Saturday Six

SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We LOVE Pandora – The World of Avatar

by on May 27, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Pandora: The World of Avatar!  It seemed like just yesterday that Disney announced it was going to make a land based around James Cameron’s Avatar (it was actually 2,078 days ago, but who’s counting.) The new area would be replacing Camp Minnie-Mickey, a cute stop during a day at Animal Kingdom, but certainly not a land anyone is going to chain themselves to in protest of its leaving. Now, on the day of it’s official grand opening,  we ask, was it worth the wait? In a word: YES.

A look into Pandora: The World of Avatar. (photo by Michael Carelli)

For many Animal Kingdom fans, talk of the unbuilt Beastly Kingdom brings the same gritted teeth reactions that you’ll see when someone brings up the broken Yeti. However, with Pandora – The World of Avatar, we have our Beastly Kingdom.  Today we’re going to take a look at some of the greatest parts of this new land, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Connect With a Banshee

Before the details of Pandora were released many people – including Your Humble Author  – wondered what the area would do in terms of merchandise. While the film it is based on is the biggest grossing movie in the history of cinema, ancillary sales were almost non-existent. There were plenty of Avatar t-shirts, books, and even a full action figure line to buy, but most went unsold. Would Disney, quite possibly the worldwide leader in merchandise sales, be able to develop Avatar-related items that would get guests to open up their wallet like Universal did with Harry Potter?

Time will tell on the bigger picture, but one thing we already know for sure is that Disney created a huge hit with the Connect With a Banshee toy available in Pandora’s only gift shop, Windtraders. Sharing many similarities with the Wizarding World’s the wand chooses you gimmick, the cute Banshee toys are scoring high with both kids and adults. Guests can make their Banshee move their mouth, head, and wings, not to mention roar, while perched on their shoulder. It is a great souvenir that ties into the film, delivers a personal experience, and even allows “the opportunity” to buy a stand for your Banshee to sit on when not on your shoulder. In the marketing world we call that a home run.

A Banshee at The Rookery. (photo by Michael Carelli) – If you get a Banshee, be sure to follow @DisneyBanshees on Twitter and post pictures of your own Banshee.

Banshees await to bond with their human at The Rookery. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Attractions We Miss At Universal Studios Florida

by on May 20, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Attractions We Miss at Universal Studios Florida!  We are about to enter the part of the theme park calendar when both Universal and Disney like to unveil new attractions and experiences for the busy summer crowds. However, in most cases, whenever we get something new it means we also have to say goodbye to something it replaced. For example, for guests to be able to enjoy the Valley of Mo’ara in Pandora: The World of Avatar, Disney removed Camp Minnie Mickey. Universal Studios Florida has gone through more turnover than most theme parks. In fact, of the park’s opening day attraction lineup, only E.T. Adventure and the Horror Make-Up Show remain. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite USF attractions that have been replaced over the years, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Kongfrontation

Amazingly enough, despited be based around one of the worst filmed versions of King Kong in history (the 1976 remake) Kongfrontation remains an attraction that many Universal fans wish was still in the park. Even though it was replaced by the incredibly popular Revenge of the Mummy indoor coaster, the nostalgia for Kongfrontation is strong. The attraction had many signature moments, including interactions with various super-sized Kong audio-animatronics, and a very memorable end-of-ride photo opportunity where guests could be photographed in Kong’s hand. The Universal mantra of “Ride the Movies”  was exactly what Kongfrontation was all about. It may have been a bad movie, but you were in it and the experience was awesome. There are still references to Kong in Revenge of the Mummy, and Universal finally brought the great ape back into the parks with Skull Island: Reign of Kong, but man we still miss Kongfrontation.

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

Kongfrontation. (photo credit Universal Orlando Resort)

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SATURDAY SIX: The 6 Best Meet and Greets at Universal Studios Florida

by on May 13, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Best Meet and Greets at Universal Studios Florida! About this time last year, Universal bought DreamWorks Animation for $3.8Billion. However, we haven’t see much of that deal reflected in the theme park world until this past week when a new meet and greet with Kung Fu Panda’s Po was announced for Orlando. In theme park fandom, many have speculated on what incredible attractions that DreamWorks characters could be a part of (who wouldn’t want a How To Train Your Dragon ride?!) but the “meet and greet factor” was mostly overlooked. Meet and greets are now a huge part of the Disney experience, and only getting bigger. In fact, even runDisney races have become so heavily integrated with characters that the surprise removal of them this week caused a  near meltdown on social media.

