Reflections of Earth...
or at least of Walt Disney World

by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the January 16, 2007 Issue #382 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

It's the middle of January already -- how is that possible? When they say time flies the older you get, they aren't just whistling Dixie! Like most people, I always see January as a time for new beginnings -- time to make resolutions and look ahead to a fresh start. But before you can look at where you're going, I think it's a good thing to reflect on where you've been -- to reflect not only on the way things were, but on how those things affected you, maybe even changed you.

Every year, part of that January reflection for us here at Allears.net focuses on our anniversary. We have just finished our 10th year online, and in that time the website has grown from a tiny little "Disney Digest" into 4,500 pages of information with about 5,000 photos, viewed by roughly 500,000 unique visitors every month. (We've even expanded our scope to include Disneyland in California and Universal Orlando -- even though those sections aren't as complete as we'd like them to be, we're getting there... slowly and with your help!) This newsletter, which we put out 52 weeks a year, now has more than 78,000 subscribers. Why, just a few years ago, when Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills wrote a similar "Looking Back" piece in January 2004, this newsletter had just 48,000 readers. Can we be that far from breaking 100K?

Some might think that as the website and the newsletter continue to grow, our love of Walt Disney World and talking about it might diminish. That's certainly not the case. Although there are days when it seems that we eat, sleep, live and breathe Disney, we are just as enthusiastic as ever about the goings-on at our favorite vacation destination, and we hope we continue to convey that excitement to you.

That's why I thought I'd like to look back on 2006, and reflect on some of the best things I experienced around the theme parks this year. They were not all new things, although obviously the most recent developments are the ones that get the most attention. But they were things that stand out in my mind as significant -- either for Walt Disney World itself, or for the impact they had on me as a Walt Disney World "guest." In fact, here are my awards for "Best of Walt Disney World 2006." (We'll let others dwell on whatever might have been "The Worst" of 2006!)

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BEST POTENTIAL MAKEOVER
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The Makeover of Pleasure Island -- I have to admit, I was devastated when I heard that they were closing down a large part of Pleasure Island for renovations. Not that I'm a regular denizen of PI -- I may only get there once or twice a year -- but the thought that they might tamper with the one place over there that is definitively "Disney" to me scared my socks off. Fortunately, the makeover at Pleasure Island does not include changing my beloved Adventurers Club in any way, or the Comedy Warehouse for that matter. But the proposed changes to the island actually sound positive -- new restaurants and clubs with a broader appeal, a move toward making the spot a more "adult" place by limiting club entry to ages 21 and over every night of the week, making the place more accessible for those with disabilities... As long as they don't put a Starbucks on the corner and a Panera where the Missing Link Sausage Co. used to be...

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BEST PIXAR-RELATED ATTRACTION ADDITION
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Finding Nemo - The Musical. Maybe I'm an old softie (OK, there's no "maybe" about it -- I AM a softie, and getting older all the time), but the story of Finding Nemo -- a dad goes on a perilous search for his missing offspring, who, by the way, has a little disability -- has always brought tears to my eyes. Add to that the little moral about not overprotecting your children (if you never let anything happen to them, nothing will ever happen to them...) and you have a recipe for a real tearjerker that resonates with me, and I imagine, many other parents. So I was delighted to hear that they were adding Nemo, not to just one park, but to two -- both Epcot and Animal Kingdom were getting Nemo attractions. The question, though, was "is this too much of a good thing?" Answer? Probably. The new Nemo ride in the renamed Living Seas pavilion (it's now "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" in case you missed it) is a sweet little ride that most youngsters who have seen the movie will enjoy. But the more ambitious undertaking was the announced Finding Nemo - The Musical, which would replace the Tarzan Rocks! show in Animal Kingdom. Could they make this into anything like a good musical? Well, in spite of the one or two naysayers I've encountered, I think it's safe to say the answer is a resounding YES! Finding Nemo - The Musical is a great success, with eye-catching costumes, clever puppetry, catchy music, and still... that story. I saw this show for the first time on the second day of its open-to-the-public dress rehearsals and am eager to see it again now that it's settled into a normal schedule. The addition of this show was definitely one of the highlights of 2006.

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BEST ANNUAL CELEBRATION
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Food & Wine Festival, no contest. Yes, the December holidays boasted new "dancing" Osborne Lights and a variety of new Candlelight Processional speakers. And yes, the Flower and Garden Festival sure is beautiful. But the annual celebration of all manner of gastronomic delights consistently provides a wide variety of experiences for everyone who loves to eat and drink -- and isn't that all of us? There's something for everyone from beginning gourmet to gourmand, and the experiences evolve every year -- one festival is never exactly the same as the next, with changing venues and offerings, not to mention changing chefs and speakers. I love the Food & Wine Festival!

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MOST WELCOME NON-RIDE
ADDITION TO THE PARKS
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Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial and the other new Live Entertainments in the Magic Kingdom. October 2006 saw the start of the Year of a Million Dreams, Disney's latest promotional effort in which they're supposedly giving away a million prizes, from pins and Mouse Ears to cruises and overnight stays in Cinderella Castle. Well, whether the prizes and the promotion turn out to be "all that" remains to be seen, but the introduction of several new live entertainments in theme parks are definitely a gift to us frequent park-goers. Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial, performed several times daily near the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, in particular is a fun diversion. Watching the children (and even the adults) play along as they learn how to handle a sword and hoist a sail is such fun, and the actors involved do a really great job. While I was saddened at the demise of the Sword in the Stone skit, the new Pirates show and the other new shows like Woody's Cowboy Camp and Let's Have a Ball, are a breath of fresh air.

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BEST ADDITION TO A RIDE THAT
WE DIDN'T THINK NEEDED ONE
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Hands down, this goes to the Pirates of the Caribbean makeover. I think the rehab of this beloved, almost iconic attraction was awaited with much trepidation. Would they "dumb down" our treasured buccaneers? Would they turn what has always been a cool ride into a lame-o advertisement for the Johnny Depp movies? I think it's safe to say that a huge collective sigh of relief was breathed throughout the Disney fan community when the new attraction was finally unveiled. The animatronics that were added were not only unobtrusive, they were actually impressive. Barbossa looks good, but Captain Jack Sparrow surpasses him by far. The three occurrences of this popular pirate in the old ride almost seem to belong there, as if they've always been there -- only the most ardent purist could possibly object to their addition. And the mysterious mist effect with Davy Jones at the ride's start -- one of the coolest effects since the "how do they do that?" technology that powers Turtle Talk with Crush over in Epcot. This was definitely a good change.

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BEST NEW ATTRACTION THAT(MOSTLY)
LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS
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Expedition Everest. I was there at the press event in April 2003, when Joe Rohde, executive designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and lead designer of Animal Kingdom, first unveiled this new roller coaster project. His enthusiasm and excitement were contagious. "We go fast, we go high, we fall far, we get cold, and we do finally see the Yeti itself," he said during his announcement. "He's a huge, HUGE, gigantic shaggy creature as real as we can bring him to life." That was it for me -- I'm a coaster lover, so I was hooked and could not wait for the new ride.

Fast-forward nearly three years through lots of anticipation, to January 2006, when they were holding sneak previews of Expedition Everest for annual passholders. I was there with my family, and I have to say that first ride was most impressive. Not only did the coaster go high and fast and drop me far, but it did so backwards and in the dark at times... and the Yeti was the most incredible animatronic I've seen, ever. This ride grows on me a little more every time I ride (even though I'm nowhere near the thousand go-rounds that ALL EARS researcher Kenny has surpassed!), but I will remember January 2006 for that magical first time, when a new ride actually lived up to all its hype.

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ON THE HORIZON
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So what's on the horizon for Walt Disney World? Well, hopefully 2007's changes will all be for the better, even though the new Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club isn't starting the year out too auspiciously -- after a few weeks of testing, it's been sent back to be retooled, or at least re-scripted.

But other new events on the horizon are promising. The new Pirate and Princess Parties, which start next week, sound like a really fun time. Too late for my now-14-year-old son, who loved to play at being a buccaneer, but just in time for a new wave of boys (and girls, too!) who finally have something other than Disney princesses and Pooh to interact with. We'll let you know how the theme plays out, since we'll be at the very first Pirate and Princess Party on January 22.

We know for certain that the Disney Cruise Line will head to the Mediterranean in 2007, and we have a new restaurant debuting soon in Animal Kingdom, which has sorely needed a nicer table service spot since the park's opening. We anxiously await the arrival of the new Disney Vacation Club units at Animal Kingdom Lodge, currently under construction, and wonder what affect they will have on the current accommodation landscape.

But what about things that HAVEN'T been officially announced? There have been whispers about Pop Century Resort's Legendary Years section finally seeing completion -- as family suites, much like those that opened last year at the All-Star Music Resort. And of course there are always rumblings and rumors about updates to some other original attractions, as well as anticipated announcements of some brand new attractions to fill some of the openings that are lying empty right now. (The new "whatever" that's going to occupy the now-vacant "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It!" soundstage comes immediately to mind. Will it bring more Pixar characters to the Studios? That's the latest buzz.) Will there be a new E-Ticket ride announced? Another DVC resort? Perhaps another new live show?

There's a press event later this month that promises to reveal more new additions and changes to the Disney parks... ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills will be attending, so you can bet we'll report on any developments or announcements as soon as we hear about them!

And what's in store for Allears.net for 2007? Plans are already in the works for us to make some changes with both the website and the newsletter -- as someone once told me, "If you don't change, you die." I can't really reveal much yet about what's coming down the pike for us, but don't fret -- these changes should be all for the good as well, as we continue to provide the most accurate and up-to-date Walt Disney World vacation planning information available.

Reflecting back, I'd say that 2006 was a pretty good year in the life of Walt Disney World... and Allears.net. I just can't wait to see what 2007 holds in store for all of us!

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RELATED LINKS
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Other articles by Debra Martin Koma: http://allears.net/btp/dkoma.htm

Year of a Million Dreams: http://allears.net/tp/yomd.htm

Pirates of the Caribbean: http://allears.net/tp/mk/potc.htm

Finding Nemo - The Musical: http://allears.net/tp/ak/nemo.htm

Expedition Everest: http://allears.net/tp/ak/ak_ee.htm

Pirate and Princess Parties: http://allears.net/tp/mk/pirateprincess.htm


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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.