Archive for August, 2011

Grand Floridian Construction Shuts Down Wedding Pavilion

by on August 31, 2011

The Disney Wedding Pavilion located near the Grand Floridian Resort has become a casualty of the “We’re not building a DVC! Pay no attention to this machinery!” construction Disney has been doing for the last few months. Essentially the dredging of the lagoon has to occur, as the coastline of lagoon is being reshaped to allow for the footprint of the resort. You can read about and see the details of the construction plans over at the Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia’s update from July.

This dredging to reshape the coastline of the Seven Seas Lagoon is going to occur during the last two weeks of September. How do we know this? Because Disney began calling and telling brides – less than 30 days out from their wedding date – that they can not have their wedding in the pavilion during that time period due to the construction. Less than 30 days out for fully paid weddings. You can watch the drama unfold over at the DisBoards as brides are notified.

We try to look at the somewhat bright side of things here at the Unofficial Guide and TouringPlans.com but this is just shrewd and shameless on Disney’s part. Poor form, very very poor form. We knew they were going to have to dredge the lagoon as early as July 5th, 2011, meaning internally Disney must have known some sort of timeline for the work. Bad Disney, bad bad Disney!

If you were having or attending a wedding at the pavilion in late September or early October we suggesting contacting Disney immediately.

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Character Meals: Vol. 2 – Chef Mickey’s

by on August 31, 2011

Welcome to the continuation of my Character Meal series. If you are interested, the first installment was about Cinderella’s Royal Table.

If you are not familiar with the Disney channel show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, it focuses on six characters; Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto.  Chef Mickey’s character meal allows up close visitation with five of those (sorry, no Daisy), which means that it is a very popular meal.  My daughter is a huge Mickey Mouse Clubhouse fan meaning that this was a definite stop for us, as it is for many.

Here are my thoughts on this very popular character dining option:

Atmosphere

Chef Mickey’s is located in the Contemporary Resort, which has some definite pros and cons; we’ll start with the bad.

- It is not in a park meaning that you have to work it into your schedule and take the time to travel to the Contemporary.
- It is very loud.  And I don’t mean noisy restaurant loud, it’s as if one hundred children just saw Mickey Mouse and screamed inside a cavernous, echo-prone space (oh wait, that’s exactly what it is).

Now the good:

- It is not in a park meaning that you can visit it without using a park ticket.
- The Contemporary is a very cool resort and riding the monorail right through it never gets old.

Overall, the restaurant space is nice, but nothing special.  There are quite a few seating areas spaced around a large buffet area and if you get lucky you may be in a smaller, more out-of-the-way room.  Otherwise you will be passed by many, many people on their way to the buffet (or bathroom, or about to tackle Goofy).

Characters

Like most Disney character meals, the interaction here is fantastic.  While the restaurant is spread out, it does not have a huge capacity meaning that the character to guest ratio is pretty good.  In the hour or so that we were there we met all five characters twice, and they were all decked out in their chef-y best.

The only bad thing about all of this interaction is that you’re also supposed to be eating.  My daughter was thrilled each and every time one of them came around, meaning it was next to impossible to get her to eat anything.  Since I am usually in charge of the pictures and video, I alternated between setting up photo opportunities and shoveling as much food into my mouth as I could manage in between visits (meaning there’s a lot of background audio on the home movies that sounds like “grph gack”).

Food

I was at Chef Mickey’s for dinner so I can’t speak for any other meal, but here’s where the review goes downhill a bit.  I will say that when I found out that the meal was an open-air buffet I expected the food to be putrid.  Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised because the food was only below-average.

What disappointed me most was that the food sounded good.  They had things such as a carving station with spice-rubbed beef, red beans and rice, and beef stroganoff, but all of these were dry and lacking in flavor (in other words, buffet style).  Since I got excited when I read the descriptions, I felt more let down.

On the positive side, there was a large selection of items so finding something descent shouldn’t be hard.  The big plus though is the dessert selection; cookies, ice cream, rice cereal treats, bread pudding, cheesecake…okay, I gained 2 lbs just typing that.  I would recommend sampling the dinner items and saving lots of room for dessert.

Odds, Ends, and Details

Chef Mickey’s is open for breakfast and dinner.  The breakfast costs $35.14 for adults and $19.16 for children while the dinner will set you back $40.46 and $20.23 respectively..  Somewhat pricey, but remember that you’re paying to see the stars here.

