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Winter Trip Report Part 2 - Review of "New To Me" Additions and Changes

In Part One yesterday I reviewed this year's Christmas entertainment at the 4 WDW parks. (found here http://forums.wdwmagic.com/showthread.php?t=682672 )

Today, in this final installment, I'll be discussing in detail my thoughts on 6 "new to me" additions, subtractions, or changes at the parks, written from the Point Of View of a a frequent WDW visitor who visits the Florida parks regularly as a seasonal resident in winter and spring. So, these six changes discussed are new since I left town last spring, although in the case of one, I got to experience it on my summer 3 day trip and fall 1 week trip!

Again, it seemed like the TR forum was the place where I was supposed to put this - although it isn't a "traditional" TR as it omits details like where I ate or slept, other personalized details, and a grand overview of everything I experienced, since it focuses on specific items.

The 6 "new to me" additions, subtractions, and changes covered here are as follows:

The New Pooh Queue
Main Street Electrical Parade
Duffy, the Disney Bear, at Epcot
Via Napoli's Counter Service, Pizza By-the-slice Experiment
The Case of the Disappearing World Showcase Live Entertainment - China
Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - Version 2.0


Chapter 1 - In Which Winnie the Pooh Gets a New Queue, and I Explore It - - I got my first look at this on my New Year's Eve MK visit, and have since seen it on two more MK visits. Count me in as VERY impressed! This more than lived up to it's hype! I love how it immerses guests into the world of the Pooh characters and story from the moment the queue begins all the way until you reach the Honey Pot ride vehicles. Any concerns I had about some of the original queue's storybook pages disappearing have been alleviated!

The signs suggesting that adults should bypass the interactive areas are the only thing that kind of annoyed me, as the MK is for the young AND the young at heart! So I ignored those signs and explored EVERYTHING!

Pooh's House is really cute, complete with a bell, honey pots, and a cute picture of a bee hanging on the wall! I also liked Eeyore's House and Piglet's door, with it's cute replies when you knock (which sadly was not working on my most recent trip through the queue).

I did not get to experience Tigger's bouncing area, as it was closed all three days in which I explored the queue.

Next comes Rabbit's Garden, and the level of both "interactivity" and detail gets kicked up a notch here! Being a rodent fan, I could not get enough of making those adorable little gophers pop up out of their holes! I enjoyed the way everytime they popped out, they said something different! The cuteness of watching a rodent pop out of a hole is one of my favorite moments on Living With the Land and is the main reason I drop money into the Frontierland Shooting Gallery. But these rodents are arguably even cuter since they are "anthropomorphic" and have so many cute things to say!

Next, we get to explore the area where the bees live, which is also very cute and charming with it's storybook screens of flowing honey and little bee figures that you can fly through their hives.

I like how this final segment of the queue directly references the Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree segment of the Many Adventures Of Winnie the Pooh film. This segment, the first in the film, occurs just before the Blustery Day segment on which the ride is based.

Indeed, after this segment of the queue, we see a nice portrait of most of the Pooh characters, and an explanation that now we have reached the end of Chapter 1 (the queue) and that Chapter 2 (the ride) awaits!

I am very pleased that the queue remains faithful to both the film and the original AA Milne books, as everything in it references one or both of them. It does an excellent job of further immersing the guest into the world of the Pooh characters and story; and of setting the scene for, transitioning into, and creating anticipation for, the ride.

The ride was already in my Top 3 or 4 in the entire MK and at all of WDW, and this new queue just makes me love the experience even more.

One thing I noticed is that the Fastpass line completely bypasses all the new "preshow" elements, which is not always the case with FP queues. This won't be an issue for me, as Pooh is usually one of the first rides I ride on one of my "full-day" MK visits, and don't often need a FP for it.

However, on days when I park-hop to the MK after visiting another park, or want an extra ride on Pooh at night near closing, I can actually see myself (a big-time Fastpass fan) choosing to bypass FP on Pooh in order to experience the new queue's preshow elements!

