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Orlando Parkhopper

Disney's Big Thunder Reopens, Animation Resort Tour, Uni's Spongebob Store and More

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by , 05-28-2012 at 05:24 PM

This week the Orlando Parkhopper crew jumps around the area theme parks to brings you the latest news and info. The big story this week is from the Magic Kingdom where Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has returned from its epic refurbishment. Merida, from Disney Pixar's Brave has also begun greeting guests as well. Next up, we venture over to the new Art of Animation resort to tour the grounds and see if it's worth a stay. From Disney, we head down the road a bit to Universal Studios Resort to see their new Spngebob Square Pants shop and we even stop by SeaWorld just for fun.There's a lot of ground for us to cover today, so let's get started. We hope you had a fabulous three-day weekend!

FINALLY! After a 6 month long refurbishment, The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has returned. The biggest changes are apparent upon approaching the attraction. The entrance and queue have been totally redone. There is a new water slice that has been installed and is gushing with water. Although there were a few show elements that were not functioning at the time of our visit, we were told that care was taken to get all of the show elements back up and in running condition.

The queue looks great!

The geysers work again! And boy do they make a difference.

However, the ones out near the exit are still defunct.

Merida from Disney Pixar's Brave has set up a meet and greet in the magic Kingdom. Stop by and say hello to Merida and the three wee bears.

They have also added a pretty clever photo op at the exit of Mansion.

Let's take a look at the area near the exit of Mansion and then move on to Main Street.

They are doing some very substantial work on Main Street's facades.

The bakery has been behind tarps for months, for a complete rebuild of the facade (though the interior remains open).

Rock out this summer at Universal Studios! Select nights June 9-July 14, you can catch 7 OF MUSIC'S BIGGEST STARS performing live in the Summer Concert Series, right next to Orlando's most exciting, cutting-edge rides and attractions.

The Summer Concert Series performances are included with your admission to Universal Studios Florida.

Artists confirmed so far:
June 9: The Cast of Nickelodeon's "Victorious"
June 16: ZZ Top and 3 Doors Down
June 23: Josh Turner
June 30: Al Green
July 7: Lupe Fiasco

For more information, please visit:

As we can see here, the first phase of the new Promenade project at Universal's CityWalk is ready to open. The machines are churning out sweet slushy goodness and all that they need to do is add employees and booze, and they will have customers.

The newly rethemed retail location near E.T. has opened as a Spongebob Squarepants store. They really did an amazing job capturing the humor of the silly, zany cartoon and the underwater antics that abide there.

The projectors for the Cinematic Spectacular night time lagoon show are finally being hidden and themed. Thank goodness, it was a real eyesore.

You can see how ugly they are when they aren't covered.

We are waiting, eagerly, to get a chance to ride this new attraction. Exterior landscaping has been completed and things look ready to go.

We hear that the ride is really cute and funny. Though we'll miss Jimmy Neutron (and his famous Chicken Dance), we are really looking forward to this family friendly attraction.

We now get a tour of the new Art of Animation resort, courtesy of KingEric.

The huge exterior details have the scale and style of the All Star hotels.

The bus stop

This budget priced resort (at least by Disney standards) is now open and welcoming Guests. Disney's Art of Animation Resort is themed to the artistry of Walt Disney and Disney • Pixar movies through imaginative design and themed rooms.

Entering the lobby, we see a massive chandelier decorated with a whirlwind of sketches.

It's a clever and stylish design

The check in desk is also very impressive to look at with its rainbow of colors.


As with all of the budget resorts, there is a central hub with a gift shop and dining. This resort features an arcade to amp up the fun. And like the Pop Century next door, you enter the food court through the gift shop.

Those colorful jars are over-sized representations of the colors Disney artists once used to paint the animation cells by hand (Do any of you miss hand drawn animation as much as we do?)

Lion King buildings:
We did not get a chance to go through the Lion King buildings as they are still under construction.

Cars Land Buildings:
The Cars Land buildings are wide open and ready for inspection. Let's look around.

This area really has a whimsical feel and kids are going to love it.

Cars Land Rooms:
The rooms are just as filled with charm as the exteriors are.

The couch folds out into a bed

the dresser looks like a workbench

Cozy Cone lamp next to the bed

Even the shower curtain is themed

Nemo Buildings:
We now swim over to the Nemo themed buildings and the resort pool.

Mine, mine mine (but with birds that size, you don't want to stand under them)

Nemo Rooms:
Let the current guide you to your room.

It's the submarine. Get it?

Fish are friends, not food!

It's all very colorful in the Nemo rooms.

Nemo Pool:
Let's dive into the pool area and see what is in store for us.

Appropriately, the pool is located in the Nemo section.

And it's a huge pool with a zero depth entry (great for young kids and the disabled)

The snack bar and pool bar area.

The Art of Animation is a step up from the All Stars. If you have a choice and are traveling with kids, this is a great opportunity.

We now cross town over to Sea World and take a gander at the latest at the Antarctica construction site.

But we had to share this picture of a seal mugging for the camera.

The main center building in the area has been stripped down and the area will begin to take shape soon.

Hard to believe that this with be SeaWorld's most expensive expansion ever, but give it some time. We really look forward to watching this one grow.


Join the MiceChat crew as we celebrate EPCOT's 30th Anniversary in style with a live taping of MiceChat's Communicore Weekly! Join co-hosts Jeff Heimbuch & George Taylor, along with Kevin Yee, Dusty Sage and the Communicore Weekly Orchestra, for a fun-filled night of fandom and frivolity as they tape a special hour long episode of the hit show, Communicore Weekly. The show will be filled with Epcot history, trivia, and special guests.

Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2012 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT's World Showcase for this one of a kind event!

Your ticket includes:

  • Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)
  • Meet special guest, Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder
  • Decadent dessert reception
  • Short scavenger hunt event hosted by Kevin Yee before the show will be available to those who would like to participate (prizes will be awarded)
  • Prizes, giveaways and more
  • The chance to be a part of EPCOT and Communicore Weekly history
  • Endless Five Legged Goat stories and perhaps even a real life Bathroom Break
  • Illuminations viewing
  • Exclusive late night ride after park closing on a selected EPCOT attraction to cap off the evening

Fun, games, Epcot history, celebrities, and live performances of the catchy Communicore Weekly theme songs. This is an event you won't want to miss, but you'll want to act fast, there are a maximum 75 seats available.

For assistance planning your travel to this event, please contact You'll receive one free admission to this event with every room you book (minimum 3 night stay) through Fairy Godmother Travel (purchase your event ticket now and you will receive a gift card from Fairy Godmother Travel for for any free event tickets you earn).

Come early and stay late. We are also planning an early Halloween event for Friday, September 28th and a Sip and Nibble around Epcot's World Showcase for Food and Wine festival on Sunday, September 30th. More information about these two additional events will be available soon.

For more tickets and more information, be sure to visit

The second weekend of Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was just as busy as the first. Star Wars fans are still out in droves experiencing all the fun and excitement this very popular event has to offer.

Weekend 3 (June 1 -3)
• Jake Lloyd (Anakin Skywalker – Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
• Silas Carson (Nute Gunray/Ki-Adi-Mundi – Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
• (Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice talent – currently TBD)

Weekend 4 (June 8- 10)
• Michonne Bourriague (Aurra Sing – Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
• Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett – Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi)
• Daniel Logan (Boba Fett – Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones)
• Nika Futterman (voice of Asajj Ventress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars)Activities & entertainment (subject to change)
• “Hyperspace Hoopla”: This high-energy, one-of-a-kind show is a chance to see some of the famed Star Wars characters performing like never before. It will take place on a stage in front of the Sorcerer Mickey hat on Hollywood Blvd., and is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. each event evening.
• Autograph Opportunities: As always, there is no additional charge for the celebrity autograph sessions at Star Wars Weekends.

