Walt Disney World Resort Updateby Mark Goldhaber, staff writer
Update for February 28 – March 6, 2011
Go directly to: News & Views | Join our Networks | Coming Soon | Refurbishment/Attraction Closures | Discounts/Promotions
Character meet-and-greet Fastpasses to debut this spring at Magic Kingdom | Haunted Mansion changes on the way | Disney cast members approve new contract | Reservations employee arrested for raping guest | AquaDuck height limits changed | Construction update | Quick takes
On her blog last Tuesday, Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix posted:
The Disney Parks Blog just announced that Fastpass service will be added to the new Mickey Mouse meet-and-greet location in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park (link). According to the article, visitors will get a Fastpass with a one-hour return window during which they can come back to meet Mickey, pose for photos and/or get an autograph. With Mickey's Toontown Fair closing last week at the Magic Kingdom to make room for the Fantasyland expansion, a new meet-and-greet area is under construction inside the Exposition Hall on Main Street.
In a Disney press release, Imagineer and Senior Show Producer Jon Georges is quoted saying "This isn't just remodeling Expo Hall; it is completely re-imagining this entire venue as a beautiful Victorian-era theater and the new home for Mickey Mouse."
“Mickey and Main Street, U.S.A. are great examples of pure Americana that complement each other very well,” Concept Designer Jason Grandt said in the press release. “We drew a lot of inspiration from classic Mickey animated shorts such as The Nifty Nineties and Mickey’s Grand Opera. Many of the scenes in these shorts look like they take place right on Main Street.”
According to Disney, the new meet-and-greet area will bring visitors "backstage," where they will meet Mickey "in a rehearsal-room environment amid posters, steamer trunks and stage props." This sounds very similar to the Mickey's movie barn setting at Disneyland, where Mickey greets visitors in rooms themed to classic Disney animated short features.
During remarks during the Disney Investors Conference last week, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs included character meet-and-greet opportunities to the list of activities, like attraction Fastpasses and dining reservations, that visitors to the Disney theme parks will be able to schedule in advance of their trip using new technology Disney is developing. This is the first time that Disney has ever used Fastpass for a character meet-and-greet opportunity, and it's likely just the first of several such offerings we'll see in coming months. Staggs also said that new meet-and-greet locations would be constructed during the Fantasyland remodel for the Disney princesses, and it's not a stretch to imagine that each of those locations will come with its own Fastpass offering.
Disney has given no indication that the new "talking" Mickey Mouse character will be used for this new meet-and-greet opportunity, but Disneyland tested the interactive character last year and it fits into Staggs' comments that characters will someday be able to interact with guests in "highly personalized" ways.
These new meet-and-greet locations are also extremely well suited for Disney's Photopass service. Last month David Koenig wrote about a rumored plan to limit character appearances at the Disneyland Resort to specific locations, "making it easier for a Disney's PhotoPass photographer to capture the marketable moment on camera." (link) The Disneyland Resort strongly denied the report.
The new area and the Fastpass offering are said to open "this spring," which means sometime between late March and June. In the interim, Mickey and Minnie are available for photos in Tomorrowland, and the Disney princesses have temporarily relocated to Adventureland.
When Town Square Theater is completed and Mickey moves from Tomorrowland (and Frontierland and Liberty Square) into the theater, the Disney Princesses will move there as well from their current spot at the Adventureland Verandah while they await construction of Princess Fairy Tale Hall in New Fantasyland. While it hasn't been confirmed yet, we're hearing that they'll get the Fastpass treatment, as well. Stay tuned for more news as that develops.
Mickey and Minnie are also meeting guests near the restrooms behind Splash Mountain – sometimes at the same time that they are appearing in Tomorrowland, breaking one of Disney's former cardinal rules. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
The Haunted Mansion has been the focus of a great deal of attention this week, as the new exterior "Next Generation" queue starts appearing and the end of the attraction itself has gotten a bit of a makeover.
