Walt Disney World Resort Update for January 3, 2024by Alan S. Dalinka, staff writer
Walt Disney World Resort Update for January 3, 2024
Writer's Note, News & Views
Happy New Year!
Based on the standby times I saw posted for attractions in the My Disney Experience app and screenshots posted by local friends on social media, the Walt Disney World theme parks seem to have been as crowded as ever during the Christmas and New Year's holiday weeks, notwithstanding that all Annual Pass categories except the top-tier IncrediPass have been blocked since I posted our last Walt Disney World Resort Update for 2024 back on December 20. For Passholders, the blocks start lifting tomorrow, with the Sorcerer Pass next valid for admission on January 4, 2024, and the Pirate and Pixie Dust Passes are next valid on January 5, 2024.
Also remember that park reservations for date-based tickets are no longer necessary starting January 9, which is also the day that Dining Plans purchased with hotel packages return. All-day park hopping returns that day as well (subject to blockouts and reservations for attending a first park without a date-based ticket. Indeed, for those without date-based tickets, like Annual Passholders, new policies also go into effect in January, like the "Good to Go" calendar that Disney says will publish an initial set of dates on January 11.
If you think that the lifting of Passholder blocks suggests that the holiday crowds will be gone as we head in to the weekend, well, runDisney has an answer for that: Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2024 begins today, January 3 and "runs" through January 7. The Health and Fitness Expo begins today at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, January 3, 2024: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Disney Parks Blog posted a merchandise preview, and the only way to shop today is to join the virtual queue in the My Disney Experience app (instructions are here). The expo and shopping opportunities continue through Saturday and a virtual queue may be used if demand requires.
Good luck and good health to those of you taking on one or more of the sold out races around the resort. Road detour signs were already posted just off property behind Magic Kingdom along Reams Road on New Year's Eve, so, remember, if you're driving in the area this weekend, be aware of road closures on property and that can reroute traffic on to the surrounding roads. If you are traveling point-to-point within the Resort during the Marathon Weekend, Disney Transport and MinnieVan service likely will have the most up-to-date strategy for getting you around.
The following Friday, January 12, the EPCOT International Festival of the Arts begins the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial weekend (the U.S. holiday is observed Monday, January 15 this year) and then continues for six weeks. The newest of the EPCOT festivals, Festival of the Arts began just seven years ago as a weekends-only event that was not promoted long in advance and could have been well described as Disney's best-kept secret (if Disney Vacation Club wasn't already using that tag line). Like the marathon decades ago, the Festival of Arts was created to address a time of year the parks historically saw lower crowds except around Presidents' Day. Now, once it starts, the festival runs every day through February 19, Presidents' Day, and, it will very likely draw the sorts of large crowds we see year after year.
The first more quiet time of the year could arrive after Presidents' Day weekend. In recent years, EPCOT has moved the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival earlier and earlier, and, indeed, this year, it will begin on February 28. That, in and of itself usually doesn't bring the biggest crowds, but, thanks to the way calendars based on the lunar cycle work, Easter is on the earlier side this year, March 31, so expect spring break crowds to start descending on Florida around mid-March (the break for the Orange County Public Schools district is March 17 to 21); and, at the other end of the really long period of time in which folks may have a spring break, Passover is on the later side this year, starting sundown on April 22, running through April 30, and Orthodox Easter is May 5 (which is also Cinco de Mayo). College graduations start in May, often early; Memorial Day is observed May 26, and schools begin their summer breaks at various times in May and June (the last day for the Orange County Public Schools district is May 28).
Gosh, I pretty quickly got through almost the first half of the year there and we're in the Walt Disney World Resort Update for January 3, 2024! I know the folks that depend on "heads in beds" and park ticket sales and ancillary revenue hope that high crowd levels do, in fact, happen week after week all the way until summer. Whether that will happen this year or not, depends on lots of variables. Stay tuned.
Looking Back at 2023 and Ahead to 2024 at Walt Disney World
Thanks to those of you that streamed our "Fun to End 2023" LIVE show, reuniting many of the MousePlanet crew with a look back at Disney Parks in 2023 and a look ahead to 2024. If you have not had a chance to watch, replays of the show are available here on our YouTube channel.
Before our show, I went back through every one of our Walt Disney World Resort Updates for the past year to see where we were and where we are headed. As we start 2024, I thought it would be interesting to look at this list of projects around the Resort that had been announced before 2023 that had not yet been completed by the time we published our last Walt Disney World Resort Update for 2022, and whether those projects were completed by the end of 2023. I have excluded items that were overtly indefinitely postponed or canceled (like the Mary Poppins attraction for U.K. pavilion and the Play! pavilion at EPCOT), and those Disney just stopped talking about in the years after announcements (like the theater for Main Street U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom and the seamless 360-CircleVision film for China pavilion at EPCOT).
