Welcome to DisneyBizJournal.com - News, Analysis and Reviews of the Disney Entertainment Business!

Brought to fans, investors, entrepreneurs, executives, teachers, professors, and students by columnist, economist, novelist, reviewer, podcaster, business reporter and speaker Ray Keating

Friday, February 28, 2020

Tokyo Disney Closing – What’s Next?

by Ray Keating
February 28, 2020

Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea will be closed starting Saturday, February 29, to March 15, due to the coronavirus.

Shanghai Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland have been closed since late January.

As of February 28, there have been 2,800 deaths linked to the coronavirus, and more than 83,000 cases – with mainland China taking the brunt of the trouble.

Both the Shanghai and Hong Kong parks have no targeted date for re-opening, and while the Tokyo parks are scheduled to re-open on March 16, that, of course, depends on the circumstances.

Indeed, if the coronavirus continues to expand, DisneyBizJournal would not be surprised to see Disneyland Paris as the next park slated for a temporary closing.

As for the impact on the company, the Disney stock price has taken a dive from $141 on February 19 to $118 on February 27. That, of course, is in part due to the overall market tanking in reaction to the coronavirus, and the specific ills for Disney.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Ray Keating’s Authors and Entrepreneurs Podcast, Episode 49: Why Disney and DisneyBizJournal.com?

In this episode of his Authors and Entrepreneurs Podcast, Ray Keating talks about one of his newest ventures as an author-entrepreneur, i.e., starting up and running DisneyBizJournal.com. Keating explains why writing about The Walt Disney Company and its entertainment business made sense for him, and along the way, provides some thoughts for others to consider on their own author-entrepreneur journey.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Spielberg Will Not Direct Indy 5, According to Variety

by Ray Keating
February 26, 2020

Apparently, this is the week for mega-surprising announcements related to The Walt Disney Company. First, it was Bob Chapek replacing Bob Iger as CEO, and now Variety is reporting that Steven Spielberg has decided not to direct the next Indiana Jones movie.

Variety notes that director James Mangold, who was at the helm of Ford v. Ferrari, likely will replace Spielberg behind the camera with “Indiana Jones 5.” Though that has not been finalized.

Of course, this raises questions about possible further delays for this movie, which originally was slated for a release in July 2019. I have written at DisneyBizJournal before wondering why Disney seems to be lagging on the Indiana Jones front – see What’s Up with Script Delays and Indiana Jones? (July 23, 2018) and What the Heck is Disney Doing with Indiana Jones? (October 25, 2018).

Now, only one of the “Big 3” on Indiana Jones will be directly involved with “Indy 5.” While Spielberg reportedly plans to be a “hands-on” producer, George Lucas isn’t involved. That leaves only Harrison Ford returning in the role of Indiana Jones. 

Let’s hope Mangold can capture the Indiana Jones magic, while at the same time, avoiding further major delays.

Geez, Disney, anything else you want to tell us this week?

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Disney Names Bob Chapek CEO Effective Immediately

by Ray Keating
February 25, 2020

The Walt Disney Company made a surprise announcement today that the Board of Directors named Bob Chapek Chief Executive Officer effective immediately.

In a statement, Disney reported that Bob Iger “assumes the role of Executive Chairman and will direct the Company’s creative endeavors, while leading the Board and providing the full benefit of his experience, leadership and guidance to ensure a smooth and successful transition through the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021.”

The timing wasn’t the only surprise, however, as many had assumed that Kevin Mayer, the chairman of direct-to-consumer and international division, would be named Iger’s successor given Mayer’s role with Disney+. Chapek was head of parks, experiences and products since 2015.

Regarding Chapek, Iger stated: “Bob will be the seventh CEO in Disney’s nearly 100-year history, and he has proven himself exceptionally qualified to lead the company into its next century. Throughout his career, Bob has led with integrity and conviction, always respecting Disney’s rich legacy while at the same time taking smart, innovative risks for the future. His success over the past 27 years reflects his visionary leadership and the strong business growth and stellar results he has consistently achieved in his roles at Parks, Consumer Products and the Studio. Under Bob’s leadership as CEO, our portfolio of great businesses and our amazing and talented people will continue to serve the company and its shareholders well for years to come.”

