Archive for February, 2011

The Crowd Tracker: Get Email Updates When The Crowd Calendar Changes

by on February 28, 2011

TouringPlans.com is proud to introduce a new feature included with a premium subscription: The Crowd Tracker (see Disneyland and Walt Disney World trackers).

The Crowd Tracker allows users to select their specific travel dates from the Crowd Calendar and monitor changes to them. If the crowd levels or recommended parks change, an email will be sent (maximum one email per 24 hours). The email will inform users of increases or decreases greater than 1 point for individual parks or the resort as a whole, as well as changes at Walt Disney World in recommended parks/parks to avoid.

To select days to track, go to the Disneyland Crowd Calendar or the Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar and click on the date to track. In the upper right corner, select “Track This Day.” Repeat this process for each day to be tracked.

To view tracked days, from the Crowd Calendar page, click on the “Crowd Tracker” tab in the left bar. This page will show tracked days, their crowd levels and park recommendations, and personal Crowd Tracker stats (number of emails, number of days tracked).

Changes to the forecasts occur for many reasons including changes to park hours, wait time data collected, and other information. TouringPlans.com provides this information to help guests plan the best possible vacation.

Over 25,000 days have been tracked using the Crowd Tracker so far… have you used it yet? What do you think?

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2011 Dining Plan – Still A Deal?

by on February 28, 2011

I have a Tonga Toast craving....

A while back, I wrote about my opinions on the Disney Dining Plan, and how it can actually save you some money if you are traveling with children.  When I heard on WDW Today about the new changes to the plan, however, I wanted to revisit the subject, because it’s possible things might have changed. 

I’m looking at a 4 day trip with my wife, my two kids and myself, and comparing the cost of the Dining Plan to the cost of using Tables in Wonderland.  Now, I understand that not all of you out there have Annual Passes and can use Tables in Wonderland, but it’s something to consider.  For the price of what you’re paying for tickets and the Dining Plan, you might save money buying one annual pass and Tables in Wonderland. 

Looking at the trip I want to take, I’d like to take the kids to eat at some of our favorite spots.  For this trip, I’m thinking Biergarten, Crystal Palace, Boma and Kona Café for breakfast.  The Dining Plan works out well for us, because we tend to eat one table service meal per day, just to give the kids a little time to sit down and relax.  

I deliberately picked those restaurants because they’re not as expensive, and what I’d likely pick if I were not on the Dining Plan.  So…whip out your T-81 graphing calculators and let’s do some math. 

First, the Tables in Wonderland costs are calculated by taking the 20% discount that you get from the card and then adding the 18% gratuity that is automatically added to the bill.  One thing that strikes me when doing this is how high the food prices are, but I digress.  For Tables in Wonderland, it comes out as follows, for 2 kids, 2 adults: 

 The grand total comes out to $371.05, and that’s just for four meals!  This is the reason why people think of how expensive a Disney vacation can be.  That doesn’t include the breakfast and lunch for three of those days, and lunch and dinner for the day we go to Kona.

Expensive? Sure. Worth it? Sometimes.

 Under the new Disney Dining Plan, the cost has increased to $45.99 for adults, and $11.99 for kids in the non-peak season, and $47.99 and $12.99 during peak season.  The trip I’m taking is during peak season, so we’re talking about a total of $121.96 per day.  That comes out to $487.84 for the four days.  But remember, the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t include tip, so factoring in the tips for those four meals, you get $562.02.  Wow!  For meals for four people, that’s a lot. 

 That leaves a difference of about $192 between the table service meals on Tables in Wonderland and the Disney Dining Plan.  Could we eat our other meals (3 breakfast, 4 lunch and 1 dinner) for that $192?  That’s 8 meals, meaning we’d have only $14 to feed 4 people at each meal.  Not likely, huh?

So, again, it turns out that if you have kids, the Disney Dining Plan is probably still a better value than paying out of pocket, even with Tables in Wonderland.  As always, the standard disclaimers apply – do your own math (I created a spreadsheet) and make sure you can book your restaurants before booking the Dining Plan. 

What about you?  Will you change plans due to the increase in Dining Plan prices?  Or does seeing these prices make you want to eat off property more?

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WDW Today Episode 844 – Fastpass Q&A

by on February 27, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 844 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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Fantasyland Foto Face-off

by on February 25, 2011

Welcome to Foto Face-off, a visual treat of images from members of the TouringPlans Flickr Group. The theme for this Face-off is Fantasyland. To view more of each entrant’s photography, click on their respective submission, which will direct you to their Flickr photostream.

dychesd:
DSC02326
Although I am a WDW Annual Passholder, I asked to go to Disneyland right after my high school graduation in celebration of a full college scholarship. As the sun was setting behind the Matterhorn, the sun was also setting on my amazing trip as this was my last night in Disneyland. I was able to savor these few minutes of Disney bliss while waiting on the monorail platform.

