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.
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.
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.
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.
Avengers: Endgame was released this weekend, and, like expected, it marks the end of an era in Marvel’s “Cinematic Universe.” It’s the end of a nearly 10 year run of movies, and it culminated with an epic battle and a series of codas that leave us saying goodbye to this particular iteration of some of our favorite characters. For me specifically, it’s me saying goodbye to Chris Evans’ Captain America.
It’s was about 9 years ago that Marvel announced that Chris Evans had been cast as Captain America. I was unsure of how to react at the time, given that I really only knew Chris Evans from the Fantastic Four movies and The Losers (don’t get me wrong, I really like The Losers), and—though I saw similarities in between those two characters—neither one seemed to be anything like the Steve Rogers that I knew and loved from years of reading Marvel comics.
I waited another year-and-a-half to see how Captain America would be portrayed on the big screen, and it only took about 25 minutes of that movie (when Steve Rogers jumps on a grenade) that I realized that I actually was going to see my Captain America brought to life, and that Chris Evans was the right person to do it.
Since that first movie, Steve Rogers, through Chris Evans, has grown as a character, while still continuing to embody the characteristics that I love about Captain America from the comic books. From his fight against corrupt power on Earth in Winter Solider, to him standing against against an otherworldly superpower in Endgame, he simply was the the Sentinel of Liberty that I had been reading stories about for all those years.
One of MCU Steve Roger’s iconic lines is “I can do this all day.” (which gets a nice shout-out in Endgame), but it is unrealistic to expect Chris Evans to play this role (or any role) forever. Not that he needs me (or anyone else) to give “approval” on how he portrayed a character, but, as he leaves his time as Captain America behind, I cannot thank him enough for how well he portrayed one of my favorite characters in any media. He didn’t sign on to be a steward of a chararacter with such a history when he signed on to be an actor in a movie, but, through this past decade, he has done this just that.
Thank you, Chris. Because of your hard work this past decade, I have a whole “universe” of movies that include one of my favorite comic book characters brought to life. Thank you (and go Red Sox.)
They did. I didn’t believe they would, but Disney made announcement about Galaxy’s Edge opening date at Disney World, AND IT’S OPENING ON AUGUT 29, 2019 !?!?! The “catch” with the opening is that the Millennium Falcon attraction (known as “Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run”) will be running at that time, but that the Rise of the Resitence attraction will not open until “later this year”.
Part of why I didn’t think Disney would open Galaxy’s Edge as early as October, was I didn’t think that the attractions would be ready in that time frame. In hind sight, the phased opening approach Disney is doing makes total sense, as it addresses the issue of attraction completion, while also letting people experience (and test for Disney) the new immersive land prior to the holiday season. Disney will be able to track and tweak the immersion aspects of the land and (to a lesser degree) the crowd flow, without having to also support (what people have been saying) is one of Disney’s most ambitious attractions ever created. Again, once I read the announcement, it made total sense that Disney would do things this way.
Disney has also made the decision to not offer Fastpass+ for the Galaxy’s Edge attractions (even Rise of the Resistance when it initially opens.) Again, in hindsight, this makes some sense. Instead of rewarding people who are able to quickly make a time selection 60 days out, it will reward people who are willing to make the time investment to enter the land (either in early arrival or waiting in the queue). This also alleviates the need to manage the crowd in a way that accounts for Fastpass+ reservations on the attractions (e.g., someone who has a 2:00pm Fastpass+ reservation would need to be able to end the land with enough time to make it to the attraction, possibly requiring them to skip the overall entrance queue to the land). Universal handles that kind of “entry” queueing on busy days by giving people a reservation time to return and enter Harry Potter-land (i.e., a Fastpass for entry to the whole land). I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney uses the initial opening phase of Galaxy’s Edge to determine if the better approach for Fastpass+ is actually a Fastpass+ for entrance to Galaxy’s Edge instead of Fastpass+ for one of the attractions. (And, of course, I am sure there will be plenty of hard-ticket / add-on options available for people who are willing to pay to experience Galaxy’s Edge without as much waiting.)
Overall, I’m glad to see Disney in a place where they can open Galaxy’s Edge as early as they are, and I hope this extra time can be used to make sure Galaxy’s Edge is running smoothly by the holidays. Regardless, it should be pretty interesting to watch.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
We did try something new, though: the cookie dough from Aristocrepes. It was quite good as a quick dessert (and surprisingly filling.)
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.
As expected, Disney announced changes to the race registration process today (i.e. removing Active from involvement in the process.) This (hopefully) will make the registration process smoother (though I have a feeling there will be some hiccups during the initial Marathon Weekend sign ups), and also brings the ability to use Disney Gift Cards to pay for registrations. It’ll be interesting to see how this goes.
