Walt Disney World Resort Update for December 21-27, 2021

by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer

Walt Disney World Resort Update for December 21-27, 2021

You can view a larger version of each of the photos included in the Update by clicking on the photo. Each photo will open in a separate tab without a caption rather than a slideshow-type gallery like we had in the past.

 News, Views & Writer's Note

To all that celebrate, have a Merry Christmas and happy whichever other holidays fall between now and our next Walt Disney World Resort Update. Yes, this is the season full of holidays, and, yes, we'll have one more Update before the end of 2021.

Thanks to Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix for covering the East Coast in my absence the past couple of weeks. I made another journey out to the Hawaiian Islands, starting just after Thanksgiving, including my fourth visit to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii. Like the Disney Parks, Aulani is operating at less than its pre-pandemic days. For example, the 'AMA 'AMA signature restaurant hasn't reopened, nor has Auntie's Beach House (the supervised kids' space). Nonetheless, I had an enjoyable stay, and even had an opportunity to enjoy a socially distanced storytelling session with my favorite Aulani cast member, Uncle Aito, who performed across the width of one of the pools with a microphone instead of in a group gathered around a fire, as in the past.

Notwithstanding the limitations and restrictions in place for visiting Hawaii, I found that Aulani was as beautiful and comfortable as in the past. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

To those who have issue with the Disney Parks' requirement that guests be masked indoors, you will find even more restrictions visiting Hawaii right now than pretty much anywhere else in the United States. Face coverings are required indoors in public spaces when not actively eating or drinking; elevator occupancy is limited to four people or one party at a time. Of course, as a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, emergency services are quite limited, and even moreso by the distance from the mainland, too.

Aulani's response to the latest version of Hawaii's "Safe Travel" requirements, and, particularly, the Honolulu City and County mandates, has been to limit all food and beverage operations to Resort guests only. For those who may not be aware of the restrictions for visiting the State of Hawaii at this phase of the global pandemic: all trans-Pacific visitors must register on the state's Safe Travels website and then either self-quarantine for 10 days or prove that they're either fully vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus (which, as of this posting, is being 14 days or more after the single dose of the J&J vaccine or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine) or have an negative test from an approved partner within 72 hours of the last leg of their trans-Pacific journey; Honolulu City and County (which includes all of Oahu) also requires everyone entering restaurants to prove their vaccination status or show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Everywhere I visited on Oahu very carefully checked visitor documentation and required face coverings indoors except when eating or drinking.

During my visit, all guests checking in to Aulani were required to show the front desk that they have complied with Hawaii's Safe Travels rules, and had been granted the State's exemption from quarantine on the Safe Travels website. Upon proof at checking, wristbands were issued to each guest, and the wristbands were required to enter all food and beverage locations at the Resort. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Even with all of the restrictions in place, Aulani seems to retain its prior level of excellence. In particular, and I've said it before, it seems to have some of the best cast members I've encountered at any of the Disney Parks and Resorts, and even challenges Disney Cruise Line's reputation for excellent service. There's a combination of Hawaiian "aloha" and Disney that's just fantastic, and, indeed, the cast members I've met there are super-knowledgeable about the Resort and the Hawaiian culture.

Tiana, one of the Disney Vacation Club cast members I met on my most recent visit (and who remembered me from a prior visit), not only gave one of my traveling companions and me a tour of one of the DVC Grand Villas, but took the time to explain many of the Hawaiian cultural details of the Resort, and, especially, the lobby. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Returning to Florida, Walt Disney World Resort continues to phase back in operations that had been paused with the onset of the global pandemic back in the Spring 2020. This past week, Disney Parks Blog shared that several tours from its "Enchanting Extras Collection" will return starting February 6, 2022 with booking opportunities now open for Disney's Keys to the Kingdom at Magic Kingdom, and, at Disney's Animal Kingdom: Caring for Giants (elephants), Wild Africa Trek, Up Close with Rhinos, and Savor the Savanna. Advanced booking is available on the My Disney Experience app as well as on DisneyWorld.com, and all of the tours also require valid theme park admission and park reservations (not included). There have been rumors that Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, which has been closed since March 2020, may be reopning early in 2022, but, so far, there's been no official announcement and neither the My Disney Experience app nor DisneyWorld.com show any operating hours for the park in January or February.

