Archive for September, 2010

BETAMOUSE #31 ‚Äď Mobile Dining Reservations

by on September 16, 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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WDW Today Episode 773 – Reunion Announcements!

by on September 15, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 773 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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Touring with a Large Group

by on September 13, 2010

On my last trip I toured the parks and shared meals with about 25 great friends.¬† Sometimes our numbers fluctuated, but on average we had about 20-25 people in our posse.¬† Just imagine the looks on cast members faces when they saw us coming!¬† Despite the fear in cast members’ eyes we had a blast so I wanted to share some advice with readers about how to tour with their own large parties.¬† Whether you decide to head to Walt Disney World for a family reunion or just to enjoy the company of good friends, rest assured that traveling all together doesn’t have to be a headache.

First things first when traveling with a lot of people; make sure everyone is on board with your plans.  Tools like google calendar and plancast have been really helpful when planning my last few trips.  With these online tools, the planner (i.e. me) can post all of the events, dining reservations, and park hours for the entire group to see.  My google calendar for my last trip was shared with close to 20 people and they could all add events when needed.  It was great to have a centralized reference point for the trip!  For most days we had an ADR planned and maybe a touring plans meet to attend, but otherwise we decided what to do as we went along.  We usually designated a park for the day and often hopped to another park in the evening, making sure everyone knew where we could be found.  With a bit of advanced planning everyone was ready for our daily adventures without 25 people trying to decide where to go and what to do standing in the Magic Kingdom hub.

Something you’ll want to get onto those calendars as soon as possible is dining plans.¬† It is essential to make Advancing Dining Reservations as close to your six month window as possible.¬† Disney will do their best to fit your group in, but the earlier you make your arrangements the better.¬† I’d also recommend trying to hit some places where they serve family style meals or buffets to make life easier.¬† There are plenty of buffet and family style options around property many of which include time to rub elbows with your favorite characters.¬† My group had a blast at character meals as well.¬† Since we are all adults we usually don’t spend a lot of time seeking out characters so it was a nice change to try them out last month.¬† We had breakfast at both Chef Mickey’s and O’hana and had a blast at both. ¬† The characters really seemed to play it up to our big crowd and we had a blast with them.

Once you have all of your ADRs lined up, you’ll want to try to figure out how your group will pay for all of that food.¬† I know it sounds crazy to think about that in advance, but I think the biggest issue we faced with the size our group was paying for our table service meals.¬† When people wanted to split up the check, it could be a challenge for the restaurant’s cast members.¬† Most of them tried to be accommodating, but it often took close to an hour to figure out the checks.¬† The next time we travel as herd we are going to have to come up with a better system for paying our bills.

Aside from eating what are some good things to do with a big group?¬† There are several attractions which lend themselves nicely to larger parties.¬† Any show can easily handle a family or crowd of Disney fanatics.¬† For example, your bunch should be able to find seating all together at the Beauty and the Beast stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Festival of the Lion King.¬† Just be sure to arrive far enough in advance of the performance to grab enough seats for your party.¬† Also, attractions with continuously loading ride vehicles such as Spaceship Earth and the Haunted Mansion work well.¬† As long as you are willing to wait and cooperate with the cast members no attraction is really off limits.

Don’t think that all of you have to stay together during every waking moment of your trip.¬† In this day and age of cell phones, smart phones, and technology it is easy to keep track of each other if your group splits up.¬† Some folks want to go check out the parade while others want to take advantage of a short like on Space Mountain?¬† No problem!¬† Arrange to call/text/tweet each other when you are finished with your various activities and select a meeting spot.¬† It couldn’t be easier to satisfy everyone’s Disney vacation needs. Maybe your group needs to split up for most of the day?¬† That’s no problem either, but I’d recommend planning to all come together for a meal or to take in the fireworks in the evening to end the day as a group. On a similar note, don’t think you all have to stay in the same hotel either.¬† With over 25 folks heading to WDW we all had different budgets and needs so we stayed in several different hotels.

