This week’s SATURDAY SIX asks: Is December 219 the CRAZIEST month in theme park history?
It has been a wild year for the theme park world, but the last three weeks alone have been filled with some of the craziest things to date (of course, right after the annual Turkeys of the Year awards). In fact, so much happened that we just had to talk about the biggest stuff, starting with…
# 6 – Riviera opens, beds fall off walls
It’s not every day that Disney opens a new hotel, but this year we had two new WDW resorts. First, there was the introduction of Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort this summer. Then, this past week, we had the debut of the Riviera Resort. With the Riviera came the infamous Tower Studio Room, a 255 sq. foot room that has slightly more space than the villa my dog stayed in at Best Friends Pet Resort. For those not staying in the Harry Potter-like cupboard-under-the-stairs room, the Riveria did bring a lot to the table, including some of the best outfits ever for a character meal and some E-Ticket merchandise including resort-specific-plush (pinch me, I’m dreaming!).
Before we get to the most bonkers news of Riviera’s opening week, we should point out that Disney has made some great advancements in maximizing the space in guest rooms over the past few years. On a recent stay at Pop Century, we were pleasantly surprised to have space under the bed for us to store our luggage, and the Murphy bed/table combo that made its WDW debut with Art of Animation. Many WDW hotel rooms now have a bed which you can pull down. From value resorts like Pop to the Polynesian Bungalows (with its amazing Electrical Water Pageant artwork). The Riviera Resort also offers this style of bed, however…
The day after the above post was made on Facebook, Disney went to each room and put a note on the “trundle” bed. This note was immediately inducted into the prestigious Disney Signage Hall of Shame.
One person on DisTwitter pointed out that Riviera Resort’s “RR” logo has more than a passing resemblance to another company…
# 5 – Bathrooms added mid-queue to Flight of Passage
Talk about a game changer.
We mentioned the Disney Signage Hall of Shame above, and one of the all time classic Disney signs was one they put in front of the Flight of Passage attraction at Animal Kingdom basically telling guests to stop going to the bathroom in the queue. This was the first sign of its kind at Walt Disney World. Granted, Flight of Passage has drawn long lines from Day One, but many attractions over the years have drawn extremely large lines and yet Disney has never had a problem with guests going to the bathroom in the queues.
This past week Disney opened bathrooms mid-queue in Flight of Passage! It makes one wonder if bathrooms will be designed for future E-Ticket attractions (and also give Disney a reason to start selling drinks in the queue).
# 4 – Universal reopens Green Eggs and Ham?!!
Green Eggs and Ham is a quick service restaurant in Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure that has pretty much sat dormant for the last several years. Outside of private parties, the restaurant was closed to day guests. It speaks volumes that Wimpy’s – my white whale in Toon Lagoon – was open much more than Green Eggs and Ham, and Wimpy’s is never open.
But out of nowhere, Universal reopened Green Eggs and Ham with a brand new menu based around Tater Tots, and everything is fantastic!
Even better? Not only is there “Who Hash” it is served in a collectible WHO HASH CAN (made of metal to boot!)
Turns out that we can thank Netflix for the reopening of Green Eggs and Ham, as the channel currently has an animated show with the same name (that was recently renewed for a second season). The partnership with Netflix also brought Universal the She-Ra meet and greet character earlier this year.
# 3 – Universal Public Hearing turns into another Pawnee Town Hall meeting
This past week Universal had a public hearing in Orlando that addressed the topic of the theme park looking for Orange County to approve $125 Million in taxpayer dollars to extend Kirkman Road from Sand Lake Road to Universal Boulevard. This would help pay for the over $300 Million that it will cost to connect Kirkman road to the upcoming Epic Universe theme park. Universal public hearings are always one for the all time books and this one was no exception, with over 40 people signing up to air their grievances on this controversial subject. The meeting lasted over 13 hours and included a cast of characters straight out of the NBC show Parks & Rec. This included one man who dressed as The Grinch and spent all his time reading in rhyme like a deranged Dr. Seuss. All that was missing was Patton Oswalt giving a filibuster on Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the end, Universal got its money, but the close 4-3 vote did surprise some people. Maybe it was Orange County finally taking a passive aggressive stand to Universal. Like on Seinfeld when J Peterman said he would have to see an $8,000 hat, I’m looking forward to seeing this $350 Million road in person. Universal built the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village for less money. And it’s not like if Universal wasn’t given the money they would say “Ok, we’ll build our new park over in Daytona instead.”
# 2 – The Baby Yoda Phenomenon
We talked a little about The Mandalorian on Disney+ last month and briefly discussed how much we enjoyed the show. Since that time the show has continued its excellent run (including building to what looks to be an AWESOME last episode that will arrive next week) and has also seen the EXPLOSION of “Baby Yoda” on the interwebs. After every episode a whole new wave of memes arrive. Baby Yoda looking around quizzically. Baby Yoda drinking tea. Baby Yoda playing with a radio. Baby Yoda is everywhere and we still can’t get enough.
Baby Yoda has inspired some wonderful fan art, including this piece that uses an iconic Dole Whip Float by artist J. Shari Ewing.
With everyone in full grips of Baby Yoda Fever, we all had the same question? WHERE’S OUR BABY MERCH?!! Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is there is no good news, and there’s some more bad news. As the story goes, Disney wanted to keep a lid on the reveal of Baby Yoda on The Mandalorian, so no merchandise was ready to go when the red hot demand came. Disney quickly rushed out some t-shirts that look exactly what you could make at home. Some great new Baby Yoda toys were announced, with an arrival date of NEXT MAY. That made us think back to an episode of The Office when Michael Scott was told it could take up to 8 months to adopt a child. “8 months? I don’t even know if I’ll want a baby in 8 months.”
“You probably won’t.” – Pam
(Editor’s Note: You may also want to read this article on The Mandalorian Merchandise Currently Available at Disney World.)
# 1 – Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance changes opening procedures on a daily basis
A personal anecdote. I recently had a trip to New Hampshire and flew back to Florida through Orlando. While waiting to board our Southwest flight, there were two couples behind us talking about their upcoming trip to Orlando. One couple was going to Disney for the first time. The other couple were theme park regulars, this time going to Universal and staying at the Hard Rock Hotel. The couple going to Universal said that they enjoyed Disney, but that you had to prepare “years in advance” and they liked that you could just show up to Uni and not have to worry about things like ADRs or FP+. While “years” is certainly hyperbole, Disney has definitely made preplanning a major part of a WDW vacation experience. Seasoned veterans know they need 180 days (or +10 if staying onsite) for their ADRs. They used the TouringPlans automatic room request feature. They are booking their hard-to-get FP+ opportunities at 30 or 60 days out. They are signed up to MyDisneyExperience. Many have spreadsheets listing out all of their relevant info, including the time of Park Opening each day of their trip.
Then, Rise of the Resistance opened.
The highly anticipated E-Ticket attraction has been a huge hit with seemingly everyone who has gotten a chance to ride. However, Rise of the Resistance also brought with it some growing pains in Disney Operations. Despite an official park opening of 8AM, many guests were getting to Disney Hollywood Studios as early as 4 or 5 AM. Because Rise of the Resistance was going to be operating with limited capacity, guests needed to reserve a “boarding pass,” which they could only do once they scanned their MagicBand to be in Disney Hollywood Studios. With so many people outside the front gates so early, Disney began opening the park early. One day it opened at 7:12 AM. Another day, 6:46 AM. Several days later it was back to 7:18 AM. With so many people getting into the park early, many of the boarding passes were gone shortly after official park open. This led to many guests seeing a sign like this when they approached the park.
As you can imagine, that went over well. Even worse, many who got boarding passes with high numbers were informed late in the day that the ride wasn’t going to be able to accept them. Now, to be fair, Disney went above and beyond in guest recovery for this problem, giving all affected guests a FP+ to ride Rise of the Resistance on a following day PLUS a one-day Park Hopper ticket. In fact, Disney didn’t just do this on opening day, it was giving out free park tickets to those boarding groups who weren’t able to ride all week. Between Rise of the Resistance and the Skyliner accident (sorry Disney, unexpected downtime), Disney probably gave out more free park tickets in guest recovery than SeaWorld sold this year (just kidding, but definitely more than the NBA Experience…)
With lots of guests complaining at Guest Services during the week, changes were made on a near daily basis. Besides changing the official park opening hours to 7 AM, guests were only allowed to receive one boarding pass for Rise of Resistance per day. Most recently, boarding passes would only be available starting at official park open (whereas previously you could get your boarding pass as soon as you were in the actual park, no matter what time it was). What this means is that you could be waiting for two hours outside DHS before the park opens and get a later boarding pass than someone who got there right at 7 AM, because you’re both going on MDE at the exact same time. People were complaining before, and people are complaining NOW because they believe Disney should use a “first come, first served” model and not effectively punish guests who took the time to show up early.
If it sounds exhausting, it’s because IT IS. But one thing we should all do is send our strongest Thoughts and Prayers to the various theme park bloggers like Blog Mickey. These heroic men and women have been getting up at the crack of dawn for two weeks. They’ve been waiting in interminable lines in front of DHS. They’ve been spending hours upon hours posting information on social media and writing detail blogs, all for Disney to make the work pretty much worthless immediately by changing the procedure so often.
THANKFULLY it looks as though the new system is the way Disney will be going with for a while, and it seems to be working as well as it possibly can. For one of the most comprehensive guides to the Rise of the Resistance boarding group process, along with tips, be sure to check out BlogMickey’s writeup.
FIRST EVER SATURDAY SIX BREAKING NEWS: Just as I write things are going much better, DHS opened at 7AM this very morning and as of 9AM the ride has still not had any guests on it. Sorry, Blog Mickey, looks like we need a new guide!
So what else happened concerning Rise of the Resistance? Well, this may possibly be the first time in Who Knows How Long that Disney opened a major attraction or show and didn’t highlight it on the new maps. But that may be for a good reason…
When Disney introduced Pandora: The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom, they did a lot of “puffing” about how special the land would be, and then immediately backtracked on some stuff. For instance, since the “story” of Pandora is that guests are being transported to this planet by ACE, Pandora themed merchandise would ONLY be available in the land itself. Turns out, merchandise was available outside the land on the first day. Now you can even adopt a Banshee at Once Upon a Toy in Disney Springs! Disney also talked about how their wouldn’t be normal signage in the land. Turns out that wasn’t a good idea for park operations, and things like directional signage was put up relatively quickly. Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same…
Breakfast at Docking Bay 7 reminds me of the “McDonald’s Breakfast” scene in Big Daddy.
New digital menu boards went up for Ronto Roasters. The first one had a typo for the planet Tatooine.
It was quickly fixed, but then there was a new typo for “Endorian.” As SATURDAY SIX readers know, we love our typos, and this is clear case of gimmick infringement against Disney.
Honorable Mention – The Muppets ARE COMING BACK?!!!
We are getting ready for the tearful In Memoriam article next week, and just as we were about to pay our last respects to The Muppets Present: Great Moments in American History, Disney announced that the show is coming back for a limited engagement this week! We were still recovering from the last show in October, and were overjoyed that maybe there is a chance that Disney will bring this wonderful show back in 2020 and beyond.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX asks: Is December 2019 the CRAZIEST month in theme park history?! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.