New Attractions Coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016

Last week I let you guys know about some of the changes coming to Hollywood Studios. This week I’ve got to tell you that I’m more than just a little excited about the new attractions coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016. They are building an entire new section based on Pandora, the world of Avatar. Here is a short video from Disney on some of the upcoming changes.


Rivers of Light

The hours at Animal Kingdom will be changing as well which will allow the part to have a night time show called Rivers of Light.

New Rivers of Light Nighttime Show Artist Rendering
Disney Artist Rendering

Rivers of Light will not be a fireworks show like wishes. It will be a combination of a live performance and water screens, similar to Fantasmic over at Hollywood Studios.

Here’s what Imagineer Joe Rohde had to say about it:

This is going to be a ceremonial event that will happen on our lake. It takes the idea of the special nature of the animals that are in this park and turns it into a celebration of the beauty of these animals. It starts simply and humbly, continues to unfold and grow as bigger and more elaborate lanterns appear, and then huge curtains of water and light emerge from the water with animals within them. And ultimately it takes off into the sky.

Sunset Kilimanjaro Safaris

There will also be a new way to experience the Kilimanjaro Safaris: after dark. Hyenas and wild African dogs will be added to the attraction that will only be visible at night. I actually got word that the hyenas arrived a few weeks ago. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of them while we’re down there in a few weeks.

This may change how you plan to enjoy this attraction. I have always been an advocate of doing Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing in the morning because it is when the animals are most active. It also gives you your best chance at seeing a lion.

A Lion at Disney's Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safaris

Now that they will be open at night, you may have a good chance to see a lion then as well. I’ll have to take a hard look at our planning guide as some of these new attractions become available.

Tiffins

According to Disney, the new Tiffins restaurant at Animal Kingdom will draw inspiration from the places that inspired the creation of the park. It will be located on the water and have indoor and outdoor seating. I’m also guessing that it will be a good place to view Rivers of Light from.

New Tiffins Restaurant at Animal Kingdom Artist Rendering
Disney Artist Rendering

I read that this may wind up being a Disney Signature restaurant but I’ve not found a Disney source to confirm that. Whether it is or not, it will be a welcome addition to the dining options at Animal kingdom.

Which of the new attractions coming to Animal Kingdom in 2016 are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below.

New Star Wars Attractions at Hollywood Studios

The new star wars launch bay at Disney's Hollywood StudiosWe’ve known for quite some time that there are some pretty big changes coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney recently released a statement that some of the cool new Star Wars attractions will be coming as soon as December 1st. This is unsurprising because the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is scheduled to hit the theaters on December 18th.

We’ll be heading down for our family vacation on December 5th so look forward to some reviews and great pictures of the new stuff soon from us here WDW Magical Memories.

Some of the attractions are being re-imagined and some of them are completely new. Here’s the breakdown.

Star Wars Launch Bay

New Character Meet and Greet at Star Wars Launch BayStar Wars Launch Bay will be located in Animation Courtyard and Disney reports that it will be the primary place to immerse yourself in all things Star Wars. At the Launch Bay you will find:

  • Launch Bay Cargo  where there will be unique items for sale that you cannot find elsewhere
  • The Cantina from the notorious Star Wars scene where Luke and Han first met
  • Launch Bay Theater which will be showing a short behind the scenes films complete with interviews of the minds behind Star Wars
  • A Character Meet & Greet where you will be able to meet Darth Vader and my favorite character, Chewbacca, who I’m told I have a striking resemblance to

The Star Wars Launch Bay sounds like it’s going to be a really cool place to hang out and explore. There will be replicas of large scale stuff used in the Star Wars movies, including some stuff from the upcoming new movie. It also sounds like there will be some new interactive games to check out.

Storm Trooper Patrols

Don’t be too surprised if you start running into Storm Trooper Patrols throughout the park starting soon. They will be on a mission to find members of the resistance and will be interacting with park guests. I hope that I get to interact with them soon.

Storm Troopers on patrol at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars: Path of the Jedi

This will be an abridged film of Star Wars episodes I – VII in a cinema setting near Echo Lake. This film will cover all six of the current movies from the perspective of Luke Skywalker on his journey to becoming a Jedi Knight. It will culminate into the trailer of the new Star Wars film.

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

This is a great “ride” and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve been on it. The experience is always a little different and now they’re adding more new features to it.

Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Star Tours at Night By Loren Javier is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to Disney there will around 50 different experiences starting on December 1st. This is really exciting and I really can’t wait to see the new experiences.

It’s important to note that you don’t pick your experience. It is random.

