Trip Planning

More Adventures with Disney World Annual Passholder Advance FastPass+: DHS & DAK Edition

by on March 22, 2014

Welcome back to the continuing saga of Walt Disney World’s recent roll-out of Annual Passholder Advance FastPass+ privileges to the general public. As explained in our last episode, all WDW annual passholders should now be able to make up to 7 days of FastPass+ reservations within the next 30 days through the My Disney Experience website and apps. Last time, we looked at how I set up my first week of FastPass+ selections, and saw how my first intinerary turned out at Epcot (TLDR: not perfect, but pretty good).

For this followup, follow me to Walt Disney World two least-popular parks for examples of how advance FastPass+ may (or may not) work to your advantage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios FastPass+

Much like my day at Epcot, I arrived at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking lot a little after 1:00 p.m.

Advance FastPass+

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Adventures at Epcot with Walt Disney World Annual Passholder Advance FastPass+

by on March 21, 2014

Walt Disney World regulars rejoiced last week, as the rollout of advance reservation FastPass+ features finally reached all WDW annual passholders. That means that all Disney World annual passholders should be able to access the My Disney Experience website or mobile app and make FastPass+ bookings up to 30 days ahead of time. Previously, I shared my experiences using FastPass+ as an annual passholder making same-day reservations using in-park kiosks, as off-site guests still must do (at least for now). Now, I’m going to detail my personal adventures with week #1 of Annual Passholder advance FastPass+ reservations.

Getting Started with Annual Passholder Advance FastPass+

First of all, if you haven’t already, log into MyDisneyExperience.com and set up an account. Be sure to link your account to your valid annual pass using the ID number on the back of your pass, or voucher number if you have not yet redeemed an online purchase.

Next, visit the Magic Band page to customize your RFID wristband. You can select a color and name, verify your shipping address, and receive confirmation that your order has been received.

According to the webpage, Magic Bands should start shipping to annual passholders shortly.

Until your Magic Band arrives, you can continue to use your RFID-enabled credit-card-sized annual pass to enter the parks and activate FastPass+ sensors.

If you carry a smartphone in the parks, be sure to download the Apple or Android app. The iPad app is probably the most efficient platform for scheduling and adjusting FastPass+ reservations, but the website and phone apps work fairly well.

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Lost & Found at Walt Disney World

by on March 19, 2014

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You’ll know you’re there when you see this sign.

As we were walking out to our car this weekend my hubby said one of those things he always regrets, he casually asked if I thought a building was Lost & Found for all of Walt Disney World. I stopped in my tracks and observed a shabby building that in my mind was still the kennel at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Of course, I knew better. Best Friends Pet Care opened years ago, making kennels a thing of the past. However, even after walking past this building a hundred times I never realized this is where I should head if I ever misplaced something while in the parks. I figured if I didn’t know, lots of you out there likely could use some information on the subject. So with that in mind here’s everything you need to know about Lost & Found at Walt Disney World.

The first thing to remember about Lost & Found is that timing matters. If you realize quickly that you’re missing something, it’s smart to retrace your steps and hope that a cast member hasn’t sent your item away yet. But if you don’t notice for a while, it’s smart to head to Guest Relations instead. Any items lost in the parks are brought to Guest Services to hold for same-day pickups only. However, if you don’t realize until later, or if your item isn’t recovered until after park closing, that’s where things get interesting! At the end of each day, all items recovered from the four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, and all Disney transportation vehicles are sent to the one and only Theme Parks Lost & Found. 

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See? I wasn’t kidding. It’s shabby, right?

To find Lost & Found at Walt Disney World, simply head to the Transportation and Ticket Center and then follow signs for walking to the parking lot. Just past the gift shop, you’ll see the building pictured on your left. It is open everyday but closes at 7pm, so you’ll have to leave the parks a bit early to visit. If you’d like to call about your item, the Lost & Found phone number is 407-824-4245. If your item hasn’t made it to lost & found yet, you’re able to file a report from this location so the cast members know to keep an eye out for it. Don’t lose heart if you have to file a report and leave empty handed. I’ve heard amazing stories about items being returned long after their owners returned home. (Have you had an experience with pixie dust bringing something home you’d thought you’d lost forever? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!)

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The Adventures by Disney Supplement to Disney Cruise Line: What You Need to Know

by on March 18, 2014

You probably know about Disney Cruise Line (DCL). And you might know about Adventures by Disney (AbD). But did you know that you can combine them into one completely over-the-top travel experience? Here’s what you need to know…

What does “Adventures by Disney Supplement” mean?

On most cruises, you select your port excursions on an ad hoc basis, choosing the bits and pieces that seem most interesting and/or affordable. With the Adventures by Disney supplement, your excursions are pre-selected by AbD experts to give a well-rounded overview of the opportunities at each location. The AbD supplement also gives you the constant guidance and expertise of two Disney-trained guides during all portions of the cruise.

Our AbD guides gave us coins to throw in Trevi Fountain.

Our AbD guides gave us coins to throw in Trevi Fountain.

