I'd like to start off this week's Update with a huge "thank you" to Julie China, who did an excellent job sitting in for me last week. I'm glad to know that, in future weeks when I have family events to attend, I'll be able to enjoy them without worrying about writing the Walt Disney World Update or about the quality of the Update written by Julie.
The Walt Disney World bus system has had a run of back luck recently. On the heels of the March 23 accident where a Disney bus rear-ended a stopped Mears bus, injuring 8, two more accidents occurred last week, one fatal.
Thursday afternoon at approximately 1:35 p.m., 9-year-old Chase Brubaker was riding his bicycle with an 11-year-old female friend, headed to the Meadows Outpost arcade at Fort Wilderness when he fell underneath and was run over by a Disney bus carrying 28 people. Brubaker was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the children and the bus, driven by David Russell Rich (56), were all traveling southbound on Big Bend Drive, one of the major thoroughfares through the campground. The police report states that for an unknown reason, Brubaker "traveled off of the sidewalk and into the southbound lane." He struck the right side of the bus around the middle of the bus. Brubaker fell off of his bicycle and under the bus. He was run over by the right rear tire.
Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton issued a statement later on Thursday. She noted:
“This afternoon, we experienced a tragic accident on our property.
"We are deeply saddened by what happened and are doing everything we can to provide resources and support to the family. The circumstances of the accident are under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol and we are working closely with them to gather the facts.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the family, and all of our Cast Members join me in extending our deepest sympathies.”
According to 911 calls released by Reedy Creek Emergency Services, the children had just reached the entrance to the Meadows pool area. One caller said, "We just pulled up behind and it looks as though a young child went out, pulled out in front of the bus and the bus hit him." According to local television station WESH (link), "[i]nvestigators said a witness who was behind the children saw Chase glance over his left shoulder to apparently see if anyone was behind him. They said that's when his bicycle veered to the left and collided with the side of the bus and near its middle."
The young girl riding with Brubaker told Brubaker's mother that they never left the sidewalk. The girl was riding ahead of Brubaker and heard, but did not see, what happened. Both children were wearing helmets.
There is a grass median between the sidewalk and the roadway. It's my speculation that it's possible that, when he veered to the left, his bicycle hit the patch of grass and he was thrown from his bicycle under the bus. This could explain the fact that he fell from the bicycle, the lack of damage to the bicycle itself, the fact that he left the sidewalk when his nature was said to be overly cautious, and the lack of response time for the bus driver to avoid the boy.
Kelly Brubaker, 50, the boy's mother, doesn't believe that events played out that way. She claims that the bus must have crossed the grass median strip, driven up onto the sidewalk and sideswiped the boy, and that Disney is covering it up. She also disputes the findings of the FHP. The boy's maternal grandmother claimed, "They said he went into the road, but that's a lie. There was no reason for him to go into the road," according to an article on TampaBay.com (link). That same article, though, quoted FHP Sgt. Kim Montes as saying "If we didn't have the physical evidence or witness statements that we had, we wouldn't make such a statement."
The crash remains under investigation.
But that was not the last of the incidents to befall the bus system. I wrote about an accident that took place Saturday on my blog:
Just before noon today, the Walt Disney World bus fleet was involved in its third accident in 12 days when a bus driven by 81-year-old Fredrick Cassens failed to stop and ran into the back of an SUV driven by 47-year-old Mark Sigman of Ohio. The impact pushed Sigman's SUV into a Disney van driven by 20-year-old Brianna Berry. The Disney van and the SUV had stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of East Buena Vista Drive and World Drive. There were 19 passengers on the bus. Cassens reportedly required medical assistance at the scene, but was not taken to the hospital. There were no other reported injuries. Cassens has reportedly been charged with careless driving.
The fact that two buses have rear-ended another stationary vehicle in less than two weeks raises concern about whether there are problems with either bus drivers or brakes, and I wondered whether there are any changes or testing in the works to address this issue.
"The three incidents are unrelated," Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger told MousePlanet. "It's important to recognize that on an average day, we have close to 300 buses on our property and nearly 250,000 people, including guests, Cast Members and business vendors. That population is similar to Reno, Nevada."
"We constantly review our operations, including our transportation system," continued Finger. "Based on the information provided by the Florida Highway Patrol, we continue to believe our transportation system is safe."
Overall responsibility for the safety of the bus system falls on the shoulders of Jim Vendur, who took over transportation operations from Kevin Lansberry last September in addition to his existing oversight of transportation maintenance, utilities and telecommunications.
