Walt Disney World Resort Update for November 17-23, 2020

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer
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Walt Disney World Resort Update for November 17-23, 2020

Writer's Note, News & Views (Combined)

Yes, Hurricane Eta paid another visit to Florida this past week, fortunately in a lesser form. As I said last week, it's been a soggy and windy November in Central Florida. This week looks to be nicer, but, again, our thoughts go to the folks in Central America getting slammed by Iota, the 29th named storm, now a Category 5 Hurricane, that formed in the past few days and is hitting some of the same places there that Eta hit before its visits to Florida.

With longer-term consequence for Walt Disney World Resort guests was The Walt Disney Company's earning report for investors last week. Disney reported that its Parks, Experiences and Products division took a $2.4 billion hit due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. As you know, Disneyland remains closed, and Disney Cruise Line is not sailing, both important parts of that division, and Walt Disney World Resort is operating at reduced capacity. That capacity had been pegged at 25% of maximum capacity, but CEO Bob Chapek said that it has raised it to 35% and believes that social distancing can be maintained at that level.

It will be interesting to see how the Resort operates at that level with the enhanced health and safety protocols. I finally visited Disney's Hollywood Studios yesterday, and, in my experience there, it was the greatest challenge of the four parks. In other words, at whatever the attendance level was yesterday (and Disney does not release those figures), the park felt crowded. It felt that way, no doubt, in part, because physically distanced queues spread out into walkways and plazas all over the park. Indeed, since this park formerly relied so heavily on "people-eating" live shows (like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Beauty & The Beast: Live on Stage) that employed so many of those Actor's Equity members that have been told their shows have been discontinued or indefinitely suspended as the reason for their permanent layoffs, it means there are more guests on the walkways rather than in the shows.

While I reported following my EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, and Disney's Animal Kingdom visits earlier this month that behavior was mostly very good and the new health and safety protocols in place were visible and comforting, I was a bit less comforted at Hollywood Studios, where attraction standby times were consistently long all afternoon (even Muppet Vision 3D had a posted 30 minute standby time). There were more guests moving around without masks; more guests not observing physical distancing; slightly less visible cleaning/disinfecting of surfaces; while, at the same time, there were a whole lot more signs and audible announcements.


I arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios parking lot just after 1 p.m. and there were no other guests arriving at the time.


Likewise, in the early afternoon, there was no wait at either the health screening tents (not shown), or the security and bag check stations. Like the other parks and Disney Springs, COVID-19 warnings are prominently displayed along the way.


Mickey Mouse rides in a red convertible in one of the character cavalcades (nearby, but out of frame, is another red convertible with Minnie, with Chip and Dale plus Goofy on foot).


Disney's Hollywood Studios seemed to have more visible health and safety signage than the other parks, including the many digital sign boards throughout the park. In Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the font selection fits in the Batuu theming of the land.


Many signs around the park reinforce the requirement that guests properly wear masks, like this one at the entrance to Toy Story Land.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.


The extended queue for Rock'n'Roller Coaster often stretched out to Sunset Boulevard throughout the afternoon.


In the plaza in front of Rock'n'Roller Coaster, stripes on the plaza advise guests on maintaining appropriate distancing.


At least when I walked past, the queue for Alien Swirling Saucers in Toy Story Land reached to the entrance to Star Wars: Galaxy Edge where the queue for Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run had reached.


Later in the afternoon, as Boarding Groups for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance were called in rather rapid succession (compared to earlier in the day), the physical queue for the attraction extended out of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge through the tunnel on to Grand Avenue an all the way up the street to Baseline Tap House and turned the corner toward Commissary Lane.


The queue for Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway extended throughout the plaza to the right side of the Chinese Theater during the entire afternoon.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Remember that the park capacity cap is maintained by the Disney Park Pass Reservation System. All guests must not only have a ticket, but a date-specific, park-specific reservation. Disney's Hollywood Studios remains the most-often "sold-out" Park Pass for Annual Passholders: I made my reservation nearly two weeks in advance (based mostly on availability, but also my schedule). FastPass+ service is not available for attractions, so all attractions now have queues, and, as shown above, those spill out all over the place to help guests remain distanced from other parties.

