Another New Year is arriving and while the champagne is chilling let’s take our annual look at the crowds in 2016 and what to expect in 2017. Here is last year’s post. 2016 was a year with highly variable crowds at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios while Magic Kingdom and Epcot remained predictable. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom saw the most significant changes take place in 2016. The Studios saw many of its attractions affected by the construction of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land while its most popular attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania increased its capacity per hour by 50%. Animal Kingdom saw major construction as well for Pandora and the park saw closing hours after sunset for the first time in the parks history.
Walt Disney World Crowds Since 2011
In 2016, for only the second time since 2005, Christmas fell on a Sunday. This led us to suggest that Christmas crowds in 2016 might be the lowest in recent memory since school boards spread their scheduled holidays over more weeks than usual. That seems to be coming true as we have yet to see any park reach capacity during this year’s holiday rush. It is very likely that Magic Kingdom will end that streak on New Year’s Eve but in most years we see many park closings due to capacity before December 31st.
Thanksgiving crowds in 2016 were similar to what we see most years and the rest of the fall continued the pattern of larger crowds than what we have seen before 2015. Summer was busy but had pockets of lower than usual crowds. May ended up being a good time to visit, partially due to the lack of Star Wars Weekends at Disney Hollywood Studios. The period between mid-March and Easter week saw some of the largest crowds we have ever seen during that period. Presidents Week was busy as usual and January was similar to what we saw in 2015.
Welcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando.
Can you believe 2016 is already over? Think about where we were a year ago at this time. There was no such thing as tiered ticket pricing, there were no cabanas in the Magic Kingdom, Tom Staggs was still with Disney, and we were all waiting for Rivers of Light to debut in Animal Kingdom. Well, at least some things never change.
I want to say up from that this month’s edition of the Outlet Report is a slightly shortened, and the reason for that is during December the Disney Outlet Stores become busier than the Magic Kingdom on a phased closure day. It’s just not fun. Both of us managed a trip in, but ran out screaming in short order. Now, I was going to make Outlet Intern Julia Mascardo go back on Christmas Eve in order to get a first hand report of the carnage, but Head Honcho Len Testa told me that would break several treaties in the Geneva Convention. First they take away water boarding and now this… maybe this generation has gone soft after all.
However, there is no rest for the wicked, and since December is my favorite month of all, I personally had a lot of fun outside of the Outlets. Myself and TouringPlans TV’s own Brian McNichols put out a new episode of the critically acclaimed Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. While over on Twitter I did a 25 day unveiling of the Theme Park Blogger Advent Calendar as well as drawing many DerekDoodles for a good cause.
Now, what did Julia and I find when we did briefly step into Mordor the Disney Outlet Stores? Let’s check it out!
First up was a good one. You’ll remember last month I pulled my hair out seeing a May the 4th Be With You R2 droid at the Outlets that I had picked up earlier in the year at full price in Disney Springs. Well, this month brought the special Halloween figure, R2-BOO, which I did not buy at the stores. Jackpot! Originally $12.99, reduced to $4.99.
R2-BOO. (photo by Julia Mascardo)
In 2015 Disney went all in on hand sanitzers, creating a whole bunch of them. Each one holds 1 0z of hand sanitizer, which is just about the amount you will need if your kid wipes his hand on that “honey wall” in the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh queue. This year brought even more designs. The bottles originally were $8.85 each, but these were reduced to just 99cents. Picked one up at that price. For $9 I’ll take my chances with the germs.
Mickey Hand Sanitizer
More Disney Infinity stuff hit the Outlets. Disney stopping the entire system cold earlier this year was a shocker, and even made the special SATURDAY SIX: IN MEMORIAM article for this year. Here is Mulan, and even more unbelievably, the character “Time” from the AliceThrough the Looking Glass movie. Maybe this line needed to be put out of its misery after all. Originally $13.99, reduced to $6.99.
Also appearing were Disney Infinity Power Discs that were originally $9.99, now $4.99. Now I have picked up some of the Disney Infinity figures, even though I have never played the game, because I absolutely adore that cartoonish art style throughout the line. It’s like an awesome shared Universe line-up that has everything from The Incredibles to Pirates of the Caribbean to iconic Disney parks characters. Basically it’s like if Marvel Studios worked with Warner Bros to make an Avengers/Justice League film. Anyway, I was going to take a jab at why anyone would buy these power discs, but they seem to be almost the exact same shape and size of the ridiculous “pogs” I grew up with and bought way too many of.
