Walt Disney World Park Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for April 28 – May 4, 2008

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

News and Views

Chief Magic Official | Animal Kingdom turns 10 | Build-An-Ear | "Line rage" sentencing | Rays perfect at Disney | March of Dimes wrapup | Construction update | Quick Takes …

MousePlanet reader wins Chief Magic Official competition

Congratulations to MousePlanet reader and MousePad member Justin Muchoney, who was named Disney's first Chief Magic Official at a ceremony last Tuesday morning!

As I first reported on my blog (link) following the announcement, Justin appeared to be the front-runner throughout the competition. Finalists Tripp West and David Hawley put in a great showing, though they were not able to compete with Justin, who collected more than two and a half times as many online votes in the finals as the other two put together.

One of last year's Dream Jobs winners, Ricky Brigante of Inside the Magic (link) and Orlando Attractions Magazine (link), who hung out with the candidates during the competition, pronounced all three "wonderful people," noting that "They're each fun-loving, friendly, and perfect for the role."

Justin's official duties kick off in a couple of weeks, as he heads down to Walt Disney World for the grand opening of Toy Story Mania.

You can see the announcement here (link). Keep and eye (or an ear) out for Justin on this coming Wednesday's episode of the MouseStation Podcast (link), and in a future print article on the site.

MousePlanet reader Justin Muchoney is congratulated by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck after being named Disney's first-ever Chief Magic Official in a ceremony in front of Cinderella Castle last Tuesday. Photo © Disney.

Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrates 10 years

With a special rope-drop ceremony, Disney's Animal Kingdom celebrated 10 years last Tuesday. Hundreds of opening-day cast members still working at the park and young adults from six continents attending Jane Goodall’s Global Youth Summit led a processional that also included theme park characters (including a stilt-walking Yeti), Walt Disney World Executive Vice President (and opening day Animal Kingdom cast member) Erin Wallace, renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall and Imagineering vice president and designer Joe Rohde.

Wallace opened the ceremony by welcoming attendees and announcing that the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund had been renamed to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) to better reflect the scope of the organization's work. Goodall followed by talking about the mission of the park and the DWCF, and finished by giving a chimpanzee "thank you" to the crowd. Rohde finished up by talking about the growth of the park to date, noting that it will continue to grow and change, and asking the crowd to take the lessons from the park out into the world with them.

If you couldn't make it to the park for the event, you can watch the festivities with the official Disney podcast (link) or a pair of videos from both the rope-drop ceremony and the history talk by Joe Rohde as part of the WDWCelebrations.com "A Wild Decade" event (link) shot by Ricky Brigante of Inside the Magic and Orlando Attractions Magazine (link).

The Kingdom Tower DVC resort rises in the skyline adjacent to the Contemporary Resort. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.


The fourth-floor walkway (the red steelwork on the right side) between Kingdom Tower and the Contemporary is underway. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

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!

Ears flying off of shelves

MousePlanet's Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix is at Walt Disney World, and she reported the following on her MousePlanet blog (link) over the weekend:

I got a chance to check out the new Build-an-Ear offering at Walt Disney World today, and I have to admit it wasn't what I hoped for. In reading about the program, my initial concern was that the snap-on ears would be bulky or would not sit nicely on the hat. That is definitely not the case, and I think they engineered the beanie well to deal with that issue. Having now seen the selection, I guess my overall impression is that the new hat and ear choices are just not that compelling for anyone over 12, and they can be really, really expensive compared to traditional ears.

The base beanie is $4.95 or $5.95, and the ears are $2.50 or $3.50 each. (It is important to note that the beanies are all "one size fits all," and that size is generally too large for anyone under 5) If you buy a basic beanie and a pair of basic plastic snap-on ears, your hat is $9.95, the same as a traditional hat. Embroidery is an extra $3 - Walt Disney World has completely done away with complimentary hat writing. (A source at Disneyland says that park has no plans to do the same when Build-an-Ear comes to the DLR this summer, but I wonder how long it will take the Budgeteers to nix that decision) At the high end, a fancy beanie with jeweled ears and embroidery is about $16.

