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Update for November 14 – 20, 2011

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News and Views

Disney begins testing RFID admission media at Epcot | Disney wins four Thea Awards | Exotic Driving Experience releases details | Braves announce spring training schedule | Construction update | Quick takes | Crowd update

Thanks for your patience this week while I recover from MouseAdventure, the Big Bad Voodoo Food-Do To-Do, and all of that traveling. It was great to meet so many of you over the weekend, and I hope to see everyone that I missed on my next trip.

Disney begins testing RFID admission media at Epcot

On Sunday, Disney began a two-week test of its new admission method at Epcot, with some of those arriving to the park getting a Mickey Mouse sticker placed on their admission media. On the back of each sticker was a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag that housed an individually unique code.


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For the test, guests who got these RFID stickers on their admission media (park tickets) were pulled aside into a separate queue. Cast members first scanned the bar code on the back of the admission media, then also scanned the Mickey Mouse RFID sticker to link the two together in the system.

Guests then walked through this special queue, placing their RFID-enabled admission media and fingertip on the sensor units. When the Mickey Mouse head and the ring on sensors flashed green, it meant the admission media was valid, that both the RFID tag and fingerprint matched what was tied together in the database, and that the guest was clear to enter the park.


This is not just a  roll of Mickey Mouse stickers, but are actually radio-frequency identification stickers being tested as part of the new admission system at Epcot. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


A cast member holds RFID stickers in preparation for applying them to park passes. Careful examination shows the silver rings on the back of these stickers, which house electronically encoded data that is unique to every single sticker. RFID tags transmit this information electronically and may be read by an RFID reader/sensor many feet away. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

If an RFID sticker was not properly linked to the system the first time, the sensors did not flash, and another cast member inside the gate rescanned the card and the sticker to link them up together.


A cast member oversees guests as they enter the park using the new RFID system. For a number of reasons, this new system allows far faster admission of guests into the park. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


Even with the introduction of the RFID scanner, the park still relies on a fingertip scanner to conduct biometric validation to prevent abuse of admission media. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


When the Mickey head and ring on the scanners flash, this indicates that the guest has been approved to enter the park. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

The RFID sensors provide a number of advantages. Based on these tests, it appears that Disney plans to replace each entry gate (which currently has two turnstiles) with two rows of RFID sensor stands (four stands on the left and four on the right). As with a previous turnstile-less test back in March, the system can accommodate one guest per stand, meaning the admission gate, which used to bottleneck to two distinctive lines, will now be able to accommodate eight guests simultaneously.

Cast members will be able to easily accommodate those with wheelchairs and strollers (since there will no longer be a physical turnstile or a gate to open and shut), and a single person having difficulty getting their admission media to work will no longer hold up the entire queue, as others can simply walk past him to the next station.

This new system will allow guests much quicker entry to the park when there are large crowds. It will also allow a much smaller cast member to authenticator ratio.

In addition, because RFID tags do not require physical contact with sensors, means less chance for mechanical malfunctions and less wear and tear on the admission gate mechanisms.


The new setup allows guests to move more freely through the entrance area. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

It appeared on Sunday to be working well at getting guests through the turnstile area quickly and efficiently, with there being no real line for admission at those entry points as opposed to the other entry points with turnstiles on the other side of the rope.


Imagineers monitor the new system test. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

We will have to wait to see if the test is successful, and whether it is rolled out on a permanent basis to all four theme parks. Aside from the delay to get the RFID sticker and get it linked to the card, the process was tremendously speedy and efficient. And since newly issued park passes will be RFID-enabled to allow full implementation of this system any time in the future, Disney will not need to perform the additional step of linking tag to card, meaning this process will only speed up in the future.

At this time, the test is only taking place at the left-side entry to Epcot's main entrance plaza, and is scheduled to run through Thanksgiving weekend.

Disney wins four Thea Awards

The Themed Entertainment Association is presenting four Thea awards to the Disney Parks and Imagineers for 2011 at a black-tie gala at the Disneyland Hotel on March 17, 2012. The award for Outstanding Achievement – Attraction Refresh goes to Star Tours – The Adventures Continue at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland park in California, while the award for Outstanding Achievement – Show Spectacular goes to The Magic, The Memories & You at Magic Kingdom park.

The award for Outstanding Achievement – Ingenious Use of Technology is being awarded to something that hasn't launched yet: Animation Magic in the Animator's Palette restaurant aboard the Disney Fantasy, which launches next March. Rounding out the honors is Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, who is receiving the Buzz Price Award for lifetime achievement. Rohde is best known for his roles as executive designer for both Disney's Animal Kingdom and Aulani.

Congratulations to all of the winners.


The former Enchanted Grove has been rethemed and is now called the Cheshire Cafe. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Exotic Driving Experience releases details

A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned that the Richard Petty Driving Experience would get a new corporate cousin at the Walt Disney World Speedway in January, at the time temporarily named "Project Exotic."

The official name has been announced, and more details are now available. Offiically called The Exotic Driving Experience, there are six supercars currently scheduled to be available at the track, with retail prices from $100,480 to $260,000 and driving costs from $199 to $389. Ride-alongs with a professional driver will cost $99. The cars are the Ferrari 458 Italia, Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, Porsche 997 S, and Audi R8. There are plans to add more cars in the future.

The Exotics Course at Walt Disney World Speedway is a hybrid, with some of the existing race track in use, as well as a new interior section which includes a series of fast right- and left-hand turns inside street-course style banners.

The experience open January 16.


Left to right: Scotty Morris and Dirk Shumaker of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy perform during the final show of the Eat to the Beat concert series. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Braves announce spring training schedule

Disney has announced the spring training schedule for the Atlanta Braves at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The Braves will play 18 games at the complex, including three night games. Opponents include the New York Yankees (twice), St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets (three games). Players report to camp in mid-February, and the games start on March 3. There will be three night games this year, one against the Washington Nationals and two against the Houston Astros.

Here's the full schedule:

Saturday March 3 Detroit Tigers 1:05 PM
Tuesday March 6 Washington Nationals 1:05 PM
Friday March 9 New York Mets-SS 1:05 PM
Saturday March 10 New York Yankees 1:05 PM
Sunday March 11 Toronto Blue Jays-SS 1:05 PM
Wednesday March 14 Washington Nationals 6:05 PM
Friday March 16 Houston Astros 6:05 PM
Saturday March 17 Toronto Blue Jays-SS 1:05 PM
Sunday March 18 Baltimore Orioles 1:05 PM
Monday March 19 St Louis Cardinals 1:05 PM
Thursday March 22 Miami Marlins 1:05 PM
Friday March 23 New York Mets 1:05 PM
Sunday March 25 Houston Astros 1:05 PM
Wednesday March 28 New York Yankees 1:05 PM
Friday March 30 Houston Astros 6:05 PM
Saturday March 31 Detroit Tigers 1:05 PM
Sunday April 1 Philadelphia Phillies 1:05 PM
Monday April 2 New York Mets 12:00 PM
*SS - denotes split squad

Individual game tickets go on sale January 7 at all Ticketmaster outlets and at the sports complex box office. Season tickets, group packs and mini-packs are now available by calling 407-WDW-GAME (407-939-4263) or online. There are four separate three-game mini -packs available this year.


The Sunshine Tree Terrace remains open while under refurbishment. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

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 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:

  • Epcot Innoventions – AAA Story Time.
  • Epcot Innoventions – Habit Heroes marquee.
  • Epcot America Gardens Theater stage – general construction.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – electrical work.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Backlot Express – relocation of gas shut off valve.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Safari Village restrooms – replacement of old countertops and sinks and installation of new Corian material.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Kali River Rapids queue – electrical.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom colobus monkey enclosure – construction.
  • Transportation & Ticket Center – metal railing.
  • Blizzard Beach – construction.
  • Typhoon Lagoon – construction.
  • Typhoon Lagoon Crush 'n' Gusher queue building – general construction.
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa main building – mechanical.
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – Projectd 2011-1E - misc scaffold screening.
  • Contemporary Resort main tower, south garden building – doors.
  • Contemporary Resort 1st floor lobby – electrical.
  • Contemporary Resort Convention Center fire suppression – mechanical.
  • Port Orleans Riverside Resort Magnolia Bends south pool, deck, and bulding – general construction.

Quick takes …

…The Magic, The Memories and You castle projection show has had a new holiday overlay, with one of the segments swapped out for a new holiday-themed segment that features holiday tunes and festive imagery. Among other features, the castle is turned into gift-wrapped presents, candy canes and a gingerbread house. If you watch carefully, you may even see Santa Claus and his sleigh fly across the castle. This is just the first of what will be multiple overlays. A "romance" overlay will appear this spring, and another overlay will debut next summer.


Cinderella Castle turns into candy during the new holiday segment of The Magic, The Memories, and You. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.


A "gingerbread" Castle can make you hungry for gingerbread cookies. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

…Walt Disney World has been play-testing the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game in preparation for the official roll-out early next year. Cast members have been play-testing the attraction for Imagineers, activating hidden video screens to do battle with Disney villains. The game uses similar technology to that used in Mickey's Midship Detective Agency aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship, with sensors reading a code on the back side of the card.


A cast member play-tests the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, which will become available to guests early next year. Photo © Disney.


A sample game card for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

…When Disney’s Art of Animation Resort opens in phases beginning May 31, 2012, its food court will include fresh smoothies, hand-scooped gelato and Mongolian barbecue. Its main swimming pool will be the largest outside of Disney’s water parks, and will have an extensive children’s water play area.

…A new character has begun meeting and greeting guests at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Jake, from the Disney Channel show "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," is meeting guests at the Animation Courtyeard and at the DIsney Junior Play 'n Dine and Hollywood & Vine. With Jake moving into the character meals, the characters from the "Little Einsteins" show will be leaving the venue.

…The Disney Resort TV channel for bedtime stories now includes a new story. "Duffy the Disney Bear: Mickey's New Friend" tells the story of how Duffy became Mickey's friend.

…Blink by Wet Seal, a new girl’s clothing and accessory shop, opened last week at Downtown Disney West Side.


Workers in yellow construction vests finish up work on the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, which is scheduled to reopen this weekend. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

…The 2012 version of the Expedition Everest Challenge (a 5K event that also involves an obstacle course and scavenger hunt) takes place on May 5, 2012. No registration date has yet been announced.

…Registration is open for events for the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon (scheduled for the weekend of February 24 to 26, 2012). The Princess Half Marathon is 67 percent full and Kids' Races are 61 percent full.

…Registration is open for events for the Walt Disney World Marathon 2012 (on the weekend of January 5 to 8, 2012), but events are starting to fill up. If you were considering entering one of these, now's the time. As of this week, registration is at:

  • Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge – 93 percent full
  • Marathon – 91 percent full
  • Marathon Relay – 74 percent full
  • Half Marathon – 92 percent full
  • Family Fiesta 5K – 88 percent full
  • Kids' Races – 82 percent full

Crowd update

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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."

Christmas is coming this week to Walt Disney World! TouringPlans.com can help you avoid falling into the typical tourist pitfalls, and will help you avoid the dreaded tour groups, with our per-park Crowd Calendar, Lines - Mobile Wait Times App that gives access to current and estimated wait times for attractions, and Touring Plans detailing the best plan of attack for hitting the attractions. Now more than ever, it's a good time to subscribe to TouringPlans.com to plan your strategy to avoid the crowds!

Below are the predicted resort-wide crowd numbers for select days generated by the TouringPlans professional statisticians as measured for the upcoming week. For the access to the full year and per-park crowd level predictions, visit our Crowd Calendar.

