This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a Salute to All Nations (But Mostly America). July 4th weekend brings out the patriotism in all of us, and nothing is more American than our favorite theme parks. Created with the opening of Disneyland in 1955, theme parks — along with comic books and jazz music — are one of the rare forms of art that we in the USA have given to the citizens of Earth. Thankfully, they are all so good that the world forgives us for everything else we’ve given them such as Zima, reality television, and the KFC Double Down. So raise Old Glory up to full staff, put Real American on the CD mp3 player, and let’s dive into some theme park American goodness starting with…
Located at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, the Voices of Liberty are an 8 person a cappella group that will have your heart swelling with pride as they belt out some of the most well known songs paying tribute to our country’s rich history. The playlist includes: “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Country,” “You Raise Me Up,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” And you just may hear a song from a little movie called Frozen…
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Ways Disney is Playing “Chicken” with Guests This Summer. We are little over a month away from the ultimate Disney fan event – the D23 Expo – where we will gain some insight into the future of the Walt Disney World parks. While the California parks have been blessed in recent years with a $1 Billion renovation to Disney California Adventure (bringing Cars Land, World of Color, and a new park entrance) along with upgrades to Disneyland for the park’s upcoming 60th anniversary (including the critically praised Paint the Night parade and Disneyland Forever, a new nighttime spectacular,) the Florida parks have been recipient of things less noticeable by your average guest like MagicBands, My Disney Experience, and Downtown Disney’s transition to Disney Springs. While additions like Animal Kingdom’s Wilderness Explorers and Winged Encounters have drawn rave reviews, they don’t have the pick-your-jaw-off-the-ground moment like seeing Radiator Springs Racer’s Cadillac Range mountains or walking into Universal’s Diagon Alley.
Many expect us all to be wowed by what will be announced at the D23 Expo, some even speculating a $3 Billion overhaul to DHS (for the record, we here at the SATURDAY SIX don’t expect anything approaching that number, but even “just” a Billion dollars goes a long way baby.) One thing is for certain, whatever is coming isn’t coming soon, and today we’re going to look at how Disney is all but taunting guests to open their wallets starting with….
# 6 – Disney’s Hollywood Studios outright dares guests to go to the park
What a year for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In fact, DHS has removed so many things without replacement that Matt Hochberg – the park’s biggest defender – is rumored to be hiding in the same bunker Saddam Hussein was found in. The Sorcerer’s Hat, gone. Studio Backlot Tour, gone. American Idol Experience and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, gone. Recently it was announced that the Magic of Disney Animation will be closing on July 12th and those in the know report that One Man’s Dream is also on the chopping block. Every park loses stuff as its part of normal theme park operations, but the difference here is nothing has come in to replace anything. Well, to be fair, a recent Soundstage Lounge was installed at the Jack Sparrow location. Unfortunately it looks more like the filming location for a sequel in the Saw series of films than your usual WDI made ultra-detailed area. The park has a shrinking amount of attractions, and while Frozen Summer Fun will get us through the next couple months, then what?
Need an attraction? Make us an offer! (photo by Michael Sheehy and Matt Cleary)
Are you a foodie family? Then you should consider taking part in the brand new Disney Family Culinary Adventure experience at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. During this interactive evening that lasts approximately four hours, guests will be able to prepare and cook a five-course dinner to be served in the kitchen. The Disney Family Culinary Adventure is aimed for the whole family, beginning with guests age 9 or older and the tour can accommodate up to 30 guests.
Experiences can include learning how to make pasta from scratch, roll sushi, or make farmer cheese.
Upon arrival in the kitchen, guests will be broken into groups and assigned a portion of the meal, which they’ll prepare with the aid of a Chef. Teams will regroup to introduce their menu item before sitting down to a wonderful group dinner. At the conclusion of the adventure, guests will be presented with a cookbook signed by the Chefs and a white Chef’s hat. In addition, beer and wine are included for Guests 21 years and over.