An online recruiting notice for Disney bus drivers notes in part that:
It is also the important responsibility of Bus Drivers to conduct vehicle inspections and ensure the safety of our Guests and Cast Members.
A Commercial Driver License (CDL) is not necessary to apply for the Bus Driver role, but will be required if hired into the role.
Rounding out the bus news and following up on the earlier accident, last Tuesday, bus driver Jean Valentin was cited by the Florida Highway Patrol for careless driving in the March 23 crash in which he drove a Disney bus into the rear of a Mears bus that had stopped in the through lane near Epcot to check out a suspicious noise. Valentin and seven passengers were injured in the crash. The fact that the Mears bus was stopped in the through lane was cited as a contributing factor in the crash.
Everyone can save 15 to 30 percent off your room rates for stays from May through mid-August. Rates vary depending on your dates of travel and the resort category at which you are staying.
For any stay from May 2 through August 14, you get some great discounts:
The deal can be booked from now through the day of your arrival. The number of rooms available at these rates are limited. Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World web site (link) or by using code ID6 if booking via the Walt Disney World Reservations phone line (407-939-7515) or through a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
If you're a Passholder, you can get even deeper discounts. Passholders can save 30 to 40 percent off their room rates for stays at Walt Disney World this summer. Rates vary depending on your dates of travel and the resort category at which you are staying.
For any stay from June 3 through August 14, you get some great discounts:
You can book the deal now through your day of arrival. The number of rooms available at these rates are limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals. Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World Passholder web site (link) or by using code KD5 if booking via the special reservations phone line for this offer (407-939-5684) or through a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
The new zero-entry pool at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa is scheduled to open Summer 2011. The new pool location (replacing one of the quiet pools) will feature a 146-foot water slide, an expanded deck, a 1,200-square-foot kids' play area and a quick-service eatery. Image © Disney.
We've received word that the Tower of Terror is not the only attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios that will be receiving enhancements this summer. When the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster closes from May 15 to 20, it will be getting a more interactive queue. Rumors regarding the removal of the Aerosmith theming are running rampant, but we've no confirmation of that at this time. We don't have all the details of what's involved in the queue change yet, but it's possible that the "queue-less line" that was tested earlier as a pilot for the "double Dumbo" queue may return.
The big news, though, is that for the first time Imagineering is going to take advantage of the ability to swap out computer programs and change one of the midway games at Toy Story Midway Mania. We're hearing that—in conjunction with the upcoming Toy Story 3 (coming to theaters on June 18)—the balloon pop game will be changed from Bo Peep and her sheep to Rex and Trixie (the triceratops from the new movie), and will feature a jungle/volcano theme. There is reportedly also some additional scoring information that will be presented to you at the conclusion of the game.
Because the changes to Toy Story Midway Mania only involve changing out computer programs, it is expected that the modifications will be made overnight, and the attraction will simply close one day with the old game and reopen the next day with the new game. That will be very impressive, and will likely indicate that Imagineering will similarly be able to implement seasonal overlays for the attraction overnight.
It's not certain whether those changes will appear at the version of Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's California Adventure, but it would be a reasonable assumption.
The new, upgraded Cantina de San Angel across from Epcot's Mexico pavilion will be Walt Disney World's first flex-service restaurant. The taqueria will provide quick service meals during the day, and convert to table service in the evening. Reservations will be recommended for the table-service hours. The location is currently undergoing an expansion from a 3,500-square-foot, one-level eatery to a 12,000-square-foot, two story structure. The 400-seat waterside eatery is expected to open just in time for the 15th Annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival, which begins on October 1, and will feature indoor, air-conditioned seating and outdoor dining.
Meanwhile, the as-yet-unnamed (my money is on "Naples") 300-seat pizzeria at Epcot's Italy pavilion will also open later this year. Also featuring indoor and outdoor seating, the eatery will feature pizzas and traditional Italian fare cooked in wood-burning ovens themed to Italy's volcanoes. Florentine architecture and vaulted ceilings round out the theming of the restaurant, which will import water whose composition resembles that from Naples, Italy, for an authentic Italian pizza taste.
“Together with the addition of the pizzeria and the extensive refurbishment of the Cantina, we’re expanding the table service restaurant seats in World Showcase by approximately 20 percent,” said Dan Cockerell, vice president of Epcot. “We’re excited about this significant expansion, which will certainly enhance the guest experience and the architectural landscape of World Showcase. The timing couldn’t be better since we will be celebrating our 15th annual Epcot Food & Wine Festival.”
