You can pull up the previous version of this post here.
The Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival 2020, which started on July 15th, now has an official end date of November 22nd, 2020.
A reduced version of the Festival of the Holidays will take over on November 27th, so Epcot will not be lonely for long. I wrote about half of the booth reviews for the Taste of Festival, but the thought of having to face Italy again gave me more pause than usual. I also write the reviews in Italian, and my Italian is not very good, though the one nice thing about it is that you can avoid having to learn any positive words when it comes to the booth reviews. “Non è morto,” roughly translated to, “didn’t die,” is about as close as I’ve gotten in the past couple of years.
I’ve almost forgotten the orrori (roughly “horrors” in Italian) of Italy, which probably bodes well for the quality and accuracy of the review. You’re looking at $8.50 worth of what is purportedly cheese tortellini in a sauce that I don’t think can be that naturally orange. Stare at it for a few minutes, throw a thousand dollars on the ground, and then see how quickly you want to bring it back into your life.
You can pull up my Shimmering Sips review and the following reviews are linked at the bottom of each review up through Japan. The easiest way to search the site is to go to Google and type: “site:easywdw.com search term” without the quotations. So, “site:easywdw.com shimmering sips” would bring the review up. Probably.
Moving along, Disney has extended the Park Pass system through January 14th, 2022:
The program was originally set to conclude on September 26th, 2021. I have a feeling that my grandkids aren’t going to believe me when I tell them there was not only a time where you could just go to whatever theme park you wanted, without having to reserve it in advance, but that you could also go to multiple Parks on the same date. What a wild time we used to live in. In 2020.
Disney has also released ticket pricing and vacation packages throughout 2021. You can pull up Disney’s ticket portal here and check pricing for specific dates. Historically, dates that are more expensive continue to see higher wait times. When Disney announced the new pricing structure, it was partially under the guise of evening out crowds by pushing some number of people to less expensive days. But the small difference in ticket pricing from day to day is a pittance of the overall cost of visiting Walt Disney World. A lot of potential guests only have the option of visiting during certain times of year, which are naturally more crowded and now more expensive. The inflated prices on busier days is simply a mechanism for Disney to extract as much money as possible from guests unable to visit on other dates. If you are more flexible with your dates, you likely want to hone in on cheaper days with the consideration that staffing and other capacity cuts may lead to similar wait times as days with higher attendance. But at least you paid $3 less to be there. Scrounge up 50 more cents and you can afford a bottle of theme park Dasani.
The Swan & Dolphin Resorts have moved to using the yellow Mears buses instead of the usual Disney buses. Those Mears buses will now drop Swan/Dolphin guests in the charter lots at the theme parks and Disney Springs. For Magic Kingdom, that means guests on those Mears buses would be dropped off at the Transportation and Ticket Center as pictured instead of the Disney stops much closer to the entrance. From here, you’ll need to take the Resort or Express Monorail or Ferryboat to Magic Kingdom, which could add anywhere from five to fifty minutes to your trip.
Theoretically, the Swan and Dolphin are right next to the BoardWalk Inn resort, so some number of Swan/Dolphin guests may elect to walk over to that bus stop for direct transportation to Magic Kingdom. I would imagine that would be less amusing for both Disney and guests staying at the BoardWalk. Currently, only the BoardWalk DVC wing is open, so there are not a lot of guests staying there. The Swan/Dolphin may go back to Disney buses once things pick up across the board. Mears operates Disney’s Magical Express, and before Uber/Lyft decimated their business model, were often seen driving all over the resort. Now you might see one.
For Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, the charter lots are further away than the Disney’s own resort stops, but it won’t add much more than a minute or two to your walk. At Disney Springs, the Swan and Dolphin buses should drop guests off at the West Side stop, where the Uber/Lyft pickup area is.
It’s not clear why the resorts made the change. It could be less expensive or Disney may not have the buses or drivers to service the resorts. Disney may also want to make their resorts more attractive by offering better bus service. We know the Swan and Dolphin are hurting based on the fact that they recently laid off over a thousand employees due to low occupancy numbers.
