Archive for January, 2012

World of Color Time-Lapse Video

by on January 20, 2012

Welcome to the TouringPlans.com Labs. We invited some of the most distinct photographers to come and work here. Unfortunately, none of them showed up. Instead, let me introduce you to the guy who runs our photo lab. Me.

While many of our tasks in the TouringPlans.com Labs are arduous, like determining how long it takes to walk from Dumbo to Splash Mountain (I still think we should calculate the time it takes to walk from France (Epcot’s) to Asia (Animal Kingdom’s) but then again, I don’t do these walking times), others can be really fun. Like my decision to shoot this time lapse video of World of Color. Did we really need a time lapse video for Touring Plan, wait time, or Crowd Calendar purposes? Probably not. But does a prominent search engine really need an animated doodle that changes every day? No. Some things you just do for the sake of doing something fun and cool.

And that’s how we wound up with a time lapse video of Disneyland’s World of Color. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a time lapse video is a video comprised of photos captured at a dramatically lower interval than that at which they’ll be played back. For example, one frame may be photographed every second and in video form, thirty of those frames are played back in a single second. Because of this, time in the video appears to “lapse,” or move faster than it would in reality.

If that explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, watch the World of Color Time Lapse video below to get a better idea of what occurs in time lapse photography. Make sure to go to our YouTube page and watch the video in 1080p resolution there. It looks much better in high-def. While you’re there, click “Subscribe” so you can follow all of our YouTube antics. Perhaps antics is a strong word…we mostly post high-def Disney hotel room tours. But we have some other exciting projects in the pipelines, too.

The idea of photographing World of Color for time lapse first came to me this summer while flipping through photos. I realized I had a lot of World of Color photos, so many that I could make an “after the fact” time lapse video of World of Color from these photos I had already shoot. The video I made was chunky but fun, so I was hooked.

I had already shot other Disneyland Christmas time lapse footage on this particular trip, but doing a real time lapse video for World of Color wasn’t so simple. Luckily, on the day I was set to shoot this video, it poured. Well, maybe I’m playing fast and loose with the term “lucky” when referring to it raining. From the perspective of the time lapse video, though, it was lucky, as the rain cleared out the parks. By the time the late showing of World of Color rolled around, there were very few people waiting to watch. In fact, for most of the show, there was no one within 20 feet of me in the front row. This was definitely good, as a tripod is necessary for shooting time lapse, and heavy World of Color crowds often amount to a bumped tripod.

Other obstacles, such as the bright flashes of light from the fire in the Pirates of the Caribbean 4 scene, mist blown onto my camera’s lens, and deep blue lighting in some scenes also posed challenges. A few frames had to be removed from the finished product because of these issues. I won’t bore you all with the technical nuts and bolts of the photography-side of this project (look for a podcast episode covering that), but all told, I used 1,466 photos in this video, which presents the entire 26 minute show in less than two minutes.

So there you have it, a look behind the doors at one of the many world-changing projects we’ve created in the TouringPlans Labs. While we may not be making creatures like Waldo, we believe we’re making a difference. After all, “if something can’t be done with TouringPlans, then it shouldn’t be done at all. Seize the future with TP!”

What do you think of this World of Color time-lapse? Any questions? Any future time-lapse projects you’d like to see? Let us know in the comments!

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Running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon – Part 1

by on January 19, 2012

After more than a year of re-educating both my mind and body towards exercise it was time to put it all to the test. It was time for me to finally run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. The road I took to get to this point was purely my own. It was paved with the support and love of friends, family, and a community of people online who have been there for me throughout. Running has gone from something that I fought with myself over to the point of making me cry (C25K week 4 was the worst) to something I love and well… still makes me cry.

