Hi, Everyone! Welcome to a whole new year of the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! Or maybe it isn’t fair to just say Walt Disney World, since I received passes to Universal Orlando Resort this Christmas! 😀 This week I’m excited to share my first trip there in ages, show off the new Polynesian Resort lobby, stop by Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out the Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special, and lastly pop in Epcot for some last minute holiday fun. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get going!
I’ve mentioned before that I love Universal, but some of the rides are too intense for me. (Maybe that’s why Cat In The Hat was my first stop!) When picking an admission ticket we normally end up choosing Disney just because there’s more we can do together. However, when passes are a gift there is no decision to be made, and I was just dying to see Diagon Alley! Click “read more” below for more on my first visit!
Diagon Alley is stunning and really puts New Fantasyland into perspective. I was completely lost in this area, just wandering around slack jawed. While my hubby rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, I did a little photo walk and was hoping I’d have lots to share. It ends up I was too amazed to take many decent photos but I’m really looking forward to sharing more of this area with you. I could do an entire post just on this area alone! Would you like to see that? Let me know in the comments! Below left is a statue just outside of Gringotts bank and below right is the dragon perched above breathing fire. I can’t tell you enough how impressed I was with Diagon Alley!
Next we rode another classic attraction that I’ve missed, the E.T. Adventure. I loved this ride as a kid and this was my first time riding since I got into photography. I was able to grab the below couple of shots my very first ride and I’m excited to have entire new rides to shoot. Once the crowds die down after the new year you can bet I’ll be heading back to Universal! Any requests for what you’d like to see there? Let me know in the comments below, I’m always excited to have your feedback.
But there’s a lot to share at Disney this week so let’s head over to the Polynesian Resort. The day I left for Christmas vacation I heard the walls were down in the lobby. Like everyone else I braced myself for the photos, but I decided to not judge it too much until I saw it in person myself. I loved the old lobby and I didn’t love the renderings of the new design, so I was prepared to be underwhelmed. Surprisingly, I really liked the new design when I visited this weekend. It feels much larger and the bright colors are pretty. Overall, I’m actually glad they made the change.
As many others have mentioned there is a “not so hidden Mickey” just as you enter the lobby (below left) and a teeny, tiny water feature in the center of the lobby (below right). In the renderings there’s a tiki figure on top of this small water feature that still hasn’t arrived in real life. I’ll wait to hold judgement until it’s complete but it seems like the little water feature could have just gone away. It’s such a minuscule tribute to what was once there! We’ll see if it really feels like it belongs there once the design is complete.
The best part of the new lobby is the little sitting areas all over. The space that was opened up by removing the planter and waterfall has been reused with great, open seating. We tried out lots of the chairs and everything is very comfortable, making this a nice gathering spot for hotel guests. Overall, I was totally wrong! This was a nice renovation for the hotel.
If photos aren’t your thing – here is a video from the upper story looking down. Extra bonus, you can see the Christmas tree! 🙂
One last update on construction at the Polynesian is the pool outside. While you can’t see behind the walls, you can see the volcano peeking up from behind. They’ve made such progress here. I can’t wait to see what the finished product looks like in 2015.
Speaking of 2015, the new merchandise has rolled out! I was worried that the new generic Walt Disney World merchandise was replacing dated items, but that certainly isn’t the case! Remember that you can always click on any of the photos to see larger images of all this new 2015 goodness.
a last few little merchandise goodies I noticed were these awesome pins that I had never seen in person before. At $11.95 each I resisted the urge to bring them home. Who knows? They might even end up at the outlet if I’m patient enough!
Moving over to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the new Starbucks is coming along and all the walls have been taken down outside! In the photo below right you can even see that Starbucks logo just waiting to be unwrapped! Personally, I’m hoping that it will be open by New Years Eve since I’m planning to celebrate the New Year here. If you’d like to see what Epcot was like last year you can read all about it here. I’ve never tried Hollywood Studios for New Year’s Eve, so I’m excited for 2015 and you can expect to hear all about it next week!
The entire reason we were at Hollywood Studios was to see the Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special. I loved the Comedy Warehouse on Pleasure Island and was very sad when it closed. It’s bittersweet for it to return for just a few precious days around the holidays. This year they put the show in the American Idol Theater and it filled that space more than American Idol ever did! We planned our visit around available FastPass+ times, but there was no need to do that. Arriving 20 minutes early would have assured we got a seat.
If you were never around to see the Comedy Warehouse in action, here is a taste of the improvisation they do. It’s lots of fun and a main reason we’re heading to this park on New Year’s Eve. Would you like to see more? Let me know in the comments below and I can film more to share! 🙂 Everyone around us was talking about how much they missed the show and how it was a perfect fit for this now empty theater. Wow, it would be amazing if Disney actually listened!
One thing I always notice this time of year is people talking about the insane crowds at the parks. While it can be very busy, I think it’s manageable if you plan correctly. I wanted to share the below video as proof that the parks aren’t just overflowing with wall to wall people. We had some time to kill before the next Comedy Warehouse show, so we camped out on a bench to relax and this was my view. Not too crazy, is it? Was it this slow all over the park? Of course not! But the point is that you can make it look very crowded or completely empty based on what you show. Don’t believe all the photos on Twitter showing shoulder to shoulder crowds.
Of course, I couldn’t set still so I set out to see if there was anything new to share. Over on Sunset Blvd, I noticed a new Baymax candy apple to keep Olaf company. While it’s really simple it’s cute! Baymax drink cups are back in stock at the park but I haven’t seen any of the new Baymax balloons that have been reported at Disneyland.
I found a couple of small merchandise updates at the Studios. On the left are new 2015 ears that are only available in youth size. I might try to fit them for NYE, though! 🙂 On the below right is the new 2015 Duffy bear and a new Pluto costume for Duffy. It’s really soft and includes his tail. I might need to add one of these to my Duffy’s wardrobe!
Our last updates this week are from Epcot, where I realized I don’t think I’ve shown you the front of the park? We’ve been going in at the International Gateway lately since we’re visiting all the Christmas displays in the countries, but the front entrance is lovely for the holidays too! While I get tired of seeing the same topiaries used over and over, I’m sure they look amazing to someone on their first visit!
Speaking of reused topiaries, haven’t these been here just about all year? 😉 In any case, they’re now dressed up for the holidays and make a very pretty photo opportunity as you enter the World Showcase. One less desirable feature already showing up all over Epcot are portalets! No really, there aren’t enough restrooms in the park for everyone so trailers of potties have started appearing in the park. They’re actually very nice and I recommend them if you’re going to hop in a 30 minutes line to use the bathroom on New Year’s Eve.
Preparation for the New Year’s Eve parties have started in the host countries around the world. China has my personal favorite, if you’d like to see it in action you can find my post from last year here. It’s amazing that one night a year Epcot turns into an absolute rave and people just accept that! 🙂
Getting back into the holiday spirit, this lovely gingerbread house is on display in the American Adventure. The stats on the display can be seen in the photo on the below right. I completely missed this on my first couple of visits this year. There is so much to see at Epcot for the holidays, I feel like I’ll never catch it all!
Below left, Steven Curtis Chapman was narrating the Candlelight Processional. Now, please do not confuse a good zoom lens with good seats! I haven’t camped out to see this show in several years. With all the dinner packages that are sold these days it’s just about impossible to even get in without waiting over an hour. I think we’ll break down and purchase a dining package next year, though. It’s been too long! On the below right is the storyteller from Morocco that taught us about holidays in that country. She was brand new this year, and I should have taken video! She was beautiful and animated, the photo just doesn’t do her justice!
I learned my lesson, and over in Germany decided to take video of Helga telling us about Christmas in her country! Despite it being just a few days after Christmas, I found that it was very easy to see the storytellers around the World Showcase. I only arrived 5 minutes early for each and was right up front.
Be sure to check back next week for all the New Year’s Eve fun at Walt Disney World! Plus, remember to tell me what you’d like to see from Universal. I’m excited to have something brand new to share here.
That’s everything for this week. Now let’s see what you can expect if you’re visiting next week.
Crowd Calendar: It’s going to be very busy all the way until January 6th. Optimize those Touring Plans and be ready!
Weather: Can you believe we’re going to get back up into the mid 80’s this weekend? At least lows will still be in the 60’s. Pack your summer clothes!
Here’s my top tip for this week: If you’ll be visiting any park over the next few days, pack your patience. It’s also a good idea to pack a survival bag. If you haven’t experienced it, you might be surprised to find out that on a very busy day you could have to wait 30+ minutes for a drink or to use the bathroom. I always bring snacks, a water bottle, phone charger, and extra layers of clothing in case it get cold.
Do you have any news I missed or any requests for coverage next week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and thanks so much for reading! I’m wishing all of you the Best Week Ever, until next time!