By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor







Category — p. News and Changes

Review: Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

RIVERS OF LIGHT AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

Rivers of Light is the new, much anticipated evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It opened in mid-February 2017, and I had the chance to see it in early March.

Combining floats, boats, colors, water, lasers, fire, music and song, Rivers of Light is not as dramatic as the evening shows at the other three parks, but much lovelier, and I consider it a must see.

It is currently showing four times a week—Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On April 8, it shifts to being on every night–at least through the summer–and some evenings will have multiple shows.

Start times vary depending on the time of sunset. Over the next few months and the summer they range from 7.15 to 9.15p. The second show, when available, begins 75 minutes later. A delightful pre-show begins 15 minutes before show start.

It occurs in a lagoon between Expedition Everest and Dinoland.

While there are a few small areas from which you can get off-center views elsewhere in the lagoon, the best views and all seats are in a dedicated amphitheater that Disney has built along the shore here.

The amphitheater seats about 5,000 of the 30,000 people in Animal Kingdom on an average day—a number that will likely go up quite a bit this summer after Pandora: World of Avatar opens.

Half of the amphitheater (on the Expedition Everest side) is dedicated to FastPass+…

And a fair proportion of what’s left goes to those who have booked special Rivers of Light dining packages at Tusker House or Tiffins.

As a result, even on nights with two shows, fewer than 5,000 people will be able to see Rivers of Light via the stand-by line. So FastPass+ or the special Rivers of Light dining package (which guarantees you nice seats on the Dinoland side) will be by far the best choice for most.

Those on a one-day visit to Animal Kingdom—especially after Pandora opens in late May 2017—will be best served by buying the dining package.

This is because you can’t add FastPass+ until after you used all the ones you pre-booked, and you will use your FastPass+ for Rivers of Light so late that little or nothing will be available after it ends.

Those with two days in Animal Kingdom should get a FastPass+ for Rivers of Light.

My co-author Josh has more info on the dining packages for Rivers of Light—plus much better pictures of the show—on his site easyWDW.com here.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 9, 2017   No Comments

Copper Creek Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Last week Disney World announced that the new Disney Vacation Club spaces at the Wilderness Lodge would open for booking in later March for visits beginning in mid-July.

Floor plans are available in places like this.

The already existing DVC villas here have been renamed as “Boulder Ridge,” and the new villas are called “Copper Creek.”  The new name

  • Enables different DVC contracts (regular, non-DVC folk can stay here by renting points, or cash like any other room)
  • Signals differences between the new Copper Creek floor plans and the old Boulder Ridge ones, and
  • Will require me to spend hours cleaning up the proper nomenclature on this site (and in our book)

Rather than do all that work now, I thought I’d comment instead on the apparent differences in floor plans for comparable spaces at Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek, and also compare Copper Creek’s Grand Villas and Cascade Cabins to alternatives.

Obviously I haven’t stayed in Copper Creek yet–no one has.  So the following observations come from floor plans.

  • The nice-looking, smaller floor plans are from me and of the older rooms in Boulder Ridge
  • The larger, cartoony ones are from Disney and are of the new rooms in Copper Creek.

Copper Creek is largely a redo of old southeast wing Wilderness Lodge standard rooms, but there is also a new stretch of lakeside cabins along Bay Lake.

STUDIOS, ONE AND TWO BEDROOM VILLAS IN COPPER CREEK

In general,

  • Balconies are better in Copper Creek–larger, and present in every bay.
  • Decorating and art look much better in Boulder Ridge (although I’ll reserve judgment a bit on that until I stay in these rooms in person).

Which Studio you prefer is a function of whether you view the fold-down third bed/fifth sleeping spot in Boulder Ridge that disappears the dining table more as a feature or a bug. For most, if you don’t need the extra sleeping spot or capacity, Copper Creek will be the better choice.

The biggest difference to the One and Two Bedroom Villas is that Copper Creek can seat many more at the dining table, making it a better choice.

Complicating all this for Studios, One and Two Bedroom Villas is the theming differences between the old Boulder Ridge building and the refurbed Wilderness Lodge wing that holds these spaces for Copper Creek.

The glory of the Wilderness Lodge is its lobby; those staying in Copper Creek will see more of its lobby; QED.

However, Boulder Ridge has a real charm of its own, has better decor and colors, is closer to the bus stop (but farther from the Magic Kingdom boat), and will likely be more tranquil than Copper Creek.

GRAND VILLAS AND CASCADE CABINS AT COPPER CREEK

There’s no Grand Villas in Boulder Ridge to compare the Copper Creek Grand Villas to, but compared to other DVC grand Villas those in Copper Creek are astonishing.

The Cascade Cabins also have nothing comparable at Boulder Ridge, but are similar to the Bungalows at the Polynesian, without the theme park view. I am a tad troubled by the potential for people to confuse these with the Cabins at Fort Wilderness (more people than you’d guess mix up the two resorts, or think they are the same thing).

STUDIOS AT COPPER CREEK

Copper Creek Studios have a larger balcony and a smaller closet than those in Boulder Ridge.

They also do not include the fold-down bed that makes the table go away when it is used.

This apparently means that these rooms will sleep 4 on two spots, rather than 5 on three spots…but the strange dashing on the coffee table in front of the sofa makes me wonder if this is an ottoman bed a la All-Star Music Family Suites.

Reactions to the fold down bed in Boulder Ridge have been mixed, with some loving the extra sleeping spot and added capacity, and others resenting that, when used, it takes the table away.

ONE BEDROOM VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

You’ll see varying figures for the size of One Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek.  Since they are built on the bays of two old standard rooms, this is pretty straightforward–they are 680 to 690 square feet, depending on your source for Wilderness Lodge room sizes.

One Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek also have the larger balconies and smaller closets of the Copper Creek Studios.

The king bedroom side and bath have similar amenities and layouts to Boulder Ridge, but with more right angles.

The floor plan of the living/dining/kitchen side–and the only good artist’s rendering that I’ve found of Copper Creek spaces–shows some distinctive changes.

Note that the dining table seats six, a big increase compared to Boulder Ridge, although those chairs look awfully cramped–and also note the unusual “across the hall” positioning of the refrigerator. However, the breakfast bar is gone.

Finally, I am not at all keen on what the rendering shows as the color scheme or the art, but willing to reserve judgment until I see these spaces in person. Other Disney renderings of the Copper Creek spaces I have seen–too small to post here–show equally uninteresting color and art choices.

The living room seats four, the same as Boulder Ridge.

TWO BEDROOM VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

There’s two types of Two Bedroom Villas at Copper Creek.

The “lock-off” (shown) combines a Studio and One Bedroom, and shares the merits of the spaces that make it up.

The dedicated Two Bedroom Villa (not shown) was designed from the start as a Two Bedroom Villa, and has differences in the second bedroom–two queens instead of the queen and sofa bed of a Studio; no microwave or mini-fridge; two bath sinks; no separate entry to the hall; and a shower instead of a tub.

ALTERNATE STUDIOS AND VILLAS

The corners of the wing of the Wilderness Lodge that Copper Creek was built into used to have deluxe rooms with an odd floor plan that included two spaces.

While most of these have been turned over into Grand Villas, a half-dozen or so have been built as “Alternate Studios” with more space and a separate living room.

These can be combined with a fairly standard One Bedroom Villa (the connecting door looks to be in a different spot) into an “Alternate Two Bedroom.”

GRAND VILLAS AT COPPER CREEK

There somewhere between 4 and 6 Grand Villas at Copper Creek (I think there’s 4) that combine two old deluxe rooms, three old standard rooms, an alcove, and–I think–some hall space.

Some have reported these to be more than 3,200 square feet, but the two deluxe rooms and three standard rooms sum to just a little over 2,000 square feet, requiring more than a thousand square feet of hall and alcove space, which I don’t believe for a minute.  So I am estimating them as ~2,500 square feet.

Whatever the size, these are glorious spaces, with what looks like the best living rooms, dining rooms, master baths, and suite of balconies among the DVC Grand Villas.

There is some awkwardness among the two two-queen bedrooms, with the more distant one (lower left) having  a private bath and balcony, and the one closer to the Master Bedroom sharing a hall bath and sharing a balcony with the master.

This can lead to much bickering…

The latest Grand Villas to open before these, at the Grand Floridian, have the merit of what is in effect a fourth bedroom, in the media room. But most other DVC Grand Villas have the three bedrooms that you’ll find at Copper Creek Grand Villas, and nothing as nice as its living and dining rooms.

CASCADE CABINS AT COPPER CREEK

The only part of Copper Creek to not be built in the Wilderness Lodge is the lakeside Cascade Cabins.

These cabins are pretty similar to the Bungalows at the Polynesian, with a different kitchen wall and what appears to be a (more comfortable) fold-out chair rather than a fold-down bed in the living room.

Prices for these are not out, so far as I know, but likely will be comparable to that of Copper Creek Grand Villas.

Bungalow-Floor-Plan-Disneys-Polynesian-Villas-and-Bungalows-from-yourfirstvisit.net_

If the prices for these cabins come out to be as high as I think they will be, I don’t know why anyone would stay in one of these…

OK, that’s it for now.  I’ll do a full review after my stay at Copper Creek this summer!
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 8, 2017   4 Comments

Pop Century Refurb Begins

This morning before I drove to the airport I checked on Pop Century, and discovered its refurb has begun.

Carpets and furniture were being pulled out of the first floor east wing of Building 8, the 90s building.

Somewhat surprisingly, people were staying in rooms just ten yards away, around the corner on the south first floor wing.

I did go by before check out time, so maybe they will be out today. The alternative—that rooms will be pounded on in the same building that people are staying in—would be annoying.

Multiple leaked photos of test rooms have suggested that the refurbed rooms will include a queen bed, a fold-down full bed, and (in a first for standard rooms in the value resorts) a coffee maker.

The refurb schedule includes 20 work days (per room).

Day 16 (click to enlarge, but it’s still not that good a photo) includes “Install…Beverage Center” and Day 17 (and 18) includes “Install Inova Bed.”  So the fold-down bed is real, and the coffee maker may be the “Beverage Center.”

Staging of furnishings, etc., is over in the lot between Building 7 and Cars at Art of Animation, so likely the sequence of refurb will go roughly south to north, or 80s/90s to 50s.

I’ll let you know more once some of these refurbed rooms re-open!

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 6, 2017   3 Comments

Wilderness Lodge Refurb Should be Complete by Mid-Summer

WILDERNESS LODGE SHOULD COMPLETE REFURB BY MID-SUMMER 2017

Late last week Disney World announced that the new Disney Vacation Club units at the Wilderness Lodge, known as Copper Creek, would begin booking on March 21, 2017 stays beginning July 21, 2017.

This suggests that the construction walls in the upper lobby will be down, and the refurbed smaller pool and the amenities around the lake will be re-opened by then.

They may be open even well before then—the new pool bar and grill, Geyser Point, is already open.

Geyser Point is also replacing Wilderness Lodge quick service Roaring Forks while it is closed for refurb.

Geyser Point is both a lovely lakeside full service bar—though a bit windy on my visits over the weekend…

…and a seating area for the adjacent quick service venue, which also has a refillable mug station.

The Geyser Point quick service menu, which I had a chance to visit over the weekend.

The lump crab cake sandwich.

Crab cake eggs Benedict. Loved them both.

The marina is ready to go…

…as is the bike and boat rental.

Something called “Reunion Station” is also here, backing up to the quick service—a DVC community room? A childcare center? A new spa? No one knows, though it looks far too small to be a third table service venue.

The re-done second pool is making substantial progress. Here it is in early March:


And here’s how it looked in late January:

The pool besides being its own thing also is part of the construction pathway to the wing of the Wilderness Lodge that’s being converted into Copper Creek. So it likely won’t re-open until these new spaces are largely done.

Based on how Copper Creek looks from the outside…

…some rooms have a way to go.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 5, 2017   3 Comments

Caribbean Beach Refurb Causes Some Qualms

(Note: the $75/night gift card offer is over for new bookings.)

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be going into a major refurb beginning around May 1. The scope of the refurb has led some to suggest avoiding the resort or changing your reservations if you are staying there.

(Coronado Springs is also seeing a less extensive but still major refurb, so Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter are filling up fast. Kelly can help you get a room in one of these–she’s the designated Destinations In Florida travel agent for yourfirstvisit.net, and is at Kellyb@destinationsinflorida.com.)

However, Disney will be providing guests booked there May 1 and later a $75 gift card, per night, as a compensation for the awkwardness.

At least until Columbus Day, which is as far as I want to speculate, this is a discount of 27-35% off the rates of a standard room. Some will find this an entirely adequate payment for the awkwardness.

My advice?

  • If you have any qualms, change your resort. The potential for you to second-guess yourself is too high.
  • If you are one of the seven people worldwide who chose Caribbean Beach specifically for Shutters or the food court, change your resort.
  • If you never felt strongly about staying at Caribbean Beach anyway, change your resort.
  • If you picked Caribbean Beach for its tranquility, consider how construction noise might affect that.
  • If you picked it for the kid appeal/the beaches/the pool/the colors, for most I think the $75 per night gift card will be sufficient compensation for you to stay—but avoid Barbados and perhaps Martinique (for reasons I’ll get into below).

THE REFURB AT CARIBBEAN BEACH

The refurb seems to have two parts.

One is a shut-down of the food court, table service restaurant Shutters, gift shop Calypso Trading Post, and pool-side bar Banana Cabana.

These will be somewhat replaced by a new breakfast buffet and menu of dinner offerings from new (presumably temporary) facilities in “Centertown,” which is the broad area that includes the pool and former dining and shopping areas. My guess is that these will be centered on the old bar Banana Cabana, since it has power, water, etc. Also available will be some new grab and go locations in Aruba, Jamaica and Martinique, and, I suspect, a food truck in Trinidad South.

Here’s Disney’s words about this:

Closure for refurb of food areas is pretty routine at Disney World—Port Orleans French Quarter just went through this, and there was not much panic. This, however, is a more extensive closure, including the bar and gift shop as well.

Frankly, I expect the (temporary) supplemental replacements to be largely adequate—even after the closures, there will likely still be more counter service available at Caribbean Beach than in all of the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club and Yacht Club combined (at least until the new counter service-ish area opens in the Yacht Club gift shop).

But we won’t know for sure until the supplemental options open. I have a stay booked here in early June—gonna catch me some Pandora, and the new fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom—and will report on specifics then.

The second thing that seems to be going on is construction, possibly even demolition, in the Barbados and Martinique areas.

Katherine Schutte (part of the German branch of my otherwise English family, I guess) posted in her Magical Castle Facebook Group on 2/27 that
“a new notice issued today indicates that buildings within Martinique and Barbados areas of the resort will be closed since they will be disrupted by the construction.”

It’s been widely speculated that a new Disney Vacation Club building will be going into the footprint of Barbados and perhaps some of Martinique—and, it is to be hoped, the Custom House check-in area as well.

And Disney has already communicated that “Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be reimagined with new additions to the resort’s current marketplace, Centertown, including new waterfront dining and retail shopping areas. This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.”

As I’d noted here, my guess and hope is that as part of this project, the current building housing dining and retail will be converted (or demolished and rebuilt) as the check-in area for Caribbean Beach.

This, when combined with the to-be-hoped for demolition of Barbados and perhaps the northern (non-preferred) part of Martinique, will much reduce the complexity and number of bus stops at Caribbean Beach, diminishing what has always been its biggest negative. (Especially if the current bus stops at Trinidad North and the perhaps truncated Martinique are replaced with just one at New Old Port Royale.)

If so, then the sequence of events could be something like this:

  1. Install temporary alternative dining and close Old Port Royale
  2. Build new waterfront dining and retail and convert/rebuild Old Port Royale as the new check-in area
  3. Open the new dining/retail/check in facilities
  4. Demolish the current check in facilities at the Customs House, Barbados, and perhaps some of Martinique
  5. Build a DVC facility on the footprint freed by step 4 (this could begin even before the Customs House comes down—if it is even coming down. Bay Lake Tower is about 400 feet across, and the longest extent at Barbados is almost three times longer—there’s a lot of land at that end of the resort…)

If my guesses are true, then there will be a lot of construction noise around Barbados and Martinique in particular, so for sure I would avoid rooms there…even the preferred rooms in Martinique, because of the Centertown construction noise.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 4, 2017   19 Comments

Disney World Refurb News, Speculation, and Updates

DISNEY WORLD REFURB NEWS

“We also have other kinds of expansion opportunities, like hotels… where not only do we have the property but we’ve seen such high occupancy rates in Orlando … that we believe that it would be smart for us to build more hotels out.” Bob Iger, Q4 2016 Earnings Call.

Disney World made some announcements last week about its Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach resorts.

These, coupled with some other Caribbean Beach rumors, and continuing interest in the Wilderness Lodge refurb, made me think it’s time for a brief refurb update.

MAJOR CONSTRUCTION AT CORONADO SPRINGS

Disney announced an expansion at Coronado Springs that will add rooms, dining, and fireworks views

“The expansion at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort will include a new 15-story tower that will add 500 rooms, featuring suites and concierge level services. The resort will also refurbish its current resort rooms and transform its landscape with floating gardens and an island oasis that connects the resort through a series of bridges.”

“The new tower overlooking Lago Dorado, the resort’s centerpiece lake, will allow guests to experience something truly unique, rooftop dining with panoramic views of popular nighttime fireworks from nearby Disney theme parks.”

The new building will be in the area that until recently was Cabana 9b—the “business class” part of Coronado Springs (Coronado Springs is the only convention resort among the moderates, and so has always had more amenities than the other moderates).

Buzz, author of an unofficial Coronado Springs website, has also predicted that the Coronado Springs lobby will shift to the new building. My guess is that the new building will likely gain a bus stop as well.

Demolition work has already started—this shot is from my visit in early March.

