Walt Disney World Park Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for November 12 – November 18, 2007

Go directly to: News & Views | Coming Soon | Trivia of the Week | Refurbishment/Attraction Closures | Discounts/Promotions | Park Hours/Park Events/Entertainment Schedule

News and Views

Disney Dining Experience changes | Cinderella's Holiday Wish lights castle | Segway lawsuit | SeaWorld raises prices | Conservation Fund "heroes" | Call for support | Construction update | Quick Takes …

Disney Dining Experience changes briefly alarm guests

An e-mail notice from the Disney Dining Experience Team sent last Friday to all cardholders raised alarm bells with all guests until a follow-up email went out the following day to clarify the situation.

The notice, which started off with news of a change to the method for obtaining membership cards, contained this short paragraph at the end, which raced around the Internet: "We would also like to inform you that the Walt Disney World Resort will be implementing an across property policy change regarding gratuity at all food and beverage locations. Effective January 1, 2008, 18% gratuity will be added to all transactions, regardless of party size. Thank you for your continued support."

Web sites around the Internet buzzed with the fact that 18 percent would be mandatory for all guests at all locations on property. (This was somewhat confusing, especially since Disney Dining Plan manager Chris Morgan told MousePlanet last month that the gratuity was no longer being included with the plan because it "was really giving the option back to the guest … giving them the control of how much they wanted the tip to be, because it was a set amount for every single guest, so it brings it back to the guest which does align with the industry standard of tipping for exceptional service.…")

On Saturday, the DDE Team sent out a follow-up e-mail to clarify the policy, likely in response to the outcry among the Disney fan community, which noted, "When using your Disney Dining Experience membership card the assessed gratuity will be added to all table service restaurant locations and lounges for all transactions regardless of party size. Gratuity will not be added to any counter service, food cart or quick service locations." So the policy only applies to those using the Disney Dining Experience for their transactions, and only at table service and lounge locations, and is just an extension of the existing policy affecting groups of 8 or more.

The reason given for the change is that it "has been implemented in order to align the Disney Dining Experience Program with other dining experiences where gratuities are included." It is uncertain which other dining experiences they are talking about, since the gratuity was removed from the Disney Dining Plan on the same effective date.

Apparently overwhelmed by the barrage of questions that they must have received, Saturday's e-mail also directed any further questions to Walt Disney World Guest Communications, which is better equipped to handle a large volume of incoming communication.

For those wondering about the changes that made up the bulk of Friday's e-mail, Guest Relations locations at the four theme parks and at Downtown Disney (both West Side and Marketplace locations) will now be able to print permanent Disney Dining Experience cards for immediate use. Cards printed at these locations will be printed on paper stock, similar to park passes. Cards can still be ordered by mail and will now take 2-3 weeks to arrive, rather than the former 3-6 weeks. DDE cards ordered before November 11 will take 3-4 weeks for permanent cards to arrive, and temporary cards will be available at Epcot main entrance Guest Relations only.

Cinderella Castle shimmers in its new winter coat of over 200,000 lights. Photo © Disney.

Cinderella's Holiday Wish lights castle

For the last five weeks, Disney Entertainment show producer Rob Hamberg has been leading a crew of 65 in adding 200,000 LEDs and 500 strobes, woven into 32,000 square feet of fishing nets and connected with 15 miles of cables, to the facade of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.

Last night, they were turned on for the guests for the first time.

The castle-lighting ceremony, called "Cinderella's Holiday Wish," features Mickey, Minnie and friends on the Castle Forecourt stage, marveling at the holiday lights along Main Street, U.S.A., and wondering what to do about the darkened castle. The Fairy Godmother suddenly appears and states that Cinderella should decide what to do, since it's her castle. So Cinderella and her prince appear, and they all decide that the castle should sparkle like her glass slippers do. A bit of Disney magic takes place, and the castle lights up as if it were covered with shimmering ice and snow.

Cinderella Castle's new lighting reflects off of the moat in the view from Liberty Square. Photo © Disney.

"For a park aglow in holiday magic, this becomes the new and eye-filling superstar," added Disney Entertainment show producer Rob Hamberg who supervised the weeks-long rigging of the turrets and towers for the light show. "Nothing will rival 'Cinderella's Holiday Wish' for sheer visual spectacle."