Final Thoughts

Yes, the food is not great but I paid the money for a) personal time for my daughter with her favorite characters and b) to avoid spending my week finding said characters and wasting my touring time.  For both of those reasons I am happy I did it and I would happily do it again (note from my stomach: do not eat the red beans and rice next time).

 

 

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Construction to Begin on Splitsville Replacing Virgin Megastore

by on August 30, 2011

New filings today: Hawkeye Construction of South Florida has filed paperwork (link) to install temporary barriers and begin the interior build-out of the building at 1494 East Buena Vista Dr., Lake Buena Vista, FL. That’s the address of the old Virgin Megastore in Downtown Disney West Side’s shopping/entertainment district.

As previously announced by Disney, that building is going to become a Splitsville bowling/dining/entertainment complex. The paperwork notes that the project is intended to be completed prior to December 2012. Expect to see refurbishment walls and heavy equipment in this area in the near future. We’ve included the concept art below originally released by the Disney Parks Blog for your viewing pleasure.

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Great Movie Ride Getting Lighting Upgrades

by on August 30, 2011

Just a quick note – the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has had paperwork (link) submitted for work on lighting upgrades at the attraction. The work is scheduled to be completed by late December according to the documents. In the new year the twinkle of tinsel town will be just a little bit brighter… possibly more colorful, better aimed, and sharper focused.

There doesn’t appear to be a downtime for the attraction scheduled to coincide with these upgrades, so we’re assuming Disney will be doing to work in phases overnight. We’ll keep you updated if the operating schedule of the attraction changes due to these enhancements.

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Epcot Character Experiences

by on August 30, 2011

In this, the third part of my Character Experiences series, I’m going to touch on the exciting world of meet and greets at my personal favorite park, Epcot.

While Epcot has evolved quite a lot over the years in many ways, one thing that I’ve found to be very consistant is the amount of characters that you can find roaming about the park.  The thing with characters in Epcot is that you don’t always see them right out in the open and you may walk right by them and not even know it.  Some of the meet and greet locations are tucked away or off to the side.  This rings true for World Showcase especially so keep your eyes open!

It’s time to take a look at Future World and the meet and greets that are available in this innovative section of Epcot.  When you arrive in the morning at the main entrance you’ll be greeted by both Stitch and and Daisy Duck.  Yeah, I think it’s a weird combo too and I don’t really understand the method of thinking behind that one but I just go with it.  Stitch is always one of the most interactive and hilarious characters to be around so even if you’ve never seen Lilo and Stitch or find Stitch’s character sort of off-putting… give him a shot!

If you’re at the park for rope drop inside of Future World, you’ll most likely get a quick opportunity to get an autograph and maybe a picture with one of the Fab Five if you’re right up to the rope.  Characters come around to welcome everyone to Epcot before rope drop so get your cameras ready.

At this time there isn’t a totally organized schedule for characters appearing outside of Mission: Space but I have seen characters such as Chip and Dale and Goofy appearing in astronaut garb.  I love seeing characters in “themed” outfits!

Moving over to The Land pavillion you have the only character meal in Future World.  Garden Grill Restaurant is a family-style dining experience in which your table will actually revolve around the kitchen area in a very slow circular motion.  While you’re eating turkey and blueberry Buckle, Chip and Dale, Mickey, and Pluto all come by to visit your table, sign autographs, and take pictures.  Make sure to get an Advanced Dining Reservation if this location interests you.

I don’t know if some of you would think of Turtle Talk with Crush in The Living Seas a character experience but I sure would.  Granted, you don’t pose for pictures with Crush or have him sign your autograph book (imagine how cool that would be if you could) but he does chat live with the audience and even gives little dudes some one on one time to ask him some of their burning questions.  On my honeymoon, Crush chatted with my husband and I and instructed everyone else to turn around and congratulate us.  It was so cool!

Innoventions West welcomes guests to greet Chip ‘n’ Dale throughout the middle part of the day.  Since they are tucked away from crowds, the lines are usually quite short.  Perfect for Chip ‘n’ Dale fans!

