Archive for August, 2010

A Big Thank You!

by on August 18, 2010

This past weekend some of the Touring Plans gang and I hosted a series of meets in the parks where our readers and fans could converge and share in our love of Walt Disney World.  I’m happy to declare the meets a a smashing success!  Katie, our social media guru, and I were on hand for all of the events and our bloggers Caroline and Todd also got to join the fun for most of them.  I think I speak for all of us when I say we had a wonderful time with all of you!

Our first meet was held on the evening of August 12th at the Tower of Terror.  We wanted to check out the attraction with its “improvements” for Summer Nightastic which was a blast with such a great group.  We needed two elevators to accommodate our group!  I think most of us liked the original version of the attraction better, but we still had a great time.  Some people even stuck around to hang out with us for a while that night after the meet and it was great to get to chat with all of them.

The our second meet was our biggest and included close to 40 people taking in the Main Street Electrical parade, popcorn, and soda.  When, Katie, Caroline, and I went up to the popcorn cart and asked for 30 drinks and 40 boxes of popcorn they couldn’t have been sweeter and more helpful.  A special thanks to the cast members who helped us out that night.  Our blogger, Todd, was also on hand to meet with readers and help stake out a spot for the parade on the hub.  It was packed and hot, but we had a great time dancing to the parade’s music and laughing together anyway.

The next afternoon on August 14th we invited everyone to stop by the Germany pavilion at Epcot to sample one of my favorite snacks: pretzels!  It was really, really hot so we tried to find a shaded spot to munch on our pretzels and some enjoyed a beer.  The cast member at the pretzel cart couldn’t believe how many we wanted to buy!   I think a good time was had by all and we took a much needed afternoon break.

Our final meet took place on Sunday the 15th at the Dawa Bar at Animal Kingdom.  People gathered there for a while in the extreme heat to chat a bit before heading over the Kilaminjaro Safaris.  We had our own jeep and got some great views of the animals roaming about.  The heat index that day was 113 degrees so a special thanks to those who braved the elements to join us!

I want to thank all of the folks who took time out of their busy vacation (and real life for the locals) schedules to come meet us!  It was so nice to put some faces to names I’ve been chatting with online through the blog and twitter.  I think I have walked away from the meets with a lot of laughs, hugs, and a few new great friends.  Please be on the look out for future events with the Touring Plans staff!

Next week I’ll tell you more about my recent trip to Walt Disney World with my trip report…

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Location, Location, Location — Disney’s BoardWalk Resort

by on August 17, 2010

Last week I shared my love of Disney’s BoardWalk Resort – Club Level. In an effort to keep you informed, there’s little I won’t do in the name of Disney Research. I went back and stayed for 3 nights over the weekend. I just returned Sunday. I got a tour of all of the different rooms and spent a good bit of time interviewing guests.

To get a feel for any resort, I like to stay several nights and also be a repeat visitor. In repeat visits you get to know the resort on a deeper level. I have been to the Boardwalk three times in less than a year, staying three nights each visit. I think of you each time I’m there. If you plan on spending time at Epcot or Hollywood Studios, I highly recommend staying at the Boardwalk.

Location, location, location is another reason why I love the resort. It’s just a short walk to Epcot or Hollywood Studios. I love the ease and the access to the parks. I enjoy the walk. If walking is not your cup of tea, the Friendship Boats will take you to both parks. Not only is getting to Epcot and Hollywood Studios a breeze, but it’s also fun to be on the Boardwalk. The night life is what you think of first. Located on the Boardwalk are Jelly Rolls piano bar and Atlantic Dance Hall.

One of my favorite restauraurts, Flying Fish, is right there – have dinner and a glass of wine and then walk back to your room. The Boardwalk enjoys a plethora of other eating establishments from the Boardwalk Bakery to the ESPN Club. Just across the way at the Beach Club is Beaches & Cream. You can either take the short walk or ride the boat.

If you are a runner, the Boardwalk is your resort. There is so much to see and a there’s a nice long path. Running in the morning is the best time before the heat of the day and too many guests are out.

While the Beach and Yacht Clubs may have the most famous pool in all of Disney World, the Boardwalk pool with its coaster is a hit. I’m also a fan of the quiet pool as well.

All and all the Boardwalk is a well rounded resort that offers amenities to please a variety of guests. With an outstanding staff and fabulous location, the Boardwalk is an A+ in my book.

Have you stayed at the Boardwalk? What did you think? Are you considering the Boardwalk?

