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Update for June 27 – July 3, 2011

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News and Views

Al Weiss retiring | Pyrotechnics to light the sky on the Fourth of July | Food & Wine reservations open August 16 | Candlelight Processional narrators announced | Disney Gospel Choir Fest returns for a second year | Construction update | Quick takes | Crowd update

Al Weiss retiring

Al Weiss, President of Worldwide Operations for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, announced last Wednesday his plans to retire on November 1 after almost 39 years with the company. Weiss started out as a teenager and enjoyed telling the story of how he used to do "z runs" in the Magic Kingdom. He worked his way up through the ranks, serving for a number of years as Walt Disney World's President before becoming President of Worldwide Operations when the Parks & Resorts division was reorganized a few years ago.


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Walt Disney Parks & Resort Chairman Tom Staggs released a statement thanking Weiss for his service and wishing him well, noting, "Al Weiss has made a profound mark on Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and the accomplishments and milestones that encompass his legacy are many. He spent his whole professional life with Disney, literally growing up in the company—and most notably serving as an integral part of Walt Disney World through most of its history. That experience enabled him to have a genuine appreciation for and true understanding of all that our cast do, and all that our guests expect. His relentless pursuit of excellence and his passion for the guest experience are unsurpassed, and have been an inspiration to many."

We are hearing that, rather than fill Weiss' position, the division will reorganize itself. Weiss will reportedly leave his current role and work directly with Staggs through his retirement date to help in the upcoming transition.

Weiss sent a message to cast members to thank them and to say goodbye (read it here). Weiss did a great job over the years, and was one of the first Walt Disney World executives to speak with MousePlanet when Walt Disney World began credentialing websites in early 2007. We wish him well in his future endeavors.

Pyrotechnics to light the sky on the Fourth of July

If the Fourth of July is approaching, it must be time for special pyrotechnic displays ("fireworks presentations" to you and me).

What would Independence Day at Walt Disney World be without special fireworks presentations? Special shows are on tap next Monday night at the three parks that show fireworks (pyrotechnics at Disney's Animal Kingdom would panic the animals—not a good choice). Remember that crowd levels will be extremely high, as this is one of the busiest days of the year at Walt Disney World. Parks may close their gates early due to capacity, so you should pick your park for the evening, get there earlier in the day, and plan on not leaving before the show is over.

The Magic Kingdom will probably be the most packed, so Disney presents you with the option of seeing the special show a night early so that you can avoid the park on the Fourth. "Disney's Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky" will paint the sky in patriotic colors at 9 p.m. on both July 3 and July 4. The Main Street Electrical Parade will run at 10 p.m. each night. Park hours on July 3 are 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. (with Extra Magic Hours from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m.), and July 4 hours are 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.

If you catch the show at the Magic Kingdom a day early (or just want to avoid the crowds), you should have more luck getting in to Epcot or Disney's Hollywood Studios. Over at the Studios, the new "Rockin' 4th of July Celebration" features a special fireworks presentation combined with live music from Mulch, Sweat, and Shears at 9:45 p.m. supplements two showings of Fantasmic at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Park hours on July 4 are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with Extra Magic Hours from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.).

Meanwhile, Epcot brings out the big guns to present a special patriotic finale (not to be confused with the "glorious three-hour finale" at MuppetVision 3-D) to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. As Epcot has the largest capacity of any of Disney's theme parks, this is probably your best bet if you're arriving at a park later in the day. In anticipation of the usual huge Independence Day crowds, the park is scheduled to remain open until 10 p.m. instead of its usual 9 p.m., with Illuminations shown at 10 p.m. The show will feature a tag called "The Heartbeat of Freedom," which will feature traditional American themes. Earlier in the day, you can enjoy the Voices of Liberty 4th of July Concert—featuring an expanded cast of singers plus the Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps and Disney characters—on the America Gardens Theatre stage.

If you'd rather watch fireworks from outside the parks (at such popular spots as the beach of the Polynesian Resort for the Magic Kingdom fireworks or the bridge between the Beach Club and Boardwalk Resorts for Epcot), Disney's Animal Kingdom will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (with morning Extra Magic Hours from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.), so you can spend a full day there and still make it to a resort for the pyrotechnic conclusion of the evening.

