Archive for March, 2011

WDW Today Episode 850 – Value Resorts Q&A

by on March 13, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 850 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Signature Dining: Is It Worth It On The Disney Dining Plan?

by on March 11, 2011

Signature Dining v. Regular Dining on the Disney Dining Plan. It’s a debate in the Disney community that has raged as fiercely as the great refillable mug debate (okay, maybe this one isn’t quite so contentious). When my recent post on the real value of “Free” Dining morphed into a discussion on the merits of the Disney Dining Plan, in general, in the comments, I knew I would have to return to the topic.  When I recently heard about the new Signature Dinner menu at Le Cellier, I knew comparing the value of Signature Restaurants to Regular restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan would have to be the topic.

For those unfamiliar with how the Dining Plan works, regular Table Service restaurants require one credit, whereas Signature restaurants require two credits.  For those making their dining choices based solely on value-for-money, the determination of value is simple-enough: a meal at a Signature restaurant must cost twice as much as a meal at a regular Table Service restaurant. Obviously there are personal considerations that you may want to take into account as well, such as how many Table Service meals you actually want to eat (one per day might be too many for some parties, so using two credits for one meal might provide a nice respite), if you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for a meal if you use two credits on one meal (and whether that’s a concern), whether your plans will leave you with an extra credit if you don’t eat at a Signature restaurant, and which restaurants you prefer, just to name a few variables. Obviously, these subjective considerations vary widely per-party and per-individual, and are beyond the scope of this article. What we can provide is an objective analysis on price points at the restaurants to determination whether Signature Restaurants are an economically efficient use of dining credits.

To get an idea of the ‘value’ of eating at the various restaurants, consider the following dinner examples, organized by location (for ease of math, we will consider entree and dessert, not consider tax, tip, or drink; including these items does not alter the results in any meaningful way. Also noteworthy is that menu prices were taken from when available with providing supplemental menus; as such, some prices may not be current.):

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Jiko (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $51 per person.
Median-priced meal – $46 per person.
Cheapest meal – $35 per person.

Sanaa (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $35.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $24.48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $19.48 per person.



Flying Fish (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $53 per person.
Median-priced meal – $44 per person.
Cheapest meal – $36 per person.

Kouzzina by Cat Cora (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $40.48 per person.
Median-priced meal – $30.23 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

Contemporary Resort

California Grill (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $57 per person.
Median-priced meal – $48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $40 per person.

The Wave (Regular):
Most expensive meal –  $37.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $29.98 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Criticos (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $44 per person.
Cheapest meal – $22 per person.

Grand Floridian Cafe (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $37.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $25.88 per person.
Cheapest meal – $20.28 per person.

Yacht Club

Yachtsman Steakhouse (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $42 per person.
Cheapest meal – $31 per person.

Captain’s Grille (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $35.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $28.48 per person.
Cheapest meal – $20.48 per person.

Wilderness Lodge

Artist Point (Signature):
Most expensive meal – $55 per person.
Median-priced meal – $41.50 per person.
Cheapest meal – $35 per person.

Whispering Canyon Cafe (Regular):
Most expensive meal – $36.98 per person.
Median-priced meal – $26.98 per person.
Cheapest meal – $25.98 per person.

It’s pretty clear from these numbers that dinners at the Signature Restaurants are more expensive than dinners at the regular dining at the same resorts, but there is not one example where the cost is twice as much as the regular dining option.  In fact, on average, the median price of a meal at a Signature Restaurant is only 60.8% higher than a meal at a regular restaurant at the same resort.  While this doesn’t compare all Signature Restaurants to all regular restaurants, I believe the results would be roughly the same.  My rationale for comparing the restaurants in the manner I have done–on a resort by resort basis–is that I believe that based on most guests’ touring habits, restaurants at the same resort present viable alternatives to one another for most guests, whereas suggesting someone who was planning on eating at Citricos instead go eat at Sanaa may not be reasonable for all guests. (Although this type of random suggestion is exactly the type seems to make to me when I attempt to book dining online and my first choice isn’t available.)

