Category Archives: News

Say Goodbye to Fastpass+ and Hello to Genie+…and more costs

Big changes are afoot at the Eared Circle – both Walt Disney World and Disneyland! Disney is retiring all current forms of Fastpass at the U.S. parks – FASTPASS, Fastpass+ and MaxPass, and will instead integrate a new system based on Disneyland’s MaxPass system into Disney’s upcoming “Genie” planning service that will be rolled out in an upcoming update to the WDW and Disneyland applications.

The first part of the service, “Genie+”, will allow guests to select an available attraction and the next available return time for an attraction that day. You can have only at a time, but as soon as you are eligible you can choose another. It’s like the old FASTPASS system, but without having to go to the attraction to get the ticket – and it can be in another park! The service is paid per day you wish to use it, and for each member of your party (i.e. what they are calling “ticket”) – $15/day/ticket for WDW, $20/day/ticket for DL. So for a family of four to use it it would cost $60 for the day. If you don’t want to use it for a day, you simply don’t pay. However, some of the most popular attractions may not be available in Genie+…

The second part, simply referred to as “Individual attraction selections”, is another upcharge allowing you to schedule up to two arrival times per day for popular attractions that are NOT part of Genie+ – examples given are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the Magic Kingdom and Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure – but instead you pay a separate upcharge to gain access to these attractions. Cost will vary by date, attraction, and park and more will be known sooner to launch.

As part of all this, Fastpass entrances will be relabeled as “Lightning Lanes”, as it appears the old Fastpass name is part of the retirement, and the selections will simply be referred to as “Lightning Lane selections”.

Disney’s Genie service itself is a next generation planning utility that will allow you to create dynamic personalized itineraries and recommendations based on your preferences. It will be interesting to see how this works – it could be like having a dynamic Touring Plans system in your pocket, updating if you decide to go off-script for an attraction.

I’m sure there will be a lot of negative feedback in the short term over the upcharge, but MaxPass worked very well and it will have to be seen how it works at WDW.

Don’t plan on a train replacing Disney’s Magical Express

If you think that the coming Brightline train service to Disney Springs is going to replace Magical Express, I’ve got a castle to sell you…

When Walt Disney World announced that Disney’s Magical Express service would be discontinued as of January 1st, 2022 (and luggage service has been discontinued for a while now and will not return), no free or even branded replacement service was mentioned, only that there were plenty of alternate options, such as taxi, Uber/Lyft, private car service, or even renting your own car. Many people were up in arms, forgetting that it wasn’t that long ago that we had to use those services (that existed then) before Magical Express existed.

Others latched on to the previously announced Disney Springs station for the high-speed Brightline train service that is in the process of being extended to Orlando International Airport, and then eventually to Tampa by way of WDW, as if this would somehow replace the ultra-convenient, and free, service WDW was providing. However, there are many reasons why Brightline will NOT be replacing Magical Express.

First off, Brightline isn’t even going to reach OIA until sometime later in 2022. While 2023 has been batted about for the Disney Springs station, keep in mind that is ambitious – Brightline doesn’t even have a right of way for the tracks nailed down yet to even get to Disney Springs, or plans drawn up for a station, or even permits yet. 2023 is extremely ambitious. [Update: The current estimate from Brightline to reach Disney Springs is now 2026…]

Brightline is also an inter-city service. It isn’t providing service just between OIA and WDW like Magical Express, but would be coming all the way from Miami and eventually Tampa in the other direction. These trains are not large capacity either, seating about 248 people each. I’m not sure the exact capacity of a ME bus, but conservatively I’d say that no more that 6 buses could handle that. Given they are coming from further away than OIA or DS, then there will be people already on board so not all the seats are available. And you have to get a ticket in advance – think of this more like getting an airline seat than some sort of commuter rail or subway service. Plus, the price is per person, whereas a taxi or ride service is typically per car. The cheapest advertised ticket for Brightline was $10 (before the pandemic shutdown), so for a family of four it would be $40 for Brightline, where a Lyft XL to fit the family and luggage is $50-55.

