The 11 BIG Updates From Walt Disney World (and Beyond) This Week (December 5-11, 2016)

Originally published in Theme Park Tourist 

This week at Walt Disney World, Disney moves the release date for one of its most anticipated attraction, a previously cancelled upcharge experience returns plus a limited-time character experience leaves Walt Disney World forever!

Outside Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort confirms two celebrity guests for 2017’s A Celebration of Harry Potter event, and SeaWorld Orlando begins phasing out an element of its entry proceidure.

1. Rivers of Light confirmed to be coming next year

Image: Disney

Though we wondered earlier this week whether or not it was even possible for Rivers of Light to make its late 2016 opening target, Disney has seemingly answered this question for us, and has updated its official project page with a 2017 launch date for this new show. Cast Previews are still happening sporadically, but despite this, it looks increasingly that we’ll be seeing this new show debut alongside Pandora – The World of Avatar next summer.

2. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular returns this week to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Though the seasonal Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! nighttime spectacular will still be bringing Christmas cheer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios until January, the park announced that it will be bringing back its Star Wars spectacular a few weeks early on December 16, 2016 for some holiday season screenings. In order to accommodate both shows, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be scheduling Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at 6:15PM most nights, with Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! then capping off nights for the rest of the month at 9:00 PM.

3. Doctor Strange moves out of Walt Disney World, likely for good

Though we really liked the interactive format of the recent Doctor Strange character experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and how it mirrored the experience of the Star Wars Jedi Training Academy), it looks like this character has been quietly exiled from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Not only has this experience been removed from the official in-park times guide less than a month after it made its initial debut, but all of the signage, props and facades that were tied to this character experience have also disappeared from the park as well, seemingly indicating that Doctor Strange will not be making a return to the resort any time soon.

4. New “Star Wars Ultimate Tour” will debut in 2017

Next year, Disney is introducing what it is calling the “ultimate guided tour” for Star Wars fans at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which will debut in January and will be an immersive full-day experience for fans of this franchise. The seven-hour walking tour will include the following activities:

  • A Star Wars “all-in-the-know” tour guide will be on hand for the full day to answer questions, lead discussions, and keep guests on schedule.
  • Priority boarding for Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, no FastPass+ reservation required
  • The chance to meet two Star Wars characters (currently Chewbacca and Kylo Ren) at the Star Wars Launch Bay
  • An in-depth, insider’s tour around Star Wars Launch Bay that includes additional facts and information about exhibits
  • Screening of the Star Wars: Path of the Jedi film
  • A quick service dinner at Backlot Express, which will include a drink, a side, dessert, and a Star Wars-inspired entree item
  • Admission to the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party as well as guaranteed viewing for the nighttime spectacular
  • A reserved spot for guests 4-12 interested in participating in the interactive Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple show.

This new upcharge experience will cost $121.12 per person, and will be offered at Disney’s Hollywood Studios starting January 2, 2017. Tours will be available weekly on both Mondays and Saturdays throughout 2017.

5. New Rogue One characters added to Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Image: Disney 

When Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away returns from its brief hiatus in just a few days, it will be coming back with an update that will see new characters added from the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film. These new characters will be the Advanced Weapons Research (AWR) Troopers (pictured above), who are soldiers who serve the empire with specialized advanced weapons and shiny black armor. This new segment will debut on December 16, 2016 and will remain a part of the show for the foreseeable future.

6. Disney After Hours returns next year

Image: Disney

In a somewhat surprising development, it looks like Disney is bringing back Disney After Hours next year, but this time with a lower price point. Beginning early next year, a ticket for this event will cost $119 plus tax for ages 3 and above, $30 less than its original price point in 2016. Like before, event attendees can enter the park at 7:00 PM and then stay until three hours past the scheduled park closing, all while enjoying unlimited complimentary ice cream novelties, popcorn, and soft drinks. Here are the dates in early 2017 that this event is scheduled to take place:

  • January 20 and 27
  • February 2, 9 and 16
  • March 2 and 9

7. Enchanted Tales With Belle is no longer available for early Extra Magic Hours

Effective today, the Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction at the Magic Kingdom will no longer be a part of morning Extra Magic Hours. Interestingly, this attraction was also removed from evening Extra Magic Hours back in November 2015, and is also not available during the Disney After Hours event mentioned previously, meaning that guests who want to experience this fun little show are only now able to do so during the Magic Kingdom’s regular operating hours.

8. PhotoPass customization and editing comes straight to your smartphone

Disney has updated the iOS version of My Disney Experience to include a brand new editing feature for PhotoPass photos. Guests who access My Disney Experience via an iPhone, iPad or iPod will now be able to launch the PhotoPass photo viewers feature and can then add special stickers, filters and borders to images that have been purchased or are tied to an account with Memory Maker. Guests can also use this new editing tool to crop images as well. As with regular PhotoPass images, edited pictures can be saved directly to your device’s camera roll and easily shared to social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter.

Interestingly, changes made to photos using this app do not sync across all versions of My Disney Experience, and can only be saved locally on a users’ device, which means if you want hard copies made, you’ll need to print them at home, as these images will not be tied to your official PhotoPass account. If you want official prints with stickers, frames, and more, you can still use the official online web-based PhotoPass editor (which has the same stickers, borders, etc.), which can be found here.

9. Two celebrity guests confirmed for A Celebration of Harry Potter

Image: Universal

A Celebration of Harry Potter is just around the corner and Universal Orlando Resort has confirmed two celebrities for this annual event.  First up is Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick and Griphook), who will be attending this event for the first time ever. Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) has also been confirmed for this event, which will take place in just over a month from January 27 to 29, 2017. You can learn more about what to expect at this event here.

10. New “You Are Here” mug now available at Universal Orlando Resort Starbucks

Image: Universal

Earlier this month an exclusive Universal Orlando Resort version of Stabucks’ regional “You Are Here” mug arrived at several locations around the resort, including at Universal CityWalk, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

11. SeaWorld Orlando begins phasing out biometric scanning

Image: Brian, Flickr (license)

SeaWorld Orlando confirmed earlier this week to the Orlando Sentinel that the park has begun the process of phasing out biometric fingerprint scanning at the front gate, and is instead switching guests to photo IDs for passes and multi-day tickets. An official said the photo system more reliable and faster for matching visitors with tickets, and guests who visit the park are now getting their photos taken as they go through the turnstiles.

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Don Korta
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