May 2003
Walt Disney World Bits and Bites

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 29, 2003, Issue #188 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


As you may have read, ALL EARS® Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma attended Disney's Summer Preview press event last week as a guest of PassPorter.com's Dave Marx. Deb and Dave gleaned various snippets of news and notes from this event -- some highlights follow:

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Mission: SPACE
T Minus 109 Days and Counting
by Dave Marx, Co-author,
PassPorter Walt Disney World
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While a "soft landing" is more appropriate to a space mission than a "soft launch," Epcot's newest E-ticket attraction, Mission: SPACE, is due to launch on August 15, 2003. That's the date of the attraction's "official" unofficial opening. At least, so said Walt Disney World President Al Weiss on April 22. Attractions typically "soft open" weeks or even months before the official opening date, so that Disney has time to work out the kinks. During soft opening the attraction may be open for limited hours, and may close and open without notice. No promises. Just keep your eyes on the park's Tip Board for attraction availability. The attraction is "officially" slated to open in October, to much fanfare in the press, I'm sure.

Having been privileged to have a tour inside Mission:SPACE (also known as the International Space Training Center, or ISTC), this reporter can say that this is going to be a fabulous attraction! (No, I didn't get to ride, but I did get an eyeful!) Imagineering has outdone itself, delivering a richly detailed environment, education, fun and thrills in equal measure. Even the "chicken exit" has been designed-in -- any guest can enjoy the pre-launch experience and training, and then simply walk through the ride loading zone into the post-show area. There, everyone can enjoy hands-on games and activities (including a playground for small children) while the bolder members of their group blast off (the launch simulation will last 5-7 minutes). Allow an hour in your touring plan for Mission: SPACE. There's just so much to do!

Mission: SPACE is located in Epcot's Future World East, between Wonders of Life and Test Track (on the former site of Horizons). Disney Imagineering has created a very extensive website for the attraction at http://www.disney.go.com/vacations/missionspace. Not only can you preview the attraction now, but the site will remain open so that prospective astronauts can receive in-depth pre-launch mission training, no matter when they plan to fly. There is a wealth of interactive learning and play activities, and chances to win prizes, too.

To read more about Mission: SPACE:

Visit AllEarsNet's Mission: SPACE page with photos and Deb Koma's first-hand report at http://allears.net/tp/ep/e_ms.htm

Check out Dave's feature at http://www.passporter.com/articles/missionspace.htm

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Expedition EVEREST
by Dave Marx, Co-author,
PassPorter Walt Disney World
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Move over, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Florida's getting a new "tallest mountain." Yes, Walt Disney World's "mountain range" Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain -- will top-out at 199 feet above the local terrain when Expedition EVEREST opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom in late 2005 (or 2006). This new family thrill coaster (reputed to be a bit less extreme than Rock 'n' Roller Coaster) will take guests on a ride up and into the World's tallest peak for a terrifying encounter with the legendary, elusive Yeti.

The new ride was officially unveiled April 22 at the ceremonies marking Animal Kingdom's fifth anniversary. Rumors, of course, abounded for years, involving the addition of an entire thrill-coaster land called "Beastly Kingdom." However, the new coaster will be part of Animal Kingdom's Asia, in the undeveloped area between Asia and Dinoland on the banks of Discovery River, opposite the Flame Tree Barbecue dining area on Discovery Island. A new walkway will connect Asia and Dinoland when the project is finished.

Unlike Mission: SPACE, Expedition EVEREST will be all about the thrill ride. As Animal Kingdom's senior Imagineer, Joe Rohde promises, "We go fast, we go high, we fall far, we get cold, and we do finally see the Yeti itself. He's a huge, HUGE, gigantic shaggy creature as real as we can bring him to life."

Guests won't need the over-shoulder restraints present on multiple-inversion Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios (sturdy lap restraints will be supplied) but this won't be a gentle ride in the park. The "tea plantation" train will climb steeply to the top of the mountain, make undisclosed, high-speed travels within the peak, and after encountering the mountain's "secret" resident, guests will be hurtled backwards down a 100-foot drop (that's twice as long as Splash Mountain). Still, the child's height restriction is expected to be moderate around 44 inches, and health warnings will probably be no greater than Walt Disney World's other coasters. The queue area through an Asian mountain village will be richly decorated and provide story elements to set the scene (similar to Kali River Rapids), but there won't be a formal pre-show or post-show area on this FASTPASS attraction. Considering the "cold" Joe Rohde promised in his speech, I suspect you should ride this one before you get soaked on Kali River Rapids.