A few weeks ago, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance changed its virtual queue system once again. In the past, guests had to physically be in the park to attempt to enter that queue. Now, when that queue opens for the first time each day at 7 a.m. Eastern, guests may make their attempt from anywhere (and, lately, the park has not been open until 10 a.m., so it most definitely will not be from the park). Unfortunately, my experience yesterday was that the 7 a.m. opening filled to capacity in under two SECONDS (based on the World Clock Time).

The virtual queue reopens at 2 p.m., if the attraction still has additional capacity (which is based, in no small part, on whether the attraction has been operating smoothly rather than breaking down). Guests must be in the park to access 2 p.m. virtual queue boarding groups. I was able to secure a "backup" boarding group assignment at the 2 p.m. opening and my group was called to the attraction about two and a half hours later (with a pretty quick through the physical queue). When I left the park, more than 25 additional back-up groups beyond mine were also invited to board.

Last week we noted that Disney's Hollywood Studios began its Holidays celebrations on November 6. Its no published schedule character motorcades appear throughout the day, now including one with Santa riding a red convertible "packed with presents" and led by "an entourage of elves". The Frozen Sing-Along has its holiday finale featuring Olaf the snowman (which I skipped on this visit). At night, projections transform the Hollywood Tower Hotel into the "Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel.", but without the "Sunset Seasons Greetings" music, video show, and Disney snow from the non-Pandemic infected past editions.


Holiday decorations appear on Hollywood Boulevard (as here), Sunset Boulevard and Echo Lake.


The park's large Christmas Tree which, for many years stood outside the park, again stands on an island in Echo Lake.


Some of the umbrellas around Echo Lake have a Christmas Tree theme as well.


Gertie the Dinosaur again has a Santa hat on its head and ornament in its mouth.


Decorations we have seen in past years is again set in similar spots around Hollywood Boulevard, like the lawn at The Brown Derby.


Hollywood Holiday Tower projections begin when darkness sets in after sunset.


The projections change from time-to-time, but without the interstitial videos and narration that had accompanied them as part of "Sunset Seasons Greetings" in recent years.


Over the course of about 30 minutes, I only spotted three different projections, including "The Hollywood Toy Hotel."


The Christmas Tree and ornaments in Echo Lake are lit in the evening as well.


The seasonally changed dining venue "Minnie's Holiday Dine" hosts one of the few modified character meals currently available. Guest have an opportunity to see and wave at characters, but not physically interact with them; the meal is served family-style rather than buffet.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.


Santa rides a red convertible behind a bunch of dancing elves in his holiday cavalcade. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.


The Holiday projections on The Hollywood Tower Hotel are not static images. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.


While in the park yesterday, I shared my thoughts about the experience, and took at the Christmas Tree in the middle of Echo Lake. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.


Disney's Hollywood Studios seemed like it had a higher percentage of closed merchandise and food locations than the other parks. (It could have just been perception, since the park is smaller.) Mickey Bars could still be purchased and enjoyed while stationary.


On Sunset Boulevard, it was surprising to find the Beverly Sunset (and its adjoining stores) that became a Pixar-themed merchandise venue when Toy Story Land opened two years ago closed.


As Christmas approaches, it is also surprising to find the Christmas-themed "It's a Wonderful Shop" closed in the Muppets Courtyard (Grand Avenue).


The latest Starbucks tumblers themed for Disney's Hollywood Studios are available in Celebrity 5 & 10 on Hollywood Boulevard.


More Marvel-themed merchandise is available in the park than I recall. While I had seen Spider-Man "Ears" in California, I do not recall seeing them previously in Disney's Florida theme parks (though they may have been available).