Now add to the fact that Brightline currently advertises an hourly schedule – if they are able to maintain that once the full service to Tampa is established, your potential wait time just at the station is already double and on average equal to how long it would take to get to WDW. Then you still have the travel time, which I estimate to be no better than 15 minutes.

And lastly, all the currently available options take you directly to your resort, whereas the train will only take you to Disney Springs – where you’ll have to disembark and then board a bus, if available, or a ride service just to get to your resort. Add at least another 10-30 minutes or more. In the end, there isn’t any appreciable way that the train will be any faster than a personal ride service, and could be much, much slower.

It really doesn’t make time or economic sense with the other options available.

Where Brightline DOES make sense is that it opens up more flight destinations to WDW guests. Previously, OIA was your only option if you were going to take Magical Express, plus Sanford if you were renting a car or getting a ride service. Now this opens up airports like Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and even Miami if the options to get to the Brightline station are available (none of them seem particularly convenient), the flights are cheaper and you don’t mind a longer transportation time. I’d even consider spending some time in Tampa and then catching the train to WDW. You could consider it a cheap (maybe, not knowing ticket prices) option to get to WDW from those airports.

How could a train actually work between OIA and WDW? The obvious ideal would be a dedicated shuttle service between the two on a dedicated right of way. But absent of that, it is possible for a shuttle service to time share the Brightline tracks. You could use trainsets that are more like commodity commuter equipment with about double the capacity per car and can operate up to 79MPH which is good enough for the distance covered. Two trainsets could potentially run shuttle with dwell times 30 minutes in each direction, with a potential throughput of 1000 passengers an hour. Magical Express averaged about 6300 passengers a day based on 2013 numbers – but there are peak times that the extra capacity would be needed.

But…and there are several BIG buts…this would be a completely independent operation from Brightline, would likely defer to scheduled Brightline trains when necessary creating delays, would need to share platforms at OIA and DS stations which would be complicated (unless you build separate platforms – increasing costs significantly) – and you have to obtain and maintain the equipment, which is expensive if that’s all the service you are providing – a city’s commuter service would have advantages of scale, but there is no such thing in place here. You can’t feasibly run such a service for free. And you still end up at Disney Springs and have to get to your resort somehow. So really, what does this save?

In the end, Brightline itself is not replacing Magical Express, no train service at all has been announced to replace it, and it is very unlikely that a train will ever replace it unless Disney wants to do it itself. And if it does, it should be a proper monorail like Walt envisioned…

Update 3/8: I just learned tonight, although it is not NEW new (first discussed last October that I can see), that Brightline has been talking with SunRail to study sharing the corridor between Disney and somewhere east of MCO (possibly Innovation Way), giving SunRail access to the airport and an East-West corridor. I mention this because SunRail is a commuter system – their railcars have twice the capacity of Brightline. While luggage would still be a problem, the capacity needed could potentially come from SunRail. However there has been no agreement to date.

Walt Disney World readies for July 11th limited opening, various reservations canceled

Sorry, we’re closed. Mouse outside shoulda told ya.”

Walt Disney World has started unveiling their plan, yet to be approved, to re-open on July 11th. I suggest following the Disney Parks Blog for updates as they happen.

As part of that, guests who still had active dining and FastPass reservations are finding those reservations canceled anyways, and they are up in arms. However, given that Disney is going through a phased reopening (Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11th, Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15th), which will not even include all the parks to start with, and dining options will be limited with some restaurants likely closed, others with reduced capacity, and the same for attractions, this is not a surprise at all.

That valuable Seven Dwarfs or Flights of Passage FastPass you may have scored isn’t going to mean much if the capacity of the attraction is reduced to less than what would normally be issued. So while WDW works on how things are going to work in each and every case, they are leveling the playing field – everyone starts at zero again. Some attractions may not even offer FastPass, or they may go to a different virtual queuing system ala Rise of the Resistance…but don’t ask about how to get them yet. NO ONE knows. Not even sure WDW does yet. They’ve got 43 days more to figure it out. And that assumes no setbacks.

FastPass+ and Extra Magic Hours benefits for Disney Springs Area Resorts extended through 2019

Just announced, the 60-day FastPass+ booking benefit and Extra Magic Hours for guests staying at one of the seven Disney Springs Area Resorts – B Resort & Spa, Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort, DoubleTree Guest Suites by Hilton Orlando, Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace, Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, Holiday Inn Orlando, and the Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista – has been extended through December 31st, 2019!

Walt Disney World adds fee for overnight self-parking at resorts

It just got more expensive for on-site guests who travel with a vehicle…starting with reservations made March 21st, 2018 and thereafter, guests staying at a WDW resort and will have a vehicle parked overnight will now pay a self-parking fee, which will be added to their folio on check-out. The fee depends on the level of resort: $13/night for value, $19/night for moderate, and $24/night for deluxe including Deluxe Villa resorts. However, DVC members will NOT have to pay a parking fee when staying at a DVC Deluxe Villa, even if they paid points instead of cash.

The fee also does not apply to guests staying at campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.

Official information available here.

Walt Disney World raises ticket prices

No surprises here – it’s the second Sunday in February, and that brings the usually-annual increase in ticket prices at Walt Disney World.

Most of the Magic Your Way tickets of 5 days and above went up $15. With varying increases for short tickets. A single-day Value Season ticket for Magic Kingdom is now $109, and $102 for the other parks.

The Park Hopper option remains an additional $75 for four or more days, with 2- and 3-Day tickets at $65 and 1-Day $62. Adding Park Hopper Plus is still an additional $25.

Annual Passes also saw an increase – the Platinum Pass is now $849, and the Platinum Plus Pass is $949.

Walt Disney World will now allow selected guests to purchase more Fastpass+ experiences

According to our friends at the DIS, Walt Disney World has confirmed the recent rumor that selected guests will be able to purchase an add-on to their tickets that will allow them to book 3 additional Fastpass+ experiences per day, and up to 90 days in advance. The extra three experiences can be for any attraction regardless of tiered status or park, but any single attraction can only be booked once a day.

This is a pilot program that begins January 12th, 2018.

Eligible guests are those who qualify for WDW’s “Signature Services“, which currently include guests staying Club-level and Suite accommodations, as well as those who book VIP Tours. Guests must have at least a 3-day ticket, and the cost is $50 per day.

Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando parks closed this weekend for Hurricane Irma

Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando both took the unusual measure to close the parks for the weekend ahead of the impending Hurricane Irma, while they put all their resources into keeping guests safe who are unable to leave the resorts.

WDW parks will be closing at staggered times to allow easier transportation back to the resorts. All Universal parks will close at 7pm.

More details on the specific closures can be found at the DIS.

To all our friends who are at WDW and the surrounding areas, stay safe!

D23 Parks recap…Star Wars resort and so much more…

Wow, they made a LOT of announcements about the parks today…here is a recap of some of the biggest stuff slated for Walt Disney World, although there may be some fine details to learn later…park by park first:

Magic Kingdom:
The Tron Lightcycle Coaster will indeed be brought to WDW and will be added to Tomorrowland. Early rumors stated it would replace the Tomorrowland Speedway, but we thought about it and believed there would be site line problems from Fantasyland, and it would be better off behind it in a new area – and that proved true. It will occupy the space to the left of Space Mountain, taking some backstage area.

The previously reported items are coming true…Guardians of the Galaxy will indeed replace Ellen’s Energy Adventure, but the surprise there is that the Universe of Energy pavilion building will remain! And part of the theme is that Peter Quill visited EPCOT Center when he was a child…further details on the ride itself are not known.

And the Ratatouille 4D dark ride is indeed coming to the France pavilion and be located in space behind the current buildings.

