Welcome to DDW: Construction Kingdom, Test Track under the knife, and MORE!
by, 05-03-2012 at 08:52 AM
Hello and welcome to Dateline Disney World! My name is Cory Disbrow, and I'll be bringing this column to you every week here on MiceChat. In addition to being the author of this column, I am also the co-founder of the Disney Photography Blog and host of the ISO5571 Disney Photography Podcast. Dateline Disney World will be very similar to the outstanding Dateline Disneyland, but of course will cover the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. With my background as a creative photographer, my goal will be to present to you high quality photos of the goings on at Walt Disney World, along with some beautiful photographs of the parks and some of my thoughts and commentary on what's new in The Vacation Kingdom of the World. So, without any further ado, let's get started with a visit to the Magic Kingdom!
Inside Dateline Disney World
- Magic Kingdom
- Main Street refurbishments
- Fantasyland expansion: Casey Jr. arrives, Mermaid & Mine Train construction, Opening dates, more
- Disney tests NextGen FASTPASS service
- Little Orange Bird returns to Adventureland
- Flower and Garden festival in bloom
- Test Track gets reimagined
- Italy Pavilion reopens Tutto Italia restaurant along with a new wine cellar
- Disney's Hollywood Studios
- New Pirates of the Caribbean experience announced
- Star Wars Weekends returns this month
Welcome to the Magic Kingdom!
SCRIM STREET, U.S.A.
The seemingly never ending work on Main Street USA continues to go on, with tarps still up over at the Chapeau…
…the Chamber of Commerce…
…and most obtrusively, the Main Street Bakery.
These tarps can be kind of an eyesore, especially the one at the Bakery. It kind of kills that classic, Main Street USA vista towards Cinderella Castle. Guests right now can still get that classic view of the Castle in their vacation shots, they just might have to zoom in a little bit, like so:
This refurbishment work is a necessary evil though, as the results are always visually pleasing, like the recently finished refurbishment down Center Street.
Center Street is one of my favorite quiet places to sit and enjoy the Main Street theme, and it really looks fresh and new after this recent refurb.
Before moving on to the Fantasyland Expansion, here's a photo of some of the beautiful flowers in bloom at the park:
Construction on the Magic Kingdom's largest expansion in history continues in the happiest kingdom of them all, Fantasyland. Lots of things are going on in the New Fantasyland, so let's start with the only area that is (partially) open already, Storybook Circus.
Recently, the second big top circus tent started to get its skin and color. It is a nice shade of two-tone turquoise that isn't too loud, and won't be blinding in the Florida sun.
Both circus tents also recently started having the bottom half of their 'skin' attached.
On the other side of this area, the Barnstormer and Dumbo are both open everyday, and the last few times I visited the park, they were both seeing consistent waits around 30 minutes.
Even though Dumbo is only half open, and its new interactive queue building is not yet being put to use, it is very nice to see the elephants flying again, and even better yet, seeing how the ride is finally up to speed with its Disneyland counterpart, finally flying over water.
Casey Jr. is finally making his way to the Magic Kingdom soon with a new interactive water play area, and progress is happening at a pretty quick pace. Disney has reported that this area will open in July! For a quick visual, check out the teaser sign up on the construction walls:
Along with the official opening timeline for the Casey Jr. water play area, Disney also announced the opening dates for the additional New Fantasyland offerings that will open this year. The announcements came with much fanfare from Disney Parks and Resorts President Meg Crofton at last week's "What's New, What's Next?" event. Below is the press release:
Additional 2012 Openings Announced for the New Fantasyland as Largest Expansion in Magic Kingdom History Spreads its Wings
This July and “Holidays 2012″ are the next two milestones for openings in the multi-year expansion of the New Fantasyland, announced Friday.
A “What’s New, What’s Next” presentation to media detailed the next phases in the project designed to nearly double the size of Fantasyland, the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history.