From these results, it appears fairly clear that those of us considering only economic efficiency when choosing a restaurant on the dining plan are not well-suited by choosing Signature Dining.  Even Jiko, which is the restaurant that performs the best against its “foe,” Sanaa, the only a la carte restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge (well, it’s actually at Kidani Village, but close enough), isn’t double the cost of Sanaa. Plus, when compared to the restaurant in the same building, Boma, it’s comparative value falls in line with the other Signature Restaurants, which drop to having an across-the-board median meal price that is, on average, 55.38% more expensive than their regular dining counterparts.  These numbers make it abundantly clear that value-seekers on the Dining Plan should avoid Signature Dining (if you must do Signature Dining, it’s actually more efficient to pay out-of-pocket than to use the Dining Plan, even taking drink and tax into account).

Additionally, there are concerns, although certainly unsubstantiated, that prices have increased as a result of the Dining Plan to create the illusion of greater savings to those on the Dining Plan. If this theory is correct, it follows that prices at Signature Restaurants have been increased by greater amounts than those of other restaurants, as Disney wants to justify the “two credit status” to those guests considering Signature Dining options.  However, as stated previously, this is an unsubstantiated concern. The true cause for the recent dining price increases could be attributed to supply and demand, across the board increases in the pricing of Disney offerings, or the increases could have some other explanation entirely.

The take away from all this, if you don’t care to examine the numbers or math, is that Signature Dining is a bad option for Dining Plan value-seekers. For those using the Dining Plan for convenience, peace of mind, or any of the myriad of other reasons to use the Dining Plan, this value-comparison may be irrelevant. However, for those who justify using the plan based on saving money: Signature Restaurants are probably not for you.

WDW Today Episode 849 – Four Decades Of Magic

by on March 10, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 849 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

BETAMOUSE #56 – Bambi, Togetherville, Mickey, HM Queue

by on March 10, 2011

betamouse logoA new episode of Betamouse is out, co-hosted by developer Henry Work.

Download the episode directly or subscribe via iTunes or RSS.

When We Ran

by on March 10, 2011

Had you asked me just two years ago if I’d ever run, let alone run a race, I’d probably had cocked my head slightly, looked at you, and laughed.  It’s just not something I’d ever though I could do.  My only real experience with sports has been playing defensive positions, because they don’t generally require a lot of distance running.  I don’t remember ever making it beyond 1 lap around a football field.  But as I’ve mentioned before, a morning spent cheering for friends at the 2010 Walt Disney World Half Marathon changed all of that – I had become inspired.

Well now, after close to a year training myself to be a runner and loosing more than 75 pounds along the way (and counting!), I can finally say that I’ve met my first goal of running a Disney Race.  No it wasn’t a Half Marathon, it was the Beauty and the Beast Royal Family 5K.

My plan was to experience this race, time wasn’t a concern, nor was the distance – I already run 5K or more several days a week at this point.  Rather, I was fixated on the meet and greets that would be offered along the race route.  I got this in my head after hearing stories from my cool “cousins” Jackie and Lindsay about all the fun they had running the Half Marathon back in January.

I had also decided that I would run this race with friends as I’m a firm believer that being with friends can plus just about any Disney experience.  However, my biggest surprise came from my wife, Cheryl when she decided to register for the race as well.  As she’s not a runner I was a little concerned, but she does go to “boot camp” several times per week – we were both just hoping she wouldn’t be swept.

The morning of the race we met with our friends Shelley, Betsy, and Shalon at Epcot in the Imagine parking lot.  Betsy, having run her first Disney race a few months, was our veteran while Shalon, Shelley, Cheryl, and I were all running our first Disney race.  It was requested that we be at the race by 6:15am and the race did not start until 7am.  This allowed us some time to hang out together and watch the sun rise over Epcot.

