Archive for February, 2011

Mickey Mouse’s New Home

by on February 22, 2011

While the meet and greet locations play musical chairs in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, with the locations of Mickey and Minnie Mouse constantly in flux, you can count on the team here at TouringPlans.com to provide the most up-to-date, field-tested touring plans for your visit to the Magic Kingdom.

Today, Disney announced on its Parks Blog that Mickey Mouse would again relocate, this time to the Exposition Hall in the Spring. Also announced was that this Meet and Greet would utilize FASTPASS, the first time ever that a character meet and greet would utilize the complimentary time reservation system. Rest assured that this change will be implemented in our Lines mobile wait time app and in our touring plans once the new meet and greet opens!

For detailed information regarding changes to our Magic Kingdom touring plans since the closure of Mickey’s Toontown Fair, listen to WDW Today Episode 838 – New Magic Kingdom Touring Plan.

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Disneyland 2012 – What Would You Like To See?

by on February 21, 2011

You guys had so many great ideas for the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, that we are throwing it out there to you again. This time it’s Disneyland in California we’re looking at.

So folks, how can we make your Disneyland planning easier? What do you need to know as you book your trip to Walt’s first park?

Give us a comment before February 28.

Did you know that you can subscribe to Disneyland tools from TouringPlans.com? The Crowd Calendar, Lines, and premium touring plans for Disneyland are benefits for our subscribers!

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WDW Today Episode 841 – Best Seat In The House

by on February 21, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 841 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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Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival 2011

by on February 20, 2011

While many people across the country are still snowed in, Spring is in the air at Walt Disney World as they prepare for the 18th annual International Flower and Garden Festival. A special event held at Epcot from March 2nd through May 15th, featuring beautiful topiaries, fun concerts, educational demonstrations, and so much more. Most of the activities are included with park admission, although some special experiences require an additional fee. The festival is a lot of fun, with a lot to take in, and guests will want to be prepared.

Festival Center presented by HGTV
This year, for the first time, the Festival is being sponsored by HGTV, and they will be showcasing their television personalities on the HGTV stage. Celebrities will present interesting design and gardening topics every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A list of the stars and their speaking topics is included at the end of this post.

HGTV will also host a series of workshops entitled Disney Gardening at Home where guests can participate in hands-on demonstrations and even take their projects home. These will be held every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:00am and 2:00pm. Seating is limited and based on a first come, first served basis, so get there early.

Also at the Festival Center, the HGTV Theater will present a film showing hints and tricks from popular HGTV shows, guests can purchase event merchandise, and experts will be available to answer gardening questions.

Topiaries
The Flower and Garden Festival is probably best known for its gorgeous and elaborate topiaries, dozens of which are scattered throughout the park featuring favorite Disney Characters. This year, some new designs are being added. Characters from Toy Story 3 will dominate the Epcot entrance, there will be an intricate Cars 2 display featuring Lightning McQueen and Mater, and Pooh and friends will appear in a Hundred Acre Woods wildflower display.

Flower Power Concert Series
One of the highlights of the event is the Flower Power Concert Series. Popular musical acts from the 60′s and 70′s such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, and Davy Jones, perform at the outdoor America Gardens Theatre every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 5:15, 6:30, and 7:45pm. A performance schedule is provided below.

Special Gardens
Bambi’s Butterfly Garden features butterflies and other insects, as well as the plants and flowers on which they thrive. The garden first appeared in 2005, but it is getting its first expansion this year. For 2011, the garden will be over three times its previous size!

Another new addition this year, the Healthy Living Garden, will feature activities for guests “designed for improving their health and well being.” These will focus on a healthy lifestyle, including healthy eating, exercise, and relaxation. There will also be a play area for children in the area.

Tinkerbell and her fairy friends join the festival this year in the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden. Guests can meet and spend time with the fairies in a whimsical garden which includes play areas for young children.

Crowds
The majority of the festival occurs during Spring Break season which means heavy crowds. Guests attending during this time will definitely want to be prepared. While the festival itself does not have a major impact on wait times, the park will be more crowded. It is always a good idea to use a Touring Plan and consult the Crowd Calendar to plan your visit.

Are you attending the festival this year? What are you most looking forward to?

HGTV Celebrity Presenter/Topics Schedule

  • March 4-6: Genevieve Gorder: The Art of Sculpting Space
  • March 11-13: Lisa LaPorta: Design It Yourself: Easy-to-follow Tips for Designing Your Favorite Rooms
  • March 18-20: Kim Myles: The 5 DIY Secrets That Can Transform Any Space
  • March 25-27: Brian Patrick Flynn: Mobile Gardens
  • April 1-3: Taniya Nayak: Adding Value to Your Home Without Breaking the Bank
  • April 8-10: Ahmed Hassan: Life, Love, and Landscaping
  • April 15-17: Patti Moreno: Gardening with Kids: Fun Seed Starting Projects
  • April 22-24: Michele Beschen: When Nature Calls: Creative, Back-to-Basics Style for All Things Natural and Decorative
  • April 29-May 1: John Gidding: The Design Process: Curb Appeal Projects from Concept to Construction
  • May 6-8: Frank Fontana: Beautiful on a Budget: High Style, Low-Cost Secrets to Bringing Indoor Styling Outside
  • May 13-18: Vern Yip: Top Design Trends Made Affordable and Accessible

Flower Power Concert Series

  • March 4-6: Jose Feliciano
  • March 11-13: The Guess Who
  • March 18-20: Chubby Checker and the Wildcats
  • March 25-27: Melissa Manchester
  • April 1-3: Starship starring Mickey Thomas
  • April 8-10: Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr.
  • April 15-17: Juice Newton
  • April 22-24: Ricky Nelson Remembered featuring The Nelsons
  • April29-May 1: Paul Revere & The Raiders
  • May 6-8: Davy Jones
  • May 13-15: Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone

Photo Credits: Gardening in a Minute, Perfectance, kellyv, kicki22

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There Is No Such Thing As A Free Dining Plan

by on February 18, 2011

“My family normally wouldn’t buy the Disney Dining Plan, but since it was free, we got it. It was way too much food for us, but it was such a great deal, we couldn’t pass it up!”

We here at TouringPlans receive reader comments similar to this frequently.  Since we always want our subscribers to get the best deals on their Walt Disney World vacations, when we hear their resort choice and party size, these comments can make us cringe. While free Disney Dining can be a great deal, it can also be a poor deal. It’s important to remember that not all Walt Disney World discounts were created equally, and there can be better ways to do Walt Disney World on a budget.

Free dining has become popular in this era of illusory discounts and careful marketing campaigns where businesses raise prices, then give greater discounts, simply because “Sale – 75% off!” is more appealing to customers than “Sale – 50% off!” even if the final price on both products is $10. In this era, “free” is the ultimate discount, even when what’s offered is not really free. Such is the case with “free dining.”

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So how do you tell if you’d be better off purchasing a package with free dining or one with a resort-only discount? Unfortunately, the answer varies, and requires math. Since there are so many variables at play, there is no simple answer. As a general proposition, the more expensive of a resort and the smaller your party size, the less beneficial “free” dining at Walt Disney World will be.  Stated differently, if you’re planning on a honeymoon stay at the Disney’s Polynesian Resort, free dining is not in your best interest.

This is because Walt Disney World packages with free dining require you to pay rack rate for your resort and to purchase full price Magic Your Way tickets from Disney with a minimum of two days for each person on the reservation. This precludes you from using resort-only discounts such as PIN Codes, AP discounts, or other discounts.  It also precludes you from purchasing reduced-price tickets from third party vendors, such as those on TouringPlans’ Walt Disney World Ticket Price Calculator. Since few, if any, Disney guests are not getting some discount, the dining plan is not free, but rather, it is an alternative discount.

To illustrate, let’s take the following variables: party of two adults, August 14-19, with 6 Day Magic Your Way tickets, first at the Polynesian and then at the Caribbean Beach Resort, with free dining and without.

Polynesian Resort with free dining:

  • Polynesian Resort (Garden View)
  • 6 Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Water Park Fun & More
  • 5 Day Standard Disney Dining Plan (1 Counter Service, 1 Table Service, 1 Snack daily per person)

Total Cost: $2,969.70

Now doing a la carte with 30% off (currently offered to the general public):

  • Polynesian Resort (Garden View) – 5 nights, 6 days: $1,382.50
  • 6 Day Magic Your Way Tickets with With Park Fun & More: $715.90
  • No Dining Plan

Total Cost: $2,098.40

Not surprisingly, the second Walt Disney World vacation package was less expensive, but this is in part because no dining options were included. Adding five days of the Dining Plan (theoretically, as it couldn’t actually be done for an a la carte package) adds $459.90 to the total cost, bringing the cost of the package to $2,558.30. Still, much cheaper than the free dining package, and the better option for almost anyone considering the two packages.

