Walt Disney World – Gondolas, Guardians, and Goodies, Oh My

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Features, Kevin Yee, Walt Disney World

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Published on February 21, 2017 at 3:00 am with No Comments

Things are moving and shaking at Walt Disney World. You’ve got Rivers of Light that just opened (see below), and a continuing stream of new tenants in the bustling Disney Springs. The Hall of Presidents will reopen after six months with a new show. Upcoming you’ve also got Pandora this year, and Star Wars Land in 2019. So it would be easy to think Disney has its plate full already, and that everything major has already been announced. But that’s not necessarily the case. There are rumors (and even quieter whispers) about still more things in the wings. Will the ailing Imagination pavilion finally be replaced? Will more DVC go on sale? Will Guardians of the Galaxy land at WDW? We’ll tackle a few of the bigger rumors today.

Gondolas

Let’s start with DVC expansions. We’ve known that Wilderness Lodge was getting a DVC expansion by the name of Cooper Creek Villas, and this week Geyser Point Bar and Grille just opened to service the new area, itself still under construction. So the DVC train continues to roll forward.

Disney also this week announced a high-rise DVC tower coming soon to Coronado Springs, and there are reasons to think Caribbean Beach may get a DVC tower as well, probably involving a tear-down of some existing buildings. [note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Caribbean Beach as the announced tower].

Walt Disney World Caribbean Beach Resort

Here’s where it gets really weird. Other building permits have pointed to strangely-shaped buildings at Caribbean Beach, the main gate lagoon at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the ESPN Wide World of Sports, BoardWalk, and the side International Gateway entrance to Epcot. The current speculation, seemingly non-contradicted by a Disney statement (which gives it extra weight, frankly), is that a gondola transportation system is being built connecting all those locations. This is probably less about convenient transfers from DHS to Epcot, and more about making for-sale slots at that new DVC tower at Caribbean Beach highly desirable, almost like a monorail resort. Thus, I predict we will see CBR vault into the deluxe category if this gondola rumor pans out.

Caribbean Beach menus from 2006.

Caribbean Beach menus from 2006.

It’s certainly true that lightning storms will cause the transportation system to go down temporarily (though a cynic might reply that the monorail system breaks regularly even though it can run in the lightning). But we won’t face the ADA challenges that spelled the doom of the old Skyway buckets in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. We’re more likely to see big, air-conditioned cabins. They might even be the kind that rotate as they traverse the path, offering a great view of everything. If there were to be free, like monorails, it would be a pretty amazing addition to the lineup of free stuff at WDW that really attracts outside interest, and drives people toward the product. It would be a loss-leader, to be sure, but one which would garner headlines the world over. That’s a ton of free press!

Caribbean Beach 2006-09-03-7362

Guardians

Disney is clearly throwing its weight behind the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise–look no further than the re-theming of Tower of Terror in DCA. Since this is the one Marvel franchise that CAN go into WDW (the contract upon purchase from Universal was that any Marvel presence in IOA constitutes a ban on Disney using the same characters east of the Mississippi), one assumes Disney is hot to trot in getting out here. Certainly Tower of Terror will be looked at carefully. The fact that there’s a second Guardians movie on the way – not to mention any overlap with the big Avengers: Infinity War gang – merely throws aviation fuel onto the fire that must be telling Disney execs the time to act is now.

The quietest whispers hint that the destination for Guardians is not Tower, but somewhere in Epcot. The universe couldn’t create opium pure enough for anyone to be thinking that World Showcase is the right location for this Intellectual Property (IP), so we must be talking about Future World. But where?

There’s Imagination. The pavilion is old and tired, despite two attempts at a refresh. Or you could look at the disused Wonders of Life pavilion (so much irony: it was added last, as a building, but died first. And it was about life, but has none of its own).

Or, intriguingly, you could look to the aged Universe of Energy pavilion, going these days by the name of Ellen’s Energy Adventure (EEA). I’m the first to admit that I like the cheesy nature of EEA. Even more, I like the 45-minute escape into air-conditioning offered by EEA (it gets way too hot in Florida most times of the year, it really does, and our winters, such as they are, are way too short).

But EEA is tired and worn out. I could point to Ellen’s impossibly wide collars–is this show from twenty years ago? (oh wait – it is). Or to the brick cellphone she uses, complete with collapsible antenna. Or the dated references to how much carbon fuel we have left as a planet (I realize with a panic each time that the supply we have of each type of fuel is now dangerously close to exhaustion, since the hosts are using numbers which sounded big previously, but now it’s been two decades and we must be worse off than before!)

Just Ellen, I guess. What can I do you for?

Just Ellen, I guess. What can I do you for?

But would Guardians of the Galaxy even be a fit for Future World? That’s the bigger sticking point. Initially, one bristles at the idea. Future World is supposed to be about the facets of human life in the future! How we will communicate, farm the land, use transportation, harvest energy, coexist with the sea, etc.

