Archive for November, 2010

Christmas Trip 2010

by on November 24, 2010

For the last three years I have made an annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World to see it in all its holiday glory.  2010 will make my fourth Christmas trip and I couldn’t be more excited about it!  Last week, I talked about all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World at Christmastime and I’m really looking forward to experiencing it all again.  While it may seem a little nutty to take time away from my crazy December schedule at home, the break away from the most stressful time of year is great.  At WDW I get to actually enjoy the holidays with friends even if I run around at breakneck speed (at least I’m not shopping, wrapping, or baking).  The time off from reality Disney provides couldn’t be more welcomed than in December.

Aside from the much needed get away, one of the main attractions for this year’s trip is WDW Today and Mouse Fan Travel’s Reunion.  There are several events scheduled for each day from December 1-5.  The guys from this fan favorite podcast will be on hand to greet listeners, hang out, and take in some favorite attractions around the parks.  I’m especially looking forward to is the DE-serts and DE-lights Party where folks lucky enough to have gotten tickets will be treated to a private viewing of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. These events are a great way to meet fellow Disney geeks, so if you can make it you should really try to come by.  I’ll be at several of these events throughout the long weekend so keep a look out for me and don’t be afraid to say hi!  The WDW Today hosts and and Mouse Fan travel always team up to put on great events, so I’m sure Reunion will be a blast.

Speaking of events Touringplans will be hosting our very own on December 3rd at 6:30! Meet us in the UK pavilion where we will treat readers, Lines users, and fans to the famous fish and chips while mingling with fellow Disney geeks. Most of the Touringplans staff will be on hand to hang out with all of the fine folks who come by for some fish and fun.  I’m really looking forward to meeting the few of my teammates I haven’t had the opportunity to hang out with yet and meeting as many readers as possible.  All of the previous Touringplans meets I have attended in the past have been a lot of fun, so this one is sure to to be a blast!  I hope to see many of you there!

Even with all of those exciting events to look forward to,I’m most excited to see my friendss.  Over the last year or so I have be lucky enough to form a bond with some of my fellow Disney fans that is so strong its hard to believe its real.  It may sound crazy, but these wonderful people have become my Disney family.  Our friendship started because of Disney World, but it goes so much further than that now.  We talk to each other about everything and are always there when someone needs a pick me up or to celebrate accomplishments and happy moments.  So you can imagine how thrilled I am that I get to spend a few days with some of the most important people in my life.  Our group is expanding all of the time so I’m also looking forward to meeting new people on this trip too!

Many of those friends and I will be staying at the Polynesian Resort this time around. I have stayed there before and absolutely loved it so I’m really looking forward to returning.  One of the best parts about staying at this resort is being on the monorail.  However, the Poly has an advantage over the other monorail resorts in that guests can walk to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) from this resort.  For those readers who are not familiar with the monorail system, in order to get to Epcot one must transfer from the resort loop to the Epcot loop at the TTC.  When staying at the Polynesian guests can simply walk to the TTC without having to ride the monorail all the way around to make the switch.  Since I spend most of my time at Epcot, this is ideal for me.

I’m also looking forward to my stay at the Poly because it is simply gorgeous.  I love the lush landscaping and the setting on the lagoon.  I’m sure I will spend an evening watching the Magic  fireworks from the Polynesian’s beach.  I also really love the more laid back vibe at this resort.  The palm trees and long houses just make me feel relaxed even during a busy WDW trip.  Another highlight of stays at the Poly for me is grabbing breakfast at the Kona Cafe which is on my agenda twice during the trip.  If you haven’t been before I urge you to give it a shot.  Guests can easily make a reservation there and use it as an excuse to check out the resort if they haven’t had the pleasure of staying there.

