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

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 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]