Except: that’s not really the Future World we have now, is it? The Pixarification of the Seas has shoved science all the way to the side. The highlighting of Soarin’ has rendered the educational boat ride quaint by comparison. The replacement of World of Motion with Test Track has stripped the “Disney” feel and replaced it with an edgy one. The removal of Horizons for Mission:Space has similarly altered the landscape. This is no longer about Disney-style edutainment, but about fast-action entertainment. Think of it as a balm for the masses.

In that respect, Guardians of the Galaxy would probably be viewed by the general population as a much-needed update to the Universe of Energy. The core Disney fan base might well object to the “fit” with Future World. While I could see the objection, I also recognize the inevitability.

The first Guardians movie made $773 million world-wide, but only spent about $200 million in production and marketing. That’s big money. With the second movie landing in May, one could easily see the powers that be making a decision to capitalize on this successful IP. This kind of synergy is what Disney has done since the beginning with the parks, albeit with less impact on the original vision of each themed area.

Goodies

Seven Seas Food Festival

SeaWorld has a new offering on Saturdays (until May): the Seven Seas Food Festival. It is, to all intents and purposes, the same thing as Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. Except that it’s frankly superior in almost every way.

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There are about a dozen food booths scattered around the lagoon side of the park, and you can get small plates of entrees for about $4-$6 each. Those prices sound in line with the items at Epcot’s festival (and they are, by and large), but the portions are where things are so much better at SeaWorld. These days at F&W you get a few meager bites for each small plate. At SeaWorld, the portion is hearty, even heavy. There is no sense of being “ripped off” here the way you get at Epcot.

SeaWorld has tried this before. The Brews, Bands, and BBQ festival of prior years was almost the same thing, with less emphasis on food quality and more emphasis on stuff like beer (specifically) and BBQ (specifically), which is a population slice, rather than the whole population.

This year’s festival has classic cars also (for some reason). They are a bit out of place, but I’ll be the first to admit I checked them out at each stop, so maybe they are a fit?

The food is delicious, and one is amazed that the event was apparently hastily assembled. From the food point of view, you could have fooled me. All the more kudos to the chef and the culinary team!

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The affordability is a big selling point. If you buy a 15-punch lanyard, your total cost averages out to $4/item, regardless of which items you actually select (it’s even less than that if you have a SeaWorld annual pass and reap the discount).

Rivers of ‘Lite’

I almost hesitate to include the new Rivers of Light show at Animal Kingdom under the topic of “goodies.” Yes, that means I found the show underwhelming. But it is new, and it deserves an airing here.

To understand my disappointment, you have go back ten years. Long ago, there was a plan to bring an Electrical Parade-style pageant to Animal Kingdom at night. The “rivers of light” term, in use even then, was meant to convey the lights flowing down the parade corridors. Such a parade couldn’t help but be interesting by its very nature. Alas, the same is not true of the actual Rivers of Light. Or at least in terms of theme.

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The new show is a combination of lotus floats, float-based water fountains, water screens-plus-animation, float-based mist-screens-plus-projections (this was actually the coolest technology on display), and a few performers on small Asian-themed “fishing” boats. There were also numerous animal floats with impressive internal lightning (including colored lighting) that seems designed only for picture-taking and not much else in the show.

I’ll be honest: the lack of a storyline, or emotional heart, was the main problem for me. The show was technologically interesting. I assume those driver-less boats moved around via GPS like Pooh’s hunny pots in Tokyo, but an interesting technology solution does not an interesting show make.

A friend of mine commented that it was like they tried to take all the boring parts of Illuminations and combine them into their own show. I kind of agree, but know there is debate on this point. Your opinion?

There’s a stirring and semi-memorable song (“We are One”) but without buildup, characters, or development, it feels flat. Someone skipped an important session in college class about connection to individuals or indeed to narrative.

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The reaction online has been very split. In addition to folks who view the show as underwhelming, as I did, there are those who defend it as original and not to be compared with other Disney shows (hm, seems like the sort of argument applied to Disneyland’s Light Magic back in 1998!)

Bottom line: I will certainly never wait for this show again, and in fact I’m not convinced I would catch another viewing down the road if there was no wait and plenty of seating. That seems like prime time to ride attractions to me. Even with the yeti in Disco Mode, Expedition Everest is more exciting, and more worthwhile, than this show. Even if it’s my 48th ride on Everest with only one viewing of Rivers of Lite, I’ll opt for the Hairy Nonmoving One. A single visit to the lotus flower show was enough.

Your thoughts on gondolas, Guardians, Rivers of “Lite”, and SeaWorld’s food festival are welcome!


 

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He is a founding member of MiceAge and has written numerous books about Disney parks (see http://bit.ly/kevinyee).

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