As we went to line up in the corral we had chose as our starting point – the one just ahead of the walkers – we discovered that it was quite full.  So much so that, after the fireworks that started the race, we had to sort of merge into the mass of racers.  I was really expecting to just run, but what I found instead was that for the first bit of the race it was elbow to elbow.  And it was nice to see friends like Nicole, Dave (Shelley’s husband), Dana, and Christa cheering us on.

We all walked relatively close to each other for a bit, I kept Cheryl in my sight because I wanted to make sure she was completely comfortable before I raced ahead.  While waiting for the crowd to thin out we talked and took some photos. And then finally, after we came around the the Wonder Parking lot we were able to get enough space to start running.  I checked with Cheryl that she was okay, gave her a kiss and headed off.

From there we entered a junkyard area where I got to see old Jungle Cruise ships and old Studio Backlot Tour trams I got to pose with some members of the Public Works.  We then got to run behind the scenes and underneath the outdoor portions of Test Track where they had cars going very slowly overhead. Running past, they had us enter in between Mexico and Norway and we were greeted with lit torches around World Showcase.

At this point it was all about the meet and greets, and my first stop was with Mulan in China.  Her line was very short – normally when she’s out in the pavilion she doesn’t attract much of a line.  To me the Hall of Prayer is one of the prettiest buildings in World Showcase, so I love this shot.  From there I got to meet up with some pink cowgirls while waiting in line to see Snow White.  By comparison I waited close to 15 minutes in this line.

This allowed everyone else to pass me, which worked out well as I was able to use them to pace myself after that point.  And after bumping into my friend Lori and other members of the WDW Radio Running Team, I was able to catch up with Cheryl and Betsy before stopping to pose with Pocahontas at the American Adventure Pavilion.  The next two characters were Aladdin in Morocco and Cinderella in France, but the lines were far too long to wait for so I skipped them.

We then headed briefly out of the park through the International Gateway and around the back of the United Kingdom pavilion, where I got to have some water with Cheryl.  Entering back into World Showcase, I had to no choice but to stop for a final meet & greet with Alice and the Mad Hatter so I could pose for my friend JL who loves Alice in Wonderland.

After once again passing Lori and her group I posed in front of Spaceship Earth and then caught up with Cheryl and Betsy near the Epcot turnstiles staying with them a short bit nefore I ran ahead.  I caught up with Shelley and Shalon near mile marker 3 where we all posed, and then we headed to the finish line.  I got across first and managed to take pictures of everyone else as they came across.

Overall, the race was a lot of fun.  I really enjoyed getting to do the meet & greets, and seeing some behind the scenes stuff.  I’m very proud of my wife Cheryl who did amazing and was nowhere near being swept.  This race has me really psyched to for my next race, which will also be a bit more than just running as Shalon and I team up to tackle the Expedition Everest Challenge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in May.

What about you? Have you run a Disney race or Marathon?  Are you inspired to participate in one?  Are you looking to become a runner?  Do you need encouragement?  Keep moving forward.

A Wish is a Dream Your Heart Makes

by on March 9, 2011

If you’ve been following along on my Disney adventures you may remember I recently headed to WDW for a few days before taking my first cruise aboard the Disney Dream.  I spent a few days in WDW before heading to Port Canaveral to board the ship.  My friends and I had a great time running around the parks and enjoying great meals.  A big thank you goes out to all of our readers who made it out to the touringplans Hall of Presidents meet we held!  It was so nice to see familiar faces and meet some new folks.  I even got to sit with a couple of readers during the show and they didn’t make fun of me when I cried during the film!  While I had a fantastic time on land, the main event was my four nights aboard the Dream.

Photo provided by Steve Bassett

Without giving a blow by blow of my four days at sea, I wanted to touch on some of the key things I thought folks would want to hear about if they are thinking about booking a cruise.  So without further ado, lets start with arrival at the port.  When we got to the terminal we dropped our bags at the curb and learned they would be placed in our cabins for us later.  The terminal operations are very well organized and after checking in we hung out and waited for our number to be called to walk up the gangway.  After a bit of running around when we boarded in order to book last minute experiences, we found our state room.  My roommates Doug, Steve, and I opted for a room on the lowest deck because it was more affordable.  Deck level wasn’t

Our bunk beds

as important to me as having a porthole which luckily we had.  Along with our window (which doubled as a bench) the room came equipped with a queen sized bed, a sofa which folded into a twin bed, and another bed which folded out from the ceiling.  The bathroom was split into a small compartment with a toilet and sink and additional room with another sink and the shower.  I found the room to be fairly comfortable even with three adults sharing it.  It certainly wasn’t huge, but with all of the cabinets and under bed storage we managed to share the space just fine.

Photo by Doug Uhlig

While our stateroom was small, the rest of the Dream was enormous!  There is no way to see everything on a ship measuring about 1,115 long on a four day journey, but what I saw was really beautiful.  I love the navy blue, white, red, and yellow color scheme of the Dream’s exterior.  It’s classic nautical design makes me long for my younger days spent sailing off the coast of New England.  The interiors are full of rich wood and marble finishes are gorgeous and only add to the cruising experience.  A lot of activities center around the 11th deck which is home to the pools and the famous Aquaduck.  May I suggest riding the Aquaduck as soon as it opens like any good touringplanner would do?  We were able to ride it several times first thing in the morning before the line got too long.


Along with riding the Aquaduck there are a ton of on board activities.  There are shows every evening in the Walt Disney Theater of which we saw two.  The first night The Golden Mickeys was cheesy, but cute and worth seeing.  However, the second night’s show called Villains Tonight is 45 minutes of my life I will never get back (plus I left early).  It was terrible in every way possible.  The jokes were bad, the songs were lame, and it was down right painful.  Disney’s Believe is also supposed to be good, but I did not get to see it on this trip.  In addition to the nightly shows, there are movies playing both indoors and outside throughout the day, character meet and greets, kids activities, and adult only areas to enjoy.  My friends and I particularly enjoyed the an area called the District where all most of the bars and and a nightclub are located.

My favorite on board activity was visiting the Senses spa.  The spa offered a pass to enjoy their Rainforest area.  This included unlimited access to their steam rooms and saunas, showers with aroma and light therapy, hot stone lounge chairs, and hot tubs over looking the water.  A pass for this area for my four day cruise was $56 for individuals and $99 for couples.  My cabinmate, Steve, and I decided we would be a couple for a few days so we could get the discount.  Being able to actually able relax (and fall asleep in the hot stone lounge chair) was worth the price of admission.  However, I would not recommend getting manicure and pedicure services here.  I didn’t think it was anything special even though it was much more expensive than what I would pay at home.  I did not get any other treatments during my trip, so I’m looking forward to maybe giving them a try next time.

Photo by Steve Bassett

The spa was great, but the most relaxing part of the trip (and my favorite) was our stop at Castaway Cay which is Disney’s private dedicated to providing fun in the sun for its cruise line passengers.  A group of us were lucky enough to rent a cabana on the island and it was the best $80 I’ve spent in a long time.  While the cabana experience is a price one, if you split the cost with friends it makes the cost much more tolerable.  Plus the cabana rental also included snorkeling equipment, bike rentals, and great service.  I was really looking forward to snorkeling and it didn’t disappoint!  There is an area set up for guests to swim out to view man made habitats for beautiful fish.  After quite a while in the water, we took most of the rest of the afternoon to relax in or near our cabana.  A day at the beach is always great for me so I couldn’t speak more highly of our

Our cabana

day here.

I’m sure some of you are dying to know more about the food on the Dream.  We tried each of the three main dining restaurants for dinner.  I thought they were all decent, but nothing fantastic.  The menu promised sophisticated dishes which often didn’t live up to their aspirations.  The servers at dinner stayed with us throughout our trip so they got to know us a little which was nice.  Something folks may want to note is that the cruise line restaurants did not seem to be as considerate about special dietary needs as they are at Walt Disney World.  I don’t have any dietary issues, but some of my fellow travelers do, and they sometimes found it difficult to handle.  The clear highlight of my culinary experiences on board had to be brunch at Palo.  This restaurant only serves adults over 18 years old so it has a much more elegant flair than the main dining rooms.  If you get the opportunity to have brunch here, by all means take it.  The meal was massive with a appetizer buffet, pizza, a breakfast entree, a lunch entree, and dessert served.  But everything morsel was delicious and completely worth the extra $20.

I could go on and on about all the things to see and do on board this beautiful vessel, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now.   I will say, though, that I truly loved my first cruising experience.  In fact, I “saved the date” for a future cruise because I loved it so much.  When guests do this they get a 10% discount and an on board credit for their next trip.  I can’t wait to sail with Disney again and check out some of the things I missed this time around.

What about you?  Have you cruised on the Dream yet or do you have a trip planned?  Let me know what you thought about your cruise!

Next week I’ll discuss the wonderful dinner my friends and I had at the California Grill during my recent trip!





WDW Today Episode 848 – Listener Questions

by on March 8, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 848 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Lines: Now Serving Touring Plans On The Go

by on March 7, 2011

At long last, all of our premium Walt Disney World Touring Plans and Disneyland Touring Plans are available via Lines, our mobile app! Lines also now includes access to all of your personalized touring plans created on the website.

For those not wanting to print out Touring Plans, this feature of Lines (see WDW Lines and DLR Lines) should come in very handy. You can access the Touring Plans on the homescreen of Lines, or by clicking on individual park pages and scrolling to the bottom. The plans are organized by touring group and by category, and the mobile Touring Plans include the full directions, minus a map.

For easy access while touring, you can “select” a Touring Plan and then have one-click access to the plan from the top of the Lines homescreen as well as the park pages. Try it out with a plan, and let us know what you think!

Have you played around with this feature yet? On your next trip, will you print out the Touring Plans or use Lines?

WDW Today Episode 847 – Power Hour (Revisited)

by on March 6, 2011

wdwtoday logoEpisode 847 of WDW Today is now available for download here. Join owner Len Testa as co-host for a podcast that features many Walt Disney World travel planning tips!

One-click subscriptions to WDW Today:

Choosing The Right Walt Disney World Resort For You

by on March 4, 2011

Grand Floridian Sunset

We often receive comments from readers who, on one end of the spectrum, wonder why anyone would choose a resort other than a Value as the room is only for sleeping, and on the other end, question how anyone can truly have a relaxing vacation without the amenities of a Deluxe or Deluxe Villas Resort. Beyond the self-professed frugal travelers and luxury snobs lie the vast majority of other Walt Disney World Resort guests, who predicate their resort decisions based on value-for-money, resort amenities, room size and layout, theme, and a myriad of other factors.

Rather than provide a resort-by-resort amenity list for each of the 22 different Walt Disney World Resorts, below is an overview of what to expect at each tier:

Deluxe Resorts

  • 344-440 square feet (standard rooms)
  • Two queen beds or one king bed
  • Maximum occupancy: 4-5 people
  • Themed pools, gift shop, table service restaurants, health clubs, food court, and other amenities
  • Interior corridors
  • Wide range of transportation
  • Understated themes focused on relaxation and elegance
  • 2011 rates starting at $250/night

Deluxe Villa Resorts

  • 355-412 square feet (standard rooms)
  • Beds dependent on number of rooms
  • Maximum occupancy: varies
  • Themed pools, gift shop, table service restaurants, health clubs, food court, and other amenities
  • Wide range of transportation
  • Understated themes focused on relaxation and elegance
  • 2011 rates starting at $280/night

Moderate Resorts

  • 314-340 square feet (standard rooms)
  • Two double beds (updating to two queens in 2011)
  • Maximum occupancy: 4 people
  • Themed pools, gift shop, table service restaurants, food court, and other amenities
  • Wide range of transportation
  • Understated themes focused on relaxation and elegance
  • Exterior corridors
  • 2011 rates starting at $154/night

Value Resorts

  • 260 square feet (standard rooms)
  • Two double beds or one king bed
  • Maximum occupancy: 4 people
  • Themed pools, gift shop, and food court
  • Exterior corridors
  • No Table Service restaurants, lounges, health clubs, spas, valet parking, or water-recreation
  • Shared transportation with one another during some seasons (except Pop Century, which has its own transportation)
  • Vibrant color schemes and oversized ‘set piece’ decorations from Disney animated classics
  • 2011 rates starting at $82/night.

Old Key West Daydreamin'

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of which resort is “best.”  It’s highly subjective, and even those to whom money is no issue may find that the delightful oversized set pieces of the Value Resorts are more magical to their young children than the sometimes stuffy, albeit exquisite, atmosphere of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.  Which resort is right for your party is a something only you can determine, but we hope this post has helped provide you with some objective (of course probably slanted with my own subjective bias) information to assist you in making the decision.


Florida Dreamin'

With that disclaimer in mind, I would recommend Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts to honeymooners, couples looking for a romantic resort, and those who like to spend considerable amounts of time enjoying their resort.  More specifically, I would recommend the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian) and the Epcot resorts (Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and Swan & Dolphin (yes, even though it isn’t a Disney resort, I would recommend it)) to those who don’t plan on renting a car, or would like to utilize Disney transportation as much as possible.  I would also recommend these resorts for those who enjoy more adult theming, or those who are not concerned with cost.  With the exception of the Beach Club (for its pool) and the Polynesian, I would not recommend these resorts for parties with small children. My top pick among the Deluxes is the Polynesian, with any of the Epcot resorts in second. During the Christmas season, Wilderness Lodge climbs several positions to near the top of the list.

Moderate Resorts, in my mind, are in a bit of “no man’s land.” Personally, I am not too keen on any of the Table Service restaurants at these resorts, and the added amenities and additional room size are not appealing-enough to justify the increased cost.  Each of these resorts does have its own interesting and beautiful theme, so I would recommend these resorts to adults who find the Values too ostentatious or “motel-ish,” but who cannot justify the cost of a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa.  My pick here goes to Port Orleans Riverside, but that’s only because I prefer its bayou charm and plantation-style buildings. As far as aesthetics go, they’re all equally good.

Disney's All Star Music Resort

I am an ardent defender of the Value Resorts. Maybe this is because I’m cheap, or get sticker shock when I see the rates at the Moderates and Deluxes, but I think many people are far too dismissive of the Values.  First and foremost, anyone taking children to Walt Disney World, regardless of their economic means, should give serious consideration to the Values. While I may not have children myself, I am essentially a 6 year old trapped in a 26 year old’s body, and the giant Disney ‘toys’ that scatter the courtyards and the vibrant colors of these resorts can’t help but make me smile.  No doubt, “real” kids have the same reaction. While the children in your party may be prodigies who would prefer to critique the visual stylization of Becket’s architectural work at the Contemporary, in general I think kids like that are few and far between.  Since a family trip to Walt Disney World is primarily taken for the enjoyment of children (this is not to say we adults can’t have fun, too!) it stands to reason that choosing a resort that kids would enjoy, rather than opting for an ornate yet stuffy resort such as the Yacht Club or Grand Floridian, might be advisable.  Besides anyone touring with kids, I recommend the Values to those who don’t spend much time in their rooms, those unconcerned with resort amenities, and those on a budget. My pick among the Values is Pop Century, although aesthetically, I’d choose All Star Music.

It should be noted that this post is not an exhaustive comparison of amenities available at the various tiers of resorts, but rather, a starting place. What other considerations do you take into account? Do you disagree with my assessment of the categories or specific resorts?

We’d love to hear our readers’ rationale for choosing particular resorts!