As for getting ready for this journey, packing for my annual December trip is always a bit more complicated than getting ready for a trip in a typically warm month.  You never know what you’re going to get in December in Central Florida.  It could be 80 degrees on Thursday and 60 on Friday.  I dress in layers at this time of year to ensure I’m always warm enough.  I’ll bring a few sweaters that I can mix and match with whatever I might be wearing on a given day as well as short sleeve and long sleeve tops.  I generally don’t find it warm enough to wear shorts, but I know some of my friends will have them in their suitcases.  I may even stick a pair of mittens in my bag, just in case I should need them.

Well, I think that about sums up my plans for next week’s big trip!  I hope to see a lot of readers at the events held throughout the weekend!  Leave a comment and let me know if you’ll be traveling to WDW this holiday season (especially if our dates overlap) and what you’re looking forward too most.  While I’m away be sure to follow my adventures on Twitter: @khelmstetter

I’ll be taking next week off to enjoy the holiday weekend with family and friends and then to travel to WDW.  But, I’ll be back in two weeks to tell you all about my trip!  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

WDW Today Episode 803 – Listener Questions

by on November 23, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 803 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:

Showtimes Now Available

by on November 23, 2010

If you’re a Lines user, you’ll know that we list show schedules so that’s it’s easy to see what’s coming up when you’re touring. Now you can get the Showtimes on the website as well.

We display showtimes in three places. Firstly, if you go to the Crowd Calendar, click on an individual day, you’ll be able to see parades and fireworks times for the day (these have been here since mid-September). You can also see parade and firework times, in a slightly different format, in the new Showtimes page (and you can jump around to various days).

Thirdly, and most interestingly, you can now a full showtime schedule for each Park and for each day (see Magic Kingdom’s Showtimes). You’ll see a full showtime schedule, broken up by lands and shows. You can then sort the showtimes by time or by show. We display park hours and crowd estimates on the right-hand side of the screen, and you can scroll forward to tomorrow’s schedules, or yesterdays, or jump to an arbitrary day in the future or past.

The showtimes are compiled nightly via, walt disney world entertainment, and a variety of sources — but the schedules may change at any time. Two notes: one, while Disney schedules the parade and fireworks times far in advance, they typically don’t schedule some of the smaller shows until a week or two in advance. Second, because Disney doesn’t release full show schedules themselves (and their website is often inaccurate), there can be some conflicting information.

Let us know what you think — and we hope this makes planning your trip a bit easier!

Managing The Crowds During The Holidays At Disney World

by on November 23, 2010

Tis the season to be jolly…but if you’re not prepared for the crowds at Walt Disney World during the holiday season you may become more naughty than nice. With realistic expectations, a plan and lots of patience it’ll be a wonderful Christmastime.

Do you have the fantasy that when you arrive at Walt Disney World it is going to be just like the commercials?  Have you ever noticed that the streets of the Magic Kingdom are only sparsely filled with people?  This may be a realistic scene when a hurricane is about to barrel down on Florida, but at Christmastime this isn’t the case.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day – all of the schools in the United States are out on break.  If you thought summer was crowed – well, think again.

Let’s not get upset about the crowds, let’s have a plan.  Tip #1: Let me stop right here and say that the #1 best plan is to follow our Touring Plans.  These plans, above anything else, will save you time standing in line.  If you don’t have a subscription to— get one!  After you read this – subscribe. Then follow the plans.  Everyone loves the Crowd Calendar.  It’s awesome, but you need a plan more than you need anything else.

Now, you have your subscription and you’re at Disney World — it is time to get up.  Deck the halls and fa la la la la.  Tip #2: Please be at the park of your choosing a minimum of 30 minutes BEFORE park opening.  This will be the single most important thing you do all day.  If you want to see the headliner attractions you’ve got to see them when the park opens or standing in line will take up the majority of your day.  Keep Granola bars in your backpack and eat while you wait for the park to open.

  You got up early, you used a Touring Plan and saw some headliner attractions and now you’re hungry.  Tip #3: Eat at off times.  90% of the people visiting Disney World are flying by the seat of their pants.  Not you! Your pants are secure and you’re going to eat when the others aren’t.

