Archive for March, 2012

PhotoPass+ Enhanced PhotoPass Service to Debut April 4 at WDW

by on March 31, 2012

The Walt Disney World Resort is rolling out an enhanced version of its PhotoPass system starting on April 4, 2012, that allows guests to pre-purchase and combine all of their in-park, ride, character, and dining photos into one package called the PhotoPass+ service.

Beginning April 4, guests will be able to purchase PhotoPass+ for just $199.95 at any Walt Disney World theme park or resort, as well as at certain Downtown Disney locations. Like the existing PhotoPass system, the new PhotoPass+ will allow guests access to high quality digital versions of their photos taken in-park by Disney photographers. However, in addition guests purchasing PhotoPass+ will receive:

  • PhotoPass+ Card and Lanyard
  • Disney Gallery CD with over 400 Stock Photos,
  • Personal DisneyPhotoPass.com Code for their own PhotoPass PhotoCD
  • Select Photo Print Packages at participating dining locations.
  • Included on-ride photos from select attractions.

Dining locations that accept PhotoPass+ will provide both a print photo package to guests and access to their photos online through the website. These locations include:

How exactly that works with pricing at the locations where a photo package is included with the meal (Cinderella’s Royal Table and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, we’re looking at you!) has yet to be explained, but the system is brand new, so there are obviously kinks to be worked out.

Moving on to the attractions included with PhotoPass+, guest ride photos will be added to the online account: no physical print will be provided immediately. However, the high-resolution version of the photo will be available online, and the print can be ordered for an additional cost just like any other PhotoPass photo. Included attractions are:

So, all in all, if you were going to buy all of these elements separately, it can be a pretty good deal – especially with the character meal packages and on-ride photos lumped in now. We’ll likely have more information about pricing for character meals that include  photo packages in a few days.

Note: This information came from a reader who submitted it to my personal blog over at Epcyclopedia.com – we did appropriate due diligence, and the information is accurate as of this time. We will post updates as they become available.

UPDATE: Note that Disney has PhotoPass+ information (including information about pre-arrival purchase and upgrade options) available on the following website:

http://www.disneyphotopass.com/skins/100147/help/producthelp_PPPlus.htm

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Transportation and Ticket Center Power Outage with Ticketing Down

by on March 31, 2012

UPDATE: We have been advised that Transportation and Ticket Center has regained full power as of 4 p.m.  and has resumed normal operations. Word on the ground was that during the worst of it lines for tickets at the Magic Kingdom were around 2 hours. So in reference for the future – turn around and go to Epcot or any of the nearby resorts if you should run into this problem firsthand.

Originally posted March 31st..

We have been advised by cast members at the the Magic Kingdom that the Transportation and Ticket Center experienced a power outage early this morning, and the building currently has limited power. The building is the gateway to the Magic Kingdom, where guests transfer from the parking lot to the theme park via the ferry boat or monorail system.

The monorails and trams are operational. Guest restrooms are closed. At this time, ticket sales are being done manually, and guests may still purchase a One Day, One Park Ticket. Guests who wish to upgrade their tickets to a multi-day or multi-park ticket may do so at any other theme park. We’ll update this story if we have more details later today. Otherwise, avoid trying to buy or upgrade tickets from the Magic Kingdom today – utilize resorts and other theme parks.

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Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, and Mad T Party AP Preview

by on March 31, 2012

This week Disney California Adventure hosted an Annual Passholder event to preview new merchandise coming to the resort this summer. Guests who attended this three-day event had the chance to purchase merchandise almost 3 months in advance of the opening of the billion dollar revamp to Disney California Adventure Park. Items included shirts, hats, ears, pins, vinylmation, coin sets, post cards, cookie jars, jackets, attraction posters, blankets, bags, and scarves. A lot of the merchandise for sale at the event had special patches or print indicating Grand Opening 2012, so look for those items on June 15, 2012.

Food

Sour Apple and Cotton Candy Slushie

I was hoping to sample exciting new food and beverage offerings, but the selections were very limited. The only sample food item was dill-flavored popcorn. This was better than the Bacon Cheddar Popcorn popcorn Disneyland has offered in the past, but it still doesn’t compare to traditional buttered popcorn. I also previewed two new flavors of slushies: cotton candy and sour apple. Both were extremely sweet, and I had a hard time drinking more than just a few sips of each. Mixing the two flavors together was really tasty but a sugar overload.

