Archive for the ‘Walt Disney World’ Category

Theme Park Headlines – New Frontiers

September 13, 2009

Image © Disney.

Disney Cruise Line is heading to Alaska, Star Tours is getting a sequel, and WDW’s Fantasyland is being majorly expanded.

By Blake

Originally posted September 12, 2009.

I officially and truly appreciate Twitter.

I was skeptical to the idea of it at first, but then as I started to use it to post Disney news and view more Disney information from others, I began to “get it.” However, it wasn’t until this weekend that I absolutely, positively was VERY glad that I was a Twitter user.

If not for Twitter, I would have never experienced the jittery excitement I have felt as I excitedly click “refresh” repeatedly to view the live tweets from Disney fans as they report from the D23 Expo.

There was another significant announcement yesterday (Friday, September 11, 2009) at the Disney Cruise Line presentation. Disney previously posted some online videos of Donald Duck and Goofy trying to find out where the Disney Cruise Line was headed to next. Disney answered this highly-anticipated question yesterday, revealing that in summer 2011, Disney Cruise Line is going to . . . Alaska! The breathtaking scenery of Alaska is sure to be a wonderful pairing with a Disney cruise vacation. You can view details at DisneyCruise.com/2011.

Disney Cruise Line is heading to Alaska in summer 2011. Image © Disney.

In other Disney Cruise Line news, on August 31, Disney announced some changes coming to Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island that most Disney cruises make a stop at. Changes include a larger family beach, a new lunch spot, and new water play areas, to be finished in summer 2010. On top of that, two additional Disney cruise ships are currently being built – the Disney Dream (setting sail in 2011) and the Disney Fantasy (coming in 2012).

This morning (Saturday, September 12, 2009) Disney fans (both present at the Expo and those that would read the reports later), were in for some huge surprises from the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation.

Many topics were discussed, including an expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland that will include several new lands (including Toy Story Land); some details about World of Color, a nighttime water show debuting at Disney’s California Adventure in spring 2010; and the new Cars Land, opening at Disney’s California Adventure in 2012.

Then, the first major shocker was revealed – Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland is going to get a massive expansion, growing twice as large as it currently is. It’s going to be amazing.

Some of the outstandingly exciting changes to Fantasyland include two identical Dumbo rides to speed up the wait (complete with an interactive queue) and a new area based on Pixie Hollow from the Disney Fairies movies. Additionally, there seems to be a large emphasis on the princesses, especially in new, unique ways that guests are going to be able to meet them. It seems that each princess character greeting specific to each princess’ personality. For instance, guests will be able to dance with Cinderella, celebrate a party with Aurora, and experience storytelling with Belle. (I’m guessing this is the already-open Storytime with Belle, just relocated?) I think it’s a very creative idea to try out different character greeting formats other than traditional meet & greets.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant is getting an interactive queue in Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

There are also going to be several expansive new attractions added to Fantasyland. A new ride based on The Little Mermaid is going to be built called Ariel’s Adventure, and will be similar in style to other Fantasyland attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It will take guests into Ariel’s world to tell her story, and is going to be like another Little Mermaid ride coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Ariel’s Adventure will be a new ride based on The Little Mermaid, and will open in Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

Additionally, the Imagineers are building two new restaurants based on Beauty and the Beast – Gaston’s Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant. Be Our Guest will be located inside the Beast’s castle, a new area where guests will be able to eat in several themed settings directly from the movie. This place seems like it’s going to be awesome!

However, a down side of the Fantasyland expansion is the unfortunate closure of Mickey’s Toontown Fair. One of my favorite areas in the Magic Kingdom, Toontown opened as a temporary land to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday in 1988, and was later decided to be a more-than-temporary addition to the park. Some of the attractions in Toontown are Mickey’s Country House, Minnie’s Country House, Donald’s Boat, and The Barnstormer. Some good news is that The Barnstormer might be staying despite the Fantasyland changes. It will certainly be sad to see Toontown leave. It’s one of the most cleverly themed and detailed sections of the Magic Kingdom and it will definitely be missed.

The first phase of the Fantasyland expansion (including the princess elements) will open in 2012, while the Pixie Hollow section will open in 2013.

Lastly, there was one more significant announcement at the Parks and Resorts presentation, but it was delivered with the help of Darth Vader and 50 storm troopers. Coming in 2011 to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios (in Walt Disney World) and Disneyland is Star Tours 2, which is sure to delight many Star Wars fans. The attraction will replace the currently-existing Star Tours simulator ride, and will be a new 3-D experience.

I don’t think there have been many events that have been so jam-packed with exciting Disney news like the D23 Expo. I’ve had such joy reading reports that others have posted about the fun happenings that have occurred so far. The Disney Cruise Line Alaskan voyages, Fantasyland’s expansion, and the new Star Tours 2 are all sure to be guest-pleasing experiences. Those Imagineers know how to dream.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 12, 2009. All images © Disney.

The BlakeOnline Buzz, Fall 2009

September 7, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family. Text in image is “Action Jackson” font.

Volume 1, Issue 2

By Blake

Originally posted September 7, 2009.

Dear BlakeOnline readers,

Happy Labor Day! It’s hard to believe that another summer has come and gone. There were several big-screen blockbusters and major announcements, making summer 2009 quite a memorable season for the entertainment industry.

In late May, Pixar released their tenth film, Up, with tremendous success. So much success, in fact, that it is currently the #5 highest-grossing animated film of all time. Characters from the film continue to make appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World in Florida.

Up was another hit for Pixar. Image © Disney/Pixar.

In July, Warner Bros. released the outstanding Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment in the groundbreaking film series. Its current worldwide gross is $897,184,000, which is quite an impressive number.

Disney Channel has also had success over the summer, with three major broadcasts: Princess Protection Program in June, the mash-up Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana in July, and Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie in last week.

Disney Parks and Resorts opened several new Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World recently – Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in May, the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in June, and Bay Lake Tower (a new building at Disney’s Contemporary Resort) in August.

Just last Monday, August 31, 2009, Disney announced that they would buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. When you consider that Disney purchased Pixar for $7 billion in 2006, Disney certainly is taking this buy very seriously. Hopefully exciting projects are on the way as the future of this new partnership unfolds. You can read more about the deal over at MouseExtra.com.

Here at BlakeOnline, the summer has held several points of interest, including the continuation of the Budgeting Disney series. This special group of articles analyzes how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation when you’re watching your money. After already discussing looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, over the summer the articles delved into picking a resort, purchasing tickets, and choosing where to dine. There is going to be at least one more volume in the series, so keep a lookout for it soon!

As the world transitions into fall, there are several exciting highlights in store for Disney fans. The D23 Expo will take place in Anaheim, California from September 10 through 13. Although unfortunately no one from BlakeOnline will be attending the event, many other Disney fan sites are sure to provide detailed coverage of the weekend.

