It’s time for another one of Disney’s live stream, and this time it’s Rivers of Light. It’s interesting that Disney has waited so long to stream this show. I wonder if it’s because so many people view it as lacking the “wow” factor present in Disney’s other nighttime spectactulars.
As I usually recommend for these things, I think the best way to view the stream is to go to the Disney Parks blog 5-10 minutes before the stream is supposed to start and find the new post that includes the video link. I’ll also try to update this post with that information if I’m able.
With D23 and various other things (like a visit to Mighty Men of Mouse HQ), I’ve fallen a little behind on the News Nuggets. Now, with only 1 week left for The Great Movie Ride and Universe of Energy, it’s about time to unleash a mega helping of Nuggets before it’s too late. (In a nice move, Disney lifted Annual Passholder Blockout Dates so people could ride them one more time.)
Up close look at Disney’s new Minnie Van car service – Depending on the time of day and where you’re going, it could be 2x to 3x more than Uber or Lyft. Also, getting dropped off at the Contemporary is not that much different than getting dropped off at the Magic Kingdom bus stop (which is the perk everyone seems to talk about).
JW Marriott Hotel Planned Near Epcot and Typhoon Lagoon – Being able to use Marriott points that close to “on property” makes me happy. (Yes, I know I can convert Marriott points to Starwood points and use them at the Dolphin. I’ve done that.) Also, this hotel looks very different from the other JW Marriott in the area.
That’s it for this edition of the News Nuggets. If you’re like me and unable to get in one last ride on the The Great Movie Ride before it closes, check out this video from WDW News today that features an actual “walk through” of the attraction. See you next time:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.)
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)
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.
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.
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!
WDW News Today reviews the First Mobile Ordering Experience – It’s only available as part of the Pandora preview right now, but it should be interesting to see how things go as it expands to other places. I like the concept of ordering far in advance and then it recognizing when you’re close enough to the restaurant to start the order. I hope they can get discounts added to it soon, though.
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.
Bob Iger’s Contract Extended to July 2, 2019 – These kind of corporate maneuverings are not usually something I write about, but Iger has had an “interesting” relationship with the parks. To date, I would argue there have been some negatives (e.g., the trend of “up charge events”, lower staffing during certain periods), but we’re about to start on some big changes (e.g. Avatar, Star Wars, Toy Story), so it should be interesting.
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.
Finally, the most extensive preview came from Nightline and it featured a walk-through of the new land (again) with James Cameron and then Joe Rodhe. The BOATRIDE, as expected, looks spectactuar and the ride vehicle for the Banshee ride does seem designed to give you the feeling of being on a Banshee:
Avatar Flight of Passage launches each guest on an exhilarating, wind-in-your-face experience on a winged mountain banshee over the awe-inspiring world of Pandora. Guests will actually feel the banshee breathe beneath them as they soar through the forest and past floating mountains. What was a rite of passage for Na’vi in Cameron’s film becomes a multisensory experience for guests seeking the ultimate adventure – a faceoff with the most feared predator of Pandora, the Great Leonopteryx.
On the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, guests travel down a sacred river deep into a bioluminescent rainforest. The eight-seat reed boats float past exotic glowing plants and Pandoran creatures into the midst of a musical Na’vi ceremony. The mystical journey culminates in an encounter with a breathtakingly realistic Na’vi Shaman of Songs who is deeply connected with Pandora’s life force and sends positive energy through her music into the forest.
With 4 (!?!?) Avatar movies in preproduction, hopefully, there is a real interest in people experiencing these new things.
Hey! Look! The site still works! This latest batch of (breakfast?) News Nuggets is a long time coming. I had grand desigins of posting it when I was down in Florida IN DECEMBER, but that slipped. Then, life got in the way, and an iOS beta broke my custom Workflows, and…well..its (still) February.
To try make this post (of over 8 weeks worth of Disney news) a little more timely, I’ve culled some of the original stories I was going to publish, as well modified some of commentary to reflect my experiences and other news I’ve heard about these items.
Of course, the biggest news item that hasn’t already been written about on the site is:
Upcoming changes to Epcot entertainment acts – Kenny the Pirate runs down some of the upcoming (and now made) changes to Epcot entertainment. Disney seems to have decided to change these various acts a little more frequently over the past few years.
Drinks coming to Paddlefish – I wonder what the craft beer from North Carolina is. Of course, it’s kind of silly for me to go to Disney World and have beer that I can get just as easily at home.
