Archive for November, 2010

Wait Time Forecasts By Park

by on November 30, 2010

Yesterday we added wait time forecasts for every day in the future that we have park hours for.

Today, we’re adding a way to briefly glance at a day’s wait times by park.

Check out the following pages (or click on the “Wait Times” tab on a park page):

What you’ll see is every attraction’s wait time estimates at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm (the last two if the park hours permit). Clicking on each attraction will take you to its full wait time forecast for the given day. We also list the park hours, and Crowd Calendar information on the right-hand side, as well as link to other useful pages on that day (including showtimes and overall crowd info).

Overall, we now have 4 levels of granularity to view our wait time estimates:

Ultimately, we hope this will give you deeper insight into what the crowds will be like on your next trip!

Let us know if you have any questions or comments!

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Wait Time Forecasts For Every Day

by on November 29, 2010

If you’re a Lines user, you’ve probably used attraction wait time forecasts for today and tomorrow to help you plan your touring strategy.

Now on the main site, we have wait time forecasts for every attraction in Walt Disney World and Disneyland for not only today and tomorrow — but for every day in the future that Disney has released park hours (the next 6 months in WDW and 2 months in DLR).

You can access the wait times forecasts by navigating to the attraction page, and clicking on the “View Full Forecast” link on the right hand side underneath the “Current Wait Times” section (see pic above-right).

The data is only available to subscribers, but should be a huge help in preparing for your trip. You’ll not only get an estimate of the overall crowds (the Crowd Calendar), but a good idea of how long the wait times at each attraction will be for your specific dates.

Let us know what you think!

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What Do The Crowd Levels Actually Feel Like?

by on November 29, 2010

One question we get asked a lot: what do the Crowd Levels on our Crowd Calendar actually “feel like?” On a Magic Kingdom Per-Park Crowd Level ’5′ day, how long will the waits actually be? What about on a ’3′ day, or an ’8′ day?

We now list the “average peak wait times” for each Per-Park Crowd Level by attraction:

If you look at the MK Crowd Level Wait Times page, scroll down to Space Mountain, you’ll see that on a ’5′ day, Space usually peaks at about a 55-minute wait. On a ’1′ day, it peaks around 29 minutes, and on a ’10′ day, Space on average has about a 77-minute wait at its longest. We also list the lowest and highest wait times we’ve seen, ever, for each attraction on these pages.

These Crowd Level to Wait Times are also now listed on each attraction page (see Expedition Everest or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad).

Analysis

When the numbers are broken down this way, one thing that pops out is that even when the parks are least busy (’1′ or ’2′ days), you’ll still see significant peak wait times for some of the most popular attractions: Toy Story Mania! will be ~80 minutes at its longest, Soarin’ will be ~60 minutes, Test Track ~55, Peter Pan’s Flight will be ~40. While these attractions remain extremely popular, this also may show that Disney is doing an increasingly good job at keeping the parks busy year-round.

You’ll also notice that certain attractions have little difference between a ’1′ day and a ’10′ day in terms of wait times. Peter Pan’s Flight goes from a 40 minute average peak wait time on a ’1′ day to 61 minutes on a ’10′ day (and we’ve only seen Peter Pan’s peak at 75 minutes). Other attractions have much greater spread, such as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster: 15 minutes on ’1′ days, 39 minutes on ’5′ days, 70 minutes on ’10′ days — and we’ve seen Rock ‘n’ Roller peak at 108 minutes. The spread has to do with fixed vs. variable capacity on these attractions. During the peak times, Rock ‘n’ Roller will operate more trains than it would in light crowds, whereas Peter Pan has a fixed Number of Voyages To Neverland Per Hour (NVTNPH) year-round.

Notes

-These are peak wait times — that is, the highest wait time for a given day you’d expect to see.
-These are averages by Per-Park Crowd Level, not the overall Resort Crowd Level.
-These are just averages — check the minimum/maximum wait times chart to see what the “worst case” and “best case” numbers could actually be.