Now Po the panda is going to be meeting guests in Islands of Adventure, so we’re going to look at some of the fun meet greets located right across the way in Universal Studios Florida, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – The Scooby Gang

Having your picture taken with Scooby Doo is almost a rite of passage for any Universal guest. On any average day at the park you’re almost assuredly going to run into the canine sleuth along with Shaggy. Some days, you may find them posing with pics with Velma or Daphne. But on great days, you are able to find the entire Scooby Gang together and that can make for some really fun photos and interactions. You also have to get a shot of the Mystery Machine, which along with K.I.T.T., the General Lee, and the Batmobile is one of the most iconic vehicles in TV history.

The Scooby Gang. (photo by @hedgehogscorner)

The Mystery Machine. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

# 5 – Knight Bus

The opening of Diagon Alley brought with it a lot of surprises in the form of character entertainment. We all swooned for the soothing voice of Celestina Warbeck and marveled at the creativity of the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts in their Tales of Beedle the Bard shows, but two characters who always bring smiles to Muggle faces are the Knight Bus conductor and his shrunken head sidekick. Both are quick on their feet (not literally in the case of one of them) and the meet and greet starts the guest’s “Diagon Alley experience” in the best way possible.

(photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Disneyland Rides BETTER Than Their Disney World Counterparts

by on May 6, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Disneyland Rides That Are BETTER Than Their Disney World Counterparts! In previous editions of the SATURDAY SIX we have reached out to our all-star blue ribbon panel made up of theme park experts to vote on their favorite attractions at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort. This week we reached out again – while also including the unwashed masses of DisTwitter – to give their thoughts on which rides at Disneyland are better than their Disney World counterparts. 

it’s a small world in Disneyland is a completely different experience than the one in Walt Disney World. (photo by Brandon Glover)

One interesting thing about the voting process is that there was a clear favorite after the first day of voting, but spots two through six were close enough that they were all up for grabs. However, when all the votes were counted, the rides ranked 1-6 after the first day each held their position, so it seems clear there is a pretty strong consensus among people who have been to both Orlando and Anaheim. Today we’re going to take a look at six rides which were voted as being BETTER than their Disney World counterparts, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder makes the list in part because of a fantastic refurb the ride went through a couple years ago which added a thrilling finale sequence as well as recontructing the ramshackle Rainbow Ridge mining town. Rainbow Ridge doesn’t exist in Walt Disney World, but has been in Disneyland since 1956 as part of the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train attraction. The finale now includes an amazing lift hill experience where guests are surrounded by projection map technology and real props to give the sensation of the mine about to explode (with a blast of smoke amping up the sensory level.)

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (photo by Brian Pinsky)

Rainbow Ridge. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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SATURDAY SIX: Wizarding World Merchandise Straight Out of the Harry Potter Movies

by on April 29, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Wizarding World Merchandise Straight Out of the Harry Potter Movies! We all have our favorite parts of Universal’s Wizarding World. Some love the world class attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Others love the incredible shows like Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Of course, pretty much everyone loves BUTTERBEER. However, one aspect of the Wizarding World’s immersive theming isn’t discussed as much as everything else, but it is just as important to the overall experience. Merchandise. Now, that may sound crazy at first. In fact, it’s something that both Spaceballs and The Simpsons have made fun of, but in the case of the Wizarding World it’s something real. Muggles walking out of Diagon Alley are loaded down with bags because Universal has delivered on items straight out of the films. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite pieces of merchandise and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Ron and Harry Sweaters (Madame Malkin’s)

Our first piece of merchandise comes from, appropriately enough, the first Harry Potter film. In Sorcerer’s Stone, Mrs. Weasley sends sweaters to Ron and Harry for Christmas. It is a nice moment in the movie because Harry has unbridled glee just when he discovers he is actually getting presents. In Diagon Alley, you can get your own Ron or Harry sweater at Madame Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions.

Ron and Harry sweaters. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Ron wears his sweater from mum in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Harry is only seen wearing his sweater in this deleted scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

While in Madame Malkin’s, another piece of clothing to add to your wardrobe is the sweater Neville Longbottom wears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. This is the same sweater Neville wore while giving his heartfelt speech before drawing the Sword of Gryffindor on Lord Voldemort.

Wearing this Neville Longbottom sweater and you too may feel like you can “spit fire.” (photo by Brandon Glover)

Neville Longbottom in one of the most courageous moments of the entire series in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

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SATURDAY SIX: Your Six Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants

by on April 22, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Six Lowest-Rated Disney World Restaurants!  We all know about the amazing benefits of being a TouringPlans subscriber – including unbiased reviews, an amazing WDW hotel room finder, the ability to save hours a day normally spent waiting in line, and of course the world’s greatest Disney Outlet Store Photo Report – but one thing you may not know is that after every trip we send members a survey to see how satisfied they were with each part of their vacation. Last year we received 122,000 responses on Walt Disney World restaurants, a number greater that the amount of Disney reviews Yelp and TripAdvisor got in 2016 combined. Len Testa, the grand poobah of TP, has written several articles on the Walt Disney World restaurants which received the highest scores: including the venues at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom/DHS. But this is the SATURDAY SIX, home of the annual  Turkeys of the Year awards: we want to know what the worst restaurants were.

So today we’re going to look at the lowest rated restaurants in all of Walt Disney World as voted by YOU, Dear Reader, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Garden Grove (Disney World Swan)

I loved staying on property at both WDW and Universal, but despite hearing raves for years on the Swan and Dolphin hotels, I had never stepped foot in either. That changed recently when I booked at stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and I discovered the hotels were incredible. It was much cheaper than my stay just months earlier at the neighboring BoardWalk resort, was situated between two Disney parks, and was filled with great restaurants. However, despite the high marks that Todd English’s bluezoo and Shula’s Steak House receive from TouringPlans members, not all of the resort’s restaurants were thought of as highly, including Garden Grove at the Swan.

Garden Grove. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Garden Grove. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Secrets of Disney’s SKIPPER CANTEEN Restaurant

by on April 15, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Secrets of Disney’s Skipper Canteen! Regular readers of the SATURDAY SIX know just how much we love all the little details hidden throughout Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort. These theme park “Easter Eggs”  are a great touch for longtime guests, whether it’s a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Nautilus in the queue for the Little Mermaid ride, Back to the Future’s Doc Brown in The Simpson’s Ride, or even references to the former Seashore Sweets bakery in BoardWalk’s AbracadaBarThis week we are going to look at six of our favorite references in the Magic Kingdom’s Skipper Canteen, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Jungle Cruise Imagineers

It’s no shock that Skipper Canteen (full name Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd Skipper Canteen) has a lot of nods to the Jungle Cruise attraction, but one of the best references is the faux upstairs offices for Skipper Marc, Skipper Bill, and Skipper Harper. “Marc” refers to Marc Davis, one of the most well known Imagineers in Disney history. While Marc was involved in creation of the Jungle Cruise, he is also known for his design work on other beloved attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the Country Bear Jamboree.

Tribute to Marc Davis.(photo by Brandon Glover)

Another door honors Morgan “Bill” Evans. The plant studies designation underneath his name refers to how instrumental Bill was in developing the horticulture of the Jungle Cruise. In fact, Bill Evans and Disney landscaping includes the creation of Disneyland itself. When Walt Disney needed to convert acres of orange groves in Anaheim into a theme park environment, he called the team who had just landscaped the grounds of his personal home. Those men were Bill Evans and his brother Jack.

“Walt told me we were all out of loot and that the time had come to put Latin names on the weeds.” – Bill Evans

Tribute to Bill Evans(photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Reasons We Love Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

by on April 8, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s RACE THROUGH NEW YORK STARRING JIMMY FALLON! 