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple

This was formerly known as Jedi Training Academy and is a really great program for kids aged 4 – 12. Man, I wish I was younger because this is a cool program.

Jedi Training Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Jedi Training Academy by Star Wars is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In this interactive show, the trainees will go through a Jedi training to see if they have what it takes to become a Jedi Knight. It culminates in a showdown between the trainees and Darth Vader or Darth Maul and maybe some other new villains are coming to it..

We do know that new characters are being added including a new villain to battle from Star Wars Rebels.

A Galactic Spectacular

Hollywood Studios is getting a new nighttime spectacular: Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular. This one does not start until January 5th, but if you are familiar with any of Disney’s fireworks displays, you will know that being disappointed by this one is not likely.

We don’t have too many details on it yet but we will be sure to update this post when we do.

I’m excited about the new Star Wars attractions at Hollywood Studios that are coming soon. And I’m excited that I’ll be able to get to see them in a few weeks. What are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Starts in 5 Days!

I’m a grump when it comes to starting Christmas too early. I often belly ache and complain when I see a Christmas commercial or store display before Thanksgiving. Can’t we have one holiday at a time?

Magic Kingdom Christmas Tree
Chirstmas Tree, Main Street, USA by Dawn Pennington is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This grumpiness does not seem to apply to Disney World. I get excited when I read about and see pictures of the decorations going up. We’re going again this December so we will get to see them again in person this year including the Osborne Spectacle of Lights which is in its last year.

The festivities start again on November 8, 2015. That’s right, folks. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Starts in 5 Days! So settle in and get ready for your hot chocolate and cookies at the Very Merry Christmas party. If you are going to be anywhere near Orlando for the season, I highly recommend you look into going.

Frozen Holiday Wish

This year they are going to kick it off with a special Frozen Holiday Wish starring Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff. At some point in the show Elsa will use her powers to turn the Castle into an ice palace.

If you’ve never seen it before you can view the lighting (and more) on Pat Mce’s youtube video. He did a great job capturing it, but even it still does not do it justice when compared to viewing it in person. It really is stunning what they can do with lighting and affects on Cinderella’s Castle.

Cinderella Castle Christmas Lights

Also, don’t forget about the magic snow on Main Street, USA. Golly, it really is a magical experience. Can you blame me for not being grumpy about this one early Christmas display?

New Restaurants at Disney World

There are a few new restaurants at Disney World that are opening soon at Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs.

Jock Linsey’s Hangar Bar recently opened with some fan fare as did Mrimoto Asia both of which are in The Landing at Disney Springs. There is more exciting news! Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen was announced last August and Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine which will be operated by celebrity chef Art Smith which was just announced today.

Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine

This new farm to fork concept restaurant is scheduled to be open sometime in the summer of 2016. The cuisine is described as rustic southern with a Floridian twist. Some of the southern influenced dishes served will be deviled eggs, low country shrimp and grits, grilled Blackstrap pork chop with sawmill gravy and homemade pimento cheese.

Each dish has a little Florida twist and make guests feel like they’re on the back porch with me for every meal. – Art Smith

The new establishment claims that deserts will be a specialty with daily made pies and cakes including the restaurant’s Mockingbird Cake. I don’t know what Mockingbird Cake is and tried to look it up and could not find much but it is fairly clear that it is not made with mockingbirds. It seems it is a cake with pineapple in it with a cream cheese frosting. I love pineapple so I’ll definitely try it.

Who is Art Smith?

Art Smith was Oprah’s chef and also appeared on Top Chef, Top Chef masters and Iron Chef. He was defeated by Cat Cora on Iron Chef. He has also cooked for several heads of state including Barack Obama.

Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen

jungle-navigation-co-ltd-skipper-canteen

I’m pretty excited about this new joint scheduled to open sometime in 2015. It will feature “jungle fair” and have several dining rooms. One will be sort of like a “crew mess hall” and another is to be a “once-hidden secret meeting room of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.”

The wait staff of the restaurant will be all Jungle Cruise skippers. If you’ve ever ridden this attraction you know you’ll be entertained by the skippers for sure. If you have not, come to the restaurant ready to laugh.

Jungle Cruise by DearCatastropheWaitress is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Jungle Cruise by DearCatastropheWaitress is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

I have heard rumors that the serving experience will be similar to Be Our Guest. What that means is that it will be a counter service for lunch and table service for dinner. The nice thing about that is you can eat there for lunch first and save some bucks then if you like the flair, you can go back and try it for the more expensive dinner at a later date.

