It’s time for another Walt Disney World news & rumor round-up! We have tidbits from EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and some good news for Annual Passholders. First, a look at some plummeting stats–both good and bad–which speak to Florida’s slow summer season and beyond.
Visit Florida has released the state’s second quarter tourism numbers, showing a 60.5% drop in visitors, with travel from Canada down 99.1% and overseas travel down 91% (the last number should be higher). As reopening efforts began in May and June, 12.8 million people–almost entirely from other states–visited Florida during the second quarter. That’s a drop of roughly 20 million visitors year over year.
The outlook remains bleak for Florida in the third quarter, as cases spiked towards the end of June and through early August. Florida’s status as a hotspot tainted visitor perceptions and led to a sea of cancellations, while also causing trepidation and apprehension in booking future trips. The lasting damage will undoubtedly stretch into the fall and winter. In an attempt to remedy this, Visit Florida has budgeted $13 million to market the state’s tourism rebound…
On the plus side, it’s now been over one month since all four theme parks at Walt Disney World reopened, and predictions of the parks fanning the flames on Florida’s growing case numbers have not come to fruition. In fact, the opposite has proven true, with Florida’s Department of Health reported 2,678 new cases Monday–the lowest number since June.
Even more promising is data released by Orange County showing that only 5.6% of tests were positive; the lowest figure since June 14, before cases surged post-Memorial Day. That percentage is also well below the Florida average despite Orlando being more population-dense and the county being home to numerous theme parks and tourist attractions.
Dr. Raul Pino, the state’s health official in Orange County, told the Orlando Sentinel he’s happy to reach a lower level of infections but cautioned that Orange County “will see increases after schools start because that’s the experience in other markets.” However, Pino does not expect any school-induced spread to “go wild” at this point since positivity rates are so slow.
Given the above numbers, it should be unsurprising that there’s yet another Disney Park Pass availability update. Only a few days after the last inventory reallocation for August and September 2020, Walt Disney World has once again redistributed reservations from the theme park ticket holders and resort guest “buckets” to Annual Passholders.
Consequently, there’s currently availability for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT beginning today (August 18) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios beginning August 24, 2020. Weekends are still harder to come by, with nothing for DHS until Halloween.
If you’re a tourist worried that this redistribution means a spike in crowds–don’t be. We’ve noticed weekday decreases even after the last inventory reallocation, and that’s likely to continue as more schools in Florida and the South go back into session. Weekends are a different story, so plan accordingly. (We’ll have a Magic Kingdom Weekend Photo Report very soon.)
While we are staunch ‘low crowd enthusiasts,’ the total lack of guests on some of our visits has been eerie–and downright concerning. It’s one thing to enjoy a serene stroll around World Showcase post-closing, it’s another entirely to see only a handful of other guests at 2 pm. Ditto walking onto Avatar Flight of Passage in late afternoon. Or being able to do snow angels in Fantasyland’s “Irvine Alley” as we could’ve yesterday (see below).
Judging by reader comments, we all want longer park hours and more to return as soon as possible. That won’t happen until crowds pick up to some degree; filling in some of the vast expanses of empty space with APs will help towards that. The rest of this month through October are likely to be really slow tourism-wise, and giving Annual Passholders more access to the parks will aid in offsetting that.
There are absolutely ways for Walt Disney World to improve its ‘temporary abnormal’ operations, but the threshold issue is getting more people through the turnstiles. Fans can’t demand ghost town crowds and late hours–that does not compute. There needs to be a happy medium. With Annual Passholders more likely to show up after work and do dinner, hopefully this is a first step in getting longer hours in November and December as well as more dining options. That’s a win-win scenario.
Speaking of both dining and Walt Disney World operating tweaks, Disney has confirmed that select restaurants in Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will seat guests for an hour after park closing in September and October, despite the reduced hours.
Thus far, this policy only impacts Be Our Guest Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, 50’s Prime Time Cafe, and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. It’s reflected on the official site of each, and you’ll also find post-closing Advance Dining Reservations (subject to availability…which is pretty limited for Be Our Guest and Sci-Fi Dine-In).
Interestingly, we could not find any EPCOT restaurants that will officially seat guests post-closing. This is despite first learning about this policy change from readers who were told that their post-closing reservations at various EPCOT restaurants would be honored. (We don’t have impacted reservations at any EPCOT restaurants…if you do, is this still true?)
It’s also odd since World Showcase is typically the go-to spot for dining, and it seems like the third party operators would push for the same longer hours. With Annual Passholders now able to book visits easier next month, it seems like the perfect opportunity to fill more tables at EPCOT’s restaurants.
Next, a “sneak peek” at a new attraction or interactive exhibit via the forthcoming book, The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt and Paul Wolski. Per our friends at Mousesteps, the book’s final page has poster art that says “Next Stop…Play!” with artwork of several monorails, and it says “Calling all Pilots! A new way to play arrives at the PLAY! Pavilion at EPCOT in 2021.”
There’s actually a WEDWAY monorail station facade in the Play Pavilion concept art, which you can see here to the right of the “Let’s Play” tower and to the left of the Hotel marquee:
We’d caution against too much enthusiasm about this monorail experience, as the scope and scale of the Play Pavilion’s offerings is unknown. Our expectation is that it’ll essentially be a new version of Innoventions, with interactive exhibits of varying degrees of quality and ambition. (Think of the difference between Sum of All Thrills and Colortopia.)
Nevertheless, I’m really intrigued by this and it has my mind racing.
There were several times in the museum that I exclaimed, “this belongs in Epcot!” There are a ton of interactive exhibits, quasi-attractions, and even cabin simulators that allow visitors to pilot a Shinkansen or train as a crew member on a train. The simulators are solid attractions, but they’re also pretty low-capacity and seem unsuitable for a popular theme park.
A better option for EPCOT is the theater-style ride that puts guests inside a Shinkansen and Superconducting Magnetically Levitated Vehicle to showcase the differences in speed and ride smoothness. It’s just like being inside a train, except every window is a video screen. The simulation is incredibly convincing, and impressed both of us.
This is also a lot like EPCOT Center’s unbuilt “Bullet Train” Circle-Vision simulator that was once planned for the Japan pavilion. It would be cool to see something like this finally come to fruition in the Play Pavilion. If a museum can do it, Disney certainly can. (Imagineering should just send a team to that museum; there’s so much potential inspiration for an entire transportation pavilion.)
Finally, neither news nor rumor, but we had our first sighting of the new-look Cinderella Castle illuminated during yet another spectacular sunset last night. (We’ll be sending this and other photos out in wallpaper size in tonight’s free email newsletter.)
We sat up here for a good hour, watching the kaleidoscope of colors as Florida put on a natural light show while the monorails glided by and the park began to light up at dusk. It was peaceful and relaxing–a perfect reminder of what we love so much about Walt Disney World. Everyone has nostalgia, special must-do experiences, and sentimental reasons they’re continually pulled back to Walt Disney World. For us, one big thing is simply being there while the parks come alive at night. This was a satisfying and nice taste of that…but also one that really made us yearn to experience Magic Kingdom at night. Hopefully in November!
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Speculation about the Play Pavilion’s monorail attraction/interactive exhibit? Thoughts on the Disney Park Pass availability changes? Hopeful that evening hours return at Walt Disney World in November and December? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? 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!