Walt Disney World - Downtown Disney
Our first stop in Downtown Disney is The Art of Disney store.
The store itself is still the same old art store as it has been for many years now. What's different this time is that there are a few cool pieces of artwork and figurines for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. The classic Audio-Animatronic bird show is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its opening in Disneyland in 1963.
Pollo Campero now has a roommate. Visitors can now order American-style food at Bodie's All-American.
The Characters In Flight observation balloon has a new design. This design looks somewhat like the hot air balloon in that Oz the Great and Powerful disaster of a film that was released earlier this year.
Construction walls are still plentiful around the Pleasure Island area of Downtown Disney. This massive refurbishment program will convert Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, an even larger shopping and dining complex at Walt Disney World. According to the workers, the construction for Disney Springs should be complete by 2017.
The LEGO family is still on display outside of the LEGO Store. This time around the father is wearing a Goofy hat, the wife is wearing a set of Minnie Mouse ears, and the children are both wearing costumes.
Inside the LEGO Store are large displays in the shapes of the Incredible Hulk, Buzz Lightyear and Woody. I do miss the older days of that store when they would have intricate LEGO displays from time to time. These days the interior of the store is bright, noisy, busy, and sadly, pretty bland.
Outside of the LEGO Store are massive displays showing scenes from Toy Story to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Sleeping Beauty. The scenes themselves are fantastic. What stinks is the way that they handle the night lighting. Instead of having lights shining upwards onto the structures, or having lights inside of the structures and making them look really cool, the lights are positioned around and above the structures. In other words, it COMPLETELY RUINS THE EFFECT! These night lights are absolutely horrible, and nothing is enhanced at night. The lights themselves also look terrible in photos.
In the summer of 2012, the Rainforest Cafe went through an extensive refurbishment. The restaurant and store remained open while the outside of the structure had a massive facelift. The final result is a much cooler looking volcano that vents steam and periodically erupts fireballs into the sky.
Over in the West Side the new Splitsville Luxury Lanes bowling alley is now open. The building itself looks absolutely fantastic with its retro-style design dating back to the 1960s and early 70s. On some of the walls you may even find vintage artwork showing the early days of Walt Disney World. On the lower floor is a Coca-Cola Freestyle drink machine (you can buy a souvenir cup that's good at the machine for a day at a time --- refills are allowed once every five minutes), and upstairs are more bowling lanes, a restaurant, and a bar.
Despite the concept of a bowling alley sounding kind of silly for Downtown Disney, I really hope that Splitsville survives and remains in the West Side. This is a really cool addition to the shopping and dining complex.
Our last photo update for Downtown Disney is a small truck shop located at the bridge between Pleasure Island and the West Side. The Disney Truck Shop is normally open during the busier times in the late afternoons and evenings.
Walt Disney World - Disney Resorts
On one of our days we had lunch at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. The resort itself was great except for the steady rain during our visit. At least the rain was on that day and not during our theme park days in Universal Orlando.
Anyway, lunch itself was a bit of a shock at the AKL. Disney has turned to the dark side with its drink machines. Ordinarily, one would purchase a cup and be able to freely refill your drink while dining at the restaurant in the resort. That's how it and most of the counter-service restaurants in the Disney resorts have operated since the dawn of time. But now things are different. The drink machines are still there, but to use it you need a special Disney cup with a sensor on the bottom of it to activate the machine. A single-day (a calender day, not 24 hours) cup costs like $8, and a cup that's good for your length of stay at the resort can cost upwards of $20-22. There are NO fountain drink cups good for a single meal.
It's an outrage, but this was brought about by the countless number of people who have been abusing the system for years. I hate it but it finally stops the cheapskates from stealing drinks. Now if only the Earl of Sandwich at Downtown Disney will enforce its drink machine and stop those jerks who ask for a water cup and proceed to fill it with lemonade or Sprite . . .
Over at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, construction is going smoothly for its Disney Vacation Club (DVC) expansion. Disney's Polynesian Resort is the next resort slated for the DVC expansion.
Speaking of the DVC, it's quite noticeable that the QUALITY of guests at the luxury DVC resorts have dropped, primarily because of the time share program. Guests with the manners and consideration commonly found at the value resorts (a.k.a. All-Star and Pop Century), are now roaming luxurious resorts such as the Beach Club Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, and now the Contemporary Resort. Unfortunately to the guests spending top dollar to stay there, this trend is going to continue with the Grand Floridian and ultimately the Polynesian Resort, the pinnacle of most-wanted resorts at Walt Disney World.
I wish that Disney would keep the DVC to separate resorts such as Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, resorts that were designed around the Disney time share concept. Adding the DVC to high-quality resorts may be a great way to get more people to buy into the program, but when people buy time shares through other companies and trade their time to stay at the Disney DVC resorts, this seriously degrades the Disney luxury resorts.
Speaking of bad parents ruining the experience for others, take a look at the main store at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. Notice anything missing? There in the middle of the store SHOULD be a large display with Mickey Mouse driving a speed boat. It's been there since the resort opened back in 1990. Now the space has a rack of clothes and a few small tables. One of the cast members explained that stupid parents would allow their children to climb onto the boat despite being told not to. Since the idiotic parents couldn't follow safety rules, Disney solved the problem by removing the cool display. This is why we cannot have nice things. Idiots!
Walt Disney World - miscellaneous
The new version of Test Track over at Epcot looks slick and pretty awesome. Unfortunately, the view from the monorail was as close as we came to riding Test Track (or stepping inside of Epcot) on this trip.
Guests staying at Disney resorts get to use the new MagicBand system. Each person can wear a special wrist band that functions as a room key, your admission ticket into the park, a quick way to get FastPass tickets, and a way to charge food and merchandise purchases to your room. Naturally, you can also purchase accessories to make your MagicBand more personal and stylish. As to the t-shirts, I really don't know why on Earth anybody would want to purchase clothes advertising the MagicBand of all things. As you'll see in just a moment, some of the newer Disney shirts are rather hilarious.
Over at the Magic Kingdom, the exterior of the park was already decorated for the annual Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The decorations are rather simple and nothing to get too excited about.
When you look closer at the entrance area to the Magic Kingdom, you can get a glimpse at the new turnstiles. The turnstiles on the left side are still being converted to the newer version. As far as the turnstiles on the right side . . . . No more physical barriers into the park? Interesting.
Walt Disney World - T-Shirts of Disney
We'll conclude the Walt Disney World section of this trip report with a look at some of the t-shirts available for sale. Some of them are retro and bring back classic memories, others are amusing, and two of them involving Darth Vader are simply hilarious. Let's hope that Disney continues this trend with retro and hilariously funny shirts.