Mickey’s Toontown Fair to close at Disney World

When you travel to visit Mickey this spring, you won’t find him in his house. Walt Disney World has announced that the Mickey’s Toontown Fair area of the park will close after Feb. 11, 2011.

mickey toontown fair to close at Walt Disney WorldThe area features the side-by-side houses of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, Goofy’s Barnstormer – a kiddie coaster, Donald’s Boat – a playground for toddlers, and a large character greeting area where guests can meet Mickey and Minnie, Tinker Bell and her fairy friends, and several Disney princesses.

Mickey’s Toontown Fair is being closed as part of Disney’s grand plans for the largest Walt Disney World expansion ever. Princess castles, restaurants, and a new ride based on The Little Mermaid are being added to Fantasyland.

The construction is set to be completed in 2013.

Mickey’s Toontown Fair opened as a new “land” at Walt Disney World in 1988, when it was called Mickey’s Birthdayland in celebration of the Mouse’s 60th birthday.

Many Disney enthusiasts dislike the cartoon theming of the area and say that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of Walt Disney World. But the land in the northeast corner of the Magic Kingdom has proven popular with families.

The Disney Parks Blog says that Disney World guests will still be able to meet their favorite characters after Toontown Fair closes. Mickey, Minnie and the Disney Princesses will greet guests in a building in the Magic Kingdom’s Town Square. Tinker Bell will move to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and her fairy friends will flutter over to Epcot.

Disney World at Christmas: Expect crowds. BIG crowds.

Disney World Christmas crowdsI spent many a childhood vacation driving back and forth to Florida. My family loved to vacation here. We went to various beach communities around the state, and our trips would often involve a day or two spent at Walt Disney World.

So the whole family was excited when, in 1984, one of my aunts moved to Florida. It was immediately decided that the extended family would spend Christmas there. Not only that, but we were all going to Walt Disney World. On the day after Christmas. Because, surely no one is on vacation at Walt Disney World at Christmastime.

On Dec. 26, the whole extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, probably 18-20 of us – loaded up in a motor home for the 1-hour drive to Walt Disney World. It was smooth sailing for the first 45 minutes, and then we hit the traffic. It took an extra hour to get into the parking lot, and the lot closed practically right behind us.

I still remember the nervous voices of my parents and the other adults in the car, quietly discussing the crowd levels.When we got up to the Ticket and Transportation Center, there were people everywhere. Into the Magic Kingdom we went, and it was packed, as well. I only remember riding one ride that Dec. 26 – It’s a Small World. I also remember waiting at least an hour in a 2-hour line for Dumbo before being forced to leave the line because some younger cousins had to use the bathroom.

Our expectations of an empty park and lots of rides and shows were not met, and the whole day was way less than magical.

I have now lived in Florida myself for 17 years. And almost every January or February, I run into someone, new to Florida, who decided that Walt Disney World would be empty around Christmas and it would be the perfect time to take the family. And their tale always ends up like mine. I listen, and then explain that there are certain times of year that we locals – and that includes them now – don’t go the parks. Christmas is tops on that list.

What I know now is that many families have made a trip to Walt Disney World their Christmas tradition. And with good reason, because there are a lot of Christmas sights to see at Disney World. But those folks go in with their eyes open to the crowds.

So, trust me, Walt Disney World is crowded at Christmas. While Disney doesn’t release attendance figures, the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day are widely believed to be the highest attended times in the Disney theme parks every year.

Top 10 holiday sights to see at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is known for building theme parks and resorts that are larger than life. So it should come as no surprise that Disney goes all out during the holidays. It’s enough to have anyone humming “White Christmas,” even if it is 80 degrees outside.

Many of the holiday festivities start this week at Walt Disney World – yes, Disney skips directly from Halloween to Christmas. Here are my Top 10 sights to see at Walt Disney World during a November or December visit:

Snow on Main Street U.S.A.
It only gets cold enough for a flurry every few years in Orlando, but you can see snow at the Magic Kingdom on select nights each November or December. The flakes fall during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a special event that includes a holiday parade, Christmas fireworks and treat stations dispensing free hot chocolate and cookies.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Millions of lights twinkle in time with holiday music during this dazzling presentation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Entire buildings are covered in lights, and more lights form Santa and his reindeer and other familiar favorites. The shows happen nightly after dark in the park’s Streets of America section.

Minnie’s Christmas cookie parade float
Minnie Mouse’s float in Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade delights the eyes with giant Christmas cookies and candy. But this “must-see” is a “must-smell,” too. Be sure to get a whiff of the cinnamon scent the float emits as it rolls by during this afternoon parade at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Santas with an international flair

In Epcot, the World Showcase pavilions show off traditional décor – and traditional jolly old elves — from their home countries each holiday season. Don’t miss a visit with Pere Noel in France or Father Christmas in the United Kingdom.

