Archive for April, 2012

Giving Kids the Run Around at Disney World: Places Kids Can Move at WDW

by on April 25, 2012

In my experience, in order to be able to maintain calm and control for situations that demand good behavior (waiting for restaurants, waiting for attractions), most kids need periods of activity that allow them to use pent up energy and blow off steam. They need to move their bodies and “get their wiggles out.” A typical Walt Disney World vacation does involve lots of movement, but this tends to be of the energy sapping sort (walking from ride A to ride B), rather than the energy rejuvenating sort (free and creative play).

The water play areas at the resorts are great place to expend excess energy.

So in a regimented Touring Plans, gotta-hustle-to-the-next-attraction world, how to do you get your kids to move their bodies in a constructive, appropriate, and fun manner. Here are some tips.

Take a mid-afternoon break at your resort.

This is an old saw, but it works. If at all possible, you should take a mid-day break to recharge your batteries. Some folks recommend that the best activity for break time is a nap, and for the youngest children (and my husband) this may be true. But I’d argue that for preschoolers on up, a free movement break can be equally reinvigorating.

So what can kids do at the resort to move around? Of course all the WDW resort hotels have pools which are heated to at least 80 degrees year round. I’ve seen hardy souls Marco Poloing like mad, even when the air temperature was 45 degrees. Many of the resort pools have splash areas, fountains, slides or other interactive features which encourage use of multiple muscle groups.

The resorts also have small playgrounds with slides and basic climbing structures. While most of these are covered, be aware that the plastic and metal elements can become quite hot in the Florida sun. Test surfaces yourself before allowing your child to play freely. The resort all have play areas for climbing and sliding.

And best of all, many of the resorts have lawns, beaches, or courtyards that practically beg kids to run around. I’m talking to you faux football field at All Star Sports.

You can make free time more entertaining by packing one or two pieces of small sports equipment such as a frisbee, ball or jump rope. Every time my kids have tossed a frisbee in an open area at our hotel, they’ve made friends with other children who wanted to join in the fun. Be mindful to keep the noise level to a dull roar, but otherwise go ahead and enjoy the open space. Depending on your child’s need for exercise, you may want to factor the availability of play areas into your resort decision.

Many resorts have open areas for free play.

While “pool hopping” is generally not allowed at Walt Disney World, you are welcome to use the playgrounds and open areas at any of the WDW hotels. For example, if you’re staying at a distant off-site hotel and want a mid-day break from the Magic Kingdom, a good solution can be to take a brief boat ride over to Fort Wilderness for lunch and playtime. There is a well-shaded climbing structure and beach area where you can let kids be, well, kids for an hour or so.

And at all the resorts keep an eye out for special opportunities for movement such as beachside sack races or hula hoop contests.

What if Your Kids are Antsy in the Parks?

Despite your plan to take a break at the hotel, sometimes that’s just not in the cards. Or, perhaps you’re planning on taking a resort break later, but your child need to move around NOW. Never fear, there are some location in the parks where free play is possible.

Honey, I shrunk the kids and blew up an ant.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The primary spot for unfettered play at DHS is the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground. Your kids probably won’t understand why there’s a supersized Play-doh can or a giant ant sitting there, but they’ll love climbing on the netting bridges, zooming down the slides, or playing hide and seek with their siblings in the secret tunnels. Think McDonald’s Playland on steroids.

There’s only one exit, so if your kids are big enough not to get stepped on, park yourself near that exit and catch up on your emails while you wait for the young ‘uns to burn off their excess energy.

A stealth energy burner can be the Disney Channel Rocks show which takes place in front of the big hat several times a day. This attraction includes a section where kids can dance their hearts out. For an uninhibited child this is a chance for both the illusion of fame and the expenditure of a few calories.

Animal Kingdom

The Animal Kingdom equivalent of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground is The Boneyard in DinoLand. In addition to slides and climbing structures, there’s a sand pit area where kids can dig for buried “dinosaur bones.” Your child will definitely get some sand in his shoes here; be prepared with an extra set of socks to facilitate clean up.

The Boneyard has lots of places to explore.

