There is no doubt that two of the most powerful forces in the universe are the Force itself and the Disney brand. Surely if these two were to join their combined strength could bring order to the galaxy. Or at least Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because each year in the mid to late spring (May/June) they do join together to bring about what is one of the more fun celebrations in all of Walt Disney World – Star Wars Weekends. A geek event of epic proportions.
Throughout the weekends there will be several autograph signing locations that the celebrities will rotate through. While you can walk to wait in standby lines for these autograph sessions, FASTPASS is available. Like any FASTPASS there is a limited number available throughout each day, but you need to get there very early each day – people will start lining up outside the park for them well before the park opens (I have been there as early as 6am). And there is no lax nature to using this FASTPASS, if you miss your time, you miss your chance to meet the guest and get a signature. Unlike other conventions where you might get a celebrities signature, there are no additional charges for these signatures.
Without a doubt you should not miss the “A Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade” event that happens each day during the weekend. For the past few years this event has started at 11:40am, and is not only a fantastic chance to get to see the weekend’s celebrities, but you’ll get to see many other characters from the Star Wars universe march by you. Including the infamous 501st Legion a.k.a. Vader’s Fist. The motorcade lasts about 20 minutes and is followed by a celebrity welcome ceremony.
The celebrity hosts will also be appearing in two events at the Premiere Theater. This theater is found in the Backlot behind MuppetVision 3-D and beyond the Streets of America. Ashley Eckstein will be hosting the ever popular “Clone Wars: Behind the Force”. As each year Star Wars Weekends falls between seasons of the Clone Wars, this event has in the past provided guests not only get a look back, but also a look forward to the upcoming season. Not to mention a pre-show that has also been hosted by the comedic stylings of Stormtroopers.
In prior years, the characters of the Star Wars universe have been confined to the Star Tours area, the meet and greet areas behind Muppets and next to the Premiere Theater, occasionally on the fringes of the Streets of America, and in the vicinity of the Studio Backlot Tour. It is rumored that this year they will be participating throughout the entire park, letting the event encompass it all. There will be more than 60 Star Wars characters roaming the park prepared to sign autographs and pose with you for pictures.
An expanded version of the Jedi Training Academy will be presented to handle the increase in size of the Star Wars oriented crowd. Normally this event is only on the stage next to Star Tours, however during Star Wars Weekends it is expanded into a two level event effectively doubling the capacity throughout the day. This event occurs throughout the day but in the past few years has been held at: 9:30am, 10:20am, 12:30pm, 1:20pm, 2:10pm, 4:15pm, 5:15pm, and 6:15pm. This event is on a first come-first serve basis, and you must pre-register your younglings for it once the park opens for the day.
Also at the Jedi Training Academy Stage will be the Padawan Mind Challenge. This is a trivia challenge for younglings and has either been geared toward general Star Wars knowledge or specifically to the Clone Wars animated series. If your child participates in these trials held by Jedi and others they will become Padawan Learners. There are often other trivia contests throughout the day as well.
Now while the day begins with Stormtroopers greeting you as you pass through the turnstiles at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a day at Star Wars weekends is never complete without the ever popular and always packed Hyperspace Hoolpa! closing event. If you like Star Wars, bad jokes, and group based dance contests than this is the event for you. My feeling is that no matter how tired you may be at the end of the day, this is an event you should not miss. This year instead of being on the Jedi Training Academy stage, a special stage will be set up in front of the Sorcerer’s Mickey Hat.
I got to ride the original Star Tours for the last time at a special D23 event on September 7, 2010. And it’s re-opening has been a much anticipated event throughout the Disney community. The official re-dedication event for what is now known as Star Tours: The Adventures Continue will be on May 20, 2011 – the first day of the first Star Wars Weekend in 2011. Our sister site StarTours2Live.com, created in conjunction with StudiosCentral.com, has been live on the scene daily tracking the movements, comings, and goings at the attraction. And May 14, 2011 the word went out on Twitter from our on the scene reporters, the first soft opening had occurred. I was able to ride 7 times, and let me tell you (without spoilers) it is beyond amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the most popular ride changes ever.
And finally, there will be plenty of Star Wars merchandise out there to buy both new and old. In addition to being in the various shops around the park there is always a merchandise “warehouse” of some sort. In prior years it’s been called Jabba’s Hutt, Wicket’s Warehouse, Boba’s Bounty, and Darkside Depot. This year it will be set up in a new location near the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. In addition to some limited edition t-shirts and pins, there are often some memorabilia from the Star Wars movies found here like a carbon frozenHan Solo.
Having just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World for the D23 Scavenger Hunt and other activities, I immediately went into my post trip sadness. Fortunately, there is one way to fix that – plan another trip! Yes, the best way to get over your post-Disney blues is to begin work on planning another trip, which is what we are here to help you do at TouringPlans.com.