The next time I tour with a big group like this I think I will try to get help from a travel agent.  Our trip started as a few friends heading to WDW together, but morphed into a huge group of folks who love the mouse.  If I had any idea how many people would be joining us I would have gotten help.  A travel agent can assist a large group in so many ways from making ADRs for everyone to arranging Magical Gathering activities.

What’s a magical gathering you ask? Well, it’s Disney’s way of creating something extra special for big groups like ours or maybe a family reunion or wedding party.¬† Groups of eight or more people over three years old can enjoy the benefits of having a travel planner dedicated to their group.¬† Folks who select to take advantage of the magical gatherings can also participate in special experiences such as an Illuminations dessert party or a safari celebration dinner at the Animal Kingdom.¬† If you think you might be interested in a grand gathering for your next trip, check out Disney World’s website to get started or call your favorite Disney travel agent.

So would I travel with a big group again?¬† You bet I would! Not only would I travel with a big group again, but I’m already making plans for our big bunch during the first weekend of December!¬† I love spending time in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people.¬† Not only would I do it with these folks again, but I’d love to explore the option of going to WDW with my entire family or having an all girls get away some time.¬† I’m sure my travel agent would be happy to book spa treatments for the girls or a character meal for my nieces and nephew.¬† Oh the possibilities!

Have you traveled with a large group before? I’d love to hear some of your advice on the topic! Please share any strategies you may have used with your large family or crew of Disney friends!

Next week I’ll discuss a great place to go with a big group, the Whispering Canyon Cafe…

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WDW Today Episode 772 – Theme Park ABC’s (Animal Kingdom)

by on September 12, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 772 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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Big Site Changes — Please Bear With Us!

by on September 12, 2010

We’re really excited to show you a brand new TouringPlans.com today — even if it mostly looks the same as yesterday. For the past few months, we’ve been busy in the lab rewriting the site from scratch, and today, it’s gone live. The new site should allow us to move quicker in providing new features and content updates, as well as make our site generally run more smoothly.

Please bear with us in the next few days if you notice any weird quirks or issues. We’d love any bug reports / thoughts as well — just email us!

The new site also brings changes.

First, the sad news! We’re discontinuing the Trip Planner and “detailed” Touring Plans features (note: we’re not removing touring plans, just the essay-length detailed plans). These were really hard decisions to make, as they’ve long been a part of the TouringPlans.com family of products. However, both required a lot of upkeep, support, and investment just to keep running. The time we’ll save on these will be refocused into working on the Crowd Calendar, Touring Plans, and Lines products. You’ll have until October 10th, 2010 to access the Trip Planner and the Detailed Plans and print out any information you want to save.

In happier news, a number of noted feature improvements. We’ve dramatically improved the interface for creating and printing Personalized Touring Plans (including a nice drag to resort the list feature!). It’s also a lot easier to check out the premium touring plans to see which ones are right for you.

We also now have a page for every day on the Crowd Calendar. Take, for instance, this one: October 1st, 2010 — it’ll show you park hours, EMH schedules, parade and firework times, as well as the resort-wide and per-park crowd levels. And we’re looking forward to making these pages even more useful going forward!

UPDATE:: Really sorry for the confusion, but there was a typo above — the Trip Planner and Detailed Touring Plans will be retiring on October 10th, 2010. Please email us if you have any questions/concerns!

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Outsmarting the Disney World PIN Code Monkeys

by on September 10, 2010

Bigfoot‚Äôs usual stomping grounds. What conceivable interest any ‚Äėintelligent‚Äô UFO would have in earth. How Sean Connery avoids aging. And until now, Walt Disney World‚Äôs method for determining to whom to send discount PIN Codes. Strike the latter off of the list of society‚Äôs great unsolved mysteries, as Disney‚Äôs PIN Code recipient selection process is about to be resolved. For those unfamiliar, PIN Codes are the holy grail of WDW discounts; an exclusive discount sent to a limited number of recipients that frequently allow early booking of a special offer that will later become available to the general public, or a variant of a deal that will become available to the general public, typically offering a more advantageous or ‚Äėbetter‚Äô discount for most Walt Disney World guests.

