Visiting Universal Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights provided the perfect opportunity to stay in the new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Back in July, Dani included a visit to Sapphire Falls in her Best Week Ever series, and I was curious to see if the resort completed most of the last minute touches since then. Here are my first impressions and experiences of Sapphire Falls. To give you a taste of what it’s like to stay at the new resort, we’ll start with ‘great’ and work through ‘good’, ‘average’, and ‘bad’ before finally reaching ‘ugly’.
Staff: When your main competition is Walt Disney World, a company known for its friendly Cast Members, slacking off in the customer service department would be unwise. The Team Members at Sapphire Falls did not disappoint. Every single Team Member, from the luggage service staff to the managers, went out of their way to be friendly, helpful, welcoming, and engaging. Out of all the hotels I’ve visited, including many of the Disney Deluxe resorts, the staff at Sapphire Falls was by far the best I’ve experienced. They genuinely seemed happy to be there.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is one of our favorites as we present the Third Annual “Turkeys” of the Year. For Thanksgiving this week we took a look back at things both Disney and Universal fans should be thankful for, but today we are going to go the other way. Gather ’round as we continue the fine tradition of awarding six Theme Park “Turkeys” to the craziest, most outrageous, or just downright weird stories of the year, concluding with the coveted Golden Turkey award. Let’s kick off the ceremony with a food situation that blew us away….
# 6 – That Time Disney Charged $12.99 For a “Hurricane Box”
Art by Juliette Elton (@JulietteElton)
In early October, the state of Florida had its biggest weather scare in almost a decade with the oncoming Hurricane Matthew. Most of the models used by meteorologists had Matthew slamming into the East Coast, and then continuing straight up through the center of the state hitting Orlando. Seemingly playing a weird game of chicken, Disney and Universal both waited until just about the last possible moment to announce their hard ticket events of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Halloween Horror Nights would be cancelled for Thursday, October 6th, and all the Orlando theme parks would be closed on Friday, October 7th.
With the storm bearing down on Florida, food everywhere was being cleared off the shelves at Walt Disney World. Lines appeared at the hotel food courts that seemed impossible to believe were true (but they absolutely were.) The food court at Port Orleans French Quarter was in the process of being refurbished, and there WDW was offering a $12.99 boxed meal that included a sandwich, an apple, a bag of chips, and a cookie. Pictures of the paltry boxed lunch hit social media and news outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, with most of the reaction being very unfavorable to Disney.
Greetings! TouringPlans.com Blog Manager Brian here to welcome you to the continuation of TBT: Throwback Thanksgiving week here on the blog. All this week we will be revisiting a few wonderful Thanksgiving-related posts from the past. This wonderful entry from 2015 highlighting the six things that Derek Burgan gave thanks for during that year.
Make sure you come back Thursday at 9:00am for this years items to give thanks for!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX is our annual Thanksgiving Special and takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2015 was another great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, we ask that all Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
The selfie stick ban was definitely a controversial move to be sure. Universal had earlier become more strict on preventing selfie sticks on rides, but Disney outright stopped people from even entering the park with them. Now we joked earlier about only kids and narcissists using them, the truth is that selfie sticks have become increasingly popular across almost all demographics. While people using selfie sticks inside the parks can be a nuisance, they were starting to become a serious safety factor on attractions. You may have seen what is called an Envelope of Protection as Imagineers test out the attractions. This device makes sure that all the attractions are safe for every rider, basically simulating the possible reach of every guest in the ride vehicle. This is why while it may seem like your may lose your arms in Space Mountain if you hold them up during the ride, but in actuality you are nowhere close to hitting anything. What the Envelope of Protection doesn’t take into account though, is guests holding on to anything that extends their reach.
Greetings! TouringPlans.com Blog Manager Brian here to welcome you to TBT: Throwback Thanksgiving week here on the blog. All this week we will be revisiting a few wonderful Thanksgiving-related posts from the past. Starting us off is this gem from 2014 highlighting the six things that Derek Burgan gave thanks for during that year.
Make sure you come back Thursday at 9:00am for this years items to give thanks for!
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2014 was a great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning, to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, I ask that Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with…
# 6 – Disney and Universal Merchandise is Better than Ever
It wasn’t long ago, that the only merchandise people were buying at Universal were Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts. Over at Disney, almost every single store, whether in the parks, hotels, or Downtown Disney, was selling the same generic”Disney Parks”stuff. A seismic shift started to occur in 2010, when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, and blew the doors off everyone’s projections in the area of merchandise and Butterbeer. Guests were now walking out of Universal with house robes, wands and chocolate frogs in hand. This success was then repeated throughout both of their theme parks, with unique and exclusive items found everywhere you looked, from the EVAC action figure at Transformers gift shop, to the faux girl scout cookies in Despicable Me’s Super Silly Store, to my personal favorite – The Film Vault – a whole new store focusing on retro merchandise.