Orlando International Airport has Walt Disney World Resort 50th Anniversary photo oportunities, and the inter-terminal transportation system's stations are all decorated for The World's Most Magical Celebration as well. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Many of the Orlando International Airport luggage carousels have advertisements for Walt Disney World Resort's on-going 50th Anniversary celebration. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Garden Rocks Concert Series to Return in Spring of 2022

After a nearly two-year hiatus caused by the global pandemic, Disney plans to return the Garden Rocks Concert Series to the 2022 EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. None of the performers have been announced as of yet, but the Festival is scheduled for a 125-day run from March 2 through July 4. The most recent editions of the Garden Rocks Concert Series welcomed performers to the American Gardens Theatre three times nightly for 30-minute concerts during the run of the Festival, and dining packages at table service restaurants offered guaranteed seating.

Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits was long a staple of Garden Rocks Concert Series in the past. He is presently touring, but neither he nor Disney have announced whether he will be performing at the 2022 EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. File Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

Topiaries are always a highlight of the Flower & Garden Festival. Disney Parks Blog announced that the Festival's main entry topiary will feature Goofy and a 50th-themed birthday cake as part of The World's Most Magical Celebration. Returning Disney Character topiaries will include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Germany pavilion and Lumiere and Cogsworth at France pavilion.

A Goofy topiary often plays a large role in the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. File photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

As has been true for several years now, the Festival will also include specialty food and beverage offerings. There will be 18 Outdoor Kitchens and other locations around EPCOT offering a fresh selection of springtime fruits, vegetables, desserts and more. Keep an eye on Disney's official FreshEpcot.com website, and we will provide updates as we learn the details as well.

Views Around Walt Disney World

Though I have only been back in Central Florida just over a week, I had a chance to visit EPCOT, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios to check out some of the latest park experiences that have phased back in to operation over the last several weeks. As you might imagine, the pre-holiday crowd sizes were large. If you jump to the Resort Reservations, Ticket Advice & Special Offers section below, you'll see that our friends and sponsor, Get Away Today, shared the news that, as of this past weekend, Disney has some additional holiday crowd accommodations in place, at least through the end of the year. While I still have the last version of the Annual Pass with no blockout dates, it's possible that I've made my final Disney Parks visits for 2021: I hold no park reservations for the balance of December and, indeed, reservation availability seems scarce (notwithstanding the significant uptick in COVID-19 infections in Central Florida).


EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays runs through December 30. That means that the three times nightly performances of Candlelight Processional also end that night. The scheduled Celebrity Narrators through the end of the Festival are: Courtney B. Vance (through December 22), Steven Curtis Chapman (December 23–25), Blair Underwood (December 26–28) and Pat Sajak (December 29–30).

I finally had an opportunity to get a photo of the Golden Figment statue with one of the newly lit monorails going past at night.

EPCOT's central Christmas Tree stands tall in World Showcase Plaza.

The new holiday lights pattern on Spaceship Earth stands even taller than the main Christmas Tree.

The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs perform numerous times daily on The Mill Stage at Canada pavilion during the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays.

The storyteller at Japan pavilion talks about the Japan's celebration of the New Year.

Actor Andy Garcia was one of the returning celebrity narrators at Candlelight Processional last week, which continues to be performed with an all-cast member choir along with the Voices of Liberty and a full orchestra three times nightly at America Gardens Theater.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

President of Walt Disney World Resort Jeff Vahle shared an update about Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind on his official Instagram account this past week too.


A post shared by Jeff Vahle (@jeffvahle)

Disney's Animal Kingdom

I had not previously had a chance to get over to Disney's Animal Kingdom since it was decorated for the winter holidays season. This year, the park returned the "Merry Menagerie" winter animal life-sized, artisan-sculpted puppets interacting with guests to Discovery Island by day and the wintery "awakenings" of Tree of Life at night.