One thing I felt I never had a complete picture of was the race itself – the journey I had been looking forward to for so long. I’d heard about it from so many others, but it was something I was craving by the time it finally came around. And so it was that on the morning of January 7, 2012, I traveled along with more than 26,000 others from one end of Walt Disney World to the other and back again. It went something like this…

2:00 am

When I checked the clock I realized it was 15 minutes before my alarm was supposed to wake me. The rooms in Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom Lodge gets so dark at night you can easily lose your bearings. The pre-race meal of a Burger & Fries at the Turf Club Bar & Grill I’d had the night before was, as planned, ready to be burned off. Getting out of bed I stretched a bit and felt like I’d gotten plenty of sleep. Doing my best not to wake my wife, Cheryl, I put on a pot of coffee and then woke up our friend Dana. She was coming with me to the start of the race in Epcot, and the coffee was for her.

Grabbing my race clothes, which I’d known enough to lay out the night before, I went into the bathroom, washed up, and got ready. After running the Expedition Everest Challenge, I’d learned to lay out my race clothes the day before planning to use them. No one wants to futz with safety pins and a race bib last minute, especially in the dark. Cheryl decided to get up earlier than she had originally planned and go with us.

3:30 am

by Lindsay Thomason

We met Jackie and Lindsay in the Kidani lobby – our rooms were just down the hall from each other. Together, we headed out to catch one of the special event buses to Epcot. We had to wait about 10 minutes before one arrived. The morning was a little bit chilly and the bus was nice and warm when we got on. I took a moment to text our friend Cliff that we were on our way. Minutes later the driver tells us that World Drive is already incredibly backed up and he’d do his best to get us all there quickly. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it had looked, but we did plan to adjust the following morning to leave at 3:00 am for the Full Marathon as a result.

4:30 am

Finally arriving at Epcot, I gave Cheryl a hug and a kiss good-bye; she was planning to see me run in Magic Kingdom and then back at Epcot. While we walked over to the pre-race area over in the Wonder parking lot, I got a text from Shalon that she was tied up on World Drive. Jackie, Lindsay, Dana and I hung out for a bit, as I needed to wait for Cliff. He and I were planning to start the race together in Corral E. Eventually as time wore on a bit, Jackie and Lindsay decided to make their way to the starting line. Dana and I gave them big hugs, we wished each other luck, and for the second year in a row I watched my two “cousins” head off to go run a race.

About 10 minutes later Cliff showed up with our friend Kelly who was planning to hang out with Shalon and Dana and cheer for everyone. After making introductions, I made sure that Shalon and Dana could contact each other. Then Cliff and I headed off. We waited about 10 minutes to use the bathroom, and then started the long walk to the corrals. Let me tell you this walk is insane. You walk along the backstage road at Epcot. At one point you’re literally walking toward a barbed wire fence and I’m thinking that Disney is planning to weed out some of the runners early. After surviving, we turned out onto Overpass Road and then again down a ramp, and we were on Epcot Center drive – the corrals were right in front of us.

5:15 am

We made our way into Corral E, which was really easy to get into as you just had to walk into the back of it. We joked a bit, and got ourselves ready to run. This was the first Half Marathon for both of us, and we’d spent a lot of time “training” together long distance. And we were both very excited. Preparing, I loaded up the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and set myself up to listen to a shuffle of Disney movie soundtracks. Taking a moment, I call into the Be Our Guest Podcast live show to say, “Hi!” – I can barely hear them, but it was fun to do anyway. Next thing we know the Star Spangled Banner is being played. We hear the wheelchair racers get their start.

5:30 am

by Lindsay Thomason

The initial barrage of fireworks go off, and the race is officially underway. As we’re in corral E we have to wait almost 30 minutes to even cross the start line. Slowly we move up chatting a bit more and trying to get a glance of what might be going on. Somewhere along the way I hear my name and my friend Dan is there in the corral. We say hello and wish each other luck. Then just beyond him I hear my name again and there’s another friend, Moms Panelist Erin. This was totally cool, I remember when Erin first started running; now she’s a fellow blogger at TouringPlans.com and a fellow runner.

6:00 am

Crossing the start line finally, it’s wild – there’s fire spewing out above me, and I can see people in front of me finally starting to run. I hit “Start” on RunKeeper, flash Cliff a thumbs up and we’re off. We know to stick to the left as there’s a spot right near the beginning where I know Dana, Shalon, and Kelly will be cheering for us. I stop a second at the spot and manage to see the sign they’ve made for me, pointing them out to Cliff. We took a moment to jump up and down a bit, and scream back at them and then we headed off.

