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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here we go, Swine flu fears at WDW

With a report in today's Orlando Sentinel that a group of band members from a Greenville, SC school are experiencing flu-like symptoms after a trip last week to Walt Disney World, the level of concern for visiting WDW has skyrocketed (thanks, in large part, to all the media coverage).

It is likely a confirmed case of swine flu will pop-up in Florida and probably at Walt Disney World. It is, after all, the world's number one vacation destination. With that kind of daily attendance, from all corners of the globe (including Mexico), it's hard not to think that a case will surface.

The thing to remember with this is that prevention is the key. This DOES NOT mean stay in your home and don't venture out. This DOES NOT mean cancel your plans to visit WDW. All you need to do is take a few simple hygiene measures and you stand a good chance of not even contracting this disease, or catching a very mild version - which is, in many ways, just like the normal flu.

So with this in mind, here's a Tip Tuesday Extra (call it Tip Thursday):

First and foremost, WASH YOUR HANDS. A lot!! Be sure to scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. The quick wash trick won't work here. You have to get in there and really go at it. The reason for this is to allow the soap longer time to interact with germs and kill them. If you just hit a little soap and rise off, the soap hasn't had time to do much of anything.

Second, use hand sanitizer. Carry a small bottle with you in the parks. As you come off an attraction, use a small hit of sanitizer (or, again, wash your hands).

Third, if you have a cough or a cold, be sure to use tissues (and only ONCE). Cough into the tissue or into your sleeve. If you frequently cough into your sleeve, make sure that shirt is washed as soon as possible. If you have a cold and a runny nose, use a tissue and then throw it away. Don't keep using them and handkerchiefs are a bad idea, so don't even go there.

The folks at Disney are doing everything they can to keep the parks and resorts as clean and sanitized as possible. You need to do your part.

This whole thing will burn out soon enough. If you have summer plans for Walt Disney World, don't cancel them. Come to the World and have a great time!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Next D23 charter member pin: The Mad Hatter

According to the D23 FanFare email newsletter, the next in the series of D23 Charter Member pins will be released this Friday, May 1. The next pin will feature the Mad Hatter. Also a new D23 shirt featuring the Mad Hatter will go on sale the same day. The shirt features a drawing of the Mad Hatter with the phrase "Your cup of tea" above it. It is in the same style as the Tinker Bell and Jiminy Crickett shirts.

By the way, the Tinker Bell and Jiminy Cricket pins went back on sale this afternoon. No word on how many are available, so D23 members, get them while you can!

Tip Tuesday: Star Wars Weekends

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In yet another post to honor the 20th anniversary of Disney's Hollywood Studios, I thought I'd give a few tips related to the upcoming Star Wars Weekend taking place in May and June at the Studios.

Each year, Star Wars Weekends (SWW) brings thousands of Star Wars fans to Disney's Hollywood Studios to meet stars from the films, pose with Star Wars characters and buy exclusive Star Wars-related merchandise.

This year, SWW will take place May 22-24, May 29-31, June 5-7 and June 12-14. You can see the full list of celebrities at StudiosCentral.com. Highlights include Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Warwick Davis (Wickett the Ewok).

The good news: SWW is a lot of fun and runs for four weekends in a row, so there's plenty of time to do what you want, provided you are prepared because ...

The bad news: There are thousands of fans, which means lines can get REALLY long.

As I said, you can really enjoy Star Wars Weekends if you're prepared and have a game plan.

The first thing you should do is determine your priorities. Which is the most important: meeting (and getting photos and autographs) with celebrities, purchasing merchandise or meeting (and getting photos and autographs) with Star Wars characters. Depending on the crowds, which will likely be heavier on Friday and Saturday than Sunday, you may only get to one or two of the items on your list.

No matter what your top priority is, you have to get to Hollywood Studios EARLY -- at least 45 minutes to an hour before park opening. If this year goes like years past, there will be separate queues for meeting celebrities, merchandise and other events. These aren't the actual queues - think of them as the line to get in the line (after entering the park).

While you're waiting, be sure to stand where you can see the two Stormtroopers that usually patrol on the roof by the main entrance. They have a skit they do that is aboslutely hilarious. They will play with small kids who are dressed up - especially the little Jedi around.

Once the park opens, head straight to what you're interested in and be prepared to wait in a very long line, especially if you're trying to meet celebrities.

When we went to SWW in 2007, we weren't all that interested in meeting celebrities and getting those autographs - we focused on meeting characters and getting exclusive merchandise. So when we got to the park early Saturday morning, we went straight to the merchandise location. Look on your park map for the location. In 2007, it was in the area that now is just to the left of Toy Story Mania. It moves from year to year, so check your map.

Speaking of merchandise, when you do decide to purchase the exclusive merchandise, and by "exclusive merchandise," I mean merchandise directly related to SWW, plan to do your shopping all at once. Regular Star Wars merchandise can be found in Tattoine Traders next to Star Tours (and that's year-round). It may take a while to get into the merchandise area. If you see something you're interested in, you may want to get it, because there's no promise it will be there later in the day or even during a later weekend. The exclusive merchandise has been known to sell out fast, especially the big figs. See my previous post for more on the big figs.

One final tip about merchandise, especially for guests that are using airline transportation -- Disney can ship your purchases to your home - and it might just be cheaper than the baggage fees. Ask a cast member about shipping - especially for bigger items.