One thing I find very ironic about all of this is that the concept of "interactivity" and exploring the homes where beloved characters live is nothing new - just see Minnie and Mickey's even MORE elaborate homes right down the path in Toontown! At a time when we finally get a mini version of what a Toontown-like Hundred Acre Wood section would have been like if one had been built to support the Pooh ride when it first opened (as some fans online had suggested), the original Toontown is sadly closing.

Main Street Electrical Parade - I already posted about this after my spontaneous 3-day out of season summer trip, which was my first time seeing it in 20 years! In fact, I was so excited about seeing it again that my desire to share my enthusiasm about it was a major factor in why I became more active on these forums over the summer! So I'll be (relatively) brief here.

I saw it again on my 1 week fall trip, and now that I am back in the area seasonally, I am VERY excited that it is still at the MK! After seeing it SEVERAL times since it's been back, it still takes my breath away and gives me goosebumps, and makes me feel the same way I did as a little boy, when the parade overwhelmed my sense of wonder, magic, and excitement!

I am now completely used to the new version of the music and enjoy it as much as the original - some sequences (such as Snow White) I enjoy even MORE with the new music, since it has even more melodies now from the film's songs than it did then.

The one thing that would make the parade even MORE perfect would be the triumphant return of the Dumbo sequence that was recently pulled right before MSEP got sent to WDW (there's even new music for that segment, which can be found on Youtube).

My two favorite segments overall are the beautiful Alice In Wonderland sequence with all the cute critters and their electronic chatter! And the appearance of Elliott, better know as Pete's Dragon, and his catchy Brazzle Dazzle Day theme song and dragon vocalizations, still fills me with happiness and goosebumps like it did as a child!

While I loved Spectromagic enough to see it faithfully once a night on my MK visits, with MSEP I find myself eagerly arriving at Town Square EARLY for a good spot, then eagerly short-cutting through the Emporium and Adventureland to catch it again in Frontierland just before the lead gets there!

On nights when the parade is presented twice, this allows me to see it no less than FOUR times nightly!

As this will be my first "season" in Florida with MSEP present, I look forward to lots of the 11PM second parades during Spring Break and Easter season where I have half a block to myself in Frontierland for a very crowd-free viewing!

Duffy, the Disney Bear, at Epcot - Duffy is an original character created for the parks and is uber-cute! I enjoyed meeting him and the cute little paw he drew as part of his signature!

There's lot's of cute Duffy plush for sale at Epcot, including one where you can collect costumes for him from each of the World Showcase nations! I can easily see myself starting a collection of these Duffy outfits, although I suppose a cynic would say it's all a "marketing scheme". Then again, there is lots of merchandise and "marketing schemes" at the parks I have zero interest in, but I have a soft spot for cuteness and plushies!

So, like the earlier two entries in this review, I give a thumbs up to Duffy!

Via Napoli's Counter-Service Pizza-by-the-slice Experiment - Cheese Pizza is my favorite food on the planet. When Via Napoli was announced for Italy, I got very excited, as the only location pizza is served at Epcot is a cart next to Test Track, serving the standard WDW pizza, that isn't even always open! Kind of far away when you're spending time in World Showcase and get a pizza craving! And Via Napoli represented the idea of a tastier pizza!

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment when I learned that the new rumored part table service/part counter service Italy eatery would strictly be table service. I am not, and will never be, a "foodie". I have a small appetite for a very limited number of foods; eat tiny, bird-like portions; and can not predict weeks or even months in advance if I will even be hungry enough at a certain time or day, or be in the MOOD for even a favorite food, at a certain time or day. So I don't do reservations to eat! Eating is a completely spontaneous, on-demand type of thing for me.

Further compounding the table-service-only pizza menu is the lack of personal-sized servings. Most of my park visits are solo, and even if I made a reservation at Via Napoli, I'd have to buy a complete pizza, which I couldn't possibly finish all in one sitting (and is frankly quite pricey!)

So I had kind of written Via Napoli off as an "oh well, it won't work out like I had hoped" type of thing, until I read a thread on these very boards discussing how the new Italian eatery was experimenting with selling pizza by the slice to walk-up guests! But I didn't want to get my hopes up too high in case the experiment had ended by the time I made it back to Florida.

On my first visit to Epcot this winter, on the last day of Epcot's "Holidays Around the World" event, I noticed I was feeling a little hungry around 4 PM and in a pizza sort of mood. Since I was near Germany at the time, I remembered the WDW Magic thread about pizza-by-the-slice and went over to Italy to check it out.

I was so happy to see it being offered! I only had to wait a few minutes to order, and even though I requested a hot slice right out of the oven, did not have to wait long for my slice! It is a good thing I made this request, since I couldn't find a table in Italy and I walked the pizza over to a vacant table in American Adventure, and it was still hot when I started eating!

So how was this long-awaited pizza?

It was delicious! It had everything I love best about pizza. The cheese had a great flavor, and there was enough of it to not allow the tomato sauce to dominate the taste. I'm not a big fan of tomato sauce but love pizza cheese, so I like my pizza to have a high "cheese to sauce" ratio, and this pizza did not dissapoint here!

It was MUCH better than the often rather bland WDW theme park pizza, which often has too low of a "cheese to sauce" ratio for my taste, (but I eat it anyway due to lack of a better option in the parks such as Sbarro's or Papa Johns' sauce-free cheesesticks/cheesebread).

One slice was enough to satisfy my hunger, given my small appetite, so I have no qualms about the $6.50 price. In fact, the price is comparable to the WDW theme park personal-sized pizzas, which IMO aren't nearly as tasty!

I enjoyed the pizza so much that I immediately backtracked over to Via Napoli to compliment them on both the flavor of the pizza, and the idea of selling it by the slice!

Alas, on my next visit to Epcot (a park hop after Animal Kingdom closed on 1/5), I thought I'd try the pizza again, but it was no longer being offered. I was told the experiment had ended now that the holidays were over, but that they may try it again at some point in the future. I told them I hope they do, because as one person I can't possibly eat an entire pizza, but by-the-slice works perfect for me. I then complimented them again on the taste of their pizza, and how much better it was than the standard WDW pizzas served in the parks, and the look the hostess gave me was priceless! It was a look saying "Well, of course our pizzas are better than standard American fast-food pizzas! How could they not be!"

So, Via Napoli gets praise from me for the taste of their pizza, a thumbs up for at least TRYING a more spontaneous, solo-friendly by-the-slice experiment, and a thumbs down for ending it (for now).

World Showcase: The Case Of the Disappearing Live Entertainment - Today's Episode: China Pavilion - After February 5, the popular and EXTREMELY talented Dragon Legend Acrobats will no longer be performing at Epcot. This saddens me a great deal, as they are among my favorite performers at World Showcase.

I was prepared for this as I read about it in advance on WDW Magic. What did shock and surprise me on my recent visits to Epcot, was finding out that the Si Xian musical performances, also in the China pavilion, had been eliminated sometime in the Fall (if it was discussed here, I missed the thread). I am a big fan of this beautiful and relaxing music, usually performed by Ann Yao:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5Qx84wE4qQ&feature=related

So, in just a short span, China went from being a practically perfect World Showcase pavilion, with its traditional attraction (the Circle Vision film) complimented by an art gallery and TWO great live performance shows, to having no live entertainment whatsoever.

Just a little over two years ago, a similar thing happened in Norway, as the excellent Spellmann's Gledje musical group was sadly eliminated and not replaced with any other entertainment.

If one only wanted "rides" and "attractions", Epcot could be done in a day. But the thing that makes Epcot "Epcot", is the "little things". Things like the Art Galleries and Live Performers in World Showcase EXPONENTIALLY increase the World Showcase experience and enhance the guests' understanding and appreciation of the cultures of each nation. And the performers are simply fun and enjoyable to watch and/or listen to.

Perhaps these disappearing World Showcase performers would make a good subject for one of Kevin Yee's "Declining By Degrees" columns.

Obviously, these developments get a big thumbs down from me.

Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - Version 2.0 - I saw the new version of Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, for the first time after it reopened, on my first Studios visit of 2011 (the same day I saw the Osborne lights this year).

My feelings about the changes are mixed.

On a positive note, the fact that they are putting effort into this attraction at all is a good sign for me that they intend to keep it for the long haul. As a big time WALT Disney fan, I was devastated when the WALT DISNEY Story was removed from WALT DISNEY World in the 90's, and Walt Disney: One Man's Dream, nicely fills the much needed niche of providing a tribute to, and education about, the company's Founder and original Creative Visionary. Arguably, the Studios attraction (in both versions) is more thorough and comprehensive than the original MK version.

So I applaud the effort.

The final room is still unfinished with hints of more exhibits "Coming Soon", so I will withhold judgment on the final galleries.

Regarding the exhibit as a whole, many things were lost, such as the awesome display of early WDW souvenirs and 70's Disneyana (including an early WDW map, WDW lunchbox, and set of 4 Disney storybooks, all three of which I had as a child and still have!) But I can't complain much, as this display was replaced with an equally awesome display highlighting early Epcot's classic attractions. Included in this display are a Figment AA figure, a robot from Horizons, and some cute Kitchen Kabaret plushies!

Some other changes were less satisfying, such as replacing the Mary Poppins costume with the more obscure Bon Voyage one.

Still other changes didn't lose anything and enhanced what was there - such as the model of the cabin from So Dear To My Heart now being easier to see from all angles.

Sadly, the video explanation by Disney Legend Herb Ryman on how Walt informed him that he would be the one to draw the first Disneyland map was removed completely.

The most disappointing changes of all are that many of the captions from original displays that are still there were removed and replaced with - nothing!

This is noticeable immediately, in the first photos of Walt's parents and Walt and his sister Ruth as young children - no one in these pictures is now identified with captions.

However, most of the captions that were removed are of a different variety. The original exhibit featured MANY third-person accounts about Walt by those who knew and worked with him, and these painted a warm, humorous, and often poignant picture of Walt and gave the exhibit much of it's rich emotional resonance. Most of these are sadly now gone, such as:

* Animators' recollections about Walt telling his wife Lillian "Hurry up, or we won't get a seat" to the first internal screening of Snow White, even though he owned the Studio!

* Animators' recollections about how they could tell Walt had gone through their work at night because their drawings were slightly rearranged the next day, followed by a Walt quote about how he would go through the drawings at night and always put them back exactly as he found them, so no one could tell he was snooping!

* An account by Joyce Hall, founder of Hallmark, about how he met some young children on a plane to London who told him they would prefer to have gone to Burbank instead, to meet Walt Disney. Hall asked them if they thought Walt was a real person or someone more like Santa Claus. One of the girls thought it over carefully, and replied "Both!", to which Hall agreed.

* An account by one of Walt's colleagues about how when Walt saw some Disney toys on the bottom shelf in a store, he and his associates began quickly moving them to the top shelf where they would be better seen. When a saleslady asked "Can I help you", Walt replied "No, we'll be done in a few minutes!"

* To poignantly represent Walt's tragic passing, the original exhibit had a famous Marc Davis quote about how when Walt came to his office to look at his early sketches for the Country Bear Jamboree, Walt said "Goodbye, Marc", instead of the usual "So long", or "See ya". It was the last time Davis would see Walt, who passed away a few days later. This caption was originally placed next to the famous editorial cartoon from the day after Walt passed, showing a world in tears wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Next to these was the final picture ever taken of Walt with Mickey. These three things taken together were extremely touching, but now only the photo remains to mark Walt's passing, which would only hold significance to Disney fans who knew it was Walt's last photo with Mickey.

Nitpicks aside, I still enjoyed Walt Disney: One Man's Dream immensely. It's still one of my favorite attractions in the Studios and all of Walt Disney World. And I enjoyed seeing all the new additions to the exhibit, many of which enhanced my enjoyment of it. Other changes, however, such as the removal of many of the captions, did not.

So I'd say this one is a mixed bag as far as the changes go, neither completely positive or negative.
 

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