Archive for August, 2011

Journey to Narnia: Prince Caspian Attraction Closes September 10, 2011

by on August 28, 2011

The closure of the Journey to Narnia: Prince Caspian walk-through attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios has been scheduled for September 10, 2011. No replacement for the attraction has been announced at this time. We will keep you updated with further details as they become available.

Yakitori House to Reopen as Katsura Grill in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion

by on August 28, 2011

The Eating Around Walt Disney World Blog has uncovered some new details about the unannounced 3-month closure of the Yakitori House counter service dining location in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion.

Essentially the three month project is to convert the entire hillside of pavilion into Katsura Gardens – an homage to the architecturally significant Katsura Imperial Villa and gardens in real-world Japan. The real Katsura Imperial Villa is located outside the city of Kyoto and considered one of the greatest achievements of Japanese architecture. Its minimalist design was very influential on famous 20th-century modernist architects like Le Corbusier, Bruno Taut, and Walter Gropius.

The actual quick-service dining location will be redesigned and renamed the Katsura Grill. It will serve roughly the same offerings as the old Yakitori House it replaces. Interestingly enough, the Yakitori House hasn’t served “yakitori” (poultry skewers) in years so the change in name will probably be less confusing to anyone who is familiar with Japanese cuisine.

Walt Disney World Offering Hotel Discounts to Hurricane Stranded Guests

by on August 27, 2011

Walt Disney World is offering room discounts to guests who are unable to return home presently due to travel delays related to Hurricane Irene. Please contact your resort’s front desk for more information.

FASTPASS Return Policy Change Testing at Walt Disney World

by on August 27, 2011

Disney has begun testing changes to the functional FASTPASS return policy at Walt Disney World.

In theory, the written policy has always been that a guest should return to the FASTPASS return area during the allotted return-time window printed on the FASTPASS ticket. This has rarely been enforced, thus leading to many guides including our own offering the following advice for park touring:

In practice, you may use a FASTPASS at any time between the beginning of the window printed on your FASTPASS and park closing. Our data suggest that no specific time is better or worse than any other.

Previously, the only reported instances where Disney has adhered to the return-window policy has been during peak periods with headliner attractions like Epcot’s Soarin’. In the last few weeks Disney has begun sporadically enforcing the return-time window at various park attractions as part of a test period. Further, Cast Members working the FASTPASS return areas have been explicitly directed to honor late returns – for the time being – but to no longer mention or advise guests to use the old open-ended setup of the system.

This slow phasing-in of changes to the return-window is said to be part of preparations for the upcoming NextGen initiative in the parks. For the time being our advice remains the same as before on the utilization of FASTPASS, but please be aware that Disney may choose to change their policy and adhere to the return-window at some point in the near future. We will keep you updated with details as they become available.

The Build Up To A Disney Vacation

by on August 26, 2011

Last Call

We’re about a month away from our Disney vacation, and as I alluded to in another post, this is the time when things start to become exciting for us. We start to fine-tune our plans, looking at the Crowd Calendar, Park Hours, and Evening Extra Magic Hours schedule, to determine which day we should visit each park. We cancel Advance Dining Reservations that we deem superfluous. Of course we’re model Disney Guests who would never book an extra ADR or two because we don’t know in which park we’ll be 180 days in advance–when even Disney hasn’t released its final park hours schedule–and don’t want to get stuck with slim pickins’ when we are finally able to finalize our actual schedule. We’d never do that!

In addition to the typical planning that I’m sure all our fellow obsessive planning brethren reading this also do, we start doing more Disney-related fun things. We ease into “vacation-mode” with the usual suspects. We watch more Disney Blu-rays. We look at old vacation photos. We sit our kids down and watch Little Einsteins with them (okay, since they’re a cat and dog, we don’t actually do this, although they could both stand do be a little more Einstein-ish).

Let the Countdown Begin!

