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Orlando Parkhopper

Disney World Construction, Harry Potter Problems, Sea World Christmas and MORE

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by , 11-21-2011 at 10:07 PM

Do you see what we see? Millions of twinkling lights all over the Orlando area theme parks! We have been covering the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios festivities holiday decorations for the past few weeks; this week we finally see what Universal Orlando and Sea World have in store. There is a lot of shimmer and shine for us to share. What's more, we even stop by the amusement park convention for a look around the show floor. Are you all set in that one-horse open sleigh? Then let's jingle!

With all that pixie dust in the Magic Kingdom, everything should glitter. Sadly, that isn't the case. Take for instance our recent visit to the Buzz Lightyear attraction. While the ride was no better or worse than we are accustomed to, we found plenty to be concerned about in the queue. Is this what tomorrow should look like?

All along the queue, sights like this are common.

C'mon. Seriously?

normally the vaulted ceiling is supposed to fade into darkness. But these areas of moisture damage stand out like a sore thumb.

We hate to start off the column on a negative note but sheesh. It's been like this for a while now. Time for Disney to send the pixies into the rafters for some repairs (or at least some paint!).

Time to explore the Fantasyland expansion project. Although, at the moment, there isn't much change from the last time we checked.

A view of work from the Grand Prix

• Holiday decorations up at Magic Kingdom
• Posters down at Toontown train station; new structure visible
• Cheshire Café replaces Enchanted Grove; keeps menu
• FL construction pics: themed bridge visible outside Under the Sea; trees now clumped to prevent view of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train from Pinocchio Village Haus
• Mansion extended queue got several new directional signs
• New Sorcerer's location (with dual cameras) near re-opened Frontierland Shooting Arcade
• Sleepy Hollow Refreshments has new waffle sandwiches ($7); the sweet and spicy chicken was divine (and filling)!
• Holiday interlude in the castle projections include decorations as: wrapping paper, Christmas lights, candy canes, the cake castle from 1996, and gingerbread house.
• RFID entrance tested at Epcot; you get a sticker on your existing pass or ticket and swipe it; there is no actual turnstile anymore.
• New (new-ish?) pig family decorations at Great Piggybank Adventure; most are animated cutouts
• Canopy of lights at San Francisco Street in Osborne is the big innovation this year; programmed and bright, it looks and acts like the Fremont St Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
• Two tributes to the recently-departed Jennings Osborne: one blue angel in the sky is now white; and a razorback pig (he was a big football supporter) outlined in lights.
• Festival of the Masters was this weekend at Downtown Disney
• New World of Disney bathrooms; now not accessible from inside the store, and only from the side of the building
• Earl of Sandwich has holiday sandwiches again; the 'toy ornament' tree outside has no toys this year
• Blink by Wet Seal now open; replaces Magnetron in DtD
• Sunglass Icon store in DtD renovated and open; has a station where you can photograph yourself and tweet/upload the pic immediately
• Something Silver now open; replaces Magic Masters in DtD

A new Disney Gaming section opened in the Once upon a Toy at Downtown Disney about a month ago. Let's take a look.

The Wonderful World of Gaming:

Games are big business.

inflatable snowmen posing as holiday decor by the pin traders shop

Here we are at the amazing Universal Orlando resort. Each and every visitor here first makes their way from the hotels or parking structure through CityWalk, then down to the entrance of the two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Along the way, Universal has been building even more ways to entertain.

Do you like Miniature golf? Construction continues on the new Mini Golf course at CityWalk. It should be open in just a few months.

Construction is progressing rapidly

What kid wouldn't want to play this course?!

Wacky robot dude

We are really looking forward to this new diversion

The Despicable Me attraction is under construction in the old Jimmy Neutron space.

WHAT'S THAT? Switchback. Maniacal!

Over at Shrek 4-D the mural has been removed from the building, and the fixtures that attached it were painted over. I am not sure if it is coming back or not, but we like it better without the mural.