The last and most popular place to find characters is the Character Spot across from Innoventions West.  Mickey and friends appears regularly all day long so if you’re trying to get the “main” characters done, this is the place to do it!  I suggest hitting this up first thing in the morning or later at night when the crowds are lighter.  Also, be sure to ask how long the current wait is before jumping in the line because it can become a doozy.

Making our way across the park to the World Showcase, (perhaps my favorite part of the entire Walt Disney World Resort) if you stop by the Showcase Plaza you’ll find the bear we all love to hate or hate to love… Duffy.  While I understand that Duffy is simply a kid-friendly marketing tool, I approve of his cuteness.  I know some of you are fighting rolling your eyes at me but let’s just agree to disagree on this one.

Moving around the World Showcase clockwise, we come to Donald Duck dressed in total Mexican garb,  somebrero and all.  He’s so adorable all dressed up in Mexico that he’s become one of my favorite character experiences!

Norway’s sit-down restaurant, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, hosts a character meal fit for the little ladies in your traveling party or a single guy looking for a hot date.  While dining in a “medieval castle,” your party is greeted by numerous Disney Princesses that are ready to sign autographs and take pictures.  This is a very popular restaurant so make sure to get an Advanced Dining Reservation if you’re planning to dine here for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

The rest of the World Showcase is very princess friendly.  In China you’ll find Mulan greeting guests and in Germany you can see Snow White and sometimes Dopey with her.  Morocco is the place to find two people that always bring long lines… Aladdin and Jasmine!

For some odd reason France is a hot spot for character greetings.  Throughout the day Belle, Beast, Princess Aurora, and Marie all make appearances.  If you happen to be dining at Les Chefs de France then you are in luck!  Remy from Ratatouille comes out and chats with guest as they are chowing down.  No, wait.  The French don’t “chow down.”  What am I thinking?  They… nibble delicately.  Yeah, that sounds about right.

In the United Kingdom you can find Pooh & Friends ready to give you hugs.  Back in March I jumped around with Tigger and Pooh and had a grand ol’ time.  You can have a jolly holiday with the lovely Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom as well!  Lastly, Alice from Alice in Wonderland hangs out in this pavillion… probably looking for some tea.  The backdrop of the United Kingdom provides some of the prettiest and most unique character photographs I’ve ever seen.

Years ago I saw characters from Brother Bear roaming about Canada but I can’t seem to figure out if they still appear from time to time to greet guests.  Has anyone seen them lately or have they been hibernating?

I think it’s great that Epcot has so many characters to interact with despite the park not being “character centric.”  What are some of your memorable meet and greets at Epcot?  Are there any characters that you think would fit right in some place but Disney just hasn’t thought of it yet?  Let me know! 

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Walt Disney World September Hints and Tips

by on August 30, 2011

September is almost here and it is the start of possibly one of the best seasons at Walt Disney World. Here at TouringPlans.com, we’re ready to give you some hints, tips and tricks to survive September at the Walt Disney World Resort.

First and foremost, check out the Crowd Calendar! September boasts summer like weather but with low crowds, so it may be the perfect time for a last minute getaway.

Make sure to also print your touring plans or get your smartphone ready to go with Lines. September may have low crowds, but a good touring plan is always essential.

Next, let’s take a look at a few amazing activities going on at the parks!

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is the spookiest party in the Magic Kingdom. Advanced purchase rates and DVC discount rates can be found and the party is held on select dates until November 1! Check out this fabulous review of last year’s party on our blog (note that dates and prices will be different). Dates for the 2011 parties are listed as: September 13, 16, 20, 23, 27, 30. October 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30, and 31. November 1. The price per adult and child increases as Halloween approaches and discounts available on select dates. Check it out for some free candy and spooky fun!

Disney’s Night of Joy 2011, a ticketed event for a night of Christian music, is scheduled to be held from 7:30 p.m to 1:00 a.m. on September 9 and 10, 2011 at the Magic Kingdom. Prices for the one day pass to Night of Joy are $51.95 if purchased in advanced and $59.95 the day of. You can purchase a two day pass as well for $92.95.

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is making its triumphant return from September 30-November 1, 2011. This year’s theme has been coined, “Passport to a World of Flavors”. Attendees of the festival can sample eclectic foods, attend special events and even catch HGTV celebrities at the park. Check out a preview of The Food and Wine Festival on our blog and keep your eyes there for additional articles on special events, fantastic food and how to help your kids enjoy the festival as well!

Disney’s Wine and Dine Half-Marathon Weekend will also make its return during the weekend of September 30. If 13.1 miles aren’t your thing there is also a themed 5k and kids races. Ticket holders to a special after-hours Epcot party can even find themselves sampling food until the wee hours of the morning. Will you be running?

Last but not least, Raglan Road at Downtown Disney will be hosting “Half Way to Paddy Day“! Starting at 5 p.m. on September 17, the restaurants will host live music, dancing, giveaways and serve, as always, amazing food! Take a break from the parks for an evening and check it out!

With all of these events, lower crowds and slightly less heat, September just may be the perfect month to visit Disney World. Will you be attending any of the events mentioned here? Let us know!

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Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2012 – Now Shipping

by on August 29, 2011

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2012 is in stores and available online now. (Yes, we know that page has the 2011 Guide shown – still waiting for a full-res file from our publisher.)

The Guide is also available for Kindle, Nook, and Apple iBooks. We have heard of formatting issues with the Nook version. If you go ahead and purchase the Nook version, be aware that this is an issue for Barnes & Noble and our publisher. We can’t provide any help for e-books any more than we can assist with bent covers on a paper book you’ve ordered.

Ready to get your discounted subscription to TouringPlans.com as a book-owner? The verification questions work for paper and electronic versions of the book, though page numbers only apply to the printed version.

Corrections? We got ‘em. Despite sending updates up until the very last minute (and then some) to our fabulous project manager, we still went to print with some information that is sadly already out of date. Book corrections and updates are here.

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Sleek New Vehicles Arrive at Test Track

by on August 29, 2011

From the twitterverse: @shawnathon33 got these great photos of a new test vehicles being tried out at Epcot’s Test Track. Cast Members at the attraction say the entire fleet will be replaced with similar vehicles. Note the Chevy logo on the nose of the sleek new vehicle. Shiny! We’ve heard rumors that Test Track may close for refurbishment in January to get new show scenes (the full rumor details can be found over at the Epcot Explorer’s Encyclopedia blog), but Disney hasn’t confirmed anything yet.

 

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Tangierine Cafe Review

by on August 29, 2011

Epcot is the home of so much good food, that often times, great things get overlooked.  I know among all the friends I have that head down, one of the last places we talk about is Tangierine Café in the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase.  That’s a shame, because it’s one of the best counter service restaurants in all of Walt Disney World for quality and value.

Take a look at the food before you order

The Morocco pavilion is not one that most people will visit at length during their World Showcase stroll, because there is no attraction there, but I try to stop every time to visit Tangierine Café.  Most people who I’ve talked to are concerned over the types of food served there, but if you’ve had a shawarma platter at home, or enjoy hummus, baklava and good beers, there’s something for you in the Tangierine Café.

The restaurant is a counter service establishment just off the main walkway of World Showcase.  You walk into an elaborately decorated open area with lines that can form to the left or the right.  Most times I have been in, however, the line goes to the left, with samples of the menu to the right.  The menu is mostly made up of typical shawarma platters, with chicken or lamb.  In case you’re not familiar with shawarma, it refers to a roasted meat that has been placed on a spit and then shaved off into a sandwich.  It also refers to yummy food.

The Tangierine Café offers their shawarma platters with chicken, lamb or both accompanied by hummus, tabbouleh, Moroccan bread and lentil salad.  The prices for the shawarma platters start at $11.99 and go to $13.99, but you get a ton of food for that price.  I’ve easily shared the portions almost every time I go.

If you’re not in the mood for shawarma, though, they also offer smaller portions, with wrap sandwiches or vegetarian options like falafel ranging from $8.99 to $9.99.  There are also specialties, such as the Mediterranean sliders, Kefta sandwich or vegetable platter which includes hummus, tabbouleh, lentil salad, olives and more.  These range from $9.99 to $14.99, but again they include tons of food.

The Coffee and Pastry Bar - yum!

On my last visit, I went with the chicken and lamb shawarma platter, but I’ve had everything on the menu, and it’s all good.  The chicken and lamb were very hot, the hummus is extremely smooth, not gritty like many others I’ve had at home, and the tabbouleh, lentil salad and Moroccan bread were extremely fresh.