Chapek said: “I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees. Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team. I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”

Over the coming 22 months, the two men will be working together, allowing for a smooth transition period from one Bob to the next Bob. As Iger put it: “I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the company’s creative endeavors.”

Susan Arnold, independent Lead Director of the Disney Board, added, “Mr. Chapek will also benefit from the guidance of one of the world’s most esteemed and successful business leaders, Bob Iger.”

During a press call, Iger was asked: Why now? He said that the time was right for him to get everything aligned on the creative side of the business before he leaves at the end of 2021, while Chapek takes over the day-to-day management. It was apparent from Iger’s response that completing the Fox deal, and setting up ESPN+ and Disney+ were essential as to the timing on this move.

One question to be answered relates to Kevin Mayer: Will he stay or leave in coming months given that Chapek got the CEO spot?

While Chapek has long experience with the Disney company, he has big shoes to fill, following Bob Iger and previously, Michael Eisner, who rank as the two CEOs with the greatest impact on The Walt Disney Company – that is, after Walt Disney, of course.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

CNBC Reports That Disney Seeking Expanded NFL Rights

by Ray Keating
February 23, 2020

CNBC reported today that The Walt Disney Company is interested in expanding its partnership with the NFL.

Based on interviews with industry sources, CNBC noted that the NFL, once it completes a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the players, will be ready to move ahead in arriving at new TV deals. 

NFL owners approved terms for a new 10-year CBA on February 20 that would expand the NFL regular season from 16 to 17 games, reduce the number of preseason games, and expand the number of teams in the playoffs from 12 to 14. The current CBA runs through the 2020 season. The new deal would last 10 years, with the players getting 48 percent of league revenues under a 16-game season and 48.5 percent under a 17-game year. The NFL Players Association still needs to vote, with passage requiring two-thirds of the 32-team player representatives and then a majority of the players.

CNBC noted that the current NFL broadcast deal goes through the 2022 season, and that the NFL would like to stick with more traditional media in the new deal, but at the same time, jacking up the prices for their games. CNBC noted: “Rates on Sunday afternoon games may double, jumping from $1 billion annually to $2 billion annually. ESPN pays $2 billion annually for Monday Night Football and may need to pay $3 billion to keep the package, two of the people said. Renewals will likely be seven or eight-year deals, the people said.”

Regarding the future of Disney (which owns ESPN and ABC) and the NFL, Disney possesses the resources not only to retain its Monday Night Football status, but perhaps snag one of the other packages. In addition, CNBC noted that Iger wants to see ABC back in the playoff and Super Bowl picture.

However, even more interesting is the idea that Disney could grab Sunday Ticket away from AT&T. In fact, AT&T has not exactly been high on its DirecTV acquisition, and has been sending signals that the price for continuing the NFL Sunday Ticket deal, after it expires after the 2022 season as well, is likely to be too costly. AT&T currently pays $1.5 billion annually. Meanwhile, Disney has ESPN+ just waiting for something like Sunday Ticket. But other streamers will likely be in the mix for Sunday Ticket, with CNBC mentioning Amazon, Apple TV+ and YouTube TV.

Disney in competition with Amazon, Apple TV+ and YouTube? Sound familiar? Where the heck is Netflix?

In the end, the NFL will continue to be the king of sports in terms of dollars rolling in the door, with CNBC reporting that annual revenues could double. And no one should be surprised if Disney comes out with Monday Night Football, some post-season action, and Sunday Ticket – at the very least.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Hasbro and Disney Renew Toy Deal

by Ray Keating
February 21, 2020

Today, Hasbro, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company extended their toy deal on major Disney projects like Marvel and Star Wars.

The agreement includes Marvel’s universe of more than 8,000 characters, and toys and games in Star Wars vehicles like The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian, including The Child, or “Baby Yoda.”

Source: Shop.Hasbro.com

The deal covers entertainment released during the agreement, including properties from Disney+.

The current agreement began in 2013 and was scheduled to end in 2020. As for when the new extended agreement expires, that has not been announced.

Brian Goldner, Hasbro's Chairman and CEO, said: “We are pleased to build on our relationship with Disney and extend our agreement for Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Disney’s celebrated franchises are consistently ranked as top toy properties and provide expansive content for us to build upon for years to come.”