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When it comes to meeting characters, many of the same tips from regular Disney characters applies -- have your autograph book open and ready, have your pen ready (sharpie is best) and have your camera ready. Sometimes Disney will have PhotoPass photographers on-hand, but not always. If you do happen to get PhotoPass pictures, be sure to add the special Star Wars enhancements once you view your photos (see the shot above - the enhancements may change each year). And just like meeting the regular Disney characters, the lines can get very long, so be patient.

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Parents be ready, because the characters, especially the no-so-nice ones (I'm talking to you Lord Vader!) may play with you and start to act all evil. We experience this very thing while meeting the Dark Lord of the Sith. He was very impatient at having to sign autographs, like it was beneath someone of such importance in the Empire, and started giving my wife (yes, that's the DisneyMommy there) some grief. It was fun to see an annoyed Vader.

Earlier I mentioned kids dressed like Jedi -- this is one of those events where it's fine for kids AND parents to dress in their Star Wars finest. Some of the costumes you will see are homemade and incredibly accurate.

Star Wars Weekends has plenty for kids as well, but, just like the events listed above, you have to be prepared. If your child (or children) want to participate in the Jedi Training Academy (which is year-round now), make sure your children are at the rope (not under it!) and are as energetic as possible. It's a good idea to get to the rope area at least 30-45 minutes before the next show.

Finally, enjoy it. If you get tired of standing in lines, take a break and head to the rest of the park to catch some of the regular attractions. Odds are, the lines may be shorter than usual. The only, obvious, exception to this is Star Tours, which is home base (or maybe Echo Base) for all things Star Wars, so it's going to be packed all day.

Just be careful who you run into or you could end up like I did while standing in one line back in 2007:

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That's me in the white shirt. I'm amazed he let me go!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cover for D23 May issue announced

The official D23 Web site today unveiled the cover of the May issue of "TwentyThree," the D23 magazine. The new issue will feature Donald Duck, who celebrates his 75th anniversary. Also in this issue will be updates on changes coming to Disney's California Adventure and a feature on the Sherman Brothers who were instrumental in making Disney magic through music.
Look for this issue to be available in stores (The Disney Store and Barnes & Noble) on May 5.

The Disney Studios: Then and Now


As we approach the 20th anniversary of Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly called the Disney-MGM Studios), I wanted to take a look back at the Studios of 1989 and compare it to the Studios of today.

To help me aboard this wayback machine (to borrow a phrase from my friend Lou Mongello), is my wife (the DisneyMommy?) who, during her high school senior week, went to the then-called Disney-MGM Studios only a little over two months after the new park opened (yes, we were dating back then). She has since joined me on all our WDW trips with our family, so she can give a then-and-now perspective.


DisneyDaddy (DD): So what were the Studios like when you went back in 1989?
DisneyMommy (DM): There was not much there. There were no thrill rides like today. There was one tour - the Backlot Tour, and really only one ride - the Great Movie Ride. That was about it. There weren't any shows like Beauty and the Beast or the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. If they had a parade, I don't remember it.

DD: What were the crowds like?
DM: The crowds were horrible. It was only two months old, so everyone wanted to see what was going happening. There were only two major attractions, so there wasn't much to do but stand in line. There were some shops, which were interesting.

DD: What were the main attractions back then?
DM: The backlot tour was the main feature. The lines to get into this tour were VERY long and there were no FastPasses back then. The tour took more than two hours, and it covered a lot more than what the current Backlot Tour shows. Back in 1989, this was supposed to be a working studio, so the Streets of New York were used as sets - guests couldn't walk through them. The Great Movie Ride was the other major attraction. Star Tours and The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular hadn't even opened yet -- they opened a few months later.

DD: Which was your favorite attraction?
DM: I guess the Great Movie Ride. It was ok. It's not one I try to ride these days, though.

DD: Did you see some of the celebrities that visited the park during that first year?
DM: If I did, I didn't know it. All I saw were people in line and it was very hot. Really!

DD: What were your overall impressions in 1989?
DM: I liked it, but I thought it needed more. I liked the Magic Kingdom much better.

DD: Now we go forward about 20 years. We first visited Disney-MGM in the summer of 2007. What had changed since 1989?
DM: Everything! There were so many new attractions, shows, restaurants, shops and more! Now it appealed to a larger audience than just those who were interested in how movies were made. Now the park has a much greater appeal to kids.

DD: We've been to the Studios several times since 2007 and have seen some interesting additions. What's your favorite attraction at the now-called Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS)?
DM: Even though it was one of the original attractions, I still really like Star Tours. When we went in 2007, it was new to me because it hadn't opened by June 1989. I also like to see the kids at the Jedi Training Academy, though I wish (actually we both wish) we could be padawans as well!

DD: Do you think the days of Star Wars Weekends are limited?
DM: I hope not, because it's the one thing that Disney and Lucas have in common. It's "Disney with Ewoks." Parents and grandparents can pass along their love of Star Wars with their kids. Seeing Darth Vader is just as much as a thrill as seeing Mickey Mouse. I think my younger son was more excited to see Jedi Mickey than any other Disney character. I mean it's Mickey Mouse with the Force! What else could be better? There are so many people, young and old, who come in costume to enjoy being a Star Wars fan. What a great way to spend time with friends and family. If we can, I know we'll return again to Star Wars Weekends.

