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The holidays are coming to a rapid end. We hope your Christmas was a good one and that you are gearing up for a fantastic 2012. This year, has flown by in a whirl of construction, new shows and attractions and endless theme park fun. To celebrate the year gone by and reward your top picks, we invite you to join us in our first annual MiceChat Central Florida theme park awards. We also have an interesting update for you today as well, so be sure to return to the Parkhopper when you are done with that poll! Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland Construction is coming along nicely and we take a look at the very sad state of Splash Mountain. Next, some new offerings have popped up at Disney's Hollywood Studios and we'll take you to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens to see what's new and what's news.

THE MICECHAT CENTRAL FLORIDA THEME PARK AWARDS:

2011 was truly a great year for theme parks in Orlando. So much to experience and enjoy, but only a select few can be called the very best that Central Florida has to offer. MiceChat is proud to announce our first annual Central Florida Themed Attractions Awards. The Orlando Parkhopper and MiceChat crew helped narrow down the top selections, but we've left the final entry in each category open to you in case you don't see your favorite choice.

The categories are...

<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 1" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">1</abbr>. Best new attraction or show (or entire new theme park) in Central Florida
2. Best Overall Theme Park
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 3" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">3</abbr>. Best Overall Attraction
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 4" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">4</abbr>. Best Parade or Show
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 5" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">5</abbr>. Most Neglected Attraction (or Attraction, theme park, parade, or experience most in need of attention or refurbishment)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 6" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">6</abbr>. Hidden Gem Award (Most underrated attraction, park or theme park experience)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 7" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">7</abbr>. Best Of The Rest (pick your favorite attraction which is not in one of the major theme parks)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 8" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">8</abbr>. Park with Best Food (overall)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 9" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">9</abbr>. Best Dark Ride
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 10" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">10</abbr>. Best Rollercoaster
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 11" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">11</abbr>. Best Family Attraction
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 12" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">12</abbr>. Best Miniature Golf Course
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 13" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">13</abbr>. Best Water Park
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 14" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">14</abbr>. Best Theme Park Restaurant (Restaurant located inside of a theme park)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 15" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">15</abbr>. Best Hotel or Resort Area Restaurant (Restaurant in a resort area but not within a theme park)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 16" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">16</abbr>. Best Counter Service / Quick Service Restaurant (Theme park or resort area)
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 17" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">17</abbr>. Best Value Hotel
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 18" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">18</abbr>. Best Moderate Hotel
<abbr class="noborder" title="Question 19" style="border-bottom-width: 0px; border-bottom-style: initial; border-bottom-color: initial; ">19</abbr>. Best Deluxe Hotel

You only have one week to vote, as the results will be announced in next week's article!
UPDATE: POLL IS NOW CLOSED - LINK HAS BEEN REMOVED






Are you at the Parks nearly every week? Would you like to share your news and photos? We are looking to grow our team of parkhoppers to cover even more of the fun and excitement in Central Florida.

If you think you'd like to help out with photography, writing, or editing please write to Dustysage@micechat.com or fishbulb@micechat.com



NEW YEARS at DisneyQuest:
DisneyQuest is also offering a unique New Years Party, running from 8PM to 1AM. Included in the $45 advance tickets (or $55 the day of) is access to all of DisneyQuest's games, a DJ dance party, and one meal voucher for the evening.



GRAND FLORIDIAN DVC UNITS:
Disney Vacation Club construction continues at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. As you drive by it is clearly visible that all trees behind the wall are now gone and work is well underway. Disney's Wedding Pavilion even has a themed photo tarp to assist with hiding the construction to the left of the building.










Here we are at the Magic Kingdom. Sadly all is not sunny and bright here. Yes, things are going rather well in Fantasyland, but Splash Mountain in Frontierland is on its last leg. We are showing more of the decay in the hope that the attraction will get a comprehensive refurb.

THE ART OF DISNEY:
New Merchandise is available in The Art Of Disney. This is a tribute to Walt Disney and his love of trains. Art, figurines, Oswalski, shirts, and more are available. The collection includes not only Walt Disney World, but also Disneyland trains.
























FANTASYLAND CONSTRUCTION:
Here are the latest shots from the hive of activity behind the blue construction walls in Fantasyland. As we showed you last week, the double header Dumbo is well on its way to opening the first half of the dual pachyderms, and the Great Goofini roller coaster is ready for a full re-theme. The area between the teacups and the new train station are set to open in the first part of 2012 with the rest following in stages thereafter. Here is a fresh look.


