Two tourists from Connecticut were abducted in the Downtown Disney parking lot late Saturday night, robbed and left at a landfill miles away. Jessica Lynne Dellacamera and Justin Bryan Stetzer, both 20, of Branford, Connecticut, were walking back to their hotel room just after midnight after shopping at Downtown Disney. According to the police report, a black 4-door VW Jetta with tinted windows pulled up and a man asked them a question. When they approached the car, the driver showed them a handgun and forced them into the car.
The driver and two other men drove them to a gas station convenience store and forced them to withdraw money from an ATM. They eventually drove to a secluded area near the Osceola County landfill and forced the two out of the car. Fearing for his life, Stetzer fought his captors and was hit on the head with the handgun, causing the gun to fire a round in the air. This frightened the abductors and they fled the scene. Dellacamera and Stetzer were left alone at the landfill. They went to a nearby home and had the residents call the police.
Dellacamera and Stetzer had just arrived in Florida on Saturday, with Dellacamera's parents. Their captors got away with the money withdrawn from the ATM and the Downtown Disney purchases.
The Orange and Osceola County Sheriff's Offices are conducting a joint investigation into the matter.
We'll have more on this on Thursday's MousePlanetWatch news podcast, and we'll follow up in next Monday's Park Update if there's anything to report.
We'll start of by saying that this isn't a certainty, but it looks like at least some part of the Disney-MGM Studios will be renamed to the Pixar Studios. Paperwork filed with Orange County indicates that the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company of Orlando will be installing a "Disney's MGM Studios - Pixar Studios Facility Package."
It should be noted that the 555 Stage Lane address specified in the paperwork is in a backstage area behind the soundstages being converted into the Toy Story Mania attraction. So it's entirely possible that the renaming could just be for backstage areas; however, it's more likely that either the Mickey Avenue area that's going to be rethemed for the Toy Story Mania attraction or possibly the entire park will eventually get the Pixar Studios name.
The upcoming opening of a new pizza shop on the Streets of America suggests a possible re-do of Toy Story Pizza Planet restaurant when that's up and running. After all, why have two pizza places that close to one another? But does that mean that the Pixar attractions will be consolidated into the Mickey Avenue area, or is the Streets of America pizza shop a temporary measure during an upcoming upgrade of Pizza Planet? Or does the construction permit for that actually refer to Pizza Planet? There are lots of unanswered questions here, and we'll have to wait to see what this actually means. In the meantime, though, It's interesting to think about. What do you think?
A mere four years after early testing of a version of the device, Walt Disney World has made a new handheld assistive device available to help guests with disabilities enjoy the parks and attractions. The PDA-sized device can detect its location in a fashion similar to that used by Pal Mickey, by sensing transmitters located throughout the parks.
The prototypes of the devices were small for the time, but still somewhat bulky. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The technology patented and licensed by Disney may end up finding other uses, according to Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president of worldwide safety and accessibility. "We are currently exploring opportunities to make this technology available in venues outside of our Disney Parks, where it could provide synchronized captioning, audio translations and other services in a wide variety of applications such as museums, movie theaters, tours and transportation." The new technology is already in use at the new World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, which opened last month. [Coca-Cola is a worldwide partner of Disney.]
The new devices are much smaller, and apparently have much clearer text and better user controls. Photo © Disney.
Thus far, only a small subset of the eventual functionality is enabled in the devices, including handheld captioning and closed captioning. By September, amplified audio for assistive listening will be added to the function set, and further down the line the devices will also provide descriptive audio for people who are blind or with low vision.
The device is available free of charge at all four Walt Disney World Theme Parks. For further information about services for guests with disabilities, see the Walt Disney World Web site (or go directly to the sub-site for guests with disabilities), or call Walt Disney World Information at 407-824-4321 (voice) or 407-827-5141 (TTY).
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It's the Haunted Mansion's turn to get an extreme makeover, as the major refurbishment of classic Disney attractions has now gotten around to the Hudson River Gothic-style mansion on the shores of the Rivers of America. Following the well-received renovations of "it's a small world" in 2004 and Pirates of the Caribbean in 2006, the Haunted Mansion closed last Wednesday for some much-needed TLC and some enhancements imported from California.
Unlike Disneyland's version of the Mansion, where the largely local crowd is willing to put up with one-month closures for conversion to and from the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay as well as additional refurbishment, closure of the Mansion in Florida is a bit more problematic. With a preponderance of occasional or once-in-a-lifetime visitors, having the attraction closed can cause a great deal of disappointment and even anger in park visitors. This has made finding an appropriate time to close the attraction extremely difficult.
The Hudson River Gothic-style Haunted Mansion closed from June 6 through September 12. File photo by Brian Bennett.
Due to Disney's success in increasing the crowds during the traditional off-seasons, there really isn't a time where the crowds are small. A decision was made that, despite its traditional status as the time with the largest crowds, the summer season would be best for the refurbishment. The thinking behind the decision is that, because all other attractions would be functioning at peak capacity, they would be better able to handle the loss of the high-throughput Mansion than if it were to be closed when other attractions are having their own minor tune-ups.
With the downtime scheduled, the Mansion can now get a proper reworking, which has become more and more noticeably needed in the last year or so, as doom buggy ride vehicles are often without working sound, animatronics don't always work correctly and things are just in general need of a sprucing up. Imagineers will take advantage of this downtime to add some enhancements already installed in Disneyland's version of the attraction. Expected to "appear" in Florida will be the new, upgraded bride in the attic, as well as the floating Madame Leota crystal ball. While Disney's PhotoPass attempted a trial of an on-ride photo opportunity last fall during the scene with the hitchhiking ghosts, it is uncertain whether or not it will be installed as part of this upgrade. Also uncertain is whether or not the long-rumored merchandise location at the attraction's exit will be built. (It would be in the area between the building's exit and the mausoleum for Bluebeard and his wives.)
The attraction is scheduled to reopen on September 13, which just happens to be the day before the first night of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.
Last Wednesday, members of the Service Trades Council Union, an umbrella organization representing six member unions, approved a new contract with Walt Disney World by a vote of 3,056 to 2,676. The three-and-a-half year deal, retroactive to April 28 and running through October 2, 2010, was identical to the one that members rejected on May 18, just two and a half weeks earlier, by a vote of 2,870 to 2,583.
With no change in the deal, it's uncertain as to why the number voting for the contract went up by over 18 percent while those voting against went down by almost 7 percent. The total number of votes is still only about half of those eligible, which itself is just about half of those represented.
The new contract provides annual pay increases of 4 to 5 percent for most cast members, though those at the top of their pay grade will see much less. Disney will pay more than 75 percent of comprehensive health care plans, down from 85 to 90 percent in the last contract. Several health care plans are offered to cast members at different price levels for differing coverage. With the increasing health care costs and smaller pay jumps, long-time cast members at the top of their pay grades may have more incentive to leave, which would benefit Disney.
But there's no rest for the weary, at least not yet. Now that the contract has been agreed to for the 21,000 full-time cast members represented by the STCU, the two sides must gear up again, this time to negotiate a new contract for the 8,000 Casual Regular (part-time) cast members represented by the STCU. That contract expires on September 29.
Want to help MousePlanet upgrade our park guides? We're looking to add menu information for all restaurants to our Walt Disney World Park Guide (link). Send photos or scans of menus (no fair copying from other Web sites) to email@example.com (link). Please note that there is a 5MB limit on total attachments in a single email.
Walt Disney Resorts scored an 84 in the latest Consumer Reports survey of hotels, coming in near the top of the Upscale category. The resorts were evaluated as a whole, rather than breaking them into the various price categories or Disneyland/Walt Disney World. The Disney resorts ranked "very good" in the categories of value, service and upkeep and got a "good" rating for problems. In comments by Consumer Reports, it was noted that Disney resorts in Orlando and Anaheim "offered stellar service," indicating that it was one of only 10 chains to receive at least a "very good" rating.
The Upscale category's top score of 87 was attained by both Homewood Suites and Springhill Suites by Marriott. Tied with Disney at 84 were Harrah's and Residence Inn by Marriott. The survey questioned almost 35,000 subscribers, who spend more than 139,000 nights at 48 hotel chains. It's available in the July issue of Consumer Reports.
Last week, the Milk House at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex was the site of the first-ever Major League Baseball amateur draft to be televised (on ESPN2, of course). The baseball draft is much less likely to produce instant-impact players than the National Baseball League or National Football League drafts, as so has not been seen as a television draw. It wasn't much of an in-person draw, either, as just 400 baseball fans showed up to watch the draft in person. By the end of the first round, only about 100 were left, and just four remained by the end of the second round.
Still baseball was looking for an interesting location to hold the draft, and perhaps their enjoyment of Walt Disney World during their annual winter meeting (held at the Walt Disney World Dolphin last December) led them to return to Walt Disney World. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said that he was pleased with the venue, and that he hoped that the draft would continue to be shown on television and that interest would continue to grow.
For the record, the answer to the future trivia question, "Who was the first baseball player picked in the first televised draft ever?" is David Price, a 6-foot-5, left-handed pitcher for Vanderbilt University.
We've gotten word that something interesting may be occurring this summer at All-Star Music as well as Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, but no details on what it might be. If you stay at any of those resorts and notice anything interesting, please let us know!
