News Nuggets from Around Disney World

With 2015 coming to a close, I figured we could sneak in one last edition of Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggests. After the big edition last week, this will feel like a little bit of a down week:

Let’s end things with a link to a video of this year’s holiday Illuminations and a link to Corey Disbrow’s 2015 Disney World photo recap. (And don’t forget that Disney is live streaming it’s New Year’s Eve fireworks from the Magic Kingdom tonight!)

The original news nugget picture for the last nuggets of 2015
The original news nugget picture for the last nuggets of 2015

Disney to Live Stream the Magic Kingdom Fireworks on New Year’s Eve

Continuing their trend from the past year, Disney is going to live stream a major fireworks event.

This is normally the part of the live streaming post where I encourage people to bypass going to the Disney Parks Blog homepage when looking for the livestreams, and, instead, going to the Disney Parks Live channel on Youtube. Unfortunately, with the last stream, Disney didn’t update that channel page with the video, so my tip may no longer be valid. We’ll have to see how they handle this event.

That said, no matter where you have your New Year’s celebration, Elyssa and I hope you have a great one. (And go Clemson!)

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all our readers from Elyssa and me (and Fenway!). Thank you for all your kind words and support during our first few months running Rope Drop [dot] Net.  We hope y’all have a magical holiday season.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

There has been a lot of Disney World news over these last few weeks of 2015. So, let’s not waste any time and get right to this edition of the Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets: 

That’s it for this edition of the New Nuggets. Let’s finish off this post with a link to some pictures of some of the great Christmas trees found at Disney World And a video of the new Symphony in the Stars, Star Wars-based Fireworks at The Studios

News Nugget time!!
News Nugget time!!

Symphony in the Stars (Disney’s Star Wars Fireworks Show) Live Stream Tonight at 11:00PM Eastern

Disney is doing another live stream tonight, and this time it’s Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular, Disney’s Star Wars themed fireworks show. The stream will take place at 11pm Eastern tonight.

For these types of events, I normally recommend starting to check the Disney Parks Live Youtube Channel about 20 minutes before the show is supposed to air, and then continuing to reload the page until the link for that night’s event shows up. (You can also search for “Disney Parks Live” in the YouTube app in various media streaming devices if you want to watch on your television.)

 

Elyssa *might* be a big Star Wars fan
Elyssa might be a big Star Wars fan

 

 

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Howie from Maryland

Today’s Rope Drop [dot] Net interview is with everyone’s favorite Internet trollpersonality, Howie from Maryland (known to some people as “Howie Berman.”) I think I first “met” Howie during one of the Mighty Men of Mouse listener drafts, but our “friendship” grew on Twitter (where Howie is master of Photoshop.)

If you follow Howie on Twitter, you know that he recently completed an epic trip to Disney World. This interview, however, covers his recent trip to Disneyland, including his thoughts how it differs from Disney World, and a little on why every Disney World veteran should visit it.

 

Howie from Maryland (picture via Howie)
Howie from Maryland (picture via Howie)

 

Two quick notes: First, Howie also did an interview, live from Disneyland, on the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast about this trip. I try to cover different ground than that interview, but I recommend that you give it a listen to get a fuller picture of Howie’s adventures. Second, as always, my questions are presented in bold with Howie’s answers following. I have made minor edits for readability, but have made every effort to not impact the content of the answers

How did you prepare for your Disneyland trip? Was it different than what you would do to prepare for a trip to Disney World?

This trip really fell into my lap. I had known about a work event that could potentially bring me to Anaheim in early October, but didn’t commit until July or so. It was the perfect scenario from a cost and scheduling standpoint. The sponsor of the event paid for my flight and accommodations, and even threw in a 1-day park hopper ticket (I was also able to purchase additional days at a considerable discount). My work commitments were primarily in the morning and early afternoon, so I was free to tour the parks from about 2pm local time until closing (which was sometimes as late as midnight). I would have 3-4 partial days in the parks.

