By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



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



Category — zz. Even Geekier than Usual

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

Most Relevant Disney World Ticket Prices Increase 8-12%

As expected, on February 12, 2017 Disney World put into place new ticket prices.

There’s a couple of new twists to the ticketing model, too—multi-day tickets now have an expiration date (12/31/2018 at the moment) and those buying three day and longer ticket options will pay an extra $20 if they do not get their tickets in advance and online.

The full set of new multi-day Disney World ticket prices is here.

A couple of observations about this latest price increase:

  • While short non-hopper tickets showed some price stability and even decreases, four day and longer non-hopper tickets—the sort most will buy—went up 8% to 11.5%
  • The biggest driver of this is a major increase in the cost of the fourth ticket day, which for those 10 and older went from $346.13 to $372.75 (up $26.63).
  • On top of this increase to a four day ticket, Disney World increased the cost to add days 5 through 7—from $15.98 a day to $21.30 per day, or an increase of $5.33 per day.

Here’s a chart of the increases in prices compared to the last set of prices by length of ticket in days for non-hopper tickets. Price increases for tickets for those 10 and older are in blue, and kids 3-9 in red.

Disney World 2017 Percentage Ticket Price Increases from yourfirstvisit.net

In addition, Park Hopper prices went up more than $10 for tickets longer than three days, so Park Hopper tickets show as a result an increase in four day and longer tickets of 9% to 12%.

I had expected Disney World to shift to seasonal pricing for multi-day tickets in this round. Instead, the main package change is the new expiration date. This date of course allows it to enforce seasonal multi-day prices later. (The price of totally unused expired tickets can be credited towards the price of new tickets.)

These price increases are quite steep. In business terms, they allow Disney to recapture the value of the investment it is putting into the Animal Kingdom park, with Pandora opening in late May 2017, and into Hollywood Studios, with Toy Story Land there perhaps opening in 2018.

It also creates headroom for when, and if, it changes multi-day tickets to seasonal pricing, allowing “value season” dates to show little increase…at least the first year…

My friends at the Official Ticket Center likely will have tickets at the older price levels available for a bit.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

February 14, 2017   No Comments

November Twilights and Rivers of Light

Disney World extended November Animal Kingdom operating hours by a bit in its latest schedule update.

As a result, the park is open between an hour to an hour and a half after civil twilight ends.

This provides plenty of scope for two showings of Rivers of Light, one at the end of civil twilight, and one an hour and a half later. Until November 5th, potential times could be 7 and 8.30p, and after daylight savings ends, 6 and 7.30p.

From an operational point of view, Rivers of Light has been ready to go for a couple of weeks now. Guesswork around when it will actually open seems to fall into 1) late October and 2) next year.  A third camp votes for in between. My money is on the third camp.

Here’s the chart of November 2016 Animal Kingdom closes (dashed red line), sunset (yellow line) and end of civil twilight (gray line):

rivers-of-light-in-november-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

(The blue line is the end of nautical twilight, and the black line the end of astronomical twilight. All this stuff is defined here, but the key point is that the end of civil twilight (the gray line) defines “dark enough.”)

 

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

October 17, 2016   5 Comments

October Twilights and Rivers of Light

As predicted, Disney extended the operating hours at the Animal Kingdom in October to 8.30p closes, going deeper into the evening by an hour early in the month and by an hour and a half later in month.

Closes now range from an hour after civil twilight early in the month to an hour and a half after civil twilight later in the month. (For why the end of civil twilight matters to Rivers of Light and other evening shows, and other definitions, see this.)

This gives plenty of scope for two shows of Rivers of Light—apparently nearing dress rehearsal—the first at 7.30 or 7p and second at 9 or 8.30p (an evening show after park close has been common practice at Disney World for years, at the Studios).

See the image.

rivers-of-light-in-october-from-yourfirstvisit-net

  • The top dotted red line is the updated 2016 Animal Kingdom close (average October 2015 close is the bottom dotted green line).
  • The sloped lines are, from the bottom up, sunset (gold), end of civil twilight (red) and the ends of nautical (grey) and astronomical (black) twilight.

