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Orlando Parkhopper

Major Magic Kingdom Update, Fantasyland construction, Universal, Busch Gardens Tampa

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by , 12-05-2011 at 10:09 PM

You can't avoid the holidays around the Orlando Parks at this time of year . . . it's crowds, crowds, crowds. But, there is still a lot for us to show you today beside all the pretty lights and Christmas carols. We have a look at the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive game construction, as well as the newly reopened Swiss Family Treehouse. We have a bag full of updates on the Magic Kingdom for good girls and fanboys. Universal Studios is building a wacky new mini golf course and removing the beloved attraction Jaws. We'll also take you to the new animal care facility opening soon at Busch Gardens, and of course, we'll show you the current state of the Fantasyland expansion project! Ready for our whirlwind tour? Ready when you are C.B.! Let's get park hopping!

This makes us a tad sad… few know that the Magic Kingdom used to have its own white sandy beach. Even fewer know that it was once kept up to the same standards as any other resort hotel beach on the lagoon. About five years ago, they stopped maintaining the beach and now the swamp has started to reclaim it. An abandoned beach, right on the shores of the Magic Kingdom.

The Health and Wellness Suites planned and announced for the Contemporary Resort have been canceled. The rooms will still be refurbished, but that has been pushed back to 2013 to coincide with the standard Contemporary refurbishment. Looks like we won't get to enjoy our in room gyms any time soon. There seems to be a shift in hotel projects which were originally planned by a different management structure.

The popular moderate/convention resort is testing a new dining option this month, with a buffet breakfast and lunch at their Pepper Market food court. The prices for lunch are $14.99 for adults and $8.99 for children for breakfast, with lunch being $16.99 for adults and $9.99 for children. Not bad for buffet at Walt Disney World, what makes this an even more enticing deal is that the Dining Plan will accept Quick Service Restaurant credits for all three meals at the Pepper Market! PLUS, the service charge normally automatically applied will be eliminated for breakfast and lunch. While this is only a test, it really seems like a fantastic deal! The test runs through January 4th, so take advantage while you can, if you happen to be in the area - we strongly encourage dining deals and hope Disney continues this test elsewhere.

The Space is being cleared for new Disney Vacation Club units at the Grand Floridian.

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas right around the corner, the Magic Kingdom is in full swing for the Holiday Season. Despite the large number of guests and it being the busy Holiday Season, this week brings a flurry (no pun intended) of activity to the Magic Kingdom. The Christmas Parade was taping this week, the Swiss Family Treehouse has reopened, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is well under construction, and of course there's that massive Fantasyland expansion!

This past weekend saw the annual taping of the Disney Parks Christmas day Parade. As usual, Main Street was transformed into a bustling production studio as large amounts of TV equipment invaded this bustling turn of the century town.

All the equipment preparing for the taping.

A special stage in Town Square.

This is why the Christmas tree doesn't appear before the parade taping...where would it go?

Plenty of lights, and plenty of platforms...

The Muppets will appear from atop the awning.

The big stage for the main acts.


Center Street receives some TLC. We always love the painted tarps, but we love the fact that the facades are getting refurbed at all even more!

The Emporium has some new maps on stands, and that's great. But there's a tiny issue (which is actually a big deal to the Imagineers) it's "Cinderella Castle", not "Cinderella's Castle". Imagineering is trying to tie together the entire story of Fantasyland, and we'll learn, when the Fantasyland expansion is complete, that it's actually Prince Charming's Castle and he named it after Cinderella when they got married… And yes, this is also the reason why WDI had the Carousel renamed to the Prince Charming Regal Carousel, and why they're spending millions of dollars on a giant themed wall. But all that doesn't seem to matter to whoever approved these signs for the Emporium. At some point, Imagineering will probably force everyone to get on the same page with the castle's name.

Since summer, when the Fire Station closed, there has been much ado about an announced interactive game for the Magic Kingdom. Slowly and surely we've seen a lot of construction progress adding elements to the park that will interact with guests participating in the game. Here's some of that progress.

The logo for the new game.

Main Street has started its preparation. (many of the effects appear within windows)

The Fire Station will be the entry point for the game.