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WDW Today Episode 761 – Listener Questions

by on August 17, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 761 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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WDW Today Episode 760 – Ticket Price Increase

by on August 15, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 760 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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Update: The Crowd Calendar For Non-Subscribers

by on August 14, 2010

In a few days you will notice a change in the way the Crowd Calendar is displayed to users who do not have a premium subscription. Currently, we show the next thirty days of crowd calendar predictions free to all users of the site.

In order to provide the best value to our premium subscribers, we’re changing the way the calendar is displayed. With this change, all users of the site will see crowd calendar predictions 31 to 60 days out instead of the next 30 days.  Doing this allows us to provide a useful sample of our crowd prediction methodology to new folks, while still valuing our premium subscription members.

A premium subscription of TouringPlans.com gives you 365 day access to our crowd calendar, the crowd calendar predictions per park, our mobile wait times application Lines, more than a hundred touring plans, and more! If you have any questions or concerns please contact the TouringPlans.com team.

As always, thank you for your constant support!

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Foto Face-off Friday – EPCOT Center v. Epcot

by on August 13, 2010

Congratulations on making it to the conclusion of another work week! Do to the delay in this week’s post (busy day at work!), your weekend has likely already started, but hopefully this still eases you into relaxation mode. In this somewhat different 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 incarnation of Walt Disney World’s second park: EPCOT Center or Epcot. Since pictures speak louder than words we’ve decided to seek definitive resolution photographically for this especially hotly contested Disney Debate!

Going into this, I thought it was an interesting topic. A plausible argument for Epcot’s quality can be made; the problem is, plausible arguments don’t really matter when people are choosing their favorites. The undeniable champion of this week was EPCOT Center. It wasn’t even close, although some did side with Epcot on Twitter. Here is what some of our followers on Twitter had to say:

@RikkiNibs Epcot era. For me, EPCOT Center was too boring. Didn’t offer me personally enough.

@RyanKilpatrick EPCOT Center hands down. Loved original recipe JII, Horizons, WoM. Soarin’ is the only new ride I’d take. #disneydebate

@AmyBethCombsThe EPCOT Center era, without a doubt. Everything was original & free of synergy. It all inspired me. Loved it. #disneydebate

@DisneyMoose EPCOT center all the way bring back Horizons, Wonders of Life and Dream Finder

@wdwfigment As much as I like most of the current stuff, I would give it all up for one EC ride, Journey into Imagination (w/ Dreamfinder)

@JackieWhite0922 I don’t think that’s fair! I would say the epcot era is modern thrills with edutainment filled in. So there. :p

Perhaps that seem so polarized, but when coupled with the thoughts of our photographer friends, EPCOT Center became the clear winner. Perhaps Epcot isn’t as fun to photograph?

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. Plus, this is a throwdown, rather than a face-off, so technically, I should be able to include up to twenty entries (that’s my justification and I’m stickin’ to it. Plus, does anyone really mind seeing more excellent photos?!

Ralph.Anseus:
Epcot Center: Imagination
This is actually a tough call for me, because there are two very good reasons that Epcot Center is better. I figure I’ll get this out of the way early: “Journey Into Imagination” I look forward to someone else taking up the mantle of The Living Seas (withOUT Nemo and Friends). It will be some time before I forgive them for taking out the hydrolators.

ddindy:
Reflections of Earth, 1982 edition
My first-ever visit to Walt Disney World was a one-day trip to EPCOT Center in November, 1982, a mere six weeks after it opened. I have fond memories of the attractions that were open then and those that were added over the next several years. Don’t get me wrong, Mission Space (orange) and Test Track are among my favorite attrractions in the whole World, but if I have to decide, give me Communicore and the Astuter Computer Review, hydrolators, the rainbow tunnel and an Ellen-free Universe of Energy. At the very least, please, please, please bring back the ponds that provided this wonderful view of Spaceship Earth.

Cory Disbrow:
EPCOT Center - We Are Here...To Change the World
For me, it’s definitely EPCOT Center. I remember the first time I saw SSE and it blew my mind. I remember the Hydrolators tricking the 6 year old version of me into think we actually went down below to Sea Base Alpha. I remember Horizons being one of favorite rides as a little boy. And now while I don’t have any shots from my childhood(thankfully my parents didn’t give me the camera back then, film was expensive!), I have this shot from part of EPCOT Center where old is new again: Captain EO. I remember being young and between this, Journey into Imagination, and the Image Works playground(the whole thing, not the crap that’s there now), we could spend two hours in just one pavilion. Absolutely amazing!