The castle-lighting will take place nightly at 5:45 p.m., allowing the show to take place before the park closes to day guests on the nights of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The glittering castle will also support Holiday Wishes and other special entertainment.

The lit castle effect originated at Disneyland Paris in 2005, and came to Walt Disney World with Francois Leroux, who is now vice president of Walt Disney World Entertainment. "We are thrilled to be adding this brilliant new castle spectacle to the holiday festivities at Walt Disney World this season and for seasons to come," said Leroux. "This glistening holiday enchantment creates perfect fairytale magic for this festive time of year."

The new lights have a magical effect at dusk, as well.. Photo © Disney.

Segway suit

Following last month's story about disabled advocate group Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (or DRAFT) pressing Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando to allow those who use Segway personal transporters as mobility devices in place of wheelchairs or ECVs to use them in the parks, there is now a lawsuit jointly filed against Disney by two individuals from Illinois and one from Iowa.

The suit alleges that Disney's refusal to allow them to use the two-wheeled, self-balancing devices in the parks is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are further asking the judge to certify the suit as a class action, potentially opening the suit to the estimated 4,000 to 7,000 disabled people in the country who currently use Segways as their mobility device of choice.

Potentially weighing against the suit is the fact that Segways are not sold as medical equipment, and that the cost of the transporter is not normally covered by health insurance as such.

Disney argues that, while some Disney staff may use Segways, and tours are even given aboard the transporters, Disney controls training on the devices and ensures that the operators are able to handle them before they go out in public. Further, Disney has throttled their Segways to allow a top speed of only 5 miles per hour, versus the 12.5 miles per hour that the standard models are capable of. This would render outside Segways as an even higher potential threat to the safety of tourists in the crowded theme parks.

Advocates for the disabled counter that forcing the Segway users to switch to wheelchairs or ECVs damages their dignity and denies them the right to use the mobility device of their choice.

It may take quite a while to get this situation resolved. In the meantime, weigh in on the topic on our MousePad discussion forums.

Are you coming to MouseFest?

We're just a month away from MouseFest, and plans are firming up! We've had loads of people RSVP, but there's room for plenty more! For more information about MousePlanet's events at MouseFest, check out our MouseFest events page (link) or see who's announced that they're coming on the sticky threads on our MousePad discussion forums (link)!

SeaWorld raises prices

SeaWorld Orlando has finally jumped off of the bench, raising their prices to $67.95 for a one-day ticket. The $3 price hike comes about 11 months after their last hike and three months after the last hikes from Disney and Universal, and still leaves one-day tickets priced below the $71 charged by Disney and Universal. The one-day ticket to SeaWorld, however, comes with a free second day's admission within 7 days of first use. In addition, there's a $10 discount with a 7-day advance purchase.

There are also a number of combination tickets available, from a 2-park admission ticket for SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa that allows unlimited visits for 7 days for $99.95 ($89.95 with 7-day advance purchase) to a 4-park ticket for Discovery Cove, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and the new Aquatica water park (opening in March) for $319 peak/$339 off-peak ($287/$305 with advance purchase) that allows 14 days of unlimited visits to all parks except for Discovery Cove.

Interestingly, there are no Aquatica-only tickets.

The group of parks, until now known as Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks, has also announced a new name, Worlds of Discovery. The new umbrella covers all three SeaWorld parks; both Busch Gardens parks; water parks Aquatica in Orlando, Adventure Island in Tampa, and Water Country USA in Virginia; Discovery Cove and Sesame Place in Pennsylvania.

We now have the answer to what is replacing the Virtual Magic Kingdom shop at the Main Street Cinema. Photo by Cathy Sowa.

Wildlife Conservation Fund honors more "heroes"

The Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund (DWCF) has honored nine more "Conservation Heroes" from around the globe for their contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation in their communities. Each winner and their nominating organization will share a $1,000 award. This year's honorees include:

  • Marchilio Ack (Belize) – currently manages 15,000 acres as a Field Supervisor with the Ya'axche Conservation Trust. He also recruits local hunters, farmers and loggers to become rangers and trains them in biodiversity monitoring techniques.
  • Cynthia Dolaway (Palm Bay, Florida) – coordinates volunteers to track and document whale locations to protect them from collisions with ships, and also innovatively educates the public about the Marine Resources Council. She also volunteers for the Sea Turtle Preservation Society.
  • Jonathan Kang (Cameroon) – is one of the most knowledgeable primate experts in Africa and currently serves as Limbe Wildlife Center's Animal Husbandry Supervisor and Head Keeper.
  • Jealous Mpofu (Zimbabwe) – studies five packs of painted dogs (endangered, wild dogs) as they roam through the 1,100 square miles of Hwange National Park. He has helped PDC break into complex local cultures to successfully initiate local conservation efforts.
  • James Munyugi (Kenya) – recently passed away. He had worked for many years in northern Kenya to establish community conservancies, and was an integral part of saving wildlife across Kenya. He expanded his conservation efforts through the Northern Rangelands Trust and Lewa.
  • Lala Jean Rakotoniaina (Madagascar) – is involved in the conservation of the endangered plowshare tortoise, and has helped organize large festivals in community villages, which integrated traditional culture with environmental issues.
  • Ceisar Riupassa (Indonesia) – co-founded a conservation organization called Yayasan Wallacea and works with Project Bird Watch and the Indonesian Parrot Project to conserve and protect the cockatoos and parrots in the area. He also oversees the operation of Project Bird Watch's Avian Rehabilitation Center, which cares for more than 120 wild birds confiscated from pet-trade smugglers.
  • Arief Rubianto (Indonesia) – has worked to protect two of the world's most endangered large mammals, the Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros, for 15 years. He played a critical role in developing one of the most successful rhino conservation programs in Southeast Asia.
  • Walter Sturgeon (Spring Hope, North Carolina) – who traveled on more than 20 trips to the Arctic to study breeding waterfowl. He has also volunteered thousands of hours on numerous treks across the United States as part of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Operation Migration's ground support crew.

These nine bring the total to 27 Conservation Hereos that have been recognized over the past four years. All told, the DWCF has contributed more than $11 million worldwide to promote the protection of wildlife and their ecosystems.

Many people thought that the old SpectroMen (left) were creepy. Perhaps even more will think that the new SpectroMen (right) are even creepier. Discuss here. Photos by Cathy Sowa.

Call for support: MousePlanet's Stephanie Wien running Walt Disney World Marathon for charity

For the second year, MousePlanet's mailbag editor and staff writer Stephanie Wien is running the Walt Disney World Marathon to help raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Her goal this year is $4,000. She's running in honor of her training mentor and a 9-year-old girl fighting leukemia, and in memory of her grandmother who passed away due to lymphoma.

Steph is more than halfway to her fundraising goal. If you can, please consider supporting her in her run at her fundraising Web site.

Menus wanted!

Want to help MousePlanet upgrade our park guides? We're looking to add menu information for all restaurants to our Walt Disney World Park Guide (link). Send photos or scans of menus (no fair copying from other Web sites) to menus@mouseplanet.com (link). Please note that there is a 5MB limit on total attachments in a single email.

Construction update

This week's listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:

  • Damaged concrete and caulking in the sidewalks around all of the Pop Century and Caribbean Beach Resorts will be repaired or replaced.
  • Storm drains and sanitary lines at the lodge and pool buildings at the Caribbean Beach Resort will get a video inspection as part of the major refurbishment.
  • Walt Disney Imagineering has filed a permit for the Siemens Spaceship Earth Post Show Globe. This is most likely for the special post-ride imaging that we've been hearing about.
  • Imagineering has also filed a permit for the ceiling grid system portion of the ABC Theater refresh over at the Studios.
  • The third and final Imagineering permit application this week is for the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show sign. No word on what work will be taking place there.

Construction work is underway at the Caribbean Beach Resort's marina, perhaps as the first phase of the major pool work that will take much of next year. Photo by Cathy Sowa.

An oil containment boom protects the waterway from the construction site. Photo by Cathy Sowa.

Quick takes …

…The Yak and Yeti restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom opens on Wednesday, but there will be no Advance Dining Reservations for a while. The restaurant is going to be on a walk-up only basis through Thursday, January 3. Starting on Monday, December 3, reservations can be made for January 4 and beyond. Lunch hours will be 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and dinner starts at 4 p.m. Closing time will depend on the day's park hours.

…Disney's Animal Kingdom has a surprise new feature: straws for drinks. The new straws are made of wax-lined paper, and are designed to break down in the digestive tract if swallowed, making them animal-friendly.

…Rayovac batteries will start appearing around the resort, as Spectrum Brands Inc., maker of Rayovac batteries, has signed a three-year agreement with Disney making it the exclusive supplier of batteries at all Disney parks. As part of the deal, Disney will allow Spectrum to use Disney characters to market their batteries.

…MousePlanet contributing writer Maggie Parr has a new series of six original oil paintings and limited-edition giclees being released at Walt Disney World on December 15. Maggie will be there for the debut, signing giclees from 10 a.m. until noon and 3-4 p.m. at Art of Disney in Downtown Disney Marketplace on December 15. If you do happen to go, tell her "hello" from me. The remaining pieces will become available at Disneyland some time around February.

…The Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground have both been designated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as members of the Florida Green Lodging Program. These two latest resorts bring Disney's total to 11 Green Lodges of the 50 throughout Florida.

Raglan Road Irish Pub will no longer be a one-of-a-kind location, as Great Irish Pubs Ltd. announced last week that it would open a second pub next spring in Kansas City.

…Dick Nunis, former chairman of Walt Disney Attractions (now Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) will be inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame on March 29. Nunis spent 44 years at Disney, starting as an assistant to Van Arsdale France in creating the training program for the first cast members at Disneyland.

…The "Backstage Pass" section of the Walt Disney World Web site features a story about the refurbishment of Spaceship Earth through the eyes of Bob Zalk, Senior Show Producer, who worked on the original Spaceship Earth as one of his first jobs at Disney over 25 years ago.

…The giant mouse ears for the new shop at the Contemporary Resort are finally up, and work seems to be just about finished.

Get your MousePlanet gear!

The MousePlanet.com store is now open for business (link)! You can get shirts, mugs, hats and even a Teddy Bear! Check it out and show your MousePlanet pride!

Don't keep it to yourself! Send us your news tips, rumors, and comments. Email Mark here.
Talk about these stories and more on our Walt Disney World discussion forum here.

Coming soon

  • Nov. 11-15. Pirates of Castaway Cay pin cruise.
  • Nov. 12 – Jan. 6, 2008. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
  • Nov. 12 – Jan. 6, 2008. Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade.
  • Nov. 12, 15, 16, 25, 27, 29, 30, Dec. 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
  • Nov. 22, 23, 25. Old Spice Classic.
  • Nov. 23 – Dec. 30. Holidays Around the World.
  • Nov. 12 – Jan. 6, 2008. Festival of the Seasons.
  • Nov. 19-25, 2007 and Dec. 16, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008. DVC members may not pool-hop on these dates.

Walt Disney World trivia question of the week

This week's question: How many miles do Walt Disney World mowers travel each year? Stay tuned to next week's park update for the answer.

The answer to last week's question: "What is the smallest Walt Disney World theme park?", is:

At 135 acres, the Disney-MGM Studios is just slightly smaller than the Magic Kingdom's 142 acres. At 305 acres, Epcot is second-largest, while Disney's Animal Kingdom takes the top prize at 403 acres. (Kilimanjaro Safaris is 110 acres by itself!)

Do you have a trivia question that you'd like to share? If we choose to use your question, we'll give you credit in the Update. Email us here.

Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom


  • Spaceship Earth – closed for refurbishment July 9 – February 18.
  • Tutto Italia Ristorante – is now open, but will close in the spring of 2008 to be completely remodeled, and will reopen in fall 2008 under yet another new name.
  • The Wonders of Life pavilion – has again closed as such, perhaps forever and perhaps just until Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Nine Dragons – closes in early 2008 for renovations that include the creation of an exhibition kitchen. It is expected to reopen in fall 2008.

Disney-MGM Studios

  • Mickey Avenue – closed through at least next spring for installation of the Toy Story Mania attraction and related theming.

