Archive for July, 2011

To Park Hop or Not To Park Hop… That is the Question.

by on July 22, 2011

Recently, on a walk around town with my husband, we were discussing how our trips to Walt Disney World have varied over the years and how we tailor our plans depending on who we are traveling with. One thing, however, that has always remained a constant is our desire to park hop. That got me thinking… how many people actually pay the extra money to park hop and why do they opt to do it?

For us, we really like utilizing morning Extra Magic Hours but we don’t always like to stay in that park the rest of the day. Most of the time we travel in Disney’s off-season so we don’t have to worry about following TouringPlans.com’s Crowd Calendar perfectly every day. Something I realized is that I let our Advanced Dining Reservations lead my planning. If I can’t get into Le Cellier for lunch on Tuesday but I can on Thursday then I’m going to make sure we spend our morning at Epcot on Thursday and then possibly hop wherever we want to end up for a nighttime show or other activity. When I do my planning I only make note of what park I want to start my day on and leave my group room to decide where we’d like to end up. This is great when we come to the last days of our trip and realize we missed a few attractions at a park.

Park hopping provides guests with the ability to travel from one park to another on the same day. This brings variety and spontaneity into the trip, I think. You can make more decisions on a whim without having to stay in just one park. I think about guests new to Walt Disney World that experience a park for the first time and around 3:00 p.m. they realize they’re out of things to do (*cough* Animal Kingdom *cough*) and aren’t as impressed as they might be. With a park hopper, they wouldn’t feel obligated to stay at that park all day. They could just move on to another park that interests them more.

Another benefit of park hopping is specific for guests that are spending fewer days in the parks. They can get more done in less time and focus on the attractions that the really want to experience. It’s always a stress on short trips to feel the pressure of getting everything in. When this is you, I suggest using a customized itinerary from TouringPlans.com or mix and match the morning and afternoon specific touring plans. That way you can make sure you’re hitting everything you want to.

Let’s say you have a short trip, two full days, at Walt Disney World and you want to hit each park. This is how you might lay out your itinerary.

Day One

Eat breakfast at the hotel and start your morning at Animal Kingdom following the Animal Kingdom Morning Touring Plan. Try and eat an earlier lunch before you leave the park.

Hop to Magic Kingdom for the afternoon and evening and use the Magic Kingdom Late Arrival One-Day Touring Plan. Be sure to exclude any attractions that don’t interest you and fill in things you’d like to do with shorter lines.

Day Two

Start off your day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and follow the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Morning Touring Plan.

After lunch, hop to Epcot via bus (for time saving reasons) and start on the Epcot Late Arrival Selective One-Day Touring Plan. Again, skip attractions you don’t care to experience and proceed on with the plan.

Personally, I don’t think that park hopping is suitable for everyone. Those traveling with small children should take caution. It’s worth remembering that one of the top things that kids hate is traveling. They don’t want to be stuck in line waiting for a bus, on a bus, or in a car. They want to be doing something or seeing something that interests them. You may be sacrificing your sanity just to park hop. Knowing your children and their irritability level will be helpful when deciding whether to park hop or not. Speaking of traveling… park hopping tends to eat up some time when you have to move to a different park. This is especially true if you are without a car and are using Disney transportation which is known to be slow at times. You have to leave the park, walk to the bus stop, stand in line waiting for a bus, get on the bus (this moves slower sometimes than you can imagine), wait until the bus arrives at your new destination, get off the bus, walk to the entrance, get through the turnstiles, and then you know that by the time you get there someone in your party is going to have to use the restroom right away. See? It takes a while to park hop.

What might be the deal breaker when deciding whether or not to park hop is if it fits into your budget. For a family of four, two adults and two kids, it costs $966.00 total for every person to have a five day base ticket without park hoppers. That family would end up spending an added $220 to allow everyone to add the park hopper option for all 5 days. A family on a budget probably needs to think about if their funds allow them to indulge in park hopping. I like to think about what they could do with an extra $220. The family could book a tour, schedule a few more table service meals, come home with more souvenirs, head to a water park for a day, or even enjoy water sports activities.

For every family planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll have to decide what works best for you because the answer isn’t the same for everyone. How many of you dish out the extra dough to park hop? Who of you don’t find that it works for your family and why?

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New Cars Meet & Greet

by on July 21, 2011

When we see construction walls at Walt Disney World we know that change is on the horizon.  Some changes are small, and sometimes unnoticeable, or simple refurbishments to bring renewed life into something that needed it – a fresh coat of paint can work magic.  Others are larger than we might have ever dreamed. Over in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where space is often at a premium compared to other parks, I find the construction walls tend to be more noticeable.  Earlier in the year there had been a few that went up, and it was evident that they were for some new meet & greet encounters based on posters and signs.  Previously I’ve discussed two of these: Winnie the Pooh and Phineas and Ferb.

Now with the arrival of the new movie Cars 2, a third new meet & greet has opened in the Studios that stars the characters Mater and Lightning McQueen.  For the past several years these two characters have been found driving along the Streets of America or over by the Studio Backlot Tour for meet & greets.  They also used to appear in the now departed Stars and Motor Cars Parade.  More recently, Lightning McQueen can now be found at the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show.

