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Walt Disney World General
Topic: Spirited WDW Observations, News and Provocative Co

#AuthorMessage
1
Spirit of 74
Fri 12/18/2009 10:57p
Yep. It's that time again. Nope don't hang the stockings, don't trim your trees, but pour yourself some egg nog or any nog of your choosing and let the fun beging.

Because the time is near ... Santa is close by and I know he wants to read all about my latest trip. So, here goes the thread where I try and put forth my experiences and opinions based on 10 days at The Discounted Timeshare Kingdom of the World (Someone needs to tell the analysts that the Weatherman lied about the discounting since today my 10% AP merchandise discount doubled ... on the heels of a 40% deluxe resort offer for Christmas week ... and let's not forget the massive discounts that have already been offered through JUNE!) and inevitably some fanbois call me a hater and the fun really begins.

Let's start with one point. I had a GREAT time. But that largely had to do with the people I spent time with at holiday time. WDW is doing almost nothing to earn my business and loyalty.

In 10 days, I spent multiple days at MK, EPCOT, TPFKaTD-MGMS and singles at DAK and SW. Also, spent time at DD multiple days and hit the following resorts for holiday checks -- GF, Poly, Contemp, BW, BC, WL, WLV, DAK Lodge and Villas, PO (both sections).

First, just for shock value, I'll state the parks that had the best holiday vibe and that I enjoyed the most were --shockingly -- Studios, Sea World and DAK ... and by a large margin. Still, due to operating hours, family, friends from out of the area and weather, I wound up spending more time at MK and EPCOT by far.

There was plenty of news that came out of my visit.

Some newsbits to start:

Former EPCOT VP Jim MacPhee's promotion from a nebulous 'special projects' title to one with 'New Technology' in the title (not that Disney wants you to know what that means yet ... but the initials RFID and DDK seem to play a large role!)

There was testing RFID virtual queuing at RnRC and other 'uses' at the McPooh Playground last week.

Also, word that Small World will be undergoing another large scale rehab in 2010 (no word on characters, was told this is needed work and to redo the queue yet again).

Flamingo Crossings is done, finished, completed and ready ... for tenants ... unfortunately, for Disney, it might as well be a housing development in central Fla that was started before the lie that was our economy crashed because it's empty and will be for a long time to come.

Guest complaints about LoW at EPCOT have been heard loud and clear and the park will receive more decor for the holidays in 2010 and a new lighting display/show will appear in the next few years (but likely not 2010).

A major celeb Imagineer is being wooed by another company since he doesn't seem to have much to do at WDW these days.

Resort load levels have been healthy, but entirely due to massive discounting.

Parks were VERY uncrowded. Well, except for Saturday when MK was open from 9-1 (thank the Mickey Extorts Christmas From Bumpkin Tourists Parties for that) and was what I would call moderately crowded. Other than that, SW on Sunday and CP times at EPCOT (only in that area), parks were uncrowded to near empty.

Next up: a little of this, a little of that ... and why I love WL.
2
Spirit of 74
Fri 12/18/2009 11:28p
''Where's The Tree, Daddy?''

No, this isn't a segue (or should it be Segway since those things have become so entwined?) to some sad 2009 Near Depression Era tale about a family that can't afford a holiday tree.

Nope. It's a comment I heard from a child upon walking out of TPFKaTD-MGMS earlier this week. What's interesting (at least to me, I'm sure y'all will tell me what you think) is the Studios wowed me in a way they haven't in years. And to be fair, Disney didn't remove the tree this year. It's outside the park near the bus/boat/tram hub where it has been stuck ever since the BAH was dropped down in the middle of Hollywood Blvd to sell more cheap Disney-branded crap, hide the Chinese Theater so GMR could be ripped out and replaced with a thrill ride in an empty soundstage and shove the 'Disney Brand' down your throats.

Still, it's fitting when you put it in context of exactly how WDW looks for the holidays.

If I were writing the new CBS comedy 'S*it My Dad Says', I'd include the following pearl from my Spirited parental unit ''they've got everything for the holidays except the decorations''.