DD: How would you rate the Studios of 1989 compared to the Studios of 2009?
DM: Apples and oranges. The old MGM was a great start, but Disney has taken this park to a whole new level. In 1989, I wasn't all that thrilled with the Studios. It was OK, but there wasn't much there. Now Hollywood Studios has so much that the other parks don't have.

Disney has done a great job of giving each park their own identity with unique experiences. It's like trying to pick a favorite child. There's a serenity at Epcot you won't get anywhere else. The Magic Kingdom has an enormous appeal for children and those children at heart.

DHS is more high-test. Hollywood Studios now is my favorite park, mostly because of what's been added in the past 20 years. There's everything for the younger kids in Playhouse Disney to thrill rides and the Tower of Terror to the shows for older guests - and everybody loves Toy Story Mania. There's even Kim Possible at the studios! All they need now is a Bueno Nacho and more Kim Possible pins!

Hollywood Studios is one of the first parks we head to when our family goes to Walt Disney World.


DD: Readers of the blog know about the DisneyDaddy must-do's. What are the DisneyMommy must-do's at DHS?
DM: Star Tours is a must. It doesn't matter if your a Star Wars fan or not - it's just fun! Also be sure to take some time to visit One Man's Dream to learn about how Walt Disney and his legacy made all this happen. Finally, make sure you get a picture with Sorcerer Mickey - you can find him in the Magic of Disney Animation.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Disney Legend Marty Sklar to retire

According to a blog post on Orlando Attractions Magazine, Marty Sklar, Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering has decided to retire from the Walt Disney Company, effective July 17, which happens to be Disneyland's 54th birthday.

In an e-mail Sklar sent to Imagineering employees, Sklar said, "I have decided to turn in my name tag on one of those prime dates: July 17. In 2009, that date will mark Disneyland’s 54th birthday, and my 53rd year as a Disney cast member. (I returned to UCLA after Disneyland’s first summer to finish my senior year, then returned to Disneyland’s public relations department in September 1956.)"

In the e-mail, Sklar went on to say, "Now it’s time to turn the page. So many of you have asked that I have finally actually begun writing that book about the people, the places and the passions I have experienced as an Imagineer. As I said three years ago when my 'ambassadorship' began, I know you will keep on dreaming big dreams, and creating the newest and best in the world. I’ll still be looking over your shoulders, cheerleading, and filling new blank pages. It’s the most important Imagineering tradition."

Sklar was named a Disney Legend in 2001.

This is as big as if Walt Disney, himself, were announcing his retirement. Sklar has done it all and seen it all. Even though he may officially be retiring, I'm sure we've not seen the last of Marty Sklar.

On behalf of the millions and millions of Disney Parks fans, I want to wish Marty the best of luck in his upcoming retirement and to express our most sincere thanks and appreciation for all he's done to create Disney magic.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Additional details on "Pirates League" in Adventureland

There are some new details emerging about the upcoming Pirates League to be located near Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland.

Participants will receive pirate names before receiving a variety of accessories, including beards, eye patches, scarves, scars, earrings and gold teeth. These will be applied by a "veteran pirate" with sea-sailing tales.

After taking a sacred oath and an official portrait, guests will be part of Jack Sparrow's gang.

There will be three pirate packages.
- First Mate Package ($49.95): bandana, choice of facial effects, sword and sheath, pirate coin necklace, 5x7 photo and a "personalized pirate oath."
- Empress Package ($49.95): bandana, "shimmering" makeup, sword and sheath, pirate coin necklace, 5x7 photo and a "personalized pirate oath."
- Captains Package ($124.95): choice of costume, facial effects, sword and sheath, pirate coin necklace, three 5x7 photos and the personalized oath.

The new Pirates League will be located in the area between the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and the Pirates Merchandise shop. Reservations will be accepted starting May 11. The store officially opens June 29.

Disney Legends to receive Main St. windows at Disneyland

According to the D23 Web site, on April 29, for the first time in history, two people will receive a window on Main Street, U.S.A. on the same day. The windows will honor Disney Legends and former Walt Disney Imagineers Rolly Crump and the late Don Edgren. Look for Rolly and Don's names over the porch of the old bra shop and above the Silhouette Studio.

Rolly Crump is best known for his work at Disneyland on the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room, it's a small world, the Carousel of Progress, among other projects. Crump also contributed to the development of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. After a brief stint away from Disney, Crump returned to work on several pavilions in Epcot. He was inducted as a Disney legend in 2004.

Don Edgren was the original chief engineer in the field for the original construction of Disneyland. He also led the Imagineering engineering team for New Orleans Square and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, while also participating in the initial master planning for Walt Disney World in Florida. He was inducted as a Disney legend in 2006.

(source: Disney Legends Web site)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Attention young pirates: Pirates League coming soon!

The folks at Orlando Attractions Magazine and WDWMagic are both reporting that a new "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique-like" store is opening soon near Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventure land in the Magic Kingdom. Called the Pirates League, the store will help young boys transform into pirates and gain access to a secret treasure lair.

According to these reports, the new Lair should be open sometime in either June or July.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

D23 update - D23 pins to go on sale very soon

I happened to be checking the D23 Boutique to see if any of those "temporarily sold out" pins might again be up for sale, when, what to my wondering eyes should disappear, but the links to those (and any) pins.

