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News and Views

MouseFest arrives at Walt Disney World this week; keep an eye out for Mike Scopa

As seen in Mike Scopa's column from November 21 (link), MouseFest descends upon Walt Disney World this coming weekend. Scheduled events are planned from Friday, December 5, through Monday, December 8. The central event is Saturday's Mega Mouse Meet, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at the CopaBanana at the Dolphin Resort. Many of your favorite unofficial Disney Web site webmasters and discussion leaders and guide book authors will be there, including AllEarsNet's Deb Wills, PassPorter's Dave Marx and Jennifer Watson, The Unofficial Guide's Bob Sehlinger, and of course our own Mike Scopa. Mike will be hosting a mini-MousePlanet meet at the Aloha Isle snack bar at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday for Dole Whips. (link)

Big Thunder back on track following release of California report

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in WDW's Magic Kingdom returned to service on Wednesday, November 26, after the release of Cal OSHA's accident report on California's Big Thunder attraction. "We wanted to be sure our findings agreed with the [California] report," said Rena Langley, spokeswoman for Walt Disney World in an Orlando Sentinel article (link).

The smokestacks are back on the trains, and the Fastpass and Standby lines have switched places. We're getting conflicting reports about the rumored air conditioning in the queue, however.

Bullet train plan going nowhere fast

Now that the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) has barely met its constitutionally mandated deadline to have a route and contractor in place by November, what comes next could take a while. While negotiations with the Orlando International Airport and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (owners of the Florida Greeneway, which will be part of the train route) might turn out to be relatively easy, negotiations with Walt Disney World and Fluor-Bombardier may take longer.

Fluor-Bombardier (makers of the Acela Express train for Amtrak) plans to use a diesel engine capable of 125 miles per hour, while the FHSRA would prefer a 200 mph engine style that was part of a competing bid. In addition, the FHSRA wants the train to have two one-way tracks, rather than one track with sidings to let trains traveling in opposite directions pass.

Just as sticky are the negotiations with Walt Disney World. While Disney has promised 50 acres for a station and 2.2 million riders per year, the FHSRA has expressed concern about peripheral income related to the station. If a rental car company were to open a location adjacent to the station, who would get the income? Who would see revenue from additional retail and other space next to the station? So far, Disney is saying that it is providing the location and the ridership as well as marketing power, and that that should be enough.

With the only deadline mandated in the constitutional amendment already past, progress doesn't appear to be on the fast track any more. Even if it does progress, Governor Jeb Bush is still actively against it. We will see where this story goes in the next few months, if indeed it goes anywhere at all.

New Epcot tree-lighting show this year, Cast in Bronze out in cold

There will be a new character-driven tree-lighting show at Epcot this year. The 10-minute show is said to feature Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip & Dale, as well as two members of American Vybe, along with 12 international cast members. The show, to be presented at 6:00 each night, will take place in World Showcase Plaza, and end with the lighting of the Epcot Christmas tree and the Lights of Christmas arch. The show, which debuted on Friday night, runs through December 30.

The former show featured Cast in Bronze (link), a popular carillon-centered musical performance that has not only been removed from the tree-lighting, but is actually not performing at Walt Disney World at all this year for the first time since 1997.

Tapings at Walt Disney World

Foot traffic may be slow throughout the park on Saturday, December 6—unofficial word has it that this year's telecast of the Walt Disney World Christmas Parade will be taped on that day. Expect single floats to be riding through the Magic Kingdom periodically with the occasional stops for performances. These sequences may be repeated for additional footage. The parade airs on ABC stations on Christmas Day from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (EST) and 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon (PST).

They are apparently casting for extras for a sequence for the WDW Christmas Parade telecast to be filmed on Sunday, December 7, in the Magic Kingdom. Also needed are male actors and a multi-generational family for a WDW Christmas Special for the Travel Channel with Samantha Brown, and audience members for tapings of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Saturday, December 6 with Meredith Vieira at the Disney-MGM Studios on January 8 to 11. See the TV show Extra's Web site (link) for more details.

Reedy Creek offers new bonds

The Reedy Creek Improvement District, the quasi-governmental agency responsible for public services through the entire Walt Disney World Resort and some of the surrounding area, has announced that it will issue $68.7 million in tax bonds. The bonds have received an A- rating from Fitch Ratings with a Negative Outlook based on the District's falling financial position and the fact that its primary taxpayer/landowner, the Walt Disney Company, has a BBB+ rating. $59.2 million will be used to assume debt from Osceola County on the Osceola Parkway, which has not met revenue projections that were guaranteed by Reedy Creek when the parkway was built. The remaining $9.5 million are to subsidize operations and debt service.

