Please Remain Seated: This Month in Theme Park News (January 2021)

Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World (Photo: Universal Studios Japan)

I’ve been cozy at home with my family for the past couple weeks, largely ignoring anything going on outside of my own little world. A new year means lots of new theme park news, though, so I dragged myself out from under my new weighted blanket to bring you the announcements and updates you need to know for your next family trip.

To be honest, I don’t know when I’ll be visiting a theme park again. Not only are COVID numbers on the rise, but so are the number of theme park visitors. I’ve been very comfortable on my trips so far, but the bigger crowds and longer lines are giving me pause. 

My family has been considering a Florida trip this year where we could visit some of the parks we’ve never been to as a family, like SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and LEGOLAND (all of which are debuting new attractions this year), and of course I’d love to visit Disneyland in California when it (hopefully) reopens in 2021. But I don’t want to go unless I’m sure I’ll feel safe. I’m going to see how the next few weeks play out before making any solid plans. 

In the meantime, here’s a look at what’s ahead for theme parks this month.

In the News

Here We Go! Super Nintendo World Is Coming to Japan

Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World (Photo: Universal Studios Japan)

On December 18, Universal Studios Japan gave Mario-aficionados a preview of the soon-to-open Super Nintendo World, which looks so much like a video game come to life that I had a hard time believing it was real while I was watching the livestream. Super Nintendo World officially opens on February 4, 2021, with two attractions, restaurants, shops, and interactive experiences that let you collect coins and complete Super Mario challenges.

If you aren’t planning a trip to Japan anytime soon, Super Nintendo World is also expected to open at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando at some point in the future. As always, I’ll let you know when there’s more news to share!

Universal Orlando Opens Its Newest Hotel 

Speaking of Universal Orlando, the resort recently opened its newest hotel, Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites. The hotel was originally scheduled to open just before the widespread coronavirus-related shutdowns, but was put on hold until December 15, 2020.

Aside from the beachy theming and rates that start as low as $77 per night, this property has super-affordable two-bedroom suites that are perfect for large families like mine. The suites sleep up to six people, which means I won’t have to put the baby’s pack-n-play in the closet or the bathroom so he can get some peace and quiet at bedtime.

My favorite fun fact about Dockside is that it was built on what used to be the Wet ‘n Wild water park. Some of the hotel’s signature drinks are named after water slides from the defunct water park

Disneyland Paris Has Big Plans for 2021

Last month, Disney announced a few fun new attractions and experiences coming to Disneyland Paris in 2021 and they look pretty amazing! The park’s Hotel New York is currently being refurbished and will reopen as Disney’s Hotel New York -The Art of Marvel sometime in 2021. There’s lots of artwork from the Marvel comics and movies, but I can’t get over the Skyline Bar with its “view” of the New York City skyline and Avengers Tower, not to mention the subway-themed pool.

Also coming next year is a Cars re-theme of the Studio Tram Tour attraction and an all-new Disney Junior Dream Factory interactive musical show. 

California Theme Parks Under Lockdown

The wonderful worlds of Pixar come to life at Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure Park. The reimagined land features the thrilling Incredicoaster, imaginative neighborhoods, Pixar-inspired food, the Lamplight Lounge, plus exciting entertainment and more. Disney California Adventure is located in Anaheim, Calif. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort) (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

The state of California’s theme parks has gone from bad to worse. Increasing coronavirus numbers (and decreasing ICU availability) have led to even more restrictions on how California businesses can operate and it has affected some of the creative endeavors theme parks had come up with to try and stay afloat.

In early December, California governor Gavin Newsom declared a stay-at-home order in certain parts of the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions impacted the theme parks that had partially reopened for shopping, dining, and other government-approved activities.

As a result of the stay-at-home order:

Until the situation in California improves, theme parks and many other businesses are at the mercy of the stay-at-home order.

Tips For Your Trips

Park Hopping is Back at Walt Disney World

When Walt Disney World Resort theme parks in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., begin their phased reopening July 11, 2020, all guests 2 years of age and older will be required to wear an appropriate face covering at all times, except when eating and drinking while dining. (Caitie McCabe, photographer)

When Disney World in Orlando reopened in July, it did away with Park Hopper tickets that allowed guests to visit more than one park per day. On January 1, park hopping returned, but there are a few things you need to know before you go if you want to start your day at one park and end at another.

First, you will need to purchase a ticket or pass that includes the Park Hopper option (or upgrade your current ticket). You’ll still need a Park Pass reservation for the first park you plan to visit and you do actually need to enter that park before you can visit another. Beginning each day at 2 p.m., you can visit as many other parks as you like. You can even go back to the park where you started your day.

Of course, all of this is subject to each park’s capacity limits, and Disney has even noted that Park Hopper hours may change depending on the day and park. Basically, check the website or ask a Cast Member if you are unsure. I’m a big fan of ending my day with a few food and drink stops at EPCOT’s World Showcase, so I’ll definitely be taking advantage of park hopping on my next visit.

Just Desserts

Tarah Chieffi
Tarah Chieffi

Speaking of my love for eating and drinking at EPCOT, I wanted to share my EPCOT festival plan of attack for foodies. EPCOT hosts four festivals each year and at each one you can find international food booths throughout the park that serve small plates and libations that complement the theme of the festival.

At the upcoming Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts, for example, you can try creatively composed eats like a deconstructed Reuben, lobster poutine, and an artist palette cookie. If I’m visiting EPCOT during one of these festivals, I tend to forgo making any dining reservations that day in lieu of hopping from booth to booth sampling a bit of everything. 

With the current health and safety regulations, guests are required to find a socially distant stationary spot to eat and drink, but on my last visit there were plenty of tables set up near the food booths. If you love trying new foods (or, like me, beers), I recommend making the festival foods your “meal” during your next visit.

Until next month, let’s keep our fingers crossed for even more good news and announcements in the theme park world. 

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Tarah Chieffi
Tarah Chieffi is a theme park and family travel journalist who discovered her words were best used to help travelers plan fun-filled family vacations. When she isn't eating theme park food and riding roller coasters, she can be found cycling wherever her bike will take her, tucked under the covers with a good book, or planning her next adventure with her husband and three sons.