Matt Pasant:
EPCOT - China Pavilion
Give me Epcot Center. Disneyland was revolutionary, Walt Disney World and the the Magic Kingdom were epic. Epcot Center was revolutionarily epic. A living breathing Worlds Fair where science and the diverse worlds cultures come together. It may not have been what Walt first described in 1966 but I am betting he would not be disappointed.

SkaGoat:
IMG_4203
World Showcase is the best part of Epcot Center. I love how you can experience so many different cultures all in one spot.

wonderful_world_of_Hilary:
A Wondrous Ceiling.
I had never really been to the classic EPCOT Center, by the time I had made my first trip to Disney World, Horizons had disappeared and the Dreamfinder was no where to be found but luckily for me Nemo had not swam his way into The Living Seas and I vividly remember my sense of panic as I flashed back to Jaws 3 while the Hydrolators began to “travel” deep into the oceans.
Years later I made a trip to EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival where I stepped into the Wonders of Life Pavilion looking for some sort of wine tasting, demonstration thing. I was dumbstruck, while the Pavilion had been more or less gutted, this sense of wonderment, creative, innovation, and learning washed over me. I know it sounds strange but knowing what EPCOT Center used to be and without the fear of Jaws clouding my judgement, I was able to catch this glimpse of an EPCOT Center that I wish I could have been to and now very dearly hope that they bring back. (Wow that was a bit long winded, wasn’t it?)

Centerline_717:
France Pavilion - EPCOT
I have to go with EPCOT Center also. The vast majority of my pictures from EPCOT could be classified as from EPCOT Center. World Showcase allows you to experience so many different cultures all in one place. Like many of the comments above I miss the attractions that have passed into history. The Hydrolators provided such a great illusion of traveling down to the bottom of the ocean. The Wonders of Life pavilion used to provide hours of things to see and do. When the Wonders of Life pavilion is open for other events I still enjoy going in and reminiscing about how it used to be.

Photogineer (Doug):
Let's go UP
As much as I love EPCOT (current), I would have to go with EPCOT Center. It is still my favorite park but I really wish we could go back to the edutainment aspect again. Horizons, World of Motion were by far what made EPCOT for me. Being an engineer I was always looking forward to the future and looking at what this world could invent. EPCOT Center always fueled that forward looking for me. I fell in love the first time I stepped foot in Future World. Plus you had World Showcase which was a huge bonus. I am glad the Land still holds true in some way to the EPCOT Center. Just wish there was more.
wonderful world of hilary:

Finally, my entry and commentary:
SpaceShip Earth Non-HDR "HDR"

Most people who know me would think, after reading the preceding entries, that mine would make it a clean sweep. Since this is a Disney Debate, I figure I’ll make this interesting and choose the unpopular side. Unpopular might be a bit of an overstatement, because Epcot as it presently stands is wildly popular, satisfying millions of guests annually. Perhaps unpopular among Disney geeks such as ourselves (don’t view it as a pejorative term; embrace it) it’s unpopular, but what the diehard fans want and what the public enjoys are clearly not always the same thing. Stated differently, if this Face-off were presented to a representative segment of the Walt Disney World-going public, the results wouldn’t be nearly so skewed.

So if the sage wisdom of diehard fans instructs us that EPCOT Center is superior, why do casual guests respond so well to (most of) Epcot? My reasoning would be its balance. Whereas EPCOT Center had wonderful storytelling and ahead-of-its time Omnimover attractions, it ignored broad demographics of guests. Change had to occur to achieve balance, and with that, some favorites had to go, as the park couldn’t sustain further expansion. While it could be argued that some attractions at Epcot are being reduced to the lowest common denominator in such a manner that they’re almost insulting to the majority of guests. Fans offer extremely limited and constrained examples (a single line from the new SpaceShip Earth such as “…thank the Phoenicians…”), but overlook the rest. There is still plenty of Edutainment at Epcot. The whole of World Showcase, Livin’ with the Land, SpaceShip Earth, the Seas, and elements of Universe of Energy are all instructive to various degrees. I would argue that those who think Epcot educates to a substantially lesser extent than it once did are engaging in revisionist history. Certainly, it does not educate quite to the extent, but as a theme park, it can be argued that EPCOT Center was not fulfilling its primary purpose to entertain. Moreover, a theme park cannot, and should not, attempt to educate on the level of a graduate level dissertation, and must be carefully parse divisive topics so as to not alienate any segments of the audience (see Universe of Energy). To this end, Epcot accomplishes its goals rather well.

