Trip Planning

TouringPlans #Everywhere: I’m Going to Aulani!

by on August 5, 2014

Aulani                                                                                            ©Disney

Aulani ©Disney

Imagine this – you get a call from Len asking if you would like to go to the Disney Aulani resort in Hawaii. Really? Of course, the answer is YES! Aulani, is a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, located just 17 miles from the Honolulu International airport and close to Waikiki. Unlike most of Disney’s other destinations, there are no rides at Aulani, but the resort is designed with families in mind with the intent to immerse all guests in Hawaiian culture, history and traditions.

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Secret Guide to Epcot Food & Wine Festival in One Day

by on August 5, 2014

Matt Stroshane, photographer

Matt Stroshane, photographer

With the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival beginning September 19, it’s time to share my secret guide to doing it all in one day. Although it seems difficult, I have refined a strategy over time and now effortlessly cruise through the day eating and drinking everything that appeals to me. The secret? Eight rules.

The Rules:

1. Stay on-site

The closer you can afford, the better. You won’t want to drive (nor should you) at any point during your day of gluttony. Epcot resorts like Beach Club are ideal, but not necessary. I recommend Port Orleans French QuarterShades of Green is a good option if you have access to it.

2. Arrive early, on a weekday if possible

Booths open at 11:00 AM and you will want to be one of the first guests wherever you choose to start. Weekdays are less crowded since locals are working. If you stick to these rules though even a busy weekend will be okay. The Food & Wine Festival Welcome Center opens with the park and is a good place to kill some time while you wait for the booths to open.

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Favorite Park Series: Disney’s Epcot

by on August 3, 2014

Hello again! Welcome to Epcot. If you haven’t read my highlights on Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, please do so now.

Epcot scenery

Take in the beautiful scenery.

*Twiddles thumbs. Checks Twitter. Reads a blog post.*

Done? Okay, let’s ‘soar’ right in!

Memorable Moments

Pick your mode of transportation! Soarin’ is a popular ride that allows you to hang-glide over California, feeling the wind in your face whilst smelling the fragrance of zesty orange trees. (Fun Fact: The first model for Soarin’ was made out of an erector set!) Once you land on solid ground, hop in a Chevy at Test Track. Strap yourself in and brace yourself for the ride of your life! Put on your space suit, join the NASA team and shoot for the stars as you travel to Mars in your rocket via Mission: Space. To ease back into Earth’s gravity, swim underwater to the ‘clamobile’ where The Seas with Nemo & Friends take you “under the sea.” Finally, use those feet and travel indoors to Innoventions where you’ll find interactive and educational games the whole family will enjoy.

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Park Vue Inn: One of Disneyland’s Best

by on August 1, 2014

I should start by saying I didn’t set out to write a love letter to the Park Vue Inn. I didn’t expect to even like the place that much. I mean, it’s an exterior corridor motel. What could be so special about that? Well, it ends up that a lot is special! Before we jump into things, I want to make sure everyone knows that I paid for my stay, and the hotel staff didn’t know that I’d be blogging about my stay. Sometimes I read reviews from other bloggers and wonder what things would really be like if they didn’t get treated like royalty. Rest assured, I was totally under the radar on my trip!

Location

CaptureYou’d be hard pressed to find a hotel with a shorter walk to Disneyland. Stepping outside the lobby of the Park Vue Inn you can see the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland just across the road. The photo to the left I took while standing under the Disneyland sign, waiting to cross the street. Of course, your room location could make your walk a bit longer than we experienced. (We were in room 123 if you’d like to request it.) But even at the back of the hotel you’d be closer than at some of the Disney owned properties. One thing to note is that we didn’t see an elevator, so you’ll be lugging your bags up the stairs if you’re on the second floor. Of course, we didn’t take our bags to our room at all. We arrived early in the morning and left our bags with the desk while we visited the parks. When we picked up our keys later in the day, they informed us that our bags were already in the room. It was a nice touch and a service I haven’t received at “nicer” hotels in the area.