Food & Wine reservations open August 16

Reservations open at 7 a.m. on August 16 for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival's special event schedule. Events all have limited availability. Here's some of what's coming:

  • First Bites Opening Reception – 6:30-9 p.m., September 29
  • Kitchen Memories, formerly Celebrating Family & Friends in the Kitchen – September 30, October 7, 14, 21, 28, November 4, 11
  • Cheese Seminars – October 1, 8, 15, 22, 29, November 5, 12
  • Sweet Sundays – October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, November 6, 13
  • Food & Wine Pairings – Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Culinary Adventures in Signature Dining – October 6, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 27, 30, November 1, 2, 3, 7, 10
  • “3D” Disney’s Dessert Discovery – October 7, 14, 21, 28, November 4, 11
  • Party for the Senses – now 7:30-10 p.m., October 8, 15, 22, November 5, 12
  • Taste, Shake and Indulge Like the French Grand Marnier Tasting and Interactive Experience – October 8, 15, 22, 29, November 5
  • Epcot Wine Schools – October 9, 16, 23, 30, November 5

If you're looking at the Party for the Senses dates and wondering whether one date is missing, that's not the case., Where will not be a Party for the Senses on October 29.

Candlelight Processional narrators announced

The list of this year's narrators for the Candlelight Processional has been released. This year, Blair Underwood will be narrating on Christmas night, taking over from Edward James Olmos, who had that slot the last three years. This year's narrators include Neil Patrick Harris, Mira Sorvino, Isabella Rossellini, Whoopi Goldberg, and Marlee Matlin. The traditional telling of the Christmas story with a mass choir and 50-piece live orchestra runs from the night after Thanksgiving through December 30 at the America Gardens Theatre at Epcot three times nightly, at 5:00, 6:45 and 8:00 p.m. Here are this year's narrators.

  • November 25-27 – Mira Sorvino
  • November 28-December 1 – Michael W. Smith
  • December 2-3 – Whoopi Goldberg
  • December 4-6 – TBD
  • December 7-9 – Isabella Rossellini
  • December 10-12 – Neil Patrick Harris
  • December 13-15 – TBD
  • December 16-18 – TBD
  • December 19-21 – Trace Adkins
  • December 22-24 – Susan Lucci
  • December 25-27 – Blair Underwood
  • December 28-30 – Marlee Matlin

Candlelight Processional dining packages will go on sale some time in July. We'll let you know as soon as we have the date. The popular dining packages provide a prix fixe dinner at Epcot's table service dining locations and guaranteed seating for the Processional. We're hearing that it will also include pre-arranged fireworks viewing this year.

Disney Gospel Choir Fest returns for a second year

Gospel choirs from across America will compete in the second annual Disney Gospel Choir Fest on Saturday, September 10, at Epcot for a chance to perform at Magic Kingdom during the Night of Joy 2011.

The festival showcases performances throughout the day followed by an awards ceremony. Each choir receives a special Disney Gospel Choir Fest Award for participating.

A panel of EMI record executives will judge the choir performances and select the winning choir, which then takes center stage in the Magic Kingdom for a live performance for Night of Joy celebrants.

Here's a video featuring last year's winners, the University of Oregon's Gospel Singers:

Choirs can register at the Disney Gospel Choir Fest Web site.

Send us your menu photos!

We've recently completed a major update of the park restaurant menus from Walt Disney World. Click on the "Dining" section from our Walt Disney World Guide to see the list. Please help us keep the menus up to date! Send photos or scans of park menus to menus@mouseplanet.com to help us keep our listings updated!