While not specifically designed as an active movement area, you might want to take a squirmy child over to the Affection Section at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This petting zoo allows kids to freely interact with, hug, and pat the tamest group of sheep and goats I have ever encountered. This has a huge calming effect on many youngsters.

Epcot

Epcot does not have a dedicated playground area. The closest thing to free play you’ll find at Epcot is the interactive fountain splash area in the walkway between Future World and the World Showcase. This is an area where kids will, obviously, get wet. For here, and many other locations, it makes sense to keep a dry set of clothing in your backpack or diaper bag.

Your kids WILL get wet at the Epcot water play zone.

While not free form play, the exhibits at Innoventions do offer some physical activity. One of my kids’ favorities is the “Where’s the Fire” attraction which involves running from room to room in a mock house while identifying fire hazards. Similarly, the Kodak Image Works area in the Imagination Pavilion involves movement like jumping and stomping to activate some of the attraction features.

If you happen to be at Epcot during Flower and Garden season, you may find that there are temporary play structures erected for the Festival. Be sure to take advantage of them.

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is experiencing a transition in the availability of free movement areas. The Ariel’s Grotto water play area and the Toontown Donald’s Boat water play area were both closed as part of the Fantasyland refurbishment and expansion. Beyond the old standby Tom Sawyer Island, currently the only real play areas at the Magic Kingdom are a teeny todder-sized climb area near the exit to Splash Mountain and the new-and-improved interactive queue at the Winnie the Pooh ride.

You can play in the Pooh queue even if you don't want to go on the ride.

The latest version of the Magic Kingdom map mentions the Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Station in the Storybook Circus area. When this opens, I assume it will provide some relief for families who want a place for their kids to cool off and run around. Again, bring extra clothing for your wet wigglers.

Much like the Disney Channel show at Hollywood Studios, the “Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It” parade invites guests to get their groove on and dance during the show. If you shake your groove thing, maybe your cranky kids will join you and activate some endorphins.

Where have you found to let your kids be kids at Walt Disney World? What are your tricks for helping little ones burn off excess energy? Let us know in the comments below.

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Making the Most of Your Character Meal

by on April 25, 2012

Character meals are a staple of the Disney World experience for many families. Last week I provided a guide to all of the various restaurants where characters make appearances. Now that you’ve made your selection, I want to give some tips on how to make the best of your meal. So without further ado, here are my tips for ensuring a great time at your next character meal!

Making the best of your character meal experience starts at home with making Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs). Character meals are very popular, and their available reservations book up fast, so you’ll want to do this as early as possible. You can either call 407-WDW-DINE or logon to Disney World’s website to make your ADRs. You probably won’t need it, but always keep a record of your ADR confirmation numbers with you during your trip. You can easily store them on your phone so you won’t have to carry around any extra pieces of paper. Since these meals are so popular, there is a $10 per person “no show” fee if you do not cancel your ADR more than 24 hours in advance of your meal.

When booking your meals remember timing is everything! I don’t have kids of my own, but I spend a lot of time with my nieces and nephew, so I know when they get tired, they get cranky. That is why I scheduled breakfasts with the characters rather than waiting until later in the day when they had had enough of being in the parks. My strategy worked out really well for us with our breakfast (menu) at the Crystal Palace during our recent trip. The kids were fresh, peppy, and hungry, so they enjoyed their food and their meetings with Pooh Bear and friends. Breakfast is the cheapest meal at every restaurant too, so this will be the most affordable time to dine with your favorite characters. I also like to make breakfast ADRs so I can get into the park before opening. If your kids get up at the crack of dawn anyhow, this could be the perfect option for your family. If you’d prefer to make reservations for later in the day, perhaps schedule some time to rest or take a nap before dinner.

Many of the character meals are served buffet style. This means you will have to leave your table to pick out what you’d like to eat. Before you make a beeline for the buffet, keep and eye on the characters while they make their rounds to try to figure out their pattern. All of the characters in a given restaurant follow the same path, so if you figure it out, you should be able to time your moments away from your table as to not miss out on a character meeting opportunity. If you do miss out on one, simply let an attendant or your server know Mickey passed you by, and the cast member will be sure to bring him back over to your table.