Of course, anyone who wants a basic Mickey Mouse hat is going to grab one off the shelf, not build it from scratch. Disney's real profit potential is not on the wall of hat parts, it's on the table in the middle of the room. That's where all of the really expensive iron-on decals are on display. Each one adds $3 to the price of your hat, and you can stick quite a few on each beanie. The helpful cast members will also advise you that you can add the decals - at $3 a pop- to the plastic ears too. If you prefer to forgo the embroidered name, a pack of letter decals runs $6. I watched in sympathy for one poor mom as a cast member tallied up her beaming daughter's $40 creation. Consider this fair warning for parents and grandparents - keep an eye on your young fashionistas.

I also found the process to be rather cumbersome. The display area is small, and there isn't a lot of working space if you have several people trying to design a hat at once. There was also a bit of a wait during my visit, with CMs advising customers that it could be as long as 25 minutes before their ears were ready. After you design and pay for your ears, a CM has to pass your ears back to the work area. It is here that your decals are heat-sealed onto your hat, and any embroidery is sewn onto the beanie. If there is a line, or someone purchasing multiples of the same design as was the case during my visit, you may have to return later in the day to claim your creation.

Despite my own impressions, it seems that the offering has been popular. Disney says that there are nearly 20 each of beanies and ear styles to choose from; I counted only 8 beanies and 12 ears during my trip. I'm not sure if the other styles were sold out or have not yet arrived.

I probably shouldn't be surprised that the available parts are mostly sparkly, jeweled, and/or trimmed with faux fur. This definitely caters to the Club Libby Lu tween scene, and there isn't as much as I hoped there would be for adults. I would like to see more solid-color felt hats and plastic ears, and I think the ability to mix-and-match hats in your school or team colors would be attractive to those beyond the Disney Channel set.

On the other hand, this new offering is going to be great for customers who want "blank" ears without a Disneyland or Walt Disney World logo on them. I get several requests for those each year, mostly from corporate customers who want to make a bulk purchase and put their own logo on the hats. Until now, there has been no way to purchase ears without some other logo on them, so imagine some of my corporate clients are going to be thrilled. (Someone from another division of Disney once told me about the multiple hoops through which he had to jump to get permission to have his division's logo put on ears, so this really surprises me. I wonder if anyone at Disney thought about it that way...)

The hats are only available at The Chapeaux in Town Square on Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom for the time being.

Build-An-Ear customers can take their pick of beanies and ears from a large selection. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The Build-An-Ear design area features all kinds of stuff to put on your ears. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

"Line rage" assailant sentenced

The 52-year-old Alabama woman convicted on April 11 (link) of battery in the "line rage" incident at the Mad Tea Party attraction has been sentenced to 90 days in jail, with credit for the 32 days that she has already served. Victoria Walker, who apologized to victim Aimee Krause prior to sentencing, will also be on probation for nine months after her release, and must perform community service and complete an anger-management course.

Judge Jose Rodriguez noted after the sentencing that he was sure that more went on between the two women on both sides than was revealed at the trial.

During the trial, two administrators from the school that Krause's children attend came forward offering to testify that Krause had a history of aggressive behavior, but their testimony was denied by the judge. Krause is now considering a lawsuit against the school board, claiming that the offer by the administrators comprised an ethical violation. She is also considering a negligence suit against Walt Disney World.

The latest in the series of "Disney Dream Portrait" fantasy celebrity images by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz was released last week. Actress Julianne Moore portrays Ariel, The Little Mermaid, while Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps swims by in his own merman tail. Other "finned" swimming stars in the background include Janet Evans, Rowdy Gaines, Brendan Hansen and Cullen Jones. To see video images from the photo shoot and a podcast about the photo, see Disney's multimedia press release (link). Photo © Disney.

Tampa Bay Rays undefeated at Disney

The Tampa Bay Rays are now 6-0 at Disney's Wide World of Sports, sweeping the Texas Rangers last year and the Toronto Blue Jays last week. The Rays then rode that hot streak over the weekend and won the next three at home over the Boston Red Sox.

The Rays are interested in returning to the Disney complex again next summer, but there are many factors that must be made to line up, including the Major League Baseball schedule, as well as getting approval from their opponent and the city of St. Petersburg.

While the three games at Disney drew a combined crowd of 26,798, Champion Stadium was still much more packed percentage-wise than Tropicana Stadium with more patrons, which created a more exciting atmosphere.

As an interesting side note, all three wins at Disney last week were saved for the Rays by Troy Percival.