A new interactive Groot "toy" is now available (see the Tweet below).

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Magic Kingdom Tests Fireworks

As a neighbor of Magic Kingdom, I had become accustomed to nightly fireworks echoing through the neighborhood and my house. That went silent back in mid-March. This week, my Home Owners Association received notice that the neighbor planned to do some routine fireworks testing for the first time in quite awhile.


Testing, testing, but, it is interesting that the main Magic Kingdom launch location places its shells over the rooftop at the right of this video, but these shells were launched from somewhere else, as they appear in the center of the frame (one house to the left of where I usually see all but perimeter fireworks). Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

This & That…

…Yesterday, Josh D'Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products spoke to the IAAPA Expo: Virtual Education Conference. He included an update on the progress of some of the on-going projects at Walt Disney World (including work on Harmonious, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT, and the progress at Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser the new immersive 2-day, 2-night experience including a visit to the planet Batuu which, conveniently, is rather close by at Disney's Hollywood Studios). Noteworthy here, the only on-going project at Walt Disney World that Disney Parks Blog attaches even a year of completion to is Remy's Ratatouille Adventure which is now due to open in 2021. We do still expect Guardians of the Galaxy to be completed within the year; the Galactic Starcruiser was to have started accepting reservations this year, but there has been no news about that subject in quite awhile.


Disney Parks Blog released this video highlighting projects Josh D'Amaro spoke about at the IAPPA Expo. Video © Disney.

…D23's Destination D was to have taken place this month at Walt Disney World Resort, but, like other crowd-gathering events, it was cancelled. Instead, D23 is offering its Fantastic Worlds Celebration online this week. Visit d23.com for both the sessions open to the public and those that are Gold Member exclusives. Coming up tomorrow at 6 p.m Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific, is the Mickey Mouse & Minnie Mouse birthday celebration hosted by Mark Daniel with an inside look at Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway featuring Imagineer Kevin Rafferty, plus a look at the new Disney+ series, "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse," and a sneak peek of the designer Mickey Ears from Bret Iwan, the official voice of Mickey Mouse. On Thursday at 5 p.m .Eastern/2 p.m. Pacific, Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador Stephen Lim will talk with "planners" about visiting Walt Disney World. At 6 p.m Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific, Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador Marilyn West will join Imagineer Zach Riddley and EPCOT Vice President Melissa Valiquette to talk about EPCOT and "The Magic of Possibility," and Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald will chat with Pixar's Roger Gould and Harley Jessup about Remy's Ratatouille Adventure which is under construction (and now due to open in 2021) at the France Pavilion.

…As we noted last week, instead of the Christmas Tree Trail this year, the "Christmas Tree Stroll presented by AdventHealth" spreads out the "elaborately decorated, Disney-themed trees" throughout the venue. DJ's play music by day, and in the evening, stilt-walking toy soldiers are back, and there are "skating snowflakes," plus Disney snow "at surprise locations." Later this month, Santa and Mrs. Claus will cruise Lake Buena Vista from "a pair of colorfully decorated pontoon boats." This week, Disney Parks Blog showed off a first look, and we'll provide our own look in a future Update.

Disney Parks Blog provided even more Holiday Foodie Highlights this week, featuring "Eats and Treats" at Disney Springs, many available only for a limited time.

…Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs has announced its Black Friday merchandise specials (available Friday, November 27 through Sunday, November 29). Shop for Ireland at the pub will offer savings of 25 percent off all jewelry and up to 70 percent off select clothing, souvenirs and gifts. And, it's not too early to plan for Christmas dining: guests can plan now and book a table for a fun, delicious and socially distanced Christmas dinner at Raglan Road on December 25 from 11 a.m. through closing. The Christmas menu ($28.95; $14 for children ages 9 and younger) will feature butter and herb-roasted turkey, roast garlic mashed potatoes, duck fat roasties, honey-glazed carrots, bacon-braised Brussels sprouts, sausage and walnut stuffing, and red wine jus with cranberry sauce. Guests also can choose from Raglan Road’s regular menu. The live music and dance show will being at 4:30 p.m. and continue through the evening.

…Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will again present holiday-themed beers and gourmet pan-Asian light bites at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs during the third annual "12 Beers of Christmas" event. In celebration of the craft-beer movement and the most wonderful time of the year, attendees will enjoy 12 specialty beers from local breweries all across Central Florida paired with Morimoto Asia's famous pan-Asian cuisine from 12 food stations. Hosted by Chef Morimoto himself on Sunday, December 6, there will be two seating times to accommodate social distancing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 2-4 p.m. The price is $75 (plus tax and gratuity) per person and tickets are limited to 100 for each seating time. Guests must be 21 years or older to attend.

Eight private booths are also available to reserve for $375 a piece, which includes access to a dedicated server and Morimoto Asia themed gift bags full of souvenirs to take home.

Reserve Tickets: HERE.

FINAL REMINDER: While thinking about Disney Springs, don't forget all the Thanksgiving Disney Springs dining options we shared earlier this month for those planning a Turkey-day visit.

…And, while we are providing REMINDERS: 2020 Annual Meetings for Disney Vacation Club Condominium Associations will be held starting at 2 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, 2020, at Disney's Contemporary Resort Convention Center. Since last week, we have reviewed some of the budgets (relevant to Members Dues) and expect these meetings could give rise to some tough questions from the floor if sufficient time is permitted. In any event, the notice on DisneyVacationClub.com says that "Details are subject to change." Those wishing to attend in person must register and complete a COVID-19 waiver by November 20, 2020 (access it from the DVC Member Condo Association News webpage which may require Disney Vacation Member log-in). For those not attending, Members may also submit comments and questions electronically in advance of the meeting, and DVC says it will post video highlights soon after the meeting. With The Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa beginning a phased reopening on December 6 (even though the California Disney Parks will not be), and Aulani having begun its phased reopening at the beginning of this month, by the end of the year, all of the DVC Resorts will again be open with new health safety, distancing, and cleaning regimines.

…Walt Disney World Golf has just unveiled a new line of golf clothing and accessories featuring Disney characters in its pro shops, including characters that don't appear there often. Visit this WDW Golf Blog post for more information, and for a link to the online store if you can't make it to one the Pro Shops at Walt Disney World.

…Earlier this month at Magic Kingdom, we noticed pieces of a temporary stage constructed in front of Cinderella Castle. This week, Disney Parks Blog shared the details of Disney Channel's first of three holiday specials this year, "Disney Holiday Magic Quest." Raven-Symoné virtually hosts the challenge featuring "ZOMBIES 2" stars Milo Manheim, Kylee Russell, Ariel Martin, and Pearce Joza competing in a holiday adventure through Magic Kingdom Park. The "grand prize" the stars compete for benefits Toys for Tots. The show debuts Friday December 4 at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

…Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort will have a new Santa's Village themed area for guests to have "a socially distant, yet festive holiday experience - without the North Pole Winter!" Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elf, Kandy Kane, return as well. The experience will be offered on select nights beginning November 27. For more information and the schedule, plus room reservations, visit SantasFavoriteResort.com or call 1-800-227-1500. Rates start at $167/night and, as a bonus, guests can reserve a second room for up to 50% off. Use the code: SANTA.

…For those of our readers that live in or are considering living in Central Florida, some positive news for employment prospects in the region: LEGOLAND Florida is hiring! More than 150 positions are currently open across LEGOLAND Theme Park, Water Park and Hotels. The more than 35 open roles feature full-time and part-time positions that span a range of departments including entertainment, operations, hotel services, security, retail and water park lifeguards. Employment at LEGOLAND Florida Resort includes helpful perks like career development opportunities, tuition assistance and free unlimited usage of the local transit system. Interested candidates can review the full listing of jobs and apply at jobs.legoland.com

And LEGOLAND has announced its "biggest deals of the year for Black Friday Sale" that starts at midnight on November 25. Visit legoland.com/florida/offers/black-friday/ for information and to purchase. Deals include "Awesomer Annual Pass for $99.99" and Up to 50% off Vacation Packages.

