What's blue, animated, and coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom? If you answered the Smurfs, you haven't been plugged into the Disney Internet community this week. Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced a deal last week to bring the universe of James Cameron's Avatar to Disney's theme parks. Now, the big question is whether re-creating the world of Pandora will counteract the steady drift of visitors to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando.
Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time (by far both domestically and internationally), was not noted for a depth of plot or memorable characters but rather its immersive environment, as moviegoers returned to theaters again and again to visit the idyllic world of Pandora. The eight-foot-tall Na'vi, the humanoid inhabitants of Pandora, were inextricable intertwined with their environment—and the utopian environmentalism of the movie is a good fit for the environmental message of Disney's Animal Kingdom.
MousePlanet's Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix attended the press event, and blogged her thoughts last week.
There has been much online debate on the deal covering a variety of topics:
There is no doubt that Disney has a treasure trove of available stories—from Disney, Pixar, Touchstone, and Marvel film studios—however, none of them actively jump out as being a different environment that people really want to spend time in. If Disney focuses on the plotline of the movie, they will run into many difficulties with the subject matter. On the other hand, if they concentrate on just reproducing the environment of Pandora and immersing people into it, they may well tap into the same reaction that caused debates about "post- Avatar depression syndrome" when the movie was in theaters. Disney has certainly been working on many immersive and interactive technologies; this may be the opportunity to bring them all together. The options are innumerable: riding through the evening bioluminescent environment of Pandora, an attraction riding an Ikran through the skies, eating a meal beneath the Tree of Souls, a store offering plush Pandoran creatures.
Where will the new land go? There are really two main possibilities. There is a huge tract of land between Africa and Asia, which was the rumored location for the Australia area. The other alternative is a smaller area behind Camp Minnie-Mickey that was originally slated for use as the legendary Beastlie Kingdomme. The Beastlie Kingdomme area would be somewhat ironic, as part of that area was formerly used for the Pocahontas-themed show and meet-and-greet (Avatar's storyline has frequently been compared to Disney's Pocahontas).
One point lost in much of the discussion is that the remaining two movies will explore different locations within the universe of Avatar, providing other potential environments to exploit within attractions. In addition, since the first of the sequels is still in pre-production, it would be in both Disney and Cameron's best interests for Disney's story brain trust to help guide Cameron's development of plot and memorable characters for the two additional films in order to better draw visitors to the park-within-a-park.
But will it counter the diluting influence of Universal's newest attractions, especially with a new Transformers-based attraction on the way and an addition to Potter in the offing? Probably not entirely. The landscape of the theme park industry in Central Florida has been irrevocably changed, and Disney will never again be the only resort with immersively themed environments. However, there obviously were a large number of people who wanted to visit Pandora, spending nearly $2.8 billion to see the movie in theaters. While Avatar made $760 million domestically—more than 25 percent beyond Cameron's Titanic, the number two movie—the movie made over $2 billion internationally, over 60 percent more than Titanic (also the international runner-up). If this new land can provide an alluringly immersive environment, it can attract a significant number of those who saw the movie, including the much-sought-after foreign visitors.
Of course, all of this is speculation. Ground won't even be broken until 2013. The Avatar sequels don't open for another three and four years, and the new land isn't expected to open until 2016. We've got perhaps five years of debate ahead of us.
What do you think of this deal? Join the heated debate on our MousePad discussion forums.
Parking at the Magic Kingdom has just had a change of character. The days of parking in "Minnie 42" are no more. The parking areas have been renamed to a "Heroes and Villains" theme. Not only will the two sides of the lot get opposing themes, they reportedly will now also use separate tram loading areas. The Heroes sections will be named Woody, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Simba, Mulan, and Rapunzel, while the Villains areas are Zurg, Jafar, Hook, Scar, Cruella, and Ursula. The lots will also be color-coded.
The change is reportedly because people had trouble remembering which dwarf or duck parking area they were parked in. Now, instead of remembering a character name, you can remember either a character, a color, or hero/villain. Let us know what you think of this change in the comments thread below!
Back in April, Jeff Kober talked about new interactive experiences at Walt Disney World, including some that had not yet appeared. The Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game has since been announced, and now we are hearing that the new interactive game at Disney's Animal Kingdom that he mentioned is now undergoing play testing. The game appears to be themed on Wilderness Explorers from the Disney-Pixar movie Up. A report on the play testing has been posted over at DaMouse.com. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments thread below.