Mission: SPACE is getting a slight change – the Green Team mission will change to orbiting Earth rather than traveling to Mars. And this seems to tie in to a surprise announcement – that a new restaurant will open next to Mission: SPACE themed for an orbiting space station high above the Earth, with large picture windows looking out on the planet below…

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Toy Story Land will finally open in Summer of 2018, while the Star Wars area, now dubbed Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, will open in 2019 – exactly when isn’t certain but it will be sometime after the Disneyland version does. It will include a Millennium Falcon ride, and Hondo from Star Wars: The Clone Wars will entice visitors to help pilot the ship. Also Rex, the original pilot from Star Tours, will return as the DJ for the Cantina. More Star Wars in a minute…

Most shocking is the news that The Great Movie Ride is closing August 13th, and will become and entirely new ride called Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It is supposed to use some amazing “2 1/2 D” technology to take the riders though the screen into the cartoon. The audience reaction to this announcement was muted, as the existing attraction is pretty loved. At this point I really think they should drop “Studios” from the park name.

At the resort-wide level, they confirmed the “Skyliner” gondola transportation system which will connect both Epcot (at the International Gateway) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to the Art of Animation, Pop Century and Caribbean Beach resorts, which should offer some relief to the buses. In addition, a new point-to-point personal car service, the “Minnie Van”, will be offered. Think “WDW Uber”.

DVC will get a new Riviera-themed resort, situated near Epcot…not a lot of details other than it opening in June 2019, but given the date we believe this actually may be the portion of Caribbean Beach Resort that is being torn down and has long been rumored to be a new DVC expansion – but it will be separate from the Caribbean Beach Resort itself. It will be able to take advantage of the Skyliner transportation as well.

And lastly, probably the biggest item, is confirmation of an immersive Star Wars themed resort which our sister site Sci-Fi Storm reported on previously, in which the guests can play roles in the resort’s story. Not much new detail was provided, but it is part of a new “Disney 360” immersive resort experience project, so we may see similarly planned resorts. See below for some concept art.

Is Epcot the next target for expansion?

While the Magic Kingdom (Fantasyland expansion), Animal Kingdom (Pandora) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Star Wars and Toy Story Land) having received a lot of attention in recent years, Epcot has only received minimal attention since the replacement of Horizons with Mission: SPACE in 2003 and the addition of Soarin’ in 2005. Since then, Test Track has received a makeover, Maelstrom was re-themed into Frozen Ever After, and Soarin’ is getting a third concourse.

That may be about to change. Permits filed by the state show a number of projects, and although they don’t give specifics of what they might for, it is prep work that typically goes with construction and redevelopment.

Two areas of particular interest are the area behind the Universe of Energy pavilion, and the area behind the France pavilion and between there and the Morocco pavilion in the World Showcase.

Rumors have swirled for months that the Universe of Energy pavilion, which houses Ellen’s Energy Adventure, would close and be rebuilt for some form of attraction based on Guardians of the Galaxy – Walt Disney World’s first Marvel-based attraction. The permits deal with the area behind the pavilion, which is a possible indication of expanding the building area. The work includes filling in the canal that reaches behind the backstage area there and expanding a canal to make up for the filling. The project area extends all the way back to the corner of the Epcot parking lot.

The latest permit involves what looks like a major expansion to the France pavilion, and this is bringing up the old rumor of a WDW version of the Ratatouille trackless dark ride at the Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris.(Update: There is also a rumor that it will be the same ride system, but themed to Beauty And The Beast, given the resurgence in popularity of that property.)

World Showcase historians will remember that there are many “sectors” to the World Showcase, but not all of them contain a pavilion. Spaces exist between most of the country pavilions, with the exceptions of Norway and China. Between United Kingdom and Canada there is space currently occupied by the Millennium Village building, which is used for special events but could be another country. Using these spaces for a new country would mean losing some of the buffer spaces between them, but they are available. However, we are unlikely to get an new countries in the near future – Norway was the most recent, 29 years ago.

The approximate area encompassed by the permit

If you look closely, the area is currently where they store a lot of the booths used during festivals, so those would need to be relocated. I believe there is a cast break room and a number of other supporting structures back there. Some will be relocated into the area behind Morocco. There is also a slight sliver of area included alongside the right side (looking from the front) of the France pavilion which is believe to accomodate the guest path/queue to the new attraction at the back.

It’s an exciting time at Walt Disney World right now.