It’s time for another Walt Disney World news & rumor roundup! This one offers the latest look at extended hours for the holiday season, drama about Disney’s CEO cancelling on Destination D23, what we can expect to be announced during that fan event, and a new $5,000+ dinner at Disney Springs.
As usual, we’ll start with the latest release of new and modified operating schedules. All four theme parks have had hours for another week added to DisneyWorld.com’s park hours. The current calendar now runs through January 29, 2022. Here are the hours for most dates that are newly-added through the end of this year and into early 2022:
Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 8 pm
Epcot: 10 am to 9 pm
Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 9 pm
Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 7 pm
Disney Springs: 10 am to 11 pm (11:30 pm on Fridays & Saturdays)
As a reminder, Magic Kingdom closes at 8 pm on Disney Very Merriest After Hoursdates, with that Christmas party running from 9 pm until 1 am. In addition to that schedule quirk, there are a handful of extensions and cutbacks to report between now and January 2022…
Epcot keeps having its opening time moved forward to 10 am. It’s been opening at 10 am for the last month-plus, but the schedule had shown Epcot reverting to 11 am openings just in time for the busier holiday season. Obviously, that made no sense in terms of crowd-levels, so we assumed that those were boilerplate hours that would be extended along with demand.
That’s exactly what has happened, with Epcot now opening at 10 am up through November 27, 2021. That’s the weekend of Thanksgiving, and while crowds do typically let up starting that Sunday, we’re still pretty confident Epcot’s hours will be extended beyond 11/27. This particular extension has been happening in weekly increments, and our expectation is that Epcot will open at 10 am (or earlier) for the remainder of 2021.
In addition to this, Magic Kingdom has had its closing time extended to 10 pm on several Saturdays during the holiday season. Don’t fall for this trap!
Additionally, Magic Kingdom is scheduled to close at 4:30 pm on January 25, 2022. This is likely for an event recognizing Cast Member service and milestones, which is the best possible reason for Magic Kingdom to close early to guests.
The main story in this Walt Disney World news roundup is interesting pre-Destination D23 news and pointless palace intrigue. With regard to the latter, one “controversy” in the fan community this week has been Disney CEO Bob Chapek cancelling his appearance at the Destination D23 event for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Normally, Destination D would be an event focused on history, behind the scenes stories, and hearing semi-candid commentary from retired Imagineers and Disney Legends. We’ve done a number of D23 events–including Destination D for Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary–and have always had a great time, but it’s usually very different from D23 Expo.
However, this year that has changed. Due to the cancellation of the flagship D23 Expo, it’s expected that a major announcement or two will occur at Destination D. In the minds of fans, this was supported by Bob Chapek’s presence–big announcements would be the biggest reason for the CEO to attend an event otherwise focused on the past. (As CEO, Bob Iger never attended Destination D, to my knowledge.)
However, the schedule was recently revised to remove Bob Chapek from the opening lineup. “Bob has a conflict in Los Angeles on Friday night and couldn’t make it back to Orlando on time,” said Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler.
Speaking to the official D23 podcast, Chapek said this: “I’m sorry. I had every intention of trying to make it this year, as you know I’ve made the last several, and I really love that event. Unfortunately, this year given the new job and given tugs I get from several different areas it’s impossible for me to make it. But I will be there in spirit.” Chapek added that he’ll be watching the event, but it might be from 50,000 feet.
There’s been a lot of speculation among fans about Chapek’s real reason for canceling. In our view, those theories are at least superficially plausible…but also, pointless. There is literally no way of knowing why Chapek cancelled. It could be an entirely innocuous reason, more calculated, or a personal matter that’s none of our business. It could also be the fact that Josh D’Amaro is already in town for IAAPA, and it makes sense for him to handle as Chairman of Parks & Resorts.
I don’t like being in the position of defending Bob Chapek, but some fans are singularly focused on vilifying him. While the buck absolutely stops with him, some of the decisions fans are lamenting are made at a far lower level, were set in motion before he took the helm, and/or were inevitabilities given the last year-plus.
Fans want a convenient villain for every perceived problem, and he’s an easy one. He sets the top-down tone, but he’s also the head of one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates with a broad range of business units. The dude is not solely responsible for every single small decision at Walt Disney World. Moreover, if it weren’t Chapek in charge while these unpopular cuts were made, it’d be someone else. (There’s a reason Bob Iger abruptly stepped down in late February of last year…with his legacy intact!)
This is not to defend all of the cutbacks, nickel & diming, upcharges, and so forth. Many decisions of the past year have been cringe-worthy to put it charitably, and I fear the long-term damage to fan goodwill will leave a lasting impression that takes years to be undone. Rather, I’m suggesting that all of this started before the closure and accelerated after it. In some cases, the last year has offered a pretext to do what the company has long desired; in others, similar issues are occurring across the hospitality and travel industries. It’s not good for consumers, but neither is fixating on the company’s CEO.
As for the anticipated substance of Destination D23, Chapek also teased that the event would offer a sneak peek at the Walt Disney Company’s plans for Disney’s 100th Anniversary in 2023. He said this celebration will “set the tone” for the coming years.
Originally, one of the advertised highlights of the next D23 Expo in September 2022 was a first look at the “Disney Centennial Celebration” plans, but that preview was moved up–by almost a full year–to this weekend. That the preview will likely occur on Saturday morning during the “Connections: A Look at the Future of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products” panel with DPEP Chairman Josh D’Amaro.
For the last several months, my hyped has been relatively restrained for what’s going to be announced at Destination D23. I thought the best case scenario would be new Epcot concept art, and maybe details/clarity about the Play Pavilion, new fast casual restaurant, and other project components about which the company has been silent.
My expectations still are not high, and I maintain that those wanting a big reveal for Zootopia land, Brazil, Journey into Imagination replacement, or literally anything that involves breaking ground are setting themselves up for disappointment. However, I am heartened by recent rumors and what sure seems like a new sense of urgency within Disney.
It’s too early to say for sure that the company is ready to “switch gears,” but this weekend would be the first indication if that’s going to happen. And it should, given what Walt Disney World’s competitor up the road is doing with Epic Universe and everything else.
So I’ll modify my original prediction to new Epcot concept art and clarified details plus a flurry of entertainment news for Walt Disney World. I could also see the latter being announced today (November 19, 2021) so it doesn’t get lost over the weekend and heading into the Thanksgiving holiday. It also wouldn’t surprise me if something totally random and out of left field is announced at Destination D23 that hasn’t been credibly rumored anywhere.
In other news, Walt Disney World has announced that guests staying in an on-site resort can now charge food and merchandise purchases to the payment card on file for the hotel room via your Disney MagicMobile pass in Apple Wallet or Google Pay.
As a reminder, Disney MagicMobile is essentially a MagicBand alternative. It allows guests to enter theme parks, connect PhotoPass images to your My Disney Experience account, and tap into the virtual queue or Lightning Lane entrance when it’s your time to arrive. See How to Use MagicMobile at Walt Disney World for info on setting up the service.
Next, the new Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Adventure downloadable content pack is now available in Minecraft. This map is a recreation of Magic Kingdom that you can explore, complete with familiar characters, iconic attractions, and more. Meet 25 beloved characters and collect their autographs, walk down Main Street and see the Dapper Dans, or be on the lookout for 20+ souvenirs including Spirit Jerseys and Mickey Mouse Ear Headbands, as well as 20 different iconic food and drinks like Pineapple DOLE Whip Cup. Players can even end their Minecraft day at WDW by witnessing a spectacular fireworks show at Cinderella Castle.
From the screenshots and video I’ve seen, it’s a pretty thorough creation, right down to Sonny Eclipse performing inside Cosmic Ray’s! While I enjoy gaming, I’ve never played Minecraft, but have seen and appreciated the fan recreations of Disney theme parks for several years via social media. Cool that Disney itself is finally jumping on the bandwagon.
Continuing with “things for the youths,” Walt Disney World has launched more Disney PhotoPass AR Lenses. These new Lenses, along with the current collection, are available through the My Disney Experience app with a purchase of Disney Genie+ service.
The newest augmented reality lenses, let you embrace your icy powers like Elsa, adopt a problem-free philosophy with Timon, bundle up and avoid the clutches of the Yeti, accessorize with themed glasses that reflect magical icons, and show off your sweet and salty sides.
I’m normally totally uninterested in Snapchat and whatever other social media uses AR stuff, but we’ve had a blast playing around with the AR lenses in My Disney Experience. The Castle Cake is really cool, as are several other options. Admittedly, part of the fun is laughing at how inept we are and it taking longer than it should to get the lenses to work correctly.
Finally, Disney Springs will play host to a $5,055 dinner, but on the plus side, that price includes tax and gratuity. The big ballers reading this blog can join Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto on December 4 for Yamazaki 55 Momokase at Morimoto Asia. This meal will feature one of the oldest and rarest Japanese whiskies in the world: Yamazaki 55. Only 200 bottles of this 55-year-old whisky were produced, and one is at Morimoto Asia.
High rolling guests will enjoy a multi-course dining experience, with a customized menu prepared by Iron Chef Morimoto. Each taste will be masterfully designed to pair with aged Yamazaki whisky of 12, 18, and 25 years. Guests will finish their culinary journey by becoming one of a select few in the world to get to taste the smooth and woody notes of the exclusive and high-end Yamazaki 55. Each attendee will take home a custom engraved Yamazaki 55 glass, an elegant and unique keepsake of the evening. This once-in-a-lifetime experience will take place at Morimoto Asia’s sushi bar and is extremely limited, with only 14 seats available.
What do you think about all this Walt Disney World news? Do you have any opinion on Bob Chapek skipping Destination D23, or think fans are making way too big of a deal of this? What are you expecting to be announced at this year’s Destination D23 event? Will you be attending the $5,000 meal at Disney Springs? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!