Starbucks Perks Up Downtown Disney, Big Thunder Previews and More at the Disneyland Resort

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in Features

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Published on March 14, 2014 at 3:00 am with 28 Comments

Welcome to a fully caffeinated edition of In the Parks!  The big news this week is the opening of the new Starbucks in Downtown Disney Anaheim. Heading into Disneyland, we see that Space is still grey, but closer than ever to normalcy. Alice has finally gone through the looking glass and is hidden behind construction walls in preparation for a major transformation.  Let’s not forget that Big Thunder Mountain began pass holder previews this week, we offer you our thoughts, photos and video of this classic E-Ticket. . .  we’ll give you a hint . . . we LOVED it.  We round things out with a stroll through Disney California Adventure.  Let’s get to work!

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IT’S BACK!!!!! Let’s find out who can ride the most attractions at Disneyland in a single day . . . it’s the MiceChat Gumball Rally. Rolling your way May 3rd.  Click HERE for more information and to sign up for the ultimate Disney fan event!

Starbucks Downtown Disney

In what should prove to be a successful marriage of vendor and location, the new Starbucks finally opened on Monday in Downtown Disney.  A percolator palace that makes even the nicest coffee klatch look boring in comparison, this new location is grandiose.

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situated on the corner of shops that are directly across from World of Disney, this inviting space sits perched, awaiting visitors.  Huge, glass windows make up most of the walls dividing interior and exterior spaces, with reclaimed wood accents.

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Entering the large, glass, double doors, there is a queue already set up and conveniently laced with baskets of Starbucks merchandise.  Above the waiting guests is a large mural, tying Starbucks to the original orange groves that once occupied the area.

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Once guests have passed the pastry case, and have been guided to one of several registers,they can place their order.

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Along the far wall is a multi-panel video screen rotating images of coffee beans being slowly, lovingly roasted.  It is under this screen that the very special, reserve coffees are brewed in the new Clover Brewing machines (only select Starbucks locations have the Clover machines, not even the theme park locations have them).  Think reverse French Press and you have the general idea of a Clover.  If you are a coffee drinker, pay the extra buck and try a Clover brewed coffee.  It’s totally worth it.  And DON’T ADD CREAM OR SUGAR!

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The location space is used nicely with all of the counters pushed to the walls, allowing a big open space for guests to wander around in.  Along the far back wall is a wooden map of the world, with lights dotting locations where the coffee is grown.

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There is also an indoor seating area nestled in the large picture windows that features a video touch screen where kids can draw and play.

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Outside, they have utilized the once dead space for the Grand Californian emergency exit as a lovely outdoor seating garden for the Starbucks.  The Starbucks logo aesthetic is carried out into the patio in a unique and elegant way. . . a wonderful planted wall containing many water-wise succulents.

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Legend has it that this is reclaimed boxcar wood is a very oblique reference to Walt Disney and his love of trains.

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Overall this is a wonderful space and a remarkable repurposing of a once unpopular store with a sure to be high-traffic coffee shop. Even if you aren’t a coffee lover, this is a great spot to pick up a pastry, beverage and relax.

Disneyland

Oh Disneyland, why are you so pretty?

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Space Mountain

Work is nearing completion on the top of Space Mountain. The upside, workers will have more safety equipment to keep them from falling while cleaning the attraction show building. But to do so, they’ve had to add a new ring to the iconic asymmetrical building. They’ve done a good enough job that once it’s painted white, most folks probably won’t even notice.

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Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

Here is the latest look at the submarine Lagoon.  Subs are up on blocks, scaffolds are in the cave entry and the lagoon is still drained. It’s been this way for weeks.

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Alice in Wonderland

The classic dark ride, Alice in Wonderland, is finally going down for several months, in order to address the problematic exterior portion of the ride.  While the exterior leaves near the end of the ride were deemed a Cal/OSHA no no, an ugly platform and tarp were installed as a temporary measure that lasted for several years. The Imagineers finally have a solution to the safe, but absurdly ugly, tarps.  But it isn’t all safety upgrades. Alice will gain a fancy new Queen of Hearts animatronic and new special effects which are sure to make this attraction even more popular than it was before.

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This refurbishment is currently scheduled to last though July 3rd.

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The walls close off the pathway between the queue for Alice and the Mad Tea Party.

