An e-mail notice from the Disney Dining Experience Team sent last Friday to all cardholders raised alarm bells with all guests until a follow-up email went out the following day to clarify the situation.
The notice, which started off with news of a change to the method for obtaining membership cards, contained this short paragraph at the end, which raced around the Internet: "We would also like to inform you that the Walt Disney World Resort will be implementing an across property policy change regarding gratuity at all food and beverage locations. Effective January 1, 2008, 18% gratuity will be added to all transactions, regardless of party size. Thank you for your continued support."
Web sites around the Internet buzzed with the fact that 18 percent would be mandatory for all guests at all locations on property. (This was somewhat confusing, especially since Disney Dining Plan manager Chris Morgan told MousePlanet last month that the gratuity was no longer being included with the plan because it "was really giving the option back to the guest giving them the control of how much they wanted the tip to be, because it was a set amount for every single guest, so it brings it back to the guest which does align with the industry standard of tipping for exceptional service. ")
On Saturday, the DDE Team sent out a follow-up e-mail to clarify the policy, likely in response to the outcry among the Disney fan community, which noted, "When using your Disney Dining Experience membership card the assessed gratuity will be added to all table service restaurant locations and lounges for all transactions regardless of party size. Gratuity will not be added to any counter service, food cart or quick service locations." So the policy only applies to those using the Disney Dining Experience for their transactions, and only at table service and lounge locations, and is just an extension of the existing policy affecting groups of 8 or more.
The reason given for the change is that it "has been implemented in order to align the Disney Dining Experience Program with other dining experiences where gratuities are included." It is uncertain which other dining experiences they are talking about, since the gratuity was removed from the Disney Dining Plan on the same effective date.
Apparently overwhelmed by the barrage of questions that they must have received, Saturday's e-mail also directed any further questions to Walt Disney World Guest Communications, which is better equipped to handle a large volume of incoming communication.
For those wondering about the changes that made up the bulk of Friday's e-mail, Guest Relations locations at the four theme parks and at Downtown Disney (both West Side and Marketplace locations) will now be able to print permanent Disney Dining Experience cards for immediate use. Cards printed at these locations will be printed on paper stock, similar to park passes. Cards can still be ordered by mail and will now take 2-3 weeks to arrive, rather than the former 3-6 weeks. DDE cards ordered before November 11 will take 3-4 weeks for permanent cards to arrive, and temporary cards will be available at Epcot main entrance Guest Relations only.
Cinderella Castle shimmers in its new winter coat of over 200,000 lights. Photo © Disney.
For the last five weeks, Disney Entertainment show producer Rob Hamberg has been leading a crew of 65 in adding 200,000 LEDs and 500 strobes, woven into 32,000 square feet of fishing nets and connected with 15 miles of cables, to the facade of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.
Last night, they were turned on for the guests for the first time.
The castle-lighting ceremony, called "Cinderella's Holiday Wish," features Mickey, Minnie and friends on the Castle Forecourt stage, marveling at the holiday lights along Main Street, U.S.A., and wondering what to do about the darkened castle. The Fairy Godmother suddenly appears and states that Cinderella should decide what to do, since it's her castle. So Cinderella and her prince appear, and they all decide that the castle should sparkle like her glass slippers do. A bit of Disney magic takes place, and the castle lights up as if it were covered with shimmering ice and snow.
Cinderella Castle's new lighting reflects off of the moat in the view from Liberty Square. Photo © Disney.
"For a park aglow in holiday magic, this becomes the new and eye-filling superstar," added Disney Entertainment show producer Rob Hamberg who supervised the weeks-long rigging of the turrets and towers for the light show. "Nothing will rival 'Cinderella's Holiday Wish' for sheer visual spectacle."
The castle-lighting will take place nightly at 5:45 p.m., allowing the show to take place before the park closes to day guests on the nights of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The glittering castle will also support Holiday Wishes and other special entertainment.
The lit castle effect originated at Disneyland Paris in 2005, and came to Walt Disney World with Francois Leroux, who is now vice president of Walt Disney World Entertainment. "We are thrilled to be adding this brilliant new castle spectacle to the holiday festivities at Walt Disney World this season and for seasons to come," said Leroux. "This glistening holiday enchantment creates perfect fairytale magic for this festive time of year."
The new lights have a magical effect at dusk, as well.. Photo © Disney.
