Hello, and welcome to Dateline Disney World! This week, we’re covering the re-opening of Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, the ever growing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Annual Pass RFID conversions taking place at Epcot. We’ve got well over 100 photos for you this week, so let’s go!

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Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!!

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Upon entering the park, I noticed how when the light hits the Main Street buildings in a certain way, they just shine in photographs. They’re also in really nice shape since Disney has basically refurbished every building, some twice over the past few years.

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[center][size=5][b]Splashing Again[/b][/size]
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This week, Disney reopened Splash Mountain after a several month long refurbishment.

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The queue looks just the same, but is nice and clean.

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Nice colors here.

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No more tarp protecting the load area!

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And now, here’s a long series of photos from the entire length of the ride. Notice the very vibrant colors and how fresh everything looks.

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Inside, the lighting is looking great and the Audio Animatronics all look very solid.

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Looks like all the AA’s were either cleaned up of replaced entirely.

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Even this one was working.

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Heading into the Laughing Place scene, I haven’t seen this many working AA’s and water fountains in a very long time.

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There were lots of working (there’s a theme here) AA’s and very vibrant colors in the finale scene.

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Overall, I am VERY impressed with this refurbishment. The audio was crisp and clear in every scene, I saw effects working that I haven’t seen in years, the AA’s were spectacular, and the colors and lighting were great. It very much felt like the Splash Mountain of old. And when the ride is at this level of show, it is easily one of the top rides in Orlando. I am not afraid to call Disney out on what they’re doing wrong (see last week’s article), but I am also not afraid to praise them for the great work they do as well. And they really knocked it out of the park with this one. I hope it can be properly maintained and stay like this until next year’s annual refurb.

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More fresh paint being applied in Adventureland.

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Work continues at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, with more rock work and roller coaster track going up almost every week.

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Tons of detail showing up on the Mermaid side.

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The path to Storybook Circus is currently open to help flow with spring break crowds.

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More window work being done on the back building.

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Lots of steel that will soon become more rock work and environmental set pieces.

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The project is really moving along, and excitement is starting to build!

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At Epcot this week, our journey takes us to the Odyssey building, where Disney is converting Annual Passes from paper tickets to the new, plastic RFID tickets.

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Disney had lots of information set up explaining the whole MyMagic+ changes.

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They also had a whole bunch of cool pieces of memorabilia there, like classic Audio Animatronics and models.

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The Incredibles will be the marketing behind the MagicBand.

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It was pretty neat, and way cooler than if it were just an assembly line of pass conversion. The conversions will be going on at the Odyssey until mid May. Here are what the new APs look like.

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Mine has the orange stripe on the bottom to indicate that parking is covered by the pass. Passes that don’t have parking covered have a black stripe. We were also able to choose from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy for the pass. It feels really nice to have a plastic card. I would always have to change out my pass a few times a year when they were paper since they would demagnetize or tear from getting wet. Now we have something concrete, and it is a big upgrade!

Well, that wraps things up for this week’s Dateline. Are you excited for the positive changes at Splash Mountain? Will you be changing out paper for plastic at Epcot soon? Let us know in the comments!!

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If you enjoyed the column, especially the photos, and you want to check out more photos and tutorials on Disney photography, please check out my photo site, [URL=”http://www.DisneyPhotographyBlog.com”]Disney Photography Blog[/URL]. And if you like listening more than reading, you can hear us talk about Disney and photography on my podcast, [URL=”http://www.ISO5571.com”]ISO5571[/URL]

  • Malin

    Beautiful Pictures as always Cory. I agree that WDW needs to be praised when it does something right! And the newly refurbished Splash Mountain is looking great. I too hope it will stay in this way for some time to come.

  • Trumpet

    Great Update Cory

    Splash Mountain looks fantastic and I praise WDW management for their refurbishment. If the same love and care went through all of their attractions lands paths and hotels, then WDW would be ahead of its competators. Maybe this is the start of a trend…

    Thanks Again Cory

    Trumpet

  • wave789

    I’m used to DL’s plastic annual passes, so my biggest takeaway here is that WDW’s have been paper?! That’s so incredibly cheap.

    • jacquemeetsworld

      I share the exact same sentiment. I didn’t realize WDW used paper passes, but now they’ve surpassed DL passes as they have a choice of characters. Hint Hint, get it together Anaheim!

    • lnsemsf

      All Florida parks use paper tickets for their annual passes. Busch/Sea World and Universal are all just paper as well now(Though Busch you can pay an extra $5 “donation” to the Conservation Fund and be given a plastic pass in exchange as a thank you.) The one thing I liked about the tickets at WDW being paper was that unlike Anaheim, if you lost or just simply forgot your pass at home it was reprinted absolutely free of charge. I’m hoping that stays the same.

    • indianajack

      I had the same reaction. What took them so long? Sheesh….

    • Susan Hughes

      No kidding about the paper Annual Passes. That is really cheap. Disneyland has always been the plastic credit card type. Maybe it’s because there are over one million annual passholders to the Disneyland Resort, many locals. So they use those passes A LOT!

