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Orlando Parkhopper

Epcot RFID Test, Magic Kingdom's Castle Lights, Universal and Busch Gardens Updates

Rating: 5 votes, 5.00 average.
by , 11-14-2011 at 09:42 PM

The holidays are in full swing at all the Orlando resorts; from Seuss Landing to Busch Gardens and all Disney points in between. We'll bring you shots of all the holiday decorations being installed. However, the holidays are not the only thing being rolled out in Orlando. Construction continues full speed ahead at the mini golf courses at Universal Studios, and the animal care center at Busch Gardens continues closer to completion. At Walt Disney World, a new ticket entry system is being tested at EPCOT, a name change to an eatery, and a new driving experience at Richard Petty, plus lots of little odds and ends we have to share in this week's installment of your friendly global neighborhood Orlando Parkhopper. Hold on to your hats and glasses, as we take a whirlwind tour of Orlando in this edition of the OPH!

There's a bit of interesting news from one of the most forgotten aspects of Walt Disney World, as well as a look at the making of one of the most popular (and most delicious) holiday traditions at the Resort.

In a somewhat surprise announcement, the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway (yes, it's still there. We forgot too.) is adding a new, very interesting option. Beginning January 16, 2012, guests will have the opportunity to drive or ride some high end luxury "super-cars" from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, and Porsche.
A new course, dubbed appropriately enough the "Exotics Course", has been built to accommodate this new venture utilizing switchbacks, barriers, and rumble strips to show what these cars are capable of.

While the concept is promising, the price is an eye opener... 6 laps will start at $199, while a ride along starts at $99. We'll see if it's worth the price once it opens.

The ever popular Gingerbread House at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is back in its 13th year! Take a look at the massive project this is. There's a whole lot of work that goes into this popular spot every year.

The framework for the house itself gets prepared.

Like a little dollhouse.

Slowly but surely, the edible touches are added.

Good enough to eat!

Guests can buy shingles of their own to take home and enjoy.

While Holiday Magic is popping up all over the Walt Disney Resort, the one location at which its always Christmas is Winter Summerland Mini Golf. The story goes that Santa saw this beautiful Florida location when flying home one night and decided it would be a perfect getaway for off-season elven vacations.

Located adjacent Blizzard Beach water park, the site features two, 18-hole mini golf courses. One features a summer, surf and sand theme and the other snow, winter and ice. But whether you choose the easier and more popular cold side or the harder and less-crowded warm one, you play through many elven campsites and other holiday-themed gags and set pieces. And, as expected, everything is on-story and appropriately themed down to the last detail.

Here contributor ABOMIBOT enjoys a smoke effect when a ball is putted beneath a campfire scenic element.

Here the ice fishing line gets an active nibble when the ball is removed from the hole.

Even though you don't see any elves "in person" during your game, there is evidence of having just missed them at every turn. There is story everywhere. And the only visual interruption was from all the pine needles and fall leaves the blustery fall wind kept blowing onto the "ice."

This snow castle has a twin made of sand on the Summer side.

Clearly overjoyed at the sight of Snow Minnie.

While the entire site is very well themed, it does seem dated (a "Santa's Computer" gag in one area reeks of 1999) and Minnie's wrist is in clear need of some TLC.

And while the gags such as one where a snowman provides a wet surprise are welcome and fun, we expected a lot more kinetic bells & whistles.

If you have an annual pass it gets you 50% off the $12/person cover price and two people can have a very fun ninety-minute diversion for the price of a single admission to a Downtown Disney movie. Try this place out sometime soon. It's definitely a good deal.

A few refurbishments have been completed in the Magic Kingdom, and the Orlando Parkhopper takes a look. In addition, a new, special holiday segment has been added to the Magic, the Memories, and You castle lighting show. Look closely and you might even see the castle in its 25th anniversary pink cake decorations for a split second!

While the holiday lights are definitely a sight to behold at the Magic Kingdom, the special Christmas tag In the Magic, the Memories, and You adds a new and unique twist to the holiday offerings at the Magic Kingdom. It's a great use of this technology and hopefully can be changed relatively easily for other holidays and from year to year.

Cinderella Castle Dreamlights are truly enchanting.


Some shots from the holiday segment of the Magic, the Memories, and You.

Really gets you in the spirit!


