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Walt Disney World News Update

Disney closes new Habit Heroes exhibit after criticism for stigmatizing fat kids
by Marni Jameson from The Orlando Sentinel
March 1, 2012

Epcot's new Habit Heroes attraction, which tackles childhood obesity, has landed in big fat trouble.

Shortly after its unofficial opening last month, the interactive exhibit was blasted by critics for stigmatizing fat kids. Now, Disney has closed the Innoventions exhibit for "retooling."

The official opening date of March 5 has been postponed indefinitely, according to officials from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The health insurer partnered with Disney to create the exhibit, which takes visitors through a series of interactive experiences to fight bad habits.

Habit Hereoes: The Villains

"Habit Heroes is currently in a soft-opening period, which gives us a chance to collect guest feedback and test and adjust the attraction prior to its opening," said John W. Herbkersman, spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And feedback they got.

"We're appalled to learn that Disney, a traditional hallmark of childhood happiness and joy, has fallen under the shadow of negativity and discrimination," came a heated response from the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

"It appears that Disney now believes that using the tool of shame, favored so much by today's healthcare corporations, is the best way to communicate with children," said the association's statement. "Disney, in partnering with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, has taken the side of the bullies."

That's not how they meant it, said Herbkersman.

"Our goal is to ensure that the attraction conveys a positive message about healthy lifestyles in a fun and empowering way," said Herbkersman. "To work on further improving and refining the experience, the attraction is closed for the time being. We look forward to officially opening it soon."

Added Disney spokeswoman Kathleen Prihoda: "That's why we have a soft opening. So we can open it up to others and listen. We've heard the feedback."

The exhibit's companion website, habitheroes.com, is also "down for maintenance."

Housed inside Innoventions, the park's futuristic showcase of ideas, Habit Heroes features animated fitness buffs Will Power and Callie Stenics, who take groups of up to 12 guests through interactive rooms, where they fight bad habits such as too much television and junk food.

Cartoon villains include the super-sized Snacker and Lead Bottom.

The insurance company's goal is to encourage healthier habits among kids, so they will improve their health while lowering health-care costs, said insurance officials.

After reading about the attraction, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a bariatric surgeon in Ottawa, Canada, put a critical post on his WeightyMatters blog. "A little Dance, Dance Revolution and some broccoli spears ought to clear everything up, right?" he wrote. "Here's to Disney's reinforcing society's most hateful negative obesity stereotyping."

Freedhoff likened the exhibit to the state of Georgia's ad campaign that features obese kids talking about their struggles. Both demonstrate "a complete lack of understanding for childhood obesity."

After viewing the website, Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the fat acceptance organization, said, "I was really disturbed to see the most negative habits were attached to really fat bodies. These pictures further the stigma against people of higher body weight."

As Disney and the insurance company respond, Howell would like to see them include people of all body sizes demonstrating bad habits. "We all have them," she said. She suggests perhaps a medium-size teen at a computer terminal for not enough exercise, or a thin youth wolfing down lunch on the run for gluttony.

The designers, she says, are on the right track with Sweet Tooth, a moderately sized character who represents anyone who has a penchant for sweets.

Walt Disney World Fantasyland Expansion: Storybook Circus To Open Late March, Snow White Ride To Close
by Staff Writer from The Huffington Post
February 23, 2012

Walt Disney World fans who have been eagerly awaiting the Magic Kindom's new Fantasyland, will get a teaser this March. Storybook Circus will open at the end of the month, according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

Storybook Circus is home to the revamped Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, one carousel of which will lift off again next month. According to a press release from 2011, the existing Dumbo ride was refurbished and moved from old Fantasyland's center to the new Storybook Circus, where it joined a second set of flying elephants.

Also opening will be the reimagined Barnstormer rollercoaster-- hosted by farmer cum circus stunt pilot and magician, The Great Goofini -- and the Fantasyland railroad station. The whole Storybook Circus section is expected to be complete later in 2012.

As one ride opens, though, another one closes. As part of the Fantasyland expansion, the Disney princesses will find a new home where Snow White's Scary Adventures currently resides. Hurry up and ride it -- its last day of operation will be May 31.

Many details of the Fantasyland project were announced in early 2011. Among the attractions that can be looked forward to in 2013 include an indoor roller coaster inspired by the seven dwarves' mine, an indoor "Little Mermaid" ride and a new "Beauty and the Beast"-themed restaurant called Be Our Guest.

On the West Coast, Disneyland announced that it's new Cars Land will open in June.

Imagineers work out kinks of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, set to open Feb. 22
by Ken Pilcher from WKMG 6 and Gary J. Chambers of the Mouse Lounge
February 17, 2012

Officially open to guests on Feb 22, The Magic Kingdom's newest attraction isn't a ride. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is an interactive game that will take guests of all the themed lands on a magical journey of discovery.

The attraction has been in a test and adjust period for several weeks. Here's how it works: Guests are recruited at the Fire Station on Main St. by Merlin the wizard to help defeat classic Disney villains, led by Hades, who are trying to take over the Magic Kingdom.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

While similar in some ways to the "Kim Possible" adventure in Epcot's World Showcase, instead of cell phones, the new game relies on collectible cards with "spells" printed on them.