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom To Get a Makeover

by Ray Keating
February 17, 2020

Today, Jason Kirk, vice president of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, announced that Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom is going to a makeover.

Below is the artist rendering of what the castle will look like (courtesy of Disney Parks Blog).

It does have a more royal look about it, don’t you think?

The makeover will start in a few weeks and run throughout the summer.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

5 Cool Facts about “The Hall of Presidents”

by Ray Keating
February 16, 2020

Monday, February 17, is President’s Day. And when it comes to U.S. presidents and the Walt Disney Company, one naturally turns to Disney World’s Hall of Presidents, where all 44 men who have served as U.S. president are represented.

The Hall of Presidents in 1971 (courtesy of Disney Parks Blog)

So, here are some interesting facts about The Hall of Presidents:

1. Originally intended for Disneyland – under the title One Nation Under God –  The Hall of Presidents opened in the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square on October 1, 1971. (Dave Smith, Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia)

2. The President Lincoln animated figure debuted at the World’s Fair in New York City in 1964. Of course, that Lincoln journeyed to Disneyland to open Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in 1965.

                                                       Courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

3. According to D23.com, the research for The Hall of Presidents was considerable:

Luckily for the Imagineers, much of the pre-planning work for The Hall of Presidents had been completed in the early ’60s: They had done extensive research, written several scripts and created a detailed model theater. But even more daunting challenges were ahead for WED Enterprises — to create realistic and life-size figures of each of the presidents. They had already completed an amazing likeness of Lincoln, but could they achieve the same realism with 35 other presidents?

Over the fifteen year development of The Hall of Presidents, WED Imagineers referenced hundreds of paintings, thousands of photographs, 300-or-so periodicals and more than 600 books to give their prestigious vision the right attention to detail — and all this just accounted for the preliminary research! By making several trips to Washington, D.C., Williamsburg and other historical sites, writers, designers and painters sought to authenticate their work by soaking in the atmosphere of where our nation’s presidents worked and lived.

4. President Clinton recorded remarks for The Hall of Presidents in the White House in 1993. Clinton was the first to do so, and each president after him has done the same.

5. The latest update to The Hall of Presidents came to life on December 19, 2017. As reported by the Disney Parks Blog:

The history of innovation at The Hall of Presidents continues to this day. In addition to updating the show’s content, Imagineers have incorporated the latest in theatrical design and Audio-Animatronics technology. Landmark moments in history come alive on a panoramic 180-degree screen that transports guests across more than 200 years of the American story. High-impact projection, sound, lighting and other enhancements take guests into rare and indelible moments in history that helped define a nation. 

As has been the tradition with every new president since the attraction debuted, an Audio-Animatronics figure of President Donald J. Trump has been added to the show and features the latest advances in technology that enable smoother and more lifelike movements. President Trump personally recorded remarks exclusively for The Hall of Presidents, just as each sitting president has done for the attraction since the early 1990s.

                                         The Hall of Presidents re-opened in 2017 (courtesy of Disney Parks Blog)

As noted on the Disney Parks Blog, “The Hall of Presidents carries a legacy and passion for American history that has been part of Disney Parks for more than 50 years.”

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Huey Lewis and the News Storms Back with “Weather”

by Ray Keating
February 14, 2020

Huey Lewis has some history with Disney. For example, Huey Lewis was in the Hollywood Pictures (a Disney entity) movie “Duets.” Also, Huey Lewis and the News music has been heard in assorted Disney vehicles, such as in “Oliver and Company” (1988) and in DTV (combining current music in the 1980s with Disney animation clips) music videos. So, here’s my review of the new album “Weather” from Huey Lewis and the News (first appeared at KeatingFiles.com).

When it comes to favorite singers or musical groups that return with new music after a lengthy break, fan anticipation usually runs high, but then the results often turn out disappointing. Either the new music just seems not to measure up, or comes across as stale. 

There have been exceptions, however, including from my top two bands.

The biggest surprise for me was the Beach Boys’ That’s Why God Made the Radio album in 2012. The Boys showed that they could still harmonize some fun, beachy tunes in a collection that came a staggering 50 years after their first album.

Number two for me had been Plan B from Huey Lewis and the News in 2001. It came a decade after their previous collection of original works. And yes, after Sports and Fore!, I say Plan B is their next best album. If you haven’t listened, trust me and enjoy it.

