Part of my reason for publishing my annual WDW Earbook (2010 version; 2011 version) was to chronicle the incredible pace of change around here. 2012 has been no exception. Since my last update here two weeks ago, things have just been hopping. There are a few new things of substance that have started up in the parks. Now, it’s true that some of them may be yawn-inducing for the wrong audience, but one is an exciting step in the right direction. Plus there’s another that will make part of the crowd very happy. And any change is good.
FastPass Plus is here! Previously referred to here as X-Pass (as was its internal code name), this is the "ride reservations from home" technology that will be key to NextGen. The first two weeks of May will be some low-level tests of FastPass Plus by actual folks on vacation. Apparently Disney is selecting a limited, randomized sample of people staying at their hotels in the coming couple of weeks, contacting them by email, and letting them select an itinerary. RFID sensors were installed at several Magic Kingdom attractions over the past week, so they are wasting no time in testing this. More info when we get it. (This week will also see the debut of Tutto Gusto, the wine cellar of Tutto Italia. I hope to bring you some pics of both next time!)
Test Track All-Stars
Test Track has closed. The overhaul will last until the fall. Disney hasn’t said too much about what’s coming, beyond that it will allow you to create and customize your own car; they haven’t said what that means (perhaps screens in the queue, like at Cyberspace Mountain? Or Projected image mapping?) I rather suspect that the ‘test track’ part of the ride will be the outdoors part, and that the INDOOR part of the ride will now be about the construction and manufacturing of a Chevrolet car. The artwork released on the DisneyParks blog definitely takes on the Tron look/feel to things.
The marquee sign is already gone, perhaps ending up as a D23Expo auction item?
In the meantime, an acapella singing group now performs in front of the closed E-Ticket ride. They do not draw a large crowd. I liked their attempts at energy, and it’s hard to get too disappointed with live music, but this show nonetheless falls a bit short. I suspect I was turned off by the tired attempt to make it seem like they are mechanics and engineers just taking a break and singing to pass the time. It’s actually kind of insulting—why can’t they just show up and sing? Not the performers’ fault—they seemed to be trying hard.
Party for the Planet
On Earth Day Sunday, which was also DAK’s anniversary (14th, for anyone counting) the park threw a minor “party for the planet” that really meant several staffed tables with workers dispensing advice about making a difference in the environment. The focus was on things you can control from your own home. There was a booth in Oasis, another in Discovery Island, and an entire slew of displays at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Party for the Planet!
In fact, at Rafiki’s they had extra displays, like a smartboard that enticed visitors to drag animals around on screen, as a way of guessing at which ‘level’ of a rainforest they all live. Visitors who stuck around through the games (or heard the spiels) were offered a Chimpanzee button, since that DisneyNature movie had just opened in theaters. Accordingly, one of the other displays here was a photo opportunity amid a Chimpanzee background and live plants in the foreground. It was nice that they recognized the anniversary, even in a low-key way.
The Vision Thing
Another event was higher-key: the opening of the Vision House at Innoventions. Sponsor Green Builder Media has created a new model home in the former location of the “House of the Future” at Innoventions East (just opposite the doomed Habit Heroes). The new Vision House isn’t just about the future, though. It’s actually more about the present. Specifically, it lets visitors know about sustainable ways they can add furniture or upgrades to their houses that will be environmentally-friendly.
Screens in the queue promise a game to come soon.
I did not find the presentation gripping. That’s about as charitably as I can state my opinion. Your mileage will of course vary, but the entire thing was done with a lot of descriptive talk and very little show. It’s heavy on the education (and heavy-handed on the guilt), but light on the entertainment.
That’s not to say you won’t come away interested if you happen to be facing your own remodel. Then I imagine I would have been much more inclined to pay rapt attention. But eco-friendly home improvements strike me as something humans gravitate toward when they have a just-in-time need, not when they are thousands of miles away from home. Just a thought.
I thought that view out the window would change digitally, but nooooo.
Even still, I learned a few things and was intrigued a couple of times. They have toilets that will raise and lower the seat just by tripping a light sensor with your foot? That was kind of neat. No more excuses for leaving the lid up!
And in the fake-outdoor part, they talked about smog-eating tiles for rooftops. I hadn’t heard of that technology. This is the kind of futurism I like to get excited about. Can we really use technology to clean things up?
Backyards are so pleasant when they are climate-controlled!
If you are primarily Disneyland-based, you might not be familiar with the Orange Bird. He’s an animated character mascot from Walt Disney World’s earliest days, when the Tiki Room was called the Tropical Serenade, and the Sunshine Tree Terrace next to it was sponsored by Florida Orange Growers. They had a Disney-created mascot called the Orange Bird, who even had a walkaround “furry” character to do meet and greets.
There’s something new (old) here!
For decades, the character has been missing in the park, though he had a mild renaissance in Japan (of all places) in recent years. I think his cuteness matched their preferences.
We saw a comeback for the character here in the states starting last year on trading pins and at event like Destination D, where fan reaction was positive. So it shouldn’t have been surprising that they’d bring him back to the Magic Kingdom last week. Maybe the forcefulness with which he returned could be called surprising.
The original Orange Bird statuette has been found and returned to the area behind and above the cash registers at the Sunshine Tree Terrace. The character is now so important, in fact, that his picture graces the new sign for the restaurant.
The original figure is back!
The trading pins have been joined by two t-shirts for sale (each $25). And there’s a poster in the tunnels under the railroad on Main Street! This is big time. You can buy a pre-matted version of that same poster for $40.
Poster under the train station.
In the Sunshine Tree Terrace itself, you can buy a Citrus Swirl (orange slush with vanilla soft serve) for $3.19. Or you can pick up an Orange Bird souvenir cup for $6.99—with soda in it. That’s actually a pretty steep price since the cup is small, but they clearly recognize the fans are crazy for this character, so they are taking full advantage.
Why are the fans going crazy? Because Disney World is now forty years old. That’s about how old Disneyland was when its legions of fans first started to descend on the place in droves. It’s a pretty simple formula that could be calculated with actuarial precision: when people “grow up” with a place they visit frequently (maybe once a year?), they become attached to it, so once they reach their prime years for choosing vacation destinations, they select that one. They are more likely to buy things that remind them of childhood, so back come the old icons and mascots.
This marks a bit of a turning point, I think (and hope). I’ve always enjoyed it when the parks recognized the value of nostalgia not only for the “bygone era” ostensibly celebrated with a theme (1890s Frontierland, for example), but also for the “personal nostalgia” that has more to do with childhood memories of this exact theme park. These are some of the moments when the parks are at their most powerful, emotionally speaking.
The official DisneyParks blog finally confirmed that Starbucks will soon be in all four WDW parks (no timetable was given). Scuttlebutt has it that these will be “real” cast members rather than Operating Participants (outside vendors), and that they will wear area-themed costumes. The cups are likely to be co-branded with both Disney and Starbucks logos.
Many visitors are rejoicing, as Starbucks has a reputation for many as a treat. This portion of the population finds the Nescafe coffee currently served at Disney parks to be weak and untasty. There is a counter-population, however, that finds Starbucks overpriced (and/or burnt-tasting) and will not care for this.
The Starbucks locations will not replace anything; they will be standalone NEW locations, probably one in each WDW park. Though details are lacking, that probably implies that the coffee currently served in restaurants won’t change. There will just be additional places to buy coffee.
The new partnership seems to me to be a lot like McDonald’s, the ten-year deal that saw the iconic fast food giant in the parks. We never saw a full-bore golden arches restaurant in the parks; we saw themed eateries that served hamburgers (not called Big Macs, because they were still Disney burgers) and McNuggets (by name, I think). And McDonald’s Fries. I wouldn’t be surprised if the terms “tall” and “venti” and “trenta” do not come along for the ride.
I suspect we’ll see something similar here with Starbucks. Few Imagineers want the place to be dripping with corporate sponsorship, so any sponsorship will be integrated as best they can. It’s not as though the parks currently have no outside brands (Coca-Cola, anyone?)
On the Fringe
A cast member of my acquaintance asked me to pass along info about his show (he wrote it!) at the Orlando Fringe festival coming up soon:
My musical, Theme Park Diva, will be presented as part of the 2012 Orlando Fringe Festival from May 17-27, 2012. It's about (the fictional) Galaxy World USA and the cast of that park's BIG show: Music Music Music Music and More! It features a cast of 11 made up of many Disney and Broadway veterans. I first wrote the show back in 1997 as part of the end of season banquet for Busch Gardens VA. I have produced it twice in the past at the Orlando Fringe in 2003 and 2005.
Tickets are $12* (and include the $1 service fee) and may be purchased online now here at this link. Just scroll down to my show "Theme Park Diva" and pick your date and quantity of tickets. (*Also, you must have a Fringe button to get into any show. It costs $8 and you only need to purchase it once.) Box Office hours on weekdays are 4 PM-Midnight and weekends 10 AM-Midnight and they are located in the lower-lobby of The Lowndes Shakespeare Center and the back lobby of The Orlando REP from May 17-27th.
What is Fringe? It's a 13-day-festival that is founded on the concept of offering 100% unjuried, 100% uncensored, 100% accessible theatre, music, dance, and art to all types and ages. There's even a beer tent and lots and lots of food vendors on the lawn, a great place to hang out between shows and talk to others about what they liked and didn't like. 100% of the box office ticket sales go directly back to the artists within The Fringe. The Orlando Fringe is the longest running one in the United States, celebrating 21 years as “Orlando’s most unique cultural experience”. Orlando Fringe is a proud member of the United States Association of Fringe Festivals (USAFF) and the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF). For a more detailed explanation check out their site: http://orlandofringe.org/how/howto/