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.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Queues at the Universal Orlando Resort. If there is one thing all theme park fans can agree with, it’s that we hate lines. Even people who aren’t theme park fans often return from an Orlando vacation with a similar thought: theme park lines are the worst. Thankfully our Disney and Universal overlords have spent the last decade completely transforming the queue experience. Disney, putting Billions into MyDisneyExperience and FastPass+, are attempting to get guests to spend less time in lines (in hopes that we have more time in places where we spend money.) Universal has gone in a slightly different direction, creating queues that guests actually want to spend more time in. The concept of “feeling rushed” in a theme park line may seem incomprehensible to anyone who has waited an hour in the Florida humidity for it’s a small world or suffered through the mind-numbing banality of the Soarin’ queue, but believe it or not, it’s true.
The queue for Men In Black: Alien Attack checks off several items we consider crucial to having a good queue, not the least of which is that you are in air conditioning for a long time. That may seem like a minor thing until you’ve almost experienced the sensation of melting while waiting outside for The Simpsons Ride or Rip, Ride, Rockit. It also recreates several areas that many guests will fondly remember from the first Men in Black film. But one of our favorite parts of this queue is that you can actually experience it hands on with a tour of the Immigration Room. Guests aren’t guaranteed this opportunity, but after riding you can ask a Team Member if you can take a tour. This will allow you some unbelievably great photo opportunities, along with a chance to see so many incredible details that Universal Creative has put into this room that the average guest will never see.
Immigration room at Men In Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Travis Terrell)
Men In Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Men in Black: Alien Attack. (photo by Brandon Glover)
This past year I’ve learned a lot about fear. Facing your fear doesn’t necessarily mean that your fear goes away. Instead, it means you acknowledge it, accept it, and do the thing that scares you despite the fear. Last year I went to Halloween Horror Nights for the first time. It is nearly impossible to believe that I would do so once, let alone a second time. And yet, I did. And it turned out to be one of my best evenings ever.
Attending Halloween Horror Nights last year for the first time was eyeopening. Here are my tips on enjoying the event even when you’re scared of pretty much everything. This time around I attended the event almost from beginning to end, and experienced a lot more than my first visit. Here’s how I not only faced my fear, but quite possibly became a fan of this frightfully fun event.
Go early and take advantage of daylight
I attended Halloween Horror Nights with two complete opposite ends of the spectrum: a friend who has been to HHN more times than I can count and a friend who had never been before and feared it more than me. Wait wait wait… I can’t believe this, I, the person who never believed she’d ever go to Halloween Horror Nights is now showing a first timer the ropes!
Not too long ago we saw Walt Disney World drastically change their annual pass structure adding new features and a wide variety of blackout dates. Universal Orlando has followed suit. They also recently announced new annual pass features like early park admission. Universal has also rolled out a new seasonal annual pass which is the most budget friendly but also has the most blackout dates, and the least amount of perks.
Universal Orlando loves their AP Holders – photo from Universal Orlando
It’s not all bad news, however, Besides adding features to the annual passes themselves, all of the major theme parks offer various perks and benefits throughout the year. It seems as though this year there are more perks than ever before–perhaps this is because the prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some guests who are on vacation are purchasing an annual pass rather than a multi-day ticket, even if they’re only going to visit once in a given year. For locals like me it is often seen as a mandatory purchase in order to do Orlando living right.
Let’s take a look at some of the really fun benefits and perks that are being offered to annual pass holders at each of the major theme parks. It is important to note that for the purposes of this blog post I will not be discussing the features that are already included in your annual pass such as free parking, but rather I will focus on different, added-on perks that are offered throughout the year.
Walt Disney World
Perhaps the Walt Disney World Resort faces the greatest of expectations. Because of their four theme parks vs. two at Universal Orlando and one theme park plus water park at SeaWorld Orlando, the Walt Disney World annual passes are the most expensive. This typically raises the expectations of consumers, creating stronger desires for more bang for their buck.