Rest and Relaxation

Caribbean Beach Resort with free dining:

  • Carribean Beach Resort (Standard View)
  • 6 Day Magic Your Way Tickets with Water Park Fun & More
  • 5 Day Standard Disney Dining Plan (1 Counter Service, 1 Table Service, 1 Snack daily per person)

Total Cost: $1,642.20

Now doing a la carte with 30% off (currently offered to the general public):

  • Caribbean Beach Resort – 5 nights, 6 days: $626
  • 6 Day Magic Your Way Tickets with With Park Fun & More: $715.90
  • No Dining Plan

Total Cost: $1,341.90

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Again, the a la carte vacation package is cheaper. However, adding five theoretical days of the Dining Plan brings the total cost of the package to $1,801.08.  The price difference here gives a $300.30 allowance for food. That’s $30.03 per person, per day (for five days, the same length of time you’d have the dining plan).  Given that two Quick Service meals per day can easily cost that, free dining will be a better option here for most people, if it suits your dining and touring desires. (Shortly before this post was published, Disney released a new PIN code offer for the Quick Service Dining Plan for Values and Moderates, and the Standard Dining Plan for Deluxe Resorts; if this PIN code offer is a harbinger of future free dining offers, the value of free dining at Moderates is greatly diminished.)

Your party’s Walt Disney World touring style and eating habits, as mentioned above, are another important consideration in determining whether free dining is the right discount for you. Consider whether you want to commit to sitting down for a Table Service meal each day and whether you would like to eat desserts with all of your meals. Many parties on the Disney Dining Plan also find that, due to the substantial amounts of food at each meal, they don’t use all of their snack credits. Others work hard to maximize the “value” they get out of the Disney Dining Plan.

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Your desired dining style must closely mirror what is offered in the dining plan in order to actually realize savings by using it (and as made clear above, you’re still ‘paying’ for the Disney Dining Plan with free dining, since you would have gotten a different discount if you did not opt for free dining). Another important consideration for those visiting Walt Disney World on a budget is that the “savings” you receive by receiving free dining will actually cost more money than listed on the vacation package, as it doesn’t include tips for servers. Make sure to include this in your budget when comparing the packages you create.

With all of these caveats concerning free dining packages, there’s one thing they offer that a la carte packages don’t: convenience. If becoming an amateur statistician to compare prices doesn’t sound appealing to you, and you can’t convince Fred Hazelton to crunch the numbers for you, purchasing a free dining package might have allure for its ease.

At the end of the day, when it comes to Walt Disney World vacation packages, remember the words of your grandmother: there is no such thing as a free lunch.

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WDW Today Episode 840 – 2011 Dining Plan Changes

by on February 18, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 840 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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ESPN The Weekend 2011

by on February 17, 2011

ESPN The Weekend is a special event held annually at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This year, the event will be held Thursday March 3rd through Sunday March 6th. The weekend features professional athletes, live ESPN broadcasts and personalities, and special sports activities, as well as a 5K and Kid’s Races.

Hollywood Studios will definitely be more crowded than usual; however, the wait times for attractions will not be greatly affected. This is due to the fact that most people will be in the park to attend the special events, and not for the rides and shows. The Crowd Calendar lists Hollywood Studios as a park to avoid each day of the weekend, even though the crowd levels are low those days on the per-park scale.

Those who wish to tour Hollywood Studios should be prepared for large crowds in common areas, walkways and restaurants. Also, be aware that some shows and parades may move to different locations to accommodate the event.

Guests who would like to experience ESPN the Weekend and attend the events can find great information at studioscentral.com. Runners wanting to participate in the 5K can find more information on the ESPN Wide World of Sports website.

Thanks to matt44053 for the photo.

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BETAMOUSE #53 – Fly ‘n’ Buy

by on February 17, 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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Main Street In Motion – A Test Drive At Epcot

by on February 17, 2011

Since Epcot opened in 1982 General Motors (GM) has been a sponsor in Future World.  Originally this was with World of Motion, which was a ride that would take you through the history of transportation.  In 1996, World of Motion closed to make way for Test Track which opened in 1999.  There was some talk back when GM filed for bankruptcy back in 2009 that they may have to give up this sponsorship in order to be able to take a government bailout.  However, after much negotiation on all sides the sponsorship remained.

While Test Track is one of my wife Cheryl’s favorite attractions in all of Walt Disney World, it is simply a ride. Each time I disembark from it, and walk through the GM showroom as I head to the building exit I find myself wondering, why can’t I test drive the real cars right now?  They’re right there, wouldn’t it be cool if you could just hop in one and get some real incentive to actually purchase it on the spot. (Has anyone actually ever done this?)