Guests use the spells to fight villains who appear on screens hidden throughout the land. Initially you are given a map and five cards. In test mode, some players have complained the game is too easy and too loud. Disney's Imagineers are still tweaking volume levels and point out that until now all testing has been done in "Easy" mode.

There will also be "Medium" and "Hard" settings that will make the game more challenging, and in those modes you can lose. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is included with park admission.

Disney's Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World Shares a Lesson in Tonga Toast
by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer from Disney Parks Blog
January 23, 2012

We can’t imagine there’s any Disney fan who hasn’t tasted the indulgent Tonga Toast, on the menu at Disney’s Polynesian Resort since 1971. In case you haven’t tried the deep-fried concoction, check out this “Taste of Disney” video, part of the series for Disney.com. Chef Lawrence Searl from Disney’s Kona Cafe shows you how to make this delicious breakfast treat at home. For the full recipe, go to www.disney.com/taste.

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
by Staff writer from My Fox Orlando
January 4, 2012

More than 56,000 runners, including Reality TV stars and wounded military veterans, will be at the happiest place on earth this weekend for the Walt Disney World Marathon. The 56,000 total runners – a new Disney marathon record – includes more than 26,500 registered runners for the half marathon, 16,500 for the marathon and 8,000 for the Family Fiesta 5K featuring the Three Caballeros – 3,000 more runners than last year.

The Walt Disney World Marathon logo.

Approximately 6,500 runners will compete in Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge which involves running the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday – 39.3 miles. And about 3,000 young runners will join in the fun and participate in the Mickey Mile and Marathon Kids Fest events on Friday and Saturday.

Ethan Zohn (Survivor / Amazing Race), Jenna Morasca (Survivor / Amazing Race) and Trista and Ryan Sutter (The Bachelor) are among the celebrities entered in the weekend of events. Workout guru Tony Horton, founder of the P90X workout, will be on hand to prepare runners for their race.

Holiday tourists overwhelm top Florida theme parks
by Paul Handley from AFP
December 29, 2011

Free-spending US tourists shrugged off economic worries to overwhelm Disney World and other top Florida theme parks this week, forcing them to temporarily shut the gates, local officials said Thursday.

Some visitors to Legoland, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and three Disney destinations found parking lots and entryways shut for

The "Partners" statue in the Hub at the Magic Kingdom gets an overnight spiffing up before the next day's crowd decends.

short periods Wednesday and Thursday as the Orlando area enjoys record numbers of tourists for the Christmas-New Year holiday. "We are having yet again another very busy day," Legoland spokeswoman Jackie Wallace said as she explained why the park had to limit entrances for the second day running. Just two months old, Legoland has been a huge hit even though it started up amid worries that the US economy was not recovering from the 2008-2009 recession.

Three of Disney's four Orlando parks, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, all had to freeze entry for around 90 minutes on Wednesday to "ensure guests had a memorable experience," according to a Disney official.

People staying at Disney's own hotels and on Disney packages could get in but those who just came for the day were put off, the official said -- adding that they could have waited, and that the tickets are good for a long time.

The story was the same at the 18-month-old Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a part of Universal Orlando resort's Islands of Adventure Park, said spokeswoman Alyson Lundell.

"Yesterday Islands of Adventure reached capacity," though today was better, she told AFP. "Anyone who wanted to wait could do so, and as people left, we let others come in," she added.

The flood of visitors to central Florida is a real sign that many Americans are beginning to open their wallets and put the economic gloom of the past three years behind them. The Orlando area has at least 10 major theme parks and scores of other holiday attractions, and all are full, according to industry officials.

None of the parks would give attendance numbers, but Brian Martin of Visit Orlando, the regional tourism promotion board, estimated occupancy for the region's 115,000 hotel rooms at 95 percent, better than a year ago. That was partly helped, too, by two major college football games scheduled in Orlando this week, which bring in as many as 100,000 people, he said. "But even without that, you would still see a high occupancy."

Orlando will register some 53.5 million visitors for 2011, according to Martin, more than two million more than came last year. Hotel rates are moving up, though still not to the pre-crash levels of 2008. "With the economy improving, it has helped people decide to take vacation," Martin said. "And we saw a jump in international travel, especially from Brazil... And Canada has also been big for us."

Theme park officials stressed that they closed the doors "to ensure guests have a memorable experience," as the Disney official said.

Parks monitor queue lengths at their most popular rides, knowing that overly long wait times can anger people who pay the $75 or more per person that it costs to get in the gates for a day. At Universal's multi-theme Islands park, rates are $85 a day for adults and $79 for children, but that has not appeared to temper enthusiasm.

"Definitely we know that people are still traveling... They're not willing to sacrifice their vacations," said Lundell.

Since opening the Harry Potter section of the park, more than seven million people have gone on the most popular Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, she said.

"And we have sold more than two million 'butter beers,'" a favorite drink of Harry Potter and his friends in the hit book series.

She described it as tasting like butterscotch and shortbread cookies, with creamy topping. "It's a kind of dessert drink," she said.