When the characters make it to your table be sure to have your cameras ready. This will save time, and the character and her attendant will know you intend to take photos. If the character is not aware of your desire to have your picture taken, she may simply stop by to wave without lingering very long. Likewise, if you or your kids are autograph collectors, have your autograph books and a pen ready to go.

Speaking of photos, at some of these restaurants cast members will take a group photo of your party before you are seated. They will bring a package to your table to see if you would like to purchase the photos while you’re eating. The package is included at Cinderella’s Royal Table and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, but you must purchase it elsewhere. There is a new PhotoPass+ service that includes restaurant photos; if you think you will buy a lot of them, it could be a good deal for you. Also, keep in mind the photographers will also take one with your own camera, so you could potentially avoid paying for pictures all together.

All kids react differently to their favorite furry friends coming to visit. Even within the same family one kid may love hugging it out with Pooh Bear, while the next hides under the table. My nieces (especially the oldest one) took a few minutes to warm up to the idea of the characters coming to their table. They didn’t cry, but they looked very unsure about the situation. My nephew, on the other hand, who is the youngest of the kids, dove right in and grinned from ear to ear as soon as the first character walked up to him. And when Mickey came by at Tusker House, he about lost his mind with excitement. You obviously know your kids the best and can best gauge how they will react at a character meal. Don’t force them if they are reluctant, and let them approach the situation at their own paces. If you don’t think they will handle a six foot tall dog hugging them during breakfast well, just save character dining for another vacation when they are older and might be able to appreciate it more.

With all this kid friendly advice in mind, don’t be afraid to go to a character meal as a group of adults. My friends and I have done so on several occasions, and we always have a blast. If you are playful with the characters, they will reciprocate no matter your age. Since I don’t usually have kids in tow, I don’t feel some moral obligation to stand in line to meet them in the parks, so character meals are usually the only time I get to see them and pose for pictures with them with my friends. Just let your inner child out when you eat at one of these restaurants and you’ll have a great time no matter how old (or young) you are!

There you have it: my tips to make your character meal great! If you have any other tips please don’t be shy to share them in the comments!

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Dining Review: Yak & Yeti at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on April 24, 2012

On a fairly busy Monday in Animal Kingdom amid post spring break crowds, I decided to make an impromptu Advanced Dining Reservation for my mother and me at Animal Kingdom’s table service restaurant, Yak & Yeti. I used Disney’s helpful online reservation system via my fancy schmancy Android phone to make an Advanced Dining Reservation for a little over an hour away. Yak & Yeti doesn’t get filled up quickly, especially for lunch (see menu), so it’s a great place to get a last minute table.

My mom and I arrived five minutes early for our 11:30 a.m. reservation and got seated right away. The restaurant is split up in two levels. You can choose to take the stairs or elevator up to your table if you are seated on the second level. If you love the ambiance of the entire Animal Kingdom park, you’ll be mesmerized by the vibe inside of Yak & Yeti. There are many artifacts and details spread throughout that really put you right in Asia. Comparing it to another sit-down meal in Animal Kingdom, Tusker House, I believe that Yak & Yeti brings a touch of class that Tusker House does not have. Clearly, Disney Imagineers put a lot of thought into the design of this restaurant.

Our waiter could not have been more attentive and polite. He was quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever had on Disney property. The service he provided was on the level of a signature Disney restaurant, which is quite hard to find inside of a park and not in a resort dining establishment.We ordered drinks, which were brought out to us promptly. Being that it was before noon, we avoided the alcoholic choices, though the restaurant does offer adult beverages.

We got a full explanation of the menu, and our waiter answered any questions that we had. I did inquire about what options on the menu could be made vegetarian. He explained that they had tofu on hand and could make many menu items with tofu instead of meat. The only appetizer that could be changed was the Lettuce Wraps. Under the entrees, I found out that almost any meat option could be easily prepared with tofu instead of chicken, pork, or beef. I’m not sure how Sweet and Sour Tofu would taste since I didn’t try it, but it is nice to know that there are options available for those with a limited palate.