The new queue apparently has been expanded in two directions, both toward the Rivers of America and into the hill that formerly served as the small cemetery near the attraction's entrance. The new area is home to four crypts, three of which will reportedly be interactive, with the gravestones appearing beyond the new crypt area. The queue will apparently wind between the crypts, though another rumor predicts that the crypts will be a diversion from the queue, similar to the "Next Generation" queue that opened recently at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
From the Liberty Belle Riverboat, you can see the extent of the new queue area at the Haunted Mansion. It has been built out to the water's edge and has taken over the hill that formerly held the mansion's graveyard. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
It is expected that these gravestones on the new hill behind the original hill at the Haunted Mansion's entrance will eventually be replaced by the original (or enhanced versions of the original) Imagineers' tombstones. Note the reels of electrical wiring ready to be installed. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
One crypt reportedly pays homage to the players of the instruments in the seance room, with images of their instruments carved into the side of the crypt, and may also include a tribute to the organist from the ballroom scene. A second is an homage to Phineas Pock, a long-storied name in the Haunted Mansion mythos and the name of the rightmost singing bust in the graveyard scene (one of the hitchhiking ghosts—the medium-height ghost carrying a carpetbag—is also named Phineas). A third interactive crypt's subject is currently unknown. A fourth crypt, across from the three interactive ones, pays homage to the sea captain that was central to the original story of the Mansion.
The three "interactive" crypts with the new graveyard hill in the background. The lighter stone crypt in front is for the musicians and the darker one in the back is for Phineas Pock. It's unknown who the still-covered crypt in the middle is for. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Inside the Mansion, the hitchhiking ghosts in the final scene have been replaced with projections of the same ghosts on screens, both in the "hitchhiking" scene, and along the final stretch, where they appear in front of you on a scrim instead of in your "doombuggy" via a reflection. We are hearing that this is temporary while work takes place to update the existing animatronic and "Pepper's Ghost" effects with new interactivity. Check out their (temporary?) new appearance at Brandon Stuve's blog (link).
Disney's largest employee negotiating unit voted in favor of a new contract offer for full-time employees last Friday. Members of the Service Trades Council Union (STCU), the umbrella negotiating unit for six unions representing nearly 21,000 employees in a wide variety of positions, voted 4,987 to 2,099 to ratify an offer agreed to by Disney and the STCU two weeks earlier. The new contract takes effect immediately and is valid through March 29, 2014.
The STCU negotiates for Workers United Local 737, Unite Here Local 362, United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1625, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 385, Transportation & Communications International Union (TCIU) Local 1908, and the International Alliance of Theater & Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 631.
The heads of UFCW Local 1625 and UNITE HERE Local 362 were against the offer, and their unions voted heavily against the contract, but the members of the other four unions carried the vote. More than one in three union members voted last Friday. The major differences between this contract offer and the one that members rejected in October by a 3,880-to-3,350 margin are that employees earning less than $8.50 per hour would get an additional $100 bonus for approving the contract, and an agreement that Disney would continue to pay more than 70 percent of the cost of comprehensive health care coverage. Apparently, the most recent changes swung the Teamsters to vote for the contract, which made the difference in the final vote.
Dissention among the unions has been percolating over the last several contract negotiations, but the six unions remain a negotiating bloc. Their solidarity will be tested again soon enough, as negotiations for a new Casual Regular (part-time) contract will begin soon.
An area within the current Tomorrowland Speedway is under construction, being readied to join the new Storybook Circus Land. This land adjacent to the current Barnstormer coaster will likely be the location of the double Dumbo spinners and their queueless waiting area. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
A Disney Reservations Center employee was arrested Wednesday for sexually assaulting a park guest that he had befriended. Wilbert "BJ" Brookins, 31, had taken a call from the woman, a 30-year-old single mother who was trying to make a reservation for herself and her two children to visit Walt Disney World to celebrate her birthday. After finding out that the woman was unemployed and spending her income tax refund on the trip, Brookins allegedly sent her a text message telling her not to make a reservation, and that he would set her up with an inexpensive room via his Friends and Family discount.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Brookins told the woman he was raised by a single mother and that he "had a lot of respect for women." The Sentinel notes that the woman "made a point to tell BJ that she was not willing to trade sexual favors for what he was doing," and that he "replied that he 'wouldn't dare think of that'" (link).
The Orange County Sheriff's Office is reportedly checking to see whether Brookins has made similar offers to other guests.
The woman and her children arrived at Walt Disney World on Tuesday. After setting them up in a room at the Caribbean Beach Resort, Brookins signed the family into the Magic Kingdom park using his Disney ID and took them on a tour of the park. When the woman decided that it was time for the family to return to the room, Brookins allegedly would not leave the room. The woman reportedly dozed off twice, each time waking up to Brookins attempting to remove her clothes. The woman dozed off a third time, this time allegedly awakening to Brookins sexually assaulting her. The woman yelled at Brookins to leave, which he did, but only after allegedly taking cash, her debit card, and the family's room cardkeys.
Wednesday morning, Brookins returned to pick the family up, stating that he had found her debit card in his car. He signed the family into Epcot, but then left them. At that point, the woman called authorities. Brookins was arrested later that day and held on $10,000 bail.
