Archive for May, 2011

Ultimate Magic Kingdom Tour Part 2 – Winning The Day

by on May 5, 2011

Continued from Part 1

Despite the fact that spending way too much time in the Fairytale Garden possibly jeopardized our entire day we pressed on.  My Ultimate Magic Kingdom Tour buddy, JL Knopp, and I spent a lot of that time planning, re-planning, and re-working our strategy.  It would be very important for us to play the rest of the day like a game of chess – thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead.  At this point, no matter what we did our wait times would be off, and our show times would be inconvenient at best.  If you try an Ultimate Tour you have to be prepared for this sort of worst case scenario, and know the park well enough to ride it out.  We’d already slotted in 2 deviations, and more would have to follow.

Immediately after breaking out from the piped in hamburger smell of the Fairytale Garden, we went to get those FASTPASSes for Space Mountain that we neglected to get earlier.  For the next few attractions we decided to stick with the plan as presented.  Hightailing it to the Haunted Mansion, we were lucky enough to be shuffled through the new queue which was nice for me as I hadn’t seen it before.  Since time was not on our side, we didn’t actually spend any time playing – just a few taps and touches here and there, but we did at least get to see it.  More exciting than the queue was the new look for Gus, Ezra, and Phineas – without spoilers, I like to think of it as hands off interaction.

From there we sat through the Hall of Presidents (go Millard Fillmore!), grabbed FASTPASSes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and then headed over to Tom Sawyer Island.  This is one of the few locations with specific picture requirements: one at a cave entrance, one on the barrel bridge, and one with a rifle in Fort Langhorn.  The idea is to get you to cover a lot of ground on the island.  Now if there’s a part of Magic Kingdom that I’m least familiar with, this is it.  Fortunately, JL knows the island well enough and she got us through it quickly.

Then it was time to head over to the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade for a little target practice.  This is one of a few attractions where you’ll need to spend money.  One round later and we were off to check the time for the Country Bear Jamboree.  We still had about 14 minutes, and rather than wait, we deviated by cutting through to Adventureland to do Shrunken Ned’s Junior Jungle Boats.  Now the plan actually suggests doing this after, but our minutes were precious and this made tons of sense.  Afterward we headed back to Country Bears, and then grabbed FASTPASSes for the Jungle Cruise (note: we would never use these).

We then had to endure one of the longest and most grueling experiences in the Swiss Family Treehouse that I’ve ever had.  While I love the nostalgia of the attraction, it’s so hands off that anything more than a few minutes sucks the fun right out of the experience even if you’re not on a time critical mission like the UMK Tour.  Needing to re-focus, and again re-plan we rode around the Rivers of America in the Liberty Square Riverboat.  By the time we got off it was 1:48pm.

Since we had a some time before Dream-Along With Mickey, we decided to pick up a few extra points while waiting by watching some of the street performances on Main Street, U.S.A. We got to see both the Dapper Dans and the Casey’s Corner Pianist.  Each of these require only 5 minutes of your time.  After our musical interlude was over, we took a break and then positioned ourselves to watch the show.  This was my first time watching it with the new “talking” Mickey and friends – I still find it disconcerting, though I imagine that will fade with time.

Ideally it would have been nice to slot in Monster’s, Inc. Laugh Floor next, but we’d have to do it before the Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade.  Due to the wait time, this didn’t work out, but we used the parade “trick” of walking from the first to the last float, and then headed back over to Monster’s only stopping to get FASTPASSes for Buzz Lightyear as well as bonus FASTPASSes for Carousel of Progress (why do these even exist?). We quickly snapped our picture, got yelled at for it, and watched the show.

Finally we had a  lucky timing break.  We made our way back over to Adventureland to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, and afterward walked right up to Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial.  If you’ve never seen it, this street show is very entertaining.  The humor is geared toward adults, the fun and reward is geared toward children.  The kids never seem to understand what they’re supposed to do, which plays into the characters of Mack and Captain Jack Sparrow.  Enjoyable any day.

For the next 2 and a half hours, we alternated some of our FASTPASS usage with other attractions and shows.  We went from Buzz Lightyear to the Flag Retreat.  The retreat is nice to watch, if not touching – there is very often a family honoring someone they lost.  Then it was over to ride Big Thunder, grabbing FASTPASSes for Splash Mountain, and the watching the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party.  The music is a lot of fun, but I always feel that after about 10 minutes that I’m done – and it’s still got 15 minutes left.  We visited with Belle at the new Town Square Theater meet and greet.  She was super nice, and gracious as always.

Next we took a ride around the park on the Walt Disney World Railroad – I always enjoy getting to see the real fake deer.  Once we’d made our circle, we headed back over to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain.  Afterward, in the Tomorrowland Arcade, I learned that JL’s got game.  Racing game that is.  In what was a close race throughout I managed to pull out a win using a speed boost (sorry JL).  We begrudgingly spent 5 minutes at the Club 626 Dance Party, but were then rewarded by the ever enjoyable Carousel of Progress.  This was followed by me having to rescue JL from Stitch’s Great Escape as the ride tried to eat her.

At this point it was 8:24pm, and we had completed 36 attractions, 3 of which were extras.  With 3 and a half hours left, this put us 12 attractions away from completion.  Not impossible, but failure loomed, and JL even began trying to prepare me mentally for failure – it’s something I don’t do well with.  With this in mind, we spent the next hour riding the Mad Tea Party, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, Mickey’s Philharmagic, wiped away my tears, and then did it’s a small world.

Things were shaping up a bit, but we still had to make it through the night time shows.  With FASTPASSes in hand we headed over to Splash Mountain, following that with Wishes.  And then, on the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, I looked up from my notes, turned to JL, and announced that we were going to finish.

With the goal in site we marveled again at the coolness of the Magic, Memories, and You – tons of fun to watch, nifty tech.  Projection technology just keeps getting better.  We then ducked over to the TTA PeopleMover, which is a favorite of both of us – this allowed us to get a quick break off our feet.  And we followed this with my absolute favorite Magic Kingdom parade, the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Normally I’d have stood around and danced, but we used the parade “trick” again due to time.

With only two core attractions left, we decided to first do the Tomorrowland Speedway and make our last attraction the Jungle Cruise.  With the right skipper, those last few rides can be the funniest moments you’ll ever experience in the Magic Kingdom. It was completely worth it, the ad libbing was off the charts, and we had a blast.  We headed back over to the hub, which is the stopping point for a UMK Tour, and we were just in time to see the Kiss Goodnight and have an awesome conversation with a castmember photographer.

Finishing felt good.  One of my Disney bucket list items was finally checked off.  I’m not rushing to do it again, but I’d certainly love to – though I’m hoping someone else wants to do the book-keeping next time so I can just enjoy the “ride” through Magic Kingdom rather than manage it.  But don’t think JL and I aren’t planning to tackle another park… I’ve already picked out the day…

See other posts in this series:

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Renting Wheelchairs and ECVs at WDW

by on May 4, 2011

Sometimes life has a way of dictating what we write about.  Such is the case this

Photo by Carolyn Citro

week for my blog post.  I’ve always been lucky enough to be healthy, and my only thought about making my way around the parks has been to have a good pair of sneakers.  However, a few weeks ago I injured my foot while working out.  It has gotten significantly better, but after a busy holiday last weekend I was back to limping and finally decided to call a the doctor.  There I learned that I have done damage to the tendons in my foot, and it may not be fully healed by the time I leave for my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World.

This news has got me thinking about what I’m going to do about getting around the parks with a bum foot.  My injury is has been symptom free for the last week as long as I stay off my feet as much as possible.  I’m afraid it will be seriously aggravated by the ton of walking I usually do when I visit Walt Disney World.  So the solution to my problem may be to rent a wheelchair or ECV (Electronic Convenience Vehicle) during my Disney vacation.

The most affordable option is to rent a wheelchair.  They are available at the WDW theme parks as well as Down Town Disney for $12 a day.  This is probably what I’ll wind up doing.  Since I am not positive I will need assistance during part, all, or none of the trip it seems to be the most logical solution for my situation since it will be easy to grab one at park if it is needed.  Also, even if I did start to have a bit of pain, I can get around well enough to walk around my resort so I think I’ll only need help when in the parks.  You see, if guests rent a wheelchair through Disney they cannot take them back to their resort.

However, if you or your loved one needs a chair in and out of the parks, renting one from a third party may be your best bet.  That way wheels will be accessible during your entire trip, rather than only being able to use it at certain times.  Keep in mind you will have to either get it into your car, or get special assistance from bus drivers in order to use the Disney transportation system.  There are a few third party companies who rent wheelchairs to guests who may need them.  However, the ones I came across appeared to be more expensive than the Disney alternative.  I think you best bet if someone in your party is need of a wheelchair is to use their own if they have access to one.

Many guests prefer have a bit more independence with an ECV rather than requiring someone to push them in a wheelchair.  ECVs will be available at the same kiosks where guests can rent wheelchairs at kiosks near park entrances.  They are available at these locations as well as Down Town Disney for $50 a day plus a refundable security deposit.  Once again, if maneuvering around the parks is your main concern this may be a good option for you.  However, if you require assistance making your way to and from your resort you will want to seek out alternatives.

There are several third party companies who rent ECVs.  Many of these rental agents provide different varieties of scooters to suit your needs whereas Disney only provides one type of ECV.  Third party options may also be more affordable than renting on property, so shop around before you make your selection.  Something to thing about when using another company though, is that you will have to make arrangements prior to your arrival in order to have it delivered.  If you select one of these companies, they will bring your ECV to your resort where you can retrieve it from bell services.

