Movies and mine trains and elephants, OH MY! The Florida theme park scene is currently going through some interesting changes. Big Thunder has been shut down for some much needed refurbishment, Dumbo has been closed for relocation, and the Great Movie Ride is on its last leg but not for reasons you would think. We take another glimpse at those cool new Test Track cars in action and the developments in Fantasyland. But it isn't all Disney this week. Join us on safari as we take a trip into an often overlooked Florida Adventure, the Giraffe Farm.

Quite a bit is happening inside the berm of the Magic Kingdom. We have refurbishments, dismantling and new construction afoot.

We do our fair share of criticism here at the Orlando Parkhopper about maintenance issues in the parks, but we are even more excited when we can praise the good stuff. Upkeep is one of those things that every good park most do, and here on Main Street U.S.A, in the Magic Kingdom, the right side of the street is peppered with refurbishments.

Main Street Bakery is still open during maintenance.

Speaking of Main Street, there are some interesting new shirts that have appeared in the Emporium. Let's have a look-see.

Dramatic shifts in the layout of fantasyland took place this week. Dumbo took his last flights on Sunday and, literally overnight, the construction walls went up to allow for his removal beginning Monday Morning. Meanwhile, the Prince Charming Regal Carousel finally completed minor refurbishment and the screens were removed to reveal some nice work.

Fantasyland Train Station:
Passing by the train station, we catch a brief look at what is soon to come.

Old Dumbo:
The old Dumbo spinner that has been in operation since the early 90's had seen better days. During its final six months at its current location, the classic family attraction was let to fall apart at the hands of the millions of guests that passed through its turnstile. Paint in the queue was left chipped and unkempt, and the rides mechanism was far from show worthy. Regardless, the attraction entertained delighted youngsters to the last day, Sunday, the 8th. In a sort of poetic foreshadowing, the Timothy mouse at the pinnacle of the spinner came to stop facing in the direction that it would soon be moved to.

Dumbo preps for his final flight.

The very next day, walls sprang up to allow the demolition of the ride to begin.

Monday, the 9th, the walls were up.

Onward to the new location!

With the construction gaining more area around dumbo, the walkway has narrowed even more. Because of this, they have removed merchandise fixtures from the seven dwarfs mine shop and eliminated most of the benches/planters in the area, including the railings in front of the Friar's Nook (which has been seasonal for awhile).

New Dumbo:
The new "Dueling Dumbos", as we are calling them, are going up next to the old Goofy's Barnstormer roller coaster and behind the Tomorrowland Speedway.

The Circus tent that has been steel for weeks is just starting to get covered. The white looks like the inside layer of skin for the tents.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure
The exterior of the Little Mermaid ride is coming along nicely. Scuttle's interactive queue within the caverns should begin installation soon, once painting and major construction trim up.

Seven Dwarfs' Mine Coaster:
Just beyond the green construction walls is the pit that will soon contain the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster.

Be Our Guest Restaurant and Belle meet and Greet:
As we look to the left side of Fantasyland's expansion, we see the facade for the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant. The Beast's castle sits atop the rock work that is now being coated with "snow".

In the foreground, to the left, you can see the turret that will mark the end
of the castle walls into the expansion.

Here is where the meet and greet and tavern will be.

Work continues on the new bathroom complex near Pan and the old Skyway entrance.

More work continues along the parade route in Frontierland. Again, it's heartening to see so much upkeep going on.

If you want to take a ride around the orange colored buttes of Big Thunder you will be waiting until, at least, the summer. The substantial refurbishment will include nearly a total rebuild of the ride's show effects and many key set pieces. Many of the railroad ties inserted along the track have had to be removed over the years due to rot, and it is planned that they will all be replaced. Much of the leaky plumbing and geysers will receive tender loving care as well (at least we hope so).

Sunday was the last day of operation before the refurbishment.

You can clearly see in this shot the lack of themed railroad tie enhancements to the track.

Work has started immediately.

The new interactive game, Sorcerers in the Magic Kingdom, continues to enjoy soft testings. Here are a few videos of the new interactive elements hidden in plain site throughout the park.

You might just get a chance to play along on your next visit!

Here is the latest Walt Disney World photo update from Kevin Yee!

Can The Great Movie Ride Be Saved?

Finale montage aside, the most recent film recreated in the ride is Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981.

Yes, Weissmuller was the ultimate Tarzan, but is an inarticulate figure that looks like it was formed out of silly putty and hardened to an inhuman sheen really a worthy tribute to him or to the magic of Disney Imagineering? And what about relevancy? The Tarzan jungle scene is awful to me and I remember watching all those films on a Saturday afternoon as a kid.

Which scenes would you replace with which newer films?

On the execution side, the reason this attraction holds a special place in my heart is because of the richly themed environments.

Munchkinland, folks. And you actually get to go there.

Dimensional sets and stagecraft, animatronic characters, physical props and effects, theatrical lighting and atmospheric soundscapes have always held that spark of Disney Magic for me far more effectively than a projection on a video screen ever could.

And while attractions with more virtual elements such as Toy Story Mania may be far easier to update, nothing thrills and transports me like dark rides with tangible, traditional elements such as The Great Movie Ride.

Uncanny Valley this ride presents.

Munchkins should be cute and fun not freaky and murderous, right?

The Great Movie Ride is a spiel ride like Kilimanjaro Safari or Jungle Cruise and, also like those rides, the experience is affected positively or negatively by the quality and ability of the tour guide. But unlike the intended authenticity of the safari guides or the post-modern, self-aware groaners from Jungle Cruise skippers, GMR CMs are expected to act.