The way I start planning is by first looking at the Crowd Calendar. In case you haven’t used it, the Crowd Calendar is based a decade’s worth of wait time data, and ranks the crowds each day based on how they rank in the overall scheme of things. So, for example, July 15 is a 7 out of 10, meaning it is a
Epcot is a park to avoid on July 15
high, but not too high day for crowds. The Crowd Calendar is updated weekly by master statistician Fred Hazelton, using wait time data and tons of other information.
I use the Crowd Calendar mainly to pick where I will go each day on my trip. For example, on July 15, the calendar says that Epcot is a park to avoid, so I will plan to be in one of the other three parks that day. If you click on the day in the calendar, it will give individual rankings for each park, which I use to plan out my Advanced Dining Reservations. Since Disney expanded the window to 6 months out to book dining, I usually will look at the crowd calendar 6 months out from my trip, and plan dining accordingly.
The great thing about Disney’s system is that you do not have to put a credit card down to guarantee most dining reservations, so you can make the reservations 6 months out, then change or cancel if they don’t fit your plans. So, I look at the individual parks ratings and pick my dining plans based on that. By clicking on the day on the calendar, each park’s crowd levels are listed, as well as parade and show times.
If you’re like me, parades and shows are an important part of your touring schedule. I made one evening of this last trip all about the evening events at the Magic Kingdom, so I had to plan around that. By using the crowd levels and the parade/fireworks schedules, I can pick the right place and park to eat.
Perhaps a late ADR at Chef Mickey's?
For July 15, it looks like Magic Kingdom is a good bet, including Extra Magic Hours until 2 a.m., so I would book a late dinner at one of the monorail resorts, then make it over to the park by 9 p.m. to see the Main Street Electrical Parade, Wishes and Magic, Memories and You. Then I would have the attractions to myself. If you want to get super detailed, you can even click on the park itself and see the wait times forecast for that day. I usually use this a little later in the process.
I use the Crowd Calendar in that way, for long range planning and helping me plan which parks I will be at each day, therefore helping me to make dining and recreation reservations. Next week, I’ll talk about the next step in my planning process, using the Touring Plans.
What about you? How do you use the Crowd Calendar when planning your trips?
With a June 24, 2011 release date coming up fast, the media blitz for the next Pixar film, Cars 2, is in full swing, and it’s really no surprise. The original Cars movie, released in 2006, was a cash cow of epic proportions for the Walt Disney Company. It’s made more than $450 million dollars in movie sales alone since it’s release – more money than any other car racing movie since 1980. That doesn’t even cover all the merchandising, toys, extras, etc.
Epcot has always tried to find ways to keep children occupied while visiting the World Showcase. From passports that you can purchase, and then get stamped and signed in the country pavilions – something that dates back to when I was a teenager. To masks, and now Duffy the Bear images that you can color in, and also get stamped and signed. Some pavilions like Japan will teach kids greetings, while others will write out an approximation of their names using their native language. Or the highly interactive Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure.
Now, for a temporary time, they’ve added the Cars 2 Race Around World Showcase. If you’re coming from Future World the most logical starting point is the World Showcase entrance, but the other checkpoints can be found in Italy, the United States, Japan, France, and the United Kingdom. However, you can choose to start at any of the 6 “Checkpoints” around the World Showcase if you desire. The World Showcase entrance checkpoint is located off to your right if you’re standing in front of the awesome Mater and Lightning McQueen topiaries.
At each checkpoint you will get a sticker, six in all. The stickers are of the characters that will appear in the upcoming Cars 2 movie, including one of Lightning McQueen himself. The stickers can be found at the existing Kidcot Fun Stops, just walk up, show your booklet, and get a sticker. Adults take note, the game is not limited to children, just ask for a booklet and play.
The booklet contains a special map of World Showcase showing you all the checkpoint locations, and each checkpoint has a page devoted to it in the booklet. There are also word puzzles and trivia questions in the booklet – completion of these secondary puzzles is not necessary to win the prize. That’s right, there is a prize – a very nifty Victory Button to signify that you visited all 6 checkpoints. At the end of the race you’ll have two great Cars 2 keepsakes, the booklet itself, and your button. Which is really great if, like me you’re a Cars fan.
Sadly, according to the booklet I have, the race ends when the Flower & Garden festival ends – May 15, 2011 – I wish I had discovered it sooner. I think that Disney should really consider leaving up the Cars 2 topiaries, and letting the race run through the release weekend of Cars 2. It really is the perfect way to get kids, and even adults excited for the movie.
There you are on the trip of a lifetime at Walt Disney World. You’ve scrimped and saved to stay at your favorite resort (the Polynesian in my case) and you are having the time of your life. You’re enjoying an evening at the resort, and you start to feel a tickle in the back of your throat. Yes, even in the happiest place on Earth, illness can come to snatch away some of the fun.
