Hi, Everyone! Welcome to the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! This week we’re stopping by Disney’s Hollywood Studios to say goodbye to The American Idol Experience and The American Film Institute Showcase. Next, we’ll stop in to see how things are going with the Polynesian Resort refurbishment, and then we’ll wrap up this week at the Magic Kingdom. Let’s get started by taking a look at American Idol. While I’m not surprised that this show is going the way of the dodo, I’m sad to see people lose their jobs. Hopefully there are better plans to utilize this space for all the talented actors who worked here. In the short term it seems pretty obvious that with the Frozen Sing-A-Long suddenly offering FastPass+ on September 2 that the show will be moving into this space. Does anyone want to see video of American Idol before it closes on August 30? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to include it next week.
Already closed as of August 17 is The American Film Institute Showcase. I stopped in this weekend to get a final look and video walk-through for you, but first, the gift shop:
Click to read more and more see video of the Showcase.
What do the following three questions have in common?
Tinkerbell in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Thomas Cook
Is the rain real?
Is Mickey Mouse a cat or a dog?
What time is the Three O’clock Parade?
Answer: They are all questions I was asked as a Walt Disney World cast member.
I hope it’s clear that these questions are not exactly the best questions to ask a cast member. I don’t mean to imply anything about the guests who asked these questions, especially since the parade question is one I got asked once a week or so over a number of years.
This article is not about questionable questions. It’s about how you should ask cast members about park information. It seems like a simple issue, but any longtime cast member will tell you their many stories of frustrating guests and their questions.
Music has the ability to take us back through time. So much music has been preserved
from the past 500+ years that whole concerts can be centered around one time period. I just got back from a music conference which had an entire Vespers service that could
have taken place in 1724!
Music can also remind us of a feeling. For example, when I hear “The Victors,” I am automatically transported to my Dad’s seats in Michigan Stadium, cheering the team on the field.
Liberty Square has two kinds of music surrounding it. On one side, the music reflects the time. Various pieces played in the area are taken straight from the late-1700s and played on period instruments. (One of many hidden details in the Liberty Square!)
Other pieces in Liberty Square reflect the spirit. The colonial and Revolutionary time periods were full of patriotic and independent thought. There was an energy needed to create a United States out of thirteen small colonies, all of whom had very unique beginnings. Thusly, there is music that was composed later in America’s history, but still reflect that spirit of America.
Take a day — or at least 2/3s of one — to walk around Animal Kingdom with Touring Plans (photos by Seth Kubersky).
This week it was time for me to make some observations from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and is there any place in Walt Disney World more welcoming on a muggy, humid day? Wait, don’t answer that… As an infrequent visitor to Animal Kingdom, it was my objective to visit as many of park’s major and mid-tier attractions as possible, in order to test Derek Burgan’s controversial theory that DAK is indeed more than a “half-day park.”
While the typical Touring Plans approach is to arrive before rope drop, I decided to give Animal Kingdom a fighting chance by pulling onto Disney property a half hour after the park’s 9 a.m. opening time. The first sight that greeted me past the toll booths was a large section of the overflow parking lot where grass was being replaced with asphalt.
What does Mickey call his home? A mouse pad. Who handles Br’er Rabbit’s money? Br’er Broker. How do you turn Epcot into the best park in Disney World? Turn 21. Now that I’ve clearly established my comedy expertise with these masterful jokes, I hope you’ll trust me to guide you through some of Walt Disney World’s Funniest Attractions. One of the words most often associated with Walt Disney World is “magical” but don’t be fooled. Disney World is host to a bevy of attractions that’ll have you laughing out loud. Of course, everyone has his own sense of humor, but if you’re a first time visitor or just happen to have never been on one of the following attractions, I hope this article will give you an idea of just what makes these attractions so funny. I may have only recently started doing stand-up but I’ve been laughing at Walt Disney World my entire life.
If you love “dad” jokes, you’re going to love Jungle Cruise. The attraction features a guided tour through the “jungle” and while you’ll see a bunch of animatronic animals along the way, I think the real appeal of the attraction is your skipper who provides some hilariously corny jokes. Like any attraction with different guides, your enjoyment will definitely hinge on how into it your cast member is. Some of the better ones will have both kids and adults of all ages in stitches by the end of your “six month cruise.” Also be sure to ride it at night and you might be lucky enough to get some jokes that are a little too “edgy” for the day crowds. For a more official new experience, go during the holidays when the whole attraction is re-themed to the Jingle Cruise.
When traveling through Walt Disney World, we all face frustrations. On vacation, it’s quite easy to give into the frustration. I’m no expert on Disney, but I do watch people quite a bit. Instead of facing the frustration with anger – try flipping over – and greeting with a friendly face. On a Disney World vacation in 2013, we decided to embrace the joy. It paid off tremendous dividends. Why? Multitudes of reasons. Usually Disney Cast Member Magic. Why should you? Easy.
You’re not that guy. Let’s face it, kids. We’ve all been somewhere. A place that someone has exploded all over a Cast Member. And trust me, I know how getting riled up and letting loose on some defenseless person can really make you feel good. Frankly, it sometimes does let off some of that steam. And often, you might win that battle – and get what you want. But you’ve sacrificed your level of dignity – and perhaps the dignity of people in your party without even knowing it. I was on a bus on the way back to our resort, and for whatever reason, a left turn light wasn’t working. The driver waited through five lights before moving slowly out into traffic, and going around the block to get to another entrance to the resort. A person on the bus started loudly complaining about the speed of the trip – and her kids became more noticeably embarrassed. When the bus arrived, we waited for the guests to get off the bus, and thanked the driver profusely. We compared the driving of the Disney drivers – SUPER SAFE to the Mears drivers – MUCH different. While we lost a few moments, we all exited happy.
My first mid-summer Epcot experience in several seasons started on a sweet note, as I snagged a parking spot along the center aisle; there is nothing worse than having to walk a football field’s length just to get to the tram.
Spending a lot of time at Universal Orlando lately, I’ve been frustrated by how slow their entry procedures are, even after new ticket scanners were recently installed. In contrast, the turnstile-free entry at Disney’s parks has become my favorite element of MyMagic+. Scanning a MagicBand usually seems swifter than swiping a barcode, and the finger scanners at Disney are still far faster and more reliable than Universal’s new biometric readers.
Does Disney’s Hollywood Studios hold up in a post-Diagon Alley world? (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
“It was the best of rides, it was the worst of rides…”
With deepest apologies to Charles Dickens, today I present a Tale of Two Parks. As regular readers may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time these past few months at Universal Studios Florida, documenting the debut of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley. But USF isn’t the only movie-centric theme park in Orlando. So on Monday, July 28, I stopped by the other Studios for the first time in forever — or at least since Star Wars Weekends — for some observations from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. How does DHS stack up in the age of Harry Potter’s newest expansion?
First, a bit of background. The origins of DHS and USF will forever be entwined, as Michael Eisner accelerated the opening of Walt Disney World’s third gate to upstage Universal’s first Floridian attraction. Though it was announced first, Universal Studios Florida opened a year after Disney/MGM Studios (as the park will forever be known in the hearts of long-time fans) and was initially hobbled by famously malfunctioning E-Tickets like Jaws and Kong. MGM sported only a half-day slate of entertainment upon its debut, but added major rides like Star Tours and Tower of Terror during its first decade, while Universal used that time to tame its balky headliners and add effects-driven shows like Twister and Terminator 2.
By nature, our family tends to over-plan. On one vacation, we even set aside specific time to ‘be spontaneous – within our own limitations.’ But for some reason, our quick dining – while generally guided – wasn’t set in stone. On our first day in Epcot, we chose Sunshine Seasons, one of the jewels of counter service dining in the parks, according to all the checks we’d made. We began enjoying our Asian-infused lunch until our only adventurous eater started to look a little queasy. The sights and aromas had overcome our (somewhat) melodramatic child. Thankfully, she was only four. And we didn’t stick around for the clean-up.
A nice variety of food offered at Casey’s Corner, but tough to locate an indoor seat.
Since then, we have planned all of our meals. For many Walt Disney World vacationers, counter service fills up half – or more- of our theme park dining. Plenty of information exists for table service restaurants: menus, meal reviews, countdown to reservation times, and strategies for landing the elusive meal spot. Comparatively little exists for the compulsive planner when it comes to quick service. While outlining burgers and nachos may seem overly obsessive, building a plan – with a back-up, too – may save time, effort, and enable you to put more enjoyment into your vacation. If nothing else, you might slide a column into your managed spreadsheet for your ‘other’ meal.
Counter service restaurants participate uniquely with the Disney Dining plan. Almost all table service restaurants in Disney World parks are on the meal plan, but only some counter service restaurants are. Some will serve snacks only. The leg conundrum for me seems the strangest. Some places – like the pork shank legs at Min and Bill’s in Hollywood Studios-Covered. Gaston’s Tavern in Magic Kingdom-Not covered. You can use a snack credit there, just not on the shank.
First of all, I am not a meteorologist. I don’t even play one on TV.
That being said, I have thirty years of experience in Orlando weather, including doing extensive research on hurricanes.
The 2014 hurricane season has begun, and the year marks the tenth anniversary of Orlando’s “Year of Three Hurricanes”. In this article, I’ll cover the issue of hurricanes and Orlando’s famous thunderstorms as well as how to avoid them and vacation around them.
Orlando street view the morning after Hurricane Charley in 2004. Photo by Thomas Cook
Officially known as “tropical cyclones” but colloquially as hurricanes, the massive summer storms are one of the most powerful and dangerous natural events on earth. The amount of energy released in one day by an average cyclone in producing rain (which is 400 times greater than the wind energy) is equal to the yearly energy production of the U.S.
So you’re thinking hurricanes and Florida go hand-in-hand like Vermont and snow, right? Well, sort of. Florida is a big state. Not only in terms of square miles, but it’s long. For instance, it takes 12 hours to drive from Key West to Pensacola.
Of course, every mile is a potential hurricane target, but Walt Disney World is only some 40 miles square. Additionally it’s in the center of the state, relatively far from the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. This means every time your local news tells about a hurricane in Florida, it’s unlikely to be passing close to Disney world.
The U.S. government started regular tracking of tropical cyclones in 1851. Looking at those statistics gives excellent news: The frequency of a hurricane passing through the Walt Disney World area in any year is 1 in 10. A 10% chance each year is all local have to worry about. Want even better news? If you’re visiting for a week or two, you have an even smaller chance of having to deal with one of nature’s super storms.