Trip Planning

How Changes to Epcot’s FastPass+ Tiers Affect You

by on June 13, 2014

t_logo_fbOn June 16, Epcot’s Living with the Land will join Soarin’, Test Track, and IllumiNations as Tier 1 FastPass+ attractions. (Living with the Land was previously a Tier 2 attraction). Guests making advance FastPass+ reservations will be able to choose one of these attractions before arriving at the park. (You’ll be able to get more FastPass+ reservations from any tier once you’re in the park and have used your set of advance Fastpass+ reservations.)

Also, the Epcot Character Spot and Maelstrom will move from Tier 1 to Tier 2.

Here’s the complete lineup of Epcot FastPass+ Tiers:

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Wishes: Is It Worth Your FastPass+?

by on June 10, 2014

IMG_4438Last week I visited Epcot to find out if IllumiNations is worth your FastPass+. This week I thought I’d share some information about the Wishes FastPass+ viewing. Obviously, this is one of the hottest FastPass+ options in all four parks, often not even showing available 30 days in advance. The viewing location is in the Rose Garden and gives guests enough room to comfortably spread out and sit in the grass. If you’re lucky enough to score this viewing spot, then you’ll be able to also watch Celebrate The Magic from here. Without a doubt this option will get you the best view while waiting the least amount of time for the show.

However, if you check out the photo to the left you can see the view from the Rose Garden is slightly obstructed and off to one side. I’m not saying this is a bad view at all, but I don’t know that it’s worth tying up your 3rd FastPass+ all day long. What if I told you there was a less popular FastPass+ that would give you an even better view?

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TouringPlans #Everywhere: I’m cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Disney Magic from Puerto Rico

by on June 7, 2014

#Everywhere Disney Magic Southern Caribbean Puerto Rico

I’m taking a TouringPlans #Everywhere trip on the Disney Magic!

¡Hola mis amigos! As you may have already heard, the TouringPlans team will be spreading out all over the Mickey-loving world for next October’s #Everywhere project, and I was lucky enough to be selected to sail the Southern Caribbean on the Disney Magic out of Puerto Rico. I’m excited because this trip represents a few firsts for me. I’ve cruised previously with other companies, but am a Disney Cruise Line virgin, so I can’t wait to see if their legendary reputation for service actually exceeds my less-than-perfect prior experiences with their competitors. Also, this will be my first time cruising from a departure point other than Port Canaveral (which is an easy drive from my home), necessitating air travel and a hotel stay. This post is my first entry in a brief series explaining how I’m approaching these issues, in hopes of helping any readers out there who may be contemplating a similar itinerary someday!

Disney Magic Southern Caribbean Itinerary

The Disney Magic, which was extensively refurbished last year, spent the summer of 2014 sailing around the Mediterranean, and will cruise the eastern and western Caribbean out of Port Canaveral from Halloween through next spring. But the 7-night cruise I’m on is somewhat unique, and calls for a different kind of introduction…It is one of only 4 scheduled Southern Caribbean itineraries departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico. (This port is also visited by the Disney Fantasy during some of its 7-Night Eastern Caribbean cruises.)

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TouringPlans #Everywhere: Budgeting for A Disneyland Trip

by on June 4, 2014

Photo courtesy Guy Selga, Jr

Hello! You may remember from my last post about traveling to Disneyland for TouringPlans #Everywhere that I am totally “California Dreamin” (on such a…uh, spring’s day?). Well, now I am back to give you a little more insight into everyone’s favorite subject: budgeting!

What?! You don’t love to budget? I guess that’s probably normal, which explains why I do enjoy it (e.g. I’m not normal). The sad fact for those of you who do not like to discuss vacation budgeting is that it is an essential part of the trip. My plan here today is to go through my experience budgeting for a Disneyland trip, tell you my thought process, and give you some tips.

Basic Info

As you may recall (but probably don’t), I will be travelling with my wife and two children, ages 5 and 3 at the time of the trip. We live in beautiful, scenic Pennsylvania, which, if you have a knack for geography, you will notice is quite far from California. And yes, my wife has to go although “if I didn’t tell her I could leave today.” We will be traveling in early October, specifically, around the weekend of October 11-13.

