We have a big, thunderous update for you this week. A lot is happening over Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in preparation for a vastly expanded Fantasyland and hopefully expanded summer attendance as well. Universal has premiered its new Blue Man Group show and Mardi Gras celebration and continues construction on a Despicable Me ride as well as the upcoming Cinematic Spectacular Lagoon Show. Finally, we swim over to SeaWorld and check on the construction of their big budget new land. It's all here in today's Orlando Parkhopper.

A new banner has been hung above the entry of the firehouse to advertise the new in-park game.

The original Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is down for a much needed top-to-bottom refurbishment. Plumbing for the geyser effects is undergoing repair so that they may spout once more. Every single railroad tie in the track is being replaced and each and every show effect will be cared for. That's not to mention all of the unseen mechanical fixes and adjustments that will keep this ride going for years to come (we hope).Still, it is very interesting to see the ride covered in scaffolds and the track unmasked. Take a look...

The second lift hill

While we applaud the upkeep on Big Thunder, we still have a number of things that we feel really ruin the magic in other parts of the park. Case in point, the walkways along the rivers of America. At a certain point, the water level drops and we begin to see that the stacked stone pillars are nothing more than steel girders with a skin of concrete. Rocks are missing and it just looks bad.

Meanwhile, just feet away, some proper upkeep is happening. Repaving in Frontierland is mostly done.

Resurfacing in Frontierland is almost done.

Old pavement on the left, new on the right.

Looks like one of the special paint brushes you can find on Tom Sawyer floated away and found it's self in front of Splash.

it's a small world:
We also received word that more next-gen enhancements are on their way. This time "it's a small world" will feature the interactive whoozits and whuts-it's galore. But the experience will start off with the use of a computer or smartphone. It is there that you will create your very own small world doll.The end result? The concept that is floating around is that somehow, via monitors in the boat or the ride, guests will see their doll appear throughout the ride. It is unknown when this change will take place. Anyone out there actually like this idea or do you think it is all wet?

Here we are in the land of fantasy, where elephants fly and the bad guy never wins (even the evil and powerful sorcerer, Michael Eisner, was eventually vanquished by Mickey Mouse). Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion and upgrade continues and gets ever closer to a phased opening.

Train Station:
A brand new train station is being contracted. It is an impressively solid-looking structure. Looks like something straight out of the film Dumbo, with the 1940s color scheme exterior brick work.

This is what the station entry looks like at the moment

Sadly, just on the other side of the tracks, the old, toontown theme remains. Let's hope this is removed before official opening.

Meanwhile, over at the dueling Dumbo location, the second spinner is finally being assembled. It is actually the old Dumbo spinner which has recently been removed from its old location. But it is being fully refurbished, repainted and will look better than new when it begins spinning once more. Testing should begin within the next two to three weeks.

The circus tent waiting area for the Dueling Dumbo spinners.

The old, refurbished spinner being reassembled at its new home.

We are hoping that the backside of the Dumbo building will be masked better before opening.

The Little Mermaid:
More and more details emerge among the murky depths of the Little Mermaid attraction. While an exact clone of the California counterpart on the inside, this version will have an interactive queue in the caverns before you enter the attraction which will set it apart from its California cousin.

Be Our Guest Restaurant, Belle meet and greet, Tavern:
We can also see that work is moving along in the most provincial town that Belle calls home, as well as the ominous looking Beast's Castle in the background.

The castle sits on the roof of the Be Our Guest restaurant. It is just a story and a half tall, but looks much larger in photos.

Bathroom Construction:
Sadly, there is virtually nothing left of the lovely Skyride station in Fantasyland, and the construction forges ahead on the building of new bathrooms here.

Peter Pan's Flight:
There are construction walls in the Peter Pan queue. The ride remains open during the work.

It seems that TDO is caring less and less about theme or show with regard the outdoor vending cast members. They have whittled down costuming for all areas of the park down to simply two options.

This is the costume worn by the cast in Liberty Square, Adventureland and Frontierland food carts.

And here is the costume being worn in Tomorrowland AND Fantasyland. So far we've seen this costume worn by cast members working carts and at locations such as Auntie Graveties Galactic Goodies, which is also run by ODV.

When does it change from being a good financial decision to a bad creative idea? Do you think that this will effect a visit to the magic kingdom?

Kevin Yee brings another wonderful video update from Walt Disney World. Grand Floridian DVC construction, bearded cast members, Big Thunder rehab, Skyway sadness, Philharmagic cutback, and the resident spider of City Hall. You'll enjoy this quick romp through the park with Kevin.

There are a number of refurbishment projects happening throughout Downtown Disney.

The refurbishment of Basin continues

Stitch seems to out wandering around somewhere.

A bit of repaving work in front of World of Disney

Wolfgang Puck Express is busy expanding their indoor dinning room.

Rainforest Cafe is getting a major face lift including adding an all new "Lava Lounge"

Rainforest Cafe is getting a major face lift including adding an all new "Lava Lounge"

Before we move on to see what's new at Universal Studios and SeaWorld, we have two more things we'd like to show you which will get all you WDW fans thinking.

The first is an article posted by Jeff Heimbuch about the long closed Discovery Island. You can still see it sitting out there in the lagoon, but it is off limits to guests. Jeff brings us some great photos and history and asks you what should happen with this historic piece of Disney real estate.Read: Rediscover Disney's Discovery Island

Next, we have another delightful edition of Communicore Weekly. This week, the boys share this week in Disney history, a new book of the week, take an amusing bathroom break, share a window on Main Street, award one lucky viewer for a "Fantastically Fuzzy Photo," and they round things out with another Five Legged Goat. Enjoy:
If you enjoy the video, please be sure to stop by the MiceTube and leave the guys a note.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

We really wish that we could say that the new Blue man Group show is a vast improvement over the previous incarnation. Yes, it is updated with a new repertoire built from (previous shows.) Yes there are "new" surprises. But somehow, it left us feeling a little... bummed out.

The show is still full of wild energy and crazy music. the interactive element to the show is clever and will leave the uninitiated satisfied.

Universal confirmed on their Facebook page that the new Drive in Mini Golf would be open by the end of February. Rumor is that it could be open as early as this week. It looks very close to being done and the theme is fun, fun, fun.

If you've been following the construction progress here, you can see that a tremendous amount has been completed in just one week.

While the ride is not set to open until "Summer 2012" there is still plenty happening. Below is a current exterior shot.

There isn't much else to show you at the moment. But the early buzz from insiders is very positive about the new attraction.

The park is preparing for Mardi Gras, which will run from Feb. 11 to April. 14th. There is a full concert line-up, Mardi Gras parade, and festive food, including Jambalaya, Shrimp Gumbo, Andouille Sausage, Red Beans & Rice, Beignets and more! On top of it all, they will also have bands direct from New Orleans playing throughout the celebration.

Street performers. Universal really knows how to dress their performers

The Mardi Gras Parade Schedule
  • February 11, 18, 19, 25 - 7:30PM
  • March 3, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 - 7:30PM
  • March 31 - 8:30PM
  • April 7, 14 - 8:30PM
Concert Schedule:

As mentioned here before, Spiderman will be upgraded and receive high definition, digital projection throughout the attraction. included in the upgrade will be additional elements including a cameo by Spiderman creator Stan Lee. EXCELSIOR! The attraction is currently closed and is set to re-open this March.


There's still a full year to go before SeaWorld's new land, Antarctica, is ready for the public. It may seem like it is moving at a glacial pace now, but as we've seen with so many recent Orlando projects, things pick up pace as they get closer to opening day.

Hit Sea World for the fun of Bands, Brew and BBQ while the Spring weather holds out. It's a lot of fun and reasonably priced.

On track for a Spring 2012 opening is Turtle Trek. The repurposed Manatee exhibit structure is undergoing the last of major changes and refurbishments and will feature a one of a kind 3-D domed projection which will make you feel like you are swimming with the sea turtles.

Cogratulations to bamato for guessing last week's Hidden Parkhopper by posting..."Hidden Parkhopper: The model for the Jurassic Park ride. (one of the small red buildings)"

Perhaps we've made our challenge a little too easy. Let's see if we can stump you this week. Look into the magnifying glass below and see if you can figure out where the park hoppers are this week. Post your guess in the comments area below. If you are the first to answer correctly, 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).

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:

- Aimster - Pictures by Aimster
- DisneyFn89
- Eric M. Davis
- Kevin Yee
- Miles Bresin - Miles' Photos
- Editors: Fishbulb, Dustysage

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.