When you walk up to the meet & greet it’s evident that Mater and McQueen are there to put on a show.  Lightning is fresh back from winning his fourth Piston Cup – that is the newly renamed Hudson Hornet Piston Cup.  Mater is wearing a number 95 decal indicating that he is part of McQueen’s racing team.  This is not a winners circle as it’s clearly an area dedicated to Lightning himself.  It’s got his name emblazoned along the wall, his Piston Cups depicted, and his number 95 (for the year Toy Story was released) flying above the stage adorned by racing flags.

There is a simple sign that marks the start of the wait queue.  It depicts both Lightning and Mater, and declares their names in case you didn’t recognize then.  It has a simple “Enter Here” along with a small sign underneath indicating that what you are seeing has something to do with the new  Cars 2 movie.  When my wife, Cheryl, and I walked up around noon, the sign indicated that the meet was opened from “9:00 – 10:00”.  There were people currently in the queue and meeting with the characters so we got in line – we figured that either it meant 9 AM through 10 PM or someone forgot to change out that part of the sign.

The wait in the queue was not terribly long, about 15 minutes.  Compared to the 45 minutes we waited for Phineas and Ferb, that’s pretty good – and that line was definitely much longer still.  During that time I wandered around and took some pictures and spent some time chatting with the castmembers. There were only two on duty, one to control the flow of guests and the other was a PhotoPass photographer.  Mater and McQueen, being machines, don’t need handlers – there are no swap outs, this is a constant flow meet & greet during, I was told, “daylight hours”.

When it was our turn we walked up, and posed for our pictures, and the PhotoPass photographer was perfectly willing to use my iPhone to take them.  There was no rush or pressure to move through quickly and no sense of urgency to get in and get out.  In fact, I asked if I could linger a bit and take some pictures before they moved to the next guests and was allowed to do so.  Likely this is because the line itself was not very long as I indicated above.

Disappointingly missing was the amazing mural that adorned the construction wall that had been up. It’s a shame that they didn’t try to incorporate that into the meet & greet somehow.  The colors of the stage are very muted and dull and lack the vibrancy and eye catching nature of the nearby Phineas and Ferb meet.  Having the mural in there would have helped greatly with this.  Or add in Sally Carerra, after all she’s got this great blue color that plays well against Lightning’s red.

The two characters themselves are awesome, they both look fantastic and so real – I wish Disney would bring all the characters from the Cars movies to life and give them their own parade.  They appear to be the same two physical characters we’ve seen previously in the Studios, however now they appear to be bolted to the floor preventing them from taking a walkabout.  While they make a lot of rumbling and noise (decibel levels are not bad for those concerned), they don’t seem to move or shake anymore, and their eyes don’t move either.

If your kids love love the Cars movies, then this is a must see.  If you’re an adult like me who loves the movies, walking by and taking a peek is likely enough.  Working this into a Touring Plan would not be difficult – if there’s any downtime or something else you’re skipping go here.  Or just do it when you walk by as the line seems to not be very long.

I honestly wish there was more to say about this meet & greet, but there’s not.  Of the three new meet & greets it is the most disappointing.  It’s connection to the new Cars 2 movie is tenuous at best.  You’d think that with all the fanfare surrounding the characters, the new movie, and the advent of the new Cars Land at Disney California Adventure that this would be the greatest meet & greet ever.  But alas I can’t say that.

What about you?  Do you love the Cars movies?  Have you seen the new Cars 2?  Are you excited about this meet & greet?  Have you already seen it?  What did you think?  Instead of going ka-chow he’s going ka-boom!

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Disney and the Diaper: Managing Diaper and Potty-Training Issues at Walt Disney World

by on July 20, 2011

If you bring small children to the Disney parks, you’re going need the poop on the diaper situation. (Sorry, I had to. :-))

On the plus side, finding a place to change junior is no problem at all. Disney knows its clientele well and has outfitted nearly every public restroom in the parks and resorts with a changing table. Even most of the men’s rooms are equipped with changing facilities. All the restroom locations are noted on the park maps, or just ask a cast member to point you in the right direction.

Buying Diapers

While finding a convenient spot to change the baby is easy, finding fresh diapers to change your baby into can be more of a challenge. Diapers and wipes are sold in all of the resort gift shops, in vending machines in select restrooms, and at the in-park baby care centers (locations are noted on the park maps). However, the brand and size selections available here are extremely limited. Generally, you will only find Huggies brand size 3 or 4 sold in the parks and resorts, generally at a premium price. If you’ve got a newborn or an older toddler, or are price sensitive (and aren’t we all), you’re out of luck. Similarly, pull-ups and other specialty diapers are in short supply.

Typical WDW resort gift shop baby care supply section.

This means that you’ll need to acquire your diaper supply in one of the following ways:

  • Bring a box from home. Easy if you’re traveling by car, somewhat more difficult if you’re flying.
  • Stop at a local Orlando-area supermarket, drugstore, or discount store. Works if you are using a towncar service or rental car.
  • Arrange for a delivery to your hotel from a local grocery service such as gardengrocer.com. A good choice if you also need baby food, snacks, water, and other items delivered.
  • Arrange for a delivery to your hotel from a local drugstore such as turnerdrug.com. A good choice if you also need prescription or non-prescription medications.
  • Mail a box of supplies to yourself at your hotel. You can do this directly or through a mail order retailer such as Amazon.com. A good choice if your have mulitiple children in diapers or will be subject to substantial airline baggage fees. Call the hotel to get the exact mailing address.

