Reflections of Disney:
Looking Back at 2001, Forward to 2002

by Deb Wills, ALL EARS® Editor

This article appeared in the January 22, 2002, Issue #122 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

The year 2001 saw many, many changes at Walt Disney World, some great, some, well... not so.

Here we are, just a few weeks into the new year, and I thought I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on some of the major events that took place... as well as look to the future.

Some of the changes at WDW were merely physical. For example, the 2000 on Epcot's Spaceship Earth was replaced with the word Epcot, signaling an end to the Millennium Celebration. The Polynesian and Grand Floridian Resorts each got brand new themed pools. Similar in design, the Grand Floridian's beach pool and the Polynesian's Nanea volcano pool both feature "zero-entry" areas, making them accessible to everyone, and new water slides!

As with every year, there were comings and goings, openings and closings. The theme park version of ABC-TV's extremely popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, opened at the Disney-MGM Studios on April 7. The Wildhorse Saloon closed at Downtown Disney, but Motion, a nightclub featuring a mix of pop and alternative music, now resides in that space.

Disney's newest resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge, opened to rave reviews in April 2001. This unique resort features live animal savannas with both public and guestroom balcony animal viewing areas. The lodge also houses a grandiose lobby with a ceiling to floor window that overlooks the Arusha Savanna. Two exciting new restaurants opened along with the Lodge: Jiko-The Cooking Place, with its exquisite dining and an extensive South African wine selection, and Boma, which offers delicious multi-ethnic fare at abundant breakfast and dinner buffets.

The Magic Kingdom's Hall of Presidents closed for a while, then reopened with the addition of a new Audio Animatronic figure of President George Bush. Other openings included two new rides for the younger set: the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, which opened on May 23 in the Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, and TriceraTop Spin, a similar attraction that opened in late November in Animal Kingdom's DinoLand USA. Over at the Disney-MGM Studios, the Bear in the Big Blue House show got a new look and debuted with more characters to please the little ones as Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage. And Disney Princess lovers found the opening of the new live show, Cinderella's Surprise Celebration, a dream come true in the Magic Kingdom.

But not all of the changes in 2001 were so pleasant.

The magic and wonder in all our lives came to an abrupt halt with the disastrous events of September 11. It was a very difficult time for us all.

Air travel in the United States was stopped, then seriously curtailed, family vacations were postponed or cancelled altogether, and our country, which had enjoyed a number of prosperous years, was suddenly faced with a serious change in the economic climate.

Neither Walt Disney World, nor the The Disney Company itself, was immune to the economic downturn. The company told its part-time employees not to report to work until further notice. It cut back park hours, closed certain attractions and restaurants, discontinued the Early Entry theme park program. In addition, WDW closed Port Orleans French Quarter resort completely, while closing substantial sections of Port Orleans Riverside and the Disney Institute. Construction on a new resort, Pop Century, has ceased and its opening postponed indefinitely.

 

Plans for the gala events kicking off the observance of founder Walt Disney's 100th birthday were delayed, although WDW officially started the 100 Years of Magic Celebration on October 1 as planned. The official kick-off events did not actually take place until Walt's birthday on December 5.

Along with the 100 Years of Magic celebration, WDW tried to rebound from the shocks of the previous months. The Sorcerer Mickey Hat constructed in front of the Chinese Theater debuted as the new icon for the Disney-MGM Studios amidst some controversy over its placement. But an indisputably wonderful attraction dedicated to Walt Disney, called One Man's Dream, also opened as part of the celebration. In addition, three new parades were introduced in the theme parks: Share a Dream Come True (Magic Kingdom), Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade (Animal Kingdom); and Stars and Motor Cars (Disney-MGM Studios). A fourth parade, Tapestry of Dreams, is a reworking of the Millennium Celebration's Tapestry of Nations parade in Epcot.

Readers asked if they should still visit WDW given all the changes and closures. And while I encouraged all who wrote to continue with their vacation plans, I realized that the WDW I came to know and love over the last 5-6 years was changing... and I didn't like the changes. On a common sense level, my head understood about the closures, but my heart didn't understand at all. Those "little sparks, imagination" that live inside of me were saddened. My favorite resort on property, Port Orleans French Quarter, and my favorite attraction, Carousel of Progress, had closed. But, in the grand scheme of things, these were very, very minor. So I did the best I could do and kept my plans to visit in October!

Several have commented that Cast Members are not the same, that the magic isn't there anymore. Based on my experiences, I disagree. I have found Cast Members as wonderful as always, if not moreso these last few months. I suppose if there is one thing I am disgruntled about, it's the degrading of the cleanliness of the parks. One of the first things that impressed me many years ago and continued to impress me about WDW was how incredibly clean everything was -- from the bathrooms, to the streets, to the attractions, just imaculate. I'm sorry to say that's not the case anymore. In fact, on my last trip, I thought that overall, the place was very unkempt. I expressed my concerns at Guest Services in writing (which I suggest you do also) and can only hope things will get better as the crowds return and Cast Members are given more hours to work.

As 2001 drew to a close, people gradually returned to WDW -- in fact, several of the parks were actually closed to latecomers during the Christmas and New Year's holidays due to excessive crowd levels! We are all hopeful this return in traveling confidence means that both our economy and our way of life is on the upswing.

Now that the holidays are behind us and 2002 is well under way, here are a few of the things you can look forward to at WDW this year:

The 100 Years of Magic Celebration will continue until the end of the year. Don't miss Walt Disney: One Man's Dream since it will vanish when the 100 Years of Magic celebration does!

There won't be many additions to the attraction list in 2002, but there will be a few. On April 1, Primeval Whirl, a kids' roller coaster, will complete the addition of Chester and Hester's DinoRama in Animal Kingdom. And sometime in the summer Epcot's Journey Into Your Imagination will reopen with the much-anticipated return of Figment!

In the fall, the Disney Vacation Club will celebrate the opening of WDW's next resort -- the Beach Club Villas. The studio, one- and two-bedroom villas will be available both to members and non-members.

On May 11, the Disney Cruise Line begins a new journey on the Disney Magic with a 7-Day Western Caribbean Cruise. Stops on the new cruise include Cozumel and the Grand Caymans! Sign me up for that one!

On a personal note, 2002 has already marked two impressive milestones for us here at ALL EARS® -- Deb's Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide (wdwig.com) celebrated its 6th birthday and ALL EARS® now has a record 20,100 subscribers!

There may be much less pomp and circumstance at WDW in 2002. While annual events, such as Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival, ABC's Super Soap Weekend, and Epcot's Food and Wine Festival still highlight the calendar for 2002, they may not be held on as grand a scale as in years past. We'll have to wait and see.

Just as no one could have predicted the turn of events in 2001, none of us can predict exactly what the year 2002 will hold. But I, for one, have begun the new year with a renewed passion for life and love and all that surrounds me! Here's to 2002 wherever it takes us...


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.