You have followed Tips 1-3 to the “T”.  Now it’s time to chill.  The parks are at full capacity, but that doesn’t concern you.  The afternoon is a great time for a nap.  Yes, a nap and you deserve one.  After you’ve rested, you can enjoy a dip in the pool or partake in my all time favorite Disney Christmas afternoon and evening activity — visiting the Disney resort hotels and taking in the Christmas decorations.  They are like no other.  Each deluxe resort deserves a visit.  The Grand Floridian takes the cake!  Their gingerbread house is breathtaking and amazing.  I would love to be there when they assemble the gingerbread house.  Cast members actually sell gingerbread out of the house.

Following these simple tips will increase your joy, your goodwill toward men and you may even hear angels sing.  What tips do you have?  I would love to hear.

I will be at Disney World next week.  You can follow me on Twitter @Caroline251.

WDW Today Episode 802 – The Magic Makers – John Phalen (2010)

by on November 21, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 802 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 #40 – Toy Story Mania

by on November 19, 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.

Foto Fridays: Face-off – World Showcase

by on November 19, 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 are asking you which World Showcase country is best!

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

@marytsdollhouse Norway because if the Maelstrom ride.

@thadarkslayer Norway: the perfume, attraction, & school bread

@mytsukata Japan, because they have the best store! Canada runs a close second for me, though…same reason. 🙂 #DisneyDebate

@GarrettJD @TouringPlans Canada… Le Cellier and Off Kilter, a great combination!

@khelmstetter @TouringPlans I think Germany is the prettiest but I love that tequila bar in Mexico

@markjohns1 @TouringPlans Germany! Beer, pretzels, and meat in tube form. What’s not to like?

@rashizb Favorite World Showcase pavilion = United Kingdom for shopping and ambience, but Canada for Off Kilter wins!

Along with their photo entries, we asked for an explanation as to why each Flickr 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.

American Adventure (with the 85mm f/1.2)
Some people might find it boring, but I love the American Adventure. Call it national pride or whatever, but I can’t listen to the Golden Dream song without tearing up just a bit. Then there’s always the Voices of Liberty, which I have to see at least a few times on each trip, they’re amazing!

Photogineer (Doug):
Skip Norway
Well this was a tough one because I think every country has a unique feel to it. I do find myself in either Japan or China the most. I picked China because of the huge amount of photo opps that present themselves. There is just so many details that I keep finding that I have not gotten boarded in this area yet. Plus I really like the Mango Green Tea Slush in that area. Had four of them in two days there.

My favorite countries in Epcot are the most "exotic" ones, Japan and Morocco. Both have unique architecture, plenty of places to explore, excellent dining, interesting shops and great musical entertainment. If I have to choose between the two, Morocco and Mo’Rockin will always be my choice, for one obvious reason.

Isabelle Boivin:
Ouf ! Not an easy one. For two things. First, I love all EPCOT pavillons. Each one as the spirith of is country and each one is very unique. I was going to fall for home, Canada… but then, I’ve got no good picture of it. Which bring us to my second "thing" ! So, Italy it is. I used to love the restaurant there, the Orginale Alfredo. Went twice and ate the exact same thing. And I always loved the look of that pavillon. Calm. Pretty. You always whan to climb thoses stairs at your left and wait for a nice guy to pick you up !

Larry White (Trying to Shine):
World Showcase - Japan Pavilion
Not sure I have a "favorite", but I do enjoy Japan’s architecture. The shops are also fun to walk through. My kids (now adults) love the Japanese shows with all of the various characters. This is a shot taken during the May Photo Walk.

I love them all for different reasons, but if forced to choose, I guess my favorite pavillion is Mexico. I love the outside pyramid, but I especially love the outdoors-inside theme of the interior: the festive but relaxing feel of the plaza, the smell of food from San Angel, the volcano in the distance, and I’ve always been a fan of the ride – no matter what it is called or how it is themed.