Costumes

The new Cast Member costumes for Cars Land and Buena Vista Street were also on display. I really like the Buena Vista Street costumes; they are a great throw back to a different era. The Cars Land costumes are a tribute to the Hawaiian shirt-wearing John Lasseter, the creator of the movie Cars.

Buena Vista Street Costumes

Cars Land Costume

Mad T Party

Finally, there were concept art and a few merchandise previews for Mad T Party, the new nighttime show/dance party that will replace the long running ElecTRONica. Based on all the merchandise and concepts going into this new show, it looks like Disney realizes how much money ElecTRONica was bringing into what would normally be an extremely slow part of the park at night. There was special light-up merchandise, along with shirts, hoodies, drinks, food items, and pins.

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Epcot France Pavilion Expansion Slated for Spring 2013

by on March 31, 2012

In a recent interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Jerome Bocuse, the owner/operator of the restaurants in the France pavilion at Epcot and son of the famous chef Paul Bocuse, said of the pavilion’s forthcoming new addition:

We’re going to build a brand new bakery in a new building. It’s going to be very close to the bakeries that you see in France today. More like a modern bakery with sandwiches. We will cook all of our bread all day long and make sandwiches with that fresh bread.
 [It’s slated to open around March 2013.]

This essentially confirms the paperwork we’ve dug up previously that mentions a new two-story space and 3,000 sqft kitchen. Where this new structure will be placed remains to be seen. It should be noted that this is the second move/expansion of the bakery in the history of the pavilion. They may not close the current bakery until the new location is ready to open. As always, more information will be posted as it becomes available.

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Magic Kingdom Parks Hours Extended March 30 to 1am

by on March 30, 2012

The park operating hours at the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World resort have been extended until 1 a.m. from the original 12 a.m. closing for tonight, Friday, March 30, 2012.

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Dining At Maya Grill

by on March 30, 2012

There are two things about Walt Disney World that I love to do more than anything else: experience it with friends, and eat. So when presented with an opportunity to do both, I jump at the chance. My friend Aaron was going to be in town getting ready to go on the Disney Fantasy Preview Cruise. Giving me a list of possible dates within his stay that we could get together for dinner, one thing stood out. It was an opportunity to get to visit a restaurant I’ve never been to, and to spend a few hours at a resort I’d barely ever set foot in.

Aaron was planning to be staying at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort the night before the cruise due to his conference schedule, so we settled on trying the Maya Grill. Compared to other restaurants, the Maya Grill never seems to do well in the Unofficial Guide so I chose to steer clear of it. This time though I was ready to dive in with an open mind and see how it went.

Parking in the front lot at Coronado was fairly easy, and to be honest I wasn’t very surprised by this. The size and design of the resort presents itself in a spread out manner similar to resorts like Caribbean Beach or Pop Century. Therefore people are not parking in one large parking area, but rather their cars are spread out so people can park near their rooms, many of which are quite far from the front lobby. Inside Aaron met us and guided us back to the restaurant to meet with his wife Miriam and his children – whom I’d only gotten to meet briefly before at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

We were seated fairly quickly, as the restaurant was fairly empty. Surprising for a convention resort, but then again a car seems almost a necessity for staying at this resort, and those with cars can easily go elsewhere. Our table was next to this dark and endlessly swirling pool of water (cenote) at the center of the restaurant that due to proximity made me wonder if we were going to be sacrificed to the Mayan gods as a food offering. It’s a little cheesy looking to be honest, but at the same time it carries off the goal of presenting a meal served in the middle of an ancient Mayan Temple. There are some recreations of traditional Mayan art, and the colors are the deep earthy tones found throughout the culture. And if I have any real complaint. the restaurant is far too dark, to the point of being unable to clearly read the menu.

Aaron went right for the Tequila Flight as his drink of choice with his wife trying the Sangria.  The flight looked very good, though there was far too much salt in the presentation, and the lime was placed on top of the salt, which is never a good idea. Forgoing an appetizer, I enjoyed the bread offering – hey, we’re in a temple – which consisted of Cheesy Jalapeño Rolls and some flatbread that, while looking like cardboard due to the lighting, actually had a nice earthy flavor to it. The bread was presented with a Chimichurri sauce that worked well with both.

