Archive for March, 2011

Wait Time Forecasts And Predicted Park Hours For The Next 365 Days

by on March 24, 2011

Back in November, we added hourly wait time forecasts for every day for the next six months in Walt Disney World and the next two months in Disneyland. Back then, we were limited to forecasting when Disney had released park hours. But no more! We’re pleased to announce that we are now predicting park hours and wait times on both coasts a full twelve months in advance. Simply visit our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar and Disneyland Crowd Calendar, click on any date, then click on the “view park wait times” or click on the park links to see the wait times.

What we’re really excited about is to give you much better clarity as to what the crowds will feel like. Instead of just seeing that your next trip will be 6s, 7s, and 8s, you’ll be able to see hourly estimates of every ride you care about for each day of your trip. So we’ve got you covered if you want to know the wait times at your favorite Magic Kingdom attractions on Christmas Eve, or what Soarin’ will be like after the 2012 marathon, or how early you’ll have wake up to get Toy Story Mania! fastpasses on New Year’s Eve (hint: it’s early!).

In addition to wait times, we hope you’ll find the predicted park hours, Extra Magic Hours, showtimes and hard ticket event schedules useful (particularly in Disneyland, where the park hours are only released two months in advance). These can be used for all kinds of planning purposes; for example, I recently used it to check on the typical park hours and times for Fireworks in Disneyland in the Summer.

A few notes! We specifically label park hours/schedules when they are predicted. The hours and schedules are estimates based on historical data, so they may not match the official park hours when they are released. They also may not reflect certain operational changes that Disney has made, for example, the discontinuation of Evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom (however, Disney may bring these back eight months from now, which is why we leave them in). We’ll be doing another blog post soon about exactly how these work, so be sure to check back!

What do you think of the hourly wait time forecasts and predicted park hours and schedules? Will you use them for your next trip?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Burger Battle

by on March 24, 2011

The hamburger is a favorite meal throughout the world, so it should come as no surprise that found within the boundaries of Walt Disney World it comes in many different forms.  This serves to suit the needs of the many as everyone has varying tastes and likes.  In fact, recently many of the burgers throughout WDW have been enhanced in many new and unique ways.  However it can also become a point of contention among those within the Disney community as to just which of these variations is the best.  I thought I’d discuss three of my favorites.

Le Cellier in the Canada Pavilion in Epcot is, without a doubt, one of the single most popular restaurants in Walt Disney World.  On top of that, it has a very small dining room by comparison to other locations on property – so it is constantly full and booked 6 months in advance.  On their lunch menu they offer the “Le Cellier House Burger” that is a burger served with mushrooms, cheddar, and pancetta.  They also off a “Pan-Roasted Salmon Burger”, which is new and I’ve never tried it.

Like many burgers that I order, I need to get the “House Burger” modified.  While I’m not strictly Kosher outside the house, I do follow some basic rules: no pig of any kind (bacon, ham, pork chops, etc.), no bottom feeders (shrimp, lobster, clams, etc.), and I do my best to not mix milk and meat.  So I have them leave off the cheddar and the pancetta.  While I want to say, “get this buger!” because this burger is very tasty, it does have some drawbacks.  It’s not a very juicy burger, and natural juices are key to a great burger.    Every time I have one I find it to be very dry, and in need of some type of sauce (e.g., ketchup) to compensate.

While the quality of the food used at Le Cellier is top notch I find two big problems still plague this restaurant even after the head chef changeover.  First is their over-use of salt remains – the phrase is “salt to taste” not “salt for taste” comes to mind.  They simply serve too many food items over salted, especially the side dishes, so I tend to avoid certain things here like french fries – thankfully the burger has an option of potato salad.  Second is that they continue to have a problem with meat doneness level, which is a real shame for a steakhouse.  The last time I visited I ordered my burger medium, and it clearly came out medium well.  Other times it’s been on the rare side.

Another very popular spot at Walt Disney World that can be found in the Beach Club resort near Stormalong Bay is Beaches & Cream.  The difference though is that unlike Le Cellier which is all about reservations, there are none at Beaches & Cream – all parties are walk up.  However, there are very few seats inside the restaurant, less than Le Cellier, so you may have to wait a while to eat here.  B&C is also a traditional style soda shop, so in addition to things like burgers and hot dogs, they also offer many ice cream sundae choices.