Walt Disney World Holiday Season slips into overdrive
by Dewayne Bevil from the Orlando Sentinel
December 20, 2011

You can look at this week at Disney World as "the more, the merrier." It's one of the busiest weeks for Orlando theme parks, and they are packed with people and holiday hubbub. It's especially true at Magic Kingdom, which has incorporated elements of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party into the everyday schedule.

You'll have to navigate through crowds to do it, but this week and next, guests can see attractions that had only been performed this year during Very Merry, which is an after-hours, extra-ticket event. Chief among those are Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and the "Holiday Wishes" fireworks display.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Right now, the Christmastime parade -- which features Disney characters in holiday garb (including Duffy the Disney Bear), marching toy soldiers, skaters, floats, prancing (costumed) reindeer and more – slides into the 3 p.m. slot normally occupied by the Celebrate a Dream Come True parade. "Holiday Wishes" goes off at 10 p.m.

Beginning Sunday, Dec. 25, it gets more congested with two rounds of the Christmastime parade in the day, plus two rounds of the Main Street Electrical Parade after dark.

But wait, there's more. On Friday, Dec. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 31, there are those four parades, plus "Holiday Wishes," plus "Fantasy in the Sky" fireworks at 11:50 p.m. Sound like a full day? With Extra Magic Hours, the time periods reserved for Disney hotel guests, the Magic Kingdom will be open from 7 a.m. on Dec. 30 until 3 a.m. on Dec. 31. Then it closed for four hours before Extra Magic Hours kick in at 4 a.m. on the 31st, staying open until 2 a.m. Jan. 1.

It goes back to close-to-normal operations on Jan. 1, with the return of Celebrate a Dream Come True parade at 3 p.m., one Electrical Parade and the regular, non-holiday "Wishes" fireworks.

Other holiday-related activities at Disney World parks include Candlelight Processional at Epcot, Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade at Disney's Animal Kingdom and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Work starts on Disney Four Seasons hotel
by Jason Garcia and Sara K. Clarke from the Orlando Sentinel
December 12, 2011

In a ceremony attended by about 50 representatives of its various partners, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts broke ground last week on its new resort at Walt Disney World.

The 444-room hotel, being built as part of Disney World's posh Golden Oak residential subdivision, is scheduled to open in 2014.

Artist rendering of Four Seasons hotel. Click for larger view.

Amenities will include a rooftop restaurant with views of the Magic Kingdom, a 14,000-square-foot spa, three pools and a lazy river, and meeting-and-event space. The project, the first hotel in Orlando for Toronto-based Four Seasons, pairs two of the most glamorous brands in travel: Four Seasons and Disney.

"Each of us is dedicated to creating a product of the highest quality and standards, something that will become a landmark here in Orlando and a destination unto itself for travelers from all over the world," Four Seasons President and Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Taylor said in a prepared statement.

Disney World building time shares next to Grand Floridian hotel
by Jason Garcia from the Orlando Sentinel
December 10, 2011

The Walt Disney Co.'s time-share business said Thursday it will build an addition to Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the highest-priced company-owned hotel at Walt Disney World.

The project, which will add approximately 147 time-share units in a separate building next to the posh hotel, is the first new Disney Vacation Club resort to begin construction since the global financial crisis sent sales tumbling across the time-share industry.

Artist rendering of the soon to be built time share at the Grand Floridian. Click for larger view.

Disney said the resort is expected to open in late 2013. The new building will be exclusively time-share units and will include a children's water-play area, among other amenities.

The project should inject some high-demand inventory into Disney Vacation Club, which was one of Disney Co.'s fastest-growing businesses before sales ebbed during the recession and the anemic recovery that has followed. The Victorian-themed Grand Floridian is Disney World's most luxurious hotel and is adjacent to the Magic Kingdom, the busiest theme park on the planet with more than 17 million visitors a year.

It will be the second time-share property Disney has built along the Magic Kingdom monorail, joining Bay Lake Tower, an addition to Disney's Contemporary Resort that opened in August 2009.

"We continually look for ways to expand Disney Vacation Club by creating resort experiences that our members will love," Claire Bilby, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Vacation Club, said in a prepared statement. "With the continued popularity of Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort, we are thrilled to offer our members and guests a new resort option along the monorail system with easy access to the Magic Kingdom Park, as well as a variety of shopping, dining and recreation experiences."

Although Disney does not report specific financial results for its time-share business, the company said sales of Disney Vacation Club units fell during its most recent quarter, which ended Oct. 1. Disney is currently peddling interests in four resorts: Bay Lake Tower, Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas, and Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, all of which are at Disney World; and Aulani, a hotel and time share the company opened this summer in Hawaii.

At its peak, Disney Vacation Club generated roughly $190 million a year in operating profit. The Grand Floridian addition will be Disney's 12th time-share property.

Highlights from Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade taping at the Magic Kingdom
by Gary J. Chambers from the Mouse Lounge
December 6, 2011

Last Friday and Saturday, the Magic Kingdom Park boasted top names in entertainment as crews taped performance segments for the “Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade” that will air December 25 on ABC-TV. Orlando Attractions Magazine was on hand to catch the action and glimpse a few stars.

You'll see Host Mario Lopez, Jennifer Hudson, Scotty McCreery and many Disney characters. Many other stars will be a part of the parade broadcast including Justin Bieber and the Muppets.

