After rope dropping Hollywood Studios on Thursday, we head to Epcot on Friday the 6th to hurry over to Joy & Sadness. Word is that more metal detectors are on the way and soon everyone will walk through. Disney has already instituted an “everyone through” policy at Magic Kingdom in the morning. The process adds about a minute and I think a “fairer” system will go over better with guests. I know how seedy I look so I am never very surprised when I get “randomly” selected, but a lot of people seem to take it personally.
Things are rather quiet here at 8:15am at the main entrance. I still laugh about my Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend rope drop when I arrived to a similar scene thinking, “Wow this is really light.” The lady behind me one second later exclaimed, “I can’t believe how many people are here already.”
By 8:42am, it’s a different story of course. Like with the Studios, this is an every day thing and also like with the Studios, this is better than usual. Usually it would be backed up to the monorail platform closer to 8:30am. The first ten days in May have been surprisingly light and Disney just announced in their earnings report that domestic theme park attendance was flat for this past quarter compared to last year with Walt Disney World actually seeing a dip. The website has been insisting that the increase in wait times is not an attendance thing for some time now. With South American attendance declining, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a year over year drop.
As I often say, overall attendance is driven by the number of off-site guests visiting the Parks. Disney will figure out a way to fill their resorts, which is why I sensibly chuckle whenever somebody freaks out that they’re visiting during “free dining” as if that is going to make the Parks so much more crowded. Those on-property rooms are going to be filled whether they’re paying rack rate or getting a big discount. But the local economy is already seeing money evaporate as South America is no longer beating down the door looking to drop the equivalent of ten or twenty thousand dollars on an assortment of stuff that used to be significantly cheaper here than Sao Paulo. Town Square at Disney Springs is going to open this Sunday four years too late.
It’s going to be interesting to see what the Frozen Ever After overlay and the Royal Sommerhus Meet and Greet do to Epcot touring. As it stands (or stood when Soarin’ was open), it was relatively easy to visit the major attractions in one day.
This one day plan was relatively foolproof:
Though FastPass+ has pushed up wait times at historically secondary attractions like Nemo, Living with the Land, and Journey into Imagination. Fortunately(?) with Soarin’ closed, Epcot’s attendance has dropped dramatically over the first five months of the year and the last few months have been a breeze for the most part.
But Frozen changes everything. Maelstrom’s hourly capacity was in the vicinity of 1,000 riders/hour and since Ever After uses a similar track, you would expect the new ride to serve a similar number of guests. Optimistically, we’re probably looking at 1,200 riders an hour.
I don’t see any timeline in this or any other multiverse where the ride and the meet and greet don’t open with the Park at 9am. But even then, with 12 operating hours each day, you’re talking about 14,400 total rides on Frozen Ever After. If Epcot sees 40,000 guests per day, including those park hopping, that means just 36% of the people that visit on any given day will be able to ride, assuming one ride per person. Then if you’re giving 70% of the capacity to FastPass+, that leaves you with 4,320 standby rides per day. (Assuming standby is an option, of course.) The meet and greet will move through significantly fewer people even with multiple rooms.
So there’s really no doubt that both Frozen offerings will be Tier 1. And a difficult Tier 1 to get most likely, though the appeal of a Frozen ride remains to be seen. While Frozen Fever has died down, it remains one of Disney’s stronger properties on top of the fact that it’s “new” and “new” is always better than “old.” Unless it’s Walt Disney World when older is always better than new. But some number of people with older children and some adults may have little interest. And if that’s the case, you’re probably in luck as the thousands of people that select Frozen FP+ over Soarin’ or Test Track just means more availability for those attractions. We should go from zero FP+ availability for Test Track and Soarin’ by noon to at least some availability.
Those with two days to spend in Epcot should be fine. On one day, do the usual Test Track -> Sum of All Thrills -> Mission: SPACE thing with a couple more Future World things if you want to do the walking before using FP+ at Frozen Ever After. Then you won’t have to deal with the mass headed up to Norway first thing. On the second day, visit Soarin’ and the attractions on that side of the Park and you could use your Tier 1 FastPass+ on that day for one of the Frozen offerings again or to re-ride Test Track or Soarin’. Those that “have” to do the meet and greet, ride, Soarin’, and Test Track are likely going to have some difficulty or at least some patience.
