Archive for November, 2011

We’re Hiring! Full-Time and Part-Time Rails Developers Wanted

by on November 20, 2011

TouringPlans.com is the official Web site of the best-selling Unofficial Guide travel series and the top paid subscription Disney theme park-related site on the Web.  The site provides Web- and mobile-based trip planning tools and receives almost 1 million unique visitors per year.

We are hiring a full-time and a part-time Rails developer for our Web and mobile products.  Our technical infrastructure uses GNU/Linux, Apache, MySQL, Rails, Webkit, Amazon’s Cloud tools, git, Capistrano and Plesk.  These roles also includes Tier-1 support for server and infrastructure and Tier-2 support for user issues.

Qualifications:

  • BA/BS in Computer Science or a closely related field
  • 2-5 years of professional commercial software development experience
  • 2 years of Ruby on Rails experience
  • Experience developing in an Agile environment with frequent releases delivering iterative feature sets
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills

Experience developing and releasing software to iTunes and to Android platforms is a plus.  A passion for and understanding of Disney theme parks is extremely beneficial for succeeding in this role.

Benefits Include:

  • A competitive salary
  • Casual work environment (you can work from home)
  • Paid vacation and sick time
  • Health care plan coming in 2012
  • Free trips to Disney theme parks
  • A chance to influence the next generation of theme park travel tools

Send resume and cover letter to Len@TouringPlans.com with the subject line “2011 Rails Developer” for consideration.  Please specify whether you’re interested in the full-time or part-time role.

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10 Impressions From My Trip to Disneyland Last Weekend

by on November 18, 2011

I just got back from a great weekend at Disneyland!  I stayed in the Disneyland Hotel for three nights.  True to the Crowd Calendar predictions, the parks were crowded on Saturday and Sunday, but pretty quiet on Monday.  Here are some of my thoughts, good and bad.  Mostly good, of course, because it is still a trip to Disney after all!

1. Holidays at the Disneyland Resort – A visit to Disneyland during the holidays is a must do.  It’s just wonderful to see the entire resort decorated.  Disney goes all out.  The trees, the lights, the wreaths, the garland – it’s everywhere!  The holiday overlays for it’s a small world and the Haunted Mansion are exquisite.  They didn’t just stick some garland in the scenery.  They shut the rides down and went to town!  Some of the big rooms in small world will take your breath away.  The World of Color preshow starring Prep and Landing was perfect.  If the rumors are true, next year Disney may have an entire World of Color holiday edition.  That alone will make a visit to Disneyland well worth the cost!

2. Monorails – Plain and simply, Disneyland’s monorails are great.  Walt Disney World seriously needs to upgrade its monorails.  Every time I ride the sleek Mark IVs, I am reminded how old Disney World’s monorails feel.  Don’t get me wrong, Disney World’s monorails are more useful as an actual mode of transportation for getting around the Disney property, but still, the monorails in Florida are not nearly as nice.

3. Disneyland Hotel Refurbishments – It has been a couple of years since I’ve actually stayed at the Disneyland Hotel so I was interested to see the changes.  My first impression was that standard rooms are very standard.  Of course I knew that from previous stays, but this stay reinforced that.  The parking lot view is just awful!  Now if you don’t care about your view, then the newly redone rooms are great.  The light up headboard is awesome!  I toured a Downtown Disney District view room last time and it was beautiful. I decided the next time I stay there, the upgrade is worth the price for me.  The new pool is also superb.  It was a little too chilly for me, but not for the scores of kids I saw having a great time in it.  Tangaroa Terrace, a casual dining restaurant, is also a nice addition.  The Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier were really lacking for a food court type restaurant.  Tangaroa doesn’t have quite the selection that White Water Snacks over at the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa does, but it was still a great option.  Well, mostly a great option.  A word of warning to picky eaters:  there were no regular french fries available, just sweet potato fries.  Yuck!  I realize I may be alone with that last sentiment.

4. Disney California Adventure’s Special Entrance – The DCA entrance from the Grand Californian is so very handy.  It’s often the quickest way into DCA from any of the Disney hotels.  Especially with the main entrance being so torn up right now.  The Grand Californian entrance opens 45 minutes before the main entrance for guests staying at any of the Disneyland hotels so they can experience the new ride, The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and get a FASTPASS for World of Color before the general public.  I wasn’t even there at opening and was still able to ride Ariel’s multiple times with no wait.

5. World of Color – World of Color is wonderful.  Like Disneyland’s Fantasmic!, it also needs seating.  I lined up really early so I had an unobstructed view, but the same can’t be said for the 5 rows of people behind me in my section.  It’s just frustrating to wait so long for something and then not be able to see it all.  Any show where the cast members encourage you to let the children and shorter people go to the front of the section has a problem.  It’s an amazing, amazing show.  I just want to know if I wait that long to see it, I will in fact be able to see it!

6. Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular – The Genie on Sunday was “en fuego” (that’s “on fire” in ESPN speak).  He was one of the best I’ve seen and had the audience in stitches every time he was on stage.  Aladdin still hasn’t got that flying carpet working (there was an accident with it a few months ago, no one was injured).  I certainly don’t want them to rush or bring it back before they are sure it’s fixed, but they need to come up with something to temporarily replace it.  It was a little awkward hearing the song and not being able to see the singers.  The little girl next to me kept asking where they were.  That was the one slight downside in an otherwise spectacular show.

7. The Pathway Between a bug’s land and the Hollywood Pictures BacklotThis is something I have seen before of course and my first impression was, it’s super convenient!  My second impression is, it kind of messes up the atmosphere in Bug’s Land.  Bug’s Land used to feel like it was its own little park.  Removed from all the main traffic.  Now it’s really just thoroughfare for people to cut through.  It’s kind of sad to me.

8. I love paradesSadly, my teenagers don’t have much interest in sitting around and waiting for parades anymore.  This weekend I got to experience two – Mickey’s Soundsational Parade and the first A Christmas Fantasy Paradeof the season.  The Christmas parade is wonderful, as usual.  Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like an ice skating Mickey and Minnie and seeing Santa on Main Street.  Soundsational was also fun and has some great elements.  The drummers at the beginning were just awesome!!  They were soooo talented!  I also wondered if anyone else thought some of the costumes were a little, um, interesting?  Seriously!  Who designed the costume on the right? It’s just crazy!

 

9. DCA is torn up – I mean torn up!  Now I’ve seen it in various stages of reconstruction and yet it still surprises me every time.  The main entrance is just convoluted right now!  If you want to get to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror you have quite a walk.  You are rerouted behind Soarin Over California, and you don’t emerge from behind the construction walls until you are somewhere in the middle of Condor Flats.  Now these are no ordinary construction walls, Disney does an excellent job of making them look as attractive as they can.  They have decorative signs and posters, and even a few Christmas wreaths here and there.  I won’t complain too much, because I do think the growing pains will be worth it.  Cars Land promises to be amazing.  I wouldn’t let the construction keep you away from visiting Disneyland, just remember that it’s not in its full glory currently.

 

10. Toy Story Zoetrope – I don’t know why, but the first time I saw the Zoetrope (in the Animation Academy building) I thought it was temporary.  Every time I go back and it is still there I am relieved.  Seriously, they could charge admission to that thing.  It is just fascinating!!  It’s also hilarious watching people try to photograph it while it’s spinning and the lights are flashing.  Needless to say, timing the photograph precisely with the strobe lights is just about impossible!  I have no earthly idea how to describe the Zoetrope.  Spinning Toy Story Characters that are doing nothing but spinning, but the spinning makes it look like they are doing much more.  If you haven’t seen it, go!

What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree with my impressions?  I have a lot more thoughts on Disneyland that will be coming in the next few weeks!

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Diamond Horseshoe to Offer Thanksgiving Table Service Meals

by on November 17, 2011

The Diamond Horseshoe restaurant in the Magic Kingdom will be open for the week of Thanksgiving this year.

Most days it will function as a counter service location for the lunch period and as a table service venue for dinner, but on Thanksgiving Day it will function as a table service sit-down location for the entire day. We’ve yet to hear details about the planned menu offerings, but in the past it has offered hand-carved turkey sandwiches during the counter-service portion of such openings. Table service fare has been very similar to what can be found in the Liberty Tree Tavern next door.

Here’s the schedule for next week:

  • November 20-23 (Sun-Wed): Counter Service Lunch (11am to 3pm) and Table Service Dinner (5pm to 9pm)
  • November 24 (Thu): Table Service Lunch and Dinner
  • November 25-26 (Fri-Sat): Counter Service Lunch (11am to 3pm) only
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Touring for Two: Twelve Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World While Pregnant

by on November 17, 2011

Walt Disney World is a perfect vacation spot for families with young children. And, nature being what it is, people with young children often find themselves making more young children. This means that at any given time there are lots and lots of pregnant women at the Disney parks. Here are some tips for coping if one of them is you:

  1. Check in with your doctor. Yep, I mean it. Your doctor is the best source of information about travel safety for your unique health situation. She will probably giggle when you call to ask whether a trip to Disney is OK, but this is most definitely a better-safe-than-sorry situation.
  2. Be prepared for medical contingencies. Make sure to always have your doctor’s contact information, your health insurance card, and information about any medications that you’re taking, on your person, even in the parks. While the likelihood of your needing any of this is minimal, in the event of an emergency, you want make sure that your access to care goes as smoothly as possible. While you’re in diligence mode, spend a moment with the map of each park to note the location of the first aid center. If you’re experiencing discomfort or have a question, the wonderful cast members there can provide assistance or recommend sources of more comprehensive care.
  3. The first aid center is your friend