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Club 33

Here is a tour of the recent goings on in New Orleans Square.  Club 33 is being expanded above, as the normal park guests below wander through scaffolds and painted walls.  It must be noted how well they are wrapping up the construction project. But there are still a few spots we can show you what’s going on (but not much).

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

We have watched patiently over the last 14 months as our beloved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has endured a painfully long refurbishment. But it’s finally back in testing (at least for pass holders through this weekend) and will open to regular guests on Monday).

We covered the refurbishment and previews for you in our special edition of In The Parks, but we thought we should re-run the video and key photos as this really is Disneyland’s big “new” thing for the year.

We have day and night shots for you below.

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As you enter the queue, you’ll find fresh new desert landscaping.

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The queue itself follows the same path as before. Just down and around the familiar bend, we get our first good look at Rainbow Ridge. Although the town was completely removed and rebuilt from scratch, the result is gorgeous and painstakingly restored.

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Yep, the water is as copper as ever.

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As you climb the stairs into the station, you’ll note that the right hand side of the loading platform has been expanded to accommodate guests with disabilities.  A large double ramp allows for guests to not only queue up, but exit as well via their own private ramp. The only downside is that there is no shade for disabled guests. Adding a canopy would ruin the view of the attraction from the load platform. Still, it’s a welcome addition for folks in wheelchairs who once had to dodge exiting guests as they attempted to make their way to the loading platform.

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The highly textured hand rails are pretty cool.

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The ride itself is smooth as glass thanks to all new tracks and trains. Thankfully, however, they have attempted to keep the strange little idiosyncrasies in the layout that you know and love. There are still sudden drops and angle adjustments throughout the ride and that same quirky little wobble during the helix. What they have done is brought the ride up to speed with some modern technology while honoring its heritage. They’ve addressed some Cal-OSHA concerns as well.

Let’s get to the spoilers. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THE BIG NEW SURPRISE OF THIS ATTRACTION, SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT BOLD HEADLINE TO AVOID THE BIG THUNDER PHOTOS AND VIDEO.

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The lighting and sound throughout the attraction has been completely refreshed. The entry cave is saturated in an otherworldly glow.

 

We begin in the bat-filled caves as we always have.  But instead of bouncing rubber bats on wires, you’ll find new animated figures flapping their wings, looking a little more realistic. (you’ll have to wait for the video below to see the bats and pools as I wasn’t able to capture a good image for you with my camera and didn’t want to ruin the show for others by using a flash).

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You’ll find plenty of clues to big new things yet to come on the attraction. Watch out for all those explosives. . .

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The goat trick is soon to have new meaning . . .

 

The imagineering team has added to the storyline of the attraction in a way that perfectly fits and helps add detail and nuance to this beloved classic. Boxes of explosives lead to our old pal the goat. His classic chew toy is the set up for a dynamite new climax to the ride. As we head around the helix into the final lift hill scene, you’ll immediately notice that something very new is going on.

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This scene used to feature a rather unconvincing earthquake sequence with shifting boulders and tumbling rocks.  For 1979, the effect was passable.  Today’s audiences require something with a little more realism.  In their place is a dynamic eruption which is sparked at the beginning of the mine and which cascades up the shaft in successive explosions to a grand ball of simulated fire and smoke. The special effects here are exceptional (though they didn’t work on all of our trips).

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That final lift hill is now the grand climax that this ride has always been lacking (as you’ll see in the video below).

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Overall, we simply could not be happier with this refurbishment.  They really went all out in maintaining what worked while improving what was lacking.  That includes the technical aspects of the attraction.  While some may think that the ride little too smooth, others will find the experience more comfortable and every bit as fun as before.

For all the delays, the redo of this 35 year old classic attraction was well worth the wait. The substantial investment in rebuilding all the major show elements, ride system, and improved story will give this ride at least another 35 year lease on life.

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We’ve got a full ride-through video with both day and night shots. Of course, that also means spoilers (this is your final warning. . . but we know you really want to see what’s new). During the day ride through, the climactic special effects do not work properly. So, stick to it and watch the final ride through at night to see the full new show. You won’t regret it.

Sarah the fantastic MiceChatter gives us her review of the long awaited re-opening of Big Thunder Mountain.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad officially reopens on March 17th.  If you are an annual pass holder, they are holding previews of the newly refurbished attraction through the 16th.

