We’re just under two weeks until Walt Disney World theme parks open to the public, and at this point, it feels like the flow of theme park news is endless. If you’ve been out of the WDW loop recently, this week’s column will clue you in on everything (reservations, rides, restricted views, and more) that went down the past seven days. Been a minute since you’ve checked in on things in the theme park epicenter of the country? Don’t snooze on last week's column, which’ll bring you up to speed on Disney World’s hotel reopenings, the first day of Disney Park Pass booking, and all things basketball.
And, if you’re more curious about what’s going on at Universal, slide down to the links section for some cool new stuff — as well as a wildly unexpected surprise from the Halloween powers that be.
All the theme park news we could cram into this column is coming your way right now:
As we discussed last week, Walt Disney World will now require guests to obtain a Park Pass on top of ticketed admission to make it inside each theme park when they open next month. The new system launched last Monday and... it did not go exceptionally well! The entire scenario feels so last week given this week already has its own dose of drama — disappointment from Annual Passholders getting shut out of park preview signups or not receiving an email — but as a somewhat noteworthy doozy, last week's digital bonanza is worth being brought up to speed on.
Once the Parks Pass system launched last Monday, a robust amount of system errors that needed to be solved over the phone led to hours-long waits for, well, guests with 14 months' worth of vacations trying to sort out the details at the same time. Between reporters like myself trying to troubleshoot popular glitch-y errors (like the wrong type of admission being prioritized or the shadow of a special event ticket affecting bookings), Disney Twitter got more heated when a Disney spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch, “People who couldn't reserve Monday may have been trying to book before it was their turn.” Oof. The original quote was updated for clarity, but a week later, the incorrect sentiment still remains.
Guest dissatisfaction wasn’t due to the long time it took to get onto the system — a complaint that all but disappeared once everyone got past the digital waiting room — but the fact that many couldn’t book their Park Passes for no legitimate reason. Guests with valid admission and hotel stays had to reassign their tickets, delete their passes, or switch browsers and refresh constantly to force the system to work as intended; some issues were so widely prevalent that it became easier to call them things like "the grey calendar of doom." There were fewer issues during Annual Passholder previews on Thursday, but when the system went live, a glitch allowed guests to do both, with some examples of parkgoers winding up with a dozen or more Park Passes than they should have been allowed.
The calendar filled quickly for Annual Passholders through summer and weekends, but is still significantly open for ticket holders and future hotel guests. Either way: We’re glad we won’t have to deal with the launch of a new reservation system for a while.
DISNEY MAKES A CHANGE
A major whammy of news out of Disneyland last week brought with it an indefinite opening date pushed back from July 17, which would have been the park’s 65th birthday. The move came at the behest of the State of California, which will not provide reopening guidelines until after July 4, making it impossible to get the park up and running so soon thereafter.
Downtown Disney will still open on July 9 — with an employee “soft opening” before — but Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel will no longer open on July 23, as scheduled.
We’ll share updates when they come, but there’s something bigger to talk about: Splash Mountain.
Yes, the surprise reveal last week brought details that the log flume attraction would be reinvented to become a new ride themed to Disney’s animated film The Princess and the Frog. Splash Mountain, a Disney mainstay famous for a lengthy journey that culminates in a bone-drenching drop, will be swapping its plentiful singing animals and Song of the South inspiration for a storyline centered around Princess Tiana preparing for Mardi Gras at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.
There were some dissenters, but even the most rudimentary look into, say, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah"'s assumedly minstrel origins deems the attraction more than just a sing-song journey through the laughing place. Song of the South is famously out of circulation for its racist overtones, but if you’re curious to learn more about the film that serves as Splash Mountain's origin story, I recommend Karina Longworth’s extensively reported, six-episode arc on her You Must Remember This podcast.
D23 interviewed the head of Walt Disney Imagineering to discuss the change, and the legacy of reinvention within Disney Parks, but if you’re concerned as to what the changes will be like, a fan stitched some footage together with the iconic music of Princess and the Frog and whew, it works:
UNIVERSAL GIVES US A PEEK AT WHAT'S NEXT
The Bourne Stuntacular opens at Universal Studios Florida, and word from early previews is that it's pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty cool. The park posted a behind-the-scenes preview of the experience — spoiler alert, as some of the effects are on display! — which even includes a 1-on-1 with Julia Stiles, who hosts the pre-show. Julia Stiles!
This would be the highlight of the week out of Universal Orlando Resort, if Halloween Horror Nights wasn't bubbling its mysterious cauldron of intrigue. Halloween Horror Nights obsessives are (for obvious reasons) unsure if the event will go on as planned, but something appears to be happening. We're just not sure what.
Not only has the Twitter account been hella shady the past few days, asking if it can repost fan tweets wondering when details will be announced for this fall's HHN 30, but one superfan spotted something running through one of the events' famed nighttime shows:
What does it mean? What does it mean?
TWEET OF THE WEEK
I'm all in for investigative reporting, and that hit a new apex this past week when MickeyBlog.com spotted massive beds being brought into Disney's Grand Floridian for NBA players when they arrive later this summer:
What a beautiful image, one we never could have expected but wholeheartedly appreciate.
LINKS, LINKS, LINKS
- This video of Disney Springs' Dockside Margaritas shutting down is wild.
- The New York Times penned a piece on the struggles theme park employees are facing in Florida right now.
- Two Disney Springs restaurants are facing layoffs.
- Wine Bar George has a new whiskey and man, is it good.
- SeaWorld Orlando will be doing July 4th fireworks.