But now Huey Lewis and the News has done it again, and this time it’s even more impressive given that 19 years have passed since Plan B. The new album – Weather – was released on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. And it ranks as one of the top efforts from Huey Lewis and the News.

The new 7-song album serves up Huey Lewis and the News still at the top of their game, with their combination of pop rock and blues rock that keeps the foot tapping and the listener singing along, featuring bright brass, strong guitars, and of course, great harmonica moments and Huey’s distinctive voice.

Among the stand outs on Weather is “Her Love Is Killin’ Me,” which is a driving, good-time song. And by the way, the video is great fun. “While We’re Young” offers reflections on enjoying life no matter how much time has passed, without any trace of melancholy. “Remind Me Why I Love You Again” plays with a couple who disagrees on just about everything, but somehow they’re still in love (or are they?). For some longing and blues, give “Hurry Back Baby” a listen. And “Pretty Girls Everywhere” ranks as an upbeat salute to ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll.

The significance of Weather, of course, is ramped up given the news about Huey Lewis suffering hearing loss to the point where he cannot sing. He has been diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, but has some hope that one day, thanks to various treatments and healing, he might get back into the studio. But until then, as noted in a Hollywood Reporter interview, Lewis will find other ways to entertain fans, including working on a musical featuring the band’s music and perhaps doing some acting.

The Hollywood Reporter also noted Lewis’s reflections on music crossing genres, demographics and ages:

Lewis said he felt [that] was missing from the modern day industry. “Today, society is much more integrated, but music is segregated — it's weird,” he said. “You can listen to one kind of music all day long; you can listen to one kind of politics all day long — that's just not healthy. And what was nice about Top 40 radio was it was an editing process where we all tried to have a hit. If you heard a Huey Lewis and the News song on KFRC, the next song might be a Garth Brooks song or a Commodores song or an AC/DC song. … It was an editing process that was, I think, kind of good, in retrospect. You can't have a hit like that today. They just don't exist.”

Well, if any group can offer some of that today, arguably it would be Huey Lewis and the News. Indeed, Huey and his bandmates have served up some wonderful new music in Weather that warrants broad appreciation.

Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

New Edition of "Root of All Evil? A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel" Just Published!

This Thriller/Mystery from Award-Winning Novelist Ray Keating Arrives with a New Author Introduction

Long Island, NY – Ray Keating (editor and publisher of DisneyBizJournal.com) has just published a second edition of ROOT OF ALL EVIL? A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL. The new edition of this gripping political thriller not only features an outstanding new cover, courtesy of Tyrel Bramwell, but a new Author Introduction.

Stephen Grant, pastor at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on Long Island, former Navy SEAL and onetime CIA operative, came on the thriller/mystery scene in WARRIOR MONK: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL(a second edition of Warrior Monk arrived early last year with a new Epilogue, new Introduction and an exciting cover). The tale continues to develop in page-turning fashion in ROOT OF ALL EVIL?

In ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, Keating asks: Do God, politics and money mix? As the reader comes to realize, the combination can turn out quite deadly. This breathtaking thriller features drug traffickers, politicians, the CIA and FBI, a shadowy foreign regime, the Church, and money. Charity, envy and greed are on display, with the action running high. 

In this second edition of ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, Ray Keating has written an Author Introduction focused on some of the challenges of penning a political thriller, including maintaining an edge-of-your-seat feel while not annoying the reader with the petty real world of politics. Keating also talks about how some key characters fit into ROOT OF ALL EVIL?, as well as how his own experiences fed the story.

Keating has penned 12 Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries, and received widespread praise. For example, the Lutheran Book Review has declared, “I miss Tom Clancy. Keating fills that void for me.” 

The publication of a new second edition of ROOT OF ALL EVIL? is part of a yearlong celebration throughout 2020 marking 10 years of Ray Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries. 

Paperbacks and Kindle editions of ROOT OF ALL EVIL? A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL are available at Amazon.com, and signed books at RayKeatingOnline.com.