The first D23 Expo kicks off in Anaheim this Thursday, September 10, 2009. Image © Disney.

Halloween festivities are already starting to begin at Walt Disney World as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party takes place at the Magic Kingdom select nights now through November 1. Disneyland will join in on the fun with their annual Halloween Time from September 25 through November 1. Halloween Time includes favorites like Haunted Mansion Holiday through Christmastime at Disneyland Park and Mickey’s Trick-Or-Treat Party during select nights in October at Disney’s California Adventure. New for Halloween Time in 2009 are a new fireworks show and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, a special version of the classic thrill ride. Other special events in the Disney parks this fall include Night of Joy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during September 11-12, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival from September 25 through November 8, and Festival of the Masters at Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney November 13-15. Additionally, Christmas festivities will begin in mid-November.

Halloween is just around the corner, and Disney has already begun to celebrate. Image © Disney.

Disney often has several fascinating book releases in autumn, and this year is no exception. The 2010 Birnbaum Guides will be released on September 29. They include guides to Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World For Kids, Walt Disney World Without Kids, Walt Disney World Dining, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line, as well as the Walt Disney World Pocket Parks Guide.

Other exciting book and movie releases can be found on BlakeOnline’s Upcoming Disney Projects page. The major highlights include the 3D double feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (October 2); the re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Blu-ray (October 6) and DVD (November 25); the new book Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson (October 13); the new Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure film on Blu-ray and DVD (October 27); Up on Blu-ray and DVD (November 10); and the theatrical releases of Disney’s A Christmas Carol (November 6), Old Dogs (November 25), and the highly anticipated hand-drawn feature film The Princess and the Frog (November 25 in New York and Los Angeles, December 11 nationwide).

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are returning to select theaters for a 3-D double feature on October 2. Image © Disney/Pixar.

It’s been a jam-packed, fun-filled summer, and hopefully there’s a celebratory, inviting autumn on the way! After all, there’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.

-Blake
September 7, 2009

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted September 7, 2009. Buzz Lightyear image belongs to Blake’s family. Text in Buzz Lightyear image is “Action Jackson” font. Up and Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Double Feature images © Disney/Pixar. D23 Expo and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party images © Disney. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman, © 1963 Wonderland Music Company, Inc.

Theme Park Headlines – Mickey’s Ready for Fall

September 5, 2009

Image © Disney.

Walt Disney World kicks off its annual Halloween celebrations and prepares for its Christmas festivities.

By Blake

Originally posted September 5, 2009.

While some students may not even have headed back to school yet and the Labor Day holiday is just arriving, Walt Disney World isn’t wasting any time in saying goodbye to summer and heading right into their impressive, crowd-pleasing fall agenda as their Halloween and Christmas special events begin to get underway.

Throughout the summer, Disney began making preparations for The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The buildings in the Streets of America section of the park are being adorned with thousands of sparkling lights. The popular decorations will make their official debut as they light up the park November 10, 2009 – January 4, 2010. You can check out pictures of the event’s recent progress at StudiosCentral.com.

As early as mid-August, the Christmas Dream Lights began their installation on the spires of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom. A fairly new holiday tradition that began in 2007, the Dream Lights spectacularly transform the Castle into an amazing wintry sight (even though it’s already pretty amazing without them). The lights magically turn on thanks to the help of Cinderella and friends in a brief ceremony entitled Cinderella’s Holiday Wish. The Dream Lights will be ready at least by November 10, which is the first night of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but could appear before then. Pictures of the lights’ installation can be seen at LaughingPlace.com.

Mickey and friends are busy perparing for the holiday season, which includes Disney favorites like The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and more. Image © Disney.

However, while those and other Walt Disney World Christmas events are over two months away from making their 2009 premiere, Halloween is already in full swing over at the Magic Kingdom. Special Halloween decorations were set up throughout Town Square and along Main Street, U.S.A. a little over a week ago (as shown in a blog on DISUnplugged.com), and the first Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party of the season took place last night, September 4.

The highlights of each party include Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade, the HalloWishes fireworks, the Villains Mix and Mingle stage show, special character appearances (by several rare friends, as well as some familiar characters in Halloween attire), and candy stations. Many of the Magic Kingdom rides and attractions are open, too.

Minnie, Mickey, and other Disney friends can be found throughout the Magic Kingdom decked out for Halloween during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Image © Disney.

Although the party is mostly the same as in years past, there are a few minor changes this year. There are still two dance parties, but they contain a few differences. The Fantasyland dance party still takes place at Ariel’s Grotto, but the characters present there are now Minnie and Daisy. Additionally, the Tomorrowland dance party has changed locations: it’s not in Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café anymore, it’s now at the stage formerly used for Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration (near Carousel of Progress). Characters appearing at the Tomorrowland dance party are Stitch, Goofy, and Pluto. Outside of dance parties, there appears to be a small new float in the parade featuring Madame Leota’s tombstone from Haunted Mansion. (It’s worth noting that although the villains float was dropped from Magic Kingdom’s regular afternoon parade last spring, it still remains a part of the Halloween parade.)

There may also be a few other small changes, but since the party just took place last night, other information has not yet been spread. However, this article will be updated to include any other reported changes that have occurred at this year’s MNSSHP.

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party requires a separate ticket (different from regular park admission) to attend. On nights when the party takes place, it lasts from 7pm through midnight. However, if you enter at or after 4pm, you will not need a regular park ticket to enter, so my advice would be to not visit a park on the day you attend the party, so that you can rest up as well as save some money.

For pictures of the Halloween decorations throughout the Magic Kingdom, check out LaughingPlace.com, and for a recap of the September 4 Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, visit DISUnplugged.com and AllEars.net. The party will continue on select nights through November 1. Whether you’re attending or not, have a not-so-scary Halloween!

By Blake; posted September 5, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Detours – Epcot Character Spot

August 29, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests can meet all of Disney’s “fab five” at a great character experience in Epcot’s Future World.

By Blake

Originally posted August 29, 2009.

Many guests have experienced the “stampede” of people that hurry to popular attractions at opening time in the Disney parks. In the case of Epcot, the crowd is split between heading left for Mission: SPACE and Test Track, or heading right for Soarin’. When these massive crowds make their way to those long-line attractions, several other experiences just as entertaining are still open, but often get overlooked in the midst of the crowds. One of these satisfying experiences is the Epcot Character Spot.

Located in Innoventions Plaza (just before you enter the right breezeway that heads to Imagination!, The Land, and The Seas), Epcot Character Spot opened in May, 2007, as a replacement of Epcot Character Connection (which opened in November, 2005). Basically the Character Spot is the same setup as the Character Connection, just with fancier backgrounds and lighting.

