Theme park news: An honor for Universal, plus Disney World hotel updates

October 28, 2010, 10:06 PM · Here are a few news items of note from the theme park world this week:

Universal wins a food honor, but it's not what you might think
First, Universal's crowing about a new award for one of its restaurants. But it's not at Universal Orlando. This honor goes to the newly-revamped International Cafe at Universal Studios Hollywood.

International Cafe at Universal Studios HollywoodThe cafe won a Santé Restaurant Award, the only theme park restaurant this year to win an honor from what bills itself as the only peer-judged restaurant competition in North America.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Executive Chef, Eric Kopelow, revamped the restaurant's menu earlier this year to refocus it on healthy, bistro-style fare. The Culinary Institute of America graduate added a shrimp Cobb salad, a caprese plate, grilled vegetable sandwiches, and a roast beef and brie with roasted pears sandwich to the menu, among other items.

"The International Cafe is helping us to satisfy a growing demand for healthy, tasty food options," Kopelow said in a statement.

Magical Express ain't the Floo Network
Jason Garcia at the Orlando Sentinel reports that traffic is down on Walt Disney World's Magical Express free-bus service between its on-site hotels and the Orlando International Airport. (I suppose we should ignore Jason's dateline from the future.)

Disney offers Magical Express as a free perk to its hotel guests, which saves them the hassle and expense of renting a car to get to Walt Disney World. Of course, that means that they won't be able to easily leave Disney property during their trip, either.

That's why Magical Express might not be an effective proxy for measuring occupancy rates at the Disney hotels - not everyone who stays on-property uses Magical Express. I've heard from several Disney World fans that they've opted to skip Magical Express, even though it is free, in order to have the flexibility not only to visit attractions outside of the Walt Disney World Resort, but to move around between hotels and non-theme park attractions more easily than they could relying on Disney's bus service.

Obviously, the big attraction drawing people off Disney property these days is Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so more folks might be choosing to skip Magical Express in order to be able to visit Potter. The question for Disney then becomes: Will Disney fans who love Harry Potter just give up Magical Express to visit Universal, or will they skip Disney entirely on their next Orlando visit?

Walt Disney World hotels come to Priceline
Here's a better indicator of how Disney's faring in filling hotel rooms: Walt Disney World has decided to list its hotel rooms on Priceline.

Disney's offered its hotel rooms through Expedia for several years, though Expedia searches often will show no availability when a direct call to Disney will show rooms. Obviously, Disney's looking for additional channels to sell its hotel rooms, as on-property occupancy rates continue to fall below the company's wishes.

Do note that the rooms will be available on Priceline only through the booking engine. You can't use the "name your price" feature to book a Disney room. And many of the package deals and discounts that Disney offers to those who book directly might not be available through Priceline, either, as they typically haven't been available via Expedia in the past.

Replies (8)

October 29, 2010 at 4:04 AM · Again off the mark Niles. You can get Disney rooms through name your own price. You have been able to for a while. Its not going to happen during the bust season but last year we got the dolphin From 80 a night granted we were bidding 60 and they countered but it can happen. It was also middle of the week.
October 29, 2010 at 7:16 AM · The Dolphin is not a Disney hotel.
October 29, 2010 at 10:41 AM · What's the difference between the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin? Are we just talking about hotels vs. resorts?
October 29, 2010 at 11:34 AM · Those booking sites take huge commissions. Surprised to hear Disney uses them. Disney should be in a position to circumvent them.
October 29, 2010 at 1:42 PM · The Disney Swan and Dolphin hotel are owned by Disney but leased and run through a different company. I believe it is Starwood. This means that they have the right to sell their rooms however they like to fill their hotels. Disney only controls the appearance and how the hotel fits in with the Walt Disney Resort as a whole.
October 29, 2010 at 4:55 PM · Neither the Swan nor the Dolphin are owned by Disney. They are owned and operated by outside companies, even though they sit within Disney World property. As a result, they have their own reservation policies and practices.

(And, FWIW, Disney didn't have as much control over the appearance of those hotels as it would have liked - the long-standing rumor among cast members was that the Disney lawyers who drew up those leases left some loopholes they hadn't intended.)

October 29, 2010 at 9:22 PM · Its not just a Disney issue with filling rooms it is industry wide. when the economy improves so will the occupancy of the disney properties. All these other sites do is put the Disney properties out to more people. Maybe someone will book a room at a Disney property because they can get a good deal there and never actually intend on attending the parks due to work or family reasons, but Disney just put another room being used instaed of being empty. Doesn't look like a bad thing to me.
As for the Magical Express I don't think it is a true indicator of occupancy. I think it is more of a sign of how screwed up the airline industry is. I will not fly now due to the hassle of security. The cost that is incurred now. Lets face it it is not the just the cost of a ticket now there are all of the other hidden costs now. The last time the family and I went I priced out tickets to fly for a family of four 2 adults and 2 children It was cheaper for us to drive from upstate New York and get a couple of hotel rooms down and back. And this was when they were just starting to impose these extra fees. Plus I didn't have to pay extra to ship things back. Hard not to get souvinears with a 2 year old and 5 year old and two adult Disney fanatics. The mini van was full to the top on the return home :) .
October 29, 2010 at 10:16 PM · I believe Disney owns the buildings, but is run by Starwood.

I also do not think Harry Potter has anything to do with the Magical Express. Disney's Magical Express, while great, does take a long time to ride and get luggage.

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