Archive for August, 2010

WDW Today Episode 767 – Listener Questions

by on August 31, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 767 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

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Simplify Disney Trip Planning With Online Resources

by on August 31, 2010

Planning a vacation to Disney World can be a daunting task.  Even if your idea of fun is pouring hours of planning into your trip, it can still be overwhelming.  Whether you’re a first time visitor or a seasoned veteran, I have some online resources that can simplify the planning process.  We all know that showing up at Walt Disney World without a plan is a very, very bad idea.

               Katie, Kristen & Caroline part of the Touringplans.com team One of my very favorite websites is Touringplans.com.  Touringplans.com offers a number of services to simplify the planning process:

  • The Crowd Calendar: The chart offers an estimate of what the projected crowds will be.  I, myself, love this chart.  I like to be mentally prepared for a huge crowd before I arrive. 
  • Touring Plans:  These plans are even more important than the crowd calendar.  If you follow one of our plans, we promise you will minimize your wait times. 
  • The Blog: We have experts that post articles daily.  A huge variety of topics are covered.  These writers know and love Disney – even more importantly, they want to share it with you. (Pictured to the left are just a few of the Touringplans.com team: Katie, Kristen & Caroline)
  • Lines App:  Lines is an application (“app”) that can be used with most smart phones.  This fabulous app displays park hours; current and future wait times for every attraction in Walt Disney World, and much more. 

                Allears.net is the gold standard of Disney websites.  Allears.net is an all encompassing Disney informational website.  Allears.net covers everything:  planning, accommodations, park, restaurant, & dining tips, Disney restaurant menus & reviews, resort details, news and much more.  Allears.net is a must visit site when planning a trip.  Allears.net will celebrate its 15th Anniversary in January 2011.

                Studioscentral.com is the be all and end all of everything Disney Hollywood Studios.  This outstanding website answers all of your DHS questions in an effort to make your trip more fun.  Studioscentral.com covers a huge variety of topics: dining, park hours, entertainment and a history of this park, just to name a few.  This is a must visit website prior to any trip to Disney Hollywood Studios .  I especially love the history section.  I like to know how things came to be.      

                These are just a few of the resources I go to when planning a trip.  I have them all saved as favorites on my computer.  These are my go to websites.  I always learn something new.  I marvel at the time, quality and detail that go into all of these sites.  Even when not planning a trip to Disney World, it’s fun to read about what’s going on at my favorite place.

You can follow me on Twitter @Caroline251

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WDW Today Episode 766 – A New Touringplan For Kids

by on August 29, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 766 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

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Foto Face-off Friday – SpaceShip Earth v. Cinderella Castle

by on August 27, 2010

Congratulations on making it to the conclusion of another work week! With your weekend about to start, hopefully this eases you into relaxation mode. In this edition of Foto Face-off Friday, the weekly blog that features photographs from our TouringPlans Flickr Group that are an extension of the Disney Debates we’ve been holding on our Twitter Account, @TouringPlans, we will attempt to resolve one of Walt Disney World’s “biggest controversies,” which is the better icon: SpaceShip Earth or Cinderella Castle. Since pictures speak louder than words we’ve decided to seek definitive resolution photographically for this especially hotly contested Disney Debate!

Arguably, this is the “biggest” debate of the Disney World. Icons are the most poignant structures in the parks, and these are the two grandest of the grand. Here is what some of our followers on Twitter had to say:

@scarlettashley1 Cinderella Castle: Because it will never be called a “Giant Golf Ball.”

@Jen_Kvids Where exactly is the debate here? Castle of course!

@kymickeyfan717 Cinderella Castle all the way. It just screams Disney #DisneyDebate

@ScoutingMouse I love the castle but Spaceship Earth means I’m home as Epcot’s my fave park. Arrrgggghhh!!! I can’t decide!!! #DisneyDebate

@MouseWorldRadio that is a no-brainer! Cinderella’s Castle any day! And i LOVE Spaceship Earth

@curbcrusher I don’t know. When I think of WDW, I think of Maelstrom. #DisneyDebate #kidding

Personally, I expected more indecisiveness given that these are the two resounding most popular structures in Walt Disney World, but most of the Tweets and Flickr images did not bear out the love folks have for both.

