All photos by Alex Westcott on November 11th, 2020
We pick things up on a peak day at Epcot with its current weekday operating hours of 11am to 9pm. Above is the line just to enter the pyramid in the Mexico Pavilion less than 90 minutes after the Park opened. The back of the line is out of frame around the corner. Once you move up these stairs to what I suppose is now a rare multi-level extended queue, the line then winds around inside the first room before you’ll eventually be let down into where the stores and Gran Fiesta Tour ride are located.
The line continues back some distance, as it would most weekends. You can see that Disney has placed physical-distancing markers all around this alleyway, which means they’re perfectly aware that this is a normal thing. Our visit is on Veterans Day, a national holiday that fell on Wednesday this year. Disney elected not to extend the operating hours, and we saw some long wait times and heavy crowds because of it. Part One in this series covered Future World happenings. And you can read more about Veterans Day waits in the November 13th edition of Wait Times and News.
Here’s what that upstairs portion looks like empty as it winds around.
Then you’ve got more queue inside.
That’s why Gran Fiesta Tour typically posts a 5- or 10-minute wait even if a hundred or more people are waiting outside just to enter the pyramid. Since they’re not technically in the queue for the ride, Disney doesn’t count them. You would think most people heading inside would get in line to ride. Posting a wait time closer to the total amount of time it would take to ride might help push people to other Pavilions. If you’re starting the day in World Showcase on this side, this line is one of the first one’s you’ll see, after what is likely another long line for the outdoor margarita bar.
As a reminder, this is what we were looking at as far as wait times are concerned:
Moving forward, Epcot’s operating hours are all over the place. This is what you’d currently see through the end of the year:
You can always pull up Disney’s official operating hours here as they are very subject to change. Those changes typically come on Friday afternoons and include updates for about a month’s worth of dates. That’s part of why we don’t see extended hours after December 19th, despite December 20th to January 2nd likely proving to be the busiest time of year at the Park, as it has been for the last 10+ years. They tell me that there was actually a time when virtually nobody went to Disney World over the holidays and instead spent it at home relaxing with family. That doesn’t sound very fun compared to being in line for the bus to Animal Kingdom at 5:15am.
This is the line for Frozen Ever After in Norway.
This is the end of it in China. Since Lotus Blossom Café reopened and operates from 12pm to 9pm on Fridays through Sundays at the moment, they had to reroute the Frozen line line out here on the walkway that otherwise leads to Reflections of China.
It’s been a while since we heard about that show’s replacement. Supposedly, Disney announced that it would be shot and projected “seamlessly” in 360 degrees before they actually had the technology to do that. Along with the PLAY! Pavilion, the Reflections replacement is another project that Disney left out of their update that I discuss in the previous news and wait times post. Since Disney doesn’t typically acknowledge when projects are canceled, it’s hard to say when or if the Reflections update will come. The film is 17 years old and plays on a number of racial stereotypes that you probably wouldn’t include these days, in addition to being 17 years out of date. Anyway, you can pull up Lotus Blossom’s menu and hours here. It would basically be my last resort, but if there’s seating available and a short line, you might go for something. At the moment, I’d bank on mobile order at Sunshine Seasons in the Land Pavilion or Regal Eagle Barbecue in the United States Pavilion.
Alex got in the back of the line for Frozen at 12:16pm and what was then a 45-minute wait. That wait ballooned to 105 minutes posted at 12:30pm and 115 minutes at 12:45pm. I suppose it’s a good thing that by the time he finally got to Norway, the wait had actually “dropped,” to “just” 90 minutes.
It took exactly 40 minutes to get from China to underneath the wait time sign and inside the actual queue.
From there, it’s only about 15 minutes to load.
Much to our amusement, we ended up in a boat that was not yet modified with the plastic barriers that should eventually separate each row in the boat. Whatever you call those fasteners underneath the rails on the left are where they should eventually be installed if Disney is satisfied with the test.
— WDW News Today (@WDWNT) November 8, 2020
But they look like that and you can see a lot more pictures by either clicking the link in the tweet or this one to the same story. While it’s a pretty unattractive fix, it will allow Disney to fill every row and basically double capacity, in turn halving waits. Alex ended up getting in line with a 45-minute posted wait, which peaked at 115 minutes while he was still in it, and then ended up waiting 56 minutes. What you do with that data point I’m not sure. But potentially, even if your wait starts in China on one of the busier days that we’ve experienced so far, you’ll wait about an hour – and less once Disney decides to go ahead with installing the barriers on every boat if they haven’t already.
