Over Columbus Day weekend, my family and I visited Walt Disney World. We went to the Magic Kingdom (MK) on Saturday and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) Sunday. I wanted to pass along ten things I discovered during our adventures this weekend.
- Columbus Day weekend is now a popular holiday to visit Orlando’s theme parks. Although Disney recently increased the cost of parking to $20 a day, increased the cost of an annual pass and regular admission prices are at an all-time high, crowd levels seem to be growing.
Also considering Columbus Day is not a holiday for local schools, the crowd levels this weekend at the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios compare to Spring Break level crowds. Here is a sample of the wait times for popular attractions: 60 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean, 80 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, 80 minutes for Tower of Terror and 120 minutes for Toy Story Midway Mania.
- Construction is underway to expand the Magic Kingdom parking lot. As we passed through the parking toll booth, I was surprised just how far the construction has progressed since Disney demolished the former Richard Petty Driving Experience track. Acres of dirt are spread across the area that will soon be transformed into additional parking for Magic Kingdom guests.
- During busy days at the Disney parks the fact you have a Fastpass+ time for an attraction does not mean the FP+ queue will be short. Throughout the weekend, the FP+ entrance for several attractions extended into the walkways. Cast Members stood in the walkway at the end of the line with a sign directing guests.
For example, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s FP+ queue had several switchbacks and extended to the entrance of Tom Sawyer Island raft ride. The People Mover, in addition to the regular switchbacks, extended their queue past Astro Orbiter. Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM) was the worst with its line extending to the doors of the former Jack Sparrow Experience building. Many of the FP+ queues move quickly when this occurs. However, TSMM did not. Is Disney offering too many FP+ slots during busy times?
- Walt Disney World construction inside the parks is ongoing and progressing. The Magic Kingdom hub and castle forecourt look very nice with the new turrets and landscaping but portions of the hub still remain under construction.
The Country Bear Jamboree building is being refurbished. Many attractions are permanently closed at DHS allegedly due to the future Star Wars land and the Toy Story area expansion. A large mural announcing the Star Wars Launch Bay opening December 2015 has been placed at the entrance to the closed Art of Animation building.
Near Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror a new special event area, Sunset Showcase, is being built and will begin hosting Club Disney in December 2015 where guests can dance with Mickey and friends. I also noticed construction walls along Sunset Boulevard in front of Sunset Ranch Market eating area.
And sadly, Mulch, Sweat & Shears band, after entertaining guests at Walt Disney World for eleven years, performed their last concert at DHS on Saturday, October 10, 2015.
- The newly re-opened Watto’s Grotto is a Star Wars Tatooine-themed merchandise shop and can be found in the former AFI Showcase, near the old Backlot Tour exit area in DHS.
Merchandise includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens clothing, customized light sabers, toys, collectibles and much more. A variety of props throughout the store provide some great photo opportunities.
Along the outside wall of the Watto’s Grotto building are large murals depicting scenes that come to life if you have the Aurasma app on your smart device. An AT-47 Airspeeder from The Empire Strikes Back is another photo opportunity at the entrance to the store.
- Magic Kingdom’s Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe changed their menu and no longer serves BBQ or hamburgers. Their new menu features fajitas, burritos, rice bowls, soup and snacks. Prices for main dishes range from $10-$14. You can enhance your meal with a selection of items from their Fixin’s Bar including salsa, cheese, sour cream, peppers, diced tomatoes and onions.
- Pirates of the Caribbean in the Magic Kingdom has recently undergone an extended refurbishment and is open again. We noticed the enhancements to the attraction almost immediately after our boat left the loading ramp. Guests in the front two rows of the boat were splashed significantly after we plunged down the first hill. The special effects of both Davy Jones and Blackbeard’s images projected on the misty wall were working well. The cannon balls during the battle scene splashed much more than previous experiences on this attraction. The lighting and costumes of the animatronics were noticeably redone and made the scenes pop with color and detail as you floated by.
- The first part of October in Orlando can be hot and feel just like June. Temperatures were in the upper 80’s to low 90’s during our visit this weekend. A heavy rain shower on Saturday afternoon sent everyone scrambling to the indoor attractions at the Magic Kingdom, thus making those queues even longer than usual.
- During this month of the year, the holiday decorations at the Disney parks can be confusing. Fall and Halloween decorations can be found throughout the Magic Kingdom. I love the gardens at the entry to the park, Town Square with all its decorations and especially the orange Mickey pumpkin heads on the light posts.
Although it is only the first part of October, due to the millions of lights that must be strung on Cinderella’s Castle and along the Streets of America in DHS, they are already hanging lights in preparation for their November debut. It was recently announced by Disney that this would be the last year for The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Viewing and absorbing the spectacle of millions of lights at the beginning of the holidays is a family tradition for us and many others. We will miss this holiday spectacular.
- I maxed out my score on Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin! While my husband and son enjoy the thrills and excitement of Space Mountain, I always use my Fastpass+ reservation for the Buzz Lightyear attraction. I enjoy trying to hit the targets throughout the ride and for the first time reached 999,999. I would say it was 85% luck and 15% skill that helped me achieve this score.
We may have ridden fewer rides this visit to Walt Disney World due to the unexpected crowds, but we were able to enjoy attractions that our family likes the most, ensuring a magical time at the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I look forward to visiting again next month when hopefully the crowds will be lower and all the holiday decorations are on display.