Along with their photo entries, we asked for an explanation as to why each poster preferred their respective choice. Their reasons may pertain to photography, general enjoyment of the choice, or both. Their personal thoughts are provided below their photo-entry. To view more of their photography click on their respective submission, which will direct you to their Flickr photostream. It was such a good week in the Flickr group with great photos and thoughtful explanations that I just felt I couldn’t limit it to the best ten.

SpaceShip Earth

Photogineer (Doug):
Reflections of Earth (SSE that is)
This was a tough one to decide. Both are huge icons that I love equally. It is like picking your favorite child. You love them both equally but for different reasons. Well this is not my child so I can pick a favorite. My choice was SSE. The reason is small but just enough to pull it ahead. Besides EPCOT being my favorite park, the small point that put SSE just a little ahead of the Castle is that SSE is also a complete ride. The ride is still one of my favorite rides in WDW and I never miss it when visiting. I love the edutainment aspect as well of this ride. (Another argument for the previous Face-off). The sounds and smells in SSE bring back tons of memories for me. Jeremy Irons is my favorite narrator and it was just enough to pull it ahead by a slight margin.

Wonderful_world_of_Hilary:
Spaceship Earth
I’m going to have to go with Spaceship Earth. For me it’s the icon that makes me stop dead in my tracks and brings a smile to my face. It’s a architectural wonder being a full geodesic sphere with an amazing ride within. It stands out against everything around it, can even be spotted from Expedition Everest and Summit Plummet and of course it’s the one and only, not an off chute or replica, but a true Disney Imagineering wonder.

SkaGoat:
IMG_2975
I love Spaceship Earth, it’s shape just leads to so many interesting photographs, also the fact that it’s got a full fledged attraction inside of it.

Scottwdw:
Spaceship Earth from the Monorail
EPCOT Center was the first park I visited back in 1983. I looked up at SSE upon entering the park from the main entrance as a monorail just making an orbit around the huge geodesic sphere. Memory of the TV show where Walt Disney introduced the EPCOT community idea came fresh into my consciousness. I boarded the Time Machine to learn of Man’s past history with and a future lie with communication technology. The Internet was still in the future back then and here this ride was talking about the concept of a wired world to come. Didn’t hurt that another Walt (Cronkite) was the narrator either. Years later I was able to capture this photo of SSE as I “orbited” inside a monorail. The combination of Sun angle, monorail window tinting and slow speed all came together in a click of a shutter. Memories of my past and the future that is now, that’s what sets SSE over Cinderella Castle.

CJ Balogh:
EPCOT
While I thoroughly enjoy the Castle and think that it is the quintessential icon of Disney World, SSE to me, is the more subtle Disney icon. Not to say it is under rated (if it were, why would we have this debate) but when first-timers see the castle they know what it is. Even if they don’t know the story that goes along with the castle, they know a castle represents royalty and can have an idea what it stands for. If you see SSE for the first time there is a good chance you have no clue what it is. It begs to be looked at and explored inside and out. I think it also fits Epcot like a glove (no pun, really) in, that it looks like it feel out of space (wow, didn’t mean that one either) and with Epcot being about the future what could be better than an object that looks totally foreign to anything we see today.

rcpromike:

EPCOT is without a doubt my favorite park, and SSE is my favorite WDW park icon. Even though I can use all three park entrances (well, 3 if you’re a CM), I prefer to use the main entrance at EPCOT as a guest because of the wonder that walking into the park underneath Spaceship Earth instills. Two icons at WDW have always intrigued me, SSE and the Contemporary, perfect models of the forward-thinking vision of Walt and his Imagineers. I also enjoy photographing SSE because it forces me to be creative to come up with new angles and ways to frame certain sections.

