Archive for January, 2011

We Came. We Saw. We Cheered. (Part 2)

by on January 27, 2011

You may recall where the story left off, but just in case let me help you out a bit.  In 2010 I went to cheer for friends running the Half Marathon.  It was a fantastic adventure, and I had a blast.  So much so, that not only did I promise to do it again in 2011 – I also started running myself.  The event was inspiring on so many levels.  This time around my wife, Cheryl, decided to get us a room at the Wilderness Lodge Villas.  For the Half Marathon, I spent time cheering for my awesome friends Lindsay and Jackie.  And, after finishing they asked to come with me to cheer for the Full Marathon.  Who am I to say no?

That night after dinner at Whispering Canyon it was time to get to bed – you have to be up at the same time for the Full Marathon as for the Half.  Our friend JL stayed in the room with us on the pull out couch that DVC studio rooms have – she was going to be joining me to cheer in the morning also.  Cheryl’s plan was to catch up with us later.  I laid out everything I’d need in the morning, primed the coffee maker, etc.  I set an alarm for me, another for JL, and then I went to sleep.

Now, when your sleep patterns are as odd as mine you end up with a certain degree of equally odd abilities.  Almost super powers if you will.  One is the ability to be up, but not be quite awake.  So when JL’s alarm  went off, I popped out of bed, started the coffee maker, did a few other small things including making sure JL was up, and then I climbed back in bed.  JL said to me, “But you’re already awake.”  And I responded, “No I’m not.”  Seconds later I was completely asleep until my own alarm went off.

As soon as my alarm went off, I was up and moving – this time completely awake.  I toasted some bagels for us, and then got ready to head out the door.  Once we had eaten and were ready to go, I poured my coffee and we were on our way to the 3am bus once again.  It’s important to note that these are special buses for the Marathon only, and as such they were waiting in front of the main entrance to the Lodge where the Magical Express bus picks up and drops off.  Once again I was the only one on the bus with a cup of coffee, but this time there were other non-runners going to cheer.

When we got to Epcot the first order of business was that JL needed to use the bathroom.  I warned her up front that her only option was the port-a-potties.  Strategically placing myself upwind, I waited until she was done.  It was at this point Nicole breezed by me, also potty bound.  About this time I received a text from Lindsay and told her we’d meet her and Jackie by the Race Retreat in a few.  I rounded up NDM#1 and TS#1 (Team Siscaretti) and we headed over.

Nicole was in fantastic spirits before the race.  Suddenly I got a text message.  I counted, and everyone I was expecting to be with me was there.  Odd.  So I looked at who it was from and smiled, it was another great friend Shalon.  She had woken up early and driven from home as I had in 2010, to come out, run around with us and cheer.  It was completely awesome to have four great friends to come out and do this with me.

We spent our pre-race time just talking and hopping around to keep warm – it was a bit colder than it had been the prior morning for the Half Marathon.  And then it was time to see Nicole off.  She gave me her sweats and some other stuff to hold that she’d want for after the Marathon we all gave her hugs and best wishes, and then waved as she headed off to her coral.  It was time for us to get into position ourselves.

We headed over to Epcot Center Drive as I had the prior day, and I immediately noticed a difference.  There were much more spectators for the Full Marathon then for the Half.  Instead of the fence being packed only 1 or 2 deep, it was as much as 5 or 6 deep in spots.  As I had indicated in a prior post, this spot was both for mile 0 and mile 4 viewing.  I managed to find a spot where we were fairly close to the fence.

Now in 2010 I got real lucky to spot Katie and Ed at mile 0 thanks to Ed’s bright orange hat.  However, I had missed Jackie and Lindsay at the same point the prior day.  I was really hoping that Nicole’s pink & leopard look would be distinct enough, when suddenly something fortunate occurred – a white van parked on the median directly across from us.  I immediately texted Nicole to stay to the left and just after the van to jump around, wave, and scream.  It worked like a champ.  We saw her, and I’m pretty sure she saw us.  We screamed and cheered it was a ton of fun.