Date Overall
Monday, November 7, 2011 4 / 10
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 4 / 10
Wednesday, November 9, 2011 5 / 10
Thursday, November 10, 2011 6 / 10

Crowds will be moderate this entire week. 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!

  • Expect World Showcase to have dense crowds over the weekend for Food & Wine Festival.
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parties are this week; remember to account for the Magic Kingdom's 7 pm closings on party nights when you're planning your itinerary!
  • Magic Kingdom is one of the Best Parks Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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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Coming up


Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • Mickey's Toontown Fair – closed permanently to make way for Fantasyland expansion.
  • Main Street Fire House – closed; reopens as headquarters for the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive game in early 2012.
  • Swiss Family Treehouse – closed for refurbishment through November 20.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – closed for refurbishment January 9 to April 30, 2012.
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant – closed for refurbishment and moving to Storybook Circus January 9 to February 17, 2012.
  • Liberty Square Riverboat – closed for refurbishment through February 3, 2012.

Epcot

  • Yakitori House – closed through November 15 for major refurbishment. Some of the restaurant's menu will be available for the entire length of the refurbishment from Japan's Food & Wine Festival kiosk, located on World Showcase Promenade.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

  • Fantasmic – is not performed January 5 through February 12, 2012.

Animal Kingdom

  • No known closures.

Resorts

  • Grand Floridian Spa – closed through mid-2013 for refurbishment.
  • Pop Century Resort – repairs of concrete deck at Hippy Dippy Pool through September 28, 2012. The pool will remain open during the work, but some small sections of the pool deck will be closed periodically throughout this period.

Water Parks

  • Blizzard Beach – closed through December 3 for annual refurbishment.
  • Typhoon Lagoon – closed December 4 to March 17, 2012 for annual refurbishment.

Elsewhere

  • Cirque du Soleil La Nouba – performs Tuesdays through Saturdays. The show will not be performed:
    • November 22, 2011
    • January 17 to 21, 2012
    • March 20, 2012
    • May 15 to 26, 2012
    • July 24, 2012
    • September 18 to 22, 2012
    • November 27, 2012

Current Discounts & Promotions

Room-only fall discount

A new room-only discount for fall 2011 has been released. These discounts are available for travel most nights from October 30 through December 23 (except for Thanksgiving week):

  • 15 percent at All-Star Movies Resort and Port Orleans French Quarter Resort
  • 20 percent at other value and moderate resorts, as well as Fort Wilderness Cabins
  • 25 percent at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Polynesian Resort
  • 30 percent at other deluxe resorts, and deluxe villas resorts

You must book this discount by November 19. The rooms available at these rates is limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals.

You can make your reservation through the Walt Disney World website or by calling (407) 939-1917 or your favorite travel agent, and mentioning discount code J5N.

MousePlanet’s preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com, Small World Vacations, and Get Away Today.

Room-only discount for January and February

A room-only discount was released for early next year. The discounts are available for travel from January 2 through February 20, 2012. Guests receive discount rates of:

  • 25 percent at value resorts except All-Star Movies Resort, which is 20 percent
  • 30 percent at moderate resorts except Port Orleans French Quarter Resort, which is 25 percent
  • 35 percent at deluxe and deluxe villa except Animal Kingdom Lodge and Polynesian Resorts, which are 30 percent

You must book this discount by December 21. The rooms available at these rates is limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals.

You can make your reservation through the Walt Disney World website or by calling (407) 939-1917 or your favorite travel agent and mentioning discount code UU7. MousePlanet’s preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link), Small World Vacations (link) and Get Away Today (link).

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 website.

Military ticket offer

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. Blackout dates are December 26 to 31, 2011; April 1 to 12, 2012; and July 4, 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.


Don't keep it to yourself! Send us your news tips, rumors, and comments. Email Mark here.


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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.