Cinderella Castle

Alis0nMarie:
Forever Friends
Definitely Cinderella’s Castle. Hands down. There is no other feeling like stepping foot into Magic Kingdom and seeing Cinderella’s Castle for the first time (all over again). Also, the simple fact that this castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, Germany’s original “Cinderella’s Castle”, the choice is clear for me. There is so much beauty; so much depth; a finite number of details to capture; and it’s not just the castle, but everything surrounding it makes it the winner for me. I could honestly take photographs of this castle all day long and still miss something. I agree with Bob Desmond. The comparison isn’t even close.

Scott Smith (SRisonS):
Cinderella Statue
I have to go with Cinderella’s Castle. It’s the most photographed building in the world, for good reason. It’s has story. It has presence. It has such a tremendous amount of detail. For a lot of people, this IS Disney. It’s part of a fairy tale that’s come to life.

Isabelle Boivin:
Little friends
The Cinderella Castle, simply because, when you talk of Disney, for everyone, it’s all about the Castle. I just can’t get tired of it, and it looks great almost in every shot !

Sarita Linda:
Is it that time already?
The castle, at any angle is is put magic and for a short time, you are too.

ddindy:
A snowy evening in Orlando
Spaceship Earth (please don’t call it a golf ball) is a certainly an icon. It screams Epcot. However, other than a few years with the wand, it is a pretty static structure. Photographically, it’s a challenge to find an interesting angle – it looks the same from almost every direction and the lighting never varies. The castle is also an icon, but it screams Disney Parks. From the original Disneyland TV show through current Disney movies, the first thing you always see is a castle. At night, the castle comes alive, with lights that change its appearance, fireworks, the Kiss Goodnight and, during the holiday season, the Castle Dream Lights. And who doesn’t get a little emotional with that first glimpse of the castle from Town Square? Sorry, SSE, but Cinderella’s abode is my choice.

Wesley Cullen’s Mom:

This truly is a great debate. I even made comment on one of my pictures of SSE that the castle and SSE are similar in the respect that they offer hundreds of angles and with the sky and light you can get different shots of each. In fact you could probably stand by both all day and capture thousands of different lightings and angles, however…….my vote goes to Cinderella’s Castle. It’s just magicial. It’s everything that is Disney. It takes your breath away when you step down Main St. USA. It reminds you to dream and use your imagination. The castle reminds grown women to still dream of being a princess and living in the castle waitingon/or with her prince charming. My vote for “The One” is Cinderella’s Castle.

Finally, my entry and commentary:
It's A Wonderful Life

To be honest, when I selected this topic, my answer was a foregone conclusion. I knew my choice would be SpaceShip Earth, but I chose a topic that wasn’t a challenge for myself because I wanted a good number of responses as I wouldn’t be doing a blog post last week due to my Disneyland trip. The second I stepped onto Main Street during that trip, the foregone conclusion vanished. Squinting down the street, I had to whip out my telephoto lens to finally catch a glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but you get the idea. Sorry to all of the Disneyland fans out there (your parks are great nonetheless), but that Castle just leaves something to be desired. Point being, after seeing Sleeping Beauty Castle for a while, I realized that I had come to take Cinderella Castle for granted.

It’s not that I have flippantly passed by Cinderella Castle in the past; each time I have stepped onto Main Street for the first time of a trip, I have stood in awe for a few moments. The same is true when we sit watching the Kiss Goodnight. Still, I know there had been plenty of times when I had rushed through Cinderella Castle without really appreciating it, whereas it seems I have always stopped to look up while passing under SpaceShip Earth. Wondering why this would be the case, I rationalized that the only possibility is that I have become more familiar with the Castle over the years because of its centrality to the Magic Kingdom. We pass through the hub a myriad of times per day, whereas we are in the Epcot entrance area where SpaceShip Earth is located far less frequently.

This dominance that Cinderella Castle plays in the park extends beyond just its location in the Magic Kingdom to its role as a symbol of the entire Walt Disney World Resort, and bolsters the argument that it should be the ‘better’ icon (at least, when viewing the face-off objectively). Less objectively, there is that emotional tug from Cinderella Castle: it’s the first thing I see when I enter my favorite park, it’s the last thing I wave goodbye to when I leave that same park on our last day, it’s the centerpiece of those amazing fireworks, and it would be my dream suite for a night of sleep—although I don’t think I could do too much sleeping if I were up there.  Further, it looks nothing short of jaw-dropping with the Icicle Dreamlights at Christmastime, which is my favorite time in the park.  While it’s not as unique as SpaceShip Earth and does not house a headliner attraction, everything it does do, even if I’ve come to take some of those things for granted, it does so wonderfully.