Indeed, all of Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers/mysteries are available at Amazon.com and at RayKeatingOnline.com – THE TRAITOR (2019), DEEP ROUGH (2019),SHIFTING SANDS(2018)HEROES AND VILLAINS(2018)REAGAN COUNTRY(2018)LIONHEARTS(2017)WINE INTO WATER(2016)MURDERER’S ROW(2015)THE RIVER(2014)AN ADVENT FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY(2012),ROOT OF ALL EVIL?(Second Edition 2020 – originally published2012)andWARRIOR MONK (Second Edition 2019 – originally published 2010) 

Review copies, and author interviews and appearances are available upon request. 

“Celebrating Pastor Stephen Grant Thrillers & Mysteries for 10 Years – 2010 to 2020 – and Beyond!”

Contact: Ray Keating
Phone: 631-909-1122
Twitter: @KeatingNovels
Website: PastorStephenGrant.com
Blog: www.pastorstephengrant.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Disney’s Price Increases: The List

by Beth Keating
February 11, 2020

That “thud” sound you just heard was Disney dropping another price increase on parkgoers.  In addition to recent food price hikes, the cost of everything from Annual Passes to Park Hopper Add-ons went up today.

You can get the details of what is included at each price category at the Annual Pass page on the Disney Parks website at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/passes/.

At Disney World

• Disney Platinum Pass from $1,119.00 to $1,195.00 (increase of $76.00)
• Disney Platinum Plus Pass from $1,219.00 to $1,295.00 (increase of $76.00)
• Water Parks Annual Pass is now $139.00
• Park Hopper Add-on ranges from $65.00-$85.00 per ticket, based on the number of days (up from $60-$80 per ticket)
• Park Hopper Plus (includes water parks) Add-on ranges from $85.00- $105.00 per ticket, based on the number of days  (up from $80-$100 per ticket)
• Florida Resident Silver Annual Pass from $519.00 to  $539.00 ($20 increase)
• Florida Resident Gold Annual Pass from $699.00 to $719.00 ($20 increase)
• Florida Resident Platinum Annual Pass:  $899.00 (no change)  
• Florida Resident Platinum Plus Annual Pass: $999.00 (no change)  
• Florida Resident Theme Park Select Pass: $439.00 (no increase)
• Florida Resident Weekday Select Annual Passfrom $349.00 to $369.00 ($20 increase)
• Florida Resident Epcot After 4 Annual Pass from $309.00 to $319.00 ($10 increase)
• Water Parks Annual Pass is $139.00
• Florida Resident Water Parks After 2 Annual Pass is $89.00

At Disneyland

California wasn’t immune to the bump in ticket prices, either. Here’s what happened on the West Coast:

One Day, One Park Disneyland 

Previously tickets were in three categories (Low Demand, Regular Demand and Peak Demand), making it slightly harder to compare price increases. New ticket prices are in five tiers now:

• One Day, One Park Tier One:  $104.00
• One Day, One Park Tier Two: $114.00
• One Day, One Park Tier Three: $124.00
• One Day, One Park Tier Four: $139.00
• One Day, One Park Tier Five: $154.00

One Day Park Hopper Disneyland
Previous prices began at $154 for low demand days, and ranged to $199 for the top category. New Prices, in more tier categories than before:

• One Day Park Hopper Tier One: $159.00
• One Day Park Hopper Tier Two: $169.00
• One Day Park Hopper Tier Three: $179.00
• One Day Park Hopper Tier Four: $194.00
• One Day Park Hopper Tier Five: $209.00

Multi-Day, One Park Per Day Disneyland

• 2 Day, 1 Park Per Day from $225.00 to $235.00 ($10 increase)
• 3 Day, 1 Park Per Day from $300.00 to $310.00 ($10 increase)
• 4 Day, 1 Park Per Day from $325.00 to $340.00 ($15 increase)
• 5 Day, 1 Park Per Day from $340.00 to $360.00 ($20 increase)

Multi-Day Park Hopper Disneyland 

• 2 Day Park Hopper from $280.00 to $290.00 ($10 increase)
• 3 Day Park Hopper from $355.00 to $365.00 ($10 increase)
• 4 Day Park Hopper from $380.00 to $395.00 ($15 increase)
• 5 Day Park Hopper from $395.00 to $415.00 ($20 increase)