“Fantasyland is a place where a very special kind of memory is made: where children just old enough to understand the moment come in contact with princesses and heroes and meet their most beloved friends,” said Meg Crofton, president, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, United States and France.
“We are excited about sharing our treasured stories in new ways and giving guests the opportunity to interact with their favorite characters like never before.”
Last month, the New Fantasyland unwrapped its first openings with one of two Dumbos planned for Storybook Circus, a new train station and The Barnstormer family coaster whimsically re-themed to The Great Goofini (see separate release for additional information).
Announced Friday were next phases:
- Opening of the second Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Indoor interactive area serving the new double attraction
- Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station.
Openings “In time for Holidays 2012″ were also announced by Crofton for:
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- Be Our Guest Restaurant
- Gaston’s Tavern
- Ariel’s Grotto
[ LINK ]
- In addition, Crofton announced plans for a 2014 opening for The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Here's what the play area looks like. You can see some of the things advertised on the poster in the area, like the giraffes and monkeys.
And here's a closer look at Casey Jr. himself:
The lighting for the area is already in place, as can be seen here.
Later in the week, I revisited this area, and saw that many of the props are now up and sticking out over the construction walls.
As with everything involving the New Fantasyland, there is lots of attention to detail, which is a great sign. I'm also a sucker for popcorn lights, so this area should be pretty cool for photos, especially at night once the area is complete!
The biggest visible change at the New Fantasyland site is the rising of some of the first supports for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster.
There really isn't a ton to see, as they're just roller coaster supports, but it is nice to see movement on what will be the final piece of the expansion.
Workers have been putting up lots of supports, even during park hours.
It's also kind of neat to get an idea of how high parts of this ride will go, and to think that Disney will more than likely be covering most of it up with impressive show buildings. Disney has also said that the hills of this attraction will completely hide the Little Mermaid show building, adding a nice layer of depth to this expansion.
Speaking of Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid, there isn't really a ton to see. Scaffolding is up on many parts of the large show building, with work being done of the roof and turrets of Prince Eric's Castle, and also on the rock work along the building. Imagineers that gave a hard hat tour this past week have been quoted as saying they are attempting to match the level of detail at the Indiana Jones queue at Disneyland with this ride. If that is in fact true, and even if they match half of the level of detail of Indy, I believe we're all in for a treat.
The rock work that is seemingly done is really quite impressive. Here's a close up:
On the complete other side of this project, lots of work is happening on the Beauty and the Beast themed area. Beast's Castle has been finished for quite some time, but it looks really nice, especially with an ominous sky behind it.
The Beast's Castle is part of the facade for the new Be Our Guest Restaurant. On Thursday, Disney gave a sneak peek inside the new restaurant, previewing the chandeliers that will be part of the grand ballroom dining room. Take a look:
Work is picking up rapidly on the smaller restaurants, shops, and meet and greet buildings in this area.
It's shaping up to look very detailed. From looking pretty closely at these buildings, they remind me of the level of detail shown at the Germany pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot, which in my eyes, is pretty excellent.
Dividing this whole expansion from the Fantasyland we already know will be a "Castle Wall", and it is starting to grow as well.
Those metal supports and turrets will eventually be covered with details like this, all in the same style as Cinderella Castle:
After revisiting later in the week, I noticed some other changes here. Walls have gone up near the Carrousel, making this narrow pathway between it and the New Fantasyland:
More supports for the new Castle wall have also gone up:
On the current turrets, scaffolding has also gone up, and workers were on site. We can only assume that means that these skeletons will receive their theming in the very near future.
As part of their big-budget but very secretive "NextGen" initiative, Disney has started play-testing its new RFID controlled FASTPASS system, known within fan circles as FASTPASS+ or XPASS. The idea is that people can plan ahead when they will have their FASTPASS times, well before they even make it to Orlando. Then, they will receive one card with all their times loaded onto it. Once the time comes, they head to the Fastpass line and scan their card at one of these:
They have popped up at many Magic Kingdom attractions already, including Mickey's Philharmagic, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain.