The autograph lines will once again be handled via a FASTPASS-type system. The meet-and-greet session/autograph opportunities are extremely limited, so guests need to arrive early to receive a FASTPASS. Please refer to this link, which will take you to the official Star Wars Weekends event page on There, you’ll find more detailed information under “Celebrity Autographs.”

• Star-Studded Event: Keep in mind, autograph opportunities are not the only place to see the celebrities. Star Wars stars take part in fun throughout the day in Star Wars-themed talk shows, behind-the-scenes presentations, the gala “Legends of the Force” parade and more.
That is all that we have so far. The weekend events and appearances can change at any time so please check back for more updated info as the events get closer.

Over at Darth’s Mall, you can find anything and everything a Star Wars fan could ever desire. Artwork, toys, apparel, collectibles and more are available for purchase.

Hey, that's punny.

We are saving this one for Al Lutz

One of the most popular items this year is a Star Tours name badge you can have customized with your own name engraved in Aurebesh (the official Star Wars language). At $8.95, this is an inexpensive and unique souvenir!

Also at Darth’s Mall, various artists are on hand showing off their work and available to chat with guests.

Ashley Eckstein (the voice of Ahsoka Tano in “The Clone Wars” animated series) makes several appearances to sign items from the “Star Wars: Her Universe” clothing line she designs.

The Hyperspace Hoopla is a great way to end your day at Star Wars weekends. This show is highly popular. If you want a spot up front, plan on camping out in front of the stage for at least an hour before the show starts at 8:00pm.

The crowd behind us. Yes, it's a popular show.


Summer Florida Resident Special
Adults - $9.99 per Person
Children (3-12) - $9.99 per Person
Seniors (55 yrs. and older) - $9.99 per person
Offer Valid: May 5 -June 30, 2012

Proof of Residency Required, Per Adult. All rates are plus tax.

Florida residents will also be allowed to apply the cost of their admission towards the purchase of an annual pass with extended benefits that include 30% admission discounts for accompanying guests, 50% off the Adventure Hour, 20% off Rookie Wrestling Experience & in-park photography stations, 20% off Gift Shop purchases and 10% off food & beverages within the park.

At these prices, a family of four can visit Gatorland for about half the cost of ONE adult ticket at any of the larger area theme parks!

Gatorland is a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve, combining “Old Florida” charm with exciting new exhibits and entertainment. The park opened as a roadside attraction in 1949. Today, it provides affordable-priced family fun with thousands of alligators, crocodiles, an aviary, breeding marsh with observation tower, petting zoo, nature walk, educational wildlife programs, Gatorland award-winning gift shop, Florida’s best train-ride, restaurant, Gator Gully Splash Park and one-of-a-kind reptilian shows including the Gator Wrestlin’ Show, Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show. And, don’t miss the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators in the new White Gator Swamp and the all new Screamin’ Gator Zip Line featuring over 1,200 feet of high flying thrills, five intense zip lines and a massive 150 ft. suspension bridge.

To find out more about “Orlando’s only Theme Park with Bite and Attitude”, visit Gatorland online HERE or call 1-800-393-JAWS.

Congratulations go to Gowood for guessing last week's Hidden Parkhopper by posting..."The image above is of the entrance to the new Despicable Me attraction at Universal Orlando. It's going to be a great new addition to the park!!!"

We agree, we can't wait to ride it.

The hidden Parkhopper will be back next week with a new adventure.

Want to meet up with other Disney fans while at Disney World?

Several of the Orlando Parkhopper team members are part of a group that meets every weekend. Find out more about the weekly meets (often hosted by Kevin Yee) on Facebook HERE

Please join us in thanking the fantastic and talented crew of writers, photographers and news contributors who worked so hard this week to bring you the latest information from the parks.