It seems that GM realized this as well, and that’s why each year Epcot is a stop on their test drive tour known as Main Street In Motion.  This year, the event was so large that it occupied Epcot’s Explore, Wonder, and Imagine parking lots.  This event is free and opened to the public, but you must have a valid driver’s license in order to test drive vehicles.  Children and minors are permitted when accompanied by and adult, and in most vehicles passengers are permitted to ride-along.  You are also permitted to driver swap as needed on vehicles with longer driving experiences.

This past weekend, Cheryl and I attended Main Street In Motion with our friends Shalon, Christa, Chris, and Shane.  We had a plan to meet around 12:30p and we registered online as they suggested to do.  What we learned very quickly was that the registration was pretty much meaningless.  Nobody at the event seemed to care that we had pre-registered, and when we checked in they certainly didn’t ask if we had.  The check in itself was pretty painless – just present your driver’s license and get a wristband.

Since we arrived a little early, Cheryl and I roamed around a bit.  In addition to discovering a complimentary snack booth that also provided an array of both hot and cold beverages.  We were able  to check out some of the service vehicles on display.  These included a handicapped transport, a general transport, a Police SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle), and a Police cruiser.  Getting to sit in “cop cars” is thankfully a rare treat.

The two GM brands at the event were Chevrolet and Buick, however the showcased vehicles for test drives were the Volt, Corvette, and Camaro.  As a result, it seemed that the Chevy showroom got much more foot traffic and interest over Buick.  The showroom was very well laid out, and each car had an iPad next to it running an app that allowed you to learn about the various aspects of each vehicle on the floor.  It’s important to note that the event offers test drives in several competing brands so you can compare and contrast as needed.

Our group decided pretty quickly that being able to drive the three showcased vehicles was a key goal.  There was a catch, you couldn’t just go drive any of the three.  You first had to drive at least one other vehicle to earn a hand stamp that qualified you to so.  We split up as we each gravitated to a “starter” vehicle that interested us.  Some folks gravitated toward the Acura TL, but Cheryl and I jumped at the Chevy Cruze.

With Cheryl as my co-pilot, I was on my way down the test track.  That’s right, this is a test drive experience, and Main Street In Motion delivers on this.  Just like at a real test track, they had set up cones, starting and finishing lines, curves, blocks, and bumps.  It’s a really cool experience, I was hooked and having fun, and we loved the Cruze.  After, Shalon took us for a spin in a Suburban – the SUV track was shorter by comparison.

Once our hands were stamped, we headed over to the Camaros and the Corvettes.  I personally chose to wait for a convertible Corvette – I hadn’t been in one in a very long time.  The wait was about 30 minutes, and passengers were not allowed to ride along as it’s only a two-seater and an MSIM staffer rides with you.  You drive up to the start line, and with a 3… 2… 1… you get to floor it – seriously they tell you to do this.  Woah!  What a fantastic experience.

When play time was over, we headed to our last test drive of the day in what is probably one of the most talked about cars in the US today – the Volt.  It’s not got the best electric range, and is not necessarily something I’d consider buying now, but I definitely had to see what it was like.  Shane, Cheryl and I went out together with an MSIM staffer.  He spent time teaching us about the Volt and demonstrated both the electric and gas engines, automatic disengage parking break, and tons of dashboard features.  This was the longest drive at the entire event lasting us close to 15 minutes.

If you like cars, or want an opportunity to get to test drive a lot of vehicles in a short amount of time then this event is for you.  MSIM says the event will take about an hour, but it took us more than twice that – so plan accordingly.  I think you’ll have a lot of fun, and you can catch Main Street In Motion all over the country, not just at Epcot.

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Significant Park Schedule Changes To Walt Disney World In March

by on February 16, 2011

We have received an update to the park schedules for March and have made adjustments to the Crowd Calendar that reflect those changes. For every park except Epcot, park hours have been extended at least one day in March. At the Animal Kingdom half of the days in March have been extended. Performances of Fantasmic! and nighttime parades at the Magic Kingdom have been added.

Make sure to check your dates for changes to the schedule.

What does this mean for the Crowd Calendar?

We would love to say that the Crowd Calendar is a crystal ball that speaks to us in our sleep but for now that is not the case. The calendar predicts wait times based on all the information that we have available to us. When that information changes, so do the estimates. The extension of park schedules is a distinct sign that Disney hotel bookings are up and crowds are likely to be higher than expected.

As always, the single number one best defense against any crowd is to use a touring plan. Find one that works for your travelling party, beat the crowds and have fun!

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