Okay, time for another break. This time, let’s look at this tribute to the late, great Carrie Fisher from The Studios:
Ms. Fisher will be missed, and (shockingly?) I was unable to come up with a way to segway back into the nuggets:
Braves Spring Training to Conclude at Walt Disney World – This is a bummer for me. I liked being able to see some spring training baseball when I was visiting Disney World. I guess I understand the Braves’ point that they are too far away from other spring training teams, but that doesn’t make it less of a bummer for me.
New Menu Items at Jiko – Since Elyssa and I have never been here, we really don’t have any favorites that might get pulled of the menu. That said, I figure Elyssa will still try to get a filet on top of a bed of mac-and-cheese if we do go.
My favorite of the festivals at Disney Festival Adventure (i.e., Epcot)–Flower & Garden– starts on March 1 this year and the Disney Parks Blog has posted all the menus for the “outdoor kitchens”. My general fear when reading these menus is that the items are going to be fairly “expensive” what you’re getting from Epcot booth food. I’ll wait and see what’s actually being offered, however, before making an final judgments.
‘Happily Ever After’ to replace ‘Wishes’ at the Magic Kingdom starting May 12
Ever since the Main Street Electrical Parade ventured out (along the Oregon Trail, I presume?) back to California, people have been wondering when Disney would announce the Magic Kingdom’s new nighttime parade. Interestingly (surprisingly?), Disney has announced a replacement for Wishes instead. Disney describes the new show, entilted Happily Ever After, as follows:
The show will feature the latest fireworks and pyrotechnics and original animation, plus a heart-tugging original score. And thanks to the inclusion of state-of-the-art projection mapping technology, more Disney characters than ever before will be featured in the show, including moments from “Moana,” “Brave,” “Big Hero 6,” “Zootopia,” “The Princess & The Frog,” “Aladdin” and many others.
Disney has announced May 12 as the official opening date for the new show, but if you really want to make sure that you see Wishes one more time before is relegated to the Youtube archives, you might want not want to wait until the last day / week before Happily Ever After debuts (just in case Disney gets too aggressive with “soft opens” of the new show.)
First, the family friendly Na’vi River Journey will send guests through a bioluminescent rainforest. Their journey will end in an unforgettable encounter with a Na’vi Shaman, a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora. And second, Avatar Flight of Passage will offer guests the jaw-dropping experience of exploring the world of Pandora atop a Banshee.
Actually surprising, however, was Iger’s announcement that Star Wars Land would open in 2019. Most people (either joking or otherwise) seemed to think that Star Wars Land would open in 2020, so this the actual 2019 opening is ahead of that “schedule.” More surprising, however, is that Iger made an announcement at all. Clearly, Disney is confident (or willing to spend extra to ensure–if necessary) that Star Wars Land will be completed in 2019. I’m sure there are people out there waiting to come down hard on Disney if it doesn’t make this date.
Pandora – The World of Avatar – A transformational experience unlike any other, Pandora – The World of Avatar, opens in summer 2017. In collaboration with filmmaker James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment, Disney is bringing to life the fantasy world of Pandora, inspired by Cameron’s epic film AVATAR, in a breathtaking new land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Avatar Flight of Passage will send guests flying above the jungles of Pandora on a Mountain Banshee. Bioluminescent rainforests dramatically wrap around Na’vi River Journey, a family-friendly boat ride. Hungry adventurers can recharge at Satu’li Canteen, the main dining location, or Pongu Pongu, a drink kiosk with a design as eclectic as its expat owner. Shoppers can stock up on Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more at Windtraders.
None of this will come as a surprise to readers of the site, but it’s nice to have everything summarized so neatly. A Soarin’-like adventure and a BOATRIDE are fantastic anchors to this land. Also, it will give a preview of the new immersive theming that (I believe) will also be present in Star Wars land. (By immersive theming, I mean a little less pushing of the overall Disney brand in the land, with cast members acting more like you are really on Pandora.
More Additions to Disney Springs in 2017
Paddlefish – Sleek and modern after a bow-to-stern transformation from the former Fulton’s Crab House, Paddlefish will serve fresh seafood, steaks and chops. Unique menu choices for seafood lovers include a build-your-own boil. A new rooftop lounge will serve up a late-night menu and shipshape views of the water and Disney Springs. Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The standard of quality at Disney Springs ended up making Fulton’s obsolete. With the BOATHOUE already offerring a combination of seafood and steak, it’ll be interesting ot see what Paddlefish does to set itself apart.
