Archive for May, 2010

WDW Today Episode 721 – Dealing with higher airfare

by on May 17, 2010

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Episode 721 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Crowd Calendar 2.0: Smarter, More Accurate And Not Scary At All

by on May 17, 2010

Exciting things are happening at TouringPlans.com headquarters. Recently we launched a redesigned version of the site. Today, we are eager to give you a sneak peek at the new version of our Crowd Calendar.

The Crowd Calendar is designed to help you answer the following questions:

  1. What is a good season to go?
  2. What week should I go?
  3. What parks should I visit on each day?

So what are we changing?

The “Mountains” scale was great, but we can do better

Our previous approach was to use the peak wait times at the Magic Kingdom Mountains (Space, Splash and Big Thunder) to predict crowd levels.  This was popular and well understood, which helped us explain how the old calendar worked. The main disadvantage with the Mountains is that Disney can add and subtract ride vehicles at any time, varying the capacity of the ride and thus the amount of time people have to wait. Comparing the wait times of rides with variable capacity isn’t the best we can do.

We’re now using all attractions to measure crowds

Walt Disney World has over 100 attractions and now we’re using every one of them to produce a single, all-in-one crowd level estimate.

We have a LOT more data

Thanks to our fabulous Lines users and our crack team of researchers, we collect wait times from every Disney World park, every hour of every day.  These data – tens of thousands of individual wait times – are analyzed by a professional statistician, who looks for trends and patterns in the data to see how WDW crowds are behaving.

Our new crowd calendar recommendations are made to match those patterns and trends we see happening in the parks.  For example, we’ve observed that Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday had the lowest wait times in the Magic Kingdom over the past year, so our crowd calendar recommends those days more than others.

“So what do we do with this NEW Crowd Calendar?”

The Crowd Calendar will look the same, but there are some important distinctions. The biggest one is this: Crowd Calendar 2.0 is based on a percentile rank.

Imagine you have a box of 100 marbles of different sizes. If you sort the marbles from smallest to largest you can divide them into ten groups of ten, according to size. The largest ten marbles get put into Group Ten. The next ten largest get put into Group Nine, etc.

In our case, we are sorting all the possible crowd sizes at Walt Disney World into ten groups. The highest ten percent get a rank of ten; the next highest ten percent get a rank of nine, etc.

Old Calendar vs. New Calendar
Crowd Level Old Calendar New Calendar
10 Peak wait at the Magic Kingdom Mountains is about 100 minutes or more These are the most crowded days of the year. Wait times for all attractions are at their highest.
9 Peak wait at the Magic Kingdom Mountains is about 90 minutes If 10 is the highest, wait times for this day rank a 9 out of 10
8 … about 80 minutes … an 8 out of 10
7 … about 70 minutes … a 7 out of 10
6 … about 60 minutes … a 6 out of 10
5 … about 50 minutes … a 5 out of 10, an average day
4 … about 40 minutes … a 4 out of 10
3 … about 30 minutes … a 3 out of 10
2 … about 20 minutes … a 2 out of 10
1 … about 10 minutes or less These are the least crowded days of the year. Wait times for all attractions are at their lowest.

“O.K. Mr. Smarty Pants, then what does a ’7′ out of 10 actually mean to me?”

The new index combines the wait times for all attractions but we can give some examples of how the crowd level translates into wait times:

What Does The Crowd Level Mean?
Crowd Level Peter Pan’s Flight Soarin’ Toy Story Mania Kilimanjaro Safaris
10 75 minutes 125 minutes 130 minutes 55 minutes
9 75 110 120 50
8 70 105 110 45
7 65 95 105 45
6 65 85 105 45
5 65 85 100 40
4 65 85 100 40
3 60 80 95 40
2 55 80 95 35
1 55 75 90 35

On average, a ’7′ translates into a 65 minute peak wait time at Peter Pan’s Flight, 95 minutes at Soarin’, 105 minutes at Toy Story Mania, and a 45 minute peak wait time at Kilimanjaro Safaris. These peak wait times combined with the peak wait times for every other attraction contribute to the crowd level ’7′.

“What does it mean if the crowd level changes for my trip?”

Don’t panic. Our estimates for crowds still remain the same; we’re just expressing the results in a different way. Suppose one of your trip days was a ’7′ and becomes a ’4′. The ’7′ indicated that the Magic Kingdom Mountains will peak at 70 minutes, the ’4′ indicates that the combined wait times at all attractions rank a 4 out of 10.

“What about the best days recommendations, are they going to change as well?”

