It’s been a busy 24 hours, and we’re back with another Walt Disney World news roundup as a result. Among other topics, this one covers fireworks testing at EPCOT, the Disney+ Magic Kingdom Universe, more character dining returning, and an iconic Imagineer blasting off to infinity and beyond.
Let’s start with the Walt Disney World nighttime spectacular news. Last week, we shared Harmonious at EPCOT Info & Timeline. This came a year after its debut was teased and followed months of the show barges being installed and tested in World Showplace Lagoon.
Harmonious’ centerpiece Stargate still sits backstage, but things continue to progress with the show. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the nighttime spectacular is on pace for a debut date later in 2021. Two very positive developments in the last 24 hours on that front…
After EPCOT closed last night, Harmonious tested. We could hear fireworks from bed, and immediately jumped on social media to see what was up. We found several results from guests staying at the Crescent Lake resorts and driving by the park (here and here are examples). It should go without saying, but this bodes well. Walt Disney World wouldn’t be doing this in early 2021 if Harmonious weren’t scheduled to debut until 2022.
Further corroborating this is that Disney Meetings & Events has apparently started offering corporate packages that include a private reception and viewing of Harmonious during the 2021 EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival. In searching the official events website, I couldn’t find any reference to this, but BlogMickey first reported it and they’re credible.
Walt Disney World offering these packages to corporate clients suggests they are very confident Harmonious will debut before October 2021. These events are important to Disney, and they wouldn’t want to alienate business partners by changing or cancelling packages once booked.
It wouldn’t surprise us if Harmonious debuts by this summer. As we said in our Harmonious timeline post, EPCOT is the park where nighttime spectaculars could most plausibly first return from health safety and profitability perspectives. World Showcase is massive, with ample space for a large number of guests to distance themselves while viewing.
EPCOT also has a higher attendance cap than other parks, and is seeing the lowest utilization on average. Collectively, this makes the debut of new attractions and return of fireworks more advantageous at EPCOT than any other park. (In other words, don’t be surprised if Harmonious debuts before Happily Ever After returns.)
Next, a fun one! The Hollywood Reporter revealed that ‘For All Mankind’ creator and self-described Disney superfan Ron Moore is about to begin work on the first of a potential “Magic Kingdom Universe” franchise of projects that will explore characters. (After he’s finished working on a Swiss Family Robinson Disney+ series.)
The first project being developed as part of the Magic Kingdom Universe is The Society of Explorers and Adventurers, which is a secret society of both fictional and real-life explorers, that began at Tokyo DisneySea and has spread as far as Typhoon Lagoon.
For the Magic Kingdom Universe, Moore is working closely with Walt Disney Imagineering. There’s reportedly a mini-writers room being put together with a search under way for three senior-level writers. Following the S.E.A. series, Moore will build out the Magic Kingdom Universe and oversee the entire franchise. More would expand the franchise for Disney+ in a way that’s similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s fitting that the Society of Explorers and Adventurers would be the first project for the Magic Kingdom Universe. Not only is S.E.A. conducive to a Disney+ series, but the “organization” is itself the closest thing theme parks have to a shared universe. Since it debuted in Fortress Explorations two decades ago, S.E.A. has involved to include an array of original theme park characters.
Since then, it has been woven into numerous spots at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Skipper Canteen, Typhoon Lagoon, and other locations. It also shares bloodlines with the Jungle Navigation Company, and the two could easily be combined for the Disney+ series.
We are huge fans of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. It’s something that “rewards” Disney fans who visit multiple parks and fixate on details and easter eggs, and Imagineering (mostly) has not gotten carried away with trying to shoehorn it into too much.
Moreover, it’s awesome to see the Magic Kingdom Universe on Disney+ debuting with something that’s a relative deep-cut, as compared to low-hanging fruit like the “Fantasyland Files” featuring all the princesses or even a Haunted Mansion series. We’re really looking forward to this one!
More good news on the food front. In its February 2021 Best Bites, Disney Parks Blog announced that character breakfast is back at Hollywood & Vine starting March 22, 2021. The Disney Junior Character Breakfast will return in modified form, allowing guests to wave and snap selfies–but not hug or obtain autographs–with popular Disney Junior characters.
The location will also shift to an à la carte, similar to what Minnie’s Seasonal Dine has done for lunch and dinner in the same location. Start with a sharable pastry basket for the table and then choose your breakfast entrée, including the following menu options:
- All-you-care-to-enjoy pancakes made with our signature house-made batter.
- French toast stuffed with chocolate-hazelnut spread.
- Toasted open-faced salmon bagel.
- Four-egg scramble.
- Four-egg cheese omelet.
- Plant-based egg frittata.
Advance Dining Reservations for the Disney Junior Character Breakfast at Hollywood & Vine can be booked starting February 26, 2021 on DisneyWorld.com or via the My Disney Experience app.
If the Disney Junior Character Breakfast isn’t your speed, maybe you’ll be happy to know that Big River Grille & Brewing Works at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn has reopened. Or maybe not?
I’m not going to say that Big River Grille & Brewing Works is my least favorite restaurant at Walt Disney World, but it’s definitely bottom 5. (Some reasonably-priced menu options are its saving graced.) Nevertheless, I am happy to see it reopen. Every step towards normalcy is important incremental progress, even when it’s the return of a subpar dining spot.
Virgin Galactic announces legendary former Disney Imagineer, @Joe_Rohde, as Experience Architect. He will help design and guide the overall experience journey for future astronauts, friends and family, and inspired fans alike. https://t.co/Vk9dRPSURZ pic.twitter.com/Wksbe1e3lp
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 22, 2021
Finally, some bittersweet news. After one month of “retirement,” legendary Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde has joined Virgin Galactic as Experience Architect. Rohde will be a strategic advisor to help design and guide the overall experience journey for future astronauts, friends and family, and inspired fans alike, per a press release.
Obviously, this is great for Joe Rohde and Virgin Galactic. We’re heartened to see such a colossal talent be scooped up by another innovative company, even if it’s one most of us will never use. However, it’s disappointing as a Disney fan and elucidates the actual nature of his departure from WDI. Watching the “old guard” with strong connections to Walt Disney Imagineering’s historic legacy depart has been difficult. I wonder how many crucial Imagineers were let go who no one has ever heard of because they don’t seek out the spotlight.
The last year has been tough for countless reasons, but the degree to which Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Imagineering have forever lost institutional knowledge cannot be overstated. Many fans are understandably upset about what’s absent in the near term–things like shows, streetmosphere, and various qualitative vacation enhancements–but the reality is that all or most of that can be restored relatively easily. Institutional knowledge is more of an abstraction that’s not easily ascertainable among fans. Its loss may not be apparent in the near-term, but it’s going to come back to bite Disney down the road.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Thoughts on testing and corporate packages for Harmonious viewing? Think it’ll debut for the start of summer, closer to fall, or not at all in 2021? Excited for the Disney+ Magic Kingdom Universe? What about a Society of Explorers and Adventurers show? Looking forward to seeing what Joe Rohde does with Virgin Galactic, or still disappointed he’s gone from Imagineering? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!