Walt Disney World Resort Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for March 30 – April 5, 2009

Go directly to: News & Views | Coming Soon | Refurbishment/Attraction Closures | Discounts/Promotions

News and Views

Free dining | Layoffs | Toy Story Mania | Downtown Disney Hotels | Construction update | Quick Takes …

Free dining for Disney Visa cardholders announced last week; for the general public today?

As I reported on my blog last Thursday, Walt Disney World released a free dining plan for Disney Visa cardholders last Thursday for travel dates of August 16 through October 3. At the time of announcement, it was noted that trips must be booked by June 21.

As before, the dining plan in this promotion is the Basic plan, with a discounted upgrade to the Deluxe plan. It seems that Disney has not downgraded the free plan to the Quick Service plan, as had been feared by many.

Sue Pisaturo of MousePlanet sponsor Small World Vacations (link) has been unable as of yet to clarify the conflicting information regarding whether it is necessary for guests to check out by the October 3 closing date.

The Disney Visa cardholder Web site notes that for reservations made between last Thursday and yesterday, you must make your deposit at the time of booking using your Disney Rewards Visa Card. This is about as solid an indicator as there is that general availability of this package will start this morning, for the same dates, for booking through June 21. Watch for general availability codes in a new blog post when we get them.

Epcot Vice President Dan Cockerell speaks with producer Sean Lurie and director Klay Hall of the upcoming Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure direct-to-DVD release at the ceremonies during the opening of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Tinker Bell and her fairy friends enjoy interacting with the crowd. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

The fairies, the dignitaries and "junior fairies" pose for a photo op. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Axe falls at Walt Disney World, hundreds of salaried positions cut

Hundreds of layoffs shook cast members at Disneyland and Walt Disney World last week as Disney Parks & Resorts cut their employee numbers before the end of the company's fiscal quarter. While we had originally heard numbers as high as 800 for Walt Disney World, we now believe the number to be less than 500, as passing that number of layoffs in one month would have triggered 60-day notification by Disney to the state of Florida and to the targeted employees. The fact that the number of layoffs was below that figure doesn't mean that there aren't more on the way, however.

Last Friday, MousePlanet's David Koenig reported on his blog:

Last month's middle-management layoffs at Disneyland and Disney World were in fact just a small foreshadow of the serious blood-letting that began this week. The earlier dismissals were designed to encourage more cast members to take the voluntary separation package while they still had the chance to voluntarily separate.

The massive firings began this Wednesday at both resorts, starting with 11 jobs cut in the Entertainment division, and are continuing, division by division, through today. One West Coast source said Thursday saw the departure of 45 cast members who handled Quiceanera and the Fantasy Wedding planning and the entire WDI document management team. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of employees, mostly salaried, many with decades of experience, are being led out of their offices with a security escort.

The idea is to streamline middle management, reduce duplication of duties between coasts, and keep costs in check during a deepening recession. As a general rule, I'm all for lean management. Yet this is a tremendous loss on a personal level for those involved, as well as for the resorts, as cumulative centuries of park-operating experience evaporate.

I've been in on a flurry of cast member emails over the last two days, listing the latest casualties, both confirmed and rumored. To be honest, most of the names are unfamiliar to me, so I'm not sure just how much leadership and "value" each division is really losing. Certainly, WDW lost plenty when on Wednesday Epcot released Jim Korkis, hands down the company's greatest historical source outside of California. Disneyland let go a lot more names that are familiar to me (including—unconfirmed—the man who has overseen fireworks since they were introduced at the park in the 1950s). Let's pray these individuals are back on their feet soon, and that Disney hasn't made too many grave mistakes in whom they've chosen to go and, more importantly, in whom they've trusted to remain. Our parks are in their hands.

When MousePlanet requested details on the layoffs, Walt Disney World representatives were unable to provide details regarding numbers or departments impacted, but provided the following statement: "We are in the midst of a domestic reorganization to consolidate our U.S. operations and streamline our backstage processes and procedures. These changes are essential to maintaining our leadership position in family tourism and reflect today's economic realities. As acknowledged previously, these actions will unfortunately result in the elimination of positions."

Some familiar with the company's history have suggested that this is not the first time that this type of process has taken place, just that it's the most visible due to the ubiquity of the media these days. Those sources have noted that, over time, Disney tends to get top-heavy and duplicative in its management ranks and it periodically needs to trim the fat and re-focus on efficiency and effectiveness in its delivery of services.

It appears that most—if not all—of those let go were salaried, rather than hourly, cast members. In fact, union officials interviewed by local news media confirmed that union employees were not affected by this layoff. Of course, if the firings started at the director level last month and continued at the mid-level manager level this month, there's no guarantee that there won't be hourly cast members on the block in the coming months. We'll have to wait and see on that.

The Sky Walk Bridge winds its way to Bay Lake Tower. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

The exterior of Bay Lake Tower is essentially finished. Work now continues on paving and landscaping. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Paving work at Bay Lake Tower is proceeding rapidly. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Toy Story Mania – The Home Game!

In another burst of synergy, Disney has found a way to provide happiness to those who are tired of waiting in line for Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios (or Disney's California Adventure). "Toy Story Mania!" for the Nintendo Wii is due to arrive in stores this fall.

The game features galleries adapted from the attraction, as well as new and original galleries (which we wouldn't be surprised to pop up as "surprises" in the theme park versions in the future) and a series of mini-games. The game is designed for up to four players of all ages, with both competitive and cooperative options in multi-player games. The game also includes bonus 3-D features, though it's undetermined whether it will be integral to the game or merely additional features beyond the game. At this point, the game will be exclusively for the Wii. There is no word about any potential for other platforms.

The new photo area for Chef Mickey's is off to the side of the waiting area for the restaurant. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

The photo area is set up nicely with a new Chef Mickey figure and dish background. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotel discounts

The Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels are running special promotions for Florida residents and the U.S. military. Florida residents get 15 percent off the best available room rate at all member hotels, while military personnel get 20 percent off. The military offer is available to active and retired U.S. mlitary personnel, including U.S. Coast Guard, activated members of the National Guard, and the Reserves.

To get these discounts, reservations must be booked directly with the hotels and identification must be shown upon check-in. Restrictions and blackout dates may apply, and the discount is not available with any other offer.

The Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels include: the Best Western Lake Buena Vista, Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa, Doubletree Guest Suites, Hilton Orlando Resort, Regal Sun Resort and Royal Plaza Resort. The Holiday Inn reopens this fall.

The structures for Stitch's Supersonic Celebration are so tall that they appear to leave little room between them. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

A side view shows that there is quite a good amount of space in between. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Work still continues on the stage and other low-level areas. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

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).

A personal appeal to help babies through the March of Dimes, for the fourth year

I was informed recently that I was the top walker for the March of Dimes Northeastern New York region for 2008, and the #2 walker for all of Upstate New York (everything above Westchester and Rockland counties)! I couldn't have done it without the help of all of the wonderful MousePlanet readers and MouseStation listeners. Thank you so much! Now, the big challenge is to raise the bar in these tough economic times.

On April 26, I'll be walking for the fourth time to raise money for the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality. I'm raising money for the cause because new parents should be able to bring their children home from the hospital, not bury them. I know from first-hand experience how devastating that is.

Last year's total, raised through the generosity of friends, family, co-workers and MousePlanet readers, was $5,043.42. This year, our new target is $6,000. I think we can do that. I know that the economy is tough right now, but charitable causes are also hurting and in need of money.

We're over one-third of the way there, but we've only got six weeks to make up the rest. Let's show that MousePlanet readers support the mission of the March of Dimes and help give all babies a fighting chance to make it home!

For more information about why I'm walking, or to donate, please go to my fundraising page (link). Thanks for your consideration!

The walling off of the Galaxy Palace Theater is pretty much complete. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

The paving work near Star Traders appears done, though the pavement color match needs some help. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Painters continue to work on the rockwork at the entrance to Tomorrowland. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Construction update

Here is the listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:

  • Magic Kingdom Space Mountain – improvements to facility, ride control, fire alarm and guest flow.
  • Epcot The Seas with Nemo and Friends – installation of aquatic research tanks, pumps and filters.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Fairfax Fare and Toluca Legs – installation of graphics package.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Tune-In Lounge – replacement of current bar cooler with new, stand-alone, high-performance bar cooler. Modifications will be made to bar area (under bar counter) to accommodate new, larger cooler.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios ABC Commissary – like-for-like replacement of three 20-year-old ice machines.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Hollywood & Vine – updating of current show kitchen equipment with new, upright, stand-alone refrigerators, warmer lamps and cabinetry. Also relocation of point-of-sale station to back wall.
  • Downtown Disney Marketplace – removal of Fire Department Connections #1 (2 R's) and #2 (World of Disney).
  • Downtown Disney Wetzels Pretzels – replacement of one auxiliary heating unit.
  • Grand Floridian Gasparilla Grill – conversion of automatic door to an "on-demand" hinged door.
  • Grand Floridian Convention Center – conversion of manual door at southeast entrance to an "on-demand" automatic door.
  • Grand Floridian Resort Convention Center – replacement of windows and wood trim on center dormer of porte-cochere.
  • Contemporary Resort sundries shop – removal of existing refrigeration rack and replacement with new.
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground – replacement of existing ice machines in the guest comfort stations in loops 100, 400 and 1400.
  • Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground – completion of the rehab of the guest restroom/laundry room located at 1600 loop comfort stations.
  • Yacht Club, Boardwalk, Caribbean Beach, and Pop Century Resorts – installation of carbon monoxide sensors in the boiler rooms.

