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No Change for Test Track? Flower and Garden Festival, Universal and SeaWorld

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by , 03-26-2012 at 09:18 PM


We have a lot of territory to cover this week folks. Epcot may have backpedaled on a previously announced attraction upgrade, but their popular International Flower and Garden Festival is still going strong. In the meantime, Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland and Main Street are both behind construction walls and we quickly sum a few things up for you at that park as well. We check on the progress of the Cinematic Spectacular at Universal Orlando and then swim over to SeaWorld for a brief update there too. Oodles of photos and news today. Let's hop to it!



TEST TRACK:


Our intrepid contributor, R.A. Pederson, weighs in on some news that will disappoint many of you. On January 6th of this year a whole bunch of Disney theme park blogs ran the Disney-PR supplied blurb and photo from the Disney parks blog that was carefully crafted to be light on hard details:

Beginning this fall, Epcot guests will be able to enjoy a re-imagined version of the popular Future World attraction, Test Track presented by Chevrolet.

This new version of the attraction will transform the current testing workshop into the sleek “Chevrolet Design Center at Epcot,” where guests can become immersed in the fun – and fast – world of automotive design. Here, guests will become automotive designers and create their own custom vehicles. Next, they’ll buckle into a six-person SimCar ride vehicle and test out their design on the challenging track of the Test Track course.

Exciting right? A little bit of digging and the dates of April 15 – to September 21, 2012, were even established as Disney’s tentative dates for this overhaul. Digging even deeper there was a more formal press release from Disney to their media outlets to be printed and published and cut and pasted and bandied about in all the usual ways. We proudly cut and pasted it here for your viewing pleasure even. The pertinent line of the release states:

Plans call for closing the current GM Test Track in April 2012, with an anticipated opening of Test Track Presented by Chevrolet scheduled for fall 2012.

And… now it’s four days until April and there’s not a peep from either company about the project. There’s not a foot on the ground and no one at the park seems to know anything about the project. Attractions Cast Members staffed at Test Track reportedly haven’t been told of any rescheduling to send them to alternate work locations – and they wouldn’t simply be laid off or fired en mass, there would have to be normal scheduling notice to have them work elsewhere.

No, things seem to be looking bleak for the project on the outside. Inquiries to Disney, GM, and Chevrolet on the matter have been met with non-responses. Odd, considering the timeline they gave technically begins in four days. Further, they actually pulled the press releases from their media website before we began poking our noses around and asking questions even. And it’s not as though that releases is simply old or may have fallen off the listings.. no.. the media and images related to that release are still there, along with the releases from the days before and after, but not the release itself from January 6th… pretty much blatantly meaning Disney hit “delete.”

So it seems that Disney has quietly pulled any mention of the redo. While they have not released an official statement regarding the project it is almost certain that it will be on hold for the time being.

NEW SPONSOR:
We're reporting that the Imagination Pavilion's new Sponsor is Colorvision. New sponsors often mean more money for upgrades. Let's see what happens from here.

We don't know exactly what the new sponsorship entails, but you can expect to hear more from Disney in an official announcement soon. We'd love to see a return to a longer ride and the reopening of the upstairs Image Works, but only time will tell.

Bye Bye Kim:
We're saying goodbye to Kim Possible soon. In case you haven't heard the news, Perry the Platypus is taking over from Kim and Friends this summer as the current Kim Possible interactive adventure game is updated with a popular character from Phineas and Ferb.


INTERNATIONAL FLOWER AND GARDEN FESTIVAL:
The International Flower and Garden Festival is running until May 20th this year. The event is one of the major highlights of the year and features special music events and food, along with some of the most beautiful character topiaries and floral arrangements ever. Here are some of the visual treats available during this great festival. We highly recommend it.





























There is a lovely sand sculpture for the new film Chimpanzee.














Tigger, just as bouncy as a plant.




Donald and Daisy greet visitors.


Pluto says hello!


France is a particularly beautiful pavilion at this time.


Cogsworth.


Mrs. Potts


Lumiere.


Then, of course, Beauty and the Beast.




Woody resides over the crowds with a "Hey Howdy Hey!"


And then there's Lots-O-Huggin Bear.


Don't worry. He can't hurt you.




Lady and the Tramp are in Italy.




There is also the butterfly house which is a must-see.


Cocoons of future butterflies.





Winnie the Pooh.


Eeyore and Piglet.


Rabbit and Tigger.


Prince Phillip and Aurora.




Cinderella and her Prince Charming.




The Seven Dwarves.


The fairest of them all, Snow White.


There is even a small exhibit dedicated to Haiti.










Yummy Haitian goodies.





Of course there is a festival shop.


These Mickey gnomes are actually cute.






There is a great design for this year's event.




FAST PASSES TO NOWHERE:



Remember those FastPasses you could get for the special fireworks and parade viewing areas on Main Street? Well, that "test" has ended for the time being. Now Disney's research crew will come up to a conclusion to see if it worked or not, and it it will still be viable for XPass once it comes into play. But for now, your favorite viewing spots are now free game to everyone once again, so enjoy them while they last.

As can be expected, the parks have been extremely crowded this week, with the Magic Kingdom pulling in an estimated 50 thousand guests everyday this week. (It's Spring Break for many high schools and colleges so it's not all that unexpected.) As crowded as it is already, Disney is preparing for an INSANE Easter week this year. Hotel occupancy is at 100%, and WDW will be on the brink of capacity the week before Easter. The Magic Kingdom has extended hours until 1am every night, and even Disney's Animal Kingdom is going to be open until 9pm. This is a very rare occurrence, but when Capacity is the name of the game, it's understandable.

52 CARD PICK-UP:
Virtual Magic Kingdo.... Errr, Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom is in full swing, and it's become very popular with annual passholders. It has become so popular, that it now faces the same problem that pin trading faces, but this time, instead of pin-sharks, card-sharks are in the parks, trying to make deals with unknowing guests to get rare cards for little in return. Be warned.

MAIN STREET:
Construction still continues on the rest of the right side of Main Street. Rumor has it that once the exteriors are complete, a massive refurbishment will begin to replace the stores in the southeast block of the street. (this includes the Uptown Jewelers, the Main Street Cinema (yes, it's a store in Florida, the offerings are very similar to Disneyana in California) the Confectionary, and the Chapeau. The new stores should contain mostly similar offerings, but offer a new theme that is refreshed. The good news is that the IceCream Parlor on Main Street has re-opened and they have some wonderful lactose-free options.





The Ice Cream Parlor has re-opened, and it looks almost identical to the old version.






Yay for dietary options!


The work on the bridge leading from Main Street to the hub has finished with the predictable new merchandise location.


The railing is actually quite nice.


It's almost done. The new railings have points on them to discourage guests from sitting on them during parades.

That is what is being planned... This is what should be done. Main Street needs interior coordoors, AKA arcades, or at least one arcade, on the right side of the street. In almost a nightly occurrence, guests are directed backstage during peak parade and firework times to enter or exit the park. It's about time for a permanent fix, and the arcades in Paris work great for this. Why can't this be done in Florida? This seems like a sure win for everyone, especially those poor Cast Members that have to keep the walkways clear in front of the Main Street Shops during fireworks and parade times. If you have an interior walkway behind the stores, no one can stop to watch the parade or fireworks because there is nothing to see, and people will use it as a walkway, taking away the need to have a open walkway in front of the shops during parades, and adding more prime viewing space to watch the parades from. (Which will surely be needed once you can reserve parade viewing areas ahead of time with X-Pass)

And speaking of parades…




If all goes to plan, The Main Street Electrical Parade is destined to leave Walt Disney World soon. Well, it's supposed to. According to one source, the Electrical Parade was rented from Disneyland for only a period of a little more than two years. That means that it should be going back to Disneyland at the end of this summer, with a fall return of SpectroMagic in Walt Disney World.



Now, we're not sure when the Main Street Electrical Parade would begin running in California again, and keep in mind that this is all a tentative schedule, and due to the many logistical changes in Anaheim as of late, this could all change in a heartbeat. Just know that this WAS the plan, and we haven't heard anything concrete about any changes or deviations from this plan. Moving on...


FANTASYLAND EXPANSION:
So let's move to the new construction.

New Restrooms:
We've noticed some problems in the demolition of the forest area near the mansion. Let's hope the trees are replaced before this Liberty Square view is ruined forever. It's very disheartening to see the sight lines being destroyed all over the park. From inside Liberty Square, you can now see Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and even the Contemporary and the back of the "it's a small world" show building. What happened to sight line testing?!? Hopefully this is a short term problem created by all the recent construction.



New Castle Walls:
The new Castle walls that will lead from the courtyard into the forest beyond are coming along nicely.



Be Our Guest Restaurant and Meet and Greet:














The Little Mermaid:















Storybook Circus:





The other Dumbo spinner still under construction.




GRAND FLORIDIAN DVC:
Here are some recent photos of the construction area for the new DVC Units at the Grand Floridian.











MINI-PROBLEM:
We love Universal CityWalk's new golf courses. They're fantastic, fun, and imaginative. Too bad they may be slightly illegal. Wait, what?


Yes, it's true, we've gotten word that The Department of Justice is evidently doing an investigation on their new mini golf courses. Although the courses are a ton of fun, one problem that Universal didn't anticipate was their new mini-golf course is actually illegal per the new ADA requirements that went into effect recently. The problem comes in with the wording of "course."


