Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge – The First Tours

There’s a ton of Galaxy’s Edge news out today, but I want to focus on this article from Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch that is one of the most comprehensive pieces I have seen. On some level, it’s the type of analysis that I would think friend of the site Wes would give if he was given access to land while it’s under construction (and, honestly, that’s about the highest compliment I can give.)

If just the concept of Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t get you excited, maybe this information will:

At risk of being too susceptible to marketing speak, I’d have to agree with this particular statement. What is being built here has little parallel in terms of immersion and ambition in an amusement park or out. And it’s going to blow Star Wars fans, casual and involved, away.

Though all of Panzarino’s article is worth a read, here are some standout parts for me. First, why Disney elected to set the land on a “new” planet:

“Why not make a place that is very familiar from the classic Star Wars films, a Tatooine, a Hoth, or one of those places? The answer really is we know those places, we know those stories that happen there, and we know that we’re not in them,” said [Disney Portfolio Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering, Scott] Trowbridge. “This place, Black Spire Outpost, is an opportunity. It’s designed from the very get‑go to be a place that invites exploration and discovery, a place that invites us to become a character in the world of Star Wars, and, to the extent that we want to, to participate in the stories of Star Wars.”
“I want to walk into this land and be in the same level as everyone else, from the really hardcore Star Wars fan to someone who knows nothing about Star Wars,” Managing Story Editor at WDI Margaret Kerrison recalls saying in the first pitch meeting she attended for Star Wars land. “I want to have that urgency to explore, to discover, to run around every corner, and to meet every single droid and alien in this land. I want to not feel like I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t know all the nitty‑gritty details as a hardcore Star Wars fan would know.”

Next, is the explanation of how involved people from all part of Disney and LucasFilm were in creating the land:

People from props, set dressing, construction, merchandising, food, ride systems and technical departments all worked together from ideation onwards. On a normal production, they are typically brought in at various phases — but for Batuu, everyone had to be on the same page from the very beginning

and how the land will work to feel alive while you’re there:

“Our world, where guests are this close to something, it’s got to be that next level. A good example of that is, droids move through our land. That’s part of the story that we’re trying to tell. We got access to one of the original Kenny Baker, New Hope, 1976‑1977 era droids. We took rubbings of the bottom of the droid feet. We turned that into a set of three files, which then, we turned into a set of 3D wheels. We built a little droid trolley, which Kirstin [Makela, Art Director] and team used.”
“I’ll set the scene for you,” says Makela. “You’re on a busy construction site, there’s lots of people around. There’s some people pouring hardscape concrete, all dirty and all their tools and their stamping. Then all of a sudden, one of them just jumps on this little trolley and someone else pulls them through the concrete, leaves a little trail of droid tracks.”

On that front, I can’t even fathom this description of the animatronic Hondo Ohnaka:

The animatronic figure itself is around 7 feet tall and uses the latest in electric motors instead of hydraulics. Hondo’s figure includes around 50 functions (movement points) total and is the second most complicated animatronic in Disney parks. The most complicated, for the record, is the Na’vi Shaman … which has 40 functions in its face alone, not to mention the rest of the body. We had the Shaman at our robotics event a couple of years ago, it’s incredible to watch. Hondo isn’t far behind, with fluid movements, smooth facial contortions and believable interactions between himself and his R5 droid.

(Though the biggest selling point will obviously be the Nien Nunb animatronic.)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a theme park without stellar attractions. Based on Panzarino’s description, Disney seems well aware of that as well. I only skimmed over the description of the Rise of the Resistance ride to avoid “ride through” style spoilers, but I had to read the description of the Falcon:

Approaching the Falcon from one of the entrances to Batuu for the first time is a surreal experience. This is a full-size 110-foot version of the ship as you’ve seen it in the movies. It’s meticulously detailed and acts as a center-piece for the area. The ship will periodically vent out gas and Hondo’s tinkerers are constantly working on its engines. It’s a living thing inside the land, a character.
Entering the cockpit was an out-of-body situation for me, I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s wild how right it feels. The six seats all feature belts and the familiar weathered look. More importantly, each of them has a wide array of buttons either to the side or in front of them if you’re one of the pilots. Every square or rectangular button has a light up ring around it which will indicate which of them you need to press for the best result during your moments to act during the ride. The toggles have small LED indicators built into one end that do the same indicating job. I am happy to report that the large, satisfyingly chunky toggle switches and satisfyingly clicks buttons have been very well chosen and require enough force to push without stress but with satisfaction. They’re the right switches.

I cannot be more ready to give that a shot.

Overall, Panzarino’s observation that–in hindsight–Pandora seems like it was a test run for Galaxy’s Edge is something that I have felt since we started hearing about the immersive aspects that are now currently found in the Valley of Mo’ara. If Disney can accomplish that level of immersion in a universe that people have a much stronger connection to, than Galaxy’s Edge is going to be really, really special.