Facade work continues in Frontierland, with the Shootin' Gallery back up but the Trading Post now under tarps. Some further work is being conducted in Fantasyland, and the Enchanted Grove has come back from its facade refurbishment with a new paint scheme and a new name: Cheshire Cafe.

Reopened as Cheshire Cafe: Same menu, new name and color scheme.

The Frontierland Shootin' Arcade is open after an extensive refurbishment. Looks like new!

One back up, one goes down. The Frontier Trading post is now under tarps for refurb.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios, some new decor has appeared, and we're not just talking about Christmas. It's nice to see windows and facades changing.

Hanging wreaths on the ticket booths.

The Christmas Tree

Classic tinsel decorations around the park

Mulch, Sweat, and Shears all decked out in holiday attire, sporting a new FEMALE lead singer

(at least we haven't seen her before).

The new Holiday popcorn bucket.

New Christmas headgear.

A brand new Muppet movie is being released for Thanksgiving this year and is currently being promoted at Muppet-Vision 3D. Movie posters have replaced several "Muppet Vision 3-D" posters at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Also changed (not pictured) was the giant lenticular photo as you enter the preshow; it was replaced by a giant movie poster. While it's nice to see the movie getting a push, it seems a step backwards to cover the impressive lenticular - but it's all just temporary. Things will return to normal (or as normal as normal gets with the Muppets) once the movie hype dies.

We can't wait to see the movie! (Both Muppetvision, and the Muppets!)

"It's called a salute to all nations, but mostly America."

New window displays have been revealed at Disney's Hollywood Studios. They are themed nicely to the 1930's...until you take a close look and see the iPhone accessory.

Looks good.

Very chic.

Everything's ok..

...until you notice this little anachronism (Mickey iPhone case). Yes, we've got eagle eyes!

What would any Parkhopper update be during the holiday season be without some shots of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights? Seriously, we can't get enough of seeing this and hopefully you dear readers appreciate them too!

Hidden Mickey snowman!

Lights cover EVERYTHING.

Animal Kingdom has joined the Christmas spirit with their towering tree installed at the entrance to the park. While the decor is muted throughout, you can still catch some flavor of the holiday spirit while running to your favorite attraction.

The entry plaza tree surrounded by a swarm of people.

Animal decorations adorn the tree.

Most of the holiday decor inside the park is concentrated on Discovery Island (the shopping area just past the bridge), with various trees added in random places in other locations.

Holiday decorations available for purchase.

Muted wreaths and garland on the shops in Discovery Island.

Conservation Station even gets a tree!

Inside Dinoland there is a meet and greet location with Christmas Goofy and Pluto.

Tacky ornaments for a tacky land.

We're sorry you are stuck in Dinoland Pluto and Goofy!

The Aluminum tree is fitting here, no?

While its understandable that the Christmas holiday would conflict with some of the themed areas of the park, it would be nice to see some holiday decor that reflects the different continents that are featured in Animal Kingdom. An educational display or street show in Asia or Africa that showcases how they celebrate their own holidays would be informative and fun. It just seems like a waste to throw up a few decorations and change the parade when there is so much potential...

Our readers are some of the sharpest theme park minds out there. What are some of your suggestions for spicing up the Animal Kingdom's holiday offerings?

EPCOT really is the theme park of the future this week, with a new entry system being tested at the front turnstiles, as well as the House of Innoventions reopening after a hiatus. Let's take a look and see what the future holds, Disney style.

This past weekend, a new entry system was being tested at EPCOT. Essentially, this is one step in the beginning of RFID technology we've been hearing so much about in conjunction with Disney's NextGen projects. Essentially, guests receive a small, RFID enabled sticker on their ticket. Once affixed, they hold their tickets up to a small globe and place their fingers on the biometric scanner. The piece then glows green and guests can enter the park. Apparently by eliminating turnstiles, the goal is to speed up the entry process, increasing guest satisfaction. While this is only a test for the time being and has only replaced a few turnstiles, we'll be on the lookout for more chances to test it out and offer all of you any new information that comes to us.

Anyone else out there worried that once RFID tags actually start showing up on all ticket media that Disney will use it to track all of our movements and purchases?

While open for some time, Orlando Parkhoppers have recently taken a tour of the House of Innoventions, which was closed for several years before quietly opening again this summer. Here's a tour to show you what to expect:

Garage....of the future

Barbecue...of the future

Toilet...of the future (Caution: sharp edges)

Shower...I think you get the idea.