  4. Keep cool. It’s no secret that Florida can be hot, hot, hot. With an already stressed body, overheating can lead to numerous problems for both mother and child. To keep your core tempertaure down, be sure to stay hydrated. In addition to the pricey water bottles for sale in the parks, you are welcome to bring you own water with you. The counter service restaurants will also give you free cups of ice water; just ask. You may want to consider other methods of cooling as well. Try carrying an umbrella or parasol as your own source of shade. Those misting fans are a great way to cool off. You can also place a commercial cool pack or even a wet washcloth on your neck. Try to make the entertainment focus of your trip indoor shows and attractions where you can sit in air-conditioned comfort. And even if you’re not a swimmer, you may want to consider taking a dip in your resort’s pool. In addition to being a great way to cool off, the weightlessness effect of the water can take a lot of pressure off your joints.
  5. Note restroom locations. If you’re staying hydrated, then you’re going to need to make some fairly frequent pitstops. Keep a park map handy and note the locations of restrooms. While oppressively long lines are uncommon in Disney bathrooms, you may encounter one or two during your trip. If you’re in a must-go situation, don’t be afraid to ask to cut to the front of the line. In my experience, many of the women in line ahead of you will be moms who completely understand.
  6. Plan rest times. TouringPlans almost always recommends that guests take a mid-day break from the parks. This goes double for pregnant women. Go back to your hotel. Put your feet up or take a nap. Even plan for a total relaxation day in the middle of your trip. Please.
  7. Look for warning notices on attraction signs

  8. Heed the warnings. While most attractions at Walt Disney World are perfectly safe for any guest, there are a few that come with health warnings for pregnant women. Most of these are the obvious thrill rides, but some “tamer” rides also have warning notices. For example, the Kilimanjaro Safari at the Animal Kingdom has advisories against pregnant women riding because of the bumpy road surfaces and jarring movements of the jeep. This may seem silly, but why take chances that you don’t need to? Get informed by checking the signage at each ride.
  9. Pamper yourself. This is your vacation. Consider stopping by the Saratoga Springs Spa for an Expectant Mother Massage. Or hire a sitter for your older child and lounge with your hubby on the beach at the Polynesian while watching the fireworks. Sure it’s a splurge, but you’re worth it.
  10. Plan your lodging with comfort in mind. While you may be fine on a double bed at the Pop under most circumstances, this may be the trip in which you’ll be most happy if you upgrade to nicer digs. Those king-sized beds at the Contemporary truly are more comfortable. Or consider booking a one or two bedroom DVC villa. These are equipped with large jacuzzi-style tubs – absolute heaven when you’re exhausted. No matter where you stay, consider asking for a centrally located room, near the restaurants and transportation. The less walking you have to do at the hotel, the more energy you’ll have in the parks.
  11. Keep cool in the pool

  12. Plan your food intake. Many pregnant women experience changes in their taste preferences. Take this into consideration when you’re planning your dining reservations. Perhaps your usual love of spicy Mexican food should be indulged on a future trip. Also, because of your temporarily restricted stomach capacity, you may be more comfortable having smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than attempting to beat-the-buffet. This may influence your decision about whether to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. You should also remember that you are permitted to bring your own food with you into the parks (avoiding glass containers). Even if you don’t normally bring your own snacks with you, it may make sense to keep a supply of healthy, known palatables with you at all times.
  13. Beware the skunk. Just as many pregnant women have food sensitivities, they also may have scent sensitivities. Walt Disney World happens to be a very “smelly” place. From the perfume counters at Epcot’s France pavilion, to the faux chili dogs burped by Stitch in his Great Escape, and the aroma of skunk in the Journey to Imagination attraction, scents are used to enhance many park experiences. If you are in a phase where odors make you queasy, take extra care to become informed about which attractions have added aromas.
  14. Be aware of how much you’re walking. During my own pregnant trip to Walt Disney World, I was five months along with twins. I was in good health and well acquainted with the parks. On the first day of the trip, I toured at our usual pace – skipping from one end of the Magic Kingdom to the other to minimize wait times. At the end of the day, I felt like my knees and hips had become unhinged. I had forgotten that ligament-loosening hormones and extra weight completely changed the amount of stress regular activities would have on my body. Start slow and modify both your pace and distance traveled to accommodate your new shape. If you start to feel like walking is too much for you, wheelchairs are available for rental at the front of each park. There’s no shame in rest when you’re touring for two.
  15. There are healthy snacks available in the parks

  16. Bring a book. You’ll be skipping the thrill rides on this trip, but that doesn’t mean your family members have to. Let them go ahead and conquer the Yeti on Expedition Everest while you take the opportunity to relax on a shady bench with a cool drink. Your family will feel much less guilty about leaving you behind for a bit if they know that Jodi Picoult is keeping you company.

 

So ladies – What have you done to make your pregnant park excursions more manageable? And gents – Do you have any advice for making the trip with a pregnant partner run smoothly. Let us know in the comments below.

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The Future Is Now! Computer-Optimized Touring Plans Available for Disney World

by on November 16, 2011

Sample Touring Plan

(11/30/2011 – Click here for the latest news on computer-optimized touring plans.)

In the fall of 1998 I was a computer science grad student putting the finishing touches on my first journal publication, describing what would become the Unofficial Guide‘s touring plan software. My advisors, Albert Esterline and Gerry Dozier, suggested a concluding paragraph explaining a future use of the technology. I wrote:

“The authors envision an integrated system where theme park customers would select the rides they wished to visit from a list on a rented hand-held device such as the Palm Pilot. Computers installed at each ride would send estimates of that ride’s current wait time to a central computer. The central computer would broadcast these wait times to receivers attached to the hand-held devices, which would dynamically recalculate and redisplay the remainder of the touring plan based on the most recent wait times at each ride. Global positioning could be used to keep track of where the customer is located in the park so the time to walk to the next ride could be included in the calculations.”

It’s too bad Palm didn’t make it, because today TouringPlans.com is announcing the public beta release of computer-optimized touring plans for Walt Disney World on our website and Lines mobile application. Tell us which attractions you want to see, and we’ll give you step-by-step instructions for how to visit them with minimal waits in line: a touring plan optimized just for your vacation!

Your plan can include rides, meals, breaks, parades, fireworks and more – everything from live shows at Epcot to seeing the daily Flag Retreat on Main Street, U.S.A. We also include entertainment for special events such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Lines' New Optimize Button

When you’re in the park, follow your touring plan on your smartphone with Lines. Just tap the new “Optimize” button in Lines to update your plan based on what’s actually happening in the park that day. If other Lines users have reported a huge tour group is queued up at Dumbo, Lines will figure out what to do next instead.

Our touring plan software will make you happier with your Disney vacation in two ways:

1) It increases the number of attractions you can experience

2) It reduces the time you spend standing in lines

On average, guests using our touring plans see almost 40% more attractions than those not using a plan. To put that in perspective, a recent New York Times article said that after making extensive improvements to its crowd management system, Disney was able to increase by 1 (from 9 to 10) the number of attractions the average guest sees in a day. Using our touring plans most guests can easily see around 14 or 15 attractions.

Hundreds of thousands of families have used our Disney touring plans since 1986. On a busy day in the Magic Kingdom, our software can help your family save up to four hours of standing in line. For example, if you start your day at the Magic Kingdom when it opens, your average wait per ride should be somewhere between 4 and 12 minutes.

The new optimization feature works with Disney’s current FASTPASS ride reservation system and will recommend when to get FASTPASS tickets to minimize your wait in line. Plus, you can adjust settings for your walking speed and your preference for walking versus waiting in line.

By making the touring plans available to as wide an audience as possible, we hope to fine-tune how the software runs and learn more about how people actually use touring plans in the park. Use this form to provide feedback on the software, the user interfaces, and anything else you’d like to suggest.

We’re very proud to offer on-demand optimization of touring plans, and we hope this new feature makes touring the parks even more fun. Again, this is beta software – use this form to report strange or unexpected behavior.

Thanks very much for your support of TouringPlans.com.

Sincerely,

Len Testa and the TouringPlans.com Team

P.S.: We’ve tested the touring plans extensively at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. We plan to announce the availability of customizable computer-optimized Disneyland touring plans by the end of the year.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What happens if everyone starts using the plans?
A. We’re updating Lines’ wait time models so they self-adjust based on the number of people using the touring plans and the attractions they’ve selected. That is, Lines knows how many people the touring plans are sending to different attractions later in the day, and at what times we expect them to arrive. Lines adjusts the expected wait times at those attractions accordingly.

Also, our touring plan software uses Amazon’s Elastic Cloud infrastructure for scalability. Based on our load tests we’re confident that we can scale to at least 40,000 families – essentially everyone in Walt Disney World on an average day – without difficulty.

Q. How do I include shows and live performances when Disney has not yet announced their schedules?
A. We usually have Disney’s live performance schedules about a week in advance. We suggest re-optimizing your plan a few days before your visit, to ensure the park hours and performance times are up to date.

