Archive for June, 2009

WDW Today Episode 581 – TreeHouse Villas

by on June 22, 2009

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Episode 581 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Urban Planner Walk Through Liberty Square To Frontierland – Part 1

by on June 21, 2009

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Hello. This is continuation of my walk through the various lands in the Magic Kingdom. This week we see how Liberty Square and Frontierland share a a lot of things in common but remain distinctly different in feel.

For more of this type of stuff I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

From LIBERTY SQUARE to FRONTIERLAND – Part 1

There is just no way around it. I can’t talk about what is going on with Liberty Square without talking about Frontierland. Both lands share the same organizing principle, as this series will highlight. Both lands are adjacent to the Rivers of America and use that asset to enhance the story. These land combine to become the Magic Kingdom’s time machine.

This is one of my favorite things about the Magic Kingdom – how Liberty Square and Frontierland work together to project upon the environment the history of the American western migration. Pretty deep, eh? Let’s step into that time machine and see how the designers pulled off this clever bit of urban design.

It might help for you to get into the right frame of mind for this article. If you are like me when you visit the Magic Kingdom, you like to imagine that you are walking onto a three-dimensional movie set that is the stage for your own personal film. Each land is designed to inspire you by contributing the key movie theme that can be the foundation for your experience.

In the Magic Kingdom you have the choice to enter a world of fantasy and childhood delights or go on an exotic foreign adventure. You can blast into a sci-fi future or visit the unreal world of the toons. But this journey will be a time travel story and we are about to take a step back in time.

When planning an urban environment you have to start with something. You need to pay attention to the centers that already exist. By this I mean that special quality that sometimes is hard to name but you know in your heart and head exists. The best urban environments have this quality and a theme park is certainly an urban environment.

For Frontierland and Liberty Square that center was purposefully created and is the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island. This band of green space defines the edges for both lands in subtly different ways. The river also becomes the connection between the different lands and provides the necessary continuity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We are going to start this journey from the Hub. As you know, adjacent to the Hub is Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland. Liberty Square, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland feature similar arrival elements consisting of a strong gateway and a feature that is moving off in the distance. That moving feature is the proverbial “wienie” and is meant to draw you into the land.

Frontierland is not adjacent to the Hub like it is at Disneyland and Adventureland doesn’t have the “wienie” feature. Why? It wouldn’t be an adventure if you knew what was beyond the gates, right?

Imagine you are standing next to the Partners statue and facing due west. We are going to walk that direction. You will see how the time machine effect starts even before your feet touch the wooden bridge. In the movies the editor will use a technique called a cross-dissolve to transition from one scene to another. There are physical versions of cross-dissolves throughout the Magic Kingdom and this is how you can spot them.

The designers have used paving materials as one way to create that smooth transition. As you walk from the Hub to Liberty Square, notice how the smooth pavement turns to brick and then wood as you cross over the bridge. This subtle transformation helps to plant the seed that you are entering a different time and place. Going from Main Street USA to Liberty Square means you have to turn back the clock 150 years from small town America during the early 1900s to the east coast at the time of the founding of the nation.

As with everything you are about to see, even this bridge is loaded with meaning. Nothing is there by accident. The bridge was meant to be a copy of the Concord Bridge AKA the Old North Bridge where the Colonials faced off with the British in 1775. The moment when our nation change is the start of our journey through America’s past.

Once through the brick gates the main element is the public square. The Square is framed by the iconic buildings, the boathouse, and the splash of green just off into the distance from Tom Sawyer Island. That public square is the center and focus of the entire land just like how the space would have functioned in Colonial days. The Liberty Tree balances the large Hall of President’s building and softens the space. That tree is one of the largest trees ever transplanted at Walt Disney World.

To embellish and enhance that special place, additional little areas are carved out behind the main buildings. No other land at the Magic Kingdom provides these types of discoverable spaces. These new centers in turn make each other special and that creates an urban landscape that is rewarding, functional, and memorable. It is one of the reasons New Orleans Square in Disneyland is so well loved.

The river is more than just a backdrop that frames one side of the outdoor room known as the public square. Its real magic is how it is used as the thread that moves the back-story along. And that back-story is nothing less than the quintessential time trip from colonial days through the American western migration.

Next week we will cross that bridge and explore what is on the other side.

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Request: Photos Of Families Having Fun In Walt Disney World

by on June 20, 2009

If you’re like us, every decent photo you have of yourself or your kids was taken somewhere in Adventureland.  So we’re looking for photos to include in the next Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

If you’d like to be included, send samples to LenTesta@Gmail.com.   Ideally, the photos would reflect some piece of advice or information from within the Guide.  Examples might be character meals, character greetings, having fun on certain rides, restaurant details, or resorts.

Oh, before we forget: If you know of any other Disney photo fans, please let them know about this request too!  Thanks very much.