More Main Street windows preparing for the game.

In Liberty Square, we can see a few more examples of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Game:

The Liberty Belle Riverboat landing has an element complete.... does nearby the Hall of Presidents.

Frontierland locations

The keyhole to the right is another Sorcerers icon.

Near the Diamond Horseshoe

New Speakers.

Over in Adventureland, SotMK is most complete and has even begun play testing for a few lucky individuals. I got the chance to talk to a CM who recently participated in a play test and she said that the game is very well done and had her laughing quite a bit.

This location next to dole stand reportedly needs some more work. Apparently the sun creates too much of a glare on the glass. Imagineers have been testing a variety of museum quality no glare glass to fix the problem.

Agrabah Bazaar location

The Sunshine Tree Terrace is having some facade work done and will also be home to one of the interactive elements for SotMK. Maybe we'll see some Orange Bird elements?

The Pirates of the Caribbean clock tower now sports a location as well.

A finale element of the SotMK game is also installed inside the Tortuga Tavern fireplace.

Speaking of PotC, we recently took a ride and can't help but notice the waterfall projection effect is in desperate need of attention. In fact, you really can't see the projection at all:

This isn't a bad picture of the effect, but how it actually looks to riders while on the attraction. We also couldn't help but notice a lot of rock work has been removed on the ceiling behind the effect exposing the mechanics of the fog curtain and projector. We can only hope this means work is already being done to fix this unfortunate display of poor showmanship. It would actually be better to turn the effect and sound off, than run it in an obviously broken condition. Show quality folks, Disney World needs to learn what this means.

Over at Sleep Hollow Refreshment, they have recently added a few new Waffle Sandwiches to their menu.

Nice to see something new on the menu. We hear it's pretty good.

Further down in Frontierland, Facade work is taking place on the Frontier Trading Post. The work stretches all the way down to the Country Bear Jamboree. Once these tarps are removed another SotMK location will be revealed


The League of Planets sign is currently missing in Tomorrowland.

In Fantasyland, work continues moving forward and perhaps most exciting of all, you can just begin to make out the structure of the first completed Dumbo Spinner. But there's more than just expansion work going on in Fantasyland.

Work is being done on the canopy of the Carousel. It remains open during the refurbishment.

Remains open during the refurb work.

Another example of painted construction scrims ennhancing guest experience. If work needs to be done on an operating attraction, this is the way to do it.

The removal of large planters by Dumbo has been completed. This comes at a time when the extra space is much need for families to make their way around the packed streets of Fantasyland.

After Dumbo is relocated, this area will become home to some new castle walls.

Work continues daily.

You can see they have poured the foundation for the Seven Dwarves coaster, it is the concrete pit to the left.

Trees have been planted! Landscaping is an exciting milestone.

Dumbo is rumored to be first to open...lots of work going on in this area.

See the new Dumbo spinner? It's the red and gold structure at the center of the picture.

You can just barely see the Dumbo spinner through the open spaces in this photo too.

The old Toon tents will be reskinned.

Belle's Cottage is just about ready for exterior treatment.

The Little Mermaid ride

Beast's Castle looks fabulous from a distance. The cloud cover, lighting and rocks all work in this photo to achieve exactly what the Imagineers were going for.

Okay, we know that Dumbo will be closed in a few months, but . . . Dumbo is rusting and looks disgusting. This doesn't seem like it's up to even Disney World's lower than ever standards. Is the maintenance team too lazy to sand and repaint the bars on the fencing, or have they been instructed not to? (It only takes one night to really do this type of job if you have about five people.) Have they given up on maintenance too soon? You decide. Also, it's worth it to note that this kind of rust doesn't happen overnight. It's safe to assume this hasn't been looked at in over six months.

We know we're being picky here, but if an attraction is open to guests, it should be maintained to Disney quality standards . . . right?

Finally, lets take a look at the recently reopened Swiss Family Treehouse:

The overflow queue looks brand new!

A new canopy has been installed.

Even new lights can be found on the bridge.

The water wheel, a long broken effect, works once more.

