by Kendall Foreman
As a Walt Disney World fan that lives multiple states away from Florida, I am thrilled and so grateful to share that my latest trip there was my fifteenth to the spectacular Resort. When others learn about my willing and rather shameless obsession with my favorite travel destination, they often ask, “Don’t you get bored seeing and doing the same things every vacation?” My trip in May supports the response I always give, “I’m never bored because it is never the same.” With almost three years between my most recent visits, I knew that a great many significant changes awaited my husband and me. As all WDW aficionados know, “Sameness” goes out the door when Disney Imagineers are involved. I am exceedingly pleased to share that they did not disappoint. The magnitude of additions and enhancements wildly exceeded my expectations. If you are a skeptic who is convinced that you have “been there and done that” at Walt Disney World, allow me to convince you otherwise. If you know a skeptic, allow me to provide you with some persuasive ammunition. If you are a WDW fan, allow me to encourage you to read on and perhaps discover some heretofore unknown tidbits about the ever-changing wonderful World of Disney.
Included with Admission
Because WDW is a continually evolving vacation destination, it is highly probable something has changed since your most recent trip. Developments in technology and interactivity as well as enhancements via additions and refurbishments are occurring almost daily around the World.
The breathtaking and mesmerizing Celebrate the Magic Projection Show presented nightly at the Magic Kingdom is a masterful example of advancements in projection technology. Similarly, wonder takes on new meaning when the combined use of projection and audio-animatronic technologies draws observers into an incredibly convincing underwater experience in the vast aquariums of The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot. Moreover, the mermaid projected under the water’s surface in the Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean is at once eerie and alluring. Having undergone extensive redesigns, renovations and significant technological advancements, Epcot’s Test Track Presented by Chevrolet is an entirely new interactive experience. RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) technology allows riders to design their own virtual vehicle and test it on the track. Among the numerous improvements to the attraction is the complete overhaul of the post-ride show, which now includes multiple interactive activities that can be considered attractions in their own right.
Plans for these significant state of the art additions, facelifts and changes to several attractions included the Imagineers brilliant, engaging interactive ride queues, which formerly offered guests little more than simple, seemingly never-ending turnstile rounds. Without question, these innovative attraction enhancements make the wait substantially more fun and interesting. A few examples of these entertaining and or informative queues include: “painting” with virtual honey on interactive screens in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, “helping” Happy Haunts play music at the Haunted Mansion, “assisting” tiny blue crabs in in their efforts to aid Scuttle in sorting Ariel’s “neat” collection at the Journey of the Little Mermaid, or possibly “blasting” a new mine shaft after having toured and learned about the inner-workings of the Big Thunder Mountain Mining Company at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. These are but a few of the elaborately themed interactive queues entertaining guests and receiving high praise from children and adults.
With the additions of Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure in Epcot, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, and A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas at the Magic Kingdom, RFID interactivity is taking the World by storm. Each of these scavenger hunt-type activities require guests to search out specific locations within the parks, and then interact with their surroundings using RFID technology. When a location is found and activated, guests receive information regarding their quest from characters via disguised video screens and or audio messages scattered throughout the parks in seemingly unimportant items.
Nowhere else do new additions, technology and interactivity better combine to create spectacular experiences than in the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland and Storybook Circus. Advanced animatronics like the Wardrobe, Lumiere, and Ariel have guests feeling as though they have entered an animated world. Enchanted Tales with Belle literally allows guest to step through the Magic Mirror and right into the Beast’s Castle where children join Belle in retelling the classic love story. A rethinking of the waiting process offers guests the opportunity to have their place in line held while they enjoy playtime inside the big top at Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
We have much to look forward to at WDW. New Fantasyland will see the addition of Princess Fairytale Hall and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Downtown Disney will be converted and double in size to become Disney Springs. Animal Kingdom awaits the opening of Avatar Land. Currently, the Disney Company is beginning the roll-out the highly anticipated guest service advancements, My Disney Experience and the MyMagic+ Bands. Walt Disney World is an ever-evolving vacation destination that attracts first-timers as well as repeat visitors.
Where to Stay
Depending upon the date of your most recent visit to WDW, there is quite possibly more than one new resort on the property. Having opened just one year ago, the Art of Animation Resort is the most recent Resort Grand Opening. One of the original WDW Resorts, the Polynesian Resort (formerly the “Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort”) opened in October of 1971. It has been refurbished numerous times over the years, and is presently undergoing just such an update with significant changes in décor. The following Resorts will see alterations as well: the Contemporary Resort will renovate its fourteenth floor rooms, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa will open its companion timeshare Disney Vacation Club Villas, Saratoga Springs Resort’s Spa—after a major refurbishment—will reopen as Senses Spa, and the End Zone Food Court at the All Star Sports Resort will also be redone. Perhaps the most anticipated new Resort at WDW is the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. It will be home to 500 guest rooms and suites, three restaurants including a rooftop steakhouse, and an indoor/outdoor spa.