  • ParkerMonroe

    I’m really glad Splash Mountain is (at long last) back to its former glory… but, can we really call management finally addressing upkeep and preventative maintenence “knocking it out of the park”? An attraction should never be allowed to sink to a level where an annual refreshing is regarded in the terms/praise you used. The fact that so much improvement was immediately identifiable upon re-opening tells me that the attraction was truly in a sorry state. Let’s be careful how much we praise Disney for finally taking care of obvious neglect.

    • a-mad

      True, Parker…. but I think Cory is merely telling it like it is – that the attraction truly looks and sounds spectacular. Sure we can all complain that it was way too late, and that management has made poor decisions in the last few years when it relates to maintenance… but does that mean we have to shred them to pieces when they finally do something right? Maybe if our voices are heard that they did a fantastic job and made a big difference in a beloved attraction, that they’ll keep up the good work, and add more refurbishments like this to their roster.

      • ParkerMonroe

        Yeah, I mean no disrespect to Cory (sorry if it was taken that way) and I’m not shredding Disney management to pieces, either. I’m somewhere in between. I’m remaining hopefully optomistic that the recent refurbishments (Main Street, Splash Mountain) and improvements to exisiting areas (Storybook Circus) are the mark of a change in management. I’m really hoping the recent boost to the Maintence Department’s budget is permanant… but I doubt it. And I hope I’m wrong.

        Too many attractions have been allowed to slip into “over-seas amusement park” quality status. Just take a look at Malestrom and Imagination and Carousel of Progress and the list goes on…

        Disney should never allow show quality to drop to the point of guest complaint. However, it seems their business model is “If the attraction still commands a 60 minute wait there must not be anything wrong with it.”

  • StevenSokulski

    Glad to see plastic cards for the APs. Odd that they don’t print them like they do with the Premier Passports (or Disneyland APs). The sharpied name and expiration looks a little cheap.

    • lnsemsf

      Since the cards themselves are going away with the magic bands arrival, it probably wasn’t worth it to them to buy plastic card printers that will eventually sit unused or have to be sold at a loss.

  • Athlonacon

    I don’t mean to question good work, but I don’t understand why Disney is all of the sudden taking such care in their neglected WDW attractions. I’m wondering if Universal has anything to do with it? Maybe they’ve finally realized they are not the only game in town and Universal has been steadily chipping away at the so-called “magic” Disney so proudly flaunts anywhere where there’s 1/2″ of writing space.

    In any case, it’s a very good thing and I’m hoping Thunder Mountain gets the same treatment. I don’t know if it’s still busted down, but this pictures Mr. Yee showed a few years ago from it were not that promising.

    • red014

      I’m guessing its the end of the recession that’s sparking the massive refurbs. As I understand it, many projects were canned or shelved in the early-mid 2000’s due to all the layoffs, etc. And Thunder Mtn was overhauled this time last year (still looked great as of 3 months ago). Part of the reason Splash Mtn looked so bad (I like to believe) was that it missed last year’s annual refurb to remain open while Thunder was closed.

    • tofubeast

      Thunder Mtn went under refurbishment last year and looks great now.

    • Susan Hughes

      Universal has made an impact on Walt Disney World. Attendance is down, but even more so, hotel bookings are down too. No longer do guests stay on property and never leave. Now they stay off site, rent a car and bounce around the Orlando area. This is the result of Universal (and Harry Potter).
      All the changes taking place from new Fantasyland to a refurbished Splash Mountain, are WDWs way of trying to keep guests on site and stop them from wandering around.
      That is why the rumors of Cars Land coming to WDW are becoming more and more serious, as well as the rumor of Avatarland being shelved. Cars Land is a guaranteed hit. Tokyo Disneyland already has plans to pave over their Rivers of America to build Cars Land over there.
      When theme park attendance figures come out for 2012 and you see how much Disney California Adventure has jumped up the list (because of Cars Land), you’ll have no doubts it will be coming to Florida.

  • WesternMouse

    Splash looks great and Dwarf Mountain looks like it could be a fun ride. How much do you think WDW raises ticket prices to cover the refurb? Any chance of the US ever getting Crush’s Coaster?

  • Gregg Condon

    Great update Cory. So nice to see an article about all of the positive things going on in FL!!

    I love the look of the new bracelets. Can you imagine how excited kids (and parents) are going to be when they get those in the mail? Getting the Magic Express tags was exciting enough but these are going to really be something awesome to get!!

    • robbalvey

      THIS! This is what some “passholders” don’t seem to get – your average resort guest gets giddy with excitement when even their “Your Story” book comes in the mail, and that’s just a standard printed up booklet about WDW in general.

      When guests start getting their personalized MagicBands, and then can sit down at their computer and start browsing through things and making plans and reservations, it’s like Clark W. Griswold and the mapping out of the family truckster becoming a reality!