Then we had to wait for her to come back around for mile 4.  Unlike the Half where the runners head straight from mile 0 toward World Drive, for the Full the runners head back into Epcot and then back out again, this time on the near side of Epcot Center Drive.  By this time the van had moved, but we hadn’t.  I texted Nicole to stay left again, and we’d watch for her.  In the meantime we cheered for other runners as they passed by – it was a bit too dark to read names off bibs, so we just cheered occasionally making names up.

Slowly we made our way up to the fence as other spectators left after seeing their runners.  Suddenly, Nicole came running by and I went to take a picture, but another spectator bumped my arm messing up the shot.  The ladies headed off almost immediately to go get warm, however the guy who bumped me apologized and said he got a good shot of Nicole.  I gave him my email address and phone number, but sadly never received the picture.  Still holding out that I might get it, you never know.

I caught up with everyone else in the merchandise tent, they were buying some hand warmers.  You’re supposed to shake these things for about a 15 seconds and then they get warm.  They do work, but they take a lot more coaxing than the directions imply.  So, about 10 minutes later, and with some help from the event staff everyone had stuffed some of these into their shoes and pockets.

This was followed by a quick stop at the breakfast stand, which ultimately proved to be our undoing.  No seriously.  Jackie had purchased some blueberry muffins which she was planning to eat on the monorail on the way to the TTC.  However, we all needed to make a pit stop, and that was not going to happen at the port-a-potties.  Real bathrooms were in order, so we headed over to the ones outside the Epcot gate.

Now no one was at the security station, so we all walked right through and started to make our way to the bathrooms.  We were about halfway there when a slightly over-zealous security guard intercepted us.  The conversation went something like this (please use the voice of Doctor Doom for Security-man):

Security-man: “Hey kids, where you going?”
Us: “To the bathroom.”
Security-man: “Oh no you’re not.”
Us: “Whuh?!?!?!?”
Security-man: “You have to get your bags checked.”
Us: “Whuh?!?!?!? But there was no one at Security.”
Security-man: “You still need to get them checked before entering the park.”
Us: “We’re not entering the park. It’s not even opened for another hour. We just want to use the bathrooms.”
Security-man: “You need to go to that guy over there and get your bags checked first,” as he points off in the distance at another guard.
Us: <insert collective sigh here>

So we all trudge over to the other security guard.  Well okay most of us.  At this point JL, using some amazing ninja stealth skills, waits until Security-man’s back was turned and then made a mad dash for the restroom – followed by Lindsay and Shalon.  Jackie, her blueberry muffins, and I however reach the other guard, who proceeds to reach for the muffins thinking they’re for him.  Jackie deftly deflected his hands, while I held out my bag:

Hungry-guard: “Whuh?!?!?!?” *tummy-grumble*
Me: “You have to check our bags.”
Hungry-guard: “Whuh?!?!?!?” *tummy-rumble*
Me: Pointing at Security-man, “That guy over there says you’re supposed to check our bags.”
Hungry-guard: “You’re kidding right?”
Jackie: “No sir.”
Hungry-guard: <insert sigh here>*tummy-echo*

Hungry-guard takes two fingers, and proceeds to quickly open and close my bag.  He then does the same for Jackie and waves us along.  At a complete loss as to where everyone else is, Jackie and I head to the bathrooms unimpeded.  Finally, after all getting in our pit stop and warming up a bit, we regroup.  After determining that the only truly suspicious thing about us are the blueberry muffins, we board the monorail and head to the TTC.

At this point it’s daybreak, and I kind of realize that we’re a bit behind.  The group is cold, and tired, and a little bit cranky – though we’re all having fun.  While swapping at the TTC we take in music from the bands stationed here, and spend a couple of minutes eyeing runners as they pass by.  It’s a pretty neat location to watch the runners from, and it gives us a bit of a pickup to briefly watch.  Then we hopped on the Express Monorail.

We arrive at Magic Kingdom, and head in to hook up with the WDW Radio group on Main Street USA.  About this time I get the text for Nicole at the 10 mile marker.  She’s real close.  Unfortunately, I discovered real quick that the text came too late to be of much use.  Nicole texts me that she’s already past the Main Street and on her way to the Castle.  I was a bit bummed about this, but two things turned my spirits a bit.

