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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Theme Park News: Christmas comes to Disney World and a wild animatronic heist

By Carlye Wisel
theme park news

Hello, from the great beyond! Yes, we skipped a week while I was at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort — did you miss me? Like an audio-animatronics' wares, did you even notice I was gone? (More on that soon.) — But there's plenty to dive into this week.

That strange space between Halloween and Christmas has shrunk even faster this year, and we're back in full force, catching you up on the news while getting ready for all the Disney+ Frozen Christmas Spectacular Madness that kicks off in the next few days. Here's what you may have missed not living your life as invested in Epcot cult characters and rechargeable batteries as you're about to be:


Halloween is OVER! Christmas is IMMINENT! And, having sweat in both the Florida and California heat this past week, I am unsure of which season I'm supposed to be pulled toward more at the moment. Is there a word for this lull between frenetic holidays? The space bet'WEEN?

Disneyland has promoted this as the week where the holidays "collide," a genius turn of phrase that made me feel less insecure listening to The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack into early November, but it just feels like theme parks are leaning into Christmas even earlier this year than they ever have before. They've added snow to Sleeping Beauty's castle, a gingerbread Cinderella to Disney's Contemporary Resort, and festive garlands to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Hogsmeade Village, all before All Hallows' Eve even began.

I fully comprehend that extending the two-month run of Christmastime at theme parks makes these magical lands even more magical, but I can't help but feel a bit mixed up by the fact that I still haven't eaten some of my pumpkin-shaped chocolates but I'm supposed to be craving peppermint!!

There are only seven more days to wrap your brain around winter, because I'll be covering each park's celebration in next week's episode of "woman with ambiguous roller coaster job tells you the news," but until then, here's some timelier stuff while we're deeply in "life before Disney+" territory:


Justice was served last week when FuelRod, the swappable portable chargers sold throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, reversed the decision to start charging $3 per swap. It may sound like an overblown reaction from overzealous Tweeters unwilling to dole out a few bucks, but it's a legit complaint, one that even saw a class-action lawsuit filed against the parent company.

You see, FuelRod batteries are, well, not great — at 2600 mAh, it requires about two to fully charge your phone, deeming it financially unsound to continue using the service as frequently as park-goers currently do. I purchased my first FuelRod three weeks ago and was ~displeased~ that I'd never feel that terrifying freedom of waltzing through the park without enough battery to last me through a small apocalypse, banking on tossing it back into a slot to receive a fresh one, but here I am! Back in the game and thrilled about it. They still won't bring back The Great Movie Ride, but it's close as DisTwitter circa 2019 will ever get to "I Fought the Law."

disney skyliner


At long last, I finally parked my tush inside one of Disney's Skyliner cabins, and it was miraculous. Granted, I took it from Epcot at 10 a.m. and netted a personal cabin as nobody was around, but being able to stretch out, board immediately, and fly to the next park (in the sky!!! no bus loading zones!!) was a thrill.

As someone who was a naysayer about those cabins being too warm, it's not as breezy as I expected, but it'll be fine — the trip is quick and smooth and at not too terrifying of a height, considering the Epcot line provides looky-loos a sneak peek at construction of the forthcoming Remy's Ratatouille Adventure ride and its neighboring creperie. A breezy skybucket with a view of future crepes!? 2019 is ending on a high note!

Strangely, though, Disney's Skyliner system connects two theme parks — Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios — but doesn't do so directly. To visit either park, you'll have to transfer at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, tacking extra time on what I mistakenly assumed would have been an easy (and breezy) jaunt above the walking path connecting both parks. There's still a boat service between the two, but make sure to leave a little extra time if you're cutting it close on a FastPass+ reservation.


I wasn't going to discuss this, but the reporting done by Gabrielle Russon at the Orlando Sentinel is just too good to ignore. So! If the word "Buzzy" doesn't ring a bell that could cause you to derail a cocktail party with a 30-minute-long presentation, you've come to the right place for understanding this unfathomably long and drawn-out craziness as succinctly as possible.

The topline story is that Robin Lopez — yes, that Robin Lopez of the NBA — was unknowingly involved in a ring of Disney crime, but the details are even more unhinged than that. You see, a beloved nostalgic audio-animatronic named Buzzy has been missing from the former Cranium Command attraction at Epcot for some time now. The cops investigated it, but in May, when a former Disney employee who ran a behind-the-scenes blog was arrested for stealing props and items from Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion attraction, many thought the Buzzy-napper had at long last been found.

There was no direct proof that the dude who was arrested had taken it, but now we know, thanks to the Orlando Sentinel, that while the Buzzy figure remains missing, his quintessential outfit was stolen and ended up in the hands of Lopez, a major Disney fan. Overwhelmed? Yeah, so are the people investigating this. From Russon's story:

"I've been working on this forever, and I'm getting tired of it. I'd like to get everything," one investigator lamented about the wide scope of the case.

The rabbit hole of undiscovered stolen Disney props goes so deep that the POLICE ARE BURNT OUT ON IT! Anyway, it appears Lopez did not know the outfit was stolen — which is likely, considering he's a Club 33 member with a cool job who spends his free time doing stuff besides reading local police reports about crimes committed at the Magic Kingdom — but man, what a bummer to have that tiny little jacket and do the right thing by giving it back to the local police. My heart breaks for him! And for Buzzy. WHERE IS BUZZY!!??


Too. Real.


- A full round of applause for Universal's *perfect* Grinch-filled parody of The Office.

- The only thing scarier than Lupita Nyong'o reprising her role in the Us house at HHN is her clicking into character at the 40-second timestamp.

- If you get an Uber pickup from Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure, you'll now pay an extra $4.

- Daaaaaang, Tron went up so fast!

- Weird to think there's a world of people who don't know about final ride videos!

- If there's one thing you MUST do at Walt Disney World, it's this.

- Praying this Haunted Mansion onesie follows me home!!!

- Hhhhrrrrnnnnnnn...

- Ever wondered what Pleasure Island, the cult-beloved precursor to Disney Springs, was really like? This slideshow will provide.

- Disney's Hollywood Studios has a new gate, if that is important to you.

- Another one of those kooky "superzoom" photo ops landed at Walt Disney World. (Spoiler alert: They're really fun!)

- Amped about this new Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet TBH!!