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Added Attraction Photos

by on November 29, 2010

If you have a keen eye, you may have already noticed this — but we’ve started to add a simple, clean photo gallery to some of our attraction pages. Two I particularly like are the Spaceship Earth and the American Adventure pages. The photos have been taken/edited by our photog Tom Bricker, and we’re planning on adding a lot more after our upcoming Reunion trip.

Two examples:

Let us know what you think!

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Anticipation, Or What I Learned From Tangled

by on November 29, 2010

As I relaxed over the holiday weekend, there was something building inside of me.  I felt a strange sensation inside, and not just from the massive amounts of Thanksgiving dinner I consumed.  No, this was something more, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 Then, when I went to see Tangled (which all of you should go see if you haven’t), I realized what it was.  When Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are sitting out in the lagoon in front of the kingdom, waiting for something, Rapunzel explained it perfectly.  To paraphrase, she says that she’s nervous about what’s about to happen.

 If the “big event” is not what she expected, what will she do?  How will she react now that the thing she has dreamed about all this time is not as great as she had hoped?  Conversely, if it is everything she has hoped and dreamed, what’s next?  It was a touching moment in the movie, but it perfectly encapsulated how I feel about my trips to Walt Disney World, especially my upcoming trip.

 I’m talking about anticipation, and what a double edged sword it can be.  Making your plans early helps to build excitement for your trip, and it’s why we all frequent this site and others to get the latest info on what’s going on at the World.  By the same token, I know I am sometimes guilty of building up things in my head to the point where no trip could possibly live up to my daydreams.

 My trip that starts later this week for 2010 Reunion is a definite case study in this point.  Ever since I found out that I would be able to come down for a couple of days, I’ve been studying the schedule to figure out which meets I would be able to go to, talking with friends on Twitter about all the things we’re going to do and trying to hide from my kids the fact that we’re going.  (Shhh…don’t tell them, it’s a surprise.)

I am looking so forward to meeting so many great people at Reunion, but I am of course, also very nervous.  This is my first time at a big gathering of Disney fans.  Add on top of that all the holiday events I want to see and you’ve got a huge bundle of nerves sitting here writing this post.

In the end, what I learned from Tangled is that you can’t stress so much about the future.  I was very similarly worried about my last trip in October, when my wife and I went down without kids for the first time in years.  How would we manage?  Would we be able to get it all done?  Could we make it work?  If you’ve read my posts, you know that we had a marvelous time, just like I’m sure we will this weekend.  It’s fine to plan obsessively for the trip, but in the end, you have to leave time to enjoy it.

What about you?  Do you get this anticipation buildup before your trips?  Are you looking forward to this weekend’s events?  Will I see you there?

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WDW Today Episode 805 – Meal Money

by on November 29, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 805 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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A Dining Story-Part 1

by on November 27, 2010

Although I have been doing my best to not allow my newly acquired Disney phobia get the best of me, it has been hard for me to entirely shake it.  Traveling with our special dietary needs is a concept that still makes me very uneasy, so I decide not to set our expectations too high.  We will brave one park for one day, and we will remain content within that limitation.

The park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS), seems like a good fit for this trip.  My little starlets have never been to this park, and my husband, Joel, and I have not been since our honeymoon.  It is a park that can be almost completely seen within a day if one carefully plans and strategizes.  And because Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a large amount of shows with only a couple rides that exempt small children, our choice is particularly wise for our toddler.

As I analyze the situation, I am continually frustrated by our dietary circumstances.  I want to feed my children food that I have prepared because I know this guarantees their safety, but it is impossible for us to carry entire meals for our family around the park.  The amount of edibles would require a large cooler to be schlepped around the full day.  I am not about to consider this possibility when I will already feel like a pack mule under the weight of a diaper bag, a camcorder bag, and a backpack that contains all the essentials for surviving a Walt Disney World theme park.  Plus, I will need all my hands available to manage and direct my Disney troop.