Personally I like the B&C burger more than Le Cellier.  Its more juicy, and therefore requires less sauce.  The fries also have very little salt on them, which makes them easier to tweak toward your own needs.  There is one clear drawback, due to how it’s prepared, this burger tends to be quite a bit greasy.  For me, this is what kills it as a great burger.

Because B&C is a soda shop, I often like to get ice cream for dessert.  Doing so means I can’t have meat for my meal.  Fortunately they also offer a simple yet tasty veggie burger and a veggie wrap.  One thing I really like about the veggie burger is that you can see the vegetables and grains that comprise it right in the patty rather than it being a non-descript meat substitute.  If its not something you normally eat, you may not like it.  However, if you’re like me and you eat such things all the time it is quite tasty.

My third and favorite choice comes from the Turf Club located at Saratoga Springs.  Like Le Cellier and Beaches and Cream, the Turf Club is on the small side and has a low head count.  It does also offer outdoor seating as well, which can make for an incredible meal on a sunny day.  Now it’s no secret that this is one of my favorite restaurants on property – in fact, I even suggest it as an alternative to the reservation madhouse that is Le Cellier, especially now that Le Cellier is considered signature dining for the Dining Plan.

On their lunch menu , the Turf Club offers three different burger choices: a basic burger, a “Bacon-Barbecue Angus Chuck Burger”, and a “Surf & Turf Angus Chuck Burger”.  The Surf & Turf is also offered on the dinner menu.  Again I stick with the basic because I’m unable to have the other two variations.  What I love about this burger is it’s consistency in quality, flavor, presentation, and satisfaction.  It also has some great options for toppings and side dishes – including fries, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and some really awesome potato chips.

This is why, over the years, I’ve made the claim that this burger is the best on property.  Several people have tried it based on my recommendation, and I’ve found that many end up agreeing.  My feeling is that if you’re craving a awesome burger, and want a nice quiet meal that is away from the parks then this is the one to get.   I’ve never had a problem with this burger in the 5+ years that the Turf Club has been opened.

What about you? What’s your favorite burger on property?  Have you tried any of my choices?  Will you now?  What’s your least favorite and why?  What do you think of the fast food burgers on property?  How now brown cow?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Seaside Style at The Beach Club

by on March 23, 2011

Photo by Deanna Simmons

On my most recent trip I spent a few nights at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.  This is one of WDW’s deluxe hotels and is located in the Epcot area.  I was really excited about my time here since I love staying within walking distance to Epcot!  I find more value in being able to walk to the International Gateway than being on the monorail.  I realize that many people would not agree with that statement, but it is what works best for me and my touring habits.  Aside from the proximity to my favorite, park I was looking forward to experiencing a hotel I had not stayed in yet and the seaside atmosphere.

 

Photo by Deanna Simmons

The decor at the Beach Club is meant to remind guests of summers on the New England Coast.  The cool blues and greens of the resort’s facade create a calming feeling as soon as I pulled up in our car.  Inside, the lobby looks like it has been furnished by a very stylish grandmother welcoming her family to enjoy a cozy summer at the beach.  Small groupings of sofas and chairs make the space feel intimate even though it is quite large.  Again, the light colors and wood tones create a relaxed atmosphere which remind me to slow down a little during a usually chaotic Disney trip.

Our room was lovely and fairly spacious.  It was equipped with two queen beds, a day bed, a flat screen tv, and other standard dressers and nightstands, etc.  The bathroom, like most Disney resorts, was divided into two areas with a double sink outside and the shower and toilet in its own room.  As someone who is usually traveling with friends I appreciate the large area we have to get ready for our day.  We had a standard view so we had a balcony that looked out over the bus stop and parking lot.  It didn’t bother me since we spent so little time in the room, but if you would prefer a more appealing view, you may want to upgrade your room.  My only complaint about our room was that it seemed like a hike to walk to and from the lobby.