Minnie is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Guests queue up in one line to meet five Disney characters (though each character is met separately). Usually the lineup includes Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald (Disney’s “fab five”). That’s quite a spectacular group of characters! Here, they’re all dressed in their “traditional” outfits: Mickey in his coattails and bowtie, Minnie in her red polka-dotted dress, Goofy in his classic orange-and-blue attire and green hat, Pluto in his orange collar, and Donald in his signature blue sailor outfit. The Character Spot is an even greater experience if you head to it right at park opening, when there will hardly be a line.

Goofy is one of the characters available for meet & greets at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

If you do happen to visit at a time when there’s a bit of a wait, don’t fear! Several television screens are positioned throughout the queue and play classic Disney cartoon shorts (similar to the setup of the Judge’s Tent over in the Magic Kingdom). Even better, Disney fans will enjoy reading the fascinating trivia facts about the selected cartoons that appear in the right-hand sidebar of the TV screen.

When you’re finally to the front of the line and it’s time to mingle with your Disney friends, the fun really starts. Each character is patient, and is glad to pose for pictures and sign autographs, as well as offer some special one-on-one interaction. For a more memorable meet & greet, ask each character a question specific to their personality. (For instance, ask Pluto if he’s found any tasty bones lately.) Characters also love it when guests draw them special pictures.

Pluto gets down on his paws to greet a guest at the Epcot Character Spot. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

As with many other character experiences around Walt Disney World, Disney PhotoPass photographers are on hand at the Character Spot to snap plenty of pictures, and character handlers are also available if you’d like them to get a family shot with your own camera.

After you’ve met all of the main characters, make sure to check in the hallway to your left before dashing out the door. Sometimes (but not always), there is a “bonus” character available for meet & greets there. Don’t count on anyone being there, but it never hurts to check.

If you’ve already met the fab five before, would just rather not meet them at all, or enjoy seeing characters meet with guests, the Epcot Character Spot has another unique feature. A large glass window lets guests outside view the goings-on inside. They can sit on a shaded bench and relax while they enjoy the playful antics of the characters. Sometimes the characters will even come up to the window and interact with guests sitting outside.

Overall, the Epcot Character Spot is one of Walt Disney World’s best character experiences. Guests meet five of Disney’s most popular characters while waiting in one line, which is often very short first thing in the morning. However, if there is a line, classic Disney cartoon shorts keep the waiting guests entertained. Additionally, it’s helpful to have all of the “fab five” in one location to prevent having to track each of them down individually. If you happen to meet them before heading to Epcot, then honestly there probably won’t be a reason to stop by the Character Spot for you, but at least peek in the window. But if you do head on inside, please make sure to show Donald anything you have that has Mickey Mouse on it.

Donald Duck waves to guests at the Epcot Character Spot. In his mind, he’s always #1! Image belongs to Blake’s family.

By Blake; posted August 29, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Five: Dining

August 21, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Planning out a Disney vacation filled with bargain meals.

By Blake

Originally posted August 21, 2009.

Eating at Walt Disney World can often be a hassle. There’s the Disney Dining Plan to consider, reservations to make months in advance, and dozens of eateries to choose from within Disney’s property.

So, how do you budget your food while at Walt Disney World? If you watch your money, it can be easier than you might think.

First of all, let’s go ahead and get the Disney Dining Plan out of the way. The DDP is an optional program that, for one solid price a day (which usually begins in the $45 range), includes one counter-service meal, one table-service meal, and one snack per person, per day. (That’s the basic DDP – other options just get more expensive from there.) Although the DDP is a bargain if you’re already planning on eating at one table-service restaurant a day, it’s not that great of a value if you’re intending to stick to counter-service venues. When the DDP is offered for free (which is generally in the fall), it’s an entire different story. Definitely go for it if it’s free, but otherwise if you’re conscious about where your money is going, don’t use it.

Going without any table-service restaurants in Walt Disney World can be tough, and usually during my family’s trips we do tend to squeeze in a few sit-down meals. I really do enjoy them, but they get a bit expensive to be eating at one EVERY day of vacation. Generally during a week-long stay, my family dines at three table-service restaurants over the course of our trip.

Except for the days when you might have a breakfast reservation (like a character meal), plan on eating some breakfast brought from home. Although it’s certainly the most important meal of the day, when you add it up it’s a whole lot cheaper to bring some snacky breakfast foods along with you than to purchase breakfast every day in Disney. Peanuts, protein bars, muffins, and crackers are ideal for eating in your resort room or taking on the go to eat later in the parks.

So, you have your food to eat for breakfast at your resort, but what are you going to drink? Disney resorts sell refillable mugs, which are a great value whether you plan on being at your resort a lot or not. With a refillable mug, guests can help themselves to unlimited free refills for any drink at their resort’s “beverage island” through the end of their Disney vacation. The mugs sell for about $14 and have a special Disney design on them featuring favorite characters.

Although refillable mugs are only valid for free refills in your resort, once you get to the parks, there’s another super value for your drinks. In fact, it’s such a value that’s it’s free! Guests that head to any counter-service eatery in the Disney parks can ask for a complimentary cup (not bottle) of water. It sure does beat spending $3-$4 per person to get a soda (save that for your refillable mug when you get back to your resort). If a given eatery for some reason cannot supply you with water, Cast Members there can at least give you cups of ice that you can fill up with water at the nearest drinking fountain. Simply drinking free water can save a hoopla of money when you look at the big picture!

It can be easy to come back from a vacation and wonder where all of the money went to. An efficient way to save a little (or a lot) more cash is to give each member of your family their own specific food envelope. Since breakfast won’t be included in the envelope (because you’re bringing breakfast from home), $20 is a fair amount to put in each person’s envelope per day of the trip. That’s (give or take) enough money for two counter-service meals and a snack. This system worked terrifically on my family’s last trip to Disney, especially for the children in the group. Since they felt like they were spending their own money, they were very more conscious about where it went!

Instead of giving everyone their entire week’s supply of food money at once, give each person was given $20 for their envelope at the beginning of each day. If you hav money left over in your envelope at the end of the day, add to the next day’s eating money (but NOT to spending money). Additionally, on the days you have a table-service meal planned, look at that meal’s pricing ahead of time and give that meal its own specific envelope with the family total in it (instead of taking the money from everyone’s individual envelope). Keep in mind that reservations for table-service meals can be made 180 days in advance (in place October 27, 2009).

Even when it’s budgeted like that, $20 for food can be gone fast if you don’t pay close attention. Typically an adult meal at a counter-service restaurant starts at around $8-$9. If you’re running low on your daily food money and still have a meal left, try a kid’s meal for a surprisingly terrific value. For $4.99 (plus tax), a kid’s meal includes a main food (which is usually chicken tenders, macaroni, pizza, or something similar), two sides (carrot sticks, grapes, a cookie, or applesauce), and a drink (1% milk, a small soda, chocolate milk, a juice box, or a small bottled water). That’s quite the deal! Even better, most of the time you won’t notice that you’re eating a child-sized meal. Although the pizza is considerably smaller than an adult’s size, most of the other options are very reasonably sized. Additionally, go for the healthier sides when they’re offered. It’s probably one of the only healthy foods you’ll have during your vacation!