Dumbo Complex


The queue for Dumbo in the foreground just past the walls.




A look at the area just behind the Dumbo construction.


The turrets for the castle walls that lead to the new
Fantasyland expansion are now under construction.




The little Mermaid exterior.


Work continues on the exterior of the carousel.


SPLASH MOUNTAIN:


Parkhopper, Professor Brainard, took a ride this week and sent us the following text. Separately, Parkhopper Miles Bresin, sent in some photos. We are presenting both here for you.

First, we'll start with the queue. Splash Mountain has had a variety of queues in Walt Disney World, and the original queue still exists, but is just not used anymore, due to the addition of FastPass. Splash Mountain's queue used to begin on the bridge in front of Chickapin Hill. Today, the old sign still remains, but with an "Entrance -->" plank nailed on to point you in the right direction.

The sign is actually a leftover from ten years ago, but we can see why it's still there, it's a nice sign, and people do tend to not understand where the entrance is and why it was relocated.

The queue itself is in poor shape. When we walked through, paint was peeling, it was littered with trash. Out of curiosity we asked a custodian why the queue was in such filthy condition and he said that queues were now the responsibility of the ride operators, not that of custodial. All custodial does in a queue now is empty the trash cans. This seems absolutely ridiculous to us, but it does explain why the queues in WDW are in such bad shape lately.

It wasn't just trash that was the problem though, many of the plaques were peeling or faded, and the projection effect of Brer Frog on his rocking chair was not working, though you could hear him just fine. Little did we know this was just the beginning of the broken effects on Splash Mountain.

At the loading platform, we got in our log, and immediately noticed the unmistakable scent of mildew. Yes, these new logs with lap bars are still prone to mildew, a problem that has haunted Splash Mountain since opening day. It's amazing that in 20 years, no one has come up with a viable solution to prevent mildew growth or spray the logs down regularly to prevent its spread. But I digress.



Not all is bad at Splash. There is some good news to share. Outside, the attraction looks great. If you've ridden Splash in the past, you know that one of the most dredded parts of the ride is the outdoor section before the 2nd lift hill, where a giant (WDI created) splash from water cannons would shower the right side of the log if the timing was right. Many of you will be happy to know that this effect has been adjusted and no longer soaks you on what would other be a drenching ride. This makes the attraction much better on a cold night.

We went up the second lift, and it seemed brighter than normal, as if the work lights were left on. (As it turned out, they were on, and all the scenes were much brighter than normal) You'd think that the cast members would realize if their own work lights were on, but we guess they were too busy explaining to people why half the queue was trashed.

We passed the outdoor birdhouses that sing, and there were all sorts of speaker problems. Plus, even at night, you can still see the problems with the paint on these birdhouses. They all need a paint job at the same time.

We then went down Slippin' Falls, and into the show building. Once inside, we found that many geese were singing without moving their bills, a neat trick for a ventriloquist but not for an animatronic.

No leapfrog fountains doesn't make my laughing place!


Poor turtle was scared stiff.




These frozen Gophers must have laughed themselves to death!

When we started on our way to Brer Fox's Lair, there was no audio at all. We know this is probably due to a faulty proximity sensor (The electric eye that senses when a log passes by). But that is a show fault which needs to be addressed to ensure a quality ride for every guest.

60% of the little railing lights were out, and the audio was just all over the place. Disneyland got synchronized LEDs a long time ago to replace these and looks amazing. What happened here?!

Finally, the elastic in Brer Fox's tail was broken again. (When Brer Gator is pulling on his tail) The effect is ruined when the elastic isn't there. Just looks like Brer Fox has a saggy tail.

Splash Mountain is in dire need of a major refurbishment. Usually Splash Mountain goes down in January, and we hope to see all these effects fixed and more in preparation for its milestone 20th anniversary.

Honestly, we don't really mind when a small effect or two is broken on a ride. But when the accumulation of broken effects, lighting and sound ruins the show, then it is an issue which must be fixed . . . and not just delayed until the next scheduled refurb. Disney once had high standards and would automatically close an attraction when certain key effects were broken. A maintenance team would then be called and the effect would be fixed as quickly as possible so the ride could be reopened. Sadly, show quality appears to no longer be important to WDW management. At least in the case of Splash Mountain.

FOOD:
Special Dining Guides have been released for Magic Kingdom to assist with the increased demand on the restaurants. It truly lists all of the food & beverage offerings in the park laid out just like the Cast Member references do! This is a great idea to help simplify things during a busy season. It also gives MORE information about the ever-popular Disney Dining Plan. The Main Street Bakery also has a nice selection of holiday treats.