Before deciding which route to take, it pays to do a bit of math. There may be delivery fees with any of the services noted above. Be sure to factor those costs in when making your budget projections.

While each family will develop their own strategy about how to manage diaper supplies, because of the possible lack of availability of the right size/style while touring, you’ll want to bring several more diapers that you think you’ll need into the park each day. What worked for us was stocking a large diaper bag with two full days worth of supplies. We left the bag in the stroller while we enjoyed the rides and attractions. However, each time we left the stroller, we were sure to bring at least two diapers (as well as our valuables) with us in a small purse or backpack. This way we were not weighed down in lines, but felt safe that we had enough baby care supplies on hand for emergencies.

Potty Training Strategies

Once you have your supply situation sorted out, changing diapers at the parks is a breeze. A more difficult problem is taking a child to the Disney parks (or to any new place) while he or she potty training or newly potty trained. The hyper-stimulating theme park environment can make even the most skilled preschooler forget firmly established bathroom habits. With many guests booking vacation travel months or even years in advance, it can be difficult to predict exactly where your child will be on the potty training spectrum at the time of your trip. With one of my children, I actually delayed fully training one of my daughters, keeping her in pull-ups until after a WDW trip, because I wanted to avoid potentially messy accidents.

Look for restroom and baby care center locations on the park maps.

If you are going to bring a training or newly trained youngster to the parks, you should be aware of the following:

  • Each theme park has a baby care center with a toddler-sized flush toilet. However, there is only one per park. Planning to use this as your main toilet is not a realistic option.
  • Your child may be too distracted to tell you when he needs to go. Try taking him to the restroom before every ride or two. Be sure to factor in wait times as well as the length of the actual ride when estimating how long you’ll be away from toilet facilities.
  • Use tools like touringplans.com and Lines to minimize time in lines. However, if you do find yourself in a lengthy queue and a bathroom emergency arises, you might be able to return to your spot in line without additional wait time. For attractions with Fastpasses, cast member attendants have the discretion to issue you a special pass to use the Fastpass line. While this is not guaranteed, speak to the cast member at the queue entrance if you find yourself in this situation.
  • Most of the in-park restrooms have automatic flush toilets. These are motion sensitive and are prone to mid-business activation by squirmy toddlers, thus terrifying them. A common solution is to bring a roll of painter’s tape or a pad of Post-Its into the restroom to cover and temporarily disable the motion sensor. Just remember to throw out the tape or paper when you’re done.
  • There are no mini porta-potties for sale at Walt Disney World. If that’s the only way your child can go, you’ll need to bring one from home.
  • Our personal lifesaver was a portable folding toddler toilet seat. This item compacts to about the size of a hardcover novel (not tiny, but easy enough to fit in a backpack), costs less than $20, and can be found at retailers like Babys-R-Us and Amazon.com. This converts any regular toilet seat into just the right size for a training tush, eliminating fears of “falling in.”

Swimming

Disney posts signs near each of its many pools which state: “For your safety, diaper-age children must wear plastic pants or swim diapers…” The lifeguards do not police this policy and leaves the use of swim diapers to the discretion of the parents. If you feel that your child is not “diaper-age” any more, then you can skip the swim diaper.

Pool rules for diaper-age children.

While Disney leaves a lot up to individual families, you may want to consider that WDW is a new and challenging environment for some toddlers. They’re tired, or they’re preoccupied with having fun in a place they’ve never been, or spending all day in the water is a new experience, etc. And the child might forget some recently learned skills. When in doubt err on the side of caution. There are swim diapers for sale in the gift shops at the water parks and most of the resorts. Again, sizes are limited and prices are high, so bringing some from home can make things easier.

Have you brought a diaper-aged child to Walt Disney World? What were your challenges? What solutions did you devise? Let us know in the comments.

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Bringing the Babysitter to Walt Disney World

by on July 19, 2011

My husband and I are obviously Walt Disney World aficionados. We wanted to share our love of the parks with our children as early as possible. But with three children born in three years (we had twins), we knew that getting our clan some Disney time while they were young would be a challenge. Taking one baby or toddler on vacation is a snap; taking two is a tag team project; but when you’re outnumbered by the diaper-bound, you’re going to need some help. For many families, extra hands may come in the form of grandma joining you for the trip. And while we have traveled with extended family several times, on two separate occasions our solution was to bring our babysitter with us to Walt Disney World.

Even the airport is a challenge with multiple small children. Extra hands are a big help.

Here are some things that bringing a sitter allowed us to do:

  • Have each child with one adult on two-person rides such as Buzz Lightyear
  • Have each child fully supervised in the pool and in the parks.
  • Have each child get personal attention.
  • Lighten the amount of weight each adult had to carry (strollers onto buses, diaper bag supplies, etc.)
  • Allowed parents some quality adult time in the evenings.
  • Allowed better meal-time experiences at buffets and multi-line quick service situations.
  • Allowed us to customize park time for the individual needs of each child.

For example, when our oldest daughter wanted to go on the Haunted Mansion, one twin needed a nap, and the other twin was afraid of the Mansion and needed more Small World, everyone got what worked best for them. And when my husband and I wanted to go out for a signature dining experience, we didn’t have to worry about hiring an unknown sitter from an Orlando agency.

