DVC Parks and Resorts Update for November 30th
This past week, the most famous active Imagineer announced his retirement. Also, Disney confirmed the future of transportation, and two significant park experiences return. I’ll tell you the latest in this week’s DVC Parks and Resorts Update.
Joe Rohde Will Retire
The start of 2021 will include an unforgettable date in Disney history. Joe Rohde, the most recognizable Imagineer, will retire on January 4th. In the unlikely event that you don’t know him by name, you’ll recognize him by appearance. He’s the dude who wears the giant earring.
Frankly, I hate to reduce him by summarizing him by a droopy earlobe, but that’s how many know him. Disney fans are more appreciative of what he’s meant to the company over the years.
Rohde’s 40-year tenure includes several memorable achievements, but I’ll narrow the list to three significant contributions. The Imagineer worked as the creative lead at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a project he spearheaded.
Rohde was meeting with his boss, then-CEO Michael Eisner, and wanted to make an impression. So, he brought a Bengal tiger with him to the meeting. Soon afterward, Eisner dared to greenlight the Animal Kingdom project, the fourth and most recent gate at Walt Disney World.
In a way, Animal Kingdom qualifies as Rohde’s baby, as his fingerprints remain everywhere at the park. He emphasized that every stage piece – anything you see at the park – should tell a story. And he solidified this role a few years ago.
Accomplished director James Cameron fell in love with the idea of a real-world version of Pandora at a theme park. This assignment also fell to Rohde, and the two men worked closed to create Pandora – The World of Avatar. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling that many believe stands as the best themed land on the planet, even over Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Of course, Disney Vacation Club members share a different reason to celebrate Rohde’s career. The Imagineer’s father worked as a cameraman in Hawaii when Rohde was just a child. The family moved from California to Hawaii, which means he’s not quite a native son of The Aloha State…but a favorite son nonetheless.
When Disney chose to construct a Hawaiian DVC resort, Rohde qualified as the obvious choice. His work on Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa astounded tourists and locals alike. The consensus opinion in Hawaii is that Aulani’s the most authentic of all tourist resorts on the islands.
Rohde indicates that he has plenty that he wants to accomplish. He worried that taking on another multi-year Disney project would leave him too old for other projects.
High-Speed Coming to Disney Springs
Florida residents and frequent visitors already know about Brightline. This company operates high-speed railways that can transport people across the state. You can travel from Miami to West Palm Beach in about 70 minutes. Here’s a video example:
You’ll notice that the train stops at Fort Lauderdale along the way (30:38 mark in the video). Stops like this will increase as Brightline introduces new stations, and that’s important for DVC members/Disney fans.
Disney and Brightline just confirmed that the parties will construct a Brightline station at Disney Springs. They didn’t reveal an exact location yet. Still, this addition matters a great deal to all Disney fans, even ones who don’t live in Florida.
Brightline had previously started construction on a station at Orlando International Airport (MCO). Obviously, that one will become vital to high-speed railways in Florida, as it’s one of the ten busiest airports in the United States. Connecting that location to the rest of Florida via railway will enhance travel across the Sunshine State.
More importantly, tourists flying into MCO are only a few years away from revolutionary logistics. You can take a plane to Orlando and then board a Brightline train to Disney Springs. From there, you can take a bus to wherever you want on the Disney campus.
The MCO station had initially projected a timeframe of 30–36 months for construction, which could have meant completion as soon as early 2021. The pandemic has delayed those plans some, but we should still have a Brightline station at Orlando International Airport by the middle of 2022. The Disney Springs one should arrive a year later.
You can imagine how much this could impact your future travel habits at Walt Disney World. It’s a massive development and an intelligent choice by both companies. The only way it’d get even better is if Universal Orlando Resort added a station. That would allow DVC members to train-hop between the parks!
The Yin and Yang of Walt Disney World
Disney executives must deal with plenty of moving pieces during the pandemic. For that reason, everything’s been fluid for the body of 2020. The latest example of this involves Walt Disney World.
