but still had a hard time deciding which immersive land she liked better. In the end, her connection to the word of Harry Potter wins out, but for something to have even been that close shows just how great Joe Rohde and his team did. (Elyssa note: no, but seriously, I frakking LOVE Harry Potter and walking into Diagon and Hogsmeade makes me cry, so this is a big deal.)

Regardless of which land you think is “better”, Diagon Alley, and now, Pandora, seem to be the pinnacle of this generation of theme park design and execution. Pandora is an immersive environment that rewards repeat visits with its intricate detail, quality food offerings, and enjoyable attractions. Until Star Wars Land opens with its new concept of “memory”(i.e., it knowing your history within the land), Pandora is pretty much the best of what theme parks have to offer.

Flare
Flare
Too much justice?
Too much justice?

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

There’s been a lot of Disney World news since we lasted posted an edition of the News Nuggets. (There’s also been a few other developments here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ, such as a trip down to the World for Elyssa and me, but that will be covered in a separate post.) Of course, as one would expect, there has been a lot of coverage about Pandora, but–again–I’m going to do something separate for that. So, with all that out of the way, on to the News Nuggets!

Phew. That was a lot of news, but there is still a bunch to cover. Let’s take a quick break to look at this picture of Baby Stella:

Baby Stella!!!
Baby Stella!!!
(Yes, Elyssa and I did do the Caring for Giants tour on this past trip. More information on that coming as well.)

Okay back to the Nuggets:

Our last News Nugget is Disney debuting the new “Disney Movie Magic” show at The Studios, a nice show to take up a little time before the fireworks. Speaking of which, let’s finish with a video of the show from The DIS:

Disney Moves up Today’s (Wednesday’s) Pandora Live Stream to 8:10am Eastern

UPDATE: Here’s the Disney Parks Blog link and embed is below.

Disney is live streaming the dedication of Pandora today at 8:10am Eatern (moved up from later in the morning due to weather concerns).  As always, I find the easiest way to catch the live stream is to go to the Disney Parks Blog about 10-15 minutes before the start of the live stream to find a fresh post with the video embed.

VIDEO:

Disney will be Live Streaming the Debut of “Happily Ever After” Tonight at 8:55PM Eastern Tonight

Tonight, Disney is going to live stream the first ever performance of its new Happily Ever After nighttime spectactular tonight. As always, it’s easiest to just go to the Disney Parks Blog about 10 minutes for the show (so 8:45PM Eastern) and find the “new” post about the live stream. Here’s hoping it’s a solid replacement for Wishes!

I still miss our beloved Celebrate the Magic

Kona Cafe’s Big Kahuna sails off into the Sunset

It’s a “sad”* day at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ, as it is being reported that Kona Cafe has removed the Big Kahuna from its breakfast menu. Anyone who follows Elyssa and me on Twitter knows that one of our “go to” breakfast options is Elyssa with her Big Kahuna and me with my Tonga Toast at Kona (We pretty much always get a coffee press pot when it’s available at a Disney restaurant as well.) As Elyssa pointed out on Twitter, she isn’t even sure how she’s supposed to go on now. Here’s hoping that when we ask our server for a Big Kahuna next time we’re at Disney World, they just make it anyway.

Elyssa's beloved Big Kahuna
Elyssa’s beloved Big Kahuna
Don't ever leave me...
Don’t ever leave me…
* In case you can’t tell, there’s supposed to be some humor in this post. Obviously, we are aware of things that have more impact than a beloved breakfast option being removed from one of our favorite breakfast restaurants.

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

They're going to bring this back to Food & Wine, right?
They’re going to bring this back to Food & Wine, right?
The biggest “news” since we last shared a helping of News Nuggets is the announcement of the details of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. This year’s festival runs 75 days from opening Aug. 31 through Nov. 1. It was also have 35 booths (“marketplaces”) this year. For more details, check out Disney’s press release about what’s to come.

Now, from the rest of the nuggets:

Here’s the preview for Happily Ever After video I mentioned earlier. Seem you next time!

Initial Thoughts on New Things (and things that are new to Us)

John and I are done with our trip down to WDW for the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend, and I am the one putting together this Quick Hits post because John is driving (and blogging while driving is probably not that safe). Here are some of the “new to us” items:

Small World Dress!
Small World Dress!

The Dress Shoppe @ Cherry Tree Lane. IT IS THE BEST AND I WANT ALL THE DRESSES! They aren’t free though, so I only bought one. I got the Small World pattern and love it. I tried a bunch of them on and they’re all really cute. I wish they’d had the Orange Bird one in stock. Cast Members said they’d been told much more stock would be coming in summer. Hopefully Disney recognizes the demand and we get even more patterns and styles.