But I can’t talk about the Tangierine Café without mentioning my favorite beer in all of World Showcase, the Casa Beer available here.  It’s a lager that is brewed and bottled in Casablanca, Morocco (hence the name) and I adore it.  At $5.95 for a bottle, it’s cheaper than most restaurants.  If you enjoy beer, try this out when at Morocco.

There’s also dessert here.  Oh, is there ever.  To the left of the registers there is a case full of pastries and coffee.  You can bypass the main course and head straight here for some of the best baklava you will ever taste.  The flaky pastry layers are amazing, the honey is sticky, sweet and delicious and the nuts are fresh and crunchy.

For the amount of food that you get, Tangierine Café is probably the best counter service value in World Showcase.  Light eaters could definitely split a shawarma platter, two drinks and some baklava.  Grab your meal, head outside and catch Mo Rockin’, the band that plays right across the walkway.  It’s a recipe for an amazing time in World Showcase.

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TouringPlans.com Friend Feed – August 29, 2011

by on August 29, 2011

Every week, we like to take a look at what the friends of TouringPlans.com are up to, and clue you guys in on what these great websites and podcasts have been talking or writing about in the past few days. Think of it as the TouringPlans.com Friend Feed, for lack of a better term. It’s a chance to see some fun stuff that is going on out there in the Disney internet community.

WDW Today features our founder, Len Testa, and this week Len was down in Walt Disney World. But always a trooper, rather than miss the Listener Question show this past Wednesday, Len did the show while doing his laundry. Take a listen to the show and enjoy the fun.

Lou Mongello’s WDW Radio Newscast this week was all about recapping the D23 Expo. Lou was there throughout the entire Expo and the days leading into it. Watch the show and learn what was announced and what cool stuff Lou got to see.

Lou took the Box People inside the Parks & Resorts presentation

Mousetalgia this week went all emails, all the time on their podcast. It was time to clear out the inbox, and the gang went all out, answering listener questions about Disneyland and many other topics. Plus, as a bonus, check out some musical interludes from the D23 Expo.

The Be Our Guest Podcast is always a fun listen, but this week especially. They touched on one of my favorite topics on show 362, which is comparing the old Ultimate Park Hopper ticket system to the current Magic Your Way system. I liked the old system myself, but take a listen and see what you think.

Betamouse went deep into the world of theme park tech as they do every week, and chatted with Doug Sisk of 1scream, a company dedicated to making technology work for you, the theme park guest. This guy has some really intriguing ideas and applications to check out, so take a listen to this week’s Betamouse for the details.

Wedway Radio has the full recap on the D23 Expo announcements this week. Matt and Nate take a look at what the coolest announcements were, and what they are looking forward to the most, in a show they call Planes, Trolleys and Audio Animatronics.

Dateline Disneyland is the place I go for the best pictures of what’s going on in California. This week, we get pictures of shops being redone on Main Street, updates on DCA and photos of the walkaround Star Wars characters, including Boba Fett!

Our own Tom Bricker, who provides the amazing photography we feature on TouringPlans.com, has his own news this week. Tom, along with other WDW photography friends, has written a book for all of us amateur photographers out here on how to take pictures of fireworks. If you’re like me, you need this info, because my photos of fireworks always turn out lame. Go check out the book and learn how to do it the right way.

The All Ears Net weekly newsletter provides some great insights into the Disney theme parks, and this week Mike Scopa provided a look at the legacy of the Haunted Mansion. It’s a fascinating read about how the Mansion came to be. And Mike even leaves us on a cliffhanger! Go subscribe today to get this dose of magic in your inbox.

In Mouseplanet’s Walt Disney World update this week Mark Goldhaber has the details on Jim Lewis’ departure from the Disney Vacation Club, the Walt Disney World news from the D23 Expo and the extension of the free dining offer.  Check out the video he posted of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster from the D23 Expo.  Can’t wait to ride it!

Construction walls are a familiar sight around DCA

In the Mouseplanet Disneyland update, as per usual, it’s an update on the changes at Disney California Adventure.  Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix gives great pics of the changes to the second California theme park as well as news about the Disneyland Half Marathon.

Disneyland Live continues to provide some great info about the Disney California Adventure overhaul. This week, there were stories about the Buena Vista Street closure and great shots of the new Walt and Mickey statue that will be erected on that very same street.

Those were the shows/sites that we sponsor and work with this week.  Go check them out and enjoy the fun!

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