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Theme Park News: A look towards Disney World’s major month as Christmastime looms on the horizon

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Sep 14, 2021, 1:47 PM EDT

Halloween has kicked off across the parks, and even with some bigger stuff on the horizon, there’s plenty to catch up on before the official end of summer. If you’re the kind of theme park goofball who gets excited over free soda and efficient popcorn, well, get ready for the banner week that perfectly aligns with your interests. And if you’re not? There’s still loads of good news ahead. For Muppets Christmas details, Epcot sneak peeks, and a bet I’m willing to make for the end of September, read on in this week’s Theme Park News:

A GLANCE TOWARD WHAT'S NEXT AT WDW

Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is just 16 days away, and while the media blitz will soon begin soon with things like ABC’s programThe Most Magical Story on Earth: 50 Years of Walt Disney World, the real show will come at its massive opening day, when new nighttime entertainment will arrive at all four parks.

While Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure has essentially “soft opened” to passholders and employees — my full review lands in a couple of weeks — and a substantial amount of news has been released regarding the cool gilded statues placed throughout the property, it’s rather fascinating how little we’ve seen about the new Magic Kingdom castle show, Disney Enchantment; the new Epcot nighttime show, Harmonious; the new Animal Kingdom performance, Disney KiteTails; and the resort-wide Beacons of Magic, all of which start on Oct. 1.

LaughingPlace captured footage of Epcot’s Beacons of Magic being tested last week and I won’t lie, I’m impressed. It’s exciting to see such a massive, iconic structure glowing in such a new way, proving that fans can now calm down about any initial weariness from fans about the protruding light fixtures. (World Showcase Lagoon barges: you’ve got a lot to prove.)

I’ll detail it all for you once I see it firsthand, but with so many simultaneous debuts — a rarity for multiple evenings -- offerings — it’s going to be a thrilling sight to witness a whole helluva lot of new nighttime shows in such a short period of time.

Speaking of the 50th — In my experience, these kinds of grand opening events usually culminate with a lil’ button of breaking news at the very end. Seeing as it’s an 18-month long celebration with two more new rides likely to fall within that time frame, I’ll bet we find out the opening date for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the next new ride to arrive at Epcot, before Oct. 1. 

As for Disney World’s future beyond the 50th? All eyes are on operations, as we await the final word on when Disney Genie, the complimentary park planning service and its paid counterparts, Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane a la carte access, will debut. Theme park fans are nothing if not observant, as plenty of local experts took stock of rides this week that had posted Lightning Lane signage before their individual participation was formally announced.

(I love theme park people, particularly for the passion they hold for changes to a place they rightfully hold ownership over. Who else could get a restaurant’s noodles trending on Twitter?)

We assumed those with previous FastPass+ queues would indeed be “lightning lane” enabled — perhaps not with stick-on coverings — but nothing’s certain ‘til it’s certain. Thanks to Disney Food Blog's posts, we now know that attractions like Tomorrowland Speedway, it's a small world, Jungle Cruise and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will be part of the next phase of theme park queue efficiency And, with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train confirmed to be one of those premium “à la carte” purchases, it puts some more attractions into contention for that higher individually paid tier and out of Genie Plus’ possibilities. 

A necessary refresher for anyone whose brain isn’t buoyed by these terms: guests with Disney Genie+, a daily paid FastPass+-like service, or Lightning Lane “à la carte” purchases, which provide one-off access to Disney’s most popular rides, always enter through Lightning Lane ride queues. Attractions will only offer one of the services, not both, so whether you purchase Disney Genie+ or an “a la carte” offering, you will always enter through the Lightning Lane. (I truly don’t know why Disney won’t give the one-off a la carte purchases their own name. McQueenies? DashPass? Something!)

Anyway, in less important news unless you’re me, Club Cool, the sticky-floored soda fountain offering free thimble-sized sips of Coca-Cola sodas from around the world, is at long last reopening at Epcot on Sept. 15. The newfangled version, which boasts a sleek white exterior, will be part of the new Creations Shop flagship store, as per Imagineer Zach Riddley’s recent Instagram posts.

Mobile Order is also expanding at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort — a small bit of news that’s actually huge for anyone who ever finds themselves picking up candy apples and chocolatey treats at the end of the night, when lines for confectionery goods can get supremely busy. For me personally, however, this news has swiftly become earth-shattering, as Epcot’s Karamell-Kuche will offer mobile ordering for their impeccable homemade caramel corn, an all-time favorite and wildly underrated Disney World food that often incurred lengthy waits.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney World Swan Reserve, the forthcoming luxury tower at Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin just outside Epcot, has slightly delayed its (much-anticipated by me) grand opening. With the full lineup of Disney resort guest perks, Marriott Bonvoy participation, and rooms with fireworks views just outside Epcot’s World Showcase, this one could be a total game-changer for riding the line between staying with Disney and sleeping in points-obtaining bliss.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN AND MERRY THEME PARK CHRISTMAS

By now, Universal and Disney’s theme parks have commenced their seasonal Halloween festivities, and if you are opting out this season, let us just catch you up on the highlights.

Disneyland also announced an abbreviated Christmas event — a fairly good compromise, considering the park only recently reopened, but are still including something special to appease holiday fans.

Disney Merriest Nights, an all-new ticketed evening event, will be held on five nights (Nov. 11, Nov. 16, Nov. 30, Dec. 7, and Dec. 9). Mini-parties throughout the parks will feature a Lilo & Stitch party in Adventureland, Toy Story festivities in Tomorrowland, and more, but literally none of that matters because the most important detail to be mindful of here is that Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and more Muppety friends will be doing "Christmas carol sing-alongs", essentially restaging The Muppets Christmas Carol on Main Street, USA.

It appears my personal Shrek-fueled war on Christmas may be put on hold, because this? This I gotta see with my own eyes. (As always: thank you to whomever over at Disney keeps bringing The Muppets into the theme park fold!)

THE STATE OF THINGS IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA

Though caseloads appear to have recently improved, things are still bad. Like, Florida ranking at the top of deaths and second in hospitalizations bad. Orlando's feeling the pressure too, as businesses may have to boil their water because the liquid oxygen used to purify water is needed for COVID-19 patients.

Following that announcement in late August, Universal Orlando Resort detailed their steps for cutting back water usage to aid in the effort. Yet, as the issue mostly lies beyond the parks, Orlando Sentinel reports that water consumption has not declined to a sustainable level, threatening future potable water. It's bad. 

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