Archive for February, 2010

WDW Today Episode 683 – Listener Questions

by on February 17, 2010

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Episode 683 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Are Disney’s Hollywood Studios Restaurants A Good Value?

by on February 16, 2010

The Disney Food Blog explores an analysis of costs and experience at the table-service restaurants in the Studios. If you’re a fan of Disney and food, come visit us over on the blog!

The question arose on a recent live WDWToday podcast about whether the restaurants at the Studios are some of the best values on property. I set out this past week to determine whether you can eat hearty, have fun, and save cash at the Studios, or whether you’re better off heading elsewhere in the World.

First, let’s define “value.” There are three components to a meal in Walt Disney World that can make it worth eating:

  • Cost: is the menu a good deal for the money?
  • Experience: can you get this type of theme or entertainment elsewhere?
  • Food: is the grub any good?

Scoring high on any of these scales can make a restaurant worth the trip, but if a dining spot can land on top of more than one scale, it’s a winner in my book. Through this post we’ll look at where each DHS table-service dining location falls on these three scales and determine, overall, if the Studios restaurants are a good value.

Jo-Jo Currently Appears at Hollywood and Vine

Jo-Jo Currently Appears at Hollywood and Vine

Hollywood and Vine
Cost: Pricing at Hollywood and Vine is comparable to other theme park buffet character meals, including Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom and Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom.

Experience: Hollywood and Vine Restaurant is basically an art deco Denny’s with some Hollywood memorabilia on the walls. The architecture is no reason to visit. Characters here include Playhouse Disney favorites Leo and June from the Little Einsteins and Jo-Jo and Goliath from Jo-Jo’s Circus (characters are rumored to be changing soon — though the new folks are still Playhouse Disney mainstays), and if your kid is enthralled with Playhouse Disney, this restaurant gets experience points. However, if your kid is just as happy seeing — or would rather see — Mickey and friends or Pooh and friends, there is absolutely no reason to go to Hollywood and Vine.

Food: This is the only place where Hollywood and Vine scores highly. The food, actually, is quite good. We thoroughly enjoyed the selection of breads and pastries, the warm apple crumble and bread pudding that were out for breakfast, and the south-of-the-border flair of some of the hot dishes.

Overall: Go instead to Tusker House or Crystal Palace, which score highly on all three of our “is it worth it?” scales. However, if you’re already beholden to the Studios for the day, this is a decent meal that isn’t going to break the bank.

Dine in Mom's Kitchen at 50's Prime Time Cafe

Dine in Mom's Kitchen at 50's Prime Time Cafe

50’s Prime Time Cafe
Cost: You can get a very filling, hot lunch here for around $15 and even a steak dinner won’t cost you more than around $21. Prices here are comparable to or lower than those at similar restaurants in other Disney World theme parks (Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Biergarten and San Angel Inn in Epcot, Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom). Food portions are large, too, so I deem this a great value-for-money deal.

Experience: The experience here is like none other in the World. You’re seated in a 1950’s kitchen, with vintage black-and-white TVs scrolling through clips of your favorite mid-century shows. But the best part of the experience is that your server — who happens to be playing the part of your cousin, Aunt, or Uncle — is always in character. Eating here means you’ve got to be ready for just about anything to happen, including standing in the corner for putting your elbows on the table or having the whole restaurant watch your husband perform “I’m a Little Teapot” because he didn’t eat all his vegetables. Hilarity ensues — even if you’re the target.

Food: The food here includes your favorite staples from your childhood — fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie — with a few new favorites, like a stuffed pepper and an olive-oil poached salmon, thrown in. In my experience, the food has been fine. Not spectacular, but worth the money. The fried chicken can’t be beat, and I always eat all of my green beans.

Overall: This place is a winner. While so many Disney restaurants are being outsourced to other management companies, you can tell that this restaurant came right off of the Disney drawing board. The good food and fun atmosphere is a combination you won’t find anywhere but here. It’s well worth a trip out of your way to the Studios.