Natasha Joyan:
Night Lagoon
Although I love pretty much all of the World Showcase, one of my favorites is Japan. It is home to a great restaurant with one of my favorite types of foods- sushi! I could easily spend hours in the Mitsukoshi store! I find all the architecture so inspiring and the whole atmosphere very tranquil.

Finally, my entry and commentary:
EPCOT - The American Adventure's Ultra Wiiiiiide Fountain
First, let me start out by saying, you all are crazy. And wrong. Besides DisneyGirlinNJ. She’s cool. This Face-off should be a no-brainer. It should be so ridiculously easy that a blind-folded untrained monkey could pick the best country. The American Adventure is without question the greatest World Showcase country. Heck, even if it had only a McDonald’s & PBR stand and an unthemed restroom, it would still easily trounce the other countries. This is by virtue of the name of the country, as no country can compete with America in a battle of excellence. In a relatively short time, America has produced such great things as Robocop, Thomas Jefferson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Segways, the George Forman Grill, ALF, Stephen Colbert, Jurassic Park, and of course, Mickey Mouse & Walt Disney, just to name a few things. In total, the only awesome things the other World Showcase countries have produced are samurais, polar bears, Celine Dion, sombreros, British accents, vikings, trolls, and giant oil rigs.

Sarcasm aside (although it’s only partly-sarcastic; I am unabashedly patriotic), the American Adventure easily gets the win from me. It’s really a no-brainer. The experience begins with the Fife and Drum Corps performing riveting marching demonstrations outside the stately colonial manner. Once inside, listening to the Voices of Liberty bellow out amazing a cappella Americana classics really sets the mood for the inspiring show that’s to follow. Even the decor inside elicits an emotional response from me. Then, the main show, the American Adventure, narrated by figures of Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, which is simply engrossing, and a technical marvel. By the time “Golden Dreams” plays to conclude the show, I am holding back the tears of joy, while simultaneously ready to go on a patriotism-fueled rampage. It’s easily one of the top attractions at EPCOT.

Now, I realize there are those out there who think the American Adventure is a sanitized, reductionist view of American history. I’ve heard people discuss this, and frankly, it baffles me. Expecting the American Adventure to discuss complex or controversial topics in American history, or give any serious depth of treatment, is akin to expecting a child’s picture book about puppies to go into the anatomy of the species. Neither are the appropriate vehicles for such discussions. By its very nature, it cannot, and should not, be this complex or edgy. I appreciate it for what it is, and that is an amazingly well produced and emocotive theme park experience.

While the American Adventure is probably the weakest choice for dining and shopping, this shouldn’t be too surprising given that so many other restaurants in WDW offer “American” cuisine and shopping options. Thus, I don’t feel this is a reasonable critique of the pavilion, either, and despite this complaint, I crown the American Adventure the undisputed winner of this Face-off. Congratulations, America, you win again!

What are your thoughts on the face-off? What is your favorite World Showcase Country? Let us know in the comments! Just remember, choosing anything besides America is distinctly unpatriotic.


The next challenge features Disney CHRISTMAS! Post a shot of your favorite aspect of Christmas, Disney-style. It can be from the Parks, an ornament on your tree, or anything else Christmas and Disney related! Also, voice your thoughts about Disney Christmas on Twitter to @TouringPlans and entering your submissions in the TouringPlans Flickr Group discussion entitled “TouringPlans’ Foto Face-off Friday Blog – Disney Christmas!” You could have your comments and picture chosen to be featured in the next Face-off blog, so get to Tweetin’ and Postin’! With so many of you heading down to 2010 Reunion in a couple of weeks, we expect lots of photos! In the spirit of the holidays, any on-topic photo submitted will be featured in the blog!

If you want tips on taking those holiday photos, stay tuned for next Friday’s post, when I will provide a thorough guide to photographing Walt Disney World during the holidays!