In the back of my mind, I hear the voices of easy-going Disney guests advocating a retreat back to the villa during meals.  But this habit is strictly forbidden for my family.  It is deep within the commando code to never leave a theme park before its closure forces such dreadful action.  So if I intend to have my family experience as much as humanly possible within the limited hours DHS is open, a mid-day retreat is out of the question.

Think, think, think.  I tap my furrowed brow with the tip of my index finger as I search for an inspiring solution.  This technique in mental exercise always helps Winnie the Pooh visualize “outside the hunny pot.”  Perhaps, it will assist me as well.

Ah!  I’ve got it!  But my plan of ingenuity will require special permission.  I retrieve the phone number of Brenda Bennett, the primary supervisor of Disney’s special dietary department, and quickly dial the digits.  Surprisingly, she answers personally rather than a voice message.  I quickly introduce myself, my circumstances, and my brilliant idea.  I propose, “If Joel and I made reservations at a restaurant for lunch and dinner, we could drop meals off there for the children first thing in the morning.  Then the restaurant could store the kid’s food in the refrigerator until we arrived for our reservations.”  In my mind, the notion is perfect.  The restaurant will receive our business; the children will be safe, and our family will experience eating together in a restaurant for the first time in two years.  However, Brenda finds a glaring flaw in my scheme.  It is illegal.

Disney is responsible whenever a guest reacts negatively to a meal eaten within their restaurants.  So to ensure they are only held accountable for incidents that they have actually caused, these eating facilities are not permitted to serve food that they have not prepared.  As a loyal Disney mom, it is difficult for me to imagine persecuting an innocent Mouse in a court of law, but apparently there are people who do this sort of thing.  As a result, it has dashed all hopes of my family living the Hollywood life for a day.

I do my best to hold it together, but tears fill my eyes.  Our dietary restrictions have kept us from being able to do a great many things these past years.  I have tried to stay positive in spite of it all, but this is more than I can bear.  As I attempt to thank Brenda for her time, I hear my voice quiver.  She hears it as well and begs me to consider trusting one of her chefs.  As I try to explain the complexity of my children’ s diet and my apprehension, I find myself taking big breaths and long pauses to stave off the sob fest that I am dangerously close to engaging.

Brenda extends her sincerest sympathies and remarks that my fears are natural.  She assures me, though, that if I’m willing to give her a chance, she will go beyond the routine process of filling out the standard Dietary Needs Form.  She will put me personally in touch with chefs that not only ensure my kids’ safety but guarantee that their meals will receive exclusive attention.

I begin to hope.  Maybe if I’m able to speak with some chefs first-hand, I will be able to ascertain whether they actually can handle the grave responsibility of safely feeding my delicate, red carpet walkers.  I tell Brenda with some trepidation that I will take this initial step with her.  She is elated to hear it and promises that I will begin receiving e-mails from Disney’s Hollywood Studios chefs within a day or two.  I express my gratitude, and we end our conversation.

I sit and wonder if I have done the right thing.  I desperately wish that I did not have to make such a scary decision; however, because we are a Disney family we cannot live in a bubble that floats outside of the realm of Disney.  I’m perfectly content for my bubble to exclude almost everything else in life, but when Mickey is on the outside looking in, it is time for the bubble to pop.

I try to relax and feel comfortable in the direction I’m taking.  After all, this is Walt Disney World we are talking about.  If anyone is on top of their game, it is this company.  Surely I can place my family in their hands and trust we will be taken care of, or can I?

I bury my conflicted head in my hands.  Will I ever fully recover from my doubtful Disney state?  This is the most distressing condition a Disney Mom could have.  It sure would be nice to access Genie and his magic lamp right now, but I’m starting to wonder if my deliverance from this misery is even beyond the reach of the most powerful wish granters.