I just love using the excuse that I’m dining “for research” because I get to order more food than I normally would, and then it justifies itself perfectly in my crazy little brain. My love for ahi tuna verges on obsessive, so when I saw that as a choice on the appetizer menu, I had to order it. I excused myself from the table to take check out the restroom (which was very nice, by the way) and take some photos of the beautiful restaurant. By the time I returned, my tuna was waiting for me. The presentation of the tuna, slaw, and wasabi aioli was lovely. Though, I gotta be honest… I had no idea what “aioli” was until I bravely ordered it. I’m not a huge wasabi fan traditionally (bad experience with wasabi mashed potatoes at Coral Reef once), but I found the aioli to be a creamy, light accompaniment that added a lot of flavor to the already delicious tuna. The slaw was really plentiful and tasted just like the menu said… sweet. I loved the addition of the peppers. I took my time with this appetizer and wasn’t completely done when our entrees came out, but I made sure to practically lick the plate clean.

My mother chose the Crispy Honey Chicken with brown rice and veggies. She was quite satisfied with it but did say that it was more of a healthy, freshly cooked version of Americanized Chinese food. Nevertheless, she enjoyed it very much. I’m pretty sure she could have gone to the Yak & Yeti Local Foods Café  (counter service, see menu) outside and found something comparable for about half the price.

I wanted to veer from the traditional Chinese food menu options, and so I ordered the Crispy Mahi Mahi. A coating of Japanese bread crumbs made the fish unique, but what added the extra amazing flavor was the Cantonese sweet and sour sauce served with it. I could have devoured that stuff with a spoon. I felt like I was eating Asian inspired mahi mahi, which means that Yak & Yeti nailed its concept. The large portion of fish was served on a bed of soft jasmine rice with a side of stir fry vegetables. I could have done without the vegetables since they seemed a little uninspired to me. My mom did say that she really liked them, though. To each her own!

We were much too full to order desser,  but our waiter went over each option with us and basically dangled the Fried Wontons served with fresh pineapple, ice cream, and a honey vanilla drizzle in my face (not literally) to the point that I thought about them the rest of the day. Kudos to him for doing his job so well! Next time, I’ll be ordering sugar filled deliciousness for sure.

Overall, our visit to Yak & Yeti was extremely positive and well worth the cost for both the food and experience. If I had any suggestions, it would be to expand the menu and be more unique with the offerings for non-seafood eaters. My mom was pretty limited to traditional Chinese food, which I didn’t think was fair.

From the reviews I’ve read in the past, Yak & Yeti seems to be a “love it or hate it” kind of place. What are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments section!

 

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Posted Times In Lines: Another Call For Comments

by on April 24, 2012

The TouringPlans.com Team is hard at work improving our website and the Lines mobile application. Previously, I asked you all for feedback on presenting information about posted wait times in Lines. Those comments were extremely helpful!

We now have the following design sample for your consideration. Again, I implore you to offer feedback in the comments. Thank you!

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Souvenirs for Kids Without Pain: Some Hard-Won Advice

by on April 24, 2012

The Hunt is On!

Before you leave for Disney World, you will tell your three adorable children that each is allowed to buy one souvenir costing under five dollars while there. They will acquiesce gracefully, proceed to thoughtfully choose one souvenir apiece the second day you are there, and never ask to buy anything else during the trip.

At what point did you start laughing hysterically? (Or if you didn’t, and you recognize your own family in that depiction, please let us know promptly how you accomplished it!)

Souvenirs–or, to put it bluntly, buying stuff–are one of the biggest delights and biggest headaches of a Disney World vacation with kids. Good intentions, not to mention your budget, can fly out the window in the face of the adorable stuffed Pluto that you didn’t see anywhere else, or that pin that will round out your collection so nicely, or those pajamas that match your daughter’s furry slippers.

What to do? There’s no one right answer, of course, but you can make it easier on everyone by keeping the following in mind.

Set a budget.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” you are now saying. We hear you. But there are different ways to do this, some more successful than others.

Kids often have trouble with the concept of money. (News flash: so do many adults.) One way to help is to illustrate a nebulous idea ($5.00) with concrete evidence (e.g., $5.00 equals 3 Disney cookies). That will give your child a sense of what she has to spend. Do this kind of exercise (several times) before you leave on vacation so the child is used to equating a certain amount of money with certain items.