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WDW Today Episode 580 – Name That Park Tune

by on June 19, 2009

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Episode 580 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 579 – Listener Questions

by on June 17, 2009

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Episode 579 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Disney’s New Online Dining Reservation System: Launch Day Wrap Up

by on June 17, 2009

The Walt Disney World online ADR system launched this morning to great fanfare. Here is our wrap-up of the day’s events and an explanation of how the system is currently working. Click here to go start booking those ADRs!

Don’t know what an ADR is? Read our explanation.

What we know and don’t know so far:

-The online ADR system has been available for Travel Agents since early/mid May.
-There is still a 90-day booking window.
-We are unsure about what time of day the 90-day booking window will open (for the phone centers, it remains 7am Eastern). On Twitter, @CharacterFan noted that the window for the travel agent site currently opens at 3am ET (thus most of the scarcest ADRs are long gone by 7am).
-Bookings can only be found through the “Explore” tab on the main site, then to the dining section on the far right. We assume that Disney will add a Dining section to the ‘Book’ tab (where it most intuitively lies).
-You can only currently book through the US site (no sign of the reservations on the CA/UK sites).
-We heard some reports of buggy behavior from the site here and there (particularly with the Safari web browser), but no major downtime or problems. Kudos, Disney!
-Disney offers “suggestions” both for alternate times and
-The booking site is went down as of ~12:45am ET… is this a nightly downtime? The reservation system returned less than 30 minutes later.
-Disney is releasing menus! See below for more info.
-You can book Dinner Shows and Special Dining Events, like Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Dine with an Imagineer.
-Cancellations online seems to be going smoothly (you won’t have to call the main number).
-DVC members are having getting their 90+10 day booking window as on-site guests: see DVCnews for more info.
-See our original post for more info.

Suggestions by Disney

One thing we noticed is that Disney is now using this new portal to suggest restaurants more effectively. If you look at the seven restaurants featured on the main Dining page, all score very low on our recent scorecard of ADR lead times (meaning, they are easy to get reservations for). Disney also has a lot of power in suggesting alternates when ADRs are not available for your first choice restaurant. The assumption here is that Disney is going to point you when it can to less popular restaurants.

Long-Term Abuse?

One of the biggest concerns with the online ADR system was and still is abuse. As Brian Noble noted first, Disney is using a Captcha system to help prevent bookings en masse, but the system is still susceptible to a network of people coordinated to make bookings by hand (a big problem in the online ticket industry).

The other major concern on people’s minds today was the controversial practice of booking “double” ADRs — ie, booking two dining reservations for the same meal at different places. Also from Brian:

If you try to double-book, you are told:

“It appears that 2 or more of your dining offers are within one hour of each other. If the offers are for the same dining party, please remove the conflicting offer(s). If these offers are for different parties, please continue with your booking.”

So, it mostly trusts guests to do the right thing after telling them what the right thing is—which is not much different than the current system, really.

We’ll have to wait (and ready our pitchforks) to see if the system starts to be gamed. We think the next logical step Disney would have to make is to require a credit card hold on each reservation, as it does for some of the signature dining restaurants.

Menus

Disney is now offering full color menus for each of the restaurants and its sittings in PDF format. To find them, go to any of the restaurants’ overview section, and look on the right-hand side for the menus: see (and drool over) the Le Cellier and their dinner menu. As far as we can tell, they are indeed the menus as you receive at the table. While this is long overdue, it remains to be seen whether or not Disney will keep their menus updated and accurate as well as AllEars.Net, which is an amazing resource for WDW menus and has been so for years. There’s also been some reports of the PDF links being broken, so if you notice any, send them our way.

Community Reaction

Tarmara says:

Works good for me! I got Rose & Crown in time to see Illuminations when we go in August, something I’d been unable to do when I called yesterday and spoke with a CM on the dining reservations line. That said, the alternate suggestions are not always the most logical ones. Still, I’m thrilled to have this option.

Margot adds:

I just made several reservations for an upcoming trip (June/July) and I got reservations for 5 dates/times that I couldn’t get thru the phone reservations just a few days ago. I could see one or two of those happening but 5??? So this is great! I have been wondering if they would let us cancel reservations online. I get irritated paying for a long distance call and waiting on hold to make cancellations. Usually I just wait til I get to the park that day or the hotel…but it would free up things in a more timely way if they made cancellations easier.
Anyway – this was easy. I didn’t tie it to my resort reservation cauz I was too excited to try it out!

Lina summed it up well, saying:

I just made 3 more reservations for our upcoming trip in July. It is easy, no problems and love the online reservations. Just print out your confirmations and you are done. No more long distance charges and long waits.

We also received over 30 retweets on Twitter for our original story.