No, my father isn't a Yankee named Yogi.

But the point is well taken.

Kevin Yee touched upon the subject in his Miceage piece this week, but WDW has been removing holiday touches so fast that you'd be hard-pressed to know it's Christmas in many areas.

EPCOT takes sparse to a new level. Light poles that once had garland and lights now are bare (and this is a cutback that may have happened in 1998, 2002, 2004 or 2006 ... after a while, it all blurs and you just wonder where everything went ... that's simple -- Property Control will gladly sell you a fully decorated tree from one of the parks or resorts for say $125). Without the LoW, EPCOT has literally lost its Christmas spirit. They had a new gospel group performing, but I never caught them. If that's what I wanted to see, I'd have gone to a church.

MK is better. Two lands embrace Christmas. Main Street and Mickey's About To Be Bulldozed Tentland (see what happens when you don't pay the mortgage to BoA, Mr. Mouse?) ... The other lands you wouldn't even know it was Christmas. No decorations. No trees. Nothing.

No holiday entertainment at MK either. That starts today, a few days earlier than past years. Actually thought about paying $39 for a Party ticket (have gone three other time, last two were comped) but when even my pixie dusted CM pals said 'it's not worth it', I went with my instinct and stayed away. Besides, you can see Holiday Wishes (with less pyro for your $$$ this year) perfectly from my friend's front yard in Windermere.

Next up: Great holiday entertainment at WDW?!??! NO?!??!
3
Spirit of 74
Fri 12/18/2009 11:57p
So, is all doom and gloom on the holiday front?

Not at all.

First, let's start with the best. The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights (presented by Sylvania, a Siemens Company) may be over the top tacky. But it is, dare I say it, magical. I caught it on two nights and it alone is worth a holiday trip to WDW for. The synchronized music. The new LEDs. The crowds. It is just terrific. I hadn't caught it since 2006 and it wowed me even more this year.

While something was lost when the old backlot disappeared, it still works in its tighter, more confined location. My one complaint (and you knew there had to be one) is that the park closed at 7 or 8 every night I was there. Since it doesn't get fully dark until just around 6, that doesn't give folks much time to enjoy the lights. The park should be open until 9 during the week and 11 on weekends right through the holidays, so folks can enjoy something that Disney does so well. It might just result in an uptick in food and beverage sales too.

Want more holiday magic at WDW?

How about the Jungle Jingle Parade at DAK? Believe it or not, but I had never gotten a chance to see the entire parade before this visit. And it shows how well overlays work (anyone who has seen the Christmas versions of attractions at other parks know this). But this is a fun parade with catchy music and detailed floats ... love the scent of chocolate one of the floats piped out.

I'll add one quick positive at MK. And that's the return of the Mickey's Christmas Carol displays to the Emporium windows swapping out ones that have been in place for what is AT LEAST a decade now. They could have dusted them off better, but hey, you take what you can get at WDW. It was still nice to see.
Also, nice to see the toy soldiers in Town Square. Nothing major. Nothing like what is being added at the other parks seasonally, but it still is a plussing and I'd be remiss if I ignored it.

Those are my WDW highlights as far as holiday entertainment goes, but I'd be very remiss if I didn't mention SW here. I have an AP (and often have over the past 25 years), but I've never visited at Christmas. And well, I was VERY impressed.

If Disney thinks it can keep coasting (and I firmly believe that many folks, including some powers I spoke with don't) they're in for a rude awakening, SW has stepped up its game and is about to do even more. From the handful of holiday-themed shows to the great Polar Express overlay (and I have never seen the film as I have a strong dislike of Tom Hanks) to the Winter Wonderland ice skating show and holiday pyro, Shamu is going to be a force. While Disney is downsizing its holiday decorations all over (and guests ARE noticing, even the bumpkins), SW was beautifully decorated everywhere. At night, the lighting package and holiday projections set the tone for a very Christmas-like vibe. And that was before I had the $10.99 HUGE turkey dinner (four slices or you could have had two ham or four ham, corn, stuffing, carrots, taters, roll, salad and choice of dessert) ... was going to put this in my dining post, but thought I'd drop it in here because in an era where value and quality are so crucial for many consumers, SW is kicking Disney's collective arse with deals like this. Oh, and to be fair the $10.99 was a passholder price, regular price was $12.99.

