Bye, bye, traffic? It’s been a dream to have a train to Disney World since Nemo was a minnow. Ok, maybe not a train, but at a minimum, a direct route from the Orlando International Airport to Disney World. On November 23, 2020, we took our first steps in seeing a train to Disney World becoming a reality when Brightline announced a Disney Springs train station. It’s not the first time we’ve had an announcement like this, so it raises the question, could it finally happen? Could we say a final goodbye to I-4 traffic? Grab your conductor hat, we got a train to catch!
A direct route from Orlando International Airport to Disney World is a dream that stems back to Walt. Walt’s original vision had a monorail line running from the airport to the Ticket and Transportation Center. Development never happened due to a variety of reasons that ranged from costs to politics, however, there are other ways to travel beyond a monorail. LIke a train at Disney World.
For years, the city of Orlando has been looking to develop infrastructure for a public transportation system. One that goes beyond buses. At one point, plans were announced of a light-rail that would go from Orlando to Disney World, with a variety of stops along the way. One of the stops would have been Sea World and the airport. Plans were even approved by the city. However, the ground never broke on the project, as the state of Florida never received the necessary funding from the federal government.
Fast forward to today. In lieu of a train to Disney World, Disney created the Magical Express in 2005. In a partnership with Mears bus service, the service provides free, direct transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport for guests staying at a Disney resort. Now, how we get to Disney World from the airport could be changing.
Who are they? In November of 2019 when news first broke of a high-speed train system connecting south and central Florida (and Disney World) broke, the headline said, Virgin was leading the charge. Not, Brightline. However, Brightline was the company heading up the US operations and the project, as they licensed the Virgin brand. Less than a year later, the companies have parted ways, and Brightline has taken center-stage as the brand behind the Florida high-speed train system.
The Miami-based company is a privately funded business. They are working on two major projects, a Los Angeles to Las Vegas route and the Miami to Orlando route.
It’s part of phase two. That’s right, the small print around a train to Disney World is phase two. The initial plan calls for the Brightline rail system to run from the Port of Miami to the Orlando International Airport, with five stops in total. Slated to finish in late 2022, the $2.7 billion dollar project is already underway, and the laying of the 170-mile track between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport has started.
Assuming everything with the initial phase of the project is a success, the second phase includes the expansion of the railway to Tampa, Florida with a stop at Disney Springs. The proposed Disney Springs station would be a multiple-level facility with a ground-level lobby and the train platform on the second level. No details were released on a potential location of the station.
Work on connecting Orlando International Airport to Disney Springs more than likely would not begin until 2023 at the earliest. This assumes Brightline receives the necessary government approvals to lay the track. What those approvals would be is unknown at this time. It should be noted that Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, used the words “potential train station at Disney Springs”.
The first step of many. Bringing a train to Disney World would be amazing. Based on the average speed of travel you could get from the airport to Disney Springs in just under 13 minutes. Right now, it usually takes about 30 to 45 minutes on the Magical Express. Additionally, a railway connecting Disney World to the Port of Miami would make connecting a Disney Cruise (originating in Miami) to a Disney World trip even easier.
However, we will believe it when we see it. With no concept art, location, project start date, and relying on government approvals, there will be a lot of hurdles for this project. This will definitely be a project to keep a close eye on. Alright, the time has come to take-off our conductor hats, as this article is arriving at its station!
It’s a model of a modern major overhaul? Traditionally, updating The Hall of President at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom centers around a new general. Well, more like a new commander in chief for the United States. In a year where anything could and has happened, could we be closing in on a major shake-up in Liberty Square? Well, that’s what here to investigate. Let’s fall in line and investigate what the marching orders could be for updating The Hall of Presidents.
What History Tells Us
History can be a map of sorts. It tells us a lot of things, especially, when it comes to updating The Hall of Presidents. It’s predictable. Every four years or eight years, Disney heads into Liberty Square to add the newest leader of the free world. Looking back, we can see a trend as it relates to the overall timing of the changes. Once the new president is sworn into office in January, The Hall of Presidents closes in the following fall for a month or so, then reopens with the newest animatronic about a month later.
One of the only times the attraction closed for more than a month was in 2008. Between October 2008 and July 2009 Disney executed a major overhaul. In addition to adding the President Obama animatronic, extensive work was done on the theater to update both the audio and visual equipment. Recently, the only other time the attraction was closed for an extended amount of time was due to delays related to the current administration in recording the show’s dialogue.