Photo by Deanna Simmons

Photo by Carolyn Citro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured above: the beds in a standard room at the Beach Club and the bathroom’s double sink

Aside from the lovely rooms and decor, there are a few amenities which stand out at the Beach Club.  My friends and I made a point to set aside

Photo by Deanna Simmons

time to enjoy the resort’s pool called Stormalong Bay.  This is more than just a pool; it’s almost like a mini water park!  There are several pools and a large water slide along with lounge chairs galore in this roped off area.  We were able to find several lounge chairs together and spread out to relax.  We all grabbed a drink and hung out for a while before some folks decided to go for a swim.  They had a blast checking out the different areas to float and testing out the water slide.  Kids will absolutely love this pool, especially the area made just for them to splash as well dig in the sand.  Please keep in mind that only guests of the Yacht and Beach Clubs are granted access to Stormalong Bay; you must show resort I.D. and get a bracelet to be admitted.  Guests looking to actually relax on their Disney vacation should dedicate some time to hanging out poolside during their stay.

Photo by Deanna Simmons

Like I’ve already mentioned, guests can walk to Epcot’s International Gateway from the Beach Club.  If you think walking would be too much for your party, you can also take the friendship boat to the park from the dock between the Beach and Yacht Clubs.  These boats also transport guests to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  For the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, water parks, and Downtown Disney folks who do not have their own car can catch a bus at the stop in front of the resort.

There are two table service restaurants, a quick service eatery, and a lounge at this resort for guests to enjoy.  I will write more about the Cape May Cafe next week so I’ll only mention that it serves buffet meals and often receives good reviews from vacationers.  Beaches & Cream can be accessed from outside the resort near the pool.  It has both a table service area and a take away window for ice cream.  They are most well known for their huge ice cream sundaes, but also serve burgers and other savory items.  I enjoyed this restaurant quite a bit when I dined there, but keep in mind the take away window can get very crowded and it may take you a while to get your frozen treat.  The Beach Club Marketplace is the resort’s quick service option and has a take away counter for hot food as well as grab and go options.  This shop offers quite a few options for guests looking for a quick bite.

Although my time at the Beach Club was short, I really enjoyed it.  I love the breezy, beachy atmosphere and the amenities offered here.  As I’ve already mentioned, being close to my favorite park is a major bonus.  Our room was lovely and comfortable and the public areas of the resort were lovely.  Since my stay was during the busy President’s Day week, I thought the price was a bit steep, so I’d avoid a busy time of year in the future.  It is easy to save money on your lodging fees if you can be flexible with your travel dates.  I would certainly stay at the Beach Club again, but I think I’d be more inclined to return to the Boardwalk first since it still remains my favorite Disney resort.

What about you?  Have you stayed at the Beach Club?  Let me know what you thought of your stay there!

Next week I’ll stick with the Beach Club theme when I discuss my character breakfast at the Cape May Cafe!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

WDW Today Episode 853 – Listener Questions

by on March 22, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 853 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:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

WDW Today Episode 853 – 2011 Wine & Dine 1/2 Marathon Preview

by on March 21, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 853 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:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Off-Site Hotels v. On-Site Resorts At Walt Disney World

by on March 18, 2011

A sign of a strong journalist is the ability to write objectively on a topic about which the writer feels passionately. We invited distinguished journalists from all around the world to write an article on this topic. Unfortunately, none of them showed up. So instead, I’d like to introduce you to the guy who’s going to write this article: me.

BoardWalk Villas Night Shot

Because so many share this type of strong feelings on the topic, staying on-site versus off-site is oft-debated in the Disney community. Understandably so. Nothing about a Disney vacation is simple, and in terms of complication, choosing a place to stay is right up there with determining whether you should buy the Disney Dining Plan. Luckily, in this case, the math is not so complex as to require a professional statistician. (So those of you who were starting to dial Fred Hazelton, you can hang up the phones.) Instead, the variables here are less quantifiable, and more dependent upon your party’s personal touring habits, budget, and expectations. Here are some things to consider when making the decision:

Price:

There is little question that Walt Disney World Resorts cost more than off-site hotels for comparable rooms and amenities. When comparing hotels, it is important not to take the rack rate for each. Many hotels, Disney’s especially, have incredibly inflated rack rates that few people actually pay. Instead, consider the best price you can actually get for each hotel. If considering a Disney package, break it up by element to consider the room-only portion of the total.  Also add any costs to the price of the off-site room that you wouldn’t be paying as a Disney guest, if applicable (such as parking).

