All signs “literally” point to “Walt Disney World 50 The World’s Most Magical Celebration” beginning in just over a week and potentially continuing until the 100th anniversary. While we can’t do much on the specific touring timing front, given current low crowd levels and the lack of the Genie app, we can consider how we might go about the day and enjoy a walk around the Park.
One key to future touring is Early Theme Park Entry, which does have a specific start date of October 1st. We’ve gone over this several times, but here’s the current list of eligible resorts:
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
- Shades of Green on Walt Disney World Resort
- Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
- B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando
The list basically includes every resort that had previously participated in morning Extra Magic Hour, and then about eight or nine more on top of it. The difference now being that the crowds will theoretically be dispersed among the four major theme parks somewhat evenly, since all guests staying at these resorts are eligible for 30 minutes of extra time at every Park every day. That’s unlike the past, where morning Extra Magic Hour would have been twice as long, at one whole hour, but guests would have been relegated to just one theme park with early entry almost every day that it was offered. That means guests shouldn’t be specifically driven by Early Entry at any given Park on any given day, since the same 30 minutes are always available.
One interesting aspect of all of the changes is the total pricing of your trip and what you’re ultimately able to accomplish inside the theme parks. If guests staying at the Holiday Inn Orlando and arriving in an Uber enjoy as much of a theoretical head start as guests staying at the Grand Floridian or the All-Star Sports, an off-site stay may not only be cheaper, but you may be able to get more done with the help of Genie+, and what we call Individual Attraction Lightning Lanes (IALLs).
Rope drop has become a clustercuss, and it’s not going to get any less congested, or any less confusing with more guests descending on the Parks, figuring out who is eligible to get in, finding out where to go, and of course, potentially relying on that Disney bus outside Pop Century that never seems to display your intended destination. Guests paying their way through Individual Lightning Lanes from off-site, could bypass the morning rush entirely, and instead enjoy more of a leisurely arrival at a fraction of the cost of staying off-site. While we somewhat jokingly use the Holiday Inn as our example, several resorts on the above list, including the Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria, or even one of the Hiltons would likely meet or exceed the quality provided by even Disney’s top-tier resorts.
With the IALLs, there’s still a slight advantage to on-site guests, who can book them beginning at the pre-caffeinated hour of 7am, compared to off-site guests, who need to wait until official Park open to make their first theoretical selection. But as long as you can get a time at some point during the day, it’s basically all the same, depending on how quickly the Individual Attraction Lightning Lanes fill. The above list of resorts eligible for Early Entry represents 45 hotels, tens of thousands of rooms, and hundreds of thousands of guests, so it isn’t implausible that Lightning Lane passes for Flight of Passage or Rise of the Resistance would fill to capacity before opening, when those rides can move through ~18,000 total guests a day at best – a mere fraction of those eligible to book prior to Park opening, and far fewer guests than those who will be trying to book from off-site.
And then there’s theoretically the standby line, which will be opening for the first time at Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance this week. Even if only 30% of the ride’s capacity goes to the never-ending standby queues, it still reduces the number of Lightning Lane passes available. Of course, these IALLs are not “free” as they have been in the past, which is partially where our off-site calculus comes into play. If you can save several hundred dollars by staying off-site, still book Genie+, and book both IALLs, which are expected to be the most sought after attractions at each of the Parks, it becomes harder to justify an on-site stay, particularly when Disney is doing away with Magical Express next year, has already eliminated complimentary MagicBands, and halted a litany of other perks that have kept the Disney bubble intact for those 50 years we’re supposed to be celebrating via goldish statues of BB-8 and Edna Mode. You know, those classic characters that have made the Parks special for generations.
But theoretically, you could save a hundred or more dollars per night, stay in nicer surroundings, skip the madness of rope drop, and use that money to book Flight of Passage and whatever the second Individual Attraction happens to be from the comfort of your living room, while people paying far more make a mad dash for rope drop to try to save some money while paying more to stay at the All-Star Sports.
We’ll see how this all plays out in the coming weeks, and attack the Parks both ways, but with on-site perks largely vanishing for most guests, paying the Disney premium, without transportation from the airport, paid resort parking, spotty morning bus/monorail service, and an overall lack of amenities may be a tough sell unless Disney somehow prices their Individual Lightning Lane Attractions so competitively that they run out instantaneously. And we probably both know that they won’t as the point of the program is obviously to maximize revenue, wherever and however it’s coming from.
Since we can’t discern much from touring priority or timing without the Genie or early entry involved, we’re taking a leisurely stroll in on September 16th, just after 10:15am.
It’s the worst time to arrive on almost all accounts as wait times build, the most people arrive, and lines to get in are longest. But it’s refreshing, even for me, to do things the worst possible way. In fact, family and friends have been saying just that about my actions for 20+ years. And yet the website remains.
But at least we can rely on the new artwork for Annual Passholders on the far right to get us in within just a couple of minutes.
Finger scanning is back across all the theme parks. If this is already concerning, there will be far more worrisome congestion points ahead, but you can bypass the bacterial touchpoint with an ID and potentially a photo, depending on crowds, waits, and age. But you’re going to be placing your hands on a lot more railings, chairs, tables, rides vehicles, and more throughout the day, so focusing on one measly finger measurement shouldn’t cause rational concern.
We’ll head up through The Oasis in our trusty HAZMAT suits. If a bucket hat won’t protect you, what will?
Disney changes their minds on mask protocols fairly regularly, and you may find that the “rules” that started with your trip don’t mirror what you end up seeing on the last day. Disney knows nobody wants to wear a mask, and they’ll look to just about any excuse to eliminate their use, litigation pending.
Currently, Disney requires masks at all indoor locations, including attractions, stores, restaurants when you’re not actively eating/drinking, and the like.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the 50th without character statues relatively tied back to the Parks:
And banners. Lots of banners.
And the occasional flower still makes its presence known. You could probably hang a banner on it. They’ve got time.
Some of us may remember the manually-operated tip boards of yesteryear where you could check the vicinity of the current wait times as you entered the Parks. While those are long gone, you will find a variety of digital signs strewn around various locations. They now switch between this mask reminder.
And a second screen with wait times and showtimes for attractions only in that area. Here outside Pizzafari, we’ve got Discovery Island, Pandora, and Africa listed, but no information on Asia or DinoLand. One thing that may stick out is the fact that Na’vi River Journey is posting a longer wait than Flight of Passage. Take that Genie+! The shortened “Till” on Kilimanjaro Safaris is sort of making me twitch, but we’ll note that the wait will be three times as long by the time we make it over there in about a half hour, which highlights the importance of arriving early and moving quickly. Or potentially the importance of those Lightning Lanes when they become available to bypass much longer waits.
We still don’t have a list of attractions or the variable costs of the Individual Attraction Lightning Lanes. And we don’t know if those variable costs are going to be known well ahead of time or if they’ll be a nice surprise every morning at 7am, when the first on-site guests of the day go to book them. After a couple of weeks, we should be able to guess with some certainty how much extra riding Flight of Passage or Rise of the Resistance will cost given anticipated crowds, but there’s so little guidance from Disney that all we can do is speculate. And you can probably guess how much of that speculation is positive.
Disney’s own explanation of how the new, mostly-paid system will work is its worst-rated video ever on YouTube:
With more than ten-percent of people watching it over the last month bothering to click the thumbs-down button. Amusingly, the YouTube algorithm actually favors downvoted videos to a similar extent as they promote videos that are “liked,” since the site’s ultimate goal is to show content that gets the people interacting with it. That’s one reason why certain YouTubers, who many claim to dislike, have grown to such prominence, even with so many downvotes. And why any “downvote campaign” ultimately backfires and only makes said YouTuber do that much better given the algorithm. There’s no difference to YouTube whether you “like” or “dislike” a video – they just want to keep you on their platform, watching their ads. “Hate-watching” is something I’ve never really understood, given the fact that I don’t have the time to watch things that actually interest me, but maybe I would ultimately feel better about myself with a bowl full of chips and some random vlogger on the television.