Brass Derby at Hollywood Brown Derby

Brass Derby at Hollywood Brown Derby

Hollywood Brown Derby
Cost: The closest comparisons to the Brown Derby in another theme park would be Coral Reef and Bistro de Paris at Epcot. Brown Derby pricing is very similar to that of Coral Reef for lunch, and it’s a bit higher for dinner. Bistro de Paris is, admittedly, a slightly higher-echelon restaurant, but Brown Derby’s prices are several dollars lower than Bistro’s for dinner. Based on my experience, it was priced right for a mid- to high-end Disney restaurant.

Experience: For those of you who enjoy Disney attention to detail when it comes to history and themeing, this restaurant will be perfect for you. From the caricatures on the wall, to the replicated art deco decor, to the tiny brass derby hat lampshades, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked into the golden age of Hollywood. Rich maroon booths wrap around white tablecloths, servers anticipate your needs, and you really do feel like a bit of a celebrity. Kids — unless yours are experts in design — won’t care about this place, and might even find it boring. Adults, though, should feel pampered.

Food: As is often the case with Disney’s signature restaurants, the food is exquisite. This is the kind of meal you savor. While we weren’t wild about the desserts (they’re often a bit too “pre-packaged” for us), we’ll be talking about the wonderful meal for a long time.

Overall: Book it. Go now. I’m ashamed to say that it took me as long as it did to try this restaurant. It’s absolutely worth the cost, and I would probably pay a bit more. The ambiance is lovely (though it can get loud and echo-y), and the service was good. This is worth a trip — or two — to the Studios. We’re lucky to have such a great spot available right in the middle of a theme park.

Ribs and Fries at Sci-Fi Dine-In

Ribs and Fries at Sci-Fi Dine-In

Sci-Fi Dine-In Restaurant
Cost: Again, this is another restaurant in the Studios serving big meals for little prices. There are three lunch menu items under $15 and nothing over $23 on the dinner menu, including the steak and seafood meals. Cost is similar to 50’s Prime Time Cafe.

Experience: The imagineers have done it again. This place doesn’t just have themeing — it’s an attraction in itself. You sit in cars to eat. You’re underneath a starry sky. 1950’s carhops wait on you. You watch clips of black and white, mid-century monster and zombie movies while you eat. And that’s not all. When you wander out to the restrooms, check out the drive-in movie props, movie posters, and little Disney details lining the walls of the “studio.”

Food: The menu is short and standard: ribs, shrimp and pasta, burger, chili, milkshakes, etc. But they do have a tofu dish and a steak dish, at least. And the food isn’t bad at all. It’s not a five-star meal, but it’s not take-out, either. In fact, in my experience, the food here has gotten a lot better than it was about 4 years ago. Your kids will love it, and, my guess is, you won’t mind it either.

Overall: This is a solid restaurant, a good experience, and worth the trip. You won’t want to eat here every time you visit Disney World, but it’s a not-to-be-missed experience at least once. Based on cost and experience, it’s a true Disney dining gem.

Mama's Dining Room

Mama's Dining Room

Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano
Cost: Compared to the similar Italian restaurant on property — Tony’s Town Square in the Magic Kingdom — the cost here is pretty much in line. Flatbreads at both places are overpriced at around $13, and dinner steaks will run you prices in the low 20’s. The shrimp and pasta dish is $1 higher at Tony’s at the moment. That said, compared to Epcot’s Tutto Italia, which has been panned by many as overpriced and bland, Mama’s is a steal.

Experience: The restaurant is tucked back into the Streets of America and Muppets sections of the Studios, so it can be hard to find. The overall experience isn’t outstanding; the theme is difficult to discern (read the blurb on your menu if you want to know what they’re going for), and there aren’t regular shows to keep you entertained. Mama’s has, however, begun to send Hollywood Studios streetmosphere characters around to the tables during meals, which gives a fun feel to the place. I watched one family interact with a Hollywood Director for quite a while, and he had trinkets and toys for the kids, which they loved.

