Backward and Forward - 2003 in Review

by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the January 6, 2004, Issue #224 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Wow! This year went by so fast, I feel like I just finished writing the review of 2002 -- but here it is 12 months later already.

January is always a time for celebration -- so first, let me wish a VERY Happy New Year to all our readers from the entire AllEarsNetteam! Here's hoping all your magical wishes come true!

It's also time to wish a Happy Birthday to US! Deb's Unofficial Walt Disney World Information Guide is now EIGHT years young! Many of you have been following my online efforts for years and may even recall the days of Deb's Disney Digest, back when the website was just starting out on AOL. We've come a long way since then.

When I wrote this column last year, I announced that we had more than 30,000 subscribers to this weekly newsletter, ALL EARS® -- now we have nearly 48,000! We've also begun a bimonthly special promotional mailing, Ears the Deal® which offers its 20,000 subscribers specials and chances at additional prizes when we run ALL EARS® contests.

The major change to the site this year occurred in the fall, when we combined the websites for Deb's Unofficial Guide to WDW and the ALL EARS® newsletter into one: Allears.net. This change streamlined access to our information, so that you only have to remember one web address as you plan your vacations to Walt Disney World. We also launched a moderated forum on Yahoo called "Ears to Ears®." This forum features a Topic of the Week about Walt Disney World, and is a place where you can share your thoughts and ideas with others -- it's open to everyone, so don't hesitate to join in!

It was another year of change and growth for the main object of our affection, too. Walt Disney World celebrated several major arrivals in 2003, most notably: Epcot's new Mission: SPACE, and Mickey's PhilHarmagic and the Wishes fireworks show, both in Magic Kingdom. In true Disney style, these new attractions opened with major fanfare in October.

In addition to park attractions, the long-delayed Pop Century, a new value resort, finally opened this year, on December 14. With the addition of more than 2,800 rooms, maybe this would be a good time for Disney to shutter All-Star Sports for a total rehab. It sure needs it, don't you think? Or perhaps all the groups of cheerleaders, Pop Warner football players and dance squads will be assigned to one of the All-Star resorts all by themselves! (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

Along with the new, we also had to say good-bye to some familiar faces in 2003. A few attractions, like the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and the Diamond Horseshoe Revue, closed to make way for new replacements. Even perennial favorite Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights was dark (for at least this year), to allow for the development of a new stunt show in the Disney-MGM Studios. And the Disney Club came to an end, without a similar discount program to take its place. While DC was a mere shadow of its predecessor, the Magic Kingdom Club, it still provided special packages and discounts at the resorts.

These happenings, along with many others, at WDW kept 2003 exciting for us at AllEarsNet. We covered as many of the major events as we could. For example, we developed an extensive online guide to Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, complete with reviews, photos and menus. (As they say, it was a tough job, but someone had to do it!) We were also there for the official soft opening of Mission:SPACE, bringing you on-the-spot reviews and photos. (By the way, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that one of our guest columnists, Kenny Cottrell, who was there at the soft opening with us, celebrated his 300th ride on Mission:SPACE in December and was given a certificate signed by the attraction Cast Members.)

We wrapped up the year 2003 with a very special celebration of Internet communities at MouseFest 2003. As you may have read in our review of the event a few weeks ago, MouseFest 2003 included, a Disney cruise, attraction meets, IllumiNations cruises, scavenger hunts and much more. In addition, more than 25 unofficial Disney website representatives and eight unofficial WDW guidebook authors attended a variety of get-togethers throughout the week, most notably the huge Mega Mouse Meet held Saturday, December 6, which drew about 400 internet-based Disney-lovers. MouseFest 2004 is already shaping up to be a great experience and we'll be sharing information with you as details are ironed out throughout the year.

As we do at the start of every new year, we reflect on where we've been, and also look forward and wonder where the coming months will lead us. At AllEarsNet we plan to finish the Magic Kingdom section of the website, completing our comprehensive look at each of the four major theme parks in WDW. We also plan to run more contests with WDW-related prizes to thank our loyal readers. In fact, our next contest begins in February, so stay tuned for details!

In 2004, the WDW calendar is highlighted by annual events such as the 11th Annual Marathon in January, Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, an expanded Food and Wine Festival in the fall, Star Wars Weekends and much more. Late in the year we should also see the opening of a new attraction: Stitch's Great Escape in the Magic Kingdom.

Phase One of the latest Disney Vacation Club resort, Saratoga Springs, is slated to open in mid-May. If you've ventured over to Downtown Disney, you have no doubt seen the construction taking place. Themed like the upstate New York retreats of the late 1800s, the 65-acre resort will be the largest of the Disney Vacation Club resorts. And Shades of Green, the resort for active and retired military, should be reopening this spring after an extensive rehab.

The Disney Cruise Line has some exciting changes planned for this year as well. For the first time ever, Disney Cruise Line plans to include St. Lucia, Antigua and San Juan as scheduled ports of call on select sailings. In another first, Disney plans to embark on a 10-night holiday cruise vacation from Port Canaveral on December 18, 2004. Lots of rumors abound regarding a third Disney ship or new sailings -- you can be sure we'll report on that if rumor becomes reality!

It wouldn't be Walt Disney World if there weren't unexpected challenges and surprises to keep us on our toes... and that is part of the excitement. No matter what happens, the AllEarsNet team will continue to uphold its reputation as the website with the most current and accurate information in our effort to help you maximize your WDW vacation experience.

As we begin 2004, I want to personally thank EVERYONE who has supported AllEarsNet® in so many ways -- by faithfully reading our site and newsletter, participating in contests, sending in reviews and ideas, patronizing our sponsors, and purchasing items through the stores. Thank you to everyone who writes to us! Your letters lend us encouragement and keep all of us at AllEarsNet® going.

Here's wishing you all peace, love, and Mickey Mouse in 2004!

I hope to meet you at WDW real soon!

Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief


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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.