2016 WDW Awaken Summer
A couple weeks ago I received an invitation from Disney's social media department. The last event I attended was the Jungle Skipper Canteen blogger meetup, which was very low-key but super fun. The "Awaken Summer Resident Media Event" would be an opportunity to get more information on the new offerings at the parks. I RSVP'd and received a detailed itinerary of my "interview" times (INTERVIEWS?! OOO FANCY) as well as a designated Cast Member escort of my very own and an appointment to go "BEHIND THE WALL" at the new Frozen section of Epcot! Expecting something small with a handful of other bloggers, I set about doing my research; I do not show up to an interview without doing research. What's the point of doing an interview only to ask questions that are already readily available on the parks' websites? I even tapped my friends on instagram and facebook to see what information they wanted. I was going PREPARED.
Monday morning I left my house bright and early to make my 8:15 meeting time with my cast member escort, Rose. I turned on the radio and flipped through stations. Uhh... every station was broadcasting FROM EPCOT at the Awaken Summer Resident media day. One station said there were something like 40+ stations from across the state broadcasting! So much for my thinking this was a small blogger event. I may have been ridiculously early, but I had no problem having a few extra moments to say my goodbyes to my favorite regular parks event, Flower and Garden Festival.
Met up with Rose and was escorted through the still-closed park to the Norway Pavilion. Some radio DJ was shooting a video in front of me outside the wall, where he loudly announced that he wouldn't be allowed to take the camera inside with him. Boo. Oh well, if you want to see photos of the construction you can google the Royal Summerhus. It's still under very active construction (June 21st open date on the horizon...), and I got to walk all of 10 feet into the enclosure with Wyatt, who I believe is one of the imagineers on the project.
FROZEN AT THE PARKS
- Disney really wanted to put forth an effort to make the expansion not just "Frozen," but to have it fit into an authentic Norway pavilion atmosphere. The Royal Summerhus and accompanying Wandering Reindeer gift shop and rock formation behind it are all modeled after famous museum buildings and castle ruins in the area of Trondheim.
- The story behind the Royal Summerhus is that this was the family summer home of Anna and Elsa that they used to visit with their parents. Walking through the line queue, visitors will see snippits of the girls' childhood as well as, potentially, bits and piece of other notable Frozen characters' lives.
- Anna and Elsa will receive guests, where else, the formal reception hall. Could not get confirmation on whether the photo op will be with both girls simultaneously, only that they will both be in the reception hall.
- No immediate plans for FastPass for Royal Summerhus (but I was told quite explicitly that if they were wanted, emails should be written, etc.).
- FastPass for the Frozen Ever After Ride are currently available starting on the June 21st open date.
- The Frozen Ever After ride will include the songs you know from the movie, but done in reprise, potentially sung by different characters and even new lyrics.
- Anna and Elsa will meet in their usual outfits. No current plans to bring Frozen Fever costumes to the parks.
- Anna and Elsa will no longer appear at Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom once they move to the Royal Summerhus. The only way to see them at MK will be during the new castle show (more to come on that) and the parade.
- Frozen's only presence at Hollywood Studios will be the Singalong and Olaf.
Back to the media "tent" I go! We were early for my first interview appointment, so I got to go up and check out the new merchandise coming to the parks. I knew as soon as I saw the Beauty and the Beast Dooney & Bourke bag that passholders would lose their minds over it, but I was personally far more taken with the sneak peak at the Fantasyland TsumTsum collection (set to debut in "hopefully July").
I will admit to fangirling when I recognized Steven from the Disney Parks unboxing videos. He got a kick out of me recognizing him. "Dude, are you kidding? You were the person who first showed me that the Pirates Tsums were coming, how could I ever forget you..."
Steven was almost as excited about the Tsums as me and didn't judge me at all for cooing over Mr. Toad, Wizard Hat Mickey, Princess Minnie, and Small World Hippo. I totally want to hang out with this guy and go shopping at the Parks.