Assessed valuation at Disney resorts has been falling due to declining occupancy and hotel revenues. Sixty-nine percent of the land in the district is owned by Disney, who pays 85 percent of the property taxes. With the Pop Century and Saratoga Springs Resorts due to open within the next six months, assessed valuation should again rise, helping to stabilize the district's cash flow.

Ears to the ground

…Tickets for the December 19 edition of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party have sold out.

…It seems that several clownfish animatronics (think Nemo and Marlin) have arrived at Central Shops behind the Magic Kingdom and are being actively worked on by Animatronics specialists. Whether this could be for the rumored rehab of The Living Seas or for another, unnamed attraction remains to be seen.

…The trees around the hub have been removed to make viewing of the Wishes fireworks easier. Poinsettias have been planted in those beds and will remain through the holiday season before being replaced by magnolia trees.

…It has been reported and debated widely on Internet message boards, and it appears to be true that the Haunted Mansion's Madame Leota is in danger of being replaced by Jennifer Tilly's image and voice. A well-placed source has stated that there is a plan to add her as Madame Leota, along with a few other small changes, and that it appears "probable" right now. One can only hope that reason prevails. In a Thanksgiving weekend appearance on Good Morning America, Tilly said that she has clause in her contract from the Haunted Mansion movie stipulating that if the movie is successful, she would be inserted in the ride. It is unclear whether she was serious or not.

…Those 75 painted Mickey sculptures are currently displayed around the main entrance plaza for the Magic Kingdom, from the docks, bus station, and monorail station through the bag check area, past the turnstiles, to the edge of the berm. No word on whether they will be dispersed to more distant locations at a later date through their April departure.

…Once again, Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort is the only restaurant in Central Florida to receive AAA's Five Diamond designation.


Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad returned to service on Wednesday, November 26, after the release of the accident report on California's Big Thunder attraction.
  • The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter closed for good. It is now undergoing a major rehab and will reopen in fall 2004 as Stitch's Great Escape!
  • Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress opens from park open to park close for the duration of the Stitch's Great Escape! construction.
  • Timekeeper opens from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. for the duration of the Stitch's Great Escape! construction.
  • Country Bear Jamboree is currently running its Christmas show. It will close January 12 to 16 to return to its usual program.
  • Adventureland now opens at 10 a.m. on non-peak days, but opens with the rest of the park (except for Jungle Cruise) on Sundays, Thursdays, and Saturdays through early December, plus every day of Thanksgiving week (November 23 to 29) including Jungle Cruise.

Epcot

  • Food Rocks closes on January 3 to make way for the entrance to the new Soarin' Over California attraction.
  • The Behind the Seeds Walking Tour of the greenhouses at The Land will be discontinued on January 3 during reconstruction of the Food Rocks area into the queue for Soarin'. The tours are expected to resume upon completion of the construction.
  • The Eiffel Tower structure at the France pavilion is due to return from rehab in December.

Disney-MGM Studios

  • Residential Street at the Disney-MGM Studios has been closed and demolished and construction has begun to turn the site into an American version of the popular Moteurs… Action! stunt show from the Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris.
  • Due to the loss of Residential Street, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights will not be presented this holiday season. It is expected to return in some form for 2004.
  • New York Street is undergoing a great deal of construction to change some facades to represent Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. We do not yet have a target completion date for the newly-titled Big City Street yet.
  • Sets from the Haunted Mansion movie are now open in the old Backstage Pass soundstage and will be open through the end of the year.

Animal Kingdom

  • No known closures at this time.

Resorts

  • Pop Century Resort officially opens on December 14.
  • Port Orleans Resort – A two-year extensive rehab of this resort's rooms is ongoing. For Phase I, French Quarter closed May 4, 2003. Phase II will involve Riverside going down in sections. We have not yet heard a date for completion of Phase I.
  • Polynesian Resort is seeing the longhouses refurbished one by one. Each longhouse under rehab is walled off and isolated during its rehab. There are only a couple of longhouses remaining. Tuvalu is scheduled for rehab through January 2004. Niue and Rarotonga are the only other longhouses currently scheduled to undergo rehab, and are tentatively scheduled for January 18 to May 2, 2004.
  • Shades of Green – Major construction and rehab is ongoing at this MWR-run resort for the military. It is currently expected to reopen in March, 2004.
  • Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa (a Disney Vacation Club resort) has a tentative grand opening date of May 17, 2004. Reservations will be taken starting on January 5. DVC members can reserve using points on January 5 (home resort) or February 4 (other resorts).

Water Parks

  • Blizzard Beach is undergoing refurbishment through December 13.
  • Typhoon Lagoon undergoes refurbishment December 14 to February 28.

Elsewhere

  • The All Star Cafe at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex is now closed Monday-Wednesday. It is open Thursday-Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Park Events

November

  • Celebrate Mickey… 75 InspEARations showcases 75 very special interestingly decorated Mickey statues to celebrate Mickey's 75th birthday throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. November 18, 2003 to April 2004.
  • Festival of the Seasons at Epcot featuring lighting displays, fun window displays, and more. November 28 to December 24.
  • Holidays Around the World at Epcot lets you celebrate holidays in the style of the World Showcase countries. November 28 to December 30.
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom – Order by phone at (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639). November 30, December 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 19.

December

  • Doll & Teddy Bear Weekend. December 7.
  • Pop Warner Super Bowl and National Cheer and Dance Championships (link) December 7 to 13.
  • Disney's Pop Century Resort opens December 14.

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.
  • National College Cheerleading and Dance Team Championship (link) January 16-18.
  • Annual Passholders' Cruise (4 nights) on Disney Magic. January 25.
  • National Dance Team Championship (link) January 31 & February 1.

February 2004

  • National High School Cheerleading Championship (link) February 7 & 8.
  • Atlanta Braves training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex (link) February 15 to April 2.

March 2004

  • National Cheerleading and Dance Championship (link) March 13 & 14.

April 2004

  • Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. April 16 to May 30.

May 2004

  • Walt Disney World Inline Marathon (link). May 2.

October 2004

  • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. October 1 to November 14.

Current Discounts & Promotions

New vacation packages offered by Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has announced Orlando vacation packages linked with the Disney Dream Maker packages. (link) The offering includes round-trip airfare, lodging, and Ultimate Park Hopper passes. The package is valid from all Southwest markets, and must be booked no later than three business days prior to departure. Travel must be booked this week by December 4, 2003 for travel between December 7, 2003 and February 10, 2004.

Mousesavers announces special Celebration Hotel rates

MouseSavers has announced special rates at the Celebration Hotel for readers of its web site. (If you haven't visited the site yet, please check it out!)

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

New Disney Visa Dream Maker Package – Kids Stay Free!

That there is a new Disney's Visa “Kids Stay and Play Free” Package, available most nights January 4 through June 12, 2004, where when you buy a full-price Walt Disney World Dream Maker Package with your Disney's Visa card, for each adult on the package, one child (3-9) gets a free Ultimate Park Hopper pass for the length of stay. 4-night minimum. Plus you receive $100 in Disney Dollars per package at check-in! Go to Disney's Kids Free Web page (link) for more information, or call your travel agent and book using package code ZXFA. You must book your package by January 2.

Great rates at the Swan and Dolphin

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

  • 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.

Military Salute hotel and cruise discounts available

Active U.S. Military personnel or spouses are also eligible for a 40 percent savings per night (based on the non-discounted price of the same room) at select Walt Disney World Resort hotels, and special rates on Disney Cruise Line sailings. This offer is available most nights through December 19, 2003 at Walt Disney World, and for most sailings through December 18 on the Disney Cruise Line. Hotel rooms and staterooms are limited at this special rate.

For more information, call (407) 939-7424 for Walt Disney World, and (800) 951-2659 for the Disney Cruise Line. You must be 18 or older to call these numbers.

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.

Annual Passholder and Florida resident rates available

WDW Annual Passholder and Florida resident rates are available at select Walt Disney World resorts for check-ins now through December 26. Discounts range from approximately 30 to 45 percent off regular rack rates.

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

Annual Passholders

Receive 10 percent 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
 
12/1
12/2
12/3
12/4
12/5
12/6
 

MK 9a-7p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-6p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-7p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-6p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-6p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-11p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

12/7
12/8
  • 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-6p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p

MK 9a-7p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-5p
BB closed
TL 10a-5p


Entertainment Schedule

Magic Kingdom
Epcot World Showcase
Disney-MGM Studios
Animal Kingdom
Monday 12/1

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Tuesday 12/2

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Wednesday 12/3

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Thursday 12/4

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Friday 12/5

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Saturday 12/6

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Sunday 12/7

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Monday 12/8

Not available

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p



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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.