Well, it's been a very quiet week during the holidays. (Not in the parks themselves, mind youwhich were as busy as ever, with closures due to crowds as normal during this holiday seasonbut in the lack of news that hasn't been already reported here.) So instead of a blank space here, I thought that I'd include my take on the top stories at Walt Disney World during 2007.
Of course, the most-publicized story of the year has to be the Year of a Million Dreams promotion, which has been so successful in capturing the imagination of the general public that it has been expanded from the original "15 Months of 1.25 Million Dreams" into the "2.25 Years of 2.25 Million Dreams." The promotion, which features randomly distributed prizes (as determined by a computer) of such magnitude as a night in the Cinderella Castle Dream Suite, Disney cruises, trips to overseas Disney parks, and small magnitude as "Dream Ears" and "Dream Fastpasses," officially began on October 1, 2006, but was officially launched with much fanfare at the International Press Event in January 2007. While your chances of winning anything are actually only moderate at best, it also seems that cast members have gotten into the spirit and have begun creating Magical Moments at an unprecedented rate (despite the contentions of my MouseStation podcast co-host).
Perhaps the most visible change has been the demolition of the Sorcerer Mickey wand that once loomed over Spaceship Earth. The wand (and the attached "Epcot" letters), which had irritated Disney purists for years, was dismantled in time for the park's 25th anniversary celebration.
Of course, Epcot's 25th birthday was a story in itself, as Disney's original plans for a non-event were upstaged by the fan community's activism. The "Celebration 25" event gained such traction that Disney decided to set up its own celebration, which included the Celebration 25 group. That group's organizers are now in the process of setting up a 10th anniversary event for Disney's Animal Kingdom on April 22.
A topic that generated a flood of e-mail for this column and our MouseStation podcast was the banning of smoking in all Walt Disney World resort hotel rooms and balconies. The small number of smoking-optional rooms were converted over and guests are now charged a cleaning fee if they are found to have been smoking in the room or on the balcony. Smoking areas are now available outdoors at each resort. While smokers were extremely vocal about the change, it was greeted with much adulation by non-smokers, especially those who suffer from allergies and asthma.
In addition to the end of smoking, resorts continued their campaign for Green Lodging certification, as many more resorts were certified this year.
Of course, resorts weren't the only locations to get makeovers. The Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth, O Canada and El Rio del Tiempo all closed for makeovers or replacements this year andas of the soft-opening of Spaceship Earth in Decemberhave all reopened with major changes. El Rio del Tiempo emerged with a new nameGran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. The others at least got to keep their names. Canada's film includes a new storyline and about 65 percent new footage. Gran Fiesta Tour includes much of the same decor, but with the insertion everywhere of the Three Caballeros characters. The Haunted Mansion got a major new roomthe "Escher Staircase"as well as the floating crystal ball and murderous bride from California, and all of the effects were spruced up. Spaceship Earth has had a major facelift, with new narration and a new descent sequence. Some of the Spaceship Earth upgrades have gotten rave reviews, while others have gotten major complaints. We'll have to see what the final version looks like when the attraction officially reopens in February.
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But dining at the resort has had some major changes as well. The table-service restaurants at the Japan pavilionMitsukoshi Teppanyaki, Tempura Kiku and Matsunoma Loungewere made over into Teppan Edo and Tokyo Dining. Alfredo's was evicted by Disney, and replaced by Tutto Italia. The Yak & Yeti opened at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Tusker House converted from counter service to buffet dining. T-Rex Cafe broke ground at Downtown Disney and is expected to open late this year. Nine Dragons is also slated for a makeover this year, continuing the changes.
Disney's party offerings underwent some changes in 2007, as well. Fairy Tale Weddings were expanded to include same-sex couples, thrilling some and enraging others. Meanwhile, the recognition of the Hispanic market continued, with the addition of quinceaera celebrations to the portfolio.
The outside world continued to intrude into Downtown Disney, with many visitors ejected during a crackdown earlier this year. Two visitors claimed to have been abducted from the parking lot, only to later recant their story under increased scrutiny.
The Disney Cruise Line finally ordered two more ships, as the conditions had apparently finally improved to the point where it made financial sense. The ships are slated for completion in 2011 and 2012. Meanwhile, the Disney Magic went abroad and sailed the Mediterranean for the first time. Next year, it will head for the West Coast, though it will stay put in the Florida/Caribbean area for 2009.
The Disney Vacation Club also made huge news, starting construction on the Animal Kingdom Villas, announcing new resorts at the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland and at Ko Olina in Hawaii. It also made "un-news" as it began construction on a new resort on the site of the former North Garden Wing at the Contemporary Resort. (It's "un-news" because they have yet to announce that it will be a Disney Vacation Club resort, despite the name on architectural plans and construction permits for the site.)
Much talk was also generated by a new Fastpass patent received by Disney that would allow them to create tiers of service based on the resort at which the guest was staying at, and would allow guests to make Fastpass reservations before even heading to the parks. None of that has been implemented yet, but the possibility both frightens and thrills Disney fans.
Disney announced two new developments, one featuring a Four Seasons hotel and one that may eventually resemble the area from Downtown Disney to the Crossroads Shopping Center. It's still in the early stages, but following this story should be interesting as it progresses.
There are so many more stories that were of interest, including cast members brought up on kiddie-porn charges, Tigger swatting a boy who was yanking on the back of his neck, new handheld assistive devices being introduced in the parks, large donations to a new hospital wing and performing arts center, union negotiations, regular-season Major League Baseball at the Wide World of Sports Complex, the rollout of character heads with mouths that move, and many more. But these are the ones that I picked as the year's top stories. What do you think were the top stories of 2007?
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.
As of yesterday afternoon, Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade does not appear on the events schedule for Disney's Animal Kingdom for the month of February, according to the Walt Disney World Web site, but we're assuming that it's a technical error and we're listing it at 4 p.m. every day on our Theme Park Entertainment Schedule for the month.
Walt Disney World's Food Safety & Health Director, Frank Yiannas, has been named the new chairman of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), where he will guide the organization's efforts to heighten awareness of food allergy and its consequences, to educate people about the condition, and to advance research on behalf of all those affected by it. Yiannas, also the immediate past President of the International Association for Food Protection, has been on FAAN's board of directors since 2005. He also received the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in food safety by the National Restaurant Association.
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex became a hub of football activity this week, with the University of Florida Gators conducting their practices for the Capital One Bowl at the complex and the inaugural Under Armour High School All-America Game slated for this Saturday.
We've got no new question this week. The trivia question of the week should return next week.
The answer to last week's question: "In 1988, magician Doug Henning was a consultant for the creation of which Walt Disney World 'attraction'?", is:
The Adventurers' Club at Pleasure Island.
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.
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.