Archive for January, 2010

WDW Today Episode 671 – Listener Questions

by on January 19, 2010

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Episode 671 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Level Up, Earn Badges, And Vie For Top Submitter On Lines

by on January 19, 2010

As we’ve shamelessly promoted here and on Twitter, if you’re headed down to Walt Disney World, Lines is a great companion. It’s a mobile website that gives you current and future wait time estimates for every attraction in WDW (just navigate to http://m.touringplans.com on your iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, or BlackBerry to try it out). And since some of the biggest users of Lines have been ourselves, we’ve decided to make it more fun!

On your next trip, try adding one of those posted wait times that you see outside most attractions. As you add more posted times, you’ll level up; after five times, you’ll become an Unofficial Data Collector, and after 25, a Unofficial Research Fellow (see image). In addition to levels, you can also earn badges such as the Rope Drop badge (submitting a time within 20 minutes of park opening) and the I Love Potholes badge (submitting 5 wait times for Kilimanjaro Safaris). Finally, if you’re a serious local or a very frequent guest, you can vie to be Top Submitter for each attraction. This will earn you serious bragging rights (visible on each attraction page).

We’ve added a slew of anti-cheating measures to keep things fair, so please, don’t try to add invalid times. Thanks to a mountain of historical data and everyone’s favorite Canadian statistician Fred, Lines will work just as well if no other users are in the park.

Go try out Lines today with your TouringPlans.com subscription at http://m.touringplans.com on your mobile phone, and let us know in the comments what you think!

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The Unofficial Guide Gets Unshelved!

by on January 16, 2010

Everyone’s favorite library web comic, Unshelved has a fantastic subject today: the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland!

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Early Saturday Morning Downtime

by on January 15, 2010

TouringPlans.com will be going down early Saturday morning, January 16th, between 2am-2:30am Eastern Time, for scheduled maintenance. This blog and Lines should not be affected. Please follow our updates on Twitter for more. If you notice any working strangely on saturday morning, please email us.

UPDATE (2:05am):: changes made, and the site seems to be stable. If you notice anything not working, please email us or leave a comment here. Thanks!

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WDW Today Episode 669 – All Aboard!! Amtrak’s Auto Train

by on January 14, 2010

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Episode 669 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Are you feeling Goofy for 2011?

by on January 14, 2010

Did all the WDW Marathon Weekend updates on Twitter last week make you think “hey, I could do that” and not “those people are crazy?” Were you a half or full marathon participant and felt left out when Goofy asked “how many of you are running my races?” Then you – yes *you* – might be a candidate for Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge 2011. What is the Goofy? Well, 5 years ago Disney realized that people were signing up for both the half marathon AND the full marathon for that weekend in early January and they decided to designate it the “Goofy.” That’s right, just under 40 miles in two days. This combination is sold as a package of races and it does tend to fill quickly because there are only a limited number of spaces. Registering for the half and full marathon separately will NOT get you the swag you get if you sign up as a Goofy runner.

What is the price?

You might think the registration fee for the Goofy would be equal to the half plus the full, but you would be wrong. For 2011, registration for the full is $135, the half is $135, and the Goofy is $310. What do you get for the extra $40? An extra t-shirt and the coveted Goofy medal – a third piece of bling sure to impress friends, family, and strangers on the flight back home. Interestingly, Disney has really increased its profit on the Goofy in the last year. For the 2010 race, in the fall they increased the cap on runners to 7500 from 5000 after it had already sold out that spring (possibly to continue to fill the full marathon which had not sold out). And historically the Goofy premium for registration has been around $10, not $40. Only you can decide if the price is worth it to you.

Planning your trip

So you’re in, you’re accepting the Goofy Challenge. Now what? Now you have to figure out where you want to stay, what day you want to arrive, and how long to make your trip.

As far as accommodations go, this is the weekend is treat yourself as well as you can. You’re going to be getting up around 3am or earlier to get to the starting line. If you are traveling with your family, they may well appreciate some extra room for you to lay out your race clothes and get dressed without waking everyone up. And having a room with a refrigerator and coffee maker will definitely help with your pre-race food needs. This may not be the trip for 4 people to share a room at Pop Century. I travel to the Goofy with my husband and stay in a one bedroom DVC unit. I can get dressed and eat while he sleeps away in the bedroom. Plus he can be in the other room when I go to sleep at 9PM to get up early.

