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:
As we’ve talked about on the site before, Elyssa’s “real” job is as a wedding and portrait photographer over at Kivus and Camera. Well, during our most recent trip to Disney World, Elyssa spent some time with her sister and her sister’s fiancé taking pictures. A couple of images are included below, but, if you want to see the whole set (and there about 35 more), you can head over to the Kivus and Camera blog and see the post.
After a rather lengthy Twitter discussion with some friends of the site about how much Elyssa and I like Tiffins and Jiko, Elyssa and I…well…decided to go to Jiko for dinner on Sunday night.
I intend to write-up (or at least show some pictures) of our entire meal, but what I really want to share is: JIKO HAS “NEW” BREAD:
Previously, as you might remember, Jiko had sweet potato rolls. Now, they have an almost fluffy focaccia-like bread that they serve with olive oil infused with parsley and chives. It was a big hit for us (especially Elyssa, who doesn’t like sweet potato.) I was completely surprised to be served the new bread since I do not remember reading about the bread change at any of the normal spots for this kind of news, despite our waitress saying it had been out for 4-5 months. (I did a “site:easwydw.com” to see if Josh had written about it and I couldn’t find anything. I also did something similar for some other Disney news sites with no results.)
Anyway, Jiko was amazing (as always) and the “new” bread might give you another reason to give it a shot if you haven’t been in awhile.
When I was done at Disney World in early September, I said my goodbye to Illuminations, but I’m not sure I really appreciate that it’s “gone.” Tonight, we’ll get our first look at the replacement.
As always, I recommend checking the Disney Parks Blog about 15 minutes before the start of the show to see if there’s an updated post with the video. I’ll also try to post the video in this post if I’m able.
I basically have been limiting myself to reading press releases instead of more in-depth coverage of Galaxy’s Edge, since I’ll be at the land next week and I want to go in kind of fresh. Thankfully, Disney has issued a bunch of press releases in advance of the opening. If you want Disney’s official take on the new land, there are thousands of words about it in these listings. Some of the highlights include:
“In designing the Star Wars universe, we don’t consider it science fiction or fantasy – we think of it more as a period piece, and we look at it almost from a documentary point of view. Star Wars design is grounded in reality, and we’re creating a place that is believable, authentic and real. Then we exaggerate that reality and add in a distinct visual vocabulary to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. For this land, we wanted to create something fresh and also timeless – just like our films.”
“The A1000 Audio-Animatronics figures inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge were asked to do more lifelike movements than we’ve ever done before – sensing your presence, stepping and turning around. How do we make a figure look like he’s actually walking? We were so used to the feet being permanently bolted to the ground. These new figures provide incredible performance and repeatability – you’re getting a figure that looks the same on day one as it does in year five or year 20.”
A larger-than-life collector of all things odd and hard to find, Dok-Ondar buys, sells and trades valuable items in his intergalactic antiquities shop. The Ithorian is a proud curator, amassing a collection unrivaled in the galaxy. He is also known as the “gatekeeper” of the black market in Black Spire Outpost, so locals know not to cross him. Guests can see him working at his desk, taking inventory and barking the occasional order at his assistants between incoming calls.
As believers in the ways of the Force, the Gatherers are a group of men and women dedicated to restoring balance in the galaxy by passing on ancient knowledge. Part of their mission is guiding the next generation of Jedi-hopefuls in building their own unique lightsabers.
Vi Moradi is a spy and intelligence officer for the Resistance who traveled to Batuu to scout the planet for its viability as a potential Resistance recruiting station. This strong-willed, hot-tempered, quick-witted woman is trying to stay one step ahead of the First Order while recruiting for the Resistance as she traverses the twisting pathways of Black Spire Outpost.
I’m currently on a Lego buying “freeze” as Elyssa and I evaluate where we’re going to (eventually) buy our next house. That said, my self control is being severely tested with this amazing new set of the Main Street Train Station. It looks fantastic.
A little over 3 years ago, I wrote a post about a podcast to keep an eye on. In that post I talked about how Backside of Magic hosts Ryan and Jeremy were discussing techniques to enhance people’s enjoyment of Disney vacations, and how—as early as episode 3–they really seemed to be hitting their stride in that space.
Since that post, and for the past 3 years, Ryan and Jeremy have continued their exploration of time saving and trip planning. As they mentioned in their last episode today, techniques and terms they coined such as “bump and run” are now regularly used in Disney (DisTwitter?) discourse. Also, whether or not you had issues with the appropriateness of some of their more “aggressive” techniques, information like Flight of Passage Fastpass+ drops is invaluable for people planning Disney vacations and Ryan and Jeremy were always at the forefront of providing that. When I had a trip to Disney World coming up, I always made sure I had listened to—at least—the last 3 episodes of Backside of Magic (if I hadn’t already listened to them the morning they came out) to make sure that there were no new bits of information I needed to be aware of.
Saldly, for us Disney fans, Ryan and Jeremy are hanging up their microphones today. It’s been a fun ride for the past few years, and I’m glad I kept my eye on the show. From the various other feedback I see in the Disney community, it sounds like a lot of other people kept their eyes on it, too.
Enjoy podcast retirement, y’all. Pop a Jai Alai. You’ve earned it.
The Studios: 6:00am to 9:00am – featuring Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and “select other attractions”;
Animal Kingdom: 7:00am to 8:00am – Pandora and other attractions (same as current EMH)
Magic Kingdom: 7:00am to 8:00am – attractions in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland (same as the current morning EMH)
These EEMHs will go from August 29 through November 2 (though, for August 29, 30, and 31 only, Galaxy’s Edge will be open for all guests at 6:00pm).
Though I figured that Disney would offer some extra magic hours for Galaxy’s Edge, I never expected it would be for 3 hours before park open. Also, I didn’t think Disney would extend the offering to Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom as well.
Overall, I’m quite please with this plan. Elyssa and I have an early September trip planned and we’ll definitely be taking advantage of these early park entry times.