Do you want a chance to meet Walt Disney World Resort Update editor Mark Goldhaber? There's a fun event coming to Walt Disney World this fall. Join Mark on Sunday, November 13, at 4 p.m. through park closing for the Big Bad Voodoo Food-Do To-Do. The meet will kick off at the World Showcase side of the Odyssey Restaurant bridge, and Mark will provide location updates during the event via Twitter and Facebook in case you want to join later on.
We'll wander the last day of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, sample cuisines from around the world, and pause to watch each of the three performances by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (one of Mark's favorite groups) at 5:15, 6:30, and 7:45 p.m. on the final day of the Eat to the Beat concert series. After the last performance, we'll get one last snack, secure some international desserts, and then find a place to enjoy the evening's performance of Illuminations.
You can RSVP on Plancast, or by email. You can also just show up, but if Mark can snag some swag from the MouseAdventure goodie bag, he'll want to have enough for you! We'll select a starting point for our adventure in another month or so, so watch the Plancast plan or this page for that information. You can also follow @MPMark on Twitter for updates on November 13 if you want to join the group later on in the day.
Calling all with a spirit of adventure!
Are you ready for MouseAdventure: World Explorers III? The third iteration of the scavenger hunt/puzzle quest/race through Walt Disney World's parks takes place on Saturday, November 12 at Disney's Hollywood Studios (the game has been going on at the parks of the Disneyland Resort for more than 10 years now). Do you think that you know Disney's Hollywood Studios? We bet you don't know them as well as you think you do. Test your wits against those of our puzzle masters. For more information, check out the MouseAdventure information page and sign up now.
While the free trick-or-treating at Downtown Disney has gone away, there is a new paid Halloween night option outside the parks. The Mickey's Backyard BBQ area at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground will be decked out for an unlimited buffet and dance party with Disney characters. But the event is only two hours long, from 5-7 p.m., so you'll need to get your eating and dancing and character photos (and trick-or-treating) done in that time.
The buffet includes baked chicken, barbecued pork ribs, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, coleslaw, baked beans, cornbread, watermelon, and frozen treats. Beer, wine, lemonade, and iced tea are also included. The event costs $50.99 for adults and $29.99 for children ages 3-9. You can make reservations for the event online, by calling the WDW Dine Line at 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463), or at any Guest Relations or Guest Services location.
Aulani—A Disney Resort & Spa opened at Ko Olina on the island of Oahu in Hawaii on Thursday with much fanfare. MousePlanet's Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix was there to cover the event, and will have coverage here on the site in the coming days. For a look at the opening ceremony, check out the video below.
In addition to celebrating its opening, Aulani is also celebrating the restart of sales of interests in Aulani's Disney Vacation Club lodgings. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Disney has received approval from Hawaiian state regulators to resume sales following a 33 percent increase in annual dues. Sales resume in other states once they individually approve the new consumer disclosure forms.
The starting annual dues are now $5.73 per point, instead of the $4.31 per point originally charged. The accounting and procedural errors that caused the issuance of the original dues rate eventually led to the firing of three Disney executives, including former Disney Vacation Club President Jim Lewis. DVC members who purchased their interests at the lower dues rate will receive a dues subsidy to maintain their original dues rate relative to the official dues rate, similar to that granted to early purchasers of Disney's Vero Beach Resort.
If you'd rather visit Hawaii by sea, Disney Cruise Line has just announced a second cruise to Hawaii aboard the Disney Wonder, sailing October 14, 2012, from Los Angeles. The 14-night itinerary includes eight days at sea, as well as stops at Kahului (on Maui), Nawiliwili Harbor (on Kauai), Honolulu, and Hilo, on the Big Island. The cruise also includes a stop in Ensenada, Mexico. Rates start at $1,800 per person for a standard inside stateroom. Check out the Disney Cruise Line website or contact your travel agent.
Send us your menu photos
Click on the "Dining" section from our Walt Disney World Guide to see our complete list of of the park restaurant menus from Walt Disney World. Please help us keep the menus up to date! Send photos or scans of park menus to email@example.com to help us keep our listings updated.
