Walt Disney World Park Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for January 28 – February 3, 2008

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

News and Views

Nintendo park guide | More Leibovitz photos | Everest Challenge | DCL death lawsuit | Slow road to Hollywood | Construction update | Quick Takes …

Nintendo DS-based park guide testing underway

Walt Disney World is testing a handheld, interactive park guide based on the Nintendo DS game system. Guests at the Magic Kingdom are being chosen randomly to try the system out and then report back on their experiences at the end of the day.

An interactive park map shows you where you are and helps you to find the best way to your destination. It'll also show you the wait time at any attraction or menu at any restaurant. That's not all, though, as the "Disney Magic Connection" will also tell you where your favorite characters will be appearing in the park that day.

You can select which attractions you'd like to visit, and the device will make recommendations on where you should go next, based on your list and the current wait times.

Bored while standing in line? The device also has interactive games. There's a Fantasyland Trivia game that's available immediately, and then attraction-themed games that are only unlocked when you're in the queue for that attraction. Those games are based on Space Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

MouseStation podcast listener Mary Tesch and her family were selected to try out the device, and wrote in with this story:

Our children enjoyed trying out something new and it made us look at the Magic Kingdom in a different way. It even showed us to the nearest restrooms when necessary, and surprised me when I didn't know where the nearest one was myself on one occasion. When we turned in our unit, our 2 children were each given a pin and we were given 4 certificates for free 5x7 photopass photos. These included a code so we could order them from home rather than making a decision about which photos we wanted immediately.

If any of our other readers get to try out this device, we'd love to hear about it.

Third set of Annie Leibovitz photos released

Disney is hitting the accelerator on their marketing to upscale clientele, rolling out the third set of Annie Leibovitz celebrity photos less than three months after Round Two. The first set of photos debuted at the International Press Event at Walt Disney World in January 2007, featuring Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella, David Beckham as Prince Phillip and Beyonce, Lyle Lovett and Oliver Platt as Alice, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. The follow-up set, released last November, featured Rachel Weisz as Snow White, Roger Federer at King Arthur, and Julie Andrews and Abigail Breslin as the Blue Fairy and Fira from "Disney Fairies."

"Where a whole new world awaits": Aboard their genie-powered magic carpet, Jennifer Lopez (Jasmine) and husband Marc Anthony (Aladdin) soar through the Arabian night. Complete with Whoopi Goldberg (Genie) pushing them among the stars, the two images comprise a dream scene straight from a magic lantern. Images provided by Disney.

This third group of photos features Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony as Jasmine and Aladdin, with Whoopi Goldberg as the Genie. Jessica Biel appears as Pocahontas and Giselel Bndchen, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Tina Fey as Wendy Darling, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell.

"Where you never have to grow up": Surprise marks the "you can fly" moment as a mesmerized Gisele Bndchen (Wendy Darling) is beckoned by Mikhail Baryshnikov (Peter Pan) and Tina Fey (Tinker Bell) to fly off over the rooftops of London to Never Land. Image provided by Disney.

Special inserts with the images will appear in the March issues of select Cond Nast publications such as Cookie, Conde Nast Traveler, Details, Glamour, GQ, Men's Vogue, New Yorker, Self, Vanity Fair, Vogue and W.

"Where dreams run free": Actress Jessica Biel, portraying the brave Native American "Pocahontas," stretches her legs and runs with the colors of the wind in a scene reminiscent of Disney's classic animated film of the same name. Image provided by Disney.

Below are a couple of promotional videos prepared by Disney on the photo shoot and the entire series of portraits.

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!

Disney launches Everest Challenge

Walt Disney World has added another race to their endurance series, this time positioning another after-hours event in a park that closes early so that the race can still take place in daylight.

The Expedition Everest Challenge, a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) foot race at Disney's Animal Kingdom, is scheduled for September 27. In this case, it's not just a straight race, though. First, Disney promises, "surprises along the way may pose as obstacles on the team's trek." Trek? What trek? "The team needs to earn all of the stamps in their Expedition Passport to conquer the challenge" and "only a few will escape the Yeti, known as the abominable snowman!"

Registration will either be $100 per individual or $195 per two-person team. The event page references a "solo trek," but it's uncertain at this time whether it will be a different competition or just the same competition with separate rankings. Packet pickup will be the day before the race, and registration opens February 15.

Participants in the Everest event will get a Champion Tech-Shirt, a 3-month trial subscription to Men's or Women's Health magazine, a commemorative inaugural finishers medal, admission to an exclusive after-hours party at Disney's Animal Kingdom and a 1-day, 1-park ticket. The entry price appears to be a bit steep compared to a similar race. Last year's Tower of Terror race participants paid $65 for the 13K and $40 for the 6.5K, which also included an after-party.

At a $71 value, the park ticket certainly explains the high event price, but it's questionable as to how many folks are going to find it beneficial. Since most people will be planning at least a few days around the race for a vacation, the incremental cost of one day at a park is much lower, at best the 1-day ticket would have a value of much less than face value, especially if the rest of their park pass is a park-hopper. Upgrading the included ticket to gain the $71 value of the ticket toward their longer-length park pass is not an option, either. Promotional passes carry no value and can't be upgraded. Also, many of the runners will have annual passes anyway, and will have no use for the ticket other than using to bring a friend along for one day.