Disney's Animal Kingdom is the only one of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks with its central Christmas Tree still located outside the park's entrance.

Inside the park, Discovery Island has the most winter-themed decor, with animal lanterns decorating both the Discovery Trading Company and Island Mercantile retail locations on either side of the plaza in front of Tree of Life.

The fanciful animal decor on Discovery Island represents some of the animals that live in the park.

The "Merry Menagerie" puppets interact with guests during the day on Discovery Island.

At night, the animal lanterns are lit on Island Mercantile and Discovery Island Traders.

And, at night, the Tree of Life "awakens" with four different wintery scenes every few minutes.

A gate (leading backstage) along the walkway between Discovery Island and Pandora-The World of Avatar (across from Pizzafari and Tiffins) also now displays a wintery version of Tree of Life and Discovery Island.

Santa cruises Discovery River by flotilla daily through December 24.

Of course, Disney's Animal Kingdom has plenty of holiday merchandise as well.

DinoLand U.S.A. is decorated with a kitschy Christmas theme in keeping with its over-all roadside attraction theme. In the distance, here, you can see that former Primeval Whirl wild mouse-style roller coaster has been completely removed from the park (and it no longer appears on the park's map).

As I walked out after a performance of KiteTails, I saw there was a separate Passholder Entrance for the show. Since its debut, narration has been added that explains to the audience that watching the kites come down is an intended part of the show (there was much Internet commotion over the fact that they sometimes come crashing down during the early part of the show's run).

On Killimanjaro Safaris, Stella (on the left), who was born at the park, is now five years old!

Aboard one of the last safari rides before sunset (which, as of right now, are the last runs of the day), you may, in fact, see the lions awake and even hear them roaring.

Over in Pandora-The World of Avatar, the holiday decor (as done by the Earth's expatriates) has returned.

As Disney explained a few years ago, the decor at Pandora is supposed to be what those the traveled from Earth to Pandora brought with them to celebrate the holidays.

Even without the holiday decor, though, Pandora is still quite a sight at night and now, thanks to the iPhone 13 Pro Max, easier to capture on camera without a tripod even more than an hour after sunset.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, one of the park's last remaining attractions that debuted the year the park opened, finally returned after the pandemic-imposed hiatus of about 650 days on Sunday, December 19. The show received some changes from its last version—mainly that audience members are no longer invited to volunteer and participate with the cast, some minor adjustments to the script (including a discussion/demonstration that all of the machine-gun fire effects are only compressed air bursts and dust), and the elimination of the prop hand guns and swords. Notwithstanding the changes, when I saw the shown, the second public performance on Sunday, it retained the overall spirit and fun of the long-running show and, indeed, welcomed back to the stage many of its very long-term cast members including Kevin Brussard (the show's original Indiana Jones stunt double) and Mark Daniel.

Don't let the lack of guests outside the park entrance in the late afternoon fool you: Disney's Hollywood Studios was quite crowded on Sunday.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular returned to regular performances on Sunday for the first time in about 650 days. Not only is it still a fun show, the large theater that seats about 2000, helps get some of the park's guests off the crowded walkways.

Even after 30 years, Indiana Jones manages to avoid all of the pitfalls of that ancient temple.

Disney's Hollywood Studios' main Christmas tree again stands in the middle of Echo Lake inside the park near the entrance to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular theater.

Minnie's Holiday Dine is the character-viewing dining opportunity also available in the Echo Lake neighborhood of the park.

On the other side of the park, Sunset Boulevard is again dressed in tinsel.

And Mickey and Minnie still make socially distanced appearances on a balcony above Hollywood Boulevard near the park entrance when they're not in their motorcar cavalcade or making other appearances.

Photos by Alan S. Dalinka.

The team that brought back the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and some of its cast talk about the efforts made to get the show going again. Video courtesy Disney Parks Blog.