As you can see from the distance between the sloping red line and the dotted red line, open hours after civil twilight range from about an hour earlier in the month to an hour and a half later in the month.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

September 24, 2016   3 Comments

Bus Spotting

A guidebook that I generally quite respect (except for some of its material on the resorts) recently warned visitors off Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort based on its reader survey results that highlighted “transportation, food court, and distant lobby” as distinct issues.

bus-spotting-from-yourfirstvisit-netThe problem with such survey results, of course, is that they are often used to help choose among alternatives, when those responding to the survey aren’t actually comparing the alternatives, but rather reporting on a singular experience.

Your best bet for help in choosing among alternatives is to pay attention to survey results or reviews from people who have recently stayed in all the relevant choices—but of course, other than the reviews in the book I co-author and on this site, you simply can’t find those.

I’ve stayed at the traditional moderates 27 different times, so here’s my take:

  • It is certainly true that the check-in building at Caribbean Beach is awkwardly distant, especially for those without a car, but it hasn’t moved recently…so there’s no real need for a new warning based on its location.
  • The food court at Caribbean Beach isn’t materially worse than those at the other traditional moderates—and other than the simplification of both the check-out process and the menu at the food court at Coronado Springs (a change this particular guidebook missed, it seems, leaving in a reader comment about the now-disappeared “ticket stamping”), the food courts at the traditional moderates have not changed much recently either. (Port Orleans French Quarter’s food court is currently under refurb—we’ll see if anything interesting comes out of that.)
  • And it is true that the sheer number of bus stops (seven) at Caribbean Beach is an annoyance. In terms of time wasted getting around a resort and stopping at all the stops, Caribbean Beach is the worst of the traditional moderates, with Port Orleans Riverside next worst, then Coronado Springs, and Port Orleans French Quarter best. But something that people sometimes miss in the discussion of the number of bus stops is that more bus stops can mean shorter walks within the resort. At Port Orleans Riverside, the longest walk from a room to a bus stop is more than a quarter mile; at Caribbean Beach the longest walk is less than half of that.

Moreover, it’s always possible that better management, or something, results in one resort of the same price class getting materially better bus service than another.

Demonstrating this requires comparative data, not survey opinions.

To make an illuminative stab at this because I am such an utter geek to help my readers make good choices, I spent four mornings in late August and early September sitting at bus stops in Port Orleans Riverside and Caribbean Beach timing the arrivals of 139 buses. (Sunday the 28th of August through Tuesday the 30th, and again on September 1; each resort was observed one morning from 8-9.30a and another morning from 8.30-10a.)

I then tossed everything but buses to the four theme parks and then calculated the time between arrivals for buses to the same theme parks. I analyzed the resulting data both in traditional ways (mean and standard deviation) and graphically.

The results of this limited sample show that waits for the next bus were largely similar at the two resorts for most guests, but in every way that they were not similar, Port Orleans Riverside had better service. When you add to this that there are fewer stops at Riverside, transportation on the days I sampled was clearly better at Riverside than at Caribbean Beach.

The mean wait between buses to the same theme park at Caribbean Beach was 13 minutes, with a standard deviation of 8.2 minutes. At Riverside, the mean wait was 12 minutes and the standard deviation was 6.6 minutes. As we will see in a minute, the longer mean wait and much larger standard deviation at Caribbean Beach were driven by several excessive waits.

Here’s the graphical depiction of waits at Riverside:

port-orleans-riverside-time-to-next-bus-to-same-park-from-yourfirstvisit-net

And at Caribbean Beach:

caribbean-beach-time-to-next-bus-to-same-park-from-yourfirstvisit-net

In each graphic the dotted line is the average interval between arrival times for buses to the same park, the red line the 50th percentile wait, and the gold line what percent of buses come in at 20 minutes or fewer.

You’ll note that the biggest difference was in the longer waits–at Riverside, almost 90% of arrivals were 20 minutes or fewer, and the longest interval was 25 minutes. Caribbean Beach saw almost twice as many buses with >20 minute waits, and its longest wait was a stinky 34 minutes.

Something I did not adjust for in my analysis was the effect of buses to the same park that came one right after another.