Stars on parade
The Walt Disney World parade shown on TV each Christmas Day is actually taped during a few days in early December, and Disney recruits members of the public and park visitors to be part of the audience for the taping. The 2009 parade audiences were treated to musical performances by stars including Kris Allen, Yanni and Nick Cannon. This year’s tapings are scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4.

Giant gingerbread
Disney’s pastry chefs work overtime during the holidays, creating larger-than-life masterpieces that are amazingly edible. Take a tour of the resorts to see their handiwork: a gingerbread carousel with chocolate horses spins at Disney’s Beach Club, toy soldiers guard the perimeter of a gingerbread gazebo at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, and a 17-foot gingerbread tree towers over the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. If all that gingerbread sharpens your sweet tooth, stop by the life-sized gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian, which doubles as a bake shop selling cookies, peppermint bark and – you guessed it – gingerbread.

Towering wilderness
While Walt Disney World is home to more than 700 Christmas trees each December, the beauty at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a consistent favorite of Disney visitors. Shooting up more than 60 feet in the center of the lodge’s lobby, the Christmas tree is adorned with 60,000 lights and décor that suits the national park theming of the resort, including ornaments made from antlers. In fact, Disney’s Imagineers designed the Wilderness Lodge lobby with Christmas in mind, even installing power outlets in the floor where they would be needed for the tree.

Christmas-y campsites
While Walt Disney World decorators string more than 8 million Christmas lights around the resort, guests at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground also get on the action. It has become an annual tradition for many families to camp at Walt Disney World during the Christmas holidays, and they bring their celebrations – and their decorations – with them. Take a spin through the campground after dark to see the creative ways these Disney visitors light up their tents and RVs.

Cinderella’s Holiday Wish
Each night at dusk, Cinderella appears on stage at the Magic Kingdom to ask for a special holiday wish. With a wave of her Fairy Godmother’s magic wand, the princess’s castle is lit up with sparkling holiday lights. The glittering castle makes a great back-drop for a family photo.

Surprising treats
Holiday surprises also abound at Walt Disney World’s restaurants. Keep your eye out for special holiday menu items, such as chocolate Mickey waffles on the Crystal Palace breakfast buffet or a frozen Dole Whip dessert colored a Christmas green at Disney’s Polynesian Resort.

[Image credit (gingerbread house): Flickr user M. Keefe]

Air Force Thunderbirds fly over Walt Disney World’s Main Street U.S.A.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew up Main Street U.S.A. Tuesday afternoon in a six-plane “Delta” formation. The Walt Disney World flyover was part of the festivities surrounding Air Force Week in Central Florida.

Air Force Weeks are held in different U.S. cities each year. They are a public relations effort “for our Air Force to showcase some of its capabilities to the general public,” said Col. Lee Rosen, commander of the 45th Launch Group.

The Walt Disney World Thunderbirds flyover was months in the making, according to Maj. David Lemery, a Thunderbirds maintenance officer.

Besides planning the timing and coordinates of the flight, the Air Force had to ensure that the air space was clear. And while that might seem easy to do, there are some flying objects in the air that can’t be reached by radio:

“Birds. There were lots of giant birds,” said Lt. Col. Derek Routt, Thunderbirds operations officer. “They look pretty in the sky, but they can do a lot of damage to a jet aircraft.”

In addition to the flyover, airmen and their families visited Walt Disney World Tuesday to enjoy the park and interact with the public. On Wednesday, airmen are visiting SeaWorld, and on Thursday, they will be at Kennedy Space Center.

Air Force Week moves to Cocoa Beach, Florida for the weekend, with performances at the Cocoa Beach air show on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Cocoa Beach Pier.

Top ten Halloween theme park events

Theme parks around the United States are getting in on the Halloween fun this week, with special events featuring everything from horror-filled haunted houses to magic shows to trick-or-treating for kids. Here’s a look at our top 10 Halloween theme park events:

1. Halloween Horror Nights: Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Florida
Universal’s Halloween scarefest, which tops lists of horror attractions year-after-year, is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. But rather than make it solely a look back, Halloween Horror Nights XX blends new with the nostalgia. There are eight haunted houses, six streetside “scare zones” and two shows. Be sure to catch a glimpse of Fear, the towering character Universal says is the creator of all the scares of the past 20 years. Tickets are $74.99, with discounts available for Florida residents.
Scare level: This event is geared toward adults and older teens. Trust me, it’s not for children.

2. Halloween Haunt: Knott’s “Scary” Farm, Buena Park, California

Now in its 38th year, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt is the granddaddy of all theme park Halloween event. Unlike many theme park events where rides are open, but don’t differ from the rest of the year, Knott’s re-themes 13 of its rides and turns the ride queues into “walk-through mazes.” There are also seven live shows at Knott’s “Scary” Farm and more than 1,000 monsters, mutants and goblins standing in the shadows waiting to jump out and scare. Tickets are $50 in advance, with several discount packages available.
Scare level: This event is for adults and older teens. Knott’s Berry Farm also offers “Snoopy’s Costume Party” during the day for the younger set.

3. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida
Mickey, Minnie and all their friends don Halloween costumes for this special event at the Magic Kingdom on select nights each year. Families are allowed to come in costume and there are trick-or-treating stations set up throughout the park. Highlights of Disney’s Halloween party include Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Parade that features a pre-parade appearance by Sleepy Hollow’s Headless Horseman, and the Hallowishes fireworks show. There’s also a live show at Cinderella Castle featuring many of the Disney villains, including (new this year) Dr. Facilier from “The Princess and the Frog.” Tickets are $59.95, with discounts available for passholders.
Scare level: This one’s for just about everyone, though children who fear Disney villains or the Haunted mansion ride could be in for a few mild frights.4. Fright Dome: Circus Circus, Las Vegas, Nevada
Every year, the haunted houses at Las Vegas’s Circus Circus offer some serious scares, and this year, there are three all-new houses including My Bloody Valentine, Flesh Feast and a house that pays homage to the “Saw” horror movies. Fright Dome is also known for its live shows featuring cutting-edge magicians, and for its celebrity visitors – Paris Hilton, Holly Madison, David Copperfield and other frequent Vegas visitors tend to visit Fright Dome each year. Tickets are $34.95.
Scare level: Definitely not for kids or the faint of heart – this is one of the scariest events around.

5. Howl-O-Scream: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, Florida
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment holds Howl-O-Scream events in Williamsburg, Virginia, San Antonio, Texas, and Tampa, Florida, but we choose the Florida event for this list. The Tampa event typically adopts a back story that adds some edgy fun. This year, the protagonist is Sylvie, the lead singer of a rock band known as My X. Sylvie is out to get revenge on, well, her ex, and just about anyone else that stands in front of her. Besides the eight haunted houses and five scare zones at Howl-O-Scream, you can also see a concert featuring Sylvie and her band. It’s that follow-through with the back story that puts Howl-O-Scream on our list. Tickets are $74.95, with discounts for Florida residents.
Scare level: Teens and adults only for this one.



6. Hersheypark in the Dark: Hersheypark, Hershey, Pennsylvania
Where better to get a sweet Halloween treat than in America’s favorite chocolate town? Hersheypark opens its “rollerghosters” and other rides at night for a Halloween celebration each year. Kids 12 and under can trick-or-treat at eight stops in the park, and there are three family-friendly shows, including one by Halloween band “Bunsen and the Burners.” Hersheypark’s eateries even update their menus for the fall, offering soup in bread bowls, turkey legs and autumn-inspired desserts. Tickets are $38.95, with several discount packages available.
Scare level: This one’s truly for all ages.

7. Halloweekends: Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Cedar Point tries to balance fun and scary during their Halloweekends. While there are plenty of scares in four haunted houses and five scare zones, but much of the rest of the park is filled with pumpkins, sweet treats and family-friendly Halloween fun. All the scary sections are marked so that those not wanting quite the fright can stay away. Cedar Point puts a heavy emphasis on shows – with nine Halloween shows during the event. And for the kids, there are Peanuts shows, a costume contest and the Monster Midway Invasion Celebration Parade. Tickets are $45.99, with discount packages available.
Scare level: There are plenty of frights for horror fans, but just as much fun for small frys.

8. Brick or Treat: Legoland, San Diego, California
Legoland offers Halloween fun for little ones at Brick or Treat, with a costume contest, dance party and fall-themed Lego building activities. New this year at Brick or Treat is a live stage show where kids can find the secret to turning scary monsters sweet, and a new light show, “The Spirits of Halloween.” There’s also plenty of trick-or-treating action at Brick or Treat, with seven-themed trick-or-treating stations along a trail. Tickets are $30.
Scare level: This one is all treats for little ones, with no tricks in sight.

9. Fright Fest: Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois
Six Flags puts an emphasis on shows and music at this year’s edition of Fright Fest, with a new “Full Moon Rocksplosion” show and parade, as well as a new “zombie dance party.” There’s also “scary-oke” (which is what they should call it every time I take the stage), and the classic “Love at First Fright” show is back for a 20th year. Fright Fest also offers four haunted houses, as well as kids activities including trick-or-treating and a Halloween-themed “The Wiggles” show. Tickets are $36.99 online in advance.
Scare level: There’s something at Fright Fest for everyone.

10. Count’s Spooktacular: Sesame Place, Langhorne, Pennsylvania
The preschool set can have a frightfully fun time with Sesame Street characters with one very famous vampire (and no, his name isn’t Edward). The Count von Count hosts a Howl-o-Ween radio show, as well as an “un-haunted” maze at Sesame Place theme park. There are two additional Halloween shows starring Sesame Street favorites such as Elmo and Big Bird, as well as hayrides and trick-or-treating. Tickets are $33 online in advance.
Scare level: Only for the little pumpkins.