Archive for May, 2011

Walt Disney World: June 2011

by on May 31, 2011

It is officially summer at the Walt Disney World Resort! The weather is getting warmer, the kids are getting out of school, and there is a lot of fun stuff going on in the parks.

Gay Days
June 2nd through June 5th are Gay Days at Disney World. The gathering is always the first weekend in June, with a designated park that they attend each day. 50,000 attendees in red shirts fill the chosen park, and can make it much more crowded than it would normally be. Due to the special event, the Gay Days park is always listed as a park to avoid. Those attending Gay Days events, or in the Gay Days park, will want to make sure to use a Touring Plan and get there early.

Star Wars Weekends
Star Wars Weekends continue every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Disney’s Hollywood Studios until June 12. Check out Todd Perlmutter’s post “A Primer For Star Wars Weekends” and the special Star Wars Weekends Touring Plans, to be fully prepared for the crowds. While attraction wait times should not be too long, the common areas are very crowded, and the Star Wars Weekends events will be busy.

Father’s Day
While Disney World does not do anything to celebrate Father’s Day on June 19th, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate with Dad. Take him for a round of golf at one of Disney’s golf courses, treat him a nice steak at Yachtsman Steakhouse, or head to Downtown Disney for live entertainment and a variety of shops and restaurants.

Summer Break Begins
It’s that time of year again! Beginning on June 25th it is officially summer season at the resort. The schools have let out and families will be flocking to Disney World from all across the country. This means the Crowd Calendar shows mostly 7′s, 8′s, and 9′s, with a few 10′s in there as well. Expect large crowds, extreme heat, and afternoon showers. However, remember that families can still have a fantastic vacation if they plan properly. Remember to drink plenty of water, take breaks, enjoy air conditioned attractions during peak heat, and be armed with a Touring Plan.

Are you ready for summer at Disney World? Will you be attending Gay Days or Star Wars Weekends? Let us know!

Photo credits: jericl cat, Brandon?

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Using the TouringPlans.com Tools – Part 3 – Lines

by on May 31, 2011

I’ve talked the last couple of weeks about how I use the Crowd Calendar and the Touring Plans to plan my trip, but when I arrive on property, those tools move to the background.  When it’s time to set forth into the parks, I’m all about the Lines app on my phone. 

The boy knows to check Lines.

There may be better things that have been invented in my lifetime, but I doubt it.  Lines has literally changed the way I tour more than the Touring Plans or the Crowd Calendar.  Sure, there’s the wait times, which are very valuable, but there is so much more in Lines that I use to help me tour and also to enjoy my visits even more. 

The wait times are obviously the big benefit.  As much as I trust the Touring Plans, super statistician Fred Hazelton or noted raconteur Len Testa cannot be in the parks every single day.  Conditions on the ground change, right?   My plan always when following a touring plan is to check Lines before I walk over to the attraction, and make sure I’m making the right call.  Sometimes you see a red flag, like an attraction is down or the wait time is much higher than expected.  That helps adapt your touring to make sure you are still keeping with the plan. 

Even more valuable (at least to me), though, is the forecasted wait times.  If you click on an attraction in the app, you will get not only the most recently posted wait times, but also what the forecast is for the wait times throughout the day, as well as when the Fastpasses will run out.  This is so supremely helpful to planning my day when I am in the parks. 

Photo via Star Tours 2 Live

Let me give an example.  This past weekend, I was in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekends with my children.  My son being a HUGE Star Wars fan, I wanted to get him multiple rides on Star Tours.  While the Touring Plan calls for one ride between 10-11 a.m., I looked at the forecasted wait times and when FASTPASS would be gone on Lines.  I was able to see that I needed to modify my plans and hit Star Tours first, grab a FASTPASS and get back in line again in order to get the rides I wanted.

That’s just one example of how I use Lines, but it’s become an integral part of my touring.  The wait time forecasts are fantastic for what I mentioned above, but I am also able to select a certain touring plan that I want to follow for easy reference throughout the day.  I can also look at the Crowd Calendar forecast for upcoming days to see if I need to go to a certain park on a different day than I had planned. 

It’s very important to allow some flexibility in your planning process for just this reason.  Lines allows me to do that, because if I arrive and see some differences in wait times, I can adjust accordingly.  Also, if you are someone who doesn’t plan every single day, just some, Lines helps you get through those days by directing you to the right locations.  I know I’m gushing, but Lines really does make things better for me in the parks. 

So, that’s how I use Lines, but what about you?  Do you chat?  Try to get badges?  Or just use the wait times?  Let me know!

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Unheralded Dining Gems: Kona Cafe

by on May 27, 2011

It has been said that in life, the only things that are certain are death and taxes. In Walt Disney World planning, the only things that can be certain are a need to make advance dining reservations 180 days out, and that park hours will change at least once while you’re planning your trip. Not quite as certain or as succinct as the “death and taxes” catchphrase, but I think it’s fairly apt. Given this certainty, where do you get reservations if you book a trip inside of 3 months, when some of the most popular restaurants are booked solid? Chef Mickey’s? Not a chance. Le Cellier? Le No-Way-Jose! Cinderella’s Royal Table? Sorry, this glass slipper doesn’t fit! You could just go the increasingly popular route of winging it and hoping for the best, which is a strategy that many are reporting surprising success utilizing, or you could make reservations for some of Walt Disney World’s more unheralded restaurants.

Kona Cafe certainly fits the bill in this “unheralded” category. Despite being located in what is undeniably the best resort on Disney property (I would append “in my opinion” to that, but I think it has been scientifically proven by…some scientists…that the Polynesian is the best Walt Disney World resort), it’s fairly easy to secure reservations at Kona Cafe. Perhaps it is the subdued and unassuming theming or its proximity to the popular ‘Ohana, but for whatever reason, reservations are not especially difficult to come by for Kona Cafe.

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Its location is a big plus. Located right in the lobby of the Polynesian, it’s fairly easily to access from the Magic Kingdom, so you can easily visit before a day in the park or catch the monorail during the late afternoon or early evening for respite from the heavy crowds on a busy summer day. Come early or stay late for a Lapu Lapu and relax on the beach to enjoy the sunset. Now that’s something you can’t do when dining at Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table, or Le Cellier!

Once the sun sets or you’ve reached the bottom of your pre-dinner drink, head inside for a relaxing meal. And what a meal. I don’t know what influenced me to order the New York strip the first time I dined at Kona Cafe—what island makes a good steak!?!—but whatever influenced me, I thank. That steak is everything a steak should be: lean yet flavorful, hearty, and tender. Honestly, I can’t go on with the superlatives for fear I will head to the airport today for WDW. The pineapple teriyaki glaze adds the perfect island flare, and adds an interesting twist to what would otherwise be an unadventurous menu item. The steak was perfect. That steak often haunts–yes, haunts–my dreams, as I chase after it; always, of course, awakening right as I catch the elusive cut of meat. It’s probably just as well that I wake up, as I’d rather not chew my pillow or arm in my sleep!  In addition to the steak, the mashed Yukon potatoes, in all of their buttery glory, make an excellent side. These mashed potatoes and the stir-fried broccoli compliment the dish quite well.

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Overall, Kona’s dinner menu is fairly strong. A bit more mundane than the highly adventurous (and even more underrated) Sanaa Restaurant, most of the dishes contain some unique component to tempt the guest’s palate. Whether that be spicy guava-passion fruit or pineapple relish, each dish seems to have something. None of these options are unique or daring enough to scare off the more conventional eaters, so it appears Kona Cafe has struck the perfect balance in its cuisine.

Since first going to Kona Cafe, I think I’ve concocted a bit of a rivalry between it and Le Cellier. Invariably, when someone I know mentions Le Cellier and its succulent meats, I turn my nose up and say, “Phhh, any experienced Disney fan knows that Disney’s actual ‘Best Kept Secret’ is that Kona Cafe serves the superior cuts of meat!” Not that Le Cellier is not a great restaurant in its own right, but I find Kona Cafe superior in pretty much every regard (except in pre-dinner breads and desserts). Kona is more versatile, serving a delicious breakfast and dinner with a wide range of menu choices, Kona is easier to book, and Kona offers a better ambiance.

