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Theme Park Enjoyment Index for MARCH 2024 (Goodbye FW Cabins, Butterbeer Caramel, Return to the Disney Outlet Store and more!)

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The Theme Park Enjoyment Index (TPEI) is a monthly look at the events that have made an impact, both positive and negative, in this wild world of theme parks we all love so much. Each TPEI comes out on the last Saturday every month, and we assign each piece of news a positive or negative number, tally it all up at the end and chart it. The range goes from 0-100 with 0 being Disney & Pixar DVD Showcase while a perfect score of 100 would be Pandora: The World of Avatar.

Remember, all links in TPEI open up in a new browser window. So feel free to check stuff out, we’ll be here when you get back!

*Goodbye Fort Wilderness Cabins

I’ve been lucky enough to stay at pretty much every single onsite hotel at both Disney and Universal. Each have their pros and cons, but one of my favorite stays EVER was at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground in one of the cabins. The aesthetic of the cabins is what I associate with Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge and – to me – this is the type of Disney Magic you can’t find anywhere else in the theme park world. Disney’s competitors are right up there when it comes to building theme park lands and attractions, but because of Walt Disney World’s blessing of size, we are able to get resorts like Animal Kingdom Lodge that no one else will ever be able to touch.

Another great aspect of the Fort Wilderness Cabins is that they are dog friendly, one of the few resorts that are at Walt Disney World. Like many, we travel with our four legged family member when going on our Orlando vacations (for more on this experience: CLICK HERE) and Fort Wilderness is fantastic for dogs. In fact, we ran into more dogs while walking around Fort Wilderness than we have seen at all the other Disney and Universal pet friendly hotels combined.

As far as Bacini was concerned, every area on this map that was in green was a “dog relief area.”

How great is this dining area?!!! From the chairs to the lighting fixtures to the picture on the wall… all pitch perfect.

Even better was that being at the Cabins made a quick trip to Trail’s End a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want a Hoop Dee Doo meal to go?

I know one pup who does!

“Chow time!”

Unfortunately, the Fort Wilderness Cabins as we knew them are on their way out. Recently our friends over at Mousesteps got full coverage of the Cabins being hauled away, which you can check out by CLICKING HERE.

Fort Wilderness Cabin being removed (photo by Jeff Lange)
A Fort Wilderness Cabin being hauled away. (photo by @DznyGrlSD)
Fort Wilderness Cabin being driven away on SR 528. (photo by Robert Bearden)

My reaction to seeing these photos?

Instead of the charming, rustic cabins that fit in perfectly with Fort Wilderness, we are about to get urban monstrosities that have all the charm of a sterile and lifeless hotel off the highway.

Concept Art for Disney Vacation Club Fort Wilderness Cabin © Disney

Look at the inside of these cabins. It looks just like the generic rooms Disney is putting in all across property. From Pop Century to Coronado Beach. Maybe *I’M* the crazy one who enjoys “theming” on my theme park vacation. I can get this type of room at any Marriott or Holiday Inn Express across the country.

© Disney

My first reaction to this change?

TPEI SCORE: – 30 Don’t give me the “wait until you see it” stuff. I already went through that with the reimagining of Trail’s End last year and it was exactly as I expected. For whatever reason, the current Upper Disney Management doesn’t believe in “the Disney Difference” and instead would rather be just like everyone else. There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that Disney was the Gold Standard and the gulf between them and everyone else was startling. Over the last decade or so, Disney has lowered its standards drastically – at least in Florida – while several of its competitors have raised theirs substantially. Speaking of which…

*Hello How To Train Your Dragon Land!

The last fully functioning “family friendly land” we got at the theme parks was Toy Story Land at Disney Hollywood Studios, and it was – to be frank, not what we thought we were getting. Budget cuts erased elements of Slinky Dog Dash and even outright cut things like Big Al’s Toy Barn (the fact that – of all places – TOY STORY LAND opened without a gift shop will always blow my mind.) The entire food and drink component of Toy Story Land consisted of  a quick service restaurant with two registers and limited seating.

Well this past week Universal announced the plans for its coming How To Train Your Dragon – Isle of Berk land at EPIC Universe and – to steal a phrase from Weekend Update’s Stefon, “this land will have EVERYTHING.”

How To Train Your Dragon – Isle of Berk concept art.

Isle of Berk will have a family friendly coaster…

Hiccup’s Wing Gliders concept art.

…a boat ride…

Fyre Drill concept art. Guests board eight-person boats and use water cannons to train their fire suppression skills.

…a flat ride…

Dragon Racer’s Rally concept art.