Just in time for the Holiday Season, Universal has announced an all new line of Gift Cards. Universal says "these gift cards can be redeemed anywhere within Universal Orlando" and is the perfect holiday gift since they can be used for "buying a ticket to the Blue Man Group at Universal CityWalk, to paying for an onsite hotel room, to selecting the perfect memento for your trip at a theme park gift shop." Ticket designs include characters such as Harry Potter and Shrek and can be purchased in person at the parks or even online at


The Macy's parade will be returning to Universal for its 10th year


Universal is also gearing up for a new nighttime show! They are rebuilding the barges used for Universal 360.

As much as we love Harry Potter, some recent problems have arisen with the queue for the lockers and how to handle the tight spaces prior to entering the actual line for the ride. We also go grab some green eggs and ham. But did we like it?

It's no secret that finding a locker while you ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is not an easy task. That is why Universal has been working on a new locker queue. Unfortunately, the queue was built on the wrong side of the pathway, the Team Members are not sure how it should work, and the queue is making people even more angry than normal.

This locker queue may be the worst executed line in theme park history. Why? Well, it isn't actually a queue for anything. It's more of a holding area to keep people until the locker area clears out, and then it's just a free-for-all. Making things worse, people that have no bags and single riders are also being forced to use the queue… and they have absolutely no reason at all to wait in this queue that is a queue for nothing. The queue was also built on an area of previously un-used forest area in front of the castle cliff, and building the queue there has destroyed even more of the illusion due to the back side being a giant un-themed white show building. This needs to be fixed ASAP, as it took an experience that already was a mad-house and turned it into a nightmare. What actually needs to happen? More lockers, and more locker rental stations. Honestly, that's all the real problem reall is. Universal should demolish it's new locker queue and build a cavern of lockers there instead, and get rid of the already crowded locker area inside the castle. Heck, they could expand the store into the current locker area which would more than pay for the cost of building new lockers outside the castle.

That big white wall is the unthemed side of the show building. It was once hidden from the queue. But the queue has been pushed into an area which makes it obvious. The careful illusion of the castle has been ruined.

Seuss Landing gets into the Grinchmas spirit.

Now serving the title cuisine again

(we do hope that the irony is not lost on the Lorax of him being dressed up for Christmas)

We finally gave the Green eggs and Hamwich a try and, you know what? IT'S AWESOME! Any true fan of Islands of Adventure needs to give it a go. Try pairing it with Butter Beer to make it the perfect IOA meal.

It tastes so much better than it looks.

Sea World Orlando, the better of all the Sea World parks, finally kicks Christmas into gear and the result is simply breathtaking and majestic at times. Come with us on a photo tour of what to expect to see at the park during the holidays.

The lovely tree that greets visitors at the front gate.

This brand new palm tree Is propped up for support and decorated as well.

Photo op with Frostie!

The Sail boat has a christmas light sail.

Manta's water effects still work. (many other parks wouldn't maintain such an effect)

The Snow Globe photo op.

The lovely trees on the water put on a show at night.

Little artificial candles in the planters, again beautiful at night.

The Polar Express returns this season. This is a local holiday favorite. Let's take a look inside.

Inside the train.

The big Christmas tree ending.

Now let's take a look at the decorations at night.

These look a little better at night.

Overall, lovely work. A few minor missteps but nothing that ruins the experience. Go check it out right away.

While Christmas is kicking into high gear all over the place we must remember that we still have one holiday between us and the fat man with presents. Thanksgiving is this Thursday and Busch Gardens has it already planned out for you. Along with Christmas, of-course.

Crown Colony Restaurant will be serving Thanksgiving Dinner on a 1st come 1st serve basis with an all you care to eat turkey feast (served family style).

Thanksgiving Dinner - Thursday, November 24th only
Prices per person:
Adult: 15.99
Child: 8.99
Menu: Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potaties & Gravy, Vegetable Medley, Cole Slaw, Cranberry Sauce, Dinner Rolls, Dessert.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay celebrates the spirit of the season with the return of several holiday classics, then rings in the New Year with special entertainment and spectacular fireworks.

From November 19 to January 1, there’s a festive chill in the air when Busch Gardens presents Christmas on Ice, a limited-engagement ice-skating show bringing a graceful winter wonderland to life. NEW for 2011, this guest favorite is moving to the park’s Moroccan Palace, which will soon be the home of the all-new Iceploration, opening February 2, 2012.

The Marrakesh Theater decks the halls with Christmas from the Heart, featuring inspiring holiday gospel and spiritual songs performed by a live choir. In Desert Grill, join a Christmas Celebration, the musical extravaganza featuring seasonal songs, tap-dancing toy soldiers and fun for the whole family!

Join Santa and his merry elves for breakfast at Desert Grill from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays, Dec. 3 and 10. Enjoy exciting and unforgettable photo opportunities with Santa and his holiday elves, followed by a fabulous performance of our traditional family favorite Christmas Celebration. Prices are $18 for adults and $12 for children. Each adult ticket purchase includes a FREE commemorative family photo.

The rest of the park is transformed into a holiday wonderland featuring a cappella carols by the Men of Note, spectacular poinsettias, festive decorations and classic music.

Then, count down to 2012 with the biggest bash this side of midnight. Busch Gardens gives the new year a wild welcome with the band None Other playing popular party hits all evening long in Gwazi Park, followed by fireworks at midnight for the ultimate New Year’s Eve Celebration on December 31st.

Orlando Parkhopper's own Professor Brainard visited the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention that happened this past weekend. The show was open for all to attend and begins with the Brass Ring awards that honors everything from T.V. and radio commercials to best live shows and top entertainment centers.

Another noteworthy event was the inducting of four people into the Pioneering Hall of fame: John P. C. Collins, Frederick W. Pearce, Sr., and performance duo Wally Boag and Betty Taylor, who were inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame. These industry pioneers are honored this year for innovation and contributions that have stood the test of time and inspired today’s leaders to move the industry forward and upward.

There was plenty to see and do for Disney fans as well with a presentation on Walt Disney World called Building a World without Walt.

The Show Floor:
It's always fun to wander the show floor too. You never know what you will end up seeing.

Inflatable fun for everyone!

We got a look at the new cars for Sea World San Diego's (family launch coaster) version of Manta.

Fancy, isn't it?

Throughout the week IAAPA played host a great deal of parties and receptions that showed off all the great new things in the Central Florida Parks. One event we were particularly lucky enough to attend was a sight tour of the new Legoland Florida. The tour took place on a Tuesday while the park was closed, so while we were unable to ride anything; however, we had a great opportunity to see several key parts of the park without all the crowds. One of our favorite sections of the park was Miniland, and we just wanted to share with you some photos we took showing off this section and some of Legoland's unique humor.

A very quiet morning for the recently opened Legoland Florida

Welcome to Miniland. Home to some of the worlds most iconic sights and cities - all built out of LEGOs. Several sections show off areas unique to Florida, Including the Kennedy Space Center.

Here we have the Famous South Beach in Miami

Key West complete with street performers

The beautiful Tampa theater located in Downtown Tampa. It's our own little El Capitan without the Disney sponsorship.



In quieter news, while on the IAAPA show floor I noticed plans for a recently announced expansion at a small local family entertainment center located off International Drive called FUN SPOT (IT'S HUGE) Looks like they are adding a 10 acre water park. Look for it to open sometime next year.

The Grand Floridian Resort isn't the only resort getting into the spirit this Holiday Season with a Gingerbread Creation. Over at the Contemporary Resort, just beside the entrance to the Monorail platform you can find their one of a kind Gingerbread Display Celebrating the art of Mary Blair.

The main piece, a gingerbread tree.

The display takes its main inspiration from a very colorful "It's a Small World."

What Gingerbread Display would be complete without a gift shop added next to it to capitalize on the Holidays by selling Gingerbread?

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)!