Mama's Chicken Pipette

Mama's Chicken Pipette

Food: I’ve had several experiences with this restaurant, and my best description of the food is “inconsistent.” Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I feel like I’m at a bad Olive Garden. My most recent experience was a great one for me, but not-so-great for my husband. My chicken pipette with cream sauce and veggies was delish; his chicken parm — a dish I highly recommended from my last few trips — was overcooked and blah. You never know what you’re gonna get here.

Overall: Meh. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but consider booking an ADR at Tony’s Town Square instead of Mama’s on your next trip. The food at Tony’s is bland, but the Lady and the Tramp themeing and potential of seeing a Magic Kingdom parade from your table will probably delight your family more than the indeterminate themeing and inconsistent food at Mama’s.

So ARE the Studios Restaurants a Good Value?
Overall, yes. They’re comparably if not lower-priced than similar restaurants in other parks, and the true-to-form themeing of the Studios comes through in its restaurants. Plus, you won’t find any horrible food here — everything’s at least decent, and I find most of it pretty good.

But what makes the Studios a great dining park is that it has a little bit of everything: character buffet; mid-priced, well-themed restaurants; and a high-end signature dining experience. Only Epcot offers as diverse a dining experience as the Studios — Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, as they’re lacking signature dining experiences, can’t compare.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Lines Graduates From Beta, Now Unofficially Supporting More Devices

by on February 15, 2010

We’re excited to announce that Lines, our mobile website that estimates Walt Disney World wait times, is soon dropping its “beta” tag. On March 1st, Lines will be available exclusively to premium TouringPlans.com subscribers at no extra charge. With the WDW Crowd Calendar, Touring Plans, and now full access to Lines, it’s never been a better time to be a TouringPlans.com subscriber. And we’ll think you’ll agree that it’s quite the bargain–only $10.95 for a full year subscription! That’s less than an average adult meal at a Disney counter service restaurant (and unlike Disney, we offer a 45-day money back guarantee)!

If you’re currently a basic subscriber (aka, the free account), you’ll need to upgrade to a premium subscription to continue to enjoy Lines starting on March 1st. We’re also committed to offering a free, “lite” version of Lines which will include park hours and limited crowd and attraction estimates so you can kick the tires before going premium.

We’ve been ridiculously happy with the response we’ve received since we launched Lines almost three months ago. Thousands of users have tried it from the parks (with many thousands more waiting for their next trip), and we’ve burned the midnight oil to support more devices, improve its accuracy, and even predict the future.

And there’s more!

To bring Lines to even more users, we’ve decided to Unofficially open up to all devices and browsers. So while we currently only officially support iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, and BlackBerry, you can now try out Lines from any mobile or desktop browser. But just a warning for users on an unsupported device/browser: results may vary. But we’re hearing good things on some popular platforms, so please let us know how it works in the comments!

So what are you waiting for? Go premium and enjoy Lines!

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WDW Today Episode 682 – Summer Nightastic

by on February 14, 2010

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Episode 682 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 681- Traditions

by on February 12, 2010

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Episode 681 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 680 – Listener Questions

by on February 10, 2010

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Episode 680 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Boardwalk Inn

by on February 9, 2010

My family spends every summer at the Jersey Shore (no, it’s nothing like the show) so I’ve always been curious to stay at the Boardwalk Inn.  I’ve strolled through the lobby and eaten at several of the resort’s restaurants in the past, but never had the chance to lay my head at this seaside resort.  I really enjoy the decor at this resort all year round since it reminds me of my summer home, but I was especially excited to stay here in December since I love the decorations in the Boardwalk’s lobby.

For those who aren’t familiar with this resort, the Boardwalk is meant to celebrate the heyday of seaside destinations like Atlantic City.  I imagineboardwalk the Boardwalk Inn resembles AC (as we call it in Jersey) when my grandparents and great grandparents strolled along the beach.  Hallways throughout the resort display photographs and objects from the Shore and the architecture is cozy like a beach house.  If you haven’t ventured to the Boardwalk before I encourage you to give it a try.  Even if a deluxe resort is out of your price range this one is more accessible to all Disney guests.  It is easy to walk over from Epcot’s International Gateway to enjoy the restaurant offerings, stroll the grounds, or maybe enjoy a night out either of the area’s night time hot spots.

