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Alese & Morton Pechter

Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor terrorists ... can deter a Disney Happening! Postponed from its original time schedule, the official opening of Disney’s 100 Years of Magic proved even more exciting than we had anticipated. Coinciding with the actual date of Walt Disney’s 100th birthday ... December 5, 2001 ... the man to be specially honored this whole year ... all the stops were pulled and Disney World in Orlando, Florida was awash with extravaganzas. This was our introduction to all that is new and exciting at our favorite family get-away-place, but it shall be continuing for everyone for the whole year.

Our visit this time began at The Animal Kingdom Lodge and was it a treat! The decor is authentic Africa ... except for the huge decorated Christmas Tree as we entered. Our room had a balcony that overlooked a Savannah where the animals actually roamed. To be sure there were not herds of animals stampeding by but we did see zebras, giraffes and several other species grazing the fields. It made for a very beautiful, peaceful landscape setting. All the “pluses” were there .... large pool, spacious eateries, comfortable, deluxe rooms and fabulous Disney service. We were so impressed with the huge ceiling light fixtures made of authentic African spears and shields. We could not imagine how bulbs ever got changed or the fixture cleaned until one evening we returned to find one had been lowered by electric motor to the floor ... the shields and spears removed for cleaning and bulbs were being replaced. We even had the chance to take photos holding the shield and spear.

But the Lodge was for respite and we had lots to see. Our first stop was to Epcot to see and hear the unique holiday concert, the annual Candlelight Processional & Massed Choir Program. Throughout the holiday season, 95 performances are presented and each evening nearly 400 performers fill the stage to retell in song and narration the traditional story of Christmas. Among the guest narrators this year were Marlee Matlin, Phylicia Rashad, Robby Benson and we had the pleasure of hearing Wayne Brady. It is held outdoors at the America Gardens Theatre. The park was filled with holiday decorations, the sky was clear, the stars shone above and we listened, enraptured to magnificent voices filling the air around us. Certainly an evening we shall long remember.

Remember the magnificent parade at Epcot .. The Tapestry of Nations? That has now been transformed into Tapestry of Dreams. It celebrates children, dreams and the legacy of Walt Disney. There is a fantastic Dream Catcher float, covered in bells, wind chimes and flowing colored fabric that opens this pageant. With its astounding 416 speakers throughout the World Showcase promenade, it explodes with rhythm, color and music. Near the end of the parade, we heard the voice of Walt Disney saying, “The era we are living in today is a dream coming true — today we are the shapers of the world of tomorrow.” What beautiful thoughts to sleep on.

Bright and early next morning we were off to the Magic Kingdom. We were most anxious to experience all that was new but have to admit it took us a while to find the “new” activities .... not because they were difficult to find but once in the park we just HAD to get to Tomorrowland and the ride at Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. They are still great rides and made even better now as we could pick up a Fast Pass and do not have to wait in long lines.

In case you were not aware, if you get to a favorite ride and the line is very long ... you can put your Park entrance ticket through a machine and it will give you a time to return. When you return you go to a special entrance and the wait is only between 5 & 10 min. Now that is a real crowd pleaser!

Brand new is the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, a ride that whirls you around, lifts you up and down as you glide through Agrabath, dodging, of all things, a spitting camel. Sixteen 4-passenger “carpets” circle around a giant genie’s lantern, moving up and down and pitching forward or backward at the “command” of the rider. We enjoyed this one as a way to relax with the children. As we glided around we could enjoy the excitement in their eyes without the “roller-coaster” breath holding.

All around the park there are interactive kiosks that tell the Stories Behind the Magic ... giving us insights about the dreams and events that inspired the creation of the Magic Kingdom Park. We were able to explore some Disney history through interactive computers with games and trivia questions. A quick spin of Mickey’s ear and a press on his nose ... actually a real computer “mouse” button ... and we found both questions and answers.

What really caught our attention was the Hall of Presidents. That is not new but we got to see its newest executive figure ... George W. Bush. President Bush personally recorded a speech written especially for the new version of the show. Eric Jacobson, from Walt Disney Imagineering, told us that the Disney crew visited the White House to obtain this recording.

And the castle is absolutely beautiful. We were fortunate to have had a magnificent, sun-drenched day and to see the statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey’s hand ... framed with the castle in the background ... well, you have to be there to understand. We are long time Disney devotees so it was beautiful for us. There is a new live Castle Forecourt Show ... Cinderella’s Surprise Celebration ... Cinderella has invited Mickey and his pals for a surprise celebration and there are lots of surprises to be sure. The music filled spectacle includes vocals by Cinderella, who is joined by the characters in an original song, “A Little Bit of Me.” Sound good? It is!

Later that evening, at the Magic Kingdom, we the had the pleasure of seeing a presentation of another of the many new parades .. Share A Dream Come True and then the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks. Disney milestone moments are presented in parade units inspired by snow globes. Remember those little globes that we would shake fiercely and then watch the white snow fall down? Picture one of those globes with Mickey inside ... another with Cinderella ... and another with Beauty & the Beast ... and still another with Pinocchio ... and so many more ... larger than life ... parading in front of you. There are 100 Disney characters starring in this parade, highlighting favorite moments from the early days of Mickey Mouse cartoons to the newest animated Disney characters. We were mesmerized and enchanted.

The globes are made from approximately 400 pounds of acrylic material, the same type used for jet fighter windshields. The internal technology of each float is the most complex ever done by Walt Disney Entertainment ... and includes air-conditioning and glitter that falls like snow.

For the first time ever, a parade spectacle unfolds daily in all four Walt Disney World theme parks during the 100 Years of Magic Celebration.

“Walt loved parades,” says Marty Sklar, vice chairman and principal creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering , who worked with Walt Disney for many years. “Parades were important at Disneyland from ‘Day One’.”

A full, exhausting, fun-filled day to be sure but there was more to come.

Next morning we were off to see the animals. At Animal Kingdom we roamed around the all-new Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama ... and took a ride on the flying, twirling Triceratop Spin where we went up-down-and around on vehicles that move around a giant spinning toy top that opens up to reveal ... a dinosaur! We also had the chance to get an advance sneak peek at Primeval Whirl a spinning roller coaster that sends riders through a maze of curves, hills and drops. The ride was fun and the roller coaster should be a blast.

The new parade for Animal Kingdom is Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. It is the first time Disney characters have been featured in a procession in this park. The jungle beat is a pageant of party animals. It is an interactive island street party and as the parade winds through the park a menagerie of abstract animals come to life in handcrafted theatrical designs.

We understand the challenge was the narrow pathways through the Animal Kingdom, so the new parade is single file, never more than 14 feet wide. We were determined to cover as much as possible ... so off we went to MGM to discover even more. Regis (on film) is among the “newbies” with his “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire – Play It!” ... As a fan of the show ... and of Regis ... we got to feel the excitement and drama of the TV series as we got to play along right from our seats. A few even got to sweat it out in the hot seat on the authentic re-creation of the actual New York set. Of course, no cash is given out, but contestants can win Disney prizes.

Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage! is a great place for the children ... and was for the child in us! The children sing, dance and play along with their favorite Playhouse Disney friends and we fell in love with a big Bear!! Bear in the Big Blue House is a huge hit ... you just want to go up and hug this fabulous animal. The show is geared for pre-school children but we watched lots of older kids and adults having just as much fun.

MGM also has its new parade.. Disney Stars and Motor Cars. Motorcars take on the visual personality of Disney characters. More than 70 Disney characters ride in cars and walk along the street. Many ride in customized cars that date from 1929 to 1951 and the finale is a 1929 Cadillac that features Mickey, Minnie and Goofy as chauffeur.

Very special this day was a unique birthday celebration. December 5, 2001 was the 100th birthday of Walt Disney ... Everyone entering the MGM park received a birthday hat and there was a colossal cake event marking the anniversary of Walt’s birth. You had to see this cake! One hundred bakers paraded in, each carrying a lovely square cake with some decoration on it. Each placed his cake on a large board in front of the partygoers. When the procession was finished and all the cakes put in place ... there before our eyes was a rendition of Walt Disney’s face! On stage was Mickey, Minnie, several other characters and the cake was surrounded by the bakers and other Disney characters. Songs, cheers and applause were followed by serving pieces of the cake to all present.

So much excitement and so much fun but the main attraction for us this trip was Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream exhibit. This is an amazing journey that was Walt’s life. Disney Imagineers have uncovered artifacts the public has never seen and created a new, multi-sensor entertainment experience based on this man who was willing to bet everything on his dreams.

Dave Smith, the keeper of the Disney archives, was part of the team deciding what would be shown. We heard from him how difficult it was to make the decision as to which articles would be in the exhibit. They wanted to have a few from each decade of his life. The early years were more difficult as there was not much around.

We were able to see the Sleeping Beauty castle model, a Mickey Mouse club guitar, Walt’s personal office desk, chair and cabinet. You could feel his presence as you walked through the exhibit. Absolutely amazing what this one man could accomplish with his dreams ... and as he once noted, “it was all started by a mouse.”

“When you walk through this attraction, you’ll see that it’s not so much about the life of a man as it is about the life of a dream,” explained Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew and vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company.

Michael Eisner, chairman and chief executive officer, The Walt Disney Company stated, “Walt Disney World has always been a place where people from around the world come to put aside their worries, and make lifetime memories with friends and family. Now, more than ever, our guests are looking for this kind of magical experience, and we’re honored to be able to provide it.”

There is so much more to tell you about and we have a tendency to ramble when we are excited about a “happening”. The nice thing about this “happening” is that most of it is going on all year so you can see it for yourself.

Oh, we never told you about the new icon ... The Sorcerer’s Hat is 122 feet tall and takes center stage at MGM Studios. It is shaped like the pointed hat worn by Mickey in the animated classic “Fantasia,” weighs 156 tons, is a brilliant blue and decorated with moon and star shapes of glittering gold. An equally great Mickey hand tips the hat, which rests on two shimmering ribbon loops that are stylized versions of Mickey’s ears. At the official dedication, several of the original “mouseketeers” were on stage and we all sang M I C ... K E Y ... M O U S E..... The little ones in the audience joined in also but could not understand the tears in the eyes of all of us “oldtimers.”

Talking of “magical memories” we love a couple of the souvenirs you can carry home from this visit. Beautiful snow globes in all sizes. There are re-creations of six “snow globe” parade units from the Magic Kingdom parade. If you are a pin collector this one is a must. Disney’s Magical Moments pins are the hottest collectibles, giving mini light shows as they interact with parades, attractions and shows throughout Walt Disney World Resort. These “blinking lights” were a “must have” for our collection.

“Nearly everyone can remember when they were first touched by the magic of Disney,” Al Weiss, President of Walt Disney World said. “Here at the resort that bears Walt Disney’s name, we’ll give them a chance to share those memories and make new ones.”

“The legacy of Walt Disney, his creativity and spirit of adventure, has inspired this special celebration in his honor,” Mr. Weiss told us. “The emotional connection that our guests have to the Disney legacy of innovation, imagination and family entertainment, combined with new entertainment and attractions, will make this our most magical celebration ever."

We have to agree. It was one of the best times we have had at Disney. There is so much new ... so much nostalgia ... so much to see, hear, experience, learn, enjoy ... with great food choices ... accommodation choices ... for young, old ... and in-between ... you have to have a great time when your vacation choice is Disney. The 100 Years of Magic Celebration makes it even more special!


Dates: ... Through Dec. 31, 2002

Location: Centered at Disney-MGM Studios with new spectacles throughout Walt Disney World Resort

Theme: Tribute to Walt Disney’s legacy. Celebration marks the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth on Dec. 5, 1901.

Icon: a 122 foot tall Sorcerer’s Hat at Disney-MGM Studios celebrating Disney magic and entertainment wizardry.

Disney Stars and Motor Cars parade at Disney-MGM Studios
Mickey’s Jammin Jungle parade at Disney’s Animal
Share a Dream Come True parade at Magic Kingdom
Tapestry of Dreams parade at Epcot
“Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream” at Disney-MGM
Disney’s Magical Moments pins
Magic Story Kiosks

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Call: 407/W-Disney Call Guest Information: 407-824-4321


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