To change things up a little bit from the typical fast-food menu, try eating at one of the counter-service dining spots in one of Epcot’s World Showcase countries or Flame Tree BBQ at Animal Kingdom. Some of the best values that are likely to please any member of the family include Pinocchio Village Haus at Magic Kingdom, Electric Umbrella in Epcot’s Future World, Sunset Ranch Market at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Pizzafari at Animal Kingdom.

Visit Epcot for some unique foods at each of World Showcase’s countries. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Where snacks are concerned, the cheapest options are at the small snack stands that are found in many locations throughout Walt Disney World. These are home to one of the Disney standards, Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. They also sell delicious chocolate-covered frozen bananas and other desserts.

However, there are some other wonderful (though slightly more pricey) snacks that you might want to set aside some of your daily food money for. The Magic Kingdom is home to some of the best snacks in all of Walt Disney World, including the crowd favorite Dole Whip, a tasty ice cream-like snack at Adventureland’s Aloha Isle. (Try the swirl for a vanilla/pineapple combo that’s excellent to enjoy on the adjacent shaded benches or in the nearby canopy area.) Another Magic Kingdom favorite snack is the ice cream cookie sandwich at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square, consisting of two scoops of vanilla ice cream placed in-between two huge chocolate-chip cookies – it’s fantastic! (Try to enjoy your Dole Whip or ice cream cookie sandwich at night or in the shade – they melt fast in the sun!) At Epcot, each country has special snacks in World Showcase. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, some delicious deserts like caramel apples can be found in Starring Rolls Café just after turning onto Sunset Blvd. from Hollywood Blvd.

Even without the Disney Dining Plan, if you take the time to plan out where your money is going, bring some food from home to eat for breakfast, purchase a refillable mug to use at your resort, ask for free cups of water in the parks, and set aside each family member their own food money envelope, dining at Walt Disney World can indeed be budgeted and reasonable. I would advise future Disney guests to visit AllEars.net’s excellent selection of Disney menus to get an idea of where you might like to dine during your vacation. Find some eateries that will please your family and keep a close eye on your money. And enjoy your Dole Whip!

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted August 21, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Blake’s Picks – Top 6 Walt Disney World “Extras”

August 6, 2009

Image belongs to Blake’s family.



Disney goes the extra mile to immerse their guests in a fantasy kingdom where everything contributes to telling stories.

By Blake

Orignally posted August 6, 2009.

Guests visiting Walt Disney World feel like they’ve been transported to some imaginative community far from reality. Not only is this the place where dreams come true, but it’s an immersive experience like none other. Whether guests realize it or not, a variety of components all culminate together to make sure that everyone is in an authentic environment that meets the level of quality that Disney is used to giving.

Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a great example of Disney’s attention to detail and theming. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Some of these aspects are fairly simple, such as Cast Members being courteous to guests, while others require a far more intricate amount of detailing and planning out. Here are some of my favorite little perks that make Walt Disney World such a special place, and also help to relieve guests of their “real-world” worries and give them the chance to be immersed in the Disney enchantment.

6.) In-Room WDW Specialty Television Programs

Televisions in the hotel rooms at the Disney resorts have several unique channels that you won’t find back home on your regular TV set. Made especially for Disney resort TVs, a few programs play on a continuous loop and have one main purpose: to give guests a preview for what’s in store for them in the parks by getting them excited for some of the parks’ best attractions. Some channels may show highlights from each park, while another has a countdown of favorite attractions. Other channels have handy tips accentuated by Disney music, as well as weather reports. One channel that used to be featured but (unless something has changed recently) doesn’t play anymore was the classic cartoons channel, which included showings of the Disney cartoon shorts from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s.

Since most guests are in their hotel rooms at the beginning and end of each day (sometimes at other points, too), these special TV programs allow a great preview of what’s to come (while you’re watching as you get ready to embark into the parks in the morning), and make as a pleasant look back at your fun day (as you’re unwinding in the evening).

5.) Wake-Up Calls

Another Disney resort perk that I look forward to experiencing in the mornings at WDW is a special wake-up call. If guests let a Cast Member know in the resort lobby, or call a special number on their room phone, they’ll get a wake-up call from a Disney character at the time of their choice. The wake-up call during my last visit had Stitch hollering “No sleeping!,” though the particular message may have changed since then. I advise putting the call on speaker phone once you answer it, so that the entire family will have a chance to listen in on this fun way to start the day.

4.) Transportation

An integral part of immersing guests in another world relies on getting them to and from their destinations in a way that they might not usually experience elsewhere. I’ll admit that riding a bus may be typical, but whisking off on a pleasant ferry ride just to travel a short distance isn’t your everyday carpool. And are there that many other places that you’ve traveled via a gliding monorail?

The monorail in particular is such a Disney way to travel, and even though I’ve never stayed at a resort along its route, I try to go out of my way to at least hop onboard for a quick trip every visit. Being elevated above regular traffic is an experience in itself, but a few other details, including its narration and announcements, make the monorail a memorable classic. Also notice that after each stop the monorail makes, Disney has made an effort to send those that are leaving WDW at that time with some special words of parting, making the monorail a terrific way to end a Disney vacation.

3.) Characters

Something I love about meeting Disney characters is that each of them has their own personality. They each put their own little spin on how they pose for a picture, and each character has a specific autograph style, complete with specialty font that they use to sign their name. Each character implements their own . . . well, character . . . into their meet & greet experiences. Goofy is a little bit clumsy, Stitch is usually very playful, and you can count on the princesses to be all smiles with plenty of patience.

Buzz Lightyear (left) and Woody from the Toy Story movies are some Disney’s many famous characters that guests can meet in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

2.) Story

No matter where you go in Walt Disney World, almost everything you experience is part of some kind of story. However, unlike in movies and television shows, the Disney theme parks allow the guests to be a part of the stories Disney tells, immersing guests and letting them experience adventures as if they were plopped right into a movie.

This creative prop is a detail that helps tell the story of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The pre-show area of this attraction is full of goodies like this to look through. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Nearly every Disney attraction or show tells a story. It can sometimes be a stretch to figure out what the plot of a particular ride or atmosphere may be, but most of the time something’s there for guests to decipher. For instance, The Barnstormer in Mickey’s Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom isn’t just a small roller coaster. It’s a “flight” being “piloted” by Goofy, who is his usual self and ends up crashing the coaster through his barn.

