Archive for January, 2011

WDW Today Episode 827 – Listener Questions

by on January 19, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 827 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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Disney’s Marathon Weekend, Race Retreat — Let’s Do It Again

by on January 18, 2011

Once again I had a major life moment at Disney World — along with about 50,000 other people.

I drove in the evening before the half marathon, which turned out to work really well.   I arrived Friday evening and joined some of my friends for dinner at Beaches & Cream.   This was a perfect way to take the edge off the nerves with laughter and French fries.

  I paid extra for the Runners Retreat. That was money well spent.  At 3:00 AM the Runners Retreat opened.   The Runners Retreat is a heated tent with food, beverages, tables and chairs, Disney characters & stretching area. Other than running 13.1 miles, and getting up in the middle of the night, the hardest part of Disney races is the hours of standing around before the race.   I sat in the Runners Retreat until they made us leave to go get in our corrals.

After I had crossed the finish line and hung my precious Donald Duck medal around my neck, chatted with my stud muffin friends Laurel (who finished the race almost an hour before me and turned around the next day and ran the Marathon. Wow! ) and Len (who ran the Marathon) I headed back to the Runners Retreat.  A hot breakfast buffet was available along with a variety of beverages.  It was delicious.  I don’t even eat sausage and I loved the sausage. You could also pay $1 per minute for a massage. The line was too long so I didn’t get one.  I loved the Runners Retreat and will do it again. I’ll start saving now for next year.

The January half marathon course is the same as the Princess with one big difference.  You run longer in the dark during January Marathon Weekend.  Our race began at 5:30 AM.  It was a good hour before the sun came up.

I wasn’t part of a team and I really wish that I was.  After 3 half marathons I have realized the camaraderie & encouragement among the runners is what makes these endurance events fun.  I loved Marathon Weekend.  All the finishers wore their medals around for days after the races.  We’d pass each other and say, “Congratulations,” or just give the knowing smile.  Running bonds people.

What a thrill it was to accomplish a goal that I never dreamed I could accomplish in the place I love so much.  I almost didn’t register for Marathon Weekend.  I am so glad I did.   The spirit that runs through Disney World during Marathon Weekend is just a little different & very special – not just for the runners, but for the people that cheered from the sidelines. It was a victory for all.

I would love to hear about your experience.

You can follow me on Twitter @Caroline251

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New Experiences – Buena Vista Palace and Pixar Pals

by on January 17, 2011

Despite the snow and ice, my family was able to pack up and leave Atlanta this weekend to enjoy a few days at Walt Disney World.  Because of the weather, we had to switch plans, and that led us to try something new at the World.

Although we have been down frequently in years past, most of the time we stay on property in a Value or sometimes a Moderate resort.   Sometimes, if we’re trying to really save money, we’ll stay at a hotel on 192, and we had booked one for this trip.  However, due to the weather, we weren’t sure we were going to make it.  So Thursday morning I made the sad call to cancel our hotel reservation.

That turned out to be a good thing, though, because as things cleared up I was able to look for a new room and find a great deal.  Looking on Expedia, I found a great rate at the Buena Vista Palace in Downtown Disney.  For only $79 a night, I could stay in this hotel across the street from Downtown Disney, plus get a $25 a day room credit.  Not only that, but my two children ate for free in the hotel restaurant.  For that price, it was a no-brainer.  How was it?

I have to say the rooms in the Buena Vista Palace are fantastic.  Our room had two double beds, a fridge and safe, a bathroom with a separated sink, a balcony, an office style desk, sitting area and a nice flat screen TV.  The real glory of these rooms are the beds, though.

Each bed had a nice pillow top mattress with fluffy down comforters.  After a long day walking the parks it was heavenly to fall into one of these beds.  In fact, they felt so good that we turned off the alarm and missed rope drop at Epcot on our second day there.  That’s something this TouringPlans.com family never does.

Where the resort failed a little though was in the little things.  Saturday night I came back to the room excited to watch the NFL Playoffs on the flatscreen TV, only to turn it on and get horrid reception.  It was worse than rabbit ears, no lie.  Then, the next morning, we went to the hotel buffet for breakfast, because the kids ate free.  As it turned out, there was a character breakfast that ran every Sunday, so we agreed to go.  After all, we had that room credit to spend!

