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.”

 

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.

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.

Winter Summerland Mini Golf to Re-Open at Walt Disney World

With the fall season beginning and the winter season on the horizon in Florida, Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf will be re-opening to guests beginning on November 6th at Walt Disney World Resort.

Winter Summerland Miniature Golf offers two uniquely themed 18-hole courses, each with their own distinct musical soundtrack. As the name implies, one course draws inspiration from the winter season, including snow castles and ice hockey rinks. The second course represents all things related to summer. Guests navigate surf boards, sand sculptures and even a melted snowman.

When Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf re-opens, Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf will close for the season on November 5th and re-open on January 31st next year.

Disney to Layoff 28,000 Cast Members at US Parks

Today Disney has announced that it will make a drastic reduction in its workforce at its domestic parks.  Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro announced that Disney will be laying off 28,000 cast members. He also stated that  67% of these layoffs will be part-time cast members.

In a statement, D’Amaro publicly mentions the state of California’s reluctance to allow for the re-opening of Disneyland as one of the driving factors. In a note sent to cast members. D’Amaro states that, “We will be scheduling appointments with our affected salaried and non-union hourly employees over the next few days.” It appears the action will happen soon.

Walt Disney World currently employs approximately 70,000, with Disneyland Resort employing around 30,000. It isn’t at this time clear how the layoffs will be distributed across the two coasts.

Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World closed in mid-March due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Walt Disney World re-opened in mid-July.  Disneyland Resort still remaining closed.

D23 Announces Move of Next D23 Expo to 2022

In an announcement made on Twitter earlier this evening, D23 stated that the next D23 Expo will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center September 9-11, 2022.

“We are to announce the next D23 Expo will be held September 9-11, 2022 at the Anaheim Convention Center. D23 Expo 2022 will be a celebration unlike any other, as we give fans a first look at the incredible plans for the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company.”

With all that’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, this announcement shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. I personally suspected that this might happen when D23 announced back in June that Destination D was moving from this fall to 2021. When D23 hadn’t announced a sale date for Expo tickets, it seemed apparent to me that it was getting postponed.

No date has been announced when tickets for D23 Expo will be available. Typically D23 begins sale of tickets about a year in advance, so I wouldn’t expect an announcement until at least sometime in early 2021 with a sale date of September 2021.

Will we see you there?

Impasse with Actor’s Equity Union Ends…Performers to Return to Work at Walt Disney World

In an article posted yesterday we announced that the State of Florida will begin providing COVID-19 Testing for cast members and guests the Disney Maingate Complex starting August 14th.  After this announcement, the Actor’s Equity Union signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for Equity performers to return to work at the Walt Disney World theme parks.

Disney officials said in a notice to its workers that there would be a dedicated testing lane for its workers and their families, and that reservations could be made for testing.

“As a reminder, testing is voluntary and cast members will not be paid for testing time,” the notice said.

In a statement, Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association stated –

“We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed.  With the news that Disney will make testing available for Equity performers and others in the park, I’m happy to announce that Equity’s executive committee has signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for Equity performers to return.”

The Actors’ Equity Association represents 51,000 stage performers nationwide, including about 750 at Disney World.

Disney released a statement later Wednesday stating that allowing the testing location was not in response to union demands.

“Our actions support all cast and our community at large,” the statement said.

The union began pushing Disney World to offer testing for its members in late June, before the park’s July reopening. The actors could not do their jobs wearing masks or keeping social distance, according to the union.

Equity Cast Members make up a significant portion of Walt Disney World’s live entertainment performers, which include shows such as, Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, Festival of the Lion King and various castle shows.

The return of those performers would pave the way for Disney to resume shows should it wish to do so. It needs to be stated though that though a return of these shows is possible and very likely at some point, no return date or time table for their return has been indicated by either Disney or the Equity Union.  Presumably rehearsals would need to take place.  How long this could take is unknown at this time.

So, even though we don’t know a return date, it appears another part of the special Disney magic will be returning to Walt Disney World.

 

State of Florida to Begin Providing COVID-19 Testing at Disney’s Maingate Complex Near Animal Kingdom

The State of Florida announced that they will be opening a new testing site in Osceola County at Disney’s Maingate office complex near Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

The Maingate complex is on the south end of the property off of West Ilo Bronson Memorial Highway (US 192), located at 3010 Maingate Lane.

Testing will begin on August 14th and will be available from 7 AM to 4 PM, serving Disney Cast Members and their families, along with members of the public. Cast Members can register for a test at disneycovid19test.com, and the public can register at doineedacovid19test.com.

The test for those with or without symptoms, is self-administered with a nasal swab from inside your car, and results are delivered in 3-5 business days.

It is important to note that the tests are being offered to the public and not required.

 

Walt Disney World Shortening Theme Park Operating Hours Starting September 8th

Today Walt Disney World announced that they will be shortening the operating hours of all of their theme parks beginning September 8th. Here are the updated hours:

Magic Kingdom – 9 AM to 6 PM (previously closed at 7 PM)

EPCOT – 11 AM to 7 PM (previously closed at 9 PM)

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 10 AM to 7 PM (previously closed at 8 PM)

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – 9 AM to 5 PM (previously opened at 8 AM and closed at 6 PM)*

This announcement comes after Disney CEO Bob Chapek noted that there was less demand at Walt Disney World for vacations than expected, during a third quarter earnings report.

* – This is a correction. It was earlier reported as open at 8 AM

Mulan to be Released on Disney+ as a Rental on September 4

In a major development Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced, during their earnings call, that Disney will be releasing Mulan directly to Disney+ on September 4th as a rental..

Unlike the rest of the content available on Disney+, Mulan won’t come with a subscription to the service. Consumers in the U.S. and other territories will have to pay $29.99 on top of the streaming service’s monthly subscription fee of $6.99. In markets where Disney+ isn’t available, “Mulan” will play in cinemas…assuming theaters are open there.

“We’re looking at ‘Mulan’ as a one-off as opposed to say there’s some new business windowing model that we’re looking at,” Chapek said on the company’s earnings call.

It’s also notable that that Disney is testing is very different and potentially more lucrative than others deployed by studios. Mulan will cost roughly $10 more than Universal charged for “Trolls World Tour” and it’s sticking the price of a subscription on top of that bill. It remains to be seen if that will be too rich for consumers.

Initially I was upset that in order to watch Mulan when it’s released I would have to pay roughly $30 on top of my Disney+ subscription.  Then I realized if it had been released to the local theater I would have paid more than $30 to take the entire family, even if I went on a discounted day, especially when you add on what I would have paid for snacks.  Even if I had waited for it to come out on video that would have been $20-25.  That’s on top of if it had been released to theaters, I would have gone to see it.  So, thinking about it…I’m okay with this.