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It has been an interesting week in the Florida theme parks. While we wait for the Fantasyland construction project to start wrapping up at the Magic Kingdom, the Sorcerers in the Magic Kingdom game has launched without a hitch. However, over in Epcot, the new Habit Heros interactive experience was shut down suddenly amid complaints and controversy. Meanwhile, we stroll through Universal Studios Orlando to check on the progress of the projects there like the detailed new mini golf course, Despicable Me ride, Harry Potter expansion and give you a quick update about the latest at SeaWorld Orlando. It's another fun trip, let's parkhop . . .

We start by taking a boat ride past the Disney Vacation Club units being constructed near the Grand Floridian Hotel, just north of the existing wedding pavilion. The 147 room structure is supposed to open by late 2013.

The Grand Floridian

An artist conception of the new units.

The construction site now.

TIP: Most brides at the Wedding Pavilion are not pleased with all the construction going on between their enchanted event and the Magic Kingdom. If you've got a wedding planned at Walt Disney World between now and the end of 2013, there are lots of other locations on property which might be a bit more magical.

A sad remnant of a bygone era, the old River Country water park has been left to the elements since its closure on November 2nd 2001. Abandoned theme parks always hold a certain mystique, so we thought we'd float by and check things out.

Pairs of shoes thrown into branches dangle in the wind.

Or, the crows may be practicing for a marathon. Who are we to judge?!

Nature is well along in reclaiming the old water park. Disney announced the park would remain closed in 2005 due to high amoeba levels from adjoining Bay Lake. After 8 years of closure this once unique experience is slowly vanishing into the Florida swamp.

From a distance, the park looks a bit like the wreck of a pirate ship.

We have many fond memories of River Country. Though we must say that Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach offer a much more thrilling and polished experience (and with chlorinated water instead of unfiltered lake water). We'll check back in a few years to see what's left of the old girl.

Today's Epcot update is all about scandal and beauty!

Epcot abruptly closed their newest Innoventions exhibit, Habit Heroes, amid growing controversy. The interactive exhibit, which opened on February 7th has received scathing to tepid reviews at best and spurred a swirl of debate with its depictions of villainous baddies that are grotesquely overweight. Disney even went so far as to pull down the Habit Heros website for "maintenance".

In the attraction, heros Will Power and Callie Stenics, two svelte, spandex-clad super heroes, led guests on a fight against inactivity and binge eating through a series of games and exercises. Seems innocent enough we suppose. What's wrong with pushing good habits?

Will Power and Callie Stenics
(we are more upset about the terrible outfits frankly)

The issue here is that The three villains, Lead Bottom, The Snacker, and The Glutton, are all depicted as portly sloth-like monsters.

Snacker and the Glutton.

Canada's Calgary Herald interviewed Dr Yoni Fridoff and others from the Binge Eating Disorder Association and the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders who are calling the attraction "Blatant Discrimination."

But, while showing disdain for the execution and depictions in the attraction Dr. Freedoff concedes, "I'd be surprised if Disney, a company that makes its money off of making kids happy, set out to shame kids and reinforce horrible stereotypes," Rather Freedoff blames what he dubs a "broken" cultural notion of the causes of obesity.

It is clear that the main drive and purpose of the attraction was to glamorize and even make healthy habits
"cool" and to teach them in a fun way. Being unhealthy shouldn't be cool to begin with. The problem lies in the portrayals of the villains as obese, automatically equaling unhealthy and, even worse, evil. That is the main thrust of the argument and one that has gained traction from all over.

Add to all of this the fact that the attraction just wasn't very well thought out and was actually confusing to guests and resulted in low guest survey responses and it is clear to see why the attraction had to be closed for retooling.

How many of you had the chance to experience the Habit Heroes attraction before its sudden closure on Saturday? Did you think the depictions were stereotypical and/or cruel as many bloggers and media suggest? What is your take on the controversy?

We are hearing a variety of dates for the upcoming first phase opening of the Fantasyland Expansion. The Walt Disney World website states that Dumbo the Flying Elephant will return on May 12th 2012. However, a sunnier outlook from the Disney Parks Blog states that elements of the Storybook Circus could open "by late March." This leads us to believe that the area and train station could very well open at the end of March with the Great Goofini coaster and Dumbo going through the normal testing period and soft opening phases before May 12th.

We have also heard that May 31st will be the last day to ride Snow White's Scary Adventures. Sadly, the ride will be closed to build yet another Princess meet and greet called "Princess Fairy Tale Hall". If only the same little girls who coerce their parents into buying them expensive princess make overs also liked big e-ticket attractions for the whole family instead. . . Oh well, we can always wish upon a star.


This is likely our final Drive In Mini Golf construction update before it opens to the public. This highly themed course is nearly complete and should be well worth the wait.

Clearly, this is a whimsical and well constructed attraction. We're sure it will be a big hit. Add it to your list of new things in Orlando to try out!

Near the ET Ride at Universal the Sponge Bob themed Bikini Bottoms store is still being built and should be open soon.

Projectors have appeared in the lagoon in preparation for the new nighttime spectacular. The show will celebrate 100 years of movie magic and is set to debut sometime in Spring 2012.

Sadly, these big ugly monsters aren't themed, aren't hidden, and don't submerge. They just clutter the lagoon during the day for their nightly performance. Yuck!

This had better be a wonderful show, because it totally ruins the sight lines of this beautiful lagoon.

Work continues on the Despicable me project across from the Shrek 4D experience. A facade made to resemble the house of Gru, the protagonist from the film, will serve as the entrance to the 3D simulator ride. Despicable Me is set to open in Summer of 2012.

While construction continues behind walls to remove any vestiges of Amity, Jaws remains on display.

Turtle Trek 4D:

  • Saturday, March 3: Sara Evans
  • Sunday, March 4: Scotty McCreery
Here are some pics from the Doobi Brothers show.

Quite the turn out.

The facade of Lobard's Grill is in the process of getting a little work done.

Work is ongoing at the Breakfast with Shamu location and the experience is still missing from the SeaWorld Orlando Website.

Antarctica, Empire of the Penguin, continues development and is still on track for a 2013 opening.

Keep in mind that projects at SeaWorld and Universal typically move much faster than they do at Disney, so we should start seeing progress soon.

Cogratulations to WaltDisney'sAlec for guessing last week's Hidden Parkhopper by posting..."Hidden Parkhopper - If I'm not mistaken, that is from the "Hightower Whiskey" sign from Universal."

Good job Alec. Let's see if we can stump all you loyal readers 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:

- Eric M. Davis
- Kevin Yee
- R.A. Pederson

- 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.