Amenities:

Enumerating the various amenities at each hotel and/or resort would be downright impossible, but as a general rule, off-site hotels often provide breakfast that is built-into the cost of the room (some may call this free) and rooms that can sleep a greater number of people than the standard Disney rooms. Off-site hotels often also have full-size refrigerators, which can help save costs on dining.  Standard amenities, such as fitness areas, pools, tennis courts, and play areas are typically offered at both Disney resorts and off-site resorts, albeit with wide ranges in quality of said amenities among the hotels. Although probably not properly considered an amenity, the exquisite theming found at most Disney resorts is not often replicated off-site. If considering an off-site condo or vacation home, there are even more amenities available that Disney does not typically offer.

Perks:
Fort Wilderness Directory

Although very similar to amenities, I would distinguish the two as amenities being a characteristic or offering of the particular hotel itself, whereas perks are benefits that flow to one as a result of choosing a particular hotel.  While Disney resorts may be losing the battles up until this point, here, if anywhere, is where they potentially win the war.  Disney resort guests have the benefit of Extra Magic Hours, complimentary transportation to and from the parks, Disney’s Magical Express, the ability to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, free package delivery, room key charging, and better access to the Disney theme parks. All of these perks are considerable advantages to those valuing these benefits that should not be overlooked. Extra Magic Hours are among the most noteworthy of these benefits, and can add valuable hours to the day, especially in off-peak seasons. Many off-site hotels do offer transportation to other theme parks in addition to Disney’s theme parks, an advantage to the off-site hotels.  Off-site hotels also typically provide faster access to the other Orlando attractions, dining, and shopping.

Other:

These are often the intangibles. For instance, it’s difficult to put a price for a young family on being able to walk downstairs or hop aboard a monorail and have breakfast at Chef Mickey’s.  Likewise, it’s difficult to value the excitement your son will have after finding Nemo on his bed’s comforter. Alternatively, the ability to swim in a private pool at an off-site vacation home may be priceless for your family.  As evidenced by the preceding examples, these are subjective factors that will vary party-to-party.

 

The Perfect Conclusion to Her First Full Day as Mrs. Bricker

Now that I’ve objectively set forth some considerations, here’s my heavily biased opinion. Remember, this is just what I feel is right for my wife and me; I’m not contending everyone, or anyone, else must agree.

We will never stay off-site. Well, at least not any time in the foreseeable future. For us, a Disney vacation is an escape from reality, and staying off-site substantially erodes that escape. Although we’re frugal, we’ve never found staying on property to be a bad value. As I made clear in a previous article, we don’t mind the value resorts, and after PIN codes and AP discounts, you can often book a Value Resort for around $60-80/night. Yes, I realize a comparably priced off-site hotel would undoubtedly offer greater size and amenities, but there is one thing that it can’t offer, and this is the outcome-determinative factor for us. It can’t offer that cocoon of Disney “Magic.” It can’t offer the escape from reality.

It also can’t offer Disney’s Magical Express, Disney Transportation, or Extra Magic Hours, all of which are of the utmost importance to us. Disney’s Magical Express kick starts every vacation for us, so much so that we’ve even memorized some of the lines from the “Welcome” video that plays during the drive from the airport to the resorts. We enjoy Disney’s Magical Express so much that we book-ended our December stay at Shades of Green (due to their proximity to the parks and their history, I consider Shades of Green and the Swan & Dolphin as on-site resorts) with days at All Star Music at the beginning and end of our trip just so that we could use Magical Express.

Once our vacation begins, the biggest perk is Extra Magic Hours. We place a high value on our vacation time (seemingly a contradiction as we utilize the inefficient Disney transportation system instead of getting a rental car) and the few hours of added time in the parks each day thanks to Extra Magic Hours adds considerable value to staying on-site.

The Engine Idles as the Beautiful Day Awaits

Due to that same desire to escape reality discussed above, we don’t rent a car, so Disney transportation is also integral for us. If you think relying on Disney transportation to avoid reality is crazy, you might also find not watching any television besides the “Must Do” channel, not going online save for the occasional Gowalla check-in, and not checking email to be utterly absurd. In our defense, I never contended that our vacationing style was the most rational. Just that it’s what we enjoy. For us, it’s all about that intangible Disney “magic,” and to have that, we have to stay on-site.

