Before I dive into the topic at hand, let’s start off with some exciting news. Registration for the RWA Annual Conference (#RWA17) is now open. Doesn’t this make it feel all the more real? Between now and April 19th, register early and save the most on registration fees before they go up. In addition to the conference, you can also secure your lodging at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. If you want to know more about the conference resort hotel, check out my lodging overview.
For those wanting to extend their stay outside the main conference dates (Tuesday to Sunday), the conference hotel may have some shoulder dates available at the conference nightly rate. Shoulder days start Saturday, July 22nd and extend to Tuesday, August 1st. However, these rooms may already be booked by now.
If you are unsuccessful at locking in extra days at the conference rate, you may book a separate reservation at the conference hotel or consider staying at a Disney-operated Resort hotel. A friend of mine will be staying at the conference hotel during Nationals, but then booked her family at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort for the week following the conference. She used my DVC rental suggestion I’d discussed in the lodging guide. I think this is a grand idea because it’s like getting two vacations in one.
For those of you who’ve registered and secured your lodging, don’t forget to consider making your dining reservations, purchasing discounted conference theme park tickets, and planning your transportation options. Whatever you do, for those staying at the conference resort or a Disney-operated Resort hotel, purchase tickets at least 70 days prior so you’ll be set to make those all-important FastPass+ reservations. More on that in a future guide update!
Exciting New Offerings at Walt Disney World Resort
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
Walt Disney World is always evolving, so for those who haven’t visited in years to those who go often, there are new experiences to enjoy each visit. Conference attendees who also plan on exploring the Disney Parks and Resort are going at a great time. Just this past week alone, Walt Disney World has announced several *major* new attractions…and even a whole new land. I’ll highlight these new attractions as well other major updates to the Resort you might have missed if it’s been a while since you last donned your Mickey ears.
Let’s start with the four theme parks.
Magic Kingdom Park
On May 12th, Magic Kingdom Park debuted “Happily Ever After” Fireworks and Projection Spectacular. Many of you have probably seen Wishes Nighttime Spectacular before, but “now it’s time to say goodbye…” and welcome a new show.
Per the Disney Parks Blog, “Guests will discover just how magical and emotional that fairy tale ending can be with the newest, most breathtaking fireworks show in the history of Magic Kingdom Park. In addition to fireworks, the stunning new nighttime extravaganza will feature more lasers, lights, and projections than any Disney show before it. Guests become part of the journey themselves as they follow favorite Disney characters on an adventure to seek out their destiny, face adversity and ultimately fulfill their dreams on the road to their happily ever after.” Now, if that doesn’t sound appropriate for us Romance folk, I don’t know what is! If you’d like to know more about “Happily Ever After,” check out the announcement on the Disney Parks Blog. Here’s a little preview.
The Muppets Present Great Moments in American History is a recent new entertainment offering. Located in Liberty Square and presented several times daily, there are multiple versions of this hilarious show. It’s not to be missed!
For those of you who’ve not been to Magic Kingdom in years, you might be surprised to see an expanded hub before Cinderella Castle. It’s a lot more dramatic yet quaint and provides ample space to view the fireworks and parades. Speaking of parades, the Festival of Fantasy parade (a.k.a. “the 3 o’clock parade”) debuted in 2014. In addition, the (not-so) New Fantasyland opened a few years ago and features two popular attractions (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Journey of the Little Mermaid), a character greeting with Ariel in her grotto, and Be Our Guest restaurant.
Perhaps Epcot’s most dramatic addition has been at the Norway Pavilion in World Showcase. Some of you may remember Maelstrom. In its place is now Frozen Ever After which opened last year. This new attraction is a FastPass+ priority. (I’ll chat about what that means in an upcoming guide.) Nearby at the Royal Sommerhus, you can meet Anna and Elsa and hear all about the latest news in Arendelle.
In Future World, those ever-popular hang gliders have left California. That’s right, but now you’ll go Soarin’ over some of the world’s most amazing wonders in this reimagined attraction. Capacity has also been expanded so the lines are not as daunting as in the past.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
If you haven’t been to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the past couple of years, you’ll be surprised by all the construction walls. Sure, some old attractions have gone off to Yesterland but for a good reason. Behind those walls, Imagineers are building Star Wars Land (opening in ’19) and Toy Story Land. As Olaf says, “All good things! All good things!”
For my romance Jedis, anxiously anticipating Star Wars Land, there are plenty of exciting experiences that don’t require waiting until 2019. You can explore new galaxies on Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, view movie props, meet and take pictures with Kylo Ren, BB-8, and Chewbacca, and watch Captain Phasma and her Stormtroopers march by. You can conclude your night watching Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. Stunning fireworks and special effects are perfectly choreographed to John William’s famous Star Wars musical pieces.