Tell us your experiences with the new system in the comments or on Twitter! And help us correct/improve on any of the information above!

photo by Joe Penniston

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Drinking Around the World!

by on June 16, 2009

On my last trip I was on a mission to drink around the world at Epcot’s World Showcase.  I originally thought I would split the countries in half because my 5’1” frame couldn’t handle eleven drinks in one shot.  Well, due to several issues, my friends and I wound up accomplishing this goal in three tries.  So with that in mind, I’ll write three blogs about the offerings in each pavilion.  First let me introduce you to the drinkers.  There was me:  your favorite 20-something Disney blogger who of course only drinks for research purposes.  Tom the Brit was along for the entire expedition and focused on beer.  Julie was with us for most of the journey and liked to mix it up from country to country.  And Don joined us for some of the countries since he’s an Orlando local and had to go to his pesky job during some of our escapades.

First up we hit Mexico.  After taking a spin on El Rio del Tiempo we made a trip to the famous Margarita Stand.  This booth offers five different flavors of frozen margaritas: lime, strawberry, mango, green apple, and fiesta which is a sampling of each.  They were out of mango and I wasn’t interested in green apple so that ruled out the fiesta.  Julie and I both got the strawberry and Don got the lime.  They put a sugar rim on the cup, rather than salt for a sweet treat.  Tom opted to get a XX from Catina de San Angel since he prefers beer.  We hung out in the seating area outside the quick service eatery and we all enjoyed our drinks.  It was a nice start to the festivities.

Next we headed over to the United Kingdom.  We actually were more focused on getting fish and chips for dinner, but decided to take the opportunity to grab a pint as well.  There is a stand outside the Rose and Crown pub which serves Bass Ale and Harp Lager.  Drinkers can also head inside for a wider selection of beers, ales, and ciders.  We all chose the Harp this time to go with our fish.  I’m always a fan of Harp and it’s usually what I get when drinking with Tom the Brit in his home pavilion.  Maybe next time we’ll take the time to hang out in the pub for a while.

We headed back over to France next.  This pavilion’s Les Vins des Chefs de France kiosk offers several alcoholic selections.  Guests can chose from several wines, champagnes, and “specialty drinks.”  Julie and I both love the specialty drinks so we already knew we were getting those when we arrived at Epcot that day.  There is either a Grand Mariner Orange Slush or the Grey Goose Citron Lemon Slush.  I’ve had both and really, really, really like both (especially on a hot day), but this time we both decided to have the Lemon Slush.  The guys stuck with beer and the only offering was Kronenbourg 1644 which they said was so-so.

Last up for that day was a stop in Canada before Illuminations.  Canada is one of our favorite spots to take in the night time spectacular so it seemed like a good place to end our first leg of drinking around the world.  There is a stand offering several snacks as well as beer.  We all got the Moosehead to enjoy during the fireworks.  Later in the week we learned the Canada pavilion is the only place outside of actual Canada Moosehead is available on tap.  I have to say this was one of my favorite beers around the World.  I can also highly recommend finishing up a day at WDW in Canada drinking a Moosehead with great friends during Illuminations.

Next week I’ll continue discussing my trek around World Showcase with drinks in hand…

photo by James Ellsworth

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Disney World Online ADR System Live For Public

by on June 16, 2009

Disney has quietly launched a booking system for Advance Dining Reservations through the disneyworld.com website. You can find the bookings through their Restaurants section (it hasn’t been integrated into their ‘book’ section yet). Want to book that ADR for Le Cellier online? You can now. See the example for Boma below:

The system allows you to choose a specific night (or range of nights up to five days), a time, number of adults / children. If you don’t get availability for your dates/times, Disney will suggest alternate availabilities. No word yet on how this affects booking windows, booking strategies, or how exactly Disney is preventing abuse of the system. UPDATE: Disney is using Captcha to prevent mass automation of reservations (thanks Brian!). See WDW Today episode 578 and our recent post on ADR booking windows for more information. Please leave a comment below with your experiences with booking online.


See more screenshots after the jump:

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Best “Spots” in Blizzard Beach

by on June 15, 2009

Just like my post about the best spots in Typhoon Lagoon, we will now look at the best places in Blizzard Beach to set up camp for the day.

Below, we highlight some of the spots that we have noticed and experienced to be among the best in Blizzard Beach. Each spot will have some kind of descriptive title as well as a picture. Below all of the descriptions and pictures is an image of the Blizzard Beach park map. We circled the area in which you can find these spots, each with a different color highlighter on the map. Here we go…

Secluded Spot

If you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t know that this spot even existed. We discovered this spot while doing research in the park when we needed a shady and uncrowded spot to relax for a few minutes. Rarely will you actually see anyone else back in this spot. Another great feature of this spot is the number of wild birds that seem to have made the surrounding trees their homes. So sit back and relax as the soothing chirps of red cardinals help you appreciate the quiet moments of your vacation. This spot is located at the back side of the park. This spot is circled in BLUE on the map.

Secluded

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WDW Today Episode 578 – Advanced Dining Reservations

by on June 15, 2009

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Episode 578 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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