Tickets are expected to go on sale May 1 as usual for this fall's Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party hard-ticketed events at the Magic Kingdom.
Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party will again be held on 25 nights from mid-September through the night after Halloween, running September 3, 8, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28, and 30, October 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, and 31, and November 1. The September 3 start date is the earliest ever, with the Night of Joy event (which returns to the Magic Kingdom this year) moving back one week to September 10 and 11. Tickets prices are not yet available, though it's likely that there will be some advance purchase, Annual Passholder and Disney Vacation Club discounts for selected nights. It's also a good bet that prices will be higher than last year.
Note: The inaugural Wine & Dine Half Marathon takes place on Saturday, October 2, so expect tickets for that weekend (October 1 and 3) to be particularly popular among those who plan to go to Walt Disney World for the race at Epcot. Also, for those planning ahead, the all-but-official second annual MouseAdventure: World Explorers game (link) will take place on October 9 (sign up for the mailing list!), so there are likely to be other adventurers attending the party that weekend. Don't stay up too late the night before the game, though, as exhaustion is not your friend during MouseAdventure, especially since this year's game will take place at Disney's Animal Kingdom!
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party will be held from mid-November to late December, though we don't have those dates yet. As with the tickets for the Halloween Party, prices are not yet available, but there will likely be some discounts for selected nights. A price increase here is also likely.
Southwest Airlines flyers can now take full advantage of Disney's Magical Express service, with a couple of exceptions. According to the Orlando Sentinel (link), the airline, Walt Disney World and BAGS, Inc. have worked out the problems with incompatible computer systems, tested the increased baggage volume, and will clear the airline this week for full service at all Disney resorts except for two.
Passengers on Southwest, the airline with the largest market share at Orlando International Airport (nearly 25 percent of all pasengers), can now check in for their flights and check their luggage at their resort. However, guests at the Old Key West and Caribbean Beach Resorts can not yet participate, as the luggage rooms at the resort are not large enough to accommodate the increased volume of bags to be stored. A project is underway to enlarge the luggage room at Old Key West, and it is likely that a similar project will take place at Caribbean Beach.
The addition of Southwest will allow a much larger number of resort guests to have more free time at their resort or in the parks before they need to leave for the airport, increasing their enjoyment of their trip while simultaneously increasing revenue for Disney. With the ability to bypass check-in lines and avoid carrying their luggage at the airport, this also means that Southwest passengers are more likely to take Disney's Magical Express bus instead of renting a car. In turn, this will make it less likely that guests will leave Disney property and more likely that they will spend the money saved on a rental car at Disney stores and restaurants.
Some new information, as well as some images, have been released about what's in store for guests aboard the new Disney Dream when it sets sail early next year. The first bit of information is about Animator's Palate. When you enter the restaurant, it will look like a classic animation studio, with decor including character maquettes, paint brushes, pencils, and so forth, including sketches from Disney-Pixar's film, Finding Nemo.
As your meal progresses, the walls will slowly change. Bubbles will appear in the artwork, turning the images into windows on an undersea environment. You'll be surrounded by a coral reef and see the reef's residents.
After the transformation is complete, you'll be visited by various characters from Finding Nemo. Crush, Nemo, Dory, Squirt and Bruce will swim by and visit guests in each section of the restaurant, and Crush will interact with guests, asking and answering questions.
There's a special finale moment, but Disney isn't saying what that is yet. You'll have to sail on the ship to find that out.
But wait, there's more cool stuff coming to the Disney Dream! Some of the artwork on the walls of the ship will actually be Enchanted Art. While the pieces will appear to be traditionally framed photos, oil paintings, and so forth, they may actually interact with you when you pause in front of them.
Even better, Imagineers are working on an interactive adventure game that will have you acting as a detective to use the interactive artwork to solve a mystery.
In the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab, there's even more cool stuff. The Imagineers have come up with an interactive play floor that lets kids control the action on the floor with their movements. The floor will even play a role during story time, helping to put kids into the story as it's told.
Disney has finally released images of lots of the merchandise for Star Wars Weekends, and we've got them to share with you. There are new Disney Star Wars Racers, Disney Star Wars action figures and loads of pins. Let's take a look.
First up are the Disney Star Wars Racers. The fourth collection of these die-cast cars features Yoda, a Clone Trooper, a Battle Droid, and Jedi Master Plo Koon. Each vehicle will cost $5.95.