      I really wish more passholders would really try to look at the parks through the eyes of first time, or infrequent guests, but unfortunately, most of them just see broken animatronics or faded paint that guests will never, ever notice.

      • Gregg Condon

        Let’s just hope the moose isn’t out front telling them the park is closed. 😉

  • DisneyNuts

    I love your updates — it’s a weekly thing for me! We are headed back to WDW in August and your reports help me stave off my impatience. I think that the work on the Mine Train looks awesome, and it appears you were able to capture it from just about every angle. My kids and I were wondering whether the interior part of the ride will look anything like the “Dopey’s Mine Train” game that was an bonus feature on the Snow White DVD — with gems popping out of every underground crevice and wooden beams everywhere. They think it would be pretty cool to be riding “in the game” if you know what I mean. I am just hoping that all of the steel work is covered by the time we arrive in August! I know it won’t be open yet, but I’d at least like to see it as part of the Fantasyland landscape.
    As far as Disney keeping up with its “magic,” we have no complaints. I imagine it’s an enormous and never-ending maintenance obligation. But while some people may think that Disney has neglected some things, it is apparent to us that Disney works on its properties all of the time. They may not get to everything in the order that some fans may want, but in the end, it all seems to get done, and done artistically and extremely well.

  • robbalvey

    And all this time I thought the parks were declining by degrees. 😉

    It’s nice to see an update that focuses on all the hard work that actually IS going on at the parks, instead of just nitpicking them to death because you’re on some ridiculous crusade to fix every single piece of chipped paint or old sign you might find.

    Great update!

    • Some folks may put their heads in the sand and not see the bad stuf (a lot of theme park sites are afraid of losing their perks), but we report things as they really are, good and bad. That’s why we are one of the few sites readers can really trust for the truth.

      I’m not sure that WDW is still in a state of decline. Surely the move of George Kalogridis to WDW is a sign that revitalization is on the way. But there is still a LOT of work left to be done. Animal Kingdom, Studios, and Epcot could each use a DCA sized renovation budget (or more).

      • ParkerMonroe

        Thank you, Dusty. I agree with you completely.

  • LoveStallion

    Wait, WDW is just NOW getting plastic APs?

  • JiminyCricketFan

    Wonderful update! I love Splash Mountain at WDW and am so glad that it is in such good condition.

  • KCmike

    Has the WDW Partner’s Statue always had Mickey in Gold pants, shoes, and around his face? I don’t recall this.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    SO glad we’re FINALLY getting plastic APs! I’ve been keeping my paper tickets in the AP booklet that lists the discounts then sticking that in one of those clear, plastic ID holder things that you can clip to a lanyard. I do that with my Busch Gardens AP as well (though my BG pass is hard plastic as well – you can upgrade from a paper ticket to that with a $5 donation to their conservancy fund). I’m glad they’re letting you pick who you want on your pass as well. If I had my way, I’d want Tigger or Duffy on my pass, but of the choices, I’ll go with Goofy since he’s on my current paper ticket (last year I had Pluto).

    Glad Splash Mountain is looking great again! It’s about time! Let’s hope they can keep it maintained to this level from now on. I heard the only effect not working now is the projection of Brer Rabbit running over the hill (by the scene with the bunny sweeping her porch steps). This was one of my favorite rides, but even with it fixed, I won’t go on it because these days I do NOT like water rides/getting wet. Even with plastic bags over my shoes and a poncho, I’ll still get soaked.

  • HeavyAaron

    We’re Premier passholders, who usually visit Disneyland, but we’ll be in Disneyworld next month. Will we need to convert our passes in any way?

    • Gregg Condon

      No.

  • QPerth

    Thank you so much for a wonderful update Cory with some really stunning pictures. Those Main Street on Morning pictures were glorious, it really had a glow about it, you captured it well, thanks so much for sharing that moment with us all.

    Splash Mountain and Chick a Pin Hill inhabitants look incredible! Almost as if the Song of the South animation truly burst into the real world. Well done to TDO Imaginners, and I hope that TDO NEVER let it get in the dire and sad situation it was in like before EVER AGAIN.
    Thanks for a great read, look forward to the next one! -Q

  • SpectroMan

    Those Splash pics are gorgeous – I really hope they can keep it up this time. LOL@ the animatronics may have been replaced – I think we know better, but as long as they’ve been rehabbed we should be good.

    LONG overdue on plastic passes, especially in humid Orlando. I wish I was a WDW passholder just to see some of those old animatronics on display! I love that they did that for you guys – I always assume WDW doesn’t keep it’s history backstage but this makes me think that maybe some pieces are still there.

  • Timekeeper

    Glad that Splash MTN is out and looks fab; also glad that WDW APer’s are getting plastic AP cards, hopefully on the custom image side of the card, TDO will include more characters to choose from (even if it’s temporary.)

    Timekeeper

  • Michael Greening

    Fantastic update and phenomenal Splash photos. That is what dark ride photography should look like. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get shots like that.