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*Hank Lonely Aboard the Starcruiser
In last month’s TPEI we wrote about how the Galactic Starcruiser had just had its first “sailing” with media, and influencers game testers. We teased that March would begin with the Starcruiser accepting its first paying guests, including the one and only Hank Lonely, a timeline variant of TouringPlans’ own Grand Poobah Len Testa.
Many people followed Hank Lonely’s Starcruiser antics onboard the Starcruiser via social media. In a BREAKING EXCLUSIVE, our sister series the SATURDAY SIX has just confirmed an interview with Hank Lonely and will get first person details of his Starcruiser experience in an article later in April. Rumors and innuendo suggest some of Lonely’s space friends may participate as well, so stay tuned. We’ll leave you with a sneak peek of what is to come.
Before we go, we’d be remiss in not discussing a next level bonkers ad for the Starcruiser Disney put out this month. Now there have been non-stop raves about the immersive storytelling onboard the Halcyon and the personal interactions with Cast Members are hopefully the future of themed entertainment. They’re that good. There are several different storylines for guests to experience onboard the ship, but one which Disney chose to promote (and apparently pulled, because I couldn’t find their original post), was based on joining the First Order. In this mission it would appear that the objective of the guests is to infiltrate the rebel alliance and help the First Order capture “outlaws” like CHEWBACCA. Whaaaaaaaaaat?!
TPEI Score: + 22 Who doesn’t want more Hank Lonely aboard the Starcruiser in their life?! Stay tuned…
*Paradise Pier to Possibly Get Toy Story Theme
Several big hotel news from this month, and we’ll start off out in California where WDWNT has posted some “rumors and innuendo” that the Paradise Pier hotel is possibly going to get a Toy Story makeover in the future. Makes sense, as there already is a Toy Story Hotel at the Shanghai Disneyland Resort and another one is opening next week at the Tokyo Disneyland Resort. Here’s the thing though, the video showing the Toy Story Hotel in Japan looks pretty neat, but even that looks like a bunch of repurposed Toy Story stuff and it’s being built by people who generally put a lot of TLC into things. If that’s what Japan gets, what type of stripped down version would the budget-cut loving bean counters at Disney give us here in the states? We saw what happened to our Toy Story Land in DHS and it wasn’t pretty. It is still mind-boggling a land built around TOY STORY cut out the land’s GIFT SHOP, let alone a restaurant and other guest-friendly elements.
Toy Story is one of the greatest IP’s in the Disney arsenal, but when it comes to the parks or resorts it almost always gets reduced to the most half-assed rides and large plastic statues. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is beloved out in Disneyland. Essentially an “off the shelf” whip ride that we’ve all rode a thousand times at local carnivals, Junkyard Jamboree has wonderful theming and a incredible soundtrack to provide an exceptional experience. Meanwhile, the Toy Story Land version of the exact same ride is Alien Swirling Saucers, and it is awful. To say A.S.S. is bland and uninspired is an insult to bland and uninspired.
The reactions to this rumor was pretty much the same across the board.
However, it did lead us to these great pictures of Toy Story characters being integrated into Pirates of the Caribbean by @PixieDustVibes.
TPEI Score: + 1 This one only rates a positive because – today – the Paradise Pier theme isn’t that impressive, especially since DCA changed the Paradise Pier section of their park over to Pixar Pier several years ago. In theory this should be a GIGANTIC positive, but Disney has been mailing in (or having their concepts budget-cut to death) Toy Story ideas for years now, so expectations have been set as low as they possibly can go.
*Disney Reveals Concept Art for Polyday Inn
Meanwhile in Florida, fans of one of the monorail resorts got a 1-2 punch for the ages. First Disney officially announced that the Spirit of Aloha dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort has performed its last hula dance.