What do you do? How do you deal with illness while at Walt Disney World, completely cut off from the outside world? It’s not easy, I’ll tell you. Since I have made frequent visits, though, it was inevitable that I would run into this problem. The last time it happened was exactly as I described above. I woke up the next morning as sick as could be, tired, congested and ready to stay in bed all day. But we had 5 more days to go, so what to do?
You have a few options to choose from, but rest assured that depending on your insurance, they are relatively painless. Here’s the steps I took (and my wife took on a different trip) to ensure a smooth trip while sick at Walt Disney World.
Disney’s First Aid – Although you might think Disney will only stock their first aid centers with Band-Aids for minor cuts and scrapes, they actually are much better stocked than that. There are nurses on site who know the signs of more common maladies in the parks. They are also fabulous with kids, so if it’s your children who get sick, this is your perfect first stop.
In the Magic Kingdom, the first aid center is located just the left of the Crystal Palace restaurant, if you’re facing away from Cinderella’s Castle. In Epcot, the center is located in the Odyssey restaurant complex, off to the side between Test Track and the Mexico pavilion. At the Studios, it’s located near Guest Services on Hollywood Boulevard, and in the Animal Kingdom, it is behind Creature Comforts on Discovery Island. There are also first aid centers located at the Disney water parks.
Offsite Clinics – Let’s say you’ve been to the first aid station, and they determine you have a more serious ailment, like a cold or flu. You’ll need to go offsite to try and get prescriptions, since Disney’s staff cannot provide them. However, that will require a doctor, and you will need to locate a clinic where you can be seen.
Luckily, drug stores have started to offer drop in clinics. In the situation I described above, I ended up at the clinic at Walgreen’s on 192. There
Can you tell I'm sick in this picture?
are drop in clinics at three Walgreen’s locations around Walt Disney World, and while I can’t personally vouch for all of them, the one I attended was quite good. Although the wait was long, they saw me and got me a prescription for antibiotics and that allowed me to continue our vacation. I was able to keep going, albeit a little slower.
Change Your Plans – If neither of those things work for you, you may have to consider bailing out on your trip. No one wants to even consider that, and for some, it’s not an option. But the bottom line is that you are on vacation to enjoy yourself, so you need to get well, one way or another.
Depending on the package you booked, you may be able to get a credit with Disney or move some days to another time. If not, then you might be able to restructure the rest of your trip. Instead of hitting 25 attractions in one day, spend more time doing shows, sitting by the pool or eating at a nice restaurant. Always check your cancellation or change details before you leave.
Regardless of how you deal with it, getting sick while on property doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You may end up with a different trip than you expected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recover and have a great time.
What about you? Have you ever gotten sick in the parks or resorts before? How did you deal with it?
Although the park hours for November were a dead giveaway, the dates for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party were officially announced recently. We have updated our Crowd Calendar to reflect this new information. Some dates have been added since the original announcement and based on years past, we would expect that more changes may come between now and the fall.
In the past we have recommended avoiding days at at a park hosting a Special Event but for the first time we are making an exception for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Finishing a complete touring plan on a day with shortened park hours like during these parties can be difficult. There just aren’t enough hours of touring to get it done. If completing a touring plan isn’t your raison d’etre then you can experience the park with low wait times, especially in the morning. Most party-goers will arrive at the park later in the afternoon before taking in the evening activities. Rather than automatically setting these days as “avoid” in the recommendations, we are now leaving it up to you.
Last week, my wife and I were dining with esteemed TouringPlans.com web developer, Henry Work, debating important things, such as the meaning of life and the quality of Country Bear Jamboree. I know, I know, at this point you’re probably screaming at your computer monitor: “THERE IS NO DEBATE OVER THE EXTREME AWESOMETACULARNESS OF COUNTRY BEAR JAMBOREE!” However, apparently, not everyone feels this way. To paraphrase Henry, he does not like Country Bear Jamboree because he does not care for country music.
Now, I don’t fault him for the latter part of that. Country music is…well…not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ll just leave it at that. But not liking Country Bear Jamboree? That’s like not liking Dole Whips. Like not liking Cinderella Castle. Like not liking the MuppetVision 3D pre-show. To borrow a line from Sam the Eagle, it’s distinctly unpatriotic. (Going forward, I think whenever someone disagrees with me on any subject, I’m going to arbitrarily label their opinion as being distinctly unpatriotic. No one likes to be unpatriotic!)
Flabbergasted, I requested that Henry elaborate on his position. He said it just didn’t appeal to him because the subject matter and type of music isn’t something he enjoys. I quickly began my explanation of how the excellence of Country Bear Jamboree is not dependent upon one’s musical or cultural preferences (yeah, Henry does not have an affinity for Bear Culture, apparently!)
For those who aren’t familiar with the Country Bear Jamboree and want a description beyond my coined phrase “awesometacular,” here goes: guests enter Grizzly Hall, where they find paintings of the performers in the waiting area. After a short wait, guests enter the main theatre, where three curtained stages are presented in front of bench style seating with three interesting animal heads hung on the wall.
Soon after all guests have been seated, the animal heads come alive, introducing themselves as Max (a deer), Buff (a bison), and Melvin (a moose) come to life, conversing back and forth with one another and joking around; following this, they ask Henry, the narrator or emcee, to start the show.
With that, Henry introduces the show, and gets things started with a song between he and Gomer. Following that, what can best be considered the main act is introduced, which goes by the name the Five Bear Rugs. If you’ve ever heard one of the official park CDs, you’ve probably heard their song (and the most well-known from the show), the Bear Band Serenade. From there, various other acts perform folk and country music, with some dialogue in between to tie the show together.
Sounds pretty simple, and certainly makes sense that if you don’t like folk or country music you wouldn’t like this, right? Wrong. Country Bear Jamboree is not just a show about country music. It’s a witty, irreverent, edgy, and wry. Moreover, despite Country Bear Jamboree being a short music-based show, there is a fair amount of character development. The songs say something about the characters singing them, and these songs, even if you don’t like country music (I can’t stand it), are quite humorous and not in keeping with contemporary levels of “politically correct-ness.” While I won’t parse the contents of every song, here are a few of the songs titles: “My Woman Ain’t Pretty (But She Don’t Sware None)” by Liver Lips McGrowl; “Mama, Don’t Whip Little Buford” by Henry and Wendell; “Tears Will Be the Chaser For My Wine” by Trixie; “All the Guys That Turn Me On Turn Me Down” by The Sun Bonnets; and, “Blood on the Saddle” by Big Al.
These are just some of the song titles. The content of these, and other, songs is quite irreverent. In my mind, the true standout here is “Blood on the Saddle” by Big Al. Big Al is a large, drunkenly drawling bear who interrupts the rest of the show, and ultimately prompts the grand finale. His delivery and appearance are pretty funny. Drinking from a growler labeled “XXX,” with his slothfulness, he doubtlessly is a caricature of the stereotypical Southerner.
Depending upon your perspective, this could be offensive or perhaps not even register as humorous. Living in Indiana, I commonly sit on my porch, shoeless, drinking growlers of moonshine while wearing a straw hat and watching cars drive by, and I find the whole show quite funny. But I’m into self-deprecating humor, so maybe that’s just me. I guess I can see how others might perceive the humor differently. Still, variety is the spice of life, and when treated as a caricature of Southern life at one time, the attraction’s humor works incredibly well. Plus, with its irreverent humor, an attraction like this would never be made today. I don’t know about you all, but I value irreverence (especially since it’s not offensive to the little ones; it’s one of those rare attractions that works on multiple levels, with most of the adult humor being over the heads of children), so I appreciate Country Bear Jamboree as the last of a dying breed.
Beyond the humor, with its length and scale, with its large number of audio animatronic bears, is something Disney doesn’t typically produce anymore. Much like the Carousel of Progress, the Country Bear Jamboree offers a nice change of pace from the 2 minute thrill rides with 2 hour lines or the attractions predicated almost entirely on interactive screens or 3D technology. Yes, the technology it does use is not exactly bleeding edge, but it’s a technology that by and large, is unique (at least on this level) to the Disney theme parks, and is uniquely entertaining.
So there you have it, my case for Country Bear Jamboree. Hopefully I’ve convinced some of you who haven’t seen it to give it a chance–or convinced those who have seen it and didn’t think much of it to give it a second chance. At the very least, it’s a nice place to enjoy the air-conditioning for 20 minutes or so! For those like me who love it, hopefully this affirmed why you love the attraction so much!
What do you think? Am I crazy to call Country Bear Jamboree one of my favorite attractions in the Magic Kingdom, or do you agree with my assessment? What is your favorite overlooked attraction at Walt Disney World?
In case you’re not following StarToursLive.com yet, we’ve entered our third day of being on-the-ground at Disney’s Hollywood Studios waiting for the new Star Tours 2 attraction to open. SO EXCITED are we about the new attraction that we’re going to be there every day through its official opening on May 20th, 2011. We’re furiously posting updates to Twitter and Facebook as well as uploading photos from outside the attraction every 15-20 minutes (aka, LIVE!).
If you’re headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disneyland over the next month, be sure to grab the free mobile apps we’ve made specially for this attraction. They’ll include push notifications when any news breaks out — especially if soft openings begin! This is, of course, in addition to our own Disney World Lines and Disneyland Lines apps.