It appears that the only people who will have a solid benefit from the free park pass will be those who do not have annual passes, and plan to only visit the parks one day during their race weekend visit. That's got to be a very small minority. We'll have to wait and see what the response is to the event, both in registration and in after-the-event review.

What do you think? Let us know.

Work continues on the building that Disney still won't officially confirm as a DVC resort adjacent to the Contemporary Resort. Photo by Steve Russo.

These will eventually be rooms with a view of Seven Seas Lagoon. Photo by Steve Russo.

Woman sues DCL over husband's death

A New York woman has sued the Disney Cruise Line over the death of her husband due to injuries suffered during one of the Disney Magic's Mediterranean cruises last summer. Marilyn Piazza has alleged that the death of her husband was directly related to a poorly designed bathroom threshold and poor, inadequate and delayed medical treatment.

According to the lawsuit, Santo Piazza, 78, tripped on the threshold of the bathroom in his cabin, falling heavily on his right side onto the bathtub. He immediately went to the ship's infirmary, where he was given Tylenol and sent on his way. Later that day, after vomiting and experiencing severe pain and shortness of breath, he returned to the infirmary where he was then diagnosed with fractured ribs and a punctured lung, requiring immediate evacuation and hospitalization. This incident occurred on July 28, the first day of their 11-night cruise.

The suit says that it took five hours before the Magic altered its course toward Cagliari, Sardinia, and that the ship's crew eventually put Santo Piazza in an inflatable raft and traveled to the port through eight miles of choppy waves, causing more injuries. He died 17 days later, on August 14.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Orlando, names Magical Cruise Co. Ltd. and Disney Cruise Vacations as defendants. Those are the cruise line's official parent corporations.

Hollywood taking its time

Disney-MGM Studios may now be officially called Disney's Hollywood Studios, but not all of the signage has made the switch yet. Steve Russo has sent along some photos on the progress of the migration.

The park's name has officially been changed, and the MGM name is officially gone. Photo by Steve Russo.

Signage at the BoardWalk Villas has been updated for the change. Photo by Steve Russo.

The resort bus stops have the new name. Photo by Steve Russo.

Even Epcot's got the new name listed. Photo by Steve Russo.

Package pickup signs at merchandise locations in the park are still in the past. Photo by Steve Russo.

Signs at Studios bus stops are so last year. Photo by Steve Russo.

Charter buses are also living in the past. Photo by Steve Russo.

Even the park's marquee attraction is caught in a time warp. Photo by Steve Russo.

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:

  • More security cameras will be installed at Disney's Old Key West Resort, Contemporary Resort and Pop Century Resort.
  • The elevators in Building 8 (Boca Chica) of the Grand Floridian Resort will have some electrical work done. Meanwhile, a permit has been filed for a temporary transformer for use in tile demolition during the second floor rehab on the main building's lobby.
  • The exterior outriggers will be replaced on Building 2 (Aotearoa) at the Polynesian Resort.
  • Concrete repairs will be done on the sidewalks and pool decks of both pools at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
  • A deck anchor and dual handrail will be installed at the pool steps chair lift at Port Orleans French Quarter's Doubloon Lagoon pool.
  • Power is being installed to support an ice cream freezer at Goofy's Candy Shop in Downtown Disney Marketplace.
  • New drainage is being set up at the Main Street Train Station.
  • Twelve columns will be replaced at the Main Street Exposition Hall.
  • Some more electrical work is being done at the gazebos at the hub to the east and west of the castle plaza.
  • Demolition and repair will be done in the tunnels under Tomorrowland.
  • Curbing and concrete will be replaced on the Fantasyland Bridge.
  • Fixtures and sales counters at Sir Mickey's in Fantasyland will be changed out.
  • Steelwork is being repaired at Blizzard Beach's Teamboat Springs.
  • The popcorn cart in Africa at Disney's Animal Kingdom will be expanded.
  • The Soundstage 3 touring bridge at Disney's Hollywood Studios will be widened, most likely in conjunction with the construction of Toy Story Mania.
  • Work will be done to prepare the Millionaire and Monument restrooms for reopening at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Quick takes …

…Were you and your kids planning on catching the Hannah Montana 3-D concert movie while at Walt Disney World, but worried that it might sell out? It may not be necessary to get your tickets too far in advance or allow for going to an alternative show time, though the one-week run is already starting to sell out shows. While presale tickets at the AMC Pleasure Island 24 at Downtown Disney have sold out one Friday night 7:30 show and two Saturday afternoon shows at 12:45 and 3:00, an additional theater has been added for each of those show times.

…The Steve Harvey Radio Show honored Disney Vacation Club Jim Lewis as an "Influential African American" earlier this month. The segment on the show highlights significant African American business and community leaders who have achieved success through hard work and determination. Harvey co-sponsored the Disney's Dreamers Academy, which wrapped up last week.

…According to the Orlando Business Journal, the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop in Downtown Disney Marketplace will be receiving a makeover. Cuhaci & Peterson Architects LLC is preparing the documents for the work, which is expected to be done by March. In addition to a chocolate tower to the roof, flat-screen televisions on the building exterior and signage updates, there will be a complete renovation of the soda fountain area.

Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage reopens today after a monthlong renovation that sees the addition of character from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny and Little Einsteins, among others.

…The Animal Kingdom Villas construction work at Jambo House (the main Animal Kingdom Lodge building) is scheduled to be finished by tomorrow. Work will continue on the Kidani Village annex. [See our Jambo House villa photo tour.]

…While there's still nothing of any substance to the Rix Lounge Web site, the new upscale lounge at the Coronado Springs Resort has sent out a press release announcing three events. This Sunday, they'll be hosting a Super Bowl party, starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, February 14 will be the lounge's official Grand Opening, featuring DJ AM. Tickets are $30 in advance. (Call Wil Torres at 321-239-7580.) Thursday, February 28 will be a "White Party." Tickets are not yet on sale for that one.

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

  • January 29, February 2, 5, 9, 14, 22, 26, March 1, 6, 11, 14. Disney's Pirate & Princess Party.
  • February 1-3. UDA National Dance Team Championship.
  • February 8-10. National High School Cheerleading Championship.
  • February 15-18. Twirlmania.
  • February 23-24. Cheer & Dance National Championships.
  • February 29-March 2. Cheer & Dance National Championships.
  • February 29 - March 2. ESPN – The Weekend.
  • February 27 - March 29. Atlanta Braves Training Camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • Splash Mountain – closed for refurbishment January 1–February 17.
  • Snow White's Scary Adventures – closed for refurbishment January 28–February 15.
  • Liberty Square Riverboat – closed for refurbishment February 24–March 1.


  • Spaceship Earth – closed for refurbishment February 9–14, 2008. Currently in soft opening status; may close at any time for any (or no) reason.
  • American Adventure – closed for refurbishment, including replacement of the stage curtain and related tapestry and hardware, January 7 – February 3.
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment – closed for refurbishment January 28–February 24. The ImageWorks Kodak "What If" Lab will also be closed during this time.
  • Tutto Italia Ristorante – is now open, but will close in the spring to be completely remodeled, and will reopen in the fall under yet another new name.
  • The Wonders of Life pavilion – has again closed as such, and most likely will only be used as a Festival Center until a new sponsor is found.
  • Nine Dragons – closes April 30 – November 30 for renovations that include the creation of an exhibition kitchen.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

  • Journey Into Narnia: Creating The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – closed for refurbishment and likely conversion to a Prince Caspian theme, January 2 – May 23.
  • Mickey Avenue – closed through spring for installation of the Toy Story Mania attraction and related theming.

Animal Kingdom

  • No known current refurbishments.


  • 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. Jambo House construction is expected to be complete by January 29, 2008.
  • Caribbean Beach Resort – Feature pool closed for renovation January 7–mid-September. Temporary "child-sized" slides will be added to the quiet pools in the Jamaica and Barbados Villages while the main pool is closed.

Water Parks

  • Blizzard Beach – closed for annual refurbishment January 6 – March 8.


  • Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba – performs Tuesdays – Saturdays.
  • T-Rex Cafe – reportedly opens in Downtown Disney in late 2008.

Current Discounts & Promotions

Hotel Royal Plaza offers discounts to MousePlanet readers

The Royal Plaza in the Walt Disney World Resort, in the Downtown Disney resort area, offers a special deal for MousePlanet readers. Anyone booking their stay through the MousePlanet Web site will receive discounted rates up to 20 percent off on all room types. 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 Caf restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style caf and Sips Pool Bar are ready to serve you.

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

Passholder, Florida Resident discounts available through March 6

Annual Passholders and Florida residents can take advantage of discounted room rates from now through March 6. From now through February 13, with the exception of Martin Luther King weekend, passholders and Florida residents can stay at value resorts for as low as $49 per night, moderate resorts for as little as $99 per night, or a deluxe villa resort starting at $149 per night. (All rates in this article do not include tax.) Deluxe resorts are also available. Passholders should use booking code FHJ, while Florida residents should use code FHN.

Rates are a bit higher for stays most Sunday through Thursday nights from February 18 through March 6. Value resorts run $79 per nights, moderates are $139 per night and deluxe villas are $249 per night. Passholders use booking code FIE, Florida residents use code FIU.

Note that the number of rooms available at these rates is limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. No group rates or other discounts apply. Adult Annual Passes or proof of Florida residency must be shown at check-in.

In addition, from now through February 29 Florida residents can get a Disney Play 4 Days Pass for $34 off the normal price. The pass gives you four admissions to any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, one park per day, for $125 plus tax. The pass is valid for six months from first use.

The Disney Play 4 Days Pass is available for purchase by phone at 407-WDW-4DAYS (407-939-4329). They're also available at Walt Disney World theme park ticket windows and Resort hotel locations, Florida AAA offices and Florida Disney Stores. Proof of Florida residency is required.

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.