There were also several benefits of bringing a hired sitter over enlisting a family member to help out. Chief among these was the fact that we got to call the shots and dictate the timing of our day. Since we were footing the bill, we got to set the timetable and agenda in a way that we could not have if we needed to accommodate a family member doing us a favor. Of course, the chief negative of bringing a sitter with us was that adding an adult to our trip increased our vacation costs. This was balanced out a bit by the fact that since our twins were under the age two, we did not need to pay for any of these items for them.

Even Cinderella would have a hard time supervising three preschoolers at a character meal.

During our first sitter trip, we with brought with us JM, who had worked with us for a few years on an almost daily basis. She was beloved by the children (as well as by us) and knew our habits and preferences well. When we first proposed the trip to JM we all sat down and had an honest chat about money and expectations. Here are some of the questions we discussed:

  • Was her hourly/weekly rate of pay appropriate during travel?
  • Did she need her own room or was she comfortable bunking with one or more of the children?
  • How much time off did she need?
  • Did she have any specific concerns about visiting Walt Disney World? (fears about rides, etc.)

JM was thrilled at the proposition. She had never been to Walt Disney World before and was eager to go with us. While each family’s situation will be different, by mutual agreement we arrived at the following:

  • We would pay for her airfare, a week-long Park Hopper ticket, and meals while she was dining with the family.
  • We would pay her regular weekly salary plus 20% more since she would be working some additional hours. She would work from wake-up time until just after dinner on most days.
  • We would get a two-bedroom villa (we are DVC members). JM would share a room with our oldest daughter, while my husband and I shared a room with the twins (who were in the Pack n’ Play cribs at the time).
  • During the seven-day trip, JM would have one full day and one afternoon off. She would work two evenings while my husband and I had “date night.” This allowed JM to experience some of the more adventuresome rides.
  • JM would be responsible for paying for her own meals on her day off.
  • JM would be responsible for paying for any additional non-park entertainment. For example, at the time there was an admission fee for the Pleasure Island clubs.

Overall, this worked like a dream. The kids got lots of attention and none of the adults felt overwhelmed. We were comfortable enough with JM that it felt like we were traveling with a member of the family, but without the stress of family dynamics. And when the inevitable hiccup occurred, a lost bag, for example, we all were able to roll with the punches.

An unexpected bonus of having an extra adult with us was that she was able to take many wonderful family photos for us.

After our great success, we decided to again bring a sitter with us to WDW a year later. By this time, JM had started a college degree program and was unable to travel during the dates we needed. We ended up bringing a relatively new sitter, LS with us, using most of the same parameters. Unfortunately, while still fun, this trip ended up being a bit less successful, mostly because LS was less familiar with our parenting style and was less able to improvise during unplanned problems. For example, she was unwilling to switch her night off when one of the children developed a fever, and she was unwilling to help entertain the children during a severely delayed flight because she was technically off the clock. Were we to do this again, I would have added a discussion about flexibility to our pre-trip planning.

Again, we have successfully visited WDW with blood relatives several times, but bringing a paid sitter did end up being a viable alternative when we were in need of travel assistance.

Have you ever brought a sitter with you to Walt Disney World? Would you ever want to? Let us know some of you experiences or concerns in the comments.

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Managing Your Child’s Souvenir Budget at Walt Disney World

by on July 19, 2011

Many years ago, I traveled to Walt Disney World with a friend who derisively called it, “A mall with a cover charge.” To that I say both, “Bah, humbug,” and “Well, maybe he has a point.” In addition to the incredible rides, food, entertainment, and general merriment at the Disney parks, there are indeed, many, many, many shopping opportunities. Merchandise is available everywhere at every price point, from $1 pencils to several thousand dollar art and jewelery. You can find items as diverse as underwear and teapots emblazoned with the image of Mickey Mouse, as well as completely unembellished French perfume, designer clothing, and Italian wine. Basically, unless you’re the most austere of minimalists, you’re going to find something you want to buy. And yes, so will your children.

Plush toys are a popular souvenir

With all the eye candy just crying out for acquisition, you’ll be in much better shape both emotionally and financially if you create a souvenir-buying plan before you hit the parks. Of course this may not prevent every Veruca Salt-like outburst, but it can go a long way toward preventing family discord.

Questions for the Adults

Before sitting down with your kids, it may help to sit down with your spouse or other adults in your traveling party to make sure you’re in agreement about general strategies. Some questions to ask each other are:

  • Will we give the child souvenir money or will she be expected to spend her own funds?
  • Will all the children in our group be given the same budget? (If you’ve got a four year old and a fifteen year old, their needs will not be the same.)
  • What is the maximum total dollar amount we feel comfortable having the child spend on souvenirs?
  • Are there any categories of items that are off limits for practical reasons? For example, snowglobes are problematic with airline travel and TSA restrictions. Similarly, the four-foot-tall plush Mickey won’t be able to make it home without his own seat on the plane.
  • Are there any categories of items that are off limits for personal reasons? You can’t stand toys that make noise, for example.
  • Will you give the child access to his complete budget at the outset of the trip, or will we ration the money daily?
  • Will we allow the child total purchase control within the budget or will the child be required to have particular purchases approved?