The Polite Pig – A sister restaurant to the Ravenous Pig, a favorite with Orlando locals, The Polite Pig will bring the same focus on genuine Florida cuisine to a broader global audience at Disney Springs. Lunch and dinner menus will feature a variety of wood-fired smoked and grilled items as well as an innovative beverage program that serves all drinks on tap, including beer, wine and cocktails.
Though I’m not particularly excited about the Guy Fieri menu at the newly revamped Planet Hollywood Observatory, the Polite Pig seems like it might be a nice option. (Of course, I have never to the Ravenous Pig, so what do I know?)
Rivers of Light – Coming in 2017, this powerful theatrical production takes Disney’s Animal Kingdom guests on a magnificent emotional journey – a visual mix of water, fire, nature and light choreographed to an original musical score. Continuing the park’s transformation from a day-into-nighttime experience, the amazing after-dark show on the banks of Discovery River celebrates the majesty of nature and the connection between animals and humans in the world. (emphasis added)
“Coming in 2017.” Sigh. That said, I still wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a trial or two during the holiday season (though, I’m not holding my breath.) Of course, if no one is at Animal Kingdom later in the evening but Elyssa & me over Christmas, I’m fine with it.
New Cabins and Deluxe Villas coming to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – In 2017, a proposed new Disney Vacation Club Resort, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, is scheduled to open, featuring new Resort accommodations that include plans for Deluxe Villas and unique waterfront cabins. Other enhancements coming to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge include a brand-new bar & grill, in addition to a quick-service restaurant. A sweeping re-imagination of the former Hidden Springs Pool, part of Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, is also scheduled to open in summer 2017. Named Boulder Ridge Cove, this area will feature an expanded sun deck and zero-depth-entry pool.
If Elyssa and I were to buy DVC, this would be where we do it. We love Wilderness Lodge, and the information on these Deluxe Villas makes them seem like they’re going to be top notch. I am looking forward to seeing an actual demo.
I would classify the news concerning Avatarland coming out of D23–especially the announcement of a “Summer 2017” opening–as the most “important” item from the event. Now, obviously “summer” could mean anything from late April through early September, but I’m going to try to be optimistic (remember, Animal Kingdom first opened on April 22).
Bolstering the opening date announcement, Disney also revealed additional details about the new land, including (i) Satu’li Cantenn (the major restaurant in the land), (ii) Pongu Pongu (a “special drink location”), and (iii) Windtraders (the merchandise location.) What seems pretty clear from the concept art Disney released is that this land–much like the upcoming Star Wars land–is going to maintain its theming throughout the entire land, from the food offerings, to the merchandise offerings, to (I bet) even the way cast members interact with guests (I believe the buzzword is “immersive.”)
Robert Niles over at Theme Park Insider also had a write-up of the actual D23 presentation, that included confirmation from James Camerson himself that Na’vi will not be walking around Avatarland, instead limiting their appearances to attractions.
Maybe the most interesting release from the event was this video of a Na’vi animatronic–the “Shaman of Songs”, a key figure in the Na’vi River Journey BOATRIDE:
If the actual animatronics are going to look that good, Avatarland really could be something.
Though the news coming of Avatarland might have more immediate impact on Disney World, Star Wars land also got a minor highlight, including a mention of the attraction that will allow guests to “take controls of the Millennium Falcon” and the release of new piece of artwork showing what the new land will look like at night:
Windtraders – Artwork courtesy of Disney
Similar to what happened when Disney released Episode VII, it was also announced that there would be a new Episode VIII theme mission that will be added to Star Tours along with the release of the movie.
“Major Changes” coming to Epcot – Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek said that Epcot would be going through a “major transformation” in the next couple of years (WDW News Today classified it as “an overhaul“.). Write-ups of the speech all reference his use of the phrases “dream big” and “more Disney, timeless, [and] relevant”, while staying true to Epcot’s “original vision”. At this point, those phrases are more a Disney fan Rorschach test (“relevant means it’s going to be all current IPs!”, “timeless means they’ll be thinking outside of what’s hot now, and doing something that will last”, etc…), than actually revealing about what might happen at Epcot. With so much else going on around Disney World, I’m going to take more of a wait-and-see approach on this one.
MagicBand 2 coming to Disney World – This new magic band has been rumored for a few weeks, and involves a removable disc that you can take out of the band and insert in other items (e.g., a necklace.) Ultimately, I’m glad I’ll now have an easy, visual way to know which of my Magic Bands is older, but I don’t really have a lot of excitement (or disappointment) about this. (Check out WDW News Today’s Magic Band 2 gallery if you want to see a metric buttload more photos of the new style of Magic Band.)
In-Park Cabanas coming to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. – This news item was not part of the official D23 announcements, but, instead, quickly spread on Twitter. Details are still a little hazy, but it seems like the “cabanas” are $650ish a day “tents” (see here and here) that have AC, seating, television, and the ability to order “room services” (at an additional cost.) As you might imagine, that initial pictures look ridiculous. However, if Disney can somehow offset additional prices increases or staff reductions on the backs of people who want to hang out in a tent and watch tv in the Magic Kingdom, I’m fine with it.
It’s that time again, time to clear out the (way too long) lisitng of Rope Drop [dot] Net News Nuggets! LIke some of the last couple of updates, Disney trips and day job stuff has meant that this list is a little bit longer than previous updates.
Our latest trip to Disney World focused around a few major Disney World events: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. I’ve learned these past couple of years that having defined things that we want to do lets us feel a little of the time pressure that people who don’t visit as frequently as we do can end up feeling. It makes for an interesting trip. Here are some initial thoughts:
The End of Celebrate the Magic:I’ve already written about how much Celebrate the Magic means to Elyssa and me, but seeing the show for the last time was still overwhelmingly emotional for both of us. I have faith that the new projection show will be good, but I doubt we’ll ever have the emotional connection to that new show that we have to this one. It truly will be missed.
Kona Cafe (Breakfast): I still love starting a day with a press of Kona Coffee and an order of Tonga Toast. Elyssa almost always ends up with a Big Kahuna (which, again, is a great way to start the day.) We normally get an early ADR, and then head to the Magic Kingdom to watch the Welcome Show. I don’t know if I’d recommend Kona if you want to rope drop Mine Train, but it’s pretty perfect for what we use it for.
Homecoming Florida (Dinner or Drinks): Homecoming is fast becoming one of our favorite spots to grab a drink later at night (in addition to being an excellent dining option for either lunch or dinner.) Fried Chicken, biscuits, and hush puppies aren’t the most “adventurous” of dishes, but Homecoming does them very well. If southern comfort food is something you enjoy, I’d definitely give Homecoming a shot.
Animal Kingdom at Night is a (Hidden?) Gem: We now build nights at Animal Kingdom into our trip. An evening Safari, a drink or two at Nomad Lounge, and the Tree of Life Awakenings (which are extremely fun to watch) all make for a really enjoyable night.
Seeing Friends is Always Fun: Elyssa and I were fortunate enough to run into world famous podcaster, “Light ‘Em and Hide”, twice including once with a guest appearance by similarly renowned Disney theme park photographer Brandon Glover. Though we didn’t get to meet up with friends of the site, Dutch, Josh, or Eric, I’m sure we’ll run into them again before too long. Name dropping aside, it’s always nice to spend time with people we know from this little hobby of ours. I hope the trend those meet-ups continues.
Over the next week (or two, or three…), I’ll be working some more in-depth coverage of a few of things we did, but here is a little preview:
Goofy and Pals Breakfast at the Four Season: Elyssa and I decided to switch things up on the character breakfast front and try something a little different. My (almost) twitter length review: Breakfast was good. It has a little different vibe than standard Disney character meals (fancier?). The food also seemed to be a step up from what you might find at a traditional Disney buffet. The character interactions were superb (and if that’s what you want, I’d recommend making a 10:45am or so reservation, since the place was nearly cleared out by 11:00.).
Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party: Halloween is Elyssa’s favorite holiday, so we had been thinking about planning a trip around the halloween party for years. Things finally fell into place this year. We arrived at the party a little before 4 (and used our AP to gain admission.) We ended up meeting Tink, Rapunzel, Tiana, the Seven Dwarfs, and riding Mine Train before the party officially started at 7pm. From then on it was character meet-and-greets, parades, fireworks, and candy. It was a super fun night (Maybe Elyssa and I should do a Mic Drop segment on it??)
Food and Wine: I feel like the stand outs from Food & Wine the past couple of years are either desserts or from the Chew booths (or sometimes, both.) Things like the Liquid Nitro Truffle, or the Peanut Butter and White Chocolate Mousse stand out in my memory more than the duck bun I got from China. At this point, I’d probably be fine attending 1 or 2 mornings mid-week and calling it a Festival.
Overall, it was a pretty great (if not a little jam packed) trip (even with Celebrate coming to and end.)
Sites like WDW Magic and WDW News Today are reporting this as confirmation that Rivers of Light’s dining packages will be available starting May 1, 2017. I don’t agree.
Originally, Rivers of Light was supposed to debut on April 22, 2016. I think it’s probably more likely that Disney posted this page that was created to go live when Rivers of Light was supposed to debut earlier this year, and has not yet updated it with the information for when the show is actually going to debut. In other words, I don’t think this listing of “May 1”–without any year–confirms anything. I think it’s more likely the page just got put up prematurely and that the availability date hasn’t been updated yet. (The fact that Tiffins–which is widely suspected to be a package option, but did not open until May 27, 2016–isn’t listed in the “Know Before You Go” section also seems to be in line with this.)
On a related note, I did call Disney Dining to try to make a reservation for the Rivers of Light dining packages and the Cast Member (after talking to her supervisor) said that the option is still listed as “coming soon” in her system and that they have no information about when the option will actually be available.
As I mentioned in the last post, one of the goals during this trip was to make smaller updates along the way (instead of waiting to talk about the trip at the very end.) Since we’re going to STK tonight–which means you might never hear from me again–, I figured now would be a good time to post an update.
We both really enjoyed the night time Kilimanjaro Safaris. As I mentioned on Twitter, the experience is almost impossible to photograph, but don’t let my crappy photos deter you from giving it a shot. We were lucky enough to see the best lion interactions we’ve ever seen on a safari at Animal Kingdom, and I would still feel like I’m ahead if I rode the ride 10 more times and didn’t see an animal. If you’re at Animal Kingdom at night, I think it’s worth your time to give it a try (and Elyssa would probably even give a stronger recommendation.) That said, if Disney’s only running 1 side of the queue (which I hear is pretty common), you’re going to want to do what you can to get a Fastpass+ reservation. Otherwise, you’re probably going to wait an hour. (We managed to get a Fastpass+ reservation for about 20 minutes in the future after about 3 minutes of refreshing the app around 7:50pm.)
The Tree of Life Awakenings are fantastic. I saw 3 different versions, and I enjoyed them all. I especially like the one that featured more “movie type” excerpts, which gave the whole thing a Celebrate the Magic-like feel.
Nomad Lounge was pretty much dead from 8:45-10:00 while we were there, but it was a nice, relaxing way to end the day. The Kungaloosh Ale (which almost had Newcastle-like flavors with some added spice) and the Tempting Tigress were both quite good. Elyssa also enjoyed the Hightower Rocks (where the sweetness that covers the alcohol could easily get you sneaky drunk without too much effort.)
The actual breakfast at Akershus is not quite as good as places like Crystal Palace, Tusker House, or Whispering Canyon (it consists of a “hot plate” with eggs, bacon, potato casserole, etc…, and a buffet with pastries and cold cuts.) We had decent princess interactions, seeing Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, and Snow White in the span 50 minutes (though the princesses all came out much later than we thought they would.) We still managed to exit in time to get into Frozen Ever After with only about a 15 minute wait (I’ll probably write about this more later, but you probably want to exit at 8:45-8:50am if you really want to guarantee a low wait. We exited at about 8:55am and ended up merging with the flow of people. I think we got pretty lucky.)
I really enjoyed Frozen Ever After. The movement on animatronics–especially Olaf–has to be seen to be believed. It is just so fluid. Elsa’s ice palace scene is also fantastic. For us and our sensibilities, it’s an upgrade over Maelstrom.
Even though we weren’t on the far edge of the Soarin’ screen, we could see some bending of the structures. For us, it was only really noticeable for the Eiffel Tower. That said, the Soarin’ experience is still great. I’ll refrain from any “spoilers” about what’s in it, but I like the new video. (It’s probably blogger bias, but when I first thought about what to write for Soarin‘, the minimal bending was what came to mind. That’s why that sentence was first, not the part where I explain my overall impression of the ride.)
I think Ample Hills is my second favorite ice cream on property (it is probably Elyssa’s first.) I think I still prefer a No Way Jose, but knowing I can get Ample Hills if there are no Beaches & Cream ADRs available is a great fall back. (I know the ice cream itself is probably better than plain ice cream from Beaches & Cream, but I just have so much connection to the No Way Jose, that I can’t pick something else ahead of it.)
After having lunch there on Monday afternoon, I think Via Napoli has moved into a clear 3rd place in the “Disney World restaurant most frequented by the Kivii” rankings. (Whispering Canyon is pretty far out in the lead (since we have stayed at Wilderness Lodge a bunch, and it has breakfast, lunch & dinner options), Beaches & Cream is second place (partially because of stops for No Way Joses), and BOATHOUSE is probably 4th (for now).) The “flexibility” pizza provides is probably one of the reasons we like it so much (we decided to make a last second Ample Hills stop about 45 minutes before Via Napoli, which meant we didn’t eat our entire pizza for lunch. That wasn’t an issue, however, since we were able to take it home and pull it out of the fridge to have for dinner a couple of hours later.)
We finished our day by watching the Main Street Electrical Parade. I’m glad I got to see it again before it goes away in a few weeks, but watching it does reinforce that I’m super bummed it’s leaving. Elyssa and I have so many good memories of watching it.
That’s it for this update. Dinner at STK tonight. Wish me luck!
After a recent trip to Disney World involved a major life event for Serenity, we reached out to see if she would be interested in being interviewed for the site. Thankfully, she graciously accepted.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: As always, the questions are presented in bold, with Serenity’s answers following. I have made minor edits for readability, but have made every effort not to impact the flow of the conversation.)
After what happened on your most recent trip, Disney World is going to have a major place in the story of your life. Is this a change for you or have you always had strong ties to Disney and its theme parks?
I grew up in southern California, so the Disney fandom has long been strong with my family! We never had annual passes because we lived just too far away from Anaheim to make good use out of them, but we’d usually make two or three Disney excursions a year. Some of my favorite early memories as a kid were at that park — trying to pull King Arthur’s sword out of the stone, riding Mr Toad’s Wild Ride late at night, waiting in line for hours during the debut of the Indiana Jones ride and memorizing the old AT&T decoder card to figure out what the runes on the walls said… and, of course, playing hooky from school with my dad to go ride Space Mountain.
Disneyland will forever be my one true park, but I’ve got a slow-growing fondness for Disney World after some particularly fun and memorable trips—this last one included! I’d wanted to visit Disney World for years, but I didn’t actually set foot there until I was 20, with a college boyfriend who had the same fondness for Disney World as I had for its west-coast sibling. I have him to thank for getting me thoroughly ensconced in the lore and love of WDW: He’d been on some of the fancy WDW backstage tours and provided excellent commentary about the parks and their many attractions as we waited in lines and dodged parades. And he introduced me to the glory — and gut-ache! — of the World Showcase dinner (one piece of food or drink from each pavilion).
How many times since that initial Disney World trip have you been back? How has your anticipation and planning for those trips evolved?
Since that initial trip, I’ve been three times, including our last adventure. The second time was much more whirlwind — only a day or two, and spent largely at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. The third was another two-day adventure, but it came after the FastPass+ revolution, which meant I was introduced to the magic of online scheduling. Once I figured out that you could book not only rides, but food, via the Disney app, I became obsessed.
I’ve always used MouseSavers as my baseline guide to all things Disney, but for this last trip, I leaned heavily on Disney’s own resources — the app was where I discovered I could book food experiences at other resort hotels, and we used Disney’s maps and transportation options to heavily plan how we’d jump from park to park. Like my last two WDW trips, this was only a two-day affair, so we had to plan smartly around meals and the like.
People who follow you online know that you had a major life event on your last trip to Disney World. Would you mind sharing what happened and the details around it?
Indeed I did. 🙂 While on our trip to Florida, my boyfriend not-so-subtly set up a lovely proposal, followed by our trip to Disney World!
Funny story: As he tells it, his original plan was to propose to me in the park, incorporating Star Tours — my all-time favorite Disney ride. But when he went to ask my folks for permission and fill his folks in on the plan, both of them rebelled and insisted he do it before we left. (In part, I think, because they wanted to give us a proper congratulatory send-off.) So the official proposal happened on a lovely beach near his dad’s house in Florida the day before Disney; but the “Star Tours proposal that almost was” is how I’ll remember it.
And best of all, we still got to celebrate our engagement at Disney World! We did as many “newly engaged” park activities as possible, including an incredible dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jiko followed by an adorably sweet phone call from Mickey and Minnie wishing us well. (We may have snuck out to the rear patio for some nighttime animal-watching, too, because how can you not when you’re at Animal Kingdom Lodge?)
Though it might be a little cliche, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t ask such a prominent member of the tech media at least one “tech” question. So, do you have any recommendations for readers of the site for what technology they might be able to use to help with their Disney Vacations?
I’ve been going to Disney parks all my life, but the iPhone era has definitely changed how I pack and plan for trips! After some experimentation, I have a pretty set list of tech to pack and apps to use:
My iPhone 6s + Smart Battery Case (those parks eat battery life!)
My Anker 10,000 battery pack (see point #1)
Disney’s official app (a must for trip planning, fast pass reservations, and dining) (EDITOR’S NOTE: My Disney Experience)
Offline Google Maps caches of the resort property (to save on data and battery)
Heads Up! (Still the best line-waiting iPhone app.)
My Apple Watch for fitness tracking and notifications; it also functions as a great remote Bluetooth shutter for my iPhone’s camera
Your tech needs may vary depending on your own Disney plans, but in general, you want to make sure you have enough battery for navigation, trip planning, and the occasional line-waiting game; a good, easy-to-reach place to grab your phone to capture those magic moments; and any apps you know you’ll want to mess around with while in the park.
I also strongly discourage posting to Instagram, Facebook, and the like while in the park — not only will it drain your battery and your data plan, but you might miss something fantastic while staring at your screen waiting for your photo to upload.
A huge thank you to Serenity for agreeing to talk with us about Disney World, and a huge congratulations to her on her engagement!. If you want to read more from Serenity, you can find her writings on iMore (her review of the Apple Pencil is a fantastic place to start). If you want to her her talking about technology check out iMore Show and Apple Talk, and, or listen to her chat about pop / geek culture (and an assortment of related topics) at The Incomparable. (If you have any interest in mid-20th century-style radio dramas, check out The Incomparable Radio Theater, which Serenity directed.)
Thank you again to Serenity chatting with us. We really hope you like these interviews with people outside the standard Disney community, and we hope to bring more of them to you in the future!.
Celebrate Halloween at ‘Club Villain’ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – They’re bringing back this event on Friday and Saturday nights from September 2-October 29 (and also on October 31). With this timing, it’s an alternative option to Mickey’s Not So Scary (but on different nights.) I know this event has gotten good reviews, but $129 a person seems just so steep for something like this.
Both here at Rope Drop [dot] Net HQ and throughout Orlando, the events of the last week the events of the last week+ still leave a lasting impression. Though we continue to mourn for all the lives that were lost, we are going to try and talk once again about a place that we (and probably a lot of you readers) love. There’s not real “good” approach to moving on from something like this, so we’re going to do a symbolic “reset” and clear the deck of all our pending News Nuggets (even if some may be a little out of date, now.) Here is what we’ve got:
Preview of Sprinkles Cupcakes at Disney Springs – Denise from Mouse Steps put together a really nice preview of one of the dessert-focused shops opening at Disney Springs. I’m not a big cupcake guy, but I don’t mind some good ice cream (and I’ve never forgiven Ghirardelli for getting ready of the peanut butter sundae.)
New Food Kiosks Coming to The Studios. – This makes sense for the busy summer period. I am especially interested in the “waffle sandwich.” Will it be the famed sandwich that recently was cut from Sleepy Hollow’s menu? (UPDATE: It is NOT the Sleepy Hollow One)
Disney to Discontinue Disney Dollars – Everyone seems to be posting about this. I never really understood why anyone would buy Disney Dollars in the first place, so it seems to make sense to get rid of them (especially in a world where so many people pay with magic bands, cards, etc…)
Flying Fish: New Name, New Chef, New Cocktail Lounge Next Door – I liked the old Flying Fish (Cafe), but I didn’t think it really held up against places like Cali Grill and Narcoossee’s. I hope this refurb helps with that. (Oh, and that bar name is ridiculous. I’m just going to avoid typing it since I’m sure I would mess it up if I tried.)
June 2016 Disney World Operating Schedule Updated – Josh has a nice update on the schedule changes for June. I wonder if the rumors about the fireworks scaring the animals that are out at night are part of the reason that the fireworks are not every night.
ESPN Club now offering reservations for lunch – I thought this might be paving the way for reservations all day, but I think there’s at least some chance that Disney wants a place that people can go without reservations to watch various sports-ball games.
Plaza Restaurant at Magic Kingdom Moving Away From ADRs, Walk-Up Availability Only – There are rumors that the Plaza is going to be replacing Skipper Canteen as the new “no ADRs allowed!” option at the Magic Kingdom. I guess this fits a need for people who “didn’t know” you you have make ADRs in advance, but it also conflicts with everything Disney has trained people to do for years I’m interested to see how this plays out.
If you were following along with either my or Elyssa’sTwitter accounts this past weekend, you know that we had a whirlwind trip down to Disney World. Here are some initial thoughts:
Magic Kingdom After Dark was Awesome: Even though Elyssa and I walked in a couple of minutes after 11, we had a fantastic time at this event. We rode Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Splash, Big Thunder (Elyssa rode BOTH Splash and Thunder!), Haunted Mansion, Pan, Mine Train, Under the Sea, Mad Tea Party (all 3 of us in 1 cup), Buzz, and met Mickey. We walked onto everything but Mickey (where we waited for about 10 minutes.) My only regret is that we didn’t eat more free ice cream. Overall, this event was well worth the $75 per person we spent, and I would love to do it again. (And, yes, I know that’s not the real name for the event.)
Tusker House is always Great (Even after only 3 Hours of Sleep): Elyssa and I love breakfast at Disney World, and one of our favorite places is Tusker House. As we’ve said before, it seems to have higher quality food than other Disney World breakfast buffets, and the character interactions have almost always been fantastic. Even Kilimanjaro Safaris being down with “technical difficulties” when we finished didn’t damper our enjoyment of the morning. (Thankfully, Safaris opened right around the time of our Fastpass+ window.)
The Boardwalk is Pretty Great if You Like Ice Cream: If you remember the famous easyWDWYOU WILL LOSE MEMBERS!! post, you know there was some outrage when they closed Seashore Sweets (including the thought there was no ice cream in the Boardwalk area anymore.) Well, as major fans of Beaches & Cream, Elyssa and I were always fine with grabbing a No Way Jose as our ice cream item of choice (we did that on this trip, too), but Ample Hills Creamery now provides another option. The ice cream at Ample Hills is fantastic, with some unique flavor choices (I went with the coffee toffee coffee / chocolate milk and cookies combo), but you do pay for the quality. The 2 cups of ice cream that Elyssa and I got cost more than a No Way Jose (combined, obviously).
There is a Stark Contrast between the crowds at the booths at Flower & Garden compared to Food & Wine: (Feel free to make your “Stark” / Game of Thrones joke here.) When you go to Food & Wine, you have to get there right when they open at 11:00am if you want to “guarantee” that you won’t have super long waits. At Flower & Garden, it was rare to even see a line at the booths (even on a Friday night.) Though I had done some research into what was being offered, I ended up deciding that I would rather just spend my money other ways than on the “outdoor kitchens.” I know people say Flower & Garden has become a “mini-Food & Wine”, but I just didn’t get that vibe. (EPCOT AISDE: The Joy & Sadness meet-and-greet is pretty awesome. Highly recommended.)
Disney Springs is a Really Nice Place to Visit and It Keeps Improving: The “it’s just mall” take is weak and tired. We get it, there’s an Under Armour store at Disney Springs and there’s one at your favorite mall. Cool. Now leave so I can enjoy the ambiance, great places to eat, and the Disney-specific shopping that is also at Disney Springs without you taking up space. I’m fine with people saying Disney Springs is “not for them”, but you’re doing a disservice to people who are planning their Disney World tip if you just dismiss it out of hand. Places like the BOATHOUSE and Jock Lindsey’s offer a chance to relax, have a drink, or get a pretty decent meal in a nice setting that doesn’t require theme park admission (The BOATHOUSE filet sliders are still a great value, and I keep waiting for them to raise the price by like $5 one night), and the construction isn’t even done yet. I think when construction is finally completed, Disney Springs really is going to be a place a majority of people are going to want to visit on their vacations. (DISNEY SPRINGS ASIDE: The 3 Little Pigs Sampler at B.B. Wolf’s was fantastic.)
There was one other big part of the trip for Elyssa and me: The BOATRIDE Club “fleet up” (term credit to friend of the site Eric Laycock). That, however, deserves its own write-up (which I’ll hopefully get to later this week.)