Children will all be caged in round beds.

Bookshelves will defy gravity (and be purchased at Ikea)!

And nearly everything will look like something you can buy today.

Club Cool just got a little more festive as they have decked the free beverage location with fabulous, glittery decorations for the holidays.

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Universal continues construction of its mini golf courses, while Seuss Landing gets decked out for the holidays.

Elements of the construction project are becoming quite clear.

Walls going up, while some decorative elements appear to be installed too.

A bizarre metal structure on the left with large hooks... a giant robot! Look at the size of it compared to the workers!

Rockwork continuing . . . is that a claw we spy in the bottom center of this image?

Rock mountain monster cave thinggy?

Snakelike creatures being installed, just your average day at a theme park.

Inside Universal Studios park, work continues on the old Jimmy Neutron building to make way for the Despicable Me attraction.

These guys are really cute. Lots of guests stopping to take pictures with them.

Some great news from the Hulk to share and Christmas in Seuss Landing from Islands of Adventure this week.

The Hulk queue appears to have been freshened up a bit. New LCD flat screens have been installed in portions along the queue. It's nice to see them allowing the rest of the park to benefit from the revenue that Harry Potter is bringing in.

Now if they could just finish the job.

Everything neat, tidy, freshly painted and well lit.

Seuss Landing gets decked out for the holidays. Garland everywhere!

No edges are safe from garland.

Even the attraction signs sport tinsel.

We love the organic nature of the garland. No need to follow straight lines when there are none!

Green Eggs and Ham:
The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe has reopened with a new menu after a spotty history of operation. Now they have the new Green Eggs and Hamwich! Finally we can eat them in a box with a fox or on a train or in the rain!

Option 4 is for the brave

Not to be outdone, Busch Gardens also adorns its buildings with holiday decorations. The seasonal shop becomes Santa's Workshop for Christmas. There's also a striped addition to the family to report about, as well as the continuing construction of the new animal care facility set to open at the beginning of the year.

Busch Gardens Baby Boom Continues With Birth of Baby Grevy's Zebra:
A new Grevy’s zebra was born on Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Plain on November 4, 2011. Within an hour after her birth, the female foal was running with the rest of the herd and nursing from her mother.

So cute!

The Sahara Trading Company shop in Morocco has transformed from the Shop of Horrors for Howl-O-Scream to Santa's Christmas Workshop. Inside you'll find all sorts of Christmas merchandise.

Me want Christmas cookie!

Lovely decorations!

Busch Gardens also includes some less traditional decorations.

Nutcrackers galore!

Did you say ORNAMENTS?!

Things are progressing nicely on the new state-of-the-art animal care facility scheduled to open early next year.

It inches closer to completion every week.

There's still a lot of work to be done.

Garden Gate Cafe Closed for Refurbishment
The Garden Gate Cafe (former Hospitality House) pizza & pasta buffet restaurant is currently closed while it goes under a major rehab.

New Sign at Myombe Reserve
Over at the Myombe Reserve chimp
anzee and gorilla habitat, a new sign has replaced the former "Exit Only" sign and has now become the "East Entrance" to the exhibit.

The thinker.

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. Join the public Facebook group and get notified of events (the locations are different every time). Drop by to visit the "attraction of the day" with us. Newcomers are welcome!

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)!

We want your photos! Contribute to the Orlando Parkhopper by emailing [email protected] with your submissions. We welcome volunteers for single contributions as well as permanent "Parkhopper" staff

Thanks to our fantastic and talented crew of writers, photographers and news contributors who work so very hard every week to bring you the latest information from the parks. This week's team included:

  • Today's Editors: SummerinFL, YoYoFlamingo, Fishbulb, Dustysage
Thank you for reading, we'd love to hear your comments below. Have a great week and enjoy your theme park hopping!

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Updated 11-14-2011 at 11:59 PM by Orlando Parkhopper



  1. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Huge thanks go out to the Orlando Parkhopper crew. When I think of the number of parks and countless hours that you folks put into this weekly update, it boggles the mind. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Your updates are fabulous and very much appreciated!

    I was captivated by all those Osborne Lights photos this week. Instead of getting ready for work, I'm watching dancing lights.

    And what's up with that House of the Future at Innoventions? Square toilets? Ikea furnishings? Odd and not very futuristic.