This week's update was brought to you by Eric M. Davis (King Eric), Kevin Yee, Miles Bresin - Miles' Photos, Aimster - Pictures by Aimster, Fishbulb & Dustysage


Thank you for reading, we hope you have a wonderful week and are inspired to explore the amazing variety of attractions on your next visit to central Florida. We'd love to hear your comments below.

If you appreciate this column, share this page with your friends and don't forget to click that Facebook thumbs up button at the top of the page (it give us the encouragement to bring you even bigger and better updates)!

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Updated 05-29-2012 at 12:14 PM by Orlando Parkhopper



  1. chechire cat's Avatar
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    The Hidden Parkhopper is the Despicable me building in Universal Orlando. I think?
  2. mratigan's Avatar
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  3. jpg391's Avatar
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    It's bad that after a 6 month rehab that still some of the show elements at Big Thunder Mountain in the Magic Kingdom where still not working.
  4. DisneyDrums's Avatar
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    I don't get it. You used the same picture twice. It's the Despicable Me building again. Why is that???
  5. ImagiNERDing's Avatar
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    Great photos of BTMRR and the AoA Resort rooms!
  6. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyDrums
    I don't get it. You used the same picture twice. It's the Despicable Me building again. Why is that???
    Sorry about that. In our rush to get the column done so we could enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, we forgot to change out the picture. I've removed the duplicate and the Hidden Parkhopper will be back again next week!
  7. Xadllas's Avatar
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    Despicable Me needs to die in a fire...
  8. KingEric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xadllas
    Despicable Me needs to die in a fire...
    Why? It looks cute, and should be a wonderful attraction.
  9. TodAZ1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xadllas
    Despicable Me needs to die in a fire...
    Stop it!!! You made me burst out laughing in the middle of my office! LOL!!!
  10. jcruise86's Avatar
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    Thanks for the nice update!
    Please feature your name more prominently

    so I can praise you (more conveniently)
    as I do Andy Castro of S. California update fame.
  11. DisneyDrums's Avatar
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    Sorry about that. In our rush to get the column done so we could enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, we forgot to change out the picture. I've removed the duplicate and the Hidden Parkhopper will be back again next week!
    Thanks, Dusty.
  12. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jcruise86
    Thanks for the nice update!
    Please feature your name more prominently

    so I can praise you (more conveniently)
    as I do Andy Castro of S. California update fame.
    Thank you Jcruise86. The Orlando Parkhopper is actually a big crew. Each section of the update is covered by different contributors (their names are watermarked on their photos and included in the credits at the bottom of the update). Fishbulb and I assemble the update and write the filler commentary. There's really no one person to thank and the contributors change every week.

    It's a really great team!
  13. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Hmmm, the color scheme in the Nemo rooms look more subdued than colorful, but it and the other rooms looks fun. Also, the the three piece painting of the royal palace of Naboo looks stunning!

  14. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    I wonder why they didn't fix all the Big Thunder geysers, especially the ones near the exit that with their misting help guests keep cooler in the Florida humidity and heat. The sluice, not slice, needs it's top cross braces yet. Keep up the good work.
  15. Pinkflutterby's Avatar
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    does anyone know if the star tours name badges will be available online or just at the star wars weekends?
  16. Twist1234's Avatar
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    Everything at both WDW and Universal looks fantastic in this update, shame they couldn't get some of the geysers working on BTM thought.
  17. redrocker's Avatar
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    that projector enclosure on the lake is what we used for halloween screams and for outside space mountain during halloween. they are big cause there is a huge a/c unit in the back to cool it down. Funny thing is there is now a smaller enclosure for that projector. maybe they bought them a few years ago cause if its new they should have used the smaller ones
  18. ttintagel's Avatar
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    Wow, the level of detail at the Art of Animation resort is astounding! Absolutely gorgeous. And am I imagining things, or is the "Landscape of Flavors" sign in an old-school EPCOT Center font?