ORLANDO, Fla. - You're walking through Walt Disney World Resort, snapping photos, dodging children, waiting in an hour-long line to ride Space Mountain, when a park employee taps you on the shoulder with a wand. You turn around to learn that you've been picked to receive a prize.
The gift could be as simple as a $12 set of Mickey Mouse ears. Or it could be as grand as a $17,000 Disney cruise or an $84,000 membership in Disney's timeshare Vacation Club.
Disney is giving away a million such prizes as part of its "Year of a Million Dreams" at the Florida theme park and at California's Disneyland Resort (and through mail-in entries). Though the program was begun quietly late last year, it is one of the highlights at Disney World in 2007.
But it is not the only new feature in store at Disney World. New rides and live stage shows, healthier dining options, and several sports events are among the park's new offerings this year.
Always seeking the movie tie-in, Disney has replaced Epcot's Living Seas exhibit with a ride starring the characters of the film Finding Nemo
. Visitors journey in clam-shaped cars past a 5.7 million-gallon aquarium in which Nemo and his fellow animated fish appear to be swimming among the real sea life. The attraction is in the pavilion called "The Seas with Nemo and Friends."
Nemo also shows up in a 30-minute, Broadway-style show at the Animal Kingdom, "Finding Nemo - The Musical."
In the Magic Kingdom, a live-action, interactive comedy show featuring characters from the film Monsters, Inc. is scheduled to start in the spring. Another live-action show debuted there in October, this one starring Mickey Mouse and pals. The 20-minute show, "Dream Along with Mickey," is a song-and-dance number performed several times a day on a stage near Cinderella Castle.
Speaking of the castle, Disney groupies may recall that Walt Disney had planned to build an apartment for his family in the fortress. Disney died before the park opened, and the apartment was never built.
But later this month, a fairytale-style royal suite is slated to open in some of the space reserved for the apartment, to be used as part of the Year of a Million Dreams program. The Disney visitors who get tapped for this prize will spend that night in the suite, which is styled like a French chateau, with inlaid marble floors, canopy beds, vaulted ceilings, and stained-glass windows.
If you have a hankering to be a cheerleader, pirate, princess or cowboy, you can participate in one of four new live shows at the Magic Kingdom, including one based on the hit Disney Channel movie High School Musical.
Dining. Disney continues to focus on nutrition by announcing plans to remove all trans fats from its menu items at parks and resorts by the end of this year. The company has been testing pizza made with less dough, lower-fat hamburgers, and other healthier meals. It also is examining whether the recipes for Disney-made pastries and candies can be tweaked and whether portions of some items should be made smaller, the company said in a news release.
In addition, a new eatery is scheduled to open in the Asia section of the Animal Kingdom.
Sporting events. Major League Baseball continues to partner with Disney World. In addition to the Atlanta Braves holding spring training at the Wide World of Sports complex Feb. 28 through March 29, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays will play three regular-season games there May 15 to 17, against the Texas Rangers.
Lodging. An 828-room Disney Vacation Club property, the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, is open and nearing completion.
Prices. Ticket prices traditionally go up at the beginning of the year and during the summer. Each increase is usually about $4. Admission, which was set in August, starts at $67 for a one-day pass for those age 10 and older to visit one Disney World park, and $206 for a five-day pass. Add $45 per person (regardless of the number of days) for the Park Hopper option, which allows you to visit more than one park a day.