WDW Today Episode 801 – Holidays In Hollywood

by on November 18, 2010

wdwtoday logoEpisode 801 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:

The Diversity Of Animal Kingdom

by on November 18, 2010

Last week I mentioned that I’d just finished my family vacation, and I talked about the family dinners we had on that trip. This time around I thought that I’d talk about what it’s like touring as an older family ranging from their 30s to late 70s without any kids.  My family has never been very big or extremely close knit, and we tend to handle each other best in small doses – especially on vacations where we have a get in, maximize the trip, and get out as quickly as possible mentality.  It’s not that we don’t love each other, or that we don’t get along, but rather that when you take a group of highly opinionated folk, like my family, and stick them in a room together for any period of time… well… you’ll see fireworks the likes of which you’ve never seen at Disney and I’ll leave it at that.

Each year my parents like to plan to travel with my wife, Cheryl, and I to Walt Disney World during the month of October.  I think this is in large part because they are attracted to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and all that it has to offer them.  They are older, and the highest impact rides they’ll get on are the Kilimanjaro Safari and Maelstrom.  So there is a lot of value to them in walking around and spending several hours eating & drinking whatever they like around the World Showcase Lagoon.  Their favorite park is Animal Kingdom, again because there’s plenty to see and do just walking around.

My brother, Craig, who tries to join us each year, is quite opposite (in more ways than one).  All he wants to do is either be moving or riding or eating.  If he could have no downtime in the parks he would be perfectly happy and content.  When we stop he’s the first one to say to me, “can we just leave them here and go ride something?” – “them” being my parents.  To him stopping is for eating or sleeping.  His favorite rides are Everest and the Tower of Terror – the latter of which I’ve seen him bend down on one knee and propose to after riding.  Like many, Animal Kingdom is the park he’s spent the least amount of time in and he’s been looking for a chance to explore it more.

We decided to head to Animal Kingdom on our first day.  We felt that with an abbreviated day it made the most sense and would make for a good start to the trip.  I had a plan mapped out roughly in my head, but knowing full well how these things tend to work with my family it was a loose and flexible plan – one could be adjusted quickly as needed.  The basic idea was to make sure my brother got to do some things he’d missed on his last trip, and to all go see Festival of the Lion King together as a family.

We’d arrived a little later then planned, and just missed a showing of Lion King so it was already time for the first adjustment. Cheryl called it and we headed to Dinoland.  Usually I prefer to tackle Animal Kingdom clockwise, but backing up seemed best – my parents wanted to wait a bit before going on the Safari.  This worked well for my brother who has a strange attraction to Phylicia Rashad that keeps him coming back to Dinosaur, and he’d never before ridden Primeval Whirl.  In the end, he wasn’t real thrilled with it as he bruised his arm – even though coasters are his favorite, I don’t think he’ll be rushing back to it.

After meeting up with my parents who skipped out of both rides to go shopping, we back tracked to have lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue.  I had the Smoked Turkey Breast Sandwich as I was craving some protein, but didn’t want to go the BBQ route.  As I mentioned last week my stepdad was excited to get himself a free birthday cupcake here.  While this is a popular stop for eating in DAK, usually I don’t stop here because I find that being stalked by the avian population is not a fun way to spend my meal.

Trying move my family along never works when they’re eating, so we missed another showing of Lion King.  Adjusting yet again we moved on to the Kilimanjaro Safari, and I was very happy to get some dance time in as we passed the music group outside of the Dawa Bar and Tusker House.  This trip through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve is among my most favorite ever.  We got to see a ton of animals (okay maybe several tons) as almost everything was out and moving about – even the Cheetahs.  I was especially excited to get a nice, long look at the new Addax that were recently added.  They are a gorgeous species with their white summer coats and long twisted antlers.

From there it was time to hire a Sherpa and head up to the top of Everest.  Leaving my parents at the Dawa Bar, Craig, Cheryl and I headed over to Asia.   At my brother’s request, he and I waited to ride in the front row – in prior rides he had ridden in the middle and the back row.  The Yeti was in his usual immobile state, but it was fun none-the-less, and Craig had a blast.  To me, it’s probably the highest impact ride in WDW due to the backward motion – Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Mission Space, and the Mountains play out as much tamer rides by comparison.  On the big climb to the top through the Yeti Temple, people often miss the view.  If you look to the left you can see the other three parks.  This is one of my favorite views in all of Walt Disney World.