Is this available on every cruise?

No. Currently the AbD supplement is being offered on the 5, 7, 9 and 13 night 2014 Mediterranean voyages on the Disney Magic. In the past, the AbD supplement has been offered on Alaska sailings on the Wonder.

Have you done this?

Yes, I’ve been on several regular DCL voyages, and several standard AbD trips, as well as one DCL trip with the AbD supplement. Ours was a 7-night Med cruise originating in Barcelona and stopping in Villefranche, France (Monaco); La Spezia, Italy (Florence); Civiatavecchia, Italy (Rome); Naples, Italy; and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Additionally, we purchased the “Barcelona Escape” three-day, pre-cruise AbD package, which is only available to guests sailing with DCL.

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Safety First: First Aid Locations at Walt Disney World

by on March 16, 2014

First Aid at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Nobody wants to think that about ending up ill or injured while at the happiest place on Earth. I know I didn’t anticipate it when it happened to me several years ago. Even though I wasn’t the one on a stretcher, it didn’t make the situation any less frightening. While at first aid I realized that I’d never set foot in the building until I urgently needed help. I imagine most people don’t even think about first aid in the parks until they are in a similar circumstance. Since that first visit I’ve made sure that I’m familiar with Disney World’s first aid locations and the services they offer. Today I thought I’d share a little information with everyone in the hope that you never need to use it!

So what is offered at first aid? The honest answer is that very little is offered medically at first aid stations in the parks. What you can expect are over the counter drugs and remedies. This might be a common request like a band-aid, or something less common like contact lens solution or a contact lens case. If you find yourself needing something, it’s a fair bet they might have it at first aid. Even better, anything offered there is given free of charge. I’m certainly not suggesting that you should use first aid as your personal convenience shop! But if you’ve forgotten something you really need to enjoy your time at the parks, you should stop by and see if they can help.

But I’m hurt – what good is first aid? First aid also has a nurse on staff who can begin the triage process if needed and call for emergency assistance. Since Disney has its own Reedy Creek Fire Department respond, an ambulance normally arrives in less than seven minutes. If your situation isn’t quite this urgent, first aid can assist with setting up an appointment with local urgent care clinics. Disney provides complimentary transportation to and from these appointments. These clinics offer common services you’d normally find at an emergency room. Think broken bones and cuts requiring stitches. But they can also help with a case of the sniffles, bug bites, and just about anything else. Even better, they are able to fill prescriptions on-site so you can get back to your vacation.

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Where to Find Dogs at Disney World

by on March 13, 2014

If your kids are like mine, from time to time they’ll latch on to a topic and become completely consumed by it. For some kids, it’s trains or dinosaurs, for others it’s pirates or monkeys. (At my house we had the year of the ring-tailed lemur). One of the more common childhood fixations is dogs. If your young ones are in dog obsession mode, here’s where they can get their fix.

This pirates REALLY want this dog to give them the key.

The pirates REALLY want this dog to give them the key.

Character Meals and Meet & Greets

Disney has many films which feature dog characters, but only two of them can be reliably found in the parks on a regular basis: Goofy and Pluto. These two hounds appear at character meals, as well as in the parks.

For example, find Goofy at:

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Complete Guide to Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 UPDATED

by on March 12, 2014

Universal Studios Mardi Gras 2014 guide

Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration starts on Feb 8, 2014.

Today we tackle one of my favorite theme park topics: the annual Universal Studios Mardi Gras Grand Celebration. Universal Studios Mardi Gras holds a special place in my heart because, back in the late 1990s when I worked in Universal Studios Florida’s entertainment department, I was a talent supervisor for the parade, and got to walk with it nightly. (I’ll never get “Iko Iko” or “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” out of my skull.) So I’m thrilled to share Touring Plans’ complete guide to Universal’s bead laden bacchanalia, bringing you all the info you need to laissez les bons temps rouler!

[UPDATED 3/12/14: Scroll down for late-breaking news on the Mardi Gras extension and rescheduled Robin Thicke concert!]

Background

Mardi Gras originated in the religious observation of “Fat Tuesday” (the literal translation of the name), which is the day before “Ash Wednesday” on the Catholic calendar, and the start of Lent’s 40 days of dietary restrictions. People would bid “farewell to flesh” with a “carnivale” where they would indulge in the meat and drink they were about to forswear. Mardi Gras is the New Orleans, Louisiana, variation on this tradition — which is echoed in other cities from Venice, Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Over the centuries, the religious significance has been stripped away, and most Mardi Gras revelers attend for strictly secular reasons — namely, epic quantities of booze, beads, and bare breasts. About 20 years ago, Universal took a look at the festivities and said, “This will make a fine family friendly event,” and amazingly it is — minus the bare breasts, of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic; much as Universal partnered with Macy’s for its holiday parade, Universal engages Blaine Kern Studios, the same company that’s been building floats for the real deal since 1947, to create the park’s parade platforms. And musicians and recipes imported from the Big Easy add to the French Quarter feel. Of course, the real Bourbon Street doesn’t have concerts from big-name recording artists after each parade, much less a high-speed roller coaster cruising by in the background.