The Disney Star Wars action figures are bound to be popular again this year. Mickey Mouse appears as Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, complete with a translucent green lightsaber. Minnie Mouse appears as Princess Leia in Boushh disguide, complete with helmet, staff, and thermal detonator. Donald Duck will be a bit stiff appearing as Han Solo trapped in Carbonite; he'll come with a staff and the carbonite block. Goofy will take on a golden hue as C-3PO. Pete takes on the guise of Boba Fett, including a helmet, jet pack and blaster. The figures will be released in May at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
For many people, though, it's all about the pins, and this year there will be plenty of them. As is done each year, there will be a special pin created for Passholders and this year will also see a Disney Vacation Club member exclusive pin.
There will also be another collection of individual limited-edition pins, as well as a packaged set and a framed set that will each offer completer pins (the AT-AT pin and Yoda pin below).
A super jumbo pin inspired by the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back will be quite impressive.
But of course there also have to be the unusual, as well. A pin with the image of the R2-MK droid, which will also be available for purchase in three dimensions, will be available, as will a mystery pin set featuring The Muppets as Star Wars characters. Get 'em while you can!
On April 25, I will once again be walking to raise money for the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. My first son was born far too early, and did not make it home from the hospital. My second son was also born too early, but thanks to medication, therapies and treatments developed under grants from the March of Dimes helped him to survive and come home. He's 11 years old now. I want to help more parents to have the experience that I had with my second son, not my first son.
Over the last four years, largely through the generosity of MousePlanet readers, we have managed to raise over $15,000. This year, let's do something special. My personal goal is to raise $5,000 this year. But you can help in more ways than just donating to my walk. This year, for the first time, you can walk with me. Even if you aren't in the Albany, NY area, you can virtually walk with me by joining Team MousePlanet and walking at the March for Babies in your own area. For more information about why I'm walking, or to donate to my walk, please go to my fundraising page (link). To sign up to join Team MousePlanet, please go to the team page (link). Join me and help be a part of saving babies! Let's help to make sure that new parents bring their babies home from the hospital and not to the cemetery.
Here is the listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:
…If you haven't yet had the opportunity to see the Luxo Jr. animatronic perform across from Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios, you're out of luck. It appears that the animatronic has been retired, and there are no current plans to bring him back.
…There's another attempt being made to boost off-hours dining at Walt Disney World. TouringPlans.com is reporting (link) that guests entering Disney's Hollywood Studios since Saturday have been handed a Buy-One-Get-One-Free coupon that can be used for entrees at the ABC Commissary, Backlot Express and Studios Catering Company. However, the coupons are only good before 11:30 a.m. and between 3-4 p.m. each day. This test is expected to run through the end of next week, and will give some idea of whether Disney can boost off-hours dining with an incentive or if guests will eat whenever they want to eat regardless of any discount. This should provide some interesting results.
…Disney is also pilot testing "Extra Dining Hours" at Epcot. From March 28 through April 10, the Coral Reef Restaurant, Garden Grill and Le Cellier Steakhouse will remain open for an extra hour for dinner. If this proves popular, we may see extended dining opportunities at more table service restaurants.
…With the Easter peak crowds swelling, the Adventureland Verandah actually reopened last week for the rest of the visitor surge, under the name Verandah Refreshments. The menu features sandwiches and salads. Whether it stays open beyond the seasonal rush is anyone's guess, but I wouldn't bet on it.
…The Studio Catering Company at Disney's Hollywood Studios has debuted a new menu featuring a veggie sandwich, grilled turkey club, buffalo chicken sandwich, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids. There's also a cocktail bar nearby.
…The menu at the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room at the United Kingdom pavilion has been recently updated. The new menu features such regional English cooking as cottage pies, chicken pies, fish and chips, corned beef sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings, mushy peas and more.
…We mentioned late last year that the Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party would be on hiatus from early January until late March. The party resumed last Sunday, and runs nightly, except for Grad Nites (April 23, 24, 30 and May 1). Cost for adults is $25.99 and children ages 3-9 can attend for $13.99. For more information, listen to the special MouseStation podcast published last Thanksgiving. To make reservations, call the Walt Disney World Dining Line at 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463) or at your Walt Disney World resort. Same day reservations may be available in the park, but are not guaranteed.
…The check-in process for the Disney Cruise Line at Port Canaveral has changed. The security photo is not being taken at check-in, so guests will no longer be directed to Guest Access Photo podiums for their photo and ID check.
…Tickets for D23's "Flowers and Fireworks" event go on sale this Thursday at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. Eastern time). The event, which takes place May 15-16, costs $195, and will feature a beachside cookout at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa on Saturday evening, followed by a private viewing of the Electrical Water Pageant, a presentation on the creation of Walt Disney World's fireworks spectaculars and a private lakeside viewing of Wishes. Sunday's schedule open at the Grand Harbor Ballroom at the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, featuring a continental breakfast buffet and special presentations by Epcot Vice President Dan Cockrell, WDW Park Events Content Development Operations Manager Michael Jenner, Horticulture Manager of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Eric Darden and Twinings Tea's Daniel Wasilick, and will conclude in the evening with reserved VIP seating for Chubby Checker's Flower Power concert and a dessert party at Italy Isola for Illuminations. You can get more information or make reservations (once they open) by going to the D23 Web site (link). Please remember that attendance is open only to D23 members in good standing, plus up to 3 guests each. Park tickets are not included with the price of the event. D23 membership cards must be presented to pick up event credentials.
…This week, Epcot's China pavilion saw the opening of a new merchandise kiosk, Good Fortune Gifts, which combines with the Joy of Tea beverage kiosk to provide sort of a mini-market across from the pavilion. Meanwhile, this fall will see the opening of a new 300-square-foot Givenchy shop at the France pavilion that will be the the only retail location in the United States to offer the full line of Givenchy make-up and skincare products, as well as a large selection of Givenchy fragrances. Small selections of Givenchy perfumes are currently available in The Plume Shop.
…Passholders got a special sneak peek at the new D Street store at Downtown Disney's West Side on Saturday morning. The retail location, now open, features a Create Your Own Vinylmation table, other special Vinylmation merchandise, collectibles, clothing, novelties and more. Many of those who visited recognized display pieces formerly seen at the Adventurer's Club, so it appears that the Club may have left Pleasure Island but some of its decor didn't go far. Passholders receive merchandise discounts at the store.
…Fans of the Kingdom Keepers book series should head to one of two book signings this week with author Ridley Pearson. Pearson will be helping to launch the latest book in the series, "Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow" by signing copies of the books on Tuesday at Once Upon a Toy at Downtown Disney Marketplace from 4-6 p.m. and 7-8 p.m., and on Wednesday at MouseGear in Epcot from 4-6 p.m. Pearson will also sign the first two books in the series, books from the Steel Trapp series and the novels from the Peter and the Starcatchers series. For more information, go to the Art of Disney Parks Web site (link).
…For those who enjoyed my April Fool's Day article last week but didn't realize that the Steampunk series of pins really was a real thing, it's true. The special pin event did take place last Thursday, and the new Steampunk-inspired Disney character pins should now be available at select locations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. For another look at the pin set and the story behind it, check out the story on the Disney Parks Blog (link).
Join our networks
Become a fan on Facebook:
Join our Facebook groups:
Passholders can save 35 to 45 percent off their room rates for stays through June 3. Rates vary depending on your dates of travel and the resort category at which you are staying.
For any stay from now through June 3, you get some great discounts:
The deal can be booked from now through your day of arrival. The number of rooms available at these rates are limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals. Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World Passholder web site (link) or by using code QIJ if booking via the special reservations phone line for this offer (407-939-1303) or through a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
Disney Rewards Visa cardholders can take advantage of an exclusive offer when they purchase a 4-night/5-day Magic Your Way Vacation that includes room, theme park tickets and the Quick Service Dining Plan for most nights between March 14 and August 14. When you purchase the package, kids (ages 3-9) will receive 5-day theme park tickets and the Quick-Service Dining Plan for free. This discount must be booked by April 24. Reservations may be made by using code OD3. Deposit must be made at the time of booking with your Disney Rewards Visa credit or debit card.
The number of rooms available at these rates are limited. To reserve a package, call the Walt Disney World Reservations phone line (407-939-7607) or contact a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
Active and retired U.S. Military personnel can save up to 40 percent on rooms at select Disney resorts for most nights through September 30. This discount must be booked by July 31. Reservations may be made by using code OUQ (room only), OUR (with Quick Service Dining Plan), OUS/OUT (with regular Dining Plan), or OUU (with Deluxe Dining Plan).
The number of rooms available at these rates are limited. To reserve a room with the Military discount, call the Walt Disney World Reservations phone line (407-939-7607) or contact a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
(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.