Between demolition and construction noise, my previously-recommended best buildings at Coronado Springs, 9a and 8b, are probably no longer the best choices. 8a will be the best choice until the construction noise settles down.

The new rooms and amenities in a compact footprint will make Coronado Springs more attractive to the convention market. I expect the “regular” new rooms to be priced with at least the 40-50% premium over standard view Coronado Springs rooms that 9B business class rooms used to show.

Also over the next year or two the rest of the Coronado Springs rooms in the Casitas, Ranchos and Cabanas areas will see a refurb, which began in January. Refurbed rooms in the current buildings will have a simpler, cleaner look, and have the two sinks common at the other moderates rather than the one sink found in the current CSR rooms. Concept photos for this refurb are here.

This room refurb will happen building by building and will not be disruptive the way the new tower will be.

CARIBBEAN BEACH PATHWAY UNCLEAR

The same Disney announcement had this to say about Caribbean Beach:

“Also during this exciting time, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort will be reimagined with new additions to the resort’s current marketplace, Centertown, including new waterfront dining and retail shopping areas. This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.”

This announcement comes on top of recent rumors, based on permits, that

  • The Caribbean Beach resort footprint will also see a new higher-rise tower, in the current Barbados area
  • That this new tower might be a new Disney Vacation property
  • And that a new gondola system might be built that would interconnect Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Caribbean Beach (and for all I know, Coronado Springs, although the permit rumors have not included that last point).

Focusing for the moment on what Disney said, note its last sentence: “This centralized location will offer the resort’s guests more convenient access to services, amenities and dining.” (Emphasis added.)

If you know Caribbean Beach, you already know that all services here are already “centralized” except the check-in building, the Custom House.

So is that what is going on here? Dining and retail are being moved to the waterfront to create a footprint so that the spaces where they currently are can be turned over to a check in area? If so, then that would get rid of one of the major issues with Caribbean Beach right now—the distance of the check in area from every other part of Caribbean Beach.

On the other rumors I am more agnostic.

  • Certainly the old Barbados footprint and, if I am right, the Custom House footprint could be carved off into a new DVC property—especially if the gondola rumor is real (although speculation that the gondolas will also run to Pop and AofA suggests no necessary tie to exclusive DVC amenities).
  • However, much of the DVC-here speculation came from no one being able to imagine that CB would get a tower. Now that Coronado Springs is getting a tower, I think a little more skepticism is in order here.

Interestingly, the clearest evidence of DVC on part of the old Caribbean Beach footprint would be Disney not talking about it, as there are regulations that apply to premature marketing of timeshares that don’t apply to straight hotel rooms. So if unexplained accommodations buildings start emerging, perhaps the less we hear the more we will know.

Regardless, expect construction and noise along the waterfront in Old Port Royale, which likely will make the rooms in the nearer part of Martinique and Trinidad North a little less comfortable to stay in, because of noise.

For more on the Caribbean Beach refurb, see this.

WILDERNESS LODGE REFURB UPDATE

The Wilderness Lodge refurb that’s been going on for a while now is coming to a close. Booking the new rooms here begins in March for visits beginning July 17.

The new counter service, between the pool and beach, Geyser Point, is open—I’ll check it out in my March visit

Strong progress is being made on the replacement of the second pool by the current Villas—in this shot from my late January visit, you can see its concrete form is done:

It’s hard to tell how much progress is being made in the rooms that are being converted to DVC villas and studios.

Update 3/6: This Wilderness Lodge refurb should be complete by mid-July.

It looks to me—and I have no inside knowledge here, but am rather guessing based on the pace of change—that the amenities could all be done by the summer, but I have no idea when the new rooms will be available, in what order they will open, or when the construction walls in the upper reaches of the lobby will come down. For most of this, though, mid-2017 is probably a better bet than the end of 2017. 

SOME OTHER REFURB NOTES

Pop Century  kicked off is expected to kick off a room refurb in March 6.

The current two full bed rooms will be replaced with rooms with one queen and one full murphy bed that is a table when not deployed, similar to the ones in the suites at Art of Animation (above).

The Yacht Club room refurb is complete on the 5th floor, and in progress on the 4th floor. It should be done by the end of the year.

The room refurb at the Dolphin is on hiatus until the summer, I was told, when refurbs will kick off in the east (closer to Epcot) side.

I stayed in a refurbed room here in my January visit, and will do a full report soon. The main difference is the simplified bath, above.

The Kidani Village refurb is complete.

I’d stayed in a refurbed Studio in 2016, and stayed in a refurbed One Bedroom in January. A full report will come out soon, but changes are minor.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

February 19, 2017   7 Comments