12 Days of Disney Parks Christmas Recap & Grades

For its 12 Days of Christmas series, Disney recently shared updates on several projects opening in 2018 at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond. In this post, we’ll recap the announcements and give “grades” to what we think of each.

While this series does not present a comprehensive look at what’s opening in 2018 at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, it does offer a window into what Disney views as its key slate of enhancements–at least as of right now. We’re hopeful more will be announced in the next few months, because this list alone probably isn’t going to excite many people into booking vacations in 2018.

With that said, let’s take a look at what was announced during the Disney Parks Blog’s 12 Days of Christmas series, and what we thought of each reveal…

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort Upgrades: More details were provided for the biggest hotel overhaul at the Walt Disney World Resort, including a look at the new restaurant’s aesthetics.

Grade – B: Not exactly a “sexy” announcement that is going to get people booking trips, but it’s hard to come up with 12 new things for next year at the US parks. (Come 2020 Disney will have to pull a Hallmark channel and start its Christmas ‘countdown’ in October because there will be so much to cover.)

In any case, this scores some points because it’s refreshing to see that the redesign won’t be a bland attempt to make another Walt Disney World hotel more mainstream and crowd-pleasing. The concept art shows a good balance of theme and class, and we’re hopeful the finished product reflects that, as well.

Pixar Play Parade Updates: Three new “story elements” coming to the Pixar Play Parade when it returns April 13, 2018 to Disneyland Resort as part of the limited-time Pixar Fest celebration.

Grade – C: On the plus side, this interminably long parade won’t be getting much longer since these are just “story elements” and not fully-fledged floats or units. On the down side, Pixar Play Parade is not being put out of its misery (and instead is doing that to the superior parade).

We are cutting a bit of slack in the grade here since this announcement was just about the additions, and those are a nice way of integrating new stories into this aging parade. The original decision to move Pixar Play Parade to Disneyland would merit an F- (or worse, if that’s possible).

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival Expanding: DCA’s food festival has been a crowd-pleasing hit each of its first two years in this new format, so it’s no surprise to see it stretched to six weeks in 2018.

Grade – A: Plenty of fans lament the perpetual “festival season” at Epcot, but the vibe at DCA is totally different. The festivals have not consumed the calendar, nor do they create congestion or a raucous atmosphere.

At this point, the DCA Food & Wine Festival is a fun option that enhances the park without any baggage. We welcome a bit of expansion, and we’d hazard a guess the vast majority of locals overwhelmingly agree.

Shanghai Disneyland Toy Story Land Opening: Disney’s newest park gets its first expansion on April 26, 2018 with the opening of the third Toy Story Land.

Grade – D: Much like [redacted since this is a family blog], Toy Story Land is spreading uncontrollably. And it’s about as desirable as [redacted], too.

It’s one thing when Toy Story Lands are added as cheap filler constituting a portion of better expansion plans (see Hong Kong Disneyland or Disney’s Hollywood Studios), but it’s disappointing for this to be the entirety of the first “major” expansion at Shanghai post-opening. That park still needs a lot, and this does little to flesh out the sprawling lands. Eh, at least you won’t need to see a doctor after a visit to Toy Story Land. (Hopefully.)

Skyliner Details: The new Walt Disney World transportation system that’ll provide an interesting journey and a picturesque view of the resort had concept art for some of its stations shared.

Grade – C: If we were giving a grade to just the Skyliner concept, it’d likely be an A. We are really excited for more non-bus transportation at Walt Disney World, and gondolas are awesome.

The concept art here fell a bit flat for us, with some of the designs feeling overly utilitarian and looking under-Imagineered. These have us a bit concerned, and we’re hoping Walt Disney World is not taking a quantity over quality approach with its staggering slate of projects.

Up Show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Replacing Flights of Wonder, this new show will feature Senior Wilderness Explorer Russell and Dug as they discover species of birds from around the world at the Caravan Theater in Anandapur village.

Grade – A: This might be where we lose some of you. Flights of Wonder is a fan-favorite, and many lamented its closure when that was announced last month. While we include ourselves in fans of the show, we haven’t seen it in a while, and when we heard it was closing, our reaction was basically, “it’s had a good run.”

This sounds like the same style of show except with a new narrative framework to introduce a variety of birds, which is a huge relief to us. We were concerned it’d be a smile and wave character show (and it still could, to some degree). While we found the tour guide angle of Flights of Wonder amusing the first few times we saw it, that trope is so 1990s Universal Studios. Utilizing the Up characters for a bird show feels like a potentially-perfect fit here, and one that could seamlessly merge Disney characters with educational animal encounters. We’ll take a wait and see approach here, but the early details sound good to us.

Hong Kong Disneyland Castle Re-Imagining: New concept art was released showing this amalgamation of storybook influences and styles, inspired by the Disney princesses.

Grade – F: My response to the previous concept art was that it appeared to be a hodgepodge, and I hoped the finished design would reflect a more cohesive, singular style. Somehow, the new concept art is even worse, and Disney confirmed that the hodgepodge approach is the one they’re taking.

We chuckled a bit when Disney’s statement said that the new style was chosen to “reflect the cosmopolitan character of Hong Kong.” Let’s call a spade a spade: ostentatious styles are popular with the park’s primary demographic, and Hong Kong Disneyland guests want what they see at Shanghai Disneyland. A city’s cosmopolitan nature should not be reflected in a single piece of architecture–it’s reflected in the variety of different experiences and structures (to that end, Hong Kong Disneyland is already “cosmopolitan.”) Obviously, this is just PR fluff, but it still represents the misguided way of thinking that’s driving this decision.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Update: Imagineers shared photos of their fleet of X-wing starfighters and inside the Millennium Falcon, plus details about how research for the new planet of Batuu was conducted in the exotic street markets of Istanbul and Marrakech. (All of this came out of the Galactic Nights hard ticket event, and the other minor details shared there also amped up our hype levels.)

Grade – A: Last week I commented that the new Beauty and the Beast land is the most exciting addition coming to Disney Parks around the world for us. That’s still true, but with each update that makes Star Wars land a little more real, its stock rises. We knew Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was going to be detailed and immersive, but the extent of that is difficult to comprehend until you can see those details. It’s going to be a tough couple of years as Disney slowly teases these details with a slow trickle of images like this on the Parks Blog.

We still hear from non-Star Wars fans who resent this addition, and indicate they plan on avoiding Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge since it supposedly offers nothing for them. This was a bit understandable when the expansion was an abstraction; seeing all we’ve since seen, I find this perspective logically untenable. It doesn’t matter what the underlying intellectual property is here, the very prospect of stepping onto a fully fledged mountainous, exotic planet is downright cool.

Pixar Pier Update: They showed a couple of photos from a model, reiterating things we already knew.

Grade – F: The update was not “it’s canceled” so this earns another failing score from us.

The remaining announcements during the 12 Days of Christmas don’t really merit lengthy discussion. We’re glad the Disney on Broadway series is returning to the Epcot International Festival of the Arts 2018, so the very notion of that would merit an A grade from us. New Star Wars Day at Sea Experiences are coming to Disney Cruise Line, but it all sounds like fairly standard changes in minor entertainment following the new film (so, B grade, maybe?). A new Moana experience is coming to Aulani, but it’s paid and a price wasn’t announced, so it’s probably pricey. New details for Terralina Crafted Italian were also revealed. Both of these last two announcements would earn “shoot we don’t have 12 things, what can we tack on to round out this series?” grades from us.

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Your Thoughts

What were your favorite announcements during the 12 Days of Christmas series? Any of these grades with which you disagree? Any additional commentary to add? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

15 Responses to “12 Days of Disney Parks Christmas Recap & Grades”
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