Archive for September, 2010

WDW Today Episode 777 – Wine And Dine Half Marathon

by on September 23, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 777 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

BETAMOUSE #32 – The Mysterious NextGen Project

by on September 23, 2010

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

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

Whispering Canyon Cafe

by on September 22, 2010

Where can you verbally harassed and consistently embarrassed while you try to enjoy your dinner? The Whispering Canyon Cafe, of course!  Located off the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge this wild west themed restaurant will have you cheering for the pony races, laughing, and eating too much.  Guests saddle up for a good time and good eats at this fan favorite.

Great friends and great food

I have dined here several times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but most recently shared dinner with 28 of my closest friends at this rootin’ tootin’ establishment.  We were split into three tables since we had so many people.  We also were served by two cast members since we would have been a lot to handle on one’s own.  My table was probably the most rowdy and our server loved our mischievous ways.  We really played up the spirit of the restaurant and we had a blast.

Our napkins were delivered to our table via my friend's head!

Speaking of rowdy behavior guests who dine here should be forewarned that things can get a little wild at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.  While people might think they are coming for the food, the real star of the show at the Whispering Canyon Cafe is the wait staff.  Only here can your server literally throw napkins and straws at you and still get a big tip.  If you want see some of this fun in action be sure to ask your server for ketchup or a large drink and see what happens.  There are also various activities which could take place in the restaurant throughout your meal.  For example, if you have kids in your party they can participate in pony races around the dining area.  Please keep in mind that all of the hijinks at here are all in good fun and the more you play along the better experience you will have.  This is not the place for you if you are looking for a quiet, romantic dinner.

The beloved skillet

So what’s on the menu? There are several yummy options, many with southwestern flavors.  However, I highly recommend the “all you care to enjoy” skillet.  Trust me, get the skillet. Just do it. Different versions of the skillet are available to guests depending on the time of day.  Yes, I’ve had the all three versions of this tasty treat and I’m never disappointed.  The dinner skillet starts off with a salad before the main event.  When entrees are brought to the table those who have elected to try the skillet will be presented with a sampling of roasted chicken, ribs, pulled pork, brisket, mashed potatoes, baked beans, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and corn bread.  Wow, I’m full just typing out that list!  Not only are guests offered all of these options in their skillet, but your server will keep ’em coming as much as your waistline can handle.  Your server will periodically check to see if you would like more of anything throughout your meal.  Still hungry for more ribs or maybe you just would like some more corn bread?  No problem! Just ask and yee shall receive!

I can honestly say that I have never had room for dessert at the Whispering Canyon Cafe so I can’t attest to the quality of their sweets.  However, I can tell you that several of my friends decided to order the bottomless milkshake during their meal.  Several flavors are available and refills are unlimited.

Have you dined at the Whispering Canyon Cafe?  Let me know what some of your favorite menu items are as well as some funny cast member stories!

Next week I’ll share my plans for my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World…

WDW Today Episode 776 – Listener Questions

by on September 21, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 776 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Disney AP Resort Discounts — Do They Still Exist?

by on September 21, 2010

                I am a Disney World Annual Passholder.  I do not live in Florida.  An Annual Premium Pass for an out of state guest is $669.89 and $531.44 for a regular AP – either way, that’s pretty big chunk of change.  I know lots of you are Annual Passholders.  One of the biggest reasons that I have an AP are the room discounts.  Apparently I need a new reason to have an AP.

               I am so excited, next week I will be going to Walt Disney World to run the Wine Dine Half Marathon and meet my friends and fellow staffers, Kristen Helmstetter and LenTesta.  Kristen and I are bunking together with another friend, Kim, at the Yacht Club.  We decided to stay here because Kristen received a PIN code in the mail.  We used her code to book our room.  While the rate seemed pretty good, I wondered if the AP rate would be better.  I had been told by a cast member that on the weekends there is no AP rate, but I didn’t believe this terrible news.   Having that reporter voice inside of me, I had to investigate and find out.