For example, during one period at Port Orleans Riverside, Magic Kingdom buses came by at 9.18, 9.22, 9.23, 9.44 and 9.45a, for intervals of 4 minutes, 1 minute, 21 minutes, and 1 minute. The average wait time among these four intervals was 6.75 minutes.

But practically speaking a bus that comes one minute after another bus to the same park is of next to no value, as the arrival rate of people at the bus stops means that no or next to no incremental guests will be served by the bus arriving a minute later. Treating the two one minute waits as though they did not help any incremental people, we get 12.5 minutes as the average wait—almost twice as long.

Note in the graphics how many buses came by with a five minute wait or less (20% of them at Caribbean Beach, and 25% at Riverside). Guests would be better served if these buses were re-routed before their first stop to whatever park was fourth on the list of most recent buses…

To illuminate the impact of this, I redid the waits showing the exact same arrival times, but a steady progression of buses to the four parks so that none was repeated before all four had been served.

Here’s the results:

port-orleans-riverside-managed-buses-from-yourfirstvisit-net

caribbean-beach-managed-buses-from-yourfirstvisit-net

The effect was to add wait time to the left sides of the curves and remove it from the right sides–essentially moving time from artificial short waits from the left side (artificial because few or none would benefit from them) to reducing waits on the right side where they actually created value for people. (t statistic = “Mister.”)

How about it, Disney?

The traditional moderates are the hardest to distinguish among for recommendations. Each is at the top of some important criteria and at the bottom of others.

This means that either you should not sweat the difference among them, or that you should deeply research them to find which is exactly the best fit for your family.

But one thing that has always been true is that the total Disney transportation experience is worst at Caribbean Beach. If that’s your single concern, then that guidebook is right, and you should avoid Caribbean Beach.

You’ll find a more nuanced discussion of the moderates in my guidebook, and if you want to deeply research them, my reviews of each begin at the following links:

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

September 12, 2016   11 Comments

The Lovely Curves of Twilight in Orlando and Animal Kingdom Operating Hours

Some rather curious articles lately, especially one in Motley Fool, have suggested that Disney is backing away from its new evening program at the Animal Kingdom and “taking the night off.”

I think this comes from

  1. Lack of familiarity with the Animal Kingdom’s common past operating hours, which typically showed 7p or 8p closes the busiest times of the year, and 5p and 6p closes the rest of the year (that is, no one who knows Disney operations well would have expected 11p closes at Animal Kingdom in later September), and
  2. Lack of familiarity with how Disney for a while now has been under-gunning operating hours in its calendar releases until the final update it does a couple of weeks before the affected month starts.

I have great sympathy for this, as Disney World is about the hardest trivial topic there is to master, with the possible exception of fantasy football.

COMPARED TO PAST PRACTICES, ANIMAL KINGDOM IS OPEN ONLY ABOUT 45 MINUTES LESS IN SEPTEMBER THAN IT WAS IN THE SUMMER

This summer through Labor Day, the Animal Kingdom is open until 11p. This is three to five hours later than the old typical close.

This September after Labor Day the Animal Kingdom is open until 9p every night through September 29, and until 8.30p on September 30. In 2015, in contrast, Animal Kingdom closed at 5p almost every night. This 2016 schedule is, on average, about four hours later than the old typical close.

The average difference between the extended hours of the summer of 2016 through Labor Day and September 2016 after Labor Day is 45 minutes. Hardly “taking the night off.”

To get to this, let’s look at some data, starting first with sunset and twilight to set the context.

THE CURVES OF SUNSET IN ORLANDO

The chart below shows the times of sunset (the lowest line), full dark (the highest line) and the three intervening periods of twilight for Orlando in the summer.

Summer Sunset in Orlando from yourfirstvisit.net

I’ve explained the twilight times elsewhere, but think that explanation was too technical.

