Royal Sommerhus

Royal Sommerhus

Each week we add another ride, show, or experience from Walt Disney World to our audio library.  Last week we celebrated Summer Snow Day aboard the boat ride Frozen Ever After.  This week we are staying in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, and discovering an experience unlike any we have talked about on the podcast to date.  While I love me a good Disney ride or show, there is another magical way to experience the parks.  I’m talking about Character Meet’n’Greets!  This is your chance to come face to face and interact with some of your favorite Disney characters.  Trust me, these encounters can be some of the most memorable moments from a trip to Walt Disney World.

The Magic Kingdom is usually the first park that comes to mind when thinking about Disney characters.  While there are a lot of incredible character experiences at this park, it is not the only one with a wide range of characters.  Epcot may surprise you when it comes to its international mix of characters available.  Of course, none are more famous than the sisters from Arendelle.  Today we are going to tell you where to find Anna & Elsa!  Let’s get started with our…

Know Before You Go Essential Facts

  • The Royal Sommerhus is located in Epcot, in the Norway pavilion
  • There is no height requirement
  • Fastpass + is NOT available
  • The fright factor is 1 out of 5
  • Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
  • The character experience opened on June 21, 2016.

Those are the facts, now onto the fun!

The Royal Sommerhus is the charming countryside retreat of sisters Anna & Elsa where you can drop in and meet the sisters for the first time in forever!  This is the new standard of Disney character experiences.  This area was built from scratch for the sole purpose of meeting two of Disney’s most popular characters.  It comes complete with an elaborately themed queue which spans the exterior garden into the summer cabin of the sisters.  We will get into the details of this location in just a minute, as well as cover the other locations of Epcot characters, but first let’s open up our Arendelle history books and see how the Royal Sommerhus came to be.

Two important things happened in the Disney sphere in the fall of 2013.  The first was a new character experience located in the newly renovated Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, and the second was the premier of the new film Frozen.  First up, Princess Fairytale Hall was opened in September of 2013.  It took over the space previously occupied by Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and marked a new age in Disney character experiences.  A space that was previously dedicated to a classic Disney dark ride, was now entertaining guests in a completely different way.  Rather than board a ride vehicle and relive parts of a Disney film, guests walked through a royal hall on their way to having a live experience with a Disney character.

Princess Fairytale Hall was designed with two sets of rooms.  Each room holds two different Disney princesses.  At the beginning of the queue guests must choose which pair from the four available princesses to meet.  Once guests reach the room of their choice they have several minutes with each princess.  They can talk to the princess, ask her questions, give her a hug, and of course take several pictures.  Disney Photopass photographers are waiting inside to capture every moment from the first look of surprise to the last wave goodbye.  It is a dream setup for meeting Disney royalty.

Shortly after Princess Fairytale Hall opened, the second important thing happened.  Frozen, the film, came out and took the world by storm.  Actually, the film’s two main characters debuted at Epcot a few days in advance of the film’s release.  Anna & Elsa met guests at a makeshift character location in Norway starting on November 19, 2013.  The film released a week later and it didn’t take long for the popularity of the film to funnel into the parks.  Let’s just say the sisters put the Norway pavilion on the map in a whole new way.  Lines to meet the duo grew quickly and it was immediately evident this pavilion was not designed to support the influx of traffic.  In fact, it got so bad that you couldn’t walk around the World Showcase because the line to meet Anna & Elsa blocked the entire path outside of the Norway pavilion.  This pavilion was just not prepared for such massive traffic in a makeshift area.  Fortunately, the brand new character experience over at the Magic Kingdom was built for such a demand. Four months after debuting at Epcot, the sisters were moved over to Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom.  Disney hoped this would be the solution to the huge spike in popularity for two of their new characters.  Of course, no one could have predicted just how popular Anna & Elsa would become.

The sisters made their debut at Princess Fairytale Hall on April 20, 2014 and the crowds followed right along.  In the beginning, guests were allowed to run back to Princess Fairytale Hall at rope drop to secure a spot in line.  This was all but necessary unless you wanted to avoid a 4 hour plus wait. When it became clear that the sisters’ popularity was not diminishing and guests were putting themselves in danger just to meet Anna & Elsa, the opening procedure changed.  Just like it is with very popular rides, Cast Members began slowly walking crowds back to Princess Fairytale Hall using a rope at opening time.  This helped alleviate the danger, but it didn’t solve the problem of half day wait times.  This brand new space that was built just for meeting Disney princesses was not enough to handle the force of Frozen.