We just learned that Disney’s early estimates for staff layoffs weren’t accurate. And it’s a grim thing to think about. Disney had projected a loss of 28,000 jobs by the end of 2020. Sadly, that number has increased by 4,000.
High-level executives have confirmed that a total of 32,000 employees for The Walt Disney Company will lose their jobs by the end of March. It’s another kick to the crotch of the already shaky local economies in Anaheim and Orlando.
Please remember to tell cast members that you appreciate them, my fellow DVC members. They’re going through a lot.
Despite these upcoming job losses, Disney recently increased the maximum capacity from 25 to 35 percent. The company did this in anticipation of heightened demand during the holidays. With more guests in the parks, the company’s bringing back some restaurants.
Woody’s Lunch Box just reopened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You may wonder how the seating will work at what’s historically been a crazy-busy spot. Well, Disney has retained some tables and added markers to others. By taking this approach, guests may honor social distancing conventions.
Two other restaurants will return soon at Magic Kingdom. The Crystal Palace will reopen as a family-style, non-character dining experience on December 13th. Four days later, Tomorrowland Terrace will return. Interestingly, it’ll feature some of the recognizable menu options from Columbia Harbour House, indicating that the latter place may remain closed for a while.
Updates from Other Disney Parks
Let’s start with something happy. Last week, Hong Kong Disneyland finally revealed the outcome of a long-term project. You may recall that when Shanghai Disneyland opened in 2016, and its castle put the Hong Kong one to shame.
Well, park officials in Hong Kong prioritized a new, better castle rather than its previous knockoff of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Disney announced the project in November of 2016, but building a state-of-the-art castle takes time. Well, The Castle of Magical Dreams has finally arrived, and it’s breathtaking.
This 167-foot multi-colored structure honors all 14 Disney Princesses to date. And it’s arguably better than the one at Shanghai Disneyland, the unstated goal here. The castle is also the first of several impending improvements coming to Hong Kong Disneyland. Disney and Hong Kong’s government committed roughly $1.4 billion to park additions.
In other Disney vacation news, Disney Cruise Line has officially canceled all cruises through the end of January. We’re in a weird position right now wherein many countries are suffering more COVID-19 outbreaks than ever before.
Meanwhile, Moderna has indicated it could receive emergency approval for its vaccine in a matter of days. Disney Cruise Line’s immediate future hinges on those two conflicting yet connected situations.
Speaking of which, Disneyland Paris has given up the ghost on the idea of reopening for the Christmas holiday season. The original plan had called for a temporary closure followed by a December return. Alas, France’s early November explosion in cases has caused government officials to crack down on all vulnerabilities.
In fact, Disneyland Paris has been impacted by Disney’s layoffs as well. All musicians and some show performers received notifications that their jobs won’t return. They’re not laid off, as they’ll have reassignment options, but park guests will have less entertainment for a while.
Other Park/DVC Updates
Have you tried the new walkway connecting Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa? Well, some people have, and they either enjoyed it a lot or found it lacking in one area. I’m honestly unsure which.
Mere days after the walkway opened, Disney has introduced a new feature. You’ll find benches along the path now. Some guests may have relished the scenery so much that they wanted to sit down and relish in the ambiance. Alternatively, some may have found the walk too long and needed a break.
Whatever the explanation is, you’ve got benches now!
I also have some hope to offer those of you visiting Walt Disney World this holiday season. Park Passes may be available for Christmas/New Year’s Day and the rest of the month. Disney recently added more inventory and has hinted that it may do so again.
Finally, I’ve got a couple of Happy and Magical updates for you that I intentionally saved for last. The Taste of the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays has returned. Obviously, some elements like the storytellers aren’t possible. Still, holiday Cavalcades and musical performances will put you in the holiday spirit while you eat, drink, and be merry.
Also, fireworks are coming back to the Magic Kingdom. Don’t get too excited, as I’m not referencing a full nightly presentation. Instead, Disney’s going to punctuate the digital projections on Cinderella Castle. It’ll add what it’s calling “pyrotechnic pixie dust” at certain moments during the display. So, you’ll get some fireworks this year. And I think we all agree that anything’s better than nothing.