This will all be for naught once you actually set foot in the gift shop near Space Mountain, of course. However, give your child a set amount of money to spend ($20). And it is important to figure out ahead of time exactly where this money is coming from: Is it allowance? Are mom and dad chipping in some? If this is the amount that your child really has, then stick to it. Set some guidelines.

Now think about some rules. Many parents caution their kids not to buy the first thing they see, which seems like good advice. But what if on the first day little Trish sees something at Animal Kingdom that isn’t sold back at the hotel? Should she buy it? Should you cave and give her money? There’s no one right answer, but you will come upon many situations like this, where your child insists that, ”If I get this one thing I will never ever ask for anything ever again.” Regardless of whether mom or dad says, “Yes,” it’s one reason you see so many meltdowns on vacations–there’s just so much stuff and, frankly, who doesn’t want it all?

If your child is 100 percent sure this item is The One, then fine. Make sure she understands that it means that if she buys this item today, then she can’t buy something tomorrow. But if she’s wavering, find out where else it’s sold, then do the “live with it” scenario. Tell your child if he still wants it in 24 hours, he can get it. If nothing else has managed to replace it, it’s a go.

Now let’s say your child has accepted these rules–but the money is gone on the third day, and on the fourth, he sees a Mickey Mouse play set he can’t live without.

Well, clearly he can live without it (although at that moment he may feel like he can’t), so here’s where you need advance planning for just this kind of situation. Since you know this kind of thing will come up, figure out some solutions ahead of time.

Some parents put aside an extra amount of money for situations like this. They can either give it to their child (“it’s for special treats”) or buy it themselves and put it away for a later date. One word of advice: always put aside some “extra” money for the end of the trip. Maybe this is money that you put aside ahead of time. Maybe this is a birthday check or part of your child’s allowance.

Then decide how this item will make an appearance—on the plane on the way back? Right then and there? If you present the item while you’re still down there, make sure your child knows it’s a one-time thing so he doesn’t expect money to just keep appearing every time he wants something.

And remember (surprise!) that sometimes you will just have to say no. Your your child has lived through disappointment before, she will live through it again, and she will absolutely survive without that Daisy Duck sticker set if need be.

Other Tips

You can try to ration money so kids have a little to spend each day. For some kids, it’s the hunt; for others, it’s the acquisition. Know thy child.

Also figure out: Who holds the money? Do kids get it all at once?

Some parents set aside shopping days rather than spreading it out. Kids can browse, keep lists, and then purchase, say, on the third day and the last day of the trip. This technique makes it easier for some kids—the decision has been taken away. This gives them a chance to plan out what they really want.

Sometimes it really helps to get kids to focus on why they want something—it’s hard not to be acquisitive when faced with aisles and aisles of Disney merchandise. If you point out, however, that your son never wears a watch, or that the bathing suit your daughter is admiring only goes up to size 2, you can help your child in the right direction.

You can also give kids a little money to buy gifts for other people—it takes their minds off themselves and still fulfills the shopping urge.

So set rules and stick to them, but leave a little wiggle room; it is Disney World, after all! Budgeting and planning are important, but so are some little treats along the way.

Do you have any tips on kids and souvenirs at Disney? Let us know!

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Starbucks Coming to Disney Parks

by on April 23, 2012

Here is some great news to start the week off with: Starbucks and Disney Parks & Resorts announced today that Starbucks will soon have one location in every park at the Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort. This June, the first of these themed Starbucks locations will open in Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café on Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure. The store’s location plays off the Spanish/Mexican architecture of the period, and baristas will wear 1920s-inspired attire.

“Starbucks and Disney have many things in common,” said Arthur Rubinfeld, president, Global Development, for Starbucks. “We share a passion for providing excellent customer service, delivering high quality in everything we do, and ensuring that every experience with our brand exceeds our customers’ expectations. This is something our customers and partners (employees) have asked for through MyStarbucksIdea.com since the site launched more than four years ago, so we are pleased to bring this idea to life.”

These new Starbucks locations will include signature items such as coffee and espresso beverages, Frappuccino® blended beverages, and signature breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Disney will also be serving its own signature sandwiches, desserts, and other sweet treats. Beverages will be served in Disney and Starbucks branded cups.