First was that I discovered that StudiosCentral.com blogger Shane had been there on Main Street.  And to top that off, he had made this truly awesome sign for Nicole, Len, and Deanna.  He and I talked a bit, and he said he and his sign were headed to Hollywood Studios (his favorite park).  We formulated a plan.  Having not cheered for the Full Marathon before, I really had no idea how long it would take for Nicole to get back to Epcot.  So, Shane would help with that.  He’d text me as he spotted each runner in the Studios.  This really helped a lot.  I also texted Nicole to look out for the sign when she got there.

Everyone else was getting warmed up inside the Emporium.  However, I waited out on Main Street.  I had another really good friend who was running that day, and while I had missed Nicole on Main Street, I wasn’t going to miss her too.  To pass the time while waiting I cheered for random runners as they passed by.  I got to see Len pass by, as well as some team WDW Radio folks.  And then Megan came running with a big smile on her face.  She looked to be having fun.

Once Megan passed it was time to head back to Epcot.  All outbound traffic was being directed to the Resort Monorail, and it was packed.  We ended up on a car that was standing room only.  The monorail got detained for a bit inside the Contemporary, and then we noticed something quite odd.  Packed in with us were two strollers.  However there was only one baby in the entire monorail car.  One of the strollers contained only a stuffed Buzz Lightyear, and it was under the control of a clean cut gentleman.  We would later come to realize that this was the world famous superhero Stroller-man and his sidekick Buzz.  Clearly they were on their way to do battle with Security-man and Hungry-guard (“Curse you kids and your blueberry muffins!” *shakesfist*).

We arrived at the TTC and headed down the ramp to switch to the Epcot Monorail, but something caught our eye.  There was this woman who was apparently really into the marathon.  She was decked out in a runners ensemble and jogging down the ramp and then up the Epcot ramp with us.  We really didn’t think anything of it until we got to Epcot, and we saw that she had on a Marathon bib.  Lindsay immediately jumped into action, having apparently gone to ninja school with JL, and began to follow the runner.  From some pics, we learned that her name was Annette and got her bib number.  We made sure that the Internet knew all about her as she clearly looked to be trying to find a way back into the race.

Heading in to Epcot we decided to ride Spaceship Earth both for the nap factor and to warm up some.  Afterward, at the request of JL, we went to The Land and rode Living with the Land.  Deciding it was time to pick a spot to wait for our runners, we agreed to head to a location we had seen after exiting Spaceship Earth just outside the exit, across from Guest Relations.  This was a fun little spot to hang out and cheer, and we sat with an AllEars.net cheer group.  From what I could tell this was about Mile 25.2.

It was here that Cheryl met up with us to watch our friends finish out the Marathon.  John and Charles also met up with us.  From various points along this small stretch – we had spread out some – we were all there waiting for Nicole to come by, and thanks to Shane I knew she was coming.  We spent time shouting and cheering for the runners, congratulating them all as they ran by, encouraging them that their journey was nearing an end.  As I said previously, cheering is something the runners really need along the course – it helps to pull them along.

And then, like the bedazzled pink wonder that she always is, Nicole came running by.  She was in amazing spirits, and as you can tell from this video (taken by John), even after 25 miles she was all smiles and excitement: Nicole Running

After Nicole passed we all regrouped and waited for Megan to come by.  She too was in really good spirits.  And then our time cheering was done.  Though my friends were all headed to lunch, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so Cheryl and I went back to my room at the Wilderness Lodge and collapsed for a few hours before dinner.

For dinner Cheryl, Betsy, and I went to 1900 Park Fare and had a nice relaxing meal.  I like this character meal, but I sort of always feel that the “July 4th” meal approach to the food doesn’t really match the characters presented – the theming is just off.  Perhaps a change to something a bit more regal to go along with Cinderella and Prince Charming is in order here.

After dinner, the three of us headed over to Casey’s Corner for a TouringPlans.com post-Marathon meetup hosted by Len.  Afterward the group split up between watching Wishes and going to the Hall of Presidents to cheer for Millard Fillmore followed by Country Bear Jamboree.

Allow me to take a moment to congratulate both Megan and Nicole on their accomplishment.  You’re both really fantastic friends, and I’m really very proud and honored to know you both.  You are both inspirations for me.