Animal Kingdom

  • Yak & Yeti Restaurant – the new full-service restaurant opens November 14, 2007.
  • Yak & Yeti Market – the new quick-service restaurant opens November 14, 2007.
  • Tusker House – closed August 20 – November 17 for conversion to a buffet restaurant with a character breakfast. The restaurant is now taking reservations.
  • Restaurantosaurus – Donald's Breakfastosaurus ended November 5. The McDonald's-based restaurant remains open for lunch and dinner.


  • All-Star Sports Resort – All buildings will be renovated between June 2007 and February 2008.
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge – Construction of the Kidani Village annex building for the Disney Vacation Club's Animal Kingdom Villas is expected to take until spring 2009.
  • Caribbean Beach Resort – Feature pool closed for renovation January 7–mid-September, 2008. Temporary "child-sized" slides will be added to the quiet pools in the Jamaica and Barbados Villages while the main pool is closed.
  • Coronado Springs Resort – Jaguar water slide closed for refurbishment from November 26 – December 14. The Dig Site feature pool and all quiet pools remain open during the refurbishment.
  • T-Rex Cafe – reportedly opens in Downtown Disney in late 2008.

Water Parks

  • Typhoon Lagoon – closed for annual refurbishment October 28 – January 5.
  • Blizzard Beach – closed for annual refurbishment January 6 – March 8.


  • Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba – performs Tuesdays – Saturdays. No performances November 25–27. Will hold special performances on New Year's Eve.
  • Official All-Star Cafe at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex – closed on September 23, and is expected to reopen on November 20 as a quick-service eatery.

Park events are now found in the monthly Park Hours/Park Events/Entertainment Schedule pages

Current Discounts & Promotions

Hotel Royal Plaza offers discounts to MousePlanet readers

MousePlanet sponsor Hotel Royal Plaza, in the Downtown Disney resort area, has enhanced its deal for MousePlanet readers. From now through the end of the year, anyone booking their stay through the MousePlanet Web site has been able to receive discounted rates up to 20 percent off on all room types. Now, for a limited time, you can get even more! The discounted rates now include free breakfast for two in the Giraffe Caf!. Plus children 10 and under always eat breakfast for free! (Two children 10 and under eat free from the kids menu when accompanied by an adult dining from the regular menu.)

The completely-remodeled 394-room resort is located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, just a few minutes' walk from Downtown Disney. Bus service to all Walt Disney World theme parks is included with your stay. Their Giraffe Cafe restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style cafe and Sips Pool Bar are ready to serve you.

We'd like to invite you to try their hospitality!

Passholder, Florida resident discounts announced through end of the year

Disney has released discounted room rates for passholders and Florida residents for the end of September through md-December. Discounts are available for select resorts for most nights from September 30 through December 23. (The nights of November 21-24 and November 30-December 7 are excluded at non-DVC resorts, most likely due to Thanksgiving weekend and the Pop Warner Super Bowl invasion, while only the Thanksgiving dates are blocked at the DVC resorts.) There are two effective rate periods for this discount, with September 30-October 3, November 25-29, and December 8-19 carrying passholder rates of $59 per night in value resorts and $164 per night in a DVC studio. The remaining dates in the promotion period (except for the nights of November 21-24, which have no discounts due to Thanksgiving weekend) have nightly passholder rates starting at $79 for values and $194 for DVC studios. Florida resident rates are $5 higher than passholder rates.

Minimum stay requirements apply for Friday and Saturday arrivals. All rates can be booked up until the date of arrival. Passholders and Florida residents can book via your respective Web sites, by calling your travel agent (Small World Vacations is MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel provider) or by calling 407-560-7277 for passholders or 407-560-7722 for Florida residents.

An interesting twist on this deal is that, for certain check-in dates, you can get a Disney Dining Card with $20-$100 per room with your minimum 2-night reservation. This perk is available for stays with check-in dates between October 21-November 3, November 11-17 and December 9-15. The card can be used toward food & beverage only, and not toward merchandise.

Rooms available at these rates are very limited, and they're going quickly!

For ticket prices, park hours, and entertainment schedules, please go here.

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