Disneyland Annual Pass Increase

• Disney Flex Passport from $599.00 to $649.00 ($50 increase)
• Disney Deluxe Passport from $799.00 to  $829.00 ($30 increase)
• Disney Signature Passport from $1,149.00 to $1,199 ($50 increase)
• Disney Signature Plus Passport from $1,399.00 to $1,449 ($50 increase)
• MaxPass from $15.00 to $20.00 ($5 increase)

Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Out of the Theme Park Box: Unique Ways to Spend Your Disney Visit

by Beth Keating
February 10, 2020

Disney World is soooo much more than thrill rides. In planning Disney vacations, our family always tries to find at least one activity that we have never tackled before – the more unique, the better.  It keeps the park visits feeling new and magical, and let’s face it, you could spend a month at Disney and never do everything that there is to be done. (But wouldn’t you like to give it a shot?)  If there’s one thing that Disney excels at, it’s creating new venues for enchanting their guests.    

In previous trips, our family has embarked on the “Pirates and Pals Fireworks Dessert Voyage,” enjoyed a two-hour quest on the “Family Magic Tour,” and gone into a sugar coma at the "Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party."  

Animal Kingdom Lodge

The number of distinctive opportunities at Disney World is many and varied. One of the best tours I ever took at Disney was the FREE tasting tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Did I mention it was free?  How often does that happen at Disney?  

It was a fabulous tour that was led by a cast member who was from Africa. She was not only knowledgeable about the different dishes our group was being introduced to, but had wonderful stories about the traditions behind the dishes, and the Imagineering decisions that surrounded us in the décor and construction of the restaurants. Our group of a dozen guests met at Jiko in the late afternoon, and had the opportunity to chat with chefs in the open kitchen as they prepped the evening meal, offering us samples along the way, including the bread service.  They discussed not only the styles of food we were experiencing, but also their own backgrounds and what it was like being a culinary expert working at Disney.  So cool!  

After being encouraged by our cultural guide to try the dishes some of us were a little shy about, we headed over to Boma, the buffet restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge that features food from more than 50 different African nations. Once again, we were offered samples of the dishes being prepared, including a lovely creamy butternut squash soup, bobotie, and – cue the angels singing- the legendary zebra domes, something that had been on my personal Disney bucket list. Again, our guide shared with us the Imagineering decisions that created the colorful marketplace-inspired restaurant, including the thatched roofs, special tables, kraal “fencing,” and the welcome ceremony that opened the restaurant for dinner. The tour was well worth the time spent.

If you enjoy Animal Kingdom Lodge, and want to explore the facility a little more in depth, Disney offers several unique AKL opportunities. The "Wanyama Safari" at Animal Kingdom Lodge is certainly not cheap at $209 per person, but it is an elaborate opportunity to sample the food at Jiko as well as enjoy an evening escorted safari tour on the savannas at the Lodge. In addition to getting a chance to get up close to the animals living there, you get an excellent meal with wine pairings, and you also get a cool swag bag after dinner!  The “Starlight Safari” at $74 is an hour-long safari tour at Animal Kingdom Lodge that takes you out in a safari vehicle with night vision goggles. There’s also the opportunity to “Dine With An Animal Specialist” at Sanaa. Priced at $59.99, this four-course lunch allows you to chat with the people who care for the permanent residents of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, as well as pay a short, up-close, accompanied visit to some of the animals after the meal.  

Haven’t had your fill of animal experiences yet?  Try the “Wild Africa Trek,” a three-hour tour through Animal Kingdom (starting at $189 per person), featuring crossings over rope bridges and unique photo opportunities that are included in your price.  Nighttime dining adventures also are available at Animal Kingdom, with “Circle of Flavors: Harambe Nights.”  This is a progressive dinner experience that starts at the train station for a short reception with live music and snacks, where you’ll then board the Wildlife Express, head to a second location where you’ll enjoy meet and greets with characters from The Lion King, have a few more snacks, and then return to Harambe for a street-fest style party featuring yet more treats, food stations with themed foods, desserts, live music and activities.  

Still want more animals? Try “Savor The Savanna: Evening Safari Experience,” a premium tour at $169 per guest, which gives you a privately guided trip to a secluded viewing area of the Harambe Reserve, complete with a selection of African foods, and beer and wine offerings as you take in the gorgeous scenery and watch the sunset on the savanna.  “Caring for Giants” is a more pocket-friendly tour for your family if you prefer studying big game. At $30 per person, this hour-long tour gives you a close encounter with the elephants at Animal Kingdom, as well as a chance to talk to the animal care specialists and find out how they take care of these creatures. A similar hour-long tour that takes you backstage with the White Rhinos ($40) is also available. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about Disney’s conservation efforts.