Miriam had ordered Arrachera and we discovered that, despite what the menu says, it’s no longer a sirloin; in keeping with menu changes throughout Walt Disney World, it’s now a New York Strip – which is a better and tastier cut of meat generally. When it arrived, it looked like the potatoes had also been changed to a mash of some sort. The vegetables were a combination of peppers and corn.

As the dinner menu mostly consists of a choice of some sort of beef dish or fish, it’s not surprising that Aaron and I both ended up ordering fish. Mine was the Mahi-Mahi a la Veracruzana, which I found quite tasty overall, but it could have used a bit more jus in the presentation as vegetables did not drip down into the plate. I’m a huge fan of this sort of rich combination, though, and I really enjoyed it. Aaron chose the Pescado a la Talla which is a grilled tilapia. It looked great, but the menu description does not stand up against the presentation, be forewarned there’s a lot going on on this plate.

Cheryl’s special order was a pasta dish with mushrooms and potatoes. It looked very tasty, but she had commented to me later that it was a bit dry, and needed more as it didn’t seem to be a complete dish to her. The kids ordered off of the children’s menu, which offers Grilled Cheese, Chicken Fingers and Tacos. It’s nice that they were offered some choices that fit the theme of the restaurant.

When dessert was presented nothing really jumped out at me, so I skipped it – as did Aaron and Miriam. Cheryl chose to get the Tropical Fruit Salad, which she seemed to like better than her meal. and the kids each ordered ice cream. If anything I think that dessert was the weakest offerings on the menu, and none of them had any sort of Latin or Caribbean aspects or origins to them, which is supposed to be the entire basis of the restaurant’s menu.

Throughout the meal there is music being played by a live performer. He played a mix of traditional mariachi music and American rock music – much of which was from the 1970s. He was really good and seemed to enjoy his job immensely.

Overall, I’m not rushing back to the Maya Grill for several reasons, not the least of which is the prices. As this is a convention resort everything has additional fees packed into the costs. As such, all the dishes on the menu are about $5 more than for comparable meals at other Disney World Resort restaurants. This is a huge mistake on the part of the owners of the restaurant – who, from the restaurant’s own website, can be determined to be the same as for San Angel Inn and La Hacienda.

I also want to say that the wait staff, while super nice, was a little lacking.  Our waiter never came back to the table to ask us about our meals, and it was very hard to get his attention during the meal. To the point where I had to literally get up, go to the drink station, and get water myself for Aaron’s daughter. That should never happen in a restaurant, at all, ever.

What about you? Have you been to the Maya Grill? What did you think? Are you thinking about going? Would you still now? Do you like the Coronado Springs Resort? Disturb the treasure of the gods, and you shall all pay with your lives.

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Maximizing Disney Dining Plan Value: Worst Table Service Restaurants

by on March 30, 2012

Although I’m not always the biggest proponent of the Disney Dining Plan, I have used it plenty of times, and I think it can be great, especially if you are savvy when making your Advance Dining Reservations and ordering. While Beaches & Cream might be a fun place to grab a meal, it’s generally not the best advice to use all of your Table Service credits on their cheap menu items, like the $9.49 cheeseburger, when you could use those same credits on a $30+ steak at Tutto Italia. I’m no master statistician like Fred Hazelton, but something tells me you get over three times as much bang for your Dining Plan credit by using the credit on the Tutto Italia steak instead of the Beaches & Cream burger.

Wide swings in price like the example above demonstrate how the value of the Disney Dining Plan can vary widely depending upon where and what guests order. Luckily, saving money on Disney Dining Plan really isn’t that difficult. All it requires is that your eating habits at least somewhat closely match the Plan, and that you plan ahead to maximize your value, eating at restaurants that would typically be more expensive if paying out of pocket and ordering the most expensive entrees at these restaurants (you’ve already paid a flat daily fee for the Dining Plan, so ordering the most expensive menu items is actually a good idea on the Dining Plan to get more bang for your buck!). I’ve previously detailed why Signature Restaurants are usually a bad use of Disney Dining Plan credits. I’ve also done quantitative rankings of the 10 best table service restaurants, 10 best counter service restaurants, and 10 best snack credit uses at Walt Disney World, if on the Dining Plan.

