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"Out of This World"
A Recap of the Fall WDW Press Event
by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief
This article appeared in the October 14, 2003, Issue #212 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
As you may have read, I attended Disney's Fall Press Event last week as a guest of MouseEarVacations.com executive Beci Mahnken and her husband Chris. I reported live during the week with the help of Len Testa, a member of Bob Sehlinger's Unofficial Guide to WDW team. The following reports are a collaborative effort from Beci, Chris, Len and I, with a few comments from other friends of ALL EARS® who happened to be on hand.
"Embark on a Mission unlike any in Disney history," stated our itinerary for the week. That's the best way to describe the 2003 fall WDW Press Event which took place from October 7-10!
More than 2,000 media and travel industry experts gathered for this event to preview the newest attractions in grand Disney style. As we experienced each new addition to the Walt Disney World resort, smiles spread across our faces. Not only did WDW have new attractions, shows and a resort to showcase, these were quality experiences that delighted us all. And they will delight all of you, as you have the opportunity to enjoy them!
OFFICIAL MISSION: SPACE
The premier event of the week, in my opinion at least, was "The Sky's the Limit," the official dedication of Epcot's Mission:SPACE. As we entered Epcot that night, Cast Members directed us around Future World and into an area in front of Mission:SPACE where the ceremony would take place. We arrived about 45 minutes prior to the event, which allowed us to be in the front row. We were no more than 20 feet from the stage and podium where just a little while later Michael Eisner, Carly Fiorina (CEO of HP), and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe would be standing.
The multimedia extravaganza that followed still sends chills through me as I share the experience. The ceremony began with fireworks launched behind the pavilion followed by a narration from Walter Cronkite, the television newscaster remembered for his reporting on America's early forays into space. Throughout Cronkite's talk of mankind's "insatiable fascination with space," more fireworks exploded and large balloons served as movie screens showing images of space exploration. This portion of the event concluded with Michael Eisner taking center stage. As he thanked all the Imagineers who worked 650,000 hours on the Mission: SPACE project, the crowd erupted in applause.
A short time later, the music and lighting changed as Eisner introduced several heroes of America's space program: Wally Schirra, representing Project Mercury; Jim Lovell, representing Project Gemini; Buzz Aldrin, representing the Apollo program; Guion Bluford, Mae Jemison and Bruce McCandless representing the Shuttle program. By the time Eisner uttered the words "Project Gemini," I could feel the tears running down my face. Seeing my heroes from the early days of space exploration was a thrill beyond belief. Glancing at those around me, it was clear I wasn't alone with my feelings.
The focus shifted to the walls of the building, where a feed from the International Space Station featured two astronauts talking with Eisner about Mission:SPACE. They assisted with the countdown, as Disney officially christened this incredible attraction. Without missing a beat, dozens of speakers came alive with the sounds of rocket engines igniting, we were totally surrounded by the sound and the ground actually felt like it was rumbling. This was quickly followed by the swell of rocket engine smoke, which filled the area behind the stage, and before we knew it Mission:SPACE had successfully blasted off to a bombardment of fireworks. Only the folks at Disney could have created the illusion of rocket launch without the rocket! Even the astronauts on stage were visibly impressed. It was incredible. Michael Eisner granted an impromptu interview at the conclusion of the ceremony telling reporters he had indeed ridden Mission:SPACE and deemed it a "triple E-ticket attraction." Afterward, a party ensued, which featured Sugar Ray, the B-52s, and a special showing of IllumiNations.
Located on the site of the former Legend of the Lion King in Fantasyland, the Magic Kingdom's new 3-D attraction delighted me more than I would have imagined. The smile never left my face as I watched this movie -- I rate it a solid 4 stars out of 5. I believe it's something families of all ages can enjoy together. The attraction features the largest seamless projection screen in the world, measuring 150 feet long and 28 feet high. Not only was this my first viewing of the attraction, but while waiting to enter the theater I met Disney Archivist Dave Smith, who was also seeing it for the first time. He was impressed with the extra wide screen and called it "one of the better 3-D movies we've done."
Len Testa also gave the attraction 4 out of 5 stars: "Although only a fraction of the budget, I wouldn't be surprised if PhilharMagic has more fans than Mission:SPACE. It may be the best 3-D film in any Walt Disney World park. Some of the animation sequences, particularly the Lion King segment, where the theater walls disappear behind the film, are very good. The bit with Donald and the brooms from Fantasia, and the all-too-short Peter Pan piece contain rich colors, and are also nicely done. Suitable for all ages, Mickey's PhilharMagic should be on everyone's Fantasyland touring plan."
A FastPass attraction, there is no pre-show to the short but amazing technological presentation. Even though it's called Mickey's PhilharMagic, the central character here is Donald Duck, who is accompanied by Ariel and Ursula, Aladdin and Jasmine, Peter Pan and Wendy and the Lion King's Simba. We all gave it a thumbs up -- I can't wait to see this one again!
WISHES FIREWORKS SHOW
None other than Dame Julie Andrews introduced the official debut of the Magic Kingdom's new pyrotechnic extravaganza, which definitely raises the bar for fireworks displays. This is an impressive, synchronized show with fireworks you won't find anywhere else. Tinker Bell fans don't need to worry, as she is still part of the new show -- in fact, her glow is brighter than ever. The only thing I didn't care for, and I was in the minority on this, was the extensive narration. Although, it's integral for part of the show, for me it became too intrusive -- I like the show's music and visual effects to speak for themselves.
MouseEarVacations.com executive (and former theatrical pyrotechnician) Beci Mahnken notes: "Narrator Jiminy Cricket says, 'A wish is a powerful thing, especially when it comes from the heart.' I'll add, 'Or when it comes from the imaginations of the pyrotechnic designers at the Magic Kingdom!' Wishes comes to life with 12 minutes of nonstop pyrotechnic bursts of color, accompanied by emotionally charged narration and astonishingly choreographed Disney music. I was very impressed with the amazing timing of the choreography. The coordination of firing the mortar, to air, to burst time is almost flawless as it ties into the inspirational story and classic Disney music. However, we have been told that the narration and music play only in the theme park. It would be an added bonus if they would implement the narration and music to some of the favorite viewing areas outside the Magic Kingdom. If you watch from the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort, or shoreline by the Polynesian, you will still view a fantastic show, using the latest in pyrotechnic technology, with more than 650 individual fireworks. Wishes truly rivals the events you see in big city 4th of July celebrations, and is a must-see when you visit the Magic Kingdom."
NEW VALUE RESORT
Memories are what this new resort is all about, whether you are 6 or 60! Each set of buildings at Pop Century represents a decade of the 1900s. The theming culminates in Classic Hall, the check-in area, with an entire wall of shadow boxes. Beci adds, "Yes, be sure to check out the shadow boxes containing memorabilia. Each one represents a different decade, and you can spend a lot of time walking the wall, reliving memories."
Pop Century designers learned from the All-Star Resorts, improving some areas to create the latest 2,800 plus rooms to open at WDW, including a special area complete with a large-screen TV for kids to wait in while their folks check into the resort. At least one floor of rooms in each of the buildings will be ready on opening day, December 14, 2003. Marissa, a front desk guest services manager, added that "400-600 rooms will open each day or two until the entire Phase One of the Pop Century resort opens." More than 50 percent of the rooms will be connecting rooms, enabling families and large parties to be linked together in their resort. Each building will have a mix of smoking and nonsmoking rooms.
The resort was designed to be more compact than the All-Stars, and the four-story buildings are all tied together with dancers and "catch phrases " representing each decade. Pop Century also features a separate indoor and outdoor lounge, unlike the All-Stars, which have a single bar serving as the pool bar and walkup ordering if you are inside the food courts. Marissa also explained to us that the chefs are experimenting with different foods and plan to open the resort with a menu having broad appeal. Several themed food items are also being considered such as "Tie-Dye" cheesecake and "Fluffernutter" sandwiches.
"The atmosphere is sure to spark all kinds of conversations between parents, grandparents, and kids as they share memories," Beci notes. "They'll talk about how big cell phones used to be, what those little yellow things were that fit inside a 45 rpm disk... and what is a 45 anyway?"
Overall, we found the new resort to be light, bright and whimsical. This is a great addition to Disney's value resort collection and I'm sure it will be very popular!
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
Golden Mickeys, a salute to Walt Disney and his legacy of animation magic, is a phenomenal, Broadway-caliber show -- a first-rate mix of live action and video clips that is really a "best of" the Disney movies and musicals. Golden Mickeys is not just another show aboard a ship, it's designed to be an event. The preshow gets you in the mood as you actually walk the red carpet to the theater's entrance. Rona Rivers, a Joan Rivers-type personality is standing by to interview celebrities as they approach. If you ever wanted to be a two-minute "celeb" here's your chance!
The show itself was simply magical -- a mix of video and live performance. After the opening original number, "The Golden Mickeys Are Tonight," the show continues with a wonderful number from Snow White. Golden Mickeys are then awarded to Heroes, Comedians, Villains and Romance. The entire cast gathers on-stage for a huge finale featuring the original song, "Who Knows Where a Dream Might Lead." There's even a montage of Walt Disney, with some narration by Roy Disney. After the performance concluded, everyone in the audience immediately stood and applauded -- we all came out smiling! And here's a bit of trivia -- the actor (Jeff) who plays Quasimodo in this show once played Quasimodo in the popular Disney-MGM Studios Hunchback of Notre Dame production. I'll be writing more about this show soon!
Golden Mickeys debuted in early September aboard the Disney Wonder and will debut on the Disney Magic in mid-December, replacing Morty the Magnificent.
I give this a solid 5 stars, "DO NOT MISS" rating!
LATEST IN WALT DISNEY
Along with all the new attractions that were announced, Walt Disney World also released information on its newest vacation planning program, Magical Gatherings. As more and more families and friends plan vacations together, Magical Gatherings is Disney's way of making the planning easier. There are new products, services and online tools to help you plan your trip, along with other special features for groups of 8 or more, which Disney is calling "Grand Gatherings." This issue of ALL EARS® is so chock full of info about the new attractions, we're going to save the in-depth coverage of this new program for an upcoming feature on our Allears.net website in the News from Around the World section.
The one thing I kept thinking last week during this press event, is that the Walt Disney World we have come to know and love is only getting bigger and better. The Disney Company continues to raise the bar in the area of guest attractions and the ones discussed here are simply amazing. With the exception of Mission:SPACE, each can and will be enjoyed by all who visit. If you have a trip to WDW planned in the future, I think you will be delighted with the new offerings.
Our Live Reports During the Week http://allears.net/news/flash.htm
Len Testa's Report: http://www.allears.net/btp/authors_sehl4.htm
Information, photos and reader reports: http://allears.net/tp/ep/e_ms.htm
Deb's Review from the August Soft Opening: http://www.allears.net/ae/issue204.htm
MICKEY'S PHILHARMAGIC: First-hand Reports and Press Release http://allears.net/tp/mk/mk_phil.htm
WISHES: Firsthand Reports and Press Release http://allears.net/tp/mk/mk_wishes.htm
MAGICAL GATHERINGS: Official Disney Press Release http://allears.net/news/hnews.htm#1008
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.