Q. Can you give me advice on my specific touring plan?
A. We can’t. More than a hundred thousand people use TouringPlans.com every year, and there are about ten of us. Because of that, we aren’t able to answer every question personally. If you have feedback about, please use our online form here.

Q. What future enhancements are planned?
A. We will add Disneyland in California soon. GPS is another feature in which we’re interested. We also built in features to integrate with Disney’s next-generation XPASS system when Disney launches that in 2012. Mobile device support for platforms other than iPhone and Android are also on our list.

Besides those, we’d like to hear your feedback for enhancements and improvements. Also, if you happen to work at Thorpe Park in Surrey, England: We love your park, and we’d really like to talk.

Q. How long will the beta last, and when will you start charging for it?
A. This is brand new software, so it’s difficult to say how long the beta will last. A few months at least, maybe longer. Again, our primary goals are to get the software tested and to have it used by as many families as possible.

Q. How do I start using the new optimized touring plans feature?
A. You can create a new plan from scratch or optimize your existing personalized plans. TouringPlans.com subscribers can optimize our premium touring plans to fully customize them for daily crowd conditions.

Visit http://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/touring-plans and choose or create your plan.

Q. How often should I tell Lines to optimize my touring plan?
A. Once every couple of steps should be sufficient for most situations. When you’re leaving an attraction, be sure to mark it as “done” in Lines before optimizing the plan again.

Q. How long does it take to optimize my touring plan?
A. It takes less than a minute. Many plans will be optimized in less than 30 seconds.

Q. What can I do to make this feature even better?
A. Thanks for asking! You can improve our data models by using the wait timer in Lines to measure your actual attraction wait times. This will help your fellow users today and in the future with the most up to date information. You can enter FASTPASS return windows in Lines. AND you can use Lines to tell us and everyone else when an attraction is down.

Q. How much data is sent and received by my mobile phone when I optimize a touring plan?
A. Lines is fast and cheap to run because it’s primarily text-based. Each action on Lines uses around 10 KB of data on your mobile phone plan. If you’ve got a 2 GB limit per month, that works out to around 200,000 clicks per month!

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Hoop Dee Doo Testing New Showtimes

by on November 16, 2011

Disney just tweeted this information:

@WaltDisneyWorld: To help meet the needs of guests, Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue will test new show times of 4 p.m., 6:15 p.m. & 8:30 p.m until Feb.11,’12.

It looks like you’ll have to be hoop-dee-doing-it a little earlier each night through February.

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Touring with a Toddler – The Epcot Plan

by on November 15, 2011

Welcome back friends (we’re friends right…right).  This is a melancholy post for me because it is the last in my series of how to adjust touring plans for toddlers.  This was a very fun series to write and, if you missed them, here are my posts on the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Until I discover a way to shoehorn in more long-winded posts about attractions I like/dislike, this will be the last.

I have saved Epcot for last because it is my favorite park and I am incredibly self-centered like that.  Okay, I actually saved it for last because it turned out to be my daughter’s second favorite park (after Magic Kingdom, of course), which came as a surprise to me.  In my usual style, I will be going step by step through the Epcot One-Day Touring Plan for Parents with Small Children.  As we go I will give you tips, pointers, hints, and my personal thoughts about pretty much everything.  Enjoy!

1. Epcot Entrance – Arrive at the entrance to Epcot 30 minutes prior to opening.

I’ve gone through it before, but arriving as close to park opening as possible is the key to avoiding long waits.  I know that waking a sleeping child is also undesirable, so if your little one tends to sleep in, you might have a tough choice to make.

2. Soarin’

This is not a tough choice because this is a fantastic (although imperfect) attraction.  Unfortunately, there is a 40” height requirement, so a toddler will likely be too short.  I would suggest snatching a few FASTPASSes for use by the adults later.

Be aware that if your child is tall enough, this is an attraction where kids must sit in their own seats with no chance of comforting or removing them during the ride.  Once it starts, they have to take the whole flight.

A quick aside about my ‘imperfect’ comment above:  I really enjoy Soarin’, but I love a ride with a story and Soarin’ doesn’t have one.  It’s like watching a California travel video rather than actually flying.  Also, it wouldn’t hurt anything to upgrade the picture quality (yes, yes, I’m nitpicking).

3. Living with the Land

This attraction depends on the kid It can be seen as a fun boat ride, a scary thunderstorm (just one part), or a tedious ride about gardening.  I have never taken my daughter on it because I’m afraid of boredom.  I have also never taken my wife on it for the same reason.

Crush addressing his adoring public

4. The Seas with Nemo & Friends / Turtle Talk with Crush

Yes, yes, yes.  This single attraction is the reason that my little girl loves Epcot.  It is a very short ride with almost no story (they lose Nemo…again…then easily find him…yep).  What it does have is all the Finding Nemo characters, which is all a toddler is really going to care about.  The last few scenes where the Finding Nemo characters are projected into the actual fish tanks is actually very cool.

