Walt Disney World Resort Update for February 9-15, 2021

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer
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Walt Disney World Resort Update for February 9-15, 2021

 Writer's Note, News & Views (Combined)

The long-running Disney "What's Next" campaign, where an announcer asks one or more of the winners of a major sporting event like, oh, say, a Super Bowl, what they are going to do next now that they've claimed a championship, continued this weekend. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV which was played, conveniently enough, just down Interstate 4 over in Tampa Bay, Florida. After the game's conclusion, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were tapped for the honor of shouting "I'm Going to Disney World," and Disney Parks quickly released the clip to social media.

Indeed, by the wee hours of Monday morning, the traditional full commercial was released to social media, and you may have seen it on television by now too! The commercial this year also saluted "healthcare heros" and in the moments after the game's conclusion, Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom was first illuminated in Tampa Bay's team colors and then "in blue to honor those who have been courageously battling the pandemic." You can see it all in the final commercial.


The traditional "I'm Going to Disney World" commercial was released just hours after the conclusion of Super Bowl LV which was played in nearby Tampa Bay, Florida. Video courtesy Disney Parks. The "What's Next" ads became a part of the Super Bowl back in 1987 following the New York Giants victory featuring quarterback Phil Simms.

Because the phased reopening of Magic Kingdom has kept parades and other crowd-gathering events off the daily schedule, this year's "What's Next" moment was not followed by a Super Bowl parade through the park like those we have reported on over the years. Instead, Ron Gronkowski made a fairly quiet visit to the parks yesterday without a publicly disclosed schedule. Disney Parks released photos of him visiting Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios, riding Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom, and posing with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on a parade float conveniently positioned to show off Cinderella Castle, but clearly located in the backstage area behind Main Street (east side near Tomorrowland) without guests present.


To celebrate the Super Bowl LV Champions, Ron Gronkowski posed with Mickey and Minnie aboard a parade float parked behind Main Street U.S.A. within sight of Cinderella Castle, but outside of guest view and crowds. Photo courtesy Disney Parks.

Tom Brady's visit to the park has not yet been scheduled (and probably won't be announced until after-the-fact). He has appeared in more "I'm Going to Disney World" commercials than any other player.

Believe it or not, we now head into the final three weeks of meteorological winter. Central Florida had another brief cold-snap last week, but this week it looks like we will see quite a few 80s as daytime high temperatures. Walt Disney World Resort's phased reopening continues as it has, with health and safety protocols in place including: mandatory guest temperature checks, limited park capacity managed by requiring guests use of the Disney Park Pass System to reserve date-specific parks visit (plus have a valid ticket - and limited hours for park hopping for those with that benefit), heightened cleaning especially of high-touch areas, physical distancing, and enforced mandatory face coverings (except when eating and/or drinking while stationary and physically distanced from others not in your party). Be sure to check the My Disney Experience or DisneyWorld.com immediately before any planned visit for any last minute changes to phased reopening operations that may impact your visit.

Views Around Disney Springs and Vicinity

As February began, Disney Springs launched "Celebrate Soulfully at Walt Disney World" to salute Black History Month. This week, I had a walk around to see some of the area's new offerings for the celebration. I also had a chance to see the new M&M Store that opened the weekend before last. Indeed, this Disney Springs visit was pretty convenient, since I was already masked-up from my visit to the media preview just down the road at the first Orlando-area Portillo's restaurant expected to open next month.

Celebrate Soulfully

As we have previously reported, Disney Springs is honoring Black History Month with "Celebrate Soulfully" featuring music, food, art and more. Four new art displays inspired by Disney-Pixar's "Soul" are featured created by emerging Black artists Bee Harris, Bianca Pastel, Arrington Porter and Cory Van, as part of the HUE Unlimited collection of wearable art reflecting each artist's interpretation of the film. Motown Mondays, Jazz Thursdays, and Smooth Sundays will feature musicians "playing tunes sure to stir your soul" according to Disney Parks Blog, and some of the Disney Springs dining venues will features special menu items (like Amorette's Patisserie featuring treats inspired by Soul as well as The Princess and the Frog), and some retailers "will spotlight products from Black designers, artists and visionaries."


As part of the "Soulfully" celebration in honor of Black History Month, characters from Disney-Pixar's "Soul" as interpreted by black artists are displayed on one of the Town Center shops.


More art created by black artists inspired by "Soul" can be found in the Town Center area as well.


The Waterfront Stage (across from the entrance to World of Disney store) is hosting Motown Mondays, Jazz Thursdays, and Smooth Sundays performances. Audience seating is marked to promote physical distancing between parties.


Inside Marketplace Co-Op in the WonderGround Gallery, "Soulfully" celebration signs highlight the careers of noted black artists that have worked on Disney Projects.


The work of Disney Legend Floyd Norman is saluted as part the "Soulfully" celebration in honor of Black History Month.


The art sold near the "Soulfully" display were WonderLand Gallery artists, not necessarily those highlighed by the signs, but related to the Disney stories the highlighted artists worked on during their careers.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.


A petit cake themed to the recently released Disney-Pixar film "Soul" (now streaming on the Disney+ service) is available at Amorette's Patisserie at Disney Springs. The cake is part of Disney Springs' "Soulfully" celebration.


A new Tiana from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" petit cake became available at Amorette's as part of Disney Springs' "Soulfully" celebration.


With episodes of Marvel Studios' "WandaVision" now streaming on the Disney+ service, a new themed petit cake featuring Vision and Wanda is now available too.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.


World of Disney store has an assortment of merchandise themed to the Disney-Pixar movie "Soul" which is now available to stream on the Disney+ service.


The primary character from "Soul," Joe, is available as a plush doll.


Mini character figures are also available from "Soul."

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

M&M Store

As mentioned last week, Orlando's new flagship M&M Store opened at Disney Springs on the West Side between Splitsville and NBA Experience. This week, I visited the new store.


The new M&M Store is located on the West Side between Splitsville and NBA Experience.


The new M&M Store is actually smaller than its prior flagship location at Orlando's Florida Mall.


A photo spot featuring M&M sculpture characters stands in front of the store, slightly protected from Florida's weather.


Queuing areas are set up outside the store for when the current limited capacity level is reached.


The store includes a few nods to its Disney Springs location.


The back of the store features tubes of M&M candies that reach to the ceiling. The candies are available for purchase.


The store also sells personalized items, including custom-printed candies (though the counter was closed during my visit).


The store has another M&M character sculpture near the queue for the cash registers.


The store's merchandise mix also includes the sort of colorful M&M apparel that had previously been sold at the Florida Mall location.


The store has a number of Disney-themed co-branded items (though there was far more M&M branded merchandise than co-branded merchandise).

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Portillo's Lake Buena Vista Media Preview: Restaurant Opening in March

As this former Chicagoan writer has been excitedly reporting for several months, the first Orlando-area Portillo's restaurant featuring Chicago-style Hot Dogs, Italian Beef sandwiches, and a whole lot more, is nearing completion within minutes of Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. (Indeed, it is also rather ideally located just a few more minutes away from both Universal Orlando Resort and Sea World too). I was invited to the construction site last week for a preview and a treated to one of its classic Chicago-style hot dogs and fries from The Beef Bus, Portillo's food truck that has been in the area a few times this winter promoting the brand (indeed, when folks in the vicinity of the construction site saw the Beef Bus was open, a queue of more than a couple dozen formed to buy food, and that does not include the invited media).

The only slightly disappointing news to share is that the venue's opening is now slated for March 16 rather than March 2. The interior of the restaurant appeared substantially complete during the preview, but governmental permitting has not yet allowed the kitchen to open. The restaurant also has two outdoor patio areas, and, when the restaurant opens, it will also offer drive-through, curb-side pick-up, and limited-area delivery services. The restaurant's leadership team on hand indicated that they are exploring additional expansion in the Orlando area; Portillo's currently has over sixty restaurants located in several states (the most in the Chicagoland area). It has operated two sites in the Tampa-area for several years, and has operated in Chicagoland since its founding in 1963.

As previously noted, the restaurant is also hiring: visit Portillos.com/careers to apply. More previews ahead: stay tuned!


The new Portillo's has been built on Palm Drive in a previously undeveloped area near the Parc Soleil by Hilton Grand Vacations. It is about a five minute drive from the Disney Springs Resort Area.


Each Portillo's location has a different interior. The new Lake Buena Vista restaurant is themed in tribute to 1950s-60s Rock and Roll, including a 36 foot electric guitar installed on the ceiling.


When the restaurant opens, every other table inside the restaurant will be closed to promote physical distancing.


I am pleased to report that the Chicago-style beef hot dog served from the Beef Bus tasted exactly as this former Chicagoan expected.


The Beef Bus was on-hand for the media preview, along with a replica of the original 1963 Dog House that started Portillo's business in Chicago's suburbs in 1963.


Both the Italian Beef sandwich and Chocolate Cake (also sold by the slice or in a shake) are some of the restaurant's signature items. Check out the Portillos.com website to learn how you can get a free slice of cake on your birthday.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka except as noted.

Reminder: 2021 Florida Resident Discover Disney Tickets Now Available

As the year began, Disney launched its 2021 Florida Resident Discover Disney Ticket. The $199 plus tax ticket provides four days of park visits. The ticket can be used on consecutive or non-consecutive days through June 18, 2021 (but not at all on February 13-15, March 26-April 11, or May 28-31). The Park Hopper option can be added for $42.50/ticket plus tax.

There is also a 3-Day version (with same blockout dates) available for $179 plus tax (add $42.50/ticket plus tax for Park Hopper).

A 2-Day version is available to purchase and use only through March 11 (but not February 13-15) for $149/tax (add $37.50/ticket plus tax for Park Hopper).

Like other ticket types, guests must also separately make Disney Park Pass reservations for a specific park each date they wish to use a Discover Disney Ticket (and, for Park Hopper, must visit that reserved park and may only Hop when that day's window opens subject to capacity).

This & That…

…Throughout the Fall and Winter, we reported on the refurbishment of Rivers of America at Magic Kingdom: the water was completely drained for the first time in over two decades. In recent weeks, the river has been refilled and the Liberty Belle paddlewheel riverboat was towed from the dry dock facilities backstage near Space Mountain, through Bay Lake, the water bridge, Seven Seas Lagoon, under the monorail beam, down the channel where the Electrical Water Pageant is docked, and back into the refilled Rivers of America. Divers reconnected it to the track and it began its regular park operations again last Friday. Disney Parks Blog shared a video highlighting the boat's journey from dry dock back into operation.


In addition to track replacement, the landscaping and rockwork surrounding the river have been updated and surrounding areas received fresh paint. Video courtesy Disney Park.

…With Valentine's Day coming up on Sunday, February 14, we have heard from a couple of the Disney Springs venues offering up special dining opportunities.

  • Morimoto Asia is holding a special Valentine's Day Chef's Tasting n its private dining rooms. The gourmet multi-course dinner with suggested drink pairings (at an additional costs) are available at two seating times, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and each separate space can accommodate up to four guests. Seats are $225 plus tax and gratuity per person; optional beverage pairing is offered at an additional $85/person and space is very limited. Email MorimotoEvents@PatinaGroup.com for availability and booking.
  • Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant will celebrate Valentine's Day, Sunday February 14, by offering a complimentary glass of pink bubbly to toast brunch, lunch, dinner, or a special dessert. Live Irish music and dance performances run from noon until 4 p.m. on weekends, and daily from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Call (407)938-0300 to book a table indoors or on the patio.