…a huge play area…

Viking Training Camp concept art. Multi-story play area with rope nets, slides, and other themed elements.

…and an E-Ticket 20 minutes show.

The Untrainable Dragon concept art.

I am a HUGE fan of shows inside the parks, from Finding Nemo at Animal Kingdom to the Bourne Stuntacular at Universal Studios Florida, and everything I have seen about the show coming to Isle of Berk makes it look like the best one yet (you can watch a version of the show from Universal Studios Beijing by CLICKING HERE.)

Untrainable show at Universal Studios Beijing. (photo by @SoCal360)
Untrainable at Universal Studios Beijing. (photo by @SoCal360)
Untrainable show at Universal Studios Beijing. (photo by @SoCal360)

Okay, back to what’s coming to Isle of Berk. Up next, a large and fully themed quick service restaurant…

Mead Hall concept art.

…which can seat more than 8 people, a first for fully functioning family friendly lands opening in Orlando.

Mead Hall concept art. Interior is cavernous.

Isle of Berk will have meet-and-greets…

Meet Hiccup and Toothless concept art.

…several highly themed gift shops…

This shop is full of dragons. Check out the one sleeping on a hammock above the registers. Concept Art.
This shop is a candy store. Concept art.

…and a whole bunch of other stuff too. That’s right true believers, Isle of Berk truly has it all!

TPEI Score: + 34 People are going to be drawn to Epic for the well known IPs such as Nintendo, the Wizarding World, and the Universal Monsters, but mark my words this will be the sleeper hit of Epic Universe.

Speaking of other stuff in Berk, below is a piece of concept art that showed how guests will be able to interact with a large variety of dragons throughout the land.

Concept art.

The Permit Princess Alicia Stella noticed something interesting in this particular piece of concept art. The family in the left hand corner looked awfully familiar…

She noticed the resemblance to Saturday Night Live star Keenan Thompson and his family when they did a photo shoot at Universal when he became a spokesman for Uni’s #LetYourselfWoah campaign back in February 2020, one month before the parks shut down for Covid.

You could make the case that Universal’s “Woah” campaign was the winner for the Worst Timing Award, but NAY NAY. This fine blog series actually holds that title because we released the David & Derek Look at the Do’s and Don’ts of Vacation Planning TWO DAYS before both Disney and Universal shut down for months. One of my favorite articles ever – in large part thanks to the amazing art by Brian Cooper – and instead it’s theme park blog equivalent of Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals when the Knicks and Rockets played while the rest of the country watched OJ Simpson in a white Bronco on a slow speed police chase.

*Marvel Characters Added to it’s a small world

I love theme parks, but truth be told, I’m a much bigger comic book fan than I am a theme park fan. By extension, I’m also a bigger fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The best parts of my fandom are when my world’s collide, like when there are Disney references in the MCU. So of course I love when Marvel characters are introduced to the theme parks. However, this month Disney announced that Marvel characters would make their way to the theme parks in Japan for the first time ever in a limited-time overlay to it’s a small world.

To me, this doesn’t make any sense, unless I’ve totally misunderstood what it’s a small world was about my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Marvel characters being drawn in a Mary Blair-like style, but the charming story of world peace achieved through harmony in the ride seems incongruous to how it is achieved in the MCU. One of my favorite films in the entire MCU is Captain America: Civil War in which the character Vision says about superheroes,”Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict…breeds catastrophe.”

I get it, it’s theme parks, don’t put so much thought into it. But my argument is that thought SHOULD be put into it because it’s theme parks and especially because this is one of the rides still around that Walt Disney himself worked on.

TPEI Score: – 2 With great power there must also come great responsibility. (Although if Disney makes a toy line with the characters in this style, I’ll buy them all.)


*New Version of Butterbeer Released

Longtime readers of this fine blog series know how much we love Butterbeer (especially Hot Butterbeer) and this month Universal debuted a new version of legendary treat with Butterbeer caramel.

Butterbeer caramel. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Butterbeer caramel has a sweetness to it like Kraft caramel candy or Werther’s Original (my personal favorite snack in EPCOT’s World Showcase.) Hints of Butterbeer flavor come through when chewing. Definitely another success, and similar to Butterbeer ice cream in taking something good and making it even better.

Butterbeer caramel cross section. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

*DCA Brings Back a Theme Park ICON

One of the most beloved characters in any pre-show is Patrick, the chief flight attendant at Soarin’. The character is played by actor Patrick Warburton, best known to many as the character David Puddy on Seinfeld.

The short video is filled with classic moments, including Patrick interacting with a guest and reminding them to put carry-on items in the under-seat compartment before take-off.

