It has been a while since I have done a photo tour of Downtown Disney, and it was time to head back into what might be the construction capital of the world. There are major projects going on in every single section of Downtown Disney, making a day trip there a potentially stressful challenge. However, it seems as though the area has finally turned a corner, and we are starting to see developments that make Downtown Disney a place worth checking out rather than avoiding because of the construction hassle. Looking at my previous Downtown Disney article from April shows some rather significant changes, so here is what is going on now….
Status of parking garage on West Side of Downtown Disney near Cirque du Soleil
The parking garage is looking massive, and the map of the area says it should be completed “Early 2015.” Busch Gardens should have done that for its long delayed Falcon’s Fury ride that is “Opening Sometime in 2014.” As ugly as Downtown Disney is right now because of the overall construction, far and away the biggest problem is parking. It was bad enough before huge sections of parking spaces were completely shut down to make way for a much-needed parking garage, and now it can be maddening. For the Guardians of the Galaxy showings this past weekend, the AMC movie theater at Downtown Disney was advising guests to arrive an hour early to give themselves time to find a parking space, with many guests being directed to the overflow areas across the street at Team Disney and Casting.
There are many reasons why the Disney Parks stand apart from other theme parks around the world, but one of the biggest has to be Disney’s incredible attention to detail. You can see the extra mile in the form of details just about everywhere on Disney property, from attractions to parade costumes to resorts to transportation to even the bathrooms! Personally, I love the details. They are not only appealing to the eye and fun to find, but almost always meaningful to the history of an attraction or to the story the Imagineers are trying to tell. For today’s post, let’s take a look at the hidden details of Hollywood Studios!
Casablanca Crate at Hollywood Studios
Near Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner at Hollywood Studios, look for a stack of wooden crates near the water. If you take a closer look, you may recognize who the crates are being shipped to and where they have been shipped from! This crate is being sent to Rick Blaine at Rick’s Cafe Americain in Casablanca, Morocco! Sound familiar? We also found crates being sent to a Scarlett O’Hara at Tara and even one belonging to a Charles Foster Kane! Few guests know about these particular hidden details and it’s really easy to walk right past them, so keep your eyes open.
Details around Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
*Twiddles thumbs. Checks Twitter. Reads a blog post.*
Done? Okay, let’s ‘soar’ right in!
Pick your mode of transportation! Soarin’ is a popular ride that allows you to hang-glide over California, feeling the wind in your face whilst smelling the fragrance of zesty orange trees. (Fun Fact: The first model for Soarin’ was made out of an erector set!) Once you land on solid ground, hop in a Chevy at Test Track. Strap yourself in and brace yourself for the ride of your life! Put on your space suit, join the NASA team and shoot for the stars as you travel to Mars in your rocket via Mission: Space. To ease back into Earth’s gravity, swim underwater to the ‘clamobile’ where The Seas with Nemo & Friends take you “under the sea.” Finally, use those feet and travel indoors to Innoventions where you’ll find interactive and educational games the whole family will enjoy.
Does an attraction like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror inspire you only with terror despite its fantastic theming? Is Expedition Everest a must-do for your friends and family, while a trip on Wildlife Express Train is about as wild you get? Fortunately, Walt Disney World offers some great ways for you to chill while your companions satisfy their thirst for a thrill.
Mission: SPACE and Test Track are both found in Future World East. A great place to hang while your friends experience these attractions is the Espresso Coffee and Pastries stand, located just outside of Innoventions East heading toward Mission: SPACE and Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It typically has a short line, especially in the morning, and it offers peaceful nearby benches where you can enjoy a beverage. Or if it is hot, you can take your beverage back into Innoventions East and find a bench.
In the same general area as the coffee stand, you can catch a performance by the JAMMitors drumming group while you wait. The 10-minute performance by this “clean-up crew” attracts an energetic crowd, and they perform up to seven times a day.
Mission Space Post-Ride Advanced Training Lab
Meet back up: Both Mission: SPACE and Test Track have post-attraction interactive exhibit areas; you can access these areas by walking through the attractions’ gift shops.
To many, Soarin’ is a gentle experience, but it can be quite scary for those afraid of heights. Luckily, Soarin’ is located in the Land Pavilion, which has lots of places to sit and enjoy its mellow soundtrack. Bonus: If you take a step outside the pavilion, you can hear some of the original background music for Epcot. Another option is to experience the Circle of Life film, an attraction that many people skip in lieu of the other attractions in the Land.
Meet back up: The Land Pavilion can get crowded, especially in its Sunshine Seasons food court, so it is best to agree on a specific place to meet. On the lower level of the pavilion, there are benches at the exit to Soarin’; on the upper level, benches near the restrooms are a good place to meet.
There are many reasons why the Disney Parks stand apart from other theme parks around the world, but one of the biggest has to be Disney’s incredible attention to detail. You can see the extra mile in the form of details just about everywhere on Disney property, from attractions to parade costumes to resorts to transportation to even the bathrooms! Personally, I love the details. They are not only appealing to the eye and fun to find, but almost always meaningful to the history of an attraction or to the story the Imagineers are trying to tell. For today’s post, we are focusing on some of the hidden details of Epcot!
Did you know that a section of World Showcase is actually a drawbridge? If you have been to Epcot, you have surely walked over it but probably didn’t even know it! The purpose for the drawbridge is so that the barges carrying fireworks and the huge globe for Illuminations can pass from the backstage area onto the lagoon. This usually takes place in the afternoon near the Refreshment Outpost. Warning: If you happen to be in this part of World Showcase when the bridge lifts, you may be stranded for a short time!
Epcot’s France Pavilion
Epcot’s France Pavilion is absolutely lovely and picturesque, especially at night. However, the hidden detail we uncovered at this pavilion is near the water, next to the silhouette stand just over the bridge. In addition to an old fashioned camera and a case of postcards and photos is a a box of paintings. If you flip through the canvases, you may discover that a few changes have been made to these masterpieces, like this little reference to Mickey!
Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion is one of our favorites in that there are so many corners and streets to explore. Many guests don’t know that a little museum can be found in this pavilion. It’s not clearly marked and the doors are usually closed, but go ahead and pull it open. You’re allowed!
Inside, you will find exhibits and artifacts native to the Moroccan culture and it’s very interesting! I often use it as a go-to when it rains, as few know about it and it gives me something to do until the weather clears.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Several World Showcase pavilions, such as the Canada Pavilion, show entertaining films to inform guests about their respective country’s landscape and culture. However, few guests know that the O’Canada Theater is tucked at the very back of the pavilion among the rock work and waterfalls. The theater is meant to resemble a mine; and the waiting area inside truly looks like you’re in a shaft. It also offers another view of the waterfalls and streams! This little hideaway is packed full of details and shouldn’t be missed.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends in Epcot’s Future World is one of our favorite pavilions in the whole park and is home to a massive aquarium that can easily entertain young and old alike for hours. When you pass through the queue for the Finding Nemo dark ride at the pavilion entrance, look up to see the boat which Nemo was dared to touch in the film! Also, in the pavilion’s massive aquarium, look for a Disney character shaped out of rocks at the bottom of the tank. I’ve seen a Mickey in the past; but during my last trip, I discovered a Goofy.
Epcot’s United Kingdom Pavilion
Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion is packed full of history and details, but for one you may not have noticed, look up! The chimneys atop the shops in the United Kingdom pavilion are dark with soot. This is a clever hidden detail used for historical accuracy and to create the illusion that these chimneys are still working.
Le Cellier Steakhouse
Have you ever been to Epcot in the rain? If you have, think about walking under Spaceship Earth. You didn’t get wet, did you? It would make sense though that rainwater would flow down the grooves and onto the people below, but it doesn’t! This is due to a special system in Spaceship Earth which collects the water so that guests don’t get soaked entering and exiting the park, a truly hidden detail!
One of the most popular restaurants in all of Epcot, and one of my personal favorites, is Canada’s Le Cellier Steakhouse. This delicious restaurant is known for its filet mignon and Cheddar Cheese Soup. What guests probably don’t know is that each section of this restaurant is themed after a Canadian province. Be sure to ask your waiter or waitress about the history of the province in which you are dining, as well as what province they are from. It’s very interesting!
So these are just a few of the many details to be discovered at Epcot. Which of these have you found? Do you have a favorite?
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Top Six New Snacks in Universal’s Diagon Alley. Last week we went through the best new drinks available in the Wizarding World and today we are going to satisfy our sweet tooth by looking at the top six snacks inside Universal’s new land. All the venues in Diagon Alley, the London Waterfront, and King’s Cross station were eligible. What made the cut from our blue ribbon panel of experts? Let’s count ‘em down…
These are listed as “seasonal” items in our system, so you’ll find most of them at the bottom of the list of attractions once you click “Add Attraction” on your personalized plan. The screenshots at the bottom of this post illustrate where to find seasonal items.
Enjoy all that Frozen Summer Fun!
First, click Add Attraction at the bottom of the screen.
Then you scroll to the bottom of the attractions list to find Seasonal Items
Disney World is seen by many visitors as their “happy place.” Frequent guests may find that their visits are filled with ritual, memory, and meaning, taking on an almost spiritual aura. For guests who move often, Disney may well be a faithful constant, a touchstone to which they can return no matter where they reside. It is not hyperbole when guests call Disney World their home. Not surprisingly, some people want to use this joyful and, for them, near scared space as a place to commemorate the passing or honor the memory of a loved one.
You may find the Magic Kingdom wishing well to be a place of comfort.
Before I offer suggestions on ways that you might use a visit to Disney World to commemorate the passing of a friend or family member, I must state up front that Disney World is unequivocally not a place to deposit you loved one’s cremains. Scattering ashes at Disney World is illegal and unsanitary, even in small amounts. No matter how much grandma adored It’s a Small World, its waterways are not the place for her to spend eternity. Indeed, if Disney discovers any covert dispersal of ashes on an attraction, it will be closed and cleaned, and you may face charges. Please do not attempt this.
Another memorial which will not be possible is the placement of a permanent commemorative marker. There is currently no way to place a enduring symbol at the parks. Sales of the Walk Around the World bricks found at the Transportation and Ticket Center and near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom were discontinued in 2000. The Leave a Legacy engraved markers at Epcot were discontinued in 2007. I don’t know of any plans to revive these programs or anything similar.
Now let’s move on to the things you can do at Disney World to mark a passing in a positive way.
Early June crowds at Walt Disney World have been surprisingly light. History tells us that this time of year brings above average crowds in the range of ‘6’ to ‘9’ on our scale. Instead, this past week we saw crowds at or below average levels. In some cases, well below average. In particular, attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot (in that order) have shown wait times significantly lower than expected.
Our theory is that some school districts have pushed back the last day of school to account for days lost due to weather, and that families have postponed or cancelled their visits to the parks as a result. Magic Kingdom, the park most likely to attract families with pre-school children is inherently less affected. It is just a theory but seems to be the most likely explanation.
What it means for visitors is that the greater the number of school days lost to weather between September and May, the lower the expected crowds will be in early June. If your child’s school board does not have to extend the school year, early June may make a great chance to plan a trip with lower crowds.
Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week:
Walt Disney World Resort Crowd Levels – Daily Breakdown
Sunday was the first of many days last week when wait times came in lower than expected. Wait times at Disney Hollywood Studios hit a level ‘5’ on our scale despite hosting Star Wars Weekend. Magic Kingdom’s Extra Magic Hour evening kept the park open until 3:00am for resort guests but that didn’t push wait times higher than a level ‘6’ for most rides. Normally, a closing time of 1:00am would indicate large crowds but even Space Mountain only averaged 47 minutes (predicted 72).
Monday was the only day of the week when our resort-wide estimates hit the mark. All parks were within one index level and Hollywood Studios had the lowest crowd level again. Epcot’s Mission: Space (Orange) had an average wait time of 49 minutes between 10:00am and 5:00pm, a ’10’ on our scale and much higher than a normal day (we predicted 29 minutes). Wait times at other Epcot attractions were close to our predictions.
Both Disney Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom had wait times below predictions while Animal Kingdom missed by one and Epcot hit the mark. The Studios continues to host underwhelming crowds on weekdays, a trend that began in mid-may. Tuesday’s wait times at Star Tours and Great Movie Ride were basically non-existent all day (14 minute average) while Toy Story Mania averaged a measly 60 minutes.
Wednesday’s crowd at the Studios was even more surprising. History would tell us that because almost half of the largest U.S. school districts are finished school, crowds should be large. Instead, Disney Hollywood Studios saw some of the lowest wait times of the week on Wednesday. It is strange that the low crowds are focussed at The Studios. We see that although crowds at the other three parks are lower than expected, they are much more in-line with predictions. This may be because the Studios attractions appeal to older youth and those older youth may be less likely to miss school if the last day of school was pushed later into June.
Thursday’s crowds were similar, with all parks coming in lower than our predictions although we missed by a much smaller margin. Jungle Cruise averaged 39 minutes (predicted 41), Spaceship Earth 21 (predicted 22), Great Movie Ride 14 (predicted 15) and Kali River Rapids averaged 31 minutes (predicted 29).
Our resort-wide predictions rarely miss by more than two levels (less than 1% of the time) but Friday’s wait times were low enough across the board to pull the resort-wide crowd level to a ‘4’, three down from the ‘7’ we predicted. Good news for those of you in the parks, bad news for the statisticians. Even Disney Hollywood Studios which hosted Star Wars Weekends on Friday only reached a level ‘3’ on our scale, including an average wait time of only 18 minutes at Star Tours. This is the lowest crowd level recorded during Star Wars Weekends since 2009.
The Studios wait times were even lower on Saturday. Perhaps the special Star Wars events were popular enough to (a) draw guests away from the attractions and/or (b) keep non-fans away from the park. Mark Hamill attended the festival this weekend for the first time in the event’s 18-year history so that surely had something to do with it. Regardless, we can’t remember ever having a day at the Studios during Star Wars Weekends with wait times that low.
Disney Hollywood Studios continues to be a great choice during the week. Just as we have seen a dip in attendance while schools push ahead the last day of school we might see a bump in attendance when the majority of schools complete the school year. By the end of June, nearly 100% of the major school districts will be out of session and many of them will be on vacation.
To see Walt Disney World Crowd predictions for the days of your vacation, check the Crowd Calendar.
To get details about our predictions of future crowds or details about crowds in the past check out the Crowd Calendar and select “Jump to Date” on the left margin.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is nearly ready — but are you? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
With only two weeks to go before the worldwide media descends upon Universal Orlando for its unveiling of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, we already know plenty of things about the experience that awaits behind Universal Studios Florida‘s imposing new London Waterfront. We know about the E-ticket “multi-sensory thrill ride” inside the dragon-topped Gringotts bank; we know about the Hogwarts Express train that will transport guests to the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure; we know the names of that will line this magical shopping mall; we even know the varieties of pie (Seafood! Steak and Guinness!) and ice cream (Chocolate chili! Butterbeer!) you’ll be able to eat. So it’s no wonder that many of our subscribers have requested Diagon Alley touring plans to prepare them for their upcoming vacations. Unfortunately, we still lack two pieces of data vital to providing our usual expert advice: when we can get inside, and how long we’ll wait once we get there.
Through a combination of inside information, experience observing Universal’s operations since Potter arrived, and some educated guesses, we’ve devised the following preliminary Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley touring plans, along with a summary of our surmises about how the area will operate. Be aware that much of this is based on unofficial intel, and is subject to change before, during, and after the grand opening of the attraction.