6:15 am

We were running a bit more than I was planning originally, so I have us slow down a second so I can pop a Clif Blok in my mouth and swig some water. The course took us past some guys on stilts, and down the off ramp from Epcot Center Drive to World Drive. Spotting our first character, we stopped for a picture with Ludwig Von Drake and then one in front of a hot air balloon. Finally, after stopping for a school band, and before the gate to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, Cliff and I split up. We sort of knew this would happen, but kept in touch via texting for the rest of the race.

6:35 am

After running through the parking lot gate, I stop in a line for a pic at mile marker 3. This is just before the 5K point in the race. Not far after that point, past the 5K marker, and over the music in already in my ears I hear the Darkwing Duck theme song. About a quarter mile later (no joke the music was that loud) there he is, the “dangerous” one himself. Of course, I stopped for a picture.

6:50 am

Winding my way through the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot with the other runners, I came upon a screen playing Chip and Dale cartoons, with a row of classic cars lined up in front of it. Stopping for a picture of them, I shook the hand of one of the owners, thanking him for bringing the cars out. They were a super treat to see. Then it was out through the parking lot, through the Transportation and Ticket Center, and then back onto World Drive again.

Continued next week. Don’t touch that dial. Stay tuned.

 

 

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10 Reasons to Drive at Walt Disney World

by on January 18, 2012

A few months ago I made the argument that you should be using Walt Disney World buses to get around the park.  Well, like any well respected writer (or minor blogger, but who’s keeping track) I am bound by my journalistic integrity to present both sides of any argument fairly and without bias (okay, maybe a little bias).  Therefore I now present to you the 10 reasons to rent a car at Walt Disney World:

10.  Your own music – I love some of the music that is played on the buses (jazz on the way to Port Orleans comes to mind).  I do not love other music (Mmmm…Bop on the way to Pop Century comes immediately and painfully to mind).  With a rental car and an easily made compact disc, you can make your own mix of great tracks to get you into the Disney mood.

I will warn against using old music or you might have the unfortunate experience of driving into Epcot listening to the original complete “One Little Spark.”  You may then realize that the attraction is no longer like that and spend the next 20 minutes crying in your car…or not.

I have zero driving-related pictures, so here's a nice shot of Hollywood Studios instead.

9.  No more of those darn multi-stopping Disney’s Magical Express buses– Don’t get me wrong, I love the Magical Express service as do my kids.  I do not enjoy stopping at 4 other resorts before getting to mine and it makes me insane (well, more so) when we drive right past my resort to go all the way to Animal Kingdom Lodge to drop off one family.  Driving from the airport eliminates all of that.

8.  You really get to know your way around – Okay this one may not be a selling point.  I find Disney’s road signage to be…fickle.  The signs are mostly good, but you may see the Wilderness Lodge listed on one sign on the south side of the property and then not mentioned again until you are practically on top of it.  It definitely helps to know the general direction and nearest theme park to your destination and, believe me, you will learn all of that when you get lost the first few times.

7.  Groceries – In my opinion having a case of water and an assortment of snacks is a necessity.  In my wife’s opinion, the baby needs diapers (I say if the horse gets to go on Main Street so should my son).  Getting all of these is easier and cheaper with a car.

6.  Not a people person? – Perfect because you don’t have to deal with anyone but those in your car (although that may be worse).  I enjoy people, but even I get tired of dealing with crowds after a long day in the parks. Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is packing onto a bus (not to mention how few people would “raise their hand if they’re Sure”).

5.  Expanded food options – There are a whole bunch of great restaurants on Walt Disney World property, and there are also a bunch of mediocre ones.  One thing that both of those categories have in common is that they are expensive.  Having a car allows you to go off property to try some restaurants that may be a little more reasonable (stress the word ‘may’).

...and who doesn't love an unrelated castle picture?

4.  Storage – This is actually one of my favorite things about having a car and something that I think people overlook.  It’s a great place to keep a jacket, extra socks, band aids, snacks, or your kids (oops, I mean not your kids, that would be terrible…unless you crack a window…).