The new calendar is more accurate for recommending parks too so we felt that it was important to make some changes. Here is how we will recommend parks.

  1. Avoid a park if it has Extra Magic Hour morning. Unless you are a resort guest with park hoppers, it is usually not worth it.
  2. Avoid a park if it is hosting a Special Event. For example: Grad Nights, Gay Days, or Star Wars Weekends
  3. Avoid the Magic Kingdom on Holidays. Other parks are almost always a better option.
  4. If the crowd level is lower than the 7-day average then recommend the park.
  5. Some special cases:
  • If there is no recommended park then recommend the park with the lowest crowd level.
  • If there is no park to avoid then avoid the park with the highest crowd level.
  • If there is a 7-day stretch where a park is not recommended then recommend it on the day with the lowest crowd level during that 7-day stretch.

“How do these new rules affect the recommendations in the old calendar?”

There are 1500 park recommendations on the calendar.  Less than ten percent of these are changing from a “park to avoid” to a “best park” or vice versa.  Here is a summary of the changes.

  • There are 7 cases (i.e., less than one percent of all recommendations) where a park will change from “recommended” to “avoid” during the first six months of the calendar. In the second six months of the calendar there are another 27 cases, but those may change once Disney announces the park schedules.
  • Nine percent (9%) will change from “avoid” to “recommended”.
  • About 40% will change to or from neutral (13% best to neutral, 13% neutral to best, 11% avoid to neutral and 3% neutral to avoid).
  • Fifty percent (50%) of the recommendations will remain the same.

“I was planning a visiting a park because you recommended it. Now it is listed as a park to avoid!”

We strongly believe in giving you the most accurate and up-to-date information possible, even if that means going against previous recommendations. If one of your days went from “best park” to “avoid”, bring along Lines, our Cheat Sheets, and a good Touring Plan. All will help you minimize your time in line. And please contact us with any specific questions.

Coming Soon

We are super-excited about this new calendar because it will give you a broader picture of the crowds at Walt Disney World. Crowd Calendar 2.0 will appear on TouringPlans.com sometime this week. Let us know what you think.

UPDATE!

The new Crowd Calendar has arrived. Go check it out!

Happy planning!

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BETAMOUSE #15 – Disney Q&A

by on May 14, 2010

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by TouringPlans.com developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

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Welcoming @kidanikatie To The Team

by on May 14, 2010

As you may know, we’re big into Twitter and Facebook. So much so, in fact, that we’ve brought on Katie Siloac (aka @kidanikatie) to come help us out! She’ll be handling all of our “social media efforts” — and hopefully signing us up for lots of new fangled websites that we haven’t even heard of yet!

Of course, we had to announce it first in a tweet:

And then on facebook!

Welcome, Katie!

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WDW Today Episode 720 – Touring plans questions you always wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask

by on May 14, 2010

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Episode 720 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Jiko: The Cooking Place

by on May 12, 2010

On my March trip my friends and I decided to splurge on a meal.  But where to go with so many great options on Disney property?  We wound up settling on Jiko: The Cooking Place at the Animal Kingdom Lodge which was a great decision.  I was particularly excited about this dinner since I had never been to Jiko before, and I had always heard such great things about it.  As an added bonus we wound up going on my friend, John’s, birthday so it was a celebratory dinner!  It was the perfect way to start off our trip since we dined there only hours after my arrival.

Celebrating a birthday at Jiko!

The decor at Jiko has been inspired by an African sunset with warm, rich tones.  The wine cellar is on display for guests to admire while they wait to be seated.  The artwork and furnishings pay homage to the restaurant’s African roots, creating a beautiful atmosphere.  It was quiet the night we dined here so it was quite enjoyable to get away from the hub bub of the parks and have a great meal with great friends in this setting.

Jiko is a great place to head for a celebration since it is famous for its award winning wine list.  They boast one of the largest selections of South African wines so good luck trying them all!  Since I know virtually nothing about wine, I asked the waiter to bring me his recommendation based upon my entree.  He selected a red wine (whose name escapes me) for me to sip.  And what a great choice it was!  Like I said, I’m not much of a wine aficionado and I usually prefer white to red, but this was awesome.  Most of the vast array of wines are available by the glass or by the bottle and your server will be happy to make recommendations.  The guys opted to try some of the African beers available to guests, and they all really enjoyed their drinks as well.

To start, the boys and I decided to try something we would not be able to get just anywhere.  We opted to order the seared ostrich filet and each have a taste.  It was a lovely dish and fun to eat something new.  The filet was served with kamut, mushrooms, and a truffle vinaigrette.  It made me look at the ostriches on the Kilimanjaro Safari in a whole new light.  Scared to try the ostrich?  Well, there are several other yummy sounding options on the appetizer menu as well.  I’ve heard many guests rave about the flatbreads here so why not give one of those a try?  There is also a selection of soups and salads to choose from.

As for an entree, I tried the famed oak-grilled filet mignon.  This pricey, but delicious piece of beef may not be as famous as the macaroni and cheese which accompanied it.  I don’t know what they do that mac n’ cheese, but this ain’t your grandma’s macaroni.  Additionally, my filet mignon was perfectly cooked to my liking and completely worth the over $40 price tag.   Now you may be saying to yourself $40?!  But, an occasional splurge on a special meal is totally worth it to me.  I certainly don’t eat this way on a regular basis, but every so often I like to live a little while I’m on vacation.  If steak isn’t your thing the menu also boasts vegetarian options along with the African inspired pork, fish, and lamb dishes.

Dessert was a great end our meal here.  We ordered two portions of Kenyan Coffee and Koeksisters which is homemade ice cream made from Kenyan coffee with spiced donuts.  Granted, I love just about anything that has to do with coffee, but this was an awesome dessert.  The donuts were warm, the ice cream was rich and creamy, and I would go back just to have it again.  Other options to satisfy your sweet tooth include a pistachio creme brulee, the Jiko trio (flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and caramel ice cream), and a roasted apple tarte to name a few.  Their beverage selection continued to be impressive all the way through to dessert with several port, brandy, and liqueurs available.

If you have not tried Jiko before I can’t recommend it enough.  I loved all three of my courses and the lovely glass of wine.  I thought the trip out to the Animal Kingdom lodge and the cost is completely worth the experience.  This dining establishment would make for a perfect romantic spot for couples or just a group of friends who love great food.  The restaurant does also offer a kids menu for those readers with families and I did see kids at dinner that night.  However, Jiko’s neighboring restaurant, Boma, might be a bit more kid friendly.  If you are worried about the African influence of the cuisine, just try it!  You may surprise yourself and really enjoy something you can’t get at home.

So have you enjoyed a meal at Jiko yet?  Let me know what you thought about it!

Next week I’ll take a closer look at the Bellevue Lounge at the Boardwalk Inn…

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WDW Today Episode 719 – Listener Questions

by on May 12, 2010

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Episode 719 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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Redesigning TouringPlans.com!

by on May 10, 2010

As you may have already noticed, TouringPlans.com is sporting a brand new design! This has been a long time coming, and we’re excited to let you kick the tires on the new site. Don’t worry–while the interface has changed, we’ve retained the Unofficial Guide’s content on each page. Please let us know what you think of the redesign in the comments!

Your Reader Survey feedback and emails were the reason why we did this redesign.  The new site (hopefully) addresses your top four concerns:

  • A more professional “look and feel” to the site. We think the new design is cleaner, more readable and easier on the eyes.
  • Improved site navigation. We’ve introduced drop-down menus and a smarter sidebar navigation scheme.  Moving around the site should be much more intuitive.
  • Better use of color.  We think the new color scheme is more clear, better matches the book’s colors, and provides more clear understanding of messages from the site.
  • More use of photos. The new site layout puts in place the infrastructure to bring you more of the high-quality digital photos and video we’ve taken all around Walt Disney World.  The header photo of Cinderella Castle is an example, and more will be coming soon.

In addition, thanks to all your fantastic feedback, we now have a new logo! We love its simple aesthetic, and we’re excited for all of you to have been a part of the process.

While we’re at it, we’d like to thank Rustin Jessen for our new site design. Rustin’s background was uniquely suited to this task: he’s not only a wicked graphic designer, but a former cast member for the Walt Disney Company! Check out his site to see some of the design work he did while with for the Mouse.

Lastly, a quick heads up: we’re increasing the cost of a 1-year premium subscription to $10.95 starting Monday, May 17th. Over the past year, we’ve been working furiously to help you get the most of out your Walt Disney World trip. We’ve launched Lines, our mobile wait times app, redesigned the site, and have many new features on the horizon (including some major Crowd Calendar improvements–stay tuned!).

We’re committed to remaining very competitively priced while bringing you the best trip planning tools and information on the web. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to become a member–now would be a great time!

See you in the parks!

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WDW Today Episode 718 – Honeymoon Touring

by on May 10, 2010

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Episode 718 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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WDW Today Episode 717 – Decadent Disney Dining Revisited

by on May 7, 2010

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Episode 717 of WDW Today is now available for download here.

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