Wesley Cullen’s Mom:
No more rumbly in my tummy!
Pooh and Friends welcome everyone to Fantasyland. How do you not think of this adorable cuddly bear twirling you around in a jar full of honey when mentioning Fantasyland?

Isabelle Boivin:
Dwarf
Okay, next time, can it be “Toontown” ! ? !? It would have been sooooooo much easyer ! Anyway. This is the best shot I’ve got… meaning, that next trip, I’ve got to focus on Fantasyland ! :)

Centerline 717:
Cinderella in the Morning, Magic Kingdom
Fantasyland always provides ample opportunities for pictures of the characters that we know and love. There are statues, paintings, buildings and rides that all revolve around these characters. All of the areas of the Disney parks can bring out the child in all of us but perhaps Fantasyland does this even more so.

ssanders79:
A Dream is a Wish
Without one Man’s Dream, Fantasy Land would not exist.. In fact, this group would not exisit. And, as we all know, a Dream is a Wish your heart makes… I can think no better place than Fantasy Land to turn that Dream into a Wish at Cinderella’s Fountain. Go ahead and make a wish the next time you visit.

SkaGoat:
IMG_2378
I love this photo because it shows the detail in the statue and the colours in the background.

ddindy:
Anybody home?
One of the greatest things about Fantasyland, in my opinion, is stated right there in its name: Fantasy. Remember when you were a kid and your imagination was the most wondrous (and sometimes the most frightening) playground you could visit? Fantasyland is almost a good. Fly away with Peter Pan. Pretend you’re Christopher Robin and visit Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Have tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. And you never know when a giant will lift up a shop’s roof and peek inside.

Scott Smith (SRisonS):
A Night of Fantasy
When I think of the spirit of Disney World, one of the first things that comes to mind is Fantasyland. For many people, their first exposure to Disney is through its animation. And it’s in this area where that animation comes to life; and guests get to travel through and experience the worlds they’ve only read about or seen on-screen.

So Much Hamilton:
Cinderella doing her thing
Fantasyland reminds me of this one most important fact: I’m not at work, I’m in Disney World!

Finally, my entry and commentary:
King Arthur Carrousel
After visiting Disneyland, I don’t think I’ll be able to look at Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland in the same light (at least not until the Expansion is complete). Better in every conceivable way, Disneyland’s Fantasyland just has this kinetic energy about it. Perhaps it’s because it is the cornerstone of Walt’s original park, and contains so many of the classic Disney characters and attractions. While King Arthur Carrousel was far from my favorite attraction in the land, I think this shot of it spinning captures that energy well.

What’s your favorite aspect of Fantasyland?

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WDW Today Episode 843 – Cheap Magic Kingdom

by on February 25, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 843 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 #54 – Faster and Better Access to the Fun

by on February 24, 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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Good Eats At The Rose & Crown

by on February 24, 2011

by serena_in_VA

Officially dedicated on October 19, 1982, along with  the rest of the United Kingdom Pavilion, the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room has been around as long as Epcot.  It’s just one of those restaurants in Walt Disney World that is immensely popular. The outdoor seating areas are considered to be among the most coveted spots to be during IllumiNations.  It has a very authentic British pub look and feel both inside and out, and with its position inside the UK Pavilion it is clearly designed to attract visitors.

I’ve managed to eat there at several times along the way as both a kid and an adult, and I’ve seen the food quality come and go over the years.  In fact, my wife, Cheryl, and I had been avoiding it in recent years as not long after she first got sick we had a really bad dining experience there.  As such it simply moved to the bottom of our “to do” list.  Recently, our friend Kim, whose mom has dietary restrictions, suggested that we return as they had had a really great experience.

by Loren Javier

As a result, Cheryl and I had been looking for an opportunity to return, and just a few weeks ago we had that chance along with fellow TouringPlans.com staffers Henry, Scott, and Scarlett.  In typical TouringPlans.com manner a reservation for two jumped to 4 to 7 and then finally to 10. After sitting in the pub area a bit we were finally seated in the dining room.

As is now the standard fashion for reservations indicating special needs diets at Disney World restaurants, our seating ticket – usually left on the table by the host or hostess – was stamped with “ALLERGIES” by the greeter.  You can learn more about how to indicate this on your reservation from a blog post I wrote last year on Dining With Special Needs.

When the server takes the ticket, and they see the stamp, they immediately take the time to identify those with dietary restrictions – in this case, Cheryl.  The server will often try to pinpoint the trigger items (dairy, peanuts, etc.) and bring them to the attention of the Chef who will then come out to talk with those who are restricted.  In Chery’s case she eats vegan when not at home (she has dropped fish from her list) and gluten & dairy free always.  They will then work together to create a meal that she can eat.

