What's New Now?

by Deb Wills
ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 16, 2004, Issue #234 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

ALL EARS® Editor-in-Chief Deb Wills spent last weekend in Walt Disney World and busily scouted out some of the latest news and happenings. She files this first-hand report on several items recently announced in this newsletter.

I'm happy to tell you that all's well in Walt Disney World! The weather was warm and sunny, and the flowers are beginning to bloom. It was so nice to walk in the parks and smell the fresh flowers, especially the jasmine! The azaleas are in bloom now, too!

But the plants aren't the only thing that's blooming -- Walt Disney World itself is greeting spring with lots of new growth: new (and newly renovated) resorts, a new tour, new exhibits, new things to do! I was lucky enough to get just a smattering of what's new now:

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SHADES OF GREEN
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Phase I of this recently renovated and expanded resort for active and retired military personnel and their families is now open and fully occupied. The Phase I opening includes the 200-plus previously existing rooms now freshly painted inside and out. All rooms have been newly furnished and recarpeted, as well. The two heated swimming pools are open and inviting, and the walkways around them also look like they've just been rehabbed. New poolside umbrellas and chairs make the whole place just sparkle.

Evergreens, the family-style sports bar and grill, is open and serving salads, pizza and sandwiches. The Garden Gallery will soon return with its popular breakfast and dinner buffets, and a new restaurant, Mangino's, will feature Tuscan Italian cuisine. There is still an enormous amount of work going on in the newly constructed sections of Shades of Green, which include an addition of 300-some rooms, but a Guest Services staff person told me that they are hoping to have the resort fully open by the end of March.

AllEarsNet® reader Mary wrote us just last week: My family and I stayed at Shades of Green from March 1-5. We were told that they hope to have the "Grand Opening" on March 31. There were many "bugs" being worked out last week, but the employees tried extremely hard to please the guests. Since the garage was not ready yet, there was no on-site parking. You had to park on the grass at the end of the entrance road. You can have them valet park your car or you can park it yourself. They will shuttle you back and forth via golf cart. The registration desk is currently located in the old Pro Shop. The only open restaurant is Evergreens. They have a buffet at breakfast and at dinner, and they have the regular Evergreens menu at lunch. They also decided to dig up and repave a section of the entrance road last week, so it was a one-lane road all week.

For the current Evergreens menu visit: http://www.allears.net/menu/menu_eve.htm

For photos visit: http://www.allears.net/acc/g_sog.htm

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SEGWAY TOUR
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You know what a Segway is, don't you? According to its official website (www.segway.com), the SegwayHuman Transporter (HT) "is the first of its kind -- a self-balancing, personal transportation device designed to go anywhere people do." You've probably seen them on television or in magazines, or maybe even zipping around Epcot -- those nifty wheeled vehicles that you operate standing upright.

I was so excited when I found out that a Segway tour was going to be offered at Epcot that I had to sign up right away! After checking in and signing a waiver at Guest Relations, tour participants were led to an area behind the former Pasta Piazza Ristorante in Epcot's Future World. Inside, the Segways were all lined up and ready to go. We were all a bit nervous at first -- or at least, most of us were -- even if just for a few moments.

Our Cast Member Guide, Phil, tried to put us at ease. Calm, courteous and control -- this is your mantra while you experience the Segway, he explained. He suggested we think of the Segway as a balancing stick whose purpose is to keep you erect. Both he and CM Sarah were very helpful in guiding us through the use of the Segways.

After some opening remarks, we watched a short film on the Segway. We learned that each Segway unit has 10 microprocessors and five gyroscopes. Sounds like it's alive, doesn't it? Well, it certainly feels that way when you initially step on. The first 20 to 30 seconds are a little shaky, as the Segway adjusts to you and your "balance." We stayed in the room for a good 30 to 40 minutes practicing a number of maneuvers that we would use outside in Epcot. Moving forward and backward, turning, navigating ramps, quick stops, how to get off and walk the Segway past obstacles... it was all quite fascinating. The room was even equipped with little orange fluorescent cones to practice sharp turns.

Soon, we were on our way up the ramp, out the door, and into Epcot. Everyone we passed stopped to watch us. We slowly traveled single file out of Future World into the closed World Showcase. Here we were able to spread out and really get the feel for the Segway. It was a wonderful hour zipping in and out of all the pavilion areas. Soon, I found myself no longer thinking which way I needed to move; it became intuitive and the Segway and I melded! We went in and out of the columns in Italy, over the ramp in Germany where the trains are, and all around the ponds in Japan.

All too quickly, it was time to head back to the training room. On the way, a youngster darted out in front of me! I instinctively stopped the Segway as quickly as possible. Phew! I was glad this happened at the end of my ride, when I was much more comfortable, than in the beginning.

If you are 16 or older, weigh less than 250 pounds and have $85 and two hours to spend in Epcot one morning, consider the Segway tour. It was great fun. So much fun, in fact, that I was glad there wasn't a Segway salesperson around -- because I surely would have brought one home!

A special hello to ALL EARS® subscriber Nancy from Maine who was on the tour with me! It was great to see you again!

For a more information on the Segway tour, visit: http://allears.net/btp/tours.htm#seg

We have some reader reports and photos of this tour online already!

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GOOFY'S EPCOT GUIDE
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In our March 2, 2004, WDW March Bits and Bites issue (Issue # 232), we told you about a new kid's scavenger hunt in Epcot called Goofy's Epcot Guide. This scavenger hunt is in the form of a fun, colorful booklet featuring Goofy and his pals that walks you through most of the major attractions and pavilions in Epcot. Each attraction has its own multiple-choice puzzle that you have to answer. After solving each puzzle, you transfer the colored letters of the answers to their corresponding spaces in the final puzzle of the booklet to solve it. Once you've answered all the puzzles and filled in the final answer, return to one of four locations for a prize -- an 8"x10" character poster. It's really neat -- I almost wished that I was a kid so that I could get one myself!

However, since I'm not a kid, and don't have any, I went to my expert kid reporter, Alex (who is nearly 12) to see what he thought about the guide. He said, "I think it's geared to littler kids, maybe kindergarten to third grade. I think it might appeal to kids as old as 10... after that, they start to think stuff like this is too 'babyish.' For me it was easy to complete, since I know Disney so well -- for a kid who hasn't been to WDW as often, it might be more of a challenge."

Also, Alex said he compared this new scavenger hunt to the Epcot Kids' Guide that used to be handed out (but which is no longer available from what I could tell). In his opinion, this new guide is definitely an improvement; it's interactive, covers a variety of shows and attractions, and has a reward at the end.

In the middle of the booklet is a listing of all the Kidcot Fun Stops in World Showcase. Be sure to have the Cast Members at the Kidcot Fun Stops stamp the booklet with their country stamps, as this makes for a nice collectible.

All in all, it's fun and different. Make sure your youngsters pick up Goofy's Epcot Guide as they enter the park.

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CASA MEXICANA:
"Discover Modern Mexico"
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Last week, we reported in the News Bites section that Epcot's Mexico had unveiled a new exhibit. I stopped by to see what it was all about. Casa Mexicana offers an opportunity to "Discover Modern Mexico." Located just before the entrance to El Rio del Tiempo, you'll find the home of the Pakatilchi family. As you walk into the first level, there is a large area for Mexico's Kidcot station that was filled with children making masks. Off to the left is an alcove where you can select one of four "adventures" and send home a video postcard. I was torn between the cliff diving and the puppet show video, and ended up selecting the puppet show. You have a few seconds to act out your "adventure" (there is no audio with the video) and then email it to yourself and someone back home. Unfortunately, although my video recorded, my addressee never received the email. Obviously there are still a few kinks to work out, given the exhibit had only opened two days before my visit.

As you reach the second level of the Casa, you'll find a dining room table all set for the family meal. According to the Cast Member I spoke with, the design and colors of the home are what you would expect to find in Mexico today. There is even a musical section with a number of guitars on display. There are two "windows into Mexico" in the Casa, which are located above a map of the country. When you push one of the buttons on the map, a short video presentation related to that particular section of Mexico is shown. You can select the Yucatan Peninsula, South and Gulf of Mexico, Central Mexico, Baja, Northern Mexico or the Pacific Coast.

Be sure to talk with the Cast Members to get the full feel of Casa Mexicana.

For photos visit: http://www.allears.net/tp/ep/e_mex.htm

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SARATOGA SPRINGS
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The first phase of Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, Disney's newest Disney Vacation Club resort, will open May 17, with additional buildings scheduled to open on June 7, July 5, and August 2.

When it opens, look for the Artist's Palette, a new area that will combine dining and retail space. Here you'll find all-day dining with breakfast items like omelets, sandwiches, and breakfast pizzas. For lunch and dinner there will be salads and sandwiches, pizzas, nightly entrees, and a Grab and Go section. You'll also be able to purchase snacks, bottled wines, breakfast items and sundries.

The High Rock Spring Swimming Pool will feature water cascading down rockwork into the pool below. The slide twists and turns through the rockwork, and passes under a bridge, before emptying into the swimming area. There is an interactive wet play area for children, two whirlpool spas and a zero-entry area.

I'll be staying at Saratoga Springs in early June, so watch for my upcoming report!

For recent photos visit: http://allears.net/acc/g_ss.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.