BB-8 Meet & Greet. Droid please. He’s really cute and we thought this was a positive experience. One thing that’s different about the BB meet is you’re the only ones in the room with him; at most character meets, there’s a family or two behind you watching/waiting their turn. They brought us in to him alone. He’s a nicely attentive droid too – even though he doesn’t roll around, his head swivels and you can see him looking around based on where voices are coming from. The chirps are the cutest.

The Polite Pig. MEH. As North Carolinians, we have pretty high expectations for BBQ/southern food, so it’s a bit of a tough sell. The fast casual concept of ordering and then sitting down might be nice if they figure it out. When we went, they had clearly not ironed out the wrinkles in that system. When we initially got in the main line, which was pretty long and didn’t seem to be moving quickly, the CM handing out menus told us we could sit/order at the bar if we didn’t want to stand in line. So we went to the bar, where the lone bartender was clearly overwhelmed (both sides of the bar were almost at capacity). It took almost 10 minutes for us to even get water, but we stuck it out and ordered. I got mac & cheese and John got the brisket sandwich. John liked his sandwich okay. My mac & cheese just made me wish we’d gone to Homecomin. We both agreed that if we’d just gone to the bar at Homecomin, we could’ve gotten a better tasting meal in about the same amount of time though at a slightly higher cost. I don’t think we’ll really need to go here again, but it would be okay if sitting at the Homecomin bar is not an option for you.

Geyser Point. Beautiful views, not so beautiful food/service. When we sat, it took a while for a waitress to even acknowledge us. She gave us drink menus and seemed mad when we asked about food. Apparently, you are supposed to go over to the quick service counter (not clearly visible from the Geyser Point entrance) to get anything aside from 3-4 appetizer type things. Given that there’s a giant menu at the Geyser Point entrance showing all the options from the quick service counter, I’m sure lots of people walk in expecting those options. Yet, when we asked about them she huffed and acted like it was a giant hassle, so we just ordered drinks. John ended up just going over to the quick service counter to order some food. The food you get is definitely Disney quick service. That doesn’t mean it’s gross, but it’s replacement level. The food from Territory Lounge is much better. The views at Geyser Point are really pretty though, so I can see us getting some stuff from Territory to go and posting up at Geyser Point to eat it and enjoy their drink menu. *Note that you can only get food discounts (like AP) if you order directly from the quick service counter.

Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. What we had of the new menu was good – John had the King Triton breakfast calzone and enjoyed it. I had the Tower of Pancakes, which were thick and fluffy. Each table gets a skillet of breakfast pastries when they sit, and the pastries are themed to Rapunzel & Ariel (the two princesses you meet). Character interactions were solid. Flynn Ryder comes out first, then Rapunzel, Eric, and finally Ariel. While each character meets tables individually, the two couples do dance around the restaurant a little together, so if you’re in a good position, you could get a photo of Rapunzel with Flynn and Ariel with Eric, they just don’t come to your table together. Overall, the breakfast was fun, but it was a little bit of a bummer, because we really liked the old Trattoria breakfast. It was a great option to fuel before heading into International Gateway at World Showcase opening. Now, the breakfast is more expensive (because of the characters) and some of our favorite menu options are gone. We may end up at the Bon Voyage breakfast again, but not as often as we went to the old Trattoria breakfast. 

Il Mulino. This restaurant is by no means new, but we’ve never been so this is new to us. The disclaimer is that the purpose of this dinner was to have a mild, carb-y dinner before Saturday’s 10k. If it were a normal meal, we may have ordered different things. The atmosphere was nothing to write home about. It was pretty enough, but there certainly aren’t any exciting views. The wine list looked nice, but we stuck to water like good little runners. We both ordered pasta dishes – I got a linguine in a “spicy” red sauce. It was not spicy, and I probably wouldn’t order it again. John got the pappardelle dish and really liked it. I can’t see us choosing this over Tutto Italia unless we’re staying in the Swan or Dolphin and simply don’t feel like going into Epcot.

Paddlefish. Food was pretty good and a decent value. We had the lobster corn dogs from the appetizer section and those were quite tasty. Everything else was fine too, but not significantly memorable. You won’t have any trouble getting a table and it’s certainly not the type of restaurant to rush you through your meal, so I think Paddlefish is a good option if you want a longer/lazier meal at Disney Springs. If you get a window seat you can wave to the Amphicars.

Tiffins. OMNOMNOMNOMNOM. Seriously lives up to the rave reviews we’ve seen elsewhere. We were there on the Rivers of Light dining package, which means we got more food than we probably would have otherwise. The package includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert for each person. To start, I got the octopus and John got the lobster soup. John’s summation of the soup is that it was good, but he prefers traditional lobster bisque. We both really liked the octopus. I could’ve eaten 3 or 4 of those. For entrees, I had the Waygu pasta dish, which was delicious, and John got the Waygu beef and short ribs. This is one place where you don’t have to worry so much about Disney overcooking – the beef was insanely tender and tasty. We both got the chocolate dessert because chocolate. It was so good and now I’m seriously craving another one. After dinner, the waiter brought our Rivers of Light tickets along with a GLOWING LOTUS FLOWER POPCORN BUCKET. It didn’t have any popcorn in it, but it only cost $1.50 to fill it at any of the popcorn stands. The only negative from Tiffins was that our waiter told us they were out of Kungaloosh. We were both shocked since they only have 3 beers on the menu, but John audibled and got the Tempting Tigress instead. When we went to Nomad almost immediately after Tiffins, John tried ordering the Kungaloosh again and it was available. Not sure if they got a new keg in or if our waiter was misinformed/playing a cruel joke.

Rivers of Light
Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light. I tweeted this, but I seriously don’t understand how people are unimpressed with this show. It was beautiful. Even though it was kind of windy and you could see where the water screens were rippling, it was delightful. The shadows during the preshow were entrancing and the glowing animals during the show itself made me so happy. The synchronized water effects were incredible. I also really liked the cast members on the boats dancing and contributing through the shadow puppets. I do think they need to make the narration louder or put in more speakers, because there were definitely parts that were difficult to hear, but overall I really enjoyed it. John definitely will not go this far, but now that Celebrate the Magic is gone, this is my favorite nighttime show. I’m not really a fireworks fan though, so you can take that with several salt grains.

Additional thoughts from the trip:

  • We watched our last Wishes. Here’s hoping that Happily Ever After is a suitable replacement.
  • Ample Hills being open to 11:00pm is a good thing. Frankly, it should be 24 hours, because duh.
  • Uniqlo has awesome deals and is a great option if you forgot to pack some essential piece of clothing.
  • The race expo was a little underwhelming compared to prior expos, and we may post more about the race stuff.
  • Territory Lounge has a new spicy watermelon margarita that I loved.
  • There is a dumb waitress at Sanaa who kept insisting she was bringing me the bread service sauce I was requesting, even though it was clearly the Tomato-Date Jam instead of the Red Chili Sambal. So I sat there with four of the WRONG sauce until another table’s waitress noticed and brought me the RIGHT sauce, explaining that they had been mislabeled, but she could tell the difference by looking at the sauces instead of the label (AS COULD ANYONE WITH EYES). Our waitress never apologized. She’s the worst. I was right. I’m not still bitter about this or anything.

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

It’s time again for a hearty helping of Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets! As you probably saw earlier this week, I have already posted about the Star War related news that came out of Celebration. Of course, the biggest news since the last post was that The Rock was on the Jungle Cruise!. Talk a “plus-ed” experience.

Nuggets!!
Nuggets!!

Now, on to the rest of the News Nuggets:

That’s it for this edition of the News Nuggets! Let’s all celebrate by watching the Blue Angels fly over the Magic Kingdom:

News Nuggets Special Edition – Star Wars Celebration 2017

If you weren’t one of the people waiting 24+ hours in various lines at Star Wars: Celebration, you might have missed some of the news that came out this weekend. As a Disney World focused site (and someone who still hasn’t decided if he’s going to even watch any of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailers before seeing the movie), the coverage here is going to focus on news related to Disney theme parks. That said, let’s start with the preview video Disney put together to discuss the new “total immersion” experience:

Disney has since provided additional details about the setting of the new theme park land mentioned in the video:

[T]his mysterious destination somewhere on the Outer Rim — lying on the edge of the Unknown Regions. The remote village was once a busy crossroads along the old sub-lightspeed trade routes, but the prominence of the outpost has been bypassed with the rise of hyperspace travel. Now home to those who prefer less attention, it has become a thriving port for smugglers, rogue traders and adventurers traveling between the frontier and uncharted space. It’s also a convenient safe-haven for others intent on avoiding the expanding reach of the First Order.

One of the more intriguing features of this new Star Wars land is the “reputation system” that tracks your movements and actions throughout the park, including while on certain attractions. Inside the Magic explains how, for example, choices made while on the Millennium Falcon attraction might impact the experience you have in areas surrouding the ride. Inside the Magic also explains how Disney is claiming to have real lightsabers in the land.

That covers the major highlights for me, but If you want to watch the full panel, The DIS has posted a video.With Bob Iger’s contract set to end on July 2, 2019, there’s a lot to do if he’s going to have this all ready before he walks out the door.

On a shorter time table, Disney also announced that there would be a new scene added to Star Tours featuring one of the planets introduced in The Last Jedi. As you would expect, this will come in late 2017 (closer to the release of the movie.)

Attractions Magazine has a rundown of the Star Wars: Galactic Nights event that took place this weekend (and is almost assuredly going to be offered as a hard ticket event on an ongoing basis before too long.) For me, the highlight was the debut of a Rey face character during the A Galaxy Far, Far Away show:

Lastly, as you may have already heard, you can now meet BB-8 at The Studios.

Okay, I know I said I’d focus mostly on the Disney Parks news, but let’s end things with the trailer for Season 4 of Star Wars: Rebels:

I’m going to miss that show.

Support the Disney Online Community – Vote 4 Levi!

One of the reasons Elyssa and I started this site was to be able to interact more with our fellow Disney fans. This community (which the ModernMighty Men of Mouse get the entire credit for creating) has been so caring and supportive of Elyssa and me as we fought through our own problems, that we try do anything we can to return the favor. Sometimes, that means traveling to Disney World to hang out with Wes, Josh, Eric, or the Fabulous Gluesdells. Other times, it means pointing out when one of our friends is doing something cool. In this case, it’s friend of the site Howie from Maryland’s son, Levi, trying to win a year of his favorite italian ice and frozen custard. That’s why, Elyssa and I are asking all of you to go to this online poll and vote for our favorite ninja turtle:

Vote for Levi!
Vote for Levi!
You can tell that this is something we’re all united behind when even famed internet troll, Derek Burgan, has been supporting the cause.

The voting closes at Noon Eastern on April 5, 2017 (the Wednesday after this post goes up.) Vote early and vote often! (with all your approved email addresses, etc…) Good luck, Levi! You can do this!

Disney World Summer Discounts Announced

I’m sure you’ll see this everywhere today, but I know friend-of-site Howie from Maryland has been looking forward to this. I’ll credit Dave from yourfirstvisit.net as the first place I saw it. The discounts are pretty much what you’d expect, based on previous years:

Save up to 25%* on rooms at select Walt Disney World® Resort hotels for stays most nights May 28-Aug. 31, 2017 when you book March 27-July 14, 2017.

Rogue One – Now Available for Digitial Download

It’s a big day for Star Wars fans, as Rogue One is now available for digital download. If Carolina wasn’t playing this evening, Elyssa and I would probably be watching it tonight with a bowl of Ample Hills ice cream. (Yes, I’ll have a review of that whole “ice cream via Amazon process soon.”)

If you need to prep for your Rogue One viewing, there’s always these Mighty Men of Mouse shows that feature the MMoM Guys, friend of the site Wes James, Elyssa, and me discussing the movies:

Enjoy the (re-)watching the movie! It’s a good one.

Rogue One, baby!
Rogue One, baby!

Disney to Live Stream Wishes Tonight, March 23, at 8:55PM Eastern

UPDATE: Heres’s the Disney Parks Blog post and the video is embedded below

Don’t forget! Tonight, March 23, 2017, the Disney Parks Blog is going to live stream Wishes at 8:55pm Eastern. With this night spectactular being replaced in May, it might be one of, if not the, last time that Disney will live stream the event.

As always, that easiest way to get the informatin on the live stream is to go to the Disney Parks Blog at about 8:45pm and find the post about the upcoming live stream. I’ll also try to update this post with the information if I’m able.

Enjoy the show tonight!

VIDEO COVERAGE: 

Wishes!
Wishes!

Pandora Fastpass+ to Open Tomorrow – March 24

BREAKING! Pew, pew! Lasers! (Not really) EXCLUSIVE!! Here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ we don’t really try to be the FIRST to break news, but, sometimes, we want to share something special with our readers that has a time component. In this case, it’s that Fastpass+ selections for Pandora (Avatarland) open tomorrow, March 24, 2017.

The anouncement is little weird, since 60 days from tomorrow (the length of time in advance that onsite guests can book Fastpass+ selections) is Tuesday, May 23, 2017 (i.e., before Pandora is supposed to open on May 27.) I wonder if this is an indication that Disney is going to be allowing guests to get Fastpasss+ for various “soft opening” periods prior to the official opening. Also, as (kind of?) expected, you can’t book both Avatar attractions on the same day with Fastpass+ in your first 3 selections. It’s not a full on “tier” structure, but it’s close.

Relatedly, Disney has made it official that Animal Kingodm will have special Pandora-only Extra Magic Hours every night from (at least) May 27th through July 4th, 2017. For people like Elyssa and me who usually stay offsite, this extra benefit is enough to make us consider an onsite resort for a quick “hop” down to experience Avatar once the land opens.

BREAKING!!
BREAKING!!