Also on hand will be a Disney PhotoPass photographer who will capture photos of the group during the experience.
This will be taking place at the Convention Center at the resort, and guests should check in for the event on the second floor of the Convention Center, near Atlantic Room B. The program is planned two evenings a week (days vary), starting at 5:00 p.m.
This experience costs $175 per adults and $125 for those ages 9-12.
Grab your passport and your poncho, because we’re continuing the rainy refrain from last column with a Best Week Ever visit to Epcot, or as I now call it, Wetcot. Recently, I’ve been on a mission to photograph the menus for every single eatery — table service, quick service, and vendor cart — inside the Walt Disney World parks, as part of our ongoing effort to provide you with the most complete and current WDW menu information anywhere on the internet. (If you think tracking down every food venue across four parks sounds stressful, pity Laurel’s poor fingers as she inputs thousands of items into our database.) But despite my practical purpose in visiting Epcot last week, I couldn’t help but pause for a moment to appreciate some of the park’s overlooked wonders, thanks to the wrath of Mother Nature.
It all started with cheerful blue skies, fluffy clouds, and blazing sunshine as I arrived in early afternoon. Don’t be fooled: this is Central Florida, where the weather can turn on you twice as fast as a spinning teacup.
Here’s what wait times were like in Epcot as I was riding the tram in. Not too ridiculous, considering that this day was predicted as a 9 out of 10 on our crowd calendar.
I had to chuckle as I spotted this construction wall signage near the tram drop-off. Perhaps it’s a not-so-subtle signal to the folks transforming Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After?
I do not like waiting in lines. I’m an impatient person and I always have been. But I do love Disney World so you can see how this could be a problem for me. Thankfully, Disney is all about making every experience at their parks magical. Yup, even the waiting in long lines part. Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a trend at Disney Parks where many attraction queues have been getting special care and attention to become more immersive and interactive. Of course, not all lines, waiting areas and queues are created equal. Some attraction queues are done so well that they feel like a natural extension of the attraction itself while others are indistinguishable from waiting in line at the bank only if the bank were outside in 90 degree weather and the customers all wore fanny packs and mouse ears. What was my point again? Oh right, the lines. Some Disney World lines are just a cut above the rest. These selected attractions below feature the Cadillacs of queues. They’ll have you saying, “Wow, look at those suckers with Fast Passes. They wish they could experience this line!” In all seriousness, though, I always appreciate excellent Disney Imagineering and I really believe that these queues are representative of that.
Bye bye Cyber Space Mountain. See you later Buzz Lightyear’s AstroBlasters. Sayonara Virtual Jungle Cruise. DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park will be officially closing its doors sometime in 2016. The extremely dated video and virtual game center which featured 5 floors of virtual worlds, 3D encounters, and classic video games will be making way for the recently announced NBA Experience.
NBA Experience will feature hands-on activities that put guests right in the middle of the NBA action, creating an immersive experience of both the game and its players. Guests will enjoy unique NBA video productions, a restaurant, and a store.
DisneyQuest opened in 1998 in Downtown Disney’s West Side and was originally supposed to become a chain, however, the idea didn’t take off like Disney had hoped.
There has been no official closing date announced, so I’ll make sure to keep you posted in the future.
Are you looking for a close walk back to your room after a couple of rounds at Trader Sam’s? Do you hold a Disney Visa from Chase? Are you traveling July 5 to October 3?
If you said yes to all these, Disney is offering a 35% discount on standard view studios at Disney’s Polynesian Village Villas & Bungalows when you book through your travel agent or with Disney over the phone and use your Disney Visa. Rack rates for these rooms range from $439 to $490/night during these dates so this offer can save you up to $170 a night, which is a lot of drinks at Sam’s – even if you spring for the souvenir tiki mug.