Speaking of breakfast, the breakfast at Kona Cafe is not to be missed. With the exception of a couple buffets, we generally find the breakfast offerings at the few Walt Disney World restaurants that actually serve breakfast to be very underwhelming. Not Kona Cafe. Arguably the best breakfast on property, Kona Cafe has several great breakfast menu choices, including the Disney-fan favorite, the Tonga Toast. Equal parts sourdough bread, bananas, cinnamon, and awesome, Tonga Toast is like little culinary angels dancing on your taste buds. Top it with some strawberry sauce and you’re in for a real treat. It’s definitely not to be missed.

So, the next time you find yourself without an ADR at the last minute and wanting to try one of the best restaurants on property, inquire into Kona Cafe. You won’t be sorry you did. But keep this information to yourself. We don’t want this little secret getting out!

Have you tried Kona Cafe before? Love it? Hate it? Share your thoughts on Kona, and any other “unheralded dining gems” you may have, in the comments!

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Haunted Mansion New Queue Review

by on May 26, 2011

We Walt Disney World fans tend to treat the attractions in the parks like they are part of our families.  Love them or hate them, in the end, try as we might, we always go back to them as they pull us back in.  Their tricks and turns always cause us to marvel with awe and wonder even though we have them all memorized and are long past surprises.  But Disney’s goal is always to enhance and plus our experiences, letting them grow.

Not too long ago Disney Imagineers decided to take one of the most boring parts of theme parks, lines (a.k.a. queues), and slowly being to change them pushing them towards interaction.  We’d seen this previously with video games in the queues for attractions like Soarin’ and Space Mountain.  And other attractions such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror have always had pre-shows and highly stylized theming to hold our interest.  Now Disney has started to take that to the next level with queues designed to keep you occupied without resorting to video games.

The most recent attraction queue to get this makeover is The Haunted Mansion.  Of course, when any sort of construction wall goes up at an opening-day attraction speculation, worry, and fear ensue (FUD).  The graveyard and the view toward Tom Sawyer Island had been all walled up for a bit under 6 months.  The payoff is interesting, and certainly not what everyone had expected.  For example, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh turned out to be far more interactive after its makeover.

The thing I find most interesting is that not everyone who’s heading into The Haunted Mansion will be participating in the new queue experience.  It seems odd to me, but the queue is now actually split.  You go through the old “back and forth” part of the queue only to arrive at a castmember who sometimes tells you that you can go left to experience the new interactive queue or right and skip it.  The choice is yours.  In effect, the attraction ends up with a “fast lane” in place of a FASTPASS.

Upon entering the new queue you’re greeted by busts of the members of the Dread Family.  These busts are very nicely crafted, and up close (yes you can walk up and touch them) they have the look and feel of smoothed sandstone.  The busts themselves don’t move or make any sort of noise, but they do contain a puzzle.  A murder mystery is to be solved as indicated on the pedestal for Uncle Jacob, “now try to discover who killed who”.  Poems on the pedestals and certain markings on the busts are the key.

Some of the gravestones have been moved into the queue itself, most notably the one belonging to Master Gracey himself.  From the size and shape, either he was cremated, very short, or killed by the Rocketeer villain Lothar.  Also seen are the ones for Grandpa Marc (a tribute to Marc Davis) and Francis Xavier (a tribute to X Atencio) as well as a brand new tribute obelisk maker to Imagineer Collin Campbell.  Sadly Campbell passed away shortly after its debut.

In addition, the gravestones that start at the front door with the seemingly “alive” one for Madame Leota (a tribute to Leota Toombs) climb up the hillside and then wrap back down around the queue toward Tom Sawyer Island. But what I find very interesting is a highly stylized emergency/evacuation exit.  Instead of just being your typical door backstage, it’s a staircase themed along with the rest of the queue.  And right next to it is a set of crypts for more Imagineers: Mister Frees (Paul Frees), Ken (Ken Anderson), Brother Roland (Roland Crump), and Uncle Blaine (Blaine Gibson).

A “musical mausoleum” has been dedicated to voice actor and singer Thurl Ravenscroft.  There are three interactive sides to try out here, all of them are based on musical instruments.  On the first side you are presented with a plaque number of standard musical instruments.  Touching each will produce music as played by that instrument, and the more instruments that are touched the more melodic it becomes.  Next you’re presented with an organ emblazoned with the name “Ravenscroft”.  Pressing the keys plays music, but watch out as you’ll also end up getting sprayed with a water mist the more you play.  Then you’re presented with another plaque containing more musical instruments only these are part animal, part bone, or all cat.  A one-eyed black cat that is – both a tribute to the Edgar Allan Poe story, and part of the original mansion concepts and story.

Next up is the crypt for Captain Culpepper Clyne, “allergic to dirt so he’s pickled in brine”.  He’s considered to be one of the Mansion’s Sinister Eleven.  The first thing you’ll notice is that he’s singing various sea shanties.  Occasionally, he’ll gurgle the water a bit and then bubbles will start spewing from his crypt.  The entire time water will leak from the crypt through holes and cracks that are all over.  You can actually spend time trying to use your fingers to plug up these holes.  When you do, the water start leaking from a different point.  The far side of crypt contains two portholes, but they don’t seem to do anything.

The final interactive element in the new queue is the mausoleum of Prudence Pock.  The first side contains a memorial plaque declaring Prudence as a poetess who died of writer’s block.  Two of the sides are what appear to be carvings of library stacks, however the books in these carvings keep popping in and out of their positions.  Guests can try to push the books back in faster than they pop out.  The books remind me of the Library scene inside the Mansion where the books move about.  Finally, you’ll find that Prudence is still hard at work trying to overcome that writer’s block.  She’ll write out the first part of a poem in a book inside her mausoleum, and you’ll help her finish it.  Trust me, she’s listening.

Overall, I really enjoy these changes.  I think it’s a smart move on Disney’s part to try to bring their guests into the attraction earlier, before they even get inside, and this is a great way to do just that.  If you’re with children I would always choose the interactive side of the queue, there’s just a lot of things to keep them occupied while waiting.  Heck, there’s a lot to keep me occupied.  My only concern is that some of the new interactive queue is not covered by the canopy.  That can be an issue for those trying to stay out of the sun or avoid the heat.

What about you? What do you think of the new Haunted Mansion queue?  Like it?  Love it? Give you more of it?  Or are you just dying to see it? <insert evil laugh here>

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Make a Splash in Your Resort’s Pool

by on May 25, 2011

Photo by Deanna Simmons

With the official start of summer kicking off this weekend I thought I’d take this week’s post to talk about a topic essential to summer fun: resort pools.  While these facilities provide a lot of fun, they can also be used as a great tool to keep your sanity while touring in the Florida heat.  Here at Touring Plans and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World we highly recommend taking an afternoon break from the parks.  The midday hours are often the busiest and hottest so it really pays to high tail it out for there for a few hours.  Many folks may opt for a leisurely lunch or a nap, but many seek relief at their resort’s pool.  Each Disney resort has multiple pools for their guests so take advantage and cool off before you head back to a park for the evening hours!

So with that in mind, I wanted to point out some of the stars in the Disney pool line up.  Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the best swimming holes of the deluxe, moderate, and value resorts.  I’m going to discuss the feature pools at these resorts below, but also keep in mind each of them also has at least one “quiet pool.”  These may come with less fanfare, but should also be less crowded.  If you are looking to have a peaceful break from the usual Disney World run around they could be a great option for you.

Stormalong Bay Photo by Deanna Simmons

Since many of the deluxe resorts go all out to bring fun swimming areas to their guests it is hard to pick one favorite!  So I narrowed my choices down to three.  Before I get into my picks, it is good to know each of the deluxe resorts’ signature pools feature a water slide and guests may get pool toys and towels free of charge poolside.  These are also usually the most heavily themed pools on property so they are a lot of fun even if you can only swing by to check them out for a few minutes.

The most well known deluxe resort pool is shared by the Beach and Yacht Club Resorts.  Stormalong Bay sits between these two hotels and is so popular cast members check room keys before allowing guests into the area.  It is also the only resort pool to get a five star rating from the readers of the Unofficial Guide to WDW!   There are several sand bottom pools to pick from as well as a slide built to look as if its the remains of a ship wreck.  There is even a kids’ area which is shallow and has areas for them to build sandcastles.  The complex is huge so be sure to keep and eye on your kids and maybe pick a set of lounge chairs to keep as a home base.

Keister Coaster Photo by Betsy Bates

Across the lagoon The Boardwalk Inn also has a fun pool made to look like an amusement park’s wooden roller coaster thus giving it its name: the keister coaster.  This pool only gets 3.5 stars in the Unofficial Guide, but I think its adorable.  I may be biased since the Boardwalk is my favorite resort, but I think you’ll have fun if you give it a shot.  The bar here called Leaping Libations is also one of my favorites on property.

To round out my top deluxe resort picks I’ll swing over to the monorail loop to

Polynesian Pool by Ashley Simmons

discuss the volcano pool at the Polynesian.  Not only does the volcano house the resort’s water slide, but it steams as if its active!  A fun feature of this pool is music is piped into speakers in the water so you can enjoy Hawaiian tunes even under water.  The added bonus of using the Polynesian’s pool is the view of the Magic Kingdom across the Seven Seas Lagoon.  If you really want to take advantage of this location, you can take a break from your evening swim to watch Wishes! from the beach.

Dig Site Pool Photo by Betsy Bates

The moderate resorts also have nicely themed pools complete with water slides, but you will have to supply your own towels, etc.  I must confess I’ve only stayed at one moderate resort and I did not take a dip in their pool.  However, I took to twitter to find out which ones people loved most.  I got the most votes for Coronado Springs’ Dig Site pool.  It has received a four star ranking from our readers.  The feature of this pool is a 46 foot tall Mayan temple which is meant to be the subject of an archeological study.  A water slide, hot tub, and kids area round out the wet fun here.

The value resorts’ pools are a bit less showy, but can be equally relaxing.   There

Hippy Dippy Pool Photo by Betsy Bates

are no slides at these resorts, and guests must supply their own towels.  All of the value resorts’ pools rank with three stars in the Unofficial Guide to WDW.  My favorite pool at the value resorts is the Hippy Dippy Pool at Pop Century.  Since it is located between the buildings depicting the 1960s this flower shaped pool rolls along with the theme of the decade.  Bright colors adorn the area and flower shaped fountains spray swimmers.

If getting wet isn’t your thing don’t fret.  All of these pools have plenty of lounge chairs where you can take a nap or read a book while your kids (or friends) play.  There is also an outdoor bar close to all of the pools in case you feel the need to sip a fruity drink while you relax poolside.  However, you may be surprised how great a swim will sound when the heat index is over 100 degrees this summer!

I hope my favorites have inspired you to take some time out from you busy touring schedule to check out your resort’s pool.  Try to remember that a trip to Walt Disney World is actually a vacation and you should carve out some time to relax!

I haven’t stayed at every resort so I may have left your favorite off my list.  Tell me all about which resort pools you like most in the comments!

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TouringPlans.com on WGHP – FOX8 Greensboro

by on May 23, 2011

Recently our own Len Testa appeared on the local FOX morning news show to give Disney trip-planning advice.

As TouringPlans.com readers, you’re probably already familiar with most of the planning tips, but we thought you might enjoy seeing the clips.

Click here to catch Len before the paparazzi do.

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Avoiding the Odd Man Out at Walt Disney World

by on May 23, 2011

TouringPlans.com is happy to welcome Erin Foster to our blogging team. Erin an original Disney Mom and will be covering issues concerning travel with families among other topics.

I have five people in my family – an odd number. Our numerical unevenness occasionally puts an element of tension into our touring. Sometimes when we all go on a ride together, there is an odd man out: due to the capacity of the attraction vehicle, someone has to sit separately from the rest of the family. In my current situation, with older children and parents willing to “take one for the team” by sitting alone or with another guest, vehicle issues are only a minor bother.

But for a single parent with two or more young children, ride vehicle configuration can be the source of real anxiety. How do you decide who goes together? Does a child feel comfortable sitting alone or with a stranger? Does the parent feel comfortable when the children are together, but may not be visible? For these guests, the question becomes: can you avoid having an odd man out? Or if you can’t, what are some strategies to make this situation less taxing?

Attractions Where Party Size Poses No Problem

Let’s start out by looking at the attractions where party size doesn’t matter: where there is no fixed number of individuals that can sit together. These are the ones where a single parent with two children or a party of five will have no seating issues. This stress-free situation occurs primarily in show-style or walk-through attractions, or in vehicles where multiple parties ride together.
You’ll all be able to sit/participate together:

Your group can ride together on the Carrousel

You’ll all be in the same vehicle:

Also posing no problem are the attractions which have a fixed number of guests allowed per vehicle, but the capacity large enough that most families will be accommodated together. The majority of these attractions have bench-style seating where the number of people assigned to each row varies depending on the size of the individuals:

Safari vehicles can seat large parties

Attractions Where Party Size May Matter

Now on to the trouble spots. The attractions listed below are the ones where some thought or negotiation may come into play when parties with an odd number of people decide how to ride.

Magic Kingdom:

There's plenty of room to squeeze into a tea cup

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • TriceraTop Spin – Each dino has two rows of bench-style seating. Total carpet capacity of up to five guests, depending on size.
  • Expedition Everest – Each train seats many people, but only two per row.
  • Primeval Whirl– Four people per vehicle.

Epcot:

Test track has two rows of three per vehicle

Even when vehicles have a small, fixed capacity, there may be little cause for worry. On Test Track, the teacups, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Winnie the Pooh, Journey into Imagination, and the PeopleMover, a party of five can ride in one vehicle. Here a single parent would not need to be separated from two children. At Mission Space and Primeval Whirl, a single parent would not need to be separated from two children. A family of five would need to split up, but because of the substantial height requirement for these attractions, there would likely be little concern with letting two children go it alone in an adjacent vehicle, as the kids would have to be fairly old to experience the attraction.

Pinpointing the Real Trouble Spots: Attractions Where There Could Be A True Odd Man Out

This leaves only a handful of attractions as potentially true problems.

Shooting rides:

Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear have bench seating which could theoretically accommodate three people (mom and two young kids, or two adults and a preschooler), but with only two blasters in each car, these are two-person rides for anyone who wants to have full enjoyment. And really, what’s the point of battling with Emperor Zurg if you don’t have access to a weapon? The easiest solution is to put the two kids in one car and put the solo adult in the car behind them. All members of the party will arrive at the unload point within seconds of each other. To make this work, the children must feel comfortable not having eyes on mom at all times (and vice versa). However, you will always be within earshot, so if there were a concern, you could shout and be in communication. If you’re going to have parent/children in separate vehicles, be sure to discuss in advance what to do in the event of a temporary halt of the ride. Let the kids know that short stops happen with some regularity and that they should never leave the car unless instructed to by you or a cast member.

Toy Story Midway Mania is really a two person ride

An alternative solution to the Toy Story and Buzz two-person-only problem would be to have mom and one child share the ride, with the other child in the next vehicle. We’ve resorted to this when my kids are in a “she breathed on me, I’m going to kill her” mood or when one child has a need for some extra TLC. My now pre-teen daughters are willing to ride alone, but they get anxious about riding in a two-person vehicle with a stranger. If this is your situation, speak with the cast member at the ride load zone. I have never seen Disney not honor a guest’s polite request to ride alone for reasons of safety or comfort.

Spinning rides:

For Aladdin and TriceraTop, a party of three would not need to be separated and, in many cases, a party of five could be accommodated. However, my family often experiences conflict here with the ride controls. One row makes the car go up and down, while the other row tilts the car forward and back. Decide in advance whether your kids can share duties on the infinitely more satisfying up/down controller or if one should be on the bench with mom and take the tilt control.

Dumbo is a special challenge for a single parent with two children. To fit an adult plus two children in the elephant, the kids have to be quite small. The family split-up is difficult because although there is a lap belt, the open side of the elephant means that you need to have complete confidence that the unaccompanied child or children will remain seated. If you don’t fall into either of these categories, then try hard skip this attraction. Astro-Orbiter is similar, but due to its location, not as enticing for little ones and is easier to avoid.

Make sure you're comfortable with two kids riding alone in one Dumbo

Thrill rides:

For Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Expedition Everest, Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Space Mountain, parties of three, or even five, can stay in the same vehicle. However, the first four of these require two-by-two seating. With a party of three there is the choice: have the kids sit together and mom sits alone in the next row, or have mom sit with one child and have the other child sit alone or with a stranger. This decision may have been easy with the relatively benign Buzz, but with a young child and a potentially frightening roller coaster, the pressure to make the right call looms large. You’ll have to assess your personal family needs. Has one of the children already been on the ride, or one that’s similar, and is comfortable with it? Can the children reassure each other if scared? Does the child need to hold hands with or otherwise touch a parent to feel secure? In my family, the solution that worked was to seat mom with the younger or less experienced child in the row directly behind the older child. This way I could place my hands on the head or shoulders of the child in front of me if a comforting touch was required. Again, if your child feels uneasy sitting next to a stranger, ask the load zone cast member to place the child in a row alone.

Two across seating at Splash Mountain

Space Mountain has three people in one rocket, in a row one behind the other. No one sits side-by-side. As with the other roller coasters, think about your family dynamic and their ability to cope with new situations. If I’m alone with two of my children on Space Mountain, I’ll sit between them, but it may also make sense for a younger child to sit between a parent and an older sibling.

Three people in a row in the Space Mountain rockets

Additional issues:

The Haunted Mansion and The Seas with Nemo are similarly configured rides where two members of a party of three can request that a third party member be in the next car over and sit alone. I personally would be cautious about separating children from parents on the Haunted Mansion unless the children have previously experienced this attraction. The potential fright level is high with young children. And there is nothing worse than hearing your kids cry, but not be able to physically comfort them.

Spaceship Earth has a shared control component like some of the spinning rides. Each of the two rows of seats has a separate interactive touch screen. A family of three will fit into this ride just fine, but here it may be easier to have each child in a separate row so that they each get to decide their future fate. To keep the peace, mom is going to have to cede control of her fate to her offspring. I’m hoping they choose a nice home for me ☺.

Spaceship Earth vehicles have two rows of two

Peter Pan has Dumbo-esque open sides, but is less of a problem for a single parent with two children because the bench is wide enough that three people can often fit together without splitting up.

Tomorrowland Speedway could fit an adult and two smallish children on board, but only one person can be in front of the steering wheel. If there is no easy solution to who sits where (flip a coin, pick a number), then this ride is one to skip. Also be aware that the Speedway is the only attraction at Walt Disney World where the driver actually controls the forward movement of the ride vehicle. If you decide to let an older child drive alone, be sure to explain this to him or her and give instructions on how to work the car.

Only one can drive at the Tomorrowland Speedway

Of the more than 100 attractions at Walt Disney World, fewer than a dozen pose an issue for odd-numbered families. With a bit of planning and consideration, even those few need not be a challenge.

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Using the TouringPlans.com Tools – Part 2 – Touring Plans

by on May 23, 2011

Last week, I talked about how I use the Crowd Calendar to plan out my trips far into the future.  I’m able to see which parks I want to go to each day, and decide where to book dining reservations or special experiences.  But what will I do when I am in those parks?  That brings me to the 2nd piece of the site I use while planning – the touring plans

If you want to meet princesses, you NEED a touring plan.

Based on some amazing math work by Len Testa and what I believe to be HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the touring plans that this site is famous for are the absolute best way and precise order in which to see attractions in each park.  There are permutations for every different scenario, from adults going solo and looking for thrills to people with kids who cannot handle such a fast pace.  Looking at the touring plans by entering your touring dates about a month out from your trip, you can get a good idea of what conditions will be while you’re in the World. 

I use the touring plans to confirm what I planned based on the Crowd Calendar, to make sure my dining reservations make sense and all activities I have planned will fit while allowing my family and I to enjoy the maximum number of attractions.  I print out the plans, but you can also access them through the Lines app. 

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a planning freak, so the touring plans are perfect for me.  I always want to maximize my time in the parks, no matter how many times I have been there.  When you have kids, it’s especially important, because they can get frustrated with waiting in lines or not getting on rides.  I’ve written here before about my top 7 things plan that I do with my kids, but the next step is adapting that to the touring plans

Avoiding these lines is crucial with my kids.

Yes, I said adapt the touring plans.  The site gives you the ability to create your own touring plans, based on the original plans developed by the math geniuses in charge.  My usual way of doing this is to take the plan that fits best for a day, like the Magic Kingdom Touring Plan for Adults with Small Children, then drop things that I know my kids will not do.  For some reason, they are dead set against Snow White’s Scary Adventures, so I drop that from the plan and do the next thing on the list. 

A mid-morning treat sometimes helps our energy levels.

I also tend to add in things like snacks or pit stops in place of certain attractions.  As a religious listener of the WDW Today Podcast, I’ve heard our fearless leader Len Testa remark often that each step of the plan in the mornings should take about 20 minutes.  So, knowing my children well, I plan on skipping Snow White and substituting in a tasty treat to keep their energy up.  It takes about 20 minutes to grab a snack, and we continue right along in the touring plan. 

The touring plans help to keep our touring focused and on the correct track to touring the parks.  It keeps me from deviating to look at new merchandise or the latest cupcake at the Main Street Bakery until just the right time.  As someone who loves structure, the plans are perfect for me.  However, I also recognize that conditions can change quickly, which is when I use the Lines app.  But more on that next week. 

That’s how I use the touring plans.  But what about you?  How do you adapt the touring plans to your needs?

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TouringPlans.com Marketing Materials!

by on May 20, 2011

Without a doubt, the question we get asked the most here at TouringPlans.com is, “when will you open an online store so I can furnish my home in TouringPlans materials, and clothe my family in beautiful merlot colored (or cranberry colored, for the little ones) TouringPlans attire?!” Alright, so maybe that’s not really a question we’re asked all that often, but we need some excuse to make marketing materials!

One thing we like to do when out at the parks with the staff, bloggers, and friends of TouringPlans is to take fun photos to post on the blog and elsewhere. (And, maybe if you more of you start asking, we’ll make the photos below into awesome 20 x 30″ wall posters! Imagine one of these bad boys hanging in your living room–you’d be the envy of all of your friends, that’s for sure!)

TouringPlans.com Team

The first shot below, which I’ve posted here before, is a shot of my wife and me taken back in August at Disneyland. I think it’s pretty neat, but the only problem, and I didn’t think this through until after I took the photo, is that its message is completely backwards! Here we are, standing around reading the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland as the other guests race past us. What kind of message does that send?!

DSC_5184

With this in mind, I set out to create a proper version of the photo. I lucked out when I discovered my friend (and quite the exceptional photographer himself) Cody, and his wife, Lisa, would be at Walt Disney World at the same time as us. More importantly, their adorable triplets would be there.

Normally, I would not relish the opportunity to photograph three subjects that move unpredictably (Sarah and I have a cat and a miniature dachshund, and taking a photo with both of them sitting still is about as rare as a guest survey giving Stitch’s Great Escape a positive review). However, in this case, I encouraged Cody and Lisa to let the kids go nuts as they looked at park maps.

And nuts they went. It was truly hilarious to watch the boys move around as Cody and Lisa attempted to make sense of the park maps. As soon as I saw the photo, I knew what tagline I thought would best go with the photo:

Get A Plan. TouringPlans.com.

Because, as we all know, if you don’t have a Touring Plan, passing you by is exactly what the parks will do. Thanks again to Cody, Lisa, and the boys for making this photo happen!

What do you think of my line? Got a better line for the photo? If so, we’d love to hear it!

We love seeing TouringPlans.com or Unofficial Guide fan art or fan photos. Send your most creative stuff to tom@touringplans.com and I’ll do my best to feature it in an upcoming blog post!

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Star Wars Weekends & The Crowd Calendar

by on May 20, 2011

Day one of Star Wars Weekends 2011 is almost in the books and it looks like despite the re-opening of Star Tours, wait times are similar to years past.

Star Wars Weekends are a good example of why we post the per park crowd levels as well as the park recommendations. Per park levels are an absolute rank of the wait times in a park. The park recommendations take into account other reasons to avoid a park. During Star Wars weekends, the Studios hosts an influx of Star Wars fans who flood the park to partake in the special events. Typically though, they do not increase wait times at the attractions. That is why we see per park crowds at reasonable levels, yet we recommend avoiding the Studios. Unless you are there for the event, the mass of people can make touring difficult.

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