For years, Disney’s manner of choosing recipients for these PIN Codes has perplexed Walt Disney World visitors the world over. Some assume its based on luck of the draw, or perhaps alternatively that Disney has a room full of monkeys tucked away in the Cayman Islands and the company uses the whims of the monkeys to make decisions. A dangerous practice, no doubt, but some of the practices of the Walt Disney Company are so head-scratching that the only logical explanation is that they were made by untrained chimps.

Unfortunately, this glamorized version of the process Walt Disney World uses for selecting PIN Code recipients is likely untrue. As someone who frequently found these PIN Codes arriving in my email inbox and home mailbox up until a few months ago, it is my assertion that Disney more than likely has some sort of formula for determining who should receive the PIN Codes.

My fascination with these elusive PIN Codes began to grow a few years ago when I first heard of a friend receiving a PIN Code. The prospect of such a great discount piqued the interest of my frugality, and I embarked upon a mission to receive one myself. He cautioned me against trying, since the codes were sent out randomly, and nothing I could do would improve my prospects of receiving one. For a short while, I was content with this advice. However, after I began listening to WDW Today and hearing the hosts discuss how they never or seldom received the Codes, I began to think that maybe there was more to the process than haphazard luck.

On a whim, I decided to sign up for everything Disney-related that I could. Some of this I had already done due to the fact that I was an obsessed Disney-geek.¬† However, there were other things I did to help my odds, like creating multiple Disney.com accounts, registering as both ‚ÄúTom‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúThomas,‚ÄĚ putting my address down as my mother-in-law‚Äôs house for some accounts, and some other questionable things that I thought might help my odds.

Suddenly, the Walt Disney World PIN Codes started to pour into my wife’s and my inboxes. Over the course of the two years, my wife and I received, from best I can tell based on my activity on various Disney forums, four of each PIN Code offer that was sent out. It is important to note that during this time, while we vacationed to Walt Disney World twice per year, we never booked a room ourselves, instead always having a Cast Member friend of ours book for us. This June we finally used our Disney Vacation Club membership to book a trip ourselves, and since, we have only received one PIN Code offer, and that only went out to two of our email addresses.

While two PIN Codes is better than none at all, I can‚Äôt help but theorize that the decrease was precipitated by us booking a Walt Disney World trip ourselves. Disney has little reason to incentivize frequent guests to continue visiting with these ‚Äėexclusive‚Äô discounts, so it is counter-productive for the company to send the discounts to these guests who will come anyway. Offering them a greater discount only loses Disney money, so instead, Disney likely concocted some sort of algorithm to determine to whom to send the PIN Codes, and the frequency thereto. This would explain why the hosts of WDW Today and other folks who commonly visit receive the PIN Codes with less frequency. While I am hardly a mathematical whiz, my intuition says that there are a number of variables that impact the algorithm, and that even frequent guests can employ certain ‘strategies’ to attempt to beat Disney’s algorithm.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Create a Disney.com account for each of your email addresses and express an interest in Walt Disney World with each account.
  • Order a set of Custom Park Maps for your kids or yourself to enjoy.
  • Order a Vacation Planning DVD (since both this and the above create waste, consider giving these to friends who are planning trips when you‚Äôre done using them).
  • Make Advance Dining Reservations for random dates, cancelling them shortly thereafter.
  • Search for Resorts on Disney.com while logged into your accounts, completing the survey that will pop up when you close out the window by selecting the option indicating the cost was too high.
  • Place a booking hold on a resort over the phone, cancelling it shortly thereafter.
  • Inquire about Disney Vacation Club.
  • Attend a Disney Vacation Club web sales presentation (you‚Äôll receive a free gift) or in-person ‚ÄúVacation as You Wish‚ÄĚ presentation (Chicago/New York/New Jersey only)
  • Sign up for Disney Movie Rewards.
  • Sign up for any other Disney-related account you find.