Here are the new registration dates:
2019 Marathon Weekend (Jan. 9-13, 2019)
July 17, 2018 – Pre-sale for AP and DVC
July 19, 2018 – General on-sale date
2019 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend (Feb. 21-24, 2019)
Aug 2, 2018 – Pre-sale for AP and DVC
Aug 7, 2018 – General on-sale date
2019 Star Wars Rival Run Weekend (April 4-7, 2019
August 23, 2018 – Pre-sale for AP and DVC
August 28, 2018 – General on-sale date
Elyssa and I are planning on running the challenge at Star Wars Weekend next year. Maybe we’ll see y’all there!
The hot “must do’ item of recent weeks (months?) that everyone is talking about is brunch at the California Grill. Josh over at easyWDW has given it a thumbs up, friends of the site Lisa and Howie have been raving about it on Twitter, and Modern Men of Mouse host Russ spoke about it favorably on the podcast. Despite all this, Elyssa and I had been waffling (breakfast food joke!) about whether or not the meal is “for us”. We’re not very adventurous eaters, we do really like our Kona breakfasts, and we were unsure if we would feel like we got a decent value out of things. Well, after spending about 2.5 hours at the top of the Contemporary this morning, we can definitively say: We are big fans of California Grill brunch.
The meal is actually a hybrid of buffet and table service, as there is a plentiful selection of high quality (artisanal?) meats and cheeses, sushi, salads, and pastries available at your leisure. (See Josh’s post for the pictures of the items in the buffet line). My initial buffet plate looked like this:
The next part of the meal comes in the form of some of the best breakfast entrées that I have had on property (or, probably, anywhere). Since you’re allowed to order more than one, Elyssa and I decided to split the Chicken and Waffles (friend chicken, with chicken sausage gravy, and a sweet potato waffle):
Vanilla Bean French Toast (Parker House bread, crème brûlée custard, and walnuts…Elyssa isn’t a fan of carmalized bananas that would normally come with it):
and Shakshuka (a spiced tomato dish, the includes lamb meatballs. Normally, it would include eggs, but we opted to have the eggs scrambled on the side):
Everything was fantastic, with our favorite possibly being the shakshuka (but it’s tough to pick). The meal also involved high quality sides (bacon and sausage), bottomless mimosas (I believe Elyssa’s count was 5), and unlimited refills on things like coffee (served in a press pot), orange juice, and soft drinks. There is also a dessert course, but Elyssa and I simply had that boxed up to bring home since we had already more than enough to eat.
Overall, California Grill Brunch was what everyone said it would be: fantastic. I am not sure if we would do it every trip (the 2-3 hours and $80 per person (before discounts like Tables in Wonderland) is a good commitment, even for something this good), but it’ll definitely be part of the overall rotation. We agree with everyone who has rated it as “Highly Recommended.”
Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts: $24 per night (because the pavement at deluxe resorts costs more to upkeep ???)
Aside from the increase in cost resulting from this (for example, our recent 5 night stay at the Beach Club would have been $120 more), I think I’m most bummed out by the “makes Disney World like everywhere else” aspect. I’m sure I’ll get over it (and I’m not going “stop” going to Disney because of it), but, right now, it feels like a bummer.
It also changes the cost calculation for some of the 3-4 day trips that Elyssa and I like to take. Before, I would probably be torn between getting a cheap rental or taking an uber / lyft from the airport if I was going to spend a long weekend at the Yacht Club (current estimated cost per the Lyft app: $31.85). Now, it’s a no brainer to get the uber / lyft when dealing with the $24 in parking I’d pay on top of the rental car fee. (And, yes, I know Magical Express is a thing that exists, but I just get really antsy when I fly in at 7:00pm on a Thursday and want to just get to Disney World.) Of course, it also probably makes it more likely I just grab at room at Flamingo Crossing instead of staying onsite at all (at least until they add a parking charge as well.)
NOTE: The following is a little outside of the normal realm of content here at *Rope Drop [dot] Net. Since every Disney site seems to be blindly reporting the news about Disney’s streaming service, however, I felt a little context was in order.
With all of those moves by technology companies into the content creation and ownership space, is it any wonder that earlier today, Disney—a long term content creator and owner—announced that by 2019 it would stop distributing its movies via Netflix and start its own streaming service. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see the clear trend of content creation and content delivery converging. Since Disney, unlike the tech companies discussed above, already has the content library (and the ability to produce new content), it needs to develop the technical side of things. That’s why the biggest news out of Disney’s announcement is probably its acquisition (for a cool $1.58 billion) of a majority interest in BAM Tech, one of the leading providers of video streaming on the web. Disney is now poised to use technology it owns to deliver its content (including ESPN content) directly to its consumers, without having to deal with some kind of technological middle man. After all, if Netflix, Apple, and Amazon are going to position themselves as silos of content delivered by their own respective technologies, shouldn’t Disney position itself to do the same thing?