What about the restaurants to avoid based upon value? For the reasons listed in my post discussing the poor credit value of Signature Restaurants, these 2-credit options are generally among the worst per-credit values on the Dining Plan. We already know this, so let’s just focus on the five 1-credit Disney Dining Plan restaurants that, on average, offer the worst bang for your buck.

Since we’re only focusing on 1-credit restaurants here, this list actually has dual purpose: it gives you the worst-value restaurants for the Disney Dining Plan, and the best-value restaurants when paying out of pocket or using the Tables in Wonderland card.

The Plaza Restaurant (menu) – The Plaza Restaurant’s most expensive entree is a salad. Need I say more? No entree here comes near $20, and while this restaurant is a fan-favorite that is frequently recommended as a Magic Kingdom dining gem, this is in large part due to the cheap prices. Those cheap prices make it a great option for those paying out of pocket or using the Tables in Wonderland card, but make it a terrible option for those on the Disney Dining Plan. I’d save the Plaza Inn for a trip when you’re not using the Disney Dining Plan.

Beaches & Cream (menu) – Beaches and Cream is one of my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World. We eat here at least once every-other trip, and this is largely because of the incredibly reasonable prices, since we’re almost always paying out of pocket. It’s basically a table service meal for the price of a counter service meal! Additionally, the ice cream is great, the ambiance is really fun, and I find it oddly romantic in a 1950s sort of way (or at least what I assume the 1950s were like). That said, the most expensive menu item here is a $14.49 double cheeseburger. That doesn’t bode well for value on the Disney Dining Plan.

Trail’s End (menu) – Trail’s End is yet another fan favorite and, again, this is because of the great value it offers. At $25/person for dinner (and even less for breakfast and for its a la carte lunch menu), it’s the cheapest buffet on property. This all-inclusive price is $10 cheaper than entrees, alone, at some of the best-value restaurants, making Trail’s End a poor choice. Trail’s End is a fun restaurant and it’s always nice to visit Fort Wilderness (especially at Christmas), but this is another restaurant you should hold off on visiting if you’re using the Disney Dining Plan.

ESPN Club (menu) – ESPN Club makes the list largely because it has a number of menu items below $15 and only one item that crosses the $20 mark (and just barely, at $20.99). If you order one of the handful of items that are above $18 and an expensive dessert, value here is not terrible, but you still will get significantly less bang for your buck than if you maximized your value at a restaurant like Tutto Italia or Kouzzina.

Big River Grille & Brewing Works (menu) – This is where the differences in potential value start to become less significant, especially if you’re not fixated on maximizing your value. Big River Grille has a few entrees that are $25.99. While it also has a lot of low priced entrees (mostly burgers and salads), these $25.99 entrees look the most appealing to me. By contrast, comparable menu items are nearly $10 more expensive at top-value restaurants, but median menu items at the top-value restaurants are less expensive than $25.99, as are (obviously) lower priced items. To be sure, you can still squeeze a lot more value out of a restaurant like Whispering Canyon Cafe or Coral Reef Restaurant than you can Big River, but beyond this point in the list, the gap closes quickly between “worst” and “best” restaurants.

Several of these Walt Disney World restaurants probably look appealing to you (they better!). What do you do if you think the Disney Dining Plan would be a good deal for you, but you also want to eat at some of these restaurants? If you’re not taking advantage of the “free” dining promotion, I recommend splitting your stay (you’ll usually be able to stay in the same room for both parts of the trip) and not purchasing the Dining Plan during part of that split stay. For example, on our honeymoon, my wife and I split two days of our trip off as a separate reservation. We purchased the Dining Plan for the first 8 days, but didn’t purchase it for the last two days. On those last two days, we dined at Victoria & Albert’s (not on the Dining Plan), California Grill (a Signature Restaurant that is a bad value on the Dining Plan), and Beaches & Cream (another bad value), along with some cheap counter service restaurants. The rest of the days, we ate at “high-value” restaurants on the Disney Dining Plan. This helped us maximize our bang for buck both out of pocket AND on the Disney Dining Plan. It was the best of both worlds!

What restaurants do you think offer the best and worst value on the Disney Dining Plan? Share your tips in the comments!