I believe that using different mailing addresses (that you can access) and variants of your name ‚ÄúJames‚ÄĚ for ‚ÄúJim,‚ÄĚ etc., might help your chances, but I cannot substantiate this. We have managed to receive a high number of PIN Code offers by utilizing all of the above, so I have reason to believe that these factors will at least help increase your odds of receiving a PIN Code!

Have any other suggestions for increasing the odds of receiving a Walt Disney World PIN Code? Let us know your secrets in the comments!

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Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

by on September 10, 2010

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) is Disney’s answer to the American trick-or-treat tradition that takes place every fall. ¬†For the span of a month and a half (September 14 – November 1) Disney closes the Magic Kingdom relatively early on select days and transforms in the evening for a Halloween celebration. ¬†This party requires the attendees to purchase an entirely separate ticket specifically for the event. ¬†Regular park tickets and Annual¬†Passes cannot be used for admittance. ¬†Guests are welcome to masquerade in their costume of choice, collect candy, and participate in special happenings around the park for the last five hours of the day (7pm to 12am).

The tradition of past years is to allow MNSSHP ticket holders to enter the Magic Kingdom at four o’ clock in the late afternoon even though regular park guests are still actively running around. ¬†Upon presenting a ticket or purchasing it on the designated night, MNSSHP guests are given a wristband that distinguishes them from the average park guest. ¬†When the party officially starts, guests without a wristband are no longer allowed to enter attractions, and as the night progresses they are prohibited from even entering the various lands and asked to exit entirely.

MNSSHP begins at seven o’clock. ¬†At that time, Cast Members set up candy distribution spots throughout the entire park. ¬†These locations are designated on the MNSSHP park maps, but in past years these spots have been placed in every land with the highest concentration of them being along a path (labeled Alice and Mad Hatter’s Treat Party) that begins in Mickey’s Toontown Fair, runs behind the Tomorrowland Speedway, and exits in Tomorrowland beside Space Mountain. ¬†The candy that is passed out is essentially the same mixture at every location, so it isn’t necessary to visit every spot for the purpose of variety; however the more stations you visit, the more candy you accumulate. ¬†Feel free to revisit stations throughout the night as well to gather a particularly large stash of sweets.

Much like during regular park hours, guests have the opportunity to meet with Disney characters throughout the park in specified locations until 11:30pm.  The primary difference during MNSSHP is that the characters are either dressed in Halloween garb or their personality is villainous in nature.  It may be appropriate to prepare younger children for intimidating meetings with cruel step-mothers and harsh sorcerers.

If Disney continues its tradition, The Pirates League will remain open until 8pm so that guests with reservations can be transformed into pirates.  The price of the packages start at about $30 (with the ability to add accessories and costumes a la carte style).  The league can accommodate all genders and ages.

Character Dance Parties take place during the evening with Rockettower Plaza Stage being a primary location to interact and dance with characters like Stitch. ¬†Also, a Halloween stage show titled “Disney’s Villains Mix and Mingle” happens almost hourly in front of the castle with the villains roaming throughout the audience after each show (7:45pm, 9pm, 10:05pm, and 11:15pm being last year’s timetable).

“Happy HallowWishes” is the name of the fireworks show that is sandwiched in between two appearances of the Halloween-themed “Boo To You” parade (with previous times being 8:15pm and 10:30pm for the parade and 9:30pm for the fireworks). ¬†Both of these events are the cornerstones of the entire evening.

“Happy HalloWishes” can be viewed from any location in the Magic Kingdom, but the best views to be had are from Main Street USA, facing the castle. ¬†The castle turns a whole spectrum of blues, green, oranges, and purples as fireworks are synchronized to a medley of spooky and villainous tunes.

The “Boo To You” parade is an eclectic mixture of fluffy elements such as floats that emulate Halloween on a farm with clucking chickens, pumpkins, cowboys, and Country Bears as well as more ghoulish traits such as grave digging dancers and skeletons. ¬†The Disney characters are featured in Halloween attire, and there are special appearances from not-so-oft seen villains like the Headless Horseman, Pain & Panic, and personalities from the Haunted Mansion.

The expense of the event varies, depending on the date you choose to attend as well as whether you purchase your tickets prior to that particular evening.  With the exception of the Friday night and Halloween weekend parties, guests have the option of purchasing tickets at an Advanced Sales Price ($53.95 + tax for people over the age of nine /$47.95 + tax for children 3-9 years of age) or at a Same Day Sales Price ($59.95 + tax for people over the age of nine / $53.95 + tax for children 3-9 years of age).  The Friday night and Halloween weekend parties only sell at the Same Day Sales Price.  The exception to these prices are the evenings of October 29 and 31 when tickets are sold at Premium Pricing ($64.95 + tax for people over the age of nine / $58.95 + tax for children 3-9 years of age).  Disney Vacation Club members trump them all, though, with a tax included discount ticket price on select nights ($53.20 for people over the age of nine / $46.81 for children 3-9 years of age).

Most of the Magic Kingdom’s attractions remain open for MNSSHP. ¬†A number of counter service restaurants and snack kiosks continue to host hungry guests as well. ¬†No table service restaurants are expected to be open once the party officially begins, but considering that guests are only given five hours in the park, most would not want to spend a full hour or two of that time seated in a restaurant and missing the very events that they paid a premium price to experience.

Disney’s Photopass photographers will be stationed throughout the park, especially in locations where the Halloweeen style of the castle can be used as a backdrop. ¬†Another spot of particular interest is the stroller parking area in Fantasyland that formerly was the location of the Skyway to Tomorrowland. ¬†In the past, Cinderella’s Coach has been parked there amongst pumpkins for a unique photo opportunity.

What are the specific dates and times of MNSSHP in 2010?

For 2010, the time frame is 7pm-12am on each of the following evenings:

September 14, 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30

October 1, 3, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, 31

November 1

What is the price of the event?

Advanced Sales Price: $53.95 + tax for 10 & up / $47.95 + tax for 3-9

Same Day Sales Price: $59.95 + tax for 10 & up / $53.95 + tax for 3-9

Premium Sales Price: $64.95 + tax for 10 & up / $48.95 + tax for 3-9

Disney Vacation Club Discount Price: $53.20 (tax included) for 10 & up / $46.81 (tax included) for 3-9

*The Advanced Sales Price is not available for October 8, 22, 28, 29, or 31

*Tickets for October 29 and 31 are only available at the Premium Sales Price

*The Disney Vacation Club Discount Price is not available for September 25, October 8, 22, 28, 29, 31, or November 1

Are there any costume restrictions or policies?

There are a few rules that Disney asks its guests to adhere to concerning costuming.  First, for safety reasons Disney does not permit costumes that obstruct vision or drag on the ground.  Eyes must be visible at all times.  Costumes may not contain sharp or pointed objects that could strike another guest.  Because the event is child-friendly, guests are asked to not wear offensive or violent disguises.  And, finally, guests that are dressed as Disney Characters are not permitted to pose for pictures or sign autographs for other guests to accommodate Disney licensing issues.

Is MNSSHP merchandise available?

MNSSHP merchandise will be available. ¬†In previous years, The Merchant of Venus store in Tomorrowland has been the headquarters for Disney’s Halloween merchandise, but there should also be some merchandise available in the Emporium on Main Street USA as well as Pirates Bazaar in Adventureland.

Do I need to bring my own container for collecting candy?