Mickey Tests Some Magic Words at Walt Disney World
by Gary J. Chambers from the Mouse Lounge
November 2, 2011

Guests visiting the Magic Kingdom on Halloween were in for a treat beyond mere candy. For the first time in the park's history, Mickey spoke with guests, and tested some new tricks backstage at Town Square Theater on Main Street USA.

While Mickey has talked to guests before during tests at Disneyland in May 2010 and the D23 Expo a few months ago, this is Mickey’s first time

talking to guests at Walt Disney World. Reports say he talked with guests for about 30 minutes during his Not So Scary Halloween Party and that he may be interacting with guests periodically for the next week or two in his regular Town Square Theater location.

Because the test was open to a very limited number of guests, Walt Disney Creative Entertainment and Walt Disney Imagineering helped create this video to share.

Disney World changes cancellation policy for dining reservations
by Kristin Ford from Orlando Sentinel
October 13th, 2011

LaughingPlace.com has reported a change to the Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) policy at Walt Disney World. Reservations that are made on or after Oct. 26 at 19 of the most popular restaurants are subject to a $10 per person charge if they are not used or canceled in time.

A Disney Dining receptionist explained that a full

day’s notice must be given to avoid the cancellation fee. She said that, for example, a reservation made for Oct. 30 must be canceled on Oct. 28 to avoid the fee. Guests will be required to provide a credit card with reservations made on or after Oct. 26.

The restaurants subject to the new policy include:

1900 Park Fare

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Artist Point

California Grill

Cape May Café

Chef Mickey’s


The Crystal Palace

Flying Fish Café

The Garden Grill

Hollywood & Vine

Jiko – The Cooking Place

Le Cellier Steakhouse



Tusker House Restaurant

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Yachtsman Steakhouse

Victoria & Albert’s (cancellation policy is $25 per person)

LaughingPlace.com also reports that pre-paid meals with entertainment will continue to charge the full amount if the reservation is not canceled at least a day in advance. Those locations are:

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

Mickey’s Backyard BBQ

Finally, if you do need to cancel an ADR, you can do so at any table-service restaurant podium; any resort front desk or concierge; guest relations at any theme park; online at DisneyWorld.com/Dining or by calling 407-WDW-DINE

As Disney World turns 40, its strategy shifts
by Jason Garcia from Orlando Sentinel
September 30th, 2011

Walt Disney World turns 40 this weekend, and in many respects, the place looks a lot like it did at 30.

The resort hasn't built a new theme park in 13 years. It hasn't added a water park in 16 years. It hasn't opened a company-owned hotel in eight years, though a new one is under construction.

It is in sharp contrast with Disney World's first three decades, which began when the Magic Kingdom debuted Oct. 1, 1971. Disney's original Florida theme park was followed by Epcot (1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (1989) and Disney's Animal Kingdom (1998), plus a trio of water parks (one now closed), 15 hotels, a 120-acre retail district and more.

The slowdown reflects a new philosophy that has taken root at Disney World during the past decade: Rather than continuing to expand, the giant resort's focus has shifted to wringing more out of everything it has already built.

Where Disney World was once able to grow simply by getting travelers to take longer vacations and visit more theme parks, Disney World today is searching for growth by stitching together strategies such as persuading more people to stay in its hotels and to spend extra money in its parks, finding untapped pockets of potential customers, and attracting more people during slow, "shoulder" periods.

"The challenge for Disney World is that the average vacation is getting shorter and the average family income for vacations is getting less," said Chad Emerson, a Disney World historian. "The effect of that is that Disney can't count anymore on increasing vacation length."

Although the Walt Disney Co. doesn't break out individual financial results for Disney World, the performance of its broader theme-park division overall illustrate how much tougher growth has become.

Total revenue at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts grew 59 percent, from $6.8 billion to $10.8 billion, from 2000 to 2010. But operating profit tumbled 19 percent, from $1.6 billion to $1.3 billion, during the same period. Disney World is by far the largest business in the parks division.

Disney says its recent profit margins have been slimmer because it is in the midst of an unusually large slate of capital projects, including two new cruise ships; a Hawaiian hotel and time share; a new park in Shanghai; and multiple park expansions around the world.

Disney World certainly hasn't stopped expanding its existing theme parks during the past decade. The company spent more than $100 million each, for instance, on Mission: Space in Epcot (2003) and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom (2006), as well as an additional $80 million on Toy Story Mania! in Hollywood Studios (2008).

But none of its brick-and-mortar attractions has matched the effect of another initiative launched during the past decade: Magic Your Way, the ticket-pricing overhaul introduced in 2005, through which Disney sharply reduced the price of multiday park passes (even as it increased the prices of one-day passes by 9 percent). The difference between a five-day pass and a seven-day pass, for instance, fell from $60 to just $6 under the new structure.

But the Magic Your Way strategy involved more than ticket prices. As part of the overhaul, Disney also launched a series of other initiatives, including Disney's Magical Express, a complimentary airport shuttle-and-luggage service for guests using resort hotels; Extra Magic Hours, in which the parks offered extended, early-morning or late-evening hours exclusively for Disney hotel guests; and the Disney Dining Plan, a prepaid meal plan in which buyers got discounted prices at Disney restaurants.

