You can pull up the previous update here.
After a couple of relatively quiet news days, there is quite a bit to report today, much to my chagrin.
Park Hopping is set to return on January 1st, 2021, with some modifications:
Disney outlines the expected process on their blog here.
With the updated Park Hopper experience, guests must make a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change.
Additionally, we will set specific Park Hopper hours during which this option will be available. Park Hopper hours will start at 2 p.m. each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time. Guests will soon be able to check DisneyWorld.com/ParkHours and the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date Park Hopper hours, as they could start earlier at a later date, depending on the day and park.
Nothing is easy, apparently, as even the time you’re eligible to Park Hop on a given day could change in the future, in addition to Disney potentially requiring guests to book a second Park Pass if crowd movements aren’t what they’re expecting.
Theoretically, if you’re unable to get a Park Pass for Hollywood Studios, you could move over there after first scanning in at your first Park. If that Park was Epcot, which has the most Park Pass availability on most dates, you could easily take the Skyliner over to the Studios from the International Gateway. Most guests will likely spend some time at their first Park by arriving earlier in the day, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to in order to qualify to head elsewhere. You can simply scan into the first Park and immediately head anywhere else so long as it’s after 2pm or the updated Park Hopper time.
It’s probably not a coincidence that 2pm is the default given the fact that it’s also when the Studios distributes its second, and last, set of boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance. At the moment, and probably by design, there would be no opportunity to Park Hop to the Studios to secure a boarding group. That makes it unlikely that the Park Hopper time would be moved earlier in the day, at least at the Studios, but it does remain a possibility. The Skyliner is a fun and scenic trip from Epcot to the Studios via Caribbean Beach Resort. If Park Hopping were available at 1pm, you could spend a couple of hours at Epcot, take the gondola over to the Studios, and try to secure a boarding group without needing to book a Studios Park Pass or wake up before 7am for the initial morning drop. You could then either stick around the Studios or head back to Epcot until your boarding group is about to be called, at which point you’d repeat the process. I doubt that will come into play much, if at all. But we’ll see what happens. Disney may move the Park Hopper time earlier for Animal Kingdom when it closes at 5pm, since you’d have a maximum of three hours there otherwise and crowds already begin dropping significantly around noon.
The return to Park Hopping opens up a wealth of opportunities for guests. This weekend, the operating hours are:
- Animal Kingdom: 8am – 7pm
- Epcot: 11am to 10pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 7pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 9pm
I was at Animal Kingdom on Friday, November 20th, and managed to do Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, TriceraTop Spin, and DINOSAUR before 10:30am. That’s all of the rides, leaving attractions like the Feathered Friends in Flight show, Discovery Island Trails, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, Maharajah, Jungle Trek, Rafiki’s Planet Watch with The Animation Academy and Affection Section, The Oasis, and It’s Tough To Be A Bug as my remaining choices.
Most guests may be interested in a couple of those attractions, along with potential re-rides on favorites that continue to post reasonable early afternoon waits. There may not be many options on busier days. But if you’ve managed to make it through the rides before lunch, chances are that you’re going to have some trouble filling another 8+ hours of Park time. Obviously, reintroducing Park Hopping would allow guests to do a few more things at Animal Kingdom, enjoy lunch, and then move on to another Park with a host of different attractions. With the Studios closing at 7pm, you could easily take the Skyliner to Epcot for dinner and a serene nighttime walk around World Showcase. Or whatever else you want to do, so long as you have the Park Hopper entitlement.
This is an ancient picture, but it highlights the fact that Park-to-Park buses will also return on January 1st to transport Park Hopping guests. The Epcot Monorail has not yet reopened, and it’s currently unclear if it will come online January 1st or shortly thereafter. Buses are faster, more efficient, and probably cheaper, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Disney sticks to the roads. The Epcot Monorail line also goes around two of the largest projects in Future World – the hole in the middle of the Park and Guardians of the Galaxy construction. Disney may not want those sights, along with the many progress walls, to be a guest’s first impression of the Park. Or someone may decide to reopen the Epcot Monorail. It’s certainly possible. Unlikely. But possible.