After Everest, we picked up my parents and finally headed over to the Festival of the Lion King.  Even though I’ve seen this show dozens of times before, I still took 150+ shots with my iPhone during it, plus some videos of the Tumble Monkeys and the Fire Dancer.  The action and movement is almost non-stop – you can tell it’s designed to keep the audience’s attention, but also to have enough going on that there’s good reason to come back and see it again.  Because I was still celebrating my birthday I got called up by Kiume to introduce my section and demonstrate my elephant trumpet.  I asked him if I could try on his gauntlets, but he declined.  It’s a completely beautiful and mesmerizing show – in fact, I feel that second only to the Safari this is the must see attraction in Animal Kingdom.

For our final stop we walked through the Tree of Life admiring the carvings – I always find it fun to rediscover them each time I visit.  If it were up to me the tree would be the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.  It’s one of the most remarkably Imagineered objects in any Disney theme park.  The effort and detail of the design is something that has always fascinated me.  Where else can you see an Ankylosaur hanging with a Pelican.

The trail through the Tree of Life ends at It’s Tough to be a Bug.  For this 3D movie you wear “goggles” that make you honorary bug.  This allows for the show’s host Flik to take you into the world of bugs and show you a few of his friends.  It’s a very entertaining to look at things from the perspective of a bug, and the personification of the bugs is fantastic.  My favorite is Chili  the tarantula who is voiced by Cheech Marin.  His purported ability to never miss combined with his constantly missing his target, and the comedic timing of the character makes me love this show every time I see it.  Like most who have seen the show before, I know enough to lean forward at the end.

At this point we finished up our time in Animal Kingdom with some shopping, and then we headed out of the park to check in at our resort.  Overall, I like that Animal Kingdom really does a great job with keeping a diverse group like my family occupied and happy at all times.  My brother got in his favorite attraction in the park, and got to try out 3 attractions that he’d never done before.  My parents got their Safari and show.  And Cheryl and I got to enjoy all or most of it (she doesn’t ride Everest).  It was a really great day.

What about you? What’s traveling with your family like?  What are your and their favorite rides and attractions?  Do you like what Animal Kingdom has to offer you?  Your family?  What do you like best about Animal Kingdom?  Worst?  I’ll see you at the Mandir Pagoda.

Better Attraction Pages

by on November 17, 2010

We’ve recently been working hard to improve our attraction pages. Firstly, we’ve updated the content and are putting in much better infrastructure to keep the data as updated as possible. Stale data, in guidebooks and websites, is the enemy — and we’d love to have you help us fight it. If you notice anything stale or inaccurate, please let us know.

Secondly, we’re trying to put more crowd-stuff into the attraction pages. For our subscribers, we’ve added the current wait times (if the park is closed, we tell you that too), and for shows, we’ve added today’s showtimes. We’ve also included links to the Touring Plans that each attraction is listed in. Expect more coming on this front.

Lastly — and this is the thing I’ve had the most fun with — we’ve started to connect a lot of the structured data in our attractions database. For example, if you scroll down to the Touring Tips section of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad page, you’ll see that a lot of things now include links where they didn’t before. If you click on FASTPASS, you’ll see a list of all the FASTPASS attractions in the Magic Kingdom. If you click on the 40″ inches height requirement, you’ll see a list of all the height requirements in MK. Same goes for which attractions have Physical Considerations and which we rate as Not To Be Missed. All these lists exist for the other parks as well, and should stay protected from the “staleness curse” as they are automatically generated.

We’re excited to keep building out these attraction pages, and are eager to hear what you think of them! What else would you like to see?

UPDATE: You can now see a list of all the categories by going to the main Attractions page for each park (like the Magic Kingdom attractions page) and scrolling to the bottom.