 

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The Relative Cost of a Disney World Park Ticket

by on March 11, 2014

You’ve probably heard by now that Disney recently raised the price of one-day adult admission to the Magic Kingdom to a whopping $99. Add the tax and that puts the ticket price inarguably over the $100 mark. My first reaction to this, and likely yours as well, was, “OUCH! That’s a hefty chunk of change.” And yes, $100+ dollars is a significant sum, but I’m here to perhaps put this all in a bit of perspective.

Were villains at work on the price increase?

Were villains at work on the price increase?

When I was fresh out of college (back in the dark ages, aka 1987), I did a lot of mental calculation about whether various entertainment options made financial sense. The benchmark I used was the price of a movie ticket, which was at the time about $4.00. For $4.00 I could get two hours of entertainment. Thus, using my Movie Ticket Metric, I valued entertainment at $2.00 per hour. ($4.00 price divided by two hours.) Entertainment that cost less than $2.00 per hour was, to me at the time, a good value and usually a no-brainer purchase. Entertainment that cost more than $2.00 per hour merited serious thought and consideration before buying.

With this methodology, purchasing a book for $5.00 was a relative bargain, because I could get perhaps 10 hours of reading enjoyment from this, giving me an entertainment cost of $.50 per hour. (Forget for a moment that I could have borrowed the book for free from the library. Those were my English major book-hoarder days.)

Conversely, a ticket to a Genesis concert (I am sooo old) ran $18.00 for about a three hour show. This form of entertainment cost $6.00 per hour. Before buying the concert ticket, I’d have to think about whether it was worth three times my normal entertainment cost. Was it special? What else would I have to forgo? Will I remember the experience fondly? For how long?

So what does all this have to do with Disney ticket prices?

Well, the little voice in the back of my head still uses the Movie Ticket Metric to assess the relative value of entertainment. Prices have gone up. Here in my New York area hamlet, a trip to the movies now runs about $16.00, meaning that entertainment costs $8.00 per hour. So let’s use that to put Disney ticket prices in perspective.

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In the Parks with Morgan: A Flower & Garden Primer

by on March 7, 2014

Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival is an 11-week event that transforms the park into a showcase of spring. With nearly 100 custom-grown topiaries, 11 outdoor kitchens with original snacks and beverages, gardening and design workshops and presentations, and specialty gardens, the festival is a vacation in itself. Flower & Garden is ongoing during normal park hours from March 5 through May 18 this year and, excepting some specialty offerings, is included with the price of admission to the park. The Festival Center, where you’ll find all the information you need to enjoy the event, is located between Ellen’s Energy Adventure and Mission: SPACE and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Be sure to stop into the Festival Center for continuous shows of “The Making of The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival” in the HGTV Theater, gardening pointers, and your copy of the Festival Guide as well as your Festival Passport.

Epcot is in bloom as Flower & Garden opens this week.

Epcot is in bloom as Flower & Garden opens this week.

There are some general tips for Flower & Garden that will help you plan your trip no matter what you plan to see and do there. First, stock up on Disney gift cards. They can be used at all of the kiosks and shops and are really convenient if you’re trying to stay on a budget or don’t want to carry cash. Disney gift cards can be purchased at a discount at retailers like Target (using your REDcard and stacking pharmacy discounts you can get up to 10% off!), Sam’s Club, and BJ’s Wholesalers. Second, go on a weekday if it’s possible. Local traffic increases significantly on weekends and can make seeing all you want to see a bit difficult. Third, take sunscreen and don’t forget to hydrate. Sunscreen and water may seem like intuitive things to put on a list of recommendations, but the Florida sun can be particularly potent and so can the drinks at the outdoor kitchens. You want to fully enjoy the festival and sunburns and hangovers are not the way to do it.

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The American Idol Experience, Tips from a Mom

by on March 7, 2014

During my most recent visit to Walt Disney World, my daughter Josie performed on stage at the American Idol Experience (AIE) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS). This was, as you might imagine, a fantastic experience – truly one of the most entertaining days we’ve had a Disney World, and for me that’s really saying something.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the attraction, AIE is simulation of the American Idol television program. Park guests can audition with “casting directors” and “producers” to perform on a set designed to look like the real American Idol stage, in a theater which holds about 1,000 people. Guests who pass several rounds of auditions are invited to perform in one of five or so daily shows. The winners of each of the daytime shows can compete in an evening show – the winner of which gets a “FastPass” to audition before a producer of the real American Idol TV program.

All three of my daughters take voice lessons and are members of several vocal groups, but Josie is the one with aspirations for pop solo performance. When we first visited AIE five years ago, then nine-year-old Josie immediately said, “I have to do that,” and really meant it – she counted the days until she would be old enough to be on stage at AIE.

If you’ve got a performer in your house with a yen to rock the crowd at Disney World, here are some tips you might find helpful in getting your star up on stage.

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