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February 2009 Archives

February 13, 2009

American Idol Experience Press Event

by Debra Martin Koma, Senior Editor

Finally have a minute to catch up after the last two jam-packed days -- just wanted to give you a taste of the American Idol Experience event with the promise that more details and photos will be coming in the next day or so!

The festivities started with a motorcade featuring about 20 past American Idol contestants, including Sanjaya, he of the ever-changing hairdos (below).


Many of the Idol celebrities stopped to speak on the BLUE (not red) carpet, including Bucky Covington.


Once inside the Idol theater, we were surprised with a short speech from Jay Rasulo and a
very unexpected host, Ryan Seacrest -- and judge Paula Abdul.



The Idol show was just great, but even better, it was capped off with performances by David Cook, the most recent Idol winner, and Grammy award-winner Carrie Underwood.


Like I said, this is just a taste of the press event -- more coming about the new attraction and many other things... soon!

February 23, 2009

ESPN Updated with Schedule! The Weekend Awaits!


by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor

ESPN The Weekend Schedule!

Some of you may know that I visited Walt Disney World during ESPN The Weekend for the first time last year, and that my son came away a winner after participating in the Dream Job Experience (read his blog a see video about the event HERE).

Well, he's twisted my arm, so I'm taking him down for the event again this year -- we'll be heading to WDW later this week!

While I was in the World LAST week, though, I had the chance to speak about ESPN The Weekend to Jason Dobbins of Disney's product marketing. For those of you who also might be going to the see the star athletes and ESPN personalities, here's what he had to tell me about this year's event.

The format for the event will be the same as last year's -- as Dobbins noted, it was so successful last year, they didn't see any reason to change anything this year. So you'll still see the motorcades with the athletes throughout the day, and they'll still have conversations under
the Sorcerer Mickey Hat.

There will also be live broadcasts of popular ESPN shows like "NFL Live" and "1st and 10," live ESPN Radio broadcasts, and interactive game shows like the returning Dream Job Experience and Stump the Schwab for fans to take part in.

In the former show, members are selected from the crowd and have a chance to act as broadcasters of a major sporting event. The
audience votes who does the best job, while the participant gets feedback from some celebrity athlete judges. (That's the one my son the ham participated in.) In the latter, select members of the audience team up with an athlete to answer trivia questions, hoping to outscore ESPN personality Howie Schwab.

Dobbins added that they have been trying to add on another new interactive experience with one of the athletes scheduled to appear, but details weren't quite ironed out when we spoke... so keep your eyes peeled for something new on the schedule!

Shows like these and other activities will again be spread out all over the park, some taking place in the Theatre of the Stars (working around showings of Beauty and the Beast), others possibly in the Sounds Dangerous theater. One of last year's venues, the ABC Theater, is now home to the new American Idol Experience attraction, so instead some shows will be held in what's now called the Premiere Theater, back in the Streets of America area of the park. That theater, former home of the Hunchback of Notre Dame show, is now fully enclosed and air-conditioned.

The theme park will also host the ESPN SportsZone, located behind Rock'n' Roller Coaster and the Soundstages. You get a really cool perspective of the park from back there, plus there's lots going on -- basketball and baseball "clinics", autograph signing... you won't be bored, that's for sure.

Sort of a random note: attendees will be treated to the introduction of a new Powerade product -- apparently, Coca-Cola is giving ESPN The Weekend guests an exclusive first taste.

A tentative list of attendees for the weekend's festivities can be found HERE, but remember -- it'll be changing up until the last minute, as details are being finalized. (But Steeler Lamarr Woodley had better show up, or I'll have one disappointed Pittsburgh fan on my hands!)

If you're heading south for the event, have fun! And if you spot me in the park (I'm sure I won't get out of Disney's Hollywood Studios all weekend!) be sure to say hi!

Watch for a report on the weekend when we get back.

February 26, 2009

What's New, What's Next at Downtown Disney

Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor

I recently had the chance to chat with Kristi Koester, a manager of WDW Product Marketing, and we talked about what's going on with the Downtown Disney area. While there was a lot she couldn't talk about, because it's still in the planning stages, there were a few things she COULD reveal. Plus we had the chance to talk more at length about some plans that have already been announced.

kristi.jpg "When the night clubs closed on Pleasure Island (on September 28), we announced a complete transformation, not only of Pleasure Island, but of the whole Downtown Disney area," Koester says. "Over the past few months we have been working with Imagineers and many others to finalize this vision we have of making the area Disney's dining, shopping and entertainment metropolis."

Some of the changes to the area we're already seeing, she notes, pointing to the fall 2008 opening of T-Rex and the recent opening of the Design-A-Tee shop at the Marketplace. On the horizon is TrenD (pronounced trend-dee), an upscale, hip Disney fashion boutique, located on the site of the former Summer Sands in the marketplace, due to open in late March. And soon after that there will be a new, as-yet-unnamed restaurant with a Central and South American theme.

E-Brands Restaurants, based in Orlando, is the name behind the new restaurant, and the company already operates a number of high-concept eateries around the country, including Timpano Chophouse and Martini Bar, AquaKnox ( seafood), and David Burke (Modern American cuisine in Las Vegas). Nonetheless, Koester claims that this particular restaurant's concept is new to E-Brands, and will add to the mix of the Downtown Disney area, which she says is evolving from "night clubs" to "night life."

The new restaurant, which is slated to open later this year with a wine bar and a tequila bar, will also feature an impressive view of the waterfront.

"That's been one of the issues at Downtown Disney," she notes, "the real estate issue. You have this prime location sitting on the water and it was blockaded by all these buildings. The area needs to be contemporized and the waterfront opened up -- we're looking at ways to maximize this asset."

Another way Downtown Disney will "maximize this asset" is with Characters in Flight, the first Downtown Disney attraction, scheduled to open in April. This tethered balloon ride, situated in the water between Pleasure Island and West Side, is operated by the same company that runs a similar ride at Disneyland Paris. It will allow 30 participants at a time to go 300 feet off the ground and will last six minutes. The cost for the experience has not yet been set, but Koester notes that it will be quite an exhilarating ride.

"The ride will operate day and night," she explains, adding that the balloon will be illuminated in the evenings. "It's off-white, silhouetted with Disney characters, and will be quite a unique site hovering over the water at Downtown Disney."

When asked if this type of activity along with the closing of the night clubs, signals a shift to making Downtown Disney and specifically Pleasure Island more family-oriented, Koester shakes her head.

"No, I don't think that's it. I think the area will have a family focus, but will also be accommodating to others, not catering to one group more than another." She adds, "We're looking at rounding out what we have already and bringing in the best brands from all over. Not necessarily chains, but more unique experiences, like Raglan Road. We're looking at an array of dining possibilities, places with show kitchens, open lounges, that will appeal to everyone, not just families."

So what about bringing some of the old night clubs back, then? Specifically the beloved Adventurers Club, which was a uniquely Disney experience.

"I can tell you for certain that the Adventurers Club as it was will not be coming back to Pleasure Island," Koester states. "I'm afraid it will be a line in Disney history."

As for the rest of the changes the area will be seeing, Koester says they are coming, but as Imagineers are looking at transportation and a whole host of other related issues, it's been a challenge to develop and lock onto a finalized plan. But, she adds, there will be a succession of smaller announcements over the next 18 months to two years, as Disney reaches agreements with other partners who will open locations in the Downtown Disney area.

"As you can imagine, tough economic times like these tend to slow things down," she notes. "But you can expect an announcement at least of the overall vision for Downtown Disney early this summer."

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About February 2009

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in February 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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