The Disney Vacation Club is now taking member reservations for Phase I of the Animal Kingdom Villas.
Francisco's lounge at the Coronado Springs Resort is slated for refurbishment and conversion to "Rix Lounge."
Large projection screens at Epcot are being replaced, with theaters #1 and #2 at the Ellen's Energy Adventure and Honey I Shrunk the Audience all slated for new screens from the Harkness Hall company in Virginia.
The Epcot Character Spot is getting a new marquee, new queue dividers, interactive pieces and people counters.
Good's to Go at the Old Key West Resort is having counters and walls replaced.
As we reported on May 21, it is now confirmed that Remy and Emile from Ratatouille will begin appearances at the Magic of Disney Animation attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios, replacing Lewis, Wilbur and Bowler Hat Guy from Meet the Robinsons. No word on where the Robinsons cast might be headed.
A special 13th Anniversary Event for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for annual passholders was announced last quick and all available reservations were quickly snapped up. The 90-minute event will take place after park hours on Friday, July 13 from 10:30 p.m. until midnight.
Last week we reported that Epcot and Disney's Animal Kingdom were the first parks to be getting the upgraded Fastpass machines, but we've since received reports that Magic Kingdom has already received its upgrades.
This week's question: This week's question was submitted by MousePlanet reader Indy. In what attraction can you find the "Glendale Galaxy"? Stay tuned to next week's park update for the answer.
The 107-acre Magic Kingdom could fit almost five times into the over 500-acre Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Do you have a trivia question that you'd like to share? If we choose to use your question, we'll give you credit in the Update. Email us here.
Disney has released discounted room rates for passholders and Florida residents through most of the summer. Discounts are available for select Disney Vacation Club and deluxe resorts from June 3 through August 4, and for select moderate resorts between July 1 and August 4.
For passholders, the DVC rates start at $164 per night plus tax in a studio at the Old Key West or Saratoga Springs Resorts. Prices go up from there depending on the resort and accommodations. In addition to those two DVC resorts, discounts are also available at the Yacht Club, Beach Club and BoardWalk Resorts. Rates at the moderates start at $139 per night. For Florida residents, the DVC rates start at $169 per night and the moderates start at $145 per night. Minimum stay requirements apply for Friday and Saturday arrivals.
All rates can be booked up until the date of arrival. Passholders and Florida residents can book via your respective Web sites, by calling your travel agent (Small World Vacations is MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel provider) or by calling 407-560-7277 for passholders or 407-560-7722 for Florida residents.
Passholder discount codes are FDL (DVC/Deluxe) and FDJ (Moderates). Florida resident discount codes are FDP (DVC/Deluxe) and FDN (Moderates).
Disney is offering a new free dining package for trips beginning August 26 through September 22. Minimum stay will be three nights and a minimum one-day theme park ticket per person is required to get the free dining package for the length of your stay. Just remember that this is during peak hurricane season, which is why Disney needs to offer this promotion to get people to visit the parks and stay on property. While the odds of a hurricane interrupting or cancelling your vacation are low, you may want to take advantage of the trip insurance offered by Disney, just in case. Packages must be booked by June 24.
We'd like to welcome the Hotel Royal Plaza as a new MousePlanet sponsor. As part of our new relationship, the Royal Plaza has created a special offer just for MousePlanet readers! From now through the end of the year, anyone booking their stay through the MousePlanet Web site will receive discounted rates up to 20 percent off on all room types.
The completely-remodeled 394-room resort is located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, just a few minutes' walk from Downtown Disney. Bus service to all Walt Disney World theme parks is included with your stay. Their Giraffe Caf restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style caf and Sips Pool Bar are ready to serve you. And children 10 and under eat breakfast for free!
And so we'd like to thank the Hotel Royal Plaza for joining the MousePlanet family, and invite you to try their hospitality.
Disney's popular summer golf discount program, Disney's Price Slice, will return from May 14 through September 27. During that time, a round of golf at any of the Walt Disney World courses will be less expensive after 10 a.m. daily, due to the heat of the summer season. The Magnolia, Palm, Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge courses will carry a fee of $55, while the Lake Buena Vista course will cost $45. Rates include the use of an electric cart, and are $34-$44 cheaper than regular rates.
The rates include the use of an electric cart and are discounted from the before-10 a.m. prices of $99 for resort guests/$109 for day visitors (Magnolia and Osprey Ridge), $89 for resort guests/$99 for day visitors (Palm and Eagle Pines) and $79 for resort guests/$89 for day visitors (Lake Buena Vista). To reserve a tee time, call 407-WDW-GOLF (407-939-4653) or go to the Disney Golf Web site (link). Note that the site's front page still appears to have difficulty with browsers other than Internet Explorer. Once you get past the front page, you should be all right.
(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.