The current weekday hours are as follows:
- Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm
- Epcot: 12pm to 9pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 7pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 8pm
And the initial hours Disney released for January, many of which will likely be extended in the future, are:
- Animal Kingdom: 9am – 5pm
- Epcot: 11am to 7pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 7pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 6pm
It will be interesting to see what Park Hopping does to wait times, afternoon crowd levels, and the operating hours. On most weekdays, few people arrive at the Parks after 2pm at the moment, which is a big part of why wait times typically go down in the evening. Giving people the opportunity to Park Hop will generally increase afternoon and evening crowds, though as people arrive at the Studios from elsewhere at 3pm, others will also be leaving the Studios to head elsewhere. That could end up making things largely a wash and it’s likely what Disney is banking on happening.
The asterisk at the bottom of Disney’s infographic above is a big “if.” Should thousands of people leave Animal Kingdom at 2pm and head to Hollywood Studios, and few people leave the Studios because waits are so long and there’s more that they want to do, we may see Disney institute the requirement that guests book a second Park Pass should they elect to Hop. In that case, it would make sense for Disney to add Park Passes at 2pm based on how many spots are available to stay under the 35% capacity, while assuming that some of those who leave in the early afternoon will also return in the evening.
Currently, Animal Kingdom is the Park that sees the biggest drop-off in waits in the late afternoon. The lack of major shows and entertainment cut at least two hours off of most people’s itineraries with Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, and others still dark. But if Park Hopping time is 2pm and the Park closes at 5pm, few people are probably going to take the time to move over there for just three hours. At the same time, people should flow into Epcot when it closes later.
We’ll certainly continue to keep an eye on wait times and see what the best Park Hopping options are, in addition to how efficient Disney is at moving guests from Park to Park. Buses still operate at extremely limited capacities with physical-distancing in play, so I imagine it will take quite the (non-Twitter-related) fleet to move guests from Animal Kingdom to other Parks. We also don’t know when these Park-to-Park buses will begin operating. Will it be 1:15pm to give people plenty of opportunity to get over by 2pm, or will the first buses not depart for the other Parks until much closer to 2pm, leaving even less time at the next Park?
You could potentially get around those limitations and long bus lines by taking a bus to a resort in walking distance of the Park you plan to visit. For Epcot, taking the bus to the Beach Club and walking to the International Gateway entrance is popular. For the Studios, the BoardWalk Inn/Villas is your best destination. You can easily walk to the Studios. You could also take a bus to Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, or the Riviera ,and take the Skyliner to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios. For Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary and (now) the Grand Floridian offer walking paths to the Park. You could also take advantage of boat service from Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness, the Polynesian, or Grand Floridian. You could also simply take the first bus you see back to any resort relatively close to your destination and then get on a second bus at that resort to the Park you intend to visit next. Or you could use Uber/Lyft for a more comfortable experience that also gives you more control over your timing. And if you’re driving, you can obviously pile into the van and drive over.
I’m sure we’ll consider more scenarios in-depth over the next month and see how wait times, convenience, and Park Hopper value come into play. The cost to add Park Hopper was fixed at one time, but is currently around $70 to $90 more per ticket, based on the ticket length. MouseSavers has a rundown of current ticket prices should you have interest or you can price it out on DisneyWorld.com. It’s important to remember that you can always return to the same Park on the same day without Park Hopper. To determine if upgrading your tickets is “worth it,” I usually recommend people figure out how much it will cost “per Hop.” A family of four is looking at spending about $320 to add Park Hoppers. If you’re planning on hopping just two times over five days, the cost is about $160 per Hop. That may or may not be worth it depending on what you’re planning to do at the second Park. Instead of paying that much to Hop to Epcot for dinner at Le Cellier, you could put that $150 towards a round of Filet Mignons at California Grill instead. The money may also be enough to add another night to your trip and another day to your tickets should you have the option of staying longer. Instead of Hopping, you could spend an entire extra day.
Everyone’s situation is different, but I think a lot of people end up adding Park Hoppers for the implied flexibility without taking much advantage of them. You’ll soon realize just how big and time-consuming Walt Disney World is, and just how tiring even four or five hours in a theme park can be, especially in a face mask in warmer temperatures.