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Star Wars Weekends: A Special Edition Observations Post

by on May 30, 2014

DSC_0018Walt Disney World has really ramped up the offerings at Star Wars Weekends this year with new experiences, characters, and celebrity shows. If you’ve never been to Star Wars Weekends, there’s a lot you don’t want to miss and a lot to know before you come. But what’s a day on the ground look like? We went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Sunday, May 25 to show you.

First, a little background. Star Wars Weekends are celebrated on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 15 at Hollywood Studios. The festivities include a Star Wars themed parade and fireworks show, special character appearances by stars from the movies and television shows, and even special dining. The park fills quickly on these days, and it’s often really hot. If you’re looking to meet lots of characters and get a bunch of photos, get there early. Our trip started around 10:30 a.m. at the gates. The lines weren’t terrible, but that’s likely because most people were already in and seated to wait for the “Legends of the Force” Motorcade and Celebrity Welcome.

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Review; Educating teh Childrens; MagicBands Update

by on May 28, 2014

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Review

On Friday I was in the Magic Kingdom for its annual 24-hour event, and got to ride the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the last part of the New Fantasyland construction project that began in 2010.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train as seen from the Be Our Guest queue in Fantasyland.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train as seen from the Be Our Guest queue in Fantasyland.

There are a lot of things to like about the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. For one, it’s faster than I expected, but not so fast that it would frighten small children. Also, the ride track is much smoother than any comparable ride in the Magic Kingdom. This should be good news for both families and for seniors who want to avoid the rough ride of attractions like Big Thunder Mountain.

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Heading to Orlando? Pop on over to the Kissimmee Popcorn Company

by on May 26, 2014

Kissimmee Popcorn Company SignFair warning: if you don’t have a trip to Orlando planned soon you might want to postpone reading this one. If you continue on I can’t be held responsible for any airfare booked as a result! You’ve been warned. ;)

Many of you have probably seen me dropping into articles here and there that I’m maniacally planning a trip to Tokyo Disneyland Resort later this year. Apparently, I’ve been talking about it a little too much at home, too. Earlier this week my hubby came home and announced he had a surprise for me. We piled into the car and just a short while later arrived at the Kissimmee Popcorn Company. For anyone who is confused, Tokyo Disney is known for exotic popcorn flavors sold around the parks. Some of the oddest include: curry, strawberry, soy sauce, and milk tea! I didn’t find any milk tea popcorn, but I did find something really special. And just like all good things – I couldn’t wait to share it with you guys!

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Spice Up Your Trip with Disney World Challenges

by on May 25, 2014

During your first several visits to Walt Disney World, you’re likely to be fully consumed with logistics and checklists. How do I get from my hotel to the Magic Kingdom? Did little Susie get to meet Mickey? Where did I park the stroller? But once you’ve gotten a few trips under your belt, you may be ready to spice things up by adding some Challenge activities to your vacation.

Try to meet as many characters as possible in a single day.

Try to meet as many characters as possible in a single day.

What’s a Challenge?

A challenge is really anything you construct to make part of your trip into a game, quest, contest, or hunt. Some well-known challenges include:

  • Hunting for Hidden Mickeys. Popularized by Hidden Mickey Guy Steve Barrett, hunting for Hidden Mickeys involves scanning attraction and resort decor for camouflaged illustrations of Mickey Mouse’s head. See how many you can spot in a designated location.
  • Drink (or Eat) Around the World. Consume a particular food or beverage item in each of Epcot’s 11 World Showcase countries. The classic version involves ingesting an alcoholic beverage in each country. But there are snack versions (famously, the WDW Today Sip & Snack trip in which TouringPlans’ fearless leader Len Testa chugged a bottle of Canadian maple syrup) and candy versions as well.
  • Pin or Vinylmation trading. Purchase and trade to collect all of a particular series, or focus your search on finding all depictions of a particular character, film, resort, or attraction.
  • Ultimate Touring Plans. Virtually compete with other guests to see who can do the most theme park attractions in the least amount of time. Requires stamina, speed, and a strong bladder.

