Theme Park Bits: D23 Membership Rates Are Up, Universal Orlando Lockers Have Changed, And More

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • D23 has announced increased membership rates for 2019.
  • Guests at Walt Disney World were turned away early on New Year's Eve 2018 due to overcrowding.
  • Universal Studios Orlando has changed its attraction locker policies.
  • A Florida man was arrested for trying to kidnap a girl at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction.
  • Disneyland Paris has unveiled a new, duck-heavy online marketing campaign.
  • Disneyland's Tropical Hideaway has opened, and they've got Dole Whips...with bacon.
  • And more!
  • Happy New Year, folks! Let's kick off 2019 with some news about Disney's exclusive club, D23. To start the new year, D23 has informed its members that its rates...have gone up. For the first time since D23 became a reality in 2009, it'll cost a good deal more to become a yearly member, and annual memberships are now recurring, so you'll have to manually unsubscribe should you want to. Where Gold Memberships used to be $74.99 a year, they're now $99.99, and Gold Family Memberships have been raised to $129.99 a year. On one hand, there will be even more members-only events in 2019 to take advantage of, along with the D23 Expo in Anaheim in August. On the other hand, starting your new year by finding out you have to pay more for this membership is probably not the best way to wake up after your New Year's Eve celebrations.

    Here's a more enjoyable way to start your day, by finding out what would happen if a real duck met Donald Duck. I am admittedly fudging that description a fair bit – what I'm talking about is a brand-new ad from Disneyland Paris in which a "duck" (because come on, that thing is all CGI) finds an old Donald Duck comic book, begins mimicking our hero's ornery antics, and then finds its way to a secluded spot on Disneyland Paris property where it meets none other than Donald Duck himself. I'd be lying if I said this didn't feel like a super-cheesy way to advertise the Disney Parks, but I'd also be lying if I said it wasn't also shamelessly cute. At the very least, a duck meeting Donald is cuter than a real mouse meeting Mickey.

    I mentioned New Year's Eve earlier, and let's revisit the last night of 2018, shall we? (Just, stay away from the tequila shots. You're not Anderson Cooper. Or maybe you are. Hey, Anderson!) Anyway, I specifically wanted to highlight this story about how guests were being turned away from the Magic Kingdom in Orlando as early as 11:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve 2018. This first stage of closure only applied to those who bought one-day, one-park tickets and weren't staying on Disney property, and they only got a $50 gift card for their trouble. That said, as much as I love the Disney parks, I've always taken one lesson to heart: never go to the parks between Christmas and New Year's Day. Frankly, you'd have to pay me to do it, because the crowds are consistently pretty terrible. So, consider that lesson for your 2019 holiday planning. The parks are wonderful, but they're just too busy in the last week of the year!

    An area that's going to be plenty busy will be the ever-expanding Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. As detailed in this video, aerial photography has given us an early glance at the track and vehicles for an upcoming Harry Potter-themed roller coaster replacing the previous tenant, Dueling Dragons. Purported to be an exploration of the Forbidden Forest, the video suggests that we'll be riding in Hagrid's motorcycle and sidecar for this adventure, that may even go indoors and outdoors. The coaster is still on track to be unveiled sometime in 2019, likely in the summer, and it'll be exciting to see what further details arrive as the year progresses.

    If you've visited the Universal theme parks in the States, you know that it's almost as common to see rows and rows of lockers near high-intensity attractions as it is to see those attractions themselves. At the Orlando park, the locker system has been updated, removing the fingerprinting biometric technology and replacing it with ticket-scanning technology instead. The update is meant to trim down the time you spend at the lockers, either in placing your backpacks, purses, etc., or in retrieving them after your ride. The downside is that some of the lockers are now larger, and they cost $2 extra to rent. Not the biggest amount of money, but the lockers themselves are a boon to any rider so the extra cost is a bit disappointing to see.

    Veering from the frivolous to the outright terrifying, and also taking place at Universal Orlando, a 23-year old man was accused to trying to kidnap a young girl outside of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction at the park just before New Year's Eve 2018. The good news in all this is that the girl, all of 9 years old, is safe and no harm came to her (and the Orange County Sheriff's Office was able to apprehend the man in question). This is, however, a necessary if grim reminder that even at a place that's largely as secure as Universal Orlando, you have to be on your guard, whether you're with kids or just friends.

    And veering from the outright terrifying right back to the frivolous, would you look at that picture? Would you just look? If you're salivating at the very sight and asking, "Josh, is that a Dole Whip with bacon on the top?", my answer would be a resounding yes. (Sure, you may have cheated by reading the bulleted overview at the top of this week's column, but go with me here.) At least for now, if you head over to the Tropical Hideaway at Disneyland, the new restaurant that opened just before Christmas, you can ask for a Dole Whip that's "spiced up" and get bacon right on top. The Tropical Hideaway has a number of new Dole Whip flavors, including raspberry, but if that's not enough of an incentive, then bacon ought to do the trick.

    Let's end today with some exciting news: Disney has announced the premiere date for one of its new nighttime shows in 2019. As you may already know, Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney – MGM Studios) in Walt Disney World celebrates its 30th anniversary on May 1. So it makes perfect sense that the park will ring in its 30th birthday with a brand-new nighttime spectacular, Wonderful World of Animation. This show will light up the sky directly above the park's tribute to the Grauman's Chinese Theater, which will also be the home of the Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway attraction. Wonderful World of Animation looks like it'll be in the vein of World of Color, honoring 90 years of Disney animation. Hopefully, there'll be a lot more historical examples of that — the rendering from Disney above looks nice, but also features primarily animated characters from the last decade. We can all find out this May.