Pixar fans, and those who want to rest their feet, can enjoy The Music of Pixar Live. This all new concert features a philharmonic orchestra playing Pixar’s most famous scores. Some beloved characters will also make an appearance, too!
When hungry, you can now feast on pizza, subs, and salads at the Muppet’s inspired PizzeRizzo. Also, between enjoying the new Star Wars offerings along with classic attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can meet Olaf, too.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
I’ve saved the best Disney Park for last. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park has been undergoing a dramatic transformation by expanding its hours and offering more evening entertainment.
The most exciting announcement is the Park’s largest expansion! Pandora – The World of Avatar opened May 27th. This new land features floating mountains, bioluminescent plants, and two major new attractions. [Edit: Here’s an amazing preview.] The Disney Parks Blog says, “First, the family friendly Na’vi River Journey will send guests through a bioluminescent rainforest. Their journey will end in an unforgettable encounter with a Na’vi Shaman, a figure who has a deep connection to the life force of Pandora. And second, Avatar Flight of Passage will offer guests the jaw-dropping experience of exploring the world of Pandora atop a Banshee.” Boy, oh boy, I can’t wait to see Pandora at night!
Tip: These two new Pandora attractions are HOT FastPass+ attractions to score. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, rest easy. I cover FastPass+ in this guide.
But that’s not all! [said in infomercial voice] The all-new nighttime show, Rivers of Light, is now exciting guests. Per the Disney Parks Blog, “Continuing the grand Disney tradition of innovative, after-dark entertainment, “Rivers of Light” combines live performance, floating set pieces, a soaring musical score, fountains and more in a celebration of animals and nature. The story magically unfolds on the broad natural stage of the Discovery River, conveying the uplifting spirit of an ancient and timeless lantern ceremony and filled with symbolism, storytelling, and plenty of heart.”
At nighttime, you can also witness Animal Kingdom’s centerpiece light up and come to life in the Tree of Life Awakenings. Musicians and dancers inspired by Carnival celebrations around the globe will surround you in a party-like atmosphere.
Lastly, a new signature (fine dining) restaurant opened last year and has earned rave reviews. I’ve already made my Advanced Dining Reservation at Tiffins.
Tip: Make Advanced Dining Reservations for the Rivers of Light Dining Package at Tiffins or Tusker House Restaurant. You’ll not only enjoy a great meal but will have guaranteed premium seating at the nighttime show.
Disney’s Water Parks
At Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, Miss Adventure Falls opened on March 12th. This brand new, family-raft attraction looks like a ton of fun. Over at Disney’s Blizzard Beach, Disney just announced Frozen Summer Games. Not only will adults and children get to complete in games, there will be arts and crafts and a DJ, too. Plus, Olaf and Kristoff will be be there for character meets. We can witness in person how a snowman survives in summer!
I chatted about Disney Springs in my previous dining post. I also cover this area in my next guide about activities to do while at the conference. If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World in the past year, Disney Springs will awe you. I was amazed by its beauty, nighttime entertainment, and variety in unique shopping and restaurants. Definitely take some time during your stay to devote to exploring this area.
Located in short walking distance to the conference hotel is Disney’s BoardWalk. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment establishments. I will go into full detail in my next guide.
I wanted to highlight two new additions to this entertainment district. As of this spring, Trattoria al Forno now offers a character breakfast with some famous royal couples from movies such as “Tangled” and “The Little Mermaid.” Later, you can stroll down the BoardWalk to AbracadaBar for some drinks and magic. I imagine many conference attendees will be enjoying some drinks here!
This concludes my overview of the newest and upcoming attractions at Walt Disney World Resort. At this point, start compiling a list of must-sees at the Disney Parks you intend to visit. This will help you plan your days and which FastPass+ attractions you’ll want to reserve in advance. Keep in mind, dining reservations can now be made and are starting to fill up, too. There’s no harm in making some reservations now and changing them later if need be.
Update – The next guide is posted. I make fun suggestions that do not require Park Admission on how to fill up your free time and nights during the Annual Conference.
Any questions/comments can be posted below, and I’ll get back to you.
Visit here if you’ve missed other topics in this planning guide. There, you’ll find a calendar to help you keep track of key dates. Be sure to also heck out my Pinterest Board which complements this planning guide.
This unofficial guide is not associated with Romance Writers of America®. I am not receiving any compensation or gifts for these blog posts.
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All images used in this post, with the exception of Disney Springs, are the property of Disney Parks.