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.



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Category — zzzz. Rumor-mongering

Thoughts on The Possibility of More Hotels Getting 60 Day Access to FastPass+

“And of course, we’ve got … a number of other plans as it relates to our hotel business.”
–Bob Iger on Disney’s Q2 earnings call

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Corless at WDW News Today reported that he expected the ability to book FastPass+ at 60 days to be extended to “every hotel in the Disney Springs Resort Area on Hotel Plaza Boulevard” and that “there should also be additional Good Neighbor Hotels on the list when announced by Disney.”

I’ve not written much before about this rumor, but if it is true, there’s a chance it will be announced before or as part of tomorrow’s Q4 and FY2017 earnings call, so I thought I’d put in a bit of context and speculation about impact in advance of that.

WHY DOES FASTPASS+ AT 60 DAYS MATTER

Disney’s FastPass+ system, fully implemented in 2014, allows you to avoid waits by pre-booking what are essentially appointments at up to three rides per day. So far, anyone with a ticket could begin booking their FastPass+ 30 days before use, and those staying in a Disney-owned hotel or the Swan or Dolphin could begin booking 60 days ahead.

While there’s actually been pretty good availability for most rides at 30 days ahead, those with 60 day rights have a much better chance of getting a FastPass+ for the hottest rides (currently Flight of Passage and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and generally have more flexibility in booking their FastPass+ on the days and times that best suit their other Disney World plans.

WHO CURRENTLY GETS FASTPASS+ AT 60 DAYS

There are on the order of 25,400 bookable Disney World owned rooms and another ~2,260 rooms at the Swan and Dolphin, so currently around 27,660 rooms are bookable with the opportunity to get FastPass+ at 60 days. (Shameless plug—for my reviews of all of these, see this.)

HOW MUCH MIGHT ACCESS TO 60 DAY FASTPASS+ EXPAND

There’s three groups of potential additional rooms worth noting:

  • Those in the Disney Springs Resort Area, which Tom says should “all” get 60 days FastPass+: seven hotels with around 3,700 rooms.
  • The WDW Good Neighbor hotels, which are scattered all over the place to the south and west of the Convention Center, but are largely concentrated in the Palm Parkway and US 192 areas (although you’ll also find them near the Convention Center, in Flamingo Crossing and on Chelonia Parkway, just to the east of Pop Century): 52 hotels with around 17,000* rooms.
  • Shades of Green and the Four Seasons, both nearer the core of Disney World than any Disney Springs or Good Neighbor hotel (except maybe for those on Chelonia Parkway), but not part of either of the above two groups. Two hotels with about a thousand rooms between them.

WHAT MIGHT THIS MEAN FOR THOSE BOOKING A HOTEL

If this happens, its impact is profoundly shaped by how many Good Neighbor rooms gain access to FastPass+ at 60 days—and where they are located.

If only the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels and one or the other of Shades and Four Seasons gets 60 day access, then I don’t expect much impact, as the number of eligible rooms would go up only 15% and lower occupancy at the Disney Springs hotels (compared to the Disney owned hotels) would reduce the impact even more.

If these hotels plus all the Good Neighbor hotels get access, then a total of around 21,000 rooms would be added to the FastPass+ at 60 days pool. Correcting this for lower occupancy, and also for the fact that many of the guests of these hotels are in them for reasons other than Disney World (conventions, Universal), the effective total increase is likely on the order of 10,000 rooms, or about a 36% increase. This would make the hottest rides even harder to book, even at 60 days, and would pull more capacity out of the FastPass+ system for those who can only book at thirty days.

But, if this happens, I don’t expect all the Good Neighbor hotels to be in it—as I would expect Disney to be charging them for it, and not all of them would find the extra cost to make business sense.

At least until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens…

WHY ON EARTH MIGHT DISNEY WORLD DO THIS

I can think of two reasons why Disney might do this, and of course some reasons why it might not.

At the basic level, for the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels, helping them become more attractive would be good for the dining and shopping venues at Disney Springs, into which a lot of capital has been poured over the past few years

Expanding beyond the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels into some or all of the Good Neighbor Hotels (and/or Shades and Four Seasons), if done for a fee charged them by Disney, is a way for Disney to additionally monetize what Disney is likely to view as extremely high incremental hotel stays related to its 2018 Toy Story, 2019 Star Wars and other later Disney World expansions.

Disney World does not have enough capacity in its own hotels (which average nearly 90% occupancy) to serve these incremental guests, and while a couple of additions/expansions are planned/underway, these will also not be sufficient nor even all that timely.

Even more Disney hotels are possible—likely, even—but not in any reasonable timeframe. Moreover, new hotels absorb capital and impose operating risks, which are avoided by monetizing someone else’s capital and operations (this is essentially the logic of DVC, except that Disney fronts the capital which is then bought down by DVC owners).

So expanding access to FastPass+ at 60 days, but charging hotels offering it for the privilege of doing so, would add essentially costless and riskless revenue, which by my back-of-the envelope calculations could easily drop another $100 million a year to Disney World’s bottom line.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT DO THIS

But of course it would not really be costless or riskless, as it would be removing some of the value of the 60 day window at the hotels that currently offer it, diminishing the reason to stay at one of these hotels instead of one of the (typically much less expensive) other hotels newly added to the 60 day FastPass+ window. The fixed cost economics of hotels are such that Disney would lose much more income from a hotel guest who does not stay in one of its own hotels than it could possibly gain from a fee paid by the off-site hotel that that this guest actually stays in.

But recall that the distinctive 60 day window is a perk that’s less than five years old. There are many other good reasons to pay the premium (which can be very high, especially at the moderates and deluxes) to stay in a Disney World hotel besides the 60 day FastPass+ access—I recommended the Disney hotels to first-timers even in the old days when all guests were treated equally in the parks, except for Extra Magic Hours.

And speaking of Extra Magic Hours… The example of Animal Kingdom this summer, when Pandora was open an extra 14 hours a week to Disney World (and Shades of Green and Swan and Dolphin) hotel guests, can be replicated (and expanded, to e.g. 21 or 28 hours) at Hollywood Studios for Toy Story and Star Wars. Differential perks can be added and expanded, so that the Disney-owned hotels can continue to command their premium pricing, which we all complain about on the way to filling them.

 

*I could not find the size of three of these 52 hotels, so used the average of the other 49 for them; a point of moderate confusion is that these are two different groups—that is, the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are not WDW Good Neighbor hotels…

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November 8, 2017   No Comments

Free Dining Deal Expected to Open Tomorrow; Quick Service for Moderates

Update: the 2017 deal is out, see this for details.

The Disney World deal Free Dining is back this year–with one major change. Guests booking a moderate resort stay will now only be receiving for free the Quick Service Dining Plan, rather than the “regular” Disney Dining Plan which includes table service meals that they have received in past versions of this deal.

Values and deluxes will get the same deal as in recent years–quick service at the values, and the regular plan at the deluxes.

In order to get the deal, guests must book a minimum 3-night-stay with 2 days of Park Hopper or Park Hopper+ tickets.

Booking for the package will open tomorrow, Monday, April 24th, 2017. Available arrival dates will be between August 21st* and September 30th, 2017, as well as select dates between November 14th through December 23rd.

Rumor has it that the November and December eligible arrival dates will be 11/14-11/20, 11/25-11/27, and 12/8-12/23.

To get a travel agent to make over your reservation, contact Kelly at 980-429-4499 or kellyb@destinationsinflorida.com.

*Beginning August 13th for Disney Visa Cardholders, and Canadian guests.

The 2017 easy Guide

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April 23, 2017   2 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

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March 4, 2017   28 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

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February 19, 2017   17 Comments

Halloween 2017 at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD’S SPECIAL HALLOWEEN PARTY

Halloween 2017 at Disney World from yourfirstvisit.netWhile Halloween itself is October 31st of course, Walt Disney World provides a special Halloween celebration at the Magic Kingdom many evenings in 2017 from late August until the first of November.

This celebration is called “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party,” or “MNSSHP” for short.

At the party, many of the Magic Kingdom’s rides are open, and trick or treating, special events, and different parades and fireworks are offered.

The official Disney World page for this event can be found here.

Click the images below for the 2017 offerings.

And you can find a review of the 2017 MNSSHP party here.

 

MORE ON MICKEY’S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY IN 2017

[Read more →]

February 13, 2017   23 Comments

Pandora to Open May 27, Ticket Price Increase, and Other News and Rumors from Yesterday

Pandora Opening Ticket Prices and Other News and Rumors from yourfirstvisit.netSeveral interesting things came up in yesterday’s Walt Disney Company earnings call. One takeaway is that you might want to buy your tickets now.

PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR TO OPEN MAY 27

From Disney CEO Bob Iger’s introductory remarks on the call:

“This year we’ll open a great addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a brand new land called Pandora – The World of Avatar. Our Imagineers have brought the breathtaking world of Pandora to life through astonishing feats of artistic genius and groundbreaking engineering. The result is an exquisite environment with phenomenal attractions. And today I’m happy to announce this incredible new world will officially open on May 27.”

From later in the call:

“This is a very big land with an extremely unique design and architecture because it really does make you feel as though you’re in Pandora, that great world that Jim Cameron created, and an E-ticket attraction that is unlike any E-ticket attraction that we’ve ever built. And it is sizable. The whole experience is sizable.”

STAR WARS LAND TO OPEN IN 2019

Also from Iger on the call:

“Additionally, our progress continues on Star Wars Lands at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World [Hollywood Studios], both of which will open in calendar 2019.”

TOY STORY LAND—2018?

Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios did not come up in the call, but the Star Wars date of 2019 has led many to continue to believe that 2018 will see its opening. This seems a little fast to me…

TICKET PRICE INCREASE?

For the last three years, Walt Disney World has increased ticket prices in February. Buying your tickets now –for example from my friends at The Official Ticket Center  –will let you avoid this price increase.

Moreover, I do expect one of these days that Disney World will move its multiday tickets to a seasonal price model, where tickets for some periods of the year are more expensive than for other periods. (One day tickets took on this form in 2016.)

The business logic of this is to simultaneously shift demand to lower attendance times and, for those who won’t change their dates, to capture more value from higher demand times—as Disney’s hotel prices already do.

The possibility of a ticket price increase came up in the call, and I was intrigued by how Bob Iger answered it—and specially why he did not stop his response after the words “I have nothing to announce at this point,” and why he went on to mention redesign of packages and the distinctive importance of multi-day tickets at Disney World.

My take away? This stuff is on his mind…and so perhaps we will see the shift to seasonal pricing for Disney World multi-day tickets this month. If so, my guess is we will see only minor increases in ticket prices for the less-demanded parts of the year, and larger increases for the popular times.

So if you have not yet bought your tickets for your next visit, I’d do that now, especially if you plan to go in the spring break season, the summer, or during any of the major holiday periods later in the year. My friends at The Official Ticket Center  can help you get great prices.

Here’s the complete discussion of ticket prices during the call:

John Janedis – Jefferies LLC

“Hi. Thank you. Maybe another quick follow up at the parks. I think you’ve increased ticket prices in February the last couple of years. You’re going to lap the demand-based pricing model in a couple of weeks. And with Pandora opening, is there maybe a near-term opportunity to further increase single or multi-day ticket prices?”

Robert A. Iger – The Walt Disney Co.

“Yes. I have nothing to announce at this point, but we do take ticket pricing up on typically an annual basis and we do so in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it’s redesign of packages. Remember that in Florida that most of our attendance is multi-day in nature, and so the single day including when we take pricing increases is less important than when we take single-day pricing up in California. But we’re not prepared to make any specific comments about what’s in store in that regard.”

RIVERS OF LIFE NEXT WEEK?

Something else happened yesterday that was not on the earnings call—Rivers of Life, the much-delayed new evening show at Animal Kingdom, had a preview:

There’s no official opening date, but one rumor is that it could be announced any day now, and open as soon as next week. I’ve been burned so much on predicting this show that I officially have no opinion.

The 2017 easy Guide

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February 8, 2017   No Comments