                Here is what I discovered.  During the week, the AP rate was about $9 less expensive than the PIN code, but on the weekend… Hold on to your hat.  The AP rate was RACK rate.  I am fully aware that weekend rates are more expensive, but never in all of the reservations that I have made for my trips has the weekend been several hundred dollars more than a weekday rate.  Can you believe it?  Apparently Disney doesn’t want AP people visiting on the weekend. 

                In all of my years, I have never encountered this.  I have to say I am incredibly disappointed.   Disney seems to be one of the few in the hospitality industry that not only doesn’t reward return guests, but discourages weekend stays.  I have always thought the lack of return guest recognition was a flaw in their system.  I’ve overlooked it because they’re Disney.  I love Disney, but this hurts.

                When I am at Walt Disney World next week, I will be looking in to this and see what kind of answers I can find.  What do you think?  Why is this happening?

A Magical October

by on September 20, 2010

It seems like ages ago, but back at the beginning of the year, my wife and I decided that we would take a kid-free trip to Disney for October.  It was good timing, because we would be in a nice work period for both of us and we could attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  Fun, right?

Months later, I’m in a tizzy, because there’s so much going on at Walt Disney World that I don’t know where to start!  We’re only there for three and a half days…how will we fit it all in?  That was my conundrum a few weeks ago, as I tried to solidify our plans – ADRs, Food and Wine booths, parties and more.  So, let’s look at all the options we had for a magical October, and then what we picked.

New Dining Experiences – Our first thought on this trip was to do the Deluxe Disney Dining Plan and start trying some of the Signature Dining Experiences.  After all, we’ve only done Cinderella’s Royal Table, and wanted to try some more fine dining, like Jiko, California Grill and Yachtsman Steakhouse.

However, with all the other things going on, we soon figured out we’d never have time for all those meals (and all that food), and downgraded to the regular Disney Dining Plan.  We kept an ADR at Yachtsman Steakhouse, and decided to try one of the new restaurants at Epcot – Via Napoli or Hacienda San Angel.

Since our last trip, both of these places have opened in World Showcase.  As lovers of Epcot dining, we have tried every restaurant around the “World,” so we have to try these as well.  Don’t know when we’ll fit it in, but we are planning on pizza from Via Napoli and margaritas and tacos at Hacienda San Angel at some point.

Then there’s the places we’ve not had a chance to try yet, like the Portobello Meatball Bar, or the cold, cold beers at Paradiso 37.  We will have to find time for those, too.

New Food and Wine Experiences – I’ve been to the Food and Wine Festival before, but it seems that this year there are many more new experiences to choose from.  Many of them I won’t be around for (the preview night or particularly interesting Eat to the Beat concerts), but one of them I will experience.  The all new Delicious Dessert Discoveries was right up our alley.

This new event offers up a dessert party, basically, with the opportunity to try all sorts of new desserts from around the world, topped off with a viewing of Illuminations.  I love Illuminations, so it was a no-brainer for us to take up one night of our trip with this event. 

Food and Wine Fun – Sure, there’s lots that is new, but don’t forget all the Food and Wine fun that is what we’ve come to know and love.  The booths all around World Showcase are a cornucopia of treats, and neither of us wanted to miss them.  This is why we cancelled the Deluxe Dining Plan, because we knew that at least three meals would be taken up eating at all these wonderful booths.

One thing we really enjoyed before were the cooking demonstrations and wine seminars in the old Wonders of Life pavilion, so we didn’t want to miss those, either.  We picked a couple favorites, but there are so many to choose from.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – Last year was our first time to this annual event, and we loved it.  So much so that we have spent the last year talking about what great costume we’re going to wear to this year’s party.  From the dressed up characters to the candy trails, every part of this event was fun.

My personal favorite was the Boo To You Parade, when we got to see the Headless Horseman coming down the street.  It was fantastic, and we had to see it again, so when tickets went on sale, we grabbed them.

Disney World – Oh yeah, besides the food, the Festival and the party, there’s a whole bunch of theme parks, water parks and nightlife out there for us to experience.  Despite our many trips down there, there’s a ton of things we have not done yet.  Flights of Wonder, American Idol Experience and Jellyrolls are all things we’ve never done but want to try this time.