These two characters were lovingly drawn by one of our favorite artists, SonderQuest.

This month Disney California Adventure had a fun surprise for guests…

Soarin’ Over California. (photo via Disney)

…as Chief Flight Attendant Patrick made a surprise appearance during the pre-show!

Chief Flight Attendant Patrick Warburton at Soarin’. (photo via Disney)

Just a nice, feel good story.

Chief Flight Attendant Patrick Warburton. (photo via Disney)

Speaking of surprise return appearances at Disney by people we love, former Imagineer Joe Rohde is back at the Mouse to lead  Master Class work sessions with current Imagineers. This would be like painters being able to sit under the learning tree of Michaelangelo, actors getting lessons from Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, or theme park bloggers learning from Josh easyWDW.

Joe Rohde, the GoAT of theme park creativity. (photo by Disney)

*More Reasons Not To Leave DisTwitter…

Time for my monthly rant/excuse explaining why I am still on Twitter despite the site quickly becoming a cess pool filled with toxic people, those acting in bad faith, and outright scam artists (not to mention the overwhelming amount of bots on the platform to help juice the numbers because so many people have left.) One of the biggest reasons is that it still has – by far and away – the largest amount of theme park fans along with former and current members of Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative. That allows us the chance to get nuggets out of nowhere, like the following post made by a former Disney Imagineer…

While Mr. Mezzatesta gave no details of the “story that can not be told,” I will include this piece of art featuring GREAT MOMENTS IN THEME PARK HISTORY (CRUDELY DRAWN) that I did for a fundraiser back in 2018 (other drawings in that series including Jim Hill’s discovering Universal’s secret plans in the second floor of Lombard’s seafood, Val the Velociraptor, and one very influential member of theme park media being mad at Universal after buying HHN tickets from what turned out to be a scam website.

GREAT MOMENTS IN THEME PARK HISTORY (CRUDELY DRAWN) – Summer 1997. A crash at Test Track causes a delay in the official opening of the attraction for over a year.

Another must follow on DisTwitter is former Disney Imagineer Tom K Morris, who is always posting great stuff from Disney history. This month we got a true gem when Tom posted the following piece of art titled Vincent Van Goghs to Disneyland.

It’s not just the former theme park employees bringing the goods, theme park fans like the account Park Lore put out amazing things too, such as this fantastic comparison  of the ride layouts of  Universal’s Jaws ride and its replacement, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley.

Another user posted the original source film for Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, one of the all time greatest theme park attractions ever built. The Spider-Man attraction was updated several years ago, which included massively upgraded graphics along with one-too-many shoehorned appearances by Stan Lee. However, this video is the best looking one I have ever seen featuring one of my favorite rides.

“With Doc Ock on the loose, this could be the most dangerous night of my life! And YOURS!”
The current version of the attraction features the Statue of Liberty’s torch in the opposite attraction as the version above features a… shall we say phallic handle.
For some reason Hydro Man was always one of my favorite villains in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.
If you only knew how excited I was riding this attraction for the first time and seeing THE CLONE SAGA on the marquee. As a comics fan it blew my mind!

Speaking at a unique look at a beloved ride that I’ve never seen before, another user posted video from Back to the Future: The Ride that gives us a look at how the ride operating system works. You can see the 20 second clip by CLICKING HERE and it shows the DeLorian time machines rising up into theater. Just fascinating stuff.

I’ve been on BTTF: The Ride many times and have watched the screen from a perspective of being in a DeLorean, but this video gave us the view from the screen’s perspective as its facing the DeLoreans. Wild. This ending up leading me to seeing another quick video on The Making of BTTF: The Ride that was also awesome. Very excited stuff considering that Rumors & Innuendo suggest that the upcoming Tribute Store at Universal just may involve a certain time traveling car (along with a group who specialize in busting ghosts and a shark who makes you think, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)

How did I go this long before finding out the following piece of trivia?!!!!!

Of course DisTwitter is also filled with talented artists showing their works, such as the illustrious Sam Carter

…the best HHN artist EVER, Sterling Denham

…and Bryan Bindman with an amazing new print you can purchase by CLICKING HERE.

All that said, the number one star of DisTwitter just may be blogger-in-the-sky @bioreconstruct. Should come as no surprise as he dazzled everyone again with his Best In Class photos of Epic Universe (that we covered in detail last week) along with gems like the ones below.

Optimus Prime reaches out to touch the moon. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Nobody can frame the moon in a shot like Bio. NO ONE.

Coca-Cola fizz bubbles with an Eurasian Collared-Dove and The Moon in CityWalk. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Bio also somehow knows the name of all 500 species of birds located in Florida. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to discover that Bio had a completely other life in which he is also at the top of the list for bird watching communities.

