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!
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!
We prefer the classic fur characters so we were happy with the selection of characters for cavalcades and greets. Also, it was fantastic to the see return of the Muppets to Liberty Square. We visited in August, November, and just last week and could tell the difference in crowd levels.
Great post! It was our first trip to WDW during Christmas, and despite the masks, which we hate especially my wife, we had a great time and are glad we went. It’s hard to pick a favorite park for Christmas because they’re all decorated so well, but I’f also probably pick the Magic Kingdom, because it’s our favorite park anyway. We’ve always spent our last day there.
But I have to give credit to Animal Kingdom, as the lightshow on the Tree of Life went beyond mere static images, tell stories of animals at Christmas. Not as pretty as Cinderella’s Castle, but more than I was expecting.
Also, it was nice to see the silent shows by The Muppets at Liberty Square! Totally a surprise! Also a lot of fun: The Jingle Cruise! We loved the Christmas twist to the puns and corniness.
Great photos! Thanks as always.
We were at Hollywood Studios last week and Magic Kingdom the week before. The parks felt busy and crowded. We even commented that if this was 35%, what is ‘normal’ going to look like again. The parks always felt packed before COVID hit and then our perspective got skewed by the very low capacity limits at re-opening. We knew that probably wasn’t going to last long and it didn’t.
Our FL Gold annual passes are up for renewal in July 2021. Are they currently renewing FL annual passes?
Laura – we renewed our annual passes in October for November. One thing to note – we also have some 10-day, non-expiring tickets from before we became FL residents. Seems Disney always tries to use those first and I have to spend an hour or so on the phone getting our ticket dates back. We check with a ticket agent before using our APs for the 1st time after renewal to make sure they are the priority tickets.
Thanks Tom for the updates, the Holiday pics are great, real feast for the eye’s.
Especially during these times.
Tom! Your photos are amazing! My husband is trying to drive (I should really wait til we stop the car) and I’m trying to show him these pics that are absolutely phenomenal! Great job!!!! Wish I could take a decent picture, lol. Merry Christmas!
Tom or maybe someone can help us answer some questions at WDW transportation. Family of 3 with a toddler. We are planning to stay at Pop Century for the majority of our park days and then Kidani Village for our off days. Looking at Magic Kingdom, we are not impressed with any of the dining options and wanted to go to Wilderness Lodge and dine at Geyser Point for dinner after we are done with MK. But, how do we get back to POP? Do we take transportation to the TTC and then hitch a ride back to Pop? Our toddler needs a car seat so Uber or Lyft aren’t an option, unless we take a car seat to the park with us and carry it all day, and that seems horrible.
When my sister & I stayed at pop century this summer, we ate dinner at geyser point, took a bus to a park (whichever one showed up first; a Disney springs bus would also work) then transferred to a bus to pop. Sounds long… but it worked perfectly. And getting to eat at geyser point was DEFINITELY worth the hike home!
Might want to re-think about going. Family went to Wilderness Lodge and got to Geyser about 7:00pm and was told 2 hour wait. We stuck it out but wasn’t seated until 9:45 – 10:00pm. This was back at the end of Sept. While we waited we tried to get seated at the bar no luck, very limited. Even at one point tried Whispering Canyon also with no luck. We saw every inch of Wilderness Lodge as we waited and waited with no place to sit or grab a drink while we waited. We took the boat from Magic Kindgom and was forced to uber back to Poly.
@mike that sounds horrible! Another option could be taking a bus to Yacht Club after MK, mobile ordering at Ale & Compass and taking the skyliner back to pop! At least we would know for sure we could get there and back to our hotel! Thanks for the advice! I’m really missing the minnie van options already.
I’d consider dining at one of the Crescent Lake or Riviera Resort; you can take the bus from Magic Kingdom to those, and then take the Skyliner to Pop Century when you’re done.
For Wilderness Lodge, you’d need to take the boat/bus back to Magic Kingdom or another park, and then another form of transportation to Pop Century.
Just stayed at pop century with a toddler, they do have Uber plus car seat, not as many as normal so allow little extra time. We always used to cab from resort to resort for dinners reservations but did Uber & car seat With no problem, little more expensive but not much. So much more convenient. Have fun. Our toddler favorite meal was by far Hollywood & vine & best character interaction, I just shared my turkey meal with him, got kids macaroni & cheese as one of my sides & kids sundae as my dessert choice, it was awesome.
Tom you’re photos never get old. Absolutely gorgeous. So beautiful they don’t need any words.
I was there last week and to add to the discussion, I was under the impression that those sections of green by the Plaza and the hub were relaxation stations because though people were socially distanced most had their masks down.
It all seemed fine, no one was on top of anyone.
The parks were great, I pretty much walked onto most rides but I had to pick my times.
The small parades are a wonderful addition but the one quick burst of fireworks every 15 minutes does little to enhance the experience.
Going back for Christmas Eve and staying until the New Year.
I stayed at the Treehouse for 9 days. I had wanted to invite you and Sarah to make use of it for the last two days as it was going to be empty so you could do a report but I couldn’t find a way to contact you outside of this blog.
“I stayed at the Treehouse for 9 days. I had wanted to invite you and Sarah to make use of it for the last two days as it was going to be empty so you could do a report but I couldn’t find a way to contact you outside of this blog.”
Since this is past tense, I’m assuming your stay is over. If not, you can contact me: [email protected]
Either way, thanks for the offer and hope you had/have a great trip!