The very first luau at the Poly took place on October 1st, 1971, so it is fair to say that this show was a staple of Walt Disney World from Day One. The Polynesian Revue luau switched over to the Spirit of Aloha dinner show in 2003. Spirit of Aloha closed with the pandemic shut-down in March 2020 and never reopened. I have never seen the Spirit of Aloha show in person, but am a huge fan of luaus in general. Our family had a big Disney/Universal vacation planned for April of 2020 and I had purchased tickets for the Spirit of Aloha so that I could finally experience it. I have no idea why I waited so long, because I love dinner shows in general (Hoop Dee Doo and Medieval Times are a complete blast) and the Polynesian Village/Royal Pacific Resort is my favorite type of theming for hotels in Florida. Kicking myself for waiting too long on that one.
Disney also announced that the Poly would be getting a DVC addition in the form of a giant tower that looks like, well, this…
If that concept art looks familiar, it’s because it would appear the Poly designers just took the concept art for the now-canceled Reflections: A Disney Lakeside Lodge and slapped some palm trees into the picture.
Social media user @display_name20 coined the name “Polyday Inn” for this new DVC tower, and pretty much everyone agreed that this concept art didn’t have the “wow factor” we are used to in days gone past for Disney hotels. It’s hard to believe the same company which gave us the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Contemporary, and Port Orleans Riverside now thinks this new DVC tower at the Poly is good enough.
Loved this idea though…
Theme park map wizard Tommy Hawkins works hand in hand with the permit princess Alicia Stella, and together they are here to help us understand where the upcoming Poly DVC Towers will fit in the big scheme of things at Walt Disney World.
Here is a closer look showing the towers going up along with the additional pool.
There was also one more bit of depressing news dropped on Poly fans when @littlesophiebug posted photos of the lengths Disney is going to in order to ensure guests don’t drink too much soda at the Poly soda machines. Imagine paying $500, $600, $700 a night AND MORE to see this message on the refillable mug drink station.
Meanwhile at McDonalds you can pay $1 for a large Coke and refill it as many times you want. Of all the penny-pinching ideas that Disney has created over the last several years to milk every last ounce of profit from the parks and resorts, this one seems the most petty and unnecessary.
TPEI Score: – 14 The news of the Poly DVC expansion comes after the news of many park projects being canceled, cut back, or delayed. The combination of adding a whole bunch more people into Walt Disney World by making more hotel rooms available, but not working as hard at expanding capacity in the actual parks with more rides/shows/dining experiences, is going to present a real challenge in the coming years.
*The month that just wouldn’t end for Bob Chapek
Our story with Bob Chapek started early in March when the Florida Senate passed a controversial bill that many refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Many trolls, bad actors, and other disingenuous people will argue that the bill doesn’t include the word “gay,” but the problem with the bill is that it was specifically written to be intentionally vague as to scare teachers of being afraid of potential lawsuits from parents. The cover for the “Parental Rights in Education” bill is that is supposed to prevent schools from teaching sex education to kids in grades K-3. As every sane and rational person in the country knows, this wasn’t happening in Florida schools today, and of course didn’t happen in the past. It is a made up boogeyman to rile people up and give some awful people a chance to put their foot in the door to try and control what they believe are problems. This is a much bigger story outside the theme park world and one that you should definitely do your research on, but we’re mentioning it here to explain what started off Bob Chapek’s month, because while all this was going on in Florida, Disney was silent.
After the “Don’t Say Bill” was passed, the outcry over Disney’s silence on the issue got even louder, with many wondering why the company didn’t put out a statement condemning it. The absolute bare minimum. This is where Bob Chapek addressed the controversy via a memo to Disney staff. The memo included statements such as; “I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities,” and ” I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support,” and even the incredible, “As we have seen time and time again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds.”
SPOILER ALERT: This memo did not go over well. Chapek was drawing a line in the sand. Disney would make itself rich off the content produced and consumed by members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, but they were not going to condemn this bill. The line about “corporate statements” was particularly triggering because in Florida, Disney *is* the 800 pound gorilla in the room. We all have our favorite parks, but as much as we love the Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens Tampa, Legoland and everyone else, combined they don’t have anywhere near the market share that Disney does. Just last year the state of Florida passed a ridiculous attempt to stop “cancel culture” and “shadow banning” with an absurd anti-tech bill. For this joke of legislation, Disney flexed its lobbying muscles to get a last-minute amendment to the bill providing an exemption for any “company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.” You cannot make this up. On that bill, Disney made sure its voice was heard even though the actual bill itself seemed like it was written for a comedic movie. But the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which has actual ramifications for human beings working for the company, Disney essentially held its hands up and said “there’s nothing we can do anyway, but while you’re here would you mind buying some Pride-themed merchandise from ShopDisney?”
Even many working with Disney said that Chapek’s memo wasn’t exactly painting a true picture of what was really happening at Disney. In the most high profile example, employees of Pixar wrote a letter stating that Disney has been self-censoring LGBTQ+ content for years, even when there is no push-back from critics and the creators believe it helps the story.
Then came the Disney shareholder meeting.
During a Q &A on the day of the shareholder meeting, Bob Chapek said that Disney was against the legislation from the outset and that he called Florida governor Ron DeSantis to set a meeting between the two and DeSantis agreed. The very fact that Chapek could get someone like DeSantis to answer their phone calls immediately shows you what type of power Disney wields in Florida and how that influence could have possibly been used in a positive way *before* the bill was passed. Chapek also said that Disney was pledging $5 Million to support LGBTQ+ rights to the Human Rights Campaign. In a moment no one saw coming, the Human Rights Campaign would NOT accept the money:
The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books….HRC encourages Disney, and all employers, to continue to fight for their employees – many of whom bravely spoke out to say their CEO’s silence was unacceptable – and the LGBTQ+ community by working with us and state and local LGBTQ+ groups to ensure these dangerous anti-equality proposals that harm LGBTQ+ families and kids have no place in Florida. Every student deserves to be seen, and every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success — regardless of who they are. This should be the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts rather than the end.” – Joni Madison, Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign
Then came the apology via an email Chapek sent to staff.
“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry” – Bob Chapek
Many took the apology at face value, but others doubted its sincerity.
While all this was going on, Disney public relations then had to deal with the viral story of a high school cheerleading squad that performed a racist chant on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom.
The school said that this was their 8th time performing at Disney and that Disney had no problem with their content. Clearly someone at Disney made the “Indianettes” cheerleaders remove their headdresses before the performance, because they brought the headdresses with them. This whole story was a MESS.
Then it got EVEN WORSE
Out of nowhere an interview drops with former Disney CEO Bob Iger that discussed, among other things, his falling out with Bob Chapek.
At this point, we are getting close to the end of the month and for the first time Disney made a public stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which is certainly as strongly worded as anything we’ve ever seen from them.
This response did NOT go over well with the GOP in Florida. Some in the legislature are threatening to relook at some of the Disney-friendly deals the state has made in the past. Governor DeSantis called Disney’s response dishonest, and some online swore they were canceling Disney+ again in response.
TPEI Score: – 48 No winners here. In a battle of Chapek vs. DeSantis we have the theme park equivalent of Aliens vs. Predator. “Whoever wins, we lose.”
*Turning Red Memes
Speaking of Disney+, early in march the Pixar film Turning Red made its streaming debut, and the character Abby had a breakout performance that was used in many memes across social media. Here are some of our favorites from memesmiths Gratuitous Dis Memes and @SonderQuest.
We’ll start it off featuring this one playing with a theme park photographer’s best friend: a trash can…
The highly debated brown path in Liberty Square…
One of the best kept secrets in EPCOT…
Let’s face it, this one is all of us…
This very week, Krissy Murphy went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom to recreate the memes. How great is this?
Well, our pal Gratuitous Dis Memes can make it even more meta…
Turning Red wasn’t the only awesome debut on Disney+ this month as the streamer also put out a new Mickey Mouse Short titled The Wonderful Spring of Mickey Mouse. This one is worth going out of your way to watch as it is LOADED with Disney parks references and you know how much we love those.
Not very often you see a reference to Runaway Brain.
Big Al from the Country Bears. Pinch me, I’m dreaming!
Even a reference to the Mickey & Minnie Runaway Railway toy from the McDonald’s Happy Meal collection!!
TPEI Score: + 8 Between Turning Red, the new Mickey short, and the raves for the first episode of Moon Knight, Disney+ had its best month in a while.
*The Rise and Fall of the EPCOT Experience
On March 14th, the EPCOT Experience closed permanently.
Let’s look back at one of the earlier models in the EPCOT Experience from early 2021.
Super fun video by our boy @bioreconstruct below. Worth a watch….
Video: end of EPCOT Experience, as if with the snap of Thanos. pic.twitter.com/ENwmwuNSro
— bioreconstruct (@bioreconstruct) March 13, 2022
Going back to 2020, we can get glimpses of even more cool stuff that was never made. Including this model of the World Celebration Festival Model. Reminder that the Harmonious nighttime spectacular was designed specifically for upcharge viewing parties from this very same Pavilion that was never built.
TPEI Score: – 9 I wish the EPCOT Experience could maybe have small scale models of old school attractions. Or maybe something elaborate like “here’s a complete model of EPCOT 25 years ago,” and then make slight changes to the model every year going forward so it always has the 25 year nostalgia gimmick. I just love small scale reproductions of theme park stuff. Can’t get enough of it.
*The Ultimate Tribute
Speaking of EPCOT, artist @gianprodesign created this amazing homage to the iconic Mickey and Goofy explore the Universe of Energy comic book cover. This comic book is one of my all time favorite pieces of theme park merchandise, and you can read more about it in this SATURDAY SIX on The Best Theme Park Related Comic Books. Gian has Mickey and Goofy exploring the Wonders of Xandar and I can’t wait to see the final version with the text added (we’ll update TPEI when it happens).
TPEI Score: + 10 LOVE IT.
*How To Train Your Dragon Land at EPIC Universe
If this doesn’t get you excited, nothing will. Let’s first reference back to the original EPIC Universe concept art that Universal released.
This month Tommy Hawkins is here to give us an even better idea of what the How to Train Your Dragon area will look like. Warning: THIS IS INCREDIBLE.
Zooming in even closer…
TPEI Score: + 12 Unbelievable.
*Universal Creates Greatest Idea Ever for CityWalk
CityWalk is home to some of my favorite restaurants in Florida, and earlier in March – out of nowhere – an outdoor kitchen opened up featuring items from Cowfish, Antojitos, and Pat O’Brien’s. To me, this was an incredible idea. A chance to sample something from three great sit down restaurants without having to invest the time or money into a full meal there.
The kitchen was located directly near a Bel Air photo op in the main hub of CityWalk.
Nobody is better at the nacho game than Universal Orlando. No one.
TPEI Score: + 8 This is as good as a new attraction in my book. Imagine going to Disney Springs and being able to stop at one kiosk to get chips & salsa from Frontera Cocina, thigh high chicken biscuits from Homecomin’, and a cookie from Gideon’s Bakehouse. Dream come true.
*Universal Gets Rid of Greatest Idea Ever after ONE DAY
TPEI Score: – 18 I’m about to lose it!!
*Universal Plays Wordle with It’s Welcome Sign
One day in March, guests walking from the parking garages into Universal CityWalk encountered this sign. To me, it gave off strong “I assure you we’re open!” vibes from Kevin Smith’s Clerks.
Clint’s tweet blew up on social media, and people started having fun with the empty space.
The talented artist @SonderQuest figured out a way that you can finally get the die-hard Disney fans to leave the Magic Kingdom…
A little more Truth In Advertising with this one.
Also love this reference to a brilliant theme park centric episode of The Simpsons…
I absolutely adore this one by @Emory_Arts and now want what it is advertising to exist!!
The mash-up we are all here for…
Nice nod to how Universal used to display its CityWalk signage….
After all of this, Universal just made the sign completely empty during its refurbishment.
This was a heck of a month for theme park signage, with several new additions to our Theme Park Signage HALL OF SHAME, including this “Covention” center sign…
Not just in America either, with this menu featuring “Smocked” Ribs in Disneyland Paris…
What you thought only the Signage Hall of Shame was being updated? NAY NAY? Welcome to the newest member of the Disney FOOD Hall of Shame…
TPEI Score: + 1 Have to enjoy that we get to have fun with stuff like this.
*Rip Ride Rockit Gets More Songs!
Not too long ago I wrote a passionate defense for one of my favorite rides in Florida: RIP RIDE ROCKIT.
One thing I didn’t mention in the article, which many people LOVE, is a “secret menu” of songs that is available. I didn’t include it because I think a lot of changes have been made to that list and there is no way to verify anything. However, it IS pretty cool. The secret menu was brought up this month when Mark Hoppus, the bassist of the band Blink-182 tweeted that some of their songs were now available on Rip Ride Rockit.
Even better news, the songs AREN’T on the secret menu and are available to everyone in the normal menu screens. One thing that would really take Rip Ride Rockit to the next level would be the regular inclusion of new tracks to choose from. There have been some rare occasions where bands that were performing at USF had a song or two added to the rotation for a weekend, but how about if that idea was blown out? Mardi Gras concert weekends could have limited time tracks. Halloween Horror Nights could have dedicated songs (man, would I love to listen to John Carpenter’s theme for Halloween during HHN on Rip Ride Rockit) and of course Christmas too.
TPEI Score: + 3 The best* gets even better. (*okay, I can admit Rip Ride Rockit is not the best coaster at Universal. It’s not even the best coaster in Universal Studios Florida but I still think it is AWESOME!)
*WAIT A SECOND. BLINK -182 IS IN “CLASSIC ROCK”?!!!
TPEI Score: – 13 C’mon Universal! What, was “the oldies” not available?!!
*Our Long National Nightmare is Over. The Red/White Bulb at Disneyland Returns
If you notice a shortage of pearls earlier this month, it wasn’t because of any supply chain issues, it’s because they were all being clutched by our friends out in Anaheim. Back on March 2nd, the following was observed by our friends at MiceChat…
Thankfully, a couple days later the red lightbulb was replaced with a red/white one.
TPEI Score: + 1 Now we can all sleep soundly again.
*Be Fair To Florida Update
Another major setback to the #BeFairToFlorida campaign with Disneyland Paris celebrating their 30th anniversary with a panini that uses a THEMED PANINI PRESS. This is outrageous, preposterous, and downright scandalous! Maybe we can borrow the themed panini press when Animal Kingdom has its 30th anniversary in 2028.
Warning, the pictures below left me shocked and appalled. Not only does Disneyland Paris have the themed panini press, but look at this, they also have themed pizza boxes! Take a second to compose yourself because you won’t believe what’s coming next…
Sacré bleu! THEY HAVE MICKEY SHAPED PIZZA!!!
My reaction seeing the themed pizza?
That’s okay though, because we have themed urinal signage at Walt Disney World so it all evens out.
*A Tribute To Josh easyWDW, the Tenth Dragon
I hope all of you had a chance to read our tribute to Josh easyWDW (AKA Josh Africa, AKA Josh Humphrey) last weekend. Josh was a pioneer in the world of theme park blogging and an inspiration to many of us.
After the article was released, artist Howard Bowers released this AMAZING Ten Dragons shirt as a tribute to Josh. The shirt is available until April 30th so BUY IT NOW.
*A peek behind-the-scenes of how art is made….
*Blue Bayou is on my Disneyland Bucket List and if this happened to me I would Lose. My. Friggin’. Mind.
*The art of theme park meme-ing is based on one thing: TIMING…
*Your Monthly Taste of the Disney Outlet Store
You know, I may have to buy this for a Bacini photo shoot…
Okay, they may have a themed panini press, but Disneyland Paris trying to re-gift this Disneyland in Anaheim castle for their 30th anniversary.
*Is “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” ruining your life?
If you’re like us and have to listen to the Encanto soundtrack a thousand times a week thanks to the kiddos, this is one video you need to watch…
Last month’s Theme Park Enjoyment Index: -7
This month’s net change: -22
Current enjoyment level: -29
Writer Derek Burgan, when not cleaning Len Testa’s pool, can be found reading comic books, watching professional wrestling, and taking his dog Bacini to Universal and Disney. organizing his various Tsum Tsums in alphabetical order. 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.