Trip Planning

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.

IMG_5807

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

The Everything Guide: 2014 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

by on March 4, 2014

©Disney

©Disney

It’s here!  This year’s annual Epcot Flower and Garden Festival kicks off March 5 and will run through May 18. Its purpose is to celebrate everything that’s wonderful about horticulture and spring. This year marks the 21st year of the Festival and it’s sponsored by HGTV.

Each year the Festival offers guests the opportunity to delight in beautiful gardens, topiaries, butterfly gardens, listen to celebrity presentations or the the Flower Power Concert Series, enjoy garden-themed food booths, and much, much more! I thought that since the Festival has arrived, I’d combine everything into one sort of giant “guide” for touring during this time of year.

The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival is really one of the most gorgeous times of the year to visit.  The park is FULL of color. There’s a magic in the air (some would say it’s because it’s the first sign of life we’ve seen since Fall…goodbye Winter!) It is simply a glorious time to be visiting Epcot in general.

So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at what exactly is new for this year’s Festival:

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Top Tips for Beating the Heat at Disney

by on March 3, 2014

Despite what Punxsutawney Phil may have said, winter is long gone here in Central Florida. Highs are reaching the low 80′s nearly every day and that’s just the beginning. We can expect temperatures to get nearly twenty degrees hotter in the sweltering summer months. I get asked all the time how I endure such brutal weather. With that in mind I thought I’d share some of my top tips for beating the heat.

Sun protection might be the most important thing you put on all day. It’s important to apply sunscreen anywhere your skin might be exposed as your clothing moves, especially around the neck. Remember, for sunscreen to work properly it should be applied approximately 30 minutes before you leave your room. You should also plan to reapply several times throughout the day. I know that can be difficult with squirmy kids (or husbands!) but it’s absolutely essential in the Florida sun.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Get to Know the Safe in Your Disney World Hotel Room

by on February 27, 2014

It’s a near inevitability that a traveler today will be toting a Dumbo-sized lot of expensive equipment. My own family of five (two adults and three teens) typically visits Walt Disney World with 5 iPhones, two computers, an iPad, a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera with several lenses, and two or three pocket digital cameras, plus wallets filled with cash, credit cards and the like. That’s a lot of expensive stuff to leave in a hotel room. One way many guests deal with this is by storing some of their gear in their hotel room safe.

Pedestal style safe at Bay Lake Towers. One foot rule on top gives a sense of the external dimensions. The inside is smaller.

Pedestal style safe at Bay Lake Towers.

There’s a safe in my hotel room?

Yes, there is a safe in every Walt Disney World hotel room.

Is there a charge for this?

No, it’s included in the cost of your room.

Where will I find the safe?

There is considerable variation in this from resort to resort or even between different room configurations at the same resort. However, the vast majority of Disney World hotel safes will be either in or next to a closet, usually built into the wall. Some safes in deluxe resort rooms or in 1, 2, and 3 bedroom Disney Vacation Club Villas will be on a sturdy post inside the closet.

How do I access the safe?

Some of the safes have key access and some have combination access. The combination safes have printed instructions on the front of the door. Typically you select your own four-digit code and then use that code to access your belongings. Key lock safes will have the key inserted into the lock upon your arrival. To secure your gear, simply use the key and take it with you.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

How Much Can You Do During a Disney Vacation?

by on February 25, 2014

I’ve talked before about planning how long to make your Disney vacation. Once you’ve decided how long you can stay at Walt Disney World, a related question often arises … what can I actually accomplish during that amount of time? How much can I do in a day (or two, or three, or ten) at Disney? New guests, unfamiliar with the gigantic scope of Disney World, may be particularly confused by this topic.

Lunch and a lazy afternoon at the pool could count as a DALE.

Lunch and a lazy afternoon at the pool could count as a DALE.

To get a better handle on how much you can do/see in a trip to Walt Disney World, let’s think about Disney time in 4-6 hour units. That’s about the span most people can handle in vacation-related activities before needing a break or at least a change of scenery.

Because he’s my favorite chipmunk (and because I couldn’t think of a snappy acronym for DUCK), we’re going to call these 4-6 hour vacation units DALEs (Disney Activity Labor Elements). A family of WDW visitors with toddlers or an ECV-bound senior citizen might have a DALE close to the four hour mark. A Disney veteran 20-something unencumbered by children might have a 6-hour DALE.

I’ll assume that the average adult needs 8 hours of sleep and the average young child needs 10-12 hours of sleep. And I’ll give everyone 1-2 hours per day for personal care such as bathing yourself, bathing your kids, checking in with work, vegging out watching Stacey’s Top Seven, etc.

Doing the math, this means that, depending on your profile, you can fit 2 or 3 DALEs into a day.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Disney World?

by on February 24, 2014

With a vacation destination as vast as Walt Disney World, it’s possible to stay there for several weeks or longer, without repeating a single activity or attraction. But just because there’s plenty to do at the parks, that doesn’t mean you can, or should, stay to do it all in any one trip. With so many options available, how do you decide the length of your Walt Disney World vacation?

If you're traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

If you’re traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

There are several factors you might consider when planning the duration of your trip:

  • Amount of time available for travel
  • Budget allocation
  • Time of year of your visit
  • Age/Stamina of the members of your traveling party
  • Your frequency of travel to Walt Disney World
  • Number of “must do” attractions for your family
  • Distance from which you’re traveling
  • Interest in non-theme-park activities
  • Interest in time for relaxation
  • Interest in visiting other Central Florida attractions
  • Do you need time at home at either end of your trip to pack/unpack?