So let’s try again–imagine me piloting a small sailboat on the Potomac, as I did in my teens, dealing with three types of the fading of the day:

  • During civil twilight, the details of objects are still visible, so I could clearly see what I was about to run into. You would not do an evening show during civil twilight.
  • During nautical twilight, it’s dark enough that most stars are visible, but light enough that you can still see a clear horizon dividing the earth from the darkening sky. Sailors would use this period of nautical twilight to measure the angle of specific stars from the horizon as an aid to navigation, hence the name. You can’t see details, but masses of objects may still be visible, especially early in the period, and later if they are occluding the horizon, so I’d likely see what I was about to run into, at least at the last moment. This is a fine time for an evening show.
  • Astronomical twilight is the period between when the horizon disappears and full dark. You can’t really see anything, so I’d know I ran into something only from the thumping and sea-muffled screams, perhaps my own. This period is so close to full dark that I wonder if it was just made up by Astronomics so that they could get their names in the paper.

The next chart layers on 2016 Animal Kingdom closes (the top green line) and 2015 closes (the bottom purplish line, with the dotted purplish line showing the average 2015 close up to Labor Day, and then after Labor Day).

It also adds as red dotted lines the 2016 9p and 10.30p times of the Jungle Book show, which is not scheduled after Labor Day—at least so far; most people think it will be over then and dark until Rivers of Light opens.

Animal Kingdom 2015 vs 2016 Summer Closes from yourfirstvisit.net

Three things are especially worth noting:

  • Disney routinely kicked off the Jungle Book show in later June and earlier July at the beginning of nautical twilight
  • After Labor Day, the park is not open deeply into full dark the way it was in the summer
  • However, if you compare the green line to the purplish line, you can see that post Labor Day hours are still quite extended compared to 2015.

The next chart makes this last point more explicit by showing the difference between 2015 and 2016 operating hours and hours open after the end of civil sunset.

The top blue line is extra hours in 2016 by day compared to the same date in 2015, and the black dotted line within it shows the average extra hours up until and then after Labor Day.

Animal Kingdom Specific Added 2016 Summer Hours from yourfirstvisit.net

In the 2016 summer up until Labor Day, the Animal Kingdom is open on average just a little more than 4.5 hours extra compared to 2015, and after Labor Day it is open on average just a little less than four extra hours.

The difference of the two averages is 45 minutes. So your headline could be “Animal Kingdom Open Almost Four Hours More in September 2016 than 2015” or it could be “Animal Kingdom Open 45 Minutes Less in Later September than in Earlier Summer 2016,” but “Animal Kingdom Taking the Night Off” is a goofy response to the data.

The bottom orange line shows a more significant difference.

It depicts the hours after civil twilight ends that the park is open, with averages up until and then after Labor Day shown in the red dots.

Up until Labor Day the schedule has at least 2 hours of park open after civil twilight, while after Labor Day there’s only at least one hour of civil twilight—with a 75 minute difference between the averages.

So there is less time in later September to experience Animal Kingdom in the dark. There’s enough, if no Jungle Book, but much less than in the earlier months.

Right now for most of October Animal Kingdom is showing 7p closes. (A few are later). As the table below notes, civil twilight ends at ~7.30p at the beginning of the October, and 7p late in the month.

Twilight-in-Orlando-from-yourfirstvisit.net_

Given this and the pattern of September, I expect Animal Kingdom October closes to be extended to 8.30p early in the month and 8p later if Rivers of Light is not open then, and to have either yet another hour of opening added after the end of civil twilight if Rivers of Light is open, or the scheduling of a second Rivers of Light half an hour after park close, as commonly happens with the second Fantasmic show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Updated hours? What’s that? Well, that’s the second topic on which the articles about the Animal Kingdom “taking the night off” are a bit goofy.

DISNEY ROUTINELY UNDERSTATES EVENTUAL OPERATING HOURS

The same articles displayed a certain level of conviction that the closes Disney is currently showing for October and after will be maintained. But for quite a while now Disney’s operating calendars have shown shorter hours than what it often actually eventually opens for.

For example, Disney is showing 9p Magic Kingdom closes for the incredibly busy later March spring break weeks.  Not gonna happen—final closes will be much later than that.

The Animal Kingdom in fact may close at the times after September currently indicated on the calendars. But no experienced Disney World watcher would bet on that.

The calendars for a month don’t get real until about two weeks before the month starts. After that update is the only time you can treat them as data. Until them, they are interesting tales about minimum hours, but not indicative of actual hours.

(Sunset and twilight data from this handy link—click at the bottom for different months)

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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

August 23, 2016   No Comments