Cozy Cone Motel (picture via Howie)
Cozy Cone Motel (picture via Howie)

The prospect of going to Disneyland was a big deal to me (and a daunting one). I had last been to Disneyland in 1999 while living in Los Angeles as a single, childless 23 year old. At that time, there was Disneyland Park and the Disneyland Hotel. No California Adventure. No Cars Land. No Grand Californian Hotel. No Downtown Disney. I was clearly going to be out of my comfort zone.

The first thing I did was add the Disneyland option to my existing Touringplans subscription. I needed to get back to basics and familiarize myself with the current attractions at both parks so I could prioritize, determine which days would be best for each park, and develop solid “half-day” touring plans that would fit my work schedule. I also discovered the DisGeek podcast (thanks to the Earvengers and Mighty Men of Mouse podcasts), which was a great primer for my trip.

Now originally, I had planned to bring my family with me, but it wasn’t in the cards. While I was bummed about not being able to share this adventure my wife and kids, I thought to myself, “You may never get an opportunity like this again, so make it count.” No kids. No debates about what to do to next. Just enjoy the moment. I had to see Toad again (it still kills me that this isn’t available in WDW). I needed to lay eyes on Cars Land. I had to see if the digital projection version of Soarin’ really was that much better than it’s Orlando counterpart. Oh, and I was going to get my hands on paper fastpasses again. Personally, I don’t have anything against FP+, but the nostalgia of the old system was calling my name.

If I was planning a trip to WDW (which I’m actually doing right now), I’d be making dining reservations at 180 days out, booking fastpasses in the middle of the night, maybe booking a tour, and doing a lot of detail work that would make the average vacationer’s head spin. This was going to be totally different. ADRs? I didn’t make one. Snacking was my strategy for this trip — less time eating, more time exploring and getting after it. I didn’t have to worry about FP+. I was really going back to basics.

What were your first thoughts upon arriving at Disneyland (especially after not having visited in over 16 years)?

The minute I was dropped off at the Anaheim Hilton, I noticed immediately that the area had changed considerably since I had last been there. I didn’t recognize it at all (and that was a good thing from what I had remembered of Harbor Avenue.) It was a harbinger of things to come.

I quickly checked in, changed, grabbed a few “essentials”, and made the 1/2 mile or so walk to Disneyland Park to meet up with Wes James, a guy I had never met in person, in a park I hadn’t stepped foot in in more than 16 years. Wes and I had been communicating over Twitter for the weeks leading up to this trip. We decided to do the Mickey’s Halloween Party that night. It made sense for me. For $60, it bought me 8 hours in the park on a relatively low crowd day. I could get into the park at 3:00 pm (three hours before the official start time of the party), and orient myself before Wes showed up.

Armed with a bullet-proof touring plan, I took the left off Harbor and made my way toward the gates. The first two things I noticed along the walk toward bag check were the entrance loop music (Muppets was playing) and a gorgeous view of Space Mountain to my right. I made my way through bag check, hung a right, and was stopped dead in my tracks by the entrance to Disneyland. I was excited. Really excited. I snapped a few photos of the entrance, with its oversized pumpkin decorations, and made my way inside.

Disneyland Entrance (picture via Howie)
Disneyland Entrance (picture via Howie)

Normally, when I go on a WDW trip with my family, we have a pretty good plan in place when it comes to touring. With a 5 and 3 year old, there’s often compromise. We love experiencing meet-and-greets, character meals, and shows as a family. No time for that this go around. Snacks and attractions. That was my mantra and I was sticking to it.

One problem, though. Once I started walking down Main Street, my plan was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in freaking Disneyland…by myself! And I was completely disoriented, so disoriented that my first attraction in 16 years was a trip on the Disneyland Railroad from the Tomorrowland Station…back to Main Street. Clearly, this was going to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.

Based on your “live from the park” appearance on the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, it sounds like you did end up getting back to the “snacks and attractions” mantra. How did you make the transition from your unexpected Main Street return to riding Mr. Toad, Splash, and Alice?