Despite that, work continues on what I assure you is not an office building across the street from the Swan & Dolphin. This picture is from a couple of days ago.
There it is in context behind the Fantasia Gardens mini golf course. Originally called “The Cove,” perhaps because it is not convenient to much of anything, the hotel is now known as “The Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.” I might consider the hotel if it had balconies so I could heckle the children missing their putts on the golf course from a safe distance, but I think I will probably “reserve” a different hotel. Get it? Because it’s called the Reserve. It’s low hanging fruit Sunday. I’m sorry.
With so many layoffs across property, it is probably in poor taste to joke that whoever approved the release of this official rendering of the hotel tower is probably now looking for work elsewhere. I just feel like if I was going to plop down an office in Sim City 2000, this is what you would get before any customization options. I am sorry and I hope whoever spent five minutes designing the hotel is still gainfully employed.
But The Swan Reserve Cove or whatever could be a bit of a mullet situation. Business in front and party in the back. The Swan and Dolphin are big convention hotels, which is a big reason why they’re having so many problems with occupancy at the moment. There aren’t a lot of mass-gathering, indoor conventions going on at the moment. You might be able to sell your boss on a hotel that looks like a generic office tower without mentioning the fact that there’s a giant beer garden in back. I doubt there is a beer garden in back, but the 349-room tower does have 321 parking spots. So there’s that.
It does typically take me some time to get around to writing about things, which is a big part of why we now have these news updates. But here’s a picture from October 14th that sort of shows the installation of the Evolv Express scanners at the front of Epcot. These scanners, which are also in use at the International Gateway at Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, may be the only good thing to happen in 2020. Other than umbrellas and metal water bottles, you can basically leave everything in your bags and walk right through the scanners. On the umbrella/water bottle front, they just want you to hold it out in front of you. Other larger electronics do set off the scanners, so I also hold my camera out in front of me, which has saved me from having to go to the secondary security check on a number of occasions. At that check off to the side, someone typically looks at your bag to try to figure out what set off the scanner. Ideally, it wouldn’t be firearms.
The Annual Passholder pop up shop at the Der Teddybar store in Germany opened. When it’s busier, a virtual queue is in use. We’re currently looking at that process with Passholders texted when it’s their turn to shop. The store is open only on weekdays from 11:30am through Park close and is currently expected to be available through November 17, 2020. WDWNT has pictures of just about everything in the store here and here.
In a string of tweets, Senator Warren wondered aloud why Disney does exactly the same thing as every other publicly-traded company:
They’re actually not in a cash-bind whatsoever with over 20 billion in the bank.
Disney responded with this statement:
Senator Warren’s misinformed letter contains a number of inaccuracies. We’ve unequivocally demonstrated our ability to operate responsibly with strict health and safety protocols in place at all of our theme parks worldwide, with the exception of Disneyland Resort in California, where the State has prevented us from reopening even though we have reached agreements with unions representing the majority of our Cast Members that would get them back to work.
Based on several dozen failed relationships, starting out your response with, “what you said contains a number of inaccuracies” is not usually the way to go. But like just about anything related to politics, this is literally going nowhere, so Disney could have responded with an update on fountain beverage pricing and the eventual outcome would be the same.
The PeopleMover’s refurbishment/closure will continue through at least December 26th, and likely into the new year. Disney has pushed back the reopening as they’ve added Park hours. This is the fourth or fifth extension.
The Void took a play out of the Orlando Sentinel playbook and stopped paying rent for some number of months. All sorts of notices were delivered to the building over that time with what I imagine were a number of “reminders” and “threats.” If the letters/summons/threats are anything like what’s currently attached to my front door along with “DO NOT REMOVE” stamped in about six different places, they do get serious after a while. All signage for The Void has been removed. I Photoshopped an old picture of the building to remove the words, but you can typically trust what you see on this site. The Springs location does still show up on The Void’s site, but the site is also dated 2019 at the bottom, which is rarely a good sign.
I was actually at the first day that The Void opened with the Star Wars virtual reality game. It was my first experience with the full-on VR suit gig. You go through your battle with the Empire with at least a couple of other people on your team, in very close quarters, which likely made it impossible for the experience to reopen.
It was actually a fun experience, exacerbated by the fact that I went through it with several other gentlemen who were also cultivating mass at the time. Since you are looking through the VR goggle things, wearing a large vest so you can be appropriately shocked on the off-chance that a Stormtrooper accidentally hits you, and you’re also trying to wield some kind of fake plastic blaster gun or Lightsaber or whatever we had, there was quite a bit of confusion and not a whole lot of room.
The goggles etc. make it difficult to gauge distances, and the doorways into each room are narrow, so all of us boys kept running into each other, tummy first, trying to get through these itty bitty doors as we continued our very slow assault on The Empire. Worse, because we are all very polite individuals, we would constantly be offering someone else to go through first. Then the other person would insist that another friend lead the way. Then the other person would insist the same. After 30 seconds of being British in front of every opening, at least two of us would try to go through the door at the exact same time, knocking into each other and ending up back in the same room that we started in.
This happened five or six times over the course of what was probably ten or fifteen minutes. Employees of The Void, a couple of which I knew, watched on from above in what I’m certain was a constant comedy of failures. There are few things funnier than watching someone freak out in their own little VR world in the corner of the Microsoft Store while the rest of us spend the day trying to figure out which new XBOX model plays games and which one is actually a stove. These may be niche references.
It will be interesting to see how much the Springs landscape changes over the next few years and what stores and eateries both survive and deem what must be a massive investment in their presence on Disney property. Despite “The Insiders” going on about a hundred projects that never happened, I don’t think anyone ever quotes what the contracts look like here. If I’m recalling correctly, and it’s Sunday morning after a big sports blowout so I may be off, but the Bongos contract was for more than 20 years before they moved down the street to Margaritaville. When Disney initially released the list of Springs tenants, I think some were disappointed that there weren’t more smaller, unique offerings, and we instead got the likes of Under Armour and Anthropologie. But big time cash flow would have been a big determining factor in what companies Disney would be willing to take on. As they would prefer to be paid rent.
Over the years, I mentioned from time to time that Disney was making themselves less and less recession-proof with the addition of the new resorts and the incredible increase in what Disney Springs has going on. It’s probably not a coincidence that Disney’s Riviera Resort is Vacation Club, which basically either guarantees the revenue or the contract coming back to Disney. Their other planned hotel with some sort of geriatric theme was also DVC for that sweet guaranteed money up front.
Disney released a neat video of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which is a lot easier to follow along with than that 45-minute drawing tutorial.
Since we only know how to do things alphabetically, we start with our weekly chart of daily average wait times at Animal Kingdom:
As expected with Columbus Day Weekend crowds persisting through the week, with fall breaks in the south, this was the busiest week at Animal Kingdom yet. Just from last week, we see a 27% rise to 35.5 minutes for the week. Compare the most recent row at the bottom with the first complete one at the top. Five minutes on that Wednesday compared to 48.6 minutes on Saturday. I don’t think we need another percentage for that to “feel” like a shocking increase across a little over three months.
Somewhat interestingly, the last few days of the week actually saw higher wait times than the days around the holiday. One thing I think we’re going to have to hone in on is Animal Kingdom on Fridays, so long as Disney continues to open the Park at 8am on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. You don’t get nearly the crowds of the weekend and you can use that extra hour in the morning to your advantage to stay ahead of the crowds throughout the morning.
Here’s the chart for Friday:
The 30-minute average remains high, and Flight of Passage doesn’t offer much of a cushion in the morning, but you can still do well with a 7:20am arrival and some hustle over. You can beat that first posted wait with the Park typically opening a half hour early.