I also want to take a moment to congratulate fellow TouringPlans.com team member Dave on completing the Goofy Challenge.  From watching his times, I determined that he is clearly part gazelle and part cheetah.  Amazing job.

Here are the times for the runners I tracked for the Full Marathon:

  • Nicole – Time: 06:19:08 – Pace: 14:27
  • Megan – Time: 07:09:27 – Pace: 16:22
  • Dave – Time: 03:55:12 – Pace: 8:58 (Wow!)
  • Len – Time: 05:31:18 – Pace: 12:38
  • Deanna –  Time: 05:10:13 – Pace: 11:49

And again a congratulation to all runners.  You are all amazing.  Well except for you Annette.

What about you? Did you run in the 2011 Full Marathon?  Did you cheer for a runner?  Have you run in the past?  Do you plan to run in the future?  Are you going to try for the Goofy in 2012?  Run, run as fast as you can…

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WDW Today Episode 830 – Listener Questions

by on January 26, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 830 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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Aloha from the Kona Cafe

by on January 26, 2011

One of my favorite off the radar restaurants in Walt Disney World is the Kona Cafe.  This eatery is one of the most overlooked restaurants at Walt Disney World.  While its neighbor, O’hana, always proves to

Photo by AJ of DisneyFoodBlog.com

have a huge wait even for those who have made their Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) months in advance.  But, many times guests an easily snag an ADR only a few days in advance or even (gasp!) walk up to the podium and be seated relatively quickly.  I’m not sure why Kona does not see more traffic.  Perhaps it is because there are no characters visiting tables and it is not in a park.  But, one of the features of the Kona I love is the ease of getting there.  With its location in the Polynesian resort the Kona Cafe is just a short monorail or ferry ride away from the Magic Kingdom an other area resorts.  I find taking a break from the Magic Kingdom to head over the the Polynesian for a quiet meal is a great way to recharge my park batteries.

Tonga Toast photo by Scarlett Litton

Breakfast is great at the Kona Cafe.  If you have a sweet tooth try the Tonga Toast.  This dish has its own cult following among Disney fans as one of those must have meals while on vacation at WDW.  If you think this is your average French toast, you are woefully mistaken; it consists of a huge piece of sourdough bread stuffed with bananas, fried, and then rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture.  I love Tonga Toast, but my tummy can’t always it.  I ate breakfast at Kona Cafe three times on my last trip and only mustered up the appetite for this fan favorite once.  If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea other selections like the Somoan (a poached egg served over smoked pork hash and Hollandaise sauce) or the Big Kahuna (a sampling of breakfast foods) will be more up your alley.  The restaurant also offers standard breakfast options for those with a less adventurous palate.

While the food is fantastic in the morning hours at the Kona Cafe the real star of the show may be the real Kona coffee

The Big Kahuna photo by Scarlett Litton

served here.  As many folks who travel to Walt Disney World on a regular basis can tell you the coffee throughout property is often awful.  However, at the Kona Cafe the standard brewed coffee provided is a Kona blend which truly made me happy on those chilly December mornings on my last trip.  Guests can also opt to order a French press pot of pure Kona coffee for about $7.50 if they are coffee connoisseurs.  Between the stellar java options and the yummy food I can’t recommend the Kona Cafe for breakfast enough!

Kona Cafe seating area photo by AJ of DisneyFoodBlog.com

Lunch is also very tasty at this hidden gem restaurant.  I most recently dined here in December when we walked up with at least 10 people.  We only had to wait a short time before being seated and treated to lovely service by a very sweet cast member.  We were all starving so appetizers were ordered including the sticky wings which I sampled.  This platter is meant for two people, but if people in your party only want to have a few chicken wings you could certainly split it among a few people.  These scrumptious morsels could also just be ordered as your meal (they are that good).

For my entree I opted for the Asian noodle bowl which consists of a spiced broth, an assortment of fresh veggies, and bits of strip steak served with rice noodles.  On a chilly day when my stomach was a little off from days of vacation eating and drinking, it was the perfect choice.  Not only was this dish really yummy, but it felt light yet filling.  I would certainly order it again.  Other folks at my table also enjoyed the fish tacos, the island chicken sandwich, and others.  I look forward to heading to here for a leisurely afternoon meal again.