ONCE UPON A CHRISTMASTIME PARADE:
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade is now showing twice daily at 12:30pm and 3:30pm. Here are some shots from yesterdays parade.


















AL WEISS GIVEN A WINDOW:
Al Weiss retired November 1 after 39 years with Walt Disney World. He was honored on December 18th with his own window on Main Street USA.

Upon retirement he was the president of Worldwide Operations, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (2005-2011). Prior he was president of the Walt Disney World Resort for 11 years (1995-2005). He started at the age of 18 at the Magic Kingdom Emporium in 1972. He was joined by his entire family, Meg Crofton, Tom Staggs, the Mayor of Main Street USA, The Dapper Dans, and of course Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

The window is located above the Hall of Champions because of Al's love of Sports. "Preparing youngsters for the game of life." Al Weiss HEAD COACH. I think it's safe to say that he's helped many Disney Cast Members prepare for their future with the company.


If you're interested in celebrating New Years in the theme parks, there are several options to truly enhance your holiday enjoyment, especially if you love the mass of humanity that usually descends on the parks during this time. There are several pieces of advice to keep in mind during this busy season to alleviate the stress of visiting. First, purchase tickets ahead of time. Other things to consider are to arrive early, be aware of if parks are closing due to capacity (and especially not to leave the parks if you want to be in a specific park on New Years - following any one of the Twitter and Facebook feeds will help you keep track). Also, utilize Fastpass as fully as possible, but even with it, don't expect to ride too much - the less expectations you have to ride, and more you're willing to go with the flow, the better your experience will be.

NEW YEARS AT the Magic Kingdom:
The Magic Kingdom is usually where all the guests are. This year, the park opens at 7AM for hotel guests, 8AM for regular guests and closes at a late 2AM.

There are also several double events to celebrate the New Years at the Magic Kingdom, with Holiday Wishes performed at 8:30 PM and Fantasy in the Sky performed at 11:50. In addition, there are 2 showings of the Main Street Electrical Parade at 7 and 10:30, and Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime parade showing at 12:30 and 3:30.


NEW YEARS AT EPCOT:
EPCOT is often a place that offers a little more space, making it seem less crowded than the other parks. On New Years Eve, EPCOT is open until 1AM, with Future World opening at 8AM and World Showcase opening at 9:30.

In addition to its usual entertainment line up, EPCOT manages to perform 2 performance of the popular Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, with 1 at 7 and the other at 11:40. The second showing is scheduled to end right at midnight to ring in the New Year. In addition, there will be DJS stationed throughout the park celebrating the New Years. Currently, the locations are scheduled to be Italy, China, the American Adventure, and the Fountain Stage in Future World.


NEW YEARS AT Disney's Animal Kingdom:
As usual, DAK isn't open to celebrate the late nights, but it open until 8PM for guests, so it's actually possible to enjoy the beautiful park at night. Take note that Extra Magic Hours are being offered in the morning at this park at 7AM, with 8AM the regular opening time.

While there are no fireworks at the park, you can still get into the holiday spirit with Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade at 3:45PM.


NEW YEARS at Disney's Hollywood Studios:
If you prefer the magic of the movies, Disney's Hollywood Studios is also offering a special New Year's Eve fireworks show, and is unbelievably offering Extra Magic Hours in the evening, meaning if you're a hotel guest the park is open until 3AM, as it closes at midnight for regular guests on New Year's Eve.

3 showings of Fantasmic in 1 night is hard to believe, as for a while there was barely 3 showings a week in Florida, but on New Years Eve you can catch it at 6:30, 8, and 10. In addition, you can still enjoy the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, as well as the Lights, Camera, Happy New Year foreworks show.

COMEDY WAREHOUSE HOLIDAY SPECIAL:





Comedy Warehouse returns to Walt Disney World for a limited engagement December 25-31. This is the first re-incarnation of the show since the clubs closed in Pleasure Island in September of 2008. The "Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special" is located in the ABC Sound Studio, the now officially former home of Drew Carrey Sounds Dangerous. Show times are 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 3:45pm, 4:45pm, 5:45pm. These 22 minute shows are drawing great crowds and proving to be a great success. Naturally, adding something special for the holidays not only helps alleviate crowds, but can also increase capacity. With the popularity of Comedy Warehouse and The Adventurer's Club these shows are drawing in quite a few locals and Cast Members who usually avoid the parks this time of year.




