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News and Views

Disney to shutter Epcot pavilion

Last week, Disney announced that the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot would be closing on January 5 and only open seasonally. At the same time, they announced discount rates starting at $55 per night at the new Pop Century Resort.

Photo by Alex Stroup, copyright MousePlanet.
Wonders of Life entrance sign. Photo by Alex Stroup.

Wonders of Life, which many agree has needed some TLC for some time, is a victim of poor attendance, bad entrance placement, and lack of sponsorship. Many people rushing between the Universe of Energy and Mission: Space pavilions (or before the opening of Mission: Space, Test Track), have a difficult time noticing the narrow pathway to the Wonders of Life pavilion. Those who find their way in discover worn-down furnishings and attractions that are beginning to appear really dated. Without a pavilion sponsor—with MetLife dropping out years ago—Disney just doesn't want to spend the money on its own to refurbish or re-Imagineer the pavilion. When open seasonally, it will only be the attractions that are open. We are told that the Pure & Simple food counter and the Well and Goods Limited merchandise location will both remain closed.

…while Resort lower prices in January

The discount room rates at Walt Disney World will be good for travel from January 1 through February 11, but the reservations must be booked by December 29. At value resorts such as the Pop Century Resort, which opened on Sunday, rooms normally start at $77 during the off-season. The $55 rate is also valid at the All-Star Resorts. Other resorts have similar discounts available. The discount prices are also available with the Dream Maker Package, Dream Maker Package with Silver Plan Add-On and Dream Maker Package with Princess and Prince Plan Add-On. To get the discount rates, use booking code CTH when contacting the Walt Disney Travel Company or your travel agent.

Photo by Brian Bennett, copyright MousePlanet.
As mentioned last week, the trees surrounding the hub have been removed and replaced with poinsettias. After the holiday season, the poinsettias will in turn be replaced by magnolias. Photo by Brian Bennett.

DVC plans Member Homecoming event celebrates grand opening of new Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

The Disney Vacation Club has announced plans for a Member Homecoming event from May 25 through 27 of next year. Events include:

  • "Light Up the Sky" Celebration at Epcot – a special DJ party in Future World with access to Mission: Space and Test Track from 8:30pm to midnight on Tuesday, May 25.
  • "A Night of Wishes Come True" Party in the Magic Kingdom – exclusive access to attractions and entertainment, a meal, and a private viewing of SpectroMagic from 8:30pm to midnight on Wednesday, May 26.
  • "The Grandest Opening of Them All" at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa – VIP access to the Grand Opening ceremony and festivities, plus lunch at the Founder's Day Celebration for the new DVC Resort on Thursday, May 27.

Tickets for the three-day event, which includes two days of Park Hopper access to the theme parks and one visit to Pleasure Island or DisneyQuest, cost $299 per adult and $279 per child (age 3-9) and go on sale Wednesday, December 17. Call DVC Member Services at 1-800-800-9800 for more information.

Walt Disney World redesigns Web site

Last Thursday afternoon, with no fanfare, Walt Disney World unveiled its new Disneyworld.com Web site. (link) The new site includes photo tours of all resorts, lots of music and video, interactive graphics, and a new navigation system. It appears that not all features are working 100% correctly yet, but it does have a nice look and feel.

Disney reaches agreement with banquet workers

We first reported on a contract dispute between Walt Disney World at the members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1625 last month. After Disney threatened layoffs effective December 14, the two parties have finally come to an agreement. Disney had been trying to force 118 of the 205 to change from full-time to part-time status so that they would not have to pay them health benefits (which makes up 53 percent of all labor costs, according to the union).

As part of the agreement, which was approved by a 155-5 vote, the union agreed that workers could no longer be permanently assigned to one area of the resort, but that they could be sent wherever they are needed. Also included was a clause that states that the banquet workers will lose their full-time status if they do not work 750 hours between November 2 and May 1. We will see if there is a decrease in assigned hours during April as the workers attempt to meet this requirement. According to the union, there were 30,000 hours given to part-time workers that could have been worked by full-time banquet staff.

These negotiations are seen as a test case for next year's negotiations with unions representing about half of the resort's 51,000+ (51,600 as of September 30) workers.

Reedy Creek firefighters still fighting for contract

The firefighters at the Reedy Creek Improvement District are now approaching two years without a contract, and have not had a raise since before September 11, 2001. Contract talks have again broken down, and the Improvement District and the Reedy Creek Firefighters Association/International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2117 are now at impasse. The firefighters plan "informational gatherings" in the near future, and plan to stop "extra" services.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the quasi-governmental operation that supplies fire, police, and utility services for a large area that is mostly composed of, but is not limited to, Walt Disney World. The firefighters are responsible for responding to all calls in Walt Disney World, as well as some of the surrounding area.

For more information, go to the Reedy Creek Fire Fighters Association site (link).

Governor Bush again weighs in against high-speed rail initiative

Florida Governor Jeb Bush told the Florida Legislature and the state's Congressional delegates in a letter that voters made an uninformed decision by voting without seeing a full cost impact analysis of the initiative. He urged them to support repeal of the constitutional amendment.

According to Bush, cost projections for Phase I, which would run from Tampa to Orlando, are at $2.3 billion and increasing, including a double track from Orlando to Walt Disney World and a single track from Walt Disney World to Tampa, with a passing lane near Lakeland. However, Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff Corp., the general consultant on the project, recommends double-tracking the Walt Disney World-to-Tampa portion of the rail to prevent possible contention and reliability issues. The additional cost to double-track that segment would be $258 million. Phase II of the project, which would connect Orlando and Miami, would cost an estimated $5 billion to $9 billion in 2002 dollars. In order to pay for the high-speed rail, many highway improvement projects already on the board would have to be delayed or cancelled. The governor vetoed the most recent bill allocating $7.2 million (including $2.15 million from the federal government) in funding to the Florida High-Speed Rail Authority. The FHSRA is continuing to work using federal dollars from last year.

Christmas Parade taped last week

Photo by Brian Bennett, copyright MousePlanet.
Cameramen tape a marching band for the December 25 broadcast of the Walt Disney World Very Merry Christmas Parade. Photo by Brian Bennett.

On Friday, December 5, and Saturday, December 6, the Walt Disney World Very Merry Christmas Parade was taped for its December 25 broadcast. The taping, which involved the floats going down Main Street one by one, sometimes several times, lasted a good part of each day.

Floats included the Haunted Mansion float first seen at this year's Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party's Boo-to-You Halloween Parade, a marching band, and several princesses in carriages and on horseback. Special "drop-in" segments were also filmed on Sunday.

Photo by Brian Bennett, copyright MousePlanet
The Haunted Mansion float is a new addition to the Very Merry Christmas Parade, thanks to the current movie. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Ears to the ground

…Reminder: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party on December 19 is sold out.

…Apparently, the Lunch and Dinner with a Disney Artist or Imagineer have been suspended as of December 19, 2003. We have no word yet on whether this is temporary or permanent.

…A new rumor has the Living Seas pavilion closing for a rehab in the March/April time frame. Rumors are strong that Audio-Animatronic characters from Finding Nemo will be added to the pavilion.

…Magic Kingdom's Adventureland has revised its opening hours again for the coming weeks. On Thursday, and Saturday this week, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Swiss Family Treehouse, and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin will open at 9am while the rest of Adventureland opens at 10am. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, all of Adventureland opens at 10 am. The next two weeks, through Saturday, January 3, ALL attractions in Adventureland, including the Jungle Cruise, will open at the same time as the rest of the park. Hours are subject to change. Also in Adventureland, as reported before, El Pirata Y el Perico Restaurante has the following special holiday operating hours: Saturday, December 20 through Tuesday, December 30: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Wednesday, December 31: 10:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.


Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

Photo by Brian Bennett, copyright MousePlanet.
The Country Bears Christmas Show is now showing at Grizzly Hall. Photo by Brian Bennett.

  • The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter has 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.

Epcot

  • The Wonders of Life pavilion will be closing on January 5. The Pure and Simple eatery and the Well and Goods Limited shop will remain closed, while the Body Wars, Cranium Command, and The Making of Me attractions will now be open on a seasonal basis. No word yet on the Frontiers in Medicine, Sensory Funhouse, Goofy about Health, and Sports Fitness Areas.
  • A new rumor has the Living Seas pavilion closing for a rehab in the March/April time frame. Rumors are strong that Audio-Animatronic characters from Finding Nemo will be added to the pavilion.
  • 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 has been officially discontinued during reconstruction of the Food Rocks area into the queue for Soarin'. However, the tour may be given on an unannounced basis until Food Rocks officially closes on January 3. 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 some time this month.

Disney-MGM Studios

  • Fantasmic! will be closing from January 26-30 for a regular maintenance rehab.
  • 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 reported to return on New York Street/Big City Street 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 upcoming 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 - 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 27, 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 has reopened from its annual rehab.
  • Typhoon Lagoon is closed for refurbishment through 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

Ongoing

  • 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 through 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 - 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 - April 2.

March 2004

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

April 2004

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

May 2004

  • Walt Disney World Inline Marathon (link). May 2.
  • Disney Vacation Club Member Homecoming event. May 25-27.

October 2004

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

Current Discounts & Promotions

Deep discount codes announced

Walt Disney World has announced new discount codes for Annual Passholders, Florida residents, and the general public for check-ins January 1 to February 11, 2004. General public rates start at $55 per night, while AP and Florida rates start at $49 per night. These rates are also available with DreamMaker packages. Visit Disneyworld.com or MouseSavers for more details.

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 November 28 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% 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
 
12/15
12/16
12/17
12/18
12/19
12/20
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/21
12/22
  • 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 8a-10p
EF 9a-7p
EW 11a-9:30p
MGM 9a-7p
AK 9a-6p
BB 10a-5p
TL closed

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


Entertainment Schedule

Magic Kingdom
Epcot World Showcase
Disney-MGM Studios
Animal Kingdom
Monday 12/15

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 6pm

Wishes Fireworks 7p

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Tuesday 12/16

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 7p-12a

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Wednesday 12/17

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 6pm

Wishes Fireworks 7p

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Thursday 12/18

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 7p-12a

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Friday 12/19

Share a Dream Come True Parade 3p

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 7p-12a

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Saturday 12/20

Mickey's Very Merry Holiday Parade 3p

SpectroMagic 8pm, 10:15pm

Wishes Fireworks 9p

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Sunday 12/21

Mickey's Very Merry Holiday Parade 2p

SpectroMagic 8pm, 10:15pm

Wishes Fireworks 9p

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:30p

Fantasmic 7p

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade 3:45p

Monday 12/22

Mickey's Very Merry Holiday Parade 1p, 4p

SpectroMagic 8pm, 10:15pm

Wishes Fireworks 9p

Illuminations! 9:30p

Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade 3:00p

Fantasmic 6:30p, 8:30p

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.