3.  Resort hopping – If you have never seen some of the Walt Disney World resorts, do yourself a favor and go visit them.  I have never stayed in many of the resorts that are offered, yet I have visited them all either to eat, drink, or just wander around.

One of the problem with resort hopping is that it is awkward to travel from resort to resort using Disney transportation.  Buses, for instance, do not run from resort to resort.  Therefore having a car is the fastest and easiest way to see all these beautiful places.

2.   Speed (and your relative need for it) – Speaking of fast, speed is my number 2 reason for driving.  Not that I’m recommending you go all Ricky Bobby and start treating World Drive as a drag strip, but it usually ends up being faster to drive.

And my number one reason…

1.   No missing rope drop for you – You can go ahead and ignore the other nine reasons (Ha! Gotcha, you already read them…sucker).  This is the biggie, and the big reason that I really like having a car.  I have fought and suffered through waking my family up early and been sitting at the bus stop at 8:15am only to sit there for 35 minutes waiting for the bus.  I then usually have to restrain my language as we arrive at the Magic Kingdom at 9:05am.  With a car, that doesn’t happen.

So, that’s my list.  If you’re curious as to whether I prefer riding the bus or having a car, well that depends.  I currently have two children in car seats, which means that we have to bring or rent seats along with a car, which adds cost, time, and aggravation to the trip.  Therefore, with my family, I prefer the buses.  If I’m sans-children on a trip, I prefer the car just for the speed and convenience.  Personally, I think either option has some good to it (10 reasons one might say).

Thanks for reading!

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Disney’s Boardwalk Villas

by on January 18, 2012

People ask me all the time which is my favorite Disney World Resort?  Without hesitation I always answer with The Boardwalk since it brings together my two favorite places: the Jersey Shore and Disney World.  But this resort also brings together two other elements many guests may overlook: the Boardwalk Inn and the Boardwalk Villas. They come together to create this expansive hotel.  I’ve stayed at the Boardwalk Inn before, so I jumped at the chance to stay in the Villas in December and I’m here this week to tell you about my experience!

Upon arriving at Disney’s Boardwalk, guests of both resorts are welcomed by the hotel’s lobby brimming with beach charm.  The resort was built to give a nod to towns like Atlantic City in their glory days of the 1930s.  I absolutely love this lobby with its cozy seating areas and large windows overlooking Crescent Lake.  Since I am a Jersey Shore girl I feel at home here and can’t help but fall in love with the place.

If you exit the lobby and head out toward the lake you will discover an area full of restaurants and entertainment unlike any other Disney World resort.  Here you’ll find everything from signature dining at the Flying Fish to the dueling pianos at Jellyrolls.  Or maybe you want to watch the big game?  Well head over to the ESPN Club.  If you’d rather just relax, grab a seat on the front porch or along the boardwalk and read a book, people watch, or just enjoy the view.  The opportunities to have a blast here are pretty hard to beat.

Since all of that fun is shared between the Boardwalk Inn and the Boardwalk Villas you may be asking yourself: “What are the differences between the two areas?”  While they share many amenities such as access to the pool area featuring the Keister Coaster, the Villas are a DVC (Disney Vacation Club) property.  Rooms here are primarily used by members of the club who book their rooms using a points system.  They range from studio units to three bedroom grand villas which can sleep up to 12 adults.  If you are not a member you may still book a room in the Boardwalk Villas, but they are very expensive.  While I am not a member, I am fortunate to have generous friends who are and have invited me to stay in their villas.

When you check in at the Boardwalk Villas you will be “welcomed home” by cast members.   The check in desk is shared and the host who greeted me couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful.  Bell services is also shared and they will be happy to store your bags for you if you are staying in either resort.  There was a slight mix up with my luggage when they brought me the wrong bag, but it was quickly resolved.

During my December stay I was in a studio so it came furnished with a queen-sized bed as well as a full-sized pull out couch.  There was also a small kitchenette area with a mini fridge and sink perfect for keeping water cold and storing our snacks.  The bathroom was divided between an area with with the sink and closet and a closed off room with the toilet and shower.  Since I love all things pastel I really enjoyed pinks and greens found in our room; it felt very homey to me.  However, I did find that some of the finishes were inferior to the Boardwalk Inn.  For example, the countertops were not marble and the bedding was not as soft and cozy as that found the regular rooms.