Here is the listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:
…This weekend will be extremely busy at Walt Disney World, with the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival opening on Friday, Walt Disney World's 40th Anniversary on Saturday, and the Wine & Dine Half Marathon on Saturday night. Be prepared for crowds.
…The Walt Disney World Christmas Parade will be recorded on Friday, December 2, and Saturday, December 3. If the sessions are rained out or otherwise interrupted, the rain date is scheduled for Sunday, December 4. No word yet on any special performance-watching opportunities as there has been in the past.
…The lake at Downtown Disney will be filled with waterborne competitors on October 15, as the Walgreens Orlando International Dragon Boat Festival takes over the waterways. Teams will be staged at Downtown Disney West Side on the grassy areas behind Cirque du Soleil and House of Blues. Dozens of teams will be participating in the regatta, and the racing lanes will run between the West Side and the far end of the Marketplace near Cap'n Jack's Restaurant.
…MousePlanet sponsor Small World Vacations has a new discount available for group Adventures by Disney bookings of 15 or more people. Check out their website for more details.
…Registration is open for events for the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon (scheduled for the weekend of February 24 to 26, 2012).
…Registration is now open for all races during the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend of September 30 and October 1. Sign up now for the Disney Halloween 5K. Registration for the individual half marathon, the half marathon relay, and the kids races are now full. The 5K is 94 percent full, and the Finish Line Party post-race event is now 66 percent full.
…Registration is open for events for the Walt Disney World Marathon 2012 (on the weekend of January 5-8, 2012). Note: Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge is now 86 percent full. The Marathon is 70 percent full, the Marathon Relay is 56 percent full, the Half Marathon is 68 percent full, the Family Fun Run 5K is 53 percent full, and the Kids' Races are 51 percent full.
Crowd information and forecasts are provided by TouringPlans.com, the website 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."
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A free dining offer has been released for Walt Disney World for dates through 2012. From now through October 29, guests can book free dining packages for select arrival dates from October 2, 2011, through March 31, 2012.
The 2011 dates run from October 2 through December 17, with breaks for Columbus Day week, PGA Tournament week, Veteran's Day week/Jersey week, Thanksgiving week, and Pop Warner week. Available arrival dates are:
2012 dates run from January 8 through March 31 (the end of Disney's second fiscal quarter), with blockouts for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday week, and several popular spring break weeks. Available arrival dates are:
Package eligibility is based on arrival date and is valid for the length of the reservation, so if you arrive on the last day before a blackout period and stay through a blackout week, you'll still have the free dining package for the length of your stay. Conversely, if you arrive on a Saturday that is the last day of the blackout, you will need to make a one-night reservation and then book the free dining package starting on your second day, during the availability period.
Guests staying at value resorts will get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free, and guests at moderate or deluxe resorts will get the standard Disney Dining Plan for free. As with all packages, park tickets must be part of the package. Packages are available for a minimum of 3 nights and a maximum of 14 nights.
No group rates or other discounts apply. The offer excludes suites, campsites and 3-bedroom villas. Advance reservations are required. The free dining plan excludes gratuities and alcoholic beverages. Children ages 3–9 must order from children’s menu if available. Some table service restaurants may already have limited or no availability.
You can book through October 29 while availability lasts, but reservations may go fast. The discount codes for the package are D3X for Value resorts and J4J for Moderates and above.
Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World website, by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-1880, or your travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com and Small World Vacations.
Walt Disney World has announced a set of passholder discounts for stays from mid-August through the start of October. The discounts provide 20 to 35 percent off for stays most nights from August 14 to October 1. As with the summer deal, 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, but be aware that rooms may go fast, as 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) 939-7643, or your travel agent and using booking code Y3H. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com and Small World Vacations.
Walt Disney World has announced a set of passholder discounts for stays from the start of October through the end of 2011. The
discounts provide 30 to 40 percent off for stays most nights from October 3 through December 24, with a Thanksgiving blackout period of November 23-25. Passholders will save 40 percent at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts and 20 percent at Moderate and Value resorts.
Passholders must book by September 4. Be aware that rooms may go fast, as 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) 939-5696, or your travel agent and using booking code W4K. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com and Small World Vacations.
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 website.
From now through September 28, 2012, 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 September 30, 2012.
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.
(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.