Disney Infinity Power Discs (photo by Julia Mascardo)
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Can’t Wait To See In 2017! 2016 was another unbelievable year in the theme park world, containing a wide mix of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. 2017 is already shaping up to be even more amazing. We have a new immersive land that promises to eclipse what Disneyland has done with Cars Land and Universal with Diagon Alley, a new President being added to the Hall of Presidents, and the first of its kind “water theme park.” If that doesn’t get your blood pumping about the next 12 months you may actually be a Host from Westworld, but for the rest of you, here’s some of the things we can’t wait to see, starting with…
# 6 – Pandora: The World of Avatar (Animal Kingdom)
Our long national nightmare is almost over. First announced on September 20, 2011, Pandora: The World of Avatar is nearing completion. Disney is saying “Summer 2017” for this new land, and is going on record saying it is the most immersive area in any theme park. Just from what we can see from what rises over the construction walls and the Blogger-In-The-Sky helicopter camera shots, the land does look STUNNING. The info we’ve been given on the bioluminescent plants in the area along with the experience in the Na’vi River Journey make both seem like “wow” moments. Last year, this fine blog did question what Pandora will be doing in the areas of food and merchandise, two extremely important factors a theme park land needs to deliver on to satisfy its Return On Investment (ROI). These are also two areas that Disney has not released much info on for Pandora. We all know that Avatar the movie – by far and away the most financially successful film in the history of cinema – never really figured out a way to get its fans to buy merchandise the way that Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have.
Na’vi River Journey. (photo courtesy of Disney Parks and Resorts)
One of the most exciting things about Pandora is that it appears the land will be using projection mapping on its incredible rock work. This is something that has never been mentioned by Disney over the course of the Pandora project, but Johnny-on-the-spot bloggers have seen this technology being tested. Your Humble Author thinks projection mapping is one of the areas that Disney is heads and tails above anyone else in the industry right now. Whether on the castle in the Magic Kingdom, the Great Movie Ride facade in DHS, or the jaw dropping Tree of Life Awakens shows at Animal Kingdom, Disney’s use of projection mapping in the parks is amazing.
What looks to be testing for projecting mapping on the rock work in Pandora. (photo by @Blog_Mickey)
# 5 – Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (Universal Studios Florida)
Last year Universal fans lost Twister…Ride It Out! along with its Bill Paxton performance that was so mailed in he should have put a stamp on it. In Twister’s place will be the upcoming Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. One of the most underrated aspects of this change, is that the attraction takes place in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida, so it is a perfect fit. There are many who do not like Fallon’s broad sense of humor, but his Late Night TV dominance shows there is most likely a much larger group of people who love what he brings to the table (Your Humble Author included). While there have been some debates on how the “flying theater” ride mechanics will actually work, one thing we do know is that Universal is trying something truly different with how people experience the attraction’s queue.
Much like how Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom allows kids to play in a themed area until it is time to ride, Race Through New York looks to have things for adults to do while waiting. There will be a woman’s quartet singing songs, a chance to check out classic bits from from Fallon’s Tonight Show run (including Lip Sync Battle), write your own “Thank You Notes” at an interactive desk, and even get a meet and greet with the Tonight Show’s mascot, Hashtag the Panda.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon is designed to get guests to laugh, and comedy is one thing Universal is very good at delivering on. From the criminally underrated Horror Make-Up Show to the non-stop gags in Springfield USA, be prepared to bring your smile when stepping into Universal Studios Florida.
Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon concept art.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by @bioreconstruct).
We did it! We have reached the end of another year. A year that can only be described as a roller coaster. So, whether you had a wonderful 2016 or are glad to see 2016 in your rear view mirror, I want to wish each and every one of you a Happy 2017 and thank you for going on this journey with me this year! Now…let’s see what you may have missed this week!
This week, take a peek at what you can expect to see in Pandora, a few new ways to watch Disney content, and more.
In Case You Missed It – Disney and Universal Orlando News and Rumors
At Downtown Disney in Disneyland, there was an unofficial tribute to Carrie Fisher in the most Star Wars way possible.
If you are a fan of the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show, 2017 will bring some new changes. Beginning January 9, Guests will be able to experience a new way to start their day.
Previously Guests would wait in front of the Main Street Train Station to catch the show. This would often cause backups though, especially on busier days.
To help alleviate some of the congestion, Guests will be allowed to enter Main Street, U.S.A. ahead of the park’s scheduled opening time. Guests will have the opportunity to savor the atmosphere, take photos, or grab a quick breakfast. Then at park opening, Guests will be able to experience a brand new Welcome Show that will officially open the park for the day on the Castle Forecourt Stage. During the new Welcome Show, a Royal Herald will appear to deliver a proclamation and welcome a few of your favorite Disney characters to the stage and officially opening the park for the day.
The final performance of the current Magic Kingdom Welcome Show will take place on January 8.
Are you as excited about the upcoming Epcot Festival of the Arts as I am? This brand new experience will take place for six weekends (Fridays through Mondays) from January 13 through February 20. The festival’s main goal is to combine visual, culinary and performing arts from around the world. This will be done with seminars, food booths, and Broadway-inspired performances.
First at the Epcot Festival of the Arts, Guests will be able to participate in unique workshops that allow your creative juices to flow. The Interactive Workshops are $39+tax each. The full list of classes include:
Weekend 1 – January 13 – 16
Friday, January 13 – 11:00 a.m. “Magical” Mixed Media Art, Rachelle Eason, BoiLedBooks
Create a magnificent mixed media piece using BoiLeD BooK paper and paint. We’ll finish it off with a mat and some sparkle for a magical masterpiece to display!
It’s the most hectic time of the year! Walt Disney World is getting ready to celebrate saying goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017 in a way only the resort knows how to…with an explosion of fireworks!
At Epcot, Guests will be able to enjoy two different showings of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. At 6:00 p.m., you’ll be able to catch the show with the beautiful and touching holiday tag. Then, beginning at 11:40 p.m., get ready to usher in 2017 with a show that’s unlike any other.
In addition, Epcot will feature DJs in both Future World and World Showcase. They will be found from 7:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m. at the following locations:
the Future World Fountain Stage
China – flame effects and smoke-billowing dragon
United Kingdom – British Invasion
Italy – Euro-pop and lasers
Japan – “Silent Groove” party
America Adventure – America Gardens Theatre Stage, joined by a Latin band
The new year is practically here and many of us have already encountered expenses going up in 2017 – the way of the world, especially Walt Disney World. This past year we saw all major theme parks toy with their ticket and pricing structure. This has led to some families changing the way they do things, including some Disney Vacation Club Members opting to not purchase theme park tickets even when they are staying on Walt Disney World property using their vacation points.
Such is the case with my parents. They craved a visit to the Merriest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World, and booked a short stay to gather family together in a three bedroom grand villa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge before Christmas craziness took over. However, because of tiered pricing and annual pass blackouts they decided not to purchase any theme park tickets and just enjoy WDW without the parks. We dined at some of the underrated, but oh-so-good restaurants on Disney property. We enjoyed some of the best Disney Vacation Club resorts. And it turned into one of our best stays ever!
Enjoying being a Disney Vacation Club member at Kidani Village
My parents and aunt and uncle are all retired so while I worked they checked into Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and had the pleasure of walking into the three bedroom grand villa when it was ready in the early afternoon. My workday couldn’t wrap up fast enough. The moment I arrived a sense of peace and contentment washed over me: “welcome home.”
If you book a 7-night or longer cruise between now and February 15, 2017, your deposit will be half the normal amount. Disney Cruise Line deposits are normally 20% of the cruise fare (not including taxes. fee, and port expenses). Naturally, the additional 10% you don’t pay upon booking will be due when final payment is due (90 days before sailing for most cruises, but check out our breakdown here for the labyrinth of dates for your particular cruise). No booking code is needed for this offer.
By the way, yes, you do already pay a reduced deposit if you book while onboard.
The fine print:
Cruise must be 7-nights or longer (sorry, if you wanted to cruise the Dream).
Restricted (IGT ,OGT, VGT) fares are not included.
Concierge level cabins are not included.
Offer can’t be combined with other discounts or offers.
When most people think of visiting a theme park in Orlando on Christmas Day, Magic Kingdom is top of mind. However, Universal Orlando presents a great alternative on this festive day. This year marks my second time visiting Universal Orlando on Christmas Day, and although I visited by myself, I had a great time. Here’s how I accomplished having an enjoyable visit and what I learned on this, one of the busiest days of the year in Orlando’s theme parks. Last week in this Touring Plans blog post about Visiting Universal Orlando during the busiest weeks of the year I shared some tips that definitely came in handy.
I had Christmas Day to myself and had set the day aside to visit Universal Orlando. Now, it should be noted that the manner in which I visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida this day is a bit different than how the average guests would do. I was on my own. It didn’t matter to me if I rode anything. My purpose was to be in the atmosphere I love and be able to report on the crowd levels, wait times, and the overall experience of being inside Universal Orlando on Christmas Day.
The arrival experience at Universal Orlando on Christmas Day
Arriving at any theme park sets the tone for the whole day. When visiting during a busy day like Christmas it is important to not let the long lines and crowds that you will surely encounter dampen your mood. I arrived around 11:00 AM. The parking toll was not backed up as I expected, but still very busy; I headed toward the left hand lanes which are typically shorter.
The security checkpoint at Universal Orlando can get very congested first thing in the morning and on busy days. Such was the case around 11:00 AM on Christmas Day morning. The real backup and congestion came not from waiting to go through the x-ray machines, but rather after passing through and waiting for your belongings to be handed off to you after they go through the machines. Family members wait in clusters making it difficult to exit this area.
The third and final hurdle came when trying to get into Islands of Adventure. Lines everywhere! Lines for the ticket windows. Lines for purchasing Express Pass in order to avoid other lines. Lines at Guests Services. And of course lines to get through the turnstiles themselves. I’m just going to say it: Universal Orlando’s ticket taking system is so slow. Word on the street is an upgrade to this system is coming soon; I sure hope so!
Extra tip: There is a “Side entrance” at Universal Studios Florida that can save you time and frustration when the regular entrance is congested. It is the pathway in between Hard Rock Cafe and the regular park entrance, it leads up to the Blue Man Group Theater. As you walk along the Blue Man Group pathway this side entrance to the park will be to the right of the Blue Man Theater.