A Dining Story–Part 2

*Contact information for Walt Disney World special dietary requests:

(407) 824-5967

WDW.Special.Diets@disney.com

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Foto Fridays: Tips for Photographing Disney at Christmas

by on November 26, 2010

The Holidays are undoubtedly one of the most magical times of the year at Walt Disney World. The festive sounds of the seasons, the snow falling over Main Street, and hot cocoa at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party. Least of all, the beautiful lights and decorations all around the parks and resorts. The foregoing, plus the light crowds and nice weather, make an extremely compelling argument to visit Walt Disney World during the Holidays. Christmas is easily my favorite time of the year to visit the ‘World.

On the First Day of Christmas...

Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy to capture the essence of those Christmas decorations in photos. Since I know so many of us struggle with those difficult photography situations, and since we so desperately want to capture the spirit of the season, I have decided to assemble some tips for making the most of your Holiday pictures at Walt Disney World. By following these mostly simple tips, anyone with any camera will be able to take beautiful pictures of Walt Disney World at Christmas! Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Partners & Icicle Castle Dream Light Bokeh (Explored)

The first and only requirement to take great Holiday pictures at Walt Disney World is that you have a camera. That’s it. Nothing special is required—although you’ll look a lot cooler if you take your photos with a Nikon. After all, Ashton Kutcher uses a Nikon, and a lot of people follow him on Twitter, so he is like the king of cool. In the quest to capture good pictures, knowledge is the other key. Knowledge is actually extremely important; both knowledge of basic photography principles and your camera are key to success. To that end, I would highly recommend having your camera in hand as you read this, testing settings to help supplement my explanations.

On the 8th Day of Christmas...

My first bit of advice like I mentioned in the Halloween article, and this mirrors my general advice for photography at the parks, is not to overlook the details. If you can manage to visualize cool photos that others wouldn’t think of, you have an instant—and substantial—leg up on everyone else. I recommend doing a self-guided tour of the resorts (we often do our tour on the morning that we attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so we don’t waste any park tickets for that day), during which you will encounter absolutely gorgeous Christmas décor befitting of the resort themes. Typically, the Deluxe resorts will have a display centerpiece with smaller decorations throughout the resort. These displays follow the four basic food groups set forth by the profound thinker, Buddy the Elf: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. Well, maybe not candy corn or syrup, but they are certainly made of a lot of sugar-based food products. While it’s fun to photograph the centerpiece, challenge your photographic eye by looking for compelling photographic subjects in the smaller details.

"Care for a Jack & Coke?"The Polynesian has small displays throughout the resort. Watch your background when taking pictures of these displays. If you line it up just right, you may be able to get a festive wreath or large tree in the background.

On the topic of details, is the decorations and ornaments you’ll find within the trees around the parks and resorts. These can make for great objects to photograph, but there are two pitfalls you should avoid. First, don’t zoom with your feet to take close-up shots. Lenses can only focus when a certain distance from the subject, which is why so many close-up shots taken with point and shoot cameras look bad—the photographer moved the camera close, rather than using the optical zoom of the lens to get close. Another reason why this is important is because the bulbs on those trees are like mirrors. Unless you want a creative self-portrait, moving back and zooming in will minimize your presence in these shots. Second, don’t use your flash for these shots. At close distances, the flash will just wash out the lights and really take away from the beauty of the displays. Below, I will discuss when it may be pragmatic to use flash, but that’s not the case here. Another related tip is to watch your angles to create well “layered” shots. This means that your foreground will have one Christmas subject in it, and your background will have another Christmas subject in it. Since Christmas decorations are nearly everywhere at Walt Disney World, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I have found one of the best ways to do this is to look for interesting angles that place the smaller detail, or a portion of the smaller detail, in the foreground, while having a larger subject in the background. If you’re having trouble finding good photo options for this in the parks and resorts, head into a gift shop. There are plenty of Christmas souvenirs in there, and you can line them up yourself to “cheat” a bit! Watching how your angles line up can result in unique shots that show a little more of that Holiday Spirit for which Walt Disney World is so famous!

Six Garland Strands A-HangingIt may seem difficult to line up these beautiful wreaths with anything since they are overhead, but if you go to the train station and use your zoom, you’ll be able to compose a neat shot with wreath-repetition!

Obsolete TechnologyRIP – Lights of Winter. You were so obsolete that Disney couldn’t make a trip to Wal-Mart to update you with LED “technology”…even though Disney has managed to miraculously update that “little” light display at the Studios with LED lights.

One of the most common questions I am asked about photographing the Holidays centers around photographing light displays. Before I offer my advice, I preface it with this: most people will tell you to photograph outdoor Christmas lights before it’s totally dark. In the context of Walt Disney World, I disagree with this advice.

On the 9th Day of Christmas...

Additionally, this is the only area of this article where a little technical knowledge is going to be helpful. Now, before I scare anyone away, let me tell you that not much technical knowledge is needed here at all. If you’re familiar with the “scene” or preset modes on your camera (the name may differ depending on your camera manufacturer), you have the requisite knowledge. This is also the only area where I will recommend buying something. Relax, it’s not a new camera or some other expensive gadget, it’s a travel tripod. If that’s too much, it’s a $10 or less Gorilla pod (if you have one, a beanbag also works well) that can fit in the pocket of cargo shorts. If you don’t want to use a Gorilla pod, you may be able to hand-hold the camera and successfully capture the lights in some brighter areas (Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is the first thing that comes to mind), but the Gorilla pod or beanbag is definitely the preferable way to go. For a more detailed discussion of camera stabilizing devices, see my Halloween photo tips.

It's A Wonderful Life

A Tranquil Christmas on Main Street, USAWhile you may not notice them when the parks are busy during the day, there are garbage cans all over the place. These garbage cans will help you extend the height of your Gorilla pod, making shots like this easy.

With all of these disclaimers and caveats out of the way, let’s get to the substance. I mostly prefer photographs of the lights at Walt Disney World when night has fallen, as I think the contrast created between the black of the sky and the color of the lights looks better than a dusk sky against lights. The lights are also more dominant in the shots after night has fallen. I suppose reasonable minds could differ on whether the pictures look better at night or dusk, though. If you shoot the lights around dusk before the sky is totally black, you will get a pleasant looking, almost ethereal, blue sky. Sometimes, this looks really cool, much cooler than the contrast between the jet black night sky and the lights, sometimes it doesn’t. Photographing the lights at the dusk hour will also give you the benefit of more light in your shot, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll need to use that Gorillapod or beanbag. So, if you’re traveling without a camera stabilizing device, you should be photographing the lights at dusk, by default.

Osborne Lights

It might be difficult to find a spot to set your Gorillapod in the crowds that gather to watch Osborne Lights, but if you travel in early-to-mid December, or wait until the park is almost closed, you will have success in finding lighter crowds.

A Toy Soldier Guards the Vacation Kingdom

To capture the lights when night has fallen, set up your Gorillapod or position your camera on your beanbag and set it on top of a trashcan, ledge, or some elevated area near the subject of which you want to take a picture. Find and choose the preset mode on your camera (it will likely be called something like “night scene”), set the camera to self-timer mode (your camera should have an option to take a picture approximately 2 seconds after you press the shutter button; you do this because pressing the shutter button moves the camera a bit, which in turn causes a slight blur to shots like this), and wait for the results.

For those of you with cameras that allow you to manually change settings on your camera, and if you feel comfortable possibly giving that a try, I suggest you alter three settings: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. If you’re unfamiliar with the meanings of these terms, I suggest learning a bit more about them via Google or in a photography book, but since I could probably delve into long articles on each, I think that detailed of an explanation is beyond the scope of this article. Here, essentially, is what you’ll want to try if you have a Gorilla pod or beanbag set-up to stabilize the camera: use a long shutter speed (ranging from 5 seconds to 10 seconds), moderate aperture (f/8 to f/13), and low ISO (ISO 50 to ISO 400). If you’re holding your camera by hand, I would recommend trying to brace the camera as best as possible (resting your elbows on a trash can works well), and using a moderate shutter speed (1/30th to 1/10th of a second), wide open aperture (the lowest number your camera has; it should be around f/2.8), and high ISO (ISO 800 to ISO 1600). Keep in mind that the precise settings will be contingent upon the light present in a given situation and what your camera and lens is capable of.