Construction update

Here is the listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:

  • Magic Kingdom Swiss Family Tree House water wheel – general construction.
  • Epcot Pin Central – electrical work.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Prop Shop – roof coating.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safaris lion chill plate – mechanical and electrical work.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Tamu Tamu Refreshments – replacement of rusted gas line.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Theater in the Wild green room – mechanical work.
  • Downtown Disney Marketplace Disney Days of Christmas – electrical work.
  • Downtown Disney West Side Cirque du Soleil restrooms – general construction.
  • Downtown Disney West Side Orlando Harley Davidson – voice, data and CCTV wiring and setup.
  • Contemporary Resort east side guest rooms – plumbing work.
  • Beach Club Resort fire alarm panel – electrical work.
  • Boardwalk Resort Big River Grille – HVAC modifications.
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge construction trailer compound – electrical work.
  • Coronado Springs Resort – elevator rehabilitation.
  • Port Orleans French Quarter Resort green garden playground – general construction.
  • All-Star Sports Resort Stadium Hall – electrical work.
  • Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista (Downtown Disney Area Resort) merchandise location – audio and electrical work.

Quick takes …

…If you'd like to meet Flynn Rider at the Tangled meet-and-greet in the Magic Kingdom, get there before the end of this week. We're hearing a rumor that the rogue will be abandoning Rapunzel to help provide a faster throughput for the location. It seems Disney would like to get a higher guests-per-hour count. Perhaps as Rapunzel approaches her formal induction into the Disney Royal Princess Court, she no longer needs Mr. Rider to draw the fans.

…The new Phineas and Ferb play-and-greet at Disney's Hollywood Studios extends its hours beginning this Sunday, July 3 with the location opening at 10:00 a.m. instead of 10:30 a.m., and closing at 7:00 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m. There will still be an afternoon quiet time between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. At the same time, hours for the Monsters, Inc. meet-and-greet location at the Studios park will shift an hour earlier. Mike and Sully will be available beginning at 10:00 a.m. instead of 11:00 a.m., and the location will close at 5:15 p.m. instead of 6:15 p.m. The denizens of Monstropolis will still take a break between 2:40 and 3:40 p.m.

…The Cars 2-themed meet-and-greet location, called The Winner's Circle, finally opened on Friday. Lightning McQueen & Tow Mater meet and greet fans throughout the day.

…Fantasmic will be performed twice nightly between July 2 and July 30. On July 31, it returns to a once-nightly schedule through September 30, except for September 2 and 27, when there will be no performances.

…SHAG's 40th anniversary collection of Walt Disney World merchandise is now on sale at stores throughout the resort, and will become available today via mail order. For images from the collection by artist joSH AGle, check out last Tuesday's post on the Disney Parks blog. To contact Walt Disney World Mail Order to buy your own merchandise, you can call toll free at 877-560-6477 or contact them via email.

…Walker Digital, LLC, is suing Disney for patent infringement over technology used in the PhotoPass service. Walker Digital claims that their patent (No. 7,924,323) is being infringed because PhotoPass allows Disney's PhotoPass photographers "to pre-program the system to transmit later acquired images when certain conditions are satisfied," which was one of the core technologies in the patent. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware on June 17. The patent was issued on April 12 of this year. Walker Digital's chairman is Jay S. Walker, best known as the founder of Priceline.com. We'll have to see how this one comes out.

…We're hearing a rumor that 'Ohana will be trying group seatings in early August (four seatings per night). The walk-up policy may change at that time, as well.

…The Fantasyland Skyway station appears to be almost entirely down.

…This year's Indianapolis 500 champion, Dan Wheldon, visited Walt Disney World with his family last Wednesday and they served as grand marshals in the daily Disney Dreams Come True Parade in the Magic Kingdom. Check out the video of his visit below:

…Among the attractions that will be open during the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon after-party are Soarin’, Test Track, Mission: SPACE.

…Registration for the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon opens next Tuesday on the Wide World of Sports site.

…Registration is now open for all races during the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend of October 1. Sign up now for the Half Marathon, Half Marathon Relay, Disney Family Fun Run 5K, and Disney Kids' Races. Registration for the individual half marathon is now 87 percent full, and the half marathon relay is 61 percent full. Kids races are 63 percent full.

…Registration for the events for the Walt Disney World Marathon 2012 (on the weekend of January 7) is now open. Note: Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge is now 79 percent full.

Crowd update

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Crowd information and forecasts are provided by TouringPlans.com, the Web site of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, to help you better plan your trip to the Walt Disney World Resort. TouringPlans.com gathers wait time data from a team of in-park researchers and users of their Lines mobile phone application, and then predicts crowd levels for the next 365 days. Using a scale from 1 to 10, TouringPlans.com has a 90 percent accuracy of predicting the crowds to within 1 point, helping visitors prepare for their trips so they can "Do more. Wait less."

