By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — w. Most Recent Stuff

Hollywood Studios During the Crisis: FastPass+

“The only end of writing is to enable readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” –Samuel Johnson

FASTPASS+ AT STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE

When Disney announced the partial opening on August 29, 2019  of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios theme park, it noted that while Galaxy’s Edge would be open during that park’s Extra Magic Hours, that FastPass+ would not be “initially” available for the sole ride to open then—Smuggler’s Run.

What this means is that access to the ride will happen via the old fashioned way—by waiting in line.

There could in fact be as many as four lines

  • A line to enter the park, which will start developing each day well before official open
  • A set of lines that I am counting as one to get through security and get your tickets scanned
  • A line to enter the land Galaxy’s Edge itself, and
  • A line to access the ride

(Note that there may be as well lines on the roadways to enter the parking lots and bus drop off points—I’ve suggested hotels that would avoid these lines elsewhere.)

The decision to not initially offer FastPass+–and what I view as the related decision to not open the previously-announced table service restaurant in Galaxy’s Edge—creates much operational simplicity, which will benefit some guests.

Otherwise there would be three ways to gain access to Galaxy’s Edge

  • A line for those whose FastPass+ return times are imminent
  • A line for those with an imminent table service reservation, and
  • A line for everybody else

Between visitors new to Disney World who have not learned about FastPass+, predictable language difficulties, and normal human frailty, these three different logics for entering the land create the potential for much confusion—and much wasted time among guests who discover a bit late that they are in the wrong line.

The choice to not offer FastPass+ also has positive implications for the rest of the park.

Imagine two late morning scenarios.

  • In the first, no one has FastPass+, four hours worth of people are waiting to ride Smugglers Run, two hours more of the ride’s capacity are waiting in line on Grand Avenue to enter Galaxy’s Edge, and five thousand people are in Galaxy’s Edge itself but not in line for the ride. At a capacity of perhaps 1,800 riders per hour, those folks sum to about 16,000 people who are not elsewhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • In the second scenario, 70% of the ride’s capacity has been dedicated to FastPass+, but there’s no more space in Galaxy’s Edge to put them. That takes 7,500 people out of the lines and puts them elsewhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, driving up in the rest of the park lines, wait times, and aggravation.

The comparable numbers are even more stark when both rides are open—the second ride here, Rise of the Resistance, is expected to open “later this year.” When both are open, in the first scenario with no FastPass+, 26,000 people are physically waiting for entry to the land, to the rides, or in the land but not waiting for a ride; in the other scenario, 11,500 are absorbed in the land, and 15,000 folks with upcoming FastPass+ are elsewhere in the park.

Obviously I’ve made some simplifying assumptions here, and of course no one—not even Disney—knows what the incremental impact of Galaxy’s Edge will be on the park, nor how long waits associated with it will be.

But the key is that since that is unknown, the approach Disney is taking to FastPass+—making it not available, and rationing rides by waits instead—means that many people who would be otherwise elsewhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios will instead be ring-fenced into lines for Galaxy’s Edge.

 

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March 25, 2019   No Comments

The Best Hotels for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

THE MOST CONVENIENT HOTELS FOR STAR WARS: GALAXY’S EDGE

Especially after the complete opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’ Edge later this year—it will see a partial opening on August 29th—there’s the real potential for challenges in getting to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the theme park in which Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be found in Walt Disney World.

The main point I am concerned about is congestion on the roadways to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, yielding back-ups and delays for those who use their cars or the bus-based component of the Disney transportation system to get to that park.

There are two groups of hotels from which you can get to Galaxy’s Edge without being on a road—the Epcot resorts, from which you can walk, and the Skyliner resorts, from which you can take a gondola.