 

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New Free Computer-Optimized Touring Plans & Wait Times for Disneyland

by on March 29, 2012

A few months ago, Len announced the public beta release of free computer-optimized Touring Plans for Walt Disney World on our website and Lines mobile app. Now, I’m pleased to announce that we’ve given our Disneyland Lines mobile app a bit of a facelift. Like the Walt Disney World Lines app, the Disneyland Lines app now includes beta free computer-optimized Touring Plans for Disneyland.

We’re not stopping there, as we’re providing free wait times on the Lines mobile app from today until the end of June 2012. We know a lot of you are planning first-time trips to Disneyland this summer to see the relaunched Disney California Adventure, and we want to be there to assist and make your trips as stress-free as possible.

We’re really excited about these free wait times and this new computer-optimized Touring Plans feature, which will allow park guests to tour Disneyland even more efficiently. To use the computer-optimized Touring Plans, simply input into Lines which attractions you want to experience, and it will provide you with step-by-step instructions for how to visit your chosen attractions with minimal waits in line: a touring plan optimized tailored just for your day in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure! Your plan can include rides, meals, breaks, parades, fireworks and more. You can add live entertainment, such as Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, and even special events and offerings that are available on particular days you’re visiting Disneyland.

In Disneyland, your Touring Plan is easy to use on your smartphone through the Lines mobile app. Simply add steps to your Touring Plan, then tap the new “Optimize” button in Lines to update your plan based on actual conditions in the park that day. If other Lines users have reported a huge tour group has descended upon Casey Jr., Lines will figure out what to do next instead. Unfortunately, the Lines mobile app can’t save you from Innoventions if you add it to your computer-optimized Touring Plan (sorry), but it certainly will save you a lot of time in line in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure!

In the few months since the public beta release of the computer-optimized Touring Plans for Walt Disney World, we’ve had a chance to make refinements based upon reader and user feedback. We’ve implemented these changes in our Disneyland computer-optimized Touring Plans, as well. For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about our computer-optimized Touring Plans, check out Len’s first blog post about optimized Touring Plans and his first update on the plans.

These new features are very exciting to us, but there’s more to come. We’re making a full court press on Disneyland to help our many subscribers who are visiting Disneyland this summer avoid the anticipated record crowds. Expect to see an increased number of Disneyland blog posts with vacation-planning tips in the coming weeks. We’re also working hard behind the scenes to develop wait times models for Cars Land attractions based upon capacity and anticipated park levels.

We’re extremely excited about our new Disneyland computer optimized Touring Plans and free wait times, and we hope these new features make touring the parks even easier and more fun. Please remember, this is beta software – use this form to report strange or unexpected behavior.

If you have any questions or comments about the changes to the Disneyland Lines mobile app, please let us know in the comments!

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Princess Merida From Disney-Pixar’s Brave Coming to Magic Kingdom and Disneyland

by on March 29, 2012

Artist Concept ©Disney

We’ve previously shared a look at Disney-Pixar’s Brave display from Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but today we are here to inform you of the new meet and greet coming to Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. This new meet and greet, opening mid-May, will be located at the Fairytale Garden in Magic Kingdom and near ‘it’s a small world’ at Disneyland. Both areas are to be themed around the Scottish Highlands, which is the setting for the movie. Guests will be able to partake in a variety of activities, such as archery lessons, before meeting the princess. Princess Merida will be accompanied by three bear cubs (performed by special puppeteers).

Magic Kingdom Character Updates: On April 15, 2012, Rapunzel from Tangled will move to the porch of the Adventureland Veranda and start appearing in the daily Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade. The extremely popular Flynn Rider will return with Rapunzel throughout the summer. Also beginning April 15, 2012, Ariel and Prince Eric will begin meeting guests under the glass gazebo along the side of the Adventureland Veranda (across from the Swiss Family Treehouse).

Are you excited for the arrival of Merida, Disney-Pixar’s first princess? How about the return of Flynn Rider at the Magic Kingdom? If so, make sure to check out the new meet and greet updates this summer!

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Magic Kingdom Park Hours Extended Tonight March 29

by on March 29, 2012

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World has extended park operating hours this evening, March 29, 2012, until 12am midnight. As a quick reminder for anyone in the park, don’t forgot to check out the second showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade at 11pm. This showing typically has smaller crowds and better opportunities for great viewing.

Enjoy the extra hour tonight!

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