Jungle Cruise merchandise found at the Marketplace Co-op in Downtown Disney. (photo by Brandon Glover)
If the crowd levels have changed for your travel dates, don’t panic. A touring plan is still, by far, your best defence against a crowded Universal park. Follow it and you won’t notice a difference between a crowd level ‘5’ and a crowd level ‘8’. If you want to be notified when a crowd level has changed, check out the Crowd Tracker. For a description of how we come up with the numbers, see our Crowd Levels page.
Here is a quick look at how this new update affects the crowd level predictions over the past twelve months.
Universal Crowd Calendar Report for October 30 through November 5, 2016
Last week, Universal Orlando crowds were down, in the lowest third of our crowd scale most days. Universal Studios park saw crowd levels much closer to what the Universal Crowd Calendar predicted than at Islands of Adventure where crowds stayed one to two points lower.
Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Crowd Calendar Report:
For a few weeks now I’ve been putting together a short video news program for our YouTube channel. If you like iffy production value and kind-of-lame jokes it might just be the show you’re looking for. Check it out now and make sure you share and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
We will keep this short and sweet because it’s Saturday and you really just want your Saturday 6 from Derek. We hope this will be our final Hurricane Matthew post.
Theme Parks – Open
Universal, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld – all back to normal or close to normal hours today. Animal Kingdom even started the day with Extra Magic Hours. If you are in the parks today, take some photos and tweet them to #HeyTouringPlans – we’d love to see them. The wait times in our app will self-adjust after the parks open. We have not adjusted the Crowd Calendars.
Walt Disney World
If your Halloween Party was cancelled, you can call 407-939-7818 beginning 9AM Eastern Monday morning for refunds or rescheduling (this is from Disney’s web site – so it does seem you will need to explicitly request a refund).
This post will be updated as we get new information.
Updated 2:51 PM with Disney Springs and Orange County curfew info.
Hurricane Matthew hit the Central Florida coast as expected in the early morning hours of Friday, October 7. The good news for those in the Orlando area is that the storm moved more north and east than was originally forecast. However, this a serious hurricane that did affect many in the Caribbean and along the east coast of Florida. Our thoughts are with everyone still going through Hurricane Matthew.
Update October 6, 5:30PM – Storm should hit Port Canaveral around 10PM. Matthew is very slow-moving which means it will linger in Florida longer than a hurricane normally would. Coastal FL is under an evacuation order.
The National Hurricane Center obviously is a far better source of information about the weather than a theme park blog. We recommend checking it often. We will continue to update you on theme park operations.
As you undoubtedly know, a very powerful hurricane is bearing down on the Florida coast, and is expected to begin making its presence known in Florida this evening. The eye may make landfall in Brevard County (the Atlantic coast directly east of Orlando) early Friday morning. We cannot stress enough that this is very serious and that you should unarguably listen to any theme park staff (or long-time locals) if you are in the area. Winds in excess of 70 mph are expected in the theme park area.
This post will be updated throughout the day with the latest theme park closures and information.
Updated October 6, 2016, 8:30 PM with Orange County curfew and reports from onsite guests. Universal Guest Contact and Social Media Centers updates
Under curfew from 10 PM to 7 AM Saturday morning – source
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
All service is expected to stop at 8:00 PM Thursday
Many airlines, including American Airlines and United, have cancelled flights for Thursday evening and Friday. If you are flying into anywhere in Florida today or tomorrow check with your airline, but expect it to be cancelled.
Walt Disney World
Resorts are selling food (with long, but efficient, lines) to guests until 10 PM. Guests will need to remain in their rooms tonight. No word on the morning.
All parks, water parks, Disney Springs, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and miniature golf courses are closing at 5:00 PM Thursday, October 6, and will be CLOSED all day on Friday, October 7. (Some Disney Springs venues may close prior to 5:00 PM on Thursday.)
All resort and restaurant cancellation fees are waived for Thursday and Friday.
Blizzard Beach is closed on Thursday. Typhoon Lagoon is closing (as previously scheduled) at 5:00 PM on Thursday.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is canceled on both Thursday and Friday, October 6 and 7. If you have tickets, call 407-566-4985, option 5, to inquire about your options. Phone lines are very busy right now. Disney is offering a refund or exchange to another night to guest with tickets for these dates. Thank you to Annette Johnson with Mouse Trip Travel for the update.
Fort Wilderness Resort is being evacuated and guests are being moved to other resorts. All restaurants (including Hoop-Dee-Doo and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ) are closed at Fort Wilderness.
Guests at the Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs and the Bora Bora Bungalows at the Polynesian have been evacuated to other locations.
Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Village Resort is cancelled Thursday and Friday.
From noon on Thursday until Saturday evening, Resort spa locations are closed at Coronado Springs, the Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs, and Yacht & Beach Club.
Characters in Flight at Disney Springs is closed through Sunday.