For further details, see Dave's report at http://www.passporter.com/articles/everest.htm

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World Music Concert Series Debuts
This Summer
by Debra Martin Koma,
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
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Epcot will be home to a series of unusual musical performances this summer with the debut of the World Music Concert Series. Entertainers from around the world showcasing a wide range of cultures, backgrounds, and musical styles will perform three shows nightly from June 13 through September 1 in the America Gardens Theatre. Bering Strait, a Grammy-nominated group of young musicians from Russia who play, of all things, country-western flavored music, is scheduled to kick-off the series. The band's compositions have been featured on the ABC-TV show "Alias." Other bands scheduled to appear include such diverse performers as: Richard Wood, a fiddler and championship step dancer from Canada's Prince Edward Island; Brother, an Australian band that incorporates guitars, the distinctive aborigine didgeridoo, and dueling bagpipes; Baka Beyond, which performs a fusion of African and Celtic melodies and rhythms without electronic enhancements; and Mestre Ambrosio, a Brazilian ensemble that blends percussion, fiddle, and even accordion with dance steps native to their country.

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Pal Mickey: Is He A Pal... or A Pain?
by Debra Martin Koma,
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
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By now you've probably heard about Walt Disney World's newest "tour guide": Pal Mickey. The 10 1/2-inch interactive plush Mickey Mouse uses wireless communication technology to provide guests with up-to-date information about the theme park attractions, parades, and shows. He also shares stories and can play a variety of games. I had the chance to rent a Pal Mickey this weekend and by the end of the day I was thinking maybe he was more of pain than a pal.

As promised, Mickey giggled and shook whenever I passed an area about which he had something to say. For example, when I passed Epcot's American Adventure, Mickey pointed out to me that the flag on top of the building only has 15 stars, and explained why that was so. (The original flags had the same number of stars and stripes as there were states -- as the country grew that became a little unwieldy, which is why our flag now has 50 stars, and 13 stripes for the original colonies.) As I passed through Canada, Mickey explained to me that I could say either "Hello" or "Bon Jour" there, since many folks in that country are bilingual. When I crossed the bridge from World Showcase's United Kingdom into France, Pal Mickey pointed out that it was a good spot from which to watch IllumiNations that night.

But Pal Mickey was not without his drawbacks. A few times, he got a little confused. For example, Mickey thought I was still in Disney-MGM Studios around 4:30 p.m., and he reminded me that the parade would be starting in a half-hour -- at the time I was actually walking past the Yacht Club resort. Another problem with Pal Mickey is that you really can't hear him very well if you have him clipped to your waist. I found myself doubling over, straining to hear over the crowd noises, and having to make him repeat his message several times. Mickey also wanted to tell me something a little TOO often for my taste -- as I walked around World Showcase very quickly, Mickey giggled and shook every few minutes, in each country pavilion. He also started giggling several times during a Davy Jones Flower Power concert, wanting to tell me one of his very corny jokes, which was very distracting.

By far my biggest annoyance was at Pal Mickey's clip. When I used it as directed by the instruction booklet, Mickey fell off every few minutes -- every time I sat down, leaned over, or climbed stairs, he would be pushed up off the clip and onto the floor. I found that by turning the clip upside-down, and using the hinged part of the clip on Mickey's strap, he stayed put much better.

My bottom line? Speaking as a grown-up who's been to WDW a few dozen times, Pal Mickey was a cute novelty as a one-day rental, but I don't think I'd buy him. On the other hand, I think kids are going to love him and want him for their very own.

Have you tried Pal Mickey yet? Send your comments to dcdeb@allears.net

To read more about Pal Mickey and see a few photos, visit: http://www.allears.net/tp/pal.htm

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Epcot 10th Annual International
Flower & Garden Festival
by Debra Martin Koma,
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
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I'm just back (really, I got home last night!) from the opening weekend of this year's Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and wanted to give you a taste of what's in store for you if you're traveling to Epcot soon. Among the wonderful topiary displays that you should not miss: the playful pandas in China, the vivid Snow White in Germany, and the brand new, balloon-toting Pooh in the United Kingdom. The bonsai trees exhibited around the Japan pavilion were impressive -- I don't have the patience for that type of thing at all! The Sculpture Garden in Future World West appealed to my artsy side, and the extremely enlightening exhibit on "Gardening for Food around the World", located near the Morocco pavilion was both beautiful to look at and informative.

Disney press releases made much of the new "DogGone Maze", which features topiaries of famous Disney canines, located along the Rose Walkway. I found it a little smaller than I imagined it would be, but was delighted to find at its center a beautifully conceived topiary of the cranky yet lovable alien Stitch, who is mistaken for a dog by the young Hawaiian girl Lilo in the recent Disney animated movie.

Former Monkee Davy Jones was an excellent choice to kick off this year's Flower Power Concerts -- I attended three performances, each one more energized than the last! And Roger Swain, of Victory Garden fame, gave an entertaining talk as the first in the Great American Gardeners series being held in the Festival Center. Future entertainers and speakers should prove to be just as enjoyable.

Obviously, there's much, much more to see and do at this year's event -- look for my in-depth report in next week's ALL EARS®, along with lots of photos on wdwig.com!


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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.