Of course, the proliferation of streaming services with their own content silos might not be the best end game for consumers. Discussion has already started online as to how many streaming services we will need to subscribe to in order to watch the various content we’re interested in. With Disney throwing its hat in the ring today, my answer to that questions is: 1 more service than I thought I had to subscribe to yesterday.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, My Disney Experience, the Shop Disney Parks App, and even the Disneyland App (per the comments to my original post), all crash at launch on the iOS 11 Beta (currently, in developer beta 4 and public beta 3.) I’ve submitted bug reports using Apple’s beta feedback system (and been contacted to test a fix or two), but the crash is still occuring.
If you’re planning a trip to Disney World in the near future, and you want to use MDE for things like refreshing Fastpass+ selections, I would recommend not installing any iOS 11 beta. There is always a chance that the next iOS beta will fix things, but I think it’s possible that the fix for this crash requires Disney to submit a new version of its apps that is compiled against the iOS 11 SDK. That would mean no fix would come before iOS 11 is actually released (which has, historically, been in mid-to-late September.)
As readers of this site probably know, this past weekend was the 2017 D23 Expo out in California. Though, as a Disney fan, I was interested in a lot of the goings on from the weekend, I was most interested in seeing what Disney was going to announce related to Disney World.
giv[ing] guests the opportunity to fly the Millenium Falcon, piloting the ship, shooting blasters or preparing for hyperspace – all while completing a critical mission. But how you perform on the mission holds even bigger stakes: perform with skill and you may earn extra galactic credits, while bringing the ship back banged up could put you on the list of a bounty hunter. End up on Harkos’s list and you may face a problem if you show up at the local cantina!
Chapek also announced that Galaxy’s Edge will feature appearances from popular characters Chewbacca, BB-8, and everyone’s favorite Star Tours pilot, Rex (who will have a new role as the dj in the cantina.)
Overall, the presentation hinted on the new “reputation” features of the land that were previously announced (i.e., your flight on the Millawnium…err…Millenium Falcon having consequences), but did not give details as to how that will be implemented. Thanfully, Inside the Magic has a fantastic interview with Imagineer Scott Trowbridge that gives strong hints as to how that system will work:
“If you do a great job flying the Millennium Falcon, you might find a few more Galactic Credits coming your way. But if you bang the ship up and bring it back all damaged […] when you roll across the street to the local cantina, you might hear from someone in the cantina that there’s even a bounty on your head because you owe more money than you have.
That’s just one quote from the interview, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in Star Wars Land, to head over to Inside the Magic and read the whole thing.
After discussing the land, Chapek confirmed earlier reports that both coasts will get their respective Star Wars lands in the first half of 2019, with the Disneyland version of Galaxy’s Edge opening before the Disney World version (which isn’t surprising based on the reports of the construction progress in both lands.) That said, with Star Wars: Episode IX scheduled to open on May 24, 2019, I would imagine Disney will try to get Galaxy’s Edge open in time to capitalize on the film’s advertising, etc… (and, coincidentially, a few weeks before Bob Iger’s contract expires on July 2, 2019.)
In more Star Wars news, the rumored, immersive, Star Wars Hotel was also officially announced. Chapek described the new hotel as:
“It’s unlike anything that exists today. From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story! You’ll immediately become a citizen of the galaxy and experience all that entails, including dressing up in the proper attire. Once you leave Earth, you will discover a starship alive with characters, stories, and adventures that unfold all around you. It is 100% immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits.”
If I heard things correctly, he also said that every room will have a window looking out into space. If the “virtual space” windows are half as good as everyone says the “virtual portholes” on Disney cruise ships, we could be in for a real treat. I’d imagine that Elyssa and I will be making reservations as close as possible to the hotel opening.
put[ting] you inside the wacky and unpredictable world of a Mickey Mouse Cartoon Short where you’re the star and anything can happen. This zany out-of-control adventure features surprising twists and turns, dazzling visual effects and mind-boggling transformations that happen before your very eyes.
More concretely, Disney says this attraction
will feature a new story and a new singable attraction theme song as well as a new experience we’re calling “2 1/2 D.” No glasses required. Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Rafferty said teams are inventing new technologies that turn the flat world of a colorful cartoon short into a “dimensional display of amazingness.”