A Eurasian Collared-Dove on top the Coca-Cola fizz bubbles in CityWalk. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Stay tuned for the very end of this article of a fun surprise concerning Bio…

A couple of years ago an artist name Gian recreated one of my favorite Disney souvenirs of all time, the Mickey and Goofy explore the Universe of Energy comic book that was given out at Ye Olde EPCOT Center. Gian drew the iconic cover using the attractions current form featuring Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

GOTG art by @retr0gate


Out of nowhere, Disney dropped their own recreation of that comic book cover in a merchandise line this month. These are – of course – must-buy items for me.

Wonders of Xandar magnet. (photo by @schmoofy)
(photos by @pumpkin___spice)

Another great item released this month is this wonderful Tervis featuring Mickey and Gang at the Animal Kingdom.

E-Ticket. (photo by @lildisfan)

Meanwhile over at Universal they came out with a new line of merchandise featuring a wide variety of their IPs. Normally stuff like this would be a huge turn off for me. Like, every year during HHN they will have a shirt that features all the various houses and I find them gaudy. However, I am IN LOVE WITH THIS SHIRT BELOW.

Shirt. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

I don’t even buy patches, nor have any use for patches, but you better believe I’m buying that Volcano Bay patch. Probably the Skull Island one too. Maybe even the Minion Mayhem one.

Patches. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

I’m not really a pin guy either, but tell me I don’t need that Galaxy Defender pin at the Men In Black: Alien Attack gift shop! (if you were wondering, Yes, my life is exactly like that scene in The Office when Oscar is breaking down Michael Scott’s finances and explaining to him that he owns things no one needs, like multiple magic kits and bass fishing equipment.)

Pin set. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

It is inconceivable how many great items that Universal keeps releasing for The Simpsons despite the fact that Rumors & Innuendo suggest Springfield may not be long for Universal Studios Florida once the current contract runs out (as a reminder, Disney acquired The Simpsons brand when it bought 20th Century Fox back in 2019.) This month Itchy and Krusty the Clown joined the line of what I have dubbed “cute plush” that Universal has been releasing over the last several years.

Itchy and Krusty the Clown cute plush. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

I love when multiple properties are all done in the same artistic style, including Disney’s ToyBox line several years ago where you had characters including Star Wars, Marvel, and even Jack Sparrow and Sully from Monster’s Inc. all done like they were in the exact same universe. I loved it, and that’s what this “cute plush” line is like for me too. Here’s a couple of the Universal Classic Monsters….

…and even John Hammond from Jurassic Park!!

John Hammond cute plush. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Speaking of Jurassic Park, this is an E-Ticket photo frame if I ever saw one.

Jurassic Park Arch photo frame. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

Now, one item that WON’T be going into my shopping cart is this shirt that was seen by @TheHorizoneer. The art on the shirt features some iconic Disney elements, including Spaceship Earth, the Tree of Life, and the Partners statue.

However, a closer look reveals that the Haunted Mansion features a design that weirdly mashes up the Disneyland version of the attraction with the conservatory of the Walt Disney World version.

This is an item destined to go straight to the Disney Outlet Stores. Speaking of which…

They said it wouldn’t be done.

They said it couldn’t be done.

Once you finish reading this you’ll probably agree that it shouldn’t have been done.

For those who don’t know, the Disney Outlet Store Photo Report was a monthly series I did for 8 years before transitioning to TPEI in July of 2021. My thoughts on going back to the Outlets are probably similar to Sirius Black’s on going back to Azkaban. However, “due to guest demand” we are once again heading back to Mordor this month to give you an update. Let’s start featuring the Galactic Starcruiser, which had it’s final “sailing” last year, winning the coveted Golden Turkey in the 2023 Theme Park Turkey of the Year awards.

Originally $34.99, now $12.99.

You don’t expect to see a KiteTails pin when you go to the Outlets, and when you do you buy it, that’s my policy. As a reminder, this attraction closed in 2022.

Reduced to $3.99

2023 branded Disney Skyliner toys were originally $19.99, now $9.99. I think these are great and would love a full line of them (and you know which one I want most of all….)

Absolutely love this figure called LITTLE RAY OF TIKI SUNSHINE featuring the Lil’ Orange Bird and a parrot from the Enchanted Tiki Room enjoying a Dole Whip. Originally $34.99, reduced to $9.99.

Sometimes you wonder just WTF is Disney thinking. The MagicBand+ costs around $50 each. How many of the people spending that kind of money are going to want one featuring a Kakamora from Moana?! It’s just ridiculous. You might as well do a MagicBand+ with a mouse droid from Star Wars. These were reduced to $14.99 and, even then, who is going to buy them at that price? Just give them away to guests staying at The Poly as a “Magical Moment.”

