Walt Disney World Park Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for February 11 – February 17, 2008

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

News and Views

"American Idol" | Rebuilding Treehouse Villas | Dream CMO finalists | Save on park passes | StormStruck | A personal appeal | Construction update | Quick Takes …

"American Idol" to move into Studios

You won't see introductions from Ryan Seacrest or critiques from Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, or Randy Jackson, but American Idol is coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios later this year. Last Thursday, it was announced that the hit television show would be the basis of a new theme park attraction.

Guests will be able to "audition" for theme park producers to try to be cast in the show. If selected, after working with a vocal coach and getting hair and make-up done, they will perform for a live audience and a panel of judges. Guest performers with the highest votes during the multiple shows during the day will compete in a grand finale show at the end of the day for the grand prize, a guaranteed reservation for a future regional stadium audition for the televised version of the show.

How guests will be selected to audition or to participate in the show is not clear yet, but there's plenty of time to work out the details. The show is scheduled to debut in "late 2008" in the theater that formerly housed shows like Superstar Television and Doug Live!

The new American Idol attraction will be located in the former Superstar Television theater. Image © Disney.

The last attempt at an attraction based on a television game show was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!, which debuted on April 1, 2001, at the height of the show's popularity. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire first ran on TV on August 16, 1999. Soon after the attraction debuted, then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner decided that it would be great to run the show four times each week in prime time. The TV show died of overexposure following its June 27, 2002 broadcast. A syndicated version started on September 16, 2002 and is still running. The attraction soldiered on until it closed for good on August 19, 2006. We'll see if Idol can last longer than Millionaire.

The theater is located next to the Sorcerer Hat courtyard. Image © Disney.

Disney rebuilding Treehouse Villas; to become a DVC resort?

Walt Disney World is surprising many by doing what nobody thought was possible: Upgrading and replacing the Treehouse Villas. For years, whenever anybody asked about the Treehouse Villas, the response was always that Disney couldn't do anything to repair or replace them because they were too close to the flood plain; while they were grandfathered in and could continue to operate as they were, no major construction work could be done on them because of their location.

How can they do this? The details have started to emerge in a permit application filed with the South Florida Water Management District by the Reedy Creek Improvement District (Disney's governmental arm) for a "Tree House Rehab" (follow this link to view the PDF of the application).

This image from the permit application shows the original profile of the Treehouse Villas. Note the large downstairs area that makes up a one-bedroom unit.

It seems that they have come up with a way to redesign the treehouses so that they have an even small footprint on the 100-year flood plain while simultaneously increasing the square footage of the second floor. The application states: "Disney is proposing to dismantle & remove the existing 'Treehouse' units and replace them with new structures. Because the footprint of the existing structures lie within the 100yr flood plain, the proposed structures that will have a foot print that is smaller than the existing footprint thereby decreasing the current floodplain encroachment." The new structures will have a minimum finished floor elevation at least one foot above the 100 year - 3 day peak stage. There would be no changes to the pool area, clubhouse or roadway linking the villas.

This image from the permit application shows the proposed new profile of the Treehouse Villas. Note that the downstairs bedroom is gone, and only the main support column, plus the additional support posts, remain in the footprint. Also note that the upstairs of the villa is much wider.

So if they're not changing the support facilities, how would the villas have any kind of amenities? Well, it seems that the Treehouse Villas were included in the property of the Saratoga Springs Resort, according to the site plan given to Disney Vacation Club members who bought into that resort. By making the Treehouses part of Saratoga Springs, that would allow for guests to make use of the facilities already in place and remove the need to build more facilities on the flood plain. How the theming would be matched to Saratoga Springs remains to be seen. The distance of the Treehouses from the rest of the resort may pose a transportation problem, as it's unlikely that visitors without cars would be given golf carts to get back and forth as they once were. Of course, the unusual floor plan of the new Treehouses—as well as their unique location and profile—would appear to require a separate room category, so it's possible that the alternate transportation arrangements would be built into the cost for the room.

What will the new villas look like? According to the "typical floor plan view" included in the permit application, it looks like there will be one master suite with a king size bed and a master bathroom, two smaller bedrooms with one queen size bed each, and a living room that might have a sleeper sofa and/or a sleeper chair. The other bedrooms and living room will use a second bathroom. There will also be a laundry room near the entrance to the villa and a kitchen in the center of the villa. The dining area would be right inside the front door.

This image from the permit application shows the proposed new layout of the Treehouse Villas. The black dots represent support posts. The support posts under the villa are at approximately the location of the original villa's exterior walls. This shows how much larger the new villa is.

The only remaining question would be how Disney would be able to avoid any issues regarding inaccessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The original Treehouses were grandfathered under the ADA because they were built before the Act went into effect, but with the amount of work required to convert the Treehouses to the new footprint, it's unlikely that they would be granted a waiver. There's no place for an elevator in the footprint (unless they create one or two units that have an unusual footprint to allow for an elevator in the support column). We'll just have to wait and see how that works out.

