News and Views around Walt Disney World-first week of June, 2014
I know I have said this before, but really, there is SO much going on at Walt Disney World these days. The expansion of the parks(Animal Kingdom with Avatar Land), grand opening of a new expansion of Harambe, Africa in Animal Kingdom, which also houses the brand new Harambe Theatre where we saw the return of “Festival of the Lion King”, Pineapple Dole Whips now available at Tamu Tamu Refreshments, more shopping as stores are opened at Downtown Disney and in the new section in Africa, Animal Kingdom, Grand Opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride which completes the Fantasyland expansion, phew, I need to take a breath.
We are just getting started! New in Animal Kingdom this week is the beginning of the nighttime event “Harambe Nights” that is a sell-out for June 7th, can be experienced through August 2014, but buy your tickets as soon as possible because they are rapidly selling out. From the information provided to us through the Disney Parks Blog we can see that this was a well thought out event, unlike the “Epcot After Hours” event that came together at the last minute. The price difference is significantly higher but you are getting an amazing evening event in the Animal Kingdom! The evening begins at 7PM with appetizers in the village of Harambe, Africa. You will sample African and Indian cuisine through the evening. Beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks are included with this ticket. You will then be treated to a celebrity-narrated special version of the “Festival of the Lion King”. Following the show you will be treated to dinner and a street party in Harambe and also the chance to meet some of the actors from the show. Like I said, well thought out, creating an entire evening of Disney fun, food, entertainment. Check the DisneyDining.com website for a review of this hard ticket event.
The second New Starbucks, which is a flagship store for Walt Disney World, opened this week in Downtown Disney West Side. We are hearing that things are moving forward in the Avatar Land area of Animal Kingdom and that we can expect multiple rides with ground-breaking audio-animatronics with the Navi characters. Going along with Animal Kingdom’s moving into nighttime entertainment, the new Avatar area will be designed to be amazing in the day and the evening hours. This Avatar area is slated to open in early 2017. The parking garages at Downtown Disney are moving up, and the road out front is being widened to seven lanes. New restaurants are under construction and the causeway continues to reach across toward the other side of Downtown Disney Marketplace. My teenager and I discovered this weekend that the bus transportation from the old Pleasure Island bus stop has ended. She was dropped at the very end of the DD Marketplace and had to book it through the heavy crowd to the DD West Side to meet me. The Disney bus transportation to and from that middle area previously known as Pleasure Island no longer exists. (By the way, we saw Maleficent at the AMC Theatre in DD, we loved it! It is just so….different than what I expected and that is ok….see it and tell us what you think. Spoilers held for awhile please so everyone can get to see it who wants to.) Something else that is changing on the Magic Kingdom Times Guide is the extension of their hours, and therefore new FastPass+ times, for Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairy Tale Hall. Quick, go get those FastPass+’s! The Frozen sisters will be available from park opening until 30 minutes prior to park close now. Snow White is now greeting guests in the Town Square Courtyard. Tinker Bell can be seen in Town Square Theater and she has a FastPass+ line.
Going on behind the scenes, starting last year, rides that offer photographs have been testing MagicBands to automatically load the photograph to the guests’ MyDisneyExperience account. This would only work for guests wearing their MagicBands and the initial roll out of this will take place on June 3rd in all four parks for guests who have purchased the Memory Maker package. It will not work with the RFID ticket because it does not carry the long-range capability that the Magic Bands do. If you have a Memory Maker that is active, and you are wearing your Magic Band, then your photo from the ride should load automatically to your MyDisneyExperience account. If you do not have a Memory Maker active account, then you will need to go to the photo purchase area at the end of the ride to get your photos.
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If you have a Memory Maker Package, but not a MagicBand, you can both purchase a MagicBand,link it to your MyDisneyExperience account to get the photos automatically, or you can go to the photo station at the end of the attraction and scan your card. The attractions that include this service is Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, and Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios you will find this service at Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Epcot has one attraction offering this, Test Track. Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers the service at Expedition Everest and Dinosaur. If this becomes popular we may be getting more photo ops on other attractions. This is the first experience that you must be wearing a MagicBand in order to use it. Up until now guests have been able to do the same things, such as using the FastPass+ feature, with their RFID plastic tickets. It looks like Magic Band purchases may be on the up rise then. This will certainly lead to other long range services offered through the Magic Bands. What would you like to see it do?
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride opened in Fantasyland to all guests on May 28, 2014. Yes, we are happy that the ride is open, it is a fun ride. This is the first Walt Disney World ride to open in recent years without any Annual Passholder previews, so I am disappointed in that. Annual Passholders make a large investment in the parks and early previews of new attractions is one of the selling points for slapping down that much cash for an AP. The Magic Kingdom Park Guide made a change in appearance on May 28th, a Wednesday, putting a photo of guests enjoying Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on the cover, adding it to the map area where previously it showed a grassy island, and of course in the “Fantasyland” section of the guide a description of the ride and its restrictions. You can see a scan of the Park Guide Map below showing these additions. I was just in there today and the wait time in late afternoon is about 2 hours. There was rain off and on today so on dry days that would probably tick up a bit. Hearing peoples’ responses as they watch it go by is so much fun. Every age is excited to ride and after watching dozens of trains go by I can tell you that every face looked happy.
I attended an opening day performance of “Festival of the Lion King” in the new Harambe Theatre. I had a FastPass+ with the time of 3:30PM. I arrived at 3:30PM and the queue was already quite full so if you want first choice of seating I guess you need to come much earlier that your FastPass+ time. I had visited the area earlier in the day and asked the Cast Member how this worked if it was like the regular FastPass+ and you were admitted into the FP+ line precisely at that time. She told me yes. I was disappointed to find that this was not the case when I went back for the show. It was raining pretty hard and the people who entered the FP+ line just ahead of me did not want to move forward because there was no ceiling to the queue in the area directly ahead of them and we would have all been standing there in the pouring rain. A Cast Member came through and moved everyone in the dry part of the queue up closer together allowing more of us into the dry area. The building was a former fort, according to the signage on the outside. As you walk through the entrance it is laden with rugs, baskets, etc., above your head to add some color and a bit of what you may see in “Harambe”. As we came into the theatre we were told to choose from any of the four seating areas, and I noticed that the Standby line had been admitted to the other side entrance at the same time as the FP+ line I was in. We had to take a seat in the bleachers as a result of that, but they were not horrible seats. I just though with FP+ you should be able to sit further down toward the front. I don’t think if you use one of your FP+ times you should not have to scramble for a seat. The show is the same as the original show in the old theater. This show has an amazing energy to it that I always found very enjoyable and it did not disappoint. The singers, the acrobats, the dancers, actors were very good and you won’t be sorry that you came to see this show. I don’t think you should use a FP+ time for it, unless they have either reserved seats for FP+ people or they give you the time to get a seat before letting in the Stand By Line. Children, especially if you are down front, will enjoy being asked to join in the dancing with the Cast Members. One person from each section has a brief interactive experience with one of the main performers at the very beginning of the show too. The costumes were great and the music from The Lion King is so beautiful and you will find yourself singing along at some point. I am glad this show is back! Nearby are restrooms and a merchandise kiosk that holds Lion King items. The Harambe Theatre is just behind Tusker House Restaurant.
While in Fantasyland tonight I came across some Cast Members taking glasses of cold water to those in line at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or anyone else who asked for one along the way. How nice is that! Notice the next time you are in Fantasyland all the new castle details that have been built, new paint, and gold accents as well. Oh my gosh, I wish you had been in the park with me today, because guess who else was there? Lana Parilla, who plays Regina in Once Upon A Time!