Merry Christmas Tom and Sarah
Thanks always for your helpful blogs with great tips and awesome recommendations!!
We don’t always agree about our favorites but that’s the joy of Disney, everyone has different favorites and wonderful family memories from different resorts , foods, and attractions.
Hope you two have a magical New Year and I look forward to many more post from you!!
Tom, I just spoke to a friend who is a CM at Galaxy’s Edge. He said that park capacity is at 50%. Since I’ve been seeing your blogs say it’s 35%, I asked him when they increased it, and he said it’s been 50% for a few months now. Not sure who is being told the misinformation, but I thought it was interesting that there is a discrepancy between what guests/CMs are being told. If it IS 50%, then that would explain all of the guests saying that it feels much more busy than 35%.
On the quarterly earnings call during the second week of November, Disney’s CEO stated that capacity was 35% at that time.
I wouldn’t believe anything a CM says these days. I was just there and overheard many statements by CM that were not true. EX: asked how many days in advance you can book dining reservations. Answer by CM: 90 days. And I heard many other examples. I am not knocking CM during these trying times but I experienced a lack of great customer service from CM. Another example was at the Emporium when a guest was asking for help finding a size in a sweatshirt. No help at all from the CM.
Cast member reliability can be iffy. We dined at Liberty Tree Tavern on the 16th and were put in the overflow at the Diamond Horseshoe, where the very nice CM pointed out where Walt and his wife used to sit. Maybe at DisneyLAND; WDW opened in 1971; Walt died in 1966.
Grain of salt always recommended.
I absolutely love your photos, they are amazing!! How do you get pictures like that? You should publish a book of them – I would buy it! I would love to be able to take photos as good as this. Nice work.
Thanks for the kind words!
Tom, seems like our families crossed paths the last few days, but sadly despite looking out for the Brickers, we didn’t connect. We were staying at the Polynesian and also witnessed cast members pushing the people mover around! Would have liked the opportunity to say thanks in person for all the years of great tips. Maybe next year!
Ah too bad! Hope you had a good trip, though! 🙂
We actually enjoyed Christmas season at MK this year more than last year. It was nice to see the Christmas cavalcades and character appearances without paying the expensive hard ticket event prices. This year, as photographers, we loved the accessibility and abundance of Christmas cavalcades and characters in Christmas attire throughout MK during daytime without waiting in long times, pushed around by crowds, or disrupted views. We found cavalcades sufficient in comparison to the full Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade because the cavalcades had our favorite units from the regular parade (Mickey, Goofy/Clarabelle, Santa, Toy Soldiers) plus the lovely parade music. We prefer the classic fur characters so we were happy with the selection of characters for cavalcades and greets. Also, it was fantastic to the see return of the Muppets to Liberty Square. In years past, we enjoyed the MK Christmas party including the Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration show (with exception of the Text Me Merry Christmas segment), the parade, the fireworks, free cookies, and the character greets. Last year, although I enjoyed the party, the crowds were horrendous with long lines at the character greets, chaos around the Main Street/castle viewing of the fireworks, and big crowds along the parade route.
Any behind the scenes talk of fast passes resuming? With upticks in capacity it seems like “feels like” crowds might start to get excessive as far as attraction lines go.
I have to admit that spending the last 8 days in the parks, that I didn’t miss fast passes at all. (Something I couldn’t have imagined before the trip).
This was our annual trip (same week each year) and somehow we were able to do all the attractions at each park in a day with only two lines around an hour (flight of passage and seven dwarfs mine train). All other rides had highly inflated posted wait times.
My experiences were similar to Neil’s. I didnt miss FP+ at all. It was nice to enjoy the details of the queues while crowds were socially distanced and lines were mostly moving (unless a tech issue with ride). I was able to do Peter Pan multiple times on a trip with reasonable wait times unlike the FP+ era.
This is indeed my brief escape! Thank you very much, from a beleaguered health reporter who has had to cover every single minute of this awful year.
Great pics, you two! Even better than usual.
Planning a trip for early December 2021. What percent chance to you give to Tron being open by then?
I have a question about the 35% capacity limits. I assume that the 35% is based on 100% maximum capacity for each park at which under normal circumstances would be the point where people would be turned away. Not sure how often that has happened and maybe past New Years Eve’s at Magic Kingdom might have come close to that. But my question is what would be considered “normal” capacity? I would take a guess that it’s above 80% for a very busy day and maybe 60-70% for moderately busy. Just trying to put the current crowds into perspective. We visited in August, November, and just last week and could tell the difference in crowd levels.
Even NYE hasn’t hit a full capacity closure in the last several years, so those days would’ve been around ~90% capacity.
Part of the problem in comparing current crowds/attendance to norms is we truly do not know what percentage of capacity the parks normally hit. My guess would be that a random weekday in September is around 40%, whereas a weekend in December might be around 75%, but those are just guesses. In those scenarios, the parks are also operating efficiently–seating every table at restaurants, loading every row/seat in ride vehicles, etc.
It makes comparisons difficult and borderline useless. But it’s all we have right now.
Tom – I think that makes sense as August was very empty, but last week felt crowded, but not insane. To your point about pre-shut down being more efficient, one thing we did notice is how crazy some of the quick service restaurants have been. For example, Pecos Bill drawing a huge crowd waiting for mobile orders that caused a bottleneck in the area going from Frontierland to Adventure land.
Your photos are great, Tom. Thanks.
Thanks for the kind words!