Photo by Carolyn Citro

Hopefully this post will assist folks who were unsure about using wheelchairs or ECVs in the Disney parks.  Many other guests need these services on all of their trips, and I will count myself lucky that this is a temporary ailment.  While I’m not looking forward to the possibility of needing to be pushed around the parks, it may be a necessity.   Now that I know my options I feel a little more secure in knowing there are ways to ensure my comfort during my vacation.

If you or someone in your family has needed these services on your trip please offer any advice you may have to your fellow readers and I in the comments!

Next week I’ll be taking the week off since I’ll be in Walt Disney World.  Safe travels to all of those who might be there next week too!

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The Importance of Being Goofy – 2012 UG Intro

by on May 2, 2011

[Every Unofficial Guide edition opens with a silly story which purports to tell some behind-the-scenes thing at Disney corporate headquarters. This is my entry for the 2012 book. Hope you enjoy it. - Len]

The Importance of Being Goofy
Disney’s hotel honchos are hunched down over a small architecture model of the Pop Century Resort. The smell of stale pizza and flat soda hangs in the air. The first rays of daylight begin to filter into the room, turning a cloud of all-night cigarette smoke into blue haze. A heated discussion is taking place, one that will choose the themes for the unfinished half of the resort’s buildings covering the years 1900-1949.

Eloise P. Cheesemonger, Disney’s Magical Head of Marketing Magic, stands up from the table. “Okay,” she says, “Tell me again what these decades had going for them.”

“Well, ma’am,” said Wally the intern, “It’s pretty bleak. The first half of the twentieth century is a litany of war, disease and financial catastrophe.”

“That’s not Disney thinking!” shouts Cheesemonger. “It’s all a matter of perspective. What were the headlines from the 1910’s?”

“An influenza epidemic and World War One” says Ian Roundbottom, an outside consultant brought in to tune Disney’s message to the masses. “We’ll hang princess-themed gas masks in the room and have the Seven Dwarfs digging trenches between the buildings.” He adds a sarcastic “It’ll be faaaabulous.”

“The trenches would fill with water during rainy season,” says Wally, “and mosquitoes would spread malaria. That’s more 1940’s Egypt.”

Cheesemonger throws a pizza box at young Wally. “How about the ‘20s?” she asks, “You know, the Charleston, Babe Ruth?”

“Prohibition? The rise of organized crime? The stock market crash?” says Roundbottom. “Most people ended the decade worse off than when it began. Tough message.”

“Nonsense” says Eloise, “We’ll put up words like ‘flapper’ on the outside of the buildings, and … and … someone help me here!”

“How about ‘bathtub gin’? With moonshine stills in the rooms that serve soda pop?” says Wally, his voice fading faster than his career prospects.

Cheesemonger sighs, looking for a glimmer of hope. “The 1930’s? Anyone?”

“The Great Depression. The Hindenburg. Hitler.” says Roundbottom. Hope was not forthcoming.

“The 40’s?” asks Cheesemonger, before answering her own question with “For the love of … Can’t anyone here find a bright side to World War Two?”

Roundbottom, clearly tired from the session, rubs his eyes and says “Why not just bag the idea entirely, throw some oversized characters on the buildings and call it done? If anyone thinks it’s not inventive enough, tell them it’s our tribute to Walt’s cartoon legacy. It’s our history. It’s … it’s …”

“It’s the Art of Animation” said Cheesemonger, coming up with the name of Disney’s newest resort.

And so it goes.

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Top 7 Walt Disney World Must Sees – Touring Plans Style

by on May 2, 2011

The mission of this site is to help you plan a better Disney World vacation.  The key word there is “plan,” which those of you with kids know can be quite a struggle.  If your children are like mine, their tastes can shift dramatically from the time you leave home until your arrival in your first theme park. Spontaneity can be a key to still enjoying your trip with kids, despite their shifting tastes.

With kids, avoiding this kind of line is key.

So how do you do that?  There’s no easy answer, but let me share my family’s little tip.  I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but it’s our version of the Top 7 Must Sees that you see on the resort TV channel, with the inimitable Stacey Aswad.  Depending on the length of our trip, we give everyone in the family a list of must-see attractions, shows or restaurants, and plan the trip from there.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not really.  Before we leave (or sometimes in the car ride on the way down) we let the kids know that each of us will get to pick seven must-sees.  Think of it like a fantasy draft for Disney World.  Picture if you will, a 9 year old boy, his 4 year old sister, and their parents, huddled around the dinner table, paper in hand, ready to pick.  So, from our last trip, here was the top seven must sees for each of us: 

9 year old boy – Big Thunder Mountain, Spaceship Earth, Splash Mountain, Star Tours, Mission: Space, Tower of Terror, O Canada, Lego Imagination Center

4 year old girl – Seas with Nemo and Friends, Journey Into Imagination with Figment, swim time at the pool, Gran Fiesta Tour, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

My wife – Space Mountain, Boulangerie Patisserie in France, Mad Tea Party, ragtime piano at Casey’s Corner, Jungle Cruise, Expedition Everest, Rosa Regale in Italy

Myself – School bread from Norway, Toy Story Mania, Impressions de France, Country Bear Jamboree, dinner at Tangeriene Café in Morocco, Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Soarin’. 

So, with that list complete, how do we accomplish the touring plans as set out by this here website?  Well, from the list above, we break everything out by parks.  Then, we look at what attractions MUST be seen first thing in the morning.  That lets us know if we have enough mornings to attack all of these attractions.

Based on the Unofficial Guide, these things have to be done first thing: Big Thunder, Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Space Mountain, Expedition Everest and Soarin’.  Since this was a 3 day trip, that left us with some work to do.  Fastpass to the rescue!

Because Dumbo does not have Fastpass, we knew we had to do a morning at the Magic Kingdom.  That meant that Dumbo, Peter Pan, the three mountains, the Mad Tea Party and Buzz were on the docket for one morning, with the hopes of picking up the TTA and Country Bears the same day. 

The same goes for Soarin’ and Toy Story Mania.  Both of those attractions run out of Fastpasses early in the morning, so we knew that the other two days of our trip had to include mornings at Epcot and the Studios.  So, we organized our days accordingly, using the attractions in each park.  Since Expedition Everest was the only attraction in Animal Kingdom

Whether I like it or not, we have to make time for pool time.

we wanted to hit, that was a tough one.  We figured we would have to hit that separately and try to either wait in line or grab a Fastpass midday or early evening.  

So how did it work?  Really well.  We managed to spend one day in the Magic Kingdom, doing not only our top rides, but a lot of other attractions as well.  The next day we began at the Studios, then moved over to Animal Kingdom quickly before calling it an early night to squeeze in some pool time.  Finally, we spent the last full day at Epcot, doing Soarin’, Mission: Space and Spaceship Earth early in the day before a relaxing evening around World Showcase. 

The Top 7 Must See plan works really well for our family, because we are repeat visitors, we consult this site and the Unofficial Guide regularly and we have a good idea what we want to do.  If you are not a regular visitor, though, it could work well for you because you can get your family to research the rides and figure out what makes sense for you.  

Of course, this is just one system.  Do you have a system you use (besides our touring plans) to help your family with harmonious touring?

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Tips On Choosing a Disney Resort: Don’t Go By Price Alone

by on May 1, 2011

Before you choose a resort based on price alone, consider this: our reader surveys indicate you’ll be more satisfied with your hotel choice if it’s slightly more expensive than the hotels you typically stay at.

Since 2009 our Disney survey has asked readers to name the kinds of hotels they generally choose when on vacation somewhere other than Disney.  We list the top hotel chains in every category, from value choices such as Days Inn and Super 8, through high-end resorts including Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, and we provide a space for folks to name other resorts.

Next, we calculate how satisfied our readers are at their Disney hotel based on the kinds of hotels they typically stay at on trips excluding Walt Disney World.  For example, if you typically stay at a mid-priced hotel such as Holiday Inn, how satisfied are you likely to be with Disney’s moderate resorts?  The chart below shows the results.

If you typically stay at this kind of hotel… You’re most likely to be satisfied with this kind of Disney resort
Value Moderate (98%)
Moderate DVC (96%) or Moderate (93%)
Upscale Deluxe (97%)
Deluxe Deluxe (98%)
Vacation Home/Condo Moderate (98%)

In general, readers report that they’re most satisfied staying at a hotel one category “up” from their typical, non-Disney choices.  The Disney moderate resorts do particularly well overall.  Note that these results explicitly take into account the price differences among the resorts.  That is, even after taking into account that moderate resorts are more expensive than value resorts, readers who stay typically stay at value resorts are still more satisfied at a moderate than a value when at Disney.

We think that measuring satisfaction based on a reader’s background is more meaningful than simply reporting the satisfaction of all readers.  On the Web, you typically don’t know the basis by which other people judge hotels.  The result is a jumble of ratings which often make little sense in aggregate.  As we went to press, for example, TripAdvisor.com’s  reader rankings placed Disney’s Pop Century – a value resort – one spot higher than Disney’s flagship Grand Floridian, a deluxe resort.  Trip Advisor’s users also rated both as four-star hotels.  While there’s certainly nothing wrong with Pop Century, no objective review would place it on the same level as the Grand Floridian.

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