We’ll see how much of a difference we see in wait times and crowd levels when Park Hopping is reintroduced in just about six weeks.
If you’ve read the past few news updates, you already know that Disney has been making some modifications to the Woody’s Lunch Box menu, implying that its reopening is imminent. We now have confirmation that the quick service will reopen on Wednesday, November 25th – just in time for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. Here’s the lunch/dinner menu:
You can pull up the full menu here.
Most notably, the Totchos are no longer available, while the Potato Barrels used in the dish remain available as a side. There’s also a new Plant-Based “Cheddar” Sandwich with quotations that continue to distress me. The Mystic Portal Punch will also be served frozen instead of just being a cup of POWERADE.
Disney’s site isn’t yet showing the hours, but I would imagine it will operate from Park open through close. I wouldn’t expect to see breakfast offered with the current 10am openings. It’s possible that Woody would offer breakfast when the Park opens at 9am around Christmas, but last time the Studios opened that early, Rosie’s All-American Diner offered breakfast instead. Of course, at that time, the Lunch Box wasn’t open at all. Rosie’s has plenty of seating, but far fewer people pass by it than the two registers in front of Woody’s Lunch Box, given the fact that it’s across from the Park’s most popular attraction that posts a wait time in Slinky Dog Dash.
Crystal Palace is scheduled to reopen on December 13th – only without characters and not as a buffet. According to Disney:
With increased capacity/attendance, you need additional dining options. Buffets are currently out, but I’m surprised they weren’t able to figure out a way to incorporate the characters somehow. While Disney’s announcement and the website mention the character “break” in passing, it’s sort of hidden in the second paragraph. Reservations open December 1st and will be available to book here.
Disney updated the menu:
I’m guessing Baked Chicken Leg doesn’t belong. Or it would be a pretty sad entrée. Crystal Palace will likely be a fixed price affair, so those ordering the Prime Rib will see the most “value.” And it’s going to be some expensive cauliflower.
We don’t yet know pricing. You can pull up the full menu here.
Tomorrowland Terrace at Magic Kingdom is set to reopen on December 17th.
It will basically offer Columbia Harbour House’s menu, as that venue remains shuttered:
You can pull up the full menu here. Noticeably absent are the Shrimp Skewer, Grilled Salmon, Chicken Pot Pie, and Lighthouse Sandwich. Just about everything is fried outside of the Lobster Roll and Salad. And being Tomorrowland Terrace, they may even try to fry those. It would probably be an improvement.
This may be our first run-in with Soy-based Chocolate Frozen Dessert:
At least none of it is in quotations.
With plentiful outdoor seating and a menu similar to what we’ve enjoyed for years in Liberty Square, Tomorrowland Terrace may end up being one of the better choices for a quick service lunch or dinner if fried sounds good. And it usually does with those shrimp. We’ll see how temporary these offerings end up being. Disney needs the holiday capacity, but they may not in the middle of January.
Hopefully the Lobster Roll looks something like this, too.
In case you’ve recently forgotten what water looks like, Disney will be presenting it throughout the day at Epcot via a few of the barges that will eventually make up the Harmonious show. It’s worse news if you’ve forgotten what the Pavilions look like. At least from the concept art, the height of the water looks to obscure the view of about a third of World Showcase. It’s certainly possible that the fountains will be an intermittent thing, or water will end up being a little more transparent than all of the blues in the art. But the fountains are potentially on to hide the presence of the barges for the show, which are expected to be permanent fixtures in the Lagoon. With IllumiNations, Disney would typically drive the various fireworks launching stations out like boats around 4pm. The new barges may simply be too large, or whoever was in charge of bringing the barges in, only to bring them back out, every day, finally got tired of it. Imagine backing your car out of the garage every day at 4pm, only to have to go back out to drive it back into the garage every night at 10pm. On the other hand, I don’t think standing out there and spraying the car with a garden hose for six hours would do much to hide the vehicle’s presence.
Imagineers have moved the vehicles onto the track at Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind as they push and pull the vehicles along. If you’re wondering why Disney used to complete projects much quicker, it’s because Michael Eisner would just jump in the front seat and yell, “LET’S GO!” long before anything was ready. That continued until he hit his head and came up with Bojack Horseman shortly thereafter. I’m not sure how many people realize his company produces the Netflix show.