Late this evening, I saw a new update on the D23 Web site:

"For those D23 members who missed out on our exclusive pins the first time around, we have great news! This week Disney Shopping will be putting the 'D23' and 'Plane Crazy' pins back on sale, and next week, look for the Tinker Bell and Jiminy Cricket pins to return."

There you have it D23 fans! Look for the return of those popular pins starting later this week and into next week. There's no word on how many pins are available - so if you want them, better get them fast!

UPDATE #2: The "D23" lapel pin and the Plane Crazy pins are now on sale as of 4/23.

For Disney, every day is Earth Day


On today, Earth Day, Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, is celebrating a new tradition called "Party for the Planet." For the Park, it's a commemoration on top of a celebration — since its Grand Opening was on Earth Day in 1998. Since Disney's Animal Kingdom opened, it's earned some of the biggest buzz ever for its "best-of" list-topping thrill attractions like Expedition Everest, Broadway-caliber shows like Festival of the Lion King — and of course the Kilimanjaro Safaris journey among 110 acres of savannah where lions, elephants and zebra roam freely (its huge size combined with all the other attractions makes this, at more than 500 acres, the largest Disney Theme Park in the world).

Beneath all this fun and excitement is a heart that beats passionately for the earth and its creatures. During "Party for the Planet," young Disney's Animal Kingdom explorers can go on a "Supermarket Sweep" to choose the most environmentally friendly groceries or "construct a croc." Guests can even take an up-close look at the new hybrid Walt Disney World Security vehicle, one of the many steps being taken to becoming "greener" every day.

"Party for the Planet" is the site of a major movie kickoff this year, too. Today, the very first Disneynature feature production, Earth, opens in theaters while Disney's Animal Kingdom Guests simultaneously visit "film camps" throughout the Park that resemble wildlife camera and crew setups where they can see previews as well as collect four different Earth buttons.

Since the company’s early days, Disney has been committed to Environmentality, which encompasses the attitude and commitment to do what is right for the environment and right for responsible business.

Building on this legacy, Walt Disney World Resort has intensified efforts to embed environmental stewardship into the decisions and actions of Cast Members and guests through a series of science-based programs and policies. The efforts include effectively managing resources through energy management, water conservation and waste minimization. Some of the work is highlighted in a set of Fun Facts:

Environmental Fun Facts
1. Walt Disney World Resort has improved the linen washing process by increasing wash loads by 20%, upgrading dryers and adapting a water reuse system. The result is that we save 29 million gallons of water each year -- enough water to fill the aquarium at The Seas with Nemo and Friends six times. The process also saved 61,000 therms of natural gas annually, which is enough to power 1452 household clothes dryers for one year.

2. Walt Disney World Resort is making the switch to more efficient and environmentally friendly lighting to conserve energy. In resort hotels, Cast Members replaced 194,000 incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps that use roughly one-quarter of the energy of traditional light bulbs. This conversion saves WDW 26 million kilowatt hours annually, which is enough electricity to power 1450 homes each year.

3. LED (light emitting diode) lights can be 330% more efficient than neon lights and are used in many signs, decorations and Christmas trees at Walt Disney World Resort. Walt Disney World Resort converted 430,000 incandescent holiday lights to LEDs, saving an estimated 1.1 million kilowatt hours throughout the holiday season, which is enough to power 61 homes annually.

4. Disney engineers have developed a prototype at Pop Century Resort designed to recover excess heat from rooftop air conditioner units. This heat is used to make about 85% of the hot water used by all guests in the building during the warm summer months. As a result, Walt Disney World Resort saves 11,500 therms each year – enough to provide hot water to 151 homes annually.

5. Walt Disney World Resort uses more than 6 million gallons of reclaimed water each day, which is used for irrigating landscape, washing buses and cleaning streets at theme parks and resorts. This amount of water could fill 400 home swimming pools each day for a year.

6. Through a successful long-term, captive breeding program, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has produced approximately 25 percent of the total world population of the Micronesian kingfisher. This tiny bird, native to Guam, is nearly extinct because of predatory snakes introduced to the island more than 50 years ago. Since the program started in 2000, the Animal Programs team has successfully hatched 25 baby birds.

7. Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing and implementing a recovery plan for the highly endangered Key Largo woodrat. As part of these efforts, Disney’s Animal Kingdom began a Key Largo woodrat breeding program with very little information known about social structure, reproductive biology, or ecology. Through diligent research, Disney animal experts found ways to successfully breed this nocturnal animal and have successfully bred 17 Key Largo woodrats.

8. Disney guests have purchased over 150,000 reusable bags, resulting in approximately $50,000 raised for the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. With that money, DWCF may be able to provide emergency funding to as many as 10 wildlife projects such as the recent Australian wildfires.

9. Through the Disney Harvest program, Walt Disney World Resort kitchens gathered and distributed approximately 700,000 pounds of excess prepared food through the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which feeds 1,000 local children weekly and reduces food waste.

10. More than 77,000 tons of materials were recycled in 2008, including 31,000 tons of asphalt, much of which has been crushed and re-used to help pave some roadways at Walt Disney World Resort.

Walt Disney World Resort also encourages guests and Cast Member to make a simple change to promote conservation at home as well.

1. Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Make sure everything is off before leaving the house.

2. Unplug small appliances and chargers when not in use.

3. Replace burned-out light bulbs when with more efficient lighting like compact fluorescent light bulbs or light-emitting diodes.

4. As summer nears, raise the temperature on your home thermostat by a few degrees before leaving.

5. Become familiar with the recycling guidelines for your area and recycle everything you can.

6. If curbside recycling is not available, find the nearest drop off location and commit to recycling the most-used item -- whether it's newspaper, aluminum or plastic bottles.

7. Limit lawn-watering to no more than twice a week and follow your regional water management district's guidelines on lawn irrigation.

8. Don't let the water run when brushing your teeth or doing dishes; instead turn it on only when needed.

9. Carpool whenever possible.

10. Turn off your car engine rather than idle with the engine running.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tip Tuesday: Dealing with the sun

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

The warmer (and more sun-intense) months are here and that means it's time to start adding some things to your bags when you come to Disney.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but I've seen countless people who seem to forget this most basic of tips when it comes to visiting Walt Disney World during the warmer months -- use sunscreen and a hat.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," I can hear some saying. Trouble is, these are the same people who end up red as Sebastian the crab by the end of the first day in the parks or having to go to the hospital for sun poisoning.

Many guests visiting Walt Disney World come from places in the continental U.S. or Europe -- where sunscreen and hat use isn't a daily practice. Then they get down to Florida where the intensity of sunlight is a little (or a lot) stronger than back home. Instead of taking the proper precautions, they go out and enjoy a day at the parks thinking that they'll be inside most of the time and won't get a sunburn.

Wrong.

For the average person, it only takes about 10 minutes of exposure to the sun (without any protection) to get sunburned. This is especially true between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. It can take 10 minutes to just walk from Tomorrowland to Frontierland (especially if there are some crowds).

If that same person put on some strong sunscreen (SPF 50 or higher), it would take about 8 hours to develop a sunburn (though I wouldn't suggest testing that figure). This is most important for kids, especially smaller children.

Also, one application really isn't enough. You need to put on additional sunscreen towards afternoon - most people sweat off the first layer of sunscreen (or go to the pool where it washes off) even sunscreens that say they're "waterproof."

Wearing a hat (especially a wide brimmed hat) will give even more protection, especially to those most sunburn-prone areas like the tops of ears and the back of the neck.

Interestingly enough, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a dark-colored, tightly-woven shirt provides more protection than a light-colored, loosely-woven shirt. I don't know that the dark shirt is as comfortable to wear, but that's another discussion.

Finally another bit some people tend to forget -- water, water, water. Keep yourself hydrated. You'd be amazed at how much liquid you sweat away when outside in warm temperatures. It's very easy to get dehydrated.

If you take a few precautions, you won't end up having a miserable trip because you're dealing with a bad sunburn, or, worse, sun poisoning.

Coming up in a future Tip Tuesday post -- some ways to beat the Florida heat while at the parks.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hollywood Studios 20th Anniversary pins unveiled


Disneypins.com is showing the five pins Disney will release May 1 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios). Each pin features Mickey Mouse clad in a director's outfit. I especially like the top left pin shown above.
Each pin is limited to 1,500 pieces, so I expect they will sell out fairly quickly. Based on the listings for these pins, it appears that they will be available in several places at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Speaking of the Studios' 20th anniversary, if you happen to be at Walt Disney World May 1-2, you might want to take part in "Studio 20," an anniversary celebration event put on by StudiosCentral.com and WDWCelebrations.com.

Space Mountain major refurbishment starts today

Today marks a sad day for some Walt Disney World fans, especially those planning to head to WDW this summer and fall. That's because, starting today, Space Mountain has officially closed to begin a major refurbishment project, slated to be completed around Thanksgiving.

As part of the refurbishment, updates will be made to the queue, the track (though it will still follow the original layout) and the effects that are projected on the dark ceiling of the attraction, among other things.
This is the most significant refurbishment to Space Mountain in ten years.
In addition to Space Mountain, the popular Tomorrowland Transit Authority (or TTA), also known as the WedWay People Mover, closed today for a refurbishment. The TTA is expected to reopen sometime in the fall. This is no surprise as the TTA runs through Space Mountain, so there really was no way for Disney to keep the TTA open while major work takes place at Space Mountain.
With a major attraction (Space Mountain) and a minor attraction (TTA) now closed at the Magic Kingdom, it will be interesting to see how Disney attempts to deal with the expected increases at other major attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, which is the only real attraction left in Tomorrowland right now. I don't consider the Tomorrowland Speedway a significant attraction, and don't even ask me about Stitch's Great Escape. Tomorrowland's going to be a barren place this summer.
Hopefully these two refurbishments will go as planned and not go beyond Thanksgiving. We will have to wait and see.
By the way, guests may experience some additional temporary closures at times this summer, especially for the Walt Disney World Railroad as it may have to close to allow heavy equipment in and out of the Space Mountain area.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Disney launches new service to allow guests "see and hear" attractions


Disney engineers have taken recent advances in wireless technology one step further, creating a first-of-a-kind, handheld assistive device to bring the magic of Disney theme parks to guests with visual and hearing disabilities.

Disney’s Handheld Device combines multiple functions – assistive listening, handheld captioning, and closed captioning activation – into one small, easy-to-use platform. The assistive listening system provides amplified audio, while handheld captioning enables guests to read captions while enjoying specific theme park attractions. Closed captioning is also activated by the handheld device in pre-show areas where TV displays narrate the upcoming experience.

The device also provides audio description for guests who are blind or with low vision. This service provides narrated information about key visual elements in attractions such as actions, settings and scene changes and works seamlessly with the existing show audio. From the moment a guest steps into an attraction, they are given rich detail of their surroundings and become immediately involved in the experience.

“We have a longstanding commitment to providing outstanding services for guests with disabilities,” said Greg Hale, chief safety officer and vice president of Worldwide Safety and Accessibility for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “We had been looking many years for a way to deliver content in narrative attractions where fixed captioning systems weren’t an option. With this device, we found a solution for building multiple functions into a single lightweight, durable device that is simple to use and easy to maintain.”

The innovative handheld assistive device was designed to fit in a guest’s palm, weighing a mere 7.2 ounces. The Disney-patented* technology delivers location-based and synchronized information as guests move through an attraction. The device can also serve a wide variety of retail, commercial and industrial applications.

“We are now making this technology available outside of our Disney Parks,” said Hale. “Museums, movie theaters, stage shows, tours – it extends accessibility where it was previously impractical.” Softeq Development Corporation handled product development and is licensed to make this technology available beyond Disney Parks.

The device is offered at no additional cost at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort theme parks. For further information about services for guests with disabilities, guests should visit the Walt Disney World Web site at disneyworld.com or contact Walt Disney World Information at 407-824-4321 (voice) or 407-827-5141 (TTY).

MagicMeets -- tickets selling out fast!

I consider myself one of the lucky few to get a ticket to attend this summer's MagicMeets fan gathering. Tickets went on sale at noon today and within the first 30 minutes, more than 350 of the 550 tickets were gone!

Last year, MagicMeets sold out in 36 hours. At this rate, it might sell out in less than a day!

If you're going to MagicMeets, I'll see you there!

Friday, April 17, 2009

In the Rumor Mill: Magic Kingdom may expand early EMH attractions

According to the folks at WDWMagic.com, Disney is expected to soon announce some additions to the attractions that will be open during morning Extra Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom. The list of the new attractions joining the morning EMH list are Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mad Hatter's Tea Party and Snow White's Scary Adventures.

The suspected reason for this addition is due to the impending long-term closure of Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority for their much anticipated refurbishments, which begin on Sunday the 19th.

The TTA is expected to open sometime in late summer while Space Mountain is expected to re-open just before Thanksgiving.

I'm glad to see Big Thunder and Splash Mountain are on that list. I've wondered why two of the big three attractions at the Magic Kingdom weren't open for morning Extra Magic Hours.

Raython exhibit to bring some thrills to Innoventions?

The folks over at Orlando Attractions Magazine and Touring Plans.com are both reporting that the new Raytheon exhibit planned for Innoventions. Called the "Sum of all Thrills," guests will be able to create their own roller-coaster, jet place or bobsled. The intent is to help guests understand some of the challenges of real-life physics and engineering.

Best of all, according to these blog posts, guests will be able to then ride their invention, similar to the Cyber-Space Mountain attraction at DisneyQuest.

What makes this possible is a huge robotic arm that can simulate the movements programmed by the guest while designing their particular experience.

This arm, created by the KUKA Robot Group, is similar to the one used in the Seas with Nemo and Friends attraction where the deep-sea fish is trying catch Marlin and Dory (although I've noticed that this arm wasn't in operation when I was last at Disney in Dec. 2008 - hopefully it's been fixed by now).

The "Sum of all Thrills" is set to open in Innoventions by the end of this year.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Retro Epcot pin series coming to WDW

Image copyright 2009 Disney. All rights reserved.

I happened to be reading some recent posts on the "What's HapPINing?" blog on disneypins.com and noticed this pin set sneak peek. It features a series of retro Epcot pins, including DreamFinder and Figment and some old Epcot logos. According to the April 12 blog entry, this pin set is "coming later this year to Walt Disney World."

I'm not one to usually purchase entire pin sets, but I just may have to pick this one up on my next trip to WDW (if it's released by then). I imagine it will be available at the main pin center near Spaceship Earth.

Disney announces schedule for Sounds Like Summer series

The whole family will be rockin’ and rollin’ to legendary music this summer at Epcot when popular tribute bands take the stage at America Gardens Theatre.

Seven tribute bands will recreate classic hits from musical icons under the stars as part of the Sounds Like Summer concert series. Concerts, which are included in regular Epcot admission, are nightly at 5:45, 7 and 8:15 p.m. (except July 4, when show times will be 5:15, 6:30, 7:45 and 9 p.m.).

Here is the lineup (subject to change):
June. 15-21 – Stayin’ Alive – A Tribute to the Bee Gees
June 22-28 – Hotel California – A Tribute to the Eagles
June 29-July 8 – Slippery When Wet – A Tribute to Bon Jovi
July 9-19 – Bjorn Again – A Tribute to ABBA
July 20-26 – The Sounds of the Supremes – A Tribute to the Supremes
July 27-Aug. 2 – 2U – A Tribute to U2
Aug. 3-9 – Petty Theft – A Tribute to Tom Petty.

I will be at WDW in late June, so I might be able to catch the Eagles and Bon Jovi tribute bands. Don't forget another fantastic tribute band - the British Invasion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tip Tuesday: One of the REAL best kept secrets at Disney

I hope each of you had a fun Easter and didn't eat too much chocolate last Sunday.