The folks over at TouringPlans.com shared some information about the new system on their blog:
X-Pass First Look At Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World began a limited test of new enhanced FASTPASS features that will roll out at some point in the future. Alternately called X-Pass or FASTPASS +, the new system will allow guests to pre-select a certain number of attractions per day for FASTPASS windows. We had already heard that some guests with resort reservations between May 1 and May 15 have been contacted by email to participate in the test. In a new twist, we now have seen guests approached at the Disney’s Magical Express check-in and asked if they wish to take a survey. If this happens to you, the answer is YES (and drop us line too)!
In the 3-5 minute survey, guests are asked to choose Magic Kingdom attractions from two lists to get FASTPASSes for on a particular day. We don’t have the exact stack up of attractions, but they are separated so you can only pick so many headliner attractions and the rest are less busy ones. The test seems to be limited to Magic Kingdom attractions, and guests may only try it for one day in their vacation as opposed to the length of stay. It’s not clear how guests are being selected at the airport to participate.
After picking the attractions and giving an email address, guests are presented with a FASTPASS card to be used in the park. They also receive email confirmation of their chosen attractions.
The following attractions are currently being tested:
- Splash Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Jungle Cruise
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Haunted Mansion
Using the new system is very easy. There are RF scanners by the FASTPASS return entrances with Cast Members standing by. Guests wave the FASTPASS cards by the scanners, which sends their information to an iPad the Cast Member is carrying. The iPad shows the Cast Member the guest’s name, any special events the party may be celebrating, and if the guest’s return window is valid. If everything is in order, the guest goes through the entrance just like other FASTPASS users. Upon arrival at the point in the line where you would normally hand over the paper FASTPASS to the Cast Member, there is another RF reader that is scanned. The Cast Member verifies that the FASTPASS is valid and the guest continues on to board the ride.
In addition to being used to board attractions, the FASTPASS card can be scanned at other stations close to the FASTPASS kiosks that will let the guest know how many more attractions they have left for the day and what the return times are for them. [ FULL STORY ]
I think they are a little tacky, and could have been better themed to go along with each attraction, much like the FASTPASS distribution machines are. I also feel like the idea of planning your vacation down to the minute is a little odd as well, but I'm sure that many families will actually enjoy this addition, as it will (hopefully) enable them to see all their favorite attractions, and now have it conflict with Dining Reservations or break times.
With some pretty serious pomp and circumstance, the Orange Bird recently made its return to the Sunshine Tree Terrace over in Adventureland, much to the joy of many WDW history fans.
LITTLE ORANGE RETURNS
For those unfamiliar with the Orange Bird, the character was a staple of Adventureland in the early years of the park. The Orange Bird would come out and do meet and greets near the Sunshine Tree Terrace, much like many of the characters you see today. The Orange Bird was also a mascot for the Florida Citrus Commission, and could be seen on all sorts of 1970's promotional material. There was some chatter of the little fella returning, and he was prominently featured at fan events, and as part of the Magic Kingdom's 40th Anniversary. After this new surge of popularity (and assuredly merchandise sales!), it was only a matter of time before the Orange Bird made its return!
What is very surprising is that the Orange Bird now has an attraction poster at the front of the park.
While I think it is great that Disney decided to bring this character back and with some serious firepower, it did surprise me that they would use one of these posters to advertise for a quick service snack location. Remember, headliner attractions like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain have posters right next to the little fella who speaks through thought bubbles.
The Orange Bird has been put on the signage of Sunshine Tree Terrace, indicating that he won't be going away again for quite some time.
D23's Armchair Archivist recently offered a great look back on the history of the Orange Bird:
The menu has changed to also have a permanent spot for the Citrus Swirl dessert…
…and the new Orange Bird souvenir cups, which come in at a staggering $7…
Here's the menu as it looks today:
Over at the Agrabah Bazaar gift shop across from the Terrace, there is some Orange Bird merchandise, like t-shirts, pins, and prints of the poster featured under the Train Station.