The Orlando Sentinel found that Brookins has a criminal record in Maryland (link). Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger told the Sentinel, "We have a thorough criminal background check process. Given restrictions on hiring practices, including government regulations, the nature of these misdemeanors and traffic violations do not preclude a candidate from employment."
Brookins was released from Orange County Jail late Thursday night. As always in this type of situation, Brookins has been placed on unpaid leave by Disney, pending the results of the investigation, though WFTV reports that Disney officials stated that they are in the process of firing him (link).
Last Thursday, the Disney Cruise Line modified the height requirements for the AquaDuck water coaster on board the Disney Dream. Riders must now be 42" tall to ride when accompanied by another rider, and 54" to ride alone. Previously, all riders had to be 48" tall to ride. Riders under 7 years old must ride with another rider age 14 or older.
This takes care of two issues on the coaster: First, it allows smaller kids to ride, which is fine as long as they're accompanied by someone else. The ride is a lot of fun, and many kids were feeling left out that they couldn't ride. Second, some of the shorter riders with slender builds did not have enough mass to carry their momentum up the hills and all the way to the end of the ride. This resulted in the ride being shut down while a crew member walked or ran the length of the tube to push the stuck rider to the outrun.
A Personal Appeal, Year Six
There is nothing more heartbreaking than a baby who is born too soon having medical complications that leave them with medical difficulties for life, or worse, that never let them leave the hospital alive. On May 15, I will once again be walking 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.
Over the last five years, through the generosity of MousePlanet readers, friends, family, and co-workers, we have raised nearly $19,000. This year, let's do something really special. My personal goal is to raise $5,000 this year, but you can help in ways other than donating to my walk. This year, you can walk with me. Even if you aren't in the Albany, NY area, you can virtually walk with me by joining Team MousePlanet and walking at the March for Babies site near you. If you join me in walking, money that you raise will help babies in your area to get a fighting chance to survive!
For more information about why I'm walking, or to donate to my walk, please go to my fundraising page (link). To sign up to join Team MousePlanet, please go to the team page (link). Let's show those struggling babies how much MousePlanet readers care!
With the help of our fantastic Guide Editors, we've just completed a major update of the park restaurant menus from Walt Disney World. Click on the "Dining" section from this link to see the list. Please help us keep the menus up to date! Send photos or scans of park menus to email@example.com to help us keep our listings updated!
Here is the listing of interesting items from paperwork filed with Orange County in the last week:
- Magic Kingdom riverboat landing – completion of construction.
- Magic Kingdom Skyway – demolition.
- Epcot Seas pavilion – completion of construction.
- Downtown Disney Pleasure Island Portobello Restaurant – expansion of outdoor dining.
- Downtown Disney West Side AMC 24 Theatres – replacement of two rooftop air handling units.
- Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – completion of construction.
- Polynesian Resort bus stop – graphics & signage.
- Polynesian Resort Luau Cove – carpentry and mechanical work.
- Contemporary Resort bus stop – graphics & signage.
- Beach Club Resort bus stop – graphics & signage.
- Yacht Club Resort bus stop – graphics & signage.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge bus load zone – graphics & signage.
- Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa Artist's Palette – floor refurbishment.
- Pop Century Resort bus load zones – graphics & signage.
- Casting Center – installation of 5 parking signs.
…Congratulations to all who ran in the Disney's Princess Half Marathon, the Princess Family 5K, and kids' races this past weekend. The Half Marathon was won by Jennifer Hanley-Pinto of Jacksonville, Florida, who finished in 1:22:50, winning by 24 seconds over Caitlin Latimer of Lexington, Kentucky.
…The Friendship dock at the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts is closed for refurbishment through March 24. Bus service is available to Disney's Hollywood Studios during this time, but guests will need to walk to Epcot.
…The Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun parade received some additional character support last week, as Mr. Potato Head (from the Toy Story movies) and Smitty (from Monsters, Inc.) joined the parade. If you've seen the updated parade, let us know if it now seems sufficiently entertaining, as opposed to early reactions.
…Disney Cruise Line has raised the corkage fee from $18 to $20 per bottle for guests who bring their own alcohol into the dining rooms. This change is effective immediately on all three ships.
…Walt Disney Parks & Resorts has received the Access Award from American Foundation for the Blind for its Assistive Handheld Technology Device for visually and hearing impaired guests. First tested in the parks in 2003, the device was officially rolled out in 2007 featuring handheld captioning and closed captioning, with amplified audio for assistive listening added soon after. Audio description service was added to the devices in 2009. The device also won a New Product Award from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in 2010 for outstanding contributions to the engineering profession and society. Jeff Kober wrote at length about the device last June (""The Disney Difference For Guests with Disabilities").