Before my eventful trip on the Disneyland Railroad, I had connected with Wes and we were going to meet up at Splash. Mid-train trip, I had second thoughts. I really wanted Toad to be my first real attraction (obviously, I wasn’t counting the RR trip), so I got off at Main Street, called Wes back with the change of plans and made a bee line for Fantasyland. I waited for a couple minutes outside Toad until Wes showed up. When he did, we bro hugged, exchanged gifts (we’re good like that), and headed in. In the queue, Wes reminded me that he had made Cafe Orleans reservations, but we decided not to use them so we could maximize our party time.

When we exited Toad, we decided to hit a few more dark rides in Fantasyland–Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Pinocchio’s Journey (which might be my second favorite of the classic DL dark rides), and Alice. Fantasyland was starting to get a little busier at this point, so we headed toward New Orleans Square with the intention of riding Pirates. The ride went down while we were in line, so we headed to Splash in Critter Country. I was really interested to see how it compared to the WDW version after all these years. It was also time to get into my Halloween costume.

By now, people who have listened to the podcast know what your halloween costume was, but can you give a little more background on how you came up with that idea? Did Wes know that you were planning to do that?

THE Splash Mountain Picture (image via Howie)
THE Splash Mountain Picture (image via Howie)

I had originally planned to dress like Lou Mongello, but I didn’t want to pay for teeth whitening strips. When Wes and I firmed up our Halloween Party plans, I thought it would be fun to recreate the Dutch-Lou meet moment from the summer, but it ended up just being me dressing as Dutch when I couldn’t get Wes to take the plunge. (We did, however, recreate the Josh and Dutch moment on Splash from that same trip). (photo attached)

I found a $5 green visor on Amazon and an even cheaper wig at a local party store. I packed a dark blue polo in my suitcase, and I was in business. I didn’t wear the costume into the park. I did the unveil in the Splash queue for full effect. The wig was itchy. I don’t know how Dutch does it.

Based on what you’ve said here and the podcast, it sounds like you had quite the time at Disneyland. Is there anything you wish you’d known about Disneyland going in? What would you tell people who are Disney World “experts” that are preparing for their first trip to Disneyland?

Don’t let the relative “smallness” of Disneyland fool you. You are still going to walk a ton, so make sure you plan just like you would for Disneyworld–wear comfortable shoes, drink lots of water, etc. While it was super convenient being able to bounce from Disneyland to DCA to Downtown Disney, that convenience ends up making you walk more, in my opinion. Disneyland allows for “park hopping” in the truest sense of the term.

The life changing mud pie (picture via Howie)
The life changing mud pie (picture via Howie)

Try lots of food. Have a snacking mentality. Disneyland offers, in my opinion, some snacks and treats that are far superior to their Disneyworld counterparts–tiger tails and skewers at Bengal BBQ, mud pies at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land, and pumpkin beignets in New Orleans Square (for Halloween, of course) were some of my favorites. I ate zero sit down meals and regret nothing.

My trip to Disneyland also taught me to value solo touring. I know people feel weird sometimes getting on a ride by themselves (ask Russ Shuttlesworth), but I really embraced it. It was the first time I can remember that I got to see a Disney Park on my terms. I got to call the shots. I got to experience a ton in a short period of time because of that. If you’re faced with the opportunity to visit by yourself and feel little weird, don’t. Own it. I did, and loved every minute of it.

I do want to thank Wesley James for meeting up with me that first night in Disneyland. He really helped set the tone for an awesome experience, and it was great to meet him in person and learn from him all about his “home park.” Wes is a stand up guy and someone I’m happy to call a friend. I hope we get another chance to tour the parks together in the not so distant future.

Can we go back now? (picture via Howie)
Can we go back now? (picture via Howie)

Wrap Up

A major thank you to Howie for taking time out of his day to talk with me about Disneyland. If this interview has taught me anything it’s (1) go to Disneyland, and (2) hang out with Wes while you’re there.