I am a little less ken on the Gondola resorts, for two reasons. First, the opening date for gondola operations has not yet been announced. I think it would be nuts for Galaxy’s Edge to partially open on August 29 without the gondolas operating—but Disney has surprised me before. Second, the best strategy for seeing Galaxy’s Edge without a wait is to arrive before everyone else, and it is not clear—and may not be for a while—how early in the morning the Skyliner will begin operations.

In contrast, walking from the Epcot resorts can be done now, and at any time of day or night. The Epcot resorts are substantially more expensive than the Gondola resorts (at least until Disney’s Riviera Resort opens), but staying in one of them is the best way to guarantee access to the front of Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the time you intend to get to there, as all the variables are under your own control.

OPTION A—AND THE BEST OPTION—IS TO STAY IN AN EPCOT RESORT

From the Epcot resorts you can walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios whenever you want, even in the middle of the night—which might be required.

The Epcot resorts are all within a mile’s walk of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, via a path on the side of the BoardWalk Villas that’s closest to the Swan and Dolphin.

On the map, I’ve drawn the shared part of the path in red, and then used individual other colors to highlight the paths from the main entrances of the resorts to this common path.

The shortest walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is from the BoardWalk Inn and BoardWalk Villas—with some Villas rooms twice as close to the Studios as the most distant Beach Club rooms. You’ll note on the map that the Swan, Dolphin, and Yacht Club have colored lines about the same length—indicating that they are about equal walks, and that while some Beach Club rooms will be almost as close as some Yacht Club rooms, in general Beach Club and Beach Club Villas guests will typically have the longest walks.

There are many other factors for choosing among these resorts, all detailed in the reviews you’ll find in the links, based on my 25+ stays in these hotels.

Those visiting during the partial opening period may find some difficulty in booking an Epcot resort, as these are popular this time of year because of Epcot’s fall Food & Wine Festival, and also see some major conventions in October. But at least as of today, you can find openings—the claims you will hear from some that “the Disney hotels filled as soon as Star Wars was announced” simply aren’t true. That said, while there is availability, rooms are still hard to find, especially for longer trips and trips that include Friday and Saturday nights.

OPTION B: STAYING IN A DISNEY SKYLINER RESORT

Disney’s Skyliner gondola system, currently undergoing testing, will link Disney’s Art of Animation, Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, and, after it opens at the end of the year, the much more expensive Disney’s Riviera resort, to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

So from the Disney Skyliner resorts, once the Skyliner opens, you can take a gondola to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I am more concerned about this option, as while it will be fine for guests returning from a late night visit, we don’t yet know how early in the morning it will being running.

All Skyliner resort guests except those at Caribbean Beach Resort will need to change gondolas at the Caribbean Beach station, so folks staying at Caribbean Beach will be in the best location for gondola access to Galaxy’s Edge. Standard rooms at Pop Century and Art of Animation are a bit cheaper, but there are many pros and cons to all three resorts, detailed in the reviews at the links above based on my 30 stays among them.

Note also that the Bonnet Creek resort area, a privately owned plot including hotels owned by third parties, is literally right next to Caribbean Beach.

As the crow flies, the closest rooms in the Bonnet Creek Resort Area* are just a third of a mile from the Caribbean Beach Skyliner station. But there is nothing like a path you can actually take, so the hike from these to the Caribbean Beach station is actually more like 1.5 to 2 miles, with no actual walking path —just grassy verges—for most of this distance. And that’s assuming that security will let you walk into the resort, which frankly is not known now. If such access is permitted, then the walk will get a bit better for this after Riviera station opens, as it will be a shorter walk.

*The Wyndham Resort, Wyndham Grand, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. Note that the last two of these are both newly eligible for both Extra Magic Hours and FastPass+ at 60 days but also are the furthest from the Skyliner (regardless of route). I’ll write more about this later, but the Extra Magic Hour access could be quite valuable for Galaxy’s Edge. At least for the time being, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge won’t be offering FastPass+ access, but the FastPass+ at 60 days access is handy for many other rides.