  • Friday, March 14 – 8:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight
  • Saturday, March 15 – 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM
  • Sunday, March 16 – 8:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight

To participate, you’ll need to show your valid Annual Passport to either enter the standby line or access the attraction’s kiosks to get a Disney FASTPASS ticket. When you return to enter the FASTPASS queue, they’ll ask to see your Annual Passport and FASTPASS ticket.

Esplanade Mess

C’mon Disney.  Time to fix this.  You are charging over $130 per person for one day park hopper tickets and the area between the parks that your “hopping” guests must traverse looks like this?! And it’s been this way, and getting worse by the day, for over a year. If you are holding off on fixing it because you’d like to build the new fountain here, at the very least pull out this mess and put down pavers until you’ve got a better solution. This area is a shoddy throw-back to the bad old Pressler era. You can do better. This isn’t Disney quality!!!

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Boudin Bakery

The Boudin Bakery exterior is getting some attention.  But, due to recent winds the screens on the scaffolds surrounding the structure were rolled up, revealing the work behind.  Never fear . . . the sourdough bread tour is still open.

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Merch on the move

The first signs of St. Patty’s Day Merchandise and 2014 Graduate items have begun appearing in the shops.  Where does the time go?

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MiceChat Podcast #15: A Spoonful of Sherman Our latest show was quite a while in the making. But judging from the record downloads we’ve been getting, the show was well worth the wait. Aside from our usual round up of Disney and theme park news, we’ve got an outstanding interview with Robbie Sherman (son of Disney legend Robert Sherman of the Sherman Brothers). Robbie was quite candid. The interview was conducted at the Disneyana Fan Club show and sale, so there’s quite a bit of background noise, but it’s all in good fun. It’s a spoonful of Sherman and then some. Enjoy!

That brings In the Parks to a close this week.  Be sure to get to the park bright and early on Monday morning for the official opening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  It’s a pretty amazing refurb and enhancement that should not be missed.

We’ll see you all again soon . . . In The Parks!

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, produces and edits many of the articles on MiceChat. Tune in every Tuesday for the Orlando Parkhopper and every Friday for In The Parks. But you'll also find his photos in the Weekly Round Up, SAMLAND, and numerous other columns on the site.

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  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I’m a big fan of the new Downtown Disney Starbucks. That outdoor patio is a dream and I love the recycled elegance of the interior design. Does anyone know what they call that design aesthetic? I love it but not quite sure how to describe it.

    Great videos and update on Thunder and thank the gods that Alice is FINALLY under refurb. That was a painfully long wait (on both projects).

    • martinjbell1986

      Dusty, did anyone get photos of the helicopter flyover on Wednesday?

      • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

        I haven’t seen any helicopter photos. It was a very early morning thing.

    • AEB
      • SpoonCM

        Schindler and Neutra are considered modernists. Don’t know if the use of recycled materials inside a space is considered modernism, but I would guess the way it’s designed and used can be.

  • FerretAfros

    So does this mean the Subs aren’t closed forever?

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      We don’t have a final answer for you on that. The subs have been dry docked and scaffolds placed in visible locations, but no real work is being conducted.

      As our last MiceAge Update on the situation indicated, a lot is riding on the timing of the Star Wars announcement. The Subs could make a short return for the 60th if the Star Wars announcement continues to be pushed back. We understand that Iger is demanding changes to that project which tie it into the new movie. But we haven’t been given the final answer just yet. And if the Star Wars project for Tomorrowland is canceled, then all bets are off. As with all things Disney, the situation is fluid (pun intended).

      But the days of the Subs and Autopia are numbered due to a list of expense and environmental reasons above and beyond Star Wars. Don’t forget that California is in the middle of a statewide water crisis. We shall see. All things are still possible until announcements are made (and often even after that). ;-)

  • EC82

    Disney can’t fix the Esplanade — they have to spend money on expanding Club 33 since that is REVENUE GENERATING. Remember, as everyone seems to love to say, Disney is a business. You know, exactly the same attitude Walt Disney had when he built his business from a garage to one of the best-known companies in the world by following the whiff of money, not worrying about little details like what makes a good impression on people.