The combined effect was to make it almost irresistible for many Orlando vacationers to spend more — if not all — of their time on Disney's property, sleeping in its hotels, eating in its restaurants and going back to its theme parks rather than taking a day at Universal Orlando or SeaWorld Orlando.

Company executives have credited Magic Your Way with lifting attendance, hotel occupancy and per-capita spending. The strategy has also helped Disney World weather the global economic downturn and the heightened competition from Universal's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Top Disney executives cite another, less-obvious initiative as among the biggest developments of the past 10 years. They call it "The Basics" — a program, launched in 2007, to re-emphasize and improve customer service across the resort.

All of the resort's roughly 60,000 employees, or "cast members," have been given tiny pocket cards with reminders such as, "I am courteous and respectful to all guests, including children." But Disney says it also began more closely measuring guest satisfaction and used the research to make tangible changes — from personalized greetings for people checking into hotels to new crowd-flow techniques at busy theme-park restaurants — that have led to improved ratings and, ultimately, repeat visits.

"We tested a variety of things in these pilots just to see what worked and what didn't, just to play with it and get feedback from our guests," said Kevin Myers, vice president in charge of operations in Disney's hotels, who was working as a busboy in Adventureland when the Magic Kingdom opened 40 years ago. "All through our operation we did that, so we could use the information to make some substantive changes in how we try to meet the guests' expectation at an even better level."

Both Magic Your Way and The Basics were designed in part to counteract what Disney World executives have identified as one of the resort's greatest vulnerabilities: As its parks get fuller, they also get more stressful to navigate.

Concerns about lines and hassles are driving some of the biggest projects now under way at Disney World. For example, the goal of the $425 million expansion of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom is to alleviate congestion in what is already the world's busiest theme park, more than it is to lure even more people to the park.

Similarly, a centerpiece of Disney's $1 billion "Next Generation Experience" technology imitative is a new reservation system in which guests will be able to book ride times for popular attractions even before they leave home on their vacations.

"What we continue to see from a guest expectation is, 'I need you to help me to be able to spend more of the time that's so precious to me with my family [and] not problem-solving, not figuring out where my luggage is, not waiting,' " said Phil Holmes, vice president in charge of the Magic Kingdom, who was collecting now-defunct "E tickets" from guests at the entrance to the Haunted Mansion attraction when the park opened in 1971.

"So I think that's clearly going to be a focus, has always been a focus and, going forward, will be where you see a lot of our … continued breakthroughs."

Four Seasons to Develop Resort at Walt Disney World With Dune
by Nadja Brandt from Bloomberg
September 13th, 2011

Four Seasons Hotels Inc., the luxury chain founded in 1961, will develop a property at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, in a $360 million deal with Silverstein Properties Inc. and Dune Real Estate Partners.

The 444-room hotel is scheduled to open in 2014, Toronto- based Four Seasons said in a statement today. The hotelier, which purchased the land from Disney in August 2008, will have a 30 percent stake in the resort and will operate it. Grupo Financiero Inbursa, based in Mexico City, will provide $190 million in construction financing for the project.

“This is an irreplaceable asset,” Daniel Neidich, chief executive officer of New York-based Dune Real Estate Partners, said in the statement, “a rare opportunity in a remarkable location, with a prestigious brand that we believe will provide attractive returns to our investors for many years to come.”

In addition to the hotel, the property will include as many as 40 Four Seasons Residence Club units and as many as 90 private homes. The resort will feature several restaurants, including a rooftop venue with views of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, a spa with 18 treatment rooms, a fitness center, three pools and sports facilities including tennis courts, a basketball court and climbing wall.

Dune is the project’s majority investor, according to the statement. Silverstein Properties, based in New York and led by CEO Larry A. Silverstein, will oversee development and construction at the site.

The project will encompass the Tom Fazio-designed Osprey Ridge golf course, which will be renovated and managed by Four Seasons.

Editor's note: No word on where specifically the resort will be located, but with indicated "views of Disney's Magic Kingdom" it's a fair bet Four Seasons will be located on the north end of the property.

Disney World apps help navigate Happiest Place on Earth
by Roger Yu from USA Today
September 1st, 2011

It's a rite of passage for young American parents: toting toddlers to a Disney park under the blistering Orlando sun, getting lost looking for the haunted house, waiting in line for hours, eating a heap of expensive junk food, then wandering a parking lot the size of Poland while exhausted kids crash in the stroller.

For the uninitiated, the self-dubbed Happiest Place on Earth just screams out for more guidance. Naturally, tech geeks think they have a solution.

A flood of smartphone apps targeting Disney enthusiasts have been introduced recently, offering tips that could make your vacation at the 30,000-acre Walt Disney World in Orlando a little less overwhelming.

Searching for "Disney" in the travel category of Apple's App Store renders nearly 100 results. Some are free digital maps or simple text-only guidebooks. There are apps only for gauging wait times submitted by people who are at the parks. Disney also has its own, though it's available only for Verizon Wireless customers.

We tried several apps and found three of them — Walt Disney World Pro, Disney World Magic Guide, and Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps — particularly comprehensive and useful because they combine resort details with live updates and crowd-sourced information.