 

Are you like us, only staying on property, or do you think our need to stay on property is loony? Share your thoughts in the comments, and your rationale for whether you typically stay on or off property!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

WDW Today Episode 852 – The Magic Makers – YeHaa Bob

by on March 17, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 853 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:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

BETAMOUSE #57 – Non-Disney Travel Apps

by on March 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.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Great Food with Great Friends at the California Grill

by on March 16, 2011

On my last trip some friends and I decided to splurge on dinner at the California Grill to celebrate three birthdays among our group.  This restaurant is one of WDW signature dining experiences and requires two table service credits on Disney’s dining plan.  It is located at the top of the Contemporary Resort where guests check in on the second floor,  then are escorted to the restaurant via a private elevator.  The atmosphere inside fits with the resort’s modern decor and offers gorgeous views of Seven Seas Lagoon, nearby resorts, and the Magic Kingdom.  Even if you are not seated near a window, you can have an excellent of your dinner being prepared in the open kitchen.  It is also important to note the mouth watering menu at the California Grill relies heavily on season ingredients so their offerings are constantly changing.

The view of the Magic Kingdom from the observation deck

We arrived at the California Grill and explained to the cast members at the host’s desk that while our reservation was for eight people we actually had nine.  This was the first time I’ve ever been given attitude for bringing too many people, but they accommodated us anyway.  We had a little while to wait, so we were able to go outside to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  Since it was February, it was a little chilly, but it was a lovely start to our evening.  A great tip for diners here is to either arrive early or stay a bit late to take in Wishes! from the roof top observation area attached to the restaurant.  Even if you are not seated during show, as long as you have an ADR for that evening you will be permitted to take advantage of this perk.  You can always spend some time at the bar between the fireworks and your reservation time since the California Grill has an extensive wine list.

Flat Iron Steak Flatbread

Once we were seated we decided since this was a celebratory meal, we’d to go all out and order bottles of wine and appetizers.  We had all heard great things about California Grill’s flatbread appetizers so it was just a matter of who would share with who and making their selections among the four choices.  My friend, Deanna, and I agreed to share the flatbread featuring roasted wild mushrooms and truffle .  We both thought it was delicious even though Deanna wasn’t sure she would like the mushrooms!  Some other friends opted for the grilled flat iron steak flatbread with a mushroom cream sauce and fried shallots.  This dish was also a hit at our table with almost everyone giving it a try.  If you are a sushi fan, this restaurant is well known for its sushi menu.   Maybe flatbreads and sushi sound appealing?  Well, there are other options available for your first course as well.

 

When it came time to choosing our entrees, most of us selected the filet.  They were all cooked as we requested and with a

California Grill's Filet Entree

lovely teriyaki barbecue sauce.  There were also some carrots and some of the yummiest potatoes we had ever eaten on our plates.  I think it’s safe to say we would all recommend this dish!  One of my friends ordered tuna dish which was accompanied by udon noodles and veggies.   He said the

California Grill's Tuna Entree

tuna was exactly what he hoped it would be and didn’t leave a bite behind.  We also had a vegan among us who was treated to a specially made meal and she gave it rave reviews.

 

Somehow we all decided we had room for dessert!  I opted for the bananas and caramel which consists of pieces of baked phyllo dough layered with marscapone mouse and caramelized bananas.  It was lighter than many desserts, but still sweet and tasty.  I thought it was a perfect ending to my meal.  A few chocolate lovers at the table went for the chocolate lava cake.  They all loved this rich, sweet, treat which came with a bit of ice cream and a few fresh strawberries.  Those of us who were celebrating birthdays even received a piece of chocolate wishing us “happy birthday from the California Grill!”  Dessert is always more special when there is a birthday candle in it.

Chocolate Lava Cake

 

As you may have noticed, I really enjoyed our evening at the California Grill.  Not only was the food wonderful, but the service was great too.  Our server was friendly, efficient, and courteous without being overbearing.  It was fun to have an excuse to dress up for an evening out while at WDW.  Usually I dress for comfort while running around the parks, so putting on a dress was a treat for this girlie girl.  There is a dress code here, but it is basically business casual so it isn’t too stuffy.  While the price is a bit steep, it was worth it for a wonderful meal with wonderful friends.  It would be a lovely location for a romantic dinner with the one you love or to celebrate any milestone with friends and family.

How about you?  Have you dined at the California Grill?  Let me know about your experiences at this restaurant!

My friends and I after our lovely meal

 

A special thanks this week to Neil Citro for being my official photographer during our visit to the California Grill and providing all of the pictures in this post!

Next week I’ll discuss my recent stay at the Beach Club Resort!

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

WDW Today Episode 851 – Listener Questions

by on March 16, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 851 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:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest