Spaceship Earth began sneak previews last week, opening the construction wall for varying periods of time to let guests ride the attraction while Imagineers gauged the response. We've been hearing, unofficially, that the attraction will soft-open on Christmas Day.
For those uncertain about the terminology, a sneak preview is when an attraction is opened for short periods of time with no advance notice, and then the attraction is closed again and the response to the opening is noted and analyzed and further changes may be made. A soft opening is when the attraction is opened to run all day as if it were officially open, except that it might close at any time without notice if something isn't right. This way, guests can ride what is intended to be the final version of the attraction, but the attraction can be closed without disappointing people expecting it to be open if trouble spots appear.
A wildly gesticulating caveman is the first of many advanced-function Animatronics in the revised Spaceship Earth. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
An updated Animatronic teaches his students in Ancient Greece. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
The Gutenberg press is still represented in the attraction.. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
The telegraph scene is largely unchanged from the prior version.. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
In any case, the attraction's new narration, by Dame Judy Dench, has come in for mixed responses. While my hearing is slightly impaired when picking voices out of background sounds, the narration seemed very quiet to me. That may also have been a function of the particular car that I was in or the location of my head. However, others have made some interesting comments. For example, "Do you remember when you first learned your ABCs?" came in for ridicule as being severely dumbed down. One reader email that I received noted that the attraction now notes that Jewish and Islamic cultures provided a "back up" for western civilization, where previously it noted that Jewish and Islamic scholars kept the light of learning alive while Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages; the change appears to portray the religions in a lesser light.
A period computer room is one of the new scenes that has been added. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
An Animatronic representing Steve Wozniak was added.to a garage scene, working on the design of the Apple Lisa. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
Other changes are quite impressive. The opening visuals once you complete the first climb are impressive, and they lead to the first of the upgraded animatronics, with an advanced-function animatronic caveman gesticulating wildly as you turn the corner. There are a number of new, advanced animatronics within the attraction. Other animatronics have been moved to different scenes or replaced entirely. Following a scene where a family is watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV, one new scene shows a huge computer room of the period. This is followed by a scene within a garage in California showing Steve Wozniak working on designing the Apple Lisa computer. (With Steve Jobs as Disney's largest shareholder, one would almost expect a Jobs animatronic hovering over Woz in that scene.)
The descent features numerous questions. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
The on-vehicle computer screens ask you many questions, including your personality. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
You can also select your favorite type of alternate energy source. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
For your efforts, you are rewarded with an animated video showing you what your future vacations will be like. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
Your representative tourists and everything that they interact with have somewhat of a retro feel. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
In an echo of the former Horizons attraction, you can choose a future either in space or underwater. (There's no third choice of desert, as there was in Horizons, though.). Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
The descent is somewhat different, with guests being asked to answer a series of questions that lead to a simple animation of how inventions would improve their life and their vacations based on their selections. It seems to be a simple "select one from each category, and each selection adds a different piece of video to your show" kind of thing. It's cute, but at least to me, it seems that it limits re-rideability because of the similarity between the scenarios. Perhaps when all of the bells and whistles are installed, it will be more interesting.
The new Spaceship Earth costumes feature an attraction logo graphic on the right chest. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
Ride vehicles have touch screens for each seat. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
A final note on the attraction itself is that, while the upgraded Spaceship Earth is very true to the original spirit of EPCOT Center, there's one piece missing. When you walked out of all of the original attractions, you walked out humming or singing the attraction's theme song. While Bruce Broughton's new score does do a nice job of tying the scenes together, there's no "Tomorrow's Child"-like song to catch your attention as you walk out.
By setting the soft-opening of the attraction for Christmas Day, Disney will be solving the biggest problem of the refurbishment: how to soak up the crowds without the people-eating centerpiece of Future World, especially in light of the small crowds that actually visited the Wonders of Life pavilion while it was open last year.
Last week, during the special informational meeting regarding the lease extension at Disney's Old Key West Resort, it was announced that interest-free financing would be available through March, 2009. The offer, which requires 10 percent down, alleviates one of the biggest complaints about the lease extension offer, that it asked people to put together the money for the lease extension while only giving them a few months, over the holiday period, to pay it all off without needing to pay interest.
DVC President Jim Lewis answers a question at the general session. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
Other news coming out of the DVC meeting includes:
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.
The Disney Cruise Line announced last week that it would introduce enhanced itineraries for 2008, and additional itineraries for 2009.
For 2008, four-night sailings from May 11 through August 24 will replace the day at sea with a second stop at Castaway Cay, providing additional time at Disney's private island. In addition, starting in 2008 those selecting the 7-night Land-and-Sea packages will be able to add the Disney Dining Plan to their package.
Those sailing in 2009 will have the option of three different Eastern Caribbean itineraries in addition to the Western Caribbean sailings. For the January 3, January 31, February 28, March 28, October 10, November 7 and December 5, 2009 sailings, the new itinerary will be as follows:
Itineraries sailing April 25, May 23, June 20, July 18, August 15 and September 12, 2009 will follow this itinerary:
All other Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries will be the same as the current itineraries.
A fire burns one of the World Showcase Lagoon islands following last Saturday's Illuminations show. It was eventually put out by a man with a bucket on one of the fireworks control boats. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
A 63-year-old woman was arrested for attempting to enter the Magic Kingdom with a loaded silver Beretta .32-caliber semiautomatic handgun, a pair of scissors and a locked-blade knife. Mary Ann Richardson, of Nickelson, PA claimed that she always traveled with them and that she had forgotten that they were in her handbag.
A 71-year-old man died after having a heart attack on a Disney bus. The bus pulled over and called for Reedy Creek Emergency Services, but they were unable to revive the man.
Adventures by Disney has cancelled the "Coasting the Golden State" tour for 2008. Disney noted that "A hallmark of Disney's superior guest service is listening and adapting our products and services to meet Guest's needs. Based on initial guest interest level in the itinerary for 'Coasting the Golden State', we have decided not to offer this trip for the 2008 season. There is always the possibility that we will bring it back in future years." In other words, not enough people signed up to make the trip viable.
Disney is partnering with Best Friends Pet Care, Inc. to have the Connecticut-based company operate its existing five kennels, as well as create a themed resort for the pets, where each service entails an extra charge. The kennels currently cost $10-$15 per day depending on the animal, but will see price increases when Best Friends takes over.
Three Pop Warner football teams were removed from the All Star Music Resort and asked to leave Disney property following a fight early Saturday morning. Involved were the Kahalu?u Hei?eia Broncos of Kailua, Hawaii; the Waianae Tigers of Waianae, Hawaii; and the Westport Patriots of Baltimore.
The still-not-officially-announced Disney Vacation Club resort continues to rise adjacent to the Contemporary Resort. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.
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 large is the Christmas wreath adorning the Cirque du Soleil building at Downtown Disney West Side? Stay tuned to next week's park update for the answer.
The answer to last week's question: "What scale are the giant bowling pin icons at Disney's Pop Century Resort (where I stayed most of last week for MouseFest)?", is:
At a scale of 52:1, the bowling pin icons tower more than 65 feet high. A regulation bowling pin is 15 inches tall.
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 Caf restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style caf 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.