All were equally impressive. Disney World Magic Guide stood out because of its "Near Me" feature that searches for rides nearby. Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps might be attractive for visitors who travel in large groups because it comes with a GPS tool for finding each other at the park. For the sake of comparison, we focused only on the apps for the Disney parks in Orlando, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. (There are similar apps for Disney parks in other cities, including Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.)

The three apps contain basic information: wait times for rides, photos, detailed maps with icons, restaurant lists with prices and menus, hours for parades and fireworks, ride descriptions, hotel information and key phone numbers.

What separates these digital tools from old guidebooks are the interactive, real-time components enabled by the search capability and GPS in your phone. If you can't tell the difference between Frontierland and Fantasyland, tap on the phone to locate rides and restaurants nearby.

To give you a better idea of how long you'd have to wait for popular rides, the apps crowd-source the information by allowing users to submit their input. And as any parent who's had to soothe hungry children with specific requests can appreciate, just the ability to quickly locate a churros cart among more than 200 eateries at the resort makes the apps worth a few bucks.

Here's a closer look:

Walt Disney World Pro ($4.99; available on iPhone)

•Pros: Well-organized information categorized by theme parks. Zoomable map with ride icons. Includes little-known tips, such as pointing out that the Peter Pan ride has long wait times for much of the day. Doesn't require Internet for most functions.

•Cons: Descriptions can be wordy and read like advertising. No scheduler or itinerary maker. No detailed menus.

Disney World Magic Guide ($4.99; available on iPhone)

•Pros: Photos of rides and restaurants. "Food Finder" lets you search restaurants by food type. "Near Me" GPS search for finding rides nearby. No Internet required for most functions.

•Cons: Inability to place restaurants and rides on map from description page. No itinerary maker.

Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps ($3.99; available on iPhone)

•Pros: "Friend Finder" for finding family/friends at the resort. Parking-spot finder. Itinerary maker. Accepts wait-time submissions only from those who are at the park for greater accuracy. Includes best times for rides. No Internet required for most functions.

•Cons: Inability to place restaurants and rides on map from description page.

Five Changes To Look Forward To At Walt Disney World
by Gabe Travers from WESH.com
August 23rd, 2011

1.) New Fantasyland: New Models

The construction walls are still up, but Disney is giving a new tour of New Fantasyland, the largest-ever expansion of the Magic Kingdom.

The new area is scheduled to begin opening in phases in late 2012. The project will nearly double the size of Fantasyland.

To preview sight lines, traffic flow and appearance, Disney's creative folks ("Imagineers" in Disney speak) create large scale models. The scale model for New Fantasyland shows how the multiple new attractions all fit together.

2.) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

OK, so more than one of our five have to do with New Fantasyland. (But that's the single busiest construction spot at the entire resort right now!)

Theme parks have a way of using new technology and creativity to create unique ride experiences. So, when Disney says it has a new ride system, many ears perk up. (No mouse pun intended.) That's exactly what Disney is doing with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

While Disney purists may be disappointed that the existing Snow White ride is getting the ax, new computer-generated videos from Disney show this new experience will definitely be unique. Imagineers literally built a prototype to test on the back of a flat bed truck in California. Cars on the "family roller coaster" will rock from side to side as the ride goes about its way through the dwarfs' diamond mine.

3.) Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid

Classic Disney lovers will, on the other hand, likely fall in love with Under the Sea -- Journey of The Little Mermaid.

Picture "doom buggy"-like cars from The Haunted Mansion, except in cheery colors and shaped like clams. The vehicles take you through Ariel's classic story. Along the way, the ride features some of Disney's most amazing work to date. We don't want to give anything away, but the effects make it look like you're under water, except you won't get wet. How do we know? The ride technically isn't brand new. The Florida version will be a replica of a ride that recently opened at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California.

One difference will be the exterior. In Florida, it'll look like Prince Eric's castle.

4.) Meet Lumiere

Disney says for Enchanted Tales With Belle, it's also breaking new ground. The attraction will let guests step through a magic mirror into the Beast's library for a special meet-and-greet with Belle herself. What's likely to turn a lot of eyes, Disney says, will be a new Audio-Animatronic figure it's creating of Lumiere. Disney promises big (or, as the case may be, small and candlestick-sized) things out of this new creation.

5.) Downtown Disney

And lastly, there's nothing like looking forward to more yet-to-be-announced news. Disney's parks and resorts chairman, Tom Staggs, said in recent days he knows fans are hoping for even more Walt Disney World announcements.

Staggs made the statement after releasing several new details about the company's California and Shanghai resorts. But, have no fear Florida fans, he promises there are big things on the horizon. "We have several incredible projects currently in the works and look forward to sharing more information with all of you in the weeks and months ahead, including new details regarding Downtown Disney in Florida," Staggs said.

Downtown Disney has, of course, been undergoing significant changes since the Pleasure Island nightclubs shut down almost two years ago. Disney recently announced it put its plans for Hyperion Wharf on hold as it evaluated the plan again. The area was to replace Pleasure Island.

What do you think is in store for Disney's Florida parks? Post your comments below.

"Disney dining gets a makeover"
by Julie Alvin from MSNBC Food & Wine
August 11th, 2011

Disney World (and Land) vets know about the character breakfast at Cinderella’s Palace, the Alice in Wonderland–themed tea party and the abundance of Mickey-shaped pancakes and pepperoni pies found across the Magic Kingdom. They hear rumors of stale buffets but still purchase uninspiring meal plans.

Visitors may think that, in their child’s happiest place on Earth, good food takes a backseat to Donald Duck sightings, Space Mountain shrieks and mouse-ear ice cream bars (which are actually quite delicious).

But the Disney parks have undergone culinary transformations in the past few years, becoming destinations that can be equally beloved by families who need quick, value-friendly meals and adults who want extended dinners.

Disney now recalls Las Vegas in its celebrity-chef-backed establishments, with restaurants by Todd English, Cat Cora, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. At Orlando’s Boardwalk resort, the Flying Fish’s chef tasting includes six courses of mostly seafood, like lobster ravioli, paired with Austrian and German wines; and Victoria & Albert’s at the nearby Grand Floridian Resort offers white truffle supplements and has earned critical praise. Epcot’s pavilions serve food from around the globe — there’s a new Neapolitan pizzeria, a Japanese teahouse and a French pâtisserie.

“Disneyland and Walt Disney World have definitely expanded their range of culinary options, and now the different cuisines to choose from are global and varied,” says Cat Cora, whose restaurant Kouzzina opened at Disney’s Boardwalk in 2009. It is indeed possible to eat well at the Disney resorts, and super-insiders can track down a week’s worth of special experiences, small and large, on park property.

In one the world’s most touristed travel destinations, there is exclusive pineapple soft-serve and small-batch tequila to be discovered among the long lines and frozen French fries. Scouring the grounds of Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., reveals little known and newly opened eateries that will improve a trip. Just imagine putting the kids down for a nap and taking a break from the rides for a cappuccino — made with beans roasted an hour away.

"Disney's Tiki Room Ready To Reopen"
by WESH News Staff from NBC WEST 2 News, Orlando
August 3rd, 2011

Disney announced Tuesday that the Tiki Room at the Magic Kingdom will reopen Aug. 15.

The Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management), has been closed since January after a fire in the attraction's attic.

Disney said after the fire that the attraction would be getting a makeover that makes it "reminiscent of the original show."

The attraction earned it's "Under New Management" tag in 1998, when Disney added Iago and Zazu to the bird-filled room, from "Aladdin" and "The Lion King," respectively. Not all park guests liked the change. "Are Iago and Zazu taking on a smaller part? I certainly hope so!" one Disney fan commented on the news on the park's blog.

The attraction will now be called Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. The classic characters José, Fritz, Michael and Pierre reclaim their roles from the now absent "new management."

Disney said the updated attraction will include a new show-control system, remastered audio and a new energy efficient lighting system.

The original Tiki Room attraction opened at Disneyland in 1963.

"Walt Disney World Goes Bananas; Announces Partnership With Chiquita"
by WESH News Staff from NBC WEST 2 News, Orlando
July 29th, 2011

Walt Disney World and Chiquita announced a partnership Friday that will bring produce to Disney's theme parks and cruise ships.

As part of the agreement, Chiquita will sponsor the Crush 'n' Gusher, a water coaster at Typhoon Lagoon as well as Living with the Land at Epcot.

Chiquita said in a press release it would also participate in runDisney marathon events, beginning with the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend in September.

The agreement will also bring more Fresh Express salad items to locations around Walt Disney World. Disney has patterned with other health-focused brands in the past year.

In October, Disney announced a similar partnership with Ocean Spray to bring cranberry products into Disney's properties. Part of that agreement includes a cranberry bog at the upcoming Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

"Space Mountain tops list for injuries at Disney World"
by JASON GARCIA and SARA K. CLARKE from Florida Today
July 26th, 2011

Walt Disney World reported six guest injuries during the second quarter of 2011 -- half of which occurred on Space Mountain, the iconic Magic Kingdom roller coaster. In one case, a 48-year-old woman came into the unload area unconscious and was later diagnosed with bleeding near her brain. In another, a 12-year-old girl with a history of asthma lost consciousness, though she regained consciousness before being taken to the hospital. And in the third, a 47-year-old woman reported feeling nauseous, dizzy and out of breath.

The other injuries were a woman, 47, who broke her leg in the surf pool at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon; a woman, 33, who became dizzy and ill riding Expedition Everest in Disney's Animal Kingdom; and a woman, 53, with a history of vertigo who became dizzy and ill on Epcot's Mission: Space ride.

The area's second-busiest resort, Universal Orlando, reported two injuries in the quarter: a 73-year-old woman who became nauseous and light-headed aboard Revenge of the Mummy in Universal Studios Florida, and a 29-year-old man who fainted riding the Incredible Hulk in Universal's Islands of Adventure.

SeaWorld Orlando didn't report any major injuries.

"Disney’s Art of Animation Resort celebrates ‘topping out’ ceremony"
by Debra Peterson from the Disney Travel Examiner
July 23rd, 2011

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, the new resort being constructed at Walt Disney World in Orlando, celebrated a construction milestone on July 21. The Value Resort held its "topping out" ceremony yesterday, an event attended by Walt Disney Imagineers and members of the resort’s various work crews.