That's it for now ... but lots more to come.

Next up: Space Mountain still sucks (or general MK observations).
4
-em
Sat 12/19/2009 6:36a
>> The other lands you wouldn't even know it was Christmas. No decorations. No trees. Nothing.
<<
HEY we found that piece of garland on one light post in Frontierland...

But I agree. I didn't notice as much till I hit the WLodge last night. Did we stop decorating half way this year?

-em
5
davewasbaloo
Sat 12/19/2009 6:46a
Sorry to read that Spirit (even in the heydays I felt like WDW had a lesser experience than the other Disney parks when it came to Christmas with 3 significant exceptions:

The Amazing Osbourne lights, I agree, these are definately worth a trip to see, especially with little ones in tow, a real highlight.

The Candlelight Processional. Even though I am not christian, it is an excellent show, and having it on for a month in a more user friendly form tops DL.

And the displays at the deluxe hotels.

I must confess Jamming Jungle does little for me in either form.

AS for Sea World, it is a must do experience for me. I think they always do a terrific job. Wish we had one in Europe (if all the PC animal rights folks didn't put a stop to it).
6
jkayjs
Sat 12/19/2009 3:07p
Thanks for the report Spirit. So there wasn't a tree outside of DAK this year?

We didn't spend much time in the parks & didn't make it over to DAK.

We were disappointed by the decorations or lack there of. This is one of the main reasons we started going in Dec many yrs ago. Of course we have other reasons now but we were sad to see such abreviated offerings @ the 3 parks we did visit.

My dear Spirit the biggest disappointment was misssing you, maybe next time. :(

We did have a great time overall & couldn't agree more with your assessment of the Osbourne lights. They are wonderful & a must for my better half. We went with a large group the last couple of years & I think that even adds to the enjoyment.

BTW in case anyone was wondering NO I did not break anything on the Segway tour I took. In fact it was the most fun & I highly suggest it.

I'll be waiting for the next chapter my dear Spirit.
7
Spirit of 74
Sat 12/19/2009 11:16p
''Holy horse sh*t, that's Tom!''

(A Spiritual Holiday Journey Through The Discounted Timeshare Kingdom of the World continues ... in the Magic Kingdom)

OK, I'll admit it, for the umpteenth time. I am not happy with the first FLA park. I find more fault with it than any other Disney park because it was the first I ever visited (and is second only to EPCOT for the sheer amount of time spent at) and because it has been so Walmarted over the past dozen or so years. I easily place it fourth on the list of MK parks world-wide and, in many ways, fifth behind HKDL even in some crucial categories.

I said it. So now, I'll also state that the most magical individual day of trip happened here. I'll also state that some things are showing slow signs of improvement (but only over the past few years, not if we compare MK of 2009 to MK of 1979 or 1989 or even 1999).

Got all that?

Good.

If I went chronologically in talking about my MK visits, then things may sound worse because after arrival on 12/7, I spent about three hours at the park that night (8 p.m. close with EMH until 11). The tree was missing as was the decorations that are draped across Main Street due to parade taping the weekend before. So, the park didn't look good at all. It also had that dirty 'open all day and we can't keep up' look. ... So, let's not even talk about that night.

Let's move on to what I term a near perfect day. A day of 63 degree gloom with some rain. A day with so few folks that it brought back happy memories of the good, old days of the 1970s, 80s and early 90s when off-season days actually existed ... and of more recent days in Anaheim with similarly small crowds. It also brought back memories of less happy days after 9/11 in late 2001 and into 2002 where days like this were not uncommon.

No crowds. No strollers and ECVs clogging walkways. No waits. Everything was either a walk on, or would have been if not for unneeded Fastpass that made typical rides like the Mountains and Pan and Pooh have standby waits listed in the 20-45 minute range when they would have had slight waits if they just shut the machines down.

You know it's a good day when at 1 p.m. you can have a boat to yourself on Pirates without even trying. And, hey, wouldn't you know it but the sound was improved over recent visits. Of course, there was no fog working and no cloud projections working on the flip side.

Some people like the crowds and the energy they bring, but I'm not one unless it's say ... NYE or July 4th. I'd rather the dirty, huddled masses take their turkey legs, lanyards and ECVs elsewhere.

Three straight days I was at MK, one (Thursday, the near perfect day ... just myself and my Dad on his B-Day, fitting since he started my Disney obsession way back in -- if you don't know when by now, you're totally lost and not on that island where miracles happen!) from practically opening to closing. The others for parts.

Ah, but what of the horse sh*t you ask? Simple. It's been years since I have actually seen the horse-drawn streetcars operating on Main Street ... as well as the omnibus. They both were ... at least on Friday (12/11) in the morning. And they add so much to what has become a giant Disney mall. So, seeing Tom out taking guests up and down Main Street brought a smile to my face.

Seeing how green the grass was and how beautiful the Hub looked did as well. Of course, the cynical Spirit in me couldn't help but think that things looked so perfect not because of a rainy (yeah, Al Gore is right about global warming) fall, but because the Disney Parks Christmas Parade and Synergy Commercial had just been filmed.

Things that I enjoyed? The usuals ... Liberty Square had my three favorite MK experiences of the visit ... HoP, Mansion and lunch at LTT! ... Also, riding the WDW RR in the rain for three loops around the park (btw,, you can see the stakes for construction in Mickey's About To Disappear Toontown Faire from said RR)

I also thought there was more entertainment than I had seen in recent memory. But (yeah, I am a fair and balanced Spirit and that means pointing out what isn't working) it really bothered me that some entertainment isn't deemed worthy of being placed on the weekly schedules you pick up when entering. They make sure they let you know of every opportunity to visit with some horny teen dressed as a foamhead. But the threesome that performed Christmas music with a country twist on the steps of the CBJ weren't listed anywhere (and guys, giving them some mics and a sound system, might help draw crowds since they were terrific, yet I couldn't even tell you what they're called) ... the same for the Captain Jack show near the PoC entrance. ... These things ADD value ... and texture ... and QUALITY to a MK visit, yet it's like Phil Holmes and Co don't want you to know they exist.

I'll also say that I really enjoy the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It (sounds like a film the boys in Glendale have accidentally rented in hotels 875 times!) street party. Normally, I'm not into that type of 'entertainment' ... but it is just very well done with catchy music, colorful costumes and enthusiastic performers. Of course, that doesn't mean I want to see it at MK in two years if you catch my drift.

Saw the 2001 Snowglobe Parade in its latest incarnation. Did nothing for me. It still sucks. And it sucks even more that it is tossed out when the Christmas Parade should be running. Funny how the final float (you know the recycled huge princess barge) is the only one with any Christmas decorations on it because it has to be used in the Christmas Party parades too.

The only truly 'new' thing at MK was the Princess Tiana Riverboat Jubilee and I enjoyed it for what it is. Haven't seen the film yet, but I love the music and that's basically what the show is. It would be nice to have performers and not simply folks who lip synch, but this IS O-town. I can't help but think this show works much better in Anaheim because of NOS. The film is based on early 1900s New Orleans and sticking it in a Colonial America land is a bit of a stretch. Of course, it will be gone in 2-3 weeks and it is fun for what it is, so I'm not complaining.

I'll reserve that for Space Mountain ... and the fanbois who think Disney did them a great favor with this alleged 'redo' ... or the same fanbois who have been bashing Disney over the freaking PeopleMover narration.

