Saturday Six

SATURDAY SIX: Six MORE Surprises of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort

by on December 13, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six MORE Surprises of Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. We’re taking a quick break from our end-of-year celebration articles, and returning back to Loews Cabana Bay Beach Resort. You may remember we were at the hotel earlier this year during its grand opening and were blown away as it changed the definition of “value” resort within the theme park universe. Since that time the other half of the resort opened up, including the Americana and Continental wings with a combined 900 standard rooms. So today we are going to revisit Cabana Bay and look at six more surprises the resort offers to guests, starting with…

# 6 -The Fire Pits

There are a total of four fire pits throughout Cabana Bay, all within walking distance of the two pool bars (Atomic Tonic and The Hideaway Bar & Grill.) These pits can make for a great place to relax at night, especially after a late swim. As an added bonus, there are S’mores kits available in the Bayliner Diner (complete with sticks to use for roasting the marshmallows) allowing you to have a very unique experience on property.

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One of the fire pits at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

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SATURDAY SIX: In Memoriam – Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2014

by on December 6, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things We Lost From the Theme Park World in 2014. As theme park fans, we’ve had a lot to be thankful for this year. Unfortunately for us, the theme park business itself seems to be turning into a zero-sum game, where we only get new things if we lose something else. So while it’s fantastic that we’re getting a Frozen attraction, James Cameron’s World of Avatar, and restaurants such as Cowfish, it comes with a sense of sadness as it also means we’re probably saying goodbye to something in the parks and resorts that we have been enjoying. Today we pay our respects to some of those that we lost in the past year, starting with….

 

# 6 – Camp Minnie-Mickey/ Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade (Animal Kingdom)

Regular readers of the SATURDAY SIX know how much we love Animal Kingdom, so it was tough to see two things leave this year: Camp Minnie-Mickey, and Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. While Camp Minnie-Mickey had no major attractions outside of a stage show and character meet-and-greets, the entire area was wonderfully designed and was delightful to take in while appreciating all the whimsical details. The area of Camp Minnie-Mickey is scheduled to be part of the upcoming Pandora expansion to the park.

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Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Daisy Duck taking a Jr. Woodchuck stroll through Camp Minnie Mickey. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 1: Shark Attack at Chez Alcatraz

by on December 1, 2014

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY ONE: Shark Attack at Chez Alcatraz (Universal Studios Florida)

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Shark Attack at Chez Alcatraz in Universal Studios Florida. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Available at Chez Alcatraz in the San Francisco area of Universal Studios Florida, the Shark Attack is visually one of the coolest drinks on property. Located mere steps away from the photo-op with the world’s most famous great white shark, this drink perfectly gets across the creepiness of seeing blood mixing with water that scared us all in Jaws. Ingredients: Malibu Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao, pineapple juice, dash of Grenadine.

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SATURDAY SIX: Inaugural Walt Disney World “Turkeys” of the Year

by on November 29, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a special one as we have the Inaugural Walt Disey World “Turkeys” of the Year. For Thanksgiving this week we took a look back at things both Disney and Universal fans should be thankful for, but today we are going to go the other way. Gather round, as we are starting a new tradition and award six WDW “Turkeys” to the craziest, most outrageous, or just downright weird stories of the year, concluding with the coveted Golden Turkey award. Let’s kick off the ceremony with a relatively recent one….

# 6 – FastPass + Testing at Toy Story Midway Mania

Kim Kardashian may have broke the Internet in November, but WDW itself set the precedent in October when it broke Hollywood Studios doing a controversial test using the park’s most popular attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania. For reasons still unknown, the attraction became FastPass+ ONLY for four days, giving guests no opportunity to wait in a standby line. The normally long standby line for TSMM was essentially switched over to Guest Services, where many guests queued up to voice their opinions on this test. The end result of the test? Scores of unhappy guests. One of the only family friendly rides in the park running at less than 100% capacity. And perhaps further evidence of a large percentage of WDW guests that just plain don’t want to participate in MyDisneyExperience or MyMagic+, something which could present a challenge for WDW in the coming years.