My interviews started next and I hit the brick wall of Disney non-information (which I expected). In fact the first two interviews, despite all my carefully worded questions and research, managed to yield me absolutely zero new information. I was having fun and meeting such nice people, but I was a little bummed at my apparently shoddy detective skills.
FLORIDA RESIDENT OFFERINGS FOR AWAKEN SUMMER 2016
- They're offering the 4-day park hopper deal they always offer, but they usually only offer it through May. This year you can purchase it through the summer.
- Up to 30% off at some of the resorts.
- No AP events currently planned.
Like I said, not too much that isn't plastered all over the websites. I tried getting more info about MRFF, Elena, what was going on with Rivers of Light, if Club Villain would be extended; I got a whole lot of nothing. Ok, that's not true, I got a lot of "Well, maybe I can ask someone? Wow you really have done your research...."
I kept hearing from EVERYONE how excited they were about Animal Kingdom. (Push the fish, it's about to turn...). So much DAK talk had been happening, I wasn't sure how much I'd have to discuss at my formal scheduled DAK-centric interview. The guy strolled up with a Starbucks cup as big as my head, looking tired but content, and I immediately sensed a kindred spirit. Turns out Michael had just come off an overnight rehearsal for the new Jungle Book show and AT LAST I started getting some great information.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AT NIGHT- SUMMER 2016
- How late will the park be staying open? 11-ish most nights.
- How did Disney address the concerns of animal welfare that had formerly kept the park closed in the evenings? I shall paraphrase Michael here "It wasn't so much this great welfare concern... but technology finally caught up with what we wanted to do." Which leads us to...
- Kilimanjaro safaris at night. The "new" animals for the nighttime safaris will be Hyenas and Spotted Dogs, but the more nocturnal animals on the daytime Safari will be around and, according to previews, far more active (look for lions doing something other than sleeping, Michael said the male actually roared when he went). There new technology is a special type of lighting that will allow the safari viewers to see the animals without disturbing the animals and such.
- Rivers of Light- Michael laughed at me when I called it the elephant in the room. They're still hoping to launch it sometime this summer. Though not expressly stated, it was implied that it was, indeed, some problems with the barges holding back the production.
- Jungle Book- I, like most of you, felt like the Jungle Book seemed like a slapped together "oh crap, Rivers of Light isn't working, gotta do something for all the people who booked Rivers of Light dining packages." After talking to Michael, I'm definitely coming around to it. When I implied that it would be just some video projections and water screens I was very quickly shut down. "OH NO! DEFINITELY NOT! It's so much more I swear!" Though he admitted only that Disney had underestimated how big a movie Jungle Book would be (in other words, no, they hadn't originally planned to have the show), the parks were going all out, flying in Jon Favreau to get his input on the presentation, getting new music from John Debney. I wish y'all could have seen the way Michael's eyes lit up when he talked about it. I asked him what else set Jungle Book apart and he launched into singing the praises of the performers. Jungle Book will have a lot less of the barges (well, duh) and a lot more dancers and performers, even up in the stands of the viewing area! Pretty stoked to have those FastPasses booked for Saturday. Believe me I'll be there with my camera.
- All current daytime attractions should remain open through the night, (including (potentially extra performances of FOTLK and possible Nemo)
- The seating area for Jungle Book/ RoL is "very in keeping with the Animal Kingdom theming," Michael promised I would love it.
- Tree of Life lighting and fables- Michael got stars in his eyes again talking about the fireflies bringing the leaves of the tree to life and how all the animals woven into the tree would come to life at night. For those asking about the 4 fables, they will take place on loop throughout the night, but the only place to see/view them is the hub area directly in front of the Tree of Life. The tree itself and the animals are "always awake," but the fables will happen intermittently throughout the night.