“We know food and beverage offerings are an important part of the memories our guests make at Disney Parks and now they will be able to enjoy their favorite Starbucks® beverage as part of their experience,” said Maribeth Bisienere, vice president, food and beverage line of business for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “Many of our guests have shared their passion for Starbucks with us, and we look forward to making their feedback a reality as we debut the first location at Disney California Adventure.”

Are you excited for the long-awaited arrival of Starbucks at Disney theme parks?

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Test Track Now Closed Through Fall 2012 at Epcot

by on April 23, 2012

If you’ve checked out our WDW Refurbishment Schedule recently, you may have noticed Test Track on the list of closed attractions. About a week ago, Test Track closed its doors for a lengthy refurbishment that is currently projected to last until November 30, 2012 (remember, opening dates are subject to change!). As we originally posted, when it reopens this fall the attraction will officially be sponsored by the “Chevrolet” division of General Motors. This refurbishment came about because General Motors renewed its sponsorship of the Test Track pavilion. While Disney and Chevrolet haven’t released detailed information, they did provide a quick overview, along with a new piece of concept art:

As part of the re-imagining, the Future World attraction will feature a sleek new “Chevrolet Design Center at Epcot” immersing Guests in the fascinating world of automotive design. Amid upbeat music, engaging media, dramatic lighting and a collection of Chevrolet concept cars and model vehicles, guests themselves will become automotive designers – and peer into the future of personal transportation in the process.

At interactive design and styling workstations, Guests will be able to create their own custom concept vehicles. The adventure will then shift into high gear as Guests buckle into their 6-person “SimCar” ride vehicle and put their design through its paces on the exhilarating hills, switchbacks and straight-aways of the Test Track circuit.

Their performance testing complete, Guests will move into a post-show area filled with special effects and be scored on how well their custom concept vehicle did. And of course, Guests will be able see the very latest Chevrolet vehicles in an all-new state-of-the-art showroom.

Concept Art ©Disney

Performing daily just outside of the construction walls are the Test Track All Stars, an a cappella group performing travel and car related songs. The story is that each performer is part of the new Test Track project. Each person represents a major role from Chevrolet, such as IT Tech, Quality Control Engineer, Paint Color Specialist, etc. The group finishes off its performance with the 1950s song, “See The USA In Your Chevrolet.” You can catch the Test Track All Stars daily at 9:30am, 10:45am, 12 noon, 1:30pm, 3:00pm, 4:15pm, and 5:00pm (weather permitting).

Are you looking forward to the refreshed Test Track this fall? I’ll definitely be there right when it reopens!

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The Morning Grind – How to Pick Where To Start Your Disney Day

by on April 23, 2012

I’m on the edge of my seat over here. In less than a month, I will leave for a quick two-day Walt Disney World trip with my beautiful bride. Normally, I would be knee deep in spreadsheets, crowd calendars, and the like to plan out every instant of my trip, but right now, I’m letting things come as they may. Okay, not entirely. I’m trying to figure out where we will start our Disney days. Yes, the ever important morning decision. Where will we go and when will we get there?

Want to get this picture on Dumbo? Better get up early.

I’m sure many of you out there have faced this same dilemma. You know you’ll be at the World, you know you’ll want to get into a park, but you don’t know where to start. There are a few ways to make this decision. Do you want to get up early? Are you looking to fit in the most attractions, or is breakfast more important? Do you want to avoid crowds? Got your heart set on a particular park? The more I thought about it, the more things came to mind. So, as an exercise to help myself from going nuts and hopefully help some of the readers of this fine blog, I figured I would write down all the criteria as I thought of them, and then show how to use the TouringPlans.com tools to help solve the problem. So here we go:

  1. Sleep. How much of it do you want, and how important is it to you? After all, you know that we here at TouringPlans.com want you to get up and be at the park for rope drop. It’s the only way to experience most of the headliner attractions in one day. But you are on vacation. This might be your only chance to sleep in. So is a late morning acceptable to you? Do you accept missing a few attractions and starting mid-morning or even midday? Weigh those options before deciding which park to go to in the morning.
  2. Breakfast. Is a muffin and a cup of coffee acceptable? Or do you crave meatier fare? After all, if you’re staying on property, where you eat breakfast can make the decision for you. For example, if you want coffee and a muffin before you enter the park, you’re out of luck if you take Disney transportation to the Magic Kingdom. At the other three parks, you can grab coffee and pastries outside the main gate. But since the Disney bus pulls you up to the gates of the Magic Kingdom, you miss the coffee stand at the Transportation and Ticket Center. And if you want eggs or bacon, consider that you can’t get that anywhere outside of the parks or hotels.
  3. This is what I WANT for breakfast. But I might have to sacrifice it.

