It’s time for another Walt Disney World news and rumor round-up, with a roller coaster of stories ranging from sad news about layoffs to an upbeat rhino announcement. The most interesting topics are in the headline: fireworks being tested at EPCOT, plus new concept art and details released for enhancements to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
Let’s start with the multi-hour fireworks test that was held last night after hours at EPCOT. We were not in or near the park so we don’t have photos, but you can probably still imagine what fireworks look like. (We know it’s been a few months, but not that long.) We could hear the pyro going off in the distance–at the start, there were bursts every 30 seconds or so, then every several minutes.
This was definitely not a full show of Epcot Forever, IllumiNations, Harmonious, or a private event. Rather, it was a test (photo/video crews were also spotted) by Disney, probably as part of the ongoing development of Harmonious. Since EPCOT’s reopening, backstage work has resumed on the barges and staging area for that show (the big red crane you can see behind China and Germany and from the Skyliner are for Harmonious).
It’s likely we’ll see more tests of this nature as the debut date of Harmonious draws nearer. Originally scheduled to debut this year, Harmonious is one of the largest nighttime spectaculars ever created for Walt Disney World. The nighttime spectacular will be an elaborate dreamscape of Disney music and imagery, reinterpreted by diverse cultural musicians and artists from around the world. Suffice to say, it’ll need a lot of after hours test & adjust work.
We’ve previously speculated that EPCOT could be the first park to bring back fireworks, as World Showcase Lagoon is more conducive to physical distancing than Main Street. That remains our belief, but it now seems unlikely to happen in 2020–even though Magic Kingdom will have congestion-inducing projections on Cinderella Castle this Christmas.
Fireworks are more costly, so expect to see Walt Disney World hold off on bringing them back until necessary to help increase attendance or capacity is closer to normal. In the former scenario, Epcot Forever or even a modified IllumiNations could give EPCOT a temporary shot in the arm. In the latter scenario, Harmonious will likely debut. Don’t expect anything on either front until Spring 2021 at the earliest. Harmonious is probably closer to a year away.
Next, Walt Disney World has released details of and new concept art for the upcoming reimagining of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, which is in addition to the recently-announced Moana-inspired enhancements to the Poly. This concept art showcases the new arrival experience, which will bring a new porte-cochère addition in the style of the iconic mid-20th century architecture for which the hotel is famous.
Walt Disney Imagineering has crafted a design inspired by colors, patterns and textures found throughout the resort. The new entry features a high-pitched, open-truss roof covered in a thatch style. There’s also a bold faÃ§ade that features pops of color complementing the Poly’s Longhouses. Along the Monorail station, new wooden screens will be covered with geometric patterns in bright, tropical colors that complete the composition greeting arriving guests.
I’m wholeheartedly on board with this new porte-cochère. Not just “cautiously optimistic” as is normally the case. I am full-throatedly optimistic and expect this to be an unequivocal upgrade to the arrival experience. First, the Polynesian’s current porte-cochère is weak. There’s almost nowhere to go but up with a replacement. Unless there’s a hidden Stitch spitting on guests from the rafters, it’s going to be an improvement. (Even then, that still might be an upgrade. Unless said hidden Stitch also burps.)
Second, say what you will about Walt Disney World’s recent hotel additions and expansions, but Imagineering’s porte-cochère game is strong. The pièce de résistance of both Gran Destino and Riviera Resort is arguably their porte-cochères. That might be an indictment of those properties as a whole, but it’s also high praise for their porte-cochères. Even the Moorea Disney Vacation Club Longhouse makes a better first impression than the street-facing exterior of the Great Ceremonial House.
In addition to the porte-cochère, enhancements will be made to the lush gardens and fountains that welcome guests to the resort. The announcement is ambiguous as to whether this is outside or inside the lobby. Before you get too excited about Imagineering “fixing” the mistake of removing the Poly’s iconic lobby waterfall and garden, this is almost certainly outside the lobby.
For one, the announcement states that Walt Disney World will be making enhancements to existing gardens and fountains. You cannot enhance something that isn’t there. For another, everything else in this section of the announcement pertains to changes outside the front entrance. If you’re expecting a dramatic lobby transformation, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
The open and airy design of the outdoor entryway will feature dramatic lighting elements, including chandeliers inspired by glass floats, fishing nets and oversized bamboo elements. The new chandeliers will match the existing grand chandelier in the resort lobby, artfully bridging interior and exterior spaces.
While work is underway over the coming months, guests can still enjoy access to the Great Ceremonial House and its operating dining and retail outlets. This answers one of our main questions about the project, and suggests that minimal work will be done inside the Great Ceremonial House. It also leaves the door open for a return of ‘Ohana at some point, although that seems highly unlikely without the hotel itself open.
The new arrival experience is just the beginning of the big changes guests will discover when Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort reopens in Summer 2021. While not covered in any detail, the announcement also mentions that “all of the resort’s guest rooms are being beautifully redone too.”
Disney employs master wordsmiths to polish their press releases, and “redone” is the perfect term here because it affords a lot of latitude in project scope. If Disney adds a few throw pillows featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s signature raised eyebrow countenance? Technically redone. Guts the rooms and starts over? Also redone.
Our guess is that it’ll skew much more towards the former, and not be a particularly big change. It’ll likely be a soft goods refurbishment with light Moana flourishes. The “Redone” Rooms at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside featuring Princess and the Frog touches are a likely template for the extent of the changes to the Poly’s rooms.
No updates to report on Disney Park Pass availability today, but if recent trends hold we’ll see a redistribution or refill later this afternoon. Here’s hoping that does not happen. Sorry fellow Annual Passholders, but crowds and wait times are already starting to get out of control and attendance needs to be further limited, not increased.
Speaking of which, we haven’t done a deep dive on overall crowd patterns and wait times since our Crowds Continue Rising at Walt Disney World. That was just last week, but already feels like an eternity ago. Those trends have further accelerated since. We will be in the parks the next few days, and will have thorough reports starting this weekend.
Next, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts plans to lay off 1,136 workers in November 2020 according to a notice sent to the state under a federal law requirement for mass layoffs. Likewise, Universal recently submitted an ongoing furlough notice for 5,400 employees and SeaWorld permanently laid off 1,900.
Many of the impacted positions at the Swan & Dolphin relate to conventions and special events, which are essentially non-existent now that the Major League Soccer ‘bubble’ tournament is over. In the notice, the Swan & Dolphin attribute the layoffs to “historically low hotel occupancy and mounting event cancellations [that] will extend into 2021.”
Our hearts go out to those individuals and their families who are impacted by the job losses. Guests are starting to return to Walt Disney World, which is great–we hope travel continues to rebound. Nevertheless, we’re weary about the timeline of the recovery. It’ll likely be several years before leisure travel returns to February levels, and business and special events may never return.
This is big business for Orlando and Walt Disney World, which host everything from conventions to youth sporting events–none of which will probably even start to return until 2022. While we’ve bemoaned the impact of cheer competitions and Pop Warner on crowds, I would happily tolerate those without another complaint ever if it meant not as many jobs would be lost. Just one of the many things the last few months have sadly put into perspective.
In happy news, Walt Disney World shared that Animal Kingdom has three pregnant white rhinoceros. Per Dr. Mark Penning, it’s the first time Animal Kingdom has ever had this many “horns and hooves on the horizon.” The three mothers have due dates ranging from this October to Winter 2021. (Not a few months from now–over a year.) I’m no expert on “rhino science” or any science for that matter, but that seems like a long time.
On a related note, we were at Animal Kingdom Lodge yesterday and observed a pair of zebras keeping the ole “Circle of Life” spinning. (You might also say they could feel the love tonight.) So here’s hoping for another announcement on Disney Parks Blog soon!
What are your thoughts on the fireworks testing at EPCOT? Do you expect Harmonious to be the next nighttime spectacular to be performed at Walt Disney World, or think something else will return first? Thoughts on the concept art and details for the Polynesian Resort enhancements? If you’ve been to Walt Disney World this week, what did you think of the crowds? Thoughts on the recent waves of hospitality industry layoffs in Central Florida? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our report? 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!