The food was good, but really on par with your average Disney buffet.  The price was on par as well, at $22 per adult.  It ate up our credit entirely, but would be a steal if we got to see all the characters.  However, only Pluto made it to our table before we finished eating.  Pluto was fabulous, hugging and kissing the kids as well as giving high fives.  But if you pay for Pluto, Goofy and Minnie, but only Pluto shows up, you get a little miffed.  Not to mention that our waiter disappeared when it was time to get our check and hurry to our theme park destination.

All that said, I would still recommend the Buena Vista Paace for families looking to save a little money.  The beds will help everyone rest better than some of the threadbare Disney sheets, and the rates are quite affordable.  The rooms are very nice and worth minor hassles like I described.

The other new experience I got to have came Sunday afternoon, when I met up with the crew from StudiosCentral.com for the debut of the Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade.  Everyone was so excited waiting for the parade as the famed Citizens of Hollywood street performers entertained the crowd.

To be honest, that was the best part of the show.  When the parade started, I had high hopes.  After all, I have loved Block Party Bash since I first saw it years ago at Disney’s California Adventure.  I know Block Party Bash.  I saw Block Party Bash.  You, Pixar Pals, are no Block Party Bash.

Now, I’m not entirely down on Pixar Pals.  I had my kids with me at the parade, and they really enjoyed the parade.  Seeing all the characters from their favorite Pixar films was a treat.  The music, a Disney version of “I Don’t Want To Work,” was also fun for dancing to on the street.

The problem is that the parade is too short.  One of the people near me timed it out at only 8 minutes long.  That’s not the worst thing in the world when you’re trying to get some park touring done, but it’s definitely not the right length for a parade experience.  That’s the big difference – Block Party Bash was an experience, while Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun is an amusing distraction.

Both Buena Vista Palace and the Pixar Pals Parade were new experiences for me at Walt Disney World.  I have been often enough that it’s always hard for me to find new things, so both were welcome additions to the trip, despite any issues I might have had.

What about you?  Have you experienced some new things on a recent trip?  Were they good, bad or ugly?

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WDW Today Episode 826 – First Time Dining

by on January 17, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 826 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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Disney News Recap (week of 1/10/11)

by on January 16, 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 following D-Report on Twitter.

Disney News Recap (week of 1/10/11)

A big story out of WDW this week centers around the much maligned Enchanted Tiki Room attraction at Magic Kingdom. Earlier this week, fire damaged key elements of the attraction. Because of it’s unpopularity, some are questioning if WDW will take the time to correct the many of the shortcomings of this once classic attraction…

…also, many minor construction projects continue around the Magic Kingdom including a new Adventureland bridge and the beginning of facade work on the upcoming Little Mermaid attraction.

…a press event is scheduled for 1/18 for the announcement of Fantasyland expansion changes and 2011 Let the Memories Begin park promotion elements.

At Hollywood Studios, a rehashed, slightly dumbed-down version of Block Party Bash passes for the recently debuted Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun day parade…

…Tower of Terror also continues to undergo a facade refurb along with minor meet-n-greet construction projects around the park.

Wild Animal Trek is the first semi-major thing to happen at Animal Kingdom since Expedition Everest. An up-charge private tour, Wild Animal Trek combines an extreme trek through the African plains and an extended tour, viewing of the savannah. Check out the extensive pics, vids available from the media preview tours…

Across town, Universal’s Wizarding World continues to remake the Orlando theme park landscape. The Orlando Sentinel says Potter will likely remain the major Orlando draw for 2011 while the New York Times comments on WDW’s lack of a counter punch to Universal’s new found success…

…speaking of counter punches, the WDW Florida 4-day ticket returns, albeit slightly more expensive.

Finally, the Downtown Disney Hyperion Wharf makeover begins with the demolition of the old Pleasure Island night clubs…

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Foto Fridays – SpaceShip Earth Attraction Walthrough

by on January 14, 2011

Here at TouringPlans.com, we’re constantly striving to improve your experience when touring the parks. One fairly recent addition to facilitate higher quality guest experiences is attraction photo galleries. Our idea behind these galleries is to provide first-time visitors to the attraction with an idea of what they might expect from the attraction. In so doing, we want to provide a visual representation of whether the attraction might be too scary or dark for young children, have too dull of a queue for long waits in line (although if you’re following a touring plan and using our other resources, why would you be waiting in line?), or contain something else a guest might want to see before getting in line for the attraction. Alternatively, if you have visited the attraction before, the galleries (hopefully) provide nice photos to view!

SpaceShip Earth Non-HDR "HDR"

One of my favorite galleries thus far is of SpaceShip Earth.

EPCOT Center - SpaceShip Earth Fountain (Night)

As you see below, SpaceShip Earth doesn’t have much as far as exciting queues go. It’s pretty much just metal dividers. I suppose you could count the underside of the geosphere as eye-candy, in which case it’s a neat queue, but you can see this without getting in line for the attraction, so I don’t think it qualifies. About the only thing of interest in the queue is the painting to the right of the queue visible right as you enter the show building to board your time machine.

Our Amazing Journey Aboard Our Wide-Angle SpaceShip Earth

Once you enter the building, you almost immediately step onto a moving platform and enter a ride vehicle affectionately known as a “time machine.” Then, you begin your ascent into the history of communication, in almost complete dark, with the only light coming from your in-vehicle touch screen and a camera flash that captures your image for use during the descent. It is highly recommended that you make a funny face for this photo. Doing so will give the end of the ride marginal entertainment value.

EPCOT's SpaceShip Earth - Michelangelo Paints the Sistine Chapel

The darkness in the ascent is really the only potential issue in the attraction; that is, unless re-purposed Audio Animatronics of Presidents give you scary flashbacks of grade school history class.

Ultra Wide Angle SSE

The scenes that follow give vignettes of different eras and/or events in the history of communication. These scenes are typically well done and entertaining. Judi Dench provides a narrative that, while possibly ‘dumbed down’ from previous scripts by legends Walter Cronkite and Jeremy Irons, is fairly powerful.

Walt Disney World - EPCOT Center - SpaceShip Earth

Following these vignettes, the ride goes downhill. Both figuratively and literally. You will first be asked a series of questions regarding your dreams of the future.  Assuming you made the funny faces as previously advised, the interactive touch screen story that follows will be marginally entertaining. Hopefully, at least. If not don’t count on being entertained by what is happening outside of your time machine, as nothing there are no show scenes. All that surrounds the vehicle is chicken wire and triangles with glowing edges.

When the touch screen story concludes its prognostication of your future life, you exit the time rover in the same manner you entered it, onto a moving platform. Following that, the attraction unloads into “Project Tomorrow” an interactive game area that proves surprisingly entertaining. If you’ve pre-maturely written this off as silly kid’s games, I would advise you to re-consider. These games are actually quite entertaining.

So there you have it. A visual Cliff Notes of SpaceShip Earth. As we continue to undertake the project of adding galleries to each attraction in the coming weeks and months, we hope you’ll keep checking our attraction pages to see our progress.

The Dawn of a New Disney Era

Even if you’ve been on most attractions thousands of times, who knows, maybe you’ll click upon a gallery of an attraction you’ve never thought to visit, only to find from the pictures that it actually looks pretty interesting!

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WDW Today Episode 825 – Prelude To A Dream

by on January 14, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 825 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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We Came. We Saw. We Cheered. (Part 1)

by on January 13, 2011

It’s hard to believe that my interest in running is now officially more than one year old.  I’ve mentioned several times in my posts here at TouringPlans.com that, for me, it all started with cheering for Katie and Ed in the 2010 Walt Disney World Half Marathon.  In that post, which I made on my personal blog last year, I stated that I’d had so much fun running around chasing “my runners” that I was going to do it again this year for the 2011 Half Marathon.  And I stuck to that promise… with some additions and changes.

The first change in my experience from last year is that now I was committed enough to the event that my wife, Cheryl, and I stayed on property.  We booked a room at the Wilderness Lodge Villas using our Disney Vacation Club points.  There are certainly other resorts we could have stayed at, however the Lodge is our favorite resort on property, and we jump at any chance to stay there.  It’s warm, cozy atmosphere won our hearts long ago.

With Katie and Ed not running in this year’s Half Marathon, and my friend Kelly suffering an injury that prevents her from doing so as she had wanted to – I was in need of runners to cheer for.  In the past year I’ve made a lot of new friends, and along with some older ones I put together a slate of runners to cheer for:  Megan, Nicole, Lindsay, and Jackie.  The big difference here was that two were running in the Half and two in the Full.  This meant two days of cheering in a row.  I also chose to additionally track, but not specifically set out to see: Len, Deanna, Scopa, Dave, Tim, and Caroline.

As worked out ahead of time, Cheryl and I met up with Lindsay and Jackie on Friday at the AllEars meetup along with JL, Nicole, Betsy, Megan, and others.  It was just an easy point for us to meet up and start to coordinate our weekend plans including meals.  We all got to congratulate Betsy on her successful 5K earlier in the day.  She seemed to have had a real blast with it, and I was a bit jealous as I’d messed up and missed the registration as I’d said earlier.  No worries I’m registered for the Royal Family 5K in February.

After some mingling, Lindsay, Jackie, Cheryl and I had a plan to head over to the race expo for some shopping.  Now, for those of you who don’t know them, these two ladies are absolutely fabulous.  I consider them to be my “cool cousins” – you know the ones you always want to hang with.  They’re a couple from Texas, personal trainers, and in a lot of way an inspiration for me.  They’ve helped me a few times since I first met them over the summer with questions specifically about my metabolism changes, healthy snacking solutions, etc.  I wish they’d just pack up and move closer to me already.

This was actually my second time through the expo, as the day before I bought myself a new pair of sneakers.  These aren’t just any sneakers, but rather they’re the most expensive pair of shoes that I’ve ever owned.  Buying them was very interesting, the sales people couldn’t make heads or tails of what sort of shoe to put me in.  I tried on a few pairs including one that was supposed to correct for pronation, but I simply wasn’t comfortable at all walking around in them.  After having me hike up my pants and stand on the floor without shoes I was told that I simply don’t pronate and that I needed a pair of neutral sneakers.

On the way over in to the race expo, we bumped into Chris who was just coming off a shift of volunteering with the marathon staff.  He pointed us in the direction of Aurora and James, who were also volunteering along with Amanda – after some chatting and some hugs we spent some times shopping.  Try as we may, we were unable to track down small sized 2012 Goofy Challenge Training shirts.  Oh well.  We went separate ways for dinner – Cheryl and I ate with a group of friends at the Wave.

A slightly early bedtime allowed me to wake up at about 2:15am and be out the door to catch the 3am bus over to Epcot on Saturday morning.  Having been through cheering the prior year I had prepared for the worst, but this year was a huge win over last year.  Specifically that it was 20 degrees warmer, was not sleeting, and there was no freakish snow in sight.  I sort of felt bad being the only person on the bus with a cup of coffee, so I sat toward the back and quietly sipped out of sight listening to some podcasts.

Lindsay, Jackie, and I had planned to meet in the pre-Marathon area.  When I finally managed to meet up with them they were also there with Lynne and Ray.  The five of us talked and walked around a bit.  This year was a bit different for me, I found myself looking around and studying the pre-race rituals of many runners.  What they were eating, doing, etc.  Before they headed into the corral, we had to properly secure what we were referring to as Lindsay’s “Butt Duffy” on her running belt.  I took to calling these “bat belts”, and I know that next year when I do the Half Marathon I want one of these.

After seeing them off so they could head to their corrals, I headed over to Epcot Center Drive for a cheering spot along the first mile of the course.  Lindsay and I had planned to stay in contact via Twitter, but that quickly failed when she texted me, “Twitter hates me :(“  So we quickly adjusted over to texting each other.  I positioned myself in about the same place I had the year before and relayed to her where I was.  Unfortunately we quickly realized I had missed them.  However this is not a big surprise – its a very difficult position for seeing runners you’re 3 highway lanes away plus the median.  The prior year I had been fortunate to see Katie and Ed.

Once I knew they’d passed, I headed over to the finishing area.  I took a some pictures of the medals as they were being unpacked and set up to be handed out to the runners.  I texted a pic to Lindsay as motivation for her and Jackie.  Not long after I got to watch the first of the handicapped marathoners finish.  Then it was time to board the monorail and make my way to Magic Kingdom.  I had been fortunate enough to catch a Tronorail.

This made for a neat moment because just as Lindsay texted me that she and Jackie were stopping for a picture with Tigger (note: they literally stopped for every photo-op except Princess Tiana), I texted for them to look up as I was on the Tronorail overhead – it’s easier to spot pre-dawn as it’s distinct from the other monorails.  Being in constant contact with my runners was working out fantastic.  I also hadn’t started receiving any of the text or email notifications on runners that I had registered for, and later on, when I finally did, they were about 15-20 minutes behind what Lindsay herself was telling me.  Texting was a complete win.