The long time travel agent partner of this site, Kelly, can try to get you into an Epcot resort, a Skyliner resort—or any other Walt Disney World hotel! Contact her using the form below.

 

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March 24, 2019   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Joe Rohde on the Yeti and Expedition Everest

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE YETI AND EXPEDITION EVEREST IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

When the Expedition Everest attraction opened officially at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in June 2006, the Yeti it included was the largest and most complex audio-animatronics figure ever built by Walt Disney Imagineering.

Unfortunately by 2008, the Yeti figure’s framing split and because the forty-six foot tall platform it is on was sealed within the mountain superstructure, it would be expensive and time consuming to access and repair it.

However, with a big Walt Disney World anniversary celebration coming up and with the success of Pandora drawing huge crowds to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, rumors have once again started that the attraction could be closed for a few months for a rehab and to finally fix the creature.

On April 3, 2006, while working at Walt Disney World, I was able to attend a presentation with Imagineer Joe Rohde where he talked about the new attraction and, in particular, the Yeti. Here is a short excerpt from that presentation transcribed by Wayne Campbell from my copy.

Joe Rohde:

The Yeti mandir (Hindu temple) shows the Yeti as a fierce protector of the mountain. Everywhere you look there are carvings of Yeti, so it is the Yeti mandir. This bronze of the physical Yeti is in the traditional pose of any protector spirit with his one hand up holding this mountain in his hand and the other hand is out saying, “Stay out!”

So, anyway, all of this building sets a certain tone—and that’s the mythic, mystical tone of the legend of the Yeti. The other place is The Yeti Museum. The Yeti Museum, basically, is another way of telling the story. “This is the Himalayas…they all have this legend of the Yeti…here’s what all that stuff looks like.” And then there’s the made-up stuff like the lost expedition.

The Himalayas really are a place with real bio-diversity. So it’s a place where plausibly there could be a Yeti and just because there’s really an animal doesn’t always mean you see it.

And, of course, then there’s the room where the proprietors of Himalayan Escapes—which I find to be a humorous name for a travel company where you end up escaping from the Yeti—basically disavow all that.

Finally, on the ride, you see the Yeti, guardian of the mountain, as real as we could make him be, and it is sort of both a revelation that the Yeti is real—that’s kind of a reward for your going through all the material in the queue and it is kind of the end of your mythic adventure that’s returning you back to the world of humanity—and you’re back to humanity almost like it was a dream, right? Like it almost didn’t happen, just like a fairy tale.

One of the animals that we looked at is this Szechuan golden snub-nosed monkey. They’re very, very rare. They stay in the snow all winter and they’ve adapted to this cold weather environment. And of course, they have big teeth and they’re creepy and their face is blue, which looks cold, and they’ve got hair all over and they’ve got this big mane.

So we basically took this monkey—the idea of this monkey—and we make it bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and we took some ape-like characteristics and we blended them together to get our Yeti.

There’s too much evidence for some kind of real creature for there to be no real creature behind the legend of the Yeti. The Yeti used to live in the exact same area where the giant panda now lives today. And you know, the giant panda is a prehistoric animal, it just happens to be one that’s still alive. If the panda was extinct and people said they saw pandas, we’d be treating that like the Yeti.

So the legend of the Yeti, in my opinion, is a fusion of these oral traditions because the people moved away from the place where it used to be demonstrably true. As you move away, it becomes more abstracted.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 22, 2019   No Comments

Next Week (March 23 through March 31, 2019) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: MARCH 23 TO MARCH 31, 2019

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on March 2019 at Disney World, see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 3/23-3/31/19

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 8a-11p 3/23,  9a-10p 3/24 through 3/28, 9a-11p 3/29 and 3/30, and 9a-10p 3/31

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 9a-8.30p every day

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 8a-9p 3/23,  8a-9p 3/24, 9a-8p 3/25 through 3/29, and 9a-10p 3/30 and 3/31