  4. Crowds. Not interested in fighting the crowds all day? Best be there at rope drop. Or maybe you don’t mind some crowds, but you’re not looking to fight against the flow. We are going the first weekend of Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios. Do we get up first thing Friday morning and join the geek love at the Studios, or avoid the chaos and look elsewhere?
  5. Attractions. Dead set on Toy Story Mania? Better be at the Studios at rope drop. Have to see Soarin’ or the vacation is a bust? Epcot should see you bright and early. Not as interested in certain attractions but you would prefer to enjoy the atmosphere? Then you can sleep in. Enjoy. How many attractions you want to do in a day and whether or not there are favorites you have to hit can be big factors in when you need to arrive.

Okay, since we have those four things to look at, let’s try to solve my dilemma. If I want to answer the questions in order, I would say that sleep is relatively important, although I’m willing to get up for rope drop since the parks don’t open until 9 a.m. the first day we are there. I’m definitely a breakfast person, so I need coffee and something to make it through the first part of the morning. Preferably with eggs and bacon, but a good pastry will suffice, if necessary. Neither my wife or I is necessarily interested in maximizing attractions on this trip, but we have a few we want to hit: Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Expedition Everest, specifically. And, finally, we would like to avoid crowds where possible to give us the most flexibility.

So, let’s take these one by one. As I mentioned, by looking at the Crowd Calendar I can see that all the parks open at 9 a.m. both days that we are there. We normally don’t sleep much past 8 a.m. even on weekends at home, so if we shower the night before, we should be ready to go for rope drop presuming the buses will get us there in a timely fashion. So sleep is not a factor in this decision. All parks are still a go, since no park has Extra Magic Hours in the morning.

Is getting to Tower of Terror important enough to brave the Star Wars Weekends crowds?

Breakfast is definitely a consideration. As mentioned above, since we are relying on Disney transportation I can’t get coffee before going into the park at the Magic Kingdom. I could try to book a character breakfast in the Magic Kingdom to get in early, but that would violate my sleep protocol and my wallet. So Magic Kingdom is eliminated from the list, leaving us with the Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom.

Then there are crowds. The first day we have to deal with is Friday, May 18. As mentioned, this is the first day of Star Wars Weekends. As such, the Studios has an individual park level of 9.4 out of 10 on the Crowd Calendar. Animal Kingdom, meanwhile, is at 4.4, and is a best park for the day. Seems like my decision is almost made, but there’s one more item to go.

The three things we want to make sure we hit are located in the Studios and Animal Kingdom. If you look at the cheat sheets on the site, you’ll see that the best times to hit Tower and Coaster are 9-10 a.m., or use FASTPASS any time between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. For Everest, even on a low crowd day like the day we are going, the best times to visit are 9-10 a.m., or use FASTPASS between 10 a.m. and noon. Everest seems like it is more in demand.

So, after evaluating all the criteria, it seems our decision is made. Sleep in a bit, not too much, hop a bus to Animal Kingdom, grab some coffee and pastries outside the main gate, then enjoy the rest of the day. That’s just Friday, though, so we will use the same criteria to figure out what to do on Saturday.

Sound complex? It probably is, but it goes to show how you can use the site tools effectively to plan out your day, even if it’s only where to get started. What tips do you use to figure out where to start your Disney day?

 

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The Disneyland No Rides/No Queues/No Stress Anti-Touring Plan (Part 1)

by on April 23, 2012

Last week, I posted a comparison of Disneyland’s Storybook Land Canal Boats and Casey Jr. Circus Train, suggesting that most guests will only include one or the other on their touring plan. That elicited feedback from a reader (ok, Tom Bricker) decrying the concept of choosing between two great attractions in the name of “efficiency.”