 

Expect high crowd levels all week long as we head into the July 4th weekend. Due to these increased crowds, now is a great time to subscribe to TouringPlans to let us help you avoid the crowds!

Below are the predicted crowd numbers generated by the TouringPlans professional statisticians as measured for the upcoming week. Because choosing the least crowded days to visit, but not having a good plan of attack for avoiding crowd concentrations is like ordering Diet Coke with three Big Macs, we highly recommend that you follow a Touring Plan.

You can now access these Touring Plans on the go with our Lines Mobile Wait Times app!

 

Date Overall
Monday, June 27, 2011 10 out of 10
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 10 out of 10
Wednesday, June 29, 2011 8 out of 10
Thursday, June 30, 2011 8 out of 10

As indicated at the outset, crowds will be very high this week as vacationers descend upon Walt Disney World Resort for the Independence Day holiday. Check out the Disney World Park Crowd Levels page on TouringPlans.com for park-specific predictions and recommendations on which days to visit and avoid particular parks!

  • The Magic Kingdom is never our Park to Avoid this week.
  • The Magic Kingdom is the Best Park on Saturday and Epcot is the Best Park on Sunday!
  • Expect extremely heavy crowds, in the 9-10 range, over the holiday weekend.

See Disney World crowds for the next 365 days.
Get Disney World wait times on your iPhone, Android or smartphone.
Do more. Wait less.

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Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • Mickey's Toontown Fair – closed permanently to make way for Fantasyland expansion.
  • Main Street Fire House – closes July 10.
  • Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management – closed since January 13, due to a fire. Expected to reopen with its original, classic show on August 16.
  • Fronterland Shootin' Arcade – closed for refurbishment June 8 to September 30.

Epcot

  • No known current refurbishments.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

  • Voyage of The Little Mermaid – closed for refurbishment August 13 to September 3.
  • Cars 2 meet-n-greet near MuppetVision 3-D – now open.
  • Lightning McQueen replaces Herbie the Love Bug at Lights, Motors, Action! – begins later this summer.

Animal Kingdom

  • Primeval Whirl – closed for refurbishment through September 14, 2011.
  • It's Tough to be a Bug! – closed for refurbishment August 15 to September 30.

Resorts

  • Saratoga Springs Resort – Paddock Leisure Pool closed through June 29 for expansion into a new feature pool, wet play area, and quick-service eatery. During the renovations, the Paddock bus stop and laundry facility will also be closed. Guests can use the High Rock Spring pool near the Carriage House or the leisure pools at Congress Park or The Grandstand. Nearby bus stops can be found at The Springs, Congress Park and The Carousel. Alternate laundry facilities are located at The Springs and Congress Park.

Water Parks

  • Blizzard Beach – closes for annual refurbishment October 30.

Elsewhere

  • Cirque du Soleil La Nouba – performs Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Current Discounts & Promotions

Free dining returns

Last week, a two-tiered free dining package was announced for Disney Visa Rewards cardholders, and the package becomes available to the general public today. The free dining plan is available for stays August 28 through September 24. The deal includes lodging, base Magic Your Way passes (you can upgrade them with any of the available add-ons), a 20-page Disney's PhotoPass Photo Book, and the free dining plan. Additional pages may be added to your Photo Book, at standard cost, if you wish.

If you choose a Value resort for your stay, you'll receive the free Quick Service Dining Plan (two quick-service meals and two snacks per person per night, plus one resort refillable drink mug per person). If you'd prefer to stay at a Moderate, Deluxe, or Deluxe Villa Resort, you'll get the free standard Disney Dining Plan (one table- service meal, one quick-service meal, and one snack per person per night). Those at Value resorts can upgrade their Quick Service Dining Plan to the standard plan for the difference in the plan's cost. The dining plans do not include gratuities or alcoholic beverages.