Typically attractions are grouped in themed “lands,” all pertaining to a particular subject. While each of a land’s attractions may have their own individual story, they also all come together to tell a bigger story involving that land’s purpose. For example, while The Barnstormer does indeed weave its own little backstory, the premise of Toontown (the land where The Barnstormer is located) is that the fair has come to the town where Mickey and Minnie live, and guests are invited to see some of the fair’s highlights.

Look around and smell the flowers – sometimes literally – while you’re in the Disney parks. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

1.) Cast Members

More than any particular “thing” or ride, Disney’s Cast Members truly make Walt Disney World the most magical place on Earth. They continually make an added effort and go the extra mile to make sure their guests are having a good time.

Sometimes the gestures of Cast Members are purely simple, but so genuinely Disney, such as addressing each guest as either a “princess” or “prince,” or wishing you to “Have a magical day!” It’s so simple, but its results are extraordinary. It makes guests feel special, and also reminds them that they really are in a Disney World.

Other Cast Member experiences may involve some of the Cast Members truly going out their way to make a guest’s day especially memorable. This could include tracking down a particular character, selecting a family to be the Grand Marshals of a parade, or something else that the Cast Member goes beyond their call of duty to pursue, just to give guests a magical experience. One particular instance of this happening to my family was when we didn’t answer our wake-up call (but still woke up), and a few minutes later a Cast Member was knocking on our door to make sure we hadn’t overslept. Fortunately we were already awake, but it was very kind for the Cast Member to check in on us.

Cast Members bid gets good-bye as they hold signs that read “See ya real soon!” at the end of a Magic Kingdom day. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

Pin trading is an excellent way to interact with Cast Members. Not only are pins fun to collect, but trading with Cast Members gives you the chance to talk to them, hear some of their stories, and makes you feel like you’re sharing a bit of magic of your own.

Whether their tasks are miniscule or humongous, the Disney Cast Members make every day an unforgettable experience in the Disney parks.

Walt Disney World really does seem to take its guests on a journey into a fanciful, inspired dream. Little perks like special television shows and character wake-up calls give guests something exciting to experience right in their hotel room, the unique transportation makes traveling just plain fun, the Disney characters give guests the chance to see their childhood favorites in-person with plenty of personality, guests are continually involved in an ongoing story told through the parks’ attractions, and Cast Members give a level of terrific customer service that makes Walt Disney World what it is – an enchanting realm where worries are forgotten, imaginations are set loose, and families are grown closer together.

Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. Image belongs to Blake’s family.

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By Blake; posted August 6, 2009. All images belong to Blake’s family.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Four: Purchasing Tickets

July 27, 2009
Image © Disney.

Analyzing Walt Disney World ticket packages when you’re watching your money.

By Blake

Originally posted July 27, 2009.

It’s time for another edition of Budgeting Disney, a special series walking through the steps of planning a Walt Disney World vacation in the midst of keeping a close track of where your money is going. So far we’ve looked at finding deals, deciding when to visit, and choosing a resort to stay at.

Before we delve into purchasing theme park tickets, I’d like to point out that a bargain package has just been announced. Guests visiting Walt Disney World for at least five nights/five days during October 1 through November 24, as well as November 29 through December 17, get select dining free if they book their trip by September 26. Full details can be found here. (Note: You may have heard that this package was exclusively for guests with a Disney Rewards Visa card, though that is not the case anymore!)

Free dining is back . . . again! Image © Disney.

Moving on, after picking your resort, the next issue in planning a Walt Disney World vacation is to decide is what type of ticket package to purchase. A regular, one-day theme park ticket currently costs $75. However, if you’re visiting for more than one day, the price per day gradually decreases.

A regular, standard base ticket allows guests to visit one theme park per day. You can’t switch parks in the middle of the day, but you can leave the park for a break and come back later to that same park. Honestly, if you want to spend as little money as possible, a standard base ticket is the option that you should choose.

The standard base ticket package is the least expensive WDW vacation package, and has guests visiting one theme park per day. The Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is shown here. Image © Disney.

However, there are several other optional ticket choices to “splurge” on if you want. Each has their own benefits, but when you’re watching your money, you really have to ask yourself if any of the other packages are worth it.

The first option is the Park Hopper add-on, which allows guests to visit more than one theme park per day. In the past, my family has used this to perhaps spend the day at one park, and then head to another park to see some sort of nighttime show. Other times we’ve just gotten “bored” with a park and decided to hightail it over to another area of WDW. However, looking back at our last trip, I don’t think we’ll be eager to use a Park Hopper anytime soon. There was nothing wrong with the actual ticket package itself, but we were using it so much that we were rushing ourselves around from place to place and from park to park. Not only were we exhausted by the time the trip was over, but we didn’t take the time to appreciate the surroundings and the excellent atmosphere that Disney provides. Instead we were too concerned about where we were headed to next. If you don’t overuse it, the Park Hopper can be nice, but it can also stress you out at times. Consider that before you make your decision to add it on or not.

The next package to look at is the Water Park Fun & More option. It includes admission to Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park, DisneyQuest “virtual theme park” at Downtown Disney, ESPN Wide World of Sports, or golfing at Oak Trail. I’ve never visited Typhoon Lagoon, Wide World of Sports, or Oak Trail, but I have visited both Blizzard Beach and DisneyQuest. While I enjoyed both experiences very much, I don’t think they’re worth adding the Water Park Fun & More option to our vacation package EVERY trip. They might be exciting to visit every now and then, but honestly it can be difficult squeezing in time for the four theme parks during a vacation, let alone the other various activities Walt Disney World has. If you truly think you’ll want to spend a full day at a water park, play at Wide World of Sports or Oak Trail, or play some very involved virtual games at DisneyQuest during your trip, go for it. Personally more often than not, I’d rather just stick to the theme parks.

Typhoon Lagoon is one of Disney’s two water parks that guests can experience in the Water Park Fun & More package. Image © Disney.

Now we come to the “no expiration” option. Most Walt Disney World tickets will expire fourteen days after their first use, whether they’ve been maxed out or not. However, with the no expiration add-on, they’ll never go bad. Of the packages we’ve mentioned so far, I feel that this one is the most beneficial, especially if you plan on visiting Walt Disney World in the future (as in, after the trip you’re planning now).

Remember how ticket prices per day decrease for every additional day you purchase? Well, let’s say you buy tickets for ten days in the parks, but you’re only planning to stay for five days this trip. With the no expiration add-on, those five leftover unused days of tickets will still be good if you plan to visit in a few years (or, for that matter, any time in the future at all). However, you have to consider whether or not you can financially shell out that amount of money at once.

What’s more, the tickets will end up being less expensive than they would have been if you bought them in a few years, for two reasons: 1.) They’ll have decreased in price per day because you bought many of them at one time, and 2.) Disney tends to slightly raise their ticket prices about every year or so. Guests traveling during the hurricane season (late August through October) might want to seriously consider the no expiration option, as will guests that might have to go back home for some sort of emergency situation. Otherwise, only get no expiration if you’re sure you’ll be returning, and even then there’s still the issue of paying all of that money at once.