This closeup of the above image gives a better look at the proposed new floor plan of the villas. The master suite is to the left, the other bedrooms are at the top, and the living area is to the right. The kitchen is largely over the support column, with the dining area near the door. An additional set of table and chairs has been set up on the deck. Note that there appears to be no method of handling access for the disabled.

Apparently, the College Program and International Program cast members were moved out of the villas before the end of the year, so Disney could start work as soon as all final permits are in place. If anybody happens to be floating down the Sassagoula River from the Port Orleans Resorts to Downtown Disney, please let us know if you see any signs of work starting.

Kudos to the folks at MouseOwners.com and DVCNews.com for being the first to spot the permits. The story at the DVCNews.com link has a nice color-coded enhancement of the floor plan to make it easier to see the room breakdown.

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!

"Dream CMO" finalists notified, MousePlanet readers in the mix

You've spent the time on writing your script, filming your scenes and editing your video. You've considered how you're going to answer the questions on the application and tried (again and again) to submit your video for consideration. Then you waited and waited for that e-mail to come. And now, it's time.

Finalists for the Disney Chief Magic Official position have been notified. Thus far, we know of at least two MousePlanet readers who have made the cut. Check out the winning videos from Justin M and DisneyDD2! If you've made the cut, send us e-mail or post to the thread on our forums!

A new way to save on park passes through MousePlanet!

You may have noticed the "Walt Disney World Tickets" link in the left-hand column under the navigation bar and wondered what that was about. Now that all of the "i"s are dotted and the "t"s are crossed, we can finally let you in on the secret.

MousePlanet is pleased to announce an alliance with Orlando Fun Tickets, the premier discount ticket broker in the Orlando area. We've had earlier offers from other ticket brokers to promote their services to our readers, but we weren't impressed enough with their services or sufficiently convinced of the benefit to our readers.

You'll hear a little more about them in the coming weeks, but here's a little bit about them, which will give you an idea of why we have hooked up with them.

Orlando Fun Tickets generates over 700,000 admissions to Orlando each year. They manage Fortune 500 corporate accounts for the Walt Disney World Corporate Program. They don't work with time-shares or vacation ownership companies, and are an officially contracted wholesaler for Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World.

What's more, right now Orlando Fun Tickets is running a special, limited-time offer where you can buy a 3-day Park Hopper and get a free upgrade to a 5-day Park Hopper Pass. Check out the special offer or any of the other great prices on tickets at OrlandoFunTickets.com!

"StormStruck": new exhibit to "strike" Innoventions this summer

There be strong winds ahead! Late this summer, guests at Innoventions will experience what it feels like to be in severe weather while they learn about the associated risks and ways to protect their home in an interactive and entertaining setting. Special effects will simulate a hurricane in "StormStruck: The Tale of Two Homes." The new exhibit will be sponsored by RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd., WeatherPredict Consulting Inc, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc., State Farm and Simpson Strong-Tie.

The exhibit is designed to showcase risk-mitigation technologies that will help people to protect their homes from severe weather.

Neill Currie, Chief Executive Officer of RenaissanceRe, said: "Understanding severe atmospheric hazards and vulnerability has been central to our business since our founding. It has been a natural extension of our philosophy, over time, to increase our focus on developing loss mitigation technologies, not only to reduce the severity of the financial impact of storms on our clients, but ultimately to enable people to make themselves, their families and their businesses safer. We are delighted to join forces with our partners in the StormStruck experience to share important information on how to protect communities from severe weather storms."

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.

A personal appeal, for the third year

On April 27, I'll be walking to raise money for the March of Dimes again. The March of Dimes mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. Last year, through the generosity of friends, family, co-workers and MousePlanet readers, we managed to raise $4,025. This year, let's beat that. Let's see if we can raise $5,000. I think we can. For more information, or to donate, go here.