So, Disney began construction on a brand new facility that would occupy the space between the Mexico and Norway pavilions.  To accommodate the large crowds, this new building would house multiple rooms for guests to meet the sisters.  In other words, thanks to the magic of Disney, they are in more than one room at a time.  This is why you won’t find a Fastpass+ available at the Royal Sommerhus. With the clever design of the Imagineers, guests can now meet the sisters without a Fastpass+ and without several hours of waiting.  Anna & Elsa left the Magic Kingdom on June 16, 2016 and moved back into Epcot on June 21, 2016.  Their new home has more room for guests than any other character experience in Walt Disney World.  It took Disney awhile to figure out a good solution for Anna & Elsa, but I think they are finally right where they belong.

So, there you have it, a brief look at the journey of Anna & Elsa inside the parks.  Thanks to their record setting popularity, we now have the Royal Sommerhus and a new level of character experience.  Speaking of, let’s talk about what you can expect when you visit the summer cabin of the Queen and Princess.

Photo – Disney

The Royal Sommerhus is a dark wood cabin with bright red shutters and doors.  It was actually modeled after a real building in a museum in Norway.  The architecture pays tribute to the real land of Norway while infusing a bright color palette reminiscent of the fictional Arendelle.  Look above and you will see the roof is covered in a very thick layer of bright green moss.  The cabin is surrounded by more green grass, trees, and plants that line your path to the inside of the house.

Once inside, you will begin to see many items from Anna & Elsa’s childhood.  This memorabilia marks the travels the girls had with their parents each summer, before the tragic accident at sea.  Most of these items were locked away after Anna & Elsa became orphans, but they are now on display again as happy days have returned to the kingdom.  Be sure to look for the girls’ dolls on the staircase.  Evidently, when you are a princess you have your own action figure to play with as a kid.  Cool I guess, but also kinda weird.       You will also want to keep a close eye on the tapestries hanging on the walls.  My favorite of the bunch is a tribute to Maelstrom, showcasing an artistic rendering of the trolls from the old ride.

After you make your way through the cabin, you will come to one last waiting room.  On the other side of the doors and down the hall are Anna & Elsa!  Depending on which room they happen to be in that day you may encounter Anna first or Elsa first.  Don’t worry though, you will have a good amount of time to spend with each one.  Only a few families are allowed into the room at a time so everyone gets a turn spending good quality time with the characters.  Elsa is standing in front of a window overlooking her Ice Castle in the distance, while Anna is standing in front of another window with a sunny view of Arendelle.  Both sisters are very engaging and very excited to be sharing their childhood retreat with you.  Feel free to ask them questions but be prepared for them to do most of the talking.  Oh, I should also say that Elsa is very nice, but also very particular about which side you stand on for pictures.  Make sure you get on the Queen’s good side, you wouldn’t want her sending Marshmallow after you!

Disney Photopass photographers will be stationed at each character and will be snapping pictures left and right.  When we visited with my nephew James, he was very excited to see Elsa.  The Photopass photographer got some great pics of him first meeting the Queen and then we all jumped in for a family photo.  They then scanned my Magic Band to link the photos.  The really neat thing is what happened next.  While my band was being scanned James was getting a goodbye hug from Elsa.  The Photopass photographer quickly spun around and captured a few more pictures.  She then scanned my band again, thinking our time with Elsa was now up.  However, we looked back one more time to see Elsa giving James a kiss on the cheek! The photographer once again did an amazing job of capturing the moment.  They then scanned my band for the third and final time.  When I checked my app a few minutes later I discovered those last couple of pictures and they were priceless.  We got a picture of Elsa kissing James that looks like something from a Disney commercial!

I share that story to illustrate how wonderful the characters can be, especially with young children.  We had already said our goodbyes to Elsa, but she chose to continue to engaging with James.  There was no feeling that we were being rushed through the line, or that the characters were less happy to see us than the 500 people they had already seen that day.  It was a truly magical memory that our family will now have for a lifetime.

This is a can’t miss encounter for any fans of Frozen.  Pairing this awesome character experience with Frozen Ever After in the Norway Pavilion makes this a great stop around the World Showcase.  So, let’s talk about when to go.  Because there is no Fastpass+ available for the Royal Sommerhus, when you ride Frozen Ever After will be your guide.  Now, if you haven’t listened to our previous podcast on Frozen Ever After, I highly recommend you select this ride as your Tier 1 Fastpass+.  I like to opt for an afternoon time so I can tour Future World in Epcot in the morning and then move over to the World Showcase in the afternoon and evening.  This is exactly the plan we followed on our last trip to Epcot and it worked out wonderfully.

We had a FP+ for Frozen Ever After that started at 5:05 pm.  We arrived at the ride shortly after our return window opened up and blew through the Fastpass+ line.  When we came off the ride we walked over to the Royal Sommerhus and saw the posted wait time was 30 minutes.  I checked my Touring Plans app and saw the wait time listed there was only 20 minutes.  At this point in the trip the kids hadn’t met many face characters so we weren’t sure how they would respond to Anna & Elsa.  However, the wait seemed short and we decided to give it a go.  We walked through the outdoor portion of the queue with no one else in sight.  Within a minute or two, we were inside the house, going past the staircase, around the corner, and next thing you know we were next to the fireplace waiting to go in and see the sisters.  We hadn’t encountered any other guests in the queue and soon found a Disney Cast Member waiting for us.  He jokingly said, “That was the longest 30 minutes of your life, huh?”  At first I was confused, did we already make it to the end of the line?  It only took us a couple of minutes to walk through the queue.  Turns out the posted wait time was off by about 25 minutes!  We waited just a few minutes outside the meeting room and then it was off to see Anna & Elsa.

Will you have the same luck when you go?  Probably not, but let this be a lesson.  If the posted wait time is 30 minutes or less and you can’t see anyone in the outdoor queue, it’s probably a good time to go.  I recommend checking the Royal Sommerhus before you use your Fastpass+ at Frozen Ever After.  If you have an early FP+ for Frozen Ever After, it might work best to visit the Royal Sommerhus first.  If you have a late day reservation like we did, it will probably be better to visit after the ride.  Crowds will be at their peak in the middle of the day, so plan accordingly around your ride on Frozen Ever After.

It is also important to note that the Royal Sommerhus opens along with Epcot.  In other words, don’t wait for the 11am opening time of the World Showcase.  If you want to visit first thing in the morning, you can head straight back to Norway at rope drop.  The sisters are also available for Extra Morning Magic Hours, so this can be a great time to visit the Royal Sommerhus and ride Frozen Ever After if you don’t have a Fastpass+.  Whenever you choose to go, be thankful that the days of running through the Magic Kingdom and 5 hour wait times are a thing of the past!  Thanks to the additional meeting rooms inside, the Royal Sommerhus now allows you to meet the Frozen sisters in a pleasant and efficient environment.

At the beginning of this episode I mentioned Epcot had a great mix of characters.  While Anna & Elsa are the headliners of this park, they do have some great company surrounding them.  We don’t have time to go into a lot of detail today, but I do want to give you a quick list of what other characters you can meet at Epcot.

  • Alice in Wonderland pops in and out at the front of the United Kingdom Pavilion
  • Mary Poppins brightens your day back in the gardens of the United Kingdom Pavilion
  • Snow White can be found frolicking in the Germany Pavilion
  • Mulan is often reflecting in the China Pavilion
  • Belle is out strolling through the France Pavilion
  • Jasmine is hidden back in the Morocco Pavilion
  • Donald Duck is making a scene at the Mexico Pavilion
  • Mickey & Friends are at the Epcot Character Spot in Future World

All of these characters are subject to change and only appear at limited times during the day.  Be sure to refer to the My Disney Experience App or pick up a times guide when you are in the park.  There are some Pixar characters available across from the Mickey meeting spot in Future World.  At the time of this podcast you can meet Joy & Sadness from Inside Out or Baymax from Big Hero 6.  This area is expanding and we anticipate more Pixar characters will be joining the bunch.  Perhaps we can dedicate an episode that this lineup when this area is finished being reimagined.

For now, we will have to leave it there and wrap up this episode. Thank you so much for tuning in today!  I hope today’s podcast has given you something new to look forward to on your next visit, or introduced you to the magical world of character experiences at Walt Disney World.  There are so many ways to make wonderful memories and so little time!  Be sure to have your list of must do ready next time you go.  Until then, wherever you are, I hope you are having a fabulous week!  Thanks for listening and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!

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