Maybe I missed the reference to this particular character

Plane’s Here, Go Ahead – A Discussion of Boarding Flights

Though not 100% on point for this site, the various discussions I’m seeing this morning related to flights, flight boarding, etc.. remind me of this CGP Grey video:

Part of me wonders what it would be like to have a much more “efficient” boarding process (though, after flying Southwest with their “groups”, I wonder how the “plane’s here, go ahead” method would really work for today’s travelers.)

If what you really want to watch ist just 20 minutes of the loading and unloading animations, though, then here’s that:

It’s about the time Disney World usually Raises Ticket Prices

No hard news or anything on this. The guys at Backside of Magic mentioned in their episode this morning that it’s about the time Disney World raises its ticket prices, so it might be worth buying tickets for your upcoming trips. I agree Ryan and Jeremy on that.

For context, here are the dates of Disney’s last few matches of February prices increases:

  • February 11, 2018
  • February 12, 2017
  • February 28, 2016
  • February 22, 2015
  • February 23, 2014

Sometimes there is a 1 or 2 day “rumor” that can give you notice, but who knows if that will happen this time.

Can you really put a price on moments like these, though?

Disney Parks Related Thoughts from Disney’s Latest Earnings Call

NOTE: You can view the transcript from a number of places online, but this is the one I used: https://seekingalpha.com/article/4238411-walt-disney-company-dis-ceo-robert-iger-q1-2019-results-earnings-call-transcript?part=single. Also, the quotes below are from Bob Iger.

The first quote will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following Disney Parks, Disney has tried to get more money from each of their guests (and, apparently, it has):

Growth in operating income at our domestic parks business was driven by higher guest spending at the park and higher occupied room nights at the hotels. Attendance at our domestic parks was comparable to the first quarter last year. However, per capita spending was up 7% on higher admissions, food and beverage and merchandise spending. Per room spending at our domestic hotels was up 5%, and occupancy was up 3 percentage points to 94%.

Again, no surprise to anyone that follows this stuff.

This next quote talks about how Disney feels that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is, essentially, going to market itself:

And I would say, by the way, on the marketing expense side, don’t expect much. I’m thinking that maybe I should just tweet, “It’s opening,” and that will be enough. I think we’re going to end up with incredibly popular and in-demand product with these two new lands. They’re large. They’re beautiful, and they’re extremely innovative. And they obviously leverage the popularity of the Star Wars brand. And I think that we’re going to have absolutely no problem gaining attention for them or to them, and it’s not going to take much marketing to do that. That’s a signal that I just sent to our parks and resorts people to keep that budget really low.

Iger says that now, but I can’t imagine we’re not going to see a decent amount of advertising as the opening of the land gets closer. Maybe not for the holiday season (which would be popular anyway), but leading into 2020 and the “slower” periods of January and February.

This next quote combines pricing with everyone’s (no one’s?) favorite topic: IP in the theme parks. For better or worse, Disney seems to be saying that part of the reason for the increased popularity in the parks is the additional IP that Disney has been adding to them. Relatedly, Disney is using this increased popularity to raise prices:

Steve, on the first part, we’ve been witnessing, over the last few years, a substantial increase in the popularity of our parks. A lot of that has to do with how well they’ve managed and the kind of investments that we’ve made not just operationally but in expansion and the use of IP that’s extremely popular. In doing so, what we’re also trying to do is to use that popularity to manage guest experience a little bit better in the sense that – and we know that crowding can be an issue, and that when our parks are the most crowded, the guest experience is not what we would like it to be. And so we’re leveraging the popularity to obviously increase pricing and to spread demand, to get much more strategic about how we’re pricing. So the parks are still accessible, but in the highest peak periods, we’re trying basically to manage the attendance so that the guest experience isn’t diminished by the popularity. And I think, because of the nature of the investments we’re making, we’ve been fairly vocal and transparent about those investments, the two big Star Wars, Toy Story Land that just opened up in Florida, the work that’s going on in Hong Kong and in Paris and Shanghai and in Tokyo and all the great expansion and IP that we’re putting in. That popularity is going to continue, and with that’s going to come the, I guess, enviable task of balancing that popularity with guest experience and price elasticity.>

Again, for better or worse, new attractions at Disney parks are going to based on popular IP while the current crew is running things. That seems pretty clear.