    As for Animal Kingdom - I'm oddly drawn to the subtle decorations. It's nice to have one park that isn't packed to the hilt with lights and bright ornaments. But I do like the suggesting of seeing how other parts of the world celebrate their different holidays and festivals. However, they don't all have celebrations which fall at the same time of year. India, for example doesn't really celebrate Christmas (they have nearly a billion people but VERY few are Christian). It would be inappropriate to put Christmas decorations up in those parts of the park and they don't really have special decorations at this time of year that I can recall.

    Much of Africa has Christian influences but some of it is predominantly Muslim or local religions. It's a touchy subject.

    The Dinosaurs were clearly Jewish.

    Sorry to get off track. Great update everyone. Loved it!
  2. SummerInFL's Avatar
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    In regards to the Christmas offerings at DAK, I think some holidays are celebrated in every country around the world, it wouldn't have to be specifically Christmas. By removing that limitation, I think they could definitely showcase what other countries celebrate and do without offending the majority.
  3. Fairy Godmother Travel's Avatar
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    Winterland/Summerland looks fun!!

    I love the House of the Future in Innoventions at Epcot--Even though some of the offerings are sometimes a tad dated it is fun to see the one item that is not on the market yet.

    Thank you so much for bringing the Holiday decorations for those of us far away. . especially the Osborne lights--
  4. JiminyCricketFan's Avatar
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    Thanks for the update. The house of the future does look like it needs help. It really does not seem to be breaking new ground. I have read about lighting that can make whole tables light up. That was not shown. Somehow a laptop does not look futuristic. I can see a screen the size of a whole wall. That would be exciting. Also being able to voice command a room still seems futuristic. One should be able to ask the room to turn on the lights and TV. The robot that helps you also is missing. I just think that there is a lack of imagination in that house of the future.
  5. stamphead's Avatar
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    How does a person get to the miniature golf courses if you don't have a car? I guess a bus to Blizzard Beach and walk? What about the other courses? Thank you
  6. wdwprince's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stamphead
    How does a person get to the miniature golf courses if you don't have a car? I guess a bus to Blizzard Beach and walk? What about the other courses? Thank you

    The entrance to the mini golf course is right where the bus lets you off, to the right of the Blizzard Beach entrance.
  7. TodAZ1's Avatar
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    Am I the only one who thinks the projections on Cinderella's Castle are hideous? Just......way too much!!
  8. MarkTwain's Avatar
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    That is literally the same laptop I'm reading this on... weird.
  9. CodeNameMLS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TodAZ1
    Am I the only one who thinks the projections on Cinderella's Castle are hideous? Just......way too much!!
    Obviously a picture can only tell so much. The only thing I fixed in the photos was the brightness, so what you see with the colors is pretty much how it looks. I will say a couple of them had to much color and kinda turned the image into a color blob as you may see in the photos above.

    I do have to say, after seeing the show as many times as some of us have, it's nice to see something new. Especially when the projectionists poked fun at 25th anniversary Cake Castle lol.

    It's a nice short sequence that really adds the xmas spirit to the show. Though they took out one of my favorite sections temporarily, I really enjoyed what I saw, and hope they do this for the other events, maybe even tweak the show for the summer, or even spring and slowly add the new sections 1 by 1.
  10. Pickles's Avatar
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    Is that a mickey mousepad under the mickey iphone case? *lulz*
  11. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Nice update!

    Updated 11-16-2011 at 11:27 AM by Timekeeper
  12. Maverick's Avatar
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    Fabulous update as always, I laughed, I cried, two thumbs up!

    Glad I'm not the only one reminded of the 25th birthday cake.
  13. Cain's Avatar
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    This is great - and gives me a great idea! I have a free scavenger hunt app for iPhone/iPad ( I am planning to do a scavenger hunt/guide that geotags all the amazing holiday decorations around WDW. I know the deluxe resorts and parks all have great decorations. Any recommendations for other, less well-known holiday details worth sharing with folks?

    Many thanks for sharing!
  14. Twist1234's Avatar
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    "The house of the future"
    More like: "advertisement from the future"! :P
  15. weeble's Avatar
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    wow, thanks for all those gorgeous photos and great info. it's the next best thing to being there!
  16. Disnyfan89's Avatar
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    It should be noted that the Exhibit is called the "House of Innoventions." It's purpose is to introduce individuals to new technologies available NOW and the not to distant future and not an exhibit that is suppose to capture future technology that we may see many years from now.