…The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network presented Walt Disney Parks & Resorts with the FAAN Corporate Leadership Award for its commitment to food allergy awareness, education and management on February 10. Disney has gone to great lengths to accommodate food sensitivities and allergies over the last few years, and has a very strong program in place.
…The AMC 24 Theatres at Downtown Disney, which has already added a full-service bar and several Coke Freestyle machines in its lobby, is constructing a "dine-in theater," where you will be able to get dinner and a movie in one place.
…Portobello Restaurant at Downtown Disney Pleasure Island is expanding its outdoor dining area.
…Registration for the Champion 5K at Dick's Sporting Goods Presents ESPN The Weekend is sold out. If you're interested in running, you'll need to pick another race or try again next year.
…Registration is now open for the Expedition Everest Challenge (link), as is the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon (link). Sign up now! Registration for the other races during Wine & Dine Weekend (Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay, Disney Family Fun Run 5K, and Disney Kids' Races) and the weekend's ChEAR Squad is coming soon.
Join our networks
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.
- February 7 to March 31: Atlanta Braves Spring Training (link).
- March 2 to May 15: Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (link).
- March 3–6: ESPN The Weekend (link).
- March 12–13: UCA National All-Star Cheerleading Championship (link).
- April 28 to May 2: USASF Cheerleading and Dance Worlds (link).
- April 29, 30, May 6, 7: Grad Nites (link).
- May 7: Expedition Everest Challenge (link).
- May 8: Danskin Women's Triathlon (link).
- May 15: Rohto Florida Ironman 70.3 (link).
- September 30, October 1: Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend (link). Registration opens February 14.
- September 30 to November 13: Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (link).
- November 24–25, 27: Old Spice Classic (link).
- January 5–8: Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (link). Registration opens March 15.
- Mickey's Toontown Fair – closed permanently on February 11 to make way for Fantasyland expansion.
- Enchanted Tiki Room—Under New Management – closed since January 13, due to a fire. Expected to reopen on June 1.
- Yong Feng Shandian Shop – closed through April 1 for refurbishment.
- Star Tours – closed for refurbishment through May 19, 2011.
- Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage! – closed for refurbishment January 30 - March 3, 2011. A new segment will be added, and the show will be rebranded from Playhouse Disney to Disney Junior.
- Primeval Whirl – closed for refurbishment January 17 through April 16, 2011.
- Saratoga Springs Resort – Paddock Leisure Pool closed November 29, 2010 to June 29, 2011, for expansion into a new feature pool, wet play area, and quick-service eatery. During the renovations, the Paddock bus stop and laundry facility will also be closed. Guests can use the High Rock Spring pool near the Carriage House or the leisure pools at Congress Park or The Grandstand. Nearby bus stops can be found at The Springs, Congress Park and The Carousel. Alternate laundry facilities are located at The Springs and Congress Park.
- Yacht & Beach Club Resorts – Friendship dock closed for refurbishment through March 24. Bus service is available to Disney's Hollywood Studios during this time. Guests will need to walk to Epcot.
- BoardWalk Resort – the Keister Coaster slide at the Luna Park pool will be closed from February 7 through mid-March, 2011. Guests that wish to use have a pool slide as part of their resort pool experience can use the Stormalong Bay pool at the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts.
- Pop Century Resort – Hippie Dippy Pool closed February 14 through March 11 for refurbishment.
- Port Orleans Riverside Resort – leisure pool between Acadian House and Magnolia Terrace closed March 30-31 for refurbishment.
- Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground – Wilderness Pool closed March 14 through April 22 for refurbishment.
- Blizzard Beach – closed January 16, 2011 through March 26, 2011 for annual refurbishment.
- Cirque du Soleil La Nouba – performs Tuesdays through Saturdays.
- LEGO Imagination Center – temporarily relocated near Once Upon a Toy through mid-April during expansion of the store.
Passholder merchandise discounts extended through 2011
Walt Disney World Passholder merchandise discounts have been extended through the end of 2011. Epcot After 4pm, Weekday Select, Seasonal and Annual Passholders get 10 percent off purchases at selected locations, while Premium Annual Passholders (including bi-coastal Premier Annual Passholders) get 20 percent off. The discount is available at Walt Disney World-owned and operated shops, but not those stores owned by "operating participants" (third-party stores). The discount is also not valid on a long list of products, and can not be combined with other discounts, offers or promotions. For a full list of what is not included in this discount, check out the Art of Disney Parks website (link).
La Nouba offers discounts to DVC Members, Passholders
Disney Vacation Club members and Passholders can get 30 percent off Category 2 tickets to see La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil when purchased in advance. The discount is good on any performance from February 1 through April 9. You can purchase your advance tickets by calling 407-939-7604. The offer is valid for DVC members and/or Passholders plus up to 5 guests. This offer provides a deeper discount than even the troupe's own Cirque Club, which is offering a 25 percent discount over the same dates.
Tickets will be available for pick up at the La Nouba Box Office's Will Call window. You'll have to present valid DVC Member or Passholder ID to pick up your tickets. Please plan to arrive at least one hour before show time. This offer isn't good for gift certificates or on tickets you've already bought, and you can't combine it with other discounts. The offer is subject to availability.
Room-only discounts for April-June and August-October
Room-only discounts are being offered for April 28 to June 14 and August 14 to October 1, for which you must make your reservations by March 27. Fall discounts are for five percentage points more than the late spring discounts, and discounts vary by type of resort. Here are the discounts applicable for each resort type:
|Resorts||April 28 - June 14||August 14 - October 1|
|All-Star Movies||15 percent||20 percent|
|Remaining Values, Port Orleans French Quarter||20 percent||25 percent|
|Remaining Moderates, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Polynesian||25 percent||30 percent|
|Remaining Deluxes||30 percent||35 percent|
|Deluxe Villas||35 percent||40 percent|
Note that the rooms may go fast. The number of rooms available at these rates is limited. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals.
Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World Web site (link), by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-7722, or your travel agent and using booking code TSU. MousePlanet’s preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
Passholder discounts now available through mid-April
Passholders can save 32 to 42 percent off their room rates for stays at Walt Disney World for most nights February 6 – April 16, 2011.
- Value resorts – 32 percent off
- Moderate resorts, including Fort Wilderness Cabins – 35 percent off
- Deluxe Resorts – 32-42 percent off
(Note: Animal Kingdom Lodge and Polynesian Resort are 32 percent off)
- Deluxe Villa Resorts – 42 percent off
You can book the deal from now through your day of arrival, through the rooms may go fast. The number of rooms available at these rates is limited. Suites and 3-bedroom Grand Villas are not included. An adult passholder must show their pass at check-in. Minimum length of stay requirements may apply for Friday or Saturday arrivals.
Reservations may be booked through the Walt Disney World Web site (link), by calling Walt Disney World at 407-939-7939, or your travel agent and using booking code AU6. MousePlanet’s preferred Disney travel providers are MouseEarVacations.com (link) and Small World Vacations (link).
Military ticket offer
From now through September 28, 2011, active and retired U.S. military personnel can purchase 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with either the Park Hopper or Water Parks Fun and More option for $138 per ticket, plus tax, or with both the Park Hopper and Water Parks Fun and More options for $165 per ticket, plus tax. No Base ticket is available with this offer.
The tickets expire and may not be used after October 1, 2011. The tickets may not be used at all Walt Disney World theme parks and other gated attractions on the following blockout dates: December 27-31, 2010 and April 17-23, 2011. Additionally, the tickets may not be used at the Magic Kingdom on July 4, 2011.
Eligible service members include active or retired members of the U.S. military including the U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, and Reservists. Disney Military Promotional Tickets can be purchased at Shades of Green or at a participating military base (MWR/ITT) office. There is no tax charged for these tickets but they must be activated at a theme park ticket window. Tickets may also be purchased at Walt Disney World Park Ticket Offices and Guest Relations Offices where tax will be charged. No more than six tickets may be purchased by any eligible member of the U.S. military (or their spouse, but not both) for themselves, family members, and friends, and all tickets must be purchased at the same time. If the immediate family has more than five dependents, additional tickets may be purchased for the dependents, however, additional tickets for guests may not be purchased. Valid military identification is required. The tickets are non-transferable and may not be resold.
The tickets may be upgraded to Seasonal Passes or Florida Resident Weekday Select Passes (for Florida Residents), or Annual Passes, Premium Annual Passes, or Disney Premier Pass with credit toward the upgrade based on the actual price paid. The no-expiration option and other upgrades, such as additional days, are not available.
For complete information regarding Disney 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets, military personnel may call (407) 939-7830 or participating U.S. military base ticket offices.
Don't keep it to yourself! Send us your news tips, rumors, and comments. Email Mark here