Preparing the Kids

You can involve children even as young as two or three in some of the decision making about their souvenir budget. Start before the trip by telling them that there will be lots of enticing merchandise at the parks. Explain that on vacation, just like at home, it’s not possible to buy everything we want. Then, do a little advance planning to help them narrow the scope of the things that they will want. Try taking a look together at the merchandise on disneystore.com. This website does not even begin to approach the variety of items available in the parks, but it will provide a basis for talking points. Ask your child:

Pins make an inexpensive collectible

  • Is there something you’d like to collect? Pins, Vinylmation figures, and pressed pennies are all inexpensive collectibles. The trading possibilities of the first two items may also be interesting to an extroverted child.
  • Do you have a favorite character? Focus on buying only items with Mater or Daisy Duck on them.
  • Do you want to have items only available at the parks, not at a local Disney store or other retail outlet? You’ll likely only find an “I survived the Tower of Terror” tee at the Tower of Terror.
  • Is it important for you to have a wearable item to show your friends at school? Then it’s better to allocate your spending on a tee rather than on a toy that will have to stay at home.
  • Do you already have enough of something at home (plush animals, for example), so you don’t need to get more at the parks?
  • Do you want things that are personalized or that you’ve had a hand in creating? Many in-park items can be made one-of-a-kind, from embroidered Mickey ears or build-your-own-lightsabers.
  • Are there no cost souvenirs you’d be happy with? Maps can be made into room-decorating posters, for example.

A few pointed questions like this can get the child thinking about specific items of interest, rather than having an “I want it all mentality.” If your child goes into the vacation with the realistic view that, “I’m going to get one tee shirt featuring my favorite ride and find four Donald Duck pins for my collection,” you can more easily steer him away from the giant model monorail.

Deciding on a Dollar Amount and How to Manage It

I know there is a school of thought that advises saving money by purchasing Disney-themed items at discount stores at home and giving those items to the children during the vacation. I understand that from a short-term financial perspective, this makes sense. You can find a Minnie Mouse tee at Walmart for $10 that might cost $20 at the parks. However, you’re missing out on some wonderful learning opportunities by doing this. Planning a budget and making purchase decisions within that budget is an invaluable life skill. Your child won’t have a chance to practice and learn if you just hand him items that he had no hand is selecting. Even having control over a few dollars can be very empowering.

Personally embroidered hats are a popular item

For some families, a child might be allotted a five dollar budget for the entire trip. I have one friend who gives her children $50 to spend on each day of their Disney vacations. The exact amount will vary depending on the child’s age, the family’s means, and the general souvenir strategy developed by the family during planning discussions.

Once you’ve arrived at a dollar amount – and communicated that dollar amount to your children. Figure out how you’re going to physically manage the souvenir money. Will the child hold his or her own cash? Will mom hold cash for the child? Will mom pay for the items and the child reimburses at another time? Would giving the child a Disney gift card loaded with the budgeted amount be safer? Should an older child be allowed charging privileges on his room key?

Again, working out as much as possible in advance, and getting all members of the family on board, can help turn a greedy whine-fest into a productive lesson about money management.

So what’s worked for you? How do your kids manage money in the parks?

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Fox 13 Tampa Bay Puts Our Lines App And Touring Plans To The Test

by on July 18, 2011

TouringPlans.com and our Lines App were put to the test last week by FOX 13′s Consumer Reporter Chris Chmurra and Producer Jeff Schlesser. They split up at the Magic Kingdom, with one using a touring plan from our Disney World App and one going it alone. Our Magic Kingdom Touring Plan bested instinct by 91 minutes! Here’s the video:

App helps you avoid lines at Disney: MyFoxTAMPABAY.com

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Interpreting Park Hours

by on July 18, 2011

Knowledge of a park’s operating hours is fairly crucial to fully enjoying your Walt Disney World vacation (especially if you love a good rope drop).  For some reason over the last few years, Disney has increasingly messed with their hours.  Today, I want to give you the full rundown of how the hours are released and what we at TouringPlans.com are doing to help you plan your perfect trip.  Remember, knowing is half the battle.

How Walt Disney World Handles Park Hours

There are three stages of grief when it comes to Walt Disney World hours:

  1. Approximately 6 months prior to any given month, Disney releases hours and parade/fireworks schedules.  These are usually released on the Disney Travel Agent site first (sorry, travel agents only), with the official site updating a few days later.
  2. Next, about 2 weeks before the start of a month, the entire schedule is updated for that month.  This usually means later closing times and extra parades or nighttime shows.  This update is released solely on the Disney Travel Agent website.
  3. A few days after step 2, the same update is loaded onto the Walt Disney World official website.  When this is done, there are often a few minor changes from the updates that were previously shown on the Travel Agent website.

As you can see, Disney does not make tracking park hours easy.  If you check a date in August right now, you may find that Magic Kingdom closes at 10pm and has one Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled.  However, if you look next week, that same day may show Magic Kingdom closing at midnight with two parades.

We anticipate that the changes will not be as widespread in the off-season as they have been in the peak times, but there will still be changes.  The best thing you can do is stay flexible, assume there will be changes, and (most importantly) keep checking TouringPlans.com.

How TouringPlans.com Makes it All Better

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a wonderful Crowd Calendar on this site that can help you decide the best time for your trip.  Accurate park hours and parade and show days are part of the (giant, impressive, Stephen Hawking-worthy) equations that make up the calendar projections, so it makes it a little bit tougher when Disney keeps messing with the schedule.

For the past few months we have been tracking the park hour changes and working that research into a better, more accurate Crowd Calendar.   This means two things for your planning pleasure:

  1. TouringPlans.com is updating as quickly as possible with all of the park hour changes, so you can feel secure about the
    information you find here.
  2. With more accurate park schedule information, the Crowd Calendar will need to change less frequently, making your long-term planning even easier.

Stat Geek? This One’s For You

If you don’t like things such as numbers or maths, look away.  If you are like me and love a good statistical analysis, try not to get too excited.

[I have analyzed all park hours for the past 13 months (July 2010 through July 2011).  When I refer to a “change,” I mean an adjustment between the schedule Disney initially put out (step 1 above) and the final schedule.]

  • During peak times, the Magic Kingdom’s closing time changes 74% of the time.  During non-peak times, it changes only 10%.
  • Changes are made to the Main Street Electrical Parade (shows added) 79% of the time during peak times, but only 12% of the time otherwise.
  • Epcot’s closing time only changes 1% of the time, so you can be fairly certain with at least that one.
  • The closing time at Disney’s Hollywood Studios changes 68% of the time during peak season and 39% during off-peak.  Overall, this is the park most likely to change hours.
  • In addition to closing time, Fantasmic! shows are commonly added.  In fact, they are added 63% of the time during peak times and 30% of the time otherwise.
  • Lastly, Animal Kingdom’s closing time changes 63% of the time during peak times and 16% during non-peak.

As you can see, that’s a lot of changing.  Overall, during peak times, closing times are likely to change 52% of the time and opening times 13%.  During off-peak; 16% for closing and 1% for opening.

At TouringPlans.com, we are doing our best to make sure you have the most and best information available.  Hopefully this helps.

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Whole Family Touring Plans

by on July 18, 2011

I’m a touring plan disciple, as you might be able to deduce from my writings on this blog.  My family sometimes gets tired of my enforcement of the touring schedule, however, they always appreciate the number of attractions that we are able to visit because of that discipline.  There is one thing that still causes us trouble during our park visits, and that is the difference in age and temperament of our children.

The differences could not be more pronounced.  My son is nine, and enjoys most of the thrill rides, but especially Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.  He loves Pirates, dislikes princesses and fairies and likes hitting as many rides as possible.  My daughter on the other hand, is a girly girl to the max.  She is very scared of things like the Haunted Mansion or Pirates, loves meeting characters and takes time to stop and smell the roses.  So how can we reconcile these two varied personalities with one touring plan? 

May I present to you the Whole Family Touring Plans.  For those of you who are subscribers or use the plans, this is a plan specifically designed for people with young and older children in the same party, from infants to teens.  There are a few different options  to pick from, so on a recent trip to the Magic Kingdom, I tried it out to see how it worked.  

For this trip, I used the Magic Kingdom One-Day Touring Plan for Parents with Younger and Older Children.  As I said, there are similar options for parents with teenagers as well as groups with senior citizens and other mixed parties.  On my plan, there was no splitting up involved, which was good, because I had the children solo for the day.  The three of us tackled the plan in order, modifying as we went. 

The beginning of this plan was relatively similar to most of the other Magic Kingdom plans – we began at Dumbo, then rode Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh.  After a quick spin on the Mad Tea Party, the plan directed us to Snow White.  Neither child was interested, so we simply skipped ahead to the next step, which was the Haunted Mansion. 

While my son and I were very eager to see the new queue (it was awesome!) my daughter was rather scared.  She’s been on the ride before, but recently has started becoming more scared of these sorts of things.  It took much pleading to get her on the ride, since her brother really wanted to go.  Had I been with my wife, I would have skipped the ride and let my wife and son go while I waited outside. 

After a little break to recover from that trauma, we skipped Splash Mountain (no way to get the little one on that ride) and went over to the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.  We topped the morning off with a trip over to Tom Sawyer’s Island before meeting friends for lunch.  

So how did I rate the plan?  As you might be able to see from all we got done, I give it really high marks.  After all, we were able to tackle nine attractions between 9 a.m. and around 12:30 p.m.  That’s a high mark for us.  My daughter was exceedingly happy.  If my wife had been with us, we probably would have been able to add either Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain to the list, and made my son just as happy.  He was a little underserved because I did not have the ability to do a child swap, but that would be rare for us. 

All in all, I highly recommend the Whole Family touring plans, because it can be exceedingly difficult to satisfy two children of varying ages, let alone throwing teens or other variables into the mix.  This provides you a good way to complete a good number of attractions while keeping all parties happy. 

What about you?  Have you tried any of the Whole Family plans?

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World of Color in Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney?

by on July 15, 2011

Today’s story on The TouringPlans Blog is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the Downtown Disney shopping district of Walt Disney World. We invite you, if you dare, to read on because in today’s story you are the Imagineer. And this blog post travels directly to . . . The Twilig..err…I mean, Downtown Disney.

The World Is A Carousel Of Color, Wonderful, Wonderful Color

 

Rampant rumors are swirling that the much-maligned makeover to Downtown Disney, specifically the now-defunct Pleasure Island, will entail technology from the World of Color show that opened in 2010 at Disney California Adventure. I stress that these are unsubstantiated rumors that have not been confirmed by Disney, and as with all rumors, are subject to change…or to being complete falsities or utter fabrications. That said, these rumors are coming from reliable sources, and they suggest that an announcement may be made as early as the D23 Expo.

There is no question that Disney is re-examining the Hyperion Wharf concept that it announced last year. The company stated as much on its Parks Blog earlier this week when it unveiled the Splitsville bowling alley. While it is typical Disney form to announce things that never get built (most of the Disney Decade comes to mind), it is not typical Disney form to admit its mistakes. The last instance of Disney announcing a “rethink” of a project was the Fantasyland Expansion in the Magic Kingdom, and shortly thereafter, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was announced, which was an upgrade from the project as originally unveiled. Does it stand to reason, then, that word from Disney that it is “rethinking” its Downtown Disney plans is code for “the plans are being improved, just wait!”? Well, that’s anyone’s guess.

Fulton's Crab House

All of these rumors about Downtown Disney made me feel compelled to get in the ‘ole Imagineering Armchair (it’s plaid and has duct tape covering holes that have worn in it over time, for those who want to envision this scene at home) and put on my thinking cap (a Sorcerer Mickey hat coated with a thick layer of tin foil) and ponder how this plan might come to fruition, and how it might impact my vacation planning. I encourage you to put on your Imagineering hat and ponder these questions with me, whether it be “just for fun,” or “good practice for when this show opens in 2013,” whichever the case may be. Here are the questions I asked myself:

Ideally, how would the show run? For those who haven’t seen World of Color (uhh…why not?), check out these World of Color photos I’ve taken of it to give you an idea of the awesome scope and scale of the show. Even in a theme park that charges admission, and despite the show being over a year old, there is still huge demand for the show, so much so that dinner packages and FastPasses are an absolute necessity to get a good view of the show. While I’d love to see a show comparable in scope to World of Color at Downtown Disney, I wonder how the traffic flow would work were this offered to the public for free. As much as I loathe Disney’s practice of nickel and diming guests, I think some type of admission or dinner package would be necessary if the show is on the same scale as World of Color (which is a huge, and unlikely “if”), otherwise traffic problems will get even worse at Downtown Disney, and the shows will be overcrowded by locals who camp out for several hours on end to see the free show, precluding many tourists, who budget their time differently while on vacation, from seeing the show.

A more pragmatic option seems like it might be running a show similar to that of the Belagio Fountains, which is smaller in scope but runs more frequently. This would cycle crowds better, and Disney could still offer some type of preferred seating package if it felt such was necessary to recoup to large capital investment of the show in its free Downtown Disney shopping district. Although I could see Disney banking on people “coming for the water show, and staying for the shopping,” as its means of recouping its expenses of running the show.

What should be the substance of the show? In my ideal world, if we’re porting things from California, let’s port the technology of World of Color and the substance of the “Remember… Dreams Come True” fireworks show. The show would thus become a water show with video, audio, and special effects that pays tribute to classic attractions at Walt Disney World. If you think that doesn’t sound as cool as a show featuring Disney animated classics, I’m betting you’ve never seen “Remember…Dreams Come True.” It’s unquestionably the best Magic Kingdom-style fireworks show.

Disneyland - Remember... Dreams Come True! Fireworks Spectacular (145 Second Exposure)

The upside to this, for Disney, is that it’s great advertising for the theme parks, which will cause some of those who would otherwise be freeloaders who are watching World of Awesome (my “codename” for this project–pass it on) to actually go to the parks. It’s probably a pipe dream for me to hope that Disney does something Walt Disney World attraction-related for World of Awesome, but I hope it at least changes the substance of the show a bit for Walt Disney World. It would be nice to have somewhat unique shows on each coast.

How would this change vacation plans? This is the big one, and why I’ve chosen to write about World of Awesome on the TouringPlans blog, a blog that admittedly isn’t too big on Disney rumors. I see World of Awesome as a bit of a game-changer for the way a lot of people ration their time at Walt Disney World. Back in the good ole days when Pleasure Island was open, Sarah and I would spend two or three nights there each trip. It gave us something to do when the parks closed early in the “slow” seasons, and we had a blast. We’ve searched for a suitable replacement since, from the lounges at the monorail resorts to Jellyrolls, to the Atlantic Train Wreck…errr…the Atlantic Dance Hall. All of these options (except the Atlantic Dance Hall) have been fun, but they don’t offer the as many “hours of entertainment” as we found at Pleasure Island. And we haven’t been back to Downtown Disney since the closure.

Having a bona fide show at Downtown Disney would give us a reason to go back there, and possibly give us a reason to add days onto our vacation. While I definitely would not spend a full day at Downtown Disney, I could see penciling in a day that involved a combination of a water park, mini golf, and Downtown Disney. I’m sure others would feel the same way, and with the new entertainment offered by Hyperion Wharf (or whatever it’ll eventually be called) and World of Awesome, some people might easily be able to spend 5 hours at Downtown Disney. While I think it’s a bit premature to call this show (that hasn’t even been announced, and might not necessarily be in the cards at at all) at a Downtown Disney area (that was previously announced, but is seriously being re-thought) a “quasi-5th gate,” for some people, it might be exactly that. Probably a stretch, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that it could seriously change some vacation plans if/when it opens and if it isn’t an incredibly watered down version of World of Color (both huge “ifs,” again).  After all, they’re not calling it World of Awesome for nothing! ;)

