Disney World News: OC Cases Surging, VIP Rise of Resistance Access, Park Pass Refill
We’re back with another Walt Disney World news & rumor roundup. This one covers a pricey “pay to play” option for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, concerning case numbers in Orange County, further thoughts on Christmas 2021 at Walt Disney World, and more.
As always, we’ll start with the latest release of new and extended off-season operating hours. All four theme parks have had hours for another week added to the DisneyWorld.com park hours calendar. These hours now run through September 25, 2021. Here are the hours for most dates within that week:
- Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm*
- EPCOT: 11 am to 9 pm
- Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 8 pm
- Animal Kingdom: 8 am to 6 pm
- Blizzard Beach: 11 am to 6 pm
- Disney Springs: 10 am to 11 pm (11:30 pm on Fridays & Saturdays)
*Magic Kingdom closes at 8:30 pm on Disney After Hours Boo Bash nights that are after September 5. That event runs from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am up until that date, and from 9 pm until midnight after that date.
Additionally, the closing time of Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been extended from 8 pm to 9 pm for the month of August, except for August 26 and 29-31.
For reasons unknown, Disney’s Hollywood Studios closes at 8 pm between now and the end of July, as well as all dates in September 2021.
Next, we have refill to Disney Park Pass reservations for the remainder of July 2021. Reservations have been fully replenished for Annual Passholders, on-site resort guests, and regular theme park ticket holders.
Previously, Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios were unavailable through the end of next week. Epcot and Animal Kingdom had scattered availability. Now, everything beyond today is totally green. As a reminder, Walt Disney World has stopped providing park capacity level updates, but our expectation is that this signals another increase to attendance limits.
Expect this trend to continue, with Walt Disney World gradually increasing attendance caps while staffing up. (For those who have asked, we still expect October 1 to be refilled again at some point.)
Going forward, there are minimal remaining ride efficiency improvements to be had. This means that any attendance limit increases, including this one, will almost certainly result in a corresponding increase in wait times and crowd levels. The major ways to offset attendance increases at this point are longer hours and more entertainment.
In case you missed it, Walt Disney World announced Christmas 2021 Dates & Details for Walt Disney World and that Disney Very Merriest After Hours Would Replace Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Those posts have full details and extensive commentary. A couple things stand out as significant surprises to me.
First, the lack of parades or cavalcades. The latter was included for Boo Bash from the get-go, but conspicuously absent from the Very Merriest After Hours event announcement. It’s possible there won’t be Christmas cavalcades or parades at all, but that seems unlikely. Another plausible scenario is that Walt Disney World is holding off on making an specific announcement about all parades once those details are finalized.
Beyond that, another big surprise was the late start date of November 12, 2021 and lack of end date. Beforehand, I drafted up a rough article outline and included that the Christmas season would run from December 5, 2021 until January 9, 2022, figuring those dates were a given.
I still can’t wrap my head around starting the holiday season after Veterans Day. Nothing about that makes sense to me. Decorations will certainly start going up before then, and it’s not like anything else about this Christmas season is labor intensive. Just flip the switch on the projection shows and say the Christmas season is starting November 5. It doesn’t really matter that the resorts and Epcot won’t be fully decorated by then–they never are!
In general, something about the “Halfway to the Holidays” reveal felt a bit off. The release was light on details, but it also didn’t go out of its way to offer reassurances that more announcements would be coming. (It did state this: “We’ll have so much more Walt Disney World Resort holiday fun to share with you in the months to come.”)
We know it’s not an exhaustive look at everything to come, because it didn’t mention Magic Kingdom holiday ride overlays, which are listed on the dedicated After Hours page. This is not to get your hopes up–I’m still expecting this Christmas to be scaled back as compared to normal. Just suggesting that more announcements are likely on the horizon once we’re closer to Christmas and there’s more clarity about staffing and operational realities.
Next up, a new policy change at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland now means guests who book a VIP tour will no longer need to score a Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group on their own in order to experience the attraction. Prior to this, VIP tour guests had to get up at the crack of dawn and hope for success with the virtual queue just like the rest of us commoners!
Against the backdrop of paid FastPass rumors and increasing animosity about Disney catering to the wealthy, this story seems like a powder keg. And to be sure, we’ve already seen more than a few pieces of cringey clickbait regarding this change. My take when first seeing the news was: they still weren’t giving VIP tour guests access to Rise of the Resistance?!
To me, this is pretty much a non-story. Both historically and in practical terms of impact on other guests, this is nothing like the other rumored or confirmed changes. VIP tours have been around for decades, giving affluent guests (or those willing to splurge) front of line access for exorbitant sums of money.
I guess my perspective is that it’s crazy to not include Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance on VIP tours of guests who are paying $4,000. Given the low number of VIP tours–there are maybe 100 guests per day in DHS doing them–this has a negligible negative consequences for everyone else.
My perspective here is not skewed by bias, either. While we’ve done a few backstage tours and would like to do more, my interest level in VIP tours is literally less than zero (which is to say, you’d have to pay me a decent amount to do one). To each their own, but the idea of being accompanied by a stranger and having to be “on” all day makes me uncomfortable. I know others speak highly of VIP tours, but they’re absolutely not for me.
Finally, amid a surge in new infections and increased prevalence of the more transmissible delta variant, Mayor Jerry Demings stated the following at Orange County’s weekly health conference: “It is my official recommendation that Orange County return to the status in which it is recommended all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, consider wearing facial coverings indoors when in crowded environments.”
Demings language during the press conference was couched, making clear this was a suggestion or recommendation and that he was not issuing a new mandate. (Florida ended all COVID-19 emergency orders earlier this spring and even before that, mask mandates were toothless and voluntary.) Demings also indicated that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shifted Orange County back into its high risk category.
Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County also spoke at the press conference, offering further insight into the spike in new cases and warned that the current trend will likely further accelerate. Pino said cases have doubled week over week, and will likely continue to do so.
Perhaps most notably, Pino said that “100% of the cases reported yesterday were among unvaccinated individuals [and] 100% of the deaths that we are reporting to you today were among unvaccinated individuals. So we can mask up, we can keep the distance, we can try not to talk about this but the reality is that this is an unvaccinated pandemic. It is fueling right now among unvaccinated people.”
Thus far, neither Walt Disney World nor Universal Orlando have issued statements in response to this recommendation.
We doubt that will occur. We are also not anticipating a change to Disney’s rules (above) at this time. Our expectation is that Walt Disney World will stay the course unless the situation dramatically deteriorates. Nevertheless, we’ll continue monitoring the ‘experience updates’ page on DisneyWorld.com for changes.
The whole Orange County press conference was over 40 minutes long, so there was obviously a lot more to it than that, but I found the above quote to be the most salient point. If you’re interested in more context, Dr. Pino’s remarks pick up here and last for a few minutes. I’ve watched these press conferences almost every week for the last year, and have found Dr. Pino to be a straight-shooter.
I debated whether to share this at all. The last few weeks have felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders not posting on this topic, and I really don’t want to regress to arguing about all things COVID-19. However, this strikes me as relevant local news that many of you out-of-state vacation planners might miss otherwise. It also doesn’t sit right with me to bury my head, so to speak, and pretend this isn’t newsworthy just because it’s unpleasant. As a “compromise,” I’m going to bite my tongue and withhold further commentary on this topic and would request that you do the same in the comments.
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After thinking about it for a day, do you have further thoughts on the Christmas 2021 announcements? Does VIP tour guides having open access to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance bother you, or is it an insignificant/sensible change? What about the latest Park Pass refill? Please keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, personal attacks, or cheap shots. We will be heavy-handed in deleting comments that cross the line, even if it’s only a single sentence. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s rules or public policy. If you wish to shout your opinions into the internet abyss, that’s why Facebook was invented.
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