I really liked my room, but it was a hike from the lobby!  It felt like I walked for 10 minutes before finally arriving at my destination.  A little walking doesn’t bother me, but this seemed extreme.  It was also fairly easy to take a wrong turn and get lost and have to trek all the way back to get your bearings.  If you would rather not walk just a distance be sure to request a room closer to the action.

Despite my complaining about my walk to my room, my favorite feature of both the Inn and the Villas is their proximity to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The Inn is closer to Epcot than the Villas, but the walk is still enjoyable.  If you aren’t in a rush it is lovely to stroll along and take in the sights around Crescent Lake.  It is especially beautiful at night so slow down on your way back from Epcot in the evening!  While the Villas may be further from Epcot, they are closer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I was able to pop into a door very close to the walking path to get easy access to my room.

If you don’t think you can handle the walk the crews aboard the Friendship Boats will be happy to take you to either park.  Just keep in mind walking is usually faster, but the ride can be very pleasant and will give you some time to relax.  I really like to take the boat at least once on my trip just to watch the resorts pass by from the water.  The Villas and the Inn also share buses to whisk guests away to other destinations within Disney World.

I can’t say enough good things about the Boardwalk!  Would I stay at the Villas again?  Sure!  I really enjoyed my stay at the Boardwalk Villas.  Given the choice, I’d probably rather stay in a regular room at the Inn than a studio, but only by a narrow margin.  I wonder if my mind would be changed if I experienced a larger villa?  I love the atmosphere here and nothing tops the ability to walk to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I can’t wait to stay here again whether it is in the Inn or the Villas!

How about you?  What do you think about the Boardwalk Villas?  Let me know in the comments!

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Hollywood Studios Park to Close Attractions Early for Fireworks Preparations

by on January 17, 2012

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will close some attractions early on January 19, 2012, in order to prepare for the special Rock the Night Fireworks Spectacular to be presented at 7 p.m.

  • Toy Story Mania will close promptly at 5 p.m.
  • The Great Movie Ride and One Man’s Dream will close at 5:30 p.m.

 

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Main Street USA at Magic Kingdom Closed Jan. 19 for Presidential Visit

by on January 17, 2012

It has been brought to our attention that Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom park will be closed on January 19, 2012, from park opening until mid-afternoon for the Presidential visit. Disney assures us that operations of the shops and dining along Main Street USA will resume later in the day, but that it will be closed to guests when the park opens. Guests will be directed to backstage areas to gain access to the rest of the park.

Guests with scheduled tours and dining reservations at The Plaza Restaurant are being contacted – those reservations are effectively canceled.

FAQ provided to Disney’s Cast Members to aid in responding to questions about the event:

Q. Why are you hosting this event?
A. The White House asked us to host this event and we are honored to host an official Presidential visit.

Q. Who is invited to the event?
A. The White House is handling invitations to the event.

Q. Can Guests attend the event?
A. The White House is handling invitations to the event. Park Guests will not be able to attend without an invitation.

Q. Can Guests still visit Magic Kingdom Park?
A. Yes. Upon arrival at the Magic Kingdom Main Entrance, Guests will be directed appropriately to enjoy other areas of Magic Kingdom. We anticipate Guests will be able to return to Main Street, U.S.A. later in the day.

Q. What will the impact be to the Guest experience?
A. Main Street, U.S.A. will be closed to Guest traffic from Park opening to late afternoon. Upon arrival at the Magic Kingdom Park Main Entrance, Guests will be directed via an alternate route to enjoy other areas of Magic Kingdom Park. Main Street, U.S.A. will reopen later in the day.

Q. Is there still a parade?
A. Yes. Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m.

Q. Where can Guests find information about the operational changes?
A. Revised Times Guides will be available at all Parks and Resorts beginning Wednesday. A letter outlining detailed changes will be delivered to each Guest room as well as Channel 19 on in-room TVs will be updated.

