Archive for February, 2010

WDW Today Episode 687 – Yesterland Tomorrowland

by on February 27, 2010

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Episode 687 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort Changing Names

by on February 25, 2010

We hear that The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort will be changing its name to “The Wave … of American Flavors.” No ETA for the change.

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WDW Today Episode 686 – Listener Questions

by on February 24, 2010

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Episode 686 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Tentfest – A Gathering Of Disney Fans

by on February 23, 2010

If you are looking for a unique opportunity to gather with fellow Disney fans in the great outdoors then Tentfest is the place for you.  Even if camping isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll still have a blast at Tentfest.  Camping is NOT required.  There are a variety of activities. There will be a bunch of laughing, but mostly it’s the ideal setup for spending time with other people that “get it,” according to Matt Hochberg - The Disney Magic – that is.

Day 1: The fun begins at approximately 3pm on Friday, March 5 at Fort Wilderness.  If you are camping, you can put your own tent up and if you’re not, well, let the laughter commence as you enjoy watching the WDW Today team erect their tent.  Once the tents are up everyone can relax and get to know people they’ve probably never met yet have so much in common. 

At 8pm WDW Today will be hosting a podcast from the campsite.  The party will then move to Epcot where there are Extra Magic Hours.

Day 2: The Mouse Fan Team Challenge begins at 9:00 AM.  This is an opportunity to raise money for several charities.  12 spots were auctioned off.  The high bidders only will participate in this event.  

The 2010 Podcast Odyssey starts at 2 p.m.   Join the WDW Today team for a dessert reception and a live recording of the podcast.    

“It’s going to be a lot of fun, especially with the live element. This will be a wonderful social hour,” Hochberg says.   

What could possibly be more fun than mixing high levels of sugar and in-depth Disney World discussions?  Count me in on this event.  Check online to see if tickets are still available.

Day 3: Do you feel the need for speed?  At 1 p.m. meet at the Walt Disney World Speedway.  Annual Pass Holders get 3 laps around the track for free.  While this event is only FREE for ANNUAL Pass Holders, everyone is welcome to observe.  What a great opportunity to try something new. 

For the most up to date information follow Tentfest on Twitter.

Feel free to participate in as many activities as you wish.  The schedule is laid back so there is lots of opportunity to get to know fellow Disney fans or just relish being at Disney World. I have to say, that I have been unsure in the past about attending these Mouse events where I know no one.  Rest assured – you will have fun.  Everyone is so nice. Even the stars of the events are kind, fun, engaging – everything you’d hope a host would be.  You won’t be the only who is traveling solo to the events or traveling with someone who isn’t a “DisNerd” as my family refers lovingly to me.   Register now and come.  Take this opportunity to meet strangers who just might become your friends.

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My Upcoming Long Weekend at WDW

by on February 23, 2010

It’s that time again… I’m going to Disney World!  This time around I’m heading down for a long weekend mostly to participate in the Tent Fest events put on by the guys at the wdwtoday podcast.  They have some fun events planned for all of their fans and I can’t wait to hang out with my fellow Disney geeks, er enthusiasts.  So what’s on the docket for my latest journey to the mouse?

I’m experimenting with my travel schedule on this trip.  I’m going to work for part of the day on Thursday March 4th and have my dad drive me to the airport midday.  I’ll enjoy a few fabulous days in the parks with my Disney geek friends and then head home on the first flight back to Newark on Tuesday morning and head straight to the office.  I’m not sure how well its going to go, but I’m trying to squeeze out as much time in WDW as possible this year with the fewest days off from work.

The main focus of this trip is the activities the guys at wdwtoday have planned for Tent Fest.  Some of you may be wondering why the weekend has been dubbed Tent Fest.  Well, several people have signed up to spend a night at the Fort Wilderness Campground.  Yes, I have agreed to spend the night at Fort Wilderness with the group.  My friends and family have been shocked to hear me say “I’m going camping.”  I’m not exactly the camping and hiking type so they all think it’s hilarious that I’ve signed on to do this.  I promise to take lots of photos of me making a sad attempt being one with nature.  Other Tent Fest activities include a meet at La Cave del Tequila and an opportunity for annual passholders to take advantage of an offer to try The Richard Petty Driving Experience free of charge.  The weekend should be a blast!

Also on the agenda are some restaurants I have not tried before.  Shortly after I arrive on Thursday my friends and I are heading to Jiko.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about this signature restaurant, but I’ve never been there.  As an added bonus we’ll be celebrating my friend John’s birthday with this special meal.  We’ll also be trying Trail’s End a buffet at Fort Wilderness.  This eatery is said to be a good bang for the buck and many people don’t realize it is available.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to the hype after I give it a try.  And lastly we’ll be eating at Tokyo Dining in Epcot’s Japanese pavilion.  This one is known for its sushi menu and other Japanese culinary treats.  Expect to see blogs on all of these table service restaurants in the future!

Aside from my night in the woods, I’ll be staying at Pop Century to try to keep the budget under control.  I’m sharing a room with my buddy Tom and have taken full advantage of annual passholder discounts.  We’ve elected not to get a car this time (although we strongly considered it) in order to save our pennies for another trip.  With so many of our friends in town and the bus service, I’m sure we’ll never be left stranded.  This means we’ll also be making use of Disney’s Magical Express which will be picking me up at approximately 5 a.m. on my departure day!  Ouch!  Saving money on lodging and transportation means we’ll have more money for fun.  I’m sure my friends and I will be spending plenty of time in Epcot between the Flower and Garden Festival and wandering around World Showcase with drinks in hand.

I’m really excited for this trip because it is an excuse to see my Disney friends.  Though not all of them could make it this time, the ones I’ll be hanging out with with be a riot.  When you go to WDW as much as I do you form a bond with the people you travel with and meet along the way.  To share a weekend of Disney magic with people who love it as much as I do is always a great time.  I’m also really looking forward to having dinner with my favorite Unofficial Guide and touringplans.com staffers at Kouzzina on Saturday night.  I really liked Kouzzina on my last trip and to dine with such fun companions will be a blast.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to cheer for some of the touringplans crew who are running in the Princess Half Marathon.  Good luck guys!

As always when I’m traveling, you can follow my adventures on twitter (@khelmstettter) and I’ll try to blog while I’m away as well…

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WDW Today Episode 685 – Kidani Village

by on February 22, 2010

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Episode 685 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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A Walk Through the Animal Kingdom’s Oasis

by on February 21, 2010

Samland’s tour of the different lands within the WDW parks continues.  This week he starts a series that looks at the Animal Kingdom.  Every land in this park is an example in the balance between people and nature.  In the Oasis, it is certain that nature is truly in command.

Once past the gateway, you enter a land that could only exist in this particular theme park. It is called the Oasis.

The Oasis serves the same function as Main Street, Hollywood Boulevard or walking under Spaceship Earth. The job is to create a shared experience that sets up the adventures that lie ahead. For this park, the Imagineers were trying to slow you down. They described the Oasis as a “cool, green decompression zone”. People will always run toward the Safari or Everest, so this is a feat is rarely achieved on the way into the park. On the way out, it is a different story.

At every other theme park, it is the destination that matters. At Animal Kingdom the best way to enjoy the park is to let the journey become the thing. This park is designed to reward the guest who takes their time.

The pathways in the Oasis meander and cross under a land bridge just like the train tunnels at the Magic Kingdom. This obstruction acts like a curtain that sets up the big reveal; your first view of the iconic Tree of Life. The wide walkway over the main bridge is designed to accommodate the large crowds who just stand there and gawk. Many visitors will not realize that from the parking lot to this point you have walked up a 20-foot hill.

Like the other Disney park entrances, the Oasis funnels you through single entrance and a narrow portal to separate you from the real world and allow you to enter the fantasy world of the park. At the end of the pathway is a hub with the various lands radiating out like spokes on a wheel.

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Our Disney Touring Plans Featured In “Numbers Rule Your World”

by on February 21, 2010

41XP1l6SR+L._SL500_AA240_You know your life is good when you refer to Walt Disney World as “the southern office.”  But things got even better this week when we found out that our Disney World touring plans were featured in a new book on how statistics and probability apply to everyday life.

Numbers Rules Your World: The Hidden Influence on Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do describes our touring plans and the inner workings of Disney’s FASTPASS system to explain how queuing theory and statistical modeling come together to make families’ visits to Walt Disney World better.   Numbers is written by Kaiser Fung, a professional statistician and the author of the Junk Charts blog.  (He’s also got degrees from Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton, in addition to a gig as XM Radio’s statistician.)

I’ve read most of the book this week, and Kaiser has done a remarkable job of explaining how statistics and probability work.  One of my favorite examples is a comparison of the odds of winning the lottery and dying in a plane crash.  Both are apparently about the same (one in ten million as described), yet the average person’s behavior illustrates that we think both events are much more likely to happen.

Coincidentally, I’d read SuperFreakonomics last week.  Numbers Rule Your World is written in a similar, easy to read manner, and focuses on statistics instead of economics.  If you liked Freakonomics you’ll definitely enjoy Numbers.