Saving the best for last though, is the little addition that you saw in the D23 video. The Imagineers actually found the original Orange Bird at the archives, gave him a bit of TLC, and he now resides behind the registers at the Sunshine Tree Terrace.
What's even more cool is the orange crate that they've situated him on. Take a closer look:
These little touches are wonderful. Sayings like "Perfect for Citrus Swirls" and "Bay Lake Produce Co." and "Grown and Packed by WED Enterprises" are really excellent. And the Horizons reference of "Look for our Loranges" really shows that there are some Imagineers who really do care about and embrace WDW's past. Stuff like that will definitely go unnoticed by most, but is very appreciated by loyal fans. Kudos to Disney for this one, indeed.
THIS & THAT
Aside from the huge project that is New Fantasyland, there are lots of little things going on at the Magic Kingdom. Big Thunder Mountain is still down for refurbishment, but will be back on May 27th.
It will certainly be nice to have Big Thunder back, as having it closed has caused some chaos like conditions over by Splash Mountain. It's amazing how one attraction being closed can change the entire feel of a corner of the park. That said, the ride is looking quite nice, and it REALLY needed the TLC.
Walls are also up by the Haunted Mansion, as part of the project to create a new walking path to Fantasyland on that side of the Yankee Trader gift shop.
There are also rumors flying about a Tangled meet and greet, along with new restrooms, and the possibility of a smartphone/tablet/electronic charging station. Here's what the project looks like from above:
The Liberty Square Riverboat is down for a refurbishment until May 20th.
Not too much to see there, but it'll be nice to have the Liberty Belle floating by again. Without it being there, the Rivers of America seem very dead and uneventful. And it also happens to be one of this author's favorite photo subjects.
And finally at the Magic Kingdom, the Tangled meet and greet that was in the old location of Story Time with Belle has now closed.
Going in its place will be a meet and greet with Merida from the new Pixar movie Brave. The movie comes out June 22, so we can expect to see this area open soon, but they haven't made a ton of strides, as there is still Tangled stuff hanging behind the walls
While the Brave meet and greet is being put together as well as the rumored new Tangled area over by its a small world, Rapunzel can be found in Town Square on Main Street, and judging by this photo, she won't be leaving the Magic Kingdom anytime soon, and she is quite popular.
But, enough Magic Kingdom, let's head to Epcot!
Welcome to Epcot!
The park is in bloom with the Flower and Garden Festival going on until May 20th.
It is always beautiful at this time of year, and rather photogenic as well. Some of the best monorail photo opportunities happen during F&G with these huge flower beds adding a ton of color!
Test Track is closed for an extensive retheme/refurbishment that should extend all the way into the fall, keeping it closed for the busy summer season.
It seems that with the logo they have designed and the artwork that has been released, they plan on going with a sleek and modern look for this attraction that was somewhat dated in its original form.
Here are some views from the monorail:
You can see that the marquee has already been taken down, and that the old test vehicles that were used as props in the queue have made their way outside. Hopefully this is a good sign that those props won't be used again, and that we will have essentially a brand new queue experience when this re-opens with its new theme and change in sponsor from GM to just Chevrolet.
After revisiting later in the week, even more has been taken down, and they are working at a rather fast pace!
If we're on the idea of wishful thinking here, I'd love to see that huge canopy come down so the view of what used to be the World of Motion pavilion can shine once again. Meanwhile, the exit shop and GM showroom are also closed, with walls not letting anyone near this building.
The old pizza truck that served pretty bad pizza is gone as well:
And one must wonder if this cool zone will see a retheme as well, or if it will be just removed completely to fit cohesively with the new Test Track.
Last week, Disney released some concept art for the re-imagined Test Track.