It isn’t necessary to bring a bag or container for collecting candy. ¬†Disney does provide guests with nice plastic bags for this purpose if they arrive empty-handed.

Which attractions and food services are expected to be open?

While Disney reserves the right to change their plans at a moment’s notice, their pattern of the past years has been such:

Open Attractions

The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm; Tomorrowland Transit Authority; Stitch’s Great Escape; Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor; Tomorrowland Speedway; Astro Orbiter; Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin; Splash Mountain; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; Haunted Mansion; The Hall of Presidents; Swiss Family Treehouse; Pirates of the Caribbean; The Magic Carpets of Aladdin; Peter Pan’s Flight; Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel; Dumbo the Flying Elephant; Mickey’s PhilharMagic; “it’s a small world”; Snow White’s Scary Adventures; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; Mad Tea Party

Open Food Spots

Casey’s Corner; Aloha Isle; Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe; Golden Oak Outpost; Westward Ho; Frontierland Turkey Leg; Sleepy Hollow Pizza Cart; Mrs. Potts Cupboard; Friar’s Nook; Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe; The Lunching Pad at Rockettower Plaza; Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies

Is the event worth the extra expense?

If your visit only includes a day or two at Disney, then the extra ticket is worthwhile in order to extend your hours in the park. ¬†If you are really set on seeing the Magic Kingdom in full force for Halloween, then the expense is also worthwhile since it can’t be experienced this way at any other time. ¬†However, if your vacation extends for more than a few days and the Halloween aspect of the Magic Kingdom doesn’t intrigue you, then bypass the cost of the extra ticket. ¬†In fact, it would probably be best to bypass the park entirely on the designated MNSSHP days due to the crowds. ¬†Instead, choose a separate day for your visit to the Magic Kingdom, especially if it is not scheduled for Extra Magic Hours. ¬†Since most people will have been there the previous day and late into the night, it is likely those same people will sleep in late and visit a different park to explore the following day, making your day in the Magic Kingdom less crowded, more efficient, and more pleasant while still enjoying some of Disney’s fall decor.

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A New TouringPlans.com Blogger!

by on September 10, 2010

Hi ladies and gents! We’re excited to announce a new blogger here at TouringPlans.com who will be stopping by once a month to blog about some fun Disney topics!

J.L Knopp is a freelance writer, blogger, vlogger, and podcaster in the Disney community as well as columnist for SavvyAuntie.com.  As a native Floridian, she grew up within the Disney culture and has acquired a great knowledge base of Walt Disney World.

J.L.’s primary efforts are focused on the community that is growing around her blog¬†thedisneydrivenlife.comand her newest venture, the LIVE weekly broadcast¬†InnerMouse.com.¬† It is through these venues that she discusses the concept of Disney as a state of mind and lifestyle.

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Trail’s End Updates

by on September 9, 2010

Many of us here at Touring Plans have a soft spot in our hearts for the beloved Trail’s End Buffet…er…Restaurant. See, we have to make sure we say “restaurant” at this point, because the “buffet” part only applies to breakfast and dinner these days!

After years of serving up an all-you-can-eat buffet, this cozy little out-of-the-way restaurant in Disney World’s Fort Wilderness is jumping on the change bandwagon that Disney World restaurants seem to be so fond of these days. (Seriously, if they’re not changing a menu, a chef, or a theme these days, they’re apparently not “in the club.”)

Anyway, from now until we-don’t-know-when, Trail’s End will be serving up an a la carte lunch service, featuring chili, fried chicken and waffles, saut√©ed catfish, grilled pork chops, spicy grilled shrimp and andouille sausage, Wilderness s‚Äômores and a warm sticky bun sundae. (That last one I could get into…)

No knowledge on how long this “trial period” will last, so either rush over to try it or stay far far away as you see fit.

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WDW Today Episode 771 – Magic Kingdom Dining Value

by on September 9, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 771 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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