Walt Disney World Resort Update

by Mark Goldhaber, staff writer

Update for July 6 – July 12, 2009

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

News and Views

Monorail crash | MouseAdventure Sampler | Over 1,000 new U.S. Citizens | Obama joins Hall of Presidents | Winter Holiday schedule | Construction update | Quick Takes …

Monorail accident kills one

[This story was originally published on Sunday on Mark Goldhaber's blog and a special edition of the Walt Disney World Resort Update.]

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Monorail Pink collided with Monorail Purple at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), killing Austin Wuennenberg, 21, the pilot of Monorail Purple. The pilot of Monorail Pink was injured in the accident, but the six park guests aboard Monorail Purple were not injured.


Mike Griffin, Walt Disney World Vice President of Public Affairs, has issued the following statement:

"Today, we mourn the loss of our fellow cast member. Our hearts go out to his family and to those who have lost a friend and co-worker. The safety of our guests and cast members is always our top priority. The monorail is out of service and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement to determine what happened and the approximate next steps."

Austin Wuennenberg's profile photo on Facebook.
Austin Wuennenberg's profile photo on Facebook.

This is the first fatality in the nearly 38-year history of the Walt Disney World Monorail System.

It is reported that Wuennenberg had to be cut out of the cabin. A photo posted on The Monorail Society's Web site supports that report.

The accident occurred on the Epcot monorail beam, which transports guests between the transportation hub and the Epcot theme park. The monorails run for about an hour and a half after the last park closing to allow guests to return to their cars at the other theme park in case they had transferred from one park to the other during the day. As Epcot had closed at 10 p.m. and the Magic Kingdom park had closed at 1:00 a.m., it was likely one of the last runs of the day.

A photo uploaded to Wikipedia shows the wreckage of Monorails Pink and Purple after they had been pushed back to allow the evacuation of the driver of Monorail Pink.

It appears that the monorails were approaching the end of their operating day and that Monorail Pink was attempting to reposition itself to go back to the monorail barn for the night. For Epcot monorails, this requires leaving the TTC station and passing a track switch, then backing up to the Magic Kingdom Express monorail station. Once fully on the Magic Kingdom Express beam, the monorail continues in reverse past the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts and the front entrance to the Magic Kingdom before it backs up through another track switch that takes it to the monorail barn.

The pilot of Monorail Pink was apparently backing up, thinking that the monorail was heading for an empty Magic Kingdom Express station, but the switch had not moved to transfer it, and so Monorail Pink backed up into the Epcot station that was already occupied by Monorail Purple, which had already loaded and was about to depart the station when Pink slammed backward into it. Since the collision system is reportedly disabled during track switching, there would have been no automated warning. Because the curve on which the Epcot/Magic Kingdom Express switch is located is quite dark at night, and the tracks curve back into the station, it would have been very difficult for the pilot of Monorail Pink to visually notice if he was on the wrong track. MousePlanet has received an unconfirmed report that there may have been some miscommunication between the monorail shop and the monorail control center regarding the position of the switch which, if true, could have meant then the monorail control center would have given Monorail Pink the go-ahead to reverse through the switch and back through the station while the switch was still connected to the Epcot loop.

The monorails have a fail-safe system called MaPo that prevents two trains from getting too close to each other, and actually applies emergency brakes if a driver tries to continue through a warning. However, both trains had had to override their MaPo warnings as standard operating procedure for the maneuvers that they were attempting to undertake. In order for Monorail Purple to enter the station while Monorail Pink was still engaging in its switch procedure, Purple would have had to override its MaPo shutdown. In order for Monorail Pink to reverse through the switch, it would also have had to override MaPo, as the track switches automatically cause a MaPo alert. While in override mode, the maximum speed of each monorail is 15 miles per hour, whether moving forward or backward.

For a look at the switch in question, take a look at this aerial view below from Google Maps. The switch in question is on the right side of the image, just after the tracks cross World Drive.

View Larger Map

ClickOrlando has video footage shot by a guest immediately after the crash. WARNING: This video may be disturbing to some.

