An immediate change in the Magic Kingdom was the way that the entrance turnstyles did not operate until 20-15 minutes prior to park opening. In the old days it was possible to be walking down Main Street USA up to an hour before the park officially opened (not including Extra Magic Hour mornings). Now long lines develop as people arrive early and wait until allowed entry into the park.
In addition to the later entrance opening time, everybody is crammed into the small area between the Main Street USA train station and entrance turnstyles. Nobody is allowed to cross underneath the train tracks and enter the rest of the park until after the new version of the rope drop ceremony. Gone are the days of walking to the Crystal Palace or Plaza Restaurant to stake out a position to make a sprint to Frontierland or Tomorrowland.
The new rope drop ceremony itself is pretty good.
In the ceremony we're greeted by the mayor of Main Street. He bids us a hearty good morning and welcomes us to the Magic Kingdom. He's joined by a bunch of singers and dancers from that time period, and they sing and tell us how much they love the mornings. After that the steam train arrives with many of the Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse. The Mouse also welcomes us to the park, and then we're introduced to the official family of the day. The mayor and family help all of us guests do the official countdown. People yell out the numbers, fireworks scream into the air, and then everybody pushes and shoves each other as they cram into the tunnels under the train station and head to all points beyond.
The Main Street USA train station makes a great stage for the ceremony, and everybody seemed to enjoy seeing the steam train come rolling into the station while carrying a bunch of characters. It's just a pain being jammed into a tight area with everybody else in the morning. Hopefully future versions of the rope drop ceremony will be back on Main Street USA and give us all a little more breathing room.
Cinderella Castle now has a nightly show called The Magic, The Memories and You! Throughout the day Disney photographers take pictures of families, and each night there's a show that places those photos onto the castle. Your image may be displayed along with hundreds of others after Wishes.
Crossing the bridge into Adventureland and you'll probably notice that the bridge itself is new. The classic bridge with the ramps and bumpy crossing is now gone, replaced with a flat and modern looking sign welcoming us to the land.
And, alas, the Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management was still closed despite being listed on the Magic Kingdom park map. Fortunately, word has it that the Tiki Room birds will be back in action again very soon.
The new Tortuga Tavern was open for business. The place looks all right, but I'm still a fan of the older version, El Pirata Y el Perico (The Pirate and the Parrot).
Ambushed by natives while riding the world famous Jungle Cruise!
Pirates of the Caribbean was still one of the busiest rides in the park. As always, if you wish for a quieter, more relaxing ride without people screaming down the short drop, talking out loud, or snapping flash photos along the dark boat ride, ride this one at night before or after Wishes. Most people are too tired to be annoying by that point.
Frontierland is always one of the busiest areas of the park. This past trip proved to be no exception. In the summertime you can really feel the heat while walking the bright streets and fighting the crowds around Splash Mountain.
On the opposite side of the park, Space Mountain was packed with heavy crowds from opening to closing. Those people who didn't grab a FASTPASS by two or three in the afternoon were left staring at the 60-90 minute wait in the stand-by line, debating whether or not to accept their fate and enter the line queue.
The face of determination while scoring an ultra-high number of points on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
The sign for Carousel of Progress no longer tells us the current year, but the rest of the show is just as entertaining as it has been for years.
Over in Fantasyland, construction is progressing nicely and new the structures are going vertical. 2012 is going to be an exciting year as the new parts of Fantasyland begin opening to the public.
Some clouds over Fantasyland presented an awesome background, while others seemed to be magically erased by upper-level wind.
Like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, one of the best times to enjoy Mickey's Philharmagic is at night between the before and after Wishes. You'll be able to relax in a mostly empty theater.
President Washington has words of wisdom in this super-wide view of The Hall of Presidents.
It was big news a few years ago when the Haunted Mansion went through a lengthy refurbishment that updated the audio system, updated a scene or two, and added a couple of new scenes in the ride. It wasn't promoted like the new version of Pirates of the Caribbean, but the new version of Haunted seemed to be just as well-received with the public like the new version of Pirates.
Fast forward to 2011. Once again parts of the Haunted Mansion were closed for refurbishment, and now that the Mansion is open and fully operational with new goodies, there's virtually no publicity. Strange. One would like to believe that with all of the construction taking place in Fantasyland and the former Mickey's ToonTown Fair, the park would say something like, "Hey, sorry for this big construction mess taking up a big chunk of the park. If you'd like to see something new now, check out the new, interactive line queues in the Haunted Mansion and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh."
But it's not just the new haunted cemetery line queue in the Haunted Mansion that's drawing attention. The classic Hitchhiking Ghosts have also been upgraded. The ghosts are now digital animations that mess with your reflection in the mirror, and if you're fortunate, a ghost may switch your head with his.