The website covered many of the practicalities, and where we may end up being able to benefit from the Genie service, in, “Considering the Disney Genie, Lightning Lanes, and Paid FastPass at Disney World.” Of course, we still need to wait to see how this all works in practice, potentially sometime after the 50th anniversary gets underway. The company probably doesn’t want the positive press from its 50th anniversary festivities, marred by IT problems and unsatisfied guests, who don’t understand the new system or why it now costs $15 to see a shortened version of Festival of the Lion King.
Some amount of work is going on across from Pizzafari and along the main walkway into Pandora. It could be more photo ops or some sort of larger store expansion. It’s certainly not more rides.
Speaking of Pizzafari, it’s open again now that Disney has no use for its rest stations, where guests could previously take their masks off and kind of distance themselves outside. Both distancing and outdoor mask wearing outside are out, which means the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich is in. “Grains,” used to describe the new salad, could probably also be used to modify the grainy, reheated pizzas that have been served here for years. But Pizzafari is a relatively quick meal with indoor seating, which is a bit of a rarity at Animal Kingdom, with outlets like Yak & Yeti Local Foods Cafe and Flame Tree only offering outdoor seating. And we both know you spent all your money to bypass the standby queue at It’s Tough To Be A Bug, anyway.
Tiffins remains open, albeit with a menu that’s been simplified since its debut a couple of years ago now when things like head cheese helmed the menu:
“Kalamata” is about as crazy as things get there these days. You could probably say the same thing about my apartment. Or at least that’s what I tell my psychiatrist.
While it’s unlikely that the upcoming Kite Show will offer a prix fixe meal, it would be nice to see a return of the Lion King Package.
I review that add-on here and here. Unlike other fixed price meals (looking at you Space 220…California Grill…Chefs de France…), you could actually come out “ahead” on food and drink alone if you went with some of the pricier selections. Of course, if you don’t drink, and would pick the Tofu over the Steak and Lobster like a madman, your value proposition would be significantly less.
The outdoor seating area of Nomad Lounge remains my favorite place to watch the various flotillas pass by, as you can enjoy a beverage and a snack as the characters float by.
This isn’t the best representation, with Chip and Dale in the distance and Nomad not yet open, but you should get the idea, at least based on the last 12 times I’ve mentioned this.
Otherwise, the Flotillas likely remain the most difficult of the remaining cavalcades to reliably see, as you’ll need to be waterside, likely somewhere along Discovery Island to catch a glimpse. Luckily, that is a lot of places that aren’t in line.
At least the lily pads are unlikely to be monetized anytime soon.
But there’s probably somebody tasked with finding a way to squeeze some number of cents out of them.
Even with the new Annual Pass Tiers, PhotoPass has become a $99 add-on. I never took much advantage of the system when the picture-taking service was included with my ticket, but it did make the Pass “feel” like it had more value, and some of the on-ride pictures that I happened into were fun, even if you’d rarely catch me in line for a Cinderella Castle picture pretending to be surprised by the everlasting presence of Elvis Stitch. Okay, I took every opportunity to get that Magic Shot with Elvis Stitch. And I always will, even if it costs an extra $99 a year. Disney knows this, so I’m not really helping the cause, as Disney continues to unbundle its packages and make the cost of each piece more obvious.
Disney World has always been stupid expensive, but you couldn’t necessarily place your finger on what exactly cost so much. For years, you’d input the basis of what you wanted to do and where you wanted to stay, and the system would spit out a price that was twice as much as you wanted to pay. Now, you may not be paying for things you’re not using, but the costs of what you are doing become much clearer. It’s hard to say if that tactic will work moving forward, but Disney is far from the industry leader on that front. Just look at cruise ships with 27 booking categories and 34 upcharge restaurants.
This is indeed the end of the line for Na’vi River Journey. While Flight of Passage, which ordinarily sports the longest average wait property-wide, is an obvious choice as an Individual Attraction Lightning Lane selection, the second option at most Parks is a little less clear.
Here are River Journey’s waits from the middle of July through the middle of August, which should capture the longest waits of the summer at the end of July, along with the eased waits realized just a couple of weeks later. We’ll look at waits over the same dates at the other attractions:
Na’vi’s 46-minute average should be among the three highest in the Park, which would make it a logical choice as being separate from the “regular” Genie+ paid options. But the average posted wait drops to about 40 minutes at 5pm, even with a 7pm close. That wait stays about the same until 7pm. To bypass the need for the Lightning Lane, or if the ride becomes an additional charge, visiting towards the end of the day should remain viable. Of course, once you add in Lightning Lane priority, these standby waits should rise back to the 70- and 80-minutes that we saw in the FastPass+ era. They should still drop off in the evening.
Of note, and something we’ll see just about everywhere, is how much longer waits were most days in July, where the average for Na’vi was about 50 minutes. From August 1st on, the average was closer to 40 minutes. That follows the usual crowd patterns as kids return to school or their parents at least begin to procrastinate about it.
There is some talk that Disney wants to pick one thrill ride at each Park as an Individual Lightning Lane Attraction, which may make Expedition Everest a more likely choice, but with its throughput and lower waits, it’s a tougher sell in more ways than one. We’ll see a smattering of FastPass+ entrance signs and Lightning Lane signs as we move about the Park.
The only other real second choice for an IALL selection, beyond River Journey, is going to be Kilimanjaro Safaris – a ride that has a monster theoretical capacity.
But as we’ll see momentarily, Safaris can also see significant waits that rival what we see at River Journey, and often eclipses them. With the line backed up as far as it is a couple of pictures ago, 45 minutes is probably about accurate. With a standby line that long and Lightning Lane priority in play………..it could be anybody’s guess how long the standby wait will be based on Genie+ and/or IALL adoption rates on any given day.
While Flight of Passage should be the obvious first choice, and an easy sell-out even on the least-crowded days, the same may not be able to be said for the second attraction at each Park. Disney could still push 70% of an attraction’s capacity towards the Lightning Lane at least popular Individual Attractions by simply pricing them at an incredibly low number – say, $2 per person to skip a half hour wait for River Journey, compared to $15 per person to skip 90 minutes for Flight of Passage. Then when River Journey is a 75-minute wait on busier days, the cost to skip the line could be $10 per person, while skipping 150 minutes at Flight via the Lightning Lane could cost as much as $25 per person, or $100 for a family of four. It’s all perfectly convoluted.
As the supply of Individual Attraction Lightning Lane selections dwindles later in the day, the price could also change. Riding Na’vi in the Lightning Lane at 9am, when you’re skipping 15 minutes in line, could cost significantly less than using the same Lightning Lane later in the day, when the wait is 75 minutes and the supply of Passes is running low. After all, if I have 100 apples to sell, I might be willing to sell them for a dollar each. If I have two apples to sell, you’re going to have to step into my office. It’s all very
Flight of Passage was indeed posting “just” 35 minutes, which seemed optimistic given the fact that the line still stretched outside the entrance. That still beats waiting on the bridge over to Africa with 145 minutes posted, as we would have seen for most of July. Here’s a look at average waits for Avatar on the same dates as Na’vi:
Flight of Passage’s 104-minute average, as seen in the lower right hand corner of the chart, should be the longest that we see. How quickly waits increase in the morning is worrisome, even with no FastPass+/Lightning Lane priority, with an average of 103-minutes, or more than an hour and a half, already posted at 8:15am, and staying about that long through 3pm.
Even with the long posted waits to end the day, we should still be able to make it our last stop should we elect not to purchase an Individual Lightning Lane pass for the ride. But waiting 45 minutes to an hour at 7pm or 8pm is going to make for a late night for families, and is still a good chunk of time to be waiting, even if the queue is neat, moves relatively fast, and we’re not missing out on other attractions or other entertainment since everything else is officially closed. Hence, people are going to pay when they see 150 minutes posted in the afternoon, if they haven’t already from their resort room or the bus line come 7am.
We’ll move on through the rest of Pandora and up into Africa in the next Part.