Welcome to In the Parks, your weekly dose of Southern California theme park news. Disneyland's Matterhorn has begun testing and is prepping for its June 15th return and we think you'll like what we have to show you today. We also have pic of the new Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Penny Arcade and Candy Palace renovations. At the same time, Disney California Adventure is getting noticeably closer to Cars Land and Buena Vista Street officially debuting on June 15th (and unofficially opening even earlier than that). From Disney, we'll stroll through Knott's Berry Farm for the latest news there. And we'll wrap things up at Universal Studios Hollywood with Transformers in Technical Rehearsal mode and some of the new merchandise offered.

Last Notice Before Gumball Rally Sells Out For 2012!

This year's event will be completely sold out in the next day or two (we were able to accommodate a few more spots after previously closing the event).

The MiceChat Gumball Rally is a race to find out who can ride the most attractions at Disneyland in a single day. It's a fantastic event for Disney fans of any age and a great way to spend a day in the park with friends and family. Whether you win or lose, you are always a winner when the race takes place on your favorite rides at your favorite place on earth.

When: May 19th, 2012
Where: Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California
COST: $29.99 per person
How Do I sign up?: MiceChat Events Store Gumball Rally Sign Up
How Does the Rally Work?: Rally Information Page

Even if you aren't competing in the Rally, there are a couple of Rally related events that you are welcome to join:

May 18th Pasta Party - shoot the breeze and listen to the Rally teams as they attempt to psych each other out the night before the big race. It's a fun and inexpensive meal. You can sign up in the MiceChat Store HERE.

May 20th MiceChat Mega Meet, Noon at the Walt and Mickey statue in Disneyland - Find out who won the Rally, chit chat, and you might just be the winner of a prize just for showing up! After the meet, we'll head off for lunch and then ride a couple of attractions together. It's a lovely way to spend a few hours (stay for as much or little as you'd like). No cost and no need to sign up. Just show up at noon on the 20th.

If you've never heard of the Gumball Rally before, please visit the Rally Information Page HERE for more information and FAQ. A discussion thread has been created in the forums as well: MiceChat Gumball Rally Discussion.

Tickets for this year's event will likely sell out in the next few days, so don't delay, get your teams together and sign up today! RALLY SIGN UP HERE

The Downtown Disney Lego Store reopened recently. The exterior is a Lego/Disney fan's dream with exquisite Lego recreations of famous Disney moments. Most impressive is the Maleficent dragon atop the structure breathing neon green fire down on a Lego Prince Phillip. Beautiful work.

The facade also features scenes from some of your favorite Disney/Pixar films.

Toy Story goes to Lego and beyond

Beauty and the blocks

Looking good blocksheads. We can't wait to see the inside!

Wednesday morning, after a pre-opening dedication and ribbon cutting attended by Club 33 members and invited guests, Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Candy Palace and the Penny Arcade returned from a long refurbishment and reopened for business. There were a lot of suits fluttering about adjusting and managing everything.

Let's start with Gibson Girl. In short, it's stunning. They have pushed the service counter to the back wall and lavished beautiful art nouveau wooden ornamentation everywhere.

Hues of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry tint the interior

The menu

Unfortunately, the big glass elephant's luck seems to have run out, as he is no longer part of the parlor.

The Penny Arcade.
This is where some of you may have a hard time. They have taken the Starcade approach here and used the arcade machines as a theming element rather than an actual experience. The penny arcade movies are still here, Esmerelda still tells fortunes, and the organ still plays. But they have all been sidelined by a larger cash wrap, a new larger case for pastries, cookies and candies and the like. Regardless, the detail here is top-notch work. Really quite beautiful.

The open entry into Gibson Girl

Looking at the sign from Gibson Girl into Penny Arcade

There have been compromises made, but we feel they were well measured. This is not a WDW style loss of quality just to serve the masses. A great deal of care went into making the store look absolutely beautiful, while keeping at least a flavor of the old arcade.

The biggest expansion is, of course, Candy Palace. The tiny kitchen of the past is gone. In its place is a kitchen that is three times bigger with even more windows to view the craft of the confectioners. Another possible sour note for some is the removal of the indoor seating area for Coke corner. It is now, more candy display area.

As with the Emporium and Star Trader expansions, the cash wraps have been pushed to the walls and queues have been installed. This will certainly help with traffic, as there are many more registers than before and less dead space.

Expanded kitchen.

The exit sign above the door.

Standing in the Penny Arcade looking toward Candy Palace.

Same spot looking towards Coke Corner

Further left.

Standing in the center of Candy Palace looking towards Penny Arcade

Some may think that the redo was a move in the wrong direction, veering ever closer to the WDW business model of homogenized stores and eateries. But, we feel that the added attention to detail and better traffic flow is actually a plus. We lament the loss of the elephant and further erosion of the Penny Arcade, but are glad that the overall theme and detail is even richer than before. Have you had a chance to visit the redone stores? Let us know what you think. Were the compromises successful? Do you like the new artistic direction?

The scaffolds around the Matterhorn are now gone and the ride has been testing with the new sleds. We've got to say that we've never seen the mountain look better.

We reached out to Ron Esposito, the Art Director responsible for repainting the Matterhorn, to see if he would be interested in commenting on the project now that it is wrapping up. Here's what he had to share, "The project has been a wonderful experience as a consulting field art director, responsible for the artistic painting of the Matterhorn. The team work on the project, was and is, at the highest level, from the beginning to the final product. Fantastic team work!" Ron is a former WDI Executive Field Production Designer and currently heads Esposito Enterprises, which works on amazing themed projects all over the world.

Shiny new sleds against a more dramatic mountain

Some work is still going on in the queue building.

The splash down pools have been refilled.

Almost ready to yodel.

Sadly, the Carnation Gardens has hosted its last dance (at least for now). The area is behind construction walls and is being transformed into Princess Fantasy Faire. The stage will actually be renovated and used by the princesses by day and reportedly converted back to swing dancing on select weekend evenings.

The transformation will be dramatic.

Disneyland fought for and got the budget to do the more ornate version of this project.

As much of a change as this project will be, we think it will bring more positive and rich theme to the area. Since the Rancho Del Zocalo redo years ago, this little corner has just been a simple flat set with a tent, stage, and some outdoor seating. Aside from school groups using the stage, it wasn't an active area in the park and had lost much of its charm (aside from the beautiful gardens). Additionally, the new Princess Fantasy Faire will free up the Fantasyland Theater to stage productions once again. All in all, we think the end result will be a net positive for the park and the guests.

Stunning Disneyland Photography
Sunrise to Sunset

Our good friend Tom Bricker of the DisneyTouristBlog.com has just published a new book inspired by Leap Day at Disneyland. Tom is well-known throughout the Disney community for his incredible Disney photography and this new e-book does not disappoint.

"Disneyland: Sunrise to Sunrise" chronicles Disneyland's 24-hour Leap Day event and is filled with over 200 gorgeous photos on 75 pages.

Every photo was taken during this year's One More Disney Day event. This book offers a unique look at the very rare opportunity of being able to spend a full 24 hours inside the Happiest Place on Earth. And, if the spectacular photos weren't enough, Tom includes fun facts and trivia with every photo in the book!

The book is available now in PDF format for only $8, but Tom is offering it to MiceChat readers for 25% off with the coupon code SUNRISE2012! Click here to buy!

At just around 3pm on Sunday a tree fell in a rather precarious spot at DCA - where the temporary entrance dumps crowds into the path between Condor Flats and Grizzly. The mid-sized tree fell towards the walkway and was stopped by a guard rail. This allowed fast acting cast members to quickly block off the area and funnel all traffic towards Soarin', closing off the path to Grizzly and the hotel.

We haven't heard anything about injuries. This was just one of those random events. Much thanks to MiceChat reader, Rob, for sending us these photos!

If you spot any news while you are in the parks, please send them our way! Contact dustysage@micechat.com.

Here we are in the home stretch for Buena Vista Street and the opening of DCA. It is really impressive how it is all coming along.

Inside, looking towards the front gates the street has been surfaced.

Small fences are being installed now around the flower beds.

Buena Vista Circle:
Just under the bridge and through to Buena Vista Circle the park is coming together.

Looking towards the inside of the park and Buena Vista Circle.

Carthay Circle Theater:
Inside, the Carthay Circle Theater restaurant is mostly complete and going through the steps of becoming an operational restaurant in time for the walls to come down just before the June 15th target date. Club 33 members have been invited to an expensive $500 dinner in the new restaurant, along with early access to Cars Land and Buena Vista Street in early June.

We were given just one word to describe the new restaurant by someone who's been inside "Stunning." We can't wait to see for ourselves.

Over in Hollywood Pictures Backlot, the more compact, Mad T Party layover of the area is progressing. The wild, swirling colors have begun to appear as the main stage in front of Monsters is completed.

The main stage is made to look like the Mad Hatter's Table.

The House of Cards structure, with what appears to be a custom video screen and lots of lights.

Here is what is visible at the Cars Land site. Just think. In less than a month and a half visitors will be streaming up and down this street. So exciting!

If you look closely, you will see that they are still
toying with the Beach Ball idea.

Some touch up work on Ramone's

The canopies over the Screamin' queue are fully installed. They kind of remind us of the tops of the changing booths at turn of the century beach resorts. It's a cheap fix for a bad queue, but if it wasn't in the budget, at least it looks better than it was before.


