April Fools Redux

by Brian Bennett, contributing writer

Back on April 1, 2002, I wrote an update piece that was completely and totally intended as an April Fool's Day joke. You might recall that in the months following the 9/11 attack, Walt Disney World had a whole series of service cutbacks. Many of those cutbacks have remained in place and not been restored, even to this date! Instead, Disney took advantage of the downturn in tourism to instill some permanent cost-savings measures.

I am going to repeat the entire piece today for two reasons. First, I want to point out some of the fun (and frankly) great ideas that I had in that piece. Second, I want to expand on that by playing a little game of "if I were in charge of Imagineering for Walt Disney World and controlled the purse strings to make it all happen at the same time." We'll see where that takes us.

First, April Fool's Day, 2002:

Before we jump into our regular mailbag, I wanted to make note of a few things that are going on at WDW right now.

I just received word that Walt Disney World has eliminated all of the cutbacks that were implemented last fall! Not only have park hours been extended, but Early Entry was reinstated as of today. Free valet parking is now again available at all of the premium resorts.

Live entertainment, which had been severely cut back in October and November, has not been reinstated to it's previous levels, but has actually been increased!

Live entertainment is now scheduled at all parks throughout the day. "Streetmosphere" characters are currently in rehearsal for Main Street (several turn of the twentieth century characters including "Uncle " from the Carousel of Progress), Frontierland (Davey Crockett and Mike Fink), Adventureland (several characters including tribesmen, archeologists, and a safari party), and continuous walk-around characters in Fantasyland! Epcot, the Studios, and Animal Kingdom all have additional "Streetmosphere" characters being casted, too. In addition, each resort will also feature daily, themed entertainment (including each of the All Star Resorts!) that will supercede the Character Caravan program (which was not as popular as Early Entry, but which many guests did enjoy).

Port Orleans Resort Riverside will be opening to full capacity over the next two weeks. Port Orleans Resort French Quarter will be reopening for before Memorial Day and will be operating throughout the Summer. Also, my sources report that the temporary closure was much less successful (financially) than had been expected, so no future such shut downs are planned.

Bonfamille's and Ariel's restaurants have reopened with daily character meals featuring characters from The Aristocats and The Little Mermaid. A new full-service restaurant is being constructed in Adventureland, in the location where the Adventureland Veranda used to be. In the evenings, the new ala carte restaurant, expected to be open by July 4th, will feature a continuous show of Polynesian dancers (similar to the Luau over at the Polynesian Resort).

Construction on four new E-Ticket attractions has already commenced:

Indiana Jones and the Pyramid of the Amazon features a ride through an ancient South American ruin. Three- dimensional animation, a six-axis ride system, and live-action characters will interact with guests as they tour Indy's latest archeological dig.

A new pavilion in World Showcase, "Our Heritage," will spotlight the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Babylon, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Aboriginal Australia. The pavilion will include a food court featuring cuisine from all of these ancient cultures (similar to the Millennium Village of a couple of years ago, but much expanded). In addition, a simulation ride based on Soarin' over California from Disney's California Adventure, will feature a thirty minute birds-eye tour of each of those ancient civilizations (remember Aladdin's magic carpet ride with Jasmine in the movie when they ended the night watching fireworks in China? same idea here...)

Over at the Disney-MGM Studios, some brand-new technology will be unveiled in "Lights, Camera, Mystery!" In this attraction, guests will walk through a series of scenes and interact with various characters as they try to solve a classic mystery based on Sherlock Holmes, Jane Marple, Perry Mason, and even some more recent TV sleuths like Dick Van Dyke's crime solving Dr. Mark Sloan. Depending on what questions you ask and what things you learn as you work through the attraction, you may be able to solve the case.

Over at Animal Kingdom, Atlantis will be reborn. In a 232 acre development, Disney's Imagineers are creating the ultimate salt water attraction. Real aquatic life will be on view, of course, and an in-depth "Atlantis Discovery" program will allow guests to actually interact with many of the most friendly critters. The ultimate attraction, though, is a visit to Atlantis... just moments before the ancient city is submerged into the watery depths. Guests will escape the city just in time to get aboard a submarine that returns them to today's civilization — after a great tour of the city and the creatures that now inhabit it.