I also strongly recommend Turtle Talk with Crush.  It is technologically cool and just plain cool.  It is fun, funny, and just short enough to not let those short attention spans drift.  It seems that a lot of people skip this out of disinterest or unawareness and I urge you to not make that mistake, even if you don’t have kids.

(I also suggest you allow a few minutes for staring at the seagulls in front of the pavilion and repeating “mine.”  It will happen.)

5. Journey into Imagination with Figment

Even as I write this, the 5 year old boy in me is tearing up.  I miss the original version so much, but it is sadly not there.   What we have instead is a bland, stale, mostly uninteresting “journey” through the Imagination Institute.  My daughter doesn’t love this ride, but she doesn’t dislike it either…much like everyone else.  One bonus (or curse) is that you will sing “One Little Spark” the rest of the day.

6. Captain EO

Um…so…I’ve never seen it.  Honestly, I always forget it’s there.  I’m not sure that a toddler would like it because of its 3D, interactive theater, and Michael Jackson-ness (even I don’t know what that means).

7. The Circle of Life

This is another one that a child may not enjoy so much.  It does feature characters from The Lion King, but I don’t think just that will keep my attention the whole time (whoops, I mean ‘a toddler’s attention.’ Freudian).

Mine, mine, mine

8. Sunshine SeasonsEat lunch.

Sunshine Seasons is good. It has variety, quality, and food to fill my belly.  Sure your heart will skip two beats when you get to the cash register, but this is Walt Disney World.

9. Ellen’s Energy Adventure – This ride can also be seen after Spaceship Earth later today.

From entry to exit, you will be in the Energy building for about 45 minutes, most of which is in the form of a movie.  Rare is the occasion that I have stayed awake through the entire movie and, since I’ve already proven that I have the attention span of a 2 year old, that is the best that you can hope for.  The worst would be 43 minutes of screaming.  There is a pretty cool ride-through dinosaur exhibit, but that does not an interesting attraction make (and you have to sit through the movie parts to see it).

If you do this attraction, I would use it as a rest/nap and not expect a small child to understand, or pay attention to, the movie (don’t blame me, it’s Judy’s fault…stupid Judy).

10. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros

This is a pretty lame attraction and it was made lamer when it was changed to its current iteration.  That said; it has Donald Duck in it, and the appearance of that angry, speech impedimented water fowl means that my daughter now loves it.  From an adult standpoint, it is not terrible nor is it terribly interesting.  It is also not very long, an opportunity to sit down, and cooler than the Florida summer.  Go for it.

11. Maelstrom

The bad:  It’s on the dark side and features trolls, polar bears, a backwards section, and a drop.

The good:  It’s a short boat ride.

Final verdict:  It’s worth a try because even if your child is a little scared, it will be over very quickly.  Of course if there’s a fear that it will frighten the little one into avoiding dark rides or boats then you may want to keep walking.

Final final verdict:  Parent’s choice.

12. Return to your hotel for a mid-day break.

I know I’ve stressed before how important this is, but I’m going to do it again.  Epcot is big and requires a lot of walking.  It is stressful enough trying to keep a toddler happy day after day in such an overwhelming place as Walt Disney World without running them (or yourself) ragged on top of that.

13. Spaceship Earth

This attraction has just enough to keep a toddler interested.  With the rapidly changing show scenes and the constant movement they should be fine.  It probably won’t be one they ask to ride repeatedly, but they won’t recoil in terror every time they see a Phoenician either (thanks for the alphabet by the way).

14. O Canada!

This film (and the same goes for Impressions de France and the China film) will probably not hold a child’s interest.  They are glorified travel guides to the countries and, while beautifully done, they are not exciting in the eyes of a 2 year old (i.e. no characters).

15. The American Adventure

Much like the films I just mentioned, this will be a little dry for a kid (and quite a few adults).  Rather than a film it is animatronic-based, but it is still a telling of America’s history.  Since that can be summed up in the words “America Rocks,” there is no need to see the show.

16. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

Much like the other nighttime spectaculars, IllumiNations contains fireworks, fire, and music.  It is up to you whether your child would enjoy that or think that the world is ending…there seems to be no in between.

That’s it for the plan, but here are the other attractions that are not listed:

- Test Track: With a 40” height minimum, most toddlers will not be able to ride.  If yours can, and has an affinity for quick, jerky movements, they may enjoy this attraction.