What are your thoughts on the face-off? Let us know in the comments!

__________________________________

Next week’s Disney Debate subject of the Foto Face-off Friday is going to be another good one. This challenge is again going to be throwdown format (we might as well lose the face-off title as so many of our posts involve more than two entrants; but, how can we pass up that delightful alliteration?!) as we ask a very hotly contested question: what is the best restaurant at the Walt Disney World Resort? This is the question has perplexed popular Disney internet personalities for “ages”, but we’re hoping you can provide adequate resolution! So check back next Friday afternoon–and make sure you’ve had a filling lunch as we won’t be responsible for any impulse food spending caused by the pictures–for the definitive results! Also, as this is an important one, please help us settle the debate on Twitter by voicing your thoughts to @TouringPlans and entering your submissions in the TouringPlans Flickr Group discussion entitled “TouringPlans’ Foto Face-off Friday Blog – Food Fight!” You could have your comments and picture chosen to be featured in next week’s blog, so get to Tweetin’ and Postin’!

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WDW Today Episode 765 – Scopa’s Vacation

by on August 26, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 765 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join TouringPlans.com owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

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BETAMOUSE #28 – Disney Dream Tech

by on August 26, 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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The Connected Traveler – Part 2

by on August 26, 2010

In my blog post from last week, I discussed how to take all those travel plans you have lying around in email, printouts, postal mail (why can’t I get my Disney World reservations emailed to me?), Facebook, Plancast, napkins, etc. and begin to organize and integrate them online, with the ultimate goal of getting all that information onto your handheld device – whether it be an iPhone, Android device, or something else that supports Google Calendar.  This week, I’m going to talk about some more tools that I use on a regular basis to help me travel.  Since I’m an iPhone user, all were originally found by me as Apps, however I’ll indicate which of these are also available as an online service, have a web interface, and are also available on Android, BlackBerry, etc.  Note that iPhone will most often include iPod Touch devices as well – it always pays to at least try an app there.  And now, on with the geekiness…

Dropbox - If you’ve got files, like your medical records or list of medications, on your computer that you’d like to access when you’re away from home, then Dropbox is for you.  This service is a freemium online storage area that you can use to store anything up to your size limit which is 2GB to start with (2.25GB if you fully complete their registration).  You can earn more space by recommending friends and getting them to sign up for the service.  The great thing is this service can be on every device or computer you own – it integrates with your Mac or Windows desktop, just drag and drop your files to your Dropbox folder and they will be synced to your online storage.  This will make them available in your web browser.  They also have native apps for iPhoneiPad, and Android with a BlackBerry app in development.  And a mobile website as well.

GateGuru - If you’re standing in an Airport and looking for something to do, a place to eat, or a store to shop in, this is the App for you. Just choose an airport and you’re good to go.  Each airport is broken down by gate and/or terminal groupings, with each grouping containing a list of amenities that can be found therein.  Each location will have up to a 5 star rating, and may contain reviews from other travelers.  The database is very easy to update and is crowdsourced.  When my wife Cheryl and I visited Philadelphia earlier in the year and were hanging in PHL before our flight I was able to use this app to find myself a very nice and freshly made sandwich to have for lunch. iPhone only at this time, but Android and BlackBerry versions are being developed.  For Android you can instead try: Airport Maps (also for iPhone).

MetrO - I spent a good part of my life living in Boston, and like most Bostonians I became accustomed to travelling the T (Boston’s train & subway system).  One thing I took away from that is this: you need the practical equivalent of a PhD to ride the rails.  It’s easy to get lost, and if you miss a stop on a train, it can be worse than missing an exit on the highway.  This app will help you navigate the rails.  Just give it a starting point and an ending point, and it will tell you everything you need to know, from buses, to interchanges, to walking.  It will get you to where you need to go.  And it’s another app that helped Cheryl and I in Philly… well that is when Megan and Kelly weren’t around.  iPhone only.  There are several city specific apps for Android. There is also a mobile site.

AAA TripTik – Like many travelers and motorists, I’ve been a AAA member for a long time.  And for as long as anyone can remember AAA has offered travellers driving directions in the form of the TripTik.  These maps were always invaluable resources as they were stamped with hotels, rest stops, restaurants, etc.  This App incorporates all that into a map on your phone.  You can use the phone’s GPS to pinpoint your current location, move the map to a location you wish to view, or even get directions.  This App does not require a AAA membership to use, but it can be entered in if you wish for a few additional member features.  iPhone only at this time, but an Android version is being developed.  Mobile users can use this link.

KAYAK - KAYAK is a fantastic service that has been around since 2004.  It’s simple to use and can help you find the cheapest price for hotels, airlines, and car rentals.  This can really help you with planning out your trip ahead of time, and also save you a bit of money along the way .  It has a number of other very helpful services, such as flight status, price alerts, deals etc.  Once nifty feature that I find useful is that you can get a list of airline fees such as baggage pricing, pet charges, or special seating options.  Primarily I’ve used this to research prices.  They also do a fantastic job of supporting a wide array devices having native apps for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android, as well as a mobile version of their service.

Yelp - Like KAYAK, Yelp has also been around since 2004, and is an extremely popular service that allows you review or read reviews on restaurants, stores, bars, etc.  It’s great any time not just for travel.  Just feed it your current location and search for what you need by either category or by search/filter.  You’ll get star ratings, reviews, directions, phone numbers, etc.  All at the the click of your mouse or the tip of your finger.  Yelp also has done a great job with native apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, Palm Pre (see Mark G. they do exist), and a mobile site.  The iPhone app has this nifty augmented reality feature called Monocle that uses the GPS, and compass to produce an overlay on the camera view of the locations in the direction you’re looking – it’s very neat to play with with.

My TSA – This app came out unexpectedly earlier in the year from the TSA (Transportation Security Administration).  And it’s surprisingly good all things considered.  In it, the TSA pulls together airport status data from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) as well as security check point wait times entered by travelers and feeds them back to the user.  Wait time entry is very similar to how you would enter an attraction wait time into Lines – you choose the security checkpoint you’re at, enter the time, and then submit it.  It also has one more very useful feature called “Can I Bring?” which allows you to type in an item you’d like to take on your trip and it will give you packing instructions or tell you that the item is not permitted.  There is an iPhone app and a mobile web version as well.

SitOrSquat - Ordinarily I’d have skipped a service like SitOrSquat based solely on it’s name, I mean lets face it the name is questionable.  That said, the service is useful, and the iPhone App was sponsored by Charmin.  The purpose of the service is simple, find the nearest bathroom.  You can add new toilets as needed.  Each is color coated to indicate if it is opened (green), closed (red), or unknown (yellow).  You can also flag favorites – c’mon everyone has their favorite pottys.   There are native iPhone and BlackBerry versions.  Also, any phone that can send a SMS text message can also use the service – which is unique among the apps I’ve discussed.

Now I know I said I’d discuss apps and TripIt this week, but because the apps portion became more than just a “try these” list, I’m going to put off discussion about TripIt until next week so that I can give it the attention I feel that it deserves.  Again if you have any questions about these apps don’t hesitate to ask me here or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Now what about you? Have you used any of the apps I mentioned above?  Do you use any others?   Which travel apps do you love?  Which do you hate?  May your days be apptastic and your battery life long.

Mentioned in Disney Dispatch August 27, 2010

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New Magic Kingdom Touring Plan For Parents With Younger And Older Children

by on August 25, 2010

One of the most common touring plan requests we get is for a one-day Magic Kingdom plan that includes attractions for both older and younger children, such as Space Mountain and Dumbo.  It’s a difficult scheduling problem for one day, because crowds in both Fantasyland and Tomorrowland increase rapidly in the morning.  There are limits to how quickly you can obtain FASTPASSes for the headliner attractions, too, and certain low-capacity attractions such as the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, don’t offer FASTPASS at all.  We also assumed that families would be using the “child swap” option, so all the adults could ride without having to wait in line twice.  This complicated things more, but since we love a challenge, we decided to give it a shot.

We chose the two dozen most popular Magic Kingdom attractions with all age groups for our touring plan – everything from Jungle Cruise and Goofy’s Barnstormer, to It’s a Small World and Splash Mountain.  Then we ran a couple of different crowd scenarios through our touring plan software, and came up with four different plans to test.  We put out a request for folks willing to help test them over the busy Memorial Day weekend.  Among the crazy people who volunteered were J.L. Knopp from fabulous  Disney Driven Life blog (and occasional TouringPlans.com blogger), and Bernie Edwards, longtime friend of the Unofficial Guide and an actual rocket scientist.

Bernie, J.L. and family slogged through touring plan after touring plan, day after day. We tweaked the most promising, and they re-tested the new versions.  The overall best plan is now available on TouringPlans.com.

Here’s our new Magic Kingdom One-Day Touring Plan for Parents with Younger and Older Children.  Comments and suggestions are welcome.  Thanks again to J.L. and Bernie for all of the help!

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Restaurants Added To Tables In Wonderland Membership

by on August 25, 2010

Four restaurants have been added to list of those accepting the Tables In Wonderland discount.

At Disney’s Boardwalk Resort: Big River Grille & Brewing Works

At Downtown Disney West Side: Bongo’s Cuban Café

At Downtown Disney Pleasure Island: Paradiso 37

At Epcot Italy Pavilion: Via Napoli

Tables in Wonderland is a dining discount program for Florida residents and Annual passholders. For an annual fee of $100 for Florida Residents or $75 for Annual Passholders, members receive a 20% discount on all food and beverage (including alcohol) purchased at participating full service restaurants.

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August Trip Report

by on August 25, 2010

Last week I touched on my most recent trip when I discussed the success of the Touring Plans team’s successful Meet Week.  While these meets made up a big part of my August trip, there is a lot more to tell you about!  Our group varied in size from time to time but on average I was walking around the parks with about 20 people all of the time.  It is amazing to me how my group of Disney geek friends has grown to this size!  Since I did a good deal of the planning for our crew I was a little nervous about how it would all go, but I can’t put into words how wonderful the trip turned out to be.  Trying to explain the relationship I have with these people would be next to impossible so I will just say these are some of my best friends and I miss them terribly when we are not together.  Thanks, you guys, for an amazing few days in our favorite place.

After arriving and checking in at Pop Century, my friends and I decided to head to Epcot for the afternoon.  The first order of business was to grab some lunch at the Rose and Crown pub where a small food selection is available from the bar.  We hit a few attractions including a giggle fest during the newly reopened Captain EO.  A few drinks were enjoyed around World Showcase with plenty of time spent in my favorite watering hole La Cava del Tequila.  Soon it was time to head over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to host our first meet!  We had a great turn out and I got meet a lot of Touring Plans fans.  After the meet, we hit a few other attractions, grabbed some dinner, and hoofed it back to Epcot to catch Illuminations from Canada.  The crew headed over to the Boardwalk Inn to have some drinks at the Bellevue Lounge before calling a night after a long, fun filled day.

The following day we got up bright and early and headed to Typhoon Lagoon (TL) and took advantage of their morning extra magic hour.  A few of us decided to rent one of the cabanas Disney has set up around the water park for guests.  I will write more about the cabana experience in a future post.  Since we got there early, we headed right for the slides to get them done before the crowds got heavy.  Our method worked out really well and we hardly waited at all to zoom down slides like Crush’n'Gusher.  We took the rest of our time at TL to relax at our cabana, swim in the wave pool, and do laps around the lazy river.  And to top it off we made it back to our car right before a big storm!  I would definitely return to Typhoon Lagoon again with a fun group.

We all decided to head back to our rooms, clean up, and maybe grab a nap since we planned to be at the Magic Kingdom until 2 a.m.  After a well deserved break we all met back up again at the Wilderness Lodge to have dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe.  Can you believe 28 people joined us for a really fun meal!?  We took up three large tables and while I can’t speak for the other tables, the one I sat at had an awesome time.  Great friends sharing a meal and goofing off with our server doesn’t get much better.  After dinner, everyone headed to the Magic Kingdom for the next Touring Plans meet event.  We had a lot of people join us for Main Street Electrical Parade and popcorn.  Everyone stuck around to take in the Summer Nightastic fireworks and a big group of us hit Pirates of the Caribbean too.  The group decided to head out of the park to the Polynesian’s lounge for a drink and a break.  While we were at dinner we jokingly invited our server at Whispering Canyon Cafe to have a drink at the Poly with us and to our surprise he was there when we arrived!  After some drinks and laughs we all piled back onto the monorail to go back to the Magic Kingdom to take advantage of extra magic hours.  We hit a few attractions and shut down the park at 2 a.m.

On Saturday everyone wanted to sleep in a little after being at Magic Kingdom so late.  After a leisurely morning we headed to Epcot for the day.  We did the old run for fastpasses for Soarin’ and grabbed some coffee at Sunshine Seasons before meeting up with the big group at Epcot’s newest restaurant Via Napoli.  I’ll be writing about Via Napoli next week so I won’t go into too much detail now.  By the time we were finished with lunch it was time for the Touring Plans team’s next meet!  We met with readers at the Germany pavilion in World Showcase and treated everyone to pretzels.  When the meet was over my buddies and I sought air conditioning so we went to the Mexico pavilion for some drinks and a spin on Grand Fiesta Tour.  Some of our group split off to attend the Last Tour to Endor event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at that point.  The rest of us did a bit of touring around Epcot for the rest of the day, grabbed a quick dinner, and discovered a new favorite spot to watch Illuminations.  After heading out of the International Gateway after the show, we went to Beaches & Cream to find an hour and a half wait.  Some people grabbed ice cream from the take away window and we all hung out for a while.  Later, small group of us decided to check out Jellyrolls since we were in the neighborhood.  I really liked the venue and I look forward to returning again, but we’ll have to get their earlier next time to grab a table.

Sunday was our last full day and some of us had what we thought was a great plan.  A group met for rope drop at DHS with the intention of running in, getting fastpasses for Toy Story Mania and then high tailing it out of the park.  Well, the park was packed that morning.  The queue to get through the security check and then the turnstiles was nuts.  We got ourselves over to Pixar Place, but the line to get fastpasses was well over an hour and we didn’t have that kind of time since we had a breakfast ADR to get to.  We bailed on the Toy Story plan, went over to Rockin’ Rollercoaster and waiting in the single rider line before heading out of the park instead.  We arrived a few minutes late to our reservation for 22 people at Chef Mickey’s, but our friends were waiting patiently for us.  Chef Mickey’s was a lot of fun!  I wasn’t sure I would like it since I generally avoid characters, but it was a ball.  Although I’m pretty sure I’d have a great time with this group just about anywhere.

After breakfast we headed to the Animal Kingdom (AK).  Something I should point out before we get too far into telling you about this day’s activities was the heat index for that day was 113 degrees!  Unfortunately, almost immediately after our arrival at AK one of our crew needed some medical attention due to the heat.  We all did our best to keep hydrated, but in 113 degrees it’s not easy.  Erin fell victim to the heat and wound up in the park’s first aid office after trying to make it back to our resort.  Although the nurse was not thrilled that so many of her friends came to check on her, she was very helpful and after a good nap in the air conditioning Erin was feeling well enough to leave the office.  During her trip to first aid, the Touring Plans team held our final meet for the weekend at the Dawa Bar in Africa.  After everyone hung out for a while we walked over to Kilimanjaro Safari’s and had enough people to fill a jeep!

When we were finished with our safari we all decided we had had enough of the heat and wanted to go back to one of our resorts for a swim and a break.  We decided to go back to Pop Century so our sick friend could nap in her own bed while who ever wanted to could go for a dip in the Hippy Dippy Pool.  I retrieved our sick girl from first aid and promised to take good care of her.  While she rested in our room, most of us met up by the pool bar at Pop to have a few drinks, relax, and go for a swim.  I thought the pool would be refreshing and relaxing, but it was so hot out that the water was too warm to cool anyone down!  Despite the warm water we got a much needed break and it was really nice to slow down.  In fact, we were supposed to head back to the Studios for an ADR at the 50s Primetime Cafe, but everyone was so happy relaxing we blew it off.  We grabbed dinner at Everything Pop! the quick service eatery at the resort instead.

Everyone was pretty exhausted from days of nonstop fun so we decided to take it easy for the rest of the night especially since Erin wasn’t 100%.  Someone had the idea to head to the Polynesian and watch Wishes from the beach.  I had never done this before so I was all for a slow paced evening on the beach.  We arrived early and enjoyed some drinks by the pool before claiming a spot on the beach before the fireworks started.  This evening was what this trip was really all about.  Spending time with amazing friends; we didn’t need to be running around a park to have a good time, we just needed each others’ company.  Since it was our last night and Wishes is so awesome a few tears were shed during the fireworks display.  I don’t think any of us wanted that night to end.

But, unfortunately, it did and on Monday we all got up, moped around our resort rooms as we packed up our suitcases, and got ourselves set up for our various departure times.  My friend, Doug, had a great idea to have our last meal together at O’hana’s character breakfast.  I had only been to O’hana for dinner so I wasn’t sure what I was in for.  Food is served family style and our group of 11 had a great time.  The character interaction here was a hoot and the food was tasty;  I’m sure I’ll write more about it later.  A good bunch of our group had to head to the airport or up the highway after breakfast was finished.  After many hugs and many tears it was time to say “see ya real soon” to some of our fellow travelers.

Despite being sad at the departure of many of my buddies, several of us were set out to enjoy the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom.  Something pretty awesome happened once we went through the gate and I just have to tell you all about it.   If you’ve been following along on my adventures you’ll remember I brought one of my friends from home on this trip.  She started the trip as a Disney World newbie and ended it as an annual pass holder!  When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom we went straight to City Hall to upgrade her five day pass to an annual pass!  The cast members who helped us couldn’t have been better and even hammed it up when we took pictures of Erin getting her AP to send to the departed crew.  We had such a good time with the CM behind the desk at guest relations that when we were finished with Erin’s transaction she leaned over to us and said “how would you guys like some fastpasses for being awesome?”  Of course we would!

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to accomplish as many of the Magic Kingdom attractions as we could.  We brought our newbie on some of the classics and told her we were educating her and grooming her to be a true WDW geek since she now had an annual pass.  We got caught in a rain storm so we dropped into the Hall of Presidents.  I wasn’t sure Erin would like it since I was sure she would much rather do a ride, but she wound up crying at the end just like I always do!  I knew I brought that girl for a reason.  Not only did we do some of the classic attractions, but we got our newbie her very first Dole Whip.  Now she has even more incentive to come back and use her annual pass!  After our time in the Magic Kingdom it was time for another group of us, including Erin and I, to head to the airport.  After another tearful goodbye we were on our way to MCO to head back to New Jersey after five incredible days at Walt Disney World.

I would not have traded these five days for anything.  I met a lot of great people who I know will be lifelong friends, got to chat with readers who I look forward to seeing again, and had a wonderful time with old friends.  One of my crew of 20ish said it well when he said trips to WDW used to be about the attractions, but now they are about the interactions.  He was right. I focus much more on hanging out with my friends these days than trying to get a lot of attractions accomplished.  Splash Mountain will still be there the next time I go down to Florida, spending time with people from all over the country is much more important.  I couldn’t do it justice if I tried to explain what these relationships mean to me.  As Walt Disney said “it all started with a mouse,” but now it is so much more.

Thank you for following along on my adventures!  I will be back in Disney World in October and look forward to sharing that trip with the Touring Plans readers as well!

Next week I’ll review Epcot’s newest addition Via Napoli…

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