So, it's now time to take a look at a few of the big things that happened at Walt Disney World for 2013. It seems that while this year was very short on new attractions, this was indeed a year of change, as many new upgrades were added to the way we all vacation. Here is a look at some of the things that I think we’ll all remember this past year for. In order to do that, I thought I'd rate them in a system that is lovingly borrowed from the former Betamouse crew…Win, Fail, Meh. (We miss you Betamouse!)
- Starbucks: Whether you love Starbucks or hate Starbucks, the fact of the matter is that there is now decent coffee in the Disney parks. This was not something that was true just a few months ago. It may have taken over some questionable areas, but for those who need a cup of coffee to get going, it is a welcome addition.
- Gardens Kiosk: An incredible idea from the company who does more than any others to help those with dietary restrictions. This new kiosk lets guests see what ingredients are in most of the dishes served within Animal Kingdom's gates. It also sells treats for those who are on strict diets, like gluten free. I hope we see something like this rolled out to the other three parks soon.
- Wilderness Explorers: A perfect addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom, this new game takes guests throughout the park to earn badges (based on the movie Up) and in the process learn a bit more about the different animals that can be found in the park. It makes people explore the park that many just breeze through. With it's low tech introduction and it's heavy edutainment process, I think this is a fantastic addition to the park.
- Tangled Toilets: Have you seen these? They are fabulous! Disney really added some amazing details in just a bathroom. It proves that they are the king of the detail, if they do this much to just a bathroom. You'll marvel at Rapunzel's tower and you'll be in awe of the lanterns at night. (PS: look for the hidden Pascals.)
- Talking Mickey Mouse: It's pretty incredible that Disney was able to get the technology to make this possible. I am hopeful that Mickey will get to say more in the future. If he doesn't this will head down to the meh category for me. The technology behind it is amazing though, making it a win.
- Food Booths Added To Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival: Wow! This was a great idea! I love that they offer fresh items and things you'd expect to see in the springtime. (Like Dole Whips, Strawberry Shortcake, and BBQ.) I also like that there are only a handful of booths. It's a great addition and I can't wait to see what the future holds for it.
- Jingle Cruise: This Holiday overlay has seemed extremely popular. Despite the fact that the decor was really only relegated to the boat dock, queue line, and the spiel, this hopefully sparked in Walt Disney World management that Holiday overlays are an amazing idea and CAN actually work at Walt Disney World. Maybe we'll get back Country Bear Jamboree Christmas? Or maybe they'll add It's a Small World Holiday or the grandaddy of them all the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay to Haunted Mansion. I just hope that they see that overall, it was a success and that yes, those of us who visit the Orlando parks crave the overlays just as much as Disneyland locals do.
- Limited Time Magic: So, while there were a few events that were moderately successful, such as May the Fourth Be With You, The Villains Friday the 13th party, and Long Lost Friends, most events were quite lackluster. The majority of events included some sort of dance party, treat (usually a cupcake), or an event that already takes place in the parks, just rebranded for the celebration. It came in with so much potential, it left with so many people not caring. Bye Limited Time Magic! Most won't miss you.
- Glow With The Show ears: Touted as a huge event for the year 2013, the Glow With The Show ears don't seem to be catching on. I think a lot of that could be related to the cost (who wants to spend $25 on ears that you can't see work their magic?) The hats are only cool when a bunch of people are wearing them. And most are not. We'll see what happens over the next few years, but this one certainly is a bit of a snooze.
- Rapid Fill Mugs: In a move that helped curb those who thought they could bring back their past Refillable Mugs, Disney introduced the Rapid Fill Mug system. The only good thing about it is that you can pick the number of days you would like to have the mug work for. The rest, sort of stinks, as you have to wait a few minutes to get more refills, it will fill your mug up for you (to a certain point on your mug) so you have no control, and it can't be microwaved any longer. Even as someone who doesn't drink soda, this seems like a crummy deal.
- Grand Floridian DVC: They did a fantastic job with the DVC property here. (Again...amazing with the details). I especially love the fountain that features the penguins from Mary Poppins. But overall, DVC just doesn't excite me. It doesn't seem like the deal it was before. I just can't justify spending the money on that. So, while lovely, it's just hard to convince myself that it's the best option for our family.
- Guest Assistance Card: This card had to see some changes this year (too many people abusing the system, plus a national news article about the abuse means things need to change) but I am not sure that the changes are 100% great. I think that Disney may still need to tweak things here and there to make this system fair for all. Overall, I think overhauling the system is a win though.
- Princess Fairytale Hall: For someone who doesn't get the meet and greet thing, I think this is just an ok addition. Don't get me wrong, they did a gorgeous job with the new hug spot. The details here are fabulous and it's obvious, via the wait times, that it's popular. It has it's niche audience...I'm not part of it...that's ok.
- Avatar Plans Released: This year we saw a few pieces of concept art based off the upcoming land for Disney's Animal Kingdom. While the concept art looks fantastic and I'm still remaining optimistic that this will be fantastic when it opens (even though I think Avatar is a horrible idea for a land at Disney's Animal Kingdom). The strange thing was the fact that they announced the details in Japan at their D23, just a couple of months after the American D23 event. (Which made the plans go live at midnight on a Friday...a strange time for those of us in the US.) Some wonder if Disney just wasn't ready to announce anything (could it be because it's hard to deal with James Cameron?) and some claim that the Japanese crowd would be less critical, but either way, the art was released and it's intriguing, at the very least.
- Disney Springs Announcement: We all knew that something had to happen with Downtown Disney. This year, Disney announced that they would begin work on Disney Springs, a rebrand of the shopping and dining district. Most details are short on what to expect. Minus a few pieces of concept art. I remain optimistic about the refurbished area, but it's not something that is super exciting to me either.
- Food Trucks: A great idea, especially now that they're redoing Downtown Disney, but overall, not something I plan to make an effort to stop at. The prices seem really high for items too.
- A Pirate's Adventure: This game that was added to Adventureland is the Magic Kingdom was an interesting introduction. I did a review on it and thought it was alright. Kind of boring, difficult to find the locations sometimes, and not something to do when it's super hot out. It is great for little ones though, so I guess I'm just not the target audience and maybe that's why I didn't love it.
- MyMagic+/FastPass+/My Disney Experience/MagicBands: It really was the year of Magic and plus signs. This year, Disney began testing it’s brand new NextGen project called MyMagic+. While this system is still in the testing phase, many of us have now learned what these new terms mean and how it will impact our vacations. (And trust me, it will for years to come.) It seems like it was a super big fiasco. I've heard from plenty of people it worked well, but for others, it worked splendidly awfully. It would have been in the Fail category, but according to Disney, it's still in the testing phase. (Though, honestly, I would have expected for Disney to have more kinks worked out before they decided to roll out the system for guest testing, but I digress.) For 2014, it will interesting to see how things get tweaked here and there and what new surprises Disney has rolled up their sleeves in regards to this new system. I expect that we’ll see a more full scale rollout in the next year. Hopefully, in 2014, this will be more of a success and end up in the win category, instead of teetering on the Fail one...which is where it is right now.
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