One thing to note here: Since these dates are already within the 180-day booking window, some table-service restaurants might already be booked solid. Don't count on having the ability to book any specific restaurant without checking first. Of course, if dining is the most important part of your trip, you can book your dining reservations first to lock in your favorites, then find a resort for those nights. You can always cancel the dining reservations if you can't get a resort for those dates.

You can book through August 27 while availability lasts, but reservations may go fast. The discount codes for the Disney Rewards Visa package are I25 for Value resorts and O2M for Moderates and above. The codes for the general public were not available at publication time.

Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World website, by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-7211, or your travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com and Small World Vacations.

New room-only discount for late summer/early fall

If your travel dates don't quite link up with the free-dining promotion, or if you'd rather get a room-only discount and buy your food yourself, you're in luck. A new room-only discount has been released for Walt Disney World stays Sunday through Thursday nights during the period from August 14 through October 1, 2011. Rates start at $69 per night for Value resorts, $129 for Moderate resorts, $189 for Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Wilderness Lodge, and $209 for Disney's Saratoga Springs and Old Key West Resorts. Note that these rates are not available for Friday and Saturday nights.

The offer does not includes suites or three-bedroom Grand Villas. Some other restrictions apply and the number of rooms available is limited. You can book your reservation now through August 13.

Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World website, by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-7837, or your travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are Small World Vacations and MouseEarVacations.com.

Passholder discounts released for summer

Walt Disney World has announced a new set of passholder discounts for stays through mid-August. The discounts provide 20 percent-35 percent off for stays most nights through August 13. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney's Polynesian Resort are excluded for all date. Passholders will save 35 percent at Deluxe Villa resorts, 30 percent at Deluxe resorts, and 20 percent at Moderate and Value resorts.

Passholders can book through the day before arrival. Beware, though as rooms may go fast. The number of rooms available at these rates is limited. Suites and three-bedroom Grand Villas are not included. An adult passholder must show their pass at check-in. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals.

Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World passholder website, by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-7414, or your travel agent and using booking code QT9. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com and Small World Vacations.

Passholder merchandise discounts extended through 2011

Walt Disney World passholder merchandise discounts have been extended through the end of 2011. Epcot After 4pm, Weekday Select, Seasonal and Annual Passholders get 10 percent off purchases at selected locations, while Premium Annual Passholders (including bicoastal Premier Annual Passholders) get 20 percent off. The discount is available at Walt Disney World-owned and operated shops, but not those stores owned by "operating participants" (third-party stores). The discount is also not valid on a long list of products, and can not be combined with other discounts, offers or promotions. For a full list of what is not included in this discount, check out the Art of Disney Parks Web site.

Military ticket offer

From now through September 28, 2011, active and retired U.S. military personnel can purchase 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with either the Park Hopper or Water Parks Fun and More option for $138 per ticket, plus tax, or with both the Park Hopper and Water Parks Fun and More options for $165 per ticket, plus tax. No Base ticket is available with this offer.

The tickets expire and may not be used after October 1, 2011. The tickets may not be used at the Magic Kingdom on July 4, 2011.

Disney has stated that the offer will be extended through September 2012, but as of press time the Walt Disney World website has not been updated to reflect this.

Eligible service members include active or retired members of the U.S. military including the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reservists. Disney Military Promotional Tickets can be purchased at Shades of Green or at a participating military base (MWR/ITT) office. There is no tax charged for these tickets but they must be activated at a theme park ticket window. Tickets may also be purchased at Walt Disney World Park Ticket Offices and Guest Relations Offices where tax will be charged. No more than six tickets may be purchased by any eligible member of the U.S. military (or their spouse, but not both) for themselves, family members, and friends, and all tickets must be purchased at the same time. If the immediate family has more than five dependents, additional tickets may be purchased for the dependents, however, additional tickets for guests may not be purchased. Valid military identification is required. The tickets are non-transferable and may not be resold.

The tickets may be upgraded to Seasonal Passes or Florida Resident Weekday Select Passes (for Florida Residents), or Annual Passes, Premium Annual Passes, or Disney Premier Pass with credit toward the upgrade based on the actual price paid. The no-expiration option and other upgrades, such as additional days, are not available.

For complete information regarding Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets, military personnel may call 407-939-7830 or participating U.S. military base ticket offices.


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(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.