In order to make way for this new attraction, The Great Movie Ride will be closed on August 13, 2017. Though I’ve not ridden The Great Movie Ride as much recently, I have fond memories of the attraction. Unfortunately, it was in dire need of an update and a refurb, and it looks like Disney couldn’t (or decided not to) bring all the necessary parties together to structure the licenses necessary to make that happen.
No targeted opening date was given for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Many people went into this D23 thinking it was going to be a turning point for Epcot (though, there is a definite split on whether or not such massive changes is a positive development.) Regardless of your thoughts as to whether major changes should take place, however, Disney announced a ton of new changes for Epcot. It also indicated that this is just the beginning of a massive overhaul of the park.
Chapek described the Epcot reimagining as staying true to the “original vision” of Epcot, while also making it “more Disney, timeless, relevant, [and] family-friendly.” I’m sure a lot of ink will be spilled on think pieces over the next couple of days discussing how some of these announcements relate to Epcot’s “original vision”, but, for now, I’m going to focus on what’s upcoming.
To set the stage, new concept art for Future World was shown during the presentation that featured–what looked like–a complete reimagining of Future World. Since Disney did not release that image along with the rest of its media assets, however, I view those ideas as more in the “developing” stages than some of the other items. (A lot can change between initial reimagining and the final product.) If you’re interested, though, here’s a link to a photo someone took of the concept art
Epcot’s brand new E-ticket attraction will be based on the rockin’ and action-packed world of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and is the next step in how guests can encounter these characters at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Previously, rumors have suggested the ride will be some kind of new coaster, but none of that has been confirmed, yet. As with the Great Movie Ride, Universe of Energy will close on August 13, 2017 to begin construction of the new Guardians ride.
guests will be able to shrink to Remy’s size and scurry to safety in a dazzling chase across a kitchen with the sights, sounds and smells of Gusteau’s legendary Parisian restaurant.
Both of these attractions are targeted to open prior to Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
Other Epcot related changes include a new, updated Circle-Vision film being added to the China pavilion and updated films for Mission: SPACE, including “a brand new Green Mission that will take guests on a stunning tour around the Earth, with younger cadets joining the adventure for the very first time.” According to Disney, Mission: SPACE is scheduled to reopen this August.
Adjacent to Mission: SPACE will be a new “out of this world” restaurant. Though not many details were announced, it seems likely the restaurant will feature “windows” looking out into space (like the Star Wars Hotel will have.) The fact that it’s going to be run by the same group that runs Via Napoli and Morimoto Asia gives me high hopes.
Recently, rumors had been quite strong that the TRON coaster from Shanghai Disneyland would be making its way to Disney World. Many of the rumors suggested this new experience would end up replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway. Well, the rumors saying that TRON is coming were right. It is slated to open in advance of Disney’s 50th anniversary in 2021. The interesting part of things, however, is that the attraction will “sit in an entirely new area right next Space Mountain.” This seems to suggest that the Speedway is sticking around (and, also, hopefully means that there won’t be any issues requiring changes or removal of the beloved People Mover in order to accommodate the new TRON attraction.)
Another Magic Kingdom item that had not been on anyone’s rumor radar is a new theater coming to Main Street U.S.A.. The “new entertainment venue will be based on the iconic Willis Wood Theater in 1920s Kansas City, where Walt lived after he left Marceline. ” Disney hasn’t yet announced what new entertainment will be coming to the theater, but it seems like this venue could be used to house the shows shown on Disney Cruise ships or similar like performances.
Unfortunately, there were no announcements about a new night time parade coming to Disney World. For months we’ve heard rumors about Disneyland’s Paint the Night parade coming to Disney World, but now it looks like that parade is simply moving to Disney’s California Adventure. (I’ve also heard rumors about Main Street Electrical Parade coming back to Disney World, but I’ll believe that when I see it.) Until then, it looks like Magic Kingdom will continue to operate without a night time parade (outside of the holiday parties) for the forseeable future.
Overall Resort Changes
The rumored gondola system that will connect Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts with the Studios and the backside of Epcot was given the name Disney Skyliner. It’ll be interesting to see what an increased amount of people using the International Gateway might mean for that (significantly smaller) entrance. As it stands currently, a boat full of people arriving can clog things up for a few minutes. I wonder what a steady stream of people arriving on gondolas will do.
Also on the transportation front, Disney’s rumored “Uber-like” service was branded Minnie Vans. Details on this new transportation option (such as cost) are scarce at this time.
Finally, Disney announced the new Disney Riveria Resort. This resort seems to be what people previously thought of as the “moderate” Caribbean Beach DVC (in no small part as a result of its location adjacent to Caribbean Beach). With the rebranding and gondola system, however, it’ll be interesting to see if the cost of this resort ends up being more in line with the rest of DVC options.
Disney also announced that the various Disney Stores around the country will be redesigned. As someone who tries to get a little bit of a Disney-fix by wandering into my local Disney Store ever week or two, I’m interested in seeing what this new redesign looks like.
As you can see from the length of this post, the 2017 iteration of D23 Expo had a lot of Disney World news. At this point, I’m still trying to process things, but my first impression from the new announcements is pretty positive. We are getting a number of interesting new attractions, without losing things like the People Mover or Impressions de France to make way for them (for now, anyway.)
Out of all the new attractions, I’m probably most exited about Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway and the TRON coaster. Finally having a ride dedicated to the mouse that started it all is awesome, and I have high hopes that the Imagineers are going to give the attraction a lot of love and care. Meanwhile, the Shanghai version of TRON is that park’s highest rated attraction (and have a soft spot in my heart for the concept of little “people programs” running around in my computer.) Can I make my reservations for Disney World’s 50th birthday now?
That’s it for my recap. Thanks for reading See you at the Galaxy’s Edge!
(NOTE: If you’ve made it this far, but you still want to read Disney PR’s take on all the Disney World news, they have a press release available that talks about everything.)
The concept of “refreshing” My Disney Experience to get additional Fastpass+ selections is nothing new (e.g.,this post from easyWDW from April 2016.) It’s a strategy Elyssa and I have been using for at least that long and it has resulted in us getting some pretty great Fastpass+ choices (we ended up taking a last second trip to the Magic Kindgdom on Christmas Day without any Fastpass+ reservations as we walked through the tapstiles, but ended up getting at least Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear while we were there–no comment if we got a Meet Tinker Bell one.)
General Fastpass+ “Refresh” Steps in My Disney Experience
Step 1: Get any Fastpass+ selection you can for the park you want to be in.
Basically, I think of this step as just “get the best available.” So, if my goal is to try and get a Mine Train Fastpass+, I’ll look to see if there’s anything available for the Mine Train, and, if there is, I’ll grab that. If there’s isn’t, I’ll just grab whatever I can in the Magic Kingdom. I’ll also avoid getting other Fastpass+ selections with a return window near what I’m “refreshing” for, so I have more flexibility to choose the results I’m presented with.
Here’s a screenshot of a current Fastpass+ selection with “Modify” link you’ll ned in Step 2 called out:
Step 2: Choose to “Modify” your existing Fastpass+ selection and see what’s available.
The “Modify” Fastpass+ selection screen is pretty straightforward. It starts with a list of times at the top that sets the search parameter for the time of the new Fastpass+ you are looking for. It then shows the other availables times for the attraction you are currently modifying (i.e., if you are modifying a Mine Train selection, it’ll show you other times for the Mine Train.), followed by all other available Fastpass+ selections for around that time (unless an attraction only has selections outside of your time window. In that case, it just shows you what is available for that attraction.)
Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:
Step 3: If you like what you see, select your new Fastpass+
Pretty straightforward, right? If you see the attraction and time you want available, just grab it. That’s it!.
Step 4: If you don’t like what you see, select another “time” and see what options present themselves. REPEAT.
I feel like Step 4 is the actual “refreshing” step, since it’s the one that actually pulls new information from Disney’s servers. In this step, you basically just tap on the time in the top bar that you ideally want for you Fastpass+ selection. So, if you want an 11:00am Fastpass+ for Mine Train, you tap 11:00am. If something comes up, grab it. If not, then tap the next time (in our example, 11:30am) and see what comes up. Again, if you see what you want grab it. If not, then I’d recommend choosing the time period right before your ideal time (in our example, this would be 10:30am). Did you get what you want? No? Then go back and tap 11:00am again, and continue repeating this process until something opens up.
So, basically, you’re tapping 3 different “times”, over and over again (but, hopefully, not too long) in order to eventually get the time that you want. (Once again, our example: Tap 11:00am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 11:30am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 10:30am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. Tap 11:00am. No Mine Train Fastpass+. … REPEAT… Tap 11:00am. MINE TRAIN FASTPASS+ FOUND)
I’m sure other people have different ways to handle this “refreshing” step, but this method works well for us. The biggest advantage of this strategy is that your thumb is basically just tapping in almost the same place over and over again, so you don’t have to think too much about context, what the menus are showing, etc.. (Personally, I don’t like to expend a lot of mental energy when doing a task like this.)