It’s tough to argue with the loss of Wonders of Life, Journey into Imagination, Horizons, World of Motion, and the Kitchen Kabaret. However, sometimes the memory of something is better than having the thing itself. Were some of these attractions around today, it is likely that they’d be largely neglected, popular only with only the most steadfast Disney fans, and ignored by the majority of guests who felt no connection. Perhaps unfortunately, but it’s a different world today than it was in 1982. Although we may not like that, rather than dwelling on the past, we should embrace the present. Attractions like Soarin’, SpaceShip Earth (even with its descent) and its excellent Project Tomorrow, Turtle Talk, O’ Canada, Mission: Space, Test Track, and the Sum of all Thrills offer wonderful new options that, while perhaps not on par in our minds with those of years past, offer something new with mainstream appeal.

Now, let’s just get a refurbishment to Journey into Imagination that brings back Dreamfinder, and I think we’ll all be a little more satisfied with Epcot!

Next week’s Disney Debate subject of the Foto Face-off Friday is going to be a good one. This challenge features two of Walt Disney World’s biggest stars: Cinderella Castle and SpaceShip Earth. Post a shot showing your favorite and explaining why it should be the “chosen one”!  Foto Face-off Friday will be taking a week off next Friday while I travel to Disneyland, so you have until the following Friday to post your entry–and as an added bonus for this Face-off of the most epic proportions, all Flickr entries will be posted to the blog! 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 – Cinderella Castle v. SpaceShip Earth!” 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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The Discounts Are Coming! The Discounts Are Coming!

by on August 13, 2010

With Disney reporting advance hotel bookings down 9% earlier this week, it’s not surprising we hear a new round of discounts will hit the streets this Monday, August 16.

Word is that there will be three discounts.  And before we get to those, let’s remember that this is all speculation and innuendo, told by people of questionable moral character.  It’s entirely possible we’re completely wrong.

First discount is an extension of free dining, through September 2011.  This comes with a considerable number of blackout dates, including Spring Break, Easter and most of Summer 2011.

Second discount is some kind of gift card offer, with a 5- or 6-night minimum stay.  We hear sales of park merchandise are slow, and this is designed to address that.  No idea how long this offer will last.

Third offer is a room-only discount, something like 20 or 25% off value resorts (and either AKL or WL – not sure which), 30% off moderates (and one of the MK deluxe resorts), and 40% off the remaining deluxes.  We hear there are fewer blackout dates on this one.  Not sure of how long this offer will last, but it’s possible it’s good only through March 2011.

Good luck to those of you who’ve booked and may qualify for a discount.

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WDW Today Episode 759 – Kid Tips For WDW

by on August 12, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 759 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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Two What? For A Steak?!?!?

by on August 12, 2010

Right now there’s a lot of clamor over the changes to the Disney Dining Plan for 2011.  The one change that has everyone talking the most has to be the changes to Le Cellier.  In case you missed it, starting in March of 2011 a Dinner at Le Cellier will cost 2 table service credits – Lunch will remain 1 table service credit.  You may recall that it was just a few years ago that this same restaurant was changed from 2 credits to 1 credit.

Well I’m here to tell you that the world did not end before when it was 2 credits and it’s not going to end now.  In the end, Le Cellier is back to what it was before an overpriced, but good steakhouse.  Yes pretzel bread rocks, but the actual pretzels over in the Germany Pavilion are better.  Cheddar Cheese soup is yummy from what I remember before my bacon eating days came to an end.  And then there’s that strip steak, a.k.a. “The Scopa Special”, a delectable morsel that can’t be matched anywhere on property… wrong!

But before I get into that I want to tell you about a little restaurant.  The restaurant that almost wasn’t.  So often I have friends say that Disney is constantly taking so much away from guests these past several years, but seldom do I hear them talk about the things that Disney has done for guests.  And I can think of one clear case where they did it because the guests practically demanded that they do.

Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa had it’s grand opening celebration during the DVC Member Homecoming in May of 2004.  There was a lot of fanfare, fireworks, Jodi Benson singing, etc.  While there was counter service to be found in the Artist’s Palette, there was something missing – table service dining was nowhere to be found at the resort.

This caused quite an uproar.  The resort received numerous complaints about this both in person and in visitor satisfaction surveys.  DVC members complained.  And when push came to shove, Jim Lewis announced on the 2005 DVC Member Cruise that table service dining would be coming to Saratoga Springs as the Turf Club Bar and Grill.

It would play off the horse racing motif of the resort, and be built on the rear side of the resorts main building between Artist’s Palette and the patio.  This was an ambitious project, as at the time, they weren’t just adding in a restaurant, but an entire full service kitchen as well to support that restaurant as one had not been there prior.  Construction went at a furious pace, and in July of 2007 the restaurant opened.