I happen to agree. I believe that the best judge of how good an experience you had Disneyland can’t be counted in the number of attractions you ride. That’s why I’m adding a new “No Rides/No Queues/No Stress Anti-Touring Plan” to the 2013 edition of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland.

The following is a sneak peak of my introduction to this new tour, which flies in the face of our famous time-saving plans, but may appeal to other guests of a more laid-back nature:

Most of our readers are interested in touring plans get get them through as many attractions as possible in the most efficient manner. But, like the authors, some you may have siblings, spouses, or other companions who are congenitally opposed to queuing for anything clanking or claustrophobic. What can Disney do to occupy your Aunt Gertie, who is dead-set against standing in a line, or sitting in anything with a lap bar?

At almost any other theme park, you would be out of luck. But Disneyland Park is one of the few places where you can experience a full day of entertainment without getting on a ride faster than the railroad, and without waiting more than fifteen minutes or so, even during the busiest season.

Yes, you can get your money’s worth at Disneyland without sprinting to Space Mountain or spinning in a teacup. You just have to adjust your expectation of what constitutes an attraction. (There are a handful of sedate activities available at Disney California Adventure, like Disney Animation, the winery, and the bakery tour, but not enough to justify a full-price pass.)

Since this “anti-plan” is designed to eliminate stress, there is no strict order to follow the steps in, nor instructions to arrive before rope drop (though it doesn’t hurt). Simply tour the park as your feet take you, skipping any suggested experiences that don’t interest you. If there is more than a 15 to 20 minute wait for anything you want to do, simply move along and check back later. Most importantly, take a break after four or five hours and leave the park for a nap, meal, or swim. The key is to take your time and (literally) stop to smell the roses.

Tell us in the comments below if a plan like this interests you, and what you would include in one. Then check back later in the week for my picks of the best places in Disneyland to de-stress.

 

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May 2012 Walt Disney World: Park Hour and Crowd Calendar Updates

by on April 22, 2012

The Disney World park hours were recently updated for May, with many operating hours extended for the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are now many days where the Magic Kingdom is open until 11pm and a few Saturdays where it will stay open until 12am or even 1am. In addition, many nights a second Main Street Electrical Parade has been added.

Hollywood Studios also had quite a few days changed, days where the park will now be open until 10pm. Most of those days will also see an additional showing of Fantasmic. Hollywood Studios also gains a few 8am openings in honor of Star Wars Weekends. Animal Kingdom had only a handful of days adjusted, those until 8pm.

The chart below shows all current park hours with changes in red. One warning that the hours for the Sunday through Thursday of Memorial Day week (May 27-31) have yet to be updated, so those will most likely change on or about May 14.

You will also notice some changes to our Crowd Calendar involving some of the changed dates. We recently began using our own internal projected park hours to give you the most accurate crowd ratings available. Using these projected hours has made our long-term crowd ratings more stable, but we are not perfect (well, some of us).

The crowd levels for a few days changed by more than 3, and I would like to explain our rationale for the higher initial ratings.

May 6, 7, 14, and 18: Magic Kingdom’s crowd level decreased by 3.1. For all four of these days we initially projected a closing of 11pm with two performances of the Main Street Electrical Parade. As seen above, on all of these days, the actual closing time is 10pm, and there is only one Main Street Electrical Parade.  The reason for the over-projection is because, on the equivalent days last year (first Sunday in May and so on), the Magic Kingdom was open until 11pm with two Main Street Electrical Parades. Seeing as attendance has been generally higher this year, we assumed the trend of longer operating hours would continue.

May 12: Magic Kingdom’s crowd level decreased by 3.2. This day we initially projected a closing of 1am, but the actual closing time is 11pm. Again, on the equivalent day last year, the Magic Kingdom was open until 1am.

May 24: Epcot’s crowd level decreased by 6.6. This was another error. Last year there appears to have been a special event on the equivalent day that was not removed from our projections.

We apologize for the changes, although we are happy that in all cases the crowd levels are now lower than they previously were. One thing you should be aware of is that Disney sometimes announces extended operating hours on the actual day of operation. We see the above dates as prime candidates for these last minute extensions, especially May 12 at the Magic Kingdom. These extensions are not necessarily something that can be planned around, but you should be aware that they are possible.

Thanks!

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