Some other “Refresh” Tips and Context
A few other quick thoughts about this My Disney Experience “refreshing”:
I prioritize getting the attraction I want when doing Step 4, above. So, if I want a Mine Train Fastpass+ for around 11:00am, but a 5:00pm pops up while I’m refreshing, then I just take that 5:00pm one and start back over at Step 2. This way, I don’t have to keep scrolling down to Mine Train in the available attractions list to see what’s available. It’s right at the top. (If that wasn’t clear, here’s an example of what I might do when trying to book a Fastpass+ for Mine Train for 11:00am: Step 1: Book Splash Mountain, since it’s all that’s available; Step 2: Choose to modify that Fastpass+, Step 3: Select a 7:00pm Mine Train that’s become available: Step 4: Keep performing Step 4 until an 11:00am-ish Mine Train Fastpass+ selection shows up.)
Related to the tip above, it seems like Disney might just be putting the 2 Avatar attractions at the top when you refresh (which is nice.) There’s no guarantee that’ll continue, though.
Be careful when getting into a groove on “refreshing”. I have, admittedly, been in such a rut of refreshing, that I’ve refreshed instead of actually selecting the new Fastpass+ option that’s become available. That can be frustrating.
Don’t necessarily give up if things don’t work in the first 5 minutes. I’d estimate that I spent a total of 50 minutes refreshing on Christmas Day last year to get the Fastpass+ selections I mentioned. I think Mine Train took about 30 minutes of that.
Even though this article is about Fastpass+ selections, I’ve also used it for last minute ADRs. For example, we finished the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon and decided we wanted Kona breakfast, even though there was no ADR availability when we made the decision. It took about 15 minutes of refreshing on the bus ride over to the Poly to get an ADR for about 10 minutes in the future.
People at Disney World are always looking for the ways to best utilize the system. Paper Fastpass had a set of strategies, people tried collecting various “dummy bands” in the early days of Fastpass+, and, now, people can take advantage of My Disney Experience to get additional (or better) Fastpass+ options that are more in line with what they want to do. Hopefully, “refreshing” (no matter what technique you use), works as good for you as it does for us.
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.
John and I are done with our trip down to WDW for the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend, and I am the one putting together this Quick Hits post because John is driving (and blogging while driving is probably not that safe).
Here are some of the “new to us” items:
The Dress Shoppe @ Cherry Tree Lane. IT IS THE BEST AND I WANT ALL THE DRESSES! They aren’t free though, so I only bought one. I got the Small World pattern and love it. I tried a bunch of them on and they’re all really cute. I wish they’d had the Orange Bird one in stock. Cast Members said they’d been told much more stock would be coming in summer. Hopefully Disney recognizes the demand and we get even more patterns and styles.
BB-8 Meet & Greet. Droid please. He’s really cute and we thought this was a positive experience. One thing that’s different about the BB meet is you’re the only ones in the room with him; at most character meets, there’s a family or two behind you watching/waiting their turn. They brought us in to him alone. He’s a nicely attentive droid too – even though he doesn’t roll around, his head swivels and you can see him looking around based on where voices are coming from. The chirps are the cutest.
The Polite Pig. MEH. As North Carolinians, we have pretty high expectations for BBQ/southern food, so it’s a bit of a tough sell. The fast casual concept of ordering and then sitting down might be nice if they figure it out. When we went, they had clearly not ironed out the wrinkles in that system. When we initially got in the main line, which was pretty long and didn’t seem to be moving quickly, the CM handing out menus told us we could sit/order at the bar if we didn’t want to stand in line. So we went to the bar, where the lone bartender was clearly overwhelmed (both sides of the bar were almost at capacity). It took almost 10 minutes for us to even get water, but we stuck it out and ordered. I got mac & cheese and John got the brisket sandwich. John liked his sandwich okay. My mac & cheese just made me wish we’d gone to Homecomin. We both agreed that if we’d just gone to the bar at Homecomin, we could’ve gotten a better tasting meal in about the same amount of time though at a slightly higher cost. I don’t think we’ll really need to go here again, but it would be okay if sitting at the Homecomin bar is not an option for you.
Geyser Point. Beautiful views, not so beautiful food/service. When we sat, it took a while for a waitress to even acknowledge us. She gave us drink menus and seemed mad when we asked about food. Apparently, you are supposed to go over to the quick service counter (not clearly visible from the Geyser Point entrance) to get anything aside from 3-4 appetizer type things. Given that there’s a giant menu at the Geyser Point entrance showing all the options from the quick service counter, I’m sure lots of people walk in expecting those options. Yet, when we asked about them she huffed and acted like it was a giant hassle, so we just ordered drinks. John ended up just going over to the quick service counter to order some food. The food you get is definitely Disney quick service. That doesn’t mean it’s gross, but it’s replacement level. The food from Territory Lounge is much better. The views at Geyser Point are really pretty though, so I can see us getting some stuff from Territory to go and posting up at Geyser Point to eat it and enjoy their drink menu. *Note that you can only get food discounts (like AP) if you order directly from the quick service counter.
Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno. What we had of the new menu was good – John had the King Triton breakfast calzone and enjoyed it. I had the Tower of Pancakes, which were thick and fluffy. Each table gets a skillet of breakfast pastries when they sit, and the pastries are themed to Rapunzel & Ariel (the two princesses you meet). Character interactions were solid. Flynn Ryder comes out first, then Rapunzel, Eric, and finally Ariel. While each character meets tables individually, the two couples do dance around the restaurant a little together, so if you’re in a good position, you could get a photo of Rapunzel with Flynn and Ariel with Eric, they just don’t come to your table together. Overall, the breakfast was fun, but it was a little bit of a bummer, because we really liked the old Trattoria breakfast. It was a great option to fuel before heading into International Gateway at World Showcase opening. Now, the breakfast is more expensive (because of the characters) and some of our favorite menu options are gone. We may end up at the Bon Voyage breakfast again, but not as often as we went to the old Trattoria breakfast.
Il Mulino. This restaurant is by no means new, but we’ve never been so this is new to us. The disclaimer is that the purpose of this dinner was to have a mild, carb-y dinner before Saturday’s 10k. If it were a normal meal, we may have ordered different things. The atmosphere was nothing to write home about. It was pretty enough, but there certainly aren’t any exciting views. The wine list looked nice, but we stuck to water like good little runners. We both ordered pasta dishes – I got a linguine in a “spicy” red sauce. It was not spicy, and I probably wouldn’t order it again. John got the pappardelle dish and really liked it. I can’t see us choosing this over Tutto Italia unless we’re staying in the Swan or Dolphin and simply don’t feel like going into Epcot.
Paddlefish. Food was pretty good and a decent value. We had the lobster corn dogs from the appetizer section and those were quite tasty. Everything else was fine too, but not significantly memorable. You won’t have any trouble getting a table and it’s certainly not the type of restaurant to rush you through your meal, so I think Paddlefish is a good option if you want a longer/lazier meal at Disney Springs. If you get a window seat you can wave to the Amphicars.
Tiffins. OMNOMNOMNOMNOM. Seriously lives up to the rave reviews we’ve seen elsewhere. We were there on the Rivers of Light dining package, which means we got more food than we probably would have otherwise. The package includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert for each person. To start, I got the octopus and John got the lobster soup. John’s summation of the soup is that it was good, but he prefers traditional lobster bisque. We both really liked the octopus. I could’ve eaten 3 or 4 of those. For entrees, I had the Waygu pasta dish, which was delicious, and John got the Waygu beef and short ribs. This is one place where you don’t have to worry so much about Disney overcooking – the beef was insanely tender and tasty. We both got the chocolate dessert because chocolate. It was so good and now I’m seriously craving another one. After dinner, the waiter brought our Rivers of Light tickets along with a GLOWING LOTUS FLOWER POPCORN BUCKET. It didn’t have any popcorn in it, but it only cost $1.50 to fill it at any of the popcorn stands. The only negative from Tiffins was that our waiter told us they were out of Kungaloosh. We were both shocked since they only have 3 beers on the menu, but John audibled and got the Tempting Tigress instead. When we went to Nomad almost immediately after Tiffins, John tried ordering the Kungaloosh again and it was available. Not sure if they got a new keg in or if our waiter was misinformed/playing a cruel joke.
Rivers of Light. I tweeted this, but I seriously don’t understand how people are unimpressed with this show. It was beautiful. Even though it was kind of windy and you could see where the water screens were rippling, it was delightful. The shadows during the preshow were entrancing and the glowing animals during the show itself made me so happy. The synchronized water effects were incredible. I also really liked the cast members on the boats dancing and contributing through the shadow puppets. I do think they need to make the narration louder or put in more speakers, because there were definitely parts that were difficult to hear, but overall I really enjoyed it. John definitely will not go this far, but now that Celebrate the Magic is gone, this is my favorite nighttime show. I’m not really a fireworks fan though, so you can take that with several salt grains.
Additional thoughts from the trip:
We watched our last Wishes. Here’s hoping that Happily Ever After is a suitable replacement.
Ample Hills being open to 11:00pm is a good thing. Frankly, it should be 24 hours, because duh.
Uniqlo has awesome deals and is a great option if you forgot to pack some essential piece of clothing.
The race expo was a little underwhelming compared to prior expos, and we may post more about the race stuff.
Territory Lounge has a new spicy watermelon margarita that I loved.