Compare the above to Saturday with the same hours:
I’m not sure who wants any part of this. Expedition Everest was down all day, which pushes a lot of people elsewhere. Na’vi River Journey didn’t open with the Park, either. Flight of Passage’s 111-minute average for the day rivals the FastPass+ days prior to the March closures, with triple digit waits most of the day. It’s Tough To Be A Bug averages 25+ minutes, River Journey comes in over an hour, and Safaris is also over 45 minutes most of the morning before easing up in the final hour. With little else going on to absorb the crowds, this would be a rough day any way you look at it, particularly without FastPass+ to bypass some of those longer waits in the afternoon. DINOSAUR is 60+ minutes almost all day. Even if the actual wait is half of 75 minutes, that’s still almost 40 minutes in line. That’s too long given the current conditions and offerings.
We’ll have to see if it’s possible for waits to go up much more given the current Park Pass system and Disney insisting that capacity is limited to 25%. I have a feeling that 25% capacity number is rolling as Disney opens inconsequential things that don’t really occupy anyone’s time.
Here’s Epcot on Saturday:
Epcot has been averaging 27-35 minutes on weekdays and 40 to 42 minutes on the weekends for the last several weeks. Weekend crowds are higher than the relatively small change in wait times would suggest as World Showcase proves more popular with the Taste of Epcot event. What you see here is what you can expect from a Saturday. It’s not generally pretty.
Onto the Studios:
It was the busiest week yet at the Studios as well as we see in the last column. Potentially if anything, this is where wait times seem to have leveled out. You typically see an average wait of 41 to 49 minutes based more on whether Rise of the Resistance is operating and Tower of Terror is running at full capacity. When one or both of those things are not true, you see the higher waits.
Here’s Saturday’s chart:
And that’s about how it’s looked over the last few months. The website would reiterate that the Studios is your “best worst choice” on Saturdays with waits that don’t see the same increases as the other Parks. Animal Kingdom’s wait jumped 63% from Friday to Saturday. The wait at the Studios actually went down from Friday to Saturday. Try to stick it out to the end as you can see how much waits drop off in the evening, even without rain pushing people to the exit. Saturday also may see lower evening waits as people leave earlier to prepare for a final nice dinner before returning home Sunday or just want to get home for primetime football.
To Magic Kingdom:
No surprises here – this week was the busiest Magic Kingdom has been since it reopened on July 11th, and the first time that we see an average wait for the week exceed a half hour. One slightly interesting thing is that over the last three weeks, we don’t see that much of a bump in wait times from Friday to Saturday. Two weeks ago, the wait on Saturday was actually lower than Friday. Wednesday still remains your best bet in virtually any scenario, though you do usually benefit from two extra operating hours at Magic Kingdom on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Even so, you’re looking at about a 50% jump in wait times from the weekday to the weekend.
Current Disney Park Pass Availability
Disney had evidently added more availability to Magic Kingdom on Halloween, which also falls on a Saturday this year. The Park looks to be unavailable again, though we may see another infusion of Park Passes.
Every yellow day you see in November is a day when the Studios is currently sold out for Disney Resort Guests and Theme Park Tickets Guests. Monday the 23rd and Thursday the 26th are also currently out of Magic Kingdom Passes as well. If you do decide to rock out to Florida, book those passes ASAP.
The Studios has sold out of Park Pass availability on five more dates in December just over the last couple of days. That’s again the only Park without availability in December.
All Parks are available for Disney Resort Guests and Theme Park Tickets Guests throughout 2021.
Here’s Passholders in November as more and more weekends fill:
You can always pull up Disney’s version of the calendar here.
Operating Schedule Changes
After Disney released about 150 operating extensions last Friday, they have graced us with exactly zero more this week. Like clockwork, they did release the hours for another week.
From December 25th through January 2nd, the Parks are currently scheduled to be open from:
- Animal Kingdom: 9am to 5pm
- Epcot: 12pm to 8pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 7pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 7pm
You can pull up Disney’s official calendar here. As usual, Disney’s release of operating hours is typically conservative, with a high likelihood that these days in late December will be extended considerably, just as many days that are historically much less crowded already have.
I did intend to have this up a couple of days ago, as some of the news is now a few days old. But at least you get the full week of wait times. I will try to do better. And you should be caught up.