Sadly, the steps of the treehouse which desperately needed attention due to age and wear and tear have received no attention whatsoever. The amount of dirt and overall look of the steps is deplorable.

Is it that hard to replace the no-skid tread?

In more uplifting news, at least all the props and and sets have received a good cleaning and refresh returning them to their vibrant state:

A good eye can still find a hidden Mickey growing in the moss.

Custodial CMs have new costumes at the Magic Kingdom. These costumes are exactly the same as the ones you'll find the custodial CMs at Disneyland wearing.

The Golden Oak Outpost has gone through several menu changes in the past few months. No longer does it offer the wide array of choices in the form of sandwiches, chicken nuggets and french fries. Now it only offers hot dogs and chips as a main entree.

Nothin' to look at here... save your money and keep moving along.


Candlelight Processional is an annual event here at EPCOT, as part of the World Showcase's "Holidays Around the World." The event is massively well attended and is a production about the story of Christmas - with a celebrity presenter, a fifty piece orchestra and a mass choir. This year's celebrity presenters and dates include:

Schedule & Narrators
American Gardens Theatre (5:00 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 8:15 p.m.)--across from the American Adventure.

The celebrity narrators still performing are scheduled as follows:

12/04–12/06 — Edward James Olmos
12/07–12/09 — Isabella Rossellini
12/10–12/12 — Neil Patrick Harris
12/13–12/15 — Lorraine Bracco
12/16–12/18 — Chita Rivera
12/19–12/21 — Trace Adkins
12/22–12/24 — Susan Lucci
12/25–12/27 — Blair Underwood
12/28–12/30 — Marlee Matlin

All performances are interpreted for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.

These performances are free and included in your paid park admission. However, lunch and dinner packages are still available at select restaurants. Since the seating is first come/first serve, packages assure you a good seat.

Lunch Packages range from $32.99–$53.99 for Guests 10+, and $12.99–$17.99 for Guests 3–9
And are with these restaurants: Biergarten Restaurant, Coral Reef Restaurant, Le Cellier Steakhouse, Les Chefs de France, Nine Dragons Restaurant, Restaurant Marrakesh, Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room, San Angel Inn, Teppan Edo, Tokyo Dining, Tutto Italia Ristorante and Via Napoli.

Dinner Packages range from $49.99–$64.99 for Guests 10+, and $15.99–$26.99 for Guests 3–9
And are with these restaurants: Biergarten Restaurant, Coral Reef Restaurant, The Garden Grill Restaurant, La Hacienda de San Angel, Les Chefs de France, Nine Dragons Restaurant, Restaurant Marrakesh, Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room, San Angel Inn, Teppan Edo, Tokyo Dining, Tutto Italia Ristorante and Via Napoli.

If you book the dinner, you also get special seating for the fireworks display that evening!

Please go directly to the Disney World website to make reservations or call 407-WDW-DINE

During the holiday season, EPCOT's ever popular fireworks show receives a special holiday tag, "Let There Be Peace on Earth." It's a fitting end to the message EPCOT conveys, and the holiday tag truly is a sight to behold. Here are some shots of the wonderful celebration.

Each of the pictures are available at higher resolution by clicking on them.

Word is quietly being spread that Star Wars Weekends will be held May 18-20, May 25-27, June 1-3, and June 8-10. We'll share more details as we learn them.

During the busy holiday period, the Tusker House restaurant is also offering a special lunch buffet: Donald's Dining Safari Lunch. The lunch will be offered from 11 AM-2:45 PM and will offer spit-roasted meats, salads, vegetarian options, stews, and desserts, all with African flair. For more information, you can of course call 407-WDW-DINE.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the character lunch, the Animal Kingdom loses their Adventure Begins Opening Show, as well as the meet and greets at Rafiki's Planet Watch (including Jiminy Cricket, one of the few places left to meet him), and Lilo and Stitch.

World of Disney gets into the holiday spirit with some wonderful windows themed to Mary Blair's artwork - as well as some Christmas Mickey theme.

Duffy is the center of Santa's celebration.

Construction continues at the Citywalk Miniature Golf courses, while some props have disappeared at the Hard Rock Cafe. Plus, we take a look at how Universal celebrates the holidays. But the big news is the announcement that Jaws will soon be swimming away forever!

Shapes are becoming more and more defined at the 2 miniature golf courses at Citywalk. We can't wait to check these out once they open!

Looks familiar....

Quite an odd juxtaposition, house with a man-eating cave

Is that a...cow?

How all this ends up is anyone's guess...but we'll be there to keep you updated!

These new animated LEDs are the reason we saw a cherry picker parked here for the last few months. Looks like it was worth it. The new color changing AMC Universal Cineplex light show looks awesome!

Notice anything missing here?

The pink Cadillac is gone. Rumor has it the Hard Rock corporate has taken it back and are in the process of covering up where it once was. But that's just rumor at this point.

And now for some very sad news. An original Universal Orlando attraction, Jaws, will be closing after a very long and troubled existence. Universal has tried to close the attraction several times before, but this time is for good. Universal is actually doing something classy and inviting fans to say goodbye. Thanks to Disneyfan89 for this heads up.

The holiday favorite "Grinchmas" has returned.

This year marks the 10th Anniversary for the Universal Orlando Resort's hosting the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios. Every year after the Macy's Holiday Parade on Thanksgiving, they ship it down to Universal Studios where you can either watch the parade, or assist in walking the balloons down the parade route! Though, some might think it's odd to celebrate Christmas with the Thanksgiving Day parade, it is very Christmas-ish.

These are all balloons that have appeared in the parade in New York. Pretty cool!

Mother Goose float. Disregard the pickup truck pulling it.

Of course, it wouldn't be a holiday without a tree lighting and snow!

Santa arrives at the finale!

Universal's characters star in the parade as well, such as Marilyn Monroe.

The Simpsons have a float.

Scooby Do and friends.

The Man in the Yellow Hat and Curious George.

Fabulously creepy big heads

Shrek the Halls

We're always impressed by ice skaters on parade floats.


Brand new murals have replaced the sun worn ones that were here previously.

Almost makes you want to ride the attraction.


Not much to show, but behind the walls, construction continues on the new Despicable Me attraction.

Not much visible progress, but things are going well on the inside.

This week at Busch Gardens, we take a look at more holiday shows and park decor, as well as an updated look at the animal care facility. Let's take a look around:

A new full service bar has opened at the Desert Grill restaurant.

A new holiday offering in Aussie Station allows families to decorate their own tree, write letters to Santa, and take their holiday photos.

Plenty of trees to choose from.

We LOVE these snow globe photo ops! So cool!

Over at the Moroccan Palace Theater, Christmas on Ice performs several times a day for guests to enjoy. Busch Gardens offers popular ice shows, and the holiday season seems the perfect fit for one!


The animal care facility inches closer to completion with painting beginning.

Colorful exterior paintwork begins.

CONGRATUALTIONS to Disneyaholik who guessed the location of last weeks hidden park hopper...

Decorations around the Christmas tree outside Disney Hollywood Studios

Where are the Parkhoppers this week? It's up to you to decipher the picture below and see if you can find us. We'll provide a partial image of a photo and it will be your job to guess where you think we're hiding!

The 1st person to guess correctly will have their name featured in next week's game listed along side the correct answer. Good luck!!

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.

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 team included:

  • Disneyfan89
  • Professor Brainard
  • SparkintheDark
  • Miles Bresin - Miles' Photos
  • KingEric
  • RooBear
  • Songster
  • Aimster - Pictures by Aimster
  • Editors: SummerinFL, Fishbulb, Dustysage, YoYoFlamingo
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 12-08-2011 at 09:21 PM by Orlando Parkhopper



  1. Trumpet's Avatar
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    Thank You Orlando Parkhopper

    I have not been to Florida since 2003 and these updates keep me updated.

    I would liketo mention that you did not have a report on the closing of Jaws and thw Amity Island area in Universal Studios. What will trhey replace it with? But I know you will keep us updated

    Thanks Again,

  2. KingEric's Avatar
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    There is so much going on in Orlando that it is almost exhausting keeping up with it all! lol
  3. Maverick's Avatar
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    Fabulous update as always, I laughed, I cried two thumbs up!
  4. TikiRoomLiz's Avatar
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    I just visited Universal Orlando this October and really enjoyed myself on the Jaws ride, I'm sad to see it go.

