DVC Parks and Resorts Update for January 18, 2021
I won’t sugarcoat the matter. The past week wasn’t terrific for Disney fans. However, one bright spot could make a world of difference for many Californians. I’ll explain what’s happening in the latest DVC Parks and Resorts Update.
The Disneyland Update (Part I)
By now, you’ve likely entered the acceptance phase regarding Disneyland. You know that the Happiest Place on Earth cannot open during the pandemic, which makes for the perfect metaphor about what we’re all living through right now.
At one point, California and Florida’s COVID-19 numbers were neck-and-neck. Since then, the Golden State has suffered repeated outbreaks, preventing the reopening of Disneyland. As a reminder, that momentous occasion should have occurred on July 17th! We are six months past that date with no hope in the short term.
The management team at Disneyland Resort faces many challenging decisions due to the prolonged closure. California listed more than 40,000 new cases as recently as last Thursday, January 14th. Disneyland cannot operate in that climate. As such, Disney officials just took a different and frankly brilliant approach to the problem.
The Disneyland campus just became the first super Point-of-Dispensing (POD) site of its kind in the nation. A parking lot at 300 W. Katella Avenue will operate as a hub for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. This endeavor won’t involve cast members, as Disney has opened the site to health officials. These professionals will distribute more than 7,000 doses of the two COVID-19 vaccines available today.
Orange County’s acting Chairman of the Board of Supervisors gushed over Disney’s decision. He summarized the situation as follows: “Today marks an important step in combating Covid-19 and reclaiming our lives and livelihoods.”
The process involves online sign-up followed by in-person shot dispensing. The current phase, 1A, calls for the vaccination of healthcare workers and law enforcement officials in high-risk areas along with residents aged 75 and above. Adam the Woo, a popular Disney influencer, visited the site on the first day and published this video:
The Disneyland Update (Part II)
Orange County alone includes a population of more than 3.1 million residents. As you might imagine, the Disney super POD has proven extraordinarily popular thus far. You should expect the online sign-up site to struggle under the weight of high traffic volume. Thankfully, once you reach the Disneyland parking lot, you’ll discover a smooth process already up and running.
Disney had a plan here, and it’s already paying dividends. You may have heard that the governmental rollout of vaccinations hasn’t gone smoothly. That, if anything, undersells the struggles thus far. However, I’ll point back to recent history. Remember that the same thing happened with COVID-19 tests last spring and early summer. By the end of summer, tests were readily available everywhere.
I expect the same situation to unfold with vaccination distribution. Southern California has also agreed to set up similar super POD sites at the baseball stadiums for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, among others. So, the situation is already looking better by the day. Disney deserves a great deal of credit for contributing to the solution to the recent outbreaks in California.
The Disneyland Update (Part III)
Of course, this situation bleeds into a different problem. Disneyland has remained closed for ten months and counting. Annual passholders haven’t had access to the parks that entire time, which makes their purchases less than satisfactory. While Disney offered refunds in 2020, they were limited time offers. Park officials expected a triumphant comeback in time for the 65th anniversary of Disneyland that should have happened last July.
Now, we’re far past that date with little hope in sight before the spring/summer. So, the President of Disneyland Resort, Ken Potrock, tweeted this announcement:
— Disney Parks News (@DisneyParksNews) January 14, 2021
Yes, the annual pass program that we all know and love is over. Disney canceled the program and will refund guests for all remaining days. Note that this applies to Premier Passports as well. If you possess one of them, it’ll remain active through March 31st. Soon after that, Disney will shutter that program as well.
The next place you should visit after reading this is the Disneyland Annual Passport Refund Information page. It’ll update you on how much money you should expect Disney to refund you for the unused portion of your annual pass.
Amenity Changes at Walt Disney World
Now is the time when the other shoe drops. If you haven’t heard, Walt Disney World has just changed some of the amenities for staying at official Disney resorts. In other words, some of the benefits you’ve grown to expect from DVC hotel stays will change/go away in coming weeks.