The new law stipulates that 50% of the holes for each course MUST be ADA accessible, and there is no "grandfathering in" for courses built before the law came into effect this year. Universal built the two courses with one course being 100% ADA accessible, and the other not being accessible. This isn't the same as each course being 50% accessible evidently, and it would be a very hard fix due to the locations of the holes on the alien course. This means that Universal will annually have to file paperwork with the Department of Justice that it would be cost prohibitive to make the other course 50% ADA accessible… a costly measure, but not filing could mean the closure of the alien course entirely. Congo River Golf actually operates the courses, but the responsibility of ADA guidelines lies with the owner of the courses, not the operator. We're not sure how Universal overlooked such a glaring detail, but we're sure they won't overlook it again once they realize the Department of Justice is investigating the property.

EXTRA:
There was a little filming going on in CityWalk as Extra took up shop nearby.





CITYWALK:


Construction has begun on Universal's new boardwalk along the water. New wooden decks will be built along the waterfront to provide new shopping, dining, and entertainment options. This hasn't exactly been announced officially by Universal yet, but we are confident that this is what is happening.

DESPICABLE ME:
In the park, we can see that Despicable Me is coming along nicely, still gearing up for a Summer opening.


















Frames have gone up to showcase the giant posters that will eventually adorn the side of the soundstage, though some of these shapes look a little… well, odd.

CINEMATIC SPECTACULAR:
And finally, more progress photos of Universal's new lagoon show. It's not the same level as World of Color, but it might not need to be if they can pull it off right.












Lots of nozzles.
















AMITY DEMOLITION:
We have some great shots of Amity's demolition. Harry Potter Phase 2 STILL hasn't been announced, but then again, nothing has really been constructed yet, so only time will tell. Until then, these photos give you a true sense of just how big this area is. It won't dwarf the current size of Potter in the other park, but then again, it doesn't need to. Potter's size in the other park is really only due to Dragon Challenge having such a large footprint anyway. When you look at Hogsmeade, it's really quite a small footprint, and then there is just the giant show building for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.















NICK STORE:
The new Bikini Bottom Store (SpongeBob Squarepants) is still under construction…



ORLANDO PARKHOPPER OPEN EVENT RE-CAP:
And finally we want to share with you the fun and frivolity that was the recent Orlando Parkhopper Open event held at the new Drive-In Mini Golf course this past weekend.








Aimster putts around.




Roobear is afraid, very afraid!




It's dangerous to wear a kilt around this crew!








MARK YOU MUST ESCAPE!


Congratulations to winner ABOMIBOT for getting it way under par!


The Orlando Parkhopper team hopes you will
join them in one of our future events!
from left to right: CodenameMLS, Aimster, KingEric,
Abomibot, Mark, and RooBear





ANTARCTICA:
Over at SeaWorld, construction continues on Antarctica- Empire of the Penguin.










They've cleared quite a large area and looks like they're not done leveling the area yet. This will be impressive when they finish. And hopefully won't smell as bad as the old Penguin Encounter.



SKY TOWER:
The SkyTower itself made a recent change. A month ago we told you how it became free and there was also a free ride reservation system for the tower. Well, the good news is that the SkyTower is still free, the bad news is that you can no longer make a free ride reservation for it. It is now part of the QuickQueue system (basically a paid instant FastPass System, like Universal Express Plus) that you can buy at the entrance with your ticket. Probably makes more sense operationally, but we liked it being free. And they still take your family photo at the entrance. We guess that part must be working?





DINING:
Finally, we take you to the SeaFire Inn for a new concept that SeaWorld is testing. Since many people don't enjoy waiting in line at a cafeteria, you can now choose how you would like your food. The standard cafeteria line still exists, but now you can also use an automated kiosk to order your food.





Here is how it works, you go up to the kiosk and grab a number stand. (this will be placed upon your table later on)

You enter the number from your physical number stand and order your food. No special orders seem to be available, though you can use the all day meal deal here.

Pay at the kiosk. (Only credit cards are accepted here, but you can scan your annual pass to get discounts.)







Take your number stand to your table and sit down. About 3-7 minutes later a SeaWorld Team Member will run your order to your table. Waiting in line averted, although we still had to wait, it's easier sitting down waiting than waiting in the long cafeteria line.

This seems to be a win-win for everyone, with the minor exception that SeaWorld has to staff a few extra people to run the food to tables. We think it's worth it. But what about you?


TURTLE TREK:
Construction continues at TurtleTrek, with a grand opening date set for April 27th. However, we expect soft-openings to take place about 1-2 weeks before that date. With SeaWorld Parks though, it's always hard to guess, but this is just a movie, so it shouldn't be behind schedule at all.








They already have a TurtleTrek Penny Press Machine. Sorry the attraction's not open yet, but you can buy a pressed penny of the attraction, that way you can remember it wasn't open yet for your visit, okay?