Epcot’s Behind the Seeds tour (photos by Sarah Graffam)
The Land Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World offers Disney World guests a cornucopia of experiences with its multiple attractions, a fantastic food court, a table service restaurant (that rotates!), and a behind-the-scenes tour. Even better is that many of these experiences are an excellent way to appreciate the original goal of Epcot—for guests to have fun while they learn. For these reasons, my family recently decided to complete a Land Pavilion Triple Play. Come along as we ride, eat, and tour at the Land Pavilion!
Creating a Touring Plan for a Triple Play
I decided that creating a personalized Touring Plan would be an excellent way to test the timing of spending an afternoon in Epcot experiencing the Land Pavilion’s attractions, taking its Behind the Seeds tour, and eating dinner at the Garden Grill Restaurant.
This plan would include a FastPass+ reservation at the Land’s Soarin’. To round out our allotment of three FastPass+ reservations per day, we would start our plan with just enough time to use FastPass+ at Spaceship Earth and the Seas with Nemo & Friends before heading to the Land Pavilion.
My first step was to book the Behind the Seeds tour. Booking the last tour of the day—at 4:30 PM—seemed like the best way to maintain a relaxed pace throughout the rest of our day. At the very latest, we would arrive at the Land Pavilion with enough time to experience the Living with the Land attraction before the tour. Living with the Land is a boat cruise through the same greenhouses where the in-depth Behind the Seeds walking tour takes place. This makes it a perfect way to get excited for the tour.
Guests enjoying Living with the Land boat attraction
We have reached the end of June and the non-stop amount of theme park new continues. Most importantly, our prayers were answered and Disney World banned the use of selfie sticks at any of its four theme parks, two water parks, and DisneyQuest. Over at Animal Kingdom, snacks shaped in the form of animal poop became an instant success last week, generating moreviralattention for Disney than I have seen in years, yet they have already been taken off the market. Meanwhile at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Frozen Summer Fun began its summer run, but with the good comes the bad, as it was also announced that The Magic of Disney Animation would be joining the Studio Backlot Tour, the Legend of Capt Jack Sparrow, Sounds Dangerous, American Idol Experience, and the Sorcerer’s Hat in the great big theme park in the sky. Universal, already in the middle of building an E-Ticket attraction (Skull Island: The Reign of Kong), a new hotel (Sapphire Falls) and a water park (Volcano Bay) also just committed to what looks like a MAJOR renovation of the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the removal of what is expected to be Twister: Ride It Out for a rumored attraction based on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Don’t the theme parks know it’s summer and they are supposed to be resting on their laurels while the theme parks are packed?!
Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).
This trip started off with a surreal experience at the Disney Character Warehouse on I-Drive (close to Universal) because everything in the store was 50% off the already discounted prices. A lot of stuff that was normally in the store was gone though, such as Tsum Tsums, most of the pins, all the plush, etc. Later in our journey I’ll explain why this once-in-a-lifetime sale was happening. However, to show the type of deal that this was, that next level bananas Mama Melrose sign had been brought down to “just” $30 after all the discounts were applied. I was tempted to buy it, if only as a gag gift for Len Testa, but somehow held back.
I promised to all that I will personally buy the BoardWalk Pizza Window sign if it is ever for sale. Because that will mean the place has finally been closed and I’ll be in euphoria.
It’s long been known that WDW Today’s own Matt Hochberg is terrified of the Dinosaur attraction at DHS, and you can imagine why if his parents ever got him this photo frame as a kid. I actually wish Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights merch was this scary. Originally $14.95, this was marked down to $7.99 (and keep in mind that would be $4 after the final discount.)
Last week crowds at Disney World dipped a little lower than expected on Monday and Tuesday thanks to lower waits at Epcot and Animal Kingdom but otherwise followed the curve predicted by the Disney World Crowd Calendar. That curve itself is interesting because it shows that weekends tend to be less busy than weekdays which is not usually the case other times of the year. It is summer now and that means family vacations are not determined by school schedules since most schools are not in session. Travellers tend to use Saturday and Sunday as travel days which means the parks are busier during the week.
Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the Touringplans.com Disney World Crowd Calendar Report: