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.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – Maximize your chances of getting a boarding group

The new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is an amazing experience – but the stress in even just trying to get to experience it is enormous, especially if you only have a limited number of days to even try. So here are some tips to help you out that worked great for us, based on data gathering and some technical knowledge. We made two real-world attempts and we got boarding group 4 on our first attempt, and 2 on our second attempt!

The fine folks over on the DISboards have been experimenting and gathering reports for months, and collected it all in in the first two posts of this thread, and most of what you need to know of is right there but I’ve added a few tricks of my own. Now, bear in mind, things can change all the time so before your trip I’d review those two posts and maybe the last few pages to make sure of the procedures. I’m pretty sure this system is temporary but we don’t know how long it will be in place.

I’ll mostly be talking about the attraction at Walt Disney World, but currently the procedures are much the same for Disneyland.

Background

Rise of the Resistance is not using Fastpass+ or even a Standby line. The only way to experience the attraction is to join the virtual queue system they are using by getting what is called a “boarding group”. With the popularity of the attraction and the busy crowd currently spurred by the whole of the Galaxy’s Edge area, there is a very short window in which to get a boarding group number – as little as a couple of minutes but on average about 35 minutes.

It is important to note also that this system is 100% disconnected from Fastpass+ – having three Fastpass+ selections already does not affect your ability to get a boarding group, and vice versa.

A boarding group (BG) itself is a number that gets “called” for boarding, after which you have a certain amount of time to return to the attraction to experience it, so you can do other things in the meantime. The window to return is typically two hours but sometimes, especially at the end of the day, it may be only one hour. The lower the number, the earlier you will experience the attraction.

There are two types of boarding groups as well. “Regular” groups and “Standby” groups. Regular BGs are somewhat guaranteed – there may be unforeseen circumstances where not all regular BGs get called. If that happens, guests with uncalled regular BGs will typically get some sort of compensation – that usually consists of an “anytime” Fastpass to return the next day, and possibly a one-day ticket in case you didn’t have another day’s admission to return. A standby BG has no compensation, but depending on your number you may still have a good chance of experiencing the attraction. Since February 4th (when they appeared to change how they allocated BG quantities and group sizes) they have not failed to call a regular BG. The big thing is that regular BGs are typically all snatched up in less than 2 minutes.

No one knows how many people exactly are in a boarding group, or how they are handed out. They seem to be fairly sequential based on how quickly people pick them up, but I believe the number of people per group is pretty variable, based on how fast they need to give out the groups and don’t have time to find slots for the group of two in an earlier group, etc. I think they just have a rough number that once filled it goes on to the next, and then the next, etc.

There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that someone canceling a BG they already have frees up anything that people can find later. I believe they just let those slots go unfilled and call standby boarding groups that much sooner.

Some interesting facts: Boarding Groups rarely start with 1. For some strange reason, they usually start at 2 and sometimes start as high as 10 or more – 15 was the highest since Feb 4th. No one knows why, but I suspect they leave some “space” to allow for compensation Fastpasses, etc. by reserving that quantity within the system – but there may be other reasons.

The highest regular BG number also isn’t fixed. It generally varies between 50 and 63. We don’t have a reliable way of knowing how many standby BGs are given out on a given day.

How do I get one? The Basics

You MUST use the Walt Disney World My Disney Experience app on your smart device – typically it’s just called “Disney World” in the app store, depending on which park you are visiting. This is the same app where you can manage your Fastpasses, etc.

You and your entire party also must also be IN Disney’s Hollywood Studios in order to get a boarding group. They are letting people into the park early. You must be fully scanned in to the park by scanning your MagicBand or ticket card at the entrance tapstiles. Sorry, but the rest of your party can’t sleep in while you go to the park for this one. You can, however, practice using the app – if you are willing to get up – and get as far as the party selection screen as shown below.

Currently, the home screen when you run it looks like the first image. Selecting either the picture of the AT-ATs or the Find Out More button will take you to the current status screen.

WDW MDX Home ScreenRotR Status Screen

If there are available boarding groups, the “Join Boarding Group” button will be red. The button will NOT turn red until the actual scheduled opening time of the park, even though they may let people in early. So, if the park opening is scheduled for 8:00am, that’s when you can join a boarding group. Not one second before.

Clicking on that will take you to a screen to select the people in your party. Only you will be selected at first – if everyone on the screen is in your party, just hit the “Select All” button, and select “Join a Boarding Group”.

If everyone is in the park, then all should be well. If not, you might come to a screen that shows one or more people that are not registered as being in the park. If they did and it still rejects them, remove them from the list, continue quickly, and then visit one of the Guest Experience Teams scattered throughout the park to get it checked out. They can add them to your boarding group after they verify.

The next screen will tell you your boarding group number.

That’s really all there is to it – if everything goes right. Because technology is involved, there are various ways in which your device, the app, the network connections, etc. can glitch. So next are some tips to help maximize your chances at not only getting a boarding group, but a low number.

How do I maximize my chances?

Glitch happens. It’s just a fact of technology. So here are some tips on what to do to hopefully minimize the impact of any glitches.