At this time, my wife, Cheryl, and I were already Florida residents for just over 2 years, and we were excited.  So we made a day of it, and headed to the restaurant on it’s first day of being opened to the public to have lunch.  With little fanfare we were asked if we wanted to seat inside or outside, it was a gorgeous day so we chose outside – though about to rain, you know a typical Orlando summer day.  After being seated we learned that we were the very first guests to dine on the patio.

And we’ve come to love this restaurant over the years.  It’s a true hidden gem of Walt Disney World.  It’s seldom crowded or overbooked.  I’ve never had a case where I couldn’t get a reservation here, or just walk up.  Unlike Le Cellier where we all fight for a meal there.  The food is consistently good, and the Chefs have always done an excellent job catering to Cheryl’s special dining needs.

For my very first meal there I had the Classic Reuben Sandwich, and Cheryl had the Penne Pasta with Vegetables (no longer on the menu).  To me that Reuben was among the best I’ve ever had: crispy, soft, juicy, bitter, and salty all at once.  Everything a Reuben should be.  These days I no longer mix milk and meat for religious reasons, but if I did, this is a sandwich I’d have.

So what about the Steak? Well, the Turf Club has a New York Strip Steak on their menu that is equally as good as the one you’ll find at Le Cellier.  While it can be served to you any way you like, the recommended methods are either topped with blue cheese, portobello mushrooms, and a balsamic port glaze or topped with crab meat and grain mustard.  For me just give me the port glaze and keep the rest off.  Medium, in case you were wondering.

All that aside though, let me tell you about the meal I keep coming back for. For starters the bread.  Okay, it’s a simple crusted wheat loaf with some oats, but what I truly love is the pinkish rock salt they sprinkle on top of the butter.  I’d never had this before I had it at Turf Club, but it’s such a great flavor with that bread.  Yummy, especially on those cold days we sometimes get down here in Florida – you know, the ones below 70 degrees (thin blood, sorry).

While munching my bread I’ll order my drink.  And few non-alcoholic beverages are better on WDW property than the Turf Club’s Blackberry Lemonade.  Thirst quenching, tart, tangy, and sweet – just don’t drink too many, there are a lot of calories in that glass.  And with such a great drink, you need a truly great appetizer, and that can be found in the Onion Rings with Dips.  Big and crunchy, these are sure to please as is or covered in one of the dips.

And then there’s the entree.  Now I know there’s always a lot of discussion among the Disney fan community as to what the best burger on property is.  Two things always come up right?  Pecos Bill’s and Beaches & Cream.  And I’ll admit, both of these are great burgers, and you won’t see me turning either down.  But to me they both have drawbacks, one, despite being Angus beef, is a frozen pre-made patty, and the other is fried.  I prefer a grilled steakhouse style burger, and that’s what I get with the Turf Club’s Angus Chuck Burger.  Juicy and lean this burger is always a pleaser, and it comes with a plate of dressings arranged in a familiar pattern.

As a side, I’d skip the fries.  Not that they’re bad, but the Turf Club has something much better than mere french fries to have alongside your burger.  Thick, crispy, not greasy potato chips – tiny packages of carb loaded goodness.  This is the one item that Disney had to feature at their Saratoga Springs resort, because the potato chip was invented in the real Saratoga Springs.  To not have it would have been a travesty of epic proportions.  Even if you’re not getting the burger order a plate of these for the table, just to try.

Once upon a time the Turf Club used to have a chocolate lava cake dessert, and I’d have recommended it, but it was a logistical nightmare for the restaurant as it took 20 minutes to prepare, and generally guests don’t like to make decisions about desert mid-meal.  Off the current menu, I’d personally go for the Apple Pie.  However, like most Disney restaurants, if there’s something not on the menu that you want they’ll make it for you.  Gluten and dairy free brownie sundae anyone?

If you’re looking for a restaurant with a comfortable, warm, atmosphere that has a fantastic serene view – especially one where this time next year you’ll still be able to get a New York Strip Steak for 1 table service credit on the Dining Plan, I can only say head to the Turf Club, you won’t be disappointed.

What about you? Have you been to Turf Club?  How was it?  What did you have?  If not, are you planning to go?  Where else do you like to get a steak at WDW?  Thanks for enjoying this meal with me.  Yum!

Turf Club Lunch Menu
Turf Club Dinner Menu

This post is featured in Disney Food Post Round-Up: August 15, 2010

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BETAMOUSE #26 — Disneyland Tech Odds and Ends

by on August 12, 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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