It’s time for another Walt Disney World news & rumor round-up. This one covers visits to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Disney Springs by Orange County’s face mask strike team, new park hours for February 2021, park hopper transportation resuming, and high speed rail coming to Walt Disney World!
Let’s start with park hours. While there were no noteworthy extensions this week (still crickets for New Year’s Eve) more hours have been posted to the calendar on DisneyWorld.com for January 31 to February 6, 2021. Added hours are the same for all dates that week:
Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 6 pm
EPCOT: 11 am to 7 pm
Hollywood Studios: 10 am to 7 pm
Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 5 pm
Once again, Walt Disney World has returned to its normal, pre-closure practice of releasing boilerplate hours in advance. Those hours are then later extended based on Disney Park Pass bookings and hotel occupancy projections closer to the dates…
Next, an interesting tidbit in terms of health safety rule monitoring. We’ve offered several stories on mask-wearing at Walt Disney World, including our most recent update and a park by park mask compliance report. Those generally reflect our latest observations, with the only changes being worse compliance on weekends and during the Cinderella Castle Christmas projections.
According to MyNews13 reporter Ashley Carter, the Orange County strike team that checks for rule violations visited Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney Springs within the last couple of weeks and found both to be in compliance with health safety measures. However, a note in the report stated, “guests have been more non-compliant with the wearing of the face masks but employees seem to still be enforcing the wearing of them.”
Orange County’s strike teams do surprise visits on a variety of businesses. In addition to the theme parks, they dropped in on 11 bars on a Saturday night and found 0 in compliance, per Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. “Our strike teams found no masks, no social distancing, no hand sanitizers and no disinfecting at every one of the bars visited…We have a few people who are probably more motivated by profit than they are about protecting their own customers,” Demings said.
Demings made his comments at a briefing he conducts regularly with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. They also indicated that most of the community has been cooperative, despite strike team members receiving rude receptions from some bar patrons. Overall, the strike teams have seen 86% compliance in visits to 4,910 businesses.
Mostly strong compliance and cooperative customers coupled with rude rule-breakers is not a huge surprise to us. While we haven’t visited any Orlando bars, we’ve noticed a similar trend at the grocery stores in the last several weeks. An employee at Trader Joe’s actually thanked us for wearing masks last night, which is odd in that it’s required by the store’s rules. The approach is also understandable–positive reinforcement is easier, and kicking out noncompliant customers is a lot to ask of employees.
For its part, Walt Disney World has done exactly that of Cast Members, and they’ve risen to the challenge. While sometimes they’re fighting a losing battle–like on weekends in World Showcase or evenings in front of Cinderella Castle–we’ve found them to be diligent about politely but firmly reminding guests of the rules. (In our anecdotal observations, we’ve also seen many Cast Members do so with increased finesse.)
Let’s turn now to the first of two transportation stories. After announcing that Park Hopping Will Return in 2021, Walt Disney World updated its page that previously indicated the parks had temporarily suspended monorail service between the Transportation & Ticket Center and EPCOT.
Now, that page states “park-to-park transportation is planned to resume in 2021, with operations beginning each day shortly prior to the start of Park Hopper hours.” No word yet as to whether this will include the EPCOT monorail. As before, our guess is that it doesn’t come back right away–and instead returns around Spring 2021 when crowds pick up.
Finally, some very exciting news. Walt Disney World plans to significantly expand its transportation network by adding a Brightline train station at Disney Springs. The parties issued a joint announcement today revealing that Brightline and Disney formalized plans and entered into an agreement on station construction.
Frankly, there’s only one explanation for this: Walt Disney World read our effusive praise for the Magic Kingdom to Grand Floridian walkway, plus the outpouring of excited comments (seriously cannot remember the last review I wrote that garnered unanimously positive reader feedback) and decided to prioritize infrastructure projects. We did it, everyone! High fives all around!!!
Brightline’s high-speed rail is slated to run from South to Central Florida with a potential Orlando to Tamp extension once the line is fully built out. Brightline is already operating West Palm Beach to Miami service, with new lines and stations connecting Orlando International Airport to Miami now under construction with a planned 2022 opening.
You might recall that this project was previously rebranded as Virgin Trains, but the partnership between Richard Branson’s group and Brightline ended over the summer, with the latter terminating the relationship. (No word as to why, but Virgin has had significant woes this year, so no surprise there.)
Brightline signed signed a letter of intent with Walt Disney World nearly two years ago, and has indicated that they’ve had an excellent relationship with Walt Disney World. The company has secured rights to issue $1.75 billion in tax-free bonds, and the 170-mile Central Florida corridor has 35 miles of new train right-of-way, built alongside the Beachline Expressway.
Despite some setbacks this year, Brightline has powered forward. The latest development is the company’s statement that Brightline and Disney had entered into a formal agreement for the station. The design concept for the proposed station at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World includes a lobby on the ground level, passenger facilities and an upper level train platform, Brightline and Disney revealed in a press release.
“Brightline will offer a car-free connection to the millions of visitors from around the state and the world who plan to make Walt Disney World Resort part of their vacation plans,” said Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline. “Our mission has always been to connect our guests to the people and places that matter, and Walt Disney World Resort is a tremendous example of this.”
“We’re excited to work with Brightline as they pursue the potential development of a train station at Walt Disney World Resort, a project that would support our local economy and offer a bold, forward-looking transportation solution for our community and guests,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort.
Brightline indicated that the Disney Springs location is in centrally-located near the four theme parks, water parks, and hotels. Building the station near Disney Springs rather than by the All-Star Resorts or ESPN Wide World of Sports, which are arguably more logical locations, is an interesting choice. However, this avoids the need to create something of a second Transportation and Ticket Center at Walt Disney World. Instead, guests arriving via Brightline will be able to use the existing bus hub in place at Disney Springs.
The rail company did not provide an estimation as to when construction may begin, or how the Walt Disney World component of the project is being funded. Crews are targeting a 2022 completion for the South Florida to Central Florida link, which will be anchored by a station at the new Terminal C at Orlando International Airport. Our expectation is that this should be done shortly after that.
Our thoughts on high speed rail connecting Walt Disney World to South Florida have evolved from “we’ll believe it when we see it” to “we can’t believe that, despite all of the potential 2020 roadblocks, we’re probably about to see this!” Between Brightline having to temporarily suspend operations earlier this year to ridership woes to the Virgin fallout, we expected this to quietly fizzle out. Just like past high-speed rail proposals for Florida.
Moreover, the United States’ record with high speed rail infrastructure is far from good, which is attributable to a variety of reasons, including population density, our suburban-urban model, and obsession with the automobile. There’s also the sad reality is that most people either don’t care or actively dislike the projects. The public perception of rail projects is often tainted by targeted campaigns that focus on their cost, despite Americans not batting an eye at the untold billions spent on roads each year.
For our part, we are incredibly bullish on high speed rail, having spent extensive time in places where public transportation doesn’t absolutely suck. Projects like the Brightline high-speed rail have the potential for transforming the way Americans think about public transportation, especially when paired with Walt Disney World’s other transit. While we don’t see the United States ever rivaling Europe or Asia on that front, this could help evolve perception and spur further development. Suffice to say, we’re optimistic about the long-term implications of the Brightline high-speed rail, and how it could facilitate travel throughout Florida.
Thoughts on any of this Walt Disney World news? Surprised by the Orange County face mask strike team visits and results? Excited for the Brightline train station at Disney Springs? Are you a fan of high-speed rail? Hopeful that holiday hours will be extended more? 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!