As the trip draws nearer, we start to go into “Super-Crazy-Geek” mode. This usually hits at right about thirty days exactly. I fire up Photoshop and make a countdown calendar. This calendar has dual purposes: it’s a great way to remind us of our trip every time we walk past the fridge, but more importantly, it helps us get into peak physical shape before our trips. This is because we’ve made a “rule” that each of us can only cross off a day if we work out that day (too much information? sorry!). Since our daily 8 am until at-least 2 am schedule can lead to fatigue over the course of a longer trip, this daily conditioning prior to our trips is absolutely essential. Even the act of working out is infused with Disney, as we get caught up on back episodes of our favorite Disney podcasts during workouts. After all, what better way to get fired up for working out than by listening to Len Testa and Henry Work talk about Disney?! We also eat more vegetables and drink less chocolate milk. (Well, Sarah never drinks chocolate milk in the first place, but I drink less. I don’t endorse this portion of our conditioning. Never give up your chocolate milk, kids!)

Of course, we have to offset the exercise, so we also do some Disney gaming! Once upon a time, this was accomplished by playing Walt Disney World Magical Racing Tour on the Sega Dreamcast (remember that?). However, apparently I am too competitive and a sore loser when it comes to video games, so I mostly play that by myself these days. Instead, we play a number of different Disney theme park board games we have accrued over the last several years. In recent years, “Disney’s Magic Kingdom Game” has been the highlight of these games. Last week, we managed to find a rare game from 1972 called “A Visit to Walt Disney World.” We have yet to play it, but in looking at the box contents we’re already quite excited. Much like the father in Carousel of Progress, I dream of a day that there will be a Disney game so ‘awesome’ that we won’t even have to exercise. Oh yeah, that day is this fall, when Disneyland Kinect Adventures is released!

The pre-trip fun doesn’t stop there! Our Playstation 3 is loaded with old trip planning videos, resort TV footage, and Martin tribute videos we’ve collected over the years. It’s fun to watch these to see what has changed over the years, but it’s even more fun to marvel in awe at the outfits tourists wore back in the early 1990s! I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with neon fanny packs, knee high tube socks, and dalmatian print sweatshirts, but they sure are interesting to see!

Sarah and Tom's Walt Disney World Top 30 Must Sees - #15

The most played title on our Playstation 3, by far, is the Top 7 Must Sees with Stacey from 2007 (the Year of a Million Dreams version). These shows seem pretty divisive, as some people find Stacey grating, but we are definitely not in that camp. We absolutely love the corny humor and exuberance of Stacey. We’ve watched these shows so many times that we have a good number of her one-liners memorized. “Look at all the lazy people in the lazy river” happens to be my favorite line. We enjoy watching these Must Sees so much that prior to one of our trips, we actually counted down our Top 30 Must Sees via photos!

Obviously, the way we prepare for trips is a little crazy and perhaps over-the-top. But it’s fun. You could just as easily spend the full thirty days before your trip fine-tuning your plans, planning out your schedule based on the per-park crowd levels and other resources. As I mentioned above, we do this, too. We examine the per-park crowd levels to determine where we’ll start each day, and then we always head to the park that closes the latest at around 7 pm, with a possible stop at a monorail loop restaurant for dinner (since it seems at least 80% of the time Epcot or Magic Kingdom is open the latest). It’s also not a bad idea to call (or look online) to double check your ADRs, check out TripIt to make sure all of your plans are contained in the app, and make sure you have all of the supplies you need. I always make sure to do an early round-up of my camera memory cards, because I invariably seem to lose a couple of these between trips, and have to order new ones. I swear, memory cards are like socks–they just mysteriously disappear!

Sarah and Tom's Walt Disney World Top 30 Must Sees - #1

As you can see, getting ready for trips doesn’t have to be stressful or an annoying task that simply must be accomplished for a successful vacation. If you start early, and think of ways to make it fun, it can be more like a preface to the vacation itself! For us, the month before our trip flies by thanks to all of the fun “Disney” ways we fill our free time, and it really helps build anticipation for our trips. I think that this in turn makes us appreciate the vacations even more, and continues to make our Disney vacations highly anticipated and special even after we have been so many times. Every time we visit we are still no less excited when arrive at the airport, pass through the “Walt Disney World Resort” gate, or catch our first glimpse of Cinderella Castle than we were the very first time we traveled to Walt Disney World together thanks to the way we preface our Disney vacations!