It's time for another Tip Tuesday, and this week I thought I'd share a REAL best kept secret at Walt Disney World. No, I'm not talking about the Disney Vacation Club, which has been using the tag line, "Disney's Best Kept Secret" for several years (and spawning the parody line as Disney's worst kept secret since they push DVC so much - don't get me wrong, I'd love to be a DVC member if I could find $20,000 in spare change).

No, I'm talking about a pair of somewhat overlooked resorts at Walt Disney World -- the Swan and the Dolphin.

They are located right next to Disney's Yacht and Beach Club resorts and offer excellent proximity to both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Best of all, some guests can qualify for significant discounts that Disney doesn't offer at it's own resorts, while enjoying many of the same perks at guests at other Disney resorts (including Extra Magic Hours).

Disney rarely offers major discounts for certain parts of our society (like nurses and teachers). Disney does (sort of) offer big savings for members of the military through the Shades of Green Resort.


For instance, the educator savings is incredible. Teachers (and education support staff) could stay at the Swan or Dolphin for as low as $129 a night (and a second room for as low as $99 a night). That's cheaper than a Disney moderate resort during value season! Rooms at this rate are limited.

This same rate is available for nurses and military members. For those in the military, though, the Swan and Dolphin sweeten the deal: how about discounts off food at Swan and Dolphin restaurants (including Shula's)! You could save up to 50% (depending on the restaurant).

Florida residents can stay for as low as $149 a night (and the $99 a night second room offer).

There are a few downsides to staying at the Swan and Dolphin. First, you are not eligible to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, which is unfortunate as I am a big fan of the Dining Plan. Second, the Swan and Dolphin are not part of Disney's Magical Express service, so if you're flying into Orlando International Airport, you will have to arrange alternate transportation.

All-in-all, this is a great way to spend some time at Walt Disney World without breaking the bank. Essentially, you get a deluxe resort for a moderate (or value) price, if you qualify for the discounts.

Next time you're planning a Disney trip, give the Swan and Dolphin a thought - especially if you can lock in one of those great rate discounts!
(EDIT: Links added 4/16/09)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Finding Disney in D.C.

You know you're a true "Disney geek" when you are touring the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC and run across two bits of Disney history and really get excited about it. Well that happened to yours truly yesterday while I was with my son's school group during a D.C. day trip.
As we began to tour the museum, we entered on the 2nd floor (from the National Mall) and saw the Star-Spangled Banner exhibit (I highly recommend it!). It is the ACTUAL flag that Francis Scott Key saw, inspiring him to write the song that would become our national anthem.

Anyway, as we moved up to the third floor on the west side, I saw something I didn't expect to see at a Smithsonian museum -- a piece of Disneyland!


This is a 1960's era ride vehicle from the Dumbo attraction at Disneyland. Below our favorite flying elephant is a display that reads:
"Dumbo Car, 1960's From the Disneyland Attraction"
"Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride began operating at Anaheim, California, soon after the park opened in summer 1955. Inspired by Disney's 1941 animated film, the ride featured ten steel-and-fiberglass baby elephant cars connected by spokes to a revolving hub; riders could control the height of their flight by moving a bar forward or backward. Although tame by comparison to other park attractions, the ride has always been extremely popular. Who, after all, could resist the promise of promotional posters in the park that proclaimed: "Elephants can fly, and so can you!"

A second display reads:
"Disneyland has always been more than a collection of rides and attractions. It is a place where Walt Disney repackaged his popular characters and stories into three-dimensional, real-life experiences. The park represents the blending of imagination, technology, and business sense that is American entertainment."

Seeing this one ride vehicle brought back WDW memories. But the trip down memory lane didn't stop there.

On the first floor there is a series of windows displaying different artifacts from history. I knew there was a C-3PO costume there that my son wanted to see. When I found that, what did I discover beside it but a true piece of Disney history:


This is an original Mouseketeer hat from the Mickey Mouse Club show. Below this hat, a display read:
"Walt Disney's The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on television in 1955 featuring skits, newsreels, music, and dance. Lonnie Burr, one of the original Mouseketeers, wore this cap for the televised reunion in 1980."

This was very cool to see. Granted, it's not one of the original hats, but an original Mickey Mouse Club cast member wore it for the reunion.

You never know where you might find a link to Disney, so always keep your eyes and your "ears" open!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Characters in Flight to open very soon at Downtown Disney

The fun soars to new heights at Downtown Disney West Side with an iconic new tethered balloon attraction, opening as soon as next week, that takes guests on ascents of up to 400 feet above the waterfront.

Characters In Flight operated by Aerophile is a 72-foot-diameter balloon with a whimsical design featuring silhouettes of a dozen of Disney’s “flying characters” – such as Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and Dumbo. The vibrantly colored balloon can lift up to 30 guests at a time on a six-minute trip – thanks to its enclosed volume of 210,000 cubic feet of lighter-than-air gas. The ascents, by day or night, provide guests with an unparalleled, 360-degree view of up to 10 miles.

Guests board a gondola beneath the 105-foot-high balloon from a landing platform on Village Lake at the end of the main promenade at Downtown Disney West Side. Riders can catch flights seven days a week. Hours Sunday-Thursday are 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. while ascents Friday-Saturday are 10:30 a.m.-midnight. Tickets ($16 for ages 10-up and $10 for ages 3-9) can be purchased on site. Availability is on first-come, first-serve basis.

New restaurant to open at Downtown Disney this May

From a WDWnews.com news release:

Paradiso 37, a high-energy restaurant and bar featuring cuisine from North, South and Central America, welcomes guests to its table in May at Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World Resort.

The lakeside eatery will offer a delectable variety of menu offerings representing the 37 countries of the Americas, plus an international wine bar, 37 varieties of tequila and 10 signature frozen margaritas.

The new concept was developed by Orlando-based E-Brands Restaurant Group, a multi-concept restaurant group which currently owns and operates Timpano Chophouse, Samba Room, Taqueria Canonita, Aquaknox, David Burke, Salsa Orlando and Canonita Express in a number of locations across the United States.

The lively Downtown Disney restaurant will feature nightly entertainment and will be open daily from 11 a.m. until late night.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

D23 pins to be re-released

This just came out on the official D23 Web site:

"Pin-tacular news! Because of overwhelming demand, the D23 member-exclusive Tinker Bell and Jiminy Cricket pins will be available again soon from Boutique 23. Stay tuned for more info!"

The Jiminy Cricket pin sold out in less than one day while the Tinker Bell pin sold out within the first week to 10 days.

Keep an eye on Disneyshopping.com to see when the re-released pins will be available.

Tip Tuesday: Easter at Walt Disney World

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday.

With the start of the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and spring break on the horizon, that means Easter is almost upon us. What better place to spend Easter than Walt Disney World! That may sound like a strange thing to say given that Easter traditionally is one of the busiest times of the year (aside from New Years, Christmas and Independence Day). According to the crowd calendar at TouringPlans.com, Easter is a big fat 10 on the crowd scale, meaning that peak waits of 95-150 minutes for major attractions are possible.

With those kinds of crowds, you might think it's better to skip WDW all together.

I wouldn't and didn't. I was fortunate to spend last Easter at Walt Disney World and had a fantastic time.

So here are the tips for making the most of Easter at WDW.

1. Get to the Magic Kingdom for Park opening. On Easter Sunday, dozens (if not nearly a hundred) female cast members don frilly Southern belle-style dresses and linger outside the entrance and in Town Square. Later, these belles join the Easter Bunny for a special Easter parade.

2. Once you enter the park, go to the second level of the train station and take a wide shot of Town Square with Cinderella Castle in the far background. Be sure to stand in the dead center. It's quite a sight, and I wish I had done this myself. Trust me, you'll appreciate the shot, especially if it's a sunny day.

3. Go ahead and grab some quick FastPasses and then hit a few attractions. The park wasn't all that crowded up until about noon - that's when the crowds started to swell creating those massive wait times.

4. Once you notice the crowds getting bigger, it's time to park hop. I would suggest going to either Epcot or Animal Kingdom.

At Epcot, try enjoy some the exhibits at the Flower and Garden Festival. It wouldn't hurt to take a peek at the tip board located by the main pin shop to see if it's worth getting a FastPass for one of the main attractions here. Also this is a great time to wander the World Showcase Pavilions and really take some time to experience everything each pavilion has to offer. The different films at the pavilions get overlooked, so give them a try. Don't be surprised if Malestrom has a huge wait time, but the American Adventure might be worth a shot. As the evening approaches, try something different to eat at one of the pavilions (maybe the Tangerine Cafe or Yakitori House?) and find a good spot to watch Illuminations.

If you go to AK, see if you can get a FastPass for one of the late safaris. It's likely that the FastPasses are gone, but it wouldn't hurt to see what the standby line is like. Expedition Everest will be nuts, so I wouldn't even try. The benefit of Animal Kingdom is that there are a lot of walking trails and things to see. With the cooler weather, I would walk some of the animal trails and find a good spot to watch the Jammin' Jungle Parade. You might luck into a late showing of the Festival of the Lion King. As the park comes to a close, I'd suggest hopping either back to the MK or to Epcot to catch Wishes or Illuminations to round out a great Easter at Walt Disney World.

Wherever you happen to be, I hope you and your family have a great Easter!
"Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopin' down the bunny trail..."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Disney cuts 11% of entire parks staff

CNBC.com is reporting that Disney announced yesterday that they have cut about 1,900 positions (or 11% of the entire workforce). Of those 1,900 positions, 700 were open positions that will go unfilled, while the remaining 1,200 were eliminated through layoffs. The large majority of the cuts applied to managers and salaried staff as opposed to hourly employees.

"These decisions were not made lightly, but are essential to maintaining our leadership in family tourism and reflect today's economic realities," said Disney spokeswoman Tasia Filippatos in a statement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Another D23 pin is sold out

The second in a series of D23 Charter Member pins has sold out. This pin featured Jiminy Cricket showing his D23 badge. It was released this morning and already it's gone. I guess there either are a bunch of D23 members out there or the supply was very limited. I missed out on this one as well. I'm going to have to be quicker on the draw to get the next one. Supposedly there will be 10 in all. You can bet any Mickey Mouse related pin will go like lightning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Coming in October: Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D

Toy Story fans have a reason to head to the movies again. Disney today announced that Toy Story 1 and 2 will be re-released on Oct. 2 for a special limited time. The films have been re-rendered into 3D films by Pixar.

But wait, there's more.

Not only do you get two movies in 3D, you get them both at once! That's right, Disney is releasing Toy Story 1 and 2 as a special double feature - two movies for one ticket!

For more on this announcement, see the article on the D23 Web site.