Archive for August, 2010

Per Park Crowd Levels And The Crowd Calendar

by on August 24, 2010

Several readers have asked us questions about how to interpret the per park crowd levels that we recently added to our crowd calendar. Although we use the same methods to produce the numbers there are some differences that we want to spell out.

The per park crowd levels are an absolute ranking of the wait times for that park. We only take wait times into consideration for per park levels. The park recommendations are based on touring conditions. A “Best Park” is one which has the best touring conditions for that day, a “Park to Avoid” is one where the touring conditions are more restrictive. For “touring conditions” we take into account wait times, special events, extra magic hours and other factors that affect touring.

It gets confusing when the per park crowd is low but a park is listed as the park to avoid. How can that be?

Actually, this is telling us something interesting about wait times. It means that on some days where touring conditions are not ideal (Extra Magic Hour Mornings, Special Events, etc.) the wait times are not that bad.

OK, now I’m really confused. When the per park crowd level and park recommendations don’t agree, how do I decide what to do?

Well, you have to determine how the touring conditions affect what you want to do. Here are some examples of when to use the per park crowd levels and when the park recommendations are better.

Use the Per Park Levels if …

  • you are taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours
  • you don’t mind that the park closes early
  • you are not concerned about sticking to a touring plan
  • the most important thing is low wait times

Use the Park Recommendations if…

  • you are not taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours
  • you want regular park hours
  • you want to complete a touring plan
  • the most important thing is optimal touring conditions

Keep using the Crowd Calendar as a tool to help you decide what schedule makes the most sense for you. Stay tuned for further features that will allow you to customize the calendar to fit your vacation.

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WDW Today Episode 764 – Listener Questions

by on August 24, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 764 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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Crowd Calendar Update For March 2011

by on August 23, 2010

Park hours and park schedules for March 2011 are available and our crowd calendar has been updated accordingly. Some park schedules for September have been changed so you may notice some updates there too.

Like December 2010, some March hours don’t match historical trends so we’re expecting things to be updated again some time in the new year.

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Disney Dining Plan For Kids

by on August 23, 2010

It’s been said many times on WDW Today, by no less an authority than Len Testa, that the Disney Dining Plan isn’t exactly worth the money.  Depending on the time of year, the regular Dining Plan can run you $41.99-$46.99 for adults and $11.99-$12.99 for kids.  In exchange, you would receive one counter service (fast food) meal, one table service (sit down) meal and one snack.  In a lot of cases, the math simply doesn’t work out, especially for adults.  If you have kids, however, it can be a whole different story.

I have two children, age 8 and age 4.  Under the Disney Dining Plan, both are classified as children.  Since they usually travel with us to Walt Disney World, feeding them is expected.  I know, I know, we could just leave them in the room and hope for the best, but Child and Family Services frowns on that sort of thing.  So, let’s do the math for a typical day at Walt Disney World for the four of us, and see how the Dining Plan can actually save us money, just because of the children. 

Let’s assume that we’re starting our trip at the Magic Kingdom, because that’s what we usually do.  Our typical obsessive plan calls for us to be at the Magic Kingdom for rope drop, which means an early wake up call.  My kids eat very light for breakfast, so we would either go to the food court at our resort, or park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, then walk over to the Polynesian and get breakfast at Captain Cook’s before going to the Magic Kingdom.

 

Either way, we would end up with the following (based on our last trip):

-   Cereal – $1.99

-   Milk (for the cereal) – $1.99

-    Yogurt  – $1.99

-  Chocolate Croissant – $2.79

-  Adult Breakfast Platter – $6.29 – includes eggs, bacon, potatoes and biscuit

-  2 coffees – $1.99 each, so $3.98

-  2 juices – $1.69 each, so $3.38

That includes cereal and milk for my son, yogurt and some eggs for my daughter, splitting the platter and croissant for my wife and I.  Total comes up to $22.41 for breakfast, not including taxes. 