    Also, thanks for such a HUGE update. I enjoy reading the Orlando Parkhopper, even if it makes me miss being there.
  5. yoyoflamingo's Avatar
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    Thanks for the great pictures! Can't wait for this each Tuesday!
  6. WDW1971's Avatar
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    I wonder if Jaws is going to be replaced by the recent update on Disney and More where they said theres going to be a Wizarding World of Harry Potter II at Universal Studios which will focus on London and there would be a train connecting the two lands, like Harry's voyage in the movie
  7. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    Sad to see lost neglected beaches at the Walt Disney World Hotels and abandoned water holes like their River Country. Glad the Robinson family still has roots in Florida. Miss them at Disneyland, as it was so kenetic along with the sountrack playing. One knew they were in Adventureland when you heard the organ playing. PD
  8. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Great Update!

  9. Jacob Griffin's Avatar
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    Great update.

  10. Quentin's Avatar
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    The hidden park hopper looks like something from Dr. Suess, idk i have never been to an Orlando park other then Disney World parks.

    - Great Update too.
  11. LuckyJack65's Avatar
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    I'm a cast member character attendant at MK, and as odd as this sounds, if it weren't for your updates I would have no idea what's going on at WDW!! Honestly, I was just having a discussion with fellow cast members last night about SotMK, and they had no idea what I was talking about!! I still can't find some of the areas for the game that you have listed here...LOL
    Also, nearly every day the CM buses drive right behind the Fantasyland expansion, and the only thing we see are the tent frames, and the back side of the immense buildings for Ariel's ride and Beast's restaurant. Thanks for your photos of what's being built in that area!! LOL
    Finally, MANY CMs call the castle "Cinderella's Castle". I do myself! I had no idea there was a story behind the actual name of the castle....I'm going to quiz my co-workers tomorrow and see if they know the reason for the name of the castle!!
  12. DisneyResort's Avatar
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    Wait a minute! So according to your report, Magic Kingdom only recently put up their Christmas tree? Wow, that's weird. Disneyland has had there's up since early November. And like Magic Kingdom, we had to wait for the end of taping the Disneyland portion of the Christmas Day Special. But that took place in early November also.
  13. craig's Avatar
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    Great update but I have one question. Is Disneyfan89 using a photo-effect on their pictures? I've noticed for a while that they have that 70's postcard look to them which is fine for a few pictures but when most of the pictures have an unnatural-looking color pallete, things just look off.
  14. CodeNameMLS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quentin
    The hidden park hopper looks like something from Dr. Suess, idk i have never been to an Orlando park other then Disney World parks.

    - Great Update too.
    The Mystery Photo IS from Disney
  15. Twist1234's Avatar
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    "The old Toon tents will be reskinned."
    Also the beaches were closed for a valid reason: they can be a health hazard with all the bugs swimming in there.
    I actually like Tomorrowland better without the sign.
  16. Jacob Griffin's Avatar
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    The Parkhopper kinda looks like something from Mad Tea Party. Is that it?
  17. Disnyfan89's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by craig
    Great update but I have one question. Is Disneyfan89 using a photo-effect on their pictures? I've noticed for a while that they have that 70's postcard look to them which is fine for a few pictures but when most of the pictures have an unnatural-looking color pallete, things just look off.
    My photos may look different for a few reasons. The first of which is that they are all taken using my iPhone. For the most part, when I'm reporting construction I leave the photos as is, I may, depending on the conditions and clarity of the photo go through and apply filters that brighten or bring out certain details. Other times I use filters that help adjust lighting, for example the carrousel photos had to have a filter to help combat items that are being backlit or some of the SotMK photos that where in too much shade. I try to limit the use of these filters as much as possible so that the true look can be seen.
  18. ttintagel's Avatar
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    The Emporium sign has another apostrophe issue: "Mens'" and "Womens'" should be "Men's" and "Women's." Unless there's some backstory to that choice, too.