So what did we end up with?  A whole lot of fun!  We were sure to go right, no matter what we picked, because October is an amazing month to be at Walt Disney World.  We put a whole lot of stuff in the plan, including dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse, the 3D party, Food and Wine, the nightlife at the Boardwalk and Downtown Disney and much, much more. 

What about you?  What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to in October, or what things might you skip in a few weeks?

WDW Today Episode 775 – Mickey’s Not So Scarry Halloween Party

by on September 19, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 775 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Foto Fridays: Splash Mountain v. Space Mountain Face-off

by on September 17, 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 attraction in the Magic Kingdom Mountain Range: Space Mountain or Splash Mountain. Since pictures speak louder than words we’ve decided to seek definitive resolution photographically for this especially hotly contested Disney Debate!

Here is what some of our followers on Twitter had to say:

@FastPassDad Daytime = splash, night = space!

@TheRealKevinW Splash. It’s a nice relaxing and cool ride that gives us a small break

@jobber99 MK? splash. more true to the song of the south story than DL, and space mtn out in MK just isn’t that good

@DisneyMarc Splash, because of the length and number of scenes. Awesome at night

@beci_mousefan Can I incl left coast? DLR Space Mountain.. w/o holiday overlay. (was kinda cheesy maybe plussed this time?) #disneydebate

@RyanKilpatrick Splash Mtn, despite the soaking. Theming, music, fun characters vs. darkness and quickly over. No contest. #disneydebate

@skubersky space in dl (smoother & better fx) but splash in WDW (bigger & better aa’s)

@druantia space mountain. Soothing soundtrack. Oldie but a goodie. Plus, I am not a fan of getting wet on rides. #disneydebate

Pretty neck and neck, although it seemed there was a preference towards Disneyland’s Space Mountain (with which I don’t agree) and Splash Mountain in the summer months.

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.

Space Mountain

wonderful world of Hilary:
A Stormy Space
Hands down it has to be Space Mountain. For me the intrigue of Space far exceeds Splash. While Splash does revolve around some great storytelling with the characters from Song of the South, Space uses some great visual effects and wondrous sounds that transport guests to another galaxy all together.

Splash Mountain

Isabelle Boivin:
Splash Mountain
Definitely Splash Mountain. So much details in the line and in the show. I cannot be tired of riding this one. Always looking for a new hidden Mickey ! And I remember waiting 1hour and a half with my family back in 1996…. and it was so worth it ! A trip at Disney without riding Splah, is not a real trip!

We're gonna get wet!
Another tough decision. Both attractions have pluses and minuses for me. Space Mountain is fun, even more so in the new “total darkness” incarnation, but the new(?) lap bars can be a bit painful on some of the sudden drops. Splash Mountain is great on the inside, but not so great on the outside. The story of Br’er Rabbit is presented in a charming manner and the songs stick in your head. However, I hate getting wet on rides and having water splashed all over my glasses is never a good thing. But the story wins out, so this week my vote goes to Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain
I might give the slight edge here to Splash on this case because I get more of a rush on the drops and I love the theming inside there. However, I will easily be switched to Space Mountain if they ever put music on the ride like they do in Disneyland.

Scott Barlow
Splash Mountain
I love the music and huge drops of Splash Mountain. It’s my Happy Place!

Finally, my entry and commentary:
Zip A Dee Doo Dah Night!

Not a very strong showing of support for Space Mountain from the photographers. Could be that Space Mountain is really less popular, or we could have difficulty photographing it. I know I have a lot better pictures of Splash, in general. That notwithstanding, this was another tough one for me, and one of those to which I can’t really give a definitive answer. Many of the Twitter responses encompassed my thoughts on this well.

