For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)





Category — p. News and Changes

Disney World Ticket Prices Increase

Disney World ticket prices increased yesterday, February 11. If you’ve already bought your tickets, you are fine, but those who have not yet bought their tickets will pay the new prices.

I’ll gather, enter, and analyze the 3,000 or so new prices as soon as I can. When I’m done, you’ll find the results here and here—hopefully by March.

 

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February 12, 2020   No Comments

Possible September Dates for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

MNSSHP DATES IN SEPTEMBER 2020

While as of this morning, Disney World’s official calendar only goes through August 17, September dates are beginning to leak.

One unofficial calendar that I have found to track quite well with actual operating hours shows the Magic Kingdom closing at 6p on the following September dates:

  • Tuesday September 1
  • Friday September 4
  • Monday September 7
  • Friday September 11
  • Sunday September 13
  • Tuesday September 15
  • Friday September 18
  • Sunday September 20
  • Tuesday September 22
  • Friday September 25
  • Sunday September 27
  • Tuesday September 29

The odds are pretty high that these  represent September 2020 dates for the 2020 version of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (“MNSSHP”—for more on this party, see this), as they are fully consistent with the 2019 and 2018 patterns.

OPENING DATE FOR 2020 EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL

I should have noted this when I published about possible August 2020 dates for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, but analysis of the same sources suggests that the 2020 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will open the week of 8/23 in 2020, likely on 8/27 or 8/28.

 

 

 

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February 9, 2020   No Comments

Updated Plans for Disney’s Hollywood Studios

NEW FASTPASS+ TIERS FEBRUARY 19TH AT DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

As of February 19th, FastPass+ availability and tiering will change at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and may shortly change again with the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway on March 4th.

At the moment, on February 19th, Tier 1 will include Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Slinky Dog Dash. I expect the Runaway Railway to join Tier 1 at or shortly after its opening. Guest may pre-book, per day, only one of these two/three rides.

Tier 2 FastPass+ includes twelve more attractions, of which the highest priorities are Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania, and Tower of Terror. The next highest priorities will be Star Tours, the Frozen Sing Along, and for those who care to ride it, Alien Swirling Saucers. Guests may pre-book per day two or three of these twelve Tier 2 rides (two if they’ve booked a Tier 1).

Meanwhile, the other new ride at the Studios, Rise of the Resistance, does not have either FastPass+ or standby-line availability. Guests in the park have the opportunity to sign up for a “Boarding Group” via the My Disney Experience App as soon as the park hits its official opening time.

UPDATED TOURING PLANS AND FASTPASS+ FOR DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

Below are some thought on how to adapt the two Hollywood Studios days in my itinerary. I will continue to revise these as Tiers or other stuff changes.

The basic strategy is, if you can

  • To book a Tier 1 for each of the two days in the itinerary
  • To each day arrive an hour before opening, and
  • To see any Tier 1s you were unable to book right at park opening.

This will work when there are only two Tier 1 rides available, even if you can’t pre-book either, and will also work when there are three Tier 1s, so long as you can pre-book at least one of them.

If you can, on Day One book Smuggler’s Run as your Tier 1, and Toy Story Mania (early in the morning) and Star Tours as your Tier 2s.

Then, when you are let into the park, which will be before official open, head towards a Tier 1 you could not book (if any), and if you’ve been able to book both or none, head towards Toy Story Land. Look for cast members on the way to Toy Story Land with iPads, have the app open to the “Book a Touring Group” options, and at park open walk towards the cast member while trying to get a Boarding Group for Rise of the Resistance on the app. If you have trouble, get help from the cast member you’ve so wisely stalked.

See Slinky Dog, ride Alien Swirling Saucers, see Toy Story Mania using your FastPass+, then plan the rest of the day based on your Boarding Group, your Tier 1 return, and the fact that you will wish to return in the evening for either Fantasmic or the Star Wars evening fireworks and projection show (you’ll see the other on Day two). If you have pre-booked Slinky Dog Dash for Day Two, you can either keep that or swap it out for another Tier 2 ride on Day Two, depending on how much you enjoyed it.

You do Rise of the Resistance on Day One so that if there are any problems with the ride (or you want to re-ride it) you can do it on Day Two. You book Smugglers Run as your Tier 1 for Day 1 so that when you are trying to connect for your Boarding Group, you are in a possibly less congested area of the park than you would be if you were near Galaxy’s Edge.

For Day Two, pre-book another Tier One if you can, and as your Tier 2s book Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, framed around the hour of your Tier 1.

As on Day 1, arrive well before opening, enter the park as soon as you are allowed to, and when the park officially opens book your Ride of the Resistance Boarding Group while heading to any Tier 1s you don’t yet have booked, you want to repeat from yesterday.

If all the Tier 1s you need are covered from either your first day in the Studios or FastPass+ today, then you could at open instead head to Rock ‘n’ Roller, then, if waits aren’t too long, Tower of Terror. This will let you if you wish swap your Tier 2 FastPass+ for these for other Tier 2 shows that you may have missed on Day One, such as the Frozen Sing Along, Beauty and the Beast, or Indiana Jones.

The rest of Day Two, work to see what you’ve missed in around your FastPass+, and return in the evening for whatever evening show you did not see on Day 1.

(For a one day itinerary, see this post from Josh.

IF THERE ARE THREE TIER 1 RIDES AND YOU CAN’T PRE-BOOK ANY

See two of them at park open, one each day, and get in line for the third a minute or two before park close. Depending on show and park schedules, this may force you to miss one of the evening shows.

IF MICKEY AND MINNIE’S RUNAWAY RAILWAY DOES NOT OFFER FASTPASS+

As a dedicated Bayesian forecaster, I expect Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway to open with Tier 1 FastPass+. If instead its opens with Boarding Groups, sign up for a boarding group for it first thing on Day 2. If it opens with standby access only, then see it either first thing either day, or get in line for it a few minutes before park close.

 

 

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January 28, 2020   2 Comments

Review: Epcot Forever

EPCOT FOREVER

Epcot Forever is the current evening show at Epcot, showing most nights at 9p, but at 9.30p during the Festival of the Holidays, at 10p on Fridays and Saturdays during the Food & Wine Festival, and at other times New Years Eve and the Fourth of July.

Epcot Forever replaced the long-running IllumiNations on October 1, 2019, and in turn will be replaced with a new permanent show, HarmonioUS, which I can neither spell nor pronounce, and which I deeply hope will be renamed.

HARMonious is expected to debut in 2020—I have heard October 1, but much depends on the scope and pace of reconstruction needed to support the new show, and also its timely achievement of its technical ambitions.

In the meantime, Epcot Forever is a fireworks, laser, kites and music show on the World Showcase Lagoon that, according to Disney, celebrates “the past, present and future of Epcot through [a] dazzling fireworks and special-effects spectacular.”

This brief description skips the most important part of the show, and elides the other: music and kites. The celebration of Epcot is through new arrangements of music from past and present attractions, introduced or sung in children’s voices, with Walt Disney’s voice here and there, and a surprise finale related to the Morocco Pavilion that sets the stage for Epcot’s future.

The variety and quality of the music is a wonderful reminder of how important music and song is to the Disney World theme parks—a contribution that can get overlooked in their primarily visual environments. There’s a number of standouts, with the Soarin’ theme and Golden Dream (from The American Adventure) serving as particularly apt reminders of the quality of composing behind many of the park’s attractions.

The other distinctive feature of the show is its kites, which are delightful, and need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.  Images and videos don’t capture their full impact.

Lasers and fireworks are part of the program as well. The night I saw it, it was raining so hard that many fireworks were left out—they were shot off later that evening, after park close, to clear the apparatus. And I got no usable photos of the ones I did see–even by my low standards–but I’ll post photos here after my next visit. In the meantime, you can get a flavor for the new fireworks in this Disney video:

IllumiNations was deeply loved by many, and its own great music—not present in Epcot Forever—has had a life of its own, showing up in settings ranging from Olympics coverage to wedding ceremonies. I was astonished the first time I saw Illuminations, but did not find it overly re-watchable, with a limited fireworks color palette and a marvelous globe that after a few experiences did not much bear the amount of time dedicated to it.

Epcot Forever—and especially its surprise ending—are the first stake in the ground of the transformation of Epcot that we will see over the next few years. Epcot started as Walt Disney’s concept for showcasing the best ways in which urban design could contribute to well-being and better communities, a wildly impractical and mildly totalitarian concept whose scope, in the absence of a practical business model, would have led eventually to its early abandonment had he remained alive. Walt Disney was a man whose fertile imagination yielded many more ideas than good ideas, and like most deeply creative people he depended on the passage of time and the voices of others to help sort the best ones out.

Walt’s concept was largely abandoned by the time the park first opened, and in its place came World Showcase, a sort of permanent World’s Fair, and Future World, an architecturally undistinguished place to celebrate human achievement in general and in particular technological innovation.

The initial business driver of Epcot—in contrast to its thematic drivers—was to be as little like Magic Kingdom as possible, both to avoid cannibalization of that park and also to incent longer stays at the resort. So when it opened, Epcot became the least Disney and least child-friendly of the Disney parks, a distinction it still holds today. Poor reaction quickly led to incorporation of some Disney characters and other playful Disney elements that had previously been banned.

Over the years, Epcot’s edutainment offerings stagnated as they became outdated, and as museums—inspired by Epcot—did a much better job at educating while entertaining. The concept was not wrong, as a visit to any good museum targeted at middle school kids will tell you. So will a visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which does a breathtakingly better job of integrating as much education as you would like within the context of a fun theme park. But the ability to keep the Epcot edutainment good, current, and interesting to many was not there.

This version of Epcot—great at neither education nor entertainment—will soon be gone, with a reconceptualization of Epcot as a fun—and Disney—park, especially in Future World. Today, Future World is a sea of construction walls (all the rides remain accessible), and from them will emerge three new lands—Disney calls them neighborhoods—that will join World Showcase: World Discovery, World Nature, and World Celebration. This added set of Worlds, by the way, is the reason for the surprise finale to Epcot Forever, and their promise of increased appeal to children is why the voices of children dominate the narration.

The new Epcot has been emergent for more than a decade, but the new emphasis will start to show soon with the opening of the Ratatouille ride, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, later in 2020. Disney articulates that the reconceptualization of Epcot will “be filled with new experiences rooted in authenticity and innovation that take you to new destinations, where the real is made fantastic in a celebration of curiosity, hands-on wonder and the magic of possibility.” I can’t wait…

In the meantime, Epcot Forever will run for a year or so, celebrating Epcot’s past through 2019, and the music that added so much to it. And kites!!

 

 

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November 13, 2019   No Comments

Review: The Disney Skyliner

THE DISNEY SKYLINER—A SECONDARY TRANSPORTATION OPTION TO EPCOT AND DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

The Disney Skyliner, a new and groundbreaking (at least in theme park resort use) gondola transportation system, opened at Walt Disney World in late September 2019.

From a transfer station at the south end of Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, it offers lines to

…A shared station at Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation resorts,

…Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, and,

…via a station that the north end of Caribbean Beach (closest to Aruba) shares with the soon-to-open Disney’s Riviera Resort, to Epcot

At every station except the Riviera/Caribbean Beach north station, guests must get off and re-board. So a trip from Pop Century to Disney’s Hollywood Studios means a trip to the southern Caribbean Beach station, then getting off and getting on the Studios line.

While not for everyone—and I’ll come back to that—for those it is suited to, it presents a fun alternative to the buses that folks would otherwise use to get among these various points, and is in particular a fun and easy way to get

  • From these resorts to Hollywood Studios and Epcot
  • From one to another of the pairs of resorts—e.g. for Pop Century guests to try out the yuca bowls at Caribbean Beach’s Spyglass Grill
  • From Epcot to the Studios and vice versa, if the boats look backed up and you aren’t in the mood to walk.

That said, at the moment I would consider the Disney Skyliner to be for some folks and some circumstances a secondary transportation system, and not the lead way to think about traveling from these resorts to these parks. Others should avoid it entirely.

CONDITIONS THAT SHOULD HAVE YOU AVOID THE DISNEY SKYLINER

The Skyliner cabins, while not tiny, are small, and you likely will share them with other parties.

While moving, the passive ventilation system in the cabins presents a substantial breeze, but if they stop—not uncommon—on a hot and humid day discomfort can build.

The cabins swoop and sway in normal operation, and a breeze will yield even more swaying.

All boarding at the Riviera/Caribbean Beach north station requires entering the narrow door of a moving car—the car is moving very slowly, and the gap between the cabin and the stationary platform is very tight, but it is still a moving target. All other stations have a separate loading area where those who need the extra stability—and all ECV folks—can board a stationary car.

The system may stop, for brief or lengthy periods of time, for any number of reasons. If there is lightning in the area, it will close, with guests being required to exit the gondolas at the station Disney assigns. If this station is Caribbean Beach, Disney will add buses that duplicate the Skyliner routes, but this might not happen immediately, and the various buses may take time to arrive.

Those with claustrophobia, fear of heights, motion sickness, or any medical condition that might be exacerbated by either a lengthy stop with no real clarity as to what’s happening, or the possibility, on hot and humid days, of stop-related heat buildup, especially if combined with a higher degree of anxiety, ought to avoid the Skyliner.

So should those with time-sensitive plans…

CIRCUMSTANCES THAT SHOULD HAVE YOU AVOID THE DISNEY SKYLINER

So far material Skyliner stops have not been common, but have happened—with the most famous being a ~three hour stop shortly after it opened that got a lot of publicity, resulted in a multi-day shutdown,  and at least to some indicated a lack of preparedness on the part of Disney to deal with various contingencies.

As a result, it’s hard for me to recommend the Skyliner for anyone on a time-sensitive schedule. Allowing extra time in your schedule will help, but I still would not take it if you are trying to get to Epcot or the Studios before they open, for a soon-approaching FastPass+ or dining (or other) reservation which is particularly important to you, or at a time when an unexpected delay might get in the way of something else important–for example, your travel plans. In each of these circumstances, take the Disney buses (or Uber/Lyft/Minnie Vans) instead.

I would also suggest taking a bathroom break before boarding (there’s a bathroom at the south Caribbean Beach station, and a new bathroom between the station and the first set of Nemo buildings at Art of Animation), bringing bottles of water, and having a well-charged phone.

There are various sorts of emergency supplies under a seat in each cabin, and also an intercom system, but none has yet proven to be soundly reliable.

My estimates are that of the more than a million folk who have already ridden the Skyliner, fewer than a thousand have suffered a severe stop, and fewer than 5,000 have suffered a material stop. That’s less than 1%. Moreover, from what I have seen the Epcot line seems to be the one most at risk (there’s no central tracking, so take this with a grain of salt). If true, this may be related to the length of the Epcot line (twice as long as any other), its two sharp turns, and/or the absence of a dedicated ECV loading spot in its mid-line Riviera/Caribbean Beach north stop.

Both the inappropriateness of the Skyliner for those with some conditions, and the possibility of stops, perhaps long stops, making it not the best choice for some circumstances, are why you should view it as a secondary system.

That said, over time operating reliability will only get better, which will ameliorate some of the concerns about missing something important because of a delay (though keep your weather eye out for lightning). The cabins won’t be getting bigger though, nor will they sway less, get climate controls, or get lower to the ground.

Those staying at one of the Skyliner resorts concerned about whether their personal conditions might yield a disappointing experience could try (depending on where they are staying) either the Caribbean Beach south to Riviera/Caribbean Beach north route, or the Pop Century/Art of Animation to Caribbean Beach south routes, as a lower risk way to test how they will react to the system.

BUSES AND THE DISNEY SKYLINER

Many folks postulated that once the Skyliner opened, bus service from the relevant resorts to the relevant parks would be reduced. We have not seen this, so far, although once operations become more stable, I could see it happening in a limited fashion. After then, I still expect buses to go on the Epcot and Studios routes on average every 20 minutes, but we will likely see fewer at peak opening and closing times, as the Skyliner has vast potential to pick up much of this travel.

The incremental operating and depreciation expenses presented by the Skyliner won’t be paid back out of bus driver savings—instead, they will be paid back from increases in the prices of the affected resorts. I calculated earlier this year that the “extra” 2020 price increases at these resorts (compared to increases at comparable non-Skyliner resorts) would yield on the order of $60 million annually in incremental revenues.

To get to this number, Disney World will have to resolve most of the reliability concerns this system has so far given rise to.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE DISNEY SKYLINER

Before the Skyliner opened, there was much speculation about future routes—for example, a western version was chatted about, connecting (perhaps) the All-Stars, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Epcot and Hollywood Studios via a Caribbean Beach-like hub at Coronado Springs. An eastern line connecting the Port Orleans resorts, Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, with Disney Springs has also been talked about.

For now, until Disney proves to itself it can sell rooms at higher rates—and sell the DVC points at Riviera—I would not expect to see much further Skyliner development for a while. And I also note that there’s room at the south Caribbean Beach hub to add one more route, which could easily go east or north…

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly B., can help you book your Disney World vacation in a Skyliner resort or anywhere else–contact her using the form below:

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November 12, 2019   8 Comments

The Immoderate Moderate: Coronado Springs Today

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE CHANGES AT CORONADO SPRINGS

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort has always had—thanks to the demands of its convention and meetings guests—the best amenities among the Disney moderate resorts.

It has been the only moderate with concierge rooms, the only moderate with suites, the only moderate with a spa, the only moderate with workout facilities, the only moderate with a lap pool, and the moderate with the most extensive set of dining options and bars.

Appetizers at Toledo

With the opening in July 2019 of the new Gran Destino tower, its restaurant Toledo and two bars Dahlia Lounge and Barcelona Lounge (both serving appetizers and the Barcelona Lounge also functioning as a coffee shop in the mornings), and, in a different area, the Three Bridges Bar and Grill on Villa Del Lago, Coronado Springs has upped its game even more, and its level of amenities now far outpaces the other moderate options.

Appetizers at Three Bridges/Villa Del Lago

I stayed here in late July. While I will publish more about this stay later—updating my overall review of Coronado Springs, and including a photo tour of a Gran Destino standard room—I can affirm the quality of the new Toledo, Dahlia Lounge, and The Three Bridges/Villa Del Lago at Coronado Springs in particular. The Port Orleans resorts are now substantially outclassed in terms of amenities, and Caribbean Beach–which is closer to the new Coronado Springs than the Port Orleans resorts in dining and bar quality, and will become even better (in the totality of its amenities) after the Skyliner opens—is also behind Coronado Springs.

THE ROOMS AT GRAND DESTINO

I have more mixed feelings about the rooms at Gran Destino—in particular for family visitors.

At about 400 square feet, Gran Destino standard rooms have more square feet than any other traditional moderate rooms—and more, in fact than the majority of the deluxes.

Some of the hall in a Gran Destino room

However, compared to standard rooms elsewhere in Coronado Springs, much of this extra space is wasted from the point of view of livability, in the entry hall—about 76 of the extra 86 square feet.

(I’ve written elsewhere about how you need to incorporate this adjustment to your thinking about square feet when comparing rooms with outside entrances and baths in the back,to rooms with inside entrances and baths at the front—baths at the front require a hall area that baths in the back don’t need.)

The Gran Destino bath is both nicer and about 20 square feet larger than the baths in rooms elsewhere in Coronado Springs.

But it is less livable for families, being divided less well (instead of the tub/shower and toilet in one space, and the sinks in another, it has a glass walled shower and sinks in one space, and the toilet in its own space—leave the sliding barn door to the bath open while showering in the glass-walled shower, and if someone enters the room from outside, all will get a surprise) and offering—so far as I can tell–only showers, not a tub/shower combo that offers folks a choice.

Gran Destino Standard Room

If you are tracking with the math, you can tell that the living area in Gran Destino rooms is about 10 square feet smaller than the living space in regular Coronado Springs rooms—this is mostly not noticeable in livability.

While rooms elsewhere in the resort have a bit of Three-Caballeros-styled Disney theming, these rooms have no Disney theming that I noted. I do quite like the overall look and feel of the complete set of spaces of Gran Destino—but I don’t see much here that visually appeals to kids.

The easy access to Toledo, Dahlia Lounge, and Barcelona Lounge is a win, as is the room access from interior corridors, as is the location—the best at Coronado Springs—and the temperature-controlled enclosed walkway from the tower to the shops and dining at El Centro.

But on balance, for the typical premium of 18% more (on average over 2020, more than $50 a night) than standard rooms elsewhere at Coronado Springs, I’m still noodling over whether these rooms are the best choice for family visitors.

The long-time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly, can help you book–or avoid!–one of these Gran Destino rooms. Contact her using the form below.

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July 31, 2019   No Comments