The last package that we’re going to look at is the Annual Pass. For locals, or for those that visit Walt Disney World more than once a year, an Annual Pass includes year-round visits to the parks. Regular Annual Passes cost $414 for ages three through nine and $469 for ages ten and up. The Water Park Fun & More option is also available for Annual Passes (for $528 ages three through nine and $599 ages ten and up). For guests that go to WDW often, the Annual Pass can be a great deal.

Buying Walt Disney World tickets can be puzzling, but ultimately it comes down to how much you think your family will benefit from each of the different add-on packages. If you want to spend as little money as possible, go for the standard base ticket. If you’d like to experience some of the other activities WDW has – like water parks or sports – the Water Park Fun & More add-on might be for you. If you think you’re going to be visiting WDW on a yearly basis, purchasing the no-expiration option and buying more tickets than you plan on using this time might be wise (only if you can financially support that decision, though). Lastly, if you’re a frequent guest to WDW and visit more than once a year, you might want to consider an Annual Pass. Whatever ticket package Walt Disney World guests decide on, make sure to be conscious of your money, and to fully consider whether or not each add-on will be worth it to your family.

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By Blake; posted July 27, 2009. All images © Disney.

Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Three: Where to Stay

July 13, 2009
Image © Disney.

When on a budget, Walt Disney World’s campground or value resorts are the way to go.

By Blake

Originally posted July 13, 2009.

Welcome to another installment of Budgeting Disney, a special look at planning a Walt Disney World vacation on a strict budget. I’ve already discussed looking for promotions and deciding when to visit, and now it’s time to focus on where to stay overnight during a WDW trip.

Whether you’re watching your money or not, there’s a huge decision to be made first thing when deciding your accommodations: on-site or off-site? Walt Disney World has over 20 on-property resort hotels to choose from, all sorted into several categories based on price and extra benefits. From most-expensive to least-expensive, the groups are deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, value resorts, and the campground. I’ve got news for you – if you’re on a budget, eliminate deluxe and moderate right away so that you don’t even have the option to splurge.

So now you’re down to three choices: a Walt Disney World value resort, the campground section of WDW’s Fort Wilderness, or an off-site venue. Personally, I’ve got to go with Disney. Due to the Disney quality service constantly being displayed and the convenient (and free) transportation to all over WDW, I’d say that it’s overall worth it to stay on Disney property.

Between the campground and the value resorts, the choice should be relatively easy based on whether or not you have the necessary equipment (either tent or RV) or not. If you do, the campground might be a pleasurable experience, as you’ll be in the excellent atmosphere of Fort Wilderness. You can check out details at AllEars.net, including differences between campsites and price ranges. Guests staying at Fort Wilderness will most likely want to bring their own groceries from home or purchase groceries once they get to WDW, as (unlike the value resorts), Fort Wilderness doesn’t have a food court (though it does have a buffet restaurant).

The campground area of Fort Wilderness (as opposed to the cabin area, which is priced as a moderate Disney resort) is ideal for guests with RV’s. Image © Disney.

If you don’t have a tent or camper, or if camping isn’t your thing, then the Disney value resorts will probably please you if you’re on a budget.

To be honest, the hotel rooms themselves at Disney value resorts are just regular rooms with no special perks. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s the way to go. Value resorts are especially ideal for those that will be spending a lot of time in the parks, as opposed to those that would rather relax all day. There aren’t a lot of “extras,” but the basics are all essentially covered.

Instead of full-service restaurants, each value resort has a food court that includes several counter-service options featuring a variety of choices. Additionally, guests can also order pizza to be delivered to their room (a great bargain for large families).

Most Disney resorts (value or otherwise, though there are a few exceptions) also implement refillable mugs, another great way to save money. Guests that purchase a refillable mug get free refills at their resort’s food court throughout the duration of their stay. Guests can only refill their mug at the resort they are staying at, and the mug can only be used for that one particular vacation.

All of the value resorts have at least two pools, each with a specific theme. There are no waterslides, though several of the pools have some unique fun features to them. Additionally, each value resort has an arcade, a gift shop, and an area in the lobby to view Disney programs on a TV.

Walt Disney World has four value resorts: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century. Essentially, the room layout is the same in all four resorts and the atmosphere has the same format, as well. Since we’re budgeting, I advise booking a standard room at the lowest price possible, in this case being about $82*. The “view” from the room will most likely either be a parking lot or some bushes, but since no rooms at any of the value resorts have actual porches, you won’t be sitting out enjoying the view no matter what room you’re in. However, all of the resorts are relatively easy to navigate, so if guests desire to see something particular, a short walk is all that it will take to get there.

Disney’s All-Star Sports depicts scenes like gigantic football helmets. Image © Disney.

Each of the resorts’ rooms are housed in several separate buildings, each building surrounded by huge atmospheric characters and objects. At All-Star Sports, this includes giant sports equipment. At All-Star Music, each area is themed to a different music style, with large instruments adorning the atmosphere. At All-Star Movies, areas are themed to different Disney films, with huge versions of Disney characters found outside rooms. Lastly, Pop Century is all about the second half of the 20th century, with areas themed to each decade.

Disney’s All-Star Movies features atmosphere based on Disney movies, including 101 Dalmatians, shown here. Image © Disney.

The layout of the resorts are almost the same, the food courts have mostly the same food, and the rooms are identical at all four value resorts, so ultimately the choice comes down to your preference of theming. Pop Century does have a slight edge over the other three, though. Its grounds are slightly more expansive, it has a lovely lake at the back of the resort that makes for a great view, and it has several Disney sights that guests can view from a distance (including Wide World of Sports, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Swan and Dolphin, and Spaceship Earth). AllEars.net has a great photo gallery of each of the four value resorts, making it simple to go through and choose one that your family likes the best. (Links: All-Star Sports photos, All-Star Music photos, All-Star Movies photos, and Pop Century photos.)

Disney’s Pop Century Resort is themed to five individual decades of the 20th century, including the 50’s, shown here through Tramp from Lady and the Tramp and some disco dancers. Image © Disney.

The limit at value resorts of amount of guests per room is four people, so families larger than that have another decision to make. They can either book two adjoining rooms, which feature a door between both rooms providing access to the other. Or, they can book a family suite, which right now is only available at All-Star Music. If guests choose the adjoining rooms and book the lowest-priced rooms possible at about $82* per night each, then the total comes out to be about $164* per night. The family suites cost about $184* per night, making the adjoining rooms a better value. You can view the photos at AllEars.net to compare the look of the family suites to those of regular rooms (you’ll have to scroll down a little).

