Orlando Rising’s first year as an all-theme-parks news site is in the books. Let’s take a look back at our five most-read stories covering Walt Disney World in 2019, in chronological order.

1. ‘Pray for the cast members’: Mickey ride delay creates headaches for Galaxy’s Edge, published on April 19

When Disney announced that Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway would not open until 2020, the expectation was it would create additional stress on Disney’s Hollywood Studios as crowds clamored to get into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. 

“I’m not sure what the plan is at this point,” Touring Plans president Len Testa told Orlando Rising . “Disney opened that Lightning McQueen show, but it has failed to attract crowds and looks dead in the water.”

The fears ended up being misplaced, but only because Galaxy’s Edge wasn’t the smash hit out of the gate that the theme park community assumed. Opening with just one of its two attractions, the land didn’t draw the enormous crowds many expected in Florida until the headlining ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opened in December. 

As for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, it is now scheduled to open on March 4, 2020

2. #FindBuzzy: Police report appears to confirm Epcot animatronic was stolen, published on May 17

The rumors of a full animatronic being stolen from Epcot had been in doubt since the Orange County Sheriff’s Office had released a report in December 2018 showing only clothing had been reported missing — but come May, a new police document showed a much bigger heist had happened. 

The revelation came in the arrest affidavit for Patrick Spikes, a former Disney employee who gained infamy as @BackDoorDisney, posting photos from off-limits areas of the park. In alleging that Spikes and his cousin had stolen items from the Haunted Mansion, investigators said they “also recently learned the entire Buzzy animatronic was stolen from the attraction, separately from the clothing.”

Subsequent reporting from Orlando Rising confirmed the animatronic was stolen and has still not been recovered. In fact, our website was mentioned in an OCSO report when detectives investigated claims that Buzzy was actually in Disney’s possession, which ended up being untrue. Our public records requests did reveal that Disney waited a week after Buzzy went missing to report the theft to police. 

3. Disney World fan blog says it’s ‘at war’ with the company it covers, published on June 29

WDW News Today, one of the most-visited sites covering Disney theme parks, came out swinging after Disney forcefully denied two rumors first reported by WDWNT founder Tom Corless. 

The first involved a rumor that the current version of the Enchanted Tiki Room would get a “Moana”-themed overlay. The other, a story that the Country Bear Jamboree would be replaced with a “Toy Story” marionette show.

Corless told Orlando Rising he was standing by his story, despite Disney’s aggressive response. 

“Based on the fact that the ‘rumor’ came from the team working on the Woody’s Round-Up show, I will not retract my story,” he said. “The project has been cancelled and Disney has used this as an opportunity to damage the only large fan site that they don’t have control over.”

Corless and his site have continued to claim victory since then in “saving” the Country Bears. 

4. Disney World history: $30,000 for a Fort Wilderness cabin, published August 9 

Our ongoing series on theme park props brought us to Pete Kucinski, who was selling cabins that once housed guests at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. 

The units were selling for $35,000 furnished and $30,000 for one that was unfurnished and had some minor alterations from its Disney days. Several of those that Kucinski sold will be used as vacation rentals, including one in the Smoky Mountains that he kept for himself. 

We’re always on the look out for interesting theme park props, so if you have a story you like to tell, email us at johngregoryFL@gmail.com

5. Disney dubs Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ‘runaway success.’ It’s not, published September 26

In a year full of mini-controversies in the theme park world, nothing stirred more outrage than talking about Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. 

Long assumed to have a massive opening, Galaxy’s Edge actually saw attendance drop at Disneyland Park in the first quarter it was open. The initial weeks for Disney World’s version didn’t fare much better, according to Touring Plans statistics, even though Disney parks chief Bob Chapek insisted the land “has exceeded every expectation we’ve had.” 

This kind of argument played out on a smaller scale in the social media universe dubbed DisTwitter. On one side, fans sided with Disney’s interpretation and accused blogs and reporters of nefarious anti-Disney motives — even our story was derided as “fake news.” Others prematurely declared the land a “failure,” even spreading unfounded rumors that Galaxy’s Edge was such a disaster that it would be rethemed to the original George Lucas-led trilogy or to another Disney property.

In the end, the opening of Rise of the Resistance may show that the real problem was much more simple: without its marquee attraction, guests decided they could put off their first visit to Batuu and Black Spire Outpost.

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