I made  my way over to Main Street to meet up with Cheryl and the WDW Radio group.  This is about the halfway mark.  Lindsay and I worked out a plan that she’d text me right as she entered Magic Kingdom.  From there they’d stay to the left along the rope and when they found me they’d step out of the wave of runners as we pulled back the rope some.  It worked out great; we took some pictures, hugged, and they dumped some of their excess clothes with Cheryl and I.  And, when they were done with their break, they ran off again.  We also managed to see Mike Scopa pass by as well.

We made our way back to Epcot along with Lori and some others and then we again stationed ourselves with the WDW Radio group – this time at mile 12.  This was another great location, it was just at the outer corner of the first of the Epcot bus terminals.  We had plenty of space to spread out and just enjoy cheering, and I got to spend some time just cheering and calling names off bibs trying to really get runners amped for the final stretch of the race.  Motivating runners, even ones you don’t know, is an important part of cheering at a marathon.

When Lindsay and Jackie showed up we all once again hugged, and I told them I’d see them at mile 13.  This might seem crazy.  Though I run, I don’t move nearly as fast as they do, but I had two things in my favor.  First, they’d already run 12 miles.  Second, I only had to cover about one third of the distance they did in order to get to the same point.  So I kissed Cheryl good-bye and took off.  It worked out fine.  I got to the 13 mile marker in plenty of time to work my way right to the front.  This allowed me to see Jackie and Lindsay one last time before they finished.

After the race, I hung out with Jackie and Lindsay a short bit before they headed to get some massages in the Race Retreat tent.  We agreed to meet up again later on at the Lunching Pad in Tomorrowland for a Frozen Coke meetup.  And when they did, they asked to join me cheering for the Full Marathon on Sunday.  They decided they wanted to experience a WDW Marathon as spectators rather than runners.  They knew I could take them through it, and I was all for the company.  Come back next time to see how it all went.

Cheryl and I finished out the day with dinner at the Whispering Canyon Cafe along with Christa, Shelley, David, Zoe, JL, Betsy, and Tim.  It was a lot of fun, and a great finish to a really fun day.  Big congrats to Tim for finishing the Half.  Other folks we bumped into at dinner who also finished the Half that day were Brett and Stacy.  Nothing like getting to watch some friends race around on wooden horses to complete your day.

Here are the finish times for the runners I tracked for the Half Marathon:

  • Caroline – Time: 02:32:08 – Pace: 11:36.32
  • Scopa – Time: 02:47:09 – Pace: 12:45.05
  • Jackie – Time: 03:20:00 – Pace: 15:15.4 (that’s what you get for stopping for everything)
  • Lindsay – Time: 03:19:59 – Pace: 15:15.3 (she got to rub that second in Jackie’s face)
  • Tim – Time: 03:46:25 – Pace: 17:16.31

Great job all!!!  And congratulations to all runners that finished.

What about you?  Did you run in the 2011 Half Marathon?  Did you cheer?  Did you track any runners?  Are you planning to run a different Half Marathon this year?  What about in 2012 at WDW?  Are we Ducks or what?

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BETAMOUSE #48 – Flying Entertainment Vehicles

by on January 13, 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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January 11th Crowds In Bottom 10%, Studios Even Lower

by on January 12, 2011

We often get requests to translate the crowd calendar into real life language. “What does a 1 really feel like?” our readers will say. We try to express how the one to ten scale feels when you are in the park using our crowd level page but it can be difficult to really get a sense of what it is like.

The best way is to think back to your last trip to a Disney park and look up the crowd level on the day you visited. You can do that by entering your dates on the historical crowd level page.  Make sure to compare to the individual park that you were in, the resort level is a combination of all parks.

If you happened to be in the parks yesterday, January 11th 2011, you experienced crowd levels that hit level 1. That is, the wait times in the parks were in the bottom 10% of all days on record. If you happened to be in the Studios, you experienced wait times in the bottom 1%! Just about as low as they get.

But how low is the bottom 1%?

You may get images of tumbleweed blowing across the animation courtyard but that isn’t really the case. Except in cases of natural disaster even the slowest of days has people in line.

Yesterday, Toy Story Mania peaked at 60 minutes, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at 30 minutes and Tower of Terror maxed out at 20. Comparing those maximums with all the days dating back to 2006, that is as low as it gets.

We predicted that the Studios would be a 0.8 (in the bottom 8%) and that the resort would be a level 1. Not bad. Typically, our estimates are within 1 index point 90% of the time.

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