All four Walt Disney World theme parks are open today, though the Walt Disney World Monorail system remains closed while Walt Disney World officials, Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) work to determine the cause of the accident. A Walt Disney World spokeswoman could not provide further details in that area.

It is likely that subjects of the investigation included whether -- due to the late hour of the crash -- fatigue played a role in what happened, and how the many safeguards in the monorail system to prevent just such a crash from occurring were overridden.

The Disneyland Resort Monorails was reportedly closed earlier during the day on Sunday, but later reports indicate that it is now running. Disneyland Resort spokesperson Suzi Brown said "This morning, we inspected the Disneyland Resort Monorail and conducted the necessary safety checks. Everything was working properly; therefore, we have made the decision to continue to operate the Disneyland Resort Monorail."

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Austin Wuennenberg and his family.

MouseAdventure Summer Warm Up

MouseAdventure is headed to Florida for our inaugural Walt Disney World MouseAdventure event on Saturday, November 14, and this summer is the perfect time for new players and returning veterans alike to start flexing their mental muscles to prepare for the challenge. To give you a taste of what's in store for you at our first-ever Florida event, we've designed a series of MouseAdventure quests for you to enjoy all summer long.

We will publish a new MouseAdventure quest in the Walt Disney World Resort Update each Monday through October 5. The quest published on the first Monday of each month is a full MouseAdventure-style quest for you to print out and solve in the theme parks. The other weeks, we'll give you a MouseAdventure-style Mini Quest that you can solve at home, using data available on MousePlanet.com. These 14 puzzles will showcase a variety of traditional MouseAdventure quest formats, and just might give you a sneak peek at what we're planning for the Fall event.

The first quest in the series is designed to be solved in the parks, and is unique in that it can be solved at Disneyland OR Walt Disney World. Once you think you've solved the quest, come discuss your answers on our MousePad discussion board (link). The answers to this quest and a brand-new quest will be published in the July 13 Walt Disney World Resort Update.

Are you game? Print the quest, take a look at these 15 pictures and determine: Disneyland or Walt Disney World?

Are You Game? MouseAdventure Walt Disney World registration is now open!

The first-ever running of MousePlanet's signature MouseAdventure event at Walt Disney World will take place on November 14, 2009! The day will begin with a private breakfast at the Odyssey Center prior to park opening. The meal will be followed by a six-hour fun-filled race around Epcot, giving you a fresh look at things in the park that you never noticed before!

The first part of the game will be in the classic MouseAdventure format, sending you on quests throughout Future World. After completion of that portion, teams will engage in an Enchanted Race around World Showcase to the finish line!

For more information or to register, go to the MouseAdventure page (link)! Don't forget to sign up for the MouseAdventure Newsletter to stay up on the latest MouseAdventure news (link)!

Over 1,000 immigrants become U.S. Citizens in mass naturalization ceremony at Magic Kingdom park

For the second time, Walt Disney World coordinated the mass Independence Day naturalization of over 1,000 new citizens in conjunction with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). While Disney has held ceremonies for a few hundred people a number of times in the past, at Epcot's The American Adventure, this is the second ceremony of this size in front of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. The last time was in 2007, as part of the "Year of a Million Dreams" celebration.

This time, the ceremony took place on Friday, July 3, starting with a welcome from Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton. The USCIS’s highest-ranking official, Acting Deputy Director Michael Aytes, presided over the ceremony where the new citizens recited the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance. The 1,057 immigrants from 109 countries range in age from 18 to 82, and include 25 Disney cast members. A keynote speech was delivered by actor Andy Garcia, a naturalized citizen originally from Cuba.

Following the ceremony, the immigrants and their families were able to preview the newly-revised Hall of Presidents attraction, featuring speeches by the Animatronic equivalents of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.

Barack Obama joins Hall of Presidents

Following a week of sneak previews and Passholder previews, the Hall of Presidents opened on Friday for special viewings by the new citizens from the morning's naturalization ceremony, and to the general public in the afternoon. It officially opened on Saturday, July 4.