Space Mountain didn't disappoint me at all. But, sadly, that's because I knew what a half-arsed redo we were getting. So, it was exactly what I expected. Clean queue with new oddly placed door. Much improved load area, like the colors. And ... pretty much the exact same ride experience just darker (which is an improvement, but I place my bar significantly higher). The first tunnel has new effects. There are new projections in the dome. They have the image catcher. Etc ... you all know what has and hasn't been done. Before this trip I had been on Space once in the last five years. An attraction that was once a must do had become a must skip. Now? I probably will go on it a bit more often, but I won't go out of my way.

This was a huge missed opportunity. And before the DoM chime in, just think of it this way: 15 years from now you'll likely be stuck with this same attraction. And it will be the worst of SIX Space Mountains in the world by a large margin. And could they not have painted the damn thing? Seriously.

And TTA?

It's clean. Love the lights. Have no problem with the narration at all. It's the same attraction it's always been. Just cleaner.

And while on the subject of cleanliness, MK was very clean (as were all Disney parks and Sea World) with one exception. MK was a disaster area Saturday night when hours were pumped up to 9-1 for all guests (something I firmly believe has to do with scheduling four hard-ticket parties a week). Folks pile in to the park, largely locals, but also resort guests and off-site tourists who have no desire to pay $59 for a second admission fee. Saturday at MK was packed and there's a certain point where Disney in its reduced custodial state simply can't keep up.

On light days like Thursday, the place is damn near spotless. On heavier days but early (like Friday) the place still sparkles. But when they start getting over 25,000 in there ... well, don't be surprised if you step into the remnants of a burger basket in the middle of the Hub.

One pet peeve was the fact I saw lots of trash in the landscaping (or what counts for it) near the Treehouse. Loads of cups, water/Coke bottles, napkins and other stuff tossed over the side made a home and was there every day (I climbed the thing three days in a row, which may be a first). Unacceptable.

Show quality was generally very good. Didn't get on Splash Mountain due to weather and time, but did almost everything else. I am still in awe of how well Mansion and HoP look. Pirates was better and Small World looked pretty damn good too. Also enjoyed the holiday touches in Mickey's Tentland.

Two exceptions would be Pan and Snow White. They look like jokes and are only going to get worse when Mermaid debuts. SW has been so castrated so not to scare anyone's brats (it scared me the first time I rode it at age 7, I lived!) that it really is time to pull the plug and replace it with the Beauty and the Beast ride that Eric Jacobson's team proposed originally. And Pan? When did they paint water ripples on the floor of the final scene? That is so cheesy and I don't recall seeing it before.

OK ... that's it for now ...

Next up: MOMMIE WHY CAN'T WE STAY FOR MICKEY'S PARTY?!??!? DOES SANTA HATE ME?!??!?!
(and any MK stuff I forgot to mention yet)
8
Spirit of 74
Sat 12/19/2009 11:25p
Usually, I don't like to quote myself, but the following is a response I made on Micechat to Kevin Yee's latest column. I think it covers my opinions on the hard-ticket CPs that ended last night and how they affect a MK visit:

The MVMCPs (or as I call them Mickey Extorts Christmas From Bumpkin Tourists Parties) are indeed as you state them.

For some history, they began in 1983 on two nights. Now, they begin before Veteran's Day (would be sooner, but they have Halloween Parties too!) ... and Disney also doesn't start REGULAR daily showings of holiday entertainment until late (12/19 this year, but has been as late as the 22nd or 23rd in past years).

Until some point in this decade, they'd do a hard close at 6 and reopen at 7. It required far more labor to kick everyone out of the park, but it also assured a certain level of quality for day visitors in a way that didn't make them feel they were missing anything.

Now? Well, imagine spending $5K on a magical WDW visit (got that Discover Card charged to the limit because you don't live like Suzie Orman tells you to ... or the wacky rightwingers who believe our economy tanked because of common folk living above their means and not because we Walmarted our country and have no manufacturing base and every company wants to pay people as little as possible but ... I digress ... back to WDW) ... and you're there with your kids on what seems like an empty day when 4 p.m. strikes and you sense a more than disquieting metamorphosis.

Suddenly, CMs have changed and have swanky vests and holiday hats.

Suddenly, you notice the MK actually has an amazing lighting package that is turned on.

Suddenly, you notice projections of snow angels and the like on buildings in Tomorrowland.

Suddenly, you see characters out in holiday-themed meet and greets.

Suddenly, the music is turned up and every 15 minutes you hear the PA inviting you to purchase tickets for tonight's party.

And, yeah, suddenly your kids want to know why they can't stay and spend the night partying with Mickey and seeing Santa.

Sorry to the DoMers here, but I've watched the results and they're often quite ugly. ... It's an in your face sales job, done to pressure people into paying an extra $59 (seems like it was just $25 a few years ago ... oh, yeah, cause it was ... oh, and that was when they gave you a free photo ... and when they had a REAL stage show in T-Land ... and when they had another stage show in the Diamond Horseshoe ... and before they cut three minutes out of the pyro show ... but hey, who's counting, right?)

I don't doubt that for many people, as some have already stated, the early entry into the party actually can be a value. I'm also sure that for many people having chicken nuggets and burgers on every menu or having characters all over the place or the same merchandise in every store is also better and more convenient.

But none of them are good. They all dumb the product down.

The parties also aren't so exclusive as many 'stragglers' manage to stay for hours into them so they can catch the entertainment, even if it means not getting on attractions.

Phil Holmes and crew know this, but the chase for the almighty buck is what's so crucial. And these parties (like DVC and the DDP) have become cash cows for the rodent ... although take a look at how many folks were paying discounted rates to enter this year and how few nights actually sold out vs other years.>>

It was amazing, btw, to see MK go from near empty last Friday to packed at 4 p.m. when party-goers started cramming the place. It reminded me of Fridays in Anaheim where you can have DL to yourself almost from 10-5 and then school gets out and people get home from work ... and it suddenly feels like a stadium full of people just got plopped into the park.

Next up: A Future Without Christmas.
9
Spirit of 74
Mon 12/21/2009 7:46p
<<HEY we found that piece of garland on one light post in Frontierland...>>

Good point. Forgot about that. Of course, in the past one piece of decoration wouldn't have quite stood out in such a way!!!

<<But I agree. I didn't notice as much till I hit the WLodge last night. Did we stop decorating half way this year?>>

Yep. I forgot to put my next installment up over here because this place is deader than a moose with my beloved Sarah around, but I did notice and mention that.

I gotta grab it off the MAGICal site and put it up here.

10
Spirit of 74
Mon 12/21/2009 7:53p
<<Sorry to read that Spirit (even in the heydays I felt like WDW had a lesser experience than the other Disney parks when it came to Christmas with 3 significant exceptions:

The Amazing Osbourne lights, I agree, these are definately worth a trip to see, especially with little ones in tow, a real highlight.

The Candlelight Processional. Even though I am not christian, it is an excellent show, and having it on for a month in a more user friendly form tops DL.

And the displays at the deluxe hotels.>>

Don't get me wrong, Dave, I had a wonderful time. I can't help it. I guess I still have some of the pixie dust in the old ticker after all.

I'm just tired of the staleness ... the cutting of quality and the constant nickel and diming that have diminished the place greatly and made it a very high-priced, middle of the road quality, yet constantly discounted product.

I hope Staggs can pull a few rabbits out of his hat and not just be another Rasulo (btw, did a bus hit Leemac? ... and MPierce for that matter?)

<<I must confess Jamming Jungle does little for me in either form.>>

I like both versions, although tired of the original. I just had never managed to see the holiday one and thought it was fun in a simple yet effective way.

<<AS for Sea World, it is a must do experience for me. I think they always do a terrific job. Wish we had one in Europe (if all the PC animal rights folks didn't put a stop to it).>>

They did an amazing job ... from the Polar Express (overlays can be done in FLA!) to the themed shows, to the amazing lighting and decorations ... the park never has looked so good (and that's with two management changes in a year's time ... so what's Disney's excuse?)

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