Give Kids the World Village's Night of a Million Lights Holiday Spectacular Runs Nightly Through January 3, 2021

I attended the invited media preview hosted by Jodi Bensen (best known as the voice of Princess Ariel) at Give Kids the World Village on November 10 for the first-ever Night of a Million Lights Holiday Spectacular. Walt Disney World Resort donated over 3 million lights to the non-profit resort that provides wish-granting, no-cost stays to critically ill children and their families. Because the resort had to close to wish families when the pandemic began, the organization decided to create this immersive, walk-through holiday light event to raise funds for its mission while brining the spirit of the season to visitors.


The Village is located near Walt Disney World Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, roughly a half an hour drive from Magic Kingdom (and less time from the Disney's Animal Kingdom Resort area). Photo by Alan S. Dalinka


Give Kids the World Village President & CEO Pamela Landwirth was on-hand for the media preview and noted that thousands of wishes have been postponed due to the pandemic. The Village is hoping that it can again welcome wish families soon. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.


Jodi Benson hosted the media preview and sang one of the songs she is best known for, "Part of Your World" from Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.


Walt Disney World Resort donated over 3 million lights to Give Kids the World Village. As now decorated, the Village now brings to mind the former Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, but on an even larger scale (though without the programmed, synchronized "dancing"). Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Local businesses, including several of the other Central Florida attractions, decorated 33 individual villas around the Resort. The display opened to the public on Friday, November 13, and is available nightly through Sunday, January 3, 2021. Date-specific, timed entry tickets are available on the Give Kids The World website at GKTW.org/lights. Most of the Village's wheelchair-accessible attractions are also available at no cost, including The Enchanted Carousel, Marc's Dino Putt, Kelly's Sunny Swing, and Lori's Magical Flight – all elaborately decorated for the holidays. Complimentary hot cocoa and ice cream are served throughout each evening. In addition, guests can visit the Village's most iconic venue, the Castle of Miracles – featuring a mysterious forest, a wishing well that burps, a magic tree that makes pillows, and more. The Castle is highlighted by thousands of stars that fill the ceiling and the adjoining Star Tower, each placed in honor of a wish child who has visited the Village.

Proceeds from the event support Give Kids The World's mission to provide wish vacations for critically ill children and their families. When wish-granting organizations receive a request from a critically ill child who wants to visit any of the world-class theme parks Central Florida has to offer, Give Kids The World fulfills the wish – providing each child and his/her family with a magical week-long stay at absolutely no cost. Each family receives transportation, accommodations in one of the Village's 166 storybook villas, all meals and snacks, nightly entertainment, tickets to Orlando's world-class theme parks and attractions, and priceless experiences at the Village. Since 1986, Give Kids The World has welcomed more than 176,000 families from 50 states and more than 76 countries.


Town Hall, the Village's central building, is elaborately decorated with lights for the holidays.


Stilt-walking entertainers are also decorated in light.


Sea World participated in decorated one of the Resort's Villas.


Ripley's Believe it or Not included some oddities in its holiday decorations.


Crayola Crayons decorate and help decorate one of the villas.


LEGOLAND Florida Resort has some brick sculptures decorating a villa (including that wreath which we saw last year at a media-invited event at LEGOLAND).


Amberville, home to some of the Village's attractions, is covered in holiday lights.


Keep an eye out for Stormtroopers bearing gifts.


Disney decorated two villas, including this one with a Beauty & The Beast theme.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.


Give Kids the World Village Night of a Million Lights Holiday Spectacular is underway. During the Media Preview night, we steamed live from Give Kids the World Village. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.

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