I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in this picture or where Imagineer Zach Riddley came from. It looks like they’re carrying whatever this is for the Guardians ride, but it’s either far lighter than it looks, or they’re busy feeding it into a shredder.
Disney Parks Blog mentioned Mr. Riddley first in early 2019, back when EPCOT was still Epcot. We then see seven mentions of his presence in just the last couple of months. At the time, Disney would not cop to the fact that the plans for an un-named play pavilion would in fact be called the PLAY! Pavilion by the time all was said and done. LET’S JUST CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING NOW SO IT SEEMS MORE EXCITING!
While we didn’t receive any additional guidance on the opening timeframe for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure during the recent D23 presentation on the future of Epcot, the company did confirm that La Crêperie de Paris will also open in 2021. Serving sweet and savory crepes, both in a sit-down setting and to-go, France looks to be competing with Japan and Italy for the most dining opportunities.
You can watch the full D23 presentation here, along with all of the others on the same channel.
The walkway from the Grand Floridian to Magic Kingdom is now open. We’ll finally know for sure if people who have two gym memberships, but also drive to their mailbox, are willing to walk the 15 minutes from Disney’s flagship resort to the busiest theme park in the world and back. The views coming in from this side would certainly beat coming in from the Contemporary, where the highlights are pressing the crosswalk button and getting past the area with the smell. DisneyTouristBlog also offers a nice look at the walkway lit up as the sun sets.
Kali River Rapids is set for its annual “70 degrees is too cold for water rides” refurbishment beginning January 3rd, 2021. An end date is yet to be added to the calendar, but it usually comes back online in time for spring break.
We begin with our usual chart of Animal Kingdom’s average daily wait since it reopened on July 11th:
Waits stayed steady from Monday through Thursday, with an average of between 24 and 26 minutes or so each day. You may remember that last Wednesday was a bit of an anomaly in that it was a rare weekday holiday, which drove local attendance higher. While last Friday saw a big jump in waits compared to Thursday, unlike the five weeks that came before it, this Friday returned to form. The longer hours helped distribute crowds across the day and reduced waits. Disney continues to extend the operating hours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, while making very few changes to the original hours on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. At least outside of holiday weeks.
Here’s Friday’s chart:
Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t push wait times to the My Disney Experience app until official Park open, so we aren’t able to capture the wait times prior to then without running around the Parks recording them ourselves. If they did, we would have a better idea about when the Parks and attractions actually open and what wait times look like. On the morning of the 20th, I was already through bag check and inside the Park by 7:20am with Flight of Passage already operating by the time I arrived around 7:30am. Unlike last week, we don’t see the same increase in wait times towards the end of the day, which is a good thing. Still, the morning is clearly the best time to visit on days with 7am or 8am openings with over two hours of average waits under 20 minutes. They don’t peak all that much higher, though. Last Friday, with its unusual 7am to 7pm day, may have been a bit of an anomaly as well. We’ll see which trend continues next week.
Wait times were below-average at Epcot compared to the last month, thanks in part to the later close and the potential for slightly cooler temperatures sending some people towards the exit. Florida is strange on a number of fronts, but 60 degrees “feels” a lot cooler down here than it does in Wisconsin for whatever reason. You may want to be prepared with a zip-up for the late afternoon if you’re prone to shivering in restaurants and movie theaters. I’ll still be out there sweating, even if it’s 50 degrees. Waits reliably drop in the evening with lower waits as early as 3:15pm and especially after 7:15pm. The fact that The Seas with Nemo never peaks above ten minutes and Journey into Imagination barely hits 20 minutes is a good indication that Future World crowds were low most of the day. Test Track also operated all day and afternoon waits at Soarin’ dropped to 15 minutes. It would have been a great day to visit.
To say that we have a “problem” at Hollywood Studios is not necessarily accurate, but we are going to see a major shift in touring strategy now that Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway now loads every row with a plastic barrier behind each. That basically doubles capacity and makes it a “high-capacity” attraction versus almost all of the Studios’ other rides, which see limited capacity with physical-distancing still in play. Lower waits at the Railway are going to make the average waits from now on lower and also messes up our study of whether or not the move to the 7am boarding groups is pushing guests to arrive later. It’s no longer an apples-to-apples comparison versus dates prior to this Tuesday.