Country music is one of the music styles represented at Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Image © Disney.

If guests are on a budget but still want to be immersed in Disney enchantment throughout their Walt Disney World vacation, the Fort Wilderness campground sites or the Disney value resorts are ideal. The campground guests might have to be a little more independent for food, but for those with campers, it’s ideal. The value resorts of All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, All-Star Movies, and Pop Century are all great choices, and guests can choose which resort to stay at based on personal interests or hobbies. The value resorts don’t include many extra bonuses, though they’re ideal for those that will be hitting the parks often, making them a great . . . well . . . value.

*Prices are approximate and get raised during peak seasons.

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By Blake; posted July 13, 2009. All images © Disney.

Theme Park Headlines – Patriotism and Tragedy

July 8, 2009
Image © Disney.

1,000 new American citizens, an Animatronics version of President Obama, and a tragic monorail accident were among the occurrences of Walt Disney World’s Independence Day week 2009.

By Blake

Originally posted July 8, 2009.

The Fourth of July 2009 at Walt Disney World will not be easily forgotten anytime soon, as a result of a series of completely unrelated events, some exciting and one sorrowful. There were some celebratory events, such as the welcoming of 1,000 newly-sworn-in American citizens and the openings of several exciting new attractions, though one particular tragic accident involving a monorail crash and the death of a Disney Cast Member flared headlines across the country.

One of the lead-ins to the holiday week was the appearance of an Audio-Animatronics character of Luxo, Jr., the lamp from the Pixar short of the same name. Luxo is found on a ledge above guests on Pixar Place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, near the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction. Although he made his debut around June 22 (which was followed by coverage on LaughingPlace.com), StitchKingdom.com’s Twitter updates are now reporting that Luxo is currently not making appearances, but will resume doing so soon. When he’s out, Luxo appears every 15 minutes and interacts with guests in addition to participating in some creative antics.

Luxo, Jr. has made his debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Image © Disney/Pixar.

On June 29 at the Magic Kingdom, The Pirates League officially opened in Adventureland. Similar to how Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique features princess makeovers, The Pirates League is all about pirate makeovers. Guests may choose from a selection of assorted packages, all of which are listed at WDWNews.com. Like Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, the makeovers are a bit pricey, the least expensive package being $49.95 plus tax. Coverage of The Pirates League can be seen on AllEars.net, DISUnplugged.com, and StitchKingdom.com. However, if guests would rather not have an all-out makeover but are still looking for a unique Disney hairdo experience, they’d be better off at the less expensive Harmony Barber Shop on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, U.S.A.

Moving on, sometime over the course of last week (though I seem to find contradictory opening dates – a preview was held on June 28 nonetheless), The Hall of Presidents re-opened from its extensive refurbishment with major new additions. It has a new subtitle, making its full name The Hall of Presidents: A Celebration of Liberty’s Leaders. Among the changes are the inclusion of Morgan Freeman as narrator, Abraham Lincoln giving The Gettysburg Address, George Washington speaking (he previously did not), and the addition of Barack Obama to the lineup of presidents presented as Audio-Animatronics. Pictures of the newly re-opened attraction can be seen at AllEars.net (beware of spoilers, though!).

On July 3, also in the Magic Kingdom, 1,000 people were sworn in and officially became United States citizens. Broadcasted live on CNN, the ceremony took place in front of Cinderella Castle with the help of Mickey Mouse (dressed in patriotic attire), Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, actor Andy Garcia, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After they gave the Oath of Allegiance, the new citizens experienced The Hall of Presidents. Coverage of the event can be seen at StitchKingdom.com.

That evening, Magic Kingdom held a performance of a special Independence Day fireworks presentation titled Celebrate America. On Independence Day itself, July 4, another performance of the show was held. Also on July 4, Epcot’s IllumiNations had a special holiday finale, while Disney’s Hollywood Studios had its own patriotic fireworks show.

A special Indpendence Day fireworks show, Celebrate America, was held at Magic Kingdom on July 3 and July 4, 2009. Image © Disney.

Early morning on Sunday, July 5, the mood changed significantly as two monorails collided. The crash tragically killed 21-year-old Cast Member Austin Wuennenberg. The Epcot monorail system closed for the day, re-opening the afternoon of July 6 with additional safety precautions. It is definitely sorrowful that something like this happened, though hopefully nothing like it will occur again. BlakeOnline sends prayers and thoughts to friends and family of Wuennenberg as they cope with their loss.

The Independence Day week events continued as a new Princess Diana exhibit titled Diana: The People’s Princess opened on July 7 at Downtown Disney. Although guests may enter Downtown Disney itself for free, admission into the Princess Diana exhibit is $5.00 for children through age 9 and $14.50 for ages 10 and up.

Diana: The People’s Princess, a new exhibit about Princess Diana, is now open at Downtown Disney. Image © Disney.

With all of that activity going on, it certainly was quite a hectic Independence Day at Walt Disney World this year. Luxo, Jr., The Pirates League, The Hall of Presidents, the many new American citizens, the special fireworks shows, and Diana: The People’s Princess were all causes of celebration while the tragic monorail accident was definitely a mournful event.

By Blake; posted July 8, 2009. All images © Disney. Pixar Animation Studios logo © Disney/Pixar.

BlakeOnline Special – Imagineering “Blue Sky” Session 2009

June 26, 2009
Image © Disney.

It’s that time of year for batting around ideas for the Disney parks!

By Blake

Originally posted June 26, 2009.

Most Disney fans probably have at least a few creative ideas or thoughts for how they would tweak the Disney parks if they were given the opportunity to do so. If they were an Imagineer – a member of the part of the Walt Disney Company responsible for creating the Disney park attractions – they might have several rides or shows dreamed up and ready to put into action.

It’s always fun to pretend, and so for the sole purpose of just having fun, I welcome you to the 2nd annual Imagineering “Blue Sky” Session here on BlakeOnline. “Blue Sky” is a term used by Imagineers at the very beginning stages of creating new attractions. During Blue Sky, ideas are batted around and introduced for the first time, and concepts and stories are just getting started.

Here we go!

I’ve talked a lot about the changes at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, but even more colossal than that park’s various changes are the ones being put into effect at Disney’s California Adventure in Disneyland. The changes began in the Paradise Pier section of the park in June 2008 with the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania! Additionally, the Games of the Boardwalk recently re-opened featuring classic Disney characters, and the nearby Sun Wheel was re-themed to Mickey’s Fun Wheel.

The surrounding area of Paradise Pier will continue to be the first section of the park that will largely be changed as part of the multi-year DCA expansion. Other nearby attractions are being re-imagined to be themed to classic Disney shorts of the 1930’s and 1940’s, which I think is just wonderful. From the looks of the concept art and attraction descriptions, the area is going to become somewhat of a simpler, more classic-feeling Toontown. Goofy’s Sky School (a re-themed mad-mouse roller coaster) will be based on the Goofy “How-To” shorts, this time with Goofy “teaching” guests how to fly, with a few unplanned diversions (similar to the storyline of The Barnstormer at the Magic Kingdom ). Additionally, the Silly Symphony Swings will be themed to the 1935 classic Mickey Mouse short The Band Concert, complete with dazzling new special effects.

Silly Symphony Swings at Disney’s California Adventure are expected to be themed to the 1935 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert. Image © Disney.

Coming to Paradise Pier in spring 2010 is World of Color, a new water show featuring a hoopla of classic Disney characters in a spectacle that supposedly will knock the socks of its viewers. In 2011, Paradise Pier will become the home of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a new dark ride that ironically was supposed to be built years ago at Disneyland.

The California Adventure expansion is expected to continue in 2012 with new theming to its entrance, which will depict Hollywood in the 1920’s, when Walt Disney was first arriving to the city. Additionally, an entire new area of the park will open in 2012 – Cars Land, themed to the 2006 Pixar film Cars. The area will include multiple new attractions that sound very exciting, and the atmosphere will make guests feel like they’re walking through Radiator Springs.

Cars Land, themed to the Pixar film Cars, is scheduled to open in Disney’s California Adventure at Disneyland in 2012. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Although I’ve never visited California Adventure, all of these upcoming additions sound very appealing, and hopefully they’ll be introduced to other Disney parks soon!

As we “keep moving forward” and press on to Walt Disney World in Florida, as of right now, no massive upcoming projects have been officially announced. There are plenty of wild rumors going around, but nothing’s been confirmed just yet.

There are a few smaller attractions scheduled, though. On June 29, the Pirates League will open in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland as a place where pirate fans can come to get pirate makeovers, similar to the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique having princess makeovers. The Hall of Presidents is indeed expected to be re-opening with its newest member, Barack Obama, sometime within the coming weeks, and Space Mountain is supposed to be re-opening after a rather lengthy refurbishment in November, but other than those nothing very big is planned.

Space Mountain is expected to re-open in November at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Image © Disney.

However, that’s not to say that I don’t have a few ideas.

At the Magic Kingdom, I like how Disney is continuing the Pirates of the Caribbean craze in Adventureland with the Pirates League opening. Although I certainly don’t think that the entire land should be re-themed to Pirates, I admire that Disney isn’t just letting the franchise sit there waiting for the next movie to be released.

As for character greetings, I think a Captain Jack Sparrow meet & greet would be extremely popular given how well his appearances at the now-defunct Pirate & Princess Parties went. Additionally, even though they attract very long lines, the Princesses and the Fairies would probably fit into Fantasyland better than they do at their current location in Mickey’s Toontown Fair.

Also at the Magic Kingdom is the show Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration over in Tomorrowland. The show opened in early May, 2009, and will have its final performance on Saturday, June 27, 2009. It wasn’t meant to be a seasonal attraction, it just altogether wasn’t pleasing guests and Disney decided to do away with the show completely. Which, in essence, I don’t think is quite giving the show a proper chance. If Disney were to focus more on Stitch and less on the dancers, put the show into the Galaxy Palace Theater (which was recently closed), and perhaps involved Mickey and Minnie into the plot (maybe something like the Castle shows?), I think Stitch’s SuperSonic Celebration would be a better experience. Or if they were to focus on just the Stitch aspect of the show, which involved a computer-animated Stitch interacting and talking with park guests (like Stitch Live at Disneyland Paris), maybe that would be a better solution.

Over at Epcot, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure – somewhat of a scavenger hunt themed to the now-concluded Disney Channel show Kim Possible throughout select World Showcase pavilions – has been wow’ing guests since it opened in February, and Remy from Ratatouille has been enchanting guests with his appearances at the Le Chefs de France restaurant.

Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is a new experience at Walt Disney World’s Epcot in Florida. Image © Disney.

Some changes I might make to Epcot would include perhaps re-theming Test Track to incorporate characters from Cars. It would be a great opportunity to freshen up a classic ride. Though some purists might not like the idea, I think the concept of Lightning McQueen teaching guests what sort of tests racecars go through before they head to the track would be an engaging storyline.

Pixar’s newest film, Up, has dazzled audiences since it was released in May, and due to its success I can definitely see it being a candidate for future theme park presence. But where would the film fit? Although it might work out in Hollywood Studios’ Pixar Place or in the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, overall the movie would probably feel most at home in Epcot for several reasons. Firstly, flight is a component that’s important in Up, and it’s also an experience that would fit in Epcot’s Soarin’ attraction, though I’m not sure how Up’s characters or story would work into that ride. A more appropriate addition would be some sort of South America pavilion in World Showcase, featuring a version of Paradise Falls (a setting from the film), as well as some sort of dark ride themed to the movie.

The lush setting of Paradise Falls in Up would be wonderful for a South America pavilion in Epcot. Image © Disney/Pixar.

Heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Enchanted would be wonderful if it was put on stage, and this park is an excellent choice to put such as show. The park’s Premiere Theater (which is currently used for special events) would be wise for the show’s location, as it’s right in the New York section of the park, and Enchanted takes place primarily in New York. Additionally, a Pixar Place expansion would be fascinating – re-theming the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure to an area based on a bug’s life would be appropriate, and a nearby thrill ride based on the Monsters, Inc. door sequence would be brilliant. Some sort of Bolt attraction would also fit into Hollywood Studios, though not necessarily in the Pixar Place area.

Another idea would be to refurbish Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D. Now would be a fitting time to do this, especially since Disney is currently in the process of re-launching the Muppet franchise. I don’t think the 3-D film itself should be changed, but some re-mastering and sprucing up of the footage would be nice. Additionally, perhaps some new pre-show or post-show elements could be added that would feature Muppet characters that weren’t around when Muppet*Vision initially opened (like Pepe the King Prawn). Some atmosphere around Muppet*Vision could also be enhanced to further involve guests in a Muppety area, such as bringing back the Muppet Mobile Lab (which had brief appearances in Disney’s California Adventure and Epcot) or adding some Muppet character greetings.

A refurbishment of Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3-D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios would be great timing with Disney’s current re-launch of the Muppet franchise. Image © Disney.

Lastly, trekking over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I think the only area that needs a little work is the Dino-Rama! section of DinoLand U.S.A. The atmosphere’s storyline doesn’t come across very straightforward to guests, though the rides in the area (including the fun TriceraTop Spin and the exciting Primeval Whirl) are certainly keepers.

That concludes this year’s Imagineering Blue Sky Session! Feel free to create some ideas of your own. Get those creative gears flowing – who knows, you might just dream up the next Disney park classic.

By Blake; posted June 26, 2009. All images © Disney. Cars and Up images © Disney/Pixar.