So what do you think? Do these ways of building anticipation sound fun, or are we totally over-zealous Disney nerds who need to find some other hobbies? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

The Lines User Manual

by on August 25, 2011

It’s no secret that the Lines phone application that is part of the fantastic package is the greatest invention since Velcro shoes. What can be a little less clear is how best to utilize the app. Consider this Lines 101:

Image 1

(Please note that I am focusing on the Walt Disney World version of the application, although much of the information is applicable to all versions.)

I’m going to start off pretty basic for those that are new to the app, so bear with me for a bit if you are an old vet (and feel free to skip ahead to the heading of your choice).  When you open up Lines on your smart phone or browser, you see the main screen (Image 1), which shows you essential information such as park hours, the overall crowd estimate (on a scale from 1 to 10), the best parks for the day, and the park to avoid.

It also acts as the menu and will lead you to many of the Touring Plans, Chat, Your Stats, and a 10 Day Crowd Forecast. Most importantly, the menu will lead you (by clicking on each park) to the wait times.

About the Wait Times

The most important thing to remember about the wait times is that they are an estimation of actual time you will be waiting in line. For instance, as I write this The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the Magic Kingdom is showing an estimated wait time of 14 minutes, however the posted time right now is 20 minutes. What this means is that, even though the sign in front of Winnie the Pooh says 20 minutes, we at Touring Plans are estimating that your wait will only be 14 minutes.

Image 2

We understand that it is also helpful for you to see the times that people are inputting, especially on very busy days. To do that, after you click on a park, scroll down and click on Reported Wait Times. There you will see the Attraction, when the time was posted, and who posted it on the left. On the right is the time and what type of time it is, posted or actual. Posted means the time on the sign in front of the attraction where Actual means that the user timed their real wait in line.

Okay, now you’ve got the basics, so you’re standing in the Magic Kingdom and eager to input times, right? Great, let’s do this!

Entering Times into Lines

When you start out inputting times you will only be able to add posted times, however once you enter 10 posted times you will be given the option of entering both posted and actual times. Here’s how both are done (in a lovely example form):

(Another note: this example is based the Android version of Lines. Other versions vary slightly, but the basic concepts are the same.)

Image 3

I am walking by my favorite Magic Kingdom attraction, the Haunted Mansion. Naturally I would love to become the 1,000th “visitor,” so I turn towards the line. The waiting time posted outside is 13 eerie minutes and I am ever so anxious to submit this information to my very favorite phone app (too much? Okay, I’ll dial it down).

I open Lines and click on the Magic Kingdom. In the top right corner I see +Time (Image 2), which I click. A new screen appears that has a few drop down menus on it. The top one says “Enter a posted Time” while the second says “Choose Attraction.” Opening the “Enter a posted time” menu gives me an additional option of “Time your wait” (although, as I said above, posted time will be the only option for your first 10 times). (Note: this function is not supported on the Blackberry browser app.) Opening the “Choose Attraction” menu gives a list of all the Magic Kingdom attractions.

I would like to enter both the posted and actual times, so I pick “Time your wait” first (stay with me, I’ll explain why) and select “Haunted Mansion.” A button below the menus now reads “Start Timer.” (Image 3) As soon as I meet resistance in the queue (i.e. other people waiting), I start that timer.

Image 4

Clicking “Start Timer” brings up a new screen with a few options such as Stop Timer and Cancel Timer (Image 4). The timer is now running in the background allowing you to put your phone away, use another function, or go back and enter that posted time (see, I told you there was a reason). To enter the posted time, I click the +Time button again, only this time select “enter a posted time” and select 13 minutes (yes, it’s there). (Image 5)

Stopping the Timer

Now that I’ve entered the posted time, I get into the “stretch room” of the Haunted Mansion. I wonder if I should stop the timer now? No, no I shouldn’t. The timer doesn’t stop until I’m about to get into the ride vehicle, which in this case is a Doom Buggy.

When I stop the timer, the app then tells me what my recorded time was and gives me the option of submitting it (Image 6). Obviously I want to submit it, but darn it I’m not getting a signal. Luckily, Lines is set up so I can put my phone away and press that submit button after I get back out into the open.