Here’s Thursday’s chart:
We no longer see any red times along the bottom, which had previously been defined as any average over 50 minutes for that time slot.
Compare what you see above to Monday, the last day that the Railway only loaded every other row:
We’ll be embarking on a big Studios touring series next, where we cover strategy given a major shift in wait times. The Railway used to average more than 80 minutes a day and now typically comes in under 50 minutes.
The Railway’s average on Friday is virtually half of what we saw Monday, which makes sense given the fact that twice as many people can basically ride per hour. The only downside is that the ride moving through more people means that those same people will then get in line for another attraction earlier. But we do have a new priority order of attractions, from the highest average wait to the lowest:
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Tower of Terror
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Toy Story Mania
- Muppet*Vision 3D
- Star Tours
- Alien Swirling Saucers
And no, putting Muppet*Vision above a couple of rides is not a mistake. Just wait until you see the end of the line around 10:30am this past Wednesday. It will be back through the extended queue and winding down towards the store and the show’s exit. It also closes an hour before the rest of the Park, so there’s no opportunity to visit last, though most people will have higher priorities in that last hour. If you’re seeing Muppet*Vision after 11am most days, you’re looking at an actual wait of 25 to 40 minutes.
Magic Kingdom waits this week have been below-average compared to the last couple of months for the most part. Heavy weekend crowds look to have stayed around into Monday, which saw higher waits given shorter hours. But a 23- to 25-minute average is pretty good. Like just about every other week, we see a jump from Thursday to Friday. Looking over the past few weeks, Friday’s waits have either been comparable or longer than Saturday or Sunday, so we may need to reassess which days are better at Magic Kingdom based on the previous eight weeks, which are far more relevant than July or August.
Here’s Friday’s chart:
Waits here are slightly below-average and represent what is currently a good day to visit Magic Kingdom. The morning remains the best time to tour with that extra hour on Friday helping to reduce waits at the end of the day as well.
Current Disney Park Pass Availability
If you’re still traveling over Thanksgiving, and couldn’t initially get your first Park Pass choice, keep checking back as cancellations continue to flood in. Earlier this week, several days during Thanksgiving were bright green, indicating availability at all Parks for a week that is historically one of the busier times to visit. November 30th still has All Parks Available. Thanksgiving itself, which is highlighted above, was sold out of Park Passes for three of the four Parks as recently as Monday. Now just the Studios is unavailable, which is par for the course.
Disney replenished Park Pass availability throughout December:
So you’ll want to check those dates as well if you weren’t able to book your first choice.
Disney replenished Park Passes through January 2nd, which is why the 3rd is showing no availability at the Studios. Disney will likely add availability throughout January as the dates approach. No other Parks in 2021 are booked for Disney Resort Guests or Theme Park Tickets Guests at this time.
Passholders continue booking November:
It’s rare to see no availability whatsoever for Passholders, but that’s what we’ve currently got on four of the last ten days in November.
And we continue to book up weekends in December:
For Passholders in 2021, the Studios is currently unavailable on Sunday, January 3rd, and Saturday, January 9th. Magic Kingdom also remains unavailable on October 1st.
You can always pull up Disney’s version of the Park Pass calendar here.
Operating Schedule Changes:
Disney was merciful with us this week, only extending the hours on one date:
Sunday, November 29:
- Animal Kingdom hours extended to 8am to 8pm from 8am to 7pm.
Disney also added the standard operating hours for another week into February. For January 31st through February 6th:
- Animal Kingdom: 9am to 5pm
- Epcot: 11am to 7pm
- Hollywood Studios: 10am to 7pm
- Magic Kingdom: 9am to 6pm
These hours are very subject to change as the dates approach depending on anticipated crowds.
Interesting Menu Changes:
Since this update is already too long, we’ll take a look with the next update.
I would point out that Tokyo Dining is expected to open with a limited menu from November 27th through the 29th with limited hours each day and no reservations. You can check the hours at DisneyWorld.com for a specific date here and pull up the online menu here.
That should get you caught up.