As to using pricing to “manage attendance”, I think the unique nature of Disney parks, specifically destination parks like Disney World, undercuts that argument. As I’ve said (and heard others say) since Disney went to seasonal / surge pricing, some people can only take vacations during “peak” Disney times. For those people, the pricing isn’t a discouragement, it’s just an increased cost for their trip that they have no choice but to pay. People with the flexibility to travel when they want were alredady factoring in the crowd levels when making their travel decisions, but people who are constrained in their travel choices by their kids’ school or their jobs may not have those options. Though I doubt Disney would ever admit it, I bet the increased pricing over peak periods has done nothing to crowd levels, but has simply increased Disney’s profits for those periods. That’s “fine” if that’s Disney’s goal, but to say the goal is to “managed attendance” seems disingenuous.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I added in the two sentences above that are in italics to help clarify my original point, namely: some people are constrained by their life circumstances into when they can travel, and, frequently, those constraints force people to travel in Disney’s “peak” periods. For those people, they are forced into paying the extra cost of a trip, without any real option to travel at a “less expensive” time.

This last quote comes from earlier in the call, but ties the theme parks into Disney’s upcoming streaming service:

As I mentioned earlier in my prepared remarks, we have an event on April 11 when we’re not only going to demonstrate the app, but we’re going to talk in great detail about our strategy, the impact of our current businesses and the impact on our bottom line. And so I think we’ll answer a lot of the questions then. But what we’re basically trying to do here is invest in our future. And the investments that we’re making in both the technology side and in creating incremental content are all designed so that long-term this business will become an important part of Disney’s bottom line and long-term strategy So I think you have to look at this. It’s almost the equivalent of deploying capital to build out our theme parks when we could have deployed the capital in a variety of other directions. This is a bet on the future of this business. And we are deploying our capital basically so that long term, the growth of this company is stronger than it would have been without these investments.

It seems like Iger is saying that the build out on theme parks was a bet on the future (which seems to have paid off so far) and the build out on the streaming service will be much the same. Personally, I’m interested to see what the whole Disney+ experience will be like, especially initially when Disney still has content deals keeping some of its in-house content on other services. Of course, if Disney’s original content is ready then the service might really hit the ground running.

With all that money, can we get a night time parade back?With all that money, can we get a night time parade back?

A Morning at Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs

If you follow Elyssa and Me on Twitter, you know that we had quite the issues with travel last night. The short version is that a storm in Baltimore delayed (what would have been) our plane from Raleigh / Durham to Orlando for over 5 hours, and Southwest couldn’t guarantee that if that plane made it to RDU that it would actually fly to Orlando. To try and salvage this quick weekend trip, we decided to switch to a flight to Tampa, change our rental car reservation accordingly, and then drive up to Orlando. It was stressful, the overall travel took way longer than we thought it would, but we made it to our condo late last night so we could still enjoy a weekend away.

As a lot of Magic Kingdom mornings do, we started the day at Kona. Some Tonga Toast and a press pot of coffee always feels like a good way to start the day (even if the waitress kept telling us we looked tired.)

Tonga Toast FTW
Tonga Toast FTW

Given we were a little run down from last night, we went pretty easy on our Magic Kingdom touring. Thankfully, being there for park opening (along with some Fastpass+ refreshing) allowed us to get in Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, the People Mover, and visit with Mickey and Minnie in their fancy new outfits.

I have no issues with a fierce redhead.

I have no issues with a fierce redhead.
Not sure what’s cooler: Minnie’s outfit, or Elyssa’s popcorn bucket...
Not sure what’s cooler: Minnie’s outfit, or Elyssa’s popcorn bucket…
After we left the Magic Kingdom, we headed over to Disney Springs. We debated trying a view different options, but ended up at our favorite stop: Homecomin’. As always, it was delicious. I think the Thigh High chicken biscuits at Homecomin’ compete with the Slider at BoAtHOusE for best meal value on property.

It’s either Sweet Tea or Apple Pie for me.
It’s either Sweet Tea or Apple Pie for me.
Thigh highs.
Thigh highs.

We did try something new, though: the cookie dough from Aristocrepes. It was quite good as a quick dessert (and surprisingly filling.)

Cooke dough...topped with cookies.
Cooke dough…topped with cookies.

Overall, it was a pretty good morning (and it did a good job of washing away the hassles from last night.) We’re not sure where we’ll end up tonight, but I think we’ll consider this day a success, regardless.

runDisney 2019 Virtual Races will be Marvel Themed

Earlier today, Disney (via Marvel) announced that its 2019 runDisney “Virtual” races will be Marvel themed. Personally, I view “virtual” races as a little bit of a money grab (Elyssa and I are going to run 5Ks during those months, anyway, so why pay to be able to print out a “bib” to do it?), but if this is a chance for me to get a Captain America themed runDisney medal, I am ALL IN.

Of course, the announcement page doesn’t show any medals (just bibs), so we’ll have to wait a little longer to see what the medals look like.

Mid-Race Selfie
Mid-Race Selfie