The new show carries the subtitle "A Celebration of Liberty's Leaders" and for the first time features speaking roles for three presidents. Abraham Lincoln was the only speaking President from the show's opening in 1971 until the addition of Bill Clinton in 1993. From that time on, the sitting President also spoke in the attraction. This year, George Washington also is given a voice.

President Barack Obama records his lines for the Hall of Presidents.

The recordings are a mixture of old and new. Abraham Lincoln is again voiced by Royal Dano, with the recitation of the complete Gettysburg Address from recordings made for the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln attraction at the New York World's Fair. Barack Obama, of course, provides his own voice for his doppelganger. George Washington is voiced by David Morse, who appeared as Washington in HBO's award-winning miniseries "John Adams."

President Barack Obama becomes the 43rd Animatronic figure to grace the Hall of Presidents (Grover Cleveland served two consecutive terms, and thus is considered both the 22nd and 24th President). Photo © Disney, Gene Duncan photographer.

Of Dano's recordings, Jeff Kober wrote in his blog last Friday:

In an interview during the Hall of Presidents press event, Kathy Rogers, senior show producer for Walt Disney Imagineering, discussed the possibility of using Royal Dano's voice again in the revised Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show coming to Disneyland.

What his narrative might be remains to be seen. In this show, Abraham Lincoln offers the Gettysburg Address, believed to be picked up off of original recordings made for the LP Record originally done for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

While you anticipate this return, definitely come back to The Hall of Presidents. The changes are worth visiting when you're at the Magic Kingdom

A glimpse behind the creation of the latest version of the Hall of Presidents.

The show has been changed to focus more on the Presidents and less on American history in general, as that is done so much better in The American Adventure at Epcot, and this also avoids duplication of content between the shows. By focusing on the men two led the United States, it provides a more compelling view of the country's leaders.

The special Independence Day fireworks were shown both July 3 and 4. Here, the show's finale is seen from the beach at the Polynesian Resort. Photo by Don Sullivan.

Winter Holiday schedule

Disney has announced this winter's Holiday events, and it looks very much like last year.

Castle Dreamlights will begin its nightly glow on November 10, the first night of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The Party this year runs November 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 29 and December 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18. The special holiday events from the Party become standard daily entertainment in the Magic Kingdom beginning December 19.

The rest of the theme parks begin their celebration on November 27, the day after Thanksgiving. Epcot again presents Holidays Around the World, featuring international storytellers, the Candlelight Processional and the special holiday tag to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Holidays Around the World runs through December 30.

Disney's Hollywood Studios gets into the act with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which runs from November 27 through January 3, 2010. Meanwhile, Disney's Animal Kingdom turns Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade into Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade, also from November 27 through January 3, 2010. There'll also be special holiday entertainment and meet-and-greets.

Downtown Disney won't be left out, either, as the Festival of the Seasons runs from November 17 through December 24, with Santa available for meet-and-greets from 5-10 p.m. from November 17-26 and noon to 10 p.m. from November 27 through December 24.

The resorts will also be putting on their Christmas finery, including the famed gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian Resort and the gingerbread carousel at the Beach Club Resort.

The Disney Cruise Line will also get into the holiday spirit beginning November 21.

"it's a small world" has gotten a bright new coat of paint. Photo by Don Sullivan.

As the bright paint job on "it's a small world" shines, the new paint job on Pinocchio's Village Haus looks great in the background. Photo by Don Sullivan.

Construction update

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

  • Magic Kingdom Main Street – create new merchandise kiosk area across from tip board with associated area concrete.
  • Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland Transit Authority – electrical work.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – structural and electrical work.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios garage – general carpentry work.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Toy Story Midway Mania – installation of two fans.
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios Rock 'n' Roller Coaster maintenance power – electrical work.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Theater in the Wild – installation of a 9'x15' shade awning.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Rafiki's Planet Watch – replacement of two chillers.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Tree of Life – replacement of two chillers.
  • Typhoon Lagoon Life Support building – removal of existing roof and replacement with new 3-ply modular bitumen roofing system.
  • Pop Century Resort Hippie Dippie Pool – replacement of heater for the Kiddie Pool.

