It’s probably been a minute since you’ve visited the land of The Mouse. But while the world was sheltering in place, Disney was busy. New rides, new experiences, and new skip-the-line plans mean there’s a ton to see on the tails of the incredible Star Wars Galaxy Edge launches, which docked just before the world shut down in December of 2019.

 

The first full-size Starblaster ever built stands outside Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (Kent Phillips, photographer)

The biggest and best of the new attractions is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, the spectacular new roller coaster which opened May 27th in Epcot. This is the first rollercoaster of its kind at this park (it took over the huge space previously occupied by Ellen’s Energy Adventure which closed in 2017) and it CHANGES. THE. GAME. Without spoiling too much of the fun, the Guardians themselves (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel!) are all part of the experience and in your quest to save the world, you begin your high-speed inter-galactic adventure by speeding backward (the first coaster to ever start this way!) while listening to Star Lord’s beloved mix tape. There are six songs in rotation (the two times we rode, we heard “Conga” and “Disco Inferno”) and you don’t know which song you’ll get until you’re on the ride. The music is loud, everyone is singing along and it’s a huge part of what makes the ride so much fun. Cosmic Rewind is also the first “omnicoaster” in the parks, which means each individual car in the caterpillar that makes up the roller coaster train can move independently, allowing you to sometimes be in the front, sometimes in the middle–with the action always in front of you. It’s cant-miss!

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind (Disney)

Elsewhere in Epcot, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure launched in the France pavilion in October 2021. It showcases a fun-for-everyone, rats-eye-view of a French kitchen – you’ll peep the experience through 3D glasses and dart under tables, avoiding mops and discovery by the executive chef! If you can, plan to visit France around lunchtime, since the quick-service restaurant here is one of the best in the park, with quiches and macaroons and crepes galore. (There’s also a great gelato shop here. Although technically Italian, it makes a great stop on a scorching hot Epcot afternoon.)

Guests board an Intersystem Transport Ship as part of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (Kent Phillips, photographer)

A few miles away in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the excitement is still at fever-pitch around the Star Wars rides, which launched at the end of 2019. These attractions live in a new Star Wars-themed neighborhood of the park called Galaxy’s Edge and even without boarding a single star cruiser, you will have a blast walking through the cantina, bumping into Chewie, and if you’re unlucky, getting bossed around by a cavalcade of storm troopers. On Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, you are at the controls of the most famous ship in the galaxy, acting as a pilot, a gunner or an engineer. You will face insurmountable odds as you tackle your mission and return safely with your smuggled cargo intact. Nearby, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is unlike any ride you’ve experienced in the parks thus far. There are multiple components and stages to the attraction, several thrilling “how did they do that?” moments, which I won’t spoil, and the experience itself is a full 20 minutes from beginning to end. The only way to really describe is to say that it’s as if the series has come to life and you’re now playing a lead role.

While you wait for your launch window (because yes, lines are ridiculously long), check out Minnie & Mickey’s New Runaway Railroad which has set up in the space previously occupied by the Chinese Theatre movie ride. It’s the first time the couple gets to star in their very own attraction – Goofy is the train conductor for their expedition, however, and you can imagine the fun and mayhem that ensues. There’s a 4th wall break in the beginning that’s magical (think about the beginning of the Belle experience in Magic Kingdom) and when we visited, the standby line was never too long.

Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana will be a lush exploration trail at EPCOT (Disney)

Disney also recently announced a new attraction “Journey of Water” which is currently under construction in the new Epcot neighborhood World Nature. This interactive trail lets families meet and play with “living” water as it makes its journey from sky to earth and back to the sky again. The experience is based on Moana and sounds at the very least like a welcome shaded, hydrating respite from what are typically scorching hot Florida Epcot afternoons.

Although there are clearly many great reasons to visit, there was one big negative during our most recent visit: the retirement of the Disney Fast Pass and the introduction of Disney Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane passes. Disney Genie itself is great. It’s a new free service that acts as your personal day-planner in the Disney app, suggesting rides you’re close to or that you’ve favorited with short wait times. The problem is with the new Genie+ and Lightning Lane. In the previous world of Fast Passes, you could, with plenty of advanced notice, sign up for a window of time to ride attractions that have inevitable long standby lines. You can still do that with Genie +, but you now have to purchase it, to the tune of $15 per person per day (in addition to your park pass cost) and you can only make reservations same-day, starting at 7 am if you’re staying at a Disney resort and at whatever time the park opens if you’re not.

For the trip planner in your family, this means you will need to start your day at 6:55 am every morning to get optimal reservations – no sleeping in on this vacation! The other drawback with the new system is that you can only select your next attraction if two hours have passed since your first selection or if you’ve actually ridden your first ride. The real-life implication of this is that you get on fewer attractions per day than with the old Fast Pass system which is a bummer. There are even some attractions (the most popular ones of course) where you cant use your Genie + subscription to ride at all and you have to pay per person, per ride for a skip-the-line reservation which means things like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Expedition Everest and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance can be anywhere from $7 to $15 additional to ride. And prices are dynamic varying by day. Once you get to the ride, you enter through the Lightning Lane and it works the same way that Fast Passes generally did: You take a shortcut to the front of the line. These changes make planning a day at the parks a lot more confusing to plan, certainly more expensive than before, and generally mean you get on fewer rides total.

Overall the good changes in the parks outweigh the annoying ones, and a long weekend jaunt to Central Florida may be exactly what your family needs to shake off the pandemic funk. November break awaits!

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