Construction Update

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

  • Cinderella's Golden Carousel will be repainted from the roof deck down to ground level, and rotten boards on the Carousel deck will be replaced. No closure dates for this refurbishment yet.
  • The existing partitions, water closets and floor tile will be replaced at the Pinocchio Village Haus restrooms.
  • Exterior wooden stairs at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon will be replaced.
  • The Chapeau Shop in the Magic Kingdom will be getting new lighting.
  • Signs will be repainted at the Transportation & Ticket Center ticket booth area.
  • Two non-compliant access ramps at the Magic Kingdom Care Care Center will be replaced.
  • The Reflections of Earth laser booths and spotter locations will be upgraded at the Canada, Mexico and American Adventure pavilions with automated window openers and remote consoles.
  • Imagineering filed two new permit applications this week, both at Spaceship Earth; one is for an information graphic kiosk, while the other is for a fire protection sprinkler package.
  • The Animation Arch at Disney's Hollywood Studios is having some additional structure added to support its new signage.
  • An existing planter and surrounding hardscape will be demolished near the Festival of the Lion King's theater.
  • The canopy, supports and stage deck will be replaced at the Pocahontas and her Forest Friends show.
  • Shade structures and Warming Hut restrooms at Blizzard Beach will have their existing wood shake roofs replaced with new Titan synthetic shake roof assemblies.
  • A new sidewalk is being installed at the Winter Summerland Golf Course.
  • The wall and wall bays in the Magic Room will be replaced at the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney.
  • Traffic flow and Landscape improvements will be made at the Contemporary Resort.
  • The main pool at the Polynesian Resort will have a deck anchor for a chair lift and a new dual handrail at the pool steps installed.
  • Four exterior post signs will be installed around the main building at the Grand Floridian Resort.
  • A flue will be installed through the ceiling and roof for a pottery kiln at the Boardwalk Resort. No further word at this time what it will be used for.
  • Three HVAC units will be replaced and a chilled water line will be installed at the Beach Club Resort's main building.
  • The kitchen floor at the Yachtsman Steakhouse will be replaced. No word on how this will affect operations.
  • A section of sidewalk that is cracking beside the basketball and tennis courts at the Saratoga Springs Resort will be removed and replaced.
  • Temporary lighting will be installed on the south side of the boardwalk at the Caribbean Beach Resort's Old Port Royale feature pool.

Quick takes …

…We've heard that the Contemporary Resort has discontinued the use of refillable mugs for sale to the general public. The report said that the mugs are not being restricted to those on the Deluxe, Premium and Platinum Disney Dining Plans, which include free mugs for everyone on the plan. As of this time, we haven't heard of this change being made at any other resorts. If you have experienced this elsewhere, please let us know!

…Back in September 2006, we mentioned a rumor that Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise would receive major refurbishments in 2008, budgeted at $30 million and $13 million, respectively. That rumor seems to have gathered a little wind in its sails and is circulating again. The supposed start date is in May, with a length of 18 months, though nothing has appeared on the official refurbishment calendar yet. There is no new word circulating about the Jungle Cruise yet, though the "fifth theme park" rumor is out and about again.

In December, we discussed a rumor that the Pirate & Princess Party would have its dates extended through June. While it hasn't appeared on the Walt Disney World site as of this writing, other Web sites are saying that it's a done deal, with the dates briefly appearing on Walt Disney World's Google calendar, then disappearing again. We'll continue to wait this out until the dates hit the official calendar (of course, that could theoretically even happen today).

…The Orlando International Airport hit a new record in 2007, with 36.5 million travelers moving through the busiest passenger airport in Florida. The airport is also ranked as the best large airport in the U.S. for on-time airline arrival performance for 2007 with an on-time rate of 78.49 percent, according to FlightStats.

…Our regular survey of the Disney stories on the Internet turned up this New York Times article about the design and construction of Toy Story Mania. While it's focused on the version at Disney's California Adventure, it's still a good read and a lot of the information is likely still valid for the East Coast edition of the attraction. (Make sure you check out the time-lapse video of the ride construction.)

…Atlanta Braves training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex starts revving up this week, as pitchers and catchers report on Thursday. Position players report next Wednesday.

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

Coming soon

  • February 14, 22, 26, March 1, 6, 11, 14 – Disney's Pirate & Princess Party.
  • February 15-18 – Twirlmania.
  • February 23-24 – Cheer & Dance National Championships.
  • February 29-March 2 – Cheer & Dance National Championships.
  • February 29 to March 2 – ESPN ? The Weekend.
  • February 27 to March 29 – Atlanta Braves Training Camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
  • March 1-2 – NDA National Dance Team Championship.
  • March 7-9 – UCA National All Star Cheerleading Championship.
  • March 8 – National Kidney Foundation 5K.
  • March 9 – Last performance of the Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade.
  • March 14 – First performance of the Block Party Bash parade.
  • March 14, 15 and 17 – Pleasure Island goes green for St. Patrick's Day.
  • March 15 – Off to Never Land cel release.
  • March 19 to June 1 – Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. [See our Park Guide Page.]

Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom


  • Spaceship Earth – closed for refurbishment February 9–14, 2008. Currently in soft opening status; may close at any time for any (or no) reason.
  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment – closed for refurbishment January 28–February 24. The ImageWorks Kodak "What If" Lab closes during this time.
  • Tutto Italia Ristorante – is now open, but closes 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.
  • Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade – ends March 9.
  • Block Party Bash Parade – begins March 14.
  • Mickey Avenue – closed through spring for installation of the Toy Story Mania attraction and related theming.
  • "American Idol" – under construction in the soundstage that formerly hosted Superstar Television and Doug Live!. Scheduled to open in late 2008.

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 now complete.
  • 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.
  • Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – work continues on the refurbishment of the main building.
  • Port Orleans French Quarter Resort – Doubloon Lagoon feature pool closed for renovations January 28 through mid-March. Resort guests can take a shuttle to Port Orleans Riverside Resort to use the Ole' Man Island pool at during this time, as well as using the quiet pools.

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 Café restaurant, Giraffe Tavern sports bar, Marketessen deli-style café 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.