The 10 BIG Updates From Walt Disney World (And Beyond) This Week (September 26 – October 2, 2016)

Outside Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida sets the date for the longest Mardi Gras celebration ever, SeaWorld Orlando details a number of exciting new additions for 2017, plus Busch Gardens Tampa announces the arrival of an adorable new resident!

1. The Magic Kingdom celebrates Walt Disney World’s 45th Anniversary

Walt Disney World celebrated its 45th operating year on Saturday, October 1, commemorating the occasion with a special appearance by Walt Disney World president George Kalogridis (who teased some “big announcements” happening between now and 2021, but declined to give specifics), as well as some special treats and merchandise which were available around the resort. Guests who attended the event also got a free special commemorative map and button upon entry at the Magic Kingdom.

In addition, there were also some special 45th anniversary decorations around the park, including a banner on the Cinderella Castle that didn’t quite unfurl on queue, but was later fixed (as you can see below):

Though the 45th anniversary of Walt Disney World was a pretty low-key affair overall, in his remarks George Kalogridis did say that there were some big things planned for the resort’s Golden (50th) Anniversary in 2021. So, now we just have to wait five more years…

2. Disney Springs introduces a new character experience

In addition to being the 45th anniversary of Walt Disney World, October 1 also brought a limited-time character experience to Disney Springs as well. Known as the Princess Royal Reception, this new experience is currently scheduled through November 1, and allows guests to meet, take photos with and even get an autograph from a single princess in a special closed-off area of the World of Disney (where the Bibbidi Boppidy Boutique used to be). Interestingly, we learned during a visit on this new attraction’s opening day that not only will the princess lineup change regularly, but sometimes princesses will switch out more than once a day (during our visit in the early afternoon, we met with Aurora, but we heard that other guests later in the day met with Cinderella in the same location).

As we mentioned previously, guests who want to meet a surprise princess at Disney Springs will be given a special pager that will buzz to let them know when it is time to go meet their princess directly. After our pager buzzed, we only waited about 5 minutes before we were meeting with Aurora.

Though this experience is currently scheduled to end at the close of the month, if it proves popular (and gets guests to stay longer at the World of Disney store) we can definitely see it being extended.

3.The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History now playing in Liberty Square

Image: Disney

Just one day after the 45th anniversary of Walt Disney World, The Muppets arrived at the Magic Kingdom for the opening of their new live show, The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History. This new show is hosted by human character James “J.J.” Jefferson, town crier of Liberty Square, as well as Sam Eagle, and features familiar characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and The Great Gonzo recounting famous historical tales, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The show takes place several times daily right outside the Hall of Presidents, and features interactive elements as well as an original song. You can lean more about The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History here.

4. Annual Passholders get new discounts on dining and merchandise

As part of the 45th anniversary celebrations last week it was announced that effective immediately annual passholders now receive 20% off Walt Disney World merchandise and 10% off food and nonalcoholic beverages at table service restaurants at Theme Parks and Disney resort hotels. In addition, Disney is offering a 20% dining discount at 45 table service and quick service restaurants around the resort. You can see the full list of participating restaurants here.

5. New annual pass purchases now eligible for a free month

Annual Passholder logo

Image: Disney

In addition to the deal described above, Disney has also confirmed that guests who purchase a new annual pass between today and January 3, 2017 will be able to get one extra month of admission for free, effectively getting 13 months of park entry for the price of 12.

6. A new parking garage will be built next year at Disney Springs

News broke this week that confirmed that a third parking garage for Disney Springs will be built over the next few years. The Reedy Creek Improvement District has officially given this project a green light, and construction on this new garage (which will be located on the south side of Buena Vista Drive near the Casting center and Speedway gas station) is currently slated to begin sometime in 2017 with an anticipated opening date in 2019.

The new garage is expected to accommodate at least 2000 parking spaces, and will provide direct access to Disney Springs via the already constructed pedestrian bridge that spans across Buena Vista Drive. Similar to the Orange and Lime garages, this new parking structure will feature the same parking sensor technology that allows guests to see how many parking spaces are available on each level before they enter the garage.

7. Disney Visa Character Spot on the move at Epcot

The current Disney Visa Character Spot at Innoventions West looks like it will be permanently closing in the very near future as Disney Visa Character Spot signage has recently appeared at the Imagination pavilion. This relocated character experience will take over the former Figment’s Place portion of the pavilion and is expected to feature the same characters who formerly met at the Innoventions location.

8. Dates confirmed for Universal Studios Florida’s Mardi Gras 2017

Image: Universal Orlando Resort 

Universal has announced that next year’s Mardi Gras will run for a total of 49 consecutive nights from February 4 to March 24, making 2017’s event the longest in the park’s history. Though there won’t be concerts every night, Universal has confirmed that there will be 12 nights of musical acts, and a full schedule will be released soon.

9. SeaWorld announces new shows and attractions for 2017

Image: SeaWorld

SeaWorld Orlando has suffered a number of setbacks in 2016, but the park is fighting back hard and has announced a number of exciting new experiences coming to the park in 2017:

Kraken VR: Beginning next summer, guests who climb aboard Kraken will have the option to don special headsets that will cover their eyes and ears, giving riders the chance to embark on a deep-sea mission alongside the fictional Kraken as well as other mythical and prehistoric creatures.

The Seven Seas Festival: This food extravaganza will kick off in February and bring dishes inspired by street food from Asia, the Caribbean, South America and the Mediterranean to SeaWorld Orlando for several weeks. Guests will also be able to indulge in a variety of international, local and seasonal craft brews on tap giving their taste buds a worldly delight.

Electric Ocean: Next summer SeaWorld Orlando will debut a brand new, end-of-day spectacle event that will bring the Bayside area of the park to life with bioluminescent lighting, music and pathway entertainment, immersing guests in a glowing sea of wonder.

Renovated Dolphin Nursery: This fan-favorite exhibit will become more interactive in 2017, giving guests the opportunity to get up close to mother and baby dolphins in all new ways with large-scale acrylic windows offering up close viewing and multi-purpose digital displays installed allowing SeaWorld educators to share information about dolphin behavior, biology and conservation with guests.

10. Busch Gardens Tampa welcomes new resident

Image: Busch Gardens Tampa

Finally this week, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has announced the arrival of the newest member of the gorilla troop in the park’s Myombe Reserve habitat. Oliver, a male endangered western lowland gorilla, was born a little over a month ago on August 18 and is being cared for by 28-year-old mother, Mary. Including this newest addition there are now seven gorillas that call Busch Gardens Tampa Bay home.

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Don Korta
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