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This & That & Reminders…

…REMINDER: When Christmas Day arrives this Saturday, December 25, the Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade will air on ABC-TV from 10 a.m. until noon (Eastern and Pacific Time), with Derek and Julianne Hough from Walt Disney World Resort, and Trevor Jackson and Sherry Cola from Disneyland Resort. It will also be available for streaming the next day to Hulu subscribers, as the Thanksgiving specials are now.

Disney Parks Blog shared that a white rhino was born early in November at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The baby is the third white rhino born at Disney's Animal Kingdom in the past 13 months, and the 13th white rhino born at Walt Disney World Resort. The baby has been bonding with its mother, Lola, backstage, and will do so forthe next several months before joining the rest of the herd on the park's Harambe Wildlife Reserve. The first of the recently born calves, Ranger, may already be spotted from time to time on Kilimanjaro Safaris. The return of the Up Close with Rhinos behind the scenes tour this February, may give guests additional opportunities to spot the baby rhinos.

…runDisney has announced its 2022-2023 race season schedule. Each race weekend will also have a virtual counterpart for those that cannot travel to Walt Disney World Resort for the in-person races. As always, more information is available (and registration details when those become available) on runDisney.com.

  • 2022 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend powered by AfterShokz
    November 3 – 6, 2022
  • 2023 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
    January 4 – 8, 2023
  • 2023 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend presented by CORKCICLE
    February 23 – 26, 2023
  • 2023 runDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend
    April 13 – 16, 2023

…Disney Vacation Club held its annual Members and Board of Directors meetings last week at Disney's Contemporary Resort Convention Center. I was not back in town in time to attend this year's meeting which, by various accounts, was mostly notable for its adherence to its announced time limits and subject restrictions for Member questions. While during non-pandemic times, the meetings have often had a more social feeling to them and, occasionally have been used to make a few new announcements, these condo association meetings really are just a legal formality where Disney businesses retain controlling majority interest. For those of you that are DVC Members (like me), most importantly, these meetings finalize the dues assessments for the next calendar year and they are due by mid-January; be sure to log in to your account and timely take care of your financial obligations.

…Last week, Disney Cruise Line celebrated its new agreement with Broward County Florida to make Port Everglades as Disney's second year-round home port under a 15-year partnership (with three 5-year extension operations) that begin with at least one ship being "homeported" in Port Everglades year-round starting in fall 2023, with a second seasonal ship joining in 2025. Port Everglades is located close to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Disney will also continue to operate out of its original homeport, Port Canaveral, located in Central Florida east of Orlando International Airport, practically adjacent to Kennedy Space Center.

…Yesterday, December 20, was the official launch of ticket sales for "The Sunshine Flyer," a new ride option between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort launched by Transportation Management Services. The twenty five year old transportation company's new service features a themed experience with buses decorated as old-fashioned locomotives and train passenger cars with staff dressed as 1920's rail conductors and engineers. Service will begin on February 1, 2022 (following the end of Disney's Magical Express service in January). For the first 50 days of the new service, TMS has pledged to donate 50% of Sunshine Flyer ticket sales to Make-A-Wish Central & Northern Florida; Make-A-Wish children and their families will receive complimentary service from Sunshine Flyer for their Wish trips indefinitely. For more information and tickets, visit SunshineFlyer.com.

Sunshine Flyer service will begin on February 1, 2022, between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Video courtesy Transportation Management Services.

…REMINDER: Give Kids The World Village's highly popular "Night of a Million Lights Holiday Lights Spectacular" has returned for its second annual showing. Last year's edition attracted over 90,000 visitors to the Village and USA Today named last year's event as the "Number One Thing To Do In Orlando In December." Night of a Million Lights enables guests to immerse themselves in an exquisitely decorated fairytale neighborhood which wish families call home during their stays. Guests can enjoy a 360-degree dancing lights show set to music; explore a sparkling tree trail; view larger-than-life holiday displays; take photos at one-of-a-kind step-in frames and backdrops; visit Santa in his elaborately decorated summer house inside a holiday marketplace; and enjoy a guided storytelling tour of dozens of magnificently lit villas from the comfort of a tram, included in the price of the ticket. A majority of the lights were donated by Walt Disney World. For those that miss the Osbourne Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, this display is very reminiscent of that, especially back in the time that Residential Street was still standing on the park's Backlot. Night of a Million Lights runs through January 2, 2022, from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily, with entry times staggered to prevent crowding. Tickets are available at www.gktw.org/lights Note: dates may sell out in advance.

Night of a Million Lights
Give Kids The World Village Night of A Million Lights runs through January 2, 2022, at 210 South Bass Road in Kissimmee, Florida. Proceeds benefit the Village's not-for-profit mission of providing free wish trips to critically ill children and their families in Central Florida. File photo by Alan S. Dalinka.

The Usual Writer's Note (is back, since the usual writer is back)

Though the U.S.A. opened its borders to more international visitors who are fully vaccinated this fall, the global pandemic keeps things in flux. Travel rules, particularly those involving overseas travel, change regularly: be sure to check with the places you are visiting and traveling from or through for the latest rules. For Walt Disney World Resort, be sure to check the "experience updates" page of Walt Disney World website for the latest information you need to know before you visit.

Particularly bad news is growing about the COVID-19 positivity rate both internationally and domestically. Health experts continue to warn that the situation could get worse again as we head through the height of the holiday travel season.

As we noted earlier this fall, sales of new Walt Disney World Annual Passes have been paused in all categories except the Florida Resident Pixie Dust Pass. Disney reserved the right to pause those sales when it reintroduced its new Annual Passes. Current Passholders may continue to purchase renewals in all tiers notwithstanding the pause in new sales. Even with this pause and the uptick in COVID-19 positivity rates, it still remains unlikely that the Resort will shut down again in the near-term. Remember, however, Disney may very well impose guest restrictions that are stricter than those imposed by the State of Florida. Disney Park Pass reservations are still required to visit the parks in addition to valid admission.

Disney Parks continue to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. At Walt Disney World Resort, everyone ages 2 and up are required to wear face coverings in all indoor locations. Outdoors, face coverings are optional in most locations for vaccinated guests, and required for unvaccinated guests. All guests continue to be required to wear face coverings on buses, monorails, and on Disney Skyliner. Walt Disney World Resort encourages guests to get vaccinated, and has mandated vaccination for new hires and existing cast members in most roles.

And, with regard to the weather, as always, if you're heading this way, please stay informed of the latest weather. Here in Central Florida, at this time of year, while we often get some of our best weather, temperatures can range significantly during the day (a 30° to 35° swing across a day or two is not unprecedented). The good news for park goers and other outdoor activities is that it rains only occasionally, and, in fact, it seems the weather predictions of rain are a bit more accurate at this time of year. Your mileage may vary.

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Resort Reservations, 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.

This page of DisneyWorld.com features all the offers the Resort has publicly announced.

Annual Passholders can save up to 25% and Florida Residents can save up to 20% on rooms at select Disney Resort hotels for stays most nights January 2, 2022 through March 10, 2022.

Speaking of Aulani as I did in the opening this week, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders also can save on stays on select rooms over in Hawaii, from January 4 through April 8, 2022: up to 30% for stays of 5 or more consecutive nights, and up to 25% for stays of 4 consecutive nights. (From my personal experience, even as a repeat visitor to Oahu, a week is a good amount of time to spend on the island, particularly if you have a rental car or other transportation arranged.)

Our travel partner Get Away Today is available to help you book rooms and packages, and include its complimentary Concierge Services. More details are here. 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, they will leave everything as is, and keep their eyes peeled for future promotions that could save guests more.

Following Get Away Today on social media can also help you get the latest details and benefits for Walt Disney World Resort guests. For example, Get Away Today noted Disney's temporary policy changes through January 3, 2022: early theme park entry benefit for Disney Resort hotel Guests (and select partners) extended from 30 minutes to 60 minutes; and specific attractions will be included in the paid Disney Genie+ service rather than as individual Lightning Lane entrance purchases.

You can get a vacation quote from Get Away Today here. (Responses provided in 1 to 3 business days.) You can also call 855-GET-AWAY during regular business hours (Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. MT) and tell them MousePlanet sent you!

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

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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.