But we’ll see. Before Maelstrom closed, FastPass+ had pushed standby waits to 45+ minutes. Some attributed that to an increase in popularity due to the ride glowing away, but I think much longer sustained waits elsewhere “prove” that it was more of a FP+ thing than a popularity thing. But it is hard to imagine standby waits that aren’t 100+ minutes most of the day because of the lousy capacity. With so many expansion pads in World Showcase, it seems like a shame that they didn’t build all-new attractions next to Norway. That would still upset Epcot purists of course, but a Frozen-themed ride with the capacity of Haunted Mansion would be better than a ride that moves through less than half of those people per hour. I think we can all agree. Imagine an attraction on the scale of Shanghai Pirates in World Showcase blowing minds.
When you move so slowly that grandma overtakes you. I wouldn’t be mad except she was so nonchalant about it.
The rope drop process otherwise hasn’t changed.
Until Frozen or Soarin’ open, the vast majority of people are going to be headed left to Test Track. Those headed in from International Gateway will likely be a couple of minutes behind main entrance guests. But there is a considerable amount of finagling after the internal rope drops and a few well timed elbows can put you right back in contention.
Joy/Sadness are the only current priority on this side. It will be interesting to see what wait times at Soarin’ look like with both an increase in capacity and an increase in interest with the new film. Otherwise, ropes will hold you back here at this Breezeway and in a similar spot on the opposite side.
Disney has made these three Meet and Greets needlessly confusing by calling both sides “Character Spot.” Joy and Sadness meet to the right and DO NOT OFFER FASTPASS+. If you have scheduled FastPass+ for “Character Spot” then you are using it for Mickey/Minnie/Goofy on the other side.
Every group that arrives in front of you at Joy/Sadness will increase the wait by one to three minutes, so it is essential that you hurry over here if you’re looking for a short wait.
Disney will play a recorded message welcoming you to the Park somewhere between 8:45am and 8:55am and when that concludes, it’s go time. There are no strollers allowed here so if you have one, you will want to park it prior to arriving. You could do so before bellying up to the rope or send in part of your party to get in line and then park the stroller and join your party after the rope drops.
The setup makes it relatively easy to join the rest of the group. You may remember at something like Princess Fairytale Hall that the queue is very narrow, making it much more difficult to join your party later.
The Meet and Greet is otherwise fantastic and the characters have a ton of personality despite not being particularly chatty. Sadness mopes about wiping away tears and doing her little tippy toe run. Joy is as exuberant and playful as you would expect. There is the control console and memories surround the area in whatever those little glass orbs are called. Both characters sign autographs very preciously.
The characters typically arrive a few minutes after 9am and I have seen reports that it can be up to 20 minutes past 9am before they arrive. On this particular day, they came out at 9:07am. But with how fast waits build, you currently need to head over here first thing to avoid the wait.
I was third or fourth in line and was done and on my way to Baymax by 9:13am. Somebody that got in line at 9am would not be out of there until after 10am. It should be viable to meet them late if you so choose. They meet from Park open through Park close and appear during evening Extra Magic Hours from 9pm to 10:45pm.
Baymax is next door and is a sensible second choice. His line is typically much shorter with peak waits in the vicinity of 20 minutes.
He does not sign, which speeds things up considerably. Cast members are otherwise extremely concerned that you are going to pop him. I put my arm behind him as I usually do and it looked like cast were ready to tackle me. So a light hug or a fist bump are probably your best options. Keep hands and feet visible.
Otherwise my timing here was:
- Get in line/wait/meet Joy/Sadness – 8:56am – 9:13am
- Get in line/wait/meet Baymax – 9:14am – 9:22am
Baymax will likely arrive before Joy/Sadness and it can be kind of stressful/worrisome to be stuck in line waiting for Inside Out to appear, but Baymax will only take a few minutes after Joy/Sadness.
Assuming that somebody interested in Character Spot would also be interested in…Character Spot…I headed over to the Mickey and Friends meet next.
They are not the priority that they once were now that kids can’t see Mickey through the windows and they’ve doubled capacity. With Soarin’ and Frozen opening, demand will be even lower. You’d still ideally arrive before 10am or use FastPass+ if possible. Actual waits come 11am can be 20-35 minutes.
There was nobody ahead of me prior to FastPass+ merge, so I basically walked right in at 9:26am and was on my way again by 9:31am.
Here at 9:35am, the line for Inside Out does not look all that bad, but it’s not necessarily the place you want to wait 30 to 45 minutes first thing. By the time you were done here, appreciable waits at secondary attractions would already be materializing.
Baymax is still 10-ish minutes so you are in luck if he is your priority.