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 3/23-3/31/19

Saturday 3/23 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 3/24  Morning:  Hollywood Studios Evening: none

Monday 3/25  Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Tuesday 3/26 Morning: none Evening: Epcot

Wednesday 3/27 Morning:  none Evening: Magic Kingdom

Thursday 3/28 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 3/29 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 3/30 Morning: Animal Kingdom  Evening: none

Sunday 3/31 Morning:  Hollywood Studios  Evening: none

PARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 3/23-3/31/19

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon parade: 3p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 3/23-3/31/19

Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom 9.15p every night

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 8.30p every night

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p every night

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom:  8.15 and 9.30p 3/23, 8.30p and 9.30p 3/24, 8.30p 93/25 through 3/29, and 8.30 and 9.45p 3/30 and 3/31

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 3/23/-3/31/19

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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March 21, 2019   No Comments

Disney World’s Ticket Price Increase for 2019–Analysis and Implications

Disney World raised its ticket prices on March 12 for the rest of 2019. There’s been much silliness written since about the level of the increase by folks not so good at math, ranging from “prices increased 15%-30%” to “prices increased about 5%.” (For how Disney’s new-in-October-2018 date-based ticketing concept works, see this.)

In fact, the average price increase across the ten ticket day options for adult single park per day tickets for the period April 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019 was 7.9%. But of course no one buys an average ticket, and actual price increases vary quite a bit over the course of the 9 months remaining in 2019.

The following table shows by ticket length the average increase, minimum increase, and maximum increase for the period April 1 through December 31, 2019, compared to the prices that had already been in place for 2019.

A couple of things are worth noting. First, all lengths beyond one day had an average price increase higher than the average increase in one day tickets. This mathematically means that the discount for longer tickets, on average, is not quite so high as it had been before.

The second point worth noting is how high the maximum price increases are, ranging from 20% to 30%. A major piece of this is a big increase in the price of later December tickets, which you can see from this table, which shows maximum increases from 4/1 through 12/31 and then 4/1 through 11/30:

How prices were generally changed over the dates of the year begins to be clear in the next chart, which shows the percentage increase for every ticket length plotted against the first eligible day for that ticket.

There’s ten colored lines (one for each length), which makes it initially messy, but the lines aren’t random—you can see the patterning within them.

Here’s the same data on increases, but for just two ticket lengths whose use periods average out weekend effects, for more clarity.

Ticket prices are up most sharply in many of the popular break and holiday periods. This general pattern does not surprise me, as the initially-released range of high to low prices for the date-based ticket pricing model was, at about an 18% spread between the least and most expensive tickets, too narrow to actually much incent changes in people’s behavior and drive them to lower-priced dates.

Here’s the increase in one day tickets. These are important not because people buy them (hardly anyone does) but rather because the longer tickets are assembled as discounts off the sum of the one day tickets that their eligible use dates encompass.

Because of differential increases over weekends—which is why the last chart saw so many saw-toothed shapes—it’s a little easier to see what’s happening in one day tickets if you use a seven day moving average (a forward moving average in this case):

I’ve marked in this various holidays, and you can see that most—but not all—major price increases are related to holidays, beginning with Easter and spring break. There’s a couple of exceptions, at the beginning of October (but not Columbus Day week) and beginning of November—perhaps for Jersey Week??

Moving on to ticket lengths that are actually relevant to many people, here’s the new spread of prices over the period April 1 through December 31 for four of the ticket lengths, comparing prices to the lowest price in the same period.

You’ll see that the most expensive tickets in the depicted lengths are now 40% higher than the lowest prices of the year. In (unshown) shorter tickets, it is 45%. At this spread, ticket prices may actually start to shift people away from higher-priced periods and into less-expensive ones.

Also worth noting is that is that you see next to no increases in the period immediately after the new Star Wars land opens. For opening day (August 29—see this) and the 30 days following, price increases average about 2%–pretty much the lowest level of price increases across the year.