Quick takes …

…After five years, the Holiday Inn in the Downtown Disney Resort Area is finally scheduled to reopen. The resort, which shut down after it was decimated by the hurricanes of 2004, is now accepting reservations for stays starting November 15. The hotel was one of the original four hotels to open on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, and was originally a Howard Johnson's hotel.

…UPDATED: The 2010 Walt Disney World Half Marathon is now full. Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge is 88 percent full (7,500 capacity). The Marathon itself is now at 65 percent of capacity and the Family Fun Run 5K is at 65 percent. Time is running out! Register now (link)!

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Jonathan Heigl's Trivia Tidbit of the Week:

Space Mountain is the only Magic Kingdom ride to be built outside of the railroad tracks.

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 up

  • June 15 - Aug. 9. Sounds Like Summer Concert Series.
  • Sept. 4, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29, Oct. 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 29, 31, Nov. 1. Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.
  • Sept. 6. Trek Women Triathlon (link).
  • Sept. 10-11. Night of Joy (link).
  • Sep. 20. Athletes for a Cure Triathlon (link).
  • Sept. 25 - Nov. 8. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.
  • 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).
  • Nov. 10, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 29, Dec. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17,18. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
  • Nov. 10 - Jan 3, 2010. Castle Dreamlights.
  • Nov. 12-15. Children's Miracle Network Classic (link).
  • Nov. 13-15. Festival of the Masters (link).
  • Nov. 14. MouseAdventure! (link).
  • Nov. 17 - Dec. 24. Festival of the Seasons at Downtown Disney.
  • Nov. 26, 27, 29. Old Spice Classic (link).
  • Nov. 27 - Dec. 30. Holidays Around the World at Epcot.
  • Nov. 27 - Jan. 3, 2010. Osborne Familiy Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
  • Nov. 27 - Jan. 3, 2010. Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade.
  • Dec. 7-12. Pop Warner Super Bowl (link).
  • Jan. 7-10, 2010. WDW Marathon Weekend (link).
  • Mar. 7, 2010. Disney's Princess Half-Marathon (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.
  • 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 buildings for the Disney Vacation Club's Animal Kingdom Villas is now open, with Phase 2 opening in September 2009.
  • Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary Resort – Construction continues. The resort opens August 2009.

Water Parks

  • No currently scheduled refurbishments.


  • Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba – performs Tuesdays – Saturdays.

Current Discounts & Promotions

Walt Disney World free dining deal!

From now until July 26, if you book a three- to fourteen-night, non-discounted Magic Your Way package, you'll get Disney's basic dining plan for free.

The offer is good for stays on most nights August 16 – October 3, 2009. Discount codes for the basic dining plan and available upgrades are as follow:

  • Basic Dine: RYH
  • Deluxe Dine: UGR
  • Basic Dine plus Wine & Dine: KEU
  • Deluxe Dine plus Wine & Dine: NZZ

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 June 21!

Gaylord Palms debuts new exclusive rate specials

MousePlanet partner Gaylord Palms Resort has a great offer, 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 April 19 – June 6, 2009 offer value resorts starting at just $64 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights), moderate resorts starting at $94 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights). Select deluxe resorts (Animal Kingdom Lodge) starting at $164 per night and studio accommodations at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa starting at $154 per night (Friday-Saturday nights) and $199 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights). The rates are valid most Sunday – Thursday nights during that period.

Passholder rates for June 7 – August 8, 2009 have been released, but the prices aren't available for nearly all nights during that time span. You'll want to check for the specific availability for the dates that you're planning to travel. Under this promotion, the starting rates at these resorts are:

  • Value resorts – $74 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights) and $84 per night (Friday and Saturday nights)
  • Moderate resorts – $109 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights) and $119 (Friday and Saturday nights)
  • Select deluxe resorts (Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge) – $144 (July 19-August 8), $174 (through July 18), and $194 (July 4 weekend) per night dependent on date
  • Studio accommodations at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, and Old Key West Resort – $164 per night (Friday-Saturday nights) and $194 per night (Sunday-Thursday nights).

The Disney Dining Plan may also be added to these discounted reservations. 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 EDB (through June 6) or EJC (June 7 – August 8) 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), Small World Vacations (link).

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