With a breakfast reservation for 10:15am, I wasn’t real sure what to do next. The Seas with Nemo being closed for technical difficulties made that decision easier.
Finding Dory characters are otherwise appearing in Turtle Talk with Crush, which is a show worth seeing with or without kids. You can get into Turtle Talk and the Seas Pavilion by heading in through the sliding doors on the left.
It looks like Disney has boarded up some of its last remaining wait times signs in the Park as Disney pushes more people to the My Disney Experience app, which displays live wait times. You can also visit www.easywdw.com/waits for live wait times.
So I meandered over to the The Land Pavilion, which sees very little traffic with Soarin’ closed.
The temporary sign will be replaced soon.
Maybe I will start “Mosaic Monday” because there aren’t enough of those kinds of things on the Internet.
Circle of Life reopened a couple of weeks ago after a “refurbishment” that lasted a few months.
New carpet maybe.
It will be interesting to see when the new signage goes up and whether or not Disney opens the ride with the old film before the official June 17th opening of Around the World. You’d think they would want to test the new theater.
The men’s bathrooms to the left of Soarin’ remain under refurbishment. Try upstairs.
With Starbucks taking over breakfast duties, it seems somewhat unlikely that Sunshine Seasons will serve a hot breakfast once Soarin’ reopens, but we’ll see. They have pastries, croissants, and those kinds of items available though lest you rely on a pocket dog.
I took a quick ride on Living with the Land, which is more fun than it probably has the right to be:
I am told that they are renaming this the Upcharge Event Laboratory.
Garden Grill is the character meal hosted by Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale on the top floor of the Land Pavilion. Historically, the restaurant served dinner beginning at 4pm, but added breakfast and lunch back in November of last year. That was just in time for the announcement that Soarin’ would be closed from early January through mid-June.
The restaurant’s setup has a few things going for it, the best of which is the table setup. Most character meals have a much more open floor plan where the characters are visible throughout the restaurant. That makes character time less personal with the potential for other kids to run up to the characters and harass them while you try getting pictures with junior in between the four bites of food they’re going to eat for the $31.95/adult and $19.17/child (with tax) that Garden Grill charges for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are both $44.73/adult and $26.63/child.
It really “feels” like you have Mickey all to yourself.
Pluto stops by.
And Chip and Dale arrive separately to say hi, take pictures, and sign autographs.
Breakfast is served from 8am – 10:30am with lunch following from 11:30am – 3pm. I’m not sure an 8am breakfast makes a ton of sense here from a touring advantage standpoint. You could theoretically eat in 40 or so minutes and beat everyone to Soarin’, but it’s usually easy enough to head to Soarin’ first thing from the main entrance or International Gateway. And Soarin’ is obviously on the opposite side of the Park as Norway/Frozen and Test Track, so you wouldn’t enjoy any advantage on either of those fronts.
My personal preference is to book a meal towards the end of a meal time. The picture of the empty restaurant above was taken at 11:30am with a 10:15am reservation. With everyone leaving and the restaurant resetting for lunch, the characters all come by at the end to make sure you’ve gotten all of your poses and questions in and they will pretty much stay there as long as you want them to. During peak times, there is more pressure for them to move along to the next table.
Of course, “people” are quick to point out the restaurant’s other unique feature, which is that it rotates with views of Living with the Land below. In my opinion, which is of course negative, the rotating is over-hyped. If you are sitting on the upper level, you won’t even be facing the scenery.
And if you are sitting in a lower level booth (which you likely want to request), you can see the tops of parts of the facades and the trees.
And it might be neat if you are feeling particularly creepy to peek inside the bedroom of the farmhouse. But don’t expect cascading views of the greenhouses or anything – it’s just the dark ride portion with an emphasis on dark.
The lovely Erin was nice enough to invite me out for breakfast. I draw the line at awkward/embarrassing blogging at doing character meals by myself, so it’s always nice to have some company. The breakfast menu is largely your standard offerings, but do pay attention to the Sticky Bun and Warm Chocolate-Hazelnut Sauce. A soft drink, juice, and/or coffee are also complimentary in addition to the option to pay for a bloody mary or mimosa.
The “Seasonal Fresh Fruits” are a nice way to start the meal on a light and fresh note as just about everything that follows is going to be on the heavy carb/protein side. If you want to nitpick, and come on this is easywdw.com, the melon does suffer a bit from being cut so long ago. If you’ve ever had buffet cantaloupe then you probably know what I’m talking about.
The fruit arrives with Chip’s Sticky Bun Bake – Large Skillet Cinnamon Bun with Warm Vanilla Icing, which is what we were looking forward to trying most.
While I had read good things about the sticky bun, we didn’t have as good of luck. It was already cold and tasted a bit stale or overcooked. My estimation is that they are cooked earlier in the day and then sit out for later diners. I had brunch with Kim and her daughter at Chef Mickey’s the day before and they were also planning to go to Garden Grill the following day and reported the same thing – cold bun. They would bring you another of course, but they already offer one giant size and as a party of two, there is literally no way you are going to eat the whole thing. Six people might be able to finish it. One other thing was that they bring the fruit and sticky bun first, but our platter of hot food arrived just two minutes later, so there was not much time to enjoy the “appetizers” before the main course arrived.
Mickey Waffles, the warm Nutella topping, eggs, bacon, ham, and tater tots along with a side of ketchup, some salsas, and an apple chutney.
The highlight here was the Mickey waffles and warm hazlenut sauce, but the eggs were very good and the bacon and ham were on point as well. The ham here was better than what they were serving at Diamond Horseshoe or the “Carved Steamship Ham” over at Chef Mickey’s.
The tater tots are probably aimed more at the kids, but they are potentially kind of fun in place of hash browns or something. If nothing else you can put some in your pocket to throw at bloggers as they pass later in the day.
You can go one of two ways with the family-style service I think. It’s nice that they bring everything to you and you don’t have to get up and do anything for yourself. This is still America after all. On the other hand, the buffet setup keeps hot items hot and cold items cold. Since we barely had an opportunity to rip off a hunk of cinnamon roll before the hot food arrived, it cooled off in a hurry and then everything is going to be cold from then on out. The setup is probably best for those looking to plow through quickly before heading elsewhere. In my old age, I am rarely in much of a hurry. Unless we’re talking about elbowing kids out of the way on the race to Joy and Sadness or refreshing the MDE like crazy to steal a Mine Train FastPass+ away from some poor family from Pawtucket.
Overall, I am not sure where I come down on Garden Grill for breakfast. The restaurant is in a somewhat inconvenient location for morning touring. A hurried 8am breakfast would get you to Soarin’ before anyone from the main entrance, but Soarin’ is not that big of a rush first thing, particularly with so many people likely headed to Norway. And being so far away from Test Track/Norway, eating breakfast and then riding Soarin’ would put you behind everyone else heading in from the main entrance at another high priority attraction.
If you wanted to eat here at 10am or thereabouts and wanted to ride Soarin’ first, you’d then have your other attraction options as Living with the Land and Circle of Life, neither of which is a particularly high priority. It would take a lot of time and a lot of walking to get to the Imagination or Seas Pavilion. And then you’d be eating at 10am as waits climb at Journey into Imagination, The Seas with Nemo, Turtle Talk, etc. If two rides with short waits are viable on Soarin’, then riding Living with the Land and hitting Garden Grill for breakfast might make sense. But at least as things stand, there is not a great touring advantage here I don’t think, though eating breakfast in an air-conditioned restaurant is a lot more comfortable than standing out in front of the Park in the sun for 45 minutes.
Food-wise, I was bummed that the sticky bun disappointed, but such is life when you allow yourself to have expectations. You may well have more luck on that front. There is certainly the potential for it to impress. The rest of the breakfast food was very good. You can’t really go wrong with fluffy Mickey waffles and chocolate sauce and the quality on the meats is what you would expect from Disney circa 2k16 aka it isn’t going to be better anywhere else.
Character interaction here is always great and eating breakfast would save you about $15/adult and $7.50/child over lunch or dinner pricing, so you may want to take that into consideration. You can pull up the lunch/dinner menu here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/garden-grill-restaurant/menus/lunch/.
If it offered more of a touring advantage then I think I would recommend it higher. Akershus is going to offer a huge benefit to those dining early there. Hollywood & Vine over at Studios offers the chance for people to sign up for Jedi Training early. Be Our Guest offers the ability to ride Mine Train before anyone from the main entrance. Tusker House doesn’t offer a huge touring advantage, but you do have Kilimanjaro Safaris and Lion King right there, which makes a 10:30am reservation more doable and the food over there is more varied.
So it’s up to you.
And a big thanks to Erin for the invite.
We’ll see about taking a lap through these crazy early May World Showcase crowds in a separate update.