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. (photo by Brandon Glover)

This past week Universal Studios Florida (USF) officially opened their newest attraction, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. While not the E-Ticket thrill ride many Universal fans are used to, it is the family friendly attraction that the Universal parks needed. Featuring the crowd pleasing Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, the attraction continues the Universal tradition of including humor within the attraction, while also implementing a whole new way to experience the thing we all hate the most: Theme Park Lines. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite parts of Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – The Facade

One of the many synergies between the attraction and the park itself is the ride’s natural placement in the New York section of USF. With many theme park fans about to riot because of the Guardians of the Galaxy overlay of Tower of Terror out in California, it is great that Universal was able to place a ride exactly where it should go (as opposed to say, the nearby Transformers: The Ride 3-D.) Not only is Race Through New York in the best possible spot, the facade itself looks so good it immediately made everything around it look better. A scaled down replica of the actual NBC building at “30 Rock” in New York City, Race Through New York looks fantastic. Even better, while the facade looks stunning during the day, the area looks even better at night when the sun goes down.

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: 6 Disney references in James Cameron’s AVATAR you might have missed

by on April 1, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at 6 Disney references in James Cameron’s AVATAR! Longtime readers of the SATURDAY SIX know we are pretty much obsessed when it comes to Hollywood movies or TV shows having references to our beloved theme parks. We’ve done articles on shows such as Roseanne and Boy Meets World going to Walt Disney World. We looked at movies such as Sharknado 3 and Ace Ventura Pet Dectective Jr. (yes, it actually exists) that were filmed at the Universal Orlando Resort. Remember when The Simpsons made all those jokes about theme parks over the years? We do. Let’s be honest, which blog series in the entire internet is brave enough to watch the ENTIRETY of Hulk Hogan’s Thunder in Paradise series just to find out which scenes were shot at WDW? Only us.

What many humans would have logically concluded as a monumental waste of time was instead training for our greatest achievement, discovering all the Disney references in James Cameron’s Avatar.

Avatar was a worldwide phenomenon making over $2.7 BILLION at the box office. To put that number in perspective, Star Wars: The Force Awakens barely crossed the $2 Billion mark and we all remember what a hit that was. However, when Disney announced it was building an entire land around the film Avatar, many people thought they were crazy. The movie just didn’t have the memorable characters that franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or the animated Pixar film Cars. Turns out Disney was crazy… like a fox! While all of us were marveling over the gorgeous 3D landscape of Pandora on the big screen Disney had tossed in a whole bunch of Easter Eggs into Avatar that have gone undiscovered until now. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the Disney references, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Lapu Lapu

For those that remember (ah, who are we kidding?), after the wheelchair bound Jake is transferred into his N’avi “Avatar,” he immediately begins to run and test out his new body. Jake ran into the Avatar for the character played by Sigourney Weaver, and she threw him a piece of fruit that was indigenous to Pandora’s eco system. Turns out, that wasn’t just a normal fruit, that was actually the pineapple based Lapu Lapu from Disney’s Tambu Lounge! Like Jake, we the audience were so blow away by the new world we had entered that we didn’t see this small – but important – detail.

Jake holding a Lapu Lapu, which an indigenous drink to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. (photo by Matt Cleary)

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The SATURDAY SIX Looks at the (possible) future of Walt Disney World

by on March 25, 2017

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the (possible) future of Walt Disney World!  As part of an annual tradition, TouringPlans’ own Len Testa teamed up with industry icon Jim Hill to record an episode of the Disney Dish podcast discussing the future of Walt Disney World (there is also a Disneyland edition available via Bandcamp.) The two theme park titans discussed many rumored additions and changes to the resort, as well as giving reasons why they may – and may not – actually come to fruition. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more important items, and let’s kickoff the countdown with…

# 6 – Is Cinderella’s Royal Table a “canary in the coal mine?”

For a long time Cinderella’s Royal Table (CRT) in the Magic Kingdom was the hardest dining reservation to get in all of Walt Disney World. Guests would need to wake up at the crack of dawn 180 days out from their vacation to call and attempt to get a coveted ADR. In the last couple years, Be Our Guest Restaurant has become the hardest ticket to get in town, but CRT has been a close second. However, Cast Members have reported that usual high demand ADRs for CRT breakfast and dinner have been available…and no one knows why. This could be computer glitch, but it could also be a sign of a very soft summer for Disney. In theory, if CRT was a proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” Disney would be well served to put on a full court press of advertising to get people to the resort this Summer and Fall. Getting near unprecedented coverage on ABC show’s Nightline,  The View, and The Chew would probably be a step in the right direction.

As a little princess looks out into Fantasyland, Cinderella’s Royal Table has that “million dollar view.”

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