In this Walt Disney World news roundup, we’ll share the latest about the ongoing closure & upcoming reopening, plus a fun story or two. This includes details (and photos) of construction resuming around Magic Kingdom, the roller coaster ride of resort reopening plans, and Disney’s attempts at addressing Annual Passholder frustrations.
Let’s start with something fun, heartwarming, and pure: Duffy & Friends. Earlier this week, Shanghai Disney Resort welcomed Olu Mel the Turtle to the park on Instagram. This is Duffy’s newest pal, previously exclusive to Aulani Resort in Hawaii, who will now have merchandise available at Shanghai Disneyland. We’d expect Olu Mel to head to Hong Kong and Tokyo next.
As we discuss at length in our Duffy Phenomenonarticle (a long read you might actually find fascinating), we have really come around on some of the Duffy & Friends characters, and have even “adopted” Duffy and Gelatoni in recent years. This was after being vehemently opposed to them about a decade ago when Duffy was everywhere at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as the US parks tried to manufacture a merchandise trend.
In a new video released by Walt Disney Imagineering, Duffy’s whole crew (ShellieMay, Gelatoni, StellaLou, CookieAnn, and Olu Mel) plant morning glory seeds in their garden given to them by Mickey Mouse. They work together and eagerly watch as the plants grow — until a small, unexpected hiccup happens. Find out what happens next and how the friends come together to overcome all with a message of love, teamwork and friendship.
Before reading the rest of this, check out the adorable new stop-motion “Morning Glory” video:
If that doesn’t put a smile on your face (and make you more of a fan of these characters), I don’t know what will.
We’ve previously viewed both CookieAnn and Olu Mel with some skepticism and cynicism, but this warms us to them a bit. To be sure, the Duffy & Friends Power Rankings are still go Duffy, Gelatoni, ShellieMay, Tippy Blue…StellaLou…..CookieAnn…………….Olu Mel, but there was a time when we didn’t even consider the newest two to be true members of the crew.
None of this matters in any way whatsoever, but ‘debating’ the merits of plush critters feels like a nice change of reprieve and change of pace.
Let’s continue some of that optimism with a Walt Disney World construction update. The first two photos (above and below) are from exactly three months ago, a few days before the parks closed. At this point, Magic Kingdom construction crews were about two weeks into the Royal Makeover of Cinderella Castle.
If you look at the lower left turrets, you can see the before/after contrast. Crazy how faded those were! The the right of the castle’s clock, you can see a bit of the new pink or salmon color. Also quite the contrast to the more neutral colors.
Yesterday, we took a slight detour through property on our way home from getting groceries to see how things were looking. This actually is far from our first time driving through Walt Disney World during the closure, as virtually anywhere we go requires driving through property unless we take a toll road (that’s not a humblebrag–it’s normally an inconvenience, but not so much with zero traffic).
Here’s a look at the progress on Cinderella Castle as of yesterday. The rear turret looks like it’s the only one left to go, which should be fairly easy to finish over the course of the next month. On the plus side, the first guests back should be greeted by the completed Royal Makeover of Cinderella Castle, with construction equipment presumably gone and the moat refilled.
The above photo doesn’t tell the whole story, but it is looks very vibrant–and very pink–in the midday Florida sun. We’ll withhold final judgment until seeing it from within Magic Kingdom, but our preliminary impression is that this paint job is an overcorrection. Cinderella Castle was definitely looking washed out and faded, but this looks a tad too far in the cartoonish direction.
Then again, maybe we’ll get used to it and this new-look Cinderella Castle will grow on us! The whimsical pink style absolutely works for Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris, so perhaps it’s just the initial shock of Cinderella Castle looking so different as compared to before. We shall see!
Continuing down World Drive, here’s a look at the Cove Hotel expansion to the Swan & Dolphin. It’s located across the street from those properties on Epcot Resorts Boulevard, near the Fantasia Garden miniature golf course. When finished, the Cove Hotel will be 14 stories tall, have 349 guest rooms, a rooftop terrace, restaurant & lounge, and 21,000 square feet of meeting space. It was originally supposed to open this year, which now seems unlikely.
This is plainly visible from World Drive and Buena Vista Drive, but should not be visible from within Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s definitely a good thing, as the design is hideous (and not in an ambitious but odd way like the Swan & Dolphin–this is going to be ugly and industrial).
Now, what you’ve all been waiting for: a look at the All Star McDonald’s. Despite the closure, construction actually never stopped on this and it appears almost ready to open now.
Notably, there was also a huge construction crew around the Transportation and Ticket Center working on the new arrival experience, which looks like it’s nearly finished. Likewise, we caught a fleeting glimpse of work on the Grand Floridian to Magic Kingdom walkway, which has also resumed work (it was too brief of a view to ascertain how much progress has been made).
Hopefully this bodes well for construction projects inside the parks, too. It’d be nice to return to Epcot with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure ready to open–and some progress in Future World, too. While work has resumed, we’re still expecting long-term ramifications to the scope and scale of future projects.
Logical, but not accurate. Members are now being advised that Jambo House will not be reopening, and their reservations will be moved to other resorts. Our understanding is that reopening reservations for Jambo House was intentional (meaning it wasn’t done in error), with the intention all along of relocating guests.
Even today, there’s still a ton of availability for Jambo House (more than any other resort). We haven’t the slightest idea as to what will become of these bookings, but have decided to roll the dice and book some nights in Value Studios. At least for that room tier, there’s little downside. We’re willing to gamble that we’ll be placed in a nicer room at a different resort with our lower point rate locked in. Of course, your mileage may vary.
That provides a nice segue to our final topic, which is Walt Disney World’s email thanking Annual Passholders for their patience while they adjust during these unprecedented times. Here’s the email in full:
If comments on this blog are any indication, a lot of Walt Disney World fans are dissatisfied or downright disgruntled with how things have been handled. In our view, some of the fan reaction has been understandable. Disney’s communications have been inconsistent and scattershot–each new announcement has raised as many or more questions than it has answered.
Obviously they’re very different (and smaller), but Universal Orlando has comparatively done a superior job with its messaging during the closure and reopening. Suffice to say, lots of unforced errors by Disney throughout this.
However, Walt Disney World is incredibly complex, with a ton of moving parts–and these truly are unprecedented times. A lot of people seem to expect the normal Disney experience, oblivious to the real world reality of the global pandemic.
While we all love the WDW “bubble,” the parks and resorts exist in the actual Central Florida community. Disney must take into account the health and wellbeing of Cast Members, Orange County hospital capacity, and other variables. It cannot simply about “making guests happy and creating magic” right now. Trying to thread the needle and striking the appropriate balance in reopening is undoubtedly challenging.
Disney’s decisions reverberate throughout Florida and have ramifications far beyond the borders of its property. It’s easy for all of us to sit at home and critique what they’re doing/not doing, but I do not envy Walt Disney World’s leaders right now. It’s a tough task with absolutely no existing playbook. Literally every possible decision is going to leave some people unhappy or disenchanted.
In some ways, recent announcements by Disney have felt like not-so-subtle ways of inducing cancellations. Not necessarily because they “need” people to cancel due to capacity limitations, but because Walt Disney World wants to manage expectations and be blunt about the near-term guest experience. In the long run, it’s better to have people be upset now and make the informed decision to cancel than it is to have them take trips, be disappointed, and demand refunds…or just never return.
In our recent “Dawn of a Temporary Disney Era” we looked on the bright side and pointed out the opportunities for some guests this year. The emphasis there most definitely belongs on “for some guests.”
To reiterate, this year is not a good time for once in a lifetime trips to Walt Disney World. It’s not a good time if entertainment or the ‘full’ experience is paramount to you. It’s not a good time if you’re unwilling to wear masks or adhere to added health safety protocol. It’s not a good time if you’re an obsessive planner and aren’t willing to compromise and be flexible.
To be fair to fans, these are all problems of Walt Disney World’s own creation. Over the last decade-plus, they have actively cultivated a culture of meticulous pre-planning while also taking the misguided notion of “the customer is always right” to its extreme. The ideas of spontaneity and going with the flow are anathema to the Walt Disney World experience for many, and that’s by Disney’s own design. (Then again, it’s safe to say that Disney didn’t consider the possibility of a global pandemic while crafting the original policies.)
Nevertheless, present circumstances are what they are. All of this is a long-winded way of once again stressing patience and flexibility. It’s going to take some time before we have a complete picture of what Walt Disney World’s operations entail for the remainder of the year. Disney must enact policies that prioritize the health and welfare of Cast Members and guests, in line with recommendations of experts. The experience will undoubtedly suffer in some ways (as we’ve noted before, it might benefit in others!) but that comes with the territory. It’s one thing to be frustrated and vent a bit online (and totally okay with us–we don’t mind anyone voicing their thoughts!), but some of the ‘demands’ and outrage are patently unreasonable. No number of complaints or threats will change the reality that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. This year is not going to be the time/circumstances for many people to visit. The good news is that Walt Disney World will still be there in 2021!
Any opinion on Duffy & Friends? What do you think of the colors for Cinderella Castle’s Royal Makeover? Think Jambo House will actually will remain closed, or will end up reopening? Thoughts on Walt Disney World addressing AP frustrations? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary here? Other thoughts or concerns? 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!