This time around one word caught my ear in their discussion: lentils – a personal favorite.  And what she got was this very appealing creation.  It was some tofu topped with potato slices, vegetables, and mushrooms sitting on a bed of cooked lentils.  It’s a wonder a dish that looks this gorgeous isn’t a regular menu item.  Cheryl wanted me to make sure that I mentioned how much she loved this dish as it was a real highlight for her.  I had a few forks full of it myself and I can tell you that it tasted as good as it looks.

For my own dinner I had the Chicken and Sweet Potato Pillow.  I hadn’t seen a picture of this dish in advance so what I pictured when ordering was much different than the way the dish actually is.  The chicken itself wasn’t anything special – it is the same deboned chicken that is now prevalent at most WDW restaurants (there is a single bone left in the wing).  It was baked, unassuming, and plain – saved by it’s crispy skin.  However, it bears mentioning that Sweet Potato Pillows rock.  Seriously, I said to the server that they should be serving them from a kiosk during Food & Wine.  They should be a staple item, and I would have gotten a stack of them alone if I could.

Some others dishes that were ordered were: Filet of Beef (smothered in cheese), Guinness Stew (served in a bread bowl), Surf & Turf (grilled steak with fried fish), and Sheppard’s Pie.  It seemed that everyone enjoyed their meals.

Also depicted are some of the desserts you can order: Fruit Trifle, Chocolate Scotch Cake, and the very popular Sticky Toffee Pudding (photos by HarshLight).

by Loren Javier

In addition to food, and a full service bar, the pub area also has entertainment in the form of the Hat Lady.  Storyteller and singer with a cheerful disposition her piano playing and commentary will have you singing and laughing right along with her.

Cheryl and I had a great meal this time around, and we plan start going to Rose & Crown more in the future.

What about you? Have you been to the Rose & Crown?  Do you like it?  Dislike it?  Only stop there for drinks?  Would you try it again?  Why?  I could go for a Black & Tan right about now.

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WDW Today Episode 842 – Listener Questions

by on February 23, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 842 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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Two if by Sea

by on February 23, 2011

As I mentioned last week,  I’ll be boarding the Dream this coming Sunday for my very first cruise.  Since the Dream is a brand new ship it has been getting a lot of media attention.  While reading all about the amenities on the ship has gotten me really excited for this trip, I figured many of our readers have have also seen these reports from the first few sailings.  And while all that coverage is funI wanted to take a different spin on things.  In getting ready for this trip I’ve learned how different planning and preparing for a cruise is compared to my usual Disney routine.  So with that in mind I wanted to discuss the steps to take before setting sail with Disney.

First things first and the easiest thing to do to start your cruise adventure is to log onto the official website. Here guests can do some research and get basic knowledge about the various ships and itineraries.  This is also the place to order your free planning DVD chuck full of info.  I found the DVD was fairly informative and entertaining.  I also recommend a simple google search to find various fan sites like allearsnet.com which provide great insight.  Once you have done your research and you are ready to book, you can either go directly through Disney or talk to your favorite travel agent who will be happy to help you and answer any questions.

So you’ve booked a high seas adventure on the Disney Cruise Line.  What’s next? You’ll want to decide if you want to spend a few days at WDW before or after taking the drive or bus ride to Port Canaveral.  Since I have an annual pass to the parks it is easy for me to tack a few extra days onto my trip before I board the ship.  However, if you have a family and will have to buy tickets for them you may want to seek out a more affordable option.  The beauty of a Disney vacation is that you can alter it to your own needs.  Bus transportation to the port is available through Disney for WDW resort guests for a fee of $35 each way.  Buses also make stops at Orlando International Airport for your convenience.  You will want to go ahead and book your ride or rent a car once you figure out what works best for you.

Now that you’ve got the basics of your trips planned out, you’ll want to attend to some important details before moving on to more fun stuff.  Once you book (or even before), make sure your passport is up to date.  These documents are valid for 10 years for adults and 5 for kids so check those dates!  Its easiest to renew your passport while it is still valid rather than applying for a new one.  I renewed mine last year so this trip will be my first opportunity to use it!  It is easiest to use a passport, but guests can also use a valid government issued ID along with your original or certified birth certificate.

Now comes the fun stuff!  Guests can log onto Disney Cruise Line website to book excursions, spa treatments, and special dining experiences.  My itinerary includes a stop at Nassau in the Bahamas as well as a day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island reserved just for its cruise ships.  At both of these destinations activities and excursions are plentiful for those seeking them.  For example, folks can swim with dolphins in Nassau or take a kayak tour around Castaway Cay.  Some of these events can be pricey, but options for everyone’s budget are available. Keeping our budget and interests in mind, my friends and I opted not to book anything for the Nassau stop.  Our plan is to get off the boat and roam around for a while on our own before heading back for the pedicure I have booked in the ship’s spa called Senses.  However, when we are on Castaway Cay we decided to rent snorkeling equipment.  It will only cost us $25 (as opposed to a much more expensive snorkeling tour) and we can swim around at our own will.  There are tons of activities from boating, to spa treatments, to a special dinner at one of the signature restaurants to pick from.  Simply check out the website to see what suits you and your party best.  Keep in mind the sooner you book, the better chance you have to land your first choice activities.