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Sorry folks, ride’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! November 2014 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on November 28, 2014

MMM positiveBlack Friday. One of the biggest shopping days in the ‘Murica calendar. There couldn’t be a a more appropriate day of the year for a photo report of the Disney Outlet Stores (other than April Fool’s Day of course.) I will be said to see November go though, because as a theme park fan this was a HUGE month. We said hello to the much needed parking garage at Downtown Disney, and goodbye to my beloved NASCAR Sports Grille at Universal CityWalk. Both Universal and Disney opened new eateries: the unbelievably great Cowfish at CityWalk, and the just plain unbelievable (as in not believable) food truck park at Downtown Disney. The Magic Kingdom unveiled the awesome new queue for Peter Pan’s Flight, and the entire WDW resort area is starting to look like Christmas with the Wilderness Lodge getting its King Kong-sized tree and the Grand Floridian & Contemporary resorts putting up their must-see gingerbread houses. This may go down in the history books as the greatest month of all time, at least until next month.

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

We’re going to start off with my of my all-time favorite items I have ever seen at the Outlets: a Luigi’s Flying Tires toy! The huge rumor over in California is that the Luigi’s Flying Tires attraction is going down in January for “refurbishment”… and not coming back. Even mainstream film and pop culture sites have picked up on the story. Seeing this toy at the Outlets would be like stumbling upon a Habit Heroes comic book, or a pin for Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration. Originally $9.95, this bad boy is now just $4.95, but its value to me is priceless.

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Staying true to the ride itself, this toy also doesn’t work.

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SATURDAY SIX THANKSGIVING SPECIAL: Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks in 2014

by on November 27, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons for Theme Park Fans to Give Thanks. 2014 was a great year to be a theme park fan, and for this Thanksgiving we are going to take a quick break from all the turkey, football games, and Black Friday planning, to count our blessings and thank the parks and resorts we love so much. So, for one day only, I ask that Disney and Universal fans put aside their differences and spend a moment appreciating all the wonderful things that we can share together, starting with….

# 6 – Disney and Universal Merchandise is Better than Ever

It wasn’t long ago, that the only merchandise people were buying at Universal were Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts. Over at Disney, almost every single store, whether in the parks, hotels, or Downtown Disney, was selling the same generic”Disney Parks”stuff. A seismic shift started to occur in 2010, when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened, and blew the doors off everyone’s projections in the area of merchandise and Butterbeer. Guests were now walking out of Universal with house robes, wands and chocolate frogs in hand. This success was then repeated throughout both of their theme parks, with unique and exclusive items found everywhere you looked, from the EVAC action figure at Transformers gift shop, to the faux girl scout cookies in Despicable Me’s Super Silly Store, to my personal favorite – The Film Vault –  a whole new store focusing on retro merchandise.

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Jungle Cruise merchandise found at the Marketplace Co-op in Downtown Disney. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on November 22, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort. The Universal theme parks are filled with extraordinary features, from the incredible dragon atop Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley, to the hilarious games of chance in front of The Simpsons Ride, but my favorite ones are the subtle – almost hidden -details that most guests don’t even notice while touring the park. I like to think of these details as Easter eggs, similar to the ones most of us are familiar with in movies (and, in Hollywood, no one is better than Disney Pixar.) Now, some of these details are almost impossible to find unless you know where to look for them, while others are hidden in plain sight, but all of them, whether consciously or subconsciously, add to the overall immersion at Universal.  Today we are going to look at six of these Easter eggs, several of which even longtime Universal fans may have not noticed before. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, keep your head on a swivel, and let’s start counting down…

# 6 – Mickey Ears in Twister… Ride It Out

Our first stop is at an attraction that may not be around for much longer, Twister… Ride It Out. Based around the movie Twister from 1996 (and one of your humble authors favorite guilty pleasures,) the attraction’s pre-show has guests walking through a house that has been ravaged by a tornado. One of the pieces of debris inside the house is a car coming through the roof. If you look closely at the passenger side front tire of the vehicle, you will see a pair of the iconic Mickey Ears.

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Twister… Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Contemporary Resort

by on November 15, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Contemporary Resort. After examining some of the value resorts on Disney property, including Pop Century and Art of Animation, it’s time to head straight to the top of the WDW resort food chain and see the benefits a deluxe resort brings to the table. First stop, The Contemporary. As a long time Disney fan, I have wanted to stay at The Contemporary since I was a little kid, but my parents always booked hotels off-site to save money. As an adult planning my own trips, I would often price out a stay at The Contemporary, only to end up choosing a cheaper alternative myself. I’m not a big fan of the cliche you only live once, but if there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s that the biggest regrets are not doing things when you have the chance, because those opportunities may not be around forever.  So whether it was philosophical reasons, or the fact that I felt the awesome Contemporary Resort Monorail Toy Accessory was taunting me, I decided to fulfill a near lifelong dream and book a stay at The Contemporary this year.