Living Seas
Head over to the Living Seas at Epcot if you prefer your creatures to be water-based, with “Dolphins in Depth,” a 3-hour animal encounter ($199). The adventure includes 30 minutes of in-water dolphin interaction time, with tours of backstage areas, and training and research sessions with expert trainers and researchers. SCUBA certified? Then you might enjoy the $179 DiveQuest Adventure at Epcot, where you’ll spend 40 minutes of your 3-hour program in the 5.7-million-gallon, 6,000 sea creature saltwater aquarium at Epcot. Your family (and other park guests) can watch you through the giant windows of the tank.

Dinner with an Imagineer

Food is also a frequent focus of the specialty tours at Disney.  Another tour that we have tried  - and failed - to book on several different trips is the “Dine With An Imagineer” event at the Hollywood Brown Derby.  The four-course meal at $59.99 limits your group to a dozen diners, and you get to enjoy not only a yummy meal, but terrific stories, fun facts, and background histories about the most magical place on earth from the people who make it happen.  (A similar offering is also available at Cítricos at the Grand Floridian.) We tried for weeks beginning at our 180 day ADR window to try and snag a reservation for the special meal at Brown Derby (during several different trips, in fact) but no joy. Maybe one of these days. How fabulous would it be to have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the creative minds who bring the Disney parks to life?

Speaking of multi-course meals, though, there’s another dining opportunity you might enjoy. The “Highway in the Sky Dine Around” is a progressive dinner that takes place at each of the Walt Disney World Resorts on the monorail route ($170). Stopping at the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian and the Contemporary, you can indulge in a bounty of differing cuisines and courses as you resort hop to gather your meal.

Desserts, Please!

Want to make your own food? Visit Amorette’s Patisserie in Disney Springs to take a cake decorating class. For $169, you can enroll in a 90-minute decorating class which allows two guests to decorate one cake. (The small group lesson has a limited capacity of 14 guests). You’ll learn a variety of techniques, and be treated to refreshments along the way…. Refreshments in a bakery?  Yes, please! If you are interested in learning a new skill, Disney periodically offers additional hands-on learning opportunities. It isn’t currently listed on the Disney website, but we have signed up for photography tours at Epcot in the past. Keep your eyes peeled, particularly at the Festivals, where classes in everything from horticulture to culinary creations and wine pairings are offered.

On the sugary-treats front, there is a series of delicious dessert parties that might be an interesting add-on for your family.  The “Happily Ever After Dessert Party” comes in three available formats. The “Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace” is a before-the-fireworks dessert buffet ($99), and features a variety of both sweet and savory options, as well as action stations, themed desserts and hot and cold beverages.  Your dessert party includes reserved seating on the covered terrace for the fireworks show, a huge benefit during crowded park times! 

Also available is the “Fireworks Dessert Party with Plaza Garden Viewing,” a $79 ticket which actually includes the same dessert buffet as the previous entry, but just before the show, you are escorted out to a reserved seating area in the Plaza Garden viewing area.  “Seating” is a very loose term here, because there are no chairs – just grass – and you are subject to the elements (you know, typical Florida rain or heat!). It’s actually a “standing area” though, because once the fireworks begin, everyone jumps to their feet anyway. Disney has figured out how to get yet a third seating out of this one show by also offering an after-the-fireworks dessert buffet, cleverly titled, “Magic Kingdom After-Fireworks Dessert Party,” for $89.  You will share the Plaza Garden reserved standing area with the before-the-show buffet attendees, and then use your special wristband to attend the dessert buffet post-fireworks.  There is a distinct advantage to this last option.  While the hordes of guests head to the exits and busses after the fireworks, you can leisurely stroll over to your buffet and take your time enjoying the desserts without having to either rush out to your fireworks viewing spot, or battle the masses on the way to transportation.  It also gives you a really great photo opportunity to take a castle picture in a nearly empty park when your dessert buffet is over.  Most guests don’t even know about the “Kiss Goodnight,” and this is a chance to be there to experience a little extra pixie dust.

