This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the current state of Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort! After being closed for more than a month, it’s time to see how the parks we love so much are doing. The blogger high-in-the-sky copter has been gassed up, and @bioreconstruct circled Orlando to get the latest updates from the parks and resorts. Here’s what he saw…
# 6 – Disney Springs
For us theme park fans, the biggest news of this past week was the near-shocking announcement that Disney Springs would be reopening on May 20th. While full details haven’t been released yet, and it doesn’t appear that the Disney-operated stores and restaurants will be part of the first phased opening, it does feel good that we could be soon be enjoying thigh high chicken biscuits from Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ or getting some Donkey Sauce at Chicken Guy in the near future.
Reminder that the NBA Experience has been practicing the art of “social distancing” since it opened last year, so they should be in “mid season form” almost immediately once the quarantine ends.
# 5 – Disney Hotels
The news of Disney Springs starting to re-open was the “good news” this week, but along with it came some “bad news” in the form of Disney attempting to save $900 Billion in spending by postponing – if not outright cancelling – some construction projects. It is not known at this time what will be included in these cuts to capital expenditures, but we can be relatively sure projects that are far along already will be completed, and those that aren’t…well, they might not be (at least for while). One topic of debate is the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser hotel “experience.” The Starcruiser is going to be a high-end immersive hotel stay that was expected to deliver a lot of “hands on” interaction to guests. Some expect the hotel to sit dormant for a long time, much like the Classic Years at Disney’s Pop Century Resort (which eventually became Art of Animation). Others believe the hotel construction will go on, because it will be such a revenue generator once it opens. Time shall tell.
Let’s check out some overhead shots of other WDW hotels. Here is Disney’s Caribbean Beach, with the new DVC Riviera Resort in the bottom right.
Construction of The Cove boutique hotel is chugging along. This will be located across the street from the Swan & Dolphin, and directly next to Fantasia Gardens mini-golf.
While construction on the WDW-owned Galactic Starcruiser pretty much came to a halt over a month ago (along with most of the projects inside Disney parks), Marriott is still full-speed-ahead on building The Cove.
Always fascinating to see the full layout of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The design of the entire hotel is unique – with a semicircle design like a Kraal African village – and aerials like this will show you why some of the rooms seem like they are a mile away from the lobby.
On the side of WDW property that is close to Animal Kingdom Lodge and Coronado Springs will be the developed area of Flamingo Crossings. This will be a hotel, dining, and shopping district that will be competitively priced.
Now let’s make our way over to the Magic Kingdom area. The pic below has the Magic Kingdom toll plaza in the bottom left. There will be ramp improvements that will make it easier for guests to get to the Poly, Grand Floridian, and Shades of Green. The arrow is pointing to a new storm sewer that spans across the canals.
Ever want to see what the Disney fleet of buses looks like from 1,500 feet in the air?
A closer look at the Speedway that is located right outside the exit of the Magic Kingdom. In the left hand side you can see what looks to be about a dozen or so Minnie Vans.
Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Bay Lake Tower.
This is a wide view of the area that will finally allow guests to walk from the Grand Floridian to Magic Kingdom. I know there are some nights when I leave the park and I see a huge line for the monorail, a gigantic line for the boats, and an interminable line for the buses. So, there are definitely times where I will just walk my way back to the TTC if it becomes an option.
There are very few projects at WDW that I vehemently disagree with, but Reflections: A Lakeside Lodge at Fort Wilderness is one of them. The arrow is pointing to foundations outside Pioneer Hall.
A closer view of the new Tri-Circle-D Ranch.
One of the more bonkers stories of the past week was a man being arrested for camping out on Discovery Island.
# 4 – Disney Parks
Alright, let’s get a birds-eye view of the parks!
Disney recently bought about 235 acres of land west of the Magic Kingdom. That land is on the right hand side of this photo. The arrow is pointing to Space Mountain.
An empty Magic Kingdom will never NOT be weird.
A look at Town Square.
Close-up view. The maintenance trucks seen here may mean that work has resumed on the refurbishment of City Hall.
This look down into Tomorrowland shows the gears on the pavement that most guests probably never notice. This is a rare view.
This photo shows construction of the TRON coaster in the foreground with Space Mountain behind it. You can also see some roadwork going on as well.
I love this photo of Space Mountain and the TRON coaster in the background and the Grand Floridian in the foreground.
Heading over to Animal Kingdom, and it looks like the new security bag check area may be completed by the time the parks reopen (which means just in time for Disney to probably have to change the way they do the bag check procedure).
A deserted parking lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Work on the Woody’s Roundup BBQ restaurant in Toy Story Land could possibly be one of the victims of the budget cutting. The restaurant was sorely needed for capacity reasons, but there is reason to believe WDW may be in a reduced capacity phase for an indefinite period.
Time for EPCOT (spoiler alert, this one gets depressing…).
Well, it’s official. The 2020 Flower and Garden Festival is OVER. The former colorful flower beds are going back to their normal state.
