This week’s SATURDAY SIX is undoubtedly a special one as we once again dust off the blue blazer and step behind the SATURDAY SIX News Desk. It has been a whirlwind of theme park related news lately. Our long national nightmare is over as purple MagicBands are available for your WDW resort stay, Disney started a new subscription service themed to the Haunted Mansion for the low low price of just $200 (oh, and it has already sold out), the Orlando Eye did its first baby reveal, and a worker at Art of Animation was caught on video using a dirty mop to clean a table. That was just the tip of the iceberg.
So – as usual – we took a page out of our old college playbook, chugged down a case of 5 Hour Energy, and pulled an all-nighter, cramming as much information as we could into our tiny brains so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader, with all the relevant facts (and before we forget it all tomorrow). So sit back, know that you are getting all the news that’s fit to print (and plenty more that’s not), and let’s begin our countdown starting with…
# 6 – That sound you hear? KONG IS COMING.
As Donald Trump would say, it was a yuge week of King Kong news over at the Universal Orlando Resort. As theme park merchandise fanatics, we loved that a whole bunch of new merch arrived for the upcoming Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. Then, Universal dropped a bombshell with their reveal of the incredible ride vehicles along with a couple other tasty tidbits: This would be Universal’s first trackless ride system, and the vehicles would be “driven” by one of five characters. While Universal hasn’t released an official opening of the attraction yet, we have a sneaking suspicion we may hear something around the time the Syfy show Face Off features an entire episode (the season finale no less) dedicated to creating characters for the attraction. Stay tuned Wednesday, March 30th at 9PM EST on Syfy.
# 5 – SeaWorld Admits to Ordering Employees to Spy on Animal Rights Groups
Readers of the SATURDAY SIX may remember one of last year’s annual Turkeys of the Year awards went to a SeaWorld employee who was caught spying on the animal rights group PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). At the time, SeaWorld management was shocked, SHOCKED at this behavior and put out the story that the employee had gone rogue. Fast forward to this month and during another disastrous investor’s conference, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that employees did go undercover in animal rights groups and, more importantly, did so per order of the company.
Believe it or not this was the most “wow” SeaWorld story of the week until the atomic bomb the company dropped Thursday morning announcing they were ending the breeding of Killer Whales and will also be ending all the theatrical shows featuring orcas (to be replaced by exhibits).
# 4 – StoryMaker Debuts at It’s a Small World
“Do you believe in miracles?” – Al Michaels
Originally slated to debut with MyMagic+ several years ago, StoryMaker was probably the thing the majority of Disney guests were most excited for. By reading information off our MagicBands, this was the technology that was going to let meet and greet characters like Talking Mickey or the Disney Princesses know our names before they met us. It was also going to be used in attractions around the park, including It’s a Small World. Years ago, the idea was that guests would be able to design a IASW-like character at home, and then come to the Magic Kingdom to see it displayed on a screen at the end of the ride. As we all know, that didn’t happen, but just this past week – out of nowhere – screens at the end of IASW started to display the names of guests. Thankfully theme park bloggers, the real heroes, were immediately called into action and shared their story with the world.
The bad news? The screens may already have been turned off. C’est la vie.
# 3 – New Chocolate Based Restaurant to Debut in Universal CityWalk
About a week ago, the wrestling world was buzzing that a WWE Hall of Fame was going to open at Universal CityWalk, replacing NBA City. This didn’t make too much sense for Universal, as WWE business ventures outside their core business of professional wrestling have been some of the biggest financial flops in modern times (including the XFL and The World restaurant in Times Square). There is also the elephant in the room of WWE’s biggest demographic, which traditionally do not have the type of household income that a family needs for a theme park resort vacation (which is one of the reasons why wrestling has a hard time getting – and keeping – big name advertisers despite great TV ratings).
Well, turns out the “exclusive story” wasn’t true at all and Universal themselves unveiled what is actually coming to CityWalk: The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium. One part steampunk, one part Willy Wonka, and one part Cheesecake Factory, The Toothsome Chocolate Factory looks to continue Universal’s hot streak of great restaurants including Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Antojitos, and Vivo Italian Kitchen. The restaurant promises unique twists on your standard restaurant menu (steak, seafood, pasta, burgers, etc) but it also looks to debut the first ever E-Ticket milkshakes.
Okay, who wants to get chocolate wasted?!
# 2 – 1 if by land, $2 if by RESORT FEE.
The world of theme park social media was rocked earlier this week when word got that some Disney guests were receiving a survey that asked questions about resort fees. Now we all know – and despise – hidden resort fees. They’ve become so commonplace at hotels that it has become like baggage fees at the airlines, you know that, no matter what you are going to get screwed. Disney has always had their resort fees built into the cost of the room, so you pay one cost upfront and don’t have to be nickel and dimed over amenities such as parking, wi-fi, and even MagicBands.
The survey threw out the number of $15 for a resort fee at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort or the BoardWalk. Included within this $15 fee would be: Disney’s Magical Express, MagicBands, Priority FP+ planning, WiFi, Extra Magic Hours, and parking at the resort and theme parks. Basically, everything you are getting now. Now many in the community – such as Pete Werner of the DisUnplugged podcast say that this is Disney just softening the blow for announcing resort fees that are surely coming. Others, such as Josh EasyWDW say resort fees are “absolutely 100% not coming to the WDW resorts.”
While certainly not everything Disney puts into surveys comes to fruition, a similar survey came out last year tossing out the idea of tiered ticket pricing, something which Disney put into reality on February 28th.
# 1 – Walt Disney World Testing Preferred Parking
Not a good week for those hoping their Walt Disney Resort vacation would become cheaper. At both the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, Disney tested premium parking for a fee. Many other theme parks, including Universal, already offer “up charge” parking that allows guests to park closer to the parks. This test by Disney rolls out a few months after testing paid parking at some of the WDW resorts. Unlike the resort fees mentioned above, this is an up charge that probably wouldn’t affect the average guest. Many people use Disney transportation to get to the parks, and for those that drive their own vehicles the actual distance between the regular parking areas ($20) and the premium parking ($35) is not all that big.
UPDATE: Early reports of preferred parking have guests not exactly lining up to pay for the shorter walk to the parks. We’ll see how this changes when more guests understand what preferred parking includes and if Disney cuts down on the amount of trams to “encourage” the upgrade.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX News Desk once again delivers all the news that is fit to print (and even more that isn’t). 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 crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, master photo manipulator Matt Cleary, noted rabble rouser Michael Sheehy, the great Banks Lee, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey.