Disney World News: Christmas Crowds, Project Progress, Sunrise Series
It’s time for another Walt Disney World news round-up! This one begins with a Disney+ programming update, Christmas crowd trends and wait time data, plus updates on construction at EPCOT, BoardWalk Inn, and Flamingo Crossings Town Center.
Let’s start with a new addition to Disney+ called the Disney Parks Sunrise Series. Here’s the programming description: “At daybreak, the first rays of sunlight gleam through the spires of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, beam between the remarkable branches of The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and shimmer onto the brilliant sphere of Spaceship Earth at EPCOT. It’s a view of Disney Parks not often enough enjoyed — Walt Disney World Resort, The Most Magical Place on Earth, at sunrise.”
I’ll admit that promoting the Disney Parks Sunrise Series here is entirely selfish. We are huge fans of atmospheric videos, and have watched these previous recordings of the sunrise at EPCOT and Magic Kingdom dozens of times on YouTube. My hope is that these will prove popular on Disney+ and result in Disney throwing that sweet direct-to-consumer budget towards producing a ton more of them. So please, once Christmas is over, watch these on Disney+ every day. In the meantime, watch the Arendelle Castle Yule Log daily, as I’d also like to see several (better) versions of videos like that made.
Now let’s turn to some coverage of Christmas crowds at Walt Disney World. Because we’re nerds, we’ve been closely watching wait time data to see if our theory that once the two-week Annual Pass blockouts hit, crowds would drop at Walt Disney World.
The answer to that is yes and no…
If we look only at weekend wait times at EPCOT, our theory would be vindicated. A drop of 31% on Friday, 37% on Saturday, and 28% on Sunday. (Numbers courtesy of Thrill-Data.com.) It’s an open and shut case–we were right!
Not so fast. Stopping the analysis at EPCOT and patting ourselves on the back would be disingenuous, since we knew going in that EPCOT would see the biggest drop. It’s the “local’s park” at Walt Disney World and also the consolation prize for Annual Passholders who can’t score Park Pass reservations anywhere else. It’s totally unsurprising that the blockouts would result in these drops.
The story is similar at Animal Kingdom. There, week over week Friday through Sunday drops ranged from 23% to 28%.
This speaks to Animal Kingdom’s Park Pass availability, guest demand, and higher overall capacity (something EPCOT also has going for it).
The wheels wobble on this theory once we get to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which are both up and down depending upon the day. Changes at DHS were more or less nominal, but Magic Kingdom had more pronounced trends.
We didn’t expect to see any drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios–as we’ve discussed repeatedly, it’s close to fully booked almost every single day, which is a function of high demand and by far the lowest capacity of any park at Walt Disney World.
We had hoped to see a drop at Magic Kingdom.
The weekend started promising, with a 10% slide on Friday. However, crowds inched up on Saturday and spiked on Sunday. The obvious conclusion here is that more Christmas week visitors arrived as the weekend wore on, and top priority was Magic Kingdom.
In perusing the Disney Park Pass availability calendar, we should expect this trend to continue throughout the coming week. Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are fully booked for resort guests and ticket holders various days throughout this week.
Conversely, the Annual Passholder bucket has plenty of availability, with only DHS unavailable the next two days and only Magic Kingdom unavailable on Christmas. The trends were similar over this past weekend, with multiple options in all three buckets–a stark contrast to the totally sold out prior two weekends.
Anecdotally, our experiences this weekend more or less reflect that. If anything, EPCOT felt less busy than even the data indicates–not a huge surprise as many of the blocked-out locals simply visit EPCOT to hang out, whereas the tourists who were still visiting the park prioritize rides. (Even then, we saw Frozen Ever After with its queue within Norway and only a 25-40 minute posted wait throughout the day.)
Magic Kingdom didn’t feel much different than the last time we visited; the week after Thanksgiving was definitely the ‘sweet spot’ for Magic Kingdom. With that said, if comparing year over year instead of week over week, Magic Kingdom was downright slow for the weekend before Christmas.
Normally, there would be Cast Members holding one-way signs in Fantasyland, waits for the restrooms, and we’d find ourselves escaping to Tom Sawyer Island to eat at Aunt Polly’s by 11 am. (Slightly bummed we couldn’t do the last thing.) Wasn’t even remotely that busy this year.
Nevertheless, crowd levels at Magic Kingdom were higher than we expected, and will only likely get worse as the week continues and more holiday tourists arrive. Between wait times and other observations discussed below, we’ve been mildly surprised.
Walt Disney World is clearly anticipating heavy holiday crowds. Numerous restaurants have temporarily reopened for the remainder of the year. Many others that have been operating the last couple of months will be re-closing again in January and February after the holiday rush.