At Disney’s "topping out" ceremony, a crane helped lift an evegreen to the roof of a building that will be part of ˆThe Lion King” wing of the resort.

“The hundreds of people we have working on Disney’s Art of Animation Resort are doing an amazing job helping us build a resort hotel that will really delight our guests,” said Gary Hoffmann, senior project manager for Walt Disney Imagineering. “The traditional topping out is an important milestone on a project that continues to run on schedule for an opening just ten months from now.”

A ‘"topping out" ceremony is a commonly-used marker for construction sites and engineering projects. The event occurs to mark the day when the highest piece of steel is placed on a building. A common “topping out” element includes placing an evergreen at the top of a building, both to celebrate the construction’s progress and as good luck; the use of the evergreen also marks the ceremony’s connections with its Viking tradition.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort has been a substantial construction project for Walt Disney World, creating 800 construction jobs. After the resort opens in 2012, it is projected Disney’s Art of Animation will create 750 permanent resort positions.

"Cars 2 Star Joins Lights, Motors, Action! Show At Disney"
by WESH 2 Orlando Staff from WESH 2 News
July 19th, 2011

"Cars 2" star Lightning McQueen makes his debut Tuesday at the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. "Look for his cameo when the stunt show director sets up a highlight reel dedicated to 'one of the greatest race cars of all time,'" said Disney's Jennifer Fickley-Baker.

"But just as the crew leaves to set up for the next stunt demonstration, the highlight video feed is interrupted with a distress call from Mater, Lightning’s rusty sidekick.

He warns the audience that secret agent Finn McMissile has issued a report of enemy spy activity at 'these here coordinates.' Lightning McQueen speeds in to calm the audience down and explains that Mater is probably just telling tall tales again." The red race car replaces Herbie, the well-known 'Love Bug.'

"Downtown Disney Update"
by Thomas Smith, Social Media Director, Disney Parks from the Disney Parks Blog
July 15th, 2011

In November, we shared plans to re-imagine Pleasure Island and bring other new and compelling experiences to life at Downtown Disney. Today, we’d like to update you on our progress.

First, we’re excited that some of the new experiences we announced are already becoming favorites, like the newly expanded LEGO Imagination Center and AMC’s first Dine-In Theatre in Florida. The great news is there is more on the way

Recently, Orlando Harley-Davidson opened its newly expanded 3,635-square-foot store at Downtown Disney West Side. The largest and most interactive Harley merchandise store of its kind, it draws guests in with a 40-foot tower and massive LCD/LED screens showing specially produced footage of motorcycles in action. Guests are also able to see and sit on some of the latest Harley-Davidson motorcycles and a brand new production studio lets guests be pictured in their favorite riding spot or transformed into real bikers. Guests can even design biker vests of their own.

Later this summer, Apricot Lane Boutique, a specialty retail store that offers celebrity-inspired branded apparel, affordable fashion jewelry, handbags and accessories, will open in the space the Harley-Davidson store previously occupied on Pleasure Island.

This fall, construction will begin on Splitsville, a 50,000-square-foot upscale entertainment center that combines bowling with billiards, dining, music and nightlife. To make way for this experience, RIDEMAKERZ, currently located on the West Side, will move to the Marketplace.

Over on Pleasure Island, we’ve completed removing some of the buildings that aren’t part of our future plans. During the course of this site work, we identified opportunities to further refine our master plan and are pausing to evaluate them. What does this mean for you? While we’re moving quickly, it will admittedly cause a delay in construction. But we’re willing to bet that any delay will be worth the wait once we’re able to share details about the exciting work we’ve been doing.

Mouse Lounge Commentary: So imagine, the typical nuclear family spends thousands of dollars to travel to Walt Disney World and all the kids want to do is swim in the hotel pool and go to the bowling alley! Next up! The Disney Drive-in! (I just gave them a great idea for free, didn't I?)

Disney World to test software to limit refillable mugs"
by Kristin Ford from the Orlando Sentinel Blogs
July 14th, 2011

Walt Disney World is testing technology that would limit guests’ use of the refillable resort mugs, StitchKingdom.com reported via MiceChat.com this week. Although Disney has not officially confirmed the trial, passionate fans have taken to their websites and Twitter to discuss the change.
The issue centers on mugs that are for sale at each resort. Guests pay a one-time fee in exchange for unlimited refills at soda fountains in their hotel food courts during their length of stay. Now, it seems, Disney is trying to close the loopholes for guests who are flaunting the rules by not purchasing new cups each time they visit, using one mug and pouring the refills into other cups for members of their party, or using personal containers at the fountains.

Beginning Monday, the mugs at Disney’s All Star Sports Resort will have RFID chips that the soda machines recognize, MouseSteps.com reports. The new embedded software will allow guests to fill their mugs for one minute every five minutes, the site reports, and the mugs will be programmed to only work for a certain length of time, so guests will be unable to use them on future vacations.

MouseSteps.com also reports that a similar trial is scheduled for one of the Disney World theme parks. Mouse Lounge Commentary: I have no idea why my Tazer Mug idea didn't fly! Their loss.

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