I am yet to try dinner at the Kona Cafe, but I have heard great things and I can’t wait to give

Potstickers Photo by AJ of DisneyFoodBlog.com

it a shot myself.  Appetizers at dinner time include those fantastic sticky wings, potstickers, and shrimp and coconut curry soup (among other yummy sounding options).  Sounds good right?  I’ve heard good things about the strip steak entree and several of the other options like pomegranate barbecue pork chops and tuna oscar also sound tempting.  The island themed fare continues with desserts like pineapple upside down cake and a Kilauea torte.  There is even a prix fixe menu available in the evenings offering guests a choice of selected appetizers, entrees, and desserts.   If you can’t get an ADR for O’hana’s dinner service, but still have a hankering for an island accented meal (perhaps a drink with an umbrella in it?)  give Kona a try as a great alternative.

As you can tell I really enjoy the Kona Cafe; I highly recommend this restaurant any time of day.  Another great tidbit about Kona,  guests can check out an area just outside the main dining area which serves coffee (the Kona blend) and pastries in the morning and is converted into a sushi bar later in the day.  I’ve heard guests rave about the high quality meals they’ve had at the sushi bar, but I am yet to try it myself since sushi isn’t really my thing.

What about you?  Do you love the Kona Cafe as much as I do? Or maybe you’ve had a lousy experience there?  Either way I’d love to hear all about it!

Next week I’ll keep up the Polynesian theme and discuss my recent stay there!

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Disney Guest Assistance Card & A Fabulous Vacation

by on January 25, 2011

               

 One of the things that made Disney’s Marathon Weekend so special for me was the arrival of my mother and cousin, Susie, later that day.  Susie now lives in Mississippi so I don’t get to see her very often. She hasn’t been to Walt Disney World since she was a small child.  My mother was the mastermind behind this trip.  We have been trying to coordinate it since last summer and this was the weekend it finally worked.  

                My cousin, Susie, is handicapped and blessing beyond blessing, I got to see Disney World through her eyes – like I never had before.   

                We started our journey by trying to decide what type of ticket they would need.  We were beginning this adventure Saturday and checking out Tuesday.  As an Annual Passholder, you take for granted that you can go in and out of the parks on a whim.  Not so for folks purchasing tickets.  We decided on a 2 Day Hopper.  That way we could see all 4 parks.

                As long as I’ve known Susie (my entire life), I have never met anyone that loves a gift shop more.  Anything you want to know about the gift shops on property – just ask.  I can tell you what merchandise is where, what is new & what is on the way out.  Susie chose a lovely array of souvenirs purchased all over Disney World property.  This may have been the highlight of her trip.

                Knowing that standing in long lines wasn’t an option for her, I went to Guest Services at Animal Kingdom, the first park we visited, and explained the circumstances. They gave me a Guest Assistance Card.  I was instructed to show it to the first cast member that I encountered at each attraction.  This card is a huge blessing.  I am so thankful that Disney offers this to guests that need assistance.  We were able to experience everything we wanted to see.  Without this card it would have been an entirely different trip.

                Susie really wanted to go on Splash Mountain and unfortunately it was being refurbed. She thought Disney should give her money back, but really her tour guide – moi –should have known. She was fine with it.  We’ll definitely have to take another trip down so she can go on one of my favorite attractions.

                Other than the gift shops, her favorite attractions were Toy Story Mid-Way Mania & American Idol Experience.  We saw the last regular show and then exited and reentered to see the finale show.  She got a kick out of it.  We were all groovin’ in our seats having a big time.

                I know Susie and my mom had a great time. I am honored to have been their tour guide.  I’ll do better next time and pay attention to the refurbs.            

               I’d love to hear about your experience.  You can follow me on Twitter @Caroline251

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WDW Today Episode 829 – Wild Africa Trek

by on January 24, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 829 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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Changes To February Park Hours And Schedules

by on January 24, 2011

Changes to Walt Disney World park schedules and park hours in February

  • Studios park hours extended (Feb 3, 6, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 27)
  • Fantasmic! shows added (Feb 3, 6, 9, 13, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24)
  • Magic Kingdom hours extended (Feb 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26)
  • Main Street Electrical Light Parade performances added (Feb 12, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26)
  • Animal Kingdom hours extended (Feb 19, 20, 21, 22, 23)

When we see a lot of changes to park schedules this close to the dates it tells us that crowds may be higher than originally thought. We have become accustomed to Disney changing its park hours recently so we were prepared – a little bit.  However, when Fantasmic shows and parades are added and park hours are extended it can cause a lot of changes to the crowd calendar. What may have been a good park to visit before now might be outweighed by a better option.