Q. Will there be road closures?
A. All WDW Transportation will be running as normal. However, we anticipate possible traffic congestion and delays. Please allow extra time for travel.

Q. Can I shop at the Emporium?
A. The Emporium will open later in the day. Mickey’s Star Traders in Tomorrowland has a wide selection of merchandise.

Q. How can I get to Baby Care or First Aid?
A. Baby Care Center and First Aid will be moved to a lounge located to the right of the entrance of Space Mountain.

Q. I have a reservation…(Pirates League; Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique; Harmony Barber Shop; Crystal Palace, A Buffet with Character and Cinderella’s Royal Table) Should I still go?
A. Yes, the Park will still be open to accommodate our Guests. Please allow extra time for travel. For Guests with reservations for Tours and The Plaza Restaurant, Guests will be called in advance. We understand Guests may require additional travel time and we are prepared to adjust as needed.

Q. Can I still take advantage of Package Pickup?
A. Yes. Package Pickup is operating as normal.

Q. Can I still get my photo taken in front of the Cinderella Castle?
A. Disney’s PhotoPass photographers on Main Street, U.S.A. will be relocated to other locations around Cinderella Castle. Guests are welcome to return later in the day to get a photo taken directly in front of the Cinderella Castle.

Q. What should we say to Guests who are upset about their visit?
A. We are committed to providing our Guests with a great experience. Guests are welcome to return to Main Street, U.S.A. later in the day.
[If a Guest is not satisfied with above response], please ask them to visit or contact Guest Relations.
[REACTIVE ONLY] For Guests who purchased a One Day Ticket for Magic Kingdom Park, we will provide access to another Theme Park valid only on Thursday, January 19. If the Guest is not satisfied with this option, please direct them to visit Guest Relations.

Q. Will there be increased security measures?
A. The safety of our Guests and Cast is always our top priority. We are working closely with local, state and federal law enforcement.

Q. Does hosting this event mean your Company is endorsing President Obama in the upcoming election?
The White House asked us to host this event and we are honored to host an official Presidential visit. We look forward to learning more about his proposal to help boost tourism and travel and are excited about the opportunities this could provide.

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All The Disney World Secrets To Save Time And Money For Only $11.95 A Year

by on January 17, 2012

Beginning January 22, 2012, a one-year subscription to TouringPlans.com’s Walt Disney World® content will cost $11.95. In the interest of transparency, we are announcing the price increase now so folks who were about to subscribe can do so at the lower rate.

This one dollar increase is our first in almost two years.  Since that time we have introduced free computer-optimized touring plans, enhanced the site’s user interface, improved the accuracy of our crowd calendar and wait-time estimates by 20 percent, doubled the number of blog posts per month, and added hundreds of resort photos and video.  We’ve also added new vendors to our Least Expensive Ticket Calculator, which saves the average family around $20 per trip.

Subscriptions to Disneyland® Resort in California will remain $6.95.

We’re looking forward to adding several new tools and features to the site in 2012.  Thank you very much for your support.

Sincerely,

Len and the TouringPlans.com team

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Free Stuff at Disney World

by on January 17, 2012

Free and Disney are not normally words that you think of going together. Yet despite the generally pricey nature of Disney travel, there are plenty of free things to be had at Walt Disney World. Here’s a list of no-cost items both large and small that can enhance your Disney vacation experience.

Food

    • Sweets. More than 50% of the time I that I visit the Main Street Confectionery, there is cast member walking around with a tray full of samples for guest to try. I’ve tasted Krispie treats, cookies, bits of cake, and even cotton candy. Plus, there is almost always a tray of fudge samples sitting on top of the main display case. You won’t be able to fill up here like you might at your local Costco, but if you’re looking for just a bit of sweet to satisfy your palate after your meal, the Confectionery is the place for you.

Cotton candy samples at the Main Street Confectionary

    • Soda. Stop by Club Cool at Epcot and drink your fill of eight flavors of Coke products from around the world. These range from the sweet Smart Watermelon from China to the bitter and, in my opinion, totally yummy, Beverly from Italy. The Club Cool drink stations are supplied with tasting-size cups, but you’re welcome to stay and taste as much as you want for as long as you want. I’ve even heard rumors about guests filling empty water bottles and taking their soda to go.
    • Water. The water bottles sold throughout the parks cost about $2.50 each. If you want to hydrate for free, simply walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water. They’ll hand it over at no charge. Add a lid and a straw to your cup, and you’ve got almost the same level of portability as a bottle.
    • Ice. When answering questions for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I have often seen questions from international guests asking if ice is available at the Disney hotels and how much it costs. They can rest assured that there are free ice machines at all the Walt Disney World resorts.
    • Meals for infants and toddlers. Children under the age of three will not be charged for food at Disney’s buffet and family-style table service restaurants when dining with their families.

It’s a “toppings bar,” right?

  • Salad. Several of the Disney World counter service restaurants feature a “toppings” bar with lovely fixin’s for your purchased burger: lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, shredded cheese, and more. I’m not putting my personal stamp of approval on this one, but it is common knowledge in some circles that you can make yourself a substantial, and free, side dish for your meal from this quasi-salad-bar.
  • Dining. Disney often uses free dining plan offers as lure to entice guests to visit during historically low-crowd times. If 2012 follows the pattern, it will be fairly easy to travel to Walt Disney World and receive free dining from mid-August through early October. However, there is a definite caveat emptor with this. Depending on your eating habits and where you stay, free dining might end up costing you. Check out Tom Bricker’s excellent analysis of whether free dining really makes sense.
  • A cupcake. You say it’s your birthday? Yes, it’s your birthday (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Tell your server at any table service restaurant and there’s a decent chance that she’ll gift you with a complimentary cupcake. No guarantees, but worth a shot.

Memorabilia

    • Celebration buttons. If you’re celebrating, be it a birthday, anniversary, first visit, family reunion, or anything else really, stop by the Guest Relations office at any of the theme parks and they’ll give you a free button with which to publicly proclaim your celebratory status.

If you’re celebrating, then you’re getting a free button.

  • Stickers. If you spend a day a Disney World, a cast member will hand you a sticker, or possibly many stickers, white, round, and emblazoned with the smiling mug of Mickey Mouse. It’s just something that happens.
  • Maps. You’re saying, “Yeah, so?” Well, park maps are a resource you shouldn’t overlook. Save them for your scrapbook. Frame them for playroom decor. Use them for small-item gift wrap. Turn foreign-language maps into a great teaching tool for your child’s school language lessons.

Entertainment

  • Fireworks. You want to see the evening fireworks, but you don’t want to pony up for park admission? No problem, just head over to a nearby resort and watch from there. Great spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks viewing include the beach at the Polynesian and the bridge at the Contemporary between the main building and Bay Lake Tower. For Epcot fireworks, try the beach at the Beach Club or Boardwalk.
  • Electrical Water Pageant. If you’re watching the fireworks outdoors at a Magic Kingdom area resort, stay after to watch the charming electric water pageant. This series of barges shows a sweet and simple light display synchronized to music while cruising around Bay Lake. Disney true confession time: This is one of my favorite attractions in all of Walt Disney World.
  • Street performers. Weather permitting, you can find magicians, musicians, jugglers and more performing on the Boardwalk. Park yourself on a bench and enjoy the show.
  • Campfire and movies. Again weather permitting, many resorts show free movies in the evening, often outdoors on the beach or by the pool. All are welcome, just give a call to your favorite resort and ask what’s playing. The most elaborate of these free movies is the nightly Chip & Dale campfire sing-along at Fort Wilderness. The chipmunks and a guitar-playing friend greet guests before the film.

Free movies at many resorts.

  • Holiday decor. From mid-November through early January, Disney is dressed in its holiday finest. Much of the best holiday decor is located in the resorts: a life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, a train display at the Yacht Club, a tree decorated with African ornaments at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and more. You’re welcome to stop and admire them with no charge.
  • Play time. Do you have a Lego lover in your house? Stop by the Lego store at Downtown Disney. You can stay as long as you like, playing with unique Lego shapes and racing Lego cars.
  • Animal viewing. If your kid is interested in animals, stop by the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are many viewing stations where you can observe giraffes, zebras, and other exotic species for as long as you like. Come in the evening and you may be able to borrow night-vision goggles for viewing creatures in the dark.
  • Park admission for preschoolers. The best reason ever to bring your two-year-old on vacation, kids under the age of three are allowed in the theme parks at no charge.

