This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Reasons We Love Harambe Nights at Animal Kingdom. When Walt Disney World announced its newest hard ticket event, Harambe Nights, we at the Saturday Six were a bit skeptical. At a starting price of $119.00 per person, this party is expensive even by Disney standards. However, we are big fans of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party as well as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and faithful readers will remember that we recently debunked the rumor that Animal Kingdom was a half day park, so a party at the Animal Kingdom is right up our alley.
Harambe Nights, itself, is a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Lion King, one of Disney’s all time greatest films. The centerpiece of the entire party is The Lion King: Concert in the Wild, a retelling of the classic story using a celebrity speaker, an orchestra, film clips, dancers and more. Does Harambe Nights justify the price tag? We’ll talk about that more at the end of the article, but we can safely say that the party delivers the goods, and here are our top six reasons why…
# 6 – Walk Around Characters
Both the Halloween and Christmas parties at the Magic Kingdom have character meet and greets that often draw huge lines. With time limited at the party, spending 30 minutes, one hour, or even two hours in line to meet Jack Skellington or the 7 Dwarfs is a big commitment. For Harambe Nights, there were several characters (including Mickey and Minnie in tradition African garb, Timon and Rafiki from The Lion King, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) that were roaming around meeting guests, just as many people remember them doing in the years before meet and greets became so structured. This was a refreshing and unexpected surprise.
Jambo, Everyone! Welcome to our look at the very blustery opening day of the Festival of the Lion King. When FastPass+ were released just a couple days before, I jumped at the chance to see this show return after a six month closure. Unfortunately, I was only able to reserve the last show of the day. Around 1pm I couldn’t wait any longer and decided to head to the park and attempt to get into the 2pm show through the standby line, even though it was drizzling outside. The new theater looks great and fits in perfectly with the rest of Harambe.
I arrived at the theater at 1:45pm and hopped in the line. It wasn’t as long as I’d expected, but I noticed people were only trickling in a few at a time. When I was closer to the podium, I was advised that only standing room was available for the show. I didn’t remember this from the old theater, so I decided to check it out for you guys. Basically, Disney is allowing guests to stand on the staircases around the seating areas and at the very back of the theater. I was pushed off to one side, so my photos didn’t turn out at all. The below photo will give you an idea what this view is like. Full disclosure: this is an older photo from the previous theater.
Hi Everyone! I had the best Saturday of park hopping and I wanted to share some observations with you. My day started when we parked at Animal Kingdom at 8:45am. While we were walking in we noticed it was much more crowded than we’d expected. Umm… oops… your trusty host had forgotten about Extra Magic Hours! I was so delighted to get a Fastpass+ for the Kilimanjaro Safaris at 9:05am that I hadn’t paid attention. Well, we decided to walk back and check the wait time to see if we could sneak on then use the Fastpass+ for a second ride. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded. We were able to pretty much walk on the first time but 30 minutes later we were so glad we had the Fastpass for a quick second ride! The line was already very slow moving for standby.
When you only have a few days to spend at Walt Disney World sacrifices have to be made. With so many shows and attractions to experience I think the interactive games in the parks are one of the first things to be cut. However, some of these are worth the time to explore. Today I’ll be ranking these from “lowest priority” to “can’t miss” and sharing a little bit of information about each. All of these games are included in your park admission so take notes on what you’d like to play on your next visit!
#4 – A Pirate’s Adventure: Just because this one came in 4th doesn’t mean it isn’t tons of fun! The reason I ranked it low is because the missions take very little effort, it’s short, and it seems to be targeted more for smaller children. Located in the Magic Kingdom this game is played entirely in Adventureland. It’s very easy to pick up a map and start a game. Simply stop by the sign up station located just past the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Once there you’ll be able to choose your mission and grab a map just by swiping your park admission ticket. Even if you don’t want to play grabbing a map is very quick and they make a nice, free souvenir. Captain Jack will surely sign your treasure map and that would look great in a scrapbook! If you decide to play you’ll be sent to a location on your map to start your mission. You can expect each mission to take about 15 minutes to complete. During this time you’ll visit 5 or so locations and experience 30-45 seconds of activity at each stop. There’s nothing needed from you with this one, you’ll just be watching the story unfold. You aren’t missing a ton skipping A Pirate’s Adventure but if you have an extra 15 minutes why not stop by? Especially if you have little kids they might just love it!
Welcome back to the continuing saga of Walt Disney World’s recent roll-out of Annual Passholder Advance FastPass+ privileges to the general public. As explained in our last episode, all WDW annual passholders should now be able to make up to 7 days of FastPass+ reservations within the next 30 days through the My Disney Experience website and apps. Last time, we looked at how I set up my first week of FastPass+ selections, and saw how my first intinerary turned out at Epcot (TLDR: not perfect, but pretty good).
This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Six Things We Wish Theme Park Fans Would Stop Complaining About. It’s hard to believe that in a land full of fantastical theme parks, luxurious hotels, and wonderful memories filled with pixie dust that people could have anything to complain about. But they do. In fact, after a thorough investigation the Saturday Six staff has compiled a list of 548,321 complaints, and that’s just in the Florida parks. Today we’re going to look at the six of most prevalent complaints and say “STAHP!”