Lots of sleek lines and futuristic lighting here, very reminiscent of Disney's own TRON.
To keep guests at bay during this refurbishment, which has been unexpected by most vacationers due to a lack of really acknowledging it by Disney, there are a few things happening right outside the pavilion. First, there are some Chevy vehicles out for people to look at, with a GM specialist standing at a table answering questions.
They have also grabbed a group of singers and formed an a cappella group Disney has dubbed the Test Track All Stars. They sing driving songs with Chevy references in them and do their best to entertain the disappointed guests who are more than likely just finding out that Test Track is closed. Probably not the easiest job on earth, but they are trying their best and doing a pretty good job at it!
In World Showcase, the Italy Tutto Italia and the new Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar have come out from behind construction walls and are looking beautiful.
This pavilion was sorely lacking while this section was closed, leaving Via Napoli to cover almost all the load of the guests. But it is back, and looks better than ever. The menu at Tutto Italia is reportedly mostly the same, but reviews have been quite positive on Tutto Gusto. Apparently, you can order off the entire menu of Tutto Italia while at Tutto Gusto, along with the extensive wine options. It is also Tables in Wonderland eligible, which is really nice to see!
Disney and the Patina Group, the third party operators of Tutto Italia and Tutto Gusto issued a press release upon the opening of the refurbished dining location and the new wine cellar:
New “Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar” Now Open at Walt Disney World Resort
Patina Restaurant Group officially opened Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar at the Walt Disney World Resort on May 1. Located in a reproduction of the Medici Palace in the Italy pavilion at Epcot, the new wine cellar is a space that was “discovered” as Tutto Italia was being built. This “unearthed treasure” features 200 Italian wines and a selection of authentic Italian small plates.
“Tutto Gusto offers a refreshing place to relax and sample authentic tastes of Italy during a day at Epcot,” said restaurateur and CEO of Patina Restaurant Group, Nick Valenti. “It is a welcome addition to the popular dining options at the Italy pavilion.”
“We are always looking at ways to keep Epcot fresh and vibrant for our Guests,” said Erin Youngs, vice president of Epcot. “The new Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar and refreshed Tutto Italia are excellent enhancements to World Showcase. Both nicely complement Via Napoli and offer Guests a chance to enjoy the richness of Italian culture as they savor the authentic flavors of Italy.”
Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar offers a variety of delectable small plates, perfect for sharing, to pair with its wines. Menus feature sections devoted to simple, flavorful piccoli piatti such as bruschetta di Capri, pizze fritte, polenta funghi e taleggio. Artisanal Italian cheeses are on offer in the formaggi section, with everything from soft, creamy La Tur to salty-sweet aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh hand-crafted mozzarella will be made in bufala and fior di latte styles. Also featured are cured, sliced meats in the affettati section – including prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, sopressata and more. The corkscrew-shaped cavatappi pasta is highlighted in its own section, with different preparations.
Chef Renzo Barcatta grew up in Cavalese, Italy and honed his skills in restaurants in Venice, Milan and Rome. He will prepare authentic dishes with choices sourced across Italy, offering the best of each region. In addition to pairing well with wine, Chef Baracatta’s creations also match nicely with family-friendly agua frescas and other non-alcoholic beverages.
Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar was unveiled as part of Tutto Italia’s grand re-opening. The architecture of both properties reflect classical antiquity and symmetry emblematic of the Italian Renaissance period. Tutto Italia has been completely refurbished along with a new enclosed patio to offer al fresco dining. Both the restaurant and wine cellar are furnished with authentic design elements directly from Italy: chandeliers, marble and limestone floors, wall hangings and more. [ LINK ]
Inside the Tutto Gusto wine cellar:
And inside the refurbished Tutto Italia restaurant
Crowds have been a little bit lighter recently now that we are in the little down time between Spring Break and the busy summer season. Clear shots without people in them were possible during the daytime!