If you enjoy hearing Howie’s musings on Disney (and other things), give him a follow on Twitter @HoCoHowie. To finish things off, here are some more of Howie’s pictures from Radiator Springs Racers:

Ready to Ride (picture via Howie)
Ready to Ride (picture via Howie)
On the Road Again (pictures via Howie)
On the Road Again (pictures via Howie)
I can't wait to get on the road again (picture via Howie)
I can’t wait to get on the road again (picture via Howie)

The easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit (2016 Edition) Review

the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit
the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

With the holidays quickly approaching, it seems appropriate to review a book that you may want to consider putting under the tree of your favorite Disney World fan (or, in your own stocking): the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

Though have I have been fans of both Josh’s work at easyWDW and Dave’s work at yourfirstvisit.net for some time, I initially avoided a book that (by its title) appeared targeted to people who were not Disney World veterans. After getting getting asked “I’m going to Disney World, what should I know?” for the thirty-eighth time, however, I decided I should check and see if the easy guide might be my default answer to that question going forward.

Structure and Organization

NOTE: If you want a complete, super-detailed breakdown of the book, I will refer you to this post by Josh. If you’ve ever read his work on easyWDW you can probably guess what level of detail he goes into.

The easy guide is set up to walk a first time Disney World Vistor through the key decisions that any Disney World Vistor (first time or otherwise) would have to make when planning a Disney vacations, including: when to go, how long to visit, where to stay, how to tour, etc… Each one of those decisions is receives a dedicated chapter that contains a combination of reviews, recommendations, and tips on how to make the decision, and how to execute on that decision once it has been made. For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay”, starts by giving criteria you may wish to evaluate when making a decision about which restort to stay in, follows that up with recommendations by Josh and Dave on where they think you should stay, and then provides detailed reviews of all of the Disney World resorts. This structure means the book can be used in two different ways: as a step-by-step “how-to” for first time or inexperienced Disney World guests, or as reference for more experienced people who just want to look up certain information.

The easy guide as a Tool for First Time or Inexperienced Disney World Guests

The easy guide excels as a step-by-step guide for how to visit Disney World. It walks potential guests through the entire sequence of decisions that they will have to make as they are planning their trip, including key decisions such as when to visit Disney World and how long they should stay. The format of the book is great for first time visitors, since each chapter starts with either specific recommendations from authors Dave and Josh about their preferred choices and why they made those choices, or with an explanation of how one should evaluate various options in order to make her own decisions. (For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay” features a section entitled “How to Pick Your Disney Resort Hotel” that walks you through how to evaluate the various hotel options against your available budget.) Basically, it allows a first time Disney World guest to start a chapter, make the decision that chapter discusses, and then move on to the next chapter / decision, all in the order that Josh and Dave recommend.

Though first time Disney World visitors might not need to read all of the reference material available near the end of each chapter, the “cheat sheets” found in Chapter 6, “How to Spend Your Time”, are a must read. Anyone who’s ever used Josh’s easyWDW cheat sheets knows that they offer high quality advice on how to plan your day at a given Disney World park. By providing them in a book designed for first time Disney World guests, Dave and Josh have put their readers in a great position to efficiently and enjoyably see all the attractions and other entertainment available at Disney World, even if it’s their first visit.

My biggest complaint with the easy guide as a complete, go-to resource for first time Disney World guests is the sparse explanation on how to setup and use the various functionality found in Disney’s websites and mobile apps. For example, the section on making ADRs (Chapter 7, Where to Eat – Advance Dining Reservations) is only about a page and half of explanation, and does not fully convey the stressful,  6am, mad rush that takes place when trying to secure reservations at certain restaurants. Instead, that information is relegated to a “Disney World To-Do List” at the end of the book (where it could easily be missed by the book’s readers.) Relatedly, the second-to-last chapter of the book (Chapter 9, “How to Setup Everything Up and Get Everything Done”) dedicates only 3 pages to setting up a My Disney Experience account and booking Fastpass+ in advance of a trip. Though there are some very detailed descriptions of how to complete that process, some more in-depth discussion of how to use these systems (e.g., explaining that your My Disney Experience account needs to have reservations and tickets added in order to make Fastpass+ reservations) might be necessary for Disney World novices.

