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Insider's Update: A peek inside new Disney attractions, and a look back at Universal history

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Published: April 12, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Walt Disney World this week released a YouTube video of the Audio Animatronics that will populate the Magic Kingdom's Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which is expected to go into soft open sometime this month. Unlike Disney's traditional mechanical animatronics, the faces on these characters will be projections, creating a mash-up of practical animatronics with a screen effect. What do you think?

Over at Epcot, Disney's now offering a new, apres-Illuminations drinks-and-snacks package. The Epcot After Hours Wind Down will cost $35 per person and include a beverage flight and appetizers at one of four selected World Showcase lounges: La Cava del Tequila, Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, Spice Road Table, or the Rose & Crown Pub. The event lasts until 11pm each night and runs from April 17 through Sept. 15.

It's been another good year for the Orlando theme parks. The "Visit Orlando" tourism board reported that Orlando welcomed a record 59 million visitors to the metropolitan area in 2013, a 3% increase over 2012 that kept Orlando as the nation's most-visited destination. For comparison, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced yesterday that the city of LA hit its own tourism record last year, too, at 42 million visitors.

Not all Orlando-area tourists are happy with their visits, however. A group of parents of children with autism has sued Disney over its changes to the overused and abused Guest Access Card system. Here's a PDF of the suit, which tries to make an ADA claim against the Disney Parks. If you're a legal geek, give it a read. Personally, it seems to me that the plaintiffs are trying to make a case based on what they wish for the ADA to be, rather than what it actually is.

If you've got the bandwidth and patience to download a 10 MB PDF file, there's some fascinating stuff in this citation honoring Shanghai Disneyland's Storybook Castle from the American Institute of Architects' Technology in Architectural Practice Building Information Model awards: construction photos, design process, renderings. It's great stuff for design fans.

Shanghai Disneyland construction photo
A construction photo of the Storybook Castle foundation work, from the report

It looks like SeaWorld is running out of options in trying to get its trainers back in the water for orca shows at its parks. A three-judge panel denied SeaWorld's latest appeal of an OSHA ruling mandating restrictions on contact between trainers and orcas. We're awaiting an expansion of OSHA's apparent new commitment to theme park employee protection, such as a new rule barring park employees from sitting in the front of Disney monorails, since, after all, Disney's monorails have killed the same number of theme park employees as SeaWorld's orcas have. Right? (sound of crickets)

Continuing our focus on Universal Studios Hollywood this week, we should note that the park has opened a new "grab-and-go" restaurant, the Palace Theatre Cafe, located in the former retail location next to Mel's Diner. By the way, I wouldn't recommend actually trying to just "grab-and-go" with food at any such restaurant serving pre-packaged meals. I'm pretty sure that a more accurate description for these types of places should be "grab-and-pay-and-go."

USH has brought back its Waterworld show after a refurbishment that included the transfer of the show to a new production company, the same outfit that oversees the show in Osaka and Singapore. I'm not an obsessive fan of Waterworld, so I couldn't tell any major differences between this and previous Waterworld productions, save for the irony of the rust on the atoll looking much fresher. ;^) Here's the finale of the show, recorded this week:

Universal hasn't been making as big a deal of this as Disney and SeaWorld did for their anniversaries, but 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal's devoted a window at its Universal Experience walk-through on the Lower Lot to memorabilia from the park's first 50 years.

View Masters
View Master reels and a promotional tour tram, on display. You can see more pictures from the exhibit on our Universal Experience photos page.

Finally, congratulations to the Tokyo Disney Resort today for welcoming guest number 600 million.

Guest number 600 million
Photo courtesy Tokyo Disney Resort

That's an average of 20 million guests per year for the resort's 30 years. Amazing, and a testimony to the continued excellence of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, a three-time winner of the Theme Park Insider Award as the world's best theme park. Well deserved!

Readers' Opinions

From Daniel Etcheberry on April 12, 2014 at 12:46 PM
The face projection is a nice idea; the AA's will have more expressive faces.
From 173.66.194.150 on April 12, 2014 at 12:57 PM
The lawsuit against Disney should be interesting. I am sure WDC company had an army of lawyers on this, ensuring compliance with the ADA. And from what I have heard, this version is more in line with the policies of other amusement parks. I will be interested in seeing how this turns out.
From Rod Whitenack on April 12, 2014 at 1:54 PM
I like the animated dwarf faces! It's a nice combination of old school and new technology. Of course, it's not completely different from the singing busts in the Haunted Mansion, but that was used for a different effect. Good idea!
From James Rao on April 12, 2014 at 3:50 PM
Thanks for the update, Robert. Some interesting things happening in the theme park world these days. I am beginning to wonder if the Seven Dwarves Mine train might actually be the sleeper hit of the summer. It is certainly shaping up to be a whole lot more than a kiddie coaster in the dark. Kudos to Disney for keeping the old charm, but utilizing new technology in the process.

Why couldn't I have been one of the 600 Million who got to visit TDL/TDS? I now have 600 million more reasons to feel as though I have somehow failed the themed entertainment industry by not visiting what is considered to be the best themed resort in the world. Not to mention the fact that there are 600 million more people in this world of whom I am quite jealous.

From 212.137.45.109 on April 13, 2014 at 3:42 AM
WOW thats is one amazing castle! The details, this is why I love Disney. Looks like the whole park will be magnificent. Cant belive they will build it/open it in such a short time too.
From 108.198.188.63 on April 13, 2014 at 7:57 AM
they should redo the little mermaid ride with this tech
From Mark Fairleigh on April 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM
Love the projections on the dwarves! The more I see of it, the more I get excited about 7DMT! :) Holy Hannah, China is getting an awesome castle.
From David Brown on April 14, 2014 at 8:48 AM
I'm kind of pleased to see the barrage of criticism that has been levelled at 7DMT over the last couple of years gradually subsiding as the sheer quality of the attraction becomes apparent. This was never going to be up there with the big thrills, nor really was it ever going to compete with Mr Potter for scale and ambition, but it's looking like it's going to be an absolute, classic, quality Disney family attraction, the sort that will have kids squealing with delight and middle aged men like myself grinning from ear to ear. It exactly hits the Magic Kingdom's market and I think they have a winner here. And the best thing of all? It's not a 'virtual' attraction. It's in three glorious 'real' dimensions.

I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the most popular attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

From Anthony Murphy on April 14, 2014 at 12:13 PM
Nobody has mentioned this, but does anybody think that $35 is a steal? It sounds pretty cheap for what you get
From Russell Meyer on April 16, 2014 at 8:08 AM
$35 seems a little pricey to me, especially since you're not getting any sort of exclusive seating for the show. You're essentially just paying for the food and drink and a reason to linger in the park while everyone clears out. During the F&W Festival, the regional lunches typically run in that $35-$60 range, but include actual entrees and service along with a full wine/beer/liquor pairing (sometimes "bottomless" depending upon the wait staff). I would be concerned that the "snacks" will get devoured within the first 15 minutes of the event, and late arrivers will end up with crumbs. More or less you're paying $35 for a flight of drinks (likely 3 or 4 third or quarter pours) and a few bites to eat, which seems like a steep price for 30-40 minutes. Guests would probably be better off if Disney just kept the locations open for an extra hour beyond Illuniations with a special bar menu and guests could order off the menu ala carte. You could probably get 2 full-sized drinks and a hot app for $35 at all of the locations.

Also, unless you're staying at a resort accessible through the International Gateway, you still have that long walk back to the front of the park.

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