THIS & THAT
Over at Club Cool, I went to grab a quick soda, and noticed that my favorite flavor, the watermelon soda from China was missing.
But, after revisiting later in the week, the watermelon soda was back, but a few other flavors went missing. That's alright to me, as I'd rather have the watermelon soda than three flavors I dislike!
Over at the Seas with Nemo and Friends, work continues to go on at the attraction's entrance. This was rumored to be receiving Fastpass since Test Track was going down for refurbishment, but it hasn't happened yet. I don't see why it would be necessary, as I've never waited more than 10 or 20 minutes for this ride, even during busier times of the year.
Lastly, we have a couple news items from Disney's Hollywood Studios:
Last week, Disney announced a replacement for the Journey Into Narnia: Prince Caspian walk-through exhibit at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The new attraction will be a walk-through sensory experience that put guests in the shoes of Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. More from the Orlando Sentinel's Daily Disney blog:
'Pirates of the Caribbean' attraction set for Disney's Hollywood Studios
An attraction based on the four "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, starring Johnny Depp, will open this fall at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Disney Parks Blog revealed Wednesday.
A Disney World spokesman confirms that the new attraction will be in the spot where the "Journey to Narnia: Prince Caspian" attraction resided until September 2011. That building — known as Soundstage 4 and adjacent to Toy Story Mania — also was home to "Journey into Narnia: Creating the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and exhibits tied to "The Haunted Mansion" film and Disney's live-action version of "101 Dalmatians."
The post did not reveal many details about the nature of Pirates attraction, although previous attractions in that location had limited special effects, with guests walking among movie props and costumes.
"In this attraction, we'll let you walk in the footsteps of Jack Sparrow. It's not 'the making of,' not 'behind the scenes' … it is really a first-person experience," Imagineer Jason Roberts says in the post.
An exact opening date was not announced. [ LINK ]
Finally, some information on this year's return of the popular Star Wars Weekends events at the Studios
RETURN OF THE JEDIS
Wookiees, Jedi and Droids, Oh My! Star Wars Weekends Returns to the Walt Disney World Galaxy in May/June 2012
Star Wars Weekends returns to the Walt Disney World Resort during May and June 2012, as Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park celebrates the Star Wars film saga and the hit animated television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The annual special event, included in regular theme park admission, will be held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from May 18-June 10, 2012.
The power of the Force and magic of Disney combine as more than 60 Star Wars characters – including Wookiees, droids, Rodians, Ewoks, bounty hunters and Jedi – roam the streets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios for meet-and-greet opportunities with guests.
Star Wars celebrities highlight the event, appearing in themed parades, talk shows, star conversations, behind-the-scenes presentations and autograph sessions. Here are the celebrities attending Star Wars Weekends 2012 (*subject to change):
Weekend I (May 18 – 20)
- Ray Park - (Darth Maul - Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
- Jerome Blake (Rune Haako/Mas Amedda - Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
- Dee Bradley Baker (voice of Clone Captain Rex and Clone Commander Cody - Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Weekend II (May 25- 27)
- Andy Secombe (Watto - Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
- Ray Park (Darth Maul - Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace)
- Tom Kane (voice of Yoda - Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
Weekend III (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)
Weekend IV (June 8- 10)
[ LINK ]
- 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)
Well, that's going to do it for the first edition of Dateline Disney World. I just would like to extend a thank you to the MiceChat team for having me share the news and my photos here, and to also thank them and all of you for the warm welcome I've received so far!
There are certainly lots of exciting things happening at the resort. Are you excited for the new theme happening at Test Track? Beyond ready for the New Fantasyland to be open? Let us know in the comments below!
Don't forget to visit some of the other great content here on MiceChat, like Dateline Disneyland and Orlando Parkhopper. You can find all of our featured columns by visiting the front page at MiceChat.com.
Thanks for reading the very first Dateline Disney World. We hope you'll join us again next Friday for even more WDW news and photos!