Following last month's story about disabled advocate group Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (or DRAFT) pressing Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando to allow those who use Segway personal transporters as mobility devices in place of wheelchairs or ECVs to use them in the parks, there is now a lawsuit jointly filed against Disney by two individuals from Illinois and one from Iowa.
The suit alleges that Disney's refusal to allow them to use the two-wheeled, self-balancing devices in the parks is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are further asking the judge to certify the suit as a class action, potentially opening the suit to the estimated 4,000 to 7,000 disabled people in the country who currently use Segways as their mobility device of choice.
Potentially weighing against the suit is the fact that Segways are not sold as medical equipment, and that the cost of the transporter is not normally covered by health insurance as such.
Disney argues that, while some Disney staff may use Segways, and tours are even given aboard the transporters, Disney controls training on the devices and ensures that the operators are able to handle them before they go out in public. Further, Disney has throttled their Segways to allow a top speed of only 5 miles per hour, versus the 12.5 miles per hour that the standard models are capable of. This would render outside Segways as an even higher potential threat to the safety of tourists in the crowded theme parks.
Advocates for the disabled counter that forcing the Segway users to switch to wheelchairs or ECVs damages their dignity and denies them the right to use the mobility device of their choice.
It may take quite a while to get this situation resolved. In the meantime, weigh in on the topic on our MousePad discussion forums.
Are you coming to MouseFest?
We're just a month away from MouseFest, and plans are firming up! We've had loads of people RSVP, but there's room for plenty more! For more information about MousePlanet's events at MouseFest, check out our MouseFest events page (link) or see who's announced that they're coming on the sticky threads on our MousePad discussion forums (link)!
SeaWorld Orlando has finally jumped off of the bench, raising their prices to $67.95 for a one-day ticket. The $3 price hike comes about 11 months after their last hike and three months after the last hikes from Disney and Universal, and still leaves one-day tickets priced below the $71 charged by Disney and Universal. The one-day ticket to SeaWorld, however, comes with a free second day's admission within 7 days of first use. In addition, there's a $10 discount with a 7-day advance purchase.
There are also a number of combination tickets available, from a 2-park admission ticket for SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa that allows unlimited visits for 7 days for $99.95 ($89.95 with 7-day advance purchase) to a 4-park ticket for Discovery Cove, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and the new Aquatica water park (opening in March) for $319 peak/$339 off-peak ($287/$305 with advance purchase) that allows 14 days of unlimited visits to all parks except for Discovery Cove.
Interestingly, there are no Aquatica-only tickets.
The group of parks, until now known as Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks, has also announced a new name, Worlds of Discovery. The new umbrella covers all three SeaWorld parks; both Busch Gardens parks; water parks Aquatica in Orlando, Adventure Island in Tampa, and Water Country USA in Virginia; Discovery Cove and Sesame Place in Pennsylvania.
We now have the answer to what is replacing the Virtual Magic Kingdom shop at the Main Street Cinema. Photo by Cathy Sowa.
The Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund (DWCF) has honored nine more "Conservation Heroes" from around the globe for their contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation in their communities. Each winner and their nominating organization will share a $1,000 award. This year's honorees include:
These nine bring the total to 27 Conservation Hereos that have been recognized over the past four years. All told, the DWCF has contributed more than $11 million worldwide to promote the protection of wildlife and their ecosystems.
Many people thought that the old SpectroMen (left) were creepy. Perhaps even more will think that the new SpectroMen (right) are even creepier. Discuss here. Photos by Cathy Sowa.
For the second year, MousePlanet's mailbag editor and staff writer Stephanie Wien is running the Walt Disney World Marathon to help raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Her goal this year is $4,000. She's running in honor of her training mentor and a 9-year-old girl fighting leukemia, and in memory of her grandmother who passed away due to lymphoma.
Steph is more than halfway to her fundraising goal. If you can, please consider supporting her in her run at her fundraising Web site.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (link). Please note that there is a 5MB limit on total attachments in a single email.
This week's listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:
Construction work is underway at the Caribbean Beach Resort's marina, perhaps as the first phase of the major pool work that will take much of next year. Photo by Cathy Sowa.
An oil containment boom protects the waterway from the construction site. Photo by Cathy Sowa.
The Yak and Yeti restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom opens on Wednesday, but there will be no Advance Dining Reservations for a while. The restaurant is going to be on a walk-up only basis through Thursday, January 3. Starting on Monday, December 3, reservations can be made for January 4 and beyond. Lunch hours will be 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and dinner starts at 4 p.m. Closing time will depend on the day's park hours.