New Restaurants at Disney World

One of the greatest things about dining at Disney World is that they are constantly adding new stuff. I will readily admit that some of the dining experiences are a bit of a flop, particularly in Magic Kingdom. I’m hoping with the new offering at Skipper Canteen will improve upon that.

Disney Springs does not suffer that issue, though. The competition for really good dining is at a premium. With this in mind I’m pretty confident that Art Smith’s new joint will be a good place to eat.

Disney Has Raised the Price for Tables in Wonderland

crying-baby

We have confirmed that Disney has raised the price for Tables in Wonderland (formerly known as the Disney Dining Experience) and it’s a pretty steep hike. *insert sadface here* The new prices are:

$150 for annual pass holders and DVC members.
$175 for Florida residents.

What is Tables in Wonderland?

Tables in Wonder (TIW) is a program that provides a discount (usually 20% for a party of up to 10 people) at participating Walt Disney World restaurants available for annual pass holders, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members and Florida residents..  We have found that most restaurants do participate in the program and we usually purchase it for our trips.

An easy way to tell if a restaurant you want to visit participates in the TIW program is to either go to the TIW website or to visit the restaurant’s page on the Disney World dining website. Its also not a bad idea to ask your server, regardless of whether you are at a table or counter service. You can also ask the cast member on the phone when you call to make your reservations.

Sounds great! Where can I buy it?

If you are a DVC member you can visit any guest relations location at Downtown Disney er… Disney Springs or in any theme park.. You will need to show a photo ID and your DVC membership card.

If you are a Floridan resident or an annual pass holder you can either purchase them like a DVC member, at a guest relations location or by phone. If purchasing by phone, you will need to allow three to four weeks for delivery.

The Teaparty by Patrick Emerson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
The Teaparty by Patrick Emerson is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

OK, so how much did it go up?

For DVC members and annual pass holders it went from $100 to $150. For Florida residents it went from $125 to $175. Why? We do not know. The Tables in Wonderland card is valid for one calendar year from the time of purchase.

A second card can be purchased for a spouse or partner for $50. Both individuals must reside at the same address and be over the age of 21.

Are there blackout dates?

Yes, there are. TIW cannot be used on any major US holiday. Those holidays are New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And from the TIW website:

These select locations are subject to the following blackout dates: 1900 Park Fare, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana (Dinner Only), Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Chefs de France, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, and Le Cellier Steakhouse. The dates are November 22-28, 2015 and December 20-26, 2015; March 6-27, 2016; May 29- June 18, 2016; November 13-27, 2016; December 19-25, 2016.

Are there other restrictions?

There are a few. If you’re paying for TIW by credit card, the card must match the name the membership is being purchased under.

Bills cannot be split. If you are using TIW the person with the card must pay the entire bill that is being discounted. If a second card is purchased and both individuals are at the table the discount may be applied to a party of up to 20.

That’s not too bad. Are there other benefits?

One is that if you use valet parking for a restaurant, the valet fee is waved. (Still tip your valet, please.) Parking is also free but only for the express purpose of dining. Let your valet know that you are on TIW when dropping off your car.

waiterDoes Tables in Wonderland include gratuity?

Nope. And remember to always tip based on what the pre-discounted charge would have been. Disney makes this really easy for you by including different tip rates (starting from the recommended 18%) on the bill.

Is it worth it?

The answer to that question is a resounding, “it depends.” You really have to do some math. We always try to figure out where we are going to eat and about how much each meal is going to cost both with and without a TIW discount. If you’re just breaking even or under breaking even on the difference between the full price and the discount price, it might not be worth it for you.

Another consideration is are you going to be visiting Disney World more than once in a calendar year. I can’t imagine that it would not be worth it if you are visiting for at least two weeks and plan on eating most of your meals on Disney property.

For us it usually is worth it. We are a family of five and as long as we are staying for five or more days, the card will more than pay for itself. Not only does it discount food but it also discounts drinks, including those of the adult variety (usually). April and I use this for date night.

But what about the Disney Dining Plans?

If you purchase a Disney Dining Plan, TIW may still be a benefit but it is not likely. There are a few restaurants that offer a TIW discount that are not on the dining plan. You can also get a discount on items you purchase that are not included on the dining plans such as appetizers and alcoholic drinks. I think TIW being a benefit in this case would be an exception and not the norm, though.

Tables in Wonderland does not offer a discount for the purchase of a Disney Dining Plan.

disney-world-beeches-and-cream-family-dinner
The whole fam at Beaches and Cream at Disney’s Beach Club Resort

We are going on three trips to Walt Disney World over the next 12 months so it will really pay for itself when we buy it in December. I’m sad that the price is going up but I have full confidence that it will still add value to our vacations.