Let’s move on to lunch.  If we’re at the Magic Kingdom, that means Pecos Bill’s.  Gotta have the fixins bar, right?  Again, based on our last trip down, here’s what we ordered:

-   Deluxe 1/3 lb Angus Cheeseburger w/fries – $9.09

-   Chicken Wrap w/Apple Slices – $8.59

-  1/3 lb Cheesburger w/fries – $8.09

-  Hamburger kids meal w/applesauce, grapes and juice box – $4.99

- 3 regular drinks – $2.19 each, so $6.57 total

That brings our lunch total to $37.33.

Finally, there’s dinner.  My kids looooove Crystal Palace, so that’s where we ate for dinner.  This one’s much easier to figure up.

-  2 adults at $32.99, so $65.98

-  2 children at $15.99, so $31.98

Dinner total comes up to $87.96.  Whoa!  That’s a lot of money, and doesn’t include tax or tip.  However, the Dining Plan doesn’t include tip either, so I won’t factor that in.  The total we spent out of pocket for food on that one day at the Magic Kingdom comes up to $147.70 plus tax.  Tax on those meals would have been 8%, so tack on $11.82, and you come up with $159.52.  Now you see why some people take out second loans for their Disney trips.

Let’s go through that with the standard Dining Plan cost of $107.96 (2 adults at $41.99 each and 2 kids at $11.99 each) and see how much was covered by the Dining Plan, and what wasn’t.

Breakfast  – Cereal and milk is a snack credit, as is the yogurt and chocolate croissant, so that’s 3 of our 4 snack credits.  The adult breakfast platter would be one Counter Service credit, and included one of the coffees and a juice, so that’s one credit used.  Out of pocket that leaves one coffee and one juice, so $3.68 out of pocket.

Lunch – The three adult meals would be Counter Service credits, and would include a drink.  Remember, Disney doesn’t make you order a kid’s meal with Counter Service credits, so you can order an adult entrée, such as we did for my son. 

The out of pocket here is my daughter’s hamburger meal, which cost $4.99.  But remember with the Dining Plan we would have gotten desserts as well, which could have been strawberry yogurt, carrot cake, or even apple slices.  For kids, the dessert option works well, because you can supplement their meals. 

Dinner is easy, because it’s all covered under the Table Service portion of the Dining Plan.  So, no out of pocket costs there.  That leaves us with a total of $8.67 out of pocket, with tax means we spent $9.36 on top of the Dining Plan cost of $107.96, for a total of $117.32 under the Dining Plan.  That’s a savings of $42.20 versus paying completely out of pocket.

The key thing is, though, the savings comes almost entirely from the kids.  The kids’ portion of the out of pocket bill comes up to $56.60, so using the Dining Plan is well worth paying the $23.98 that it cost us.  But if it was just my wife and I, it wouldn’t work out. 

As always, this is just one case, so it might not work the same for you if your kids eat a bigger breakfast, if you did different restaurants, etc.  Let’s not even try to figure out the “extra” charge during peak times, when Disney adds $5 to the Dining Plan for adults and $1 for kids, but also adds $4 to the price of buffets.  However, what we’ve determined is that if we’re taking the kids with us, it makes a lot of sense to use the Dining Plan, but if we’re solo, it doesn’t. 

What about you?  What’s your experience with your kids and the Dining Plan?  Does it save you money, or is it not worth the hassle?

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New TouringPlans.com Blogger!

by on August 23, 2010

Hi Readers! We’re really excited to introduce a new blogger to the TouringPlans.com team! You may have seen his work, he’s written some guest posts that you all have loved already, but please help me give a warm welcome to Ryan Kilpatrick!

Ryan Kilpatrick started his life long love of Disney when he visited Walt Disney World with his grandparents in 1982, just a week after Epcot opened, and got his picture in Communicore printed in Southern Living magazine.  Since then, he’s drafted his wife and kids into the mix! Between Disney trips he started his blog, The Disney Film Project, where he is starting the adventure of watching all the Disney shorts and features in chronological order.  You can find him on his blog or on Twitter.

Ryan will be blogging for us every other Monday… starting today! Welcome Ryan!

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WDW Today Episode 763 – Just A Little More Time

by on August 22, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 763 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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2011 Unofficial Guide Is Available Now

by on August 20, 2010

We’ve just received our copies of the new 2011 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and the 2011 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids.  That means that major retailers such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble should have them available online any day now, and bookstores should have them in a week or so.

We’re extending a discount of 35% on an annual website subscriptions to those who purchase the book.  That discount will be available through the end of 2011.  We continue to support the 2010 edition (and its discount) through the end of 2010, too.

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WDW Today Episode 762 – Extra Magic Hour Strategies

by on August 19, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 762 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 #27 – Android Playtest In Epcot

by on August 19, 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 1

by on August 19, 2010

Lets face it, traveling isn’t easy, especially if, like me, you’re not the greatest planner in the world.  Thankfully I have a lot of really great folks in my life who are fantastic planners like my wife Cheryl, Kristen, Katie, and Doug.  For me, just planning to show up can be the hardest part.  So knowing there are people who have my back on this is fantastic.  And after my recent Disney #crew trip, I was talking with my good friend, and mistress of travel, Kim, and it got me thinking about the tools I use to keep track of all this in a centralized location and ultimately in the palm of my hand.

So you’ve planned your trip (or in my case, had others do so for you), and the result is that you have several different reservations, itineraries, meet-ups you’d like to attend, etc. Some might have come in the mail, some in email, while others are associated with various online services.  And you’re probably starting to wonder how to keep track of it all.  Now I promise to get into some geeky tech stuff below, but before I do lets go low tech with a little something I like call my contingency plan: the hard copy.

Take paper copies of your reservations, fold up them up, and stick them in an envelope.  Carry that envelope in a bag that will stay with you (as in not checked) when traveling, be it a pocketbook, knapsack, or briefcase.  Seriously, you’re going to a place that is not home.  Did you ever consider what might happen if you showed up at a hotel, knowing you have a reservation, only to arrive at that hotel at the appointed time to discover that they have no record of your reservation?  I’ve had this happen to me before, and it can be quite a mess – the burden of proof is on you, the traveler, not the hotel.  Now, when all else fails – phone battery is dead, cell phone network is down, Wi-Fi is nowhere to be found – just pull out the hard copies and you’re good to go.

Now on to the geek tech stuff.  The simplest tool you can have for centralizing all your travel plans is your calendar.  I’m not talking that thing hanging on your wall, or that black book you carry around.  I’m talking about a computerized calendar that at a bare minimum supports iCalendar (iCal for short, but not to be confused with Apple’s iCal program) – the generally accepted format for computerized calendar events.  While you could organize this all on a MacBook or notebook computer, I highly recommend doing this in the Cloud (a.k.a. the Internet).

My feeling is that you want your plans to be as portable as possible because you’re going to be on the go.  So rather than have them scattered about several sources, you need to centralize them into a single location that is very accessible.  This will make it easier for you to get at them in a quick, efficient manner, and through many different points of access .  Putting your plans into the Cloud will help you do that.  While you could use Yahoo to do this, I’m going to suggest Google, and I’ll tell you why.

These days many of us, especially in the Disney Online community, are getting one of two different types of smartphones: an Apple iPhone, or an Android phone.  This could also be done for an Apple iPad or Android Tablet.  Both types of devices are highly compatible with Google’s services – especially Google Calendar.  I don’t personally own an Android phone, but from what I’ve picked up, when you turn the device on you’ll have an option to either create a new Google account, or connect to an existing one.  At that point your Google account, including the calendar will be synced to your phone.

It’s a bit more complex for an iPhone, but not as hard as you might think, and Google has some really good directions for doing so here.  Please, please, please read carefully before doing this.  If you do this, you will be connecting your iPhone to Google using the Microsoft Exchange format.  There is a chance you could lose existing Calendar and Contact info on your iPhone.  However, if you follow the directions, especially Step 13, you should be able to get your existing information synchronized into your Google Account properly.  I strongly suggest that before doing this that you connect your iPhone in your computer and use iTunes to back it up.

