Hiring The Disabled: No Longer The Ultimate Fast Pass At Disney Parks

Flickr/ross_hawkes


Waiting in line at Disney Parks can be avoided by a number of legitimate strategies. Get to the park early, stay late, legally use a free system in place that speeds things up and more. But nothing quite beats the instant access to rides granted to the disabled, a practice that had wealthy park visitors hiring savvy wheelchair-bound “guides” to bypass everyone else.

Paying over $100 per hour — $1,000 or more for the day — able-bodied park visitors posing as relatives of a handicapped went straight to an auxiliary entrance reserved for those with special needs. “My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” said one mom in a New York Post article last May. Misuse of Disney’s Guest Assistance Card [GAC] program was so widespread that the theme park operator is discontinuing it in October.

In the new system, visitors with disabilities will be given an assigned return time equal to the estimated wait, one attraction at a time. Called the Disabled Assistance System [DAS], visitors with disabilities will still get “back door” access to attractions but will lose the time advantage they had under the old system vs. actually waiting in line.Does this sound a lot like Disney’s FastPass system? It’s not.

FastPass is a virtual queuing system that allows a limited number of guests per hour to go to the front of the line on certain attractions. Disability card users get a return time based on the actual wait time for the ride.

Disney's Line-Jumping For Disabled To Change Because Of Abuse

‘World of Color’ steps up Disney’s nighttime spectacular game

Disney’s theme park shows are often over-hyped and underwhelming (remember Cinderellabration?), but at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, the amusement titan recently premiered a new show that really does step up the stakes.

World of Color could be described as “The Bellagio Fountain on Peyote”: The lagoon in front of the Mickey’s Fun Wheel was rebuilt to accommodate nearly 1,200 moveable and synchronized jets, which volley water between 30 and 200 feet high while ever-changing LED lights saturate them with vibrant hues. Meanwhile, as a crisp new sound system rocks the park, classic Disney clips (what else?) are projected onto 19,000 square feet of “water screens.” And of course, some climatic streams of fire. If the 20-ish minute show can’t hold your attention, you may have other problems.

“World of Color” could be described as “The Bellagio Fountain on Peyote.”

Although it’s hard to describe, the nightly event is undoubtedly spectacular, absorbing, and as colorful as advertised, although contrary to the P.R., it isn’t as gawp-inducing as the fearsome fire-winged dragons of BraviSEAMo, which ends a long run this fall at Tokyo DisneySea in Japan.

But World of Color‘s premise, novel for a theme park, may provide the biggest entertainment payoff of any of Disney’s current Stateside night spectaculars, and from an industry standpoint, it gives California Adventure a much-needed after-sunset show to complement the fireworks and Fantasmic!, often held simultaneously at Disneyland across the plaza. That solves an infrastructure problem for the previously under-developed California Adventure, but for now, while the show is new and at its most popular, it also creates new ones for guests.

%Gallery-98676%Nabbing a spot in the very front section of the lagoonside amphitheatre is imperative, because the further back you are (and the VIP section is all the way in the back), the less you will see of the splashes of underwater color that accompany every giant spray. In the back, your field of vision can absorb the big pictures, but in the front, you’ll most feel the mist and the thunder.

Disney fans’ curiosity is so high, and demand so strong, that securing a viewing spot requires guests to register early in the day and obtain a Fastpass. Once that’s in hand, they must queue starting in early evening to get into their designated section. Then they have to wait for the show itself. The whole process can chew up a few hours. Meanwhile, the attractions around the lagoon are closed during the shows. That puts some of the park’s best sights out of commission at dusk: Toy Story Mania, the California Screamin’ and Mulholland Madness coasters, that ferris wheel, and the other upgraded carnival-style diversions.

It’s tempting to think of everything Disney does as being part of some grand design, and if you subscribe to that cynical (but possibly realistic) perspective, then you might suspect the hassle of seeing the new show, and the early closure of some marquee rides, is part of a fiendish plan to force guests to spend hours of their touring days in the pursuit of a decent viewing spot. After all, if you don’t see all of California Adventure in one day, you have to spend the money to return.

It’s probably more likely that Disney, having not originally designed the theme park to accommodate this sort of extravaganza, is having trouble coping with the giant crowds that demand to see it during its maiden season.

If you can’t stomach the ordeal of jockeying for a position, you can see the show from a bird’s eye view if you’re staying in a park-facing room in the tower of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. The lagoon is so close that the climactic inferno will illuminate your darkened room, and you’ll gain the best appreciation of the careful choreography of the many water jets, but you won’t be able to make out the projections on the water screen or hear the soundtrack clearly.

Disney announces closing date for Star Wars rides at Disneyland, Disney World

Disney Parks is overhauling the Star Wars-themed Star Tours rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World later this year, and now Star Wars fans know when they can get that last ride on the original.

Star Tours will close at Disneyland on July 27 and at Walt Disney World on Sept. 8.

The original Star Tours ride puts riders in the passenger seat of a StarSpeeder 3000 spacecraft, under the pilot of a droid named Rex. The ship is supposed to be headed to the Moon of Endor, but a few wrong turns lead it into the middle of a battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Death Star.

It’s a motion simulator ride that was on the cutting edge when it launched about 20 years ago. But now, it’s a 20-year-old ride in need of an overhaul — that’s a “re-imagining” in Disney-speak.

The “new” Star Tours will be a 3-D affair, with riders joining in a high-speed pod race on Tatooine. It is expected to re-open at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland in May 2011.

Walt Disney World and the fan convention Star Wars Celebration V are holding a “Last Tour to Endor” party on Aug. 14 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A special event ticket is required; a regular park ticket won’t get you in. The party will include Star Wars shows, a “Death Star Disco” and Star Wars-themed fireworks.

Tickets are on sale now for $75.

Disney Parks testing new, talking Mickey Mouse for character greetings

Meeting Mickey Mouse has been a pivotal part of a visit to Disneyland for generations. Park visitors wait in line for up to 90 minutes to meet Mickey, get his autograph and pose for a snapshot with the Disney icon. But all of this interaction took place in silence, until now.

Some Disneyland guests are reporting that they have participated in tests with a new Mickey Mouse character – a walking, talking Mickey. The Disney Blog has posted videos of one of the interactive character greeting sessions.

When I first heard about this, I expected to see Mickey saying some generic phrases to each guest, but that’s not at all what the video shows. Mickey Mouse greets a group of guests and invites them to take scrapbook photos with him. But then, he interacts privately with each group of guests, speaking their names and reacting to what they do.

Now, this was a test. It is likely not going to happen to you at Disneyland tomorrow, and it may never happen on a large scale. But it seems to work very well in the short videos below:

Mobile Magic: Disney Park’s new app for wait times

Disneyland all to yourself — a kid’s dream. (A parent’s dream, too, I think.)

Disney is making the inevitable crowds a bit more manageable. They’ve just announced Mobile Magic, the mobile app that announces wait times for rides and the nearest location for a character hug. It can be used at Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks.

No, it’s not the first app for wait times at Disneyland, but it’s the first official one from Disney Parks.

And likewise, it’s not exactly flawless — it only works on Verizon Wireless phones. It’s not available on BlackBerrys or the new Motorola Droid.

You can give it a spin for $9.99 for a 180-day subscription.

[Thanks, NYTimes.com]