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Preparing For the Magic: A Timeline Leading to a Stress-Free Disney World Vacation

by on July 31, 2014

Hi, I’m Trista. I live far from Disney World, and I’m an Uber Planner when it comes to my Disney vacation. [Hi, Trista.]

Whether you are a planner or not, there are two reasons to use this Disney World vacation planning timeline. The first reason is to make hard-to-get reservations for attractions and dining. While it’s great to be spontaneous, spontaneity is not your friend if you hope to score the Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s, or if you want a short wait time for Toy Story Midway Mania!. These things are difficult to come by at the last minute, even when the parks are at their lowest crowd levels. The second reason to plan ahead is to avoid decision fatigue while you are on vacation. During one day at a theme park, you will be faced with many decisions: which attraction should you head to next? Where should you eat lunch, and when? Is it worth it to stand in line right now for 90 minutes for a meet-n-greet with a favorite character, or is it likely to be better later? For which attractions should you select FastPass+? And many more. I don’t know about you, but I am a person who reaches decision fatigue rather quickly. Once my brain is overloaded, I’ll begin the “blank stare” until I have some down time to recharge (and down time is a commodity that’s difficult to come by on a go-go-go Disney World vacation).

Before you ever step foot on Disney property, you can influence how long you will wait in line for popular attractions and which amazing  dining experiences you can have. Follow this simple timeline to make your magical vacation stress-free.

Step 0 – Pick your dates

Erin Foster has a great article on a step by step method for picking the best dates for your Disney vacation. If you want some help deciding which park to visit on which day, the Crowd Calendar feature of TouringPlans.com is a valuable tool (especially if you are as crowd-averse as I am). I’ve found that even 180 days out, the relative crowd predictions for each park are pretty accurate.

Reserve your Disney resort lodging, reserve your park  tickets (optional)

6 Months+ to 60 days Prior to Your Vacation (DISNEY RESORT GUESTS)

Disney Important Date Magnet

Shortly after I made my Disney resort reservation for my upcoming trip, Disney sent me this handy magnet in the mail.

If you are certain of your vacation dates at least 6 months in advance, I would recommend making your Disney resort reservation this early. The biggest advantage to early booking is the ability to make Advanced Dining Reservations up to 10 days before the general public (especially helpful for those very popular restaurants with hard-to-get reservations). See the Advanced Dining Reservations section below for details.

If you make make a Disney resort reservations six months prior, it is likely that you will be booking without one of Disney’s Special Offers (such as room-rate savings, a free dining plan offer, etc.) because most offers are not announced that far in advance. If your stay becomes eligible for a Special Offer after you have made your initial reservation, it is easy to have your balance adjusted by simply calling the Disney reservation line with your confirmation number and ask for the Special Offer to be applied. Be sure to act quickly – some deals have limited numbers available, such as limited rooms per resort. (I have had to change resorts once because I called just 3 days after the deal became available and all eligible offers at my first choice resort were taken.) Of course, there is no guarantee that a special offer will become available for your stay, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the cancellation/change policy ahead of booking. A historical record of when Special Offers have been released is a good reference for when offers have traditionally become available.

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Planning for Spontaneity: Disney World Counter Service Meals

by on July 30, 2014

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.

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.

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Disneyland Dining: A Few of My Favorite Things

by on July 29, 2014

IMG_3771

Hello, my dears! If you haven’t had lunch yet you might want to save this one for later because I’m about to make you very hungry! We’re going on a culinary tour of some of my favorite Disneyland Dining options complete with photos. To get started we’re heading to Wine Country Trattoria at the Golden Vine Winery. In 2012, we just happened by at lunchtime and decided to try this spot on a whim. We both voted this our favorite meal of the trip and since this it’s a can’t miss for us! The shady, outdoor seating is right by Cars Land but feels a million miles away. My go to item here is the Quattro Pomodoro. It’s simple with just tomatoes, garlic, and basil in marinara sauce. 