If you are more of an Epcot fireworks fan, the “Frozen Ever After Dessert Party” ($99) treats guests to Frozen themed desserts and reserved seating on the World Showcase lagoon, perfect for watching the Epcot fireworks show.  The party is followed by an included ride on Frozen Ever After in Arendelle post-show.  

Hollywood Studios more your jam?  The “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party” supplies Stars Wars themed sweets and savories ($89), while offering the chance to watch the Wonderful World of Animation and Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular from a reserved viewing location (plus you get a nifty souvenir to take home.) Fantasmic!, also at Hollywood Studios, has the least expensive dessert option, because it is not an all-you-care-to-enjoy buffet, but rather, a prepacked box of treats that you carry to your VIP viewing seat ($39).  

Oops, almost forgot desserts at Animal Kingdom.  The “Rivers of Light: We Are One Dessert Party” runs $89, and provides a colorful array of goodies before sending you off to reserved seating for the Rivers of Light display.

For Green Thumbs

Got a green thumb?  If the “Behind the Seeds” tour at Epcot is more your thing, the $25, hour-long walking tour of the four greenhouses in the Land Pavilion might fit the bill, and you might just see your dinner being grown. The “Gardens of the World” tour specializes in the designs and gardens for the Epcot International Flower and Garden festival ($85), and not only treats you to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the Festival comes to life, but how you can use their tips and tricks at your own home.

Appreciating the Magic

Several years ago, our family took the two-hour “Family Magic Tour” ($39), which served as a type of clue-solving scavenger hunt throughout the park, complete with lots of Disney facts and fun from our tour guide (and a special meet and greet), but a three-hour “Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom” walking tour is also available for $49, focusing on how Walt’s early life inspired his future creation of Disney World.  It’s an “insider’s look at the history of the Magic Kingdom.”  

Also available is a longer five-hour “Keys to the Kingdom” tour for $99.  Yup, this is the one that takes you down into the utilidors, and even includes lunch along the way.  “Backstage Magic” is even longer at 7 hours, with a hefty $275 wallet. It’s a peek at the Imagineering, costuming, technology and craftsmanship that helps bring the Disney stories to life (with lunch thrown in!)

A Pirates’ Journey

Several years ago, we joined a ship full of other Disney guests on the “Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage.” A pre-sail dessert buffet of light snacks including Mickey bars, specialty cupcakes, assorted drinks, and a meet and greet with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee set the tone for the evening.  Then we followed Pirate Patch off to our ship for a voyage on the high seas. The sail, full of bad jokes, Disney trivia, and rousing singing, travelled past the Electrical Water Pageant before anchoring in front of the Magic Kingdom just in time to view the Happily Ever After Fireworks. Our return to the dock was met by a specialty guest for yet another meet and greet. The evening was well worth the price ($83.83 per person), as we had a terrific time, though the desserts were somewhat lackluster.  

In addition to Pirates and Pals, “The Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise” also takes place on select nights. Scavenger hunts for the kiddos, storytelling, Mickey Vision glasses, and specialty treats and drinks are included in your $99, and after cruising the Seven Seas lagoon, your boat eventually settles into a prime viewing location for the Happily Ever After Fireworks.

Dozens of Specialty Tours

There are literally dozens of specialty tours for all ages and interests. This is only a very small sample.  We didn’t even mention the tethered hot air balloon ride at Disney Springs, fishing excursions on Bay Lake, the carriage rides at Port Orleans or the wagon rides at Fort Wilderness (especially fun around the holidays when they become “sleigh” rides), the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure Segway rides at Fort Wilderness, or the surfing lessons at Typhoon Lagoon.  To paraphrase a quote you’ve probably heard before, “If you can dream it…” Disney will probably help you do it.  For a price, of course.

All prices listed above are for adult participants (many events also have child prices, and some offer discounts for annual passholders), and prices are subject to change – as they often do in the world of Disney! Check the Disney website, particularly under the “Events and Tours” and “Enchanting Extras Collection,” for the latest days, times and price offerings. Carriage rides are temporarily on hiatus while the Tri-Circle-D Ranch is relocating.  They are expected to reopen in  the Spring.

Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.