Park notes: Why Orlando tourist taxes don’t go to roads / Star Tours update / Epcot entrance

The latest entry in The Orlando Sentinel’s “Laborland” series explores how Disney and Universal’s political clout has kept Orlando area tourism taxes from going to road construction or affordable housing. 

In 2018, $277 million was generated in Orange County by a 6 percent tax on hotel rooms. Most of that revenue will go to Visit Orlando, a nonprofit group to promote the tourism industry in Orlando — including major theme parks like Disney World and Universal Orlando, whose parent companies have reported tens of billions of dollars in annual profits. 

When lawmakers at the state and local level have tried to loosen restrictions on that funding, those theme park operators have lobbied aggressively against any changes. 

In Disney’s case, its clout has protected the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the Disney-run government covering Disney World which does not pay taxes and fees required of other developers. As the Sentinel reported, Orange County officials threatened to sue the company over the constitutionality of the Reedy Creek charter in the 1980s. An 1989 agreement led to Disney paying $13 million for road construction outside its property; in turn, the county agreed not to challenge the charter for seven years. 

Once the agreement lapsed, Disney stopped paying the fees, and county officials haven’t renewed their legal challenge. 

Read The Orlando Sentinel’s full story here

‘Rise of Skywalker’ scenes added to Star Tours

As previously announced in October, Disney has added new planets seen in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” to Star Tours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The exact names of the new locales are Kef Bir and Exogal. Those planets are likely unfamiliar to anyone who hasn’t seen the new film, and for their sake, we’ll avoid potentially spoiling the plot of the film here. 

In a surprise addition to the new ride, actor Billy Dee Williams may make a cameo appearance as Lando Calrissian. 

According to the Disney Parks Blog, the updates mean Star Tours features more than 100 combinations. The “Rise of Skywalker” scenes will be used exclusively over the next few months. 

Reimagined Epcot entrance now partially open

Work has completed on new planters and concrete in front of Spaceship Earth at Epcot, ending months of obstructed pathways at the park’s main entrance.

In photos from Blog Mickey, you can see crews have completed their work removing any vestiges of the old “Leave a Legacy” monoliths from the left side of the entrance plaza. Their former footprints of still visible on the right side. A construction wall remains around the area that will house a new Epcot fountain.

This is one of many ongoing projects as Epcot undergoes a multi-year transformation with new rides, pavilions and retheming. Walking past Spaceship Earth, guests will still see plenty of construction walls as workers continue the demolitions of the former Fountain of Nations and part of Innoventions.

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