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Halloween Horror Nights 24 Touring Plans Survival Guide

by on September 22, 2014

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Halloween Horror Nights 24 touring plan

Let our Halloween Horror Nights 24 touring plans be your umbrella when braving the elements at Universal Studios Florida. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights has been resurrected for its 23rd annual outing, opening on September 19th, 2014 under stormy skies. HHN, as it’s know to its legions of bloodthirsty fans, is recognized as the nation’s most popular and industry-awarded haunted theme park event. Before the opening weekend bloodstains have fully dried, we’re introducing this year’s Halloween Horror Nights 24 Touring Plans Survival Guide to help our brave readers make it through terror (relatively) unscathed.

Originally a locals-friendly filler during a normally slow season, Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween celebration started in 1991 as a single weekend of “Fright Nights” has grown so famous that the 28 event nights between 9/19 and 11/1 will provide a substantial percentage of USF’s annual attendance statistics. Much like visiting any of Orlando’s theme parks during a peak holiday season, an evening at HHN can be tremendous fun if you go in with a solid plan and sane expectations. Without those things…well, you might be better off eaten by zombies!

I’ve been attending HHN every year since 1996, and visited last year’s event on over a dozen evenings; I’ve combined that experience with intelligence gathered on 2014′s opening night to compile this Halloween Horror Nights 25 Touring Plans Survival Guide. Tweaks will continue to be made throughout the event, so the crowd patterns observed during this year’s initial operating nights aren’t guaranteed to persist, so we will continue to update our advice as operations evolve.

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Menu Monday: Animal Kingdom Beer Oases

by on September 22, 2014 4 Comments

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Tusker Beer at the Dawa BarThe beer situation in the Animal Kingdom is rough. They seem to be cognizant of this, since they recently added several “beer carts” along the paths in Asia (near Everest and on the way to DinoLand U.S.A.). Indeed, the rising demand for good beer seems to be causing a bit of a branding crisis for the park. Ubiquitous is the Safari Amber ($6.95), which Cast Members will tell you is specially brewed for the Animal Kingdom. That’s a little bit of a stretch, it’s actually specially *branded* for the park. You know the “Red” or “Amber” beer that seems to appear in restaurants that only sell Bud and Bud Lite, but has some cute name that directly references the tacky ambiance of wherever you are? This is the selfsame brew, and will taste exactly like Kingdom Red Ale in the Kansas City Chief’s stadium, or Ray’s Red at Tropicana Field in Tampa, or Thirsty Frog Red Ale “brewed exclusively for Carnival Cruise Lines.” If you’ve had one of these mystery “Red Ales” before, you’ve had the mediocre Safari Amber.

I’d like to go though each Land of Animal Kingdom like I did for Epcot, reviewing spots and providing rankings for each experience, but it’s just not possible here. You will be looking for an Oasis not wandering through a verdant field of hops. With that in mind …

Dawa Bar

Located in Africa, right outside Tusker House. The bar represents a microcosm of the Animal Kingdom experience. The selection is sparse and lacks air conditioning but is none-the-less pleasant and entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »

Disney Dining: ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

by on September 22, 2014 6 Comments

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It has been years since I have been to ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and I have been looking forward to a return for a long time. Getting dining reservations at this popular restaurant can at times be as frustrating as Cinderella’s Royal Table or Anna and Elsa at Fairytale Hall, so when Tim Grassey – my co-host of the E-Ticket Report podcast - scored a dinner reservation and asked me to join him, I jumped at the chance to see if ‘Ohana was as good as I remembered it being. (Please note that all pictures in this article can be viewed at full size by clicking on them.)

OHANA_BreadPudding

‘Ohana Bread Pudding a la mode with Bananas-Caramel Sauce. More on this later…. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Disneyland Resort Crowd Report – September 14 to 22, 2014

by on September 22, 2014

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Predictions did very well last week with our Resort-wide predictions hitting the mark every day except Saturday. Wait times remained below average until the weekend arrived when we saw the first level ’6′ of September. The Southern California heat meant that Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run were some of the busiest attractions of the week. During the week wait times were generally low however, and guests experienced relaxed touring across the resort.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Disneyland Resort Crowd Report:

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Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report – September 14 to 22, 2014

by on September 22, 2014

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Universal Orlando Resort saw low waits all week last week with only a few exceptions. Most days came in at a level ’2′ as predicted with only Friday and Saturday departing from the week-long trend.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Universal Orlando Resort Crowd Report:

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Disney World Crowd Report – September 14 to 22, 2014

by on September 22, 2014

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Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival arrived for it’s 2014 installment last week while Magic Kingdom continued its schedule of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Parties. Wait times are down in general, continuing a low stretch that began in late August although we saw waits last week that were higher than the week before as expected. Wait times will gradually increase to levels that although lower than yearly averages are higher than what we saw in early September.

Let’s look at how the crowd levels stacked up each day last week on the TouringPlans.com Disney World Crowd Report:

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Menu Monday: Disney Dining Plan Snack Credit Savory “Meals”

by on September 22, 2014 4 Comments

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If you use the Disney Dining Plan, this may be a familiar scenario. You have an early dinner dining reservation (say around 4:00 PM), and you figure if you use your quick service dining credit for a big breakfast, you’ll be able to last until that meal. Suddenly around 1:00 PM, you realize you really are missing lunch. You don’t want to pay out of pocket for another meal, but you really don’t want to use your Disney Dining Plan snack credit on a cupcake or ice cream bar for “lunch.” Thankfully, there are some savory options that you can use your snack credit on that fit the bill as a small lunch. Here are some of the best.