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Be Our Guest: Prices Up Across the Dinner Menu at the Magic Kingdom’s Newest Restaurant

by on May 23, 2014

IMG_1130

The Be Our Guest Entrance

One of the things we do best here at TouringPlans.com is help you get the best value for your vacation dollar by providing you with all kinds of data about Walt Disney World and helping you make sense of it. Recently, while doing accuracy checks on menus at Be Our Guest Restaurant, we noticed that the prices on various items at dinner had climbed, some significantly, since April.

Three appetizers, the popular (and excellent) Potato Leek Soup as well as the Garden Salad and Salad Trio, have seen increases of fifty cents per dish. In the entrees category, nearly every entree on the menu increased in price by at least fifty cents, with some like the Pan-Seared Salmon and Sauteed Shrimp and Scallops getting price hikes of a dollar per dish. Additionally, every beer that Be Our Guest offers increased in price by twenty-five cents per serving, with Chimay Blue going up seventy-five cents. The desserts have also gone up a dollar each, and while this change may have actually occurred before the others, it has been fairly recent as well.

While fifty cents here or there isn’t such a big deal, if you look at a meal we ate in February with a group of four, you can see a huge impact on what our meal cost would be now. Three of the four in our party had the Shrimp and Scallops, which adds $3.00 to the overall total. The other adult had the Salmon, adding $1.00 more. Three of the adults drank beer, adding another $2.25. Two bowls of Potato Leek Soup were eaten which would now cost $1.00 more than it did that night. Finally, all four of us got dessert (look, we’d just run 13 miles, okay?), which tacks on another $4.00 to the total we would pay if we had the same meal today. In all, the price of our meal for four adults has increased $11.25 in less than two months’ time. We could have added a kid to our party, had another round of dessert for a few of us, or tossed back a couple more drinks for that, especially given the increase in tip this requires at the end of the meal.

While these increases make sense in light of the Disney Dining Plan price increases, they may not make sense to your party’s budget. Be sure to check out the full Be Our Guest menu before you dine there, and be prepared rather than surprised.

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Updates to Epcot’s Ride Ratings for the 2015 Unofficial Guide

by on May 21, 2014

Illuminations_BrickerThe Unofficial Guide team got together last month to update our authors’ rating for all of the rides, shows, and attractions in Walt Disney World. I’ve already reported on the criteria for our 5-star rating system and changes to Hollywood Studios’ attractions. Now it’s time for Epcot.

Here’s a list of the Epcot attractions whose authors’ ratings have changed in the 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a short explanation for the change:

Epcot Character Spot *** Has Mickey, Minnie and Pluto all in one spot, which is good. But not as themed as, say, Princess Fairytale Hall or other meet-and-greets, and a bit more chaotic than most. That doesn’t bother our readers, though, who give it 4.2 stars on average.

IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth **** 1/2 It was surprising to see that we hadn’t ever rated IllumiNations, Epcot’s nighttime spectacular. The Studios’ Fantasmic! is Bob’s favorite evening show, and others prefer the Magic Kingdom’s Wishes. But IllumiNations is my favorite. It’s got big visual images, an iconic floating globe that’s both a spherical television and fire-throwing grill. Plus the soundtrack, Gavin Greenaway’s Reflections of Earth, is the best audio accompaniment to any Disney show. (It’s also part of the soundtrack that U.S. Customs and Border Protection plays while you’re waiting in line to enter the country.) Finally, it harkens back to a time when Disney creative didn’t just drag out its animated characters – or the words magic, dream, wishes, and celebrate- to entertain its theme park guests.

Off Kilter *** 1/2 Another surprise in that we’ve not previously rated this Celtic rock band, this group of kilt-clad musicians has been entertaining Epcot audiences since 1997. We’re all big fans of live music, and Off Kilter combines guitar, keyboard, and bagpipes into cover tunes of rock classics, traditional Celtic music, and original songs. Every set is loud, fast, and innovative – the way music should be. Check out Off Kilter’s website here.

That’s it for Epcot’s changes. What attractions would you change? Let us know in the comments below.

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