For this trip I traveled with my friends Julie and Tom and we picked this resort for several reasons.  We have been trying out deluxe resorts lately in part because our group would like to experience as many resorts as possible and also because it is the most comfortable way to travel with three adults not wishing to share a bed.  We also have been wanting to stay in an Epcot area resort because of its proximity to the park as well as Disney’s Hollywood Studios.    Epcot is our group’s favorite park so the thought of being able to walk there has a lot of appeal.  We settled on the Boardwalk vs. one of other area resorts since we would love to stay at the Beach Club, but want to save it for a warm weather trip to make use of their fantastic pool.  Additionally, the Boardwalk was the resort with the biggest ratings improvement among Unofficial Guide readers this year.

We booked a standard view room since we wouldn’t be spending a ton of time in our room.  So we just looked out onto a courtyard, but it wasn’t a parking lot or a dumpster or anything.  The room includes too very comfy queen beds and a day bed which was ideal for our party of three.  There is also a flat screen TV, a desk (for blogging, of course), and several drawers.  The bathroom is split between a double sink in the main area and an enclosed space with the shower and toilet.  I thought the room with the shower and toilet was a bit tight, but overall it was nicely finished.  Tom volunteered for to take the day bed and said it was comfortable enough and he’s over 6 foot tall.  The queen beds Julie and I occupied were down right lovely.  The sheets and pillows were cozy and I passed right out every night after a long day of touring.

I think the best aspect of staying at this resort is its proximity to parks and attractions.  Guests can either walk or take a boat to both Epcot’s International Gateway and the main gate of Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  In many instances (unless you are completely exhausted or have many small children in tow) it’s actually faster to hoof it to these parks than to wait around for the boat.  We opted not to rent a car since we figured we’d be spending most of our time in Epcot.  We could also take the monorail from Epcot to Magic Kingdom part way through the day if we wanted.  While I often prefer a rental car to the WDW complimentary transportation, I really didn’t miss having a car.  I suppose it also helped that some of my Disney geek friends had cars and carted us around from time to time.  Thanks guys!

Well, no resort is perfect so here my biggest complaint about this resort: the lack of a real counter service restaurant.  There is the bakery and Seaside Sweets, but there is no real quick place to grab a meal and be on your way as there are in most other resorts.  Seating is available outside on the boardwalk to service these locations, but if it is raining or just generally icky out those just won’t do.  Also, due to the lack of traditional resort counter service there is also nowhere to refill your resort mug on your own.  The morning we tried to use our mugs we had to show the CMs working behind the counter at the bakery that we had our mugs, request our beverage of choice, and then we were given paper cups with our coffee.  It made no sense.  Since we usually grab breakfast and coffee at our resort’s quick service restaurant, this was a disappointment for our group.  We also didn’t think it was worth the cost of mug here since we hardly used them on this trip.

So with all of that in mind what was my overall opinion on the Boardwalk?  I have to say it was one of my favorite Disney resorts.  I know many a Disney geek who say the Polynesian is their favorite resort, but I think the Boardwalk ranks about the same as the Polynesian in my book.  They each have things they do better than the other, but all in all they are neck in neck.  I would absolutely stay here again and hope to at some point.  Although I have the added bonus of feeling at home at the Boardwalk, I think just about anyone would enjoy the resort.

Have any of you stayed her recently?  Did you love it as much as I did?  Let me know what you thought about the Boardwalk!

Next week I’ll take a look at a newly reimagineered attraction I hold near and dear to my heart…

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Samland Visits the Studios: Sunset Blvd & Animation Courtyard

by on February 8, 2010

Samland continues on his visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This time he looks at Sunset Boulevard and the Animation Courtyard. If you like this sort of design stuff come visit Samland’s Disney Adventures.