    • pluto

      Actually Walt was obsessive about details, to the point where it often cost him profits. Many of the early Disney films made little money or lost money because Walt always wanted the newest and best animation techniques. I’m sure Walt would be unhappy to see the esplanade in that condition.

      • Chernabog

        Also, Walt didn’t know the meaning of sarcasm. ;)

  • katy621

    July is such a longgggg wait for visiting the new Starbucks. It really looks nice and a good idea for that wasted space.

  • Algernon

    Bring back the old Submarine Voyage. Nemo is so stupid and boring I can’t stand it. Go underwater to watch a bad cartoon? I have a TV set that will show 90% of that ride. They could put those subs on land with video screens on each window and the four year olds would never know the difference. No way is it a family ride.

    Alice in Wonderland will be a lot less fun if they change the part where you feel like you’re going to ride off one of those leaves.

    And while I’m at it, Club 33 belongs in Beverly Hills, not Disneyland.

  • Amanda949

    I’m concerned about smokers taking over the outdoor seating area at the Starbucks. When it was just an open area there used to be tons of smokers hanging out around there, which drove me nuts because the entrance to WoD is right there! Is it smoker friendly? I hope not. Sorry, smokers, but I don’t want your smoke around my child.

    • Westsider

      The smokers probably don’t want your child around them either, but that’s another issue. :-)

      Starbucks has a corporate policy forbidding smoking on any patios or outdoor dining areas, or within 25 feet of any Starbucks store without a patio. That no smoking policy would seem to cover this very large patio attached to this new Starbucks. I think we’re going to be okay.

    • CinderellaGirl

      I agree! I would hate to have a bunch of smokers smoking in Downtown Disney! It’s beautiful the way Starbucks is set up, I don’t want to walk by a cloud of smoke while enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth…

  • tilbz1710

    Any news on when Grizzly River Run is supposed to close? On many sites it says April 21st, but I noticed on a feature it said the 29th? Any comments on this?

    • lnsemsf

      Disney lists it as being down from April 21-June 19th.

      • tilbz1710

        I feel like that is such a bad time to decide to work on a water ride!!

      • Westsider

        That rehab is just in time for the cool, overcast days of May Gray and June Gloom. It’s a much better time of year to do it than September/October, which is always much warmer and sunnier than May/June in Orange County. Attendance is also very low in May, so that helps.

        The winter rehab for Splash bumped the Grizzly rehab to that later slot, since the Resort’s steering committee purposely choses to have only one of the two water rides closed at a time.

  • M69

    SO EXCITED for BTMRR. Heading there on the birthday – just a big ol’ kid! Thanks for the update. The park looks beautiful (except Esplanade) and glad that slowly but surely Space will get cleaned up on the outside.

  • vnormth

    Great to hear about the remodels but when a friend of mine asked me what he could take his grandmother to enjoy in Disneyland it occurred to me: there aren’t any sit and relax attractions any more. Train, Tiki Room, Lincoln, maybe Canal Boats and JC.

    America Sings/Carousel of Progress? People Mover? Monsanto? Mine Trains? Mike Fink? Captain EO/HIStK? Subs?

    Not really a family place as much…As Diane Disney Miller called it: “The Most Exhausting Place on Earth.”

    • mondo

      Mark Twain, Columbia, POTC, IASW, Fantasyland dark rides,Monorail, Pooh,

  • SpectroMan

    Starbucks note: the new one is a Corporate store whereas the in-Parks ones are franchises. What does that mean?
    At the new one, you DO earn star rewards and CAN use your birthday rewards there, unlike the other two.
    However, there ISN’T a passholder discount at the new one.

    What I don’t know (since I’m not a patron) is whether the new one has the same pricing as the outside world or the inflated pricing from in the parks.

    • SpoonCM

      Could have sworn I still gotten stars using my rewards card in the parks. Don’t see why it wouldn’t.

  • gusghost

    That new scene in Big Thunder is awesome! Hope that it makes it’s way east!

  • brian11811

    That kid on the Starbucks screen got totally Pwnd in Tic Tac Tow. Whoooha nelly!

  • brian11811

    Regarding Pwned Tic Tac Toew kid: Scroll back, you know I’m right! But which kid was it?

    Everything looks great, Cant wait to come back and visit.. Or revisit the Season Pass? OMG!

  • QPerth

    Terrific update, thanks so much for bringing us all these details and wonderful pictures!