If you thought Talking Mickey was a hit, wait till Barista Mickey makes his debut….
# 6 – “They are building too many Starbucks”
Out of nowhere, Starbucks has seemed to have taken over the theme park world in Florida. The first step in theme park world domination for the coffee brand? The beloved Main Street Bakery at the Magic Kingdom. Starbucks then moved over to Epcot and replaced the Fountain View Cafe, complete with a hidden Communicore logo to appease the hardcore fans. Two more Starbucks are coming to Downtown Disney, and it is rumored that locations will be opening up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as well. Not to be outdone, the Starbucks location over at Universal’s CityWalk is moving from its second floor No-Man’s-Land location down onto the ground level, and Island of Adventure’s Arctic Express has been converted into a Starbucks, as well.
What’s going here? The answer is simple. People love Starbucks. Period. The Starbucks brand is strong enough that it can charge a premium price for a drink you can get almost anywhere else cheaper, and have people lining up for it. While the Main Street Bakery certainly wasn’t hurting for business before, it’s easy to see how successful the ones at Downtown Disney and Universal will be compared to what they are replacing. The new Starbucks locations are in prime real estate and will be all but printing money.
If these Starbucks locations were McDonald’s, you could make a case that there are better restaurants all over either property. If the locations were Dunkin’ Donuts you could make a case that there are better bakeries around. But no one at Disney or Universal is doing a better job than Starbucks at making good coffee and, as far as we know, the world didn’t end when the first Grande Latte went out.
This weekend I went over to Animal Kingdom to test FastPass+ and to check out the former site of Camp Minnie-Mickey. I thought you guys would like to come with me! Saturday was very cold by Florida standards! The high was only 57 degrees, so I was thankful afternoon FastPass+ slots were available for Kilimanjaro Safaris. I secured our 3:40 – 4:40 time slot. Since all FastPass+ reservations come in trios, I was also assigned FastPass+ to meet Mickey and to see Finding Nemo – The Musical. Upon arriving at 2:30pm I discovered parking attendants weren’t even directing cars where to park! This suggested that crowds would be manageable. Here is what it looked like walking in:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom began exclusive use of FastPass+ on earlier this month. At that time, we updated of our Disney’s Animal Kingdom touring plans to use only FastPass+. Each plan now lists the suggested Fastpass+ start times for the attractions that will save you the most time in line, like this:
Suggested start times for FastPass+ reservations:
Kali River Rapids = 10 AM DINOSAUR = 1 PM Kilimanjaro Safaris = 4 PM
The updated plans are very efficient – the average wait in line should be under 7 minutes per step during summer for our standard 1-day Unofficial Guide Touring Plan - with more than an hour of free time available in the afternoon.
When we updated the plans, we kept track of how many times each attraction was identified as needing FastPass+. As we did for the Magic Kingdom’s FastPass+ priorities, here’s the Animal Kingdom’s chart:
Based on how much this blog has covered the ongoing FastPass+ rollout at Walt Disney World over the past year or two, you might assume every member of the Touring Plans team already has enough MagicBands to decorate their Christmas tree (I’m looking at you, Morgan Crutchfield). But since I haven’t stayed in a Walt Disney World on-site hotel since before the MyMagic+ program began, I’ve been excluded…until now. As we reported, Animal Kingdom went FastPass+-only late last year, followed by the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, January 14, and the rest of the parks will remove their paper legacy FASTPASS machines shortly. Now that the FastPass+ service has been opened to all guests, this acknowledged sceptic took the plunge with my first Annual Passholder FastPass+ experience.
To be precise, my first FastPass+ adventure was an incomplete attempt that was unfair to judge the service by. Earlier in January, I tried using the service on one of the first days it was offered to off-site guests by visiting the kiosks outside Disney Outfitters on Discovery Island.
There was no wait, and a friendly cast member assisted me in using the touchscreen computer to enter my information and select three attractions.
Date: December 15, 2013 Weather: High 70°F, low 45°F Crowd Level: 3
With temperatures cooling off for a bit, I decided to head to Animal Kingdom. The park tends to get very close when it’s hot, and the cooler weather was welcome even though the sun was in and out all day. I admittedly don’t spend a lot of time in this park, as it’s my least favorite, but I wanted to see the Christmas decorations and get a feel for the changes that are happening around the park.
First things first: the Christmas Tree. Animal Kingdom’s version is outside the entrance touch points and is a pretty cool sight. I’m a big fan of the animal ornaments mixed with snowflakes.
Look for the possibility of some congestion at the entrances and FastPass+ kiosks this week starting the 18th as Animal Kingdom tests FastPass+ for day guests. Lower crowd levels in general should keep things fairly smooth, but it is something to watch for.
Once inside, I started on a tour of the shops. The shops at Animal Kingdom all seem so big and airy, and I really like the outside theming. And, you know, Christmas decorations!