SUNSET BOULEVARD

Sunset Boulevard is based on the same design principles as Hollywood Boulevard and Echo Lake. It has restricted itself (with one exception) to facades of historic buildings from Los Angeles built before 1945. The most notable building would be the Carthay Circle Theater (1926) where Snow White and Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937. Down the block, the spiral marquee belongs to the Academy Theater (1938) in Inglewood. There are two building from Pasadena, the Winter Garden (1940) and a bar called the 35r. Sunset Ranch Market is based on Los Angeles’s famous Farmers Market (1941).

You will notice that there are two styles of architecture, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne, which dominate the Studios. Art Deco uses geometric designs, bold colors and modern materials and combines them to be elegant and make an optimistic statement. Streamline Moderne is a style that celebrates the machine age and is influenced by modern aerodynamic designs. Sweeping curves, symmetry, and repetition are part of the design language.

Imagineer John Hench said the use of these distinctive and familiar architectural styles gives the park “archetypal truths.” The stylized buildings are out of context and the scale is different but you accept that you could be in Hollywood set in the 1930s because all of the visual clues add up and create the underlying emotional appeal of a “glamorous, dreamlike Hollywood of the collective consciousness.”

What is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World? The answer is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It tops out at 199 feet. Why 199 feet for a 13 story building? If it were any taller it would require a warning beacon on the roof and that would not confirm with the theme.

You will notice trolley tracks left half uncovered below your feet. These were laid in anticipation of a major Roger Rabbit themed expansion that would have included the Toontown Trolley Ride, Herman’s Runaway Buggy Ride, and the Benny the Cab attraction that ended up at Disneyland.

ANIMATION COURTYARD

In 1989, the Studios were more than just a theme park. Disney created a real working studio with live production facilities and an animation studio. Films such as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range were produced in Florida. You used to be able to take a tour and watch animators working at their desks plus there was an informative film featuring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite that made every adult male in the audience sob uncontrollably. The architecture for this area is based on the work of Kem Weber who designed Walt Disney’s Burbank Studio (1939).

The courtyard is surrounded by Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage!, which used to be a restaurant where you could dine on a soundstage amidst props from Disney feature films. The Walt Disney Theater used to be a preview house for upcoming films and was converted to a live action theater featuring the Muppets. It now home to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show. The Magic of Disney Animation is a shell of its former self. This area has seen significant change.

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 and 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, a postproduction audio and video facility; it’s own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The 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 Kid, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.

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Presidents’ Day & Mardi Gras At Disney World

by on February 8, 2010

It is Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast.  The schools actually close.  Some lucky schools get a week off.  This is a great time to go to Disney World unless Mardi Gras coincides with Presidents’ Day.  Presidents’ Day is often when the schools along the East Coast take a week long winter break, making it one of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World. In 2010, Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras coincide.

My son, Tyler, has a free long weekend.  Here I am with an opportunity to go to WDW, but have no plans.  I have just now entertained the idea of going — 4 days prior to leaving.  I am already going in March for the Disney’s Princess Half Marathon.  I don’t want to spend a lot of money. This is peak season. The rooms are expensive and of course there is not much availability.   We will either have to change hotels every night or we will have to stay off property.  It makes me wonder if we should even attempt it? Have I lost temporary hold of my senses? Of course, we should attempt it.

As inexpesively as possible, we will attempt to arrange a last minute Presidents’ Day trip to WDW.  Crowds don’t bother me, but we do need a place to rest our heads at night.  Can this even be accomplished?  Last minute trip, busy season, inexpensive?  Tyler and I will take on the challenge and report back to the results.  We would love your tips.

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Len And Henry Talk Unofficial Guide Color Companion, Lines On Travel With Rick!

by on February 8, 2010

Here’s a fun video Len and I did on the Travel With Rick show (with a brief cameo from Fred!). We talked about the new Unofficial Guide Color Companion that’s coming out very soon (you’ve pre-ordered your copy, right?), and also talk about Lines! Be sure to head over to Rick’s post to answer Len’s question at the end!

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