Like with most attractions that aren’t whatever an omnicoaster is, most of the action on the ride is off to the sides, even if the boat presses forward for the majority of the ride.
But that’s not always true.
If you were to poll the audience with the question of whether they’d prefer to wait 60 minutes for a ride and have a perfect view out the front or 30 minutes and have a clear acrylic plastic sheet in front of their faces in the back seat instead, I’m not sure which direction people would go. Most would probably look back at me like Olaf does here. The obvious answer is the shorter wait, I think, but it does come at a slight cost. Typically, the plastic affects pictures more than the actual on-ride view, but there is a noticeable, distracting reflection if you look straight ahead.
I’ve been on Frozen enough times that I don’t really care if I have to look back at my faint reflection from time to time, but if I only had one opportunity to ride it, I might prefer to wait longer in order to experience it in as pristine as condition as an attraction based on a ride system from 1988 can be. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the back row on my only shot at Rise of the Resistance, looking through plastic, after dealing with that whole process. But it’s either that or half as many people can ride that day. We probably have to take the concessions at this point. You can always request the front row as nicely as possible. The worst thing they can say is no.
It took Disney about four months to begin retrofitting some of these vehicles after the Parks reopened. That seems to point to the company expecting all of this to be over by now. They were expecting the crowds they’re seeing now back in July and August, when the Parks were virtually deserted, and evidently had no plans to install barriers like this at the time. Or they would have at some point during the closure, between March 16th and July 14th, in Epcot’s case. I expected the original quarantine to last about three weeks and then it would largely be a return to life as normal. Then eight more months passed with no end in sight. Disney moving to spend the time and money on these installations means that they’re expecting physical-distancing to continue for some time. They’re probably also interested in the capacity increase so they can rationalize opening up more Park Passes and increasing attendance.
November 17th was officially the last day of the Annual Passholder popup store at Der Teddybar in Germany. We first heard about it exactly a month before in this news and wait times update.
The outlet certainly proved popular as the store was exclusive to this long line of Passholders hoping to score some older merchandise and other items for around 50% off. We’ll see if Disney elects to extend the event after Thanksgiving, particularly as they look to unload 2020 merchandise, Food and Wine merchandise, and more. The fact that it was only open from Monday through Friday also likely pushed some number of Passholders to visit during the workweek instead of the much busier weekend. It’s also probably why the line was a little longer on Wednesday given it was a national holiday and people who couldn’t ordinarily visit during the week had an opportunity near the end of the store’s run.
Nothing strikes fear in my heart quite like the proposition of a very large, very permanent Italy kiosk. The progress walls indicate something ominous may be afoot.
But this one is apparently called “La Gelateria,” at least as a placeholder on the permit. That’s already the name of an Italian gelato outlet in Hawaii of all places.
Italy already has a Gelato kiosk on the other side of the Pavilion:
But it doesn’t exactly do swift business with its small size and sunken-back positioning. Building a more substantial operation potentially makes sense, though the ice cream in France is already very good. We did permanently lose Ample Hills Creamery out on the BoardWalk, but I doubt the two will be comparable.
Here’s an older version of the kiosk’s menu. Prices have probably gone up 50 cents to a dollar since:
They’re certainly building it at the right time if they want to be ready for a summer opening.
They also serve numerous other items that largely go unnoticed. Theoretically, Italy would operate Tutto Gusto, Tutto Italia, Via Napoli, Enoteca Castello, the Pizza Window to the left of Via Napoli, the Donkey Cart in the middle of the Pavilion, and now a gelateria. You would assume they would close the kiosk at the same time that they open a more substantial gelato outlet. The timing is a bit curious as Patina is also supposed to operate Space 220, which will open at least a year after its announced date. It’s hard to say what the arrangement between Disney and Patina is on that restaurant front, and whether Patina is annoyed at Disney for taking so long to build the restaurant, or Disney is annoyed with Patina over a lack of funding or other slowdowns. But they appear to be ready to invest even more money in the Park at the same time the Morocco operators had to bow out completely.
so the edison went from “we’re going to charge a $10 cover to come into our swanky bar at night it’s that classy” to “selling foot long chili dogs for dinner” in the matter of what? six months?
what is this place? pic.twitter.com/s7KAVMyzAP
— josh (@easywdw) June 18, 2018
Patina is a more sizable operation, with 50+ restaurants around the country and a big connection to Disney. Still, they operate The Edison at Disney Springs, which certainly appears to have flopped. They were planning on charging a cover fee, enforcing a dress code, and serving high-end food and cocktails. The cover charge either never came to fruition or didn’t continue after the first weekend, and nobody is putting on a suit to go sit on a Disney bus and then sweat it out while walking over to a restaurant they’ve barely heard of to spend $20 per cocktail in July. Within six months of opening, The Edison added a Chili Dog to the menu. Not usually a good sign unless you are in the hamburger, hot dog, or chili business. Enzo’s Hideaway, which they probably should have named Enzo’s Right Here, also remains one of the Springs’ least popular outlets. But Gelato in a fancy building in the Italy Pavilion certainly has a chance. If this menu from two years ago is already pricing things near $10, you’d have to expect the new creations to be $11-$15. That part may be a bit of a sticking point. If you think a couple bucks is going to get between me and some stracciatella, you would be mistaken. I’ve overcome much more to get my hands on some.
We’re about a week away from Festival of the Holidays, which officially begins on November 27th and runs through December 30th.
Even the birds migrate away from the Italy booth during Festival season.
As just about every outlet has reported, Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant LLC became insolvent shortly after the March closures, and will be giving up control of their Pavilion back to Disney, effective around the end of this year.
I’m not even sure most people take much of a look as they pass right by and head to France.
It doesn’t help that Restaurant Marrakesh is closed along with the Jasmine Meet and Greet. This sign trying to push what little there is available has replaced the Marrakesh menu out front. Even “Adventure in the Sahara Desert,” which sounds exciting, is a small museum exhibit that fits about four people at a time.
It’s a shame because the Pavilion is probably the most intricate and authentic space in World Showcase.
But with the operators basically out of business, you’d be hard-pressed to even find anyone working.
And that’s with most items marked down 40% or more.
I’m not entirely sure what the market is for camel collectibles, but I can see why they have trouble moving merchandise compared to something like Mitsukoshi in Japan, which is full of cute, recognizable plush, and about 50,000 other fun and colorful items. But you have to give it to Morocco for sticking with it, even as sales dwindled. They never moved in Aladdin merchandise, even after the live-action remake grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. They continuously refreshed entertainment with new acts. They added a restaurant in Spice Road Table and gave ice cream a shot themselves for a while at what they called a juice bar that didn’t ever sell juice.
Restaurant Marrakesh went through a couple overhauls.
Spice Road changed their whole shtick, moving away from tapas and more towards your standard appetizer/entrée/dessert meal.
Something about that structure is uninviting as you walk past it from the outside, but it’s beautiful inside, and the menu is more approachable than you might expect.
Disney will likely come in, turn Marrakesh into a character meal, stock a lot of Aladdin merchandise, revamp Spice Road’s image with social media campaigns and potentially a name change, and as always, figure out a way to move more booze.
So far, all we know is the France expansion will open sometime next year. Disney posted a series of updates on current projects, but offered no additional guidance. They also didn’t offer any more details during their specific discussion about Epcot and building Ratatouille. I doubt they want to commit to another date that they won’t make after advertising a summer 2020 opening for several months. That miss was largely out of Disney’s hands, of course, but without really knowing what to expect over the next six or more months, 2021 is purposefully vague. I’m sure they would love to have it up by the middle of March, but they could also wait until more pomp and circumstance are acceptable down the line. Promo photos of a dozen Disney higher-ups in masks with media assigned to individual dots spaced six feet apart doesn’t make for much of a celebration.
But things are certainly coming together in what looks like a strikingly-beautiful expansion.
The champagne bottle fountain is clever and you can see how much time and effort went in to all of the details just in this one little corner as zoomed in from the Skyliner. It’s making me want to découpage a serving tray.
Wait time signs are up in at least three different locations around the Pavilion. We’re still waiting on clock hands, which means we’ll have to rely on the angle of the sun for timing.
getting this golden sign is going to be easier than i thought pic.twitter.com/E9j3CTEAn1
— josh (@easywdw) November 13, 2020
That may be to our advantage during our next caper. They’ll never be able to pinpoint exactly when the sign went missing. They could be painting walls for Instagram backgrounds for weeks before anyone looks up.
That’s the Crêperie on the right and then the ride entrance to the ride is straight back. Bistrot Chez Rémy, the restaurant from Disneyland Paris, certainly would have been a fun addition. It’s my understanding that the French restaurant operators weren’t interested in taking it on with two sit-down restaurants already on the premises, and another on the way as part of the expansion.
If you’d like to ride the gondola and aren’t staying at or visiting a resort connected by it otherwise, entering and exiting through the International Gateway is a breeze. The trip to and from Caribbean Beach Resort takes about a half-hour roundtrip. Add another five to ten minutes each way to Hollywood Studios or Pop Century/Art of Animation.
With Disney recently confirming that they had upped capacity, the Parks “feel” similar to what they would without Park Pass restricting the number of spots available. This is before 4pm, so we’re not even talking about peak World Showcase crowds, which will materialize in about an hour. The people are definitely on their way up here, which means it’s our turn to head back to Future World.
As demolition continues around Future World, Disney has had to move lighting elements to the buildings that are still standing. They almost look like Pixar lamps up top there as they sort of blend in with the cloud cover. Spaceship Earth will soon see quite the lighting upgrade with the fountain in front of it somehow scheduled to open this year. Taking down the progress walls will certainly help open up the entrance and make arriving and leaving easier.
Journey into Imagination with Figment was still using its extended queue with just three hours to close.
Physical-distancing is the main culprit for its long length, but it’s rare to see this many people waiting so late into the afternoon.
Thanksgiving Week should be a similar situation to what we see on Veterans Day, assuming people don’t cancel their plans at the last minute. Disney touted it as a near sell-out during their earnings call last week.
Looking over Park Pass availability, several days over the holiday week are showing full availability:
We’ll see if anybody grabs them in the meantime.
Fortunately, Living with the Land was basically a walk-on with ten minutes posted at 4:18pm.
We can enjoy a glimpse of the holiday preparations:
I would imagine we will see the lights officially turned on beginning on the 27th, though it could happen sooner. Living with the Land operates through Park close at the moment, and it’s currently dark by 5:45pm. With the 9pm and 10pm closes, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the greenhouses lit up.
Soarin’ was still posting 50 minutes at 5:40pm with the actual wait looking to be closer to 30 minutes.
Garden Grill continues to operate as one of the few in-Park character meals. Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale appear on the second level with guests seated around the bottom. You can see they’ve also installed additional plastic barriers in between tables in order to seat people at each one. Given the fact that there is no price cut, and character meals are priced high primarily because of the character interaction, signatures, and pictures, this wouldn’t be the time that I would book a $55/adult, $38/child meal here. You can get a USDA Prime New York Strip Steak from Le Cellier with Truffled Fingerling Potatoes, Chimichurri, and Crispy Onions for less than that. The Kids’ Steak is $15 at the signature restaurnat, which sounds like a bargain compared to Garden Grill, where the equivalent of old roast beef headlines the lunch and dinner menus for more money.
Distanced-characters still appear out on the grass in between the Land and Imagination Pavilions. Your selfie there is a lot cheaper than dropping the money at Garden Grill at the moment. On the other hand, the character meals are basically the only opportunity to get Mickey’s attention for more than a fleeting moment. He appears in a variety of quick cavalcades, but you may get a wave at best.
That should get us caught up on the comings and goings at Epcot.
Waits in Future World will be lowest in the last two hours. And they get lower the further from World Showcase you get. Mission: SPACE and Test Track should still be saved for that last hour to minimize waits as much as possible. On weekdays that are less busy, or on weekends with extended hours, you’ll have more freedom in when you can do things with shorter waits. Journey into Imagination might have still been backed up at 4pm, but the peak wait was 45 minutes for a solid hour in the afternoon and will eventually drop to five minutes after 7pm. The Seas with Nemo is basically a walk-on after 2pm given that just about everyone has already passed it on their way in and won’t be returning in that direction until they’re on their way out.
We’ll thank Alex for braving the holiday crowds to get a better idea about what to expect on a busier day with regular operating hours. This past weekend wasn’t as bad because of the extended 10am to 10pm operating hours helping to distribute crowds, in addition to the fact that there wasn’t a holiday or anything in particular to drive people to that particular weekend. The same can’t be said for Thanksgiving or Christmas, both of which currently sport shorter operating hours than what we saw from November 13th to 15th.
It will certainly be interesting to see what Thanksgiving looks like given the CDC’s recommendation not to travel over the holiday, states (other than Florida) reintroducing lockdown measures, the apparent amount of Park Passes currently available, and Disney telling us that they were expecting to be close to (available) capacity. Staffing should be largely locked in at this point along with the operating hours. Those who do end up visiting may end up fairing better than you’d expect, at least in terms of perceived crowds and wait times. It’s always hard to say what the tourist will do before they do it.
I will probably take you along with me to rope drop Hollywood Studios next.