- Return of Walt Disney World Railroad at Magic Kingdom – completed just before the start of 2023
- Splash Mountain Closed for transformation Tiana’s Bayou Adventure at Magic Kingdom – attraction closed and construction begun in 2023
- TRON Lightcycle/Run at Magic Kingdom – opened in spring 2023
- Roundup Rodeo BBQ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – opened in spring 2023
- End of the 50th Anniversary Celebration – Start of Disney100 Celebration
- Return of parking lot trams at EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios – fall 2023
- Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana at EPCOT – opened in fall 2023
- Figment Meet & Greet at EPCOT – opened in fall 2023
- "eet by Maneet Chauhan" brings modern Indian quick-service restaurant to Disney Springs – opened fall 2023
- Luminous – The Journey of Us – a new, permanent nighttime spectacular for EPCOT – debuted in December 2023
- “Completion” of the EPCOT transformation (on-going):
- Dreamers Point and World Celebration Gardens – completed December 2023
- CommuniCore Hall and Plaza – construction was not completed by year's end and the status is currently expected to open "in 2024"
- Installation of Hatbox Ghost at Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion – opened late November 2023
- DVC Tower at Disney’s Polynesian Village construction – construction ongoing
- The Cake Shop at BoardWalk replacing ESPN Club – still under construction
- Summer House on the Lake by Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants at Disney Springs – opened late December 2023
Some of the other milestones at Walt Disney World Resort in 2023 were (in more-or-less this sequence during the year):
- Return of "Happily Ever After" fireworks at Magic Kingdom – converting "Disney Enchantment" fireworks to a 50th anniversary offering that ended but will return for certain Disney After Hours events only
- Removal of the giant hardware in World Showcase Lagoon that was part of the "Harmonious" nighttime spectacular – also became a 50th anniversary offering only
- Return of complimentary self-parking for Disney hotel guests
- Return of Disney hotel housekeeping service to something more akin to prepandemic service
- Return of lots of live characters at all four parks
- Renaming of EPCOT parking lot sections with an "Earth" side and a "Space" side
- Introduction of new segments at "Drawn to Life" by Cirque du Soleil at Disney Springs
- Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon Water Parks do not operate simultaneously all year
- The Mandalorian and Grogu start appearing at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Energy Bytes kiosk opens near TRON Lightcycle/Run at Magic Kingdom – but by December its menu no longer included savory bites
- Disney's Animal Kingdom turned 25 years old
- Return of new Annual Pass sales, and there was briefly an AP lounge at The Land at EPCOT
- Advanced Dining Reservation enhancements in My Disney Experience app – showing more dining times and locations when searching
- Opening of a Moana meet-and-greet near EPCOT's new Journey of Water attraction
- "Temporary" return of Soarin' Over California ride film to Soarin' at The Land
- Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser welcomes its final guests to the unique two-day experience
- New "Frozen Holiday Surprise" lights Cinderella Castle nightly during the winter holiday season
- Disney Jollywood Nights debuts at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's Animal Kingdom Celebrated its 25th Anniversary on Earth Day, April 22. On a quiet day in mid-December before the crowds descended on the parks to close out the year, I had an opportunity to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris three times in about 90 minutes. On one of the passes, the lions were taking a rare daytime stroll. Unfortunately, nighttime safaris did not return in 2023, and, indeed, the park often closed long before dark, and, even when it did not, safaris concluded by sunset. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
And, now, looking ahead to 2024 (and, in some cases, beyond), here's what we reported on and what we know is expected:
- Tiana's Bayou Adventure is expected to be completed in the space previously Splash Mountain by the end of 2024
- Disney Vacation Club's new tower at Polynesian Village Resort construction is ongoing – exterior appearance suggests completion will be in 2024, but no announcements so far
- CommuniCore Hall and Plaza are expected to be complete at EPCOT in 2024
- The Cake Bake Shop at Disney's BoardWalk Resort in the former ESPN Club space is expected open in 2024
- New destinations coming to Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios
- Disney Vacation Club will offer The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort in 2024, replacing the current cabins
- Though no details have been announced, Disney is considering options for allowing advanced reservation booking for certain Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane attractions in 2024
- Country Bears Jamboree to get new songs and a new act in 2024
- TestTrack 3.0 is "in development" with an homage to EPCOT's original "World of Motion" attraction – no timeline announced
- New Pirates-themed lounge coming to Adventureland at Magic Kingdom – no timeline announced
- At Destination D23, Disney shared more "blue sky" thoughts about the following:
- The biggest expansion of Magic Kingdom ever on land beyond Big Thunder Mountain – no timeline announced
- The development of a land based on "Tropical Americas" with theming and attractions based on Encanto and Indiana Jones to reimagine Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney's Animal Kingdom – no timeline announced
- New show "in development" for the Tree of Life theater at Disney's Animal Kingdom based on Zootopia.
- The Little Mermaid – A Musical Adventure is in development to debut in fall 2024 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the theater in Animation Courtyard previously home to Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
- Disney Vacation Club to build an additional member lounge in 2024 – no location or timeline announced
Anything on the list a surprise or something you had forgotten about over the past year? I have to say that I did not remember all the details on those lists.
In addition to the above, of course, we also know that EPCOT will host its four seasonal Festivals: I already covered Arts, and the start of Flower & Garden (but the end date has not been announced); in summer, Food & Wine Festival will return for another extended run into November, and the Festival of the Holidays will start in its usual spot, probably just after Thanksgiving.
Magic Kingdom will see the return of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, probably in early or mid-August; and then Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party right after Halloween. Disney After Hours events are already on the 2024 calendar in the parks, as are DVC Moonlight Magic events. Disney has not yet said whether its new Jollywood Nights will return to Disney's Hollywood Studios, but notwithstanding the mixed online reviews, the trends are for more hard ticket events in the parks not less.
And, finally, all of what I just recapped can be impacted by the corporate and governmental issues we already know about.
- What I'm now calling "The Battle for Reedy Creek" broke out early in 2023 when the Florida Governor and Legislature revoked Disney's 50+ year special improvement district control over the Walt Disney World Resort as part of what can best be described as the politics of the day. Federal and state litigation are ongoing on this subject, and likely is not something that will reach resolution during 2024.
- On the corporate side, Walt Disney World reached agreements with frontline cast member unions for higher wages at the Florida Resort, avoid a strike and making for some defined parameters for 2024. The studio side of The Walt Disney Company's business is party to the agreements the entertainment industry reached with the guilds and unions representing actors and writers after a long strike that halted production. The production halt also put pressure on Disney's corporate resources at the same time that Bob Iger, as the returned CEO under a two-year contract (that has already been extended another two years), was working on fulfilling a commitment to cut $5.5 billion in corporate spending and cut 7,000 jobs across the company's many divisions.
So, looking ahead to this year, and to borrow a phrase: we have the known knowns and the known unknowns, but we don't know about the unknown unknowns.
This & That & Reminders…
…Drawn to Life presented by Cirque du Soleil and Disney is celebrating two years of delighting audiences with acrobatics, animation and more by introducing a new finale honoring the relationship at the heart of its story, between a father and his daughter. "The new finale Swing to Swing act celebrates the completion of the triumphant journey of Julie as she finishes the lines started in an animation left to her by her father to forever link them to one another," said Justin Sullivan, artistic director for Drawn to Life. "The daring acrobats in the number are kaleidoscopic animated renditions of Julie and her father soaring, flying, and swinging through the air in a touching and thrilling display of amplitude, connection and skill." In 2023, the show introduced other new acts including Icarian Games acrobatics, aerial hoops, and a flying guitarist. Guests can experience Drawn to Life Wednesdays through Sundays at Disney Springs, with shows at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are now available through December 2024. For more information on tickets, dates and prices, visit cirquedusoleil.com/drawn-to-life.
…Jaleo Disney Springs is gearing up to celebrate Three King's Day. From January 4 to 6, restaurant guests can order slices of Chef Jose's iconic Roscón de Reyes cake and hope to find the hidden baby Jesus, "promising luck for the new year." In Spain, this holiday is inspired by the story of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to baby Jesus after he was born and is celebrated with more excitement than Christmas, as children receive gifts and get to indulge in the sweet delicacy. Chef Jose's Roscón de Reyes is flavored with orange blossom, caramelized cherries, oranges melon and almonds; it is available with or without whipped cream and each cake includes a hidden “Rey” (king) figurine baked inside. Whole cakes are also available for order for at-home celebrations here.
…The 2023 Disney Ultimate Toy Drive for Toys for Tots tally has broken an all-time Disney record with more than 270,000 toys for children in need. In addition, on Giving Tuesday, Disney announced that it would give grants to Toys for Tots that will provide an additional 75,000 toys to kids in need.
…Are you participating in "Dry January" when visiting Walt Disney World Resort? Some of the venues around the Resort want you to know about their alcohol-free options to consider:
Space 220 Restaurant, EPCOT
- Name of non-alcoholic beverage: Moon Rocks
- Description: Coconut, Blue Cotton Candy Syrup, Lemonade, Moon Dust, and Moon Rocks served in a collectible cup
Planet Hollywood, Disney Springs
- Name of non-alcoholic beverage: Practical Magic
- Description: Pineapple & orange juices, fresh lemon & lime juices & grenadine
Jaleo, Disney Springs
- Name of non-alcoholic beverage: Lotus
- Description: Seedlip Spice, London Essence White Peach and Jasmine soda, vanilla syrup
The Edison at Disney Springs
- Name of non-alcoholic beverage: Smoke & Mirrors
- Description: Pineapple Juice, lemon juice, lime juice, orgeat
…REMINDER: Elementary, middle, and high school teachers can enter to win a Walt Disney World Resort vacation in the "Imagination Campus Sweepstakes." Twelve winners will each get a four-day, three-night stay at the Walt Disney World Resort, and will have the special opportunity to experience "exclusive insights" into Disney Imagination Campus and network with the other winners. Eligible teachers can enter the sweepstakes through January 13, 2024. For eligibility requirements and details visit: DisneyImaginationCampusTeachersSweepstakes.com. Disney says that there is no purchase necessary to enter or win and that a purchase will not increase your chances of winning. The sweepstakes is open only to legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.), and entrants must be 21 years of age or older, and be teachers. Void where prohibited by law. Full official rules on the website, and MousePlanet is in no way affiliated with this sweepstakes which is sponsored by Disney Destinations, LLC.
✨📚 Teachers sweepstakes alert! 📚✨ Disney Imagination Campus invites teachers to enter for a chance to win a 4-day celebratory event at @WaltDisneyWorld during National Teacher Appreciation Week. Learn how to enter: https://t.co/mRpbRWNqgA pic.twitter.com/fIp3Yh3eVi— Disney Parks (@DisneyParks) November 2, 2023
…REMINDER: Disney Vacation Club Moonlight Magic event nights have been announced for 2024. The complimentary, after-hours events feature select attractions with shorter-than-usual wait times, plus character greetings, entertainment and more:
- EPCOT – January 25 and March 1, 2024.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom – February 27 and April 23, 2024.
- Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park – June 4 and July 11, 2024.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios – August 27, 2024.
Registration opens first for eligible Disney Vacation Club members (namely, those that have bought a certain number of points directly from Disney) with a qualifying Disney Resort hotel reservation on the event date(s). Pending availability, all other eligible Members may try their luck at reservations for the event on other specified dates. A link to the event registration is posted online shortly before the registration windows open. If you are an eligible member and have a hotel reservation for an event date, keep an eye on your email for a registration reminder. All of the relevant 2024 registration dates are now posted on the event website, with early registration for the EPCOT events for eligible members with hotel reservations opening on January 9, 2024. We'll post a chart of all the rest of the relevant dates in our next Update. Remember: eligible Disney Vacation Club Members are limited to attending one Moonlight Magic event per theme park, per calendar year.
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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.
NEW Starting today, January 3, 2024, Disney+ subscribers can get a FREE dining plan when purchasing a non-discounted 4-night, 4-day Walt Disney Travel Company package that includes a room at a select Disney Resort hotel and theme park ticket with a Park Hopper option. This offer is valid for arrivals most nights July 1 through September 30, 2024. Visit DisneyWorld.com/SpecialOffers for additional offer details!
NEW Also starting today, January 3, 2024, guests can save up to 35% at select Disney Resort hotels when booking a stay of 5 nights or longer most nights March 25 through October 3, 2024. Visit DisneyWorld.com/SpecialOffers to learn more.
For families looking to book their spring travel, Walt Disney World offers the Kids Play & Dine for 50% Off. For stays from March 3 through June 30, 2024, children (ages 3 through 9) theme park tickets and dining plans are half off with the purchase of a 4-night, 4-day Walt Disney Travel Co. package that includes a room at a Disney Resort hotel, theme park tickets, and a dining plan. Guests can book packages now at this page of DisneyWorld.com.
The Walt Disney World Resort website lists current offers, deals, and discounts on this page.
MousePlanet’s travel partner Get Away Today is available to help you book rooms and packages.
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