Archive for November, 2009

Mobile Wait Times Now Available On Android, Palm Pre & Palm Pixi Phones

by on November 18, 2009


Two days ago we launched Lines, a mobile website that serves up WDW wait times for every attraction in all four parks. Today we’re announcing support for Android phones and two Palm smartphones: the Pre and the Pixi. OK, so it looked pretty darn good on these phones two days ago, but now we’re ready to officially support them going forward.

If you’ve got an iPhone, Android, Palm Pre or Palm Pixi phone and want to check out current (and future) estimates of the wait times for attractions like Toy Story Mania!, Soarin’, and the newly opened Space Mountain, go visit http://m.touringplans.com. And if you’re at home and don’t own one of these devices, you can check out the site via Safari. Stay tuned: other mobile phones are on the way!

UPDATE:: We now support BlackBerry, too!

UPDATE x2:: Lines has graduated Beta and is now a fully featured member of the TouringPlans.com product suite! Read more here.

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Dining the Teen Way: Fast, Cheap, and Greasy

by on November 18, 2009

Roller coasters, shopping, fireworks, swimming, dancing, laughing. These are some of the things that teens love about Disney World. Notice the omission of the phrase “sit-down-dinner-ing?” True, Disney has some amazing restaurants, but a teenager would much prefer to be in the parks, riding rides, than scarfing down a fancy meal. Though there are some family-friendly restaurants, I don’t know of any that involve being thrown upside-down and pulling 5-Gs. Ever since Disney got into the thrill business, it’s been hard for calamari to compete.

Solution? I call it “snacking your way through the parks.” There are no restaurant meals on a snacking vacation. Instead, buy your food at eateries and from vendors. That way, you spend more time watching shows and experiencing rides than waiting for a dish to arrive. Forget your grandmother’s rules about walking and eating! Who says you can’t savor a soft pretzel while darting to the Jungle Cruise?

But if you’re like many Disney World guests, you might have a few concerns: 1) fast food isn’t remotely healthy, and 2) Disney World restaurants serve such fabulous food that you don’t want to miss out. Not to worry. I’m going to teach you to snack in a way that solves these problems, plus saves you a Goofy-sized bundle. So read on, Grasshopper (or rather, Jiminy Cricket).

First: healthiness. You may be worried that eating burgers and cheap pizza for a week will ruin your waistline. You ought to know that on an average day at Epcot, a guest walks over 12 miles, not to mention time standing upright in lines. I promise, you will burn calories. In fact, I usually lose a couple pounds in Disney. However, if you can’t stand food loaded with cholesterol and fat, or rather lacking good stuff like vitamins, below is a list of counter-service places at each park with options for the health-conscious diner. (Remember that Disney has been making an effort to provide healthier choices, so there can be a fruit side with almost any meal.)

MAGIC KINGDOM
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Tomorrowland (soups and Kosher items)
Columbia Harbour House, Liberty Square (vegetarian chili and seafood)
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, Frontierland (vegetarian wraps)

EPCOT
Sunshine Seasons, The Land (fresh fruits and veggies, and good stuff for breakfast too)
Lotus Blossom Cafe, China Pavilion (vegetable dishes)
Liberty Inn, America Pavilion (come only if you’re desperate for a salad)

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Backlot Express (vegetarian sandwiches and multiple salads)
ABC Commissary (curry and salads)

ANIMAL KINGDOM
Flame Tree Barbeque, Discovery Island (salads)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop, Africa (light pastries for breakfast)

What about missing out on the world-class food at WDW? Some of the country’s top chefs have restaurants there; it seems a shame to skip. It’s true you won’t sample many culinary masterpieces in my “snacking through” strategy because it’s geared towards downing calories for energy. Then again, there are some counter-service versions of the high-end restaurants. Exhibit A: Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. It’s more casual and faster, but the pizza is as much gourmet as that of Wolfgang Puck Cafe up the road. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom has a cafeteria-style alternative. You get the picture.

I hope by now it’s clear that you hardly have to sacrifice anything to snack through Disney World. It gets better, too! Here’s the major upside: a family will save an average of $90 for every sit-down meal they forego! Another example: stock up on bagels and cereal from the Buena Vista Winn-Dixie to eat at the turnstiles to save a castle-load. (Get it? Castle sounds like cash. And it’s Disney-themed. Get it? Never mind.)

What are my awesomest money-saving tips for food? OK I’ll tell, but let’s hope my mom doesn’t find out that I shared the family silver! The drinks at Disney are huge, so splitting them saves you about $3 every time. That may not seem like much, but considering how hot Florida gets, staying hydrated is important; it adds up. The ultimate cheap(er) dining secret is: get kids’ meals for adults. Like I said, portions at WDW are huge. Kids’ meals are often big enough to satisfy an adult stomach, and are up to $7 less for the exact same food.

If you still cannot give up eating at a restaurant, you and the other adults can have a sit-down dinner. Meanwhile, the teens and preteens can continue touring, making all of you happier than Snow White singing to beavers. Just make sure the pubescents have a little cash and a cell-phone with them in case of an emergency.

I should mention one other major worry about snacking before I go: not experiencing a character breakfast. Luckily – with the notable exception of Cinderella – almost any character your munchkin would meet at a character breakfast can be found somewhere else in the theme parks, for free.

That’s all for now, though I may return to this topic later. If you have any questions about a Disney World vacation with teenagers, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I might just turn the answer into my next post. In the meantime, have a magical day!

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WDW Today Episode 645 – Listener Questions

by on November 18, 2009

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Episode 645 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Introducing Lines, Your Unofficial Guide To Wait Times

by on November 16, 2009


Today, we’re launching a preview version of Lines, a mobile website for the iPhone that displays estimates of wait times for every attraction at Walt Disney World.

For the past 10 years we’ve been obsessively researching wait times at Walt Disney World, collecting and processing a massive amount of data along the way. We’ve launched products such as Touring Plans and the Crowd Calendar to help you efficiently tour the parks and avoid the crowds.

In designing Lines, we thought a lot about the experiences we’ve had touring the parks: we’re standing in Frontierland and want to know how long the line is at Space Mountain.  Is Soarin’ really a ninety minute wait?  Will there be FASTPASSes left at Toy Story Mania if we get there at noon?

Lines was built to solve these problems, and we’re really excited to give you a sneak peek. There are many mobile applications doing wait times (Disney included), and accurate estimates are particularly challenging.  We’re eager to see how accurate we can be.

Here are some of the ways Lines is different:

We independently estimate wait times

Ever wait in line for 20 minutes when the standby sign said 5? Or vice versa? Yeah, we have too. For Lines we use thousands of historical data points and a myriad of statistical models (prepared by a professional statistician) to estimate how long you’ll actually wait in line.

We love user data, but don’t require it

You can submit wait times via your iPhone (and you would be awesome for doing so!)–but we do not depend on it. Our product is useful on Day One, regardless of how many people are submitting times.

We predict… the future!

We estimate future standby times, when FASTPASS will be gone for the day, and when the peak wait times will be. Want to know if FASTPASS will still be available after dinner? We’ve got you covered.

Much, much more

Crowd calendar data, park hours, refurbishments, an attraction closure reporting system, all now available on your phone!

To give it a go, grab an iPhone and navigate to http://m.touringplans.com (other mobile platforms are on the way). You’ll need a TouringPlans.com subscription to use Lines during this preview. Lines is free to use for a limited time. UPDATE:: Lines has graduated Beta and is now a fully featured member of the TouringPlans.com product suite! Click here for more.

UPDATE:: We’re now supporting Android and Palm Pre/Pixi phones!

UPDATE x2!! We’re pleased to now support BlackBerry phones as well! Read more here.

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Holiday Trip 2009!

by on November 16, 2009

For the last three years I have made a trip to Walt Disney World during the holiday season.  This year I shove off on December 13th for an eight day adventure with some of my favorite fellow Disney geeks.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to see my friends and tour WDW at the most magical time of the year.  The usual crew will be coming together to ride, eat, drink and be merry plus we’ll have a few additions.

So what’s on our agenda?

This time around we’re staying at the Boardwalk for most of the trip.  We picked this resort for several reasons.  First of all we wanted to go deluxe for the space since there will be three adults in the room.  On last year’s Christmas trip we stayed at the Polynesian and the day bed worked out great for us.  Splitting the cost three ways also helps keep things more affordable too.  Plus, I was lucky enough to get an email pin code for 40% off.   We were having trouble deciding which Epcot area resort to chose, but we went with the Boardwalk because it did well among Unofficial Guide readers this year and we’d be a hop, skip, and a jump from all of the activities and venues at this resort.  I’ve never been to the Atlantic Dance Hall or Jellyrolls so I’m excited to try them.

Our last few days will be spent at Pop Century.  This seems to be our group’s home away from home.  We didn’t think we could afford a full stay at the Boardwalk so we’re cheaping out for a few days at Pop.  Also during the last few days of our trip we’ll have some additions to the crowd.  My friend Julie’s family will be joining us for a few days of holiday fun and my friend, Kristin, will be driving in from West Palm Beach.  Touring with such a big group will be a new experience for me, but it should be tons of fun.

Like any good Disney World planner, after decided where to stay we decided where to eat.  About two months ago I wrote a post discussing our ADRs.  If you missed it you can find it here.  Since we’ll be staying at the Boardwalk we’ll be eating in that area a lot.  And, of course, we’ll be eating and drinking around World Showcase!  If anyone wants to grab a drink with us (perhaps a spiked coffee in Morocco before staking out a place for Illuminations if it’s chilly outside) let us know!

The first few days of our trip will be spent with the folks from the wdwtoday podcast and their legions of fans during the 2009 Reunion.  I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces, and making some new Disney geek friends.

In addition to the wdwtoday events and the usual touring, we’ll be there to see the Christmas festivities!  I’m looking forward to taking a longer Christmas trip than I have in the past.  I won’t feel as rushed to make sure I see the Osborne Lights, the holiday tag on Illuminations, the Candlelight Processional, and all of the other Christmas time offerings.  We’ll be able to relax a little and just take in all of the Disney Christmas magic.  For example, one morning we’re heading to Kona Cafe for Tonga Toast.  After enjoying our extremely delicious breakfast complete with real coffee, we’ll hop on the monorail to see the decorations at the neighboring resorts.  It should be a nice, slow morning.

There’s so much to do at Disney World for the holidays!  In the next few weeks I’ll highlight some of my favorite activities around WDW.  And I’ll talk more about which ones we will be attending.  Hopefully they’ll help you to pick and chose which ones you’d like to see this year.

I will try to blog about the trip while we’re there, but time always seems to slip away from me when I’m at WDW.  At the very least I’ll be twittering all week so follow me and see where my adventures take me @khelmstetter!

Anyone else going to be there at this time? I hope you all enjoy the holiday festivities at Disney World!

Next week I’ll finish up my reviews of park bathrooms with the Animal Kingdom…

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WDW Today Episode 644 – Attraction Challenges

by on November 16, 2009

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Episode 644 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Saturday Morning Musings – The Introduction to Epcot

by on November 14, 2009


I’m spending the weekend finishing up the Epcot chapter of our new color guidebook to WDW.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with the text we have in the regular Unofficial Guide, of course.  However, Epcot is my favorite park, so I want to explain in text what makes Epcot special and why everyone should love it.

I’m trying to make two points: Epcot is a theme park about ideas.  And the attractions work best if you consider the impact of those ideas on everyday life.  Whereas the Magic Kingdom is focused on fantasy and adventure, the Studios is a look at entertainment, and the Animal Kingdom is a view of … the animal kingdom, Epcot is an exploration of humankind’s role in the world.

In fact, I’d argue (but I can’t yet find the words) that Epcot is the thing that differentiates Disney Imagineering from every other company that builds amusement parks.  No other company would have either the vision or the corporate will to create and build such a park.  I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I doubt seriously whether Universal, Six Flags, or the folks building up Bahrain could even conceive of the concept of Epcot on their own, amass the expertise and funding to build it, or explain concepts such as energy and communication in a way that makes people want to visit.

I could be wrong.  In any case, here’s the intro text I have so far.  Comments and suggestions welcome.

It’s probably safe to say that Epcot was the park that Walt Disney most wanted to build after the success of Disneyland.  Designed to demonstrate new technology and innovation, Walt envisioned it as a sort of permanent World’s Fair for companies, universities and governments to show off their latest creations.

On paper, that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a fun vacation.  Indeed, Epcot’s educational theme and corporate imagery lacks some of the obvious warmth and charm of the Magic Kingdom.  And unlike the Magic Kingdom’s attractions, many of which assume you’re going to sit passively and watch whatever is in front of you, Epcot is a theme park about ideas, such as ecologies, energy sources, and the role communication systems play in human societies.  Epcot’s attractions work best when you consider the impact these ideas have – and will have – on the lives of everyday people.

Do not worry – these concepts are presented in an upbeat way, with lots of dazzling visual effects and humor, and most visitors find plenty of entertainment and education.  In fact, Spaceship Earth, the ride dedicated to exploring communication systems, was for more than two decades the most popular attraction in all of Walt Disney World.  (That distinction is now held by Soarin’, also at Epcot.)  And Epcot is usually the third-most visited theme park in the United States, behind the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.

Besides futuristic attractions, half of Epcot is devoted to World Showcase, a collection of elaborate pavilions representing the landmarks and culture of various countries from around the world.  Each country is staffed by young adults from that nation, so it’s possible your children will hear French spoken in the France pavilion or Mandarin in the China pavilion.   Every country has at least one restaurant, too, making Epcot home to the most diverse set of dining options on property.   Combined with top notch attractions, Epcot may be the best of Disney’s theme parks.

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WDW Today Episode 643 – Veggie Fruit Fruit

by on November 13, 2009

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Episode 643 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Bathroom Blog Part III: Disney’s Hollywood Studios

by on November 11, 2009

This week I’ll continue my series on my favorite and not so favorite bathrooms around Walt Disney World.  If you missed my previous entries please check them out here: Part I: Magic Kingdom and Part II: Epcot

Favorites:

Pixar Place – The new ones on Pixar Place are a must before getting into the insanely long Toy Story Mania queue.  They are large, conveniently located, and I’ve yet to see them be dirty.

Streets of America near Lights, Motor, Action! - On my last trip I discovered the one right next to Lights, Motor, Action!  I’ve never seen the show (shows are generally not my thing with some exceptions) so I never really had cause to wander over this way.  But after the presentation given by Imagineers on the 20th anniversary of the park it was the closets loo available.  It is massive!  I’m not sure what it’s like immediately before or after the stunt show, but it was practically empty when I visited.  I’ll have to remember it when I see the Osborne Lights next month.

Near Muppet Vision 3-D – Since this attraction is a must see for me when I tour DHS, I usually hit this bathroom.  I’ve never had a cleanliness problem here and it’s pretty sizable.  If I go before the show I can stroll through the preshow area and take in all of the sight gags and a nice, relaxed pace.  Or maybe it’s just the sight and sound of the fountain nearby that makes me have the urge every time I’m in this area…

Not so Favorites:

Near Rockin’ Roller Coaster – I don’t know what it is about this location, but these are always gross.  Last time I was there the smell was enough to make you ill.  It’s also too small for such a busy area between the two most popular attractions in the park.

On the Fence:

Hollywood Hills Theater - It’s a pain when you have to go here.  Its always crowded throughout the theater so navigating your way to the lady’s room is a chore and once you get there it’s crowded there too.  On the other hand, I have to give credit to the custodial CMs who seem to keep up with the onslaught of visitors at show times.  Luckily, I don’t make a point of seeing the show on every visit so I don’t have to deal with this one very often.

Sunset Boulevard - This one  is always busy with the quick service eateries across the way, shops nearby, and two headliner attractions just down the road.  It’s not terribly large for handling the crowds so it seems to always be backed up.  The one closer to Tower of Terror is usually less crowded even though they are only a few hundred feet from each other.  On the bright side, there are usually Citizens of Hollywood actors performing nearby so my friends are entertained while they wait for me.

Well I think that sums it up for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I hope I could shed some light on a very important topic!  What are your favorites in this park?

Next week I’ll take a break from the bathrooms to discuss my upcoming trip…

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WDW Today Episode 642 – Listener Questions

by on November 11, 2009

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Episode 642 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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