We got some photos with Arthur C. Turtle (Get it? C-Turtle, as in sea turtle? Ha ha, yeah we thought it was punny too), we think we'll see more of him as soon as TurtleTrek opens.


Congratulations has to go to mratigan for guessing last week's Hidden Parkhopper by posting..."austin's bedroom in Iceploration"




Good job! Let's try this again. Look into the magnifying glass below and see if you can figure out where the park hoppers are this week. Post your guess in the comments area below. If you are the first to answer correctly, you will be featured in next week's update. 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.)



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)!


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:


- Professor Brainard
- ABOMIBOT - Personal Photo Blog
- Eric M. Davis (King Eric)
- Miles Bresin - Miles' Photos
- Kevin Yee
- R.A. Pederson
- Aimster - Pictures by Aimster
- Editors this week: Fishbulb, MickeyMaxx, Dustysage

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


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Updated 03-27-2012 at 08:23 AM by Orlando Parkhopper

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Comments

  1. DragoHarley's Avatar
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    This was a really good report. Thank you for putting it together. I am curious what the author thinks about the rumor that Universal will connect the two Harry Potters lands (one at Islands and the other at the original park) via a Hogwarts Express. Have you heard any more on this?
  2. Quentin's Avatar
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    Great Update.

    Hidden Parkhopper: I'm going to guess it's a close up of Lots-O's cane.
    Honestly though I have no idea.
  3. RossMidlane's Avatar
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    For the hidden parkhopper my guess is the top of the second Dumbo spinner behind the construction wall.
  4. mratigan's Avatar
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    The old dumdo spinner Great update I wish I can go to Florida
  5. The Shadoe's Avatar
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    FANTASTIC UPDATE!

    My understanding is that Colorvision's sponsorship would just be covering Imageworks, not the JII ride itself.

    Interesting concept though: could we see more pavilions in the future that have their various pieces sponsored to different sponsors instead of an all-encompassing sponsor?
  6. KingEric's Avatar
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    @The Shadoe

    If that is true maybe I can sponsor a doll on It's a Small world and I can have a plaque stating that it is my Doll! lol
  7. WesternMouse's Avatar
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    The Dept of Justice had better pay for a ticket before they dare enter the alien course.
  8. MarkTwain's Avatar
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    WOW! The photography is beautiful this week. Did someone get a new camera?

    That's a shame about the mini-golf course's ADA compliance. I actually liked Universal's solution for accessibility better - have an entire course available to those in need, instead of offering half of one or half of the other. Shame it's not compliant, but hopefully they're allowed to keep it.

    I'm a little confused, though, about the new SeaWorld queue. So is the only way to board now with QuickQueue access, or can you still stand in line (without a reservation) for free?
  9. BrizMarc's Avatar
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    really nice update. It would be a shame to see the mini golf closed down. I hope they fix this
  10. danyoung's Avatar
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    Excellent update, as usual. But I find it interesting that on the same day Miceage has 2 opposing articles featuring Epcot's F&GF. While this one says the Fest is great and beautiful and popular and not to be missed, Kevin Yee's article bemoans how it's the same thing year after year, poorly attended, and just not worth it any more.
  11. Timekeeper's Avatar
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    Hmmm, well at least there's a minor similarity between Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom and VMK (the In-Park Quests, going from part of the park to another.) Also, I think it would be wrong if Colorvission presented the Imagination pavilion, but it makes a lot more sense of them to present ImagiWorks (special photography) and they already have two location at least in DLR, (DL in the Star Wars section of Star Trader and in DTD on the garden bridge.) Great Update overall.


    Timekeeper
  12. Maverick's Avatar
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    Fabulous update as always! Two thumbs up!
  13. Twist1234's Avatar
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    We're reporting that the Imagination Pavilion's new Sponsor is Colorvision. New sponsors often mean more money for upgrades. Let's see what happens from here.
    Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder,Dreamfinder, Dreamfinder!

    It was obvious when Disney announced the plans for the refurb for Test Track that they were gonna be minor (changing GM logos to Chevy logos, next-gen wait line, etc.).
  14. DisneyDrums's Avatar
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    I'm looking at the picture in the magnifying glass and I'm thinking it's that red stuff behind the walls of the Amity Demolition. Am I right???
  15. BestBeatingHeart's Avatar
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    When is the new Fantasyland area supposed to open? I should be returning stateside in September and want to plan my first visit there after it all opens up.
  16. SpectroMan's Avatar
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    Great update, you guys! Wow, so much info. I do hope Spectro is coming back this Fall - it's time, really. Plus, we need EP back here in California.
    I like that Sea World offers the all-day dining. Is Uni/IOA still doing that too?
  17. KingEric's Avatar
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    Yes universal still offers all day dining.