I shook Michael's hand and reluctantly said goodbye. He was so excited for us to try out both the opening night of the Jungle Book show and our first time on sunset safari that I left truly infected by his enthusiasm (the man hadn't even been to sleep yet).
STAR WARS AT HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
I felt bad for Brian, since most of the new Star Wars stuff has already been launched. There's A Galaxy Far Far Away, Launch Bay, and Jedi Training. BUT he did a pretty good job of convincing me the new nighttime spectacular wouldn't just be some fireworks and a video screen.
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular will feature fireworks, pyrotechnics, projection mapping ONTO THE CHINESE THEATER (I think this means they'll have to at least partially deconstruct the Galaxy Far Far Away stage every night...), lasers and (if you're in the hub) SURROUND SOUND. The projected video screens will take the audience on a journey through all 7 films and "immerse the audience in the action."
- No plans for any more characters being featured or optioned, but I got that line again about "making our voice heard." Brian even made a point (when I acknowledged that AP's who visit the park on endless loop are not the majority of the target audience for new attractions) that Disney is always reading the message boards and blogs. So that's now multiple people saying it makes a difference if a lot of people kick up some dust on the internet. While it's very unlikely anything on the scale of Star Wars Weekends will be happening again before the park expansion is complete, Brian really dug the idea of having rotating characters in Launch Bay (I have no idea if his opinion matters).
- I brought up the food issue after dark at Hollywood Studios. With everybody. They all seemed really shocked that getting food after dark at HS is an issue if you don't have dining reservations. It is. Here's hoping they will be extending quick service options past sundown.
My last interview of the day was supposed to be geared around Frozen, but I felt like I'd hashed over it a million times. A sweet woman approached me. She confirmed that the girls wouldn't be in Fairytale Hall any longer. I asked her the same question I'd been asking everybody so far (expecting the same answer: Animal Kingdom): What was she most excited about? She hesitated. "Well... actually... I have a project I've been working on that isn't really officially on the docket today... it's a new princess..." ELENA!!!! "Oh, yes, good, you've heard of her!" OMG y'all I'd given up hope on getting anything on this, I almost cried.
ELENA OF AVALOR COMING TO MAGIC KINGDOM
- Elena should start meeting guests closer to the end of summer.
- Elena will be bilingual.
- She wouldn't commit officially to where she'd be meeting, but "Elena is a new princess. We know a lot of people won't know who she is. We want to make sure she's highly visible and accessible." Rumors abound that Elena will be taking over Tiana's gazebo in Liberty Square, and that spot could certainly apply here. This would move Tiana into Fairytale Hall and Aurora or Snow White would still be doing meets outside. No official word yet, just rumors.
- Elena will be getting a castle show! Sort of. I mentioned the tidbit I'd heard that there would be a singing/performance aspect to Elena. Part of introducing Elena to the world will include some formal presentation/introduction on the castle stage! This would not be a one-time event, but something that would continue for "several weeks."
I asked everybody for more details about MIckey's Royal Friendship Faire. EVERYBODY. While all of them were "super excited" about it, details were not happening. No commitment to schedules, show times, existence of a sunset show, nada. My lovely Elena friend did say she'd attended part of a rehearsal, the Tiana number specifically, and that there's a fantastic TAP DANCE number incorporated into it.
That was my last interview. I noticed Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps were hanging out in the hall. Rose must have noticed my eyes going on all googly. "Do you want to go see them?"
I am still incredibly awkward meeting characters without my kid. Judy and Nick said I should have brought her, that they would have watched her while I did interviews. Nick and Judy will launch into a rousing bout of tailfeather shaking with you if you mention Move It Shake It
So the day ended strong. I didn't get answers to ALL the questions (but I didn't expect to, it's Disney). I tried not to just rehash the stuff that's already on the website. Stay tuned here and to the Weekly Peanut in the coming weeks: we're doing opening night of Jungle Book Saturday, I'll be at MRFF opening day June 17th, and we're doing Frozen Ever After June 22nd.