These new attractions are slated to open in 2004-07 (one each year) as Walt Disney World finally puts the pressure on the competition in Central Florida.

One other major announcement! Construction on a spectacular new WDW resort was recently announced. The Russian Resort, slated to open in 2004, will double as both a new national pavilion for Epcot's World Showcase as well as Walt Disney World's first in-park resort. The waterway that now stretches between the China pavilion and the African Trading Post will be restyled into the Moskva River with a representation of the Kremlin and Red Square for guests to explore. A simulator ride taking guests on an incredible sight-seeing tour of Russia (including visits to St. Petersburg, Moscow, the Black Sea resorts on the Crimean Peninsula, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and other sights). A blast off on a Russian Rocket at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and visiting Space Station Alpha will conclude the ride. Resort rooms promise to be the most strongly-themed WDW rooms ever! Rooms will be made up to be reminiscent of royal rooms in the Grand Kremlin Palace, Terem Palace, Palace of Facets, Teremnoy Palace and Patriachs Palace. Included in the resort plans is a museum that will house visiting displays from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg including some of the famous Faberge eggs that were commissioned by the Romanov Czars.

"April Fools!"

You know, the funny thing about that piece is that I got some of the nastiest e-mail from unhappy readers. One lady in particular was so angry when she realized that the entire piece was nothing but a joke that she told me that she would never read any of my MousePlanet writings ever again. To this day, I don't know if she's ever forgiven me.

Fortunately, in the last five years, some of those cutbacks have been reintroduced. There has been a nice increase in Streetmosphere characters at the studios, and a larger number of other characters at the other parks. It's not at all uncommon to see characters in the hub at the Magic Kingdom, around World Showcase Lagoon's promenade in Epcot, and at the entrance to Animal Kingdom—and the kids seem to love it! In addition, Port Orleans is back to normal, of course, and the Pop Century Resort finally opened — at least half way.

There have also been some new attractions in the last five years:

  • Soarin', at Epcot, has drawn huge crowds.
  • The Nemo overlay of Epcot's Living Seas (and Turtle Talk with Crush)
  • The new "Nemo the Musical" show at Animal Kingdom, which has been well-received
  • The blockbuster Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom.
  • Stitch's Great Escape!, which has taken over Alien Encounter at the Magic Kingdom
  • Monster's Inc. now operates a comedy club in Tomorrowland.
  • Mission: Space is open (while Wonders of Life is closed)
  • Figment made a comeback in the Imagination Pavilion
  • Kids can play with Pooh and friends at the 100 Acre Wood play area
  • Mickey's Philharmagic provides a fantastic 3-D experience with many of the classic Disney characters in Fantasyland.
  • Crush 'n' Gusher is Typhoon Lagoon's new water roller coaster
  • The Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show is the newest attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios (Walt Disney: One Man's Dream and the Journey Into Narnia: Creating The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe display attractions have been added in the last few years, too, but they are hardly blockbusters worth more than a passing mention.)
  • Finally, The Three Caballeros have taken over El Rio Del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot.

So it hasn't been a horrible five years at all. In fact, many of those new attractions (even the less popular ones) have provided some fresh fun to Walt Disney World. On the other hand, I would not call more than a couple of the items on that list a bonefide blockbuster. Certainly Mission: Space and Expedition Everest qualify, but most of the rest of the list is just ongoing maintenance to attractions that, prior to be refreshed a bit had become stale indeed.

So I applaud the improvements! May they continue! I just think that it's sad that Walt Disney World's highest profile construction right now consists of yet more hotel rooms at three different Disney Vacation Club construction sites a new Western Way motel of sorts, and Four Seasons resort not owned by Disney.

Instead, Jay Rasulo (the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts) should concentrate on bringing on a new Indiana Jones-attraction for the Magic Kingdom! Please give Epcot a new World Showcase country or two. Allow the Studios (whether you call it Disney-MGM, Disney-Pixar, Pixar Animation, or whatever) to add some of those already-Imagineered Muppet attractions now that Disney has purchased the franchise. Bring Beastly Kingdom to Animal Kingdom—that is, if you don't like my Atlantis idea.

I wonder what we'll see at Walt Disney World come April of 2012?