Simpler minds will conclude that this is because Disney intends to offer extra cost access options these dates, or that it expects low demand. People who actually get Disney’s new date-based pricing model will understand that Disney is trying through these lower prices to incent visits to an unfinished park during an unpopular time of the year to go.

The next major event on the ticket pricing front will likely be the release of 2020 ticket prices. There’s no precedent for knowing when this will happen. I’d guess at the latest it will be early summer, but it may be earlier, and frankly no one on the outside knows.

 

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March 18, 2019   2 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Be Our Guest

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

BE OUR GUEST IN FANTASYLAND

By Jim Korkis

The Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom that opened in December 2012 was part of the larger New Fantasyland expansion and renovation of that area of the park.

When it opened, it was the only publicly accessible Magic Kingdom venue to serve wine and beer–until December 23, 2016, when other Magic Kingdom restaurants started offering the same options.

The goal in Be Our Guest was to capture the elegance and fairytale charm of Disney’s popular 1991 animated feature film Beauty and the Beast. The entrance with its cold hard stone, metal, and desaturated tones of crumbling architecture juxtaposed against beautiful landscaping, hints that this might be a time before the curse was broken as guests walk through the gates and across a stone bridge.

The lion-like figures flanking the entrance door were referred to by the Imagineer designers as “golions” referencing that they were a combination of goat and lion. The figures above the entrance door that resemble eagles with snake tails were called “sneagles”. The six stone gargoyle figures on the bridge leading to the castle were simply all given the name “Frank” in order to better identify them.

“This is a whole new level of theming for a Disney restaurant,” said Maribeth Bisienere, vice president of Food & Beverage and Merchandise for The Walt Disney Company. “More than ever, we’re using storytelling and creativity. From the moment they cross the bridge into the castle, it’s all about immersing our guests in the dining experience. Every detail is part of the story.”

Three distinctive dining areas are located within the castle: an elegant ballroom setting, the mysterious West Wing of the Beast’s castle with the enchanted rose under a glass bell jar using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion for its falling petals, and the stunning Rose Gallery with a seven foot tall wooden music box with a depiction of Belle and Beast dancing on top of it, while overhead is a dome that is an exact replica from the chapel de Saint Chapelle, the cathedral next to Notre Dame in Paris.

The centerpiece golden chandelier in the ballroom measures more than 12 feet tall and 11 feet wide. It boasts more than 84 candles and more than 100 jewels that hang down to give it added shine. The area is defined by a 20-foot high coffered ceiling painted with clouds and cherubs depicting the faces some of the Imagineers who worked on the project and a terrazzo floor. Beyond 18-foot-tall windows is the French countryside where snow falls gently against a starry night sky.

The Rose Gallery is adorned with paintings that celebrate the characters from the film, and with four tapestries inspired by background art from the film. Carved roses are featured throughout the room, along with other rose accents including the intricate tile mosaics on the floor.

The West Wing includes, over the fireplace, a portrait of the young prince in human form that has been slashed by the beast’s claws. With periodic flashes of lightning, the image in the portrait transforms from prince to Beast.

Music was integral to adding to the overall ambience. For the Ballroom, a 50-piece orchestra recorded the music from the film. In the adjacent Rose Gallery, special music box arrangements were recorded of the same pieces heard in the Ballroom, in perfect synchrony, so that guests moving from room to room hear the same tune transformed from one style to another. In the West Wing, a somber, melancholy arrangement creates a forbidding mood.

For four years, the Disney Food & Beverage team worked at creating a menu to match the environment. A team of Disney chefs, including longtime Disney Chef Roland Muller, a native of Alsace, France, developed the French-inspired dishes, creating both a quick-service menu for lunch and more elegant table-service menu for dinner.

“Our role was to finish the story,” said Walt Disney World Executive Chef Lenny DeGeorge.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest,  The Vault of Walt Volume 7: Christmas Edition, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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March 15, 2019   No Comments