That said, this serving plate featuring Moana was a must buy. Originally $49.99, now $19.99. Just fantastic.

There were tons of items featuring Encanto from last year’s Food and Wine Festival, including this serving tray that was reduced to $9.99.

Spatulas, Originally $14.99, reduced to $4.99.

This Tervis was reduced to $12.99.

This WDW 50/Starbucks Black Tumbler was originally a next-level-bonkers $49.99 and reduced to $7.99.

Plenty were available. Were people waiting in long lines for these when they came out? If so, thoughts, prayers, and pixie dust are being sent in their honor.

Speaking of WDW’s 50th Anniversary, here is the official ornament. Originally $22.99, now $7.99.

Christmas-themed Crocs. Originally $49.99, now $24.99.

This next pair of Crocs is so OUT THERE its actually great. The Crocs are actually fluffy and have Buttercup from Toy Story 3 on them. WHAT IS THE POINT OF THESE IN THE CROCS UNIVERSE?!!!! Isn’t the whole point of Crocs is the fact that your wearing a “Croc” and their patented rubber material (or whatever it is.) I don’t get it. Originally $59.99, reduced to $29.99.

Speaking of nuts, check out this next item. As a Marvel fan, I’m interested. Captain Carter’s vibranium shield in a cool carrying case. Take a guess on how much you think this cost…

…you ready for this?

My reaction?

Believe it or not, that wasn’t the only Marvel related item that was originally $399.99 reduced to $199.99. NAY NAY. Check out the photo below. See that leather jacket? Same exact price. WHAAAAAAAT?!!!

Back to sanity. I kinda like this mashup of a Mickey Mouse headband and Thor’s helmet. As a kid I would have rocked this in the park. Reduced to $4.99.

Apparently the Outlets now have their own Collectible Medallion machine, but like the Outlets themselves the designs are just random. Goofy & Pluto in front of the castle (best one), Bo Peep from Toy Story, Alice and the White Rabbit, and Encanto.

Before I go, I need to close with a quick story. There are times in my life where I’ll see something, or hear something, or even smell something that reminds me of someone in my life who has passed away. I remember last year I was driving to work playing the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 and the song “father and son” came on and I started thinking of my friend Ian Barritt. I was crying in the car and no real reason why other than that song reminded me of Ian. There’s been times I’ve been at the theme parks in Orlando and I swear that I see my mom (who passed away over a decade ago) and it feels so real that I think she’s there even though I know she’s not.

I’m probably just rambling and not making any sense, but there are many ocassions where I have that same feeling Anton Ego had in Ratatouille where – for just a brief moment – a single taste brought him back to a specific moment in time. Seeing a shirt below, while not the exact same shirt as a friend of mine wore, brought me back to a different time in my life. A bittersweet reminder of how precious life is, and how blessed we are to get the short time we do with people we respect, we look up to, and we love.

One of the most influential people in theme park history, whose career was defined by making the guest experience better. Also pictured, former Imagineer Joe Rohde.

Last month’s Theme Park Enjoyment Index: 67
This month’s net change: + 2
Current enjoyment level: 69


Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny arriving at the Magic Kingdom. (photo by @Mousesteps)

Writer Derek Burgan, when not cleaning Len Testa’s pool, can be found reading comic books, watching professional wrestling, organizing his various Tsum Tsums in alphabetical order, and taking his dog Bacini to Universal and Disney.. He will not, we repeat not, be found at a Disney Outlet Store. An official DisTwitter Influencer, you can interact with him @derekburgan

Digital Artist Scott Walker hails from Scotland and is the fifth most famous person from this country following Alexander Graham Bell, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, and Groundskeeper Willie.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the debut of an all new series…

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4 thoughts on “Theme Park Enjoyment Index for MARCH 2024 (Goodbye FW Cabins, Butterbeer Caramel, Return to the Disney Outlet Store and more!)

  • I am so excited the Outlet reports are back!!!

  • Were they having problems getting people into the cabins? Problems with maintenance? Otherwise it is a total head scratcher on replacing the Fort Wilderness cabins. We are fans of the National Parks and always try to stay in the park and in their more historic lodgings. Unfortunately WDW seems to be focusing on the bottomline and almost everything other than the things that really made the Disney difference.

  • I really wanted my whole family to dress as J. H. for the halloween party last year, but was afraid maybe it was too soon. Maybe this year!

    Also hoping the Outlet Report is back at least every quarter!!


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