For starters, Disney has ended Extra Magic Hours. This perk hadn’t returned when the parks reopened. So, it’s not a massive shocker by any stretch. In fact, I would argue that the news is largely positive. Disney will replace Extra Magic Hours with a new program called Early Theme Park Entry.
This amenity isn’t active yet. However, Early Theme Park Entry sounds like a desirable perk. It’ll allow all official Disney hotel guests (including DVC members) to enter all four Walt Disney World parks early. You can enter half an hour before each park opens to regular guests.
Savvy DVC members should have no problem sneaking in a couple of extra rides before the crowds arrive. And it sounds like it’ll work similarly to Extra Magic Hours with regards to process. You may recall that cast members would check your Magic Band to verify you were a qualifying guest during Extra Magic Hours. Now, the same workers will verify that you are staying onsite, have an admission ticket, and have scheduled a Park Pass to the place you’re visiting.
That last part is crucial. You may only utilize Early Theme Park Entry for the place where you own a Park Pass, at least for now. So, if you’re staying at Bay Lake Tower, the Grand Floridian, Beach Club, or Boardwalk, you cannot sneak in a ride at Magic Kingdom/EPCOT before going somewhere else. Still, that’s a high-quality amenity. Extra Magic Hours ordinarily applied to one or possibly two parks per day. This new amenity will apply to all of them, which makes it more valuable in my estimation.
We Will Miss You, Magical Express
Alas, the other update is heartbreaking. Disney has chosen to end the Magical Express program. The explicit wording suggests that all vacations that start on January 1st, 2022, won’t come with the Magical Express benefit. You’ll be on your own getting to and from Orlando International Airport (MCO).
Previously, I discussed Disney’s agreement to allow a Brightline high-speed railway station at Disney Springs. The timeline for this project should lead to a grand opening during the second half of 2023.
At that point, DVC members and other Disney fans will take a Brightline ride from MCO to Disney Springs and then catch a bus from the entertainment complex to their hotel. Obviously, you have many questions about how that will work, but it’s too early to answer them yet.
The more pressing concern is what Disney expects guests to do from the start of 2022 until the station opens during the latter half of 2023. That’s at least 18 months of upended vacations. Disney’s proclamation came with no other details.
Meanwhile, Mears, the transportation service that operates Magical Express, quickly published its own update. Mears clearly stated that its buses will continue to run back and forth from the airport to Walt Disney World. As such, the implication here appears obvious.
Disney wants to save money by eliminating an expensive amenity. For many DVC members, myself included, this change in services feels personal. We share many fond memories of Magical Express and hate the thought of Disney ending the program.
While the company could have other plans in mind, ones they haven’t announced yet, the immediate outcry against this decision strikes me as telling. If you dislike Disney’s choice, make your voice heard by leaving a message at this link. Alternatively, contact DVC Member Services and speak your mind.
Other Disney Updates
Believe it or not, other stuff is happening at Disney, too. Let me quickly take you through some other updates.
Liberty Square Market closed the other day and will perform renovations throughout January. The turkey leg capital of Magic Kingdom will remain closed until early February.
Meanwhile, Tokyo Disneyland faces a similar timeline with one of its decisions. I mentioned last week that another viral outbreak has reduced capacity to 5,000 guests per park. As such, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have closed a bunch of restaurants and stores until at least February 7th. You can check the official site for additional details.
If you’re like me and visiting Walt Disney World over the next month, I have good news! Disney has extended park hours for most dates through mid-February. On the flip side, international travelers should know that you must possess a negative COVID-19 test to fly into the United States for the time being.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, preparations are underway for the late-2021 grand opening of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. Jeff Vahle, President of Walt Disney World, recently posted some new images on Instagram.
Finally, Adventures by Disney fans should know that the business has grand plans for its eventual return. In 2022, you can visit Antarctica and Patagonia or the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador. The former vacation would have seemed impossible only a few years ago. You can read the itinerary and details from the official site, but…PENGUIN WATCHING!!!
Okay, that’s everything for this week. Stay safe, everyone!