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News and Views

A letter from the President

Last Monday, on August 4, Walt Disney World Resort President Al Weiss sent the following letter to Walt Disney World cast members:

I'm thrilled to tell you that soon we'll publicly announce a new way for guests to experience the Walt Disney World Resort, and it's called Magical Gatherings. I wanted to tell you about it first, because I'm very excited about its potential to enchant our guests and drive our business.

Magical Gatherings is the theme we'll celebrate property-wide starting in October and continuing for 15 months. It will focus on the magic of reconnecting with family and friends, and it will help us tap into the most dynamic trend in travel—extending the family vacation beyond the immediate family.

More than ever before, people are choosing vacations that let them spend quality time with those they love. What better place to do that than here at the Walt Disney World Resort? We've been bringing people together for more than three decades, because we know that more is always merrier. But no matter what size the party is, everyone visiting us will have a Magical Gathering during this time frame.

When our guests travel in parties of eight or more and stay in a Walt Disney World resort, we'll give them the designation of Grand Gathering. For them, we'll offer an array of new products and services such as itinerary planning, a vacation-planning kit for larger parties and custom-designed experiences just for these gatherings, to name a few.

In addition to all this, we'll roll out Mission: SPACE at Epcot and Mickey's PhilharMagic at the Magic Kingdom Park as part of Magical Gatherings, as well as Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. At the Magic Kingdom Park, we'll debut a fireworks show called “Wishes.” There's much more to this event, and you'll learn all the details soon.

One element that sets Magical Gatherings apart is that, even at the end of the 15 months, the products and services we're developing for larger parties will live on as part of our everyday business. We'll make sure it's always fun and easy to vacation with loved ones at the Walt Disney World Resort.

I look forward to helping our guests celebrate the joy of families and friends coming together, and the power of their shared experiences. We know the Walt Disney World Resort is the most magical place on earth. Now with Magical Gatherings, it will be, quite simply, magic multiplied.

Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Walt Disney World has focused recent marketing attempts on getting grandparents to bring their grandchildren, so maybe it's time to invite the whole family.

Look what Disney picked up on the last trip to Wal-Mart

Movie theaters have it, Wal-Mart has it, and even the Arby's restaurant down the street has it. The steady increase of self-serve options at traditionally full-serve locations means that you can buy your movie tickets, pick up a bag of diapers, and even buy dinner without needing to interact with a human.

Now Disney has capitalized on the idea by placing self-serve ticket kiosks outside Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, the resort's two water parks. Now visitors won't need to stand in lines to buy tickets from a flesh-and-blood cast member—one swipe of a resort hotel room key or major credit card will quickly yield park tickets. Look for the system to expand to the four theme parks once it proves successful—and cost effective.

What next, potty Fastpasses?

Guests visiting WDW in August and September are in for a treat. Presently in Disney-MGM Studios and possibly in other theme parks, guests may get a chance to partake in an experiment best called “Meet and Greet Fastpass,” in which guests are handed out Fastpass tickets to be used for quick access to characters later in the day. These passes will list the times and the characters.

Dress rehearsals

The new nighttime fireworks show at The Magic Kingdom is going through some dress rehearsals in August and September but many of the WDW guests watching “Fantasy In the Sky” may not realize what they are watching. The new fireworks shells are being worked into the present FITS presentation. If you are familiar with this show, you might notice a few different and spectacular moments when maybe the colors, shapes, and size of the fireworks looks a bit different. What better way to test the new stuff than to perform before the guests?

Lights Out

As of Friday, August 8 there has been no indication as to what will be substituted for the Osbourne Christmas lights absence for 2003. Castmembers have not been told of any decisions but are quick to point out that any decision has to be made by mid september to give proper setup time.

Bye, bye Wolfie

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting (link) that the company that owns both the Portobello Yacht Club and Fulton's Crab House in Downtown Disney is in talks with Wolfgang Puck to buy his Grand Café. Puck's Disneyland Resort venture closed last year, and the rumored Downtown Disney Anaheim location never materialized.

For your shopping pleasure

If you love to visit those small shops in any of the WDW theme parks, be sure to plan to do so between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. These shops and assorted kiosks are operating on reduced hours and there are no indications that these operating hours will change in the near future.

The final countdown

Epcot's Mission: Space attraction is scheduled for an official soft open (sneak preview) on Friday, August 15. All four centrifuges are now open.

Ears to the ground

…We are now hearing an unconfirmed rumor that the Annual Passholder lounges may reappear this fall.

…It appears that Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney is almost ready to open.

…Another unconfirmed rumor states that Alien Encounter in the Magic Kingdom will close in about a month for a 10-week rehab that will put a Stitch overlay on the attraction. Repeat: There is no confirmation on this one yet.

…We've been told that the Saratoga Springs Resort is now showing a model room to prospective Disney Vacation Club members. Memberships are on sale now, and they expire in 2054 instead of 2042 as with memberships at all currently open DVC resorts. Don't forget to ask about the purchasing incentive currently available. The resort is currently on track for a May 1, 2004 opening.

…It appears that the construction work around the facades on New York Street at Disney-MGM Studios will not be restricted to just redoing the facades that were there before. We've heard that there will be two new facades built to show the skylines of Chicago and San Francisco.

…Rumor has it that helicopters flying over Walt Disney World over the last few weeks have been shooting film to be used to replace the finale of the movie for the Soarin' attraction being build between The Land and Imagination! in Epcot. The rest of the film will still be the original California footage, the new content will replace the finale over Disneyland. A new film will be shot to go in around Epcot's 25th anniversary celebration in 2007.

…We've got some additional information about the opening schedule for Mickey's PhilharMagic. The Imagineering family preview will be held on Friday, September 12, followed by possible cast member previews the following week, Annual Passholder previews on September 20 and 21, and a soft opening beginning on September 30. Keep in mind that, aside from the Passholder Preview dates, these dates are unconfirmed, but are highly likely.


Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • Big Thunder Mountain will be closed for refurbishment from Monday, August 25 to Wednesday, November 19.
  • The Swiss Family Treehouse will be closed for refurbishment Sunday, September 7 to Friday, October 24.
  • Mickey's PhilharMagic is reportedly slated to open on Thursday, October 8, with a soft opening in late September.
  • Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress is now open for summer hours, most likely through mid-August.

Epcot

  • Mission:Space will have its soft opening on Friday, August 15 (with a soft, soft opening on Sunday, August 10), with the official opening slated for October (reportedly Thursday, October 9).
  • The Universe of Energy is undergoing an exterior refurbishment, apparently focusing on the fountain area out front. The attraction will not go down during the rehab. In addition, there's an unconfirmed rumor that Exxon/Mobil may be terminating their sponsorship next spring.

Disney Studios

  • Magic of Disney Animation will be closed for refurbishment September 1 to October 31.
  • Residential Street at the Disney-MGM Studios has been closed and is undergoing demolition to prepare the site for a new “E-ticket stunt-show attraction” believed to be an American version of the popular Moteurs… Action! stunt show from the Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris.

Animal Kingdom

  • Festival of the Lion King – Disney has now confirmed that, as first reported here on July 21, this popular show at Animal Kingdom will be down from August 25 through September 19 for work on enclosing the open-air theater.

Resorts

  • Boardwalk Resort – Construction here was expected to be completed by the end of July.

Water Parks

  • Blizzard Beach – undergoes refurbishment beginning November 1.
  • Typhoon Lagoon – undergoes refurbishment beginning in late December.

Park Events

September

  • Night of Joy [September 5-6] – An evening of Contemporary Christian Music at Magic Kingdom. $35.95 for one night (all ages) or $57.95 for both nights. Buy tickets online or call (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639).
  • National Kidney Foundation of Florida 5K Fun Run/Walk Race (link) [September 6]
  • Disney's Pin Celebration at Epcot [September 19-21]
  • 22nd Annual World Airline Road Races (link) [September 24 - 27]
  • Tri-America Triathlon Series Finale (link) [September 27 & 28]

October

  • Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom [October 3, 5, 10, 14, 16, 19, 24, 26, 30 and 31]
  • Disney's 10K Classic (link)[October 12]
  • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival [October 18-November 16] – Included with park admission, sample wine and food from 25 countries
  • 999 Happy Haunts Ball at the Magic Kingdom [October 27, 28, and 29]

November

  • Pin Trading Cruise aboard the Disney Wonder [November 16-20]
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom [November 30, December 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 19] – Order by phone at (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639)

December

  • Doll & Teddy Bear Weekend [December 7]

January 2004

  • Disney's Health and Fitness Expo (link) [January 9 & 10]
  • FamilyFun Magazine Family Fun Run (link) [January 10]
  • Disney Marathon and Half-Marathon [January 11]

April 2004

  • Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival [April 16 – May 30]

May 2004

  • Walt Disney World Inline Marathon (link) [May 2]

Current Discounts & Promotions

Fly cheap to Walt Disney World.

A reader alerted us to some great fares offered by Southwest Airlines for travel to Orlando. Rates are as low as $39 each way, plus applicable taxes and fees. Find out if your nearest airport is participating at the Southwest Web site (link).

Florida resident rates for WDW resort hotels

MouseSavers.com is reporting some great new Fall rates at select Disney resorts. These rates are for stays starting August 24 to October 1. Book using the code from the MouseSavers Web site. Some sample rates:

  • All Stars - $49 standard
  • Moderates - $79 standard, $89 preferred or king room
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge - $109 standard
  • Wilderness Lodge - $109 standard, $129 woods view, $260 concierge
  • Contemporary - $190 standard garden wing
  • Boardwalk/Beach Club/Yacht Club - $199 standard
  • Polynesian - $209 garden view

Great rates at the Swan and Dolphin

Are you planning a trip this fall? Check out these two offers from the Swan and Dolphin:

  • $99 per night, plus tax and resort fee, between August 28 and September 9. Rates include a free upgrade, and are subject to availability.
  • WDW Annual Passholders can book rooms as low as $139 per night, plus tax and resort fee, through the end of 2003, including a FREE upgrade! Rates include a free upgrade, and are subject to availability.

Get more details and the discount codes at MouseSavers.com.

Florida residents save on Disney cruises

Disney Cruise Line is offering special savings for Florida residents on select cruise vacations for late summer and early fall dates. Florida resident rates start at $349 for three-night cruises, $399 for four-night cruises and $599 for seven-night cruises.

Special rates for Florida residents apply to most three-night itineraries departing between Aug. 28 and Oct. 2, most four-night itineraries departing between Aug. 31 and Sept. 28 and seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries departing between Aug. 30 and Sept. 20.

Itinerary
Rates
Dates
3-Night $349 8/28, 9/11-10/2
4-Night $399 8/31, 9/7, 9/21, 9/28
7-Night $599 8/30-9/20

Rates are per person, based on double occupancy and subject to availability. Government taxes and fees are not included. At least one adult guest per stateroom must be a Florida resident. Proof of residency is required.

Free 5-day Park Hopper for Active Military

Disney is offering a special for active duty military — a free five-day park hopper ticket, as well as discounted companion tickets. Offer valid through December 19, 2003 and includes all active military personnel, including Coast Guard, as well as activated National Guard and Reservists. See their official Web site for more information.

Play 4 Days pass

Florida residents can purchase a new four-day ticket for just $109, plus tax — that's almost 1/2 the price of a regular four-day park-hopper ticket. The ticket is valid for four admissions from now until September 30, 2003. These tickets are park-hoppers.

Residents can purchase just one ticket per person, per day, so your out-of-town relatives must buy their own, regular-priced admission. Tickets are nontransferable, and you must show a valid ID each time. These tickets can be applied towards the cost of any Annual Passport, as long as you upgrade by October 31, 2003. (Your annual pass expires one year from the date you first used your Play 4 Days Pass).

The Play 4 Days pass can be purchased at any WDW park ticket window, local AAA offices, Florida Disney Stores, by phone at (407) 939-4329 or on the WDW Web site (link).

Plan ahead and save a few bucks

The Walt Disney World Resort is encouraging visitors to buy their theme park tickets before they even leave home, by offering a slight discount on advance purchases. You can save as much as $22 per adult, per ticket with the 'Advance Purchase Savings' program.

You can also receive these Advance Purchase Savings with packages purchased through AAA.

Multi-Day Tickets
Gate Prices
Advance Purchase Price
Savings
4-Day Park Hopper: Adults
$208
$192
$16
     Children ages 3 - 9
$167
$152
$15
5-Day Park Hopper: Adults
$239
$217
$22
     Children ages 3 - 9
$192
$172
$20
5-Day Park Hopper Plus: Adults
$269
$247
$22
     Children ages 3 - 9
$216
$197
$19
6-Day Park Hopper Plus: Adults
$299
$277
$22
     Children ages 3 - 9
$240
$222
$18
7-Day Park Hopper Plus: Adults
$329
$307
$22
     Children ages 3 - 9
$264
$247
$17

MouseSavers.com reports some great rates for travel to Walt Disney World

  • Florida residents can buy a “Play 4 Days” Pass for just $109 per person. The park hopper pass is good for any four days between April 1 through September 30, 2003. (July 4 is the only day excluded)
  • Cruise Deals – MouseSavers has a list of Disney Cruise Line Magical Rates, available for departures through January 2004, and early-booking discounts for Fall 2003 itineraries.

If you are itching to break in your new Disney Visa card, you can receive a $50 onboard credit when you book a Disney Cruise Line vacation and pay with your Disney Visa. The offer is good for sailings through the end of this year. When you charge your cruise to your Disney Visa, you pay no interest for six months.

Annual Passholders

Receive 10% off the price of their lunch meal at selected Walt Disney World Resort hotel restaurants, and the discount is good for up to three guests. The offer is valid Mondays through Fridays. Call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463) for locations and reservations.


Park Hours

Sun
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Sat
 
8/11
8/12
8/13
8/14
8/15
8/16
  MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-9p
AK 9a-6p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-10p
AK 9a-6p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-9p
AK 9a-6p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-9p
AK 9a-6p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-10p
EW 10a-10p
MGM 9a-9p
AK 9a-6p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
MK 9a-9:30p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-9p
AK 9a-5p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p
8/17
8/18
  • MK = Magic Kingdom
  • EF = Epcot, Future World
  • EW = Epcot, World Showcase
  • MGM = Disney-MGM Studios
  • AK = Animal Kingdom
  • BB = Blizzard Beach Water Park
  • TL = Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
MK 9a-8p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-8:30p
AK 9a-5p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p

MK 9a-10p
EF 9a-6p
EW 11a-9p
MGM 9a-8:30p
AK 9a-5p
BB 9a-6p
TL 9a-6p


Entertainment Schedule

Magic Kingdom
Epcot World Showcase
Disney-MGM Studios
Animal Kingdom
Monday 8/11

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Tuesday 8/12

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p, 10:30p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Wednesday 8/13

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Thursday 8/14

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Friday 8/15

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Saturday 8/16

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 10p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 9p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Sunday 8/17

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

 

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 8:30p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p

Monday 8/18

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 9p

Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks 9:30p

Illuminations! 9p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 5:30p

Fantasmic 8:30p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 4p


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(Send an email to Mark Goldhaber)

Mark (@MPMark) is a veteran of dozens of trips to Walt Disney World starting in 1972, with a few Disneyland trips thrown in for good measure. As a Disney stockholder and a Disney Vacation Club member, Mark is always in touch with what's going on with The Mouse. Mark serves as MousePlanet's Walt Disney World content coordinator. Mark is a senior information technology manager working for the State of New York. He lives in the suburbs outside Albany, New York, with his wife and son.