  • Practice. Anyone can practice from home. Follow the procedures as if you were at the park, and you should be able to get through as far as selecting the members of your party, but then it will tell you you are not in the park. That’s fine – it means it worked, and now you know what to expect.
  • If you have more than one person in your party that has a smart device, have them all try. The first one in wins and the others will get locked out after the party selection screen, saying that everyone is already part of a boarding group.
    If they don’t have their own account (say, a child that is controlled by your own account), you can have them log into your account to try. The system is fine with more than one device per account.
  • Get to the park early enough to get scanned into the park. They have been typically letting people in one hour early. You can’t do much other than get into a line for Starbucks, or start queuing in some areas like Toy Story Land or the Galaxy’s Edge entrance, but unless you are trying to rope drop an attraction, you don’t need to be super early. Obviously take into account travel and bag checks/security.
  • Some time before the official park opening, compare the time on your phone to the official time as provided by NIST. There are some apps that do this (some are called “atomic clock” apps), or you can use a browser and go to www.time.gov. Watch the clock on your phone and the app/web site for how it lags between the turnover of a minute. The app usually activates between 0 and 2 seconds after the official park open time. Smart phones are pretty accurate and sync themselves to the same sources, and are usually less than one second off. If it appears to be more, try rebooting your phone, but I would do this at least 30 minutes prior.
  • Find a less crowded area of the park. You may be tempted to get in a line to get on an attraction early, but this puts you in a crowd of people with devices all trying to do the same thing as you, and the more devices there are the more interference and the local infrastructure to handle all the data requests will be taxed.
    Consider hanging out closer to a building, especially the entrance, but not inside or at least not deep inside. Mobile data and Wi-Fi signals will generally be stronger. Obviously don’t block the entrance. Check your signal – it can vary and that’s normal, but you don’t want it to disappear or show you don’t have any data signal at all.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi has problems with lots of devices in a small area. Go with mobile data if possible. If you must use Wi-Fi for some reason, see the recommendation above of being near a building. If you have more than one person trying, you can have some use data and some use Wi-Fi.
  • Close ALL applications at least 5 minutes before, including the My Disney Experience application.
  • At 5 minutes before, run ONLY the My Disney Experience Application, and watch the clock. Do NOT click through to the Rise of the Resistance screen – STAY on the home screen. While normally you could be on the RotR screen the button should turn red, it doesn’t always.
  • After it officially ticks to the park open time, count to one or two before clicking to the RotR screen. When you do, the button should be red but it may take a moment afterwards. If it doesn’t turn red after a couple of seconds, fully close (“force close”) the app as per your particular phone OS’s procedure, then re-open the app. You should get the fireworks screen then the home screen again. Then try again.

Of course, even following these tips glitch happens. Keep trying until it tells you there are no boarding groups available. If the worst case happens and you aren’t able to get a boarding group, have another morning visit planned and try again, maybe trying a different area of the park. If it works for you the first time, then you can come again and possibly ride a second time. You’ll want to.

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!

A WDW Expert goes to Disneyland

I’ve been going to Walt Disney World for two decades now. Many have been going longer, but I was a “late bloomer” as I’ve probably mentioned before. And being the technical, analytical person I am, I learned a great deal by studying – we bought books, joined the DISboards, etc. Because the Fastpass system was so important for being able to enjoy more and wait list, I made a point of studying it, how it work, WHY it worked, and knowing how best to use it. I was dubbed the “Fastpass Jedi Master” over at the DISboards. In general, I consider myself an expert on most everything WDW.

This time I was out of my element. THIS time, I was going to Disneyland. I was going to where it all began. And I wanted a first-timers view. So much so, we went to the parks without even a touring plan. We had our must-dos, our would-like-to-dos, and even some don’t-really-need-to-dos – we knew we wouldn’t be able to do everything, and some attractions are carbon copies of those in WDW. We wanted to do the different things most – even those that were only slightly different in a way.

It looks familiar so far…
My passion for nostalgia is pretty high, so seeing the things I’ve only seen on TV, via re-runs of the old “Disneyland/World of Color”, and walking where Walt once walked, was going to be the excitement for me. So obviously, our first day would be spent in Disneyland Park.
Continue reading A WDW Expert goes to Disneyland

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!

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire to bring VR experience to Disney Resorts

A collaboration between Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB division (which works on immersive entertainment) and VR experience startup THE VOID, will see a VOID Entertainment Center open at both Disneyland’s Downtown Disney and Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs, which will feature Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, a fully immersive VR experience, which The Void calls “hyper-reality”.

THE VOID already operates locations in New York City (inside Madame Tussaud’s), Toronto, Lindon, Utah and Dubai, where they have Ghostbusters Dimension.

The Void says Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire “will plunge guests directly into the iconic Star Wars galaxy. They will move freely throughout the untethered, social, and multi-sensory Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire experience in a way that allows them to interact and engage with friends, family and Star Wars characters. This ground-breaking experience will open to the public at two new VOID Experience Centers at Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort and Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort beginning this holiday season.”

“At The VOID, we combine the magic of illusion, advanced technology and virtual reality to create fully immersive social experiences that take guests to new worlds,” said Curtis Hickman, co-founder and chief creative officer at The VOID. “A truly transformative experience is so much more than what you see with your eyes; it’s what you hear, feel, touch, and even smell. Through the power of The VOID, guests who step into Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire won’t just see this world, they’ll know that they are part of this amazing story.”

Vicki Dobbs Beck, executive in charge of ILMxLab, said, “At ILMxLAB, we want people to step inside the worlds of our stories. Through our collaboration with The VOID, we can make this happen as guests become active participants in an unfolding Star Wars adventure. By combining Lucasfilm’s storytelling expertise with cutting-edge imagery, and immersive sound from the team at Skywalker Sound, while invoking all the senses, we hope to truly transport all those who experience Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire to a galaxy far, far away.”
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire marks an important milestone in the continued expansion of The VOID, which also joined the 2017 Disney Accelerator earlier this year,” said Cliff Plumer, CEO of The VOID. “Through the power of The VOID, guests can now experience the magic of Star Wars firsthand.”

Expect to have to make reservations FAR in advance…