I love Splash Mountain’s duration, level of detail, and storytelling. Space loses points for being shorter, but gains points over its pre-refurbishment self for now having a more cohesive story from queue to post-show. Both are favorites from a perspective of nostalgia, but overall Splash probably wins there. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, location, gives Space Mountain the strong edge. I am definitely a Tomorrowland kind of guy, which means that we typically ride Space twice as many times as Splash per trip, even more so in the colder months. Much like the Tower of Terror v. Haunted Mansion Face-off, this is one that could easily go either way for me. These two attractions are both in my top 5 (as are ToT and HM, leaving the final spot for…?) and are so starkly different, it’s really difficult to compare them. Ultimately, the duration of the attraction and level of detail give Splash Mountain the edge for me. It’s one of those attractions you can experience over and over, yet each time you might notice a detail that you missed the previous go round.

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


The next Disney Debate subject of the Foto Face-off Friday is going to be another good one. The two most popular Walt Disney World parks celebrate their birthdays on October 1st, and since this challenge ends then, what better face-off than one pitting the birthday parks against one another on their “big day”? Since these parks are divisive fan favorites, we’re expecting some heated debate! So check back Friday October 1st 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 – October 1st Birthdays!” You could have your comments and picture chosen to be featured in the next Face-off blog, so get to Tweetin’ and Postin’!

WDW Today Episode 774 – Big And Tall

by on September 17, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 774 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Goodbye Endor My Old Friend

by on September 16, 2010

On September 7th 2010, the Walt Disney World version of Star Tours closed for renovations and upgrades.  It was the third incarnation of the attraction to open – the first two being in Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland – and the second to close.   Prior to closing, the ride was basically a motion simulator (box) that held 40 people and a movie screen.  The combined effect of the movie and the motion provided the guest with the feeling of being flown around the Star Wars galaxy by a crazed mad lunatic of a driver.

Seriously, there was something just plain wrong with that droid.  Even his own fellow droid talked about the RX droids onto the way into the ride, pointing out their flaws as guests walked past in the attraction queue.  It’s amazing that these droids were even allowed to ever pilot a starship let alone one carrying people.  That is perhaps why they had chosen Paul Reubens, who most people remember best as Pee Wee Herman, to voice the role of RX-24 (a.k.a., Rex) the pilot droid for your journey.

The attraction queue was always, to me, one of the more fantastic parts of the ride.  The very front of the queue provided the appearance of walking onto a “hot” film set for a Star Wars movie.  Moving forward, you were suddenly on the flight preparation deck for a trip to the forest moon of Endor – the planet featured in the movie Return of the Jedi.  There is a large arrival departure board depicting advertisements for your journey, Mon Calamari up in the flight control room, and before you a Starspeeder 3000 going through it’s pre-flight check performed by R2-D2 and C-3PO.

If you watched long enough it will become fairly evident that this ship had problems.  And not just small ones either.  It smoked, hissed, made funny noises, caught fire, demonstrated stability issues, fired its lasers intermittently.  And on and on.  The problems that you see are all further driven home when the same droid that told you about the RX droid problems also tells you about the Starspeeder 3000 problems.  It was something to look forward to considering you were about to board one.

As the queue twisted and turned you would walk through a combination droid repair area and scrapyard, with numerous hidden elements.  This included a Kermit the Frog assembled out of spare parts.  There are also the G2 repair droids, a.k.a. “Goose Droids” because they were the old audio-animatronic skeletons from the former America Sings attraction at Disneyland.  I only ever figured this was true of the ride in Disneyland itself and the ones at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were just replicas.

And then, after a pre-show involving Wookiees and seatbelt safety, you board your Starspeeder 3000 for your trip.  And due to a series of unfortunate events involving Rex, R2-D2, secret exits, a hyperdrive failure, comets, a Star Destroyer, a Death Star (it is presumed this is not one of the ones destroyed in the Star Wars movies), and several “near death” experiences, you arrived back at the docking station where you started.  Never quite getting to Endor, though you did pass it by before the Comets? Comets!  Sorry we did that already.

Now I’ll be honest, this was never my favorite ride in Disney World, but it’s never been a ride I hated either.  It’s just always fallen somewhere in between.  So when my wife, Cheryl, and I decided to attend the D23 event “Final Flight to Endor”, which allowed for the public to have one final ride on Star Tours on the night it closed it’s doors, I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing.  I even said as much to Matt Hochberg while waiting for the event to start.