It’s a whole new world. It’s unprecedented times. Insert your favorite change-related tagline here. What we’re saying is there are a variety of topics that are hot buttons items for most people. Politics is one of them. No matter how you slice it, The Hall of President is both historical and political. Disney would agree. As we spoke about in a previous article, Disney has earmarked a variety of attractions that would be considered controversial in today’s world. For our understanding, The Hall of Presidents is one of them.
Furthering our assumption was the statement Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Josh D’Amaro at the International Association of Amusement Park Attractions. The statement centered around adding a 5th Key to their guiding principles, Inclusion. Here is the full statement on adding the Inclusion Key:
“Events in the U.S. forced us to look across our entire business with an updated lens and frankly we have some work to do both on stage and backstage. And at Disney, a company steeped in traditions and heritage, change isn’t always easy,” D’Amaro said. “When we say, ‘To all who come to this happy place, welcome,’ that means everyone, both cast, and guests. And … that’s a tradition that goes back to Walt Disney himself.” – Josh D’Amaro
Josh D’Amaro directly calls out making changes both on stage and back stage. On stage directly relates to anything a guest would experience. We’ve already seen this initiation in motion with the addition of Redd in Pirates of the Caribbean, and the announcement of updating Splash Mountain. In the DVC Duo house, the question is not if updating The Hall of Presidents will happen, but more around when.
It’s the hardest question to answer. Similar to the updating of Splash Mountain to a Princess and the Frog attraction, updating The Hall Presidents has two outside factors. Those factors are both the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World and budgeting. What we know is the last major update took nine months. Additionally, we’ve heard rumors that Disney has already tapped Lin-Manuel Miranda to head-up the writing of the attraction’s new storyline. Assuming the script is ready to go and Disney closed The Hall of Presidents in January, there is a small chance the attraction could be ready for October 1, 2021 (the kick-off to the 50th Anniversary celebration).
There are two options for updating The Hall of Presidents. The first is to follow in the footsteps of what they did with the President Obama update. Close the attraction in the fall of 2021 then reopen it 4th of July weekend. Or, they can make a minor update by adding the President Biden animatronic then move forward with the major overhaul after the big celebration.
Options, they’ve got options. While nothing has been confirmed by Disney, it looks like the writing could be on the wall. Ultimately, updating The Hall of President will more than likely happen sooner than later. In the DVC Duo house, we believe it could make sense to update everything at once, even if it means the attraction is closed for the beginning of the 50th Anniversary. Especially, if Disney were able to plan a reopening around the countries Independence Day. While doing everything at once would be a larger expense, in the long run, it would save money for the company. Additionally, For now, it’s a wait and see approach, but something tells us we could know a lot more come the end of January 2021.
Up, up, and away! To say the Disney Skyliner is a success, would be an understatement. Within months of its opening, many people were already asking when they would see a Disney Skyliner phase 2. Or, better known as an expansion. It’s a story we’ve tracking well before the most magical flight took off. While many construction projects around Walt Disney World are in a state of “hold“, it doesn’t mean work isn’t being done behind the scenes. By work, we mean concepts, planning, and anything that doesn’t involve concrete or a hammer. Alright, our gondola is pulling into the station, let’s take to the skies and talk the Disney Skyliner phase 2!
Expand. And, expand quickly. After the launch of phase 1 of the Disney Skyliner, Disney already had plans for multiple expansion phases. Yes, that phases with an “s”. After gathering guest feedback and learning from phase one, Disney began fine-tuning the Skyliner for expansion. The question became, where to next? The two areas receiving the most attention were Disney Springs and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Both of which could use other means of transportation for guests.
Which would come first is up for debate, as some insiders pointed towards Disney’s Animal Kingdom, while others to Disney Springs. Most recently, Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media, stated Disney Springs would’ve been the focus of the Disney Skyliner phase 2.
So what happened? COVID. That one word that says it all. So the real question becomes what will the Disney Skyliner phase 2 entail when Disney is able to restart?
New and Improved Stations
What should every Disney Skyliner station have? A gift shop! The Skyliner is a Disney attraction after all. After conducting months of research, Disney identified three areas of improvement for future Disney Skyliner stations. The first being the addition of a gift shop. One of the biggest question cast members were asked by guests exiting the station is where to find Disney Skyliner merchandise. While, many of the gift shops in the parks had Disney Skyliner pieces, there were no options directly adjacent to the respective stations.