Services

    • Transportation to Walt Disney World. If you’re flying into Orlando International and staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, Disney’s Magical Express service is included with your room. This free shuttle to and from the airport offers a savings of about $75 over taking a cab to the World, each way.

The Lego store is a great free play space.

  • Transportation within Walt Disney World. Anyone who is partaking of any part of Walt Disney World is welcome to use any of the free on-property transportation, including, boats, monorails, and buses. You don’t have to be staying at a Disney hotel to qualify, you don’t even have to be visiting a theme park.
  • Parking. Guests staying at Disney hotels can park for free at the theme parks. Off-site guests will pay $14 per day. Self-parking is free at all the Disney hotels and Downtown Disney.
  • Photography. The PhotoPass photographers in the parks will take pictures with their cameras at no charge, but it will cost you big to actually buy the photos. Bypass this charge by asking the PhotoPass photographers to use your camera to take your picture. They’re happy to do it and most of them are pretty good at composing a shot; they do it all day long.
  • Wi-Fi. This is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE new development. There is now free in-room and public space wireless Internet service at the deluxe and convention center hotels. If your hotel hasn’t been upgraded to free Wi-Fi yet, feel free to camp out with your laptop or iPad in the lobby of any of the deluxe hotels. It’s a comfy place to get some work done.
  • Package delivery. If you’ve taken the decidedly not-free step of buying merchandise in the parks, Disney will gladly take it off your hands so you can enjoy the rides, and more shopping, unencumbered. Packages can be sent for free to either a pick-up area at the front of the park, or even to your Disney hotel.
  • Luggage storage. Check-out is at 11:00 a.m., but your flight’s not til 7:00 p.m.? No problem. Just drop your bags at the hotel Bell Services desk. They’ll hold your luggage in a secure location until your departure, at no charge.
  • Luggage transfer. If you’re switching between two Disney hotels mid-trip, Bell Services will move your luggage between locales for you, for free.

So what am I missing? What have you found that’s consistently or surprisingly free at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments below.

UPDATE: We’ve complied an all new list of MORE free things at Walt Disney World. Check it out!

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President Obama to visit Walt Disney World Thursday

by on January 17, 2012

The Orlando Sentinel has confirmed with a White House aide that President Obama will be visiting the Walt Disney World resort on Thursday to make an announcement about travel and tourism.

This explains the sudden change in park hours and the additional fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

For any park guests this will also mean road closures, extra security, and delays delays delays. Roads will be shut down for the motorcade and resort buses will go into delayed service to try and avoid the times when the President is traveling through the resort. Also travel between the resort and the Orlando International airport should see delays as well.

In short, give yourself extra time to travel anywhere within the resort that day. Also, do not expect to park at any of the monorail resorts without a reservation – internal documents suggest the Contemporary Resort is the most likely candidate for where the President’s announcement will take place. If this turns out to be the case, that will subsequently shut down resort bus access to the Magic Kingdom for a period – as has happened with previous VP, VIP, and Presidential visits.

Update: Parade Audience Control staff shifts have been added for the Magic Kingdom park from  7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the park’s afternoon parade has been shifted to 3:30 p.m.  According to the Orlando Sentinel the President is expected to land at Orlando International Airport at 11:40 a.m. Thursday. He’s expected to leave Disney World between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios Adds Fireworks Show Jan 19 for Unknown Event

by on January 17, 2012

Disney scheduled a fireworks show called Rock the Night! Fireworks Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Thursday,  Januaury 19, 2012, at 7:00pm. No particular reason is given for the special fireworks showing.

Additionally, Animal Kingdom has added Morning Extra Magic Hour to its schedule that day while both Epcot and Hollywood Studios have added Evening Extra Magic Hours.

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