The basic event was to be escorted to the attraction , ride it, and be escorted out, which to me was a meh.  I already had plenty of pictures of Star Tours, and had ridden the attraction more times then I can remember.  Leave it to Disney to get me with swag and  Stormtroopers. The first 100 people to arrive got a “vintage” Star Wars coin set from 2007.  Also handed out were a boarding pass for the Final Flight, a FASTPASS for the attraction telling us we can receive another in 2011, and patch to commemorate the event.

So the Stormtroopers, escorted us from the main gate past the Sorcerer’s Hat and Echo Lake, to Star Tours.  Out there was an X-Wing parade float that they use during Star Wars weekends with a driver to greet us.  After lingering back for a bit I entered the attraction with Matt and April Baker.  It was at this point that I learned the Stormtroopers could talk.  I caught one checking out the Ewok village, and I asked if that was his home.  He told me, “No sir, I live on Coruscant.”  Oh yeah! Talking Stormtroopers, that changed the game.

We took our sweet time getting through the queue.  Matt was livecasting the event on April’s phone with additional power provided by my battery pack.  And I was soaking it in – as I said the queue was my favorite part of this attraction.  There was no rush, no sweep, none of that.  It seemed we could stand there in that queue for as long as we wanted, and you can bet the three of us abused it as we were some of the last people to get in line to board a Starspeeder 3000.

The experience itself was no different than it had ever been before.  But the emotion was clear.  This ride would never be the same.  Everyone there knew it.  Right down to the castmember who gave us our sendoff spiel – she did it on the verge of tears her voice cracking some.  She honestly loved the ride, and being a part of it.  I talked with her after we were done riding, she posed for a picture both with my iPhone and her own camera.  And gave her a big hug, she was hoping to be back as a castmember for the new version of the ride next year.

As we exited the attraction, I mouthed off to a Stormtrooper by making fun of his fanny-pack and got a blaster pointed in my face.  Heading into the store we were handed the patch mentioned above, and got to pose in a picture with castmembers, lightsabers, and Stormtroopers.  In the store the Stormtroopers shopped a bit, and there was one final castmember photo shoot in their orange and blue Star Tours jumpsuits.  Before we were escorted out of the park by the Stormtroopers there was final photo opp of the parade float with the Stormtroopers.  (note: apparently not all the Stormtroopers were castmembers).  The last flight had flown.

So what do we have to look forward to?

Well I know that castmembers were telling us that construction (de-construction?) was set to begin at midnight after the event.  However, when I went back this past weekend expecting the usual construction walls they were nowhere to be found.  Instead the ride was simply roped off with castmembers standing out in front.  From talking with them I learned that they would just be sealing the entrance and that while they were initially planning to wall off the Ewok village area apparently, for the time being, that is not going to occur.  Jedi Training Academy was still operating unimpeded.

It was announced that the new ride is set to reopen on May 17, 2011 (my anniversary), but dates that far out are always subject to change.  We also learned that the new ride will be called “Star Tours: The Adventure Continues” from a video presented for the first time at the Star Wars Celebration V fan event that took place earlier in the summer.  The video implies heavily that the new ride will include travel to three well known Star Wars galaxy destinations: Bespin, Endor, and Alderaan with the latter being declared as, “recently voted safest planet in the galaxy”.

There was a prior scene released that you can view at this page started by where we see podracing scenes that end with racing over the crowd and into the clouds.  This included a clip of a Starspeeder 1000 participating in the race as well as a sneak preview collectible release as well.  This would also imply a trip to the planet Tatooine as well – presumably this would be the detour part of the journey.

There is also speculation that the three planets Bespin (air), Endor (forest), and Alderaan (high mountains) will be presented as a choice to the riders in a fashion similar to the greatly loss lamented Horizons attraction.  We also know that the movie itself will be done using Disney’s Real-3D technology – I’d love to see other 3D movies in the park get this treatment as well, my eyes convert this 3D much better than the older style.

So what about you? Do you miss the old Star Tours?  What is your fondest Star Tours memory?  Are you looking forward to the new Star Tours?  What are you looking forward to most?  May the force be with you (oh, like I was going to end with anything else here).