Let’s break these down individually …

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

15 Iconic Photos You Must Take At Disney World

by on February 21, 2014

I’ve seen several sources estimate that about 4% of all amateur photography in the United States happens at the Disney parks. If you’re planning a visit to Disney World, there’s a good chance that you’ll contribute to that number. While the possibilities for great shots at Disney are nearly endless, there are some classic pictures you’re all but obligated to take. These are the Kodak Nikon moments that will show future generations that you did Disney right. Here are my votes for the top 15:

1. Weenie in the background. Walt himself called the big landmark that draws you into the park the “weenie.” At Walt Disney World, these are: the castle in the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, and (for now) the Sorcer’s Hat at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You are 100% obligated to take a photo in front of each weenie.

get-attachment

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

How FastPass+ Is Affecting Your Wait In Line At Disney World

by on February 19, 2014

FastPass+ is having a minimal effect – so far – on lines at Walt Disney World. That’s according to our initial analysis of 330,000 standby wait times collected at Walt Disney World since FastPass+ went into effect in January. We compared those to 3.9 million standby wait times collected across Walt Disney World since 2009.

This is good news to families concerned that they’ll wait in line longer because of FastPass+’s various restrictions, and even better news to those who hoped standby lines would be shorter because of better guest distribution throughout the parks.

The results indicate FastPass+ is not causing significant changes to standby wait times:

  • Wait times are increasing less than 1 minute, on average, across all attractions at all parks
  • Super-headliner attractions have seen a small drop (under 1 minute) in standby waits

This indicates FastPass+’s impact on wait times is at the low end of Disney’s original estimates. Here’s the breakdown by park and ride type:

FastPass+ Impact on Standby Wait Times

And Now, The Math

The challenge in doing this analysis is in attributing an increase or decrease that you observe, to a particular change in circumstances. If standby times go up, can we be sure that the increase is due to the new system? In reality, it may just be due to a general increase in attendance. So we must work some statistical magic to find the partial dependence of the new FastPass+ system as it relates to standby waits. That is, holding all other factors constant, we want to find the level of increase or decrease on the standby waits due only to FastPass+.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

Case Study: FastPass+ Impact On Epcot Touring Plans

by on February 18, 2014

FastPass+ Kiosk LogoMany people are understandably concerned about how Disney’s new FastPass+ system is going to affect their Disney vacation. Some of the worries most frequently mentioned with the new system are:

  • Limit of three FastPass+ reservations per day
  • Not able to get multiple FastPass+ reservations for the same attraction
  • No ability to get FastPass+ reservations for all headliner attractions
  • Only getting FastPass+ reservations for one park per day.

Some of the benefits of the new system, such as the ability to select the time of the FastPass+ reservations – may not be as obvious. And not having to run around the park to get paper FASTPASS tickets will definitely save people time.

In many cases, however, using an optimized touring plan with FastPass+ will result in a touring plan that’s just as fast as one with the same attractions and legacy FASTPASS.

Given the way my family tours the parks, I assumed that Epcot would be the most negatively impacted by the new system. With Legacy FASTPASS we would acquire multiple FASTPASSes for Soarin’ and Test Track. Now we can only get one FastPass+ for Soarin’ or for Test Track, but not both.

To evaluate the impact of FastPass+, I’m going to compare touring plans for Epcot on the second Monday of June in 2013 and 2014. Both touring plans include the same attractions and optimize the use of the available FASTPASS/FastPass+ system. Since we would never use FASTPASS/FastPass+ in World Showcase, and since we take a casual touring approach in World Showcase, I’m going to allot a chunk of time for World Showcase. I’m also allotting 100 minutes for eating. For our family, FastPass+ will not affect our dining or touring World Showcase.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest

How to Determine the Value of a Disney World Vacation Package?

by on February 13, 2014

If you’re planning to visit Walt Disney World, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll see an offer for a Disney vacation package.

Packages bundle the components of your trip.

Packages bundle the components of your trip.

It’s all but impossible to open the travel section of a major US newspaper and not see several Disney packages offered with language like: “Save 20% on a Five Night Stay” or “Kids Stay Free.” With call-outs like these, many packages LOOK fantastic, and indeed some of them are, but it’s important to put on your analyst hat to determine whether a package really makes sense for your needs. We’re here with tips on how to how to determine the value of a Disney World vacation.

Disney vacation packages include some combination of the basic components of your travel: hotel room, food, theme park tickets, entertainment, and possibly airfare.

In some cases, buying a package makes sense, and in other cases purchasing your vacation components separately is more cost effective. Here are some things to think about as you work out your vacation budget and decide whether a Disney vacation package is a good value for your family.

BASIC MATH, BUT LOTS OF RESEARCH

To decide whether to purchase a package, you’ll want to compare three versions of your travel elements: the basic, non-discounted price (which you can find on the WDW website) vs. the discounted price of your vacation components purchased separately (hunt for discounts on sites like mousesavers.com) vs. a bundled package price (usually promoted in advertising).

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 4.06.31 PM

Finding the non-discounted price and the package price are fairly easy, but it’s really column two – the discounted component price – that will tell you if a package makes sense. Most of the information below discusses how to put together equation two.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest