The first group of updates all concern the Magic Kingdom:
TRON: Lightcycle / Run is going to open in Spring 2023. There had been some rumblings recently that Disney wanted TRON open for the holiday season (and testing seemed like, maybe (?), this was a possibility.) The safer bet was that Disney would open TRON next year, and that is precisely what it did.
There will be an “updated” nighttime spectacular that involves the Happily Ever After song in 2023. (In other words, it does not seem like the original Happily Ever After show will be coming back the same as before.)
I give the “actual updates” qualifier since there was a segment near the end of the presentation where Josh D’Amaro brought out an imagineer and representative from Disney’s animation department and talked about “Blue Sky” projects that could eventually come to the parks. It was a strange presentation that, essentially, said, “we are considering these things, but are not committing to them.” In summary, the proposals were:
A revamp of Dinoland at the Animal Kingdom to be some kind of Zootopia and/or Moana land or lands.
Developing the area “behind” Big Thunder Mountain to be some kind of combination of Coco, Encanto, and Disney Villains.
I am not sure how to comment on something when it is presented this way. Would I like a huge new expansion of Magic Kingdom that involves a Coco section, an Encanto section, and a Disney Villains section? Yes. Yes, I would. Would I prefer that Dinoland actually have attractions instead of the area that used to be Primeval Whirl just sitting vacant? Again, yes. Unfortunately, it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will be before Disney gives us more clarity on these plans.
At the end of the presentation, Josh D’Amaro showed a slide that broke down all the actual announcements (not the Blue Sky stuff) and the timing of things through 2024. He said that there is more stuff he “wished he could share”, but if there is something else in the pipeline, why not announce it now? My guess: The press release for whatever comes next is already written, and we’ll all get to read it the same day that Universal gives its next major Epic Universe update.
With the Expedition Everest 5K starting at 10:00 pm on Thursday, March 31 in the Animal Kingdom parking lot, Disney has announced the Animal Kingdom will close at 7:30 pm that day.
This makes sense as the previously set 8:30 pm closure would make it harder to clear out the park for the runDisney event. It also makes sense given transportation from Disney Resorts to the race is starting that night 8:30 pm. The more Disney can clear out the park and the parking lot before the event, the better.
runDisney has posted the course maps for the upcoming Springtime Surprise race weekend, taking place March 31 to April 3, 2022 at Disney World. This will be the first runDisney event Elyssa and I have run since 2019, and we are super looking forward to it.
NOTE: At the time of posting, the full Weekend Event Guide has NOT been posted
Expedition Everest 5K
The 5K course takes place all at the Animal Kingdom. It starts in the parking lot, and you appear to run through the entrance about three-quarters of a mile into the race. Mile 3 has a long out and back along the water, so it will be interesting what Disney has for entertainment there. The 5K is also part “scavenger hunt”, so that could also help us get through that last mile, too.
Race for the Taste 10K
This 10K seems to cover the same ground as a lot of Disney 10Ks, but in a slightly reversed order. In the past, we’ve run into Epcot around Norway to finish with the run around World Showcase Lagoon and Crescent Lake. Here, we seem to get into Epcot about mile 3 (after looping the backside of the Land Pavilion) and the head to Crescent Lake before finishing with a run around World Showcase Lagoon and back to the front of the park. I figure the construction in the middle of the park forced this change.
Tower of Terror 10-Miler
This course has been getting the most coverage because it is the first runDisney course to go through Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land. Even setting that aside, I really like this course. You start pretty early in Epcot at just over mile 1, before going around World Showcase and then along Crescent Lake. The super narrow walkway between the Boardwalk and Studios takes place between miles 2 and 3 (instead of near the end of the race), so—hopefully—people can move through that more quickly while they still have early race adrenaline. Miles 4.5 to 8.5 will be the roughest part (similar to those miles after leaving the Magic Kingdom during Princess Race Weekend), so that is where Disney will need to step up the entertainment. Hopefully, having Spaceship Earth in view as you make the turn just about at mile 8 will be a good motivation for those last 2 miles.
NOTE: If you like this course, there were still registration spots available for the 10 miler at the time of posting.
I like to have this post on the site since I frequently reference when the various runDisney events are taking place. Below you’ll find upcoming 2022-2023 runDisney events that either (a) still have spots open for registration on the runDisney website or (b) have not had registration open yet.
2022 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend – February 24-27, 2022 (Only the half is available)
2022 runDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend – March 31-April 3, 2022 (Both the 10K and the half are available, but the 5K and Challenge are sold out)
2022 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend– November 3 – 6, 2022
Registration Date: March 22, 2022
2023 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend– January 4 – 8, 2023
Registration Date: April 19, 2022
2023 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend– February 23 – 26, 2023
Earlier today Disney released the trailer for next summer’s Pixar movie Lightyear. If you don’t remember, this movie is about the “real” Buzz Lightyear (who inspired the toy), not the Buzz Lightyear toy character from the Toy Story movies. Disney got Chris Evans to voice Buzz, so I cannot help get Captain America vibes from this trailer. It looks fantastic, and right up my alley. I am so excited for this:
It’s kind of a bummer to have an event like this be media-only. It is especially weird when Bob Chapek comes out to thank “the guests” for their support over the last 50 years, when said guests were all shuffled out of the park 2 hours before the preview took place.
That said, here are a couple of pictures I took from the balcony of my room at the Contemporary of the preview Disney showed of “Enchantment,” the new nighttime fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom.
The blog post also included a few details about the poster that preview some stuff about the experience, including:
There are four people at the center of the poster – a youngling wearing Jedi robes and wielding a lightsaber, an adult dressed in the uniform of a First Order officer, a Twi’lek adult, and another youngling who appears to be holding a piece of technology of some sort. These figures are meant to represent you, the travelers, because Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is about your choices and how you live your personal Star Wars stories
In front of those central figures is an R-series astromech droid – but one that seems to have a few extra bells and whistles. Hmm … I bet there’s a story there, too.
But the one I am most excited about is:
The image in the lower right is something I’m incredibly excited for – lightsaber training! That’s right, as part of your experience, you’ll face off with a training remote similar to how Luke Skywalker once did and learn the lightsaber’s ancient ways.
Before I dig into Early Theme Park Entry, a few quick thoughts about Magical Express. Ultimately, Magical Express was not for me. I did use the service a couple of times for very short (about 48 hour) trips, however. I appreciated the convenience of not having to worry about my transportation but found some of its details frustrating. I disliked the amount of time it took for me to arrive at my resort (which was never the first stop), or that I had to be back at my resort 3 hours before my flight to catch the return bus (instead of leaving directly from a park, Disney Springs, etc…) That said, for the trips I used, it made sense. I was traveling solo while Elyssa was working photography jobs, and my biggest concerns were minimizing some expenses on the trip and was making sure I made my flight. (For the various issue I had with Magical Express, I did have confidence that if I made my bus, Disney would do whatever was necessary to get me home, even if there was an issue with the bus or something else unforeseen.) On trips where I wanted to maximize my time in the parks, however, I would simply rent a car. That allowed me to get from the airport to my destination (hotel, Disney Springs, or park) much faster. For example, one time, Elyssa and I were flying down to go to After Hours at the Magic Kingdom, and our flight was severely delayed. In our rental car, we could drive straight to the Magic Kingdom, and we ended up getting to the Magic Kingdom just as the event was starting. If we had been taking Magical Express, that would have been impossible (setting aside some kind of “hacks” like taking a bus to the Floridian, etc… which may or may not have worked.) There are negatives to car rentals, though, especially now that Disney charges parking. People are going to have some decisions to make regarding car rentals v ride-share v other options in getting from MCO to Disney World, and they all have cost/convenience trade-offs that might not align with people’s values as much as Magical Express. I am bummed for those people.
On the other hand, replacing Extra Magic Hours with Early Park Entry has the potential to have a significant impact on our touring, especially for trips where we stay off-site. For example, a typical day for us might start with some Tonga Toast at 7:30 am before heading over to the Magic Kingdom for a 9:00 am opening. We would probably arrive at the tapstiles around 8:30-8:40 am, stroll down Main Street, and then post up around the entrance to Adventureland to watch the Welcome Show. After Mickey opened the park, we would then head over to catch one of the first boats for the Jungle Cruise. Now, with Early Park Entry, if we are offsite guests, all onsite guests would have a 30-minute head start of getting into the park. This change has the potential to eliminate quick rope drop rides on things like Jungle Cruise, Flight of Passage, or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway if you’re staying offsite. On a recent Disney Dish episode, Len Testa estimated that this 30-minute delay to getting into the park would result in at least an extra 1 hour of waiting. We’ll have to see how things play out, but I imagine he’s not that far off, and that is a major bummer for us. (It will also be a bummer if there is no general extension of park hours later into the night, as we will definitely miss those 1am nights in the Magic Kingdom.)
It seems likely that Early Park Entry will increase the importance of Fastpass+ (if that comes back, or whatever it is replaced with) for offsite guests looking to avoid long waits and it might end up otherwise changing our touring strategy. For example, if we know we cannot get in at rope drop at Animal Kingdom since we are staying offsite, maybe we plan to have a later breakfast at Ale & Compass and then head into Epcot for the AM / early PM before heading over to Animal Kingdom at night, including trying to get in line for Flight of Passage right about park close. Again, these things will have to be evaluated once the new procedures go into effect, but it seems likely that Elyssa and I will have even more of an incentive to stay onsite as a result of this change. In the end, I guess that is exactly what Disney wants.
There have been a couple of stories over the past week that sit at the intersections of my interests and previous Disney writing.
First was the announcement that in January 2021, Disney will be replacing its existing Disney Gift Card website. As someone who has written articles about the ways to use the current website to you manage your gift cards, I have my fingers crossed that the new website will provide more functionality and be easier to use. In preparation for the transition, though, Disney emphasizes that you should keep your physical gift cards and make sure you have them available to re-add to the new Disney website when it launches. Similarly, I would probably avoid maxing out any of your gift card balances in January. If there is a technical glitch in Disney’s gift card system, it would be better if you had just a few dollars on the gift card than if you had multiple hundreds.
Second was the trailer for something I knew was in the works, but I did not realize was so close to release. IT IS A DISNEY MOVIE ABOUT CLEMSON FOOTBALL!. People who know me or follow my social media know that I have a strong allegiance to my alma mater and am an especially big fan of their football program. This movie tells the story of Ray Ray McElrathbey, a Clemson football player who had to face a near-impossible situation and what he did to try and make the best of it with the help of his teammates and the Clemson family:
I hope Disney does this story justice since it seems like a perfect, uplifting movie for a year that has been less than ideal.
I wanted to avoid copying and pasting Disney press releases (I don’t have the time nor interest for that), but I still wanted to give me comments on at least some of the news coming out of Disney World. This led to the birth of the News Nuggets, where I would give brief comments on various news stories.
I also did some in-depth and opinion pieces, with the most controversial being me dunking on FuelRods. (I stand by everything I said in that one.)
My frequency of posting on the site ebbs and flows based on what is going on with my caseload in my day job (the more intense writing I’m doing during the day, the harder it is to put something together for the site at night.) The number of weddings that Elyssa needs help on at any given point can also be a factor that might take up some or all of my “free” time.
All of that said, I have no intention of “stopping” with new articles and updates. I recently moved the site to a new host to make it more reliable and take some of the backend maintenance off of my plate. I doubt I’ll ever post daily on the site, but I am hopeful that I’ll continue to have periods of more activity in between the lulls. I also hope I can think of some new concepts or bring back from old favorites. Like most things in 2020, we will just have to wait and see how things play out.
Disney World has been a significant part of Elyssa’s and my life. From our engagement, honeymoon, and, of course, the discovery of her brain tumor, quite a few of our major milestones have either involved or taken place at Disney World. After the parks were closed for four-months as a result of the pandemic, I had hoped that Disney World’s reopening would again be a milestone. Specifically, I hoped that the opening of Disney World would signify that things were a little more “normal.” After these two weeks, I am not yet sure if I feel that way.
With any luck, Elyssa and I will visit Disney World in the next month or so. I know there are differing opinions about whether or not the parks should have opened. I do not intend to get into that debate. Disney World is open, and we may visit in the semi-near future. To prepare for that visit, I have been reading a lot (all?) of the coverage of the reopening. Here are some highlights of that coverage, along with some of my thoughts about them and the reopening.
The biggest change, however, was the announcement of the new Disney World Park Pass system. This system requires Disney World guests to pre-select a single park for each day of their visit (no park hopping is allowed during this phase of the reopening) in order to ensure that the parks do not exceed their limited capacity on a given day. Each park gets a limited number of Park Passes per day, and the passes are broken up between resort guests, regular guests, and AP holders.
Initial Reopening Reports
Originally, Elyssa and I had a trip booked that would have put us at Disney World for reopening weekend. After some discussion, we decided we were going to wait and watch how things played out from afar. Though we have only been following other people’s coverage, it looks like the reopening experience went pretty smoothly
Here is a sample of the reopening reports that I read and found interesting:
Planning a Disney World trip this year will be a very different process from the process that has evolved over the past few years. This new process involves planning a trip based on visiting only one park per day, with no Fastpass+, and with limited capacity at restaurants. After only a couple of weeks, the recommendations for putting together the best version of this type of plan appear to be still in flux. Thankfully, the usual suspects have been putting together resources to help figure things out, including Disney World itself:
After selecting your lodging, the first major step in planning your trip is to secure your Park Pass reservations. Josh over at easyWDW has a comprehensive guide on how to use the Park Pass system. You should pay attention to all the details in the guide, but the main thing to keep in mind is that reservations for Disney’s Hollywood Studios seem to go the quickest (in fact, AP holders cannot get a reservation through all of August). There are different theories about why this is true, but I believe it is likely a combination of The Studios having two of the newest, headliner attractions (Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway), along with The Studios having a limited possible capacity due to the inability to run live shows (Indiana Jones, Beauty and the Beast, etc…) that are normally places to “hold” people when they are not in line for other attractions. Whatever the reason, though, Hollywood Studios is the toughest park reservation to get and you should factor that into your planning.
If you are someone who wants to simply be at Disney World, and is less concerned about any particular attractions, Disney’s decision to—essentially—start Food & Wine now has made EPCOT a particularly interesting option. EPCOT gives guests a chance to walk around, in the open air, and enjoy something that is normally reserved for the fall season. Of course, being at EPCOT also does involve being outside in the Florida sun during July and August, but—if your main goal is to be in Disney World, while staying outside and generally away from people—Epcot might be worth a look.
The lack of any Fastpass+ system give the potential for spontaneity on the day you are actually visiting a park, especially with the overall lower wait times. Personally, I thought Disney would implement a broader virtual queue system, but—to date—the only virtual queue is for Rise of the Resistance. The lack of any virtual queuing allows you to roam the parks more freely and otherwise evaluate wait times dynamically throughout the day. One thing to keep in mind, Disney shuts down its attractions about every 2 hours to clean them thoroughly. This cleaning-related delay does cause a longer wait (and may result in a visibly longer line), but reports are that things move pretty quickly once the ride re-opens.
There is a lot new about planning a Disney World vacation during 2020, and I anticipate the advice will continue to evolve over the next couple of weeks. If you want singular resources right now about planning your trip, I suggest you check out these guides from easyWDW and Blog Mickey
Predictions for how the Summer will Play Out
Early predictions are that there might not be a lot of demand at Disney World this summer. I agree with these predictions. For me, the most significant indicator of continuing low crowds is that Disney is offering large merchandise and hotel discounts through at least Mid-August and sometimes into September. Discounts of this kind are an indicator that Disney has looked at its upcoming bookings and determined that it needs to do something to try and convince people to book a vacation. With the nature of this pandemic, however, I am not sure if there is any financial incentive that will persuade some people to travel to Central Florida in 2020.
Summary and Final Thoughts
A lot has changed since mid-March, when Elyssa and I sat in an auditorium with Bob Iger and Bob Chapek. Mr. Iger explained that Disney had weathered uncertainty before, but I am confident that he did not anticipate that Disney’s crown jewel theme park would be closed for four months (and that its original theme park would have no re-opening date even announced for that same period.) Now that the parks are open, I am starting to feel the pull to get back down there and visit. My expectations are tempered due to the necessary limitations that Disney has put on visits as a result of COVID-19. However, I am hopeful that there is still enough “Disney” left in the experience that I will be able to enjoy being back at Disney World, even while everything else goes on. Ultimately, I think I am just going to have to see for myself whether the Disney magic really is back.
My goal is not for this site to become a day-to-day tracker of what’s going on with the NBA at Disney World (you can follow the NBA Bubble Life twitter account for that). Still, the topic is at such an intersection of my different interests that I end up running into different stories in all of my news sources.
What happens if, say, the night before Team X plays Team Y in a deciding Game 7, the tip line gets a call reporting that Team X’s star player was seen drinking out of everyone’s beer mug at a Kissimmee Applebee’s? Or that Team Y’s star was spotted, shall we say, entertaining some visitors who did not clear quarantine? How will the NBA ferret out real calls from false ones?
So far, the league has only handed out warnings. But how many warnings does it take to earn a fine? How many fines does it take to earn a suspension?
The Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, seeing the carnage on his phone from colleagues who’d reached the Bubble before his team, bought a panini machine for the trip. “I just wanted to eat comfortably here,” he said. The Thunder’s Steve Adams said his wife baked a couple batches of lasagna for him to take “because I’d seen a photo of the food they were giving us online.”
But goes on to explain that part of the reason for the poor food photos is the method of the food’s delivery and subsequent presentation:
The Disney service workers delivering the food do not operate under some of the same protections, so the food being served must be carried in packaging that ensures sterility.
That means tightly sealed plastic and wrapping, plastic cutlery, and packaged fruit. Entrees must come in cartons. The workers, wearing not only masks and gloves, but plastic shields over their masks, can deliver the food in paper bags, with thin handles pinched together, carrying the bags between two fingers with those handles. They stop at your door, drop the food on the ground, knock once or twice on the door, and then walk away.
This type of procedure does not exactly lead to the artistic plating of entrees.
Just before 10 o’clock Sunday night, two gentlemen knocked on my door from BioReference Labs. They are the only people besides me who are allowed in my room. And so long as the cotton swab they gently shove into my nose and the one they brush along the inner walls of my throat do not return any COVID-19 all week, I’ll be allowed out of the room with limited access to “the bubble.”
The article includes pictures of Vardon’s special “NBA” Magic Band, and his first night of dinner. It also includes this reminder of the length of time he’ll be there:
My tour is expected to last through the end of the first round of the NBA playoffs, into September, when I’m to be relieved by a colleague. I won’t be whining about the food, and the room is fine. The only complaint I have about the living conditions is I unpacked all three of my suitcases for a two-month stay upon moving in on Sunday, only to learn hours later that the league will move us all to different rooms when our week-long quarantines are over.
and some of the strange requirements related to performing his job as a reporter:
There is nothing normal about this assignment, either. Before arriving to the bubble, the reporters (I don’t know exactly how many of us there are, more than 10 but fewer than 20) had to sign something that says we “will not approach or attempt to interact with … NBA players, coaches, other team personnel and/or NBA referees,” except when the league says we can. This (other than bothering refs, we don’t really do that) runs against everything we do as basketball reporters.
Good luck, Joe. I’m going to enjoy following along.
“The strangest thing I brought that I’m very happy I brought now is, I dedicated a whole carry-on bag to my coffee. Which is like seven pounds of coffee beans, my coffee grinder, I got a French press in my room, because I knew we were going to be quarantined so I couldn’t trust whatever was going to be in my room.”
Yesterday was the first day that Disney World Annual Passholders without hotel reservations could make Park Pass reservations. Here is a high-level summary of some of the results (as found on Disney’s Park Pass Availability Calendar):*
There are 19 days where no parks have any annual pass availability.**
There are 20 days where Epcot has no availability (the 19 “no parks available” days, and July 24.)
There are 21 days where Animal Kingdom has no availability (the 19 “no parks available” days,” August 2, and August 16.)
There are 25 days where the Magic Kingdom has no availability (the 19 “no parks available” days, plus 6 other days.)
There are 36 days where The Studios has no availability (the 19 “no parks available” days, plus 17 other days–including a day in September (which no other park has).)
Again, these numbers are only for Annual Passholders that do not have a resort reservation. Resort guests continue to have availability for all parks after the first week of opening. (This also confirms Disney’s statement that Resort Guests and Annual Passholders will be pulling park pass reservations from different pools of availability.)
It will be interesting to see what happens when reservations for regular ticket holders open up. Specifically, I am interested to see how many reservations Disney is holding back just for them. (I would not be surprised if Disney has a small percentage of reservations held back for ticket holders so they can have a full “green” calendar at the outset, but I suspect that the number is relatively low. I could see Disney re-allocating availability from resort guests to ticket holders as time passes, and it becomes clear that resort guests are not going to use all of their allocated reservations.)
Regular ticket holders can start making reservations tomorrow (June 28, 2020), so we will not have to wait long to see how it goes.
This morning was the opening of Disney’s “Park Pass” Reservation system. I managed to get a couple of reservations, and I (might?) write about that process later. In the meantime, what is your favorite Disney World waiting page:
(To be fair, I would rather stay at Yacht Club than in Gran Destino, too.)
Things then continued to spiral out from there, including discussions about the value of Stormalong Bay and whether or not people at Destino get full access to Blizzard Beach. You can see some of that fall out in this summary from Bleacher Report.
Relatedly: I am so ready to have some live sports back on tv.
Since Disney World’s closure, I have been trying to figure out what I think about…well…all of it. Honestly, though, I still have not been able to figure it out. At some point, I will probably finish that post. Until then, here is something about a few hours I spent at Disney Springs last week.
I never had any intention of going to Disney Springs before the re-opening of the Disney World parks. Some family health issues force Elyssa and I to Florida, however, and—after a lot of driving, and a lot of work—I wanted to take just a few hours and be at Disney World.
I had a general idea of what to expect when I pulled into the Orange Garage (though I was not prepared to have the entrance I usually use for said garage be blocked off.) I put on my mask, got my temperature taken, and then took the escalator down to Disney Springs itself.
It felt weird.
I expected things to feel different or somewhat off, but it felt much weirder than I anticipated. Maybe it was the people in masks; perhaps it was all the sandwich board signs reminding everyone about everything going on, but—whatever it was—it was weird.
BOATHOUSE was quite pleasant. I sat out on the dock that houses the bar (which had no bar stools.) I was the only one out there. (I was the only person eating outside at all.) I had a beer, rolls, and a steak. Sitting there, enjoying my wheels, waiving to people in the amphicars, I could almost forget (if just for a moment) that things are not normal.
I walked the Westside (the lack of Bongo’s gives a clear view of Jaleo now that wasn’t there before). I walked by Homecomin’ (there might have been some people inside, but I could not tell if it was anyone I know from through the tinted windows.) I went to BOATHOUSE.
After my meal, I walked through the rest of Disney Springs. There was no queue for World of Disney, and I walked around with the 15 other people in the store. Maybe one other person was in the Marketplace Co-Op (The Dress Shop and Art Gallery have switched places.) Once Upon a Toy and the Lego Store had one other person each while I was there. Nothing else that I was interested in was open. (No Elyssa meant Uniqlo didn’t make the cut.)
I continued to just walk around for another hour before I picked up an ice cream sundae from Ghirardelli and sat by the water and ate it. Again, I could always forget (ignore?) everything as I enjoyed my Sunday.
About three hours after I got there, I ended up taking the escalator back up to my car. More people were coming in, but it was not “crowded” in any sense of the word. Before heading back to Elyssa’s home town, I drove by the Riveria and Boardwalk. I drove up by the Beach Club and Yacht Club. I thought about driving out past the Magic Kingdom, but decided I had seen enough for the day. I was already feeling a little twinge of pain I get whenever one of my Disney trips ends, and I decided I did not need anymore.
I had my little taste of the Springs in this strange, strange summer.
This is such great news. I was watching the newest episode of Clone Wars this morning and seeing Ahsoka back on the screen felt so great. It brought a smile to my face in these troubling times.
I know some people think it it’s a “slap in the face” to Ashley Eckstein, but I hope she doesn’t see it that way. I also hope that there was some discussion with Ashley about who she thought would be good for the role. Related to that, Rosario has been campaigning to play the live action Ahsoka for years: