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Theme Park News: Disney's Star Wars hotel details are here & Florida’s COVID numbers are only getting worse

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Aug 10, 2021, 2:44 PM EDT

A lot has happened at Disney Parks across the country in the past week. Disneyland has, much to locals' joy, re-introduced its annual pass program, but specifics vary from the passports of yesteryear. In Florida — where COVID-19 rages on — new details of Walt Disney World's Star Wars-themed hotel have at long last been revealed, including its much-discussed sample pricing.

For all that and more, read on for your weekly dose of theme park news:

Credit: Walt Disney World

DISNEYLAND ANNUAL PASSES RETURN

At long last, Disneyland locals and frequent visitors can rejoice: The California theme park resort's annual pass program has returned. Details of the new Magic Key offering, which replaces Disneyland's previous annual pass program that concluded earlier this year, were finally unveiled last week.

Disneyland's passholder program, a mainstay among its primarily local visitors, was "sunsetted" back in January, with all passholders given refunds following the park's extended 13-month closure that began in March 2020. In announcing that annual passes were going away, Disneyland President Ken Potrock confirmed "new membership offerings... will utilize consumer insights to deliver choice, flexibility, and value for our biggest fans" and, well, that day has now arrived.

Starting Aug. 25, theme park fans can finally get their hands on passes once again, with some caveats. Offered in four price tiers — Dream, Believe, Enchant, and Imagine — Disneyland's new Magic Key program revolves around varying access via blackout dates and park reservations.

Dream Key, which costs $1,399, effectively has no blackout dates, making it the carte blanche of passes — but reservations are required and only six may be held at a time, potentially making it difficult to truly access the park as freely as previous top-tier passes allowed. Imagine Key, the $399 lowest-tier offering, which is exclusive to locals, at long last gives them an affordable option to regularly visit the park on weekdays and off-season, even if they're blocked out for the entirety of summer. (Still, Imagine Key costs less than four single-day tickets on available dates, making it a worthy option for those who want to visit outside date restrictions for Disneyland's California Resident ticketing offer.)

Parking is only included with Dream Key — and half-off for Believe Key, which makes for a real wonky $12.50 charge — while all pass types include a varied percentage of dining and merchandise discounts. Kiss those free on-ride photos goodbye because PhotoPass, previously included with top-tier passes, is no longer an available perk and, as expected, there is no update about MaxPass, which was previously offered as an upgrade but has not yet been re-introduced following the April 2021 reopening.

When it comes to reservation specifics, I won't lie, the fine print on this one is specific and confusing even to me and required more than one round of fact-checking. We'll dive into payment and specifics later this month as the Aug. 25 on-sale date approaches, but know prior to plotting your pass purchase that you can't just squat on dates and never make it through the gates. That's right, there's a new no-show policy: Three no-shows within 90 days rightfully gets you blocked from making new reservations for the next 30, but cancel before midnight the night before and you're fine — which makes things much fairer. However, the announcement still yields as many questions as answers.

The biggest one, on my end, is that passes restrict frequency, not availability, and it's not yet clear how difficult it may be to actually nab a reservation to the parks. Similar to Annual Passholders at Walt Disney World, MagicKey passholders will be working off a separate inventory of theme park reservations from regular ticketholders, so we won't know reservation availability nor the regularity of last-minute canceled reservations until the new system is operational.

It's not like the reservation system is going away anytime soon, either. Previously used for Disneyland's Flex Pass, introduced in 2019, it was required for all ticket types to control pandemic-era capacity once the park reopened and is likely to stay in place for the near future. Not only has Disney CEO Bob Chapek inferred as much, but with that much access to crowd control — down to splitting guests between parks each morning — and a wealth of data that could directly inform dynamic pricing on tickets, why would Disneyland ever give it up?

While the program is impressively being rebooted less than seven months after its end — and, stunningly, less than four months after park opening — it nonetheless marks a historic shift from how guests, particularly California locals, previously visited Disneyland. Spontaneity was king, with passholders casually dashing over for dinner or meeting up with friends. Now, that immediate flexibility is seemingly gone. On the other hand, though, this is theme parking of the present, and no guest has been able to visit Disneyland since it reopened without declaring their date in advance. It's been working for the past few months, so why would it be an issue now?

Fans have additionally been concerned about a small line of text in the terms and conditions — "Pass types are limited in quantity" — signaling that Magic Key could sell out even before hopeful passholders are able to nab one. However, in speaking to Disneyland directly, it doesn't seem to be a pressing issue. (We'll have more details for you leading up to Aug. 25.)

Regardless of how it shakes out, it's nice to feel a sense of normalcy following the past chaotic 17 months. As we await further details in the coming days, it's exciting to know that folks can finally visit regularly, marking a happy return for Disney fans everywhere.

Credit: Walt Disney World

ON THE GOOD SHIP HALCYON

In this here theme park news kingdom, there's one thing we're not gonna do: We're not going to start a story about Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser by talking about its price. Unlike every other website on the planet, we won't dwell on those sample rates... which seemingly no one took into consideration were for weeknights in the theme park off-season and are likely to be higher in peak times, just running with initial sticker stock straight toward the cosmos. Yes, going to space while staying on land is indeed expensive, but we'll wait until the full schedule is released to break it down by price-per-blue shrimp, as that's not the most pertinent takeaway from last week's news.

What is that takeaway, you ask? That we finally, finally know what happens inside the long-awaited Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel (!!!). Let's at least afford ourselves a moment to enjoy it without worrying how our future selves will pay for it, shall we?

As part of the recent information revealed surrounding the "two-night immersive adventure" at Walt Disney World Resort, we at long last know what it'll be like to wake up in a space bunk aboard the Halcyon, and frankly, it sounds like a jam-packed joyride.

Previous details hinted at opposition aboard the ship — with appearances by Rey and Kylo Ren, natch — but much more is now all but guaranteed thanks to a sample itinerary, including multiple special nightly performances (cantina band who!) and exotic cuisine as well as more common cruise occurrences, like muster drills and captain's reception, which are likely anything but.

Credit: Walt Disney World

Galactic Starcruiser has long touted that you'll feel like you're in your own "Star Wars Story," but we now know how they'll be personalizing your journey: by way of special MagicBands, running off the Play Disney Parks app. Guests will also have "access to special features in the Star Wars Datapad" as part of this, making me wonder if any of the "secret meetings and adventures" guests may be privy to will happen within the theme park land, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, following actions previously taken onboard. (If the idea of "building a reputation" sounds familiar, it's because it was first ideated for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, but was never largely realized.)

During that trip into Disney's Hollywood Studios, you'll seemingly be given expedited entry onto Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run as well as lunch at Docking Bay 7, the land's central eatery, before heading back to the ship for an afternoon of activities likely to include lightsaber training — which is now, thankfully, confirmed to be for guests 7 and up — model ship building, and evening entertainment. Laugh at the ship's tightly scheduled "unexpected story moments" all you want, but if the sample itinerary promises big surprises, you know they'll deliver.

All activities are optional, so there's no need to participate if that's not your speed, but it's hard to imagine coming all this way and not taking part, even if, undoubtedly, some will. (One of the sample FAQs goes as far as to ask if there is a swimming pool aboard, proving that the concept of an all-in cruise on land may still be a lot for certain Disney-bound vacationers to wrap their heads around.)

Credit: Walt Disney World

Seeing as this is billed as a "cruise on land," it begs comparison to Disney Cruise Line, where if you miss a karaoke set or screening of a Disney movie, it's often not your last shot. Here, if you miss droid racing or the sabacc tournament, you might not have another chance to do it, meaning you should prepare to relax hard in the days after your Starcruiser disembarkation because you'll likely be immersed in a Star Wars adventure non-stop for 45-ish hours.

And yes, the word "immersive" is so played out that my shoulders tense whenever I use it, but Disney's not stopping there. The hotel website quite literally dubs this experience as "interactive immersive theatre," a phrase heretofore not used in the Disney Parks lexicon. Could this special place really honor the highest pinnacle of themed entertainment: modern theatrics and Star Wars experiences? We'll just have to wait 'til Spring 2022 to find out.

A FLORIDA COVID-19 UPDATE

Welp, there's no good way to slice it: Things are still awful in Florida. The state continues to set records for positive COVID-19 cases as Florida hospitalizations are more than triple the national rate. (When broken down, that would mean one out of every 1,500 residents is hospitalized with COVID-19.)

Florida's wastewater indicates a variant of the Delta variant, Delta Plus, has been detected, and Orange County's wastewater shows potential signs of increased community spread. (It's worth noting, too, that there appears to be a lower indication of COVID-19 in tourist areas, possibly due to varying vaccination rates.)

Still, things are not peachy at the parks. Orlando Sentinel's editorial board took Florida theme parks to task for (in the wake of Disney both requiring indoor masks and employees to be vaccinated) doing a whole bunch of nothing, even as cases continue to explode statewide.

Meanwhile, in regular Florida news, Governor Ron DeSantis — who is as brazenly anti-mask and anti-science — has threatened to withhold funding as well as salaries for school officials who require masks in school for young children, in lieu of his preference for parents to be able to choose. (This, naturally, goes directly against CDC recommendations.)

Keep an eye on all things cruises in the coming weeks, as well, as DeSantis' ban on cruise lines' ability to require proof of vaccines was blocked in court with Norwegian Cruise Lines this week. According to the Miami Herald, this could "embolden" other cruise lines to challenge him going forward.

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- Walt Disney Animation head Jennifer Lee married actor Alfred Molina, and while it ain't theme park news, it's exceptionally sweet!

- Halloween comes early with this sneak peek of Muppets Haunted Mansion!!

- ... and because Halloween literally starts today at Magic Kingdom. (Keep an eye on these treats if you plan on visiting!)

- Disneyland introduced new strollers, which are quite an improvement.

- Not gonna lie, this headline had me laughing.

- Did someone say rock patents?

- Patiently awaiting Halloween Horror Night updates? You're welcome.