EPCOT Tree & Obsolete TechnologyI used manual settings for this shot of EPCOT’s tree, but this is not required to get good pictures. When set on the right preset mode, any digital camera can take good pictures if properly stabilized. You may have a bit more success with manual settings as you can fine-tune the settings yourself, but this is not necessary. Don’t give up just because you are intimidated by manual settings. If you don’t want to learn them, don’t worry!

The last tip concerns the camera’s flash. Unless you are taking a picture of one of the aforementioned “Disney Details” up close outside at night or people, turn off the flash. Even if you are taking a picture of a display, I would consider not using the flash. The problem with using a flash to take pictures of Christmas lights is that a flash can wash out the lights making them appear as if they are not illuminated. The converse to this is that you may not be able to see the details of the subject if you don’t use the flash. For this reason, you’ll almost always want to use flash when taking a picture of people, unless you want them to be illuminated by ambient light from the display (in the scene modes on your camera, look for “night portrait” or something similar). I recommend taking two pictures of the Disney Details subjects, one with flash and one without, and determining which you prefer when you go home. Remember, you can always delete a bad picture later; however, you cannot go back in time and re-capture a moment that you didn’t successfully photograph the first time.

For this picture of Sarah, I fired my camera’s flash to ‘fill’ the foreground of the image with light, knowing that she would appear as a silhouette without the flash. As a general rule, you should be using the flash for fill purposes on images of people. You will still need to stabilize the camera and use a slightly long shutter speed (but not too long, since people move, and that movement will cause blur in the shot!), but not as long as you would for a night shot of a landscape. If you have a ‘night portrait’ mode on your camera, try using that with a Gorillapod.

Goofy About EPCOTWhether you use your flash on a shot such as this is more of a judgment call, or a matter of taking two shots, one with the flash and one without, and seeing which you prefer. For this shot, I did not use my flash. If you are shooting this without something to stabilize your shot, you probably will want to use the flash.

This may all be a lot to digest right now, but with a little practice, you’ll learn these tips in no time. I know this is a lot of information, and if you’re unfamiliar with the settings on your camera, it may seem intimidating. However, I can assure you that the payoff of learning a few of these tricks is high. Finally, and maybe not everyone is as big of a geek as me, but I’ve found that the best way to test what will work with your camera is to practice before leaving for Walt Disney World. You won’t be able to replicate the circumstances exactly (unless your last name is “Osborne”), but you’ll get a rough idea, and more importantly, you won’t waste any valuable time while on vacation!

"Look After Our World" (Explored)

Many of these tips are intermediate-to-advanced level, so don’t fret if you can’t utilize them all. If you’re ho-ho-hoping to learn more about photography before your Christmas trip to WDW, check your local library for books on photography, or search Google for other photography tips. One site that I highly recommend, WDWPhotography.com, posts multiple articles per week written by Walt Disney World photography enthusiasts. Even if you’re not interested in learning advanced techniques, it’s fun to see shots from some of the incredibly talented photographers there, and read posts that site describe their creative process.

Hope you enjoyed this article! My wife and I will be traveling to Walt Disney World for 2010 Reunion; we hope to see many of you there, and hope you are able to put these tips to good use this Christmas, wherever it may find you. Have a Merry Christmas!

Have any questions, inquiries, or tips of your own? Share in the comments!

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WDW Today Episode 804 – Feels Like The First Time

by on November 26, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 804 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 #41 – Disney + Gowalla == Love

by on November 25, 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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