This Week in Theme Park News: Biden in The Hall of Presidents, Star Wars Hotel Poster, and MorePhoto and poster courtesy of Disney Travel Features theme parks
Somehow it’s already been an entire week since last week’s debut of our new theme park news round-up. That’s the thing about weekly columns: you’ve got to do them every week. It’s a commitment. Fortunately there was a lot of theme park news this week, as there is every week, with the first big piece of news coming out literally minutes after I published last week’s piece. So let’s start there, with Joe Biden’s upcoming debut in Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.
Last Monday the Disney Parks blog shared a first look at the President Biden audio-animatronic coming to The Hall of Presidents. The 46th President will make his debut when the show reopens in August, and unlike with the last guy, this audio-animatronic actually looks a good bit like the real person. He even comes with Biden’s patented aviator sunglasses, although sitting on the table next to him and not actually on his head. (Bummer—President Shades would probably make the Hall at least 5% cooler.) As has been tradition since Clinton took office in 1993, Biden, as sitting president, will have one of the few speaking roles in the show, reciting the oath of office. Trump’s audio-animatronic, meanwhile, will do what the man himself hasn’t done, which is fade gracefully and silently into the background, lining up alongside its 44 fellow former presidents and waiting for its brief moment in the spotlight during the show’s role call.
Disney hasn’t announced an official reopening date yet for the show. They also haven’t released any footage of Robot Biden in action. If you know anything about PR, you know you’ve got to dole these things out to build up that anticipation. As a lifelong fan of the Hall—it was easily my favorite non-ride at Disney when I was a kid, and a top 5 attraction overall for me when I was in elementary school, which confused adults at the time and frankly boggles my mind today—I look forward to escaping within its darkened, air conditioned environs once again, and this time with a more presidential president at center stage.
Sticking with Disney World, the company confirmed the closing dates for the night time shows at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Happily Ever After will end at Magic Kingdom on Sept. 30, while Epcot Forever’s final show will be held on Sept. 28. Both of them are wrapping up just in time for Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebrations, which start on Oct. 1. Epcot Forever will be replaced with the long-awaited new show HarmoniUS, which officially starts on Oct. 1. On that same day—the official 50th anniversary of Disney World’s opening—a new show called Disney Enchantment starts at the Magic Kingdom. If you’ve never checked out a night time show at Disney, expect an impressively overwhelming multimedia presentation that mashes together lights, music, fireworks, projections, and other audio-visual magic. They’re genuinely pretty amazing, enough so that you might actually want to watch them and not just use that time to enjoy the shorter lines at the rides or to beat the traffic on your way out of the park.
This week Disney also released a little bit more information about what might be its most fascinating upcoming project—Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. The Star Wars-themed hotel promises a deeply immersive cruise-style adventure aboard a meticulously themed “spaceship,” complete with a shore excursion to Batuu, the setting of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It sounds like a massive experiment in LARPing, and given the great job Disney did with Galaxy’s Edge, I can’t wait to see how they pull off this fancy hotel business. This week they released an official poster for the Starcruiser, in the grand tradition of the attraction posters Disney has made for decades. It looks absolutely Star Warsy, what with the droids and Jedi and lightsabers and such. The Disney Parks Blog post breaks down in detail what all the various elements on the poster refer to, so go read that for more concrete information on what you can expect from the Starcruiser when it opens.
And one final Disney note: this isn’t officially about the theme parks, but Disney Cruise Line’s boats are basically theme parks on the high seas now, so it fits. Plus some of the same talent that designs the parks are also responsible for the cruise ships, so if you love Disney’s design and attention to detail, you might find yourself enchanted with their cruises, too. They’re about to return to service after a lengthy closure during the pandemic, with the Disney Dream starting its first voyage in well over a year on August 9. They’re currently offering three or four night cruises from Florida to the Bahamas, with a stop over at Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. I’ve never done a Disney cruise myself, but people seem to dig ‘em. Maybe one day I’ll get to hang out on a boat with my old friend Donald Duck.
Disney wasn’t the only one making news in the theme park world this week. Universal released more information about Universal Hollywood’s version of Halloween Horror Nights, and also put tickets up for sale. As always, Halloween Horror Nights will run at Universal Hollywood on select nights in September and October, starting on Sept. 9 and running through Oct. 31. There are currently five haunted houses announced for Hollywood, with the movie and TV tie-ins The Exorcist, The Haunting of Hill House, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, and then an original house based on Greek mythology called The Curse of Pandora’s Box. Expect to get screamed at a lot by scare actors popping out from behind walls; hopefully they’ll be wearing masks, uh, beneath their scary masks. Halloween Horror Nights tickets for Universal Hollywood are available now. And if you’re an East Coaster, you can grab tickets for Universal Orlando’s version here.
Disney and Universal aren’t the only theme parks about to join in on the Halloween fun, of course. Knott’s Berry Farm’s annual transformation into Knott’s Scary Farm happens on select nights between Sept. 16 and Oct. 31; tickets go on sale on August 16. Meanwhile, over in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Dollywood’s annual Great Pumpkin Luminights kicks off on Sept. 24 and runs through Oct. 30. Don’t expect anything too scary from Great Pumpkin Luminights; it’s a charming, family-friendly event full of Halloween decorations, candy, and seasonal treats and music.
And that’s it for this week. If you work at a theme or amusement park and want to keep me and our readers updated on your latest news, feel free to reach out to me via email or on Twitter. And if you’re headed to any amusement parks this week, stay safe and have fun! And don’t forget your mask.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.