The old gift shop structure at the exit gates of the park has been refurbished and cleverly repurposed as a full service season pass processing center.

If you've been in the old passport processing center, you know what a nice upgrade this is.

And then there's Ghost town, the area of the park we love the most. The work in front of Spurs Chop house has finished and we see that they resurfaced a small patch of the walkway in front of the patio.

Ghost Town Playlist:
Here are the incongruous songs we heard while reporting this week. All songs were heard while in Ghost town. Will this madness ever end?

1. True Blue - Madonna
2. Got to give it up - Marvin Gaye

Riptide is down for more routine maintenance.

The summer crush of visitors is still a few weeks away, but Universal is ready with its newest attraction already open in technical rehearsals (soft openings). But lots of little projects are going on to spruce up the park in preparation for what will likely be a record breaking summer.

A new photo op has appeared near Shrek 4D.

In honor of Universal Studios' 100th Anniversary, new video segments have been added to the Studio Tour. These new segments feature actors, directors and producers who have called the Universal Studios back lot home.

The iconic Chick Ranch is getting some work done.

Now that production on Desperate Housewives has ended, the sound stages that housed the various sets are being deconstructed so the next production can move in. Wisteria Lane is also being de-Housewived so the homes won't be recognizable in future productions. Currently the namesake wisteria (which was 100% plastic) is being stripped away and houses are being repainted.

The Mummy lockers are once again closed as they are expanded. Guests must now use the lockers underneath the Starway adjacent to the Jurassic Park splash down area.

Transformers: The Ride 3D is working out the kinks during its Technical rehearsal. Everything from ride mechanics to crowd control are getting attention so that all goes smoothly on opening day, May 25th.

The outdoor extended queue is ready to hold massive crowds this summer. Notice the temporary barriers that can be quickly set up if needed. The Recharging Station is the dedicated home Energon, the new signature beverage of Transformers

(think butterbeer at WWoHP)

Meanwhile, in the gift shop, we decided to take a close look at the myriad of merchandise options ready for eager fans to snap up. some of the new items are actually pretty cool and we already have a favorite shirt. Robots in disguise, lol. Classic.

Autobot Belt with buckle.

Bumblebee backpack.

License plate frame



Of course Universal has released a set of trading pins.

There is also a cool line of t-shirts available.

lol- Awesome

This one changes color in the sun. COOL!

Construction along the JP queue is wrapping up. A triceratops skeleton themed play area was built and should open soon.

After closing briefly while the lower lot was being repaved, the NBCUniversal Experience has reopened with some new exhibits.

Imagineer, Steve Davison does a lot more than design night time extravaganzas. He also stages some pretty amazing choir performances with the SCC of Long Beach. His latest creation is called The Sound of Muzak.

Poor Maria! All her life she's dreamed of being a lounge singer in Reno, but growing up in a failing convent-turned-mall run by the Sisters isn't as fabulous as she would like. She receives a new lease on life (and a reprieve from the hot-dog-on-a-stick cart) when she goes to assist the owner of the mall daycare manage unruly children. Will Maria find love or will she receive the calling? Will the Sisters save the mall or will they lose their home to a certain goose-stepping jeweler? These questions (and more) will be answered when SCC presents "The Sounds of Muzak.

Tickets are already available here.

There's also a wonderful new video about Starbucks in the parks, Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, Final Carnation Plaza swing dancing night, Lego store redo and much more. Plus, Sara tells us about the amazing Road to Pixar project that she was a part of. Don't miss this week's MiceChatter

And don't forget to take in the latest from the Communicore weekly team as the guys discuss the Country Bear Jamboree, new Disneyland photo book, and even debate the status of a major Disney theme park.

If you like what you see, please visit our Youtube page: MiceChat - YouTube and click the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of the page

AND MiceChat has a brand new monthly PodCast for you that's now in iTunes: MiceChat Podcast on iTunes or we have an RSS feed if you'd rather use that: MiceChat Podcast RSS

This week, Al Lutz, Doug Barnes, Dustysage and Fishbulb discuss Cars Land, Transformers and the epic fight for your tourist dollars this summer.

Today's In The Parks Update Has Been Brought To You By The WONDERFUL Folks At . . .

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Contact the Carousel today, and for the lowest rates, be sure to tell them MiceChat sent you.

Call: 1(800)854-6767 to book your stay today!

We'd like to extend a huge thanks to Rob and Ron Esposito for their contributions to today's update, as well as our regular contributors and photographers CaptPhoebus, Fishbulb and Dustysage. (If you've got breaking news or photos to share, we'd love to hear from you too! Contact Dusty today

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Wherever you go and whatever you do this weekend, we hope you have a wonderful time. We'll see you In The Parks . . .

Perhaps this time the dragon will win