Let’s hear your Armchair Imagineering! What would you like to see at Downtown Disney? Does a World of Color-type show sound appealing? If so, how would you like it implemented? How would a re-Imagineered Downtown Disney affect your vacation plans? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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BabyCakes NYC: A Sweet Treat

by on July 15, 2011

Late last year, a new bakery opened in Downtown Disney.  BabyCakes NYC can be found near the T-Rex restaurant where McDonalds used to be.  Although, if you’re looking for a sign to lead you the right way to delicious vegan baked goods, you’re not going to find one on any building.  For some odd reason, BabyCakes NYC has no sign on the outside of the building that they occupy.  You’ll find them located inside of the Pollo Campero/Fresh-A-Peel building.  For those of you that know some spanish you may be pausing and going, “Huh?”  Pollo = Chicken.  Not quite where you’d expect to stumble upon a gluten-free, wheat-free, soy-free, casein-free, egg-free, vegan, kosher, and mostly refined sugar-free bakery.

I’ve probably just scared some of you off, haven’t I?  Some of you might be wondering what the heck are in their sweets then?  Well, to sweeten most of their products, they use agave nectar, a syrup found in cactus.  I know it’s skeptical but you have to trust me.  If you take one bite of their Chocolate Crunch Donut you will absolutely be hooked.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m a crazy vegetarian and I’m trying to convert you to the dark side.  I swear.

There really isn’t an atmosphere to BabyCakes NYC location since it’s tucked into a corner of a building that it quite frankly… doesn’t belong in.  Although, I could see them having their own stand-alone location because the bakery seems to have their own pleasant retro vibe with nice neutral, sunny colors.

On my multiple trips to BabyCakes NYC during a long weekend trip back in March, I experienced many of their options available.    Even though it was 10:30 in the morning I allowed myself to indulge in a Vanilla Crunch Donut and a Blondie Cupcake.  I was advised before ordering that the Chocolate Crunch was actually the better of the two but I tend to like vanilla so I went with my gut choice.  While it was delicious… the woman behind the counter was right.  I tried the Chocolate Crunch a few days later and it was phenomenal.  The donuts run for $3.25.

For only a quarter more you can indulge in a variety of cupcakes.  The selection available changes every day but you can undoubtedly find something that sounds good to you.  Over the course of my trip I tried a Blondie Cupcake and a Pumpkin Cupcake.  I’m not much of a pumpkin fan so I can honestly say it didn’t do much for me.  My traveling companion, however, said it was pretty good.  I found the Blondie to be moist and flavorful.  The added chocolate chips brought some welcome texture to my mouth.  I actually think the frosting was the highlight of the cupcakes since it’s not overly sweet.  Though you won’t find a huge variety of cupcake flavors like you would at a big city, sugar filled, cupcake centric bakery… you’ll be pleased enough to find  flavors like vanilla, chocolate, blondie, red velvet, lemon, and pumpkin.  Keep in mind that the selection changes daily with some options being seasonal.  For daily flavors, be sure to follow BabyCakes NYC on Twitter.

The true delicious surprise that I found at Babycakes NYC is the Toastie Slice.  Just typing it I’m honestly salivating.  Loaves of different varieties are baked and served by the slice for $3.50.  The Toastie Slice is a cranberry and apple bread type creation that has fantastic texture and flavor.  Sadly, I tried that on my last trip to Downtown Disney because otherwise I would have JUST ordered like four of them and scarfed them down like a little kid that was just given money and then released into a candy store.

I find BabyCakes NYC to be reasonably priced… especially for the quality that you are getting.  Any type of Cookie Sandwich (two cookies, scrumptious frosting inside) runs you $3.50 while a single cookie is only $1.25 as are the Brownie Bites.  If you get your treats to go, they’ll even package them in a cute box for you at no additional charge.  Should you choose to enjoy your baked goods inside there is ample seating in the building as well as a small section outside.

For those of you that use the Disney Dining Plan, you’ll be happy to know that BabyCakes NYC participates!  Snack credits are accepted and if you grab an entree from Pollo Campero or Fresh-A-Peel, you can redeem your dessert from BabyCakes NYC since they share a register area.

I honestly feel like you’re getting quality baked goods at BabyCakes NYC.  Many times I’ve heard that standard Disney cupcakes on property are too sweet and much too decadent for some taste buds.  Even though I loved a good sugarrush as a kid, I try and eat more health conscious now.  It’s always a plus when something that is healthier for you tastes just as good, if not better, than it’s sugar induced alternatives.

Planning a birthday at Walt Disney World for a friend or family member with dietary restrictions?  BabyCakes NYC has you covered!  You can order a custom birthday cake or any of their other treats for your special occasion.

Maybe I’m used to eating “different” things being a vegetarian and I constantly have to keep an open mind when trying new textures and flavors.  I believe that’s what anyone that tries BabyCakes NYC will have to do.  Just try and remember the quality of ingredients that are used in what you are consuming.  Many of us are accustomed to overly-processed, sugar rich desserts that are over the top decadent.  It’s sort of like a breath of fresh air to find a bakery that allows people with dietary restrictions to try something new.

Whether you’re in the mood for a morning sweet or a late-night treat, Babycakes NYC can take care of your cravings from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

 

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