The Pixar-ization of Disney's Hollywood Studios continues, as the Pixar Studios gateway arch is now in place in front of the part of Mickey Avenue leading to the Toy Story Mania building (which itself looks suspiciously like Pixar's Emeryville, CA headquarters). Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Woody and Buzz are featured in the Toy Story unit of the new Block Party Bash parade. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Slim and Heimlich are part of the "a bug's life" unit. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Help us keep our menu listings up to date!

Did you know that MousePlanet now has menu listings (link) for all theme park restaurants at Walt Disney World and many resort restaurants? You can help us keep them up to date! Send your photos, scans or other copies of restaurant menus (no fair copying from other Web sites) to menus@mouseplanet.com (link). Please note that there is a 5 MB limit on total attachments in a single email.

"Thank you" once again

Yesterday, I once again participated in the March of Dimes March for Babies (formerly WalkAmerica) to help prevent birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. Last year, through your generosity we raised $4,025. This year, while we did not reach our goal of $5,000, we did get very close to last year's total, raising over $3,800 (pending arrival of the last few checks). I am proud to say that MousePlanet readers and MouseStation and MousePlanetWatch podcast listeners came through with over $1,800 of that total! Over the last three years, family, friends, coworkers and the MousePlanet community have combined to help me raise over $10,000 for this wonderful cause! Thank you all so much! It's very fulfilling to know that our MousePlanet community can work together to do such good things.

According to event organizers, the day's event raised somewhere between $105,000-$110,000, though they expect some more donations to come in during the next few weeks. Donations appear to be down across the board, either due to the recession or other reasons. In light of that, I think that it's great that we were able to come so close to last year's total!

If you were planning to donate but never got around to it, my fundraising page should still be taking donations for another couple of weeks or so. You can also just check it out for more information on why I walk, even if you don't plan to donate. Thank you again for your support!

Our March of Dimes event this year had a familiar vehicular visitor. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

Construction update

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

  • All Magic Kingdom boat landings – Replace the canopies on the boat landings
  • Magic Kingdom Adventureland – Jungle Cruise Native hut replacement
  • Magic Kingdom – Main Street Confectionary – Refresh show kitchen caseworks and miscellaneous marble tops throughout the shop
  • Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland Speedway – Remove "Indy" branding graphics and replace with generic Tomorrowland graphics
  • Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland Speedway Queue Fans – Install queue fans in convered queue areas
  • Magic Kingdom Frontierland – Fabricate and install new water wheel at Tom Sawyer Island
  • Magic Kingdom Park 1 Railroad Underpass – Replace trench drain
  • Epcot China Pavilion – Design, fabricate and install Food and Wine kiosk at the China Pavilion
  • Epcot China Pavilion – Design, fabricate and install merchandise kiosk at the China Pavilion
  • Epcot China Pavilion – Site work and install a cooler freezer on the North side of the China Pavilion
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios – Backlot Express – Remove existing (2) condiment bars incl disconnection of utility connections
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios – Catalina Eddie's – Replace existing kitchen equipment with new
  • Fort Wilderness – Add fifty-eight new light poles to sidewalk from the pargo parking to Big Pine Drive at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort
  • Fort Wilderness – Replace light poles in the Day Visitor parking lot overflow at Disney's Fort Wilerness Resort
  • Imagineering – Disney's Hollywood Studios – Narnia Marquee Package
  • Imagineering – Epcot – Innoventions Office Area Renovations
  • Imagineering – Epcot – Storm Struck Facility Package

construction walls are up in front of the future American Idol theater. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Quick takes …

…E-Brands Restaurants will reportedly open a two-story restaurant in Downtown Disney sometime next year. The restaurant will serve Central American and South American food, and will feature a tequila bar and outdoor seating along the Downtown Disney waterfront. The most likely real estate for this 5,000-square-foot casual-service eatery would be the former Rock 'n' Roll Beach Club (which once upon a time was the Rockin' Rollerdrome). We'll have to wait for construction to start to be sure, though.

…As of three weeks ago, the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station has moved to a schedule of being open only from 5-9 p.m., only on nights when park closes after 9 p.m. Once the summer peak is over, we'll see if it changes again, or if it just shuts down until the Christmas peak opens it back up again.

…A wedding ring set presumed lost forever was found and returned to its grateful owners by a team of dumpster-diving Disney volunteers. For the full story, check out the Orlando Sentinel's writeup (link).

…For a limited time, Arribas Brothers is offering free domestic ground shipping on orders of $75 or more for purchases made at their Walt Disney World locations. Offer is subject to change, one address per purchase, see stores for further information.

