Archive for November, 2009

Crowd Calendar Update

by on November 10, 2009

With the recent changes to Park Hours, Extra Magic Hours, Parades Schedules and Fantasmic performances we took the opportunity to update a lot of the background data that goes into the Crowd Calendar. We collect thousands of pieces of data on hotel occupancy, weather, special events and of course, wait times at all the Walt Disney World attractions. Thanks to all of our readers who wrote, texted, Twittered and Facebooked the wait times while in the park. You can help us too – Click here.

Keep ’em coming!

Some information about the latest updates:

  • Ninety percent of the changes to the crowd level index were an increase or decrease by one index point.
  • Sixty percent of the changes to the crowd level index were a decrease. This tells us that in general, there has been a slight decrease in the wait times that we’re seeing in the park compared to historical figures.
  • Most of the changes to the recommended parks and parks to avoid were due to the schedule for Fantasmic showings. As we know, the lack of daily Fantasmic shows means that when the show is performed, crowds tend to flock to the Studios all day. If you don’t have any plans to see Fantasmic, avoid the Studios. If  you want to see it, go on a day were the Studios are recommended by the calendar or when the Studios are not listed as a park to avoid.
  • Reminder: It is our humble opinion that it is easier to deal with a park on a slightly busy day than it is to try and re-book Advance Dining Reservations. If the crowd index is less than 8, its probably perfectly manageable with a good touring plan. If it is 8 or greater then it may be worth it to switch reservations around.

Of course, the Crowd Calendar is always subject to change. We can count on the park hours and schedules changing again as we approach the Spring season.

Happy Touring!

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The Magic Kindom Arrival Experience

by on November 9, 2009

Not long ago, I was privileged to be a guest on the world famous WDW Today Podcast. I get my WDW news fix three times a week from Matt, Mike, Mike, and Len. The show topic was the design behind the arrival experience at each of the 4 parks. Making a great first impression is one of the hallmarks of the Disney parks. So let’s try and get into the head of the Imagineers and figure out why each entrance is unique but distinctly Disney.

There is an illustrated version of this article at SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

To understand the Magic Kingdom arrival experience is to go back in time and visit the City of Anaheim in 1953.

After many years of thinking and dreaming, Walt finally decided to move ahead with his dream of a family entertainment facility and he called upon his good friend Harrison “Buzz” Price. Mr. Price ran the Stanford Research Institute, which later became ERA AECOM. Walt laid down some constraints such as not being near an ocean and with flat land so he could create his own mountains, valleys, and rivers. Mr. Price did some research and he found 160 acres of orange and walnut groves about an hour south of Los Angeles in the small community of Anaheim. It had a lot going for it. There was a new freeway being built that would connect Los Angeles to San Diego through the sleep agricultural communities of Orange County. He thought there might be a small city with ambitions looking for industry to help out with the tax roles. Mr. Price was a numbers guy and what he crunched told him that this area would be the center of the Southern California population within 25 years. He was off by 4 miles.

So Walt gave the go ahead to purchase as much land as he could afford (which wasn’t much) and the rest of the story is legendary. Disneyland was an instant hit as Walt predicted and the land values throughout the entire surrounding area shot up. Poor Walt. Disneyland was destined to be surrounded by motels, diners, and other assorted uses that did not meet his high standards. If you want to get a sense of what the Disneyland perimeter looked like back then I recommend visiting Anaheim Vacationland.

The arrival experience for most people consisted of driving down Harbor Boulevard, which was lined with motels, dining spots, tourist support services, and gas stations. The jumble of signs tried to compete with the iconic Disneyland gateway marquee. We Southern Californians know what I am talking about. You paid your parking fee, drove under the power lines, were guided to your spot by a friendly cast member, and walked a short distance to a tram. Whisked to the front you paid for your tickets and the experience becomes very similar in design as the Magic Kingdom from this point forward.

Walt always said that the Florida Project gave him “the blessing of size”. He went out and purchased 27,258-acres for $5 million through an amazing process of dummy corporations and secrecy. He instructed his Imagineers to put the theme park at the far north end, as far away from the main highway as the could go. This served two purposes. First, it became the “wienie” that would draw you through the property past his real dream – the City of EPCOT. He really knew how to move people about. He also wanted the arrival experience to be far different from that in Anaheim.

This time you would leave the safety of the new completed Interstate highway and drive north into a vast wilderness. According to the must have book Since the World Began, the Imagineers felt it was “critical that Cinderella Castle be seen from afar”. Remember, at the time of the park’s opening, visitors had a six-mile drive once they left the main highway. They needed reassurance that they were not just driving into a swamp in Central Florida. Another benefit of having a castle that was more than twice as tall as Disneyland’s was it could be seen by all of the resort hotels, the monorail, and the ferries.

Walt encouraged the idea of a tall iconic design element for Disneyland but the implementation is much better at the Magic Kingdom. In Michael Broggie’s Walt Disney’s Railroad Story Walt is reminded his Imagineers “This is a magical place. The important thing is the castle. Make it tall enough to be seen from all around the park. It’s got to keep people oriented”.

Like a light bulb is to moths, Cinderella Castle is to the Magic Kingdom visitor.

But you just can’t hop on the tram and glide to the front gate like you could at Disneyland. The front gate was over a mile away and guarded by the Seven Seas Lagoon. You had to earn it. You parked, hopped on a tram, bought your ticket and then the adventure would really start. To get to the front gate, the Imagineers provided two uncommon forms of transport to choose from – the sleek futuristic monorail or the traditional old-fashioned ferryboat. Today, you can also take a bus from one of the resorts that goes under a canal. Next time you are visiting the park via the bus as you approach the Contemporary Resort watch for boats passing above you. It is an unusual site.

Once you have made it to the other side of the lagoon you become part of the cinematic experience that I describe in detail here and here. As you can see, by design and at great cost, the transition from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom front gate is nothing like the Disneyland experience. Like a good movie, as you approach you are experience the same sensation that one gets from a watching the opening sequence of a good movie. The stage is set with a long shot of the train station as marquee and the top spires of Cinderella peeking out above a forest. As you move forward your view of the spires are continually deflected but come back in focus and reward you with the sensations you are getting close. The mid-view shot of the train station blocks the Castle right at the front gate. But this only heightens the joy once you have passed through the tunnels below the trains and get your first full view of the Castle with nothing blocking it. By this time the spires have become old friends but now the rest of the structure can make its emotional impact.

Even before the public arrived, Disney wanted to make sure that people knew that Walt Disney World was something much more than just another Disneyland. They were very keen on selling the entire resort experience. The promotional materials highlighted the attractions that were unique at the Magic Kingdom: Liberty Square, Country Bear Jamboree, The Hall of Presidents, Space Mountain, the Mickey Mouse Revue, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They were also heavy on the amenities such as boating, golfing, and other resort activities.

Lessons learned and lesson applied. That is the genius of the Magic Kingdom’s arrival experience.

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WDW Today Episode 641 – Worth it or not?

by on November 9, 2009

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Episode 641 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 640 – Beyond the Attractions

by on November 6, 2009

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Episode 640 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Special Feature In Amazon Travel Section

by on November 5, 2009

Thanks to the hard work done by Bob, Len, Fred and many others, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010 is currently the ninth best selling travel book on Amazon (and has been in the top 100 for 112 days)! And if you take a look at the travel book section right now, you’ll see something really cool: a special feature with two articles from Unofficial Guide author Bob Sehlinger.

Under the headline “Experience the Magic Without the Lines” (see image right), Bob has two special Amazon-exclusive articles: Five Unofficial Ways to Prepare For Your Trip to Walt Disney World and Test Your Disney Smarts!, which you’ll have to go to check Amazon to read!

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Len Talks Disney, Vegas On Season Pass Podcast

by on November 5, 2009

Len recently made two guest appearances on The Season Pass Podcast, an excellent show on theme parks and attractions hosted by Brent Young and Doug Barnes. In early August Len talked all things Unofficial, including the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010 and how he got involved with The Guide in the first place. And in an episode just released yesterday, Len joined Brent and Doug to share his Vegas stories, including best / worst hotel experiences and the new touring plan additions to the new book. The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas 2010 is available now–so go check it out!

You can check out the Disney World episode here, and the Vegas episode here. And be sure to visit The Season Pass Podcast and subscribe to it on iTunes.

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WDW Today Episode 639 – Listener Questions

by on November 4, 2009

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Episode 639 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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The Bathroom Blog Part II: Epcot

by on November 3, 2009

A few weeks ago I started my series on the bathrooms of Walt Disney World.  If you missed my first entry you can find it here: Part I: Magic Kingdom.

This week I’d like to turn the focus to my personal favorite park, Epcot.  Since Epcot covers so much land, there are lots of restrooms to choose from.  Many of them are just run of the mill bathrooms, but there are a few standouts.  So here are my favorites and not so favorite restrooms throughout Epcot’s Future World and World Showcase.

Favorites:

Future World near Test Track and Mission: Space: I seem to always need to hit this one before or after taking a spin on one of this area’s attractions.  If I’ve taken the 45 minute journey through the Universe of Energy I’ll certainly need to make a stop shortly after.  I also usually hit this one as a preventative measure before getting in the long queues for Test Track.  Even if we go single rider like we often do, chances are the attraction will break down at least temporarily while we’re waiting.  This one is often busy, but usually clean and a regular stop on my tour so it gets the thumbs up.  And yes, a photo of the entrance to this bathroom is the wall paper for the exterior screen of my cell phone.

Between Future World and World Showcase at the Odyssey: This bathroom is a hidden gem!  Most guests are racing from Future World to World Showcase and never even notice that this restroom exists.  I’m sure it helps that the Odyssey is only open for special events, but I’m not complaining.  I often feel like this is my own private lady’s room!  And since it’s rarely used it’s also very clean.

The Germany Pavilion: It’s easy to make a pit stop here while enjoying the World Showcase.  Rather than trying to use the restrooms in the WS restaurants, which are always tiny, I hit this one right off the main walk way. My friends can keep busy checking out the train set while I do my business. It’s also a necessity to run over here before Illuminations starts if we are watching it from one of the surrounding countries.  It’s also very important to know where the best World Showcase bathrooms are when you’re drinking around the world… Honorable mentions around World Showcase go to the UK and Morocco pavilions.

Least Favorites:

Any Restaurant in World Showcase: Although they are all themed with signs in the appropriate languages and such, they are often too small.  There seems to always be a queue for these and very little space to wait.  I recommend holding on to use one of the large facilities if you can wait it out.  

On the Fence:

The Land Pavilion near Soarin’: This one gets a mixed review because although I often have to use it, it’s always packed!  It’s hard to navigate around all of women (not to mention strollers) in this relatively small bathroom.  However, it is convenient to give my traveling mates my park pass and let them deal with the Soarin’ fastpasses while I powder my nose.

Next week I’ll continue the bathroom series with a look at Disney’s Hollywood Studios offerings…

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Follow TouringPlans.com/Unofficial Guide Team On Twitter

by on November 3, 2009

Yes, this is little more than another shameless plug to follow us on Twitter. However! With the introduction of Twitter lists, you can now follow a special list of TouringPlans.com / Unofficial Guide team members: http://twitter.com/TouringPlans/team. So come join us on Twitter (or on Facebook) and follow our team as we break down current Walt Disney World news, offer planning advice, broadcast (and receive) wait times from the parks, and play the occasional twitter-inspired game.


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WDW Today Episode 638 – AP FAQ

by on November 2, 2009

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Episode 638 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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