Sometimes it works out.

The astonishingly good Gina hosted the first of my tours the day I was preparing for this commentary.

She can recite all those cruddy lines and somehow sound genuine and authentic, like she just came up with them extempore.

Let's face the music, here, folks.


Click here to register online!

Over near the entrance to Cheetah Hunt, an automated kiosk has been set up for guests to purchase Quick Queue tickets. Quick Queue lets riders bypass lines on all the roller coasters and select other attractions. There are two options: regular Quick Queue, which allows bypassing the line one time for each attraction that offers the service, or Quick Queue Unlimited, which provides all day "front of the line" with unlimited use.

The walls are down and the new Animal Care Center is just weeks away from its grand opening to the public on January 23.

Over at the Desert Grill, a new show called "Mystical Mirage" now performs several times a day for guests. This new show features belly dancers, drummers and an acrobat act.

About an hour and 20 minutes from Walt Disney World is the most unassuming animal sanctuary, Giraffe Ranch. An ecotour adventure with way more than just giraffe's, my family and I had an up close and personal experience of a lifetime.

Giraffe Ranch is a licensed working ranch that specializes in exotic species as well as domestic cattle and horses. Learn about exotic animals from an expert guide from the comfort of specially designed 4-whee drive vehicles. We'll show our conservation efforts and how we are helping to preserve species that are extinct in the wild.

At the end of a dead end road, across some railroad tracks, led us to a gated farm with a nicely decorated sign letting us know we had arrived at our intended destination.

After parking in the grass and checking in, the owners (man and wife team), sat all of us down at the picnic tables to go over some of the things we might see on the farm, as well their background and how they came to running the location.

From left to right: Giraffe leg bone; Giraffe skull & Zebra Skull

After the brief introduction, those of us who paid to feed the lemurs were asked to come with them (which we did). En route to the lemur enclosures you pass many other animals that showcase the variety they have at this location.

Ducks, goose and chickens oh my!

For those of us that were feeding the lemurs we were herded into a small cage and had to squeeze in nice and close before they opened the interior access to the lemurs. Kind of made me think we were the ones on display for the animals but not a horrible experience as we weren't in there very long and as soon as she handed out the grapes to us we were "let loose".

And boy did they look hungry!

I have to say that this was probably our favorite experience of the entire day, for a creature that looks sort of mean it was surprisingly tempered and delicate when taking food from us, like an excited cat when it's time for a special treat.

While we were in the cage with some lemurs, we started to have a few line up from the enclosure right next door along the fence.

With that face, how can you say no?

This particular lemur grabbed my husband's hand and refused to let go while he was feeding, he said he was surprised by how delicate they were as they grabbed the food from us.

Leaving our well fed lemurs behind, we proceeded to the safari vehicle to start the rest of our adventures with the larger animals on the ranch.

Right inside we're greeted by the largest ostrich I have ever seen! Or it may have seemed larger as this was the closest I've ever been to one.

Not long after the zebra's starting coming out of the bushes as they knew it was time to eat. The owner then threw down a line of feed on both sides of the vehicle and proceeded to talk about zebra's and their role in the wild.

As we left them eating, we proceeded to the giraffe area and if their hurried trot was any indication, they were very happy to see us. We were then handed various produce and tree branches for an up close feeding with the animals.

There was this couple sitting in front of us with their 2yr old daughter, whom I was afraid would be picked directly out of the vehicle but the giraffes handled themselves rather gently.

We proceeded on past some cattle and a unique creature caught our attention. The owner informed us that a zebra fell in love with a donkey, creating a Donkra or Zebroid.

After this we proceeded to visit with a very friendly camel who was very foamy at the mouth, unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the vehicle to get any good photos but given the amount of latte foam coming out his mouth I'm not sorry I missed it. It was, however, one of the funnier moments on our journey.

Next, we stopped briefly to learn about a family of wart hogs (Pumba!) and discovered that they are incredibly intelligent animals. The wife informed us that one of their dogs liked to torment the mother warthog and one night she hopped on top of a barrel of hay, over the fence, ran up to their home, tried every door, only to get in and attack the dog in the kitchen. That's one heck of a wake up call in the middle of the night! (If you're wondering the dog was just fine)

We rounded out the adventure passing some pygmy hippos sleeping in the sun (they are nocturnal) and a brief discussion of the zebra breeding grounds. Apparently there is one zebra that is good with all the ladies who likes to take them to the same place far removed from the herd for fun.

Overall it lasted about 2 1/2 hours, filled with interactive moments and plenty of information provided by the two caretakers that obviously love what they do and that's evident by the careful way they respect the animals with such care in all they do there. If you're looking for a change of pace from the busy theme parks, this is a reservation only system, so space is limited and the groups are small but that affords everyone an opportunity to interact at some point. For more details or to make a reservation, I recommend visiting their website.

Giraffe Farm Tours Home

Safari Vehicle Tours:
Children Under 2: FREE
Children 2-11: $49.99
Adults 12 & Up: $59.99
Seniors: $54.99

Please note that the camel rides, lemur and bird feedings do cost extra. (but well worth it)

Last week our park hoppers were in a location where they took the following picture...

Congratulations to Robbie-Nobby
for guessing where this was

"the Temple of Heaven in the Chinese Pavilion of Disney World's Epcot Center"

Where were the Parkhoppers this week? Look into the magnifying glass and see if you can figure it out. Post your guess in the comments area below. If you are the first to guess the answer you will be featured in next week's update. GOOD LUCK!

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!

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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.