Now that it is crossed of the bucket list I can report back that…. I loved it. The stay confirmed several things I thought The Contemporary would be like, and opened my eyes to amenities I did not know much about before. Today we are going to countdown six takeaways from my experience, starting with…

# 6 – A Million Dollar View

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View from Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

 

The views from The Contemporary A-Frame building are spectacular. One side faces Bay Lake, the other faces the Magic Kingdom.  Waking up in the morning we could see Disney’s Polynesian Resort Village, the Grand Floridian, the monorail passing by, ferry boats in the lake, the Walt Disney World Railroad, and not to mention the Magic Kingdom itself, with icons such as Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain. I’ve stayed at on-site hotels at various theme park resorts, and hotels across the United States including Las Vegas, Boston, San Diego, Times Square, and Hawaii, but this was the most amazing view I have ever had. I was able to enjoy fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant, two of my favorite things at WDW, from the room. I was speechless. I knew it would be good. I didn’t know it would be this good.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line

by on November 8, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Surprises of the Disney Cruise Line. Several weeks ago we posted an article on Six Reasons To Go On a Disney Cruise, which covered the “big picture” of why you should consider setting sail with The Mouse, but this week we’ll take a look some of the smaller details that made a significant impact on my vacation. Leading up to the cruise, I had done a decent amount of research on TouringPlans, the Disney Cruise Line Blog, and reading Erin Foster’s numerous DCL posts on the blog, but once I stepped onto the deck of the Disney Wonder I still had one surprise after another.  Here are my six favorite surprises of the trip (remember, you can click on any picture to see it in full size)…

# 6 – DCL Beer Mug Card

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DCL Beer Mug.

 

I’m a big fan of souvenir glasses (and we covered several of options available in the photo reports of the DCL gift shops and Castaway Cay) so I was definitely drawn to the DCL Beer Mug. Aside from being a neat souvenir, the mug has two benefits that come along with it. The first benefit is the fact that each time you get a beer in the mug you are given a 22 oz serving, but only charged for 16 oz.  Secondly, the mug itself has a good amount of weight to it, so it was a nice surprise to find out you don’t have to carry it around with you during the cruise. When you are done drinking, you hand the mug back to your server/bartender, and they will give you a card which you can then exchange for another mug when you are ready to drink again. This option became so handy and convenient throughout the trip, that I began to wish there was some practical way the theme parks could incorporate it into their day-to-day operations.

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SATURDAY SIX Special Edition: A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights

by on November 1, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX is a special one as we present: A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights. Today is the last day of Halloween Horror Nights, the Universal Orlando Resort’s signature event, and one of the absolute best reasons to plan a vacation to Orlando this time of year. 2015′s HHN looks to be even better as it will be the 25th anniversary, and we already know that HHN icon Jack Schimdt will be returning. While many guests are used to the offerings of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, there are more than a few who are skittish about putting their foot into HHN to test the water. So I reached out to Joseph Matt of Parkscope.net, as he recently returned from his first ever HHN, and he is here to share six tips he learned from the experience. Take it away Joe….

A First Timer’s Guide to Surviving Halloween Horror Nights

[Horror] shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.” -Clive Barker

Halloween Horror Nights is intimidating. For my first year to HHN I was a little nervous, and it didn’t help that several Orlando blogs, Orlando United, and my friends had hyped up the event to a point where #OperationScareJoe became a ‘thing.’ However, my anxieties and worries were largely unfounded. I had a blast, and cannot wait to go back for more HHN. As this year’s event closes this weekend, I will cover my top tips to surviving the event next year.

1.) Pick Several Nights and Split Them With a Day in the Parks

Eight houses, four scare zones, several open attractions, and two shows. Easy as pie, right? Wrong. During my trip The Walking Dead never dipped below 90 minutes and John Carpenter’s Halloween hovered at 60 minutes. How does one beat this? Pick multiple nights to attend and split that with a day visit to the parks.

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Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. (photo by Hate to Fly)

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