Magic Kingdom Report: Christmas & Construction

We head back to Magic Kingdom for a pre-Christmas week visit to check out the holiday fun and construction progress. In this report, we’ll share our most recent experience in Walt Disney World’s flagship park.

As we’ve shared countless times, Christmas is our favorite time of the year at Walt Disney World. It’s the one time of year we’d vacation if forced to choose–and we’ve done exactly that in the past, visiting during the holiday season for over a dozen consecutive years. That’s hardly noteworthy now given our proximity to the parks, but was when we lived in the Midwest and California.

Our favorite park during our favorite time of year is Magic Kingdom. That’s also not particularly noteworthy given how many other fans share that sentiment. However, even with everything going on and without the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the park still stirs up the same feelings in us. Stepping onto Main Street at Christmas and seeing the tree and hearing the background music–it’s familiar and comforting amidst the sea of craziness that is 2020.

Suffice to say, we cannot get enough of Walt Disney World this time of year, hence the more frequent updates during this Christmas season. We’re trying to keep these fresh by focusing on new or different things each visit, and this time, we’re taking a look at construction projects we haven’t addressed recently.

Let’s start outside the park, as we walk from Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to Magic Kingdom…

As we discuss in “Photos & Video: Meandering the Magnificent Magic Kingdom to Grand Floridian Walkway,” it’s now possible to walk all the way from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Magic Kingdom. That full walk is not advisable, but the stretch from Grand Floridian to Magic Kingdom is a highly recommended and efficient stroll.

Anyway, this is the view as we approach the Wedding Pavilion, with a few projects all visible in the compressed frame.

Let’s start our Magic Kingdom construction tour with what you’ll see first: the Main Street USA Train Station behind scrims.

We’ve repeatedly suggested that the Walt Disney World Railroad closure is largely one of convenience. To that point, this is the first any work has been done on the station since the downtime began over 2 years ago.

The closure of the Walt Disney World Railroad (and before it, the Tomorrowland Speedway) is caused by construction of the TRON Lightcycle Run roller coaster.

In the last few weeks, we’ve notice the pace of work on the canopy for the TRON roller coaster really pick up. We wandered around from Tomorrowland to Storybook Circus trying to get peeks through the trees, and the canopy support infrastructure appears about two-thirds installed.

Prior to the closure of Walt Disney World, TRON Lightcycle Run was planned to open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021.

Recently, there have been credible rumors that TRON Lightcycle Run will slow down once the gravity building is fully enclosed and the canopy is finished. After that, it’s expected that not much else is being done on TRON Lightcycle Run and construction will be paused until October 2021. Here’s hoping those rumors are wrong.

While gawking at the TRON Lightcycle Run canopy installation, we noticed that Cast Members were pushing around Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover cars.

The PeopleMover has not operated since before the parks closed. When we originally asked about this “unscheduled downtime” back in March, we were told that they were awaiting new motors or parts of some sort, and the reason for the delay was a supply chain issue or factory closure.

The “process” we observed here was maintenance Cast Members pushing the ride vehicles, then checking the track, and repeating that over and over again. We have not heard anything in terms of an update, but this would certainly suggest at least some new motors have been installed along the track.

At this point, the PeopleMover closure is an indefinite one, extending as far as the calendar goes for the attraction (at this point, to February 2021). We don’t have an estimate for when it’ll actually reopen–beyond whenever all of the parts are installed and everything is in order.

We’re just heartened by the fact that work is actively taking place, as PeopleMovers have an unfortunate history of quietly closing and never reopening. It’d be an absolute shame if that were to happen here. Thankfully, that does not appear to be in the cards. At least, not yet.

Moving over to Liberty Square and Frontierland, the Rivers of America is now fully drained.

Cleanup is well underway, and a new track has been installed for the Riverboat.

Scaffolding is now starting to go up around Harper’s Mill, which is located on the Tom Sawyer Island side of the Rivers of America. More metal is sitting on the ground for installation around Harper’s Mill.

This probably isn’t “stop the presses” news or anything that’ll generate reader excitement or buzz, but this is exactly the type of routine project we’re happy to see resume. During past downturns, both Walt Disney World and Disneyland cut corners on maintenance, which had significant negative consequences. It’s good to see Disney learning from past mistakes.

Next, we turn to Pirates of the Caribbean. There isn’t a refurbishment happening here…but probably should be.

On several recent visits to Magic Kingdom, we’ve noticed that Pirates of the Caribbean has been down. Now, this could just be anecdotal bad luck…but in our ‘stalking’ of the My Disney Experience app, we’ve noticed this is becoming increasingly common. (In general, it seems like Magic Kingdom ride uptime has lagged a bit since reopening.)

Moving to Fantasyland, where part of ‘it’s a small world’ is still behind scrims.

It’s worth noting that the entrance is now open, and it has received a colorful facelift. (This was shot as a crowd photo rather than one illustrative of the construction progress, hence the entrance not being visible.)

We’re not going to fixate on crowds, but they were pretty bad.

Generally, the week before Christmas week is busy, so this is not shocking.

However, we’ve seen an uptick since the ‘fully booked’ Thanksgiving dates, which does make me wonder whether Walt Disney World bumped capacity up by another 5%.

It’s also entirely possible that attraction downtime and utilization (e.g. Splash Mountain having a shorter line because of colder weather) has redistributed guests within Magic Kingdom. That could make “feels like” crowd levels higher even on days with roughly equal attendance.

It’s not our intent to be conspiratorial here, but we remain convinced that Walt Disney World gradually increased capacity to 35% in the weeks leading up to that announcement on the Q4 Earnings Call.

If that speculation is accurate, increases in crowds after the second week of November would reflect additional capacity increases. It’s hard to gauge due to the reduced efficiency and ride throughput, but Magic Kingdom now being at 40% wouldn’t surprise us at all.

As discussed in this week’s Animal Kingdom Report: Crowds & Christmas, we’re optimistic that last weekend was the peak of holiday crowds and it’s all downhill from here.

The lower tier AP blockout hit today, so we’ll see whether that theory proves true over the next week. We’ll be in EPCOT and Magic Kingdom again in the next few days to find out.

In other news, Columbia Harbour House is once again open…as extended queue for Peter Pan’s Flight. Not exactly what we had in mind.

Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to having their Lobster Roll again, albeit over at Tomorrowland Terrace. Maybe it’ll taste even better with a view of Cinderella Castle?

In recent visits, we’ve noticed lots of guests relaxing in both of the Plaza Gardens/Hub Grass areas during the afternoon and evening hours. As discussed in this week’s Walt Disney World Face Mask Update, we’d love to see this turned into a mask-free photo area, or simply become a Relaxation Station now that Tomorrowland Terrace is being used as a restaurant again.

Finally, here are a bunch of new Christmas photos:

I don’t have anything particularly interesting or insightful to say about the substance of these photos that hasn’t already been covered in our dozen-plus other Walt Disney World updates thus far this holiday season. Even though I’ve already thoroughly documented this all, I can’t resist taking more nighttime Christmas photos. (Posting these is my excuse to go back and take more–it’s a viciously fun cycle!)

That’s true in a normal year, but even more so now. Evenings in the parks at Christmas are far and away our favorite escapism right now. Those moments when photographing or simply walking around and taking in the decorations are brief respites from reality that are truly invaluable. We’re incredibly cognizant of the fact that everyone’s experiences the last several months are radically different, and realize just how fortunate we are to have weekly visits to Walt Disney World. Obviously it’s not the same, but we hope these updates and posts provide a few minutes of escapism for you, too.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

If you’ve visited Magic Kingdom this year during the Christmas season? How do you think it compares to normal? Still provide you with that familiarity, warmth, and comfort–even with all of the compromises and cutbacks? Thoughts on all of the construction in Tomorrowland, Rivers of America, or elsewhere in the park? On anything else covered here? Do you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this Christmas, or are you sitting this year out? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

35 Responses to “Magic Kingdom Report: Christmas & Construction”
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