It’s a fool’s errand to try forecasting Walt Disney World crowds right now…but I’m a fool. In looking forward, my expectation is another crowd spike when AP blockouts are lifted while Orange and Osceola County schools are out of session, with another drop following that. That’s exactly what happened this year, which caught a lot of people by surprise.
Beyond that, 2021 is anyone’s guess. The a few factors that have driven attendance surges the last several winters will be non-existent, but that doesn’t mean locals starved of alternative entertainment or things to do won’t make up that shortfall. Regardless, we’d expect crowds returning in full force come Easter and Spring Break.
Back in the here and now, we noticed more guests at the Seven Seas Lagoon and Crescent Lake resorts this weekend than at any point since reopening. We were at all of those hotels this weekend, and they were significantly busier than what we experienced during our stays the previous week.
It was the same story at Flamingo Crossings. We drive past these hotels literally every day, and have not seen that many cars in the parking lots since we started paying attention to how many cars were in the parking lot (so, since April–it wasn’t really an “interesting” thing to check out prior to then).
In related news, the new Home2 Suites by Hilton opened at Flamingo Crossings last week, suggesting that the management company operating these hotels is seeing more demand. There’s also a new Homewood Suites by Hilton that looks like it could be ready to open any day now, plus a Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Hampton Inn that are probably a few months away.
Construction on the whole Flamingo Crossings Town Center has continued at a brisk pace throughout this entire year (unlike in the parks, it never stopped). Just last week, Walt Disney World released the above concept art and announced nine more tenants lined up for the 200,000-square-foot shopping, dining, and hotel complex.
Target will serve as the anchor store, with PDQ, Five Guys, Ben & Jerry’s, Dunkin, Wendy’s, Five Below, Domino’s, Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ, Firehouse Sub, Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co., Pieology Pizzeria, Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, and UPS store also announced by Disney as tenants.
This is all technically on-property at Walt Disney World, despite being outside the Western Way entranceway to Walt Disney World. For those unfamiliar with the area, it’s about a 7-minute drive from Coronado Springs.
If you want to stay on a budget but also have some semblance of the Disney “bubble,” it’s worth noting that the stretch between the parks and Flamingo Crossings is almost entirely undeveloped. Most of the stretch is actually Animal Kingdom backstage and Reedy Creek Environmental Services. There’s wildlife throughout the area, and we see armadillos on occasion along the road, much to Sarah’s elation.
Finally, a couple of construction updates. The first is the Luna Park Pool at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. We’ve been covering the roller coaster saga of the Keister Coaster slide (click here to be brought up to speed) and now we have the conclusion of that, as the result has been unveiled.
We are incredibly disappointed. Even if you’re scared of clowns and found the previous version of the slide creepy, there’s no excusing an uninspired and cheap redo that quite literally amounts to stickers on flat panels. This is about as ambitious as a themed construction scrim.
Above is what we could’ve had, except with Mickey Mouse instead of Woody. A less creepy design, but one also inspired by Luna Park that maintains the character, quality, and dimensionality of its predecessor. Instead, we got stickers of Mickey and friends. (It also seems like a really ill-advised idea that’ll age terribly given exposure to the elements.)
There’s no excuse for this at a Deluxe Resort charging rates starting at $500 per night. Sadly, given the positive reception to the similarly lazy design and corner-cutting of Disney’s Riviera Resort, there’s no end in sight to stuff like this. As long as guests find ways to continue to excuse it, Disney will continue to do it. You might not care this time because you hate clowns, but it won’t be a clown next time.
Next, we have a look at the first of five floating platforms for “Harmonious” that have been installed in World Showcase Lagoon. This marks a milestone in the development of “Harmonious” as testing of the onboard show equipment has now begun for the upcoming nighttime spectacular.
Now, you could say this looks like some Waterworld-inspired post-apocalyptic ramshackle floating community (it does appear to have its own lifeguard shack)…and you’d be right. Social media has tore into these, understandably so. Rather than piling on here, I’m going to take a “wait and see” position.
I’ll admit that we were both taken aback upon seeing this dystopian war barge in World Showcase Lagoon. I’ll also admit that I still miss IllumiNations.
However, I’m also withholding judgment on its eventual replacement, how it fits into the park, and even these barges. They’re going to function as fountains during the day, and so long as they’re constantly running and cycling large amounts of water, they could look good.
In fact, from that perspective, the bigger the barges…the bigger the fountains. The views across World Showcase Lagoon are nice, but it’s also a huge and empty expanse, and colossal fountains during the day could add a good bit of kinetic energy to the park.
EPCOT undeniably needs help in numerous ways, and it feels counterproductive for the fandom to drag our collective feet at every change. This could end up being bad when it’s finished, but it could also add tremendous energy to the park. Why not wait and see how it pans out when finished?
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Thoughts on any of this Walt Disney World news? If you were in the parks over the weekend, what did you think of crowds? Excited about the Disney+ Sunrise Series? What do you think of Luna Park Pool’s new look? Lazy and uninspired or cute and better than its predecessor? Thoughts on the Harmonious barges–are they huge eyesores or do you share our wait and see outlook? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and 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!
I finally figured out what the new Luna pool decorations remind me of. When I was a kid my father bought this mini-golf course layout which was made out of low-quality pressboard with printed decorations on it. The parts rapidly broke, not through any misuse but because of their sub-standard quality. Looks like on the left side you can see that a side/back wall is literally flat panels with 2×4 bracing visible. And unless they’re temporary those gray wall sections on either side look like EPCOT construction walls.
Thanks for the heads up on the Sunrise Series. Perfect background entertainment when I’m wading through the world of special education paperwork.
I was just saying yesterday that there are a lot of Disneyland shirts and bags out here, and then sure enough the Orlando Sentinel had an article last night about all the Californians who flocked out here to do Christmas at Disney. So the AP blockout is keeping some of the Floridians out, but now we have all the Cali APs taking over the parks lol.
Appreciate the picture of the finished entrance way. Still not feeling it though – it is a simpler, cleaner look. Still prefer the red brick look of the columns of the old than the new grey cinder block feel.
Agreed with all the comments on the cheap re-do of the Luna Park Pool. All they had to do with the creapy clown was add pupils to the clown i think that would have solved the issue and change the hair color more to red. I think would have been better than what they gave us.
The clown replacement is pretty typical of DVC these days. Just look at how they pretty much turned BCV and BWV into Hampton Inns. OKW lost most of the Key West in that renovation and they added in cartoon art on the walls instead of the wonderful shells and maps, plus the mother and child artwork they used to have. CCV became an IKEA showcase. It makes me worry about the renovation at BRV. With soft goods replacement at VGF coming up, I wonder how much of the 1890’s they will remove from it.
“It won’t be a clown next time.” Well said, and a very good point. I hated the clown, but this upgrade is dull, cheap, and flat. Just about the equivalent of sticking some Disney stickers on a wall. My only hope is to think that this is just a temporary band-aid while they prepare something more elaborate, but that may be a little too optimistic.
I’m loving the sunrise series, though I’m curious as to why there isn’t one for Hollywood Studios. (I suppose it is missing it’s “weenie,” I don’t think the Tower is a great one — even though I know you didn’t like the big hat). I wish there was a sunset series to pair with it.
So if they are already launching Harmonious barges…
Optimistically, the show could launch any time between March and June? A nice draw for Epcot and it’s restaurants?
Or pessimistically… They won’t launch any true entertainment until vaccines are widely distributed, which will be sometime between June and September
Or very skeptically… They will hold back its launch, to make it part of the Anniversary celebration in the fall, October?
My guesses would be Memorial Day on the optimistic side and October 1 on the pessimistic side. I don’t see it debuting before then, and would be surprised by any dates in between. The restaurants are the real wild card with nighttime entertainment at EPCOT, though, so who knows.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking since I have a summer trip planned, but Memorial day makes more sense to me..
Same with Ratatouille and France…
My thought process — Epcot needs guests. Especially if restaurant capacity increases over the summer, they need to encourage dining at Epcot. And Harmonious would really be a big boost to Epcot dining.
Yes, they need some big new stuff for the anniversary celebration in October… But do you really want the features of the 50th WDW-Magic Kingdom celebration to be a half-finished Epcot??!?! It’s Magic Kingdom’s 50th birthday, Epcot didn’t exist in 1971. And Epcot will still be heavily a construction zone in October.
So from a “storytelling” perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to me to market, “For Magic Kingdom’s 50th Birthday, come enjoy a new fireworks show at Epcot heavily under construction”
Instead, it makes more sense to me to market it as big shows and parades at Magic Kingdom, and “while you’re here, go have dinner at Epcot and see the new show there”
We did DHS yesterday and are at EPCOT today, and our experiences have been night and day. We can’t imagine a better start to our Disney week than what we had yesterday. We rope dropped Toy Story Land and finished all three rides by 9:30, and that includes a slight delay in them starting Slinky Dog Dash, which was our first ride. We got through all of Galaxy’s Edge, did a sit down lunch, and made MMRR twice. And some other stuff sprinkled in there. Mask compliance was fantastic, and we were rarely within arms length of anyone else except when getting off rides. This made us foolishly optimistic about the remainder of the week, and we thought the AP blockout really took effect. Today we’re at EPCOT and have spent most of our time at world showcase, and yikes. We’ve been stuck in crowds all day. Although with that being said, the lines for the food booths haven’t been long at all, and since it’s all outdoors we’ve still felt safe. Still, we prefer our DHS day yesterday.
I’ve been really enjoying the sunrise series on Disney + as they make for great background music while working, as well as the Shanghai Tomorrowland loop. They’ve pretty much been on everyday now and would love to get some updated YuleLog versions as well. Here’s hoping there’s another batch released soon. I’m really excited (albeit nervously) for Harmonious and can’t wait to see the end result as it certainly has some big shoes to fill replacing IllumiNations! Thanks for the update as always.
We are thrilled with the clown’s removal. We have a child who is terrified of clowns. Anything, literally anything (except giant spiders), would have been a HUGE improvement in our opinion.
Given the economic realities of this time, I am willing to overlook the very cost conscious corner cutting.
I have, generally, been irate with Disney this year, so it feels nice to have a positive response to anything.
This really goes to show how subjective these kinds of design changes are. I personally come out with the opposite take on each of these three designs:
(1) Boardwalk: my kids love the new mickey shorts and I think they’d love this pool. It is not just the facade, it also still has the coaster rising up behind it–so it is a feature pool slide in my book. Certainly as nice or nicer than the pool slide design at other deluxe resorts (stormalong bay, poly and grand floridian have amazing pool slides; but AKL is pretty basic and and contemporary’s pool is just bad).
(2) Riviera: I’m not ashamed to say I think this resort is gorgeous and that’s not just because I am a drink-the-koolaid Disney apologist (for example I think their moderate resorts are wayyyy overpriced and their Covid-19 measures are appallingly inadequate). We spent 9 days there in August with a TON of resort time so I mean it when I say Riviera is genuinely is beautiful to me, INCLUDING the exterior. The pools make me feel instantly like I am back in southern France, the dining venues and lounges are impeccably themed both in food and visual design, the mosaics on the way to skyliner are breathtaking and I think the overall appearance of the outside of the building has an elegant simplicity to it that I actually prefer to the busy in-your-face theming of something like AKL or Caribbean beach.
(3) Epcot: UGH. Staring at the world showcase across the lagoon is probably my number one favorite sight at Disney. The fountains are going to block that horribly.
I was at Magic Kingdom yesterday (Sunday) and was surprised at the amount of groups visiting. (You could tell by their matching vacation t-shirts!) I’m a local and have a platinum pass so I knew there would be less AP’s due to block outs. It was of course as you said much less busy than a normal weekend before Christmas. (I was only there for a ride or two and to watch the cavalcades before going home. Oh, and of course watching the Country Bears! )
“…surprised at the amount of groups visiting.”
We’ve noticed the same thing. Definitely an increase in multi-generational family visits in the last month, which is quite the contrast from the summer, when there were barely even any strollers in the parks.
I’m a big fan of the Boardwalk Inn and this replacement for the clown slide is really inexcusable. Such a disappointment.
Agree about the board walk pool. That re-do on the board walk pool looks the opposite of “deluxe”. That Flamingo Crossing is intriguing because I’m a Hilton Honors member who used to get a bunch of points and the close proximity to restaurants sounds nice. We always stay on-site but may veer off because I’m feeling like I’m getting less and less for my dollars inside WDW. Maybe even take a side trip to Universal next trip from an off-site. Thanks for the continued updates.
There are actually a lot of good Hilton options around Walt Disney World. Location-wise, Flamingo Crossings is not ideal for doing Universal Orlando–you’d be better off at Disney Springs or Bonnet Creek.
Is there, or will there be, Disney transportation to Flamingo Crossings that you are aware of? Would be nice to have access to a Target/grocery store without having to rent a car or fetch an Uber.
Highly unlikely. I cannot imagine Walt Disney World wanting to give guests easy access to Target or any of those restaurants.
“click here to be brought up to speed…”
Think a missing link. Maybe the missing link,
“corner-cutting of Disney’s Riviera Resort…”
I spent a lot of early morning time walking around CBR, and by extension Riviera recently. The more time I spent there the more underwhelmed I was. I remember noticing how they used AstroTurf for some of the areas where it should have been a manicured lawn. It’s definitely that little stuff it doesn’t seem like they are paying any mind, just so they can save some cash. The difference in approach was amplified the evening we went to AKL and had the opportunity to take in the obscene attention to detail there.
There are so many little ways they were lazy with the Riviera, which are obvious if you spend a little time walking around the grounds and (especially) looking at the exterior design. It doesn’t help that Disney fans trip over themselves to excuse this, somehow totally okay with spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a “luxury” resort that cut so many corners.
Thanks for the heads up on the link!