Downtown Disney to Disney Springs

disney-springs-splitsville
Splitsville Bowling by M. C. Bob Leonard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Well, it is official. The name “Downtown Disney” is officially Splitsville! No, not Splitsville. They are changing the name from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs. It’s a work that has been in progress for a few years. And September 29th, 2015 is the last time they want us to stop using the old name.

Read more here.

There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony of sorts and it will coincide with the grand opening of Morimoto Asia, Iron Chef Morimoto’s new restaurant. I can’t wait to eat there. I’m hoping we can get there in December with our parents.

The construction at Downtown Disney… er… Disney Springs has been plaguing guests for a while. Last year when we visited they had a large chunk of the parking lot closed which forced us to park across the street. That is the first time we have ever had to do that. Fortunately, I believe with the new parking structures, garages with around 6000 parking spots, parking will not be as trialsome as it has been in the past.

There have also been a myriad of theme changes. Too many for me to list. I have been told that the theme change is supposed to be akin to a 20th century Florida town or village or something, whatever the heck that means. I can say it’s pretty and impressive. The glimpses that we’ve seen of the theme changes have been well thought out. Disney is known for this.

The Landing

The first phase of Disney Springs was their construction on Disney Springs’ The Landing which started a few years ago. It is in the area where Pleasure Island used to be. Pleasure Island was sort of an “adult” area of Downtown Disney. It opened in 1989. It was kind of neat. Every night at midnight New Years Eve was celebrated with fireworks.

In 2008, Disney closed all of the clubs in Pleasure Island but left the shops open and changed its name shortly after to Hyperion Wharf.

What’s Leaving

There have been a few things that have left already. One of the bigger changes was announced a few months ago. They will be closing Disney Quest. This news initially made me sad because it was a great rainy day stop for us. But the more I thought about it the less upset I was about it.

Disney Quest to me was nostalgic. When I was a kid a trip to the arcade was a big deal. Today we have four video game console in our house. My kids are much less impressed with arcades than I was. All I had was the Atari 2600. Pong FTW! Actually my favorite game was Adventure.

I’m a creature of habit. I usually resist change, event when Disney is making it. For some reason I get uncomfortable with it, but I will say this. There have been very few changes Disney has made that have disappointed me. Yes there are some attractions that have closed that I do miss, but usually whatever they put in place of whatever they nixed is good. And I’m happy to experience it.

What do you guys think? How do you feel about the Downtown Disney to Disney Springs transformation? Whatever you feel, don’t say Downtown Disney again after September 29th. Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Last year of Osborne Spectacle of Lights

By Michael Lowin (Own work (own picture)) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Osborne Spectacle of Lights by Michael Lowin is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Well, I’m really sad to say that this is the last year of Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. That’s right, 2015 will be the last time you can see it. This makes me really sad. We’ve always enjoyed this fantastic display when we have been there over the holidays.

Fortunately for us, we will get to see it one last time since we have a trip scheduled in December. We feel doubly fortunate because we are also taking our parents on this trip and we are glad they will be able to see it.

A brief history

The display started in 1986 when Jennings Osborne bought 1000 lights and set them up with his six year old daughter at their home in Little Rock Arkansas.  The display at their home grew each year peaking in 1993 with around three million lights. Jennings had to buy adjacent properties just to support the display.

The display grew so large and garnered so much attention that the Osborne’s neighbors began to complain about the traffic congestion caused by the hoards of people driving to see the spectacle. It was in 1995, as a result, that Disney acquired the rights to host the display.

Once Disney had hold of it, they did what Disney does best. They made it huge. If the millions of lights that are now used were stretched in a straight line it would be ten miles long.

Disney Announces Final Year

In a blog post, Thomas Smith, the Social Media Director for Disney Parks announced that 2015 would be the final year with this statement:

In order to prepare for some incredible experiences coming to the park, including the recently announced Toy Story Land and a Star Wars-themed land, we will not be able to present The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in the future. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the family of Jennings Osborne for letting us share their family tradition year after year. And thank you to all of you for being part of the spectacle with us. Here’s to making more memories in this, the 20th and final year.

While I’m excited for the new things Disney is bringing to Hollywood Studios (particularly with Star Wars) I am greatly saddened that this will be our last year to enjoy the Osborne display. It truly is remarkable and if you have never seen it, I recommend that if you can, by any means possible, get there to see it in its final year.

What do you think about this closure? Please let us know in the comments.