Onsite or offsite? Onsite gives you the benefit of Disney transportation to the race and back.  Offsite may give you more space and a less expensive rate. I have only stayed onsite, but my advice for those staying offsite is to really familiarize yourself with the road closures on the mornings of the race and know exactly when you need to drive to Epcot.

Onsite accommodations

These recommendations are based on the assumption that you will take Disney transportation to the races and back and maybe to the expo. My experience (with the exception of the year I stayed at the Beach Club Villas) is that taking Disney buses to the expo and races is far more convenient than driving. Driving involves thinking and directions, and, let’s face it, if “thinking” was so great you probably wouldn’t sign up for the Goofy in the first place. Plus it’s nice getting on a warm bus with all the other runners instead of walking out to your cold car and driving by yourself.

Magic Kingdom/monorail resorts
People staying at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, and Bay Lake Tower take the monorail to the TTC and then transfer to an Epcot monorail to the race start. You can then take a monorail or bus back to your resort after the races. I have never done this, but it does sound like a pretty cool way to get there. The walk from the monorail station to the runner area may be a bit of a hike.

Epcot area resorts
I stayed at the Beach Club Villas for the 2009 races and won’t do it again. Why? Because the shared buses for the Yacht and Beach Club, Boardwalk, and Swan and Dolphin were really crowded and slow. In theory, you could walk back to your resort after the race through Epcot, but you probably won’t want to do that after the full and the park may not be open when you finish the half. Please leave a comment if you stayed in one of the resorts this year and let us know if the bus situation has improved.

Single-building Deluxe and DVC resorts – Wilderness Lodge and Villas, and Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House and Kidani Village

I have stayed at Jambo House (2008) and Kidani Village (2010) and was really happy with the transportation. Why? Because the buses picked up at the porte cochere (where Magical Express drops you off) and you didn’t have to hike from a far flung building all the way to the lobby just to get to the bus. There were even separate buses in the morning at each Animal Kingdom building. Wilderness Lodge and Villas should be the same situation except for not having 2 stops since they share a main lobby.

Multi-building DVC resorts and moderates – Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, Port Orleans, Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs
Most of these are fine from a space standpoint or if you’re traveling solo, but I asked around and found out that the marathon buses do not make a loop through the resorts, they pick up at the main lobby. Walking all the way from the end of Old Key West to the Hospitality House may add more time to your morning than you want. If you stayed at one of these resorts and have first hand information about the transportation, please leave a comment.

Values – Pop Century and All Stars
If you’re traveling solo, on a budget, or with a really sound sleeper, these just might work for you. I will say the very worst lines I saw after the races were for the buses to these resorts. Consider driving yourself or have a companion pick you up after the race.

How long to stay

There are 3 days you must be at WDW – Friday to pick up your race packet and Saturday and Sunday for the actual races. You can pick up your packet as early as Thursday afternoon and there is a race after-party Sunday night (hard-ticketed). If your journey to Florida is long or across time zones, you will want to arrive at Walt Disney World a day or two early to adjust. How long you stay is a matter of what you want to do on your trip. Do you want to run and go home or is this a WDW vacation for you or people traveling with you? Getting on a plane in the 24 hours after the full marathon is not a great idea since what you will need be doing is walking around to keep from stiffening up. And heavy duty touring in the days before the races is just foolish. Plan on staying at least 4 nights just for the races.

What to pack

As we saw this year, weather is a big factor race weekend. If you don’t have access to a wash and dryer (one more reason DVC rocks for marathon weekend), you will need a warm and cold option for each day plus throw away clothes. You also may want to pack old towels and garbage bags for warmth and protection from the rain (or sleet as was the case this year). You may want to pack your shoes in your carry-on since they are the one thing you will really have trouble replacing if your luggage goes to Bora Bora. I had access to a washer and this is what I packed:

  • regular tights
  • super cold weather tights
  • throw away yoga pants to wear over the tights
  • shorts in case the weather forecast was really off
  • long sleeve wicking shirt
  • short sleeve wicking shirt
  • throw away sweatshirt
  • light sensitive sunglasses to wear from dawn to the end of the full marathon
  • throw away fleece (that I kept on for both races)
  • fleece hat, gloves
  • 2 garbage bags

What I wish I had brought:

  • longer socks to keep my ankles warm
  • pocket warmers like hikers and campers carry
  • a hat I was willing to toss

A final note

The Goofy is a very stressful race, even for experienced runners. Getting up to run 2 days in a row is harsh. That’s in addition to the physical stress of running 39.3 miles. I don’t have the number of Goofy runners who scratched this year, but out of 24,000 (Disney’s number) or 22,000 (more likely the real number) registered runners for the full marathon, there were 16,883 finishers. That is a lot of people who were unable to either start or finish the marathon. Know your limits and if 2011 isn’t your year, aim for 2012 or 2013.

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Tables In Wonderland Expands Restaurant Roster

by on January 14, 2010

The only thing better than Sushi at Kimonos is 20% off Sushi at Kimonos. Ok, maybe a Karaoke solo by Len Testa would sweeten the deal too. 

In January 2010 the Tables in Wonderland program announced that the list of restaurants accepting the card has grown. The Tables in Wonderland card is now accepted at the following additional locations. Click here for a list of all locations.

At Epcot

At Disney’s Boardwalk

At Disney’s Wide World of Sports

At Downtown Disney

At the Swan and Dolphin Resort:

Kimonos and Shula’s Steakhouse both are ranked 4 stars in the Unofficial Guide and Kimonos has a 90% thumbs-up rating from readers.

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WDW Today Episode 668 – Listener Questions

by on January 13, 2010

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Episode 668 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

by on January 12, 2010

With this cold snap running through most of the country, but most specifically Central Florida, I thought I’d take the opportunity to suggest some activities throughout Walt Disney World to seek some refuge from the frigid temperatures.  The most important thing to remember is to dress properly; layers are key when the temperature drops.  Hats, mittens, and other wintry garments will make you more comfortable while you stroll around the parks.  So where would I head on a freezing Florida day?

First of all, you’re on vacation; why not sleep-in one day?  Get some rest and relax for a change.  It will do wonders for your tired and achy body after all the walking around you did the day before.  You could also have a leisurely breakfast at your resort or hope to another one and try one of their restaurants.  One of my favorites for breakfast is Kona Cafe, where you can get nice, warm Tonga Toast (as well as several other yummy options) and a cup of real coffee to perk you up in the nasty weather.  Most table service eateries who serve breakfast without characters can accommodate walk up patrons.  After enjoying your breakfast, why not check out some resorts?  If you dine at a resort on the Monorail it’s easy to hop on and off of it to explore the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and the Contemporary.  The coziest resort on a cold morning is probably the Wilderness Lodge where guests can hang out by the fireplace.

If you’d rather head out into the parks I think Epcot would be your best chilly option.  There are many indoor attractions and pavilions to explore when the weather isn’t cooperating.  Most of the Future World Pavilions offer fun activities in addition to their main attractions.  Linger at the huge fish tank at the Seas with Nemo and Friends or try some of the games after exiting Spaceship Earth.  Have you been inside Innoventions lately?  There are some really fun activities for folks of all ages to try inside these two areas.  I’ve taken some time to check out some of these attractions on my last few trips and they are a great, low key way to enjoy Epcot (you might even learn something).  Be sure experience Disney’s newest attraction, Sum of All Thrills, in Innoventions East. Over on the west side, guests can ride Segways for free! When you’ve had your fill of Future World, mosey on over to World Showcase.  Why not stop into see one of the films in China, France, or Canada you may not have taken the time to see before?  I also highly recommend heading to Morocco to indulge in a coffee spiked with flavored liqueur.  These tasty drinks will warm you right up!

There are several indoor attractions and activities at the other three parks as well.  Are you like me and don’t often take the time to see the shows?  On a cold day why not head into a nice warm theater to take in the Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom or the Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?  3-D films are shown in all of the parks and offer a fun way to seek shelter too.  My favorites are Mickey’s Philharmagic at the Magic Kingdom and Muppet Vision 3-D at DHS.  Just remember the longer the attraction runs, the longer you’ll be inside all snug.

Maybe you’d prefer to shop when the thermometer drops below average?  Downtown Disney will be hopping with guests trying to find an extra sweatshirt and maybe a warm meal.  You could join them or maybe hit some of the parks’ shops.  My friends and I could roam around Mouse Gear at Epcot for hours looking for gifts to bring home and fun souvenirs.  Most of the shops on Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Boulevard at DHS are connected so shoppers never need to face the winter air to bounce from one to the other.  I’m sure you’ll find something great to bring home to remember your chilly trip to WDW.