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WDW Today Episode 684 – TentFest 2010 Preview

by on February 19, 2010

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Episode 684 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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The Hall of Presidents

by on February 18, 2010

It’s Presidents Day week so I thought I’d take a look at an attraction with direct ties to this patriotic holiday: The Hall of Presidents (HoP).   Now, we all know I’m a Disney geek, but if you really want to hear me ramble on about nerdy things get me started on the Hall of Presidents, Liberty Square, or the American Adventure.  I’m something of an expert on these attractions since I spent a year eating, sleeping, and breathing them while I wrote my senior honors thesis about them and their representation of American history and culture.  You can even hear me talk about the previous version of HoP on Lou Mongello’s wdwradio podcast shortly before it closed.  So as you might imagine I was really excited to see the Hall of Presidents get a little love from the imagineers.  This attraction usually receives some attention when a new president is elected.  However, this time around when the Magic Kingdom attraction was shut down to add President Obama the show was completely redone.

First, guests may notice a few additions to the displays in the attraction’s lobby.  A special exhibit celebrating the first ladies has been added displaying a few dresses once belonging to these special women.  There are also several cases presenting artifacts from early presidents to George W. Bush’s inaugural cowboy boots.  Portraits of the presidents are also hung throughout the lobby for guests to enjoy.  The cast members working at the Hall of Presidents are often full of knowledge of American history and usually willing to chat with guests about the exhibits in this area.

Once inside the theater, guests are seated and wait for the show to begin.  The attraction starts with a film highlighting the trials and triumphs of some of our past presidents. The film has been completely revamped and the focus has changed to feature presidents’ leadership through hard times in the United States.  Morgan Freeman has taken over the narration duties of the Hall of Presidents and he was a great choice.  His voice has the poise and a warm familiarity perfect for telling the story of the American presidency.  The script has been completely rewritten, but some of the paintings projected on the massive screen have been reused throughout the movie.  Without going blow by blow through each scene, I’ll just point out a few highlights.  In the newest version of the attraction, the film is briefly interrupted for Abraham Lincoln’s auto animatronic to recite the Gettysburg Address during a segment about the Civil War.  The movie segment is concluded with a montage of some presidents at their most trying moments; just a few examples include Bill Clinton mourning those lost in Oklahoma City, and George W. Bush rallying the country after 9/11.

At the conclusion of the film the curtain rises and the audience gets to see all 43 past presidents as well as our current president, Barack Obama.  Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and President Obama all have speaking roles in the newest version of the Hall of Presidents.  It’s pretty amazing to see these life-like audio animatronics address the audience.  All of the other presidents are introduced by Morgan Freeman and they acknowledge the crowd with a nod or wave when their names are mentioned.  Something I’ve always loved about this attraction that during the roll call of past leaders, all of them fidget and move throughout the introductions.  It seems as though many of the figures have been improved and move more fluidly.  The most advanced of the figures belongs to our current president.  Mr. Obama’s animatronic movements are incredibly lifelike to go along with his a recording of the actual president.  President Obama recorded the oath of office as well as a short speech written for the show.

I was very happy with the new version even though it made me teary eyed.  As a history buff and patriot I appreciate the content of the Hall of Presidents.  There are a lot of little things that impress me about this attraction in all of its versions.  The attention to detail is simply amazing (hang out with me in Liberty Square some time to hear all about those details).  I think the imagineers were able to keep the integrity of the previous versions while enhancing it to appeal to a modern audience.  They have picked up the pace to keep the attention of guests, while still providing a decent amount of educational material.  While I loved the older version, I love this one just as much, and I think it has more mass appeal than its previous incarnation.

I’m sure the excitement is partially due to folks wanting to see the newest addition to the presidential line up, but it was nice to see more guests in the theater than I had ever seen before.  It seems as though guests have taken a liking to the latest version of a WDW classic.  Small kids may get antsy during the attraction so use discretion with your little ones.  Older kids may think the animatronics are cool since they are so lifelike.  As for adults, even if you aren’t a history buff you will probably enjoy this feel good presentation.  The Hall of Presidents is meant to insight patriotism and pride in Americans while teaching them a little something about their own history.  And if none of that appeals to you, just think of it as a place to sit in the air conditioning for about 25 minutes.  Whatever your motivation, I encourage you to check out this oft overlooked attraction.  Hey, you might learn something (gasp!).

Have you seen the Hall of Presidents since it was renovated?  Let me know what you thought of it!

Next week I’ll discuss my upcoming trip (yup, I’m heading down to WDW again)…

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