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:

  • Dr. Brainard
  • SparkintheDark
  • Kevin Yee
  • SummerinFL
  • Disneyfan89
  • KingEric
  • Aimster - Pictures by Aimster
  • Editors: SummerinFL, Fishbulb, Dustysage

Thank you for reading, we hope you've been inspired to explore Orlando's many wonderful attractions. We'd love to hear your comments below.

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Updated 11-22-2011 at 12:23 AM by Orlando Parkhopper



  1. KingEric's Avatar
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    There is sooo much going on here in Orlando!
  2. DisneyResort's Avatar
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    Sorry to see the sad state of the Buzz Lightyear ride. I wonder if all the rain and humidity they get in Orlando during the summer speeds up the decay? The Southern California climate is dry (Mediterranean climate), so Disneyland always seems to be in good shape aesthetically speaking. But I've noticed that when something is broken, it's fixed the next day.
  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    Wow. There really is a lot going on in Orlando. I'm really impressed with what they are doing at SeaWorld.

    That new Manta coaster for San Diego is beautiful!!!

    Thank you for pointing out the ridiculous locker situation at Harry Potter. For such a great and well themed ride, it is a shame that the first impression is the stupid locker line and mad crush in the locker room. Tempers flare and it just isn't a magical start to what is otherwise the best attraction in the world.

    Thank you for the wonderful update!
  4. TikiRoomLiz's Avatar
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    Wow, it's a shame that the locker situation is ruining the HP experience from the start. I rode it for the first time this October and found the locker area a bit crammed, but it wasn't too bad. Now it seems like it'll be worse, and hopefully they'll come to realize the error of their ways and change things around before I visit again ...

    It's also nice to see how Christmas is celebrated through all the parks. I have not visited Sea World or Busch Gardens while in Florida, but they look great and tempt me to take a trip next Christmas over there.
  5. wdwprince's Avatar
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    Buzz Lightyear has looked horrible for years. Personally I think the attraction is one of WDW's worst with or without being run down. I vote for getting rid of it, putting a meet and greet there and keeping Snow White.
  6. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    Seems to be a run on inflatable vinyl snowmen and women this Christmas at all the parks. Sad to see one at Disneyland.
  7. Fairy Godmother Travel's Avatar
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    The Green Eggs MUST taste better than they look!! Do they sell butter beer near here or would you have to walk your eggs to Hogsmeade?
  8. Orlando Parkhopper's Avatar
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    Yeah you would have to BYOBB, (Bring your own Butter Beer) into Suess Landing for the perfect IOA meal. That's the blessing and the curse of good theme and presentation. While two taste treats would taste great together, they may be worlds apart. We really wouldn't have it any other way.

    But in regards the Buzz queue, it's just deplorable the condition that WDW management keeps that ride in. How is that even acceptable on a temporary basis?
  9. Spongeocto4's Avatar
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    Thanks for the pictures!
  10. aashee's Avatar
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    Your great pictures always give me incentive to go back. Thanks MiceChat!!
  11. yoyoflamingo's Avatar
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    I always feel like the Buzz queue has been in need of repair!
  12. Maverick's Avatar
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    Fabulous update as always, I laughed I cried, two thumbs up

    Good to see the criticism being passed Universal instead up just WDW shows you guys really do have an objective approach.
  13. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    I'M sorry, but do you mean, under the "Legoland Florida" banner, the gingerbread display at the Contemporary hotel in WDW is made of Legos or is it the other way around? Other than that, great update!

  14. ChrisFL's Avatar
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    Buzz Lightyear's queue always looks bad, but I blame it on both Disney management and the guests...when they have such close access to the paint on the walls, its inevitable that they get worn out faster.

    Anyway, I think the entire ride needs to be updated, its so much worse than its counterparts in the other Disneyland parks around the world. Make the queue something other than plain paint and give it some interactive elements that are not easily ruined by guests chipping at it all the time.

    Speaking of the ugly air vents above, its still not as bad as the Soarin' holding area just past where you go to Concourse A or B...its disgusting up there.
  15. ttintagel's Avatar
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    Bad show, Tomorrowland maintenance - If You Had Wings never looked that shabby.