…The Pennsbury High School Band from Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania made their first Disney performance 25 years ago when they marched at Walt Disney World. Since then, the band has performed over the years at Disneyland Park, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. On March 24, they completed their Disney five-pack with a performance at Hong Kong Disneyland, becoming the first high-school marching band to perform at every Disney resort around the world as a part of the Disney Magic Music Days program.

…Building on the enhanced commuter bus service begun last year (link) under a $470,000 grant from Walt Disney World, Disney has joined the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) in a new agreement that will funnel as much as $7.36 million into more bus routes and more frequent bus service in Central Florida. FDOT will steer $4.86 million of the $7.1 million paid by Disney in traffic impact mitigation fees in recent years to LYNX. In addition, Walt Disney World will donate $250,000 per year for five years to continue to match the $250,000 per year Federal Job Access Reverse Commute Grant. There is no confirmation yet as to what routes might be added or which routes may see increases in bus frequency.


The stage is set for the final Grad Nite in the Magic Kingdom; the event moves to Disney's Hollywood Studios next year. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

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

  • March 19 – June 1. Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. [See our Park Guide Page.]
  • May 2, 9, 16, 21, 26, 31, June 4. Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party.

Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom


  • Illuminations – the LED globe is scheduled to be removed from the show for a major refurbishment, possibly in early summer. The length of the refurbishment is not known. The show was tested without the globe on February 27.
  • 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 May 29 – 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.
  • The American Film Institute Showcase – closed for refurbishment April 1 – May 1.
  • "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.


  • 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.
  • Coronado Springs Resort – One side of the Jaguar slide at the main feature pool will be closed for rehab March 31 – April 30. The pool will remain open during the work.

Water Parks

  • No known current refurbishments.


  • Cap'n Jack's Restaurant – closed for refurbishment May 12–17.
  • Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba – performs Tuesdays – Saturdays.
  • T-Rex Cafe – reportedly opens in Downtown Disney in late 2008.

Current Discounts & Promotions

Orlando Fun Tickets offering 5 days for the price of 3

For a limited time, MousePlanet discount ticket partner Orlando Fun Tickets is currently offering a free upgrade to a 5-day Park Hopper pass when you purchase a 3-day Park Hopper. Check out the special offer or any of the other great prices on tickets at OrlandoFunTickets.com!

Passholder discounts announced, Disney Dining Plan available

Annual Passholder and Florida Resident discounts have been announced for March through May. From March 30 through May 21, room-only discount rates are available, with Passholder rates being anywhere from $5 to $15 less than Florida resident rates. Passholders should use code FJC or FJD for Sunday-Thursday nights, while Florida residents should use FJK. The Passholder weekend rate code during that period is FJG.

In addition, the Disney Dining Plan will now be available to Annual Passholders, even on room-only reservations. To add the Dining Plan during the March 30 through May 21 AP discount period, Passholders should use code ANA, and the Deluxe Dining Plan requires code ANC. For other dates that do not have an effective Passholder discount, reservations for the Dining Plan should use code ADS and for the Deluxe Dining Plan should use code ADU.

Free dining for late summer

Free dining plans are available for Disney Visa cardholders and the general public. The plans are the same; the only difference was the start date for booking the package. The packages are good for most nights August 24 through September 20, and must be booked by June 22. Packages may be booked for a minimum of three nights and a maximum of 14 nights. Availability is limited and certain restrictions apply.

Existing reservations may be modified to include the free dining package if available. The deal is not only for a free standard dining plan, though. You can upgrade to the Deluxe Dining Plan and/or the Wine & Dine option and get a credit equal to the cost of the standard dining plan ($37.99 for ages 10 and up, $9.99 for ages 3-9) off of the enhanced plan.

For the Disney Visa package (reservation deposit must be made with a Disney Visa card), use the following codes:

  • CMK – Magic Your Way Package plus Dining
  • CMM – Magic Your Way Package plus Wine & Dine
  • CMP – Magic Your Way Package plus Deluxe Dining
  • CMS – Magic Your Way Package plus Deluxe Dining with Wine & Dine

Booking codes for the general public are:

  • AYG – Magic Your Way Package plus Dining
  • AYH – Magic Your Way Package plus Wine & Dine
  • AYI – Magic Your Way Package plus Deluxe Dining
  • AYJ – Magic Your Way Package plus Deluxe Dining with Wine & Dine

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.