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TouringPlans Travel Beat 9-23-2023

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At Travel Beat we have all the “other” news from the last week or so—the stuff that wasn’t big enough to stop the presses for. What did the newsroom bring us this week? (Sneak peek: it’s a smorgasbord.) Bullets are just ahead if you’re in a hurry, and more details follow below. Don’t forget to check out the Headline News Recap, in case there was something you missed!

  • 50th Anniversary Statues to Stick Around at Disney World
  • Disney Announces 60 Billion in Investment for Parks and Products
  • Bear Shuts Down Half of Magic Kingdom
  • Carnival Cruise Line Rolling Out Vegan Menus
  • DisneyBand+ Goes Live on Disney Magic October 22
  • Mickey’s Toontown Park Refurbishment
  • Trams Are Running Again at EPCOT, Hollywood Studios
  • Soarin’ Over California Returns to EPCOT
  • Disney100 Kicks Off at Disney World
  • Brightline & Mears Partner to Offer Disney World Connection for Rail Passengers
  • Headline News Recap

If anything you read below tickles your feet, feel free to reach out to our friends at TouringPlans Travel for a free quote.

50th Anniversary Statues to Stick Around at Disney World

The 50th Anniversary Statues – golden tributes to iconic Disney characters that were scattered around the parks – were one of the first celebratory features announced for Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. Now, they’ll be some of the last ones standing as Disney is replacing the 50th Anniversary Medallion with “timeless Pixie Dust”.

A cast member bends over in front of a golden statue of Poomba. She is reaching towards the base of the statue, as if to add or remove a decoration there.
© Disney

We’re not surprised by this announcement, as the statues are fun decor and have their own Play Disney Parks interactive MagicBand+ game. Even without the MagicBand+, they make a fun scavenger hunt. Where to Find All of WDW’s 50th Anniversary Statues.

Disney Announces 60 Billion in Investment for Parks and Products

Between an SEC Filing and a Disney Parks Investor Summit, we got a lot of teasers for upcoming growth over Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products division (DPEP). What’s covered there? Well, it’s not streaming – it’s the theme parks, Disney Cruise Line, and other travel products.

In addition to the mega-whopping-big-number spending announcement of $60 billion investment into Parks and Experiences over the next 10 years, Josh D’Amaro teased specific intellectual properties such as Frozen at the Disneyland Resort. Wakanda and Coco were also named as IPs that had yet to be fully explored. These disclosures come on the heels of more detailed (but still speculative) announcements about park investment made at Destination D23, including a Dinoland retheme, reimagining of Test Track, and more.

Our thoughts when looking at this concept art from Disney

Let’s put those numbers in perspective. Although every project is different, a few minutes with google gives us some estimates:

  • $50-500 million for a new attraction
  • $500-750 million for a new land such as Galaxy’s Edge or Pandora
  • $1-3 billion for a cruise ship
  • $3-6 billion for a theme park

A different comparison is to spending in recent history; this is about double the recent pace of capital spending for Disney. What did that bring us? Here’s a partial list covering the last 5 years: Galaxy’s Edge (x2), Toy Story Land, Frozen, Zootopia, and other lands in international parks, two new cruise ships, Guardians, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (x2), TRON in the Magic Kingdom, and more.

How excited should you get? That depends. If your excitement is that the travel segment of Disney’s business is going to see some significant investment, you’re good to go. If your excitement is related to any specific ideas that have been teased … I’d advise being a little more circumspect. A number of studies show that anticipation is often a positive force, and especially that anticipation of a vacation can be as enjoyable as taking it when the time comes. But Disney doesn’t have the greatest track record of delivering on everything they formally announce, and here they’re only discussing possibilities. Personally, I only get confident about what’s coming at Disney when they put up the walls and break ground.

Bear Shuts Down Half of Magic Kingdom

Bears do regularly inhabit the Magic Kingdom (see above) … but this week a real, live bear made an appearance in the park. The bear was found near Tom Sawyer Island during a pre-opening check of the park, and the entire left side of the park was closed for the first half of the day. The bear was captured and relocated with the assistance of the Florida Wildlife Commission. As you may imagine, wait times in the half of the park that was open were quite a bit higher than usual throughout the morning.

Carnival Cruise Line Rolling Out Vegan Menus

Carnival Cruise Line has announced that they have begun rolling out a vegan menu on their ships. The new menu will be available in the main dining rooms, and will feature three apiece of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The new dishes include a mix of traditional vegan proteins, as well as meat substitutes such as plant-based salmon.

Vegan Hawaiian poke appetizer © Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival cites shifting customer preferences as part of the reason for the change, but vegan dishes are also often appealing to travelers with egg and dairy sensitivities. Although not guaranteed to be free from cross-contamination in the same way as an allergy-safe meal, those with milder allergies can simply order off the menu without prior discussion as to the ingredients. The dishes are already available on the Carnival Magic, Freedom, and Horizon, and will roll out to the entire fleet by the end of the year.

DisneyBand+ Goes Live on Disney Magic October 22

Disney Cruise Line has announced that guests sailing on the Disney Magic on or after October 22, 2023 will now be able to purchase the DisneyBand+ and use it on their cruise. The DisneyBand+ has already rolled out on the Wish and the Fantasy. As a reminder, DisneyBand+ is the exact same technology as MagicBand+. That means if you’ve already got one that you use in the parks and you don’t feel like spending $35-45 for a band with cruise line theming, you’re good to go.

Mickey’s Toontown Park Refurbishment

If you’re visiting Disneyland in the next couple of months, you’ll encounter some “Pardon Our Pixie Dust” at Mickey’s Toontown Park. Centoonial Park is currently closed, reopening on October 22, and on the heels of its reopening Goofy’s How-to-Play Yard will close for refurbishment starting Oct. 23. The entire land is expected to be open again in early November.

Trams Are Running Again at EPCOT, Hollywood Studios

Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you. Disney had previously announced that trams would return to all parks by the end of 2022. That didn’t happen. Just last month, Disney announced that trams would be returning to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT “in September”, which we skeptically noted could mean September 30 as easily as September 1. We’re happy to report that trams have been operating at all four parks since Wednesday. My feet (and yours!) are just thrilled!

Soarin’ Over California Returns to EPCOT

Soarin’. (photo by Tom Bricker)

For the first time since 2016, Soarin’ Over California (“the OG”) has returned to Disney World. Our parks reporters were there for the first day (they rope-dropped to make sure to get in the very first showing!) and confirmed that not only is the film back, but the orange grove scent is too. This is a “limited time” return, but an end date has not been announced yet. If you’re visiting in the near future and you’ve only seen Soarin’ Around the World, take the opportunity to punch your ticket to participate in the debate about whether the original or the remake is better.

Disney100 Kicks Off at Disney World

Disney100 officially kicked off at Disney World this week, with EPCOT “hosting” the festivities. What will you see if you head for the parks during the celebration? Here’s a sprinkling of photojournalism, straight from our parks researchers.

Disney100 banners and medallions have appeared

You may notice the corner of a building in the image above; the last four Food & Wine Festival booths have opened. From now through the end of the Festival, you can visit Wine & Wedge, Bubbles & Brine, Swirled Showcase, and Char & Chop. Our taste testers thought these booths were winners.

A Figment Meet & Greet debuted earlier this month, and now Mickey & Minnie are meeting in their 100th Anniversary outfits.

Of course there is merch, including the Disney 100th Popcorn Bucket

At night, there’s a new light show on Spaceship Earth. (Check it out on our Instagram). And along the central path to World Showcase, you’ll find a Disney100 mural featuring 100 hidden Disney characters.

If you’re not going to make it in person, you can click into the gallery below for a sampler of the characters we found! Secretly, we’re convinced there are more than 100.

Brightline & Mears Partner to Offer Disney World Connection for Rail Passengers

Brightline officially opened its Orlando station yesterday, and is also partnering with Mears to offer last-mile connection to Disney World through Brightline+ in its app. Whether you’re a Florida local taking the train instead of driving, or you’re using the train to connect your Miami cruise to your Disney World vacation, you can book your entire trip seamlessly in one place. Buy your train ticket in the Brightline app, and add on shuttle or private car connection by Mears from the train station to your Disney World resort.

Headline News Recap

It was a big week for discounts, with Disney releasing a new Florida resident ticket good through December, and Disney World and Aulani room discounts in early 2024. See them all:

This might not truly be headline news, but the updated dining reservation system has rolled out online and in the app. We’ve tested it out and updated our walkthroughs, and in my personal opinion it is sweet. Disney IT often (deservedly) gets a bad rap, but the new reservation system is fast and responsive, and feels like software you’d expect to see in 2023.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Beat. What news are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments!

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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer has a background in math and biology, so she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

3 thoughts on “TouringPlans Travel Beat 9-23-2023

  • That $60 billion seems like a big number, but with everything costing so much more now than a decade ago, I’m not sure how much that will really do to improving and expanding the parks. Of course, Disney has to do something with Universal building a whole new park in the same time it has taken Disney to copy Tron.

    Where it seems to me Disney’s largest business expansion is in the cruise line. Looks like they will be releasing a new ship every couple of years for the remainder of the decade. I’m guess Disney management sees potential for the largest profits with DCL.

    • I don’t know how much the “costing much more than it did 10 years ago” matters. By which I mean –

      1 – Even if we just got the same stuff as in the last 5 years, spread around differently, that’s a lot — I didn’t come close to listing it all
      2 – One thing that’s really striking is that the cost of attractions varies tremendously. I found estimates of about $76M for Slinky, but $500M for Guardians. Obviously at least part of what you’re paying for with Guardians is the development of the Omnicoaster tech. But we hear all the time about how “not everything needs to be an E-ticket” and I couldn’t agree with that more.

      The things that concern me most looking at what Disney has done and what they’ve teased for the next bit are not that there won’t be a fair amount of stuff that gets built. It’s that WDW won’t be prioritized after everything is greenlit, or that if it is the wrong kinds of things will be built and in the wrong places. I seriously groan every time I hear about “Beyond Big Thunder Mountain”. They spent most of a year capping reservations in the MK, and I have to feel (as a personal opinion based on no experience or insight into operations) that at least part of that was trying to divide crowds more evenly to other parks. My choice to solve a capacity problem at MK wouldn’t be to push unwilling people elsewhere, or to build more capacity in MK that will not completely distribute away from the other attractions in that park. In my book, if you want people to spend more time at the other parks, you build things in the other parks to make them want to spend more time in those parks. But then, Animal Kingdom is my favorite park, so what do I know about what the average Disney visitor wants to experience.

      • I listened to Len on Disney Dish this morning and he said that once you factor in inflation from the past 10 years and 4% inflation the next 10 years, the adjusted amount will still be about a 25% increase for the next ten years as compared to the previous ten, so there is hope for more expansion and improvement than I had previously thought.

        I think much of where to build depends on the easiest space to develop. With Disney management mentioning “beyond Big Thunder” again this year, that has to be the cheapest area to develop. The previous decade had MK get New Fantasy Land, AK get Pandora, HS get Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, and EPCOT get, well, whatever it is that EPCOT got. So does that mean it’s MK’s turn again, and that’s why beyond Big Thunder got brought up again?

        Len has mentioned that there is some land on the back side of the train between the main part of AK and Rafiki’s, so maybe there is a chance your favorite (and my second favorite) park will get expansion soon.

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