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Speed Planning A First Trip To Universal Orlando

by on September 21, 2014 4 Comments

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Outside Universal

Outside Universal

By nature, we’re crazy planners. We like to look over the scenery, plan our day, and then return to the plan to tweak it. Last year, we planned a Walt Disney World trip in a month – and thought we’d never do anything crazier.

This year, we planned a first trip to Universal Orlando in ten days. Let’s take a ride.

Live blogging our trip to Universal

July 21, 2014

We’ve got this weird set of credits on Southwest that have to be used by May of next year, and, being teachers, we can’t really see an opportunity to use them. So my wife, Christy, keeps looking at flights and attempting to see what will work. We’ve looked at other locations, quick trips in the near future, and essentially come to the conclusion to just hold on to them. We actually look at Universal, but reservations aren’t available for our dates, August 2 to August 6. So, we put it on hold.

July 22, 2014

We resolved to wait, but I checked the website. And inputted the dates. And something strange happened. I asked my wife again which hotel it was. Frankly, I still have no idea which hotels are which. Except Cabana Bay. That sticks out in my brain. “Loews Royal Pacific,” she retorts. Which shows up on the list. For our departure in ten days. After a quick look back and forth, we go to work.

iPad in her hands and computer in mine, we are assembling. I’ve inputted the dates into the Universal site, and quickly updated that to show the Harry Potter package and reservations for breakfasts on two days. Christy has the Southwest site. And it’s giving major headaches. It turns out that each reservation can only use four methods of payment per reservation, and we have five people in our party. After contacting Southwest, I decide to plan our trip in three chunks – including one adult and one young child in each reservation. I’m starting to stress that once I book one reservation, and the other spots will become unavailable or more expensive. It means sacrificing the smallest credits, but we should all be able to book. I’ve got two browsers open on the computer, and the iPad working, and I’m able to reserve all of the spots! I turn to the computer and prepare to pay. For the reservation that no longer exists. I’ve been logged out.

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Best Places to Find Pins at Disney World

by on September 21, 2014 4 Comments

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Disney Pin Trading has become somewhat of a Disney vacation pastime and is one of my personal favorite things to do when I visit Disney World. What is Disney Pin Trading? Well, all throughout Disney World you will find metal pins for sale representing everything from characters to resorts to attractions to special events. The more pins you purchase, the greater your collection, plus you have great mementos to remember your vacation by; but this souvenir experience is also interactive in that you can trade with Cast Members, or with other guests, if they so choose. It’s a fun activity that everyone can enjoy while exploring the parks and resorts!

Disney Pin Trading - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Disney Pin Trading

Now you will find Disney Pins for sale almost everywhere throughout the parks and resorts, but there are some corners of Disney World where you may find a better selection of pins or those rare, special edition pins or just maybe that one you’ve been hunting for the whole trip. So read on to check out my best places to find pins at Disney World!

Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion – This particular Epcot pavilion is one of my favorites because there’s a lot more to see than just the fountain and restaurants found at the front. The Morocco Pavilion actually extends back farther than what you may realize in a network of exotic, winding streets which contain lots of things to see and a few shops. It’s impressive and trust me, you will have a hard time reminding yourself that you’re actually in Central Florida and not Morocco! Anyway, back to Disney Pins. So because most guests don’t realize that the Morocco pavilion offers more than just what’s at the front door, the Cast Members who work at the rear of the pavilion, and their lanyards, aren’t visited by guests nearly as much as at others. While nothing is guaranteed, Morocco, in my opinion, is a good bet for those rare Cast Member pins!

Stores & Service Locations – Most shops and stores at the parks have their own individual pin boards from which you can trade from. Some stores have their own “themed” boards that match the theme of the land or attraction they belong to, which only makes trading even more fun! Some of the pin boards at the Disney World Resorts are only brought out at certain times and may have a trading limit. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask! In addition, many service locations at Disney World, such as stroller rentals, also have their own pin boards. I’ve even heard of a pin covered stroller with a stuffed Mickey Mouse in the seat from which you can trade at the Magic Kingdom! Pin boards are where I go to in order to trade because you never know what you might find, and very few guests realize that service locations have their own pin boards.

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DisneyQuest: Five Floors Of Fun!

by on September 20, 2014 4 Comments

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IMG_3420Recently, I was asked to upgrade my Disney pass to help out with some extra stuff here at Touring Plans. I hadn’t bothered with a premium annual in years since it just meant access to DisneyQuest and the water parks. I’d remembered DisneyQuest as a let down with lots of broken machines and outdated technology. It was a couple months after upgrading that I decided to finally stop in and see if anything had changed. I don’t know if it was just because of the time that had passed or due to recent changes, but I had a great time and wondered why I’d written the place off so many years ago. So with a fresh perspective I thought I’d share what you can expect from the five floors of fun at DisneyQuest!

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