Today's column about enhancements at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World may not be “breaking news” (you may have read about much of this elsewhere online), but the fact that Team Disney Orlando is actually going ahead with these along with quite a few other rehabs and upgrades, is worth taking note of and discussing.

Town Square Theater and Meet Mickey

A couple of weeks ago, they threw open the doors at the Town Square Theater, Mickey’s new home. My verdict? Two big thumbs up. There are tributes galore in this place! The designers were definitely people after my own heart. It’s delightful when Disney pours on the details and spends the money to put out quality experiences.

I guess Mickey was always kind of a magician.

When you enter the building, you’ll step into a domed area with new tile flooring.

Walt was born in 1901.

Most of the store that was here is gone, shrunk to the side only (in fact, most of it is for PhotoPass). The left side is still for accessing Tony’s restaurant. Straight ahead is the character area, and you have to choose immediately from four possible lines: Mickey FastPass, Mickey Standby, Princess FastPass, or Princess Standby. That’s right. The characters have FastPass.

Pick your poison.

The FastPass machines are back outside, tucked away in a corner by the hat shop. In my limited experience with this so far, it seemed like Mickey had very little standby lines (especially during parades – and yes he does stay open). The princesses, though, had longer lines. Unless something changes, I plan to only grab FP for the princesses.

On the first weekend, the FastPass tickets were somewhat generic.

The first queue room is a mess of velvet ropes and red carpeting. A friend commented that it looked like a line for a buffet at a Las Vegas casino, and darned if he isn’t right. I had to laugh at that one, but kept an eye out for displays of Keno numbers.

It’s a nice lobby. Especially when you can breeze right through it!

The room does have some theming, courtesy of some paintings on the walls. These establish Mickey as a magician (headlining a casino showroom?) – it’s the theme of this new meet and greet – and the specific tricks and escapes mentioned in these posters crop up again in the shop at the exit, so it’s a tidy little package. As a bonus, some of these paintings come to life—was this meant as a direct response to such living paintings in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, up the Interstate in the Universal park?

Moving Mickey.

There are four Mickey rooms. The conceit here is that we are “going backstage” with Mickey as he prepares to go on some other (unseen) stage as a magician. When we visited, Minnie was there, too, but we heard that this may not always be the case going forward.

Blurry faces are a byproduct of my camera.

The inside jokes and references come fast and furious in this room. You could spend five minutes here ignoring the famous rodent and discovering the inside jokes and still not get all of them. Start with the stickers on the “trunks”. You’ll find Castaway Cay (DCL), Hong Kong DL, the Grand Floridian, Disneyland Paris, TDL’s hotel Mira Costa, and a reference to Colonel Haithi from the Jungle Book.

Tuppence a bag!

Opposite the photo backdrop is a mirror and table. On the corkboard, look for a hidden Oswald (Mickey’s predecessor). A bag of birdseed carries the name “Tuppence”—a reference to Mary Poppins. There’s also a further Mary Poppins reference in the form of the parrot umbrella, visible on the flipped-open magician’s trunk. (While we’re at this trunk, look for a bunny from Merlin and colored powder from Madam Mim, two wizards from Sword and the Stone).

More movie references.

Back on the table, look for one of the coolest tributes I’ve ever seen at a Disney park: it’s not a remnant (like the skyway building) or an intentional tribute (like labeling a crate after an Imagineer). It’s something more second-level than that. It’s a tribute of a remnant! I’m talking about the letter referencing a Mr. Toad car. This only makes sense if you remember that this building was once home to an orphaned Toad car. Before this refurb, it was the Exposition Hall theater, and an old Toad car sat off to the side (though it was sometimes hidden behind curtains).

I’m delighted by this geeky tribute.

Mickey Mouse shorts are honored on images around the room, but make sure you make time to look at the blueprint for the Saw of Dread… it’s made by “WED Illusioneering.”

The Saw of Dread.

That bird cooing in the birdcage reproduces the “disappearing butterfly” trick you may have seen at Epcot’s Imagination ride, but its name – Joyce – is yet another tribute, this time to Imagineer Joyce Carlson, who helped make quite a few of the rides in the Magic Kingdom.

Joyce coos so much, it’s almost non-stop.

Lastly, glance up at the shelf above the table. Look twice if you have to. See the tributes yet? Those objects are meant to be the park “icons”: the Spaceship Earth globe (this crystal ball has “Leota – 1969” inscribed on it, two further tributes), the Tree of Life, the Studios, if you consider the battlements and crenellations on the spines of the books).

Four parks… one world, the books are grouped in
a castle shape, if you squint.

Dazzled by all the tributes, you stumble out of Mickey’s presence to the gift shop… where there is a remnant from Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the form of a birdhouse. This was once found in the garage at Mickey’s House.

Mickey’s birdhouse!

While the Mickey side of the theater is rich with tributes, the princess side is a whole lot plainer. In fact, there’s a plain blue waiting room that defies expectation. After that kitschy lobby with velvet ropes, couldn’t they choose a better paint scheme for the middle room? We know this is just a temporary stop until their new Fantasyland setup is finished, but...

As our friend Gene says, “They ‘blue’ it” with this room!

The princesses themselves is a fairly straightforward affair. Every visitor gets to see the entire series of princesses (you don’t choose just one). They have pleasant but uninspired backdrops. (Editor's Note: Goodness, your local Sears store has nicer kid portrait setups than this! - Al)

Simple? Yes. Good enough? Well...

What I liked best about the experience was how much time the princesses spend with each child—they really lavish the attention on the kids!

Next time we'll detail all the tributes in the newly interactive Haunted Mansion queue.

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 pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2011 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

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

The Unofficial Walt Disney World ‘Earbook 2010 is a photo-rich volume of 70 pages that park fans will find especially useful if they want to know what’s changed at WDW since their last visit.

History was on my mind as I composed this book. As you might expect, there is a section on additions, another on removals, and a third on events. But I wanted to make sure to include some prices from January 2010 in the book, the better to capture in future years (and future generations?) exactly what it costs to buy admission, parking, a night at each level of hotel, or such food items as a turkey leg. I also wanted to provide a bit more specificity to the unfolding of events, so the various additions and removals, as well as smaller alterations and debuts, are laid out in a timeline broken down month-by-month.

In short, the book is designed to appeal to those folks who are similarly history-minded, as well as those who are hungry to know what changed at Disney World since their last visit. Or perhaps it’s a worthwhile keepsake for anyone who DID visit in 2010—it captures what was new, after all.

Also recently issued...

Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes:

As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.

The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.

The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.

Might this be an ideal present for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.

Also written by Kevin...

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • 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.