What the Submitted Times are Used For

Image 5

Since Lines keeps getting better with more input, both posted and actual times are important, but actual times are more valuable. Posted times are entered into a calculation that estimates the actual time based on Disney’s posted time. Actual times are inputted directly into the algorithm that is used for all the calculations. They are both useful, but actual times are better when you are able to add them.

To make it even more fun to enter times, there are many different badges you can win by submitting times as well as various levels of expertness you can reach. You can click here to see all of that coolness.

Thank You

There are many dedicated Touring Plans employees that gather insane amounts of data (or is that insane employees and dedicated data?), but the more data we have the better Lines works. We sincerely thank each of you who has submitted or is planning to submit wait times into Lines. It would not work as well without you and because of your help we can keep making it better.

Image 6

Please voice any concerns, comments, or questions below.


Plans for the Four Seasons at Walt Disney World Revealed

by on August 25, 2011

Disney filed with the water management district for the Four Seasons resort scheduled to tentatively open in 2014 and that means we’ve now got the basic plans for the site in PDF.

Here’s a couple of quick screen grabs of the most interesting bits to save you form having to sort through the technical documents contained within the PDF linked to above. First off, a general overview of the are and how it integrates into the existing Osprey Ridge golf course and Golden Oak luxury home community:

The lower right side of the image has the current Golden Oak Club House. The parcel to the left is the driving range and golf course club house. The other parcels to the right and above the main hotel site are Golden Oak residential area.Now a slightly zoomed-in look at the hotel site itself:

The main hotel is the rectangular block in the middle of the parcel. Parking is to the right, and a large man-made lake is the left. The top left of the image is a large recreational complex separated from the main hotel by what looks to be some impressive design elements like waterfalls and other water features. Here’s a closer look at the recreational complex:

There appears to be a pair of twisting water-slides on the left, as well as a “Teen Club” toward the top. Most interesting to us though is the “Ruinous Mansion” that is toward the bottom of the layout. Just below the Ruinous Mansion in another section of the plans:

It’s a large water feature dotted with small structures, likely cabanas, and a “Lakeside Restaurant.” How charming! This whole northwestern complex of the side is separated from the main hotel by a walkway over a waterfall:

The main Four Seasons hotel itself is going to be a fairly standard high-rise hotel structure. While it may have some evocative thematic elements once constructed, the basic plans for the ground level don’t suggest any particularly interesting architectural details at this point. It seems the surrounding of the main building will be the featured design rather then the tower of lodging itself.

Gasparilla Grill & Games & Pirates

by on August 25, 2011

While some may disagree, there is little doubt that the intent of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is for it to be the premiere resort experience on Walt Disney World property.  With its grandiose stylized Victorian architecture modeled after the old look of what is today known as the Boca Raton Resort & Club, and placement on the Seven Seas Lagoon, it is a site to behold.  It’s just one Monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom on the resort line, and a great place to watch Wishes should you not be there.

The Grand Floridian is also well known for its dining.  After all, taking a cue from its Victorian look, there is Victoria & Albert’s which is perhaps the finest dining anywhere in Walt Disney World.  You also can have great dining experiences at both Narcoossee’s or Citricos, or perhaps a more casual dining experience at the Grand Floridian Café.  If afternoon tea is your thing you could try the Garden View Tea Room, or perhaps just drop your children off for the Wonderland Tea Party at 1900 Park Fare.  Or if you’ve got a healthy appetite you can tackle a breakfast or dinner buffet also at 1900 Park Fare.

However, tucked away in there is something else.  Seldom crowded because many people who stay at the Grand Floridian don’t even know it exists. And yet there it is, a counter service restaurant, Gasparilla Grill & Games.  Now, unless you’re in the know, you’re probably thinking that’s a pretty odd name for a restaurant.  Then you remember you’re only standing a few hundred feet from a place named Narcoossee‘s and you probably shrug it off.  But what if I told you this restaurant was tied to pirates?

Oh yes it’s true.  Pull up a chair, matey, it’s time for a bit of pirate lore and a piece of Florida’s rich history.  It’s time to learn about the “last of the buccaneers”, José Gaspar.  He was a born in Spain in 1756 to an aristocratic family.  But he was also a troublemaker who made a deal with the courts to get out of a jail sentence by joining the Spanish Navy.  He served aboard a ship known as the Floridablanca for a number of years.  However it was a jilted lover who framed him for stealing the Spanish Crown Jewels, that ultimately drove him to a life of piracy.

He commandeered the Floridablanca as his own, swore revenge against Spain through piracy, and renamed himself Gasparilla.  For close to 40 years he patrolled the coast of a then Spanish controlled Florida.  Every ship that came his way he ransacked and his pirate booty grew. This treasure he stowed within his base on the island that today bears his name, Gasparilla Island tucked away in Charlotte Harbor.

However, in 1821 when the United States purchased Florida from Spain Gasparilla decided it was time to retire.  After all, the US was determined to rid its water of pirates by any means necessary.  The plan was divide up the treasure among his crew and then each would go their separate ways.  On that day the crew spotted a British ship and they were determined to get one last score.  However, to their surprise and dismay they had fallen into a trap that was realized when the ship lowered the its British flag and raised an American flag.  This ship was the USS Enterprise.

The battle was fierce, and American cannonballs tore the Floridablanca apart.  Not willing to face surrender and a trial, Gasparilla took the chain of his ship’s anchor and tied it around his waist.  He then ran to the highest remaining point of his ship and shouted, “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!”  After which he leaped into the water never to be seen again.

Admittedly the pirate related theming is very minimal, but it is there.  Starting with the restaurant being named after Gasparilla the pirate, there is also a picture of the Floridablanca on the restaurant sign above the entrance.  You’ll additionally find some framed pirate related artwork above the highest wall mouldings in the dining portion of the restaurant.  A globe, a mast, and maps are depicted along with others.

The restaurant itself offers many of the standard “grab and go” items you find in resort counter service restaurants all over Walt Disney World.  You can find pastries, bagels, muffins, cookies, and cakes all in the $2 to $3 price range.  As well as the ever popular Mickey shaped rice crispy treats and ice cream.  Juice, water, soda, wine, and beer can all be found in the cooler along with salads, yogurts, and parfaits.  Not all “grab and go” items are available throughout the day, some are on a first come first serve basis – when they’re gone for the day they’re gone.  Others are based on the time of day.

Gasparilla Grill is opened 24 hours a day, and its menu shifts 4 times throughout the day between Breakfast (6:30am – 11am), Lunch (11am – 5pm), Dinner (5pm – 11:30pm), and “Late Night” (11:30pm – 6:30am).

Breakfast offerings are also fairly typical to those found elsewhere at Walt Disney World.  Oatmeal and Grits will run you $2.49 as the least expensive item, while the Bounty Platter consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, a waffle, a pancake, and a biscuit will run you $8.29 as the most expensive item.  They also offer egg sandwiches, Mickey waffles, and pancakes, as well as having child versions of each dish for $4.39.

The “Late Night” menu offers flatbreads, only a few sandwiches, salads, and a pizza that will cost you $13.99 plus toppings.  “Grab and go” items are still available during this time.

Lunch and Dinner seem to share the same menu.  They offer the following items (keep in mind that some of the menu items rotate from time to time):

Roast Beef Sandwich – $9.29
Floridian Turkey Club – $9.29
Cobb Salad with Lobster – $9.99
Freshly Tossed Roasted Chicken Salad – $9.59
Tabbouleh Pita – $8.89
Italian Sandwich – $8.59
Shrimp Stir-fry – $8.49
Vegetable Lasagna – $6.99
Mac & Cheese w/ Lobster – $9.99
Barbecued Pork Flatbread – $8.19
Pepperoni Flatbread – $7.39
1/3 lb Angus Bacon Cheeseburger – $8.79
Grilled Chicken Sandwich – $8.79
Chicken Breast Nuggets (8 pieces) – $7.89
Hot Dog – $6.69
Reuben Hot Dog – $8.09 (means “with sauerkraut”)
Kids Picks – For Guests Ages 9 and Under: Hot Dog, Hamburger, or Chicken Nuggets – $4.99

* all sandwiches are served with a Cucumber or Tomato Salad as well as home made potato chips (yummy!!!)

With the current menu I’ve only tried a few items: the Roast Beef Sandwich (no cheese), the Freshly Tossed Roasted Chicken Salad, and the Tabbouleh Pita Sandwich.  The pita is my favorite.  It has these delicious fried garbanzo beans sprinkled on top of the tabbouleh and mixed in as well.  The pita also has tzatziki and cucumbers as well.  Very yummy.

One of the primary reasons we go here is for my wife, Cheryl, who has several food issues and therefore chooses to eat primarily vegan when we’re not at home.  And lets face it, there’s only so much Babycakes you can eat.  (I mean you… not me.  I can eat a lot of Babycakes – you not eating means more for me.)  The great thing is that Gasparilla Grill shares a kitchen with 1900 Park Fare.  This means they also share a head chef.  So special orders for this counter service restaurant, as with many found at the resorts, can be extremely customized as opposed to the limited modifications allowed at a counter service inside a park.  And they can even provide Tofutti for dessert.

To keep the kids occupied while you enjoy your meal there is a small contingent of arcade games.  Even though there are only a few they range tend to range from old to very modern, and some are simple while others are challenging.  They all take tokens which are provided by a token machine near the soda machines.

Overall I really enjoy this restaurant.  It’s small and generally not too crowded, and it’s a great little place to go eat if you’ve been in Magic Kingdom all day and aren’t too interested in the counter services in the park.  I think there’s enough choices here to cover everyone, with many freshly made items available.  It is a hidden bit of pirate treasure for sure.

What about you?  Have you been to Gasparilla Grill?  If not, would you go now?  If so, did you like it?  Are you hungry?  Do you like pirates?  Did you know about the Gasparilla Pirate Festival that occurs each year in Tampa?  Shiver my timbers!

Golden Oak Opens Three Model Homes, First Residents Move-In January

by on August 24, 2011

Disney released a nice little press release this evening telling us all about the upscale Golden Oak homes they are building at Walt Disney World. You can of course click the link to see Disney’s take on the information (as well as an interview with one of the first residents), but the basics are as follows:

Golden Oak  now has three model homes completed which can be booked for scheduled tours. Also,the first residents move-in come January. Otherwise, here’s a photo Disney released of one of the model homes:

And here’s a quick rundown of the resident amenities offered by Disney:

Families who close on the purchase of a homesite or completed home in Golden Oak before December 31, 2011 will receive one complimentary five-year Golden Oak VIP Pass for the homebuyer, providing admission for the homebuyer and up to four guests. The special Golden Oak VIP Pass will allow admission to all four Walt Disney World theme parks, water parks, DisneyQuest indoor interactive theme park and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex every day of the year with no block-out dates. Also included is complimentary parking for one car and discounts up to 20 percent on select merchandise purchased at select Walt Disney World Resort parks or Downtown Disney area locations.

Every homeowner at Golden Oak will be a member of the private social and recreational Golden Oak Club.  As part of the club membership, homeowners will receive Door-to-Park transportation, complimentary merchandise delivery to their home in Golden Oak, special golf services, and access to the Extra Magic Hours benefit at Walt Disney World (early- or after-hours access to one of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks daily). Disney-designed holiday décor, golf program and in-park special event tickets will be available for an additional fee.

Additionally, Resident Services at Golden Oak will bring Disney’s personal guest service culture directly to residents and guests.  A dedicated onsite team at Golden Oak will help arrange personal, residential and resort requests such as move-in services, pre-arrival and post-departure home maintenance services, travel and private transportation, holiday home décor, grocery shopping, VIP tours and more.

Correction For Disneyland Crowd Calendar October 11, 2011

by on August 24, 2011

Our most recent update for the Disneyland crowd calendar included a mistake for October 11, 2011. The mistake resulted in a large jump in the crowd calendar prediction. We apologize for any negative affect this may have had on your trip planning but the mistake is now corrected on the site. Disneyland Resort crowds for that day will be a level 3, not a level 9.