Our daily park recommendations are relative to the days around it so even if park hours and schedules did not change for your travel dates the crowd levels and recommendations may have been affected.

What do I do if something has changed during my dates?

We recommend thinking about the following before changing your plans:

  1. It may be more difficult to rebook your Dining reservations than to deal with increased crowds. If you have the Dining reservations you wanted, consider keeping them and adjusting your park touring where needed.
  2. A Touring Plan is the number ONE best way to beat crowds – no matter the day. Use it as your best insurance against surprise crowds.
  3. Use Lines while you are in the parks to see how crowds are building at the attractions.

It is an ongoing philosophical debate here at TouringPlans.com about how and when to update our crowd predictions. We recognize the need to plan ahead but we also need to respect the value of accurate predictions. When we update the calendar we are doing it because something has changed significantly enough to warrant doing so. We feel that the need for our readers to be prepared outweighs the frustration about having to change travel plans.

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WDW News Recap: Seven Dwarfs In. Princesses Out.

by on January 22, 2011

This is a guest post by Aaron Johnston of Disney Report – The latest Disney news from the World, Land, and Studios. You can also follow D-Report on Twitter.

Huge news from the Magic Kingdom press event this week as WDI officially cuts interactive princess meet-n-greet areas for a Seven Dwarf’s theme mine cart coaster and fleshes out Dumbo Circusland area. Jim Hill brings you the details…

…the official Disney blog has released a behind-the-scenes look at Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

The surpise hit of Tuesday’s presser was the new Cinderella Castle vid projection show Magic, Memories, and You. Digital mapping techniques and high definition projectors bring the castle architecture to life with intricate designs and vacationer-submitted pics. An emotional, soaring soundtrack only adds to the experience. Check out the show vid…

To coincide with the new Memories promotion campaign, new promo decor has appeared in the Magic Kingdom entrance area. Framed pics, strobe lights, and a large banner offer a not-so-subtle command to go and make memories! Continuing through MK, rumblings in Adventureland suggest a revamped Pirata y el Perico coming this spring to tie into a certain Pirate attraction next door…

In somewhat unfortunate news, lapbars have been added to Splash Mountain logs. While offering a more cumbersome ride experience, this should prevent Brer Bear and Fox from causing trouble up the river when someone attempts to leave their log mid-ride…

Across the Rivers of America, Insights and Sounds suggests the infamous Hitchhiking ghosts at the Haunted Mansion finale may be integrated into upcoming ‘next-generation’ queue changes…

Down World Drive, Epcot is ushering in spring early with colorful landscaping appearing throughout the park…

Imagineering Disney looks at the refreshingly few changes in Epcot’s World Showcase over the years. Too bad the same can’t be said for a visually cluttered, lacking Future World…

As expected, WDW officially confirms an opening date for the completely revamped, 3D injected Star Tours attraction coming to the Hollywood Studios this spring…

Lots of news on the Disney Cruise Line front this week with the new Dream ship being officially christened

…take a 360-degree tour of various ship areas along with a ride on the Aquaduck, the ships highly-touted water coaster…

…also, check out the latest image stills from Dream’s Broadway-esque stage shows.

Finally, Jack Spence from Allears.net takes a look at an early WDW resort publication. Can you imagine WDW allowing advertisements for area attractions in their resorts today?

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Foto Fridays – Want a Fresh Take When Touring? Try a “Prime Day”

by on January 21, 2011

When you’ve gotten to the point that you’ve visited Walt Disney World ten or more times, you might start to look for new ways to tour the parks. Of course, you still want to tour as efficiently as possible and avoid the crowds, but you’re looking for new experiences or ways to keep the parks fresh to you. I think WDW veterans do this in a variety of ways: visiting during various seasons or festivals, trying new dining experiences, or even by taking a dip into the Seas. One way for me to do this has been through photography.