The Disney Cruise Line website really is a great tool for guests preparing to set sail.  You will return here once again to fill out online forms in order to provide information such as passport numbers, credit card numbers, etc. for each person in your party.  It was a fairly simple process and you should have no problem completing this task.  At the end, you will be asked print out a form for you and your cabinmates to sign.  You will need to bring this form with you to the port and hand it in upon check in.  Also, shortly before your embarkation date you will receive a package in the mail which will contain essential information for you to look through before heading to the ship.

Now, that all of that planning is done its time to get to packing.  If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember I have a tendency to over pack.  I am overwhelmed trying to decide what to bring on this trip!  I’m so excited by the idea of being able to dress in fun clothes rather than my usual park commando attire that I can barely contain myself.  Pardon me while I get all girlie for a moment to rejoice in the fact that I will not have to wear sneakers every day on the boat.  Anyway, guests should pack according to the activities they plan to pursue on board.  If they want to lay by the pool all day every day, bring several bathing suites; if planning on dining at one of the finer restaurants, bring the appropriate clothing.  You get the idea.  Also keep in mind what time of year you will be traveling.  Since my cruise is at the end of February it may be chilly on the water at night so I will bring a few sweaters in case I should need them.

I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for my journey aboard the Dream!  To experience something completely different than my usual WDW vacation is thrilling for me!  I can’t wait to walk up the gangway and get away from the real world for a few days of fun, sun, and dare I say relaxation!  I’ll be sure to report back on what is sure to be a wonderful experience when I return!

I may have missed a few things since this is my first cruise experience so if you have any words of wisdom I’d love to hear them and share them with the other readers!

Next week I’ll be taking a break from writing to enjoy my up coming trip, but then I’ll be back to tell you all about it!

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TouringPlans.com Reaction To NextGen Project Announcement

by on February 22, 2011

In a recent investor conference, Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs discussed various technological systems presently being developed by the Walt Disney Company for use in its Parks & Resorts Division. Rumblings concerning this project have existed for over a year in various Disney online communities, with the common parlance referring to this as Disney’s NextGen project (although Staggs himself did not specifically use the term). Staggs indicated that Disney is creating a way for guests to bypass long lines by reserving times for attractions and character interactions, seats for shows, and advance dining reservations, booking many of these experiences before leaving home.  Following Staggs’ conference call, Thomas Smith announced on the Disney Parks Blog that the Mickey Mouse Meet & Greet set to open this Spring in the Main Street Exposition Hall at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World will incorporate some of the technology Staggs discussed.

In addition to these changes directly concerning wait time management, Disney indicated that the technology would be utilized to create more personalized guest experiences, including personalizing rides and character greetings for individual guests. What form, exactly, this project will take is unclear, as Staggs was vague on specifics. However, if longstanding speculation is accurate, the project will be heavily reliant upon RFID wristbands, and will serve the double purpose of improving the guest experience and Disney’s bottom line as it more accurately tracks guest spending habits. Staggs himself stated that the main goal of the initiative is to allow guests to personalize their entire trip to Walt Disney World.

The announcement of this project is no shock to us here at TouringPlans.com. We have seen these changes in technology relating to wait times and queue experiences firsthand over the last several years. From Disney’s FASTPASS and more interactivity in queues, such as Soarin’ and Space Mountain, to our own evolution from printout touring plans to the Lines mobile wait time app for smart phones.  Simply put, utilizing technology has become critical to minimizing the amount of time you wait in line while at Disney.

As Disney guests have made clear in the feedback we have received from them, no one is particularly keen on waiting in long lines. We’re excited to follow this substantial and resort-wide undertaking to see how and when Disney brings the NextGen project to fruition. If recent projects to make lines more entertaining and the purported “queueless queues” coming with the Dumbo attraction in the Fantasyland expansion are any indication, Disney is fast-tracking efforts to make its lines more entertaining while also reducing wait times. It appears Disney is beginning to prioritize what we here at TouringPlans.com have been doing for years: helping Disney guests minimize the amount of time they wait in line. While there will always be wait times and crowds at the Disney theme parks will always be a problem, we view long wait times as a common enemy, and applaud any effort Disney makes to reduce these waits.

What are your thoughts on the announcements? Are you excited at the prospect of ride reservations, skeptical about the idea, or do you have a wait-and-see outlook?

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