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It's been quite a year at Walt Disney World. It's typical to reflect on the year gone by around this time of year, though I haven't always seized the opportunity in past years.

I sometimes use this column to point out deficiencies at Walt Disney World, and get accused of being overly-critical from time to time. I prefer to think of myself as honest, and willing to hit both extremes. I'm deliriously happy with some things (Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, Finding Nemo the Musical) and disgusted with others (drastic Christmas cuts at Epcot, tiny but real cuts at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party). On other things, I'm middle of the road. There were good things about the Space Mountain re-do this year, but then again the refurb didn't hit a home run the way I wish it could have.

The best I can hope to do, in other words, is report honestly on what I think and feel when exposed to the new experiences. Sometimes I change my mind over time, though, and I seldom remember to say so in this space. An example of that would be the American Idol Experience, which I enjoyed on first viewing, but worried about ringers at those initial performances. The quality of performers has indeed gone down since those preview days, but I find the experience still riveting, particularly the finale show. I go every chance I get.

One of the most praiseworthy elements of the Walt Disney World (WDW) experience is just how often new stuff shows up. While my online criticisms are meant to prod Disney to please maintain those high standards they are famous for (and are meant constructively), I recognize that it might look to some readers like I do nothing but complain. Disney spends a lot of money on new things all the time, some defenders say, so how can you only be negative?

In fact, I would be remiss in telling "the whole story" if I didn't acknowledge the buckets of money spent on new stuff. There really is a lot of change over the course of a year at Walt Disney World, much more than was ever the case at Disneyland (except perhaps during Walt's time, when he routinely tore up sidewalks and exhibits with abandon).

WDW spends a LOT of money on new things. There are ALWAYS new experiences to sample. I've gone twice a week (at least) for the past five years and still find new things to do on a weekly basis.

To give a taste of the volume of change, and to bring us full circle back to the theme of "Remembering 2009," I'd like to present a list of the most important changes in the past twelve months. I haven't been compiling this all year long, so I just know I've forgotten an important item or three, but here's my take on all the major events and additions:

Magic Kingdom


Space Mountain relaunched with new queue video games and other set redressings.


The Tomorrowland Transit Authority got new lighting effects at night and a new,
tour-oriented narration (with occasional character voice interjections)


Tiana's Showboat Jubilee took over the Liberty Belle a few select times per afternoon.


Stitch's Supersonic Celebration built a new stage in Tomorrowland,
but closed after a single month of operation.


The Galaxy Palace Theater in Tomorrowland was demolished, with no replacement
(the area became backstage instead).


The old Skyway building was finally demolished and the area re-dressed smartly.


Part of the Tomorrowland Noodle Station (which now has no Asian food or noodles
left on its menu) became the dessert balcony for Wishes.


Obama took his place among his predecessors in the Hall of Presidents.


The old French fry wagon in Frontierland was replaced by a new construction,
the fast food Golden Oaks Outpost.

Epcot


The Sum of All Thrills opened at Innoventions


The Great Piggybank Adventure opened at Innoventions


Remy, a "living character" on a silver platter, debuted at Chefs de France.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The American Idol Experience opened up.


Signage on World Drive was changed again to reflect current park offerings.


LEDs were wide folded into the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which also got
new songs, and a new, dynamic programming that makes use of dual-strung strands for
dual lights, as well as dimmer switches. This photo shows the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a
nod to the atheists (why not? There are lots of Christian symbols, and a few Jewish ones).

Also the Pixar lamp Luxo, Jr. hopped out to greet visitors on a test basis… but I have bad luck! I never see him!

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Signs on the Rafiki's Planet Watch train were changed out to reflect Disney's Earth movie. Also, Thumper was spotted as a walkaround character, but I didn't get any shots of this myself.

Resorts


Bay Lake Tower opened to its DVC members/owners.


DAK Lodge opened a new wing and welcomed new restaurant Sanaa.


Kouzzina replaced Spoodles on the Boardwalk

Also non-Disney resorts Hilton and the Waldorf (the first outside of New York!) opened.

Major Events

Most of these are not "new", but even continuing events offer ‘new stuff' inside them, and they certainly cost a lot of money to stage… though all of these events also make money for Disney.


Princess Half Marathon


Expedition Everest Challenge


WDW Marathon and its convention. Race for the Taste (which next year
goes away, to be replaced by the Wine and Dine Half Marathon)
and the Tower of Terror 13K, in its final season.


Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

There's also Star Wars Weekends (look for next year's to be extra big, and hyping up the Celebration-V fan convention to be held in Orlando) and Epcot's Flower & Garden, and Food & Wine Festivals, both always big productions.

This list doesn't reflect events I didn't attend this year, like the Pirate and Princess Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. You've also got other athletic events like the Muddy Buddy or the Golf Tournament (plus countless hundreds of minor athletic events too).

And none of this touches on the smaller press-level events, like the filming of the Christmas parade, or the special parade for Buzz Lightyear upon his return from the space shuttle.

Not to mention the normal upkeep, which is plenty expensive all on its own. And then there is the "plussing" upkeep, like Innoventions changing its exterior colors and the walkways/breezeways at Future World being redone in a way that makes the east side and west side unique, the better to suggest an unconscious way for visitors to keep track of which side they are on.

Whew! That's a lot of change. It's intimidating and almost tiring to look at a list like that, yet it's also exhilarating. It makes me want to jump in the car and head to the parks, and I was just there last weekend! I'm sure it makes folks from around the country want to plan another visit.

Indeed, that's the point of major events and capital improvements. I hope Disney never forgets that message. Observers like me may point out shortcomings, but that doesn't mean we hate the product or want Disney to stop trying.

Happy New Year, Walt Disney World. And Happy New Year to all those Cast Members who make the dream a reality, day in and day out.

See you in 2010!

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee did not receive any payments, free items, or free services from any of the parties discussed in this article. He pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2009 Kevin Yee


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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.

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