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:
Space Mountain relaunched with new queue video games and other
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority got new lighting effects at
night and a new,
tour-oriented narration (with occasional character voice
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
(the area became backstage instead).
The old Skyway building was finally demolished and the area
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
the fast food Golden Oaks Outpost.
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
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
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.
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.
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!