Fancy Chandelier Photo by Benjamin Stitzer

Prior to taking up photography, I had been on trips roughly once per year since my first trip in utero in 1984 (somewhat surprisingly, I remember very little about this trip). As the frequency of these trips began to increase, I looked for ways to enhance my experience by trying new things. I quickly found that Walt Disney World has so much to offer beyond the attractions, and I began to explore these other offerings. Unfortunately, some of these offerings are cost-prohibitive. Almost all of them are unduly time consuming (making an efficient touring plan doubly important). Photography was neither cost-prohibitive nor unduly time consuming, plus it gave me a new eye for the parks and allowed me to capture family moments on the trip, so it became the logical choice for me to expand my horizons at Walt Disney World.

Welcome to Candy Lane GardenPhoto by Paul Gowder

Recently, a group of amateur Disney photographers assembled by WDWPhotography.com held a photography gathering at Walt Disney World, and one of the events, “Prime Lens Day,” really embodied this concept of touring the parks with a different “eye.” The idea behind this event was to take a fixed focal length lens (one that doesn’t “zoom”) and using only that lens all day to photograph the parks. The goal is that by using a lens that doesn’t zoom, you will “zoom with your feet” more, exploring your surroundings to find details in the parks that make for stunning photos. It may not sound like it makes a substantial difference in the way you see the parks, but believe me, after a few hours with only a prime lens on your camera, you will notice that you see details of the parks that you’ve never seen before. In fact, I would not be surprised if, as you look at the shots that accompany this post, you think to yourself, “I’ve never noticed that.”

NutcrackerPhoto by Larry White

The group began their day, braving the frigid temperatures, in EPCOT, making their way over to the World Showcase. Although I have no scientific evidence to support this theory, it’s my personal belief that World Showcase and Animal Kingdom are the absolute best locations to photograph details. After a few hours in World Showcase, they headed back towards Future World, boarding a monorail for the Magic Kingdom, where they concluded their Prime Day event. While a lot of participants initially expressed some fear over only using one lens for such a long period of time (the thought of it scares me!), everyone indicated that it was a fun challenge, and that they really learned a lot from the event–both about various details of the parks and about composing good images.

Epcot [Explore]Photo by Ryan Pastorino

After seeing some of the results from the day (which illustrate this post), I am fully convinced this event would prove beneficial to anyone looking for a new touring experience in the parks. Much like the Keys to the Kingdom or Behind the Seeds tours, you will undoubtedly learn some new things about the parks, and hopefully see them in a new light. Unlike the Keys to the Kingdom tour, you won’t break the bank. (While it’s ideal to have at least the cheap 50mm lens, which costs less than $100, for this, it’s not required; if all you have is a point and shoot, dedicate yourself to not touching the zoom knob at all for the day.)

The GuardiansPhoto by Katie Marino

As part of the event, participants submitted their favorite shot for a chance to win prizes from TouringPlans.com. Our staff was torn over the entries (there definitely is no “Simon Cowell” on our staff) but ultimately chose Andreea Radu as the first place winner. Congratulations, Andreeau, and thanks to our friends over at WDWPhotography.com for allowing us to sponsor this event. If you’re at all interested in getting a new take on the parks through photography, I encourage you to head over to WDWPhotography.com for more information (their site re-launches with all new content and features on Monday).

Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow :)The winning photo, by Andreea Radu

Seeing things through the 50mm “eye” of the camera, even for only a couple hours, will lead you to see the parks in a new way. After after your time with the prime is up, you will find yourself noticing previously unseen details, as you’ve trained your real eye to look for these things. Much like the scene in Beauty and the Beast where the kitchen comes alive in preparation of dinner, the park will come alive with all of the hidden little “Disney Details” you previously overlooked. It will give you a new experience when touring the parks, and best of all, it won’t interfere with your touring plans!

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/katie_marino/5323216763/” title=”The Guardians by Katie Marino, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5087/5323216763_bebfbab34a.jpg” width=”333″ height=”500″ alt=”The Guardians” /></a>
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WDW Today Episode 828 – Attraction Tweaks

by on January 21, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 828 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 #49 – Epic Mickey

by on January 21, 2011

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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