Disney's Animal Kingdom has a surprise new feature: straws for drinks. The new straws are made of wax-lined paper, and are designed to break down in the digestive tract if swallowed, making them animal-friendly.
Rayovac batteries will start appearing around the resort, as Spectrum Brands Inc., maker of Rayovac batteries, has signed a three-year agreement with Disney making it the exclusive supplier of batteries at all Disney parks. As part of the deal, Disney will allow Spectrum to use Disney characters to market their batteries.
MousePlanet contributing writer Maggie Parr has a new series of six original oil paintings and limited-edition giclees being released at Walt Disney World on December 15. Maggie will be there for the debut, signing giclees from 10 a.m. until noon and 3-4 p.m. at Art of Disney in Downtown Disney Marketplace on December 15. If you do happen to go, tell her "hello" from me. The remaining pieces will become available at Disneyland some time around February.
The Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground have both been designated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as members of the Florida Green Lodging Program. These two latest resorts bring Disney's total to 11 Green Lodges of the 50 throughout Florida.
Raglan Road Irish Pub will no longer be a one-of-a-kind location, as Great Irish Pubs Ltd. announced last week that it would open a second pub next spring in Kansas City.
Dick Nunis, former chairman of Walt Disney Attractions (now Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) will be inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame on March 29. Nunis spent 44 years at Disney, starting as an assistant to Van Arsdale France in creating the training program for the first cast members at Disneyland.
The "Backstage Pass" section of the Walt Disney World Web site features a story about the refurbishment of Spaceship Earth through the eyes of Bob Zalk, Senior Show Producer, who worked on the original Spaceship Earth as one of his first jobs at Disney over 25 years ago.
The giant mouse ears for the new shop at the Contemporary Resort are finally up, and work seems to be just about finished.
Get your MousePlanet gear!
The MousePlanet.com store is now open for business (link)! You can get shirts, mugs, hats and even a Teddy Bear! Check it out and show your MousePlanet pride!
This week's question: How many miles do Walt Disney World mowers travel each year? Stay tuned to next week's park update for the answer.
The answer to last week's question: "What is the smallest Walt Disney World theme park?", is:
At 135 acres, the Disney-MGM Studios is just slightly smaller than the Magic Kingdom's 142 acres. At 305 acres, Epcot is second-largest, while Disney's Animal Kingdom takes the top prize at 403 acres. (Kilimanjaro Safaris is 110 acres by itself!)
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.
MousePlanet sponsor Hotel Royal Plaza, in the Downtown Disney resort area, has enhanced its deal for MousePlanet readers. From now through the end of the year, anyone booking their stay through the MousePlanet Web site has been able to receive discounted rates up to 20 percent off on all room types. Now, for a limited time, you can get even more! The discounted rates now include free breakfast for two in the Giraffe Caf!. Plus children 10 and under always eat breakfast for free! (Two children 10 and under eat free from the kids menu when accompanied by an adult dining from the regular menu.)
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 Cafe restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style cafe and Sips Pool Bar are ready to serve you.
We'd like to invite you to try their hospitality!
Disney has released discounted room rates for passholders and Florida residents for the end of September through md-December. Discounts are available for select resorts for most nights from September 30 through December 23. (The nights of November 21-24 and November 30-December 7 are excluded at non-DVC resorts, most likely due to Thanksgiving weekend and the Pop Warner Super Bowl invasion, while only the Thanksgiving dates are blocked at the DVC resorts.) There are two effective rate periods for this discount, with September 30-October 3, November 25-29, and December 8-19 carrying passholder rates of $59 per night in value resorts and $164 per night in a DVC studio. The remaining dates in the promotion period (except for the nights of November 21-24, which have no discounts due to Thanksgiving weekend) have nightly passholder rates starting at $79 for values and $194 for DVC studios. Florida resident rates are $5 higher than passholder rates.
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.
An interesting twist on this deal is that, for certain check-in dates, you can get a Disney Dining Card with $20-$100 per room with your minimum 2-night reservation. This perk is available for stays with check-in dates between October 21-November 3, November 11-17 and December 9-15. The card can be used toward food & beverage only, and not toward merchandise.
Rooms available at these rates are very limited, and they're going quickly!
(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.