A close second was a place to purchase grab and go food, mainly breakfast items. Currently, the only Disney Skyliner station offering food is at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Guests can grab a quick bite when heading up the ramp to the station, as there’s a Joffrey’s Coffee stand. What Disney learned is that guests looking to rope drop mainly Hollywood Studios are lining up at the resort Disney Skyliner stations up to two hours before park opening. This is mostly occurring at the Pop Century/Art of Animation resort station. While each of these resorts has food items in their respective dining areas, there are no food options for guests who go directly to the station. It would be safe to assume we would see similar lines for Epcot once Ratatouille opens in 2021.
What goes hand in hand with food? Bathrooms! If your anything like us, at some point during a two-hour wait nature may give you a call. This may be the most essential improvement to future stations.
At the moment, it’s unknown if these improvements would only be for the future stations or all stations.
While no official announcement has been made for a Disney Skyliner phase 2, there is reason to believe it’s more a matter of when than an if. With Disney Springs the most likely location for expansion, the question becomes where would the station be located? The most likely location would be the Westside for a couple of reasons. First, it would be the shortest distance to connect Disney Springs to the current infrastructure. As we spoke about previously, Disney has learned that shorter distances work the best.
Secondly, the land. Next to the Cirque de Soleil theater, there is plenty of space for a larger Disney Skyliner station. A station that would more than likely be on a similar scale as the Caribbean Beach Resort (if not larger). Looking to the future, it’s very possible Disney expands the Disney Skyliner to other resorts and uses Disney Springs as another main hub for guests to transfer.
Lastly, is guest flow. At the time of writing, the Westside of Disney Springs is the least busy area. But, that could change once Draw to Life opens in the Cirque du Soleil theater. With potentially more resort guests coming to experience dinner and the show, having a station nearby makes it easier to manage crowd flow when the show lets out. Additionally, Disney already has a boat launch in the area to bring guests to other areas of Disney Springs.
Expect it sooner than later. At least that’s what we’re thinking in the DVC Duo house. While projects around Walt Disney World are not moving quickly, we would expect the Disney Skyliner phase 2 project to pick steam quickly. The Disney Skyliner has already shown that it improves the guest experience by making it easier to move about property. Especially, during the busy seasons. Additionally, it costs less (in the longterm) and is environmentally cleaner to operate. With Disney putting a larger emphasis on both, the expansion of the Disney Skyliner looks to be a project they’ll ramp back up very quickly (within 5 years). Alright, our gondola is pulling back into the station, time to go find that gift shop!
A tattoo everyone will like! Nomad Lounge is quickly becoming our Disney version of Cheers! In this rendition of our Disney at homerecipes, we’re heading back to the famed lounge to share our Jenn’s Tattoo recipe. After shaking up both our Night Monkey and Annapurna Zing recipes, we’re tackling one of the more popular cocktails. Combining the delicate flavors of the hibiscus flower with refreshing notes of watermelon you get Jenn’s Tattoo. It’s the perfect cocktail for sitting out on the Nomad Lounge patio. The time has come, grab your cocktail shaker, as it’s time to make our Jenn’s Tattoo recipe!
Situated on the outskirts of Pandora you’ll find Nomad Lounge. Whether you’re looking to chill inside or outside on the patio, there’s a spot for everyone. It’s hard to beat the outdoor patio with its comfy chairs and tons of shade. Many times we forget we’re in a theme park, especially with the lush green foliage surrounding the patio. Throw in one of the many great Nomad Lounge appetizers and you got the makings of a fantastic afternoon. Alright, let’s get to shaking before our ice melts too much!
Fast-tracked. Expedited. Prioritized. Sped up. All words that are being used to describe the rethemeing of Splash Mountain at both Disney World and Disneyland. And, words that can also mean many different things to different people. It’s like the phrase, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes”, but, it’s really more like an hour. You know what we mean, right? We thought so, you get us! So when we hear any of these words used by Disney to describe the Splash Mountain project, how should we interrupt it? That’s what we’re here to figure out. Grab you Webster’s dictionary, we’re about to put a definition to “speed up”, in Disney terms of course!
What Was Said
On November 16, 2020, at the International Association of Amusement Park Attractions (IAAPA) virtual conference, Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro gave the keynote. In a presentation filled with updates, Josh made mention of the rethemeing of Splash Mountain as part of a larger statement about guest-facing changes to promote inclusion. Below is the excerpt about the project;
“We want to make sure that we’re focusing on inclusivity for our guests as well, so we’ve chosen to speed up some of the work that we had been developing to make sure that our parks remain relevant and welcoming to all of our guests.
For example, we announced the transformation of our classic attraction Splash Mountain to include a new storyline based on Princess and the Frog. Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman, who pursues her dreams and never loses sight of what’s really important. It’s a great story with a strong lead character, set against the backdrop of New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou.”
There’s that phrase. The phrase that has all Disneyphiles wondering what it means. Speed up. Does that mean we’ll see Splash Mountain updated before or after the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World? Which is set to begin on October 1, 2021. Hmmm.
What We Know
When it comes to the rethemeing of Splash Mountain there are a couple of things we already know. First, the attraction will be transformed into a Princess and the Frog theme. Second, this is a project Disney has been evaluating for a while. As we discussed in a previous article, Disney ear-marked a variety of attractions or scenes within attractions that needed updating to reflect current social norms. For more details about those attractions, check out the following article.
So, we know Disney had tossed around the idea around the rethemeing of Splash Mountain. The unknown is how long was the concept being worked on prior to the announcement on June 25, 2020. Ideas and concepts around attractions can be floated around Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) for years before they are ever realized, for example, the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland. The concept of the ride (vehicle type and track) was originally planned for an Atlantis-based attraction called Fire Mountain that would go into the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. However, that fell through and WDI used the concept for Indiana Jones. Why? Now that’s a story for another day, but the important piece is WDI had the idea for a while before they were able to create it. Could the same hold true for the Splash Mountain project?
Let’s see if we can put some definition to speed-up. To do so we’re going to channel our inner Dr. Marsh, in that our future could truly be in the past! In the more recent years, Disney has done two major rethemes of well-known attractions, Disneyland’s Tower of Terror, and Epcot’s Maelstrom. Both could be considered reactions to blockbuster success with the respect films that were used in the rethemeing. Guardians of the Galaxy was used for Tower of Terror, and Frozen for Malestrom.
While the rethemeing of Splash Mountain isn’t a reaction to a successful movie, it is a reaction to the social climate. From a development standpoint, it is very similar.
If we look at the fastest Disney has ever been able to retheme a major attraction, from its announcement to opening day the project took about 10 months. This project was Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout in Disneyland’s California Adventure. The project took less-time as WDI used a new “modular” method for reimagining the attraction. This new method greatly reduced downtime. Total downtime for the ride was 6-months.
For the rethemeing of Splash Mountain, we’re well beyond the potential of the new attraction being announced and open for operation within 10 months. However, what we can take away from the project is the total downtime of 6 months. Could WDI do the same with Splash Mountain, and if so, when would they start?
When To Start
That’s the biggest unknown. Before figuring out our potential start date we should take two big things into consideration, the 50th Anniversary and budget. What we know is Disney originally planned to have the vast majority of construction complete prior to the big celebration. To both minimize guest impact and create a better park experience. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans. There is now strong speculation that construction on two of the marque attractions will not be complete prior to October 1, 2020.
On top of the 50th Anniversary, Disney will be working with a much lower budget in 2021. On the November 12, 2020 earnings call, Disney stated park budgets for 2021 would be greatly reduced.
Taking these two things into consideration there are a couple of potential start dates. If we assume the project is sped up and takes a similar amount of time as Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest date the project could begin prior to the 50th Anniversary is March 2021. That would have the project wrapping up in September 2021. We’re assuming Disney would not one of the biggest attractions in the park closed for the anniversary. The next feasible date would be starting the project after the 50th Anniversary in 2022.
A lot to consider. There are a lot of variables to take into consideration when looking at a potential start date for the rethemeing of Splash Mountain. In the DVC Duo house, we thinking that the project will not begin until after the 50th Anniversary. From both a timing and budget standpoint it makes the most sense. Now, Disney could surprise us and kick-off the project prior to the 50th Anniversary. If they were able to complete it ahead of the big day, it would definitely be a big draw for the Magic Kingdom.
So, what is our definition of the Disney speed up? For us, it means Disney is doing everything they can to deliver the ride while taking into consideration the overall guest experience and budget constraints. In other words, they’re giving it all they got captain!