Disney Parks Blog noted that House of Blues Restaurant and Bar at Disney Springs will feature special Mardi Gras-themed menu items February 12-16.

The Edison at Disney Springs is offering a foodie event to introduce its new Executive Chef Deaundra "Dee" Rolle on Thursday, February 25, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The multi-course "A Taste of the Bahamas" tasting dinner will feature an exclusive menu featuring flavors from her home country and classic American recipes. Limited tickets are available for purchase for $76 plus tax and gratuity per person. Guests must be at least 21 years old. Visit this page of the the Patina Group's website for menu and to purchase tickets.

Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels have announced specials available until June 18, 2021. Rates start at $76/night and include a "Passport to Savings" booklet featuring discounts and specials from some Disney Springs merchants and Walt Disney World Golf. Information and reservations may be made at the official website for the Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels at: https://disneyspringshotels.com/magic21/. The hotels provide complimentary bus service to the Walt Disney World theme parks (of course, admission still requires both a ticket and a Disney Park Pass date-specific reservation). The hotels and starting rates (excluding taxes, gratuities, parking and resort fees) are:

  • B Resort & Spa – room rates from $79 per night
  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – room rates from $78 per night
  • Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace – room rates from $109 per night (promo code V2)
  • Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – room rates from $89 per night (promo code V2)
  • Holiday Inn Orlando - Disney Springs Area – room rates from $79 per night
  • Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista – room rates from $76 per night

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Resorts Availability, Ticket Advice & Special Offers

Note: MousePlanet does not edit past Updates to reflect price increases; for up-to-date prices, check the most recent Walt Disney World Resort Update.

Disney Resort Hotel reservations are available throughout 2021, and our travel partner Get Away Today is available to help you book rooms and packages. Get Away Today can also assist you with the new Walt Disney World Resort offer that became available January 5: two free theme park days when you purchase at least a 4-night Disney Hotel stay and 3-Day Walt Disney World Resort tickets (the new offer is valid for vacation packages for travel through September 25, 2021, and does not apply to ticket-only orders). For all theme park ticket holders (day guests, resort guests, and Annual Passholders), though, for the foreseeable future, all guests are required to use the Disney Parks Pass System to reserve dates for guest park visits in addition to having a valid admission.

Get Away Today can help you book Disney's latest promotional offers

Get Away Today can also help you book other discounted Disney hotel stays for travel in 2021, including the continuing 35% discount on Disney Hotels for travel through April 17, 2021, which may be the better option for some guests traveling this spring. With Get Away Today's complimentary Price Monitoring, any time a special comes out, it will automatically price check it for each of its guests. If the new special is better, it will automatically apply the new savings and let the guest know. If it's not a better deal, we will leave everything as is, and keep our eyes peeled for future promotions that could save guests more.

You can get a vacation quote from Get Away Today here. You can also call 855-GET-AWAY during regular business hours (Monday - Friday 9am-5pm MT) and tell them MousePlanet sent you!

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Only purchase Disney theme park tickets directly from Disney, an authorized seller, or a travel agency like MousePlanet travel partner Get Away Today!.As always, we remind our readers that Walt Disney World Resort theme park tickets are rarely offered at deep discounts unless you are a resident of Florida or eligible for U.S. Military Personnel benefits. Historically, non-Florida residents tend to benefit the most by purchasing tickets in advance (and, of course, being mindful of the rules relevant to those tickets). Don't get scammed! Never buy tickets from an unofficial or secondary outlet, such as through eBay or Craigslist. Never rent or purchase tickets from people approaching you outside Disney property stating they have remaining days or leftover tickets. This practice is against the terms of use for Walt Disney World Theme Park admissions, and may result in denial of entry. There is no way to determine if these tickets are valid until you try to use them to enter the parks.

Be sure to check out Get Away Today's Universal Orlando Resort ticket offers too.