Festival of the Lion King to Return to Disney’s Animal Kingdom This Summer

Walt Disney World announced today that Festival of the Lion King will be returning in the summer of 2021.

On the Disney Parks Blog Disney stated –

We are thrilled to be starting the process of bringing back to work more singers, dancers, technicians and other cast members, from one of the most popular shows at Walt Disney World Resort. Expected this summer, the Harambe Theatre at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park will host that fan-favorite troupe of musical storytellers, along with Simba and his friends, in a celebration of the incomparable “Festival of the Lion King.”

Festival of the Lion King will be presented in a modified format. There will be adjustments made tto the show on stage and backstage, including updates to choreography to allow for appropriate physical distancing. also Disney will also adjust how the audience is seated, in line with other theater-based experiences at Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Imagineer Kevin Rafferty to Retire After 42 Years With Disney

Walt Disney Imagineering will be losing another legendary talent later this year when Kevin Rafferty retires after 42 years with the company.Rafferty, is the Imagineer who conceived, designed, wrote, and oversaw the creations of some of Disney Parks’ most memorable attractions and lands, announced in a memo to staff that he will retire from Walt Disney Imagineering, effective April 1, 2021

Following both the publication of his book, Magic Journey: My Fantastical Walt Disney Imagineering Career, and the opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway—the first-ever ride-through attraction to feature Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse—at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Rafferty says his nearly 43-year journey with Disney has reached its peak. “I wanted to go out at the top of my game, if you will,” he explains. “It just felt right.”

From D23 –

Rafferty will leave behind a legacy that few can rival—one that began with the incredibly talented Imagineers who mentored him who, in turn, led to the long list of those whom he inspired. “When I started, there were only two Disney parks in the world. It’s really been my honor, my pleasure, and my joy to be around and watch the expansion of the magic that Walt Disney Imagineering has made,” he says. “I’ve been there for all that. It’s been an amazing ride.”

 

Walt Disney World to Discontinue Disney’s Magic Express in 2022

Earlier today Walt Disney World announced that it plans on discontinuing Disney’s Magical Express airport transportation service in 2022.

In a statement, Disney said:

Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022. We will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021. Additionally, complimentary transportation options – such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner – will continue to be available within Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Resort hotel guests, including to and from all four theme parks.

After the theme parks re-opened this past July, Disney’s Magical Express service did return from the COVID-19 shutdown, but they didn’t resume luggage service.

Mears has issued a statement regarding this –

Walt Disney [World] made us aware of their decision. While we are disappointed Disney will no longer offer this service, we intend to continue offering transportation services between the airport and all area theme parks and hotels to meet the demand of our visitors now and in the future.

UPDATE – Commentary:

I have no data to support this…but Disney wouldn’t be doing this if they felt that the current business model was sustainable.  I have a belief that Disney had noticed a decline in DME usage well before the park closures in March 2019. There were just too many options that got you to your resort with your luggage available.  There were Uber, Lyft, car services, shuttles, and car rental to name a few.  On top of this, the Brightline trains is scheduled to be coming in 2022.

Also…this isn’t happening now.  It’s going to be 11+ months until this happens.  Some company or start up will fill the gap and take advantage of this.

Walt Disney World to Replace Extra Magic Hours with Early Theme Park Entry

Walt Disney World announced today that they will be discontinuing Extra Magic Hours.  Disney will replace EMH with Early Theme Park Entry.

Early Theme Park Entry will debut later in 2021. The new early entry program will give Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests 30 minutes early access to any theme park, every day. Disney has stated that the change will allow a better spread of visitation across all four theme parks and will give guests better flexibility.

When it was running prior to its suspension following the COVID-19 shutdown, Extra Magic Hours offered 3 hours of extended operating hours in the evening, and an hour in the morning. However, the option was restricted to a specific theme park on a specific day.

Disney Legend Ron Dominguez Passes Away at Age 85

Disney Legend  and former executive vice president of Walt Disney Attractions, Ron Dominguez,  passed away early today, January 1, 2021. He was 85.

Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Josh D’Amaro released a statement –

We are saddened to have lost a very dear member of our family, Ron Dominguez.  Ron’s contributions to Disneyland are nearly incalculable. He was well-known among the cast and community throughout his tenure at the park and continued to show his support long after his retirement, guiding and mentoring leaders, including me, for decades. I am personally grateful for all that he has done for Disney, and want to express my deepest condolences to his family on behalf of every Disney Parks cast member around the world.

Known as a “native Disneylander,” Dominguez’s family originally owned and lived on 10 acres of the orange grove-covered property that was purchased by Walt Disney for his theme park in 1954.

Ron Dominguez retired in August 1994 after 39 years of service to The Walt Disney Company.

He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2000 and has a window on Main Street, U.S.A at Disneyland park.

Walt Disney World Announces Dates for 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival

While it is cold (even in Florida) and snowing in parts of the United States our attention is turning to the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival.

Today Walt Disney World announced that the festival will begin on March 3, 2021 and will run through July 5th.

The festival will beavailable with valid admission and a park reservation for the same date. The 2021 festival is almost a month longer than the 2020 festival.

Along with the guest favorite topiary,  there are scheduled to be more than 20 Outdoor Kitchens that will return to World Showcase.

Imagineer Joe Rohde Retiring

Earlier today Imagineer Joe Rohde announced that he will be retiring from the Walt Disney Company.  Joe is most well known as the creator of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Joe will retire from the company after a 40 year career and creator of some of Imagineering’s finest work, most recently as the lead on Pandora – The World of AVATAR. According to a post from fellow Imagineer Zach Riddley and current WDI lead for Walt Disney World, Joe will leave his position on January 4 2021.

On Instagram Joe posted –

I’m sure by now many of you have come across the news that I am retiring from Walt Disney Imagineering. It has been 40 years since I stepped foot in the door at age 25, not knowing anything about theme parks, Disney, or what it meant to work for a big company. Every day of my life since then has been a learning experience. I’m very glad to have had that opportunity, and proud of the work that has been done, not just by me, but by all my fellow Imagineers, and especially those who worked by my side over the decades. But 40 years is a long time, and this strange quiet time seems like a great opportunity to slip away without too much disruption. If I wait, I will once again be in the middle of another huge project and by the time that is done, I would be truly old. I’m not that old yet and there are things I want to do that cannot be done here. We encourage a culture of storytellers, not just amongst ourselves but among our guests and our fans, and because of this, there is a strong temptation to take this moment and turn it into a story. But what story? I think it’s a coming of age story. I started at Disney as a child, and I learned almost all my life lessons there, developed my confidence, recognized my skills and weaknesses, and went on to work with both… and do what could be done. I could stay forever, but that is like remaining in another kind of womb. I want to see what a grown man might be able to do on his own. This site here is not really for Disney. It’s for us. I imagine that there are many of you who I will be sad that I will no longer be a daily part of the Disney company, and there will be some of you who will drift away and no longer follow my ruminations because they feel they aren’t relevant. But I will still be here. And I will still be thinking about things, and doing things, and talking about things… Because that’s kind of what I do. I mentioned in my departure note and I will mention here again the tremendous debt that I owe to our guests and our fans who have been so generous. Working as an Imagineer has made me a good designer, but it is all of you who have made me a better person.

Walt Disney World Announces Opening Dates for Crystal Palace, Woody’s Lunchbox & Tomorrowland Terrace

Walt Disney World has announced re-opening dates for three more restaurants following their closures as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Woody’s Lunchbox will re-open on November 25th in Toy Story Land.

In the Magic Kingdom, the quick service Tomorrowland Terrace will be re-opening on December 17th.  When it re-opens it will feature an updated menu including lobster rolls, grilled salmon and New England Clam Chowder.

Also at the Magic Kingdom, The Crystal Palace will re-open on December 13th as a family-style meal without characters. Individually plated entrées will include crispy fried chicken with honey pot drizzle, fire-roasted prime rib of beef, and fried cauliflower. Reservations will open on My Disney Experience on December 1st.

Park Hopping to Return to Walt Disney World

According to an email sent to Walt Disney World Annual Passholders and posted on the Annual Passholder portion of the Walt Disney World’s website, park hopping will be returning January 1, 2021.

From the Passholder Newsletter…

Dear Valued Annual Passholder,
As the phased reopening of Walt Disney World Resort® continues, we are nearing another exciting milestone we know many Guests have been looking forward to: the return of the Park Hopper® option! Starting Jan. 1, 2021, Guests who purchased a ticket or annual pass with Park Hopperbenefits will be able to visit more than one park per day, with some new modifications as part of our ongoing focus on health and safety.

More details were posted on the website…

  • UPDATE – Beginning January 1, 2021, we’re bringing back the ability to visit more than one park per day at Walt Disney World Resort with some new modifications.
    • We will set specific Park Hopper hours during which this option will be available. Park Hopper hours will start at 2 PM each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time. Guests will soon be able to check DisneyWorld.com/ParkHours and the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date Park Hopper hours, as they could start earlier at a later date, depending on the day and park.
    • With the updated Park Hopper experience, Annual Passholders must make a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND enter that first park prior to visiting another.
    • At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change. The ability to visit another park will be subject to the park’s capacity limitations and applicable pass blockout dates.
  • During the limited capacity period, it may be difficult for Annual Passholders to get park reservations to visit on certain dates.
  • Some pass benefits and features will not be available during periods of limited capacity. Also, park experiences and offerings have been modified and are subject to limited availability or even closure.
  • Annual Passholders staying at select Disney Resort or other select hotels with valid theme park admission are eligible to make theme park reservations for each day of their Resort stay(s), in addition to holding up to 3 days of theme park reservations at a time on a rolling basis. Once you use a theme park reservation, you can make another reservation for a future date.
  • All reservations are subject to availability and applicable pass blockout dates. Guests should ensure their pass type is valid for park entry prior to making a park reservation. To enter one of the parks, each Passholder is required to have a theme park reservation in addition to a valid annual pass.
  • Starting July 16, additional Disney Park Pass reservations will be offered to Annual Passholders for select dates in July and August at Magic Kingdom park, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Please note that this additional Disney Park Pass reservation availability does not reflect an increase in park attendance, which remains limited during this reopening period. View park reservation availability now.
  • Epcot After 4 PM Passholder Update – With updates to park hours starting September 8, Epcot After 4 PM Passholders can enjoy Epcot beginning at 2 PM on dates when the park closes at 7 PM To enter a park, both a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date are required. Please note that park reservations are limited in number and subject to availability.

 

Please know we will be here to help you as we remain focused on delivering a wonderful experience for everyone who visits.

 

If you have any questions, please contact V.I.PASSHOLDER Support at (407) 939-7277. Options to manage your annual pass continue to be available.

 

Please review any advisories or restrictions in place for travel to Florida, and do not travel to or enter Walt Disney World Resort unless you are free of any COVID-19 symptoms and otherwise comply with the requirements of such advisories and restrictions.

Tony Baxter and Greg Hale Inducted into IAAPA Hall of Fame

On Tuesday, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) inducted Tony Baxter and Greg Hale into the IAAPA Hall of Fame.

Tony Baxter, who is a former Walt Disney Imagineering creative executive, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from IAAPA for his decades of work on some of Disney’s most memorable attractions.

Tony began his Disney career working as an ice cream scooper at Disneyland. He started working for Walt Disney Imagineering (then called WED Enterprises) in 1970. Over the next 43 years, he helped oversee and create such attractions as the Land, Seas and Imagination pavilions at EPCOT, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the major refurbishment of Fantasyland at Disneyland in 1983, Star Tours, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. He was also the executive producer who oversaw the design of Disneyland Paris, which opened in 1992.

In 2013 Tony received the Disney Legend award at the D23 Expo as well as a window honoring him on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. Even though he retired later that same year, Tony continues to consult with Walt Disney Imagineering on various projects and mentors the next generation of Imagineers.

Greg was also honored for his extraordinary accomplishments and contributions as a leader and innovator at Disney.

Greg, who is Disney Parks’ chief safety officer, leads a global team of ride design, operations, maintenance and safety professionals around the world that keep Disney on the leading edge of theme park safety, accessibility for guests with disabilities, and technology advancements.  Greg has also received a number of awards in recognition of his commitment to safety and for fostering innovative practices that increase access to Disney experiences for those with disabilities. He holds dozens of U.S. patents and is credited as one of the inventors of Disney FASTPASS Service. He has served on several industry safety boards and associations and has held a number of leadership roles within IAAPA, including as the organization’s chairman in 2017.