Goofy holds a football as he motions a guest to "go long" at the Frontierland parade gate. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Goofy shows pretty good throwing form for a Goof his size. Photo by Bruce Danderline.

Quick takes …

…Due to unprecedented demand and increased Half Marathon course capacity in 2010, Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge has reopened for registration. With a new capacity of 7,500, you'll want to register as quickly as you can (link) if you're still interested in the race. The Half Marathon itself is now 80 percent full.

…The Characters in Flight Aerophile balloon at Downtown Disney opens to guests on Wednesday, April 1.

…With the reopening of Typhoon Lagoon, surfing lessions are once again available on select days in the pre-opening and post-close hours of the water park.

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An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is installed between the men's and women's restrooms at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Bruce Danderline


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

  • Feb. 15-Mar. 30. Atlanta Braves Training Camp.
  • Mar. 18-May 31. Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (link).
  • Apr. 24-27. USASF/IASF Dance and Cheerleading World Championships (link).
  • May 17. Florida Half Ironman Triathlon (link).
  • May 22-Jun. 14. Star Wars Weekends.
  • Sep. 20. Athletes for a Cure Triathlon (link).
  • Sep. 26. Expedition Everest Challenge (link).
  • Oct. 11. Race for the Taste 10K and 3K (link).
  • Oct 24. Tower of Terror 13K and 5K (link).
  • Dec. 7-12. Pop Warner Super Bowl (link).
  • Jan. 7-10, 2010. WDW Marathon Weekend (link).

Refurbishments and Attraction Closures

Magic Kingdom

  • The Hall of Presidents – closed through July 1, 2009, major infrastructure upgrades, as well as for addition of President Barack Obama.
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority – closed April 19 through August 19, 2009 for refurbishment and Space Mountain's refurbishment.
  • Space Mountain – closed April 19 through November 21, 2009 for major refurbishment.


  • Tutto Italia Ristorante – is now open, but will close at a date to be determined to be completely remodeled.
  • Ellen's Energy Adventure – closed for refurbishment January 5 – March 25.
  • 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.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

  • No currently scheduled refurbishments.

Animal Kingdom

  • No currently scheduled refurbishments.


  • Animal Kingdom Lodge – Phase 1 of the Kidani Village annex building for the Disney Vacation Club's Animal Kingdom Villas is expected to open in May 2009, with Phase 2 opening in September 2009. Jambo House construction is complete.
  • Yacht and Beach Club Resorts – Stormalong Bay pool area under refurbishment January 5 – mid-April. The pool will remain open, but sections will close one at a time for work. The three quiet pools will remain open during that time, and the Luna Park pool at the BoardWalk Resort, with its Keister Coaster water slide, will also be available during the work on the Flying Jib slide.
  • Saratoga Springs – High Rock Spring feature pool under refurbishment from March 9–30.
  • Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary Resort – Construction continues. The resort opens August 2009.
  • Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa – Construction continues. The resort opens June 2009.

Water Parks

  • Typhoon Lagoon – Closed for its annual refurbishment October 26 through March 21. Major work is required on the wave generation machine.


  • Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba – performs Tuesdays – Saturdays. There will be no performances from May 18 through June 1.

Current Discounts & Promotions

Walt Disney World Buy 4, Get 3 Free deal!

From now until March 29, if you book a four-night, four-day non-discounted Magic Your Way package, you'll get three additional nights (including tickets) for free.

The offer is good for stays on most nights now-April 4 and April 19-August 15, 2009.

As a bonus, if you travel by March 29, you'll get a $200 Disney Gift Card that you can use to pay some of the costs during your stay. It's also valid at Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Store and disneyshopping.com.

Packages start at net prices of $53 per person per day for a family of four in a standard room at a Value Resort from February 13-April 4 (total package price $1,466). That price is based on families of two adults, one junior and one child.

Packages for other resorts and lengths of stay are also available.

Here's Disney's rundown on pricing and savings:

Disney Value Resorts Disney Moderate Resorts Select Disney Deluxe Resorts Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts
$1,466 ($484 savings)
Feb. 13-April 4, 2009
$1,778 ($718 savings)
Feb. 13-April 4, 2009
$2,498 ($1,281 savings)
Feb. 13-April 4, 2009
$2,611 ($1,320 savings)
Feb. 16- April 4, 2009
$1,375 ($416 savings)
April 19-May 21, 2009
$1,666 ($634 savings)
April 19-May 21, 2009
$2,206 ($1,017 savings)
April 19-May 21, 2009
$2,363 ($1,135 savings)
April 19- May 21, 2009
$1,421 ($450 savings)
May 22 –June 27, 2009
$1,733 ($685 savings)
May 22-June 27, 2009
$2,206 ($1,017 savings)
May 22-May 25, 2009
June 2-June 27, 2009
$2,363 ($1,135 savings)
May 22 –June 27, 2009

Prices are based on two adults, one junior (ages 10 to 17) and one child (ages 3 to 9) in a standard room at a Value Resort, Moderate Resort, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (Deluxe Resort) or a studio at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (Deluxe Villa Resort). Savings are based on the non-discounted price of a 7-night/7-day Magic Your Way package. The discount code for this offer is IUZ.

To book these packages, go to the Walt Disney World Web site (link), call 407-939-7928 or contact one of MousePlanet's Preferred Disney Travel Providers, Small World Vacations (link) and MouseEarVacations.com (link). Just remember to book by March 29!

Disney Cruise Line offers "Kids at Half Off" deal

Disney Cruise Line now offering a "Kids at Half Off" promotion. The deal offers 50 percent off passage (plus government taxes and fees) for children ages 12 and under on three-night voyages when traveling with two full-fare paying passengers in the same cabin. The offer is valid on most sailings from April 11 through May 17 in a variety of stateroom cabins.

To book your "Kids Half Off" cruise, visit the Disney Cruise Line Web site (link), call 800-951-3532, or contact one of MousePlanet's Preferred Disney Travel Providers, MouseEarVacations.com (link) or Small World Vacations (link) and make sure to use booking code "KHO." For more information on other discounted cruises from MouseEarVacations.com, check out their list of cruise discounts for MousePlanet readers here on the MousePlanet site.

Gaylord Palms debuts new exclusive rate specials

While the special $119-per-night offer expired last Tuesday, MousePlanet partner Gaylord Palms Resort has followed it up with another great offer, this time valid for stays through the end of the year! For approximately 5 nights out of every 7 for the rest of the year, you can stay at the Gaylord Palms at the special MousePlanet reader discount rate (Reserve now!) of $129 per night. Even better, you can book these rates right up until the day you arrive! This new rate is even lower than Disney moderate resorts after June 6! Why stay off property? Because you can get luxury accommodations at moderate prices! These special low rates are available on the following nights:

  • March 11, 15–17, 21-29
  • April 1–13, 18–19, 24–27
  • May 10-11, 15–27
  • June 2–6, 9-17, 20–23, 28-30 ($139 rate)
  • July 1-6 ($139 rate), 7–18, 23–28
  • August 1–9, 13–15, 18–19, 22–27, 30
  • September 1-2, 6–8, 12–14, 18–20, 25–27
  • October 2–5, 13–18, 23–24, 29–31
  • November 3, 7, 12–15, 22-30
  • December 1-5, 9, 13–27

Discounted ECV rentals for MousePlanet readers through Scooter Vacations

Scooter Vacations, MousePlanet's mobility scooter rental partner, is offering MousePlanet readers a 10 percent discount on their scooter rentals by using code MP10 when making your reservation for any of their five scooter models.

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 rates for 2009 released

Passholder rates for February 15 – April 2, 2009 have been released, with value resorts starting at just $69 per night, moderate resorts starting at $114 per night. Select deluxe resorts (Animal Kingdom Lodge) starting at $214 per night and studio accommodations at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa starting at $229 per night. The rates are valid most Sunday – Thursday nights during that period.

The number of rooms available is limited and minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday and Saturday arrivals. Reservations may be booked through the Passholder web site or by using code PYS if booking via the Passholder phone line (407-939-7722) or through a travel agent. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).

Disney Cruise Line half-price deposits for online reservations, for a limited time

The Disney Cruise Line has announced a special deal where any bookings through the Disney Cruise web site (link) will only require payment of half of the usual deposit, with the other half due with the rest of the final payment. The offer is only good on new bookings, and for category 4-12 cabins only. The offer is available to those booking online or through their travel agents (though the travel agent would have to book the cruise through disneycruise.com for the offer). Bookings are also eligible for the standard $25 onboard credit offer for all online bookings. The deal is available "for a limited time," but there's no word on when the limited time expires. MousePlanet's preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).

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