  • Kevin Yee has a meet planned to attend Tuesday's 5:45pm showing. Below is the information from FB:
  • "DescriptionComedy Warehouse is playing again, now at DHS for Xmas week only! Meet at 4pm at Animation Bldg indoors (we'll attend the 5:45 show). Or come earlier for all-day fun. Lunch at the NEW Pepper Market (Coronado Springs) at noon - maybe Disney mini golf right after that? before we head to DHS for the second meet. Use the same RSVP for either event. Everyone is welcome! Newcomers are encouraged!"



Disney Animated Shorts are playing from 11:00am-8:00pm in the Premier Theater located near the Streets of America behind Muppet*Vision 3D. Mickey's Christmas Carol, Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice, Phineas and Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas. The times are listed in the parks times guide.

TOWER OF TERROR:
Over the past month the wall located directly across from the Hollywood Tower Hotel's entrance has been redone. The wall was requiring constant paint due to water damage. The new wall is more textured, more vibrant in color (or at least not faded in the sun) with even more themed age marks.




A closer look at the old wall.


New wall, close up


Another new wall.




NEW YEARS at Universal Citywalk:
Universal Citywalk is offering a special concert and party for a mere $140 a person. The price includes admission to 7 clubs from 8PM - 2AM, an all you can eat buffet, a chamgane toast at midnight and a concert featuring Smash Mouth and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The other clubs are also offering entertainment throughout the evening as well.

NEW YEARS at Universal Studios:
NEW YEARS AT Universal Islands of Adventure:
The hours for IOA are 8AM-1AM this year. However, while the park is open late, but there will be no end of the night festivities in the park to celebrate the New Year.


NEW YEARS AT SeaWorld:
Seaworld is offering its own New Year's celebration, with its park hours being 9AM-1AM. At midnight, there is a special fireworks and fountain show entitled Holiday Reflections: A Fireworks and Fountain Finale. In addition to its usual holiday festivities, there are also 2 showings of Shamu Rocks at 9 and 10:45PM, and a 7:30 showing of Miracles.
BAD NEWS FOR TILIKUM:
Recently, Tilikum the Killer Whale began exhibiting strange behavior. The Orca was moved to a medical pool for observation at Sea World when trainers noticed a sudden change in his behavior. This is the same whale that was responsible for causing the drowning death of a trainer back in February of 2010, spawning strict new safety standards. Let's hope he recovers soon.

NEW YEARS AT Busch Gardens:
In Tampa, Busch Gardens will be open 9AM-1AM. There will also be The "Ultimate New Year's Celebration," including rides, fireworks at midnight, DJs, and live entertainment such as Clint Wiley's None Other. All events will be included in park admission, as are their holiday entertainment, which are still running.

BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY
EXTENDS IN-PARK APP TO ANDROID


Interactive Application Puts the Park in Your Hands!



Busch Gardens App Features:
  • Interactive real-time map
  • Updated ride wait times and height requirements
  • Detailed information pages for all major shows, rides, animal habitats and restaurants
  • Important contact information to make reservations or schedule tours
  • Ways for guests to connect to social media sites
  • General park information and operating hours
  • Live local weather and forecast updates


NEW YEARS AT Legoland:
Legoland, being geared for a younger set, is celebrating New Years Eve, but a little bit early. The park hours are 10AM-7PM, but there will be a special Kid's New Year's Eve Fireworks Show at 7PM. In addition, the Christmas Bricktacular will continue through New Years Eve.



Wherewere the Parkhoppers last week? The person to first answer correctly was...

Jakester with "The picture is part of the Magic Kingdom Christmas tree in town square."



NICE WORK! The Hidden Parkhopper will return next week with another stumper.

Want to meet up with other Disney fans while at Disney World? Several of the Orlando Parkhopper team members are part of a group that meets every weekend. Join the public Facebook group and get notified of events (the locations are different every time). Drop by to visit the "attraction of the day" with us. Newcomers are welcome!





If you appreciate this column, share this page with your friends and don't forget to click that Facebook thumbs up button at the top of the page (it give us the encouragement to bring you even bigger and better updates)!

We want your photos! Contribute to the Orlando Parkhopper by emailing dustysage@micechat.com with your submissions. We welcome volunteers for single contributions as well as permanent "Parkhopper" staff.

Please join us in thanking the fantastic and talented crew of writers, photographers and news contributors who worked so hard this week to bring you the latest information from the parks. This week's team included:

Thank you for reading, we hope you've been inspired to explore Orlando's many wonderful attractions. We'd love to hear your comments below.