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Introducing the Trip Dashboard

by on July 28, 2014

Today we’re announcing release 1 of Trip Dashboard, a centralized page on our site with checklists and easy access to planning tools for your Disney and Universal Orlando trips.

One of the most common requests from subscribers is for a single page that contains all of their trip information. Specifically, families planning their first Disney trip are often overwhelmed by the number of things they need to do, often on a deadline, to get the most from their trip.  Dashboard addresses these needs in 2 ways:

  • Provide a centralized place for all of your trip planning information
  • Give context-aware assistance for any trip planning tasks you have to do

What does context-aware assistance mean? One example: if there are 5 people in your family, then in our hotels section we should first show you those rooms that fit 5 people. Or if you tell us your budget for lodging is under $200 per night, we should show you moderate and value resort choices before deluxe resorts. And we should remind you at 181 days before your trip to make dining reservations, and FastPass+ reservations at 60 or 30 days out.

Besides that, this new dashboard also puts on one screen, links to your personalized touring plans, crowd tracker dates, discussions, trips, and lists of things to do.

Since this is release 1 of roughly 12, we’re focusing on basic design and ensuring things are placed on the screen where you think they should be. Other, snazzier functions come later. A mobile version will be released in a few weeks.

Here’s a quick look at Dashboard’s layout. I’ve put orange highlights and numbers on the screen, to organize the explanation that follows.

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Magic Kingdom Attractions for Ride Chickens

by on July 25, 2014

it's a small world entrance

The scariest ride… ever?! No drops on this ride, but what if you get stuck? That song… forever?!

Many times, when people talk about planning a trip to Walt Disney World, and more specifically Magic Kingdom, the talk quickly turns to the attractions that are the most exciting. These attractions are generally the ones that have height restrictions, with required restraints to keep you in the vehicle.

As a self-professed ride chicken, there’s a lot of things that give me pause at Disney World: attractions that are so mind-bogglingly scary, I’m not sure how anyone is brave enough to attempt them.

With that being said, there are far more attractions that even ride chickens can handle. There’s obviously a variety of reasons people do not like certain attractions, and for a long time I just assumed my fear was roller coasters. While I still cannot ride huge coasters, I have since realized that I actually can’t handle changing altitudes quickly.

This leaves out most of the flume-style rides, as well as the larger coasters.

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TouringPlans Everywhere – I’m Going to Tokyo Disneyland!

by on July 24, 2014

Photo courtesy of Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy of Tom Bricker.

Back in April we announced that TouringPlans will be spending a weekend in every Disney-operated destination on the planet. The powers that be (Ed. – your naiveté is adorable, please let Len keep thinking he’s in charge around here) have assigned me to a destination I have always dreamed about visiting. I can finally say “I’m going to Tokyo Disneyland!”

Tokyo Disneyland has always been a bit of a mythological and mysterious place to me. In the late 80s and early 90s (before I had the internet in my home) I would always see glimpses of it in the old Disney News Magazines. The pictures I saw of the park made it look similar, but different enough that it always held my curiosity. Tokyo Disneyland continued to stay on my mind in 2001 when Tokyo Disney Resort’s second gate opened, DisneySea. Every picture I’ve seen of DisneySea make the park look absolutely spectacular. Anyway, back to the Tokyo resort being mysterious to me. I think one of the most daunting tasks most people have when they think about visiting Tokyo Disneyland is that they don’t even know where to start with their planning. I know I was the same way. Hopefully this and future blog posts I write on this subject will help you plan a trip to Japan. That’s my goal.

I’m a native to Los Angeles, California, and have been visiting the original Disneyland since 1986. This will not only be my first time visiting Tokyo Disneyland, but also my first time traveling out of the country. My wife will be making the trip with me, and because it also her first time in Japan, we will take advantage of doing some non-Disney sightseeing in Tokyo and Osaka.

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