There is a dumb waitress at Sanaa who kept insisting she was bringing me the bread service sauce I was requesting, even though it was clearly the Tomato-Date Jam instead of the Red Chili Sambal. So I sat there with four of the WRONG sauce until another table’s waitress noticed and brought me the RIGHT sauce, explaining that they had been mislabeled, but she could tell the difference by looking at the sauces instead of the label (AS COULD ANYONE WITH EYES). Our waitress never apologized. She’s the worst. I was right. I’m not still bitter about this or anything.
If you weren’t one of the people waiting 24+ hours in various lines at Star Wars: Celebration, you might have missed some of the news that came out this weekend. As a Disney World focused site (and someone who still hasn’t decided if he’s going to even watch any of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailers before seeing the movie), the coverage here is going to focus on news related to Disney theme parks. That said, let’s start with the preview video Disney put together to discuss the new “total immersion” experience:
[T]his mysterious destination somewhere on the Outer Rim — lying on the edge of the Unknown Regions. The remote village was once a busy crossroads along the old sub-lightspeed trade routes, but the prominence of the outpost has been bypassed with the rise of hyperspace travel. Now home to those who prefer less attention, it has become a thriving port for smugglers, rogue traders and adventurers traveling between the frontier and uncharted space. It’s also a convenient safe-haven for others intent on avoiding the expanding reach of the First Order.
Attractions Magazine has a rundown of the Star Wars: Galactic Nights event that took place this weekend (and is almost assuredly going to be offered as a hard ticket event on an ongoing basis before too long.) For me, the highlight was the debut of a Rey face character during the A Galaxy Far, Far Away show:
From March 1 to May 29 this year, Epcot is hosting my favorite festival: the Flower & Garden Festival. Below is a collection of some my favorite coverage of this year’s event. Elyssa and I plan to be done there in April to see some of this stuff first hand, but–for now–we’ll point you to some other sources to show you what is going on.
As with Food & Wine, the best coverage of the individual items available at these these Kitchens comes from Josh over at easyWDW. Here are the link to his various reviews: (the NEW indicator means a new Kitchen this year, not a new review from Josh)
For more food coverage, Tessa Koten at TouringPlans has a list of her favorite items (which she labels as “family friendly”, though I don’t understand what about those items makes them such), and Robert Niles, over at Theme Park Insider has a brief write-up of some of the items he sampled.
Even though there is a growing emphasis on the Outdoor Kitchens, the original draw of the Flower & Garden Festival (and what really makes it special for me) is the wide array of topiaries that Disney puts out . As you would imagine, there is a lot of photography.
Cory Disbrow has some coverage in his signature style at the end of this post and
Josh over at easyWDW has a walk around Future World as well a detailed look at the Festival Center (which is only open from 10am to 5pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The only “issue” with Josh’s review is that it might be comprehensive enough for you to just skip the Festival Center all together.
If you’re someone who prefers to listen to your Flower & Garden coverage, then Lou has got you covered over at WDW Radio. On the other hand, if you’re someone who wants to watch some video coverage, then check out these videos from the DIS covering overall highlights:
and the more general “exploring” of the Festival:
The Disney Food Blog also has a video covering (you guessed it) the food:
It’s NCAA tournament time (again), which means that everyone is going to be filling out brackets, joining “bracket pools”, and trash talking about how well their favorite teams are doing in the tournament. Last year, I asked on Twitter if there was a bracket group for us Disney World fans that read each other’s website, listen to each other’s podcasts, and interact online. Since no one seemed to know of one, Elyssa & I decided to create one.
So, welcome To the this year’s editionRope Drop [dot] Net NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge!
Here are the details:
We are using ESPN’s “Tournament Challenge” system in order to do our brackets.
Our “group name” is “Rope Drop [dot] Net.” (You’ll know you’re in the right group if you see the image from the bottom of this post.)
You must have your entry completed and added to the “Rope Drop [dot] Net” group by the time the first game tips off on Thursday, March 16, 2016 to join our group. (Usually, that’s around noon Eastern.)
Though Elyssa & I are contemplating a few things, there are no official prizes for entering, winning, etc… (If you’re a fellow Disney fan, site proprietor, podcast host, etc…, however, who wants to contribute some swag to a possible “prize pack”, please get in touch.) That said, the hope is there will be some fun competition and trash talking amongst the contestants that will give the winner some fun “bragging rights.”
To help facilitate the communication, I am suggesting the Twitter hashtag “#ropedropbc” to use when talking about the challenge. (Though you never know if another hashtag will take off, instead.) You can use that tag for talking about the tournament, as well as asking for help on getting your bracket picked, getting into the group, etc… I’m pretty sure that people will be willing to help others or have questions.
At this point, I think that covers all the basics. Feel free to reach out online to ask for questions, or let Elyssa know if we missed something. Good luck on your tournament picks!!