In summary, the easy guide is almost the perfect book to hand to someone who says “I’m thinking about going to Disney World, what should I know?” It will walk her through all the of the decisions she has to make in order to plan and enjoy her vacation. That said, if you are recommending this book to a first time Disney World vistor, you still might want to point out the importance of certain 180-day and 60-day deadlines, and don’t be surprised if you get a call or two asking for a little help when it comes time to the setup and use some of the My Disney Experience-related stuff.

The easy guide for Experienced Disney Veterans

I made a joke once when friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski was on the WDW 4 Families podcast: “Too much discussion about how various attractions matter to families, 1 star.” If you listen to a podcast named “WDW 4 Families,” you can’t really knock it when it focuses on planning a vacation for families. Here, we have a book entitled the easy guide to your first visit to Walt Disney World. You can’t really knock the book if it’s strength is in helping people plan their first Disney World vacation.

Still, I assume people who visit a site dedicated to Disney World might have some experience visiting the resort, and I want to assure those readers that they will still probably find value in the easy guide. First, as mentioned above, this book makes a great resource to hand to people who ask you what they should know when planning their first Disney World vacation, and, if you’re a Disney World veteran, you probably get that question every so often. Second, the book provides a nice collection of reviews of resorts and dining that you can reference when you need to make decisions in your trip planning. If you like Dave’s and Josh’s work on their respective sites, it’s pretty likely that you are going to like their work in the book. (You might also like the little insights from Disney historian Jim Korkis that are sprinkled throughout the book.)

Lastly, even the most veteran Disney World guest may benefit from seeing how two experts in Disney World vacations recommend planning a trip. After years and years of Disney World visits, us veteran guests might be so set in our ways that we never stop to see if someone has come up with a better way to do certain things. For example, take a look at Dave’s recommendations about which weeks to visit Disney World, or at Josh’s most recent theme park cheat sheets, and see if there’s something new you might want to integrate into your next Disney World trip.

The 864-Page Gorilla

Any review of a Disney World guide book must deal (at least to some degree) with how that book compares to the massive Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. As readers of this site are probably aware, the Unofficial Guide is an almost 900 page (three times the size of the easy guide) book that gives its readers a ton of information about Disney World and its surrounding area. Much like the easy guide, it contains reviews of hotels, restaurants, and strategies for touring the Disney World theme parks. It also adds in tons of information about off-site options, transportation (including airport and rental car information), and other Orlando area theme parks (e.g., Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld, etc…) that you will not find in the easy guide.

After spending time with both books, I think there is room on a Disney Fan’s bookshelf (on in her Kindle) for both of them. They both contain valuable information (though Josh might have an opinion as to which set of touring tips is better) and I have used both of them as a reference at various points since I purchased them. That said, the easy guide is much more focused on presenting the author’s recommendations than providing the huge dump of information that the Unofficial Guide does. Depending on how knowledgable about Disney World you are, you might see that as a benefit or a negative.

If I was picking a book to give to someone who has never visited Disney World before, I’d probably pick the easy guide. If I was picking a book for a Disney veteran, I’d have to know a little bit more about what kind of Disney guest the person was before making a recommendation.

Don’t These Guys Already Have Websites with this Information?

Yes. Dave runs yourfirstvisit.net, and Josh runs easyWDW.com You could almost certainly get all of the information in the book by digging through these sites and putting together your own “guide to a first Disney World visit.” My question is: Why would you? Dave and Josh have put together the information from both of their sites in a convenient, easy to follow structure, that allows first time Disney World guests to walk through all the important decisions necessary to plan their vacations. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

For people like me who read Dave’s and Josh’s sites on a regular basis, I partially look at my purchase of the book as a way to support people who do good work that I find helpful. I’m not saying I would have bought the book if it was literally cow feces, but knowing that I’m supporting these guys doesn’t hurt.

Summary

The easy guide is a great book for first time (or inexperienced) Disney World guests, since it walks those guests through all of the important decisions they will have to make as they plan their Disney World vacation. Disney World veterans, though not explicitly targeted by the book, will probably also benefit from the information found in the easy guide. In the end, if you’re looking for a Disney World guide book, I recommend giving the the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit a shot.

The the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit is available from Amazon in: * Paperback (which actually includes a free Kindle version); and * Kindle formats. You can also purchase a PDF version of the book directly from Dave and Josh.

Talking about Star Wars ON THE INTERNET!

Last night, Elyssa and I recorded a podcast with Dutch Lombrowski of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, and Wesley James of Save Tomorrowland about one of Elyssa’s and my favorite topics: Star Wars!

In this one-off episode, we talk about the staying power of the original trilogy, why the prequels were such colossal failures (I may have been the only one with that opinion), and a host of other Star Wars-related nerdery (that might not be an actual word.)

If this sounds interesting to you, you can either download the episode directly or add this RSS feed to your favorite podcast player. Enjoy!

Elyssa loves it when I don't agree with her opinions.
Elyssa loves it when I don’t agree with her opinions.

The Start of the Studio’s Star Wars Invasion

Last week, Disney started rolling out some of its previously announced Star Wars related attractions and food items. Though Elyssa and I probably won’t get to see any of it with our own eyes for a couple of months (unless we decide to just head down some other random weekend…), there has been a ton of coverage online about what is available.

If you want to get the most in-depth summary of everything (especially in the context of overall Studios touring strategies), I recommend that you check out this post by Josh over at easyWDW. In addition to covering all new entertainment and new food items, he also explains how to best fit a visit to the Launch Bay into your day:

If you do want to do the meet and greets [available at the Launch Bay], I suggest visiting as late in the evening as possible and ideally 90 to 120 minutes before close. … The benefit of going late is that we know for a fact how morning touring goes, so we can stick to the tried and true strategy there and enjoy short waits at Toy Story, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and other Meet and Greets.

Based on recent treads in crowd levels, Josh’s strategy makes a ton of sense. Take advantage of the lower crowd levels associated with rope drop to get the most popular attractions out of the way and then visit the Launch Bay when most people probably already have. It will also be interesting to see what the crowd levels are like in the Launch Bay after it has been open for a few months.

If you’re mainly interested in seeing photos of the new Launch Bay, then you can check out the companion photo post from easyWDW, or these posts onWDW News Today and WDW Magic. Both Inside the Magic and The DIS also have video walk throughs of what you can see in the Launch Bay. For those of you more interested in pictures of the new food items, I suggest checking out WDW News Today and Disney Food Blog.

On a semi-related note, various sources are also saying the new Symphony in the Stars fireworks show is rumored to start on December 18. (You can also now start booking reservations for a new dessert party associated with the show for dates starting January 5, 2016.) This is a little surprising to me, since I feel like the Osborne Lights are enough to draw people to the Studios over the holidays. I have always assumed they would wait until after the Osborne Lights are taken down to start showing Symphony in the Stars.

Star Wars toys lose all their value if you take them out of the box.
Star Wars toys lose all their value if you take them out of the box.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Live Stream Sunday (December 6) at 8:15 PM EST

Much like they did for the Osborne Lights a couple of weeks ago, Disney will be live streaming some of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas parade tomorrrow night at 8:15PM Eastern..

For these types of events, I normally recommend starting to check the Disney Parks Live Youtube Channel about 20 minutes before the show is supposed to air, and then continuing to reload the page until the link for that night’s event shows up. (You can also search for “Disney Parks Live” in the YouTube app in various media streaming devices if you want to watch on your television.)

Elyssa and I attended the party earlier this year and had an absolute blast. We intend to do a fuller write-up in the next few days (weeks?), but, if you’re interested at all in the party, we would recommend checking out the live stream.

Santa at Mickey's Very Christmas Party
Santa at Mickey’s Very Christmas Party

News Nuggets from Around Disney World

So many nuggets, they don't even fit in the cup.
So many nuggets, they don’t even fit in the cup.

It’s about time for a hearty helping of news nuggets. As you are probably aware, new Star Wars offerings opened at The Studios this week, but since Star Wars is so important (both to Disney, and to Elyssa and me), I will be saving a recap of that coverage for another post.

On to the nuggets!

We’ll close out with some links to the various Christmas decorations that are up around Disney World, including gingerbread sculptures at Contemporary, Mickey’s Village at the Yacht Club, and the famous gingerbread house at the Floridian.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Ken Storey (Part 3)

Today we conclude our 3-part interview with Ken Storey. Since Part 1 was about Orlando’s (and Ken’s) past, and Part 2 was about Orlando’s present, it seemed to appropriate that Part 3 would be about Orlando’s future. (It also is quite timely, with yesterday’s discussions and votes about some of the area’s future projects.) Since I know none of you are here to read my intro, let’s get right to Ken:

Ken, using his powers for good. (Screencap via Chad Reno)
Ken, using his powers for good. (Screencap via Chad Reno)

Disney and Universal have already made major announcements about how they will be expanding their parks (Volcano Bay, Sapphire Falls, Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land), but have also announced some price increases in advance of those expansions completing. How do you see the landscape of Orlando evolving over the next 10–20 years?

It can really be summed up in five major parts: new visitors, density, harnessing local non-tourism industries, sports, and celebrating the existing neighborhoods.

The next 20 years will see Orlando shift from a second (or third) tier city into a truly world-class destination. While that may be good for locals (higher pay, more options, better services) it will also mean major price increases that will limit many Americans from coming as regularly as they do now. Demand, lowering travel costs, and more world class amenities will mean Orlando will see more high-income international visitors.

Unlike the international guests we now receive, I believe the focus will shift away from budget travel groups (like the ones Brazilian high schoolers use to come here with), and instead will focus on more customized, small group options. Volcano Bay has released one official piece of artwork and in it we see private cabanas. I interpret that as signal of who Universal Orlando will soon to be going after. While Cabana Bay is focused on the ‘American family’, and Sapphire Falls will be focused on the convention crowd, I expect new investments in the resort to focus more on the untapped, higher income guests.

Disney has already begun slowly but surely rolling out new, one-of-a-kind options for these kinds of guests. The key is to keep the authenticity of the theme parks intact while also allowing for more up charge options. I believe in 20 years you won’t have a simple gate fee ticket option. Instead, every ticket will be linked to meals, cabanas, extra parks hours, etc… via up charge options. Options that are currently baked into the cost of the ticket will also be separated from it. I will hate it, but I won’t be surprised if Magic Bands someday means an up charge for unlimited rides.

For example, I think Discovery Cove is a smart way forward but unlike there—where they provide that ‘resort like’ experience by limiting the number of guests—Universal and Disney will provide that same level of quality via technology, crowd flow, and other tricks.

While many of the changes on property will be hard to see without a TouringPlans-style super computer, off property the changes will be much easier to find. We’re already seeing foreign investment. Skyplex is harnessing the power of EB–5, the iSquare megamall is funded by a group of foreign investors, and Asians are leading the pack in vacation home purchases in numerous major neighborhoods in the region. With more high-income foreigners coming, we’ll see more major foreign investment. The new direct flights to Dubai have caused at least two major business expos (one in Dubai with Florida companies and one here with Middle Eastern ones). These new direct flights and the expansions at MCO will also help make Orlando another hub option between Miami and Atlanta.

The location of Orlando is perfect for connecting the United States east coast with South America, Africa, and beyond. Africa’s emerging economies will be major players within the next 20 years, and Orlando is already positioning itself to embrace that African nouveau riche. Just as we saw with the Europeans over the past 30 years, we’ll soon see with the Africans, South Americans, and Asians.

All of that is not to say ‘mom and pop’ from Kansas still won’t be coming, but, instead of a yearly trip, their trip will be every five or ten years. Also, when they come, they will encounter more ‘worldly’ and ‘big city’ experiences. The shift in dining options at Disney Springs and in Epcot testifies to that. The Orlando that was a pure escape with no worries is already gone. An Orlando vacation already requires more planning than a similar trip to most other equivalents in the U.S. (Orlando currently sits in between Kansas City and Indianapolis in population). An Orlando vacation will soon look more like a foreign vacation, where more extensive planning is required.

That will also mean more opportunities for visitors to go offsite. Non-bus mass transit is already in the works to link I-Drive, MCO, Miami, and downtown. Disney showed it was willing to link up to mass transit if it was done properly (even though that high-speed rail project ultimately died due to Tea Party interests). Disney also seems to be shifting away from the model of doing everything themselves. The new Four Seasons and the 3rd party hotels of Flamingo Crossing seem to be a better model. I expect more of that type of model in the future both on and off-property. I-Drive will focus more on convention and special events. South Florida will likely get full fledge casinos and—despite what many say—I’d expect at least 2 or 3 major destination casinos in the Central Florida region, especially along the coastline and in declining areas like 192.

We’re already seeing a changing of the guard in many of the smaller attractions around town. The older, lower quality attractions are dying (like CSI) while new, high-cost ones are being built (like Skyplex). This will mean that ‘mom and pop’ from Kansas will suddenly find themselves in a much more urban Orlando. The new I–4 Ultimate project that will include congestion based tolling lanes, digital signage, artwork, and ramp meters might be enough in its own to scare ‘mom and pop’ from ever renting a car in Orlando again. While this might not be good for today’s Boomers, Millennials seem to love urban areas and Orlando will shift to address that new ‘big city’ vacation desire of that generation. A shift we’re already seeing in the new density that is occurring along I-Drive and throughout downtown Orlando (which has a 95% apartment occupancy rate).

There will still be plenty of suburban areas, but even those will be less organic. Places like Winter Park and Celebration are working hard to grow while keeping their small town charm. The difference is these smaller ‘towns’ mean the region will soon have large bases of locals and tourists to harness in creating large scale special events. Celebration has proven these to be successful already with things like the nightly snow fall. Other communities in the region will find their own voice and special events. We’ve seen an increase in local farmers markets, holiday events, and food truck gatherings. I expect these types of community gatherings to grow and to work their way into Central Florida based vacations. I see no reason why—with a strong non-bus mass transit system—local weekly events couldn’t be as much of a draw for visitors as they are in places like Paris, London, or Hong Kong.

Orlando’s booming tech scene will also play a major role in the future of tourism here. All those new tech companies are looking for cool ways to showcase their goods and what better way than with new attractions or partnerships with existing ones. This is the model the mag-lev train is using, the train here isn’t designed to be a huge profit driver but instead will be used as a working sales example that others can visit. Harris IT did a similar thing with the Amway Center where they ‘pimped out’ the arena with their tech and making it the most technologically advanced basketball arena in the nation. The cool tech means visitors (and lots of Brazilians seem to be going to those Magic games) will remember their experience for longer. With MLS, NBA and rumors of another major league sports team moving here, sports will become a major aspect of Central Florida tourism.

This new diversity will also mean Orlando will find its own voice, linking up in part with Miami but also moving beyond just being known as that strip of land in between MCO and WDW.

The biggest question for me—and I understand that 20 years out might be a bit too soon for this,but I’ve yet to find a satisfactory answer—is how will public space tourism affect Central Florida? With a major space port here, will we see Land and Space vacations like we now see Land and Sea ones?

Conclusion

Wow. There is a lot to unpack in Ken’s response, but I’ll save for another day. I think Ken’s thoughts deserve to stand on their own. Instead, I’ll simply offer a huge, huge thank you to Ken for sharing all of this information with us. It was great to read.

If you enjoyed reading Ken’s thoughts, I’d encourage you to check out his podcast (the Orlando Tourism Report), his Orlando Weekly columns, or follow him on Twitter. After all, when it comes to knowledge about Orlando, you’re not going to find anyone better than Ken.

 

Since y'all demand it, here it is, one last time.
Since y’all demand it, here it is, one last time.