I hope those visiting Disney World this week are having a great time despite the chill in the air!  Make the best of it, bundle up, and consider some overlooked attractions.  What are some of your favorite things to do around the parks when the weather isn’t cooperating?

Next week I’ll discuss one of Disney’s newest culinary offerings…

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Samland Visits the Studios: Echo Lake and Pixar Place

by on January 11, 2010

Samland continues his tour of the public realm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Today he visits Echo Lake and Pixar Place. This time he features a photo of the largest ever Hidden Mickey courtesy of Studios Central.

ECHO LAKE

Once upon a time, the world’s largest hidden Mickey included Echo Lake (originally known as Lakeside Circle). The lake was one ear, the large circular plaza in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater was the head, and there was a matching circular plaza to the east. You can see it in old aerial photos. The addition of Sunset Boulevard and Mickey’s hat destroyed this bit of fun.

The real Echo Lake is a man-made lake near downtown Los Angeles and served as the background for many early silent film comedies. Just like Hollywood Boulevard, the buildings that surround Echo Lake are historic impressions of real facades from Los Angeles. Hollywood & Vine is modeled after a cafeteria that was within walking distance of all the movie-making action. The building was converted into the Hollywood Branch Post Office and finally burnt down in 1980. The 50s Prime Time Café is influenced by residential buildings by Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Pierre Koenig. The Streamline Moderne theater and adjacent buildings that house the American Idol Experience is based on NBC Radio City (1938) and CBS Columbia Square (1938).

Los Angeles was filled with what is known interchangeably as programmatic architecture, California Crazy or a “duck.” A building of this type, as defined by architect Robert Venturi, is one whose “exterior is in the shape of the everyday object they relate to” and it is “a building in which the architecture is subordinate to the overall symbolic form.” The boat is a tribute to a 1930 film called Min and Bill that won Marie Dressler an Academy Award. The dinosaur is Gertie an animated character who toured along with Winsor McCay on the vaudeville circuit in 1914. His hand painted film was a huge influence on Walt Disney.

As you walk away from Echo Lake you also move away from the architectural history lesson of Los Angeles and move into a studio back lot. Things become less real. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular is just a backdrop. The Star Tours façade is reproduction of the Ewok Village movie set with no pretension of being anything other than a stage set. Of course there are partying Ewoks at night. Even The Backlot Express is a prop storage area.

The idea for this park was launched in 1985 and for the first time a Disney theme park was opened merely to fit a business need. It would be a model of controlled growth in reaction to anticipated demand. At the time, this half-day park was designed to compliment a visit to Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island. Just as important was dual function of being a real production studio with three sound stages, production offices, and a postproduction audio and video facility; its own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The production facilities featured glass walls so that visitors could peek inside a working movie-making facility. Projects shot on the back lot include Honey, I Blew Up the Kids, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.

The building facades use a cinematic trick known as forced perspective. This technique is used throughout Walt Disney world. Legendary Imagineer John Hench defines forced perspective as “a form of one-point linear perspective in which receding space is compressed by exaggerating the proximity of the implied vanishing point to the viewer.” Forced perspective is the design pattern that gives buildings the appearance of greater height and scale. It is why the castle looks so grand and Everest looks so tall. In the back lot area, it allows the designers to fit in the New York or San Francisco skylines in such a small space.

Playing with scale is also a feature of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set. Realizing there wasn’t enough to do for small children, the Imagineers worked in record time to design and fabricate the attraction. This type of stage area is an example of another cinematic trick used in Disney films.

PIXAR PLACE

Welcome to the world of Pixar. Pixar animation studios are headquartered in Emeryville, California and the architecture of the studio is legendary. The Studio was designed in a very specific way to maximize the creativity and productivity of its employees.

The major design criterion was bringing a piece of California to Florida and to match the materials of the California studio. The gateway is a scale model of the one at the studio. All of the bricks were hand-kilned from the same factory to match the look, texture, and color of the ones in California. Characters from Toy Story decorate the corridor and play with your perception of scale. If you want to see how the puzzle is put together look for and check out Andy’s instruction hanging on a wall.

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