Here’s a look at how the flower beds looked from the ground.
The arrow here is pointing to where the above picture was taken.
The arrows are pointing to all the stuff that is GONE. We were able to enjoy the Flower and Garden Festival relatively close to when Disney shuttered the parks, and it was a great time. Looking forward to next year’s event.
The Butterfly Garden tent is still up.
Here are some shots backstage of the work for the upcoming Harmonious nighttime spectacular. After IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth stopped, the temporary show EPCOT Forever was going to be the transition until Harmonious is ready. With $900 Billion in cuts, we may find out EPCOT Forever is going to literally be forever.
# 3 – Universal Hotels
This photo gives a great look at several the Universal hotels. In the center we have Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Aventura Hotel, Sapphire Falls, and Royal Pacific Resort. Farther back you can see Surfside and Dockside. Even farther back you can see the area where Universal’s next theme park will be.
Universal announced there would be a one-year delay in the opening of Epic Universe, their next theme park.
At the site of Epic Universe there is staging for the Jurassic Park coaster in Islands of Adventure.
# 2 – Universal CityWalk
With Disney Springs beginning to open, it’s only a matter of time before we get an announcement of Universal’s CityWalk doing the same.
The Hard Rock Cafe Orlando is one of the more interesting restaurants in all of Florida (and a must-do if you love music, and who doesn’t?!) The Hard Rock is filled with memorabilia and interesting details. One of those details is that the stairs and handrails outside the restaurant are designed to be the “frets” of a guitar that you can see from above.
In between the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando and the Blue Man Group/Rip Ride Rockit is an area under development. Not sure what this is for.
The backside of the Hard Rock Cafe Orlando and Hard Rock Live event space.
# 1 – Universal Parks
While Disney has stopped most of the work inside their theme parks, Universal is still continuing on, with various projects going on at all the parks. First up is Volcano Bay.
The center of this picture is where work is being done for Punga Racers.
Overview of Islands of Adventure.
Great shot here of the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Did you know that the backstory of the nearby Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall in Marvel Superhero Island is that the attraction is powered by the “fear” in guests. Dr. Doom can’t be happy that right now that the biggest fear in the U.S. is that some people can’t get their Baskin Robbins.
One of the good things about Toon Lagoon – other than the world class water rides – is that most of the characters in the area were around during the 1918 flu pandemic. So we can rest safe that Betty Boop, Mark Trail, and the gang at Gasoline Alley are safe under quarantine.
Looks like all the Who’s in Whoville are sheltering in space at Seuss Landing.
With no guests in the park, Universal Team Members can now drive work vehicles in the park during the day. This leads to some interesting pictures…
A look at Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.
Leading up to the opening of Hagrid’s last year, we saw the planting of many trees for the “Forbidden Forest.” These trees are filling out nicely and from the ground look incredible.
It took ten years, but FINALLY Universal is completing work on lockers outside for guests riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Once done, this should really help the guest experience.
The arrow is pointing to where the lockers will be. Right past the iconic Jurassic Park gates, the lockers are themed so that on one side they will blend in with the Wizarding World, but guests walking through Jurassic Park won’t even notice.
Here we have a numbered photo that shows three different projects that are currently being worked on. # 1 is the lockers at Forbidden Journey. # 2 is the new home of the Raptor Encounter in Jurassic Park. # 3 is the still unannounced Jurassic Park coaster.
An overview of Jurassic Park.
An overview of the Jurassic Park coaster work.
Here you can see a curved wall that has been built which echoes the design of the nearby Jurassic Park visitor’s center. The arrow is pointing to the lowest point in at the Jurassic Park waterfront.
The arrow is pointing to the outdoor seating area of the Three Broomsticks. Guests dining here will probably get a good look at those enjoying the coaster. Guests dining at Mythos (top right of the photo) look to be blocked from seeing the coaster.
Arrow pointing to coaster staging in the nearby Toon Lagoon.
Overhead view of the new area for the Raptor Encounter.
Let’s head over to Universal Studios Florida next door.
Maintenance being done for the lagoon show in USF. The water level in the lagoon has been lowered.
Universal will be moving a lot of “back of house” stuff to the new property at Epic Universe. This photo shows one backstage building at USF already demolished.
Closer view of the area.
HONORABLE MENTION – …and the rest, here on Gilligan’s Island!
Since gas is so cheap right now, let’s check out some other Orlando attractions. First up, Fun Spot. This kid-friendly park is located close to the Universal Orlando Resort and the Orlando Premium Outlets off International Drive.
The H2O Live! waterpark certainly looks like…well, something. Both Universal with Volcano Bay and SeaWorld with Aquatica went with theming and experiences. H2O Live! went the other way.
Speaking of Aquatica, here’s a look at the wave pools.
SeaWorld’s new coaster, Ice Breaker.
So there you have it: A look at what’s going on at WDW and the Universal Orlando Resort via @bioreconstruct! 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 covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. 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.