Once your Google calendar is connected to your device, you’ll notice that when you add calendar events to the device that the events will then sync to Google calendar, and vice versa.  This is the crux of getting your planning into the palm of your hand (or palms if using a device larger than a phone).  Now any computer or other device capable of connecting to Google calendar is a means for accessing your planning data.   Welcome to your new connected world view.

You can start entering in your reservations as calendar events putting in as much or as little data as you feel is necessary.  At a bare minimum I recommend including your reservation number along with the name, address, and phone number of the location associated with the reservation.  The neat thing is that you don’’t have to stick to just vacation planning.  You could schedule anything this way, from lunch, to an interview, to a PTA meeting.  The Cloud’s the limit.  I’ve been scheduling my life this way for the past few years now, and I really can’t recall how I managed it all beforehand.

Now for the fun part.  For the recent #crew vacation, Kristen created a #crew calendar in Google that she then invited those of who requested it. Once my Google calendar was subscribed to Kristen’s #crew calendar, within minutes all of her plans for our trip were also on my iPhone.  It’s that easy for one person to organize a series of events for another person, or an entire group of people.  A calendar owner controls who can see and/or edit their calendars.

In Google calendar, you can subscribe to any calendar you find online, all you need is the iCal URL – often this will be denoted on a web page by a green icon.  However, some sites may denote this with a text link to “export” the calendar.  Once you have the URL:

  1. Open Google Calendar
  2. Under Other calendars, click Add
  3. Choose Add by URL
  4. Paste or type the URL into the Add by URL dialog
  5. Click Add Calendar

It’s even easier if the calendar is hosted by Google and you’re given an embed link for the calendar – this will take you to an embed page for the calendar.  On an embed page you’ll be presented with a button – just click the button and you’ll be subscribed to the calendar.

But wait it gets better.  If you’re a part of the Disney online community these days you’re likely subscribing to events and meet-ups.  You know how it is, Lou Mongello schedules an event in Facebook, you hit Attend, and it’s in your Facebook calendar.  Or Katie schedules a TouringPlans.com meet in Plancast, you choose count me in, and it’s in your Plan.  It’s very easy to add either to your Google calendar.

For Facebook, go to your home page, and then click Events – this will bring you to the Events page.  Scroll to the bottom of the page and chooseExport Events.  This will bring up a dialog that displays the iCal URL.  Simply right-click or command-click the link and choose to Copy link address.  Then follow the directions above.  Your Facebook events will now be listed in your Google calendar.  Only events you have designated as Attending will be shown, birthdays will also not be shown.

For Plancast, I don’t recommend using your Home feed because it will also include items for which you have not chosen to count me in.  Instead, use your Profile feed , this way you’ll only get items where you have selected count me in.  This is much more manageable.  From your Profile page, scroll down and choose Calendar Feed under Export these plans.  Then on the Export plans to calendar dialog that appears, choose Google - you’ll be presented with a list of steps to add your Plancast Profile to Google calendar.  Follow the steps, just like any other calendar the events you’ve planned will appear in Google calendar.

The final step is to get all these calendars you’ve been adding to actually appear on your phone.  By default Google will only sync your default calendar.  Directions for syncing multiple calendars on an Android device can be found here.  There’s a bit more to it on an iOS device – you’ll want to use your Safari browser to http://m.google.com/sync.  Log in as needed.  Then select your device.  This will bring you to a list of your calendars, just check off the ones you want on your device.  Click Save.  All the selected calendars will now sync to your phone – this may take a while depending on the size of the calendars.  And you’re done.

If you’re having any problems with any of this, don’t hesitate to ask me here, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.  Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Next week I’ll talk about some travel related apps I use on my iPhone as well as a fantastic service called TripIt that I think you’ll really like.  Safe travels.

Mentioned in The Bloggie Awards 8/14/10 – 8/20/10
Mentioned in Disney Dispatch August 20, 2010
This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival #9

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