China...well, not really

- Mission: Space: Even if your child meets the height requirement (44″) here, I would definitely avoid the Orange side.  It spins very fast and while I didn’t necessarily know I was spinning, my stomach sure did.  If I couldn’t handle it a small child couldn’t either (because I am theoretically tougher than a child…theoretically).

The Green Misson: Space is much tamer and basically just watching a small TV and shaking a bit.  Sure I can’t do the Orange side, but I just don’t see the point in this one.

- Innoventions Most children will find the displays at Innoventions dry and possibly boring, but it is probably worth a walk through anyway.  There are a lot of interesting displays and you may be surprised what your kids find appealing.  It also is decidedly indoors and therefore not eligible to experience intense heat or rain.

- World Showcase:  My personal favorite area of Walt Disney World.  I am however not a child (technically), so that may not be of vital interest to you.  There is very little in the way of attractions in World Showcase but, much like Innoventions, you may be surprised by a child’s reaction to it.  There are several little things like the drums at the African Outpost, musical groups in several countries, and various character greets that can keep your little one’s happy.

 

That sums up my thoughts on Epcot as well as my series on Touring with a Toddler.  I hope you have enjoyed them and found them helpful (although I’ll take one out of two).  Thanks for reading!

 

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A Disney Morning Tip – Walk to the Polynesian

by on November 14, 2011

If you read this site regularly, you’ll know we’re all about the best ways to get in and out of the parks while accomplishing as much as possible.  However, in all my time writing for the site, I’ve never seen my absolute favorite trick mentioned on the site.  It is with great reluctance that I will share it with you, because I love it so much that I am scared to see others using this trick.

All of the Touring Plans for the Magic Kingdom call for you to be at the park between 45 minutes to an hour before the park opens.  If you’re like me and you enjoy a good breakfast while on vacation, that’s a difficult thing to do.  After all, getting up and getting out the door is hard enough, but getting up early and grabbing breakfast is not easy.  However, when it comes to the Magic Kingdom, I have found the perfect solution.

Arrive in the Magic Kingdom parking lot about an hour and a half before the park is set to open.  When you do that, it’s usually wide open in the parking lot.  You can easily park in the first two or three rows of the parking lot, a short walk from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) ticket booths.  With that quick walk, you’ll find yourself at the gateway to the Magic Kingdom in short order.  From there, facing the ticket booths, take a sharp left.

A little hidden gem of Walt Disney World is the fact that there is a nicely manicured path between the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Polynesian Resort.  If you follow all the way to the left, you’ll find it.  From there, it’s a nice, relaxing five minute walk over to the Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian.  This is really one of the most enjoyable walks in all of Walt Disney World.  You get to see the grounds of the Poly when few people are actually awake.

If you follow the path through the grounds, past the former Tangaroa Terrace and past the smaller of the two pools, you’ll pass through to the Great Ceremonial House and enter on the ground floor.  If you’re interested in some eggs and bacon or even Tonga Toast then head straight ahead to Captain Cook’s.  If it’s just some great Kona blend coffee and a pastry, then take the stairs up to the Kona Island coffee stand.  Depending on the crowds, you could even try to snag a table at Kona Café and have a full breakfast.

Regardless, if you make it in time, you’ll be able to eat, then hop onto the Monorail on the second floor of the Polynesian.  After a brief stop at the Grand Floridian, you’ll be right there at the Magic Kingdom, with a full stomach and the energy to tackle the day.  There are several advantages to this tactic.  First, you’ve parked right up front near the TTC, so there’s no need to take the tram when you want to leave.  If you stay on property, you could take a midday break by taking the buses from the Magic Kingdom entrance back to your resort, then leave your car parked up front.  That way, you can get out easier at the end of the night.

Second, by walking to the Polynesian, you can get on the Monorail a little quicker than at the TTC, and get to the Magic Kingdom in a shorter time.  And of course, you’ll be able to eat whatever kind of breakfast you want, without having to go through the hassle of stopping at your hotel food court or another restaurant.

This is my favorite little trick at Walt Disney World.  I do it almost every time I go and use the time I save to enjoy Fantasyland attractions early in the morning with my kids or by myself.  The walk through the Polynesian gets me energized for the day, and I love breakfast at that resort.  What tricks do you use first thing in the morning?

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TouringPlans.com Friend Feed – November 14, 2011

by on November 14, 2011

Fall is in the air, isn’t it?  The leaves have changed colors, and the temperatures have begun to drop.  Things are getting ready to get very busy around the Disney community, between holiday events at the parks, 2011 Reunion at Walt Disney World and much, much more.  Let’s see what has been going on this past week with the podcasts and websites that we sponsor here at TouringPlans.com, in this week’s Friend Feed.

The holidays are indeed here at Disneyland.  Dateline Disneyland has all the fantastic photos of the holiday decor going up around the park.  Plus, get a look at the new Trains of Disney exhibit at the Disney Gallery on Main Street.

When traveling to one of the Disney parks, there is definitely the opportunity to get homesick.  With that in mind, the WDW Today crew, led by our own Len Testa, discussed what items they bring from home to make things a little more…well, homey.  Have you ever brought things from home to make things more comfortable at a hotel?  Take a listen to this episode and see what the guys suggest.

Did you know that this week is Mickey Mouse’s birthday?  It’s true!  On November 18, 1928, Mickey premiered in Steamboat Willie at the Colony Theatre.  The Mousetalgia crew devotes this week’s show to that very event, examining how Mickey has evolved over the years, what he’s up to today, and everything in between.  It’s a fabulous overview with lots of information, as you’d expect from Mousetalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I always love hearing about other people’s trips to Walt Disney World.  That was the foundation of the Be Our Guest Podcast when it began, and this week we got to hear from Pam about her trip.  This show is packed full of details about Flying Fish, Yachtsman Steakhouse, the Food & Wine Festival…oh, you wanted to hear about more than food?  There’s some park stuff in there, too.

It was a busy week in technology at the Disney parks, and, as usual, if you’re looking to cover that part of the Disney community, you turn to Betamouse.  Taking a cue from one of the most popular podcasts on the web, the gang covered This Week in Disney Tech, from the refurb of the Pooh queue line to talking Mickey and the new holiday addition to The Magic, Memories and You.

 

One place I’d expect to see lots of great new technology is Cars Land, the new addition to Disney California Adventure opening next summer.  This past week, execs from Disney and director James Cameron toured the construction site to show the Avatar genius what Disney is capable of doing.  MousePlanet’s Disneyland update has all the details as well as info on Disneyland’s annual homemade candy cane sale!

World of Color has been the biggest thing to hit Disney California Adventure since the park opened.  On Friday night, the high tech water spectacular crossed a milestone – 1,000 performances.  Disneyland Live was there to chronicle the event, and also witness the new holiday tag that made its debut that night.  Disney’s Prep and Landing was the theme of the new tag, right in time for the new holiday special coming soon to ABC.  Synergy!

I almost fainted when I saw the subject of last week’s WEDway Radio podcast.  One of the most popular shows Disney ever produced was Zorro, the Guy Williams led serial that saw the hero fighting off villains each and every week in his signature black costume.  I love this series.  I bought the whole thing, both seasons, on DVD at a very high price a couple years ago, and have enjoyed watching them with my family.  So when I saw that Matt and Nate were doing a whole episode on the show, I was thrilled.  Listen to this show and gain an appreciation for how magnificent Zorro is.

The opposite side of that spectrum is The Pacifier, the film that the Disney Film Project Podcast checks out in the latest episode.   It’s bad.  Vin Diesel trying to do comedy bad.  Take a listen to the show for the laughs that the crew has when discussing this Disney live action film.

There was no WDW Newscast this week from Lou Mongello, but he did have a fantastic interview with Charlie Ridgway, the longtime public relations professional at Disney.  If you have not read Charlie’s’ book, you should, as it’s a fabulous treasure trove of stories about the great lengths Disney went to in order to draw attention to Walt Disney World.  Lou’s interview touches the tip of the iceberg of this man’s career.

Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and think about things differently.  The AllEars Newsletter did that this week with a great article about the existentialism of Walt Disney World.  It’s heady stuff, but that’s the kind of insight you can get every single week in your inbox from the AllEars Newsletter.  If you haven’t signed up yet, why not?

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More on RFID Turnstile Testing at Epcot

by on November 13, 2011

Walking in from the Amaze parking lot today at Epcot I noticed immediately that something was amiss. For starters, the tram was facing the wrong way and unloading at the often lesser used security check point to the left side of the monorail.

As we came around the tram, we noticed there were a lot of Castmembers milling about interacting with guests. They were asking us to have our passes out. Each pass had a small circular Mickey Mouse headshot sticker applied to it. You could see the silver of RFID tech right on the back of it. Needless to say this geek was very excited.

Prior to the security check another Castmember took our passes and swiped the magnetic strip and then scanned the RFID sticker. This is to bind the sticker to your account in Disney’s ticketing system. Then it was on through bag check. Once through, more Castmembers directed us over to the turnstiles on the left.

However, instead of turnstiles – which were completely gone – we were presented with silver poles topped by orbs bearing Mickey Mouse head outlines. Off to the right side was a finger scanner. Castmembers were directing guests to wave their tickets in front of the orb and then scan their fingers on the scanner. And then you’re presented with a light show of swirly awesomeness.

From there it was through the gate and into the park. The saddest part is that I really just wanted to sit with my pass and scan it again, and again, and again.

* hand modeling by Dana

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