Where to Eat
In recent years, there have been several additions or complete refurbishments to several restaurants at Walt Disney World. Here are some of the most notable:
- Be Our Guest Restaurant situated in the Magic Kingdom is a quick-service location at lunch and table service at dinner. With exquisite décor based upon the Disney animated feature film—Beauty and the Beast—this restaurant offers French-inspired cuisine. When coupled with having been recently awarded top honors for state-of-the-art order placement technology and outstanding food delivery, this exceptional dining establishment is a must-do experience.
- Gaston’s Tavern is a quick-service location in the Magic Kingdom that boasts an enormous Pork Shank that rivals the Turkey Leg. Other notable menu items include the large cinnamon rolls once available at the Main Street bakery and a unique beverage offering known as LeFou’s Brew.
- La Hacienda de San Angel is a lakeside table service location at the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot. According to Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer, they brought in “two taco specialists from one of the best taquerias in Mexico” and have “a tequila ambassador on staff every day.”
- Monsieur Paul, which is located upstairs at the France Pavilion at Epcot, offers the authentic French cuisine of Chef Paul Bocuse. Chef Paul’s father, who was nicknamed Monsieur Paul, was one of the co-chefs at the former Les Chefs de France. Chef Paul honored his father by opening Monsieur Paul in his name.
- Katsura Grill replaced the former Yakitori House in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot in late 2012. The redesigned exterior accentuates the already beautiful gardens of the pavilion. Inside, patrons will recognize many of the menu items as they have remained relatively similar; however, the most unique addition is the Okonomijaki, which is a Japanese pancake resembling a pizza that is topped with vegetables and tangy sauce.
- Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar is a lounge located in the Italy Pavilion at Epcot and boasts over 200 bottles of Italian wine and various antipasti and dessert offerings.
Even if a dining location has not experienced a complete overhaul, it is likely to have seen some renovation or redecorating. Beyond atmosphere alterations, most have experienced menu changes over the years. Notably, many quick-service locations have expanded their ethnic offerings, gourmet-level options as well as vegan and vegetarian alternatives. Disney is committed to offering children meal options that are in line with U.S. Dietary/Nutrition Guidelines, which limit calories, sugar, saturated fats, trans fats and sodium. Moreover, they have simplified identifying these meal recommendations on restaurant menus by implementing a marking system referred to as Mickey Check. This system utilizes icons to denote healthy meal options.
For the reason that Walt Disney World is continually evolving and expanding, there is one given that automatically comes along with vacationing there—it is an exciting challenge to find time to take in more. Nevertheless, there are some new additional cost activities that are well worth squeezing into your vacation itinerary. Splitsville Luxury Lanes—a place where guests can bowl, play billiards, dine, dance, and shop—opened at Downtown Disney last year. The Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot added to its list of events and offerings this year when a wide variety of fresh culinary bites, wines, and beers were added. It has not yet been announced if these festival additions will be offered in the future. The list of RunDisney offerings has and will likely continue to evolve and grow. For example, in 2014, the Marathon Weekend will include the inaugural 10K run and Dopey Challenge. Walt Disney World expansion is what Imagineering is all about; consequently, guests will never want for something extra to do.
Walt Disney once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Inspired by Walt’s vision for the future, Disney Imagineers eagerly work to re-imagine and expand upon what began so long ago. Walt Disney World will never be complete because imagination thrives within the hearts of its creators as well as its visitors. So, if you believe you “have been there and done that” Imagineers might surprise you with something new or something you missed when you return to the wonderful World of Disney. It is highly unlikely that you will be bored because it is never the same!
What new experiences have impressed you the most? What additions or changes would you ask Imagineers to make at WDW in the coming years?
Kendall began visiting Walt Disney World in 1991 with her family and has continued to visit the resort with her husband. As a child, she and